Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Reconciling Wisdom of God, by Adam J. Johnson

Adam J. Johnson.  The Reconciling Wisdom of God: Reframing the Doctrine of the Atonement.  Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Adam J. Johnson has a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is an instructor of theology and Western classics at Biola University.

Johnson’s goal in The Reconciling Wisdom of God is to look at the atonement as an act of wisdom.  Johnson observes that a number of evangelicals have looked at the atonement with a focus on justice: Christ satisfied God’s justice against sin by paying the penalty that sinners deserved.  Johnson himself accepts penal substitution, but he maintains that looking at the atonement with a focus on wisdom can provide a richer view of the atonement.

What does focusing on wisdom in looking at the atonement mean, according to Johnson?  Ultimately, it relates to the healing of the cosmos.  As Johnson states on page 118, a wisdom-focused view of the atonement “affects not only our own status before God as individual sinners but takes into account the whole of creation, ranging from angels and ants to demons and the earth on which we walk.”  Johnson interacts with the question of how Christ dying for humanity could have an impact on other aspects of God’s creation.

Johnson also maintains that the way that Christ died served the purposes of God’s wisdom.  Johnson asks a very astute question.  Remember when Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus were fleeing to Egypt to escape from Herod (Matthew 2).  Suppose that Roman soldiers came, and the child Jesus was trampled by horses and died, only to rise again three days later.  Could not that have paid the penalty for human sin?  Yet, God did not go that route, and God had reasons for going the route that God did.  Jesus lived as an adult and was an example of a holy life.  Jesus bore human folly, and his death demonstrates God’s justice against sin while ennobling human beings.

Johnson also spends time on discussing the practical implications of seeing atonement as a work of wisdom.  He talks about how Christians can show love to others even as they suffer in doing so.  (In a footnote, Johnson denies that this means battered wives must stay with their abusive husbands.)

Johnson interacts with Christian thinkers.  Johnson is critical of a model promulgated by the Swedish theologian Gustaf Aulen, who posited three stages of the atonement in Christian history: the first held that the atonement delivered people from Satan, the second focused on the atonement as a satisfaction of God’s justice or honor, and the third emphasized that Christ’s act of self-sacrifice inspires onlookers and transforms them morally for the better.  For Johnson, all of these are features of the atonement.  Johnson is much more favorable in his interaction with the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards.

The book has positives.  Johnson’s interaction with Christian thought made the book interesting, and Johnson also did well to address the question of how Christ dying for human beings had an impact on creation, not just human beings.

The book would have been better, however, had Johnson discussed more fully the significance of Christ’s death.  Although Johnson says that we need a fuller perspective of the atonement, when he actually offers a reason that Christ died, he falls back on saying that it satisfied God’s justice.  His more rounded look at the atonement seems to concern the effects of the atonement, not so much the atonement itself.  Were there other reasons besides God’s justice that Christ died—-that Christ’s death was necessary?  Johnson should have gone into more detail about that.  His discussion of why Christ was crucified rather than dying as a child had the potential to be fruitful, but it could have been developed more.  Although Johnson mentioned three models of the atonement, he should have engaged the ransom model more than he did, and perhaps included a discussion on Christus Victor.

Another potentially fruitful discussion in the book concerned God’s wisdom.  Johnson relates wisdom to living well, and he notes that God, as a being sufficient in Godself, has all that God needs in Godself to live well.  That is a valuable insight, but it was somewhat of a dead end.  What does this have to do with wisdom and the atonement?  Johnson’s point may be that God wants to include humans in God’s fellowship within the Trinity, but the connection between God’s inner wisdom and the atonement was thinly developed.

The book also could have been better organized, as it had somewhat of a scattered, meandering quality.
Johnson has written other books about the atonement, and perhaps what I wanted in this book is in those other books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Church Write-Up: Ramblings on the Holy Spirit

At church last Sunday, the pastor preached about the Holy Spirit.  Here are some items:

A.  The pastor said that the Holy Spirit is a person, but that many Christians do not talk as if he is a person.  Rather, they talk as if the Holy Spirit is some impersonal force, or God’s power.

This intrigued me, since I grew up in a church movement (Armstrongism) that explicitly taught that about the Holy Spirit: that it was God’s power, not the third person of the Trinity.  Armstrongism was marginalized within Christianity on account of its denial of the Trinity.  There were other reasons, too, but its denial of the Trinity was high on the list.  It is interesting that even many mainstream Christians talk about the Holy Spirit as if it is God’s impersonal power, even though, if you were to ask them, they would probably tell you that they believe in the Trinity.

I am currently going through the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is.  Swami Prabhupada provides the commentary to the Bhagavad Gita, and he disagrees with other Hindu interpreters of the work.  An issue that continually comes up in the book is whether the god Krishna, whom Prabhupada (and perhaps the Bhagavad Gita itself) regards as the supreme being, is personal or impersonal.  To be honest, I do not entirely understand what is at stake in this disagreement, but Swami Prabhupada accuses the “impersonal” side of being materialistic and atheistic.  It seems that Swami Prabhupada believes that Krishna is personal, but that he does have an impersonal element.  Why does the Swami believe that an impersonal conception of God is atheistic or materialistic?  Perhaps he believes that such a conception makes God look like impersonal material nature and robs the universe of a personal God.

Christian theology has debates about whether God is personal or impersonal.  There, however, different issues come into play.  There are Christian theologians who believe that God is impersonal because they think that to conceive of God as a person is to reduce God to the human level, to make God a big version of us.  This is the opposite of my speculation about what the Swami is saying: that the impersonal conception of God reduces God to the material level.  And, on the other side, there are Christians spokespersons who think that people prefer an impersonal version of God because that gets them off the hook morally: the people recoil from being accountable to a personal God, who may disapprove of their behavior, so they prefer an impersonal God.  I have not found a similar view yet in my reading of the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is.  As far as I know, both sides of that debate believe in karma and reward and punishment through the reincarnation process.  But critics of “atheism” usually do like to bring morality into the discussion, as if atheism lacks a moral basis, so I will wait and see if the Swami goes the same route in criticizing the impersonal conception of God.

Anyway, what I just said is based on my reading of the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is thus far.   My conception of what it thinks and why it thinks it may change as I continue to read.  And, no, I do not want to keep revising this post in light of that!

What does this have to do with the Holy Spirit, and whether the Holy Spirit is personal or impersonal?  Not much, perhaps.  Both sides in that case agree that God the Father and God the Son are personal, so they believe in a personal God.  They differ on whether the Holy Spirit is the power of this personal God, or a personal being in his (or her) own right.  But my discussion of the Bhagavad Gita was a nice tangent.

B.  The pastor was saying that the Holy Spirit goes with Christians wherever they go.  He was saying that we can shake hands with people at church, but, when we go home, we can easily feel as if we are on our own.  He said that many in the congregation dread shaking hands with people in church!  And he said that a lot of people are too involved in their own problems to help somebody else.  But we are not alone in those situations, he said, for the Holy Spirit is with us, even when we feel on our own!

I appreciated that honest acknowledgement of reality by the pastor.  This is not to suggest that he himself dreads shaking hands with people during the greeting time!  But, so often, pastors talk as if the church is, or should be, one big happy family where everyone likes each other, and yet reality is different, at least for some (maybe more).

C.  The pastor was talking about his own Pentecostal upbringing and how the Pentecostal church of his youth tried to force emotion out of people.  If people did not show a high level of emotion—-by clapping, dancing, or speaking in tongues—-then they were judged as spiritually immature, perhaps even unsaved.  The pastor wanted to make clear that this church (the Baptist one that he pastors) does not do that.  And he said that we should not judge the quieter, more reserved worshipers.

This was an interesting discussion, since this church (the Baptist one) is one of the liveliest churches that I have attended.  People clap and rejoice in their singing.  Yet, there are quieter people in the congregation, and the church seems to respect that.  I appreciate that.  I have attended African-American churches where I have felt judged for not being enthusiastic enough, or for not displaying a high level of enthusiasm.  This African-American church (the Baptist one) is different.

