Saturday, February 15, 2014

Book Review

This review originally appeared at Alan's Eyes Ears:

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, by J. D. Greear.

 here has long been a fixation in American evangelical culture on the "decision," the act of leading someone into a relationship with Christ via an altar call, or reciting the "sinner's prayer." But discipleship is not a one-time event, and this focus on the "decision" leaves many potential believers confused and adrift.

On the other hand, the impulse among some Christians, in some congregations, is to "come to Jesus" over and over. The author puts himself in this camp, saying in the first chapter that by the time he had turned eighteen, "I had probably 'asked Jesus into my heart' five thousand times."

Using his own life experiences as a Christian, and his experiences as a pastor, Greear focuses on the tension between these two extreme positions, and how neither represents a healthy view of salvation. He walks through the dual theological issues of repentance and assurance. It is a short book and quite readable, but it manages to move through these difficult issues in a thorough manner.

I like Greear's contention that salvation cannot always be traced to a particular moment in time, and a discussion of what repentance is and (more importantly) what it is not. Also, his example of relationship with God to sitting in a chair in insightful: it doesn't matter whether or not one can remember when they first sat in the chair, the only thing that matters is that one is currently sitting in that chair.

Although I don't always agree with Greear's answers to some of the knotty theological problems presented here, I can heartily recommend this book. I was glad to read a book for laymen that addressed the issues, and there is much wisdom contained here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Contemporary Worship

From Robert E. Webber's Worship Old & New:

"New shifts are taking place in worship today that call for a reconfiguration of the worship space. Underneath all these shifts is the recovery of the biblical understanding of worship as the ocngregational celebration of God's mighty deeds of salvation. Worship is no longer something to be watched or listened to, but something to be done by the people."

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Middle of the Faith-Walk

From Lauren Winner:

"I am not thrilled by the idea that I am entering a vague in-between, after the intensity of conversion and before the calm wisdom of cronehood. I don't like to think that I am embarking on an extended sojourn into the spiritual equivalent of middle school, all insecurity and queen bee alpha girls. I begin to look for other middles, middles with more specificity, more grist."

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review

This review originally appeared at Alan's Eyes Ears:

Craving Grace, by Lisa Velthouse.
Lisa Velthouse grew up trying to be the "perfect Christian girl" -- no drinking, no cursing, and always paying attention to her parents. She even wrote a book about her choice to not kiss until her engagement, 2003's Saving My First Kiss, which allowed her to begin a career of speaking at conferences and writing on church staffs. Everything about her life revolved around earning God's approval. And she was convinced that she had done that.
And then a few years later, at a sister's wedding, she broke the no-kissing vow. Convinced that she had lost God's favor, she spent years studying, seeking after, (and receiving) undeserved grace, both from God and from people. Craving Grace is her recounting of that search.
There are many Christian living books where the author will use occasional examples from their life to amplify their theological point. But I prefer books like this, where the author uses the memoir form to tell a very personal story, while also focusing on a particular aspect of faith or theology. Readers of Lauren Winner's books will recognize this format. Velthouse uses the recurring motifs of sheep and honey to tell her story, and her ability to return to these themes, and to continually elaborate upon them, demonstrates her skill as a writer.
The transparency and vulnerability that Velthouse shows in telling this personal story is impressive. She is able to bring the reader inside her head, and inside her heart, as she talks about her struggles to understand the nature of living in a Grace that is wholly underserved. One subplot in the story is her attempt to fast from sweets for a period of time. It was just good fortune that I read this book over Lent, but that added nicely to my own experience of the book.
The memoir portions of the book are not told chronologically, and this "jumping around" in time (the events of the book cover a three-year period) may be disconcerting to a reader who is used to reading a book like this in order. But that is a minor quibble; the book is excellent.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

N.T. Wright on soteriology

" [some say that] the way to be saved is by believing in Pauline soteriology ('justification by faith'). For Paul, that would be reductio ad absurdum. The way to be saved is not by believing that one is saved. In Paul's view, the way to be saved is by believing in Jesus as the crucified and risen lord."

Friday, October 18, 2013

From Saint Teresa of Avila

"Christ has no body on earth but your, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ's compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now."

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Practice of Worship

From Worship Old & New, by Robert E. Webber:

We must always remember that worship has a horizontal as well as a vertical dimension. It is important for us to enact the work of Christ as an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the Father. But is is equally important that we act on what we have enacted ... the pattern of the world is one of injustice, inequality, discrimination, war, hate, immorality and all those human abuses that the New Testament and the early church fathers described as the way of death. The true worship of God inevitably leads the people of God into positive social action. Our calling is to worship God not only with our lips but with our lives.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

NT Wright on Onesimus

"That is why, finally, [Paul] does not refer to Onesimus as a "fugitive." That is not the category in which he wants Philemon to see his former slave, even for a moment. No: he is Paul's beloved son and therefore Philemon's beloved brother. Those who have read this letter without seeing the profound, and profoundly revolutionary, theology it contains should ponder the social and cultural earthquake which Paul is attempting to precipitate."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review

This review originally appeared at Alan's Eyes & Ears:

Mary Through The Centuries, by Jaroslav Pelikan.

I am a little late in writing this, as I usually try to read a book like this (about Jesus or Mary, or the Christmas story) around Christmas, but to be fair, this book is not a quick read. This is not to say that this is a book written solely for scholars, but it is clearly a book written by a scholar.

Jaroslav Pelikan is a retired historian from Yale, and he brings his scholarly mind to the topic of the Virgin Mary. This book traces the extent of her importance in theology, in history, and in the arts. He makes a strong case that Mary is the most influential and inspiration woman who ever lived. He contends that despite a general lessening of religious influence in the modern world in the last century, Mary's influence remains as strong as ever, and may even be growing. As Pelikan says in the last chapter, "It is impossible to understand the history of Western spirituality and devotion without paying attention to the place of the Virgin Mary."
He contends that considerations of Mary has continually driven theological development. Basic Christian doctrines (to Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox) such as original sin, grace, and the dual natures of Christ all had to deal with Mary's position, either as example or exception. She has continued to have a role in post-Reformation Catholicism, as doctrines such as Mary's Immaculate Conception have been made dogma by Rome. Mary even had a role in affirming the doctrine of Papal infallibility.
The chapter on Mary's portrayal in the Quran is especially interesting, as the chapters covering the Virgin's appearances in literary works of Dante, Spenser, and Goethe. I struggled with parts of these chapters, as they revolve around some literary works that I am less familiar with (in the case of Spenser, not familiar with at all). But Pelikan never lets himself get lost in the academic nature of these discussions. He is able to bring the discussion back to his main point of demonstrating the Virgin's continual relevance to these works of art, and how these works of art reflected theological views, and perhaps even fostered theological views. 
Each chapter begins with a full-page piece of black-and-white art, that Pelikan later references in the chapter. In addition, there are 16 color pages of beautiful Marian art, including works by Fra Angelico, El Greco and Salvador Dali. These also help the book seem less academic, giving the reader a visual cue as to the content of the chapter.
I enjoyed this book very much, and expect to look into Pelikan's earlier, similar work on the life of Jesus. Perhaps next Christmas.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

God and Light

From Lauren Winner:

"I am attending a lecture, at a divinity school in New England, about light. The lecturer is a physicist, an expert in black holes ... During the Q&A, someone asks how light can be both a particle and a wave. The questioner seems perplexed. It seems to me that anyone who worships a being who is both God and man should not have so much trouble with light."