I will admit something, though.  There are times when the choir is singing, and someone stands up because she feels especially moved by the song.  I may still be sitting down.  But I am moved when someone stands up!

D.  The pastor also talked about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the sin that Jesus said could not be forgiven (i.e., Matthew 12:32).  Essentially, the pastor said that this sin is when a person knows that Jesus is real, but wants absolutely nothing to do with God.  This is problematic because, outside of faith in Jesus, there is no forgiveness.

I have some problems with this definition, but I cannot offer an alternative, at least not right now.  People can easily find themselves not wanting anything to do with God for a variety of reasons: pain, suffering, disappointment, apathy.  Does that mean that God will not forgive them if they do eventually decide to come back to God?  Maybe Jesus and Hebrews were warning people of what could happen if they left God: they could become so hardened that they would not want to return to God.  This “could” happen, but that is not the same as saying it “must” happen.

There is also the question of how much a person needs to know about God, before rejection of God becomes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Just knowing that God exists is not enough, in my opinion.  I know a lot of people exist, but that does not make me accept them!  But knowing God in God’s goodness and walking away from that?  That is a bigger problem.  And that, I think, is the problem that the “warning” passages in Hebrews is addressing.

That said, I would still like to think that even a person who knows God in God’s goodness and walks away from that can still come back to God and be forgiven.  I mean, sheesh, ancient Israel in the Hebrew Bible continually walked away from God after experiencing God’s goodness, but God still encouraged her to repent and offered her forgiveness and hope.  The Prodigal Son of Jesus’ parable probably knew that his father was good before he left home and did his own thing, yet he still came back to his father, and his father forgave him.

A lot of times, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is defined as a continual rejection of God.  I have heard that in churches, and the pastor of this church may have been getting at that in his message.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Attributes of God, Volume 2, by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer.  The Attributes of God: Volume 2: Deeper Into the Father’s Heart.  Chicago: WingSpread Publishers (an imprint of Moody Publishers), 2015.  See here to purchase the book.

A.W. Tozer was a pastor and Christian author who lived from 1897 to 1963.  The Attributes of God, Volume 2 contains edited sermons that Tozer delivered about certain attributes of God.  These attributes include God’s self-existence, transcendence, eternalness, omnipotence, immutability, omniscience, wisdom, sovereignty, faithfulness, and love.  The book has an extensive study guide in the back, written by David E. Fassenden.  Fassenden offers his own honest musings about each chapter, including what he wishes Tozer had addressed but did not.  At the end of his commentary, Fassenden provides a format that small groups can follow in discussing the chapter.

Tozer is charming as he discusses each attribute of God, using stories, analogies, and anecdotes to make his points.  Tozer’s imagery is often compelling.  Reading the book has the cozy feel of reading a bedtime story, yet Tozer is clear that the God that he is discussing is real, and that we should act as if he is real (i.e., be bold in our prayers, for God can do anything).  Tozer is also humorously self-deprecating in this book.  For example, he talks about how he feels dumb whenever he goes to the library, and how he is a sucker for the latest New Testament translations, even though he finds that they do not enhance his walk with God!  In addition, Tozer offers wry criticism of the religious practices of his day.  For instance, Tozer is mildly critical of prayer meetings, for he wonders what the point is of spending hours telling God what God already knows!  Tozer comes across as a lovable curmudgeon.

The chapters on God’s faithfulness and love were beautiful, thoughtful, and pastoral.  In other books that I have read by Tozer, Tozer seems to have an attitude that Christians need to have all of their ducks in a row, or they are not truly saved.  That attitude appears in this book, too.  But this book also conveys the message that God loves us, even though we are imperfect, and that we should faithfully endure periods of spiritual barrenness in hope that God will come through.  This book, in short, was more encouraging, in areas.

The book also had thoughtful discussions about the relationship between faith and reason, as well as God’s sovereignty and human free will.  In my review of Tozer’s God’s Pursuit of Man (Chicago: Moody, 2015), I expressed curiosity about whether Tozer was a Calvinist or an Arminian.  Tozer in God’s Pursuit of Man seemed to lean more in the Calvinist direction, emphasizing God’s role in calling people to faith in Christ and enabling belief.  In The Attributes of God, Volume 2, Tozer explicitly engages Calvinism and Arminianism.  Tozer and Fassenden present Tozer as one who is in the middle of the extremes of Calvinism and Arminianism, but Tozer in The Attributes of God, Part 2 strikes me as having more Arminian sentiments.  Tozer believes that God is sovereign but that God in God’s sovereignty has given people free will.  As far as I can recall, there is nothing in this book about God causing or enabling people to believe; Tozer in this book appears to treat free will as rather libertarian.  (Of course, Arminians believe that God makes belief possible through prevenient grace; my point is, though, that Tozer leans more towards free-will than determinism of compatibilism in this particular book.)

In terms of critiques, the book would have been better had Tozer engaged aspects of the Bible that appear to run contrary to his picture of God.  For example, why did God say after Abraham almost sacrificed his son that “Now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12)?  Did not God, being omniscient, know before this event that Abraham feared God?  On page 125, Tozer does address a similar question: Why did God say that he was going to Sodom to see if they are wicked (Genesis 18:21), when God already knew that they were wicked?  Tozer says that God, being omniscient, was not seeking information, but rather made his statement in Genesis 18:21 for another reason.  Tozer’s explanation was unclear and elliptical, however, and his wrestling with such difficult biblical passages was only occasional.

Tozer wryly mocks the notion that God guilts people: that Jesus guilts people about them not loving him by telling them all of the things that he has done for them.  For Tozer, God is happier and more level-headed than that.  Yet, on page 210, Tozer appears to embrace the approach that he criticizes when he says: “The soul that can scorn such infinite, emotional, eager love as this, the soul that can trample it down, turn away from it and despise it, will never enter God’s heaven—-never.”  Tozer then goes on to provide a reasonable explanation about why people go to heaven and hell: these places are a continuation of their present outlooks and lifestyles.  (That makes some sense, but I would question the implication that non-believers would fail to appreciate a world of love, which heaven will be, whereas believers would automatically appreciate it.)  But Tozer on page 210 does seem to use the sort of guilt-tripping that he criticizes.

Tozer appears to embrace negative theology in parts of this book.  He thinks that God is so beyond our comprehension, that we can often only say what God is not, rather than what God actually is.  Tozer also talks about different images of God, which seems to acknowledge some subjectivity in theology.  Yet, Tozer does believe that there are right answers and that people can actually know God, and he even makes positive claims about God’s psychology: God is a happy God, for instance.  Tozer perhaps would have done well to have attempted to iron out these tensions.  At the same time, this book is humbler than other Tozer books that I have read.  It is still dogmatic, yet Tozer acknowledges his limitations and when he is offering his opinion about what God is like.  In that respect, the book is refreshing.

Tozer does well to treat God as a unitive personality, as opposed to a being with different or contradictory attributes.  A number of evangelicals say that God is loving, but God is also just and holy, as if these attributes are dramatically different from each other.  Tozer, by contrast, has an interesting discussion on pages 197-198 about God’s attributes in the damnation of sinners.  He states: “I believe that at the end of time, when we know as we are known (see 1 Corinthians 13:12), it will be found that even the damning of man is an expression of the love of God as certainly as the redeeming of man.”  Tozer should have spent more time explaining this and offering a unitary, integrative picture of God’s personality, one in which love and justice reinforce one another.  On some level, Tozer does make the argument that unrepentant sinners would be unhappy in heaven, which may lean in the direction of arguing that God is loving even towards the sinners God damns; at the same time, though, Tozer also says that unrepentant sinners will be unhappy in hell!  (I should note that Tozer covers God’s justice and holiness in the first volume, which I have not yet read.)

My questions notwithstanding, this book is an edifying and thoughtful read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher (Moody Press).  My review is honest.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Write-Up: A Love Made New, by Kathleen Fuller

Kathleen Fuller.  A Love Made New.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

A Love Made New is the third book of the “Amish of Birch Creek” series.  I did not read the first book of the series, A Reluctant Bride, but I did read the second book of the series, An Unbroken Heart.

Even after reading the second book, I had some difficulty sorting out who was who in A Love Made New, at least in the first half of the book.  For a while, I thought that Sol was Andrew’s brother, since both had fathers who left their family.  Then I learned that Sol’s love interest Irene was Andrew’s sister!  Should I have known better, since I had read the second book of the series?  Well, it had been a few months since I read the second book, so some details were hazy in my mind.  I doubt that I am the only one in this situation!  I think that more authors of Amish fiction should do what Amy Clipston does, and that is to include a family tree at the beginning of the book.

That said, can one read A Love Made New without having read the previous books of the series?  I think readers in that situation can follow the general plots.  Occasionally, some details will be puzzling to those who did not read the previous books.  For example, there is a scene in which characters talk about someone who is in jail, and only those familiar with the previous two books will know why that man is in jail, and why the characters care.  The romances, though, are not that complicated to follow.  And they differ from the previous books in that they focus on other characters (who are still in the previous books, but not as the main focus).  The first book focused on Sadie and Aden.  The second book was primarily about Sadie’s sister Joanna and her love interest, Andrew.  And the third book is about Abigail, a sister of Sadie and Joanna, and her relationship with a new character, Asa.  The third book also talks about a romance between Andrew’s sister Irene and Sol, who is Aden’s brother.  Although the third book focuses on different characters, it still revisits plot-lines of the second book, namely, Bartholomew, the father of Andrew and Irene, who left the family years before because he was part of the witness protection program.

In A Love Made New, Abigail’s boyfriend Joel breaks up with her and reveals that he is seeing somebody else, Rebecca.  Abigail is insecure about her weight and her temperament, and the break-up only makes her feel worse.  But Asa comes into her life!  Asa used to live in the same place as Abigail, but his family moved away.  Asa was known as a ladies’ man before he moved away: all of the ladies liked him!  Now Asa has returned, and he is showering his attention upon Abigail.  What’s more, Asa claims that God told him to do this!

Then there is Sol and Irene.  Sol is an alcoholic, and his drunken mischief (I am assuming) got him banished from the community for some time.  Now he has returned, and Irene is reaching out to him to try to welcome him back.  Sol is still dealing with his resentments.  His father, who was a bishop, left the family, and his father was also abusive to Sol and Aden.

Meanwhile, Irene, her mother Naomi, and her brother Andrew are dealing with the absence of the father of their family, Bartholomew.  They love Bartholomew and still consider him part of the family.  This situation reminds me of Chicken George’s family in the 1977 miniseries Roots: Chicken George was away for long periods of time, but his family loved him and welcomed him back whenever he could return, almost as if he had never left!  Bartholomew’s family receives letters from Bartholomew, which upsets Mike, who oversees Bartholomew in the witness protection program.

The book had its share of positives.  Abigail’s attempts to fake a smile at Joanna’s wedding stood out, as Abigail was hoping that her fake, exaggerated smile did not make her look creepy!  Not only can I identify with that, but this scene effectively conveyed the pain that Abigail was trying to endure, even as social niceties required her to act happy at her sister’s wedding.  Sol and Irene pray together, and Sol apologizes for praying more about his own problems than those of Irene.  And Asa finding his calling made him a character with whom one can identify.

In terms of negatives, the book was rather repetitive.  I am not saying that Abigail and Sol should have gotten over their insecurities quickly, for that is not realistic.  But the book would have done better to have probed or explored different aspects of their insecurities, rather than covering the same ground over and over.  Perhaps more flashbacks or diverse reflections could have accomplished this.  This not only would have made the book more interesting, but it also would have made the characters more rounded and realistic.  When Sol is struggling to forgive his father, for example, the book could have added more of the thought processes that led him to forgiveness.

The book also should have had more of an element of mystery, rather than telling readers things, then repeating those things over and over.  To be fair, the book did have its share of mysteries.  It is only later in the book that we get Sol’s story about his father.  Bartholomew is wondering why he is still in the witness protection program, when the criminals are in jail, and we get an answer to that.  But the book could have been more intriguing had it, for example, opened with Sol hearing from God, wrestling with God, and reflecting on his supernatural experiences as of late.  Sol’s supernatural experiences were significant in the book, but they could have been better explored and developed.

That said, I am still open to reading other novels by Kathleen Fuller.  The one coming out in March 2017, Written in Love, focuses on Sol’s best friend Jalon.  And, after reading a few references to the plot of the first book of the “Birch Creek” series in the sequels and summaries, I may read A Reluctant Bride.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through BookLook Bloggers.  My review is honest.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Write-Up: Mission Possible, by D.L. McCarragher

D.L. McCarragher.  Mission Possible: Spiritual Covering.  Believing for Your Husband’s Salvation.  Alabaster Box Publishing, Inc., 2007, 2015.  See here to buy the book.  (The link is to the 2011 edition, which is cheaper.)

Mission Possible: Spiritual Covering is for Christian women who want their non-Christian husbands to become Christians.

The book has its share of positives.  Each chapter interacts heavily with Scripture.  The questions at the end of each chapter focus a lot on Scripture.  The tone of the book is passionate and faith-filled.  There were times when the book took a break from cheer-leading and expressed empathy towards those who struggle to be a loving spiritual example in their home; God works amidst human weakness, D.L. McCarragher astutely states.  The vision of spirituality that the book conveys is compelling.  To quote from page 74: “I thank you, Lord, that my husband will be a mighty man of God; a man so in love with you that he will not be able to satisfy the hunger he has for you…he will reach for his Bible instead of the TV remote…”

The book was also interesting, as I tried to understand McCarragher’s religious perspective (which is not necessarily to imply my absolute agreement with it).  The book seems to reflect a Word of Faith mindset: a woman Christian is to speak in faith that her husband will become saved, and she waits for God to accomplish that.  (The book has an inspiring chapter about Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, and the bones come to life.)  In the meantime, according to McCarragher, the Christian wife should sow seeds by serving at church (with her husband’s permission) and giving to ministries, for then she can reap a harvest, her husband’s salvation.  In the process, she is showing her husband that she takes her faith seriously.

There were occasions when I put a question mark in the margin, which shows that the book was not boring.  On page 66, McCarragher states that “You must have genuine love for his soul because he is your husband and that is who will spend eternity with you.”  Is McCarragher like a Mormon here (I said “like” a Mormon, not an actual Mormon!), believing that married couples will be married for eternity?  What about Jesus’ statement in Mark 12:25 that, in the resurrection, people will not marry or be given in marriage?

On page 60, McCarragher states: “Compare I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9 to find out who God promises to save and if anyone is excluded.”  These passages say that God wants to save all, and McCarragher does portray God as one who pursues a relationship with everyone.  But the passages do not imply that God “promises” to save all, as McCarragher says in her question on page 60.  Does her statement there flirt with universalism?

This is not to accuse McCarragher of being a universalist, for I may be misinterpreting her, or she may have intended something different in her statement.  At the same time, she did appear to have confidence that God absolutely will save Christian women’s non-Christian husbands, provided the women have faith.  But is that necessarily the case?  The book has a chapter on Nabal, the churlish husband of the righteous woman Abigail in I Samuel 25.  Nabal never repented, but instead he died, and Abigail then married David.  In attempting to posit an application of the story, McCarragher says that God will give Christian women new husbands, as God gave Abigail the godly David in place of the ungodly, irreverent Nabal.  But, according to McCarragher, the new husbands are actually the old husbands, but they are new because they have become born again and are now new creatures in Christ.  But that is not what happened in the story of Nabal, and one can raise the question of whether it consistently happens in real life.  This is not to encourage pessimism or to dismiss the value of hope and faith, but it is to say that there may be cases in which God does not answer “yes” to prayers, and McCarragher should seek to account for that, theologically.

Regarding other negatives, McCarragher should have included more stories, since that would have shown (or at least given the impression) that the principles she advocates actually work in real life.  To her credit, she did talk about her own marriage, and she was honest about her husband’s strengths and good character, even though she wished that he would be enthusiastic about God, as she is.  Her personal anecdotes, though they were rare, did add at least some human element to the book.  Still, more stories and illustrations would have enhanced the book a lot more.  In addition, it could have moved the book beyond focusing on her and her husband.  What about a Christian woman who has a husband who is not so tolerant about her attending church?  What should she do?  What principles should she apply?  The book should have addressed a wider variety of situations.

The book is practical in that it gives women advice about what specifically to pray for.  The book includes a sample prayer, and McCarragher states that she prays that her husband might be receptive when God knocks on the door of his heart.  The book could have been more specific when it came to interpersonal interaction, however.

The book could have been better organized at the beginning.  McCarragher’s story about how she married her husband, then became a Christian after attending a church service, perhaps would have been better placed at the beginning of the book, in the “Introduction.”  That would have set the stage for the rest of the book, setting forth the problem that the book aims to address.  McCarragher also should have defined precisely what is at stake when a Christian wife is married to a non-believing husband: why exactly was it important to her that her husband become a Christian?  That would have made her introduction better.  Her chapter on how the husband is to be a priest of the family, like Jesus is high priest, would have served better as the following chapter.

On page 69, McCarragher interacts with II Corinthians 6:14’s statement that believers should not be unequally yoked with non-believers, since some Christians may argue that this means Christians and non-Christians should not stay married to each other.  She states that “Paul was not discussing marriage” there but rather “business, worship…fellowship, and day to day decisions.”  She then goes on to apply the concept of being unequally yoked to marriage, however, saying that “Believers should not willingly ‘join themselves to unbelievers’ in marriage as that leads to spiritual disunity,” which appears to contradict what she just said.  McCarragher’s discussion of this issue had its merits, as when she astutely noted that Paul in I Corinthians 7 recommended that Christians in marriages to non-believers stay in those marriages.  At the same time, McCarragher could have brought her discussion together a lot better than she did, discussing what spiritual disunity is, and why Paul permitted it in the case of Christian marriages with non-Christians.  Perhaps she should have also acknowledged Paul’s statement that such marriages may not work out, since the non-believing spouse may leave the marriage (I Corinthians 7:15).  That would have tempered the optimistic tone of the book, but it also would have made the discussion richer, more interesting, and maybe more realistic.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash.  My review is honest.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Scattered Ramblings on Christians Leaving the Faith

For church last Sunday, I watched the service at home, since there were forecasts of heavy winds and rains.

The pastor was preaching about the Epistle to the Hebrews, specifically its admonitions to the Jewish Christians to stay in the faith rather than leaving it or drifting away from it.

The pastor talked about people he knows who used to be in church and left.  Some of their problem was hurt feelings: they were hurt by someone in the church.  The pastor said that Satan was the one trying to discourage them through those hurtful people.

The idea that God would let a Christian leave the faith troubles me, somewhat.  Don’t get me wrong: I am not for God using compulsion or violating people’s free will.  But I would hope that, if a Christian were to leave the faith, God would make at least some attempt to woo that Christian back.

I have been reading some of Robert Price’s writings over the past several months.  Robert Price used to be a Christian, but he came to be an atheist.  (Tonight he will be debating Bart Ehrman, another biblical scholar whose past includes a deconversion from Christianity, over the question of whether Jesus historically existed.)

Price, on his web site, features articles and sermons that he wrote at various stages of his spiritual journey.  I have been going through his sermons, reading one a day.  It is a bit jarring to read him talk about God as if God is real, and to talk about how God is at work in one’s spiritual life, while keeping in mind that he later left Christianity behind.  It is even more jarring because I agree with his sermons: they express Price’s problems with fundamentalism and embrace a version of Christianity that I consider to be open-minded.  Price as a pastor rejected fundamentalism and was open to the conclusions of historical criticism of the Bible, but he still saw value in spirituality and could derive edifying teachings from the Bible.  That is essentially where I am.  Yet, Price got to the point where he concluded that even this version of Christianity was wanting.  I wonder: Could that be me in a decade, or so?

I can somewhat understand a person leaving the faith for intellectual reasons: a person concludes that God is not real.  This happens to a lot of people, including (it seems) Price.  I have some difficulty, though, understanding those who leave the faith because someone in church hurt them.  Becoming discouraged with church, I can understand, but leaving God altogether?

Then there is the feeling that some may have, and I myself have had it, that Christianity feels like a straightjacket: being discouraged over failing to measure up to perfection on a continual basis, opening up the Bible and simply not liking the God who is there, or one’s heart not being in what the church says one’s heart should be in (i.e., service work, a particular dogma, etc.).  That could contribute to people leaving the faith.  Putting on an act in church, or engaging in worship that one has difficulty feeling, can become a burden.

I have to admit: one reason I stick with the faith is because I desire God’s blessing, whether that be positive or hopeful feelings, or material provision.  Incidentally, I read a Price sermon early this week about how we should worship God without expecting anything in return.  And I was reading more of the Bhagavad Gita, As It Is, and the commentator talks about how Krishna will bless those who come to him for material blessing or out of discontent with life.  Why would Krishna do this, if Krishna wants people to reject the material for the spiritual?  Because at least people in such cases are coming to Krishna for something, and that is better than not coming to him at all.  If people experience Krishna, even though they did not initially approach him for the right reasons, then maybe they will fall in love with Krishna, see the inherent value to a devotional spiritual life, and actually serve Krishna for the right reasons.

I was wrestling with the question: Would I worship God, even if God gave me nothing?  That is difficult.  Worshiping God because God is bigger and stronger than me is not enough: there has to be something within me that is actually attracted to God for me to worship God.  God’s love is something that can attract me to God, and that attraction has some measure of self-interest on my part.

My conclusion was that I would not leave God just because God did not give me what I want.  Even if I receive nothing that I want over the course of this lifetime, there is still a moral code, a rule about what is right and what is wrong.  There is a righteousness that does not relate to whether I get what I want in this lifetime.  If I have any unconditional commitment to God at all, it based on that realization.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book Write-Up: Walking on Water, by Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L’Engle.  Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art.  Preface by Sara Zarr.  New York: Convergent Books, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Madeleine L’Engle is perhaps best known for her renowned children’s book, A Wrinkle in Time.  It’s the novel that begins with the line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

I have read some of L’Engle’s fiction, both from the Chronos series (which is more realistic) and the Kairos series (which has more fantasy and science fiction).  I like those books, but the books by L’Engle that I especially love are the ones that have her musings—-about faith, life, family, and the world of writing.  The Genesis Trilogy is like that, as is the series of books known as the Crosswicks Journals.

This book, Walking on Water, is in that genre.  The book that I just read is a reprint of a book that was originally published in 1980.  This 2016 reprint has a thoughtful preface by Sara Zarr, as well as a Reader’s Guide with discussion questions in the back.

Writing a review that does this book justice is difficult, for L’Engle has so many astute reflections and observations.  In terms of the topics on which the book focuses, the subtitle is accurate when it says that they chiefly concern “faith and art.”  L’Engle discusses such topics as what makes a book a children’s book or a Christian fiction book, how artists are faithful to a vision beyond themselves, and her experiences in reading the Bible as a story when she was a child.

Briefly in my reading of this book, I was plodding along, not fully identifying with L’Engle or what she was saying.  She talked about her speaking engagements, and I thought, “Wow, it must be great to be famous!”

The turning point, for me, was when she compared old English liturgy with new English liturgy, finding the former to be much richer.  For instance, she prefers the old “It is He who hath made us and not we ourselves” to the new “It is He who has made us and we belong to Him,” for the former highlights that we did not bring ourselves into being.  When she talked about her loneliness as a child and how she took refuge in the world of story (both writing and reading), that endeared the book to me: “That’s the Madeleine L’Engle I love to read!”, I thought, “Honest, profound, and vulnerable!”

Some questions remain in my mind about her views on art.  Is the art something separate from the artist—-a vision to which the artist must be faithful—-or does the artist’s creativity play some role in the formation of the art?  She presents art as something that practically overtakes the artist, but she also talks about her experiences as a teacher and her attempts to encourage her students to write better fiction.  Perhaps vision, creativity, and work all play a role in art, according to L’Engle.

My favorite line in the book is one that she quotes, from a man whose name was unknown to her: “God must be very great to have created a world which carries so many arguments against his existence.”

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Blogging for Books.  My review is honest.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Book Write-Up: When the Son of Man Didn't Come

Christopher M. Hays, in collaboration with Brandon Gallaher, Julia S. Konstantinovsky, Richard J. Ounsworth, and C.A. Strine.  When the Son of Man Didn’t Come: A Constructive Proposal on the Delay of the Parousia.  Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Many Christians have wrestled with the claim that Jesus at his first coming predicted the imminent end of the world and establishment of an eschatological paradise, or at least predicted that these things would occur within decades.  In Matthew 10:23, Jesus tells his disciples that, when they are persecuted in one city, they should flee to another, and they will not have gone over the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes.  In Mark 9:1, Jesus says to his disciples that some among them will not taste death, before they see the Kingdom of God come with power.  In Matthew 16:28, Jesus says some will not taste death before seeing the Son of Man come in his kingdom.  In Mark 13:30, after Jesus talks about calamity that will befall Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus says that this generation shall not pass away, until all of these things have taken place.

Over two thousand years have passed, and the second coming of Christ has not yet occurred.  Did Jesus err in saying that the coming of the Son of Man was imminent or soon?  Does that show that Christianity is false: that Jesus was merely a man, without a divine identity or a divine message?  In Deuteronomy 18:21-22, a criterion is presented for determining whether a prophet speaks God’s words or not.  The criterion is that, if a prophet speaks in God’s name, and the prophecy fails to come to pass, then the prophecy is not from the LORD.  Does Jesus fail at this prophetic criterion?

When the Son of Man Didn’t Come includes scholarly essays that wrestle with such questions.  In this review, I will comment about each essay, then I will offer a critique, detailing what I believe are the positives and negatives of the book.

Chapter 1: “Introduction: Was Jesus Wrong About the Eschaton?”

In this chapter, Christopher M. Hays lays out the problem.  Against scholars such as N.T. Wright, Hays contends that Jesus indeed did predict an eschaton that was soon.  Hays states that Mark 13 holds that the second coming of Christ would occur soon after the destruction of Jerusalem, which historically occurred in 70 C.E.  That did not happen, however.  Hays also offers an overview of the history of the problem in New Testament scholarship, which includes the tendencies of some scholars to argue that Jesus was originally non-eschatological, but that people later added an eschatological layer to Jesus’ teaching.

Chapter 2: “Prophecy: A History of Failure?”

In this chapter, Hays notes what may be a similar problem in the Hebrew Bible, only this problem concerns the end of the Judahite exile.  Jeremiah prophesied that the Judahite exile would last for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8-14; 29:10-14).  Yet, seventy years passed, and the grandeur that Jeremiah predicted would accompany the restoration still had not occurred.  Judahites returned to the land of Israel and rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, but they were still ruled by Gentiles, and they were not experiencing peace and prosperity.  There are different views in the Bible about when the exile actually ended, and Daniel in Daniel 9 seems to reinterpret Jeremiah’s seventy years as four-hundred-ninety years.  Some voices in the Hebrew Bible believe that the sins of Israel are hindering the full restoration of the Judahite people.  Second Temple Judaism continued to wrestle with the delayed restoration of Israel.

Chapter 3: “Reconceiving Prophecy: Activation, Not Prognostication.”

In this chapter, C.A. Strine argues that the fulfillment criterion in Deuteronomy 18:21-22 was not the only game in town when it came to prophecy.  In Jeremiah 18:1-10, God states that whether God fulfills prophecies of disaster depends on people’s repentance: if people repent, then God will not send the prophesied disaster.  Strine notes a conditional view of prophecy elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, in the Ancient Near East, in rabbinic literature, and in early patristic sources.  Could God have changed God’s mind about the prophesied timing of the Son of Man’s return?

Chapter 4: “The Delay of the Parousia: A Traditional and Historical-Critical Reading of Scripture: Part 1.”

In this chapter, Hays and Richard J. Ounsworth talk about the partial fulfillment of prophecy.  There is some recognition in the Hebrew Bible that the Judahites’ return from exile had been partially fulfilled, and a belief that the delay in its full fulfillment was due to Judahites’ sin.  Similarly, within New Testament Gospels, there is the idea that Jesus’ inauguration of the Kingdom of God was partially fulfilled through his ministry and the work of the church.  For Hays and Ounsworth, partial fulfillment of a prophecy does not entail the prophecy’s failure.

Chapter 5: “The Delay of the Parousia: A Traditional and Historical-Critical Reading of Scripture: Part 2.”

In this chapter, Hays contends that Jesus’ prediction of the soon coming of the parousia was a conditional prophecy.  Hays cites passages in the synoptic Gospels in which Jesus gives ethical exhortations to his disciples that accompany his prophecies about the end.  What if Christians failed to heed those exhortations?  Hays states: “Insofar as people did not respond properly (as evidenced by the myriad of ethical rebukes contained in the New Testament epistles and the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3), one might aver that it is not only understandable, but necessary that the end not occur within the prophesied time-frame” (page 100).  Jesus said that the end would come after the Gospel has been proclaimed to the world, but what if the disciples fail to do that (Mark 13:10; Matthew 24:14)?  Would Jesus delay the end?  Hays also argues that there are indications in Jesus’ eschatological teaching that he did not regard the timing of the Son of Man’s return to be a firmly set event: why else would Jesus tell his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom might come (Matthew 6:10), or instruct them to pray that their flight from Jerusalem does not occur in the winter or on the Sabbath day (Matthew 13:18; 24:20)?  Does not that imply that God may base the timing of the end on Christians’ prayers?  Acts 3:19-21 also factors into Hays’ discussion: there, Peter tells the people of Israel that God will send the Messianic restoration if they repent.  Then there is II Peter 3, which talks about how God delays the end to give people an opportunity to repent, while also saying that Christians can hasten the coming of the day of God by their holy lives.  Hays tries to address whether this is a contradiction: should Christians desire the delay of the end so that more people have a chance to repent before God comes in judgment, or should they seek to accelerate the coming of the eschaton through their holy living?  Hays fails to offer a completely satisfactory answer to this question, but this chapter is still the best in the book, in that it offers a biblical case for Hays’ (and the book’s) claims.  In addition, Hays talks about the appearance of such themes (i.e., delayed judgment) in Second Temple literature and patristic sources.  I should also note that, later in the book (page 232), Brandon Galaher and Julia S. Konstantinovsky refer to an additional example: Paul seems to have believed that he could accelerate the second coming by bringing more Gentiles into the people of God (Romans 11).

Chapter 6: “Negating the Fall and Re-Constituting Creation: An Apophatic Account of the Redemption of Time and History in Christ.”

At this point, the book shifts gears and discusses theology.  In this chapter, Julia S. Konstantinovsky talks about such issues as God’s eternity and the limitations in human understanding of God.  Her argument seems to be that God is outside of our time, and that we cannot understand from our limited perspective why exactly God has delayed the second coming.  Her discussion reminded me of Madeleine L’Engle’s distinction between kairos and chronos: kairos is divine time, whereas chronos is human chronological time.  Kairos (as I understand it) includes God’s larger plan and story, and God being above and beyond time, with all people and events before God simultaneously.

Chapter 7: “Divine Possibilities: The Condescension of God and the Restriction of Divine Freedom.”

In this chapter, Brandon Gallaher and Julia S. Konstantinovsky argue that God can pursue different possibilities and still be God: the different possibilities that God chooses are rooted in God’s character as God.  In essence, they are saying that God has the leeway to change God’s plan in response to human behavior, and they maintain that such a view exists throughout the history of Christian thought, from Augustine to Barth.  God can plan for Christ to return immediately after Pentecost in Acts 2, as Peter seems to expect in that chapter, or God can change God’s mind in response to human behavior and delay the second coming.  For Gallaher and Kontantinovsky, God is not flippant, arbitrary, or less divine in pursuing either option.

Chapter 8: “Divine Action in Christ: The Christocentric and Trinitarian Nature of Human Cooperation with God.”

This chapter is by Gallaher and Konstantinovsky.  It discusses the Trinity and the cooperation that exists within it, as the Father begets the Son and the Son allows himself to be begotten.  It also offers practical points of application in reference to eschatology, on such topics as worship, social justice, mission, and contemplation.  On a related note, later in the book, on page 298, Hays refers to the “pro-Chalcedonian dynamics of dyotheletism of the Sixth Ecumenical Council (i.e. the Third Council of Constantinople)” that “the divine will and the human will in Christ cooperate; neither one dominates the other.”  This corresponds with the book’s claim that God works with a freely-acting humanity, which the book believes offers some explanation for the delay of the second coming.

Chapter 9, by Strine, Ounsworth, and Gallaher, is about the festivals in the Hebrew Bible, typology, the circularity and linearity of history (i.e., salvation history), and liturgy’s role in celebrating God’s past, present, and future activity.  Chapter 10, by Hays and Strine, discusses the method of the book’s composition and points of practical application.  Chapter 11, by Hays, provides the conclusion.

The book effectively made the case that the timing of the second coming is flexible and contingent, at least in some passages of Scripture.  Perhaps the authors are correct that God has delayed the parousia to give people the opportunity to repent.  The book also is a helpful guide to the history of biblical interpretation regarding the timing of the parousia and contingent prophecy.  Those interested in theology will probably find Kontantinovsky’s contributions informative.  Kontantinovsky and Gallaher make an important point when it comes to debates about libertarianism, compatibilism, and determinism: that God can pursue different options, while still being true to God’s nature.  For Kontantinovsky, I gather, God is not limited to one righteous option, for there may be a variety of righteous options.  While detractors can respond that God would inevitably choose the best option, and there is only one best option, perhaps Kontantinovsky can retort that God considers being flexible in response to human free will to be the best option.  (I do not recall her making that retort, but it is a retort that she could make.)

While the book had positives, its negative is that so many significant questions were left unanswered.  Why exactly did Jesus predict that the parousia would be imminent, or at least soon, and what specifically did Israel and the church do, or not do, that influenced God to delay the second coming?  To say that God delayed the second coming because Israel failed to repent may be faithful to Acts 3:19-21, but it is a problematic solution when other biblical passages are considered.  For instance, Mark 13 and parallels depict Jesus coming back after the destruction of Jerusalem, which presumes that Israel does not repent.  Matthew 10:23 holds that the Son of Man will return when Christians are being persecuted in Israelite cities, which, too, presumes non-repentance on the part of much of Israel when Christ returns.  Non-repentance of Israel, in these passages at least, is not enough to delay the second coming.

Did the church do, or fail to do, something and thereby delay the parousia?  Did it fail to spread the Gospel to the world, and thus violate the condition for Christ’s return set forth in Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14?  But Romans 10:18 and Colossians 1:23 appear to imply that the Gospel had gone to all the world in the first century C.E.  Was the church too sinful for Christ to return in the first century?  But there are many parables in the synoptic Gospels in which Jesus talks about the Son of Man returning in a time when certain Christians are not ready, or when some Christians are sinful (i.e., Matthew 25).  Christ does not appear to be waiting for the church to be perfect, before he returns!  The book should have interacted with such questions; otherwise, it seems to be appealing to the conditionality of prophecy in an attempt to find a loophole, rather than exploring the implications of its arguments.

The same can be said about the prophecies in the Hebrew Bible about Israel’s restoration from exile.  God does not fully restore Israel because she is still sinful?  But the prophecies say that God will take care of this problem when God restores Israel: God will punish the wicked Israelites and transform the Israelites so that their hearts are yielded to God’s righteous ways (see, for example, Jeremiah 31; Ezekiel 11:19; 18:1; 20:33-38; 36:26; Zechariah 14:8-9).  In this case, non-repentance does not delay the eschaton.

There is also the question of what exactly the faithful should do with Deuteronomy 18:21-22, which says that non-fulfillment of a prophecy disqualifies a prophet.  Strine argues that this scenario is not the only game in town, and, yes, focusing on the conditionality of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible may be more useful in terms of the book’s thesis.  But what should be done with Deuteronomy 18:21-22?  Does appealing to the conditionality of prophecy invalidate Deuteronomy 18:21-22?  After all, if prophecy is contingent on people’s ethical or religious behavior, could not any non-fulfillment of prophecy be explained away?  One can always note some moral flaws or imperfections in people, or something that they are doing right.

The book should have explored more fully the question of why God says that God will do things, that God does not do.  Unless we can see clearly that people repent, and this influences God to change God’s mind (i.e., Jonah), then a change in mind on God’s part appears somewhat flippant (not that I want to judge God, but this is a theological issue that should be addressed).  Why would God threaten evildoers in explicit and specific terms, then delay the punishment to give them time to repent?  Does that not cheapen the initial threat?  What was the purpose of the initial threat?  In my opinion, there is a place for divine flexibility in response to human behavior, but, unless we can see specifically how that comes into play when it comes to the second coming or any prophecies, God appears to be making threats or promises and not carrying them through.  Perhaps the authors could respond that God makes these threats and promises in an educational sense, or to influence human behavior.  While that may be a good answer, there should be more wrestling with how God can go back on what God said, without appearing flippant.  Does God say things that God does not really mean?

There is also the question of whether the contingencies related to the second coming are inconsistent.  If people repent, then God will not send disaster; yet, disaster accompanies the second coming because it is a time of divine wrath, so will God delay the second coming if people repent?  Yet, God delays the second coming when people do not repent, to give them more time to repent!  The book’s authors could perhaps respond that they are not presenting an exact science.  Fair enough, but when does it get to the point when God’s words appear meaningless, under this book’s model, or explanations of the non-fulfillment of prophecy become special pleading?

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss.  My review is honest.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Write-Up: Hebrews, by Dr. Kathy Stewart

Dr. Kathy Stewart.  Hebrews: It’s Not How You Start—It’s How You Finish: A Study Guide to the Most Encouraging Book in the New Testament.  Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2013.  See here to buy the book.

As the title indicates, this book is a study guide to the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.

The book encourages active learning.  Readers are to look up Scriptures, identify things in them, and write things down.  In going through this book, one can go deeply into the Bible, savoring not only the Epistle to the Hebrews, but also the Old Testament passages to which Hebrews refers.

Kathy Stewart’s discussions were pretty good, in areas.  Her discussion of the different views about the authorship of Hebrews, and the reasons for those views, was especially judicious.  Stewart also argued that Melchizedek in the Epistle to the Hebrews was not Jesus Christ but foreshadowed Jesus Christ, as a type, and that would explain Hebrews 7:3’s point that Melchizedek lacks a father or mother, beginning of days and end of life.  For Stewart, the historical Melchizedek had those things, but they were not mentioned in Genesis because Melchizedek was to be a type of Christ, who actually was eternal.  Stewart’s discussion of how David may have seen Psalm 110, which transcended the Israelite religious institutions of his time, was also effective.

One of Stewart’s arguments was intriguing, but it does not quite work.  Stewart argues that Hebrews 6:1-2 is encouraging the Jewish Christians to move past Jewish doctrines, not rudimentary Christian doctrines.  These doctrines include repentance from dead works (which Stewart interprets as animal sacrifices, probably the hypocritical, insincere sacrificing of animals that the Old Testament condemns), faith in God, baptisms, the laying on of hands, and teaching about the last judgment and the resurrection from the dead.  According to Stewart, the baptisms in Hebrews 6:2 refer not to Christian baptism but rather to the ritual washings in the Torah, and the laying on of hands is likewise a practice in the Torah.  For Stewart, the author of Hebrews wants Jewish Christians not to revert back to Judaism but to build on their Jewish foundation by believing in Jesus.  The problem with Stewart’s interpretation of Hebrews 6:1-2 is that Hebrews 6:1 refers to “leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ” and going on “unto perfection” (KJV).  That seems to indicate that Hebrews 6:1-2 concerns moving on from basic Christian doctrine.

Stewart then goes on to explain the troubling passage of Hebrews 6:4-5, which talks about how it is impossible to renew to repentance those who fall away, after they have been enlightened, have tasted of the heavenly gift, were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the word of God and the powers of the world to come.  At first, Stewart argues that this is about the Jewish people, not Christians who leave the faith.  But then she argues that it is about Christians who leave the faith.  Her discussion started out intriguing, as she tried to build on her point about Hebrews 6:1-2 being about Jewish doctrines, but then it became contradictory.

Stewart’s discussion on Hebrews 9:4-5 made an astute and intriguing observation but failed to follow through.  Stewart notes that the passage mentions the golden parts of the Tabernacle, which were in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, but not the bronze parts that were outside of the Tabernacle.  Her point may have been that Jesus replaced the bronze parts, which related to atonement, by being the atonement himself.  But then she seemed to be arguing that Jesus replaced golden parts of the Tabernacle, too, making me wonder why exactly Hebrews 9:4-5 mentions the golden parts, but not the bronze parts.

Stewart’s discussion of the rest in Hebrews 4 was rather unclear.  She says that God has rested from the works of creation and salvation since the time of Adam and Eve, and that is God’s rest.  Yet, she says that believers enter into God’s rest, which is eternal blessedness.  What does eternal blessedness have to do with God resting from the works of creation and salvation?

At times, Stewart would ask the reader questions, when she would have done well to have explained her point.  Her discussion of the covenant with Abraham and the Mosaic covenant was especially confusing.  She said that the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 was unconditional while the Sinaitic one was conditional.  Then, she seemed to distinguish a promise from a covenant, as if a covenant was conditional.  But she had already called the unconditional covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 a covenant!

Stewart speculates that the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews were Ebionites, who were Jewish Christians.  Stewart could have explained this a little better, perhaps making clearer that she thinks that the Epistle is refuting certain Ebionite beliefs.  Many Ebionites, for instance, believed that Jesus was a man and not God, whereas the Epistle to the Hebrews presents Jesus as a pre-existent being who assisted God in the work of creation.

Stewart’s book lifts up Christ, which does provide practical edification.  At the same time, it could have included more points about practical application.

Overall, this book has positives and negatives.  Readers may be edified by this book, but it is scattered and confusing, in areas.  The book is upbeat in places, which shows Stewart’s enthusiasm as a teacher; yet, that upbeat tone sometimes degenerated into silliness.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through BookLook Bloggers.  My review is honest.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Write-Up: A Man Attested by God, by J.R. Daniel Kirk

J.R. Daniel Kirk.  A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels.  Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

In A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, New Testament scholar J.R. Daniel Kirk argues against the idea that the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) regard Jesus as pre-existent and as God incarnate.  For Kirk, the synoptics portray Jesus as God’s human representative and the Messiah; the Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus as a new Adam, and the Gospel of Matthew sees him as a new Israel.  According to Kirk, Jesus as such things has divine prerogatives: Jesus rules as God’s representative, Jesus has authority over water and nature, and Jesus can forgive sins.  Still, for Kirk, Jesus in the synoptics is what Kirk calls an idealized human figure, a concept that existed in Second Temple Judaism.  This differs from seeing Jesus in the synoptics as pre-existent, God incarnate, or ontologically divine.

Kirk makes a variety of arguments in support of his position.  Kirk argues that there is no evidence that the synoptics viewed Jesus as pre-existent or as God incarnate.  Not only do the synoptics appear to treat Jesus and God as two separate entities, but, when people in the synoptics saw Jesus’ miracles, they concluded that he was the Messiah, not God incarnate.  This was not surprising, according to Kirk, since there were Jewish legends about Solomon, a king from David’s line, being an exorcist, plus there was a belief, rooted in Hebrew prophetic writings, that miracles would accompany the Messianic era.  Kirk surveys the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish literature and sees there the concept of human beings (i.e., Adam, Davidic kings, Israel, priests, prophets, etc.) representing God on earth, and even having certain divine prerogatives and privileges, without themselves being ontologically divine.  For Kirk, the synoptic Gospels’ depiction of Jesus reflects this concept.

Kirk engages scholars who believe differently, specifically Richard Bauckham, C. Kavin Rowe, Richard B. Hays, Larry Hurtado, Simon B. Gathercole, Daniel Boyarin, and Crispin Fletcher-Louis.  Kirk also responds to objections.  Against the idea that Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is God because Mark 1:3 applies to Jesus Isaiah 40:3, which was about God, Kirk notes incidents in which Qumran documents apply Scriptures about God to human beings.  Some argue that Jesus’ authority over the waters echoes God’s authority over the waters in the Hebrew Bible, but Kirk responds that God’s representatives in the Hebrew Bible (i.e., Moses, prophets, and the Davidic king in certain Psalms) are also depicted or said to have authority over waters.  Against the argument that Jesus in the synoptics is God because he forgave sins, which detractors in the synoptics regarded as blasphemy because only God could forgive sins, Kirk notes that Jesus in the synoptics delegated to his disciples the authority to forgive sins, meaning it was a divine prerogative shared by God’s human representatives.

Another question that has been asked is why Jesus’ claim to be the Christ, the Son of God, and the Son of Man was considered by the high priest to be blasphemy in Matthew 26:65 and Mark 14:64.  It may have been deemed politically subversive to claim to be the Messiah, but blasphemous?  Jesus must have been claiming to be God in that case, some think!  Kirk was rather terse in engaging this question head-on.  Kirk’s discussion of blasphemy focused mostly on the ironic use of the concept of blasphemy in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew.  But, on page 330, Kirk states regarding Jesus’ claim before the high priest to be Son of Man: “Inasmuch as this title constitutes a claim to exercising divine authority on earth, it is a source of opposition from Jewish leaders who see this as a violation of divine prerogative and, perhaps, their own place as God’s agents on earth.”  Kirk could have developed this argument some more, perhaps by commenting on the stance of the Sadducees toward the Book of Daniel (where the Son of Man concept appears) or Messianism, or the question of whether there was diversity of opinion within Judaism about humans sharing divine prerogatives.  Still, Kirk’s argument here is plausible.

While I do have slight reservations about the book, they either do not threaten Kirk’s overall case, or Kirk addresses such potential reservations, on some level.  One reservation is that Kirk seems to focus on Second Temple Judaism as the background for the synoptics, rather than Greco-Roman culture.  Kirk focuses mostly on Second Temple Judaism, but he does occasionally talk about Greco-Roman philosophers with miraculous powers, or the Roman emperor’s status as adopted son and representative of the divine.  In the case of certain Greco-Roman philosophers, there was a belief among some that they had ontological divinity—-that Plato or Pythagoras was a son of Apollo, for example.  One can ask if this is relevant to whether Jesus in the synoptic Gospels has ontological divinity, not just a functional or representational divinity.  Kirk briefly engages this question, saying that even in this case Jesus would not be considered a pre-existent divine being, since Plato and Pythagoras were not deemed to be such.  Kirk does not thoroughly deal with this question, but this question does not overthrow the excellent questions Kirk asks about the view that the synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as pre-existent and God incarnate.

Another reservation I have is that Kirk rarely interacts with source criticism of the Gospels.  Kirk at one point (as far as I can remember) mentions Q, but his overall approach is to treat the synoptic Gospels as unified documents: Mark has his message, Luke has his message, etc.  This reservation may challenge Kirk’s tendency to interpret some passages in a synoptic Gospel in reference to other passages in that Gospel, since the two passages may be from different sources, with different ideologies.  It does not overthrow Kirk’s thesis, however.

There were times when Kirk’s exegesis helpfully clarified passages in the synoptic Gospels.  Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27-28 that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath because the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?  How does Jesus being Lord of the Sabbath follow from the Sabbath being made for man?  Kirk’s response is that Jesus in Mark 2:27-28, as Messianic Son of Man, had the authoritative role that God gave to Adam, the original recipient of the Sabbath.  Kirk argues extensively that, within parts of the Hebrew Bible (i.e., P) and Second Temple Judaism, there was a notion that God gave Adam authority over creation, and that Israel and the Davidic king assumed the mantle of Adam’s authority, and that the Messiah or Israel would assume it again in the eschatological era.  For Kirk, Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27-28 may reflect this concept.

Also noteworthy is Kirk’s discussion of Matthew 11:27 and Luke 10:22, which state that no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son, and those to whom the Son reveals him.  Does that imply that Jesus in the synoptics is more than human?  Kirk interprets these passages in light of the Messianic secret, and also passages in the Psalms of Solomon in which the Messiah has a special knowledge of God.

The book is about 600 pages, but it is never boring.  It is more thorough on some issues than on others, yet it still addresses those other issues (i.e., the development of different Christologies in the New Testament).  It is very well-argued, and New Testament scholarship should take its arguments seriously.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.  My review is honest.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Book Write-Up: Waves of Mercy, by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin.  Waves of MercyMinneapolis: Bethany House, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

Waves of Mercy is set in the nineteenth century.  Anna Nicholson is a young woman from Chicago, and she is staying at Hotel Ottawa in Holland, Michigan to recuperate after a fight with her fiance, William.  Anna was adopted at a very young age, and her adopted parents have a high social status.  Anna’s adopted father wants Anna to marry William because William is wealthy and can save his family from financial disaster.  But William is controlling, and he does not like Anna attending the church where renowned evangelist D.L. Moody preaches.

In Holland, Michigan, a young man named Derk works at the Hotel where Anna is staying.  Derk is Dutch, as are many people in Holland Michigan, since, years before, Dutch Christians settled there in pursuit of religious freedom.  Derk has an “aunt,” Geesje.  Geesje is not literally Derk’s aunt, but Geesje was a loving presence in Derk’s life after Derk lost his mother.  Geesje was among the first Dutch settlers of Holland, Michigan, and she has a story of her own, which she is writing down for the town’s semi-centennial anniversary.

The book alternates between Anna’s story and Geesje’s story.  Geesje talks about what is occurring in the present, but she also shares her past story.  Geesje’s story includes her falling in love with a soldier, her marrying a devout Christian whom she did not love when she thought the soldier was dead, her travails as her sons fought in the American Civil War, and her struggle with her headstrong, independent daughter, Christine.

Derk meets Anna, thinking at first that she is a cousin, and they talk.  They share their struggles with each other, and Derk feels that Anna would benefit from talking with Geesje, a devout Christian.  Meanwhile, Anna wonders about the identity of her real parents.

The book has several positives.  First of all, the book clearly marked where Anna and Geesje were telling their stories.  A lot of Christian fiction novels do not mark when different characters are narrating, believe it or not, and that can get pretty annoying!  Second, the book did not end predictably.  There was one element of the plot that I saw coming a mile away, but the actual ending of the book did not attempt to pander to readers.  The main characters did not get everything that they wanted.  But, come to think of it, that actually accords with the rest of the book, for Geesje did not always get what she wanted, either!

Third, the book had edifying spiritual and religious themes.  Like other Lynn Austin books that I have read, this book, too, tries to deal with the question of why God allows suffering.  And this book raises the same points that other Lynn Austin books do: that we cannot manipulate God with our prayers, that God’s ways are higher than our ways, etc.  This book, however, included a slightly different twist.  When Geesje was a young woman, people with problems came to Geesje because they knew she was angry with God, and people were tired of hearing the same old pat answers and thus respected her honesty.  God used Geesje even when she was angry with God.  In addition, Geesje talked about how God was upset with death, too, since death was not part of God’s original design.  In reading other Lynn Austin novels, I wondered how, or if, the various solutions or answers to the problem of evil held together.  They held together a little better in Waves of Mercy, for the picture that I get is that God is not entirely satisfied with the world as it is, but God temporarily permits it to be that way for God’s purposes, even as God shows people God’s love.

Fourth, the book has strong characterization and well-executed scenes, as do many Lynn Austin novels.  Anna’s mother was somewhat of a snob, but she loved Anna, she donated to charity, and she enjoyed being with her friends.  William had his flaws, but he eventually shared with Anna why he was suspicious of certain churches.  Fifth, the appendix of the book is noteworthy because Lynn Austin shares there what aspects of her book are historically-accurate, and where she used poetic license.  She also ties the book’s setting to her own life by sharing that she attended Hope College, which is in Holland, Michigan.

My criticisms are minor, and they particularly concern Austin’s depiction of D.L. Moody and R.L. Torrey.  She presents them as preaching a “God loves you and has a plan for your life” sort of message (my paraphrase).  She occasionally mentions repentance and being born again in describing their message, but the “God loves you and has a plan for your life” message looms larger in her characterization.  Meanwhile, the high church that Anna’s family ordinarily attends focuses on obeying God’s laws.  These characterizations do not sound entirely correct, even if there may be something to them.  Moody and Torrey believed in God’s love and providence, but they also talked about themes such as hell, which does not give people a warm and fuzzy feeling.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Rise of the Prophet

Rodney Coe.  The Rise of the Prophet.  Crosslink Publishing, 2016.  See here to buy the book.

The Rise of the Prophet is set in the fictional land of Habareet.  In the past, Habareet was prosperous and united.  Then, the Barar, or chosen people, were driven out of the country, and the aftermath of that was division and scarcity.  Institutional religion has become feel-good and perfunctory, rather than encouraging people to repent.  The authorities try to keep the Barar from returning.  Amidst this, Adonai, the God of the land, is at work.  Revival is occurring, and people are repenting.  God is calling prophets.  There is a marine named Joel, who has remarkable physical strength.  There is also Martin, who is dealing with his own emotional baggage, as he struggles to believe on account of the religious hypocrisy he has observed and the chaos that is around him.

The book has its positives.  The world that it creates is intriguing.  The religious divisions are noteworthy, as are the negative stereotypes that characters had of the Barar.  The prose is simple, so the book is a quick read.  Occasionally, the book offered good lessons.  There is a passage in which a character is told that, just because people around him are immoral, that does not mean that he has to be immoral.  One of the villains among the authorities is sincerely encouraged to repent.  And Martin’s struggle to find God amidst chaos is somewhat realistic.

The book has its negatives, though.  While the prose was simple, I often felt as if I was going through the book without much context.  As a result, I did not understand the motivations of many of the characters.  There was an attempt near the beginning of the book to provide context, through Joel’s flashback about the events that led him to that point, but that was overly terse.  Ordinarily, when I read a novel, I become accustomed to the book’s world in the second fifty-pages, or so, but I had no such luck with this novel.  I was exhorted by a couple passages here and there, and Joel and Martin stood out to me as particularly realistic characters, probably because the book went into more detail about their backgrounds.  But, in terms of the larger plot, I had to scan passages that I had already read to understand what exactly was going on, and why.

Perhaps the book would have been better had it included fewer action scenes, and more religious and political discussions, including among the villains.  Or the book could have provided an introduction that laid out the story, rather than throwing readers into a new world and expecting them to make sense of it.  I think of a version of the movie Dune, which provided an illustrated introduction explaining the characters, the issues, and the larger motivations.

The book had potential, but it fell short.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Bookcrash.  My review is honest.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Sowing, Reaping, and Reciprocation

It was supposed to rain five inches last Sunday, so I did not physically go to church that morning.  Rather, I stayed home and watched the service on the Internet.  It wasn’t the same, but it was something!

The senior pastor was not preaching, but the youth pastor was, and his sermon was about trials.  In this post, I want to reflect on something in particular that he said.

He said that, if we love others during their trials, then others will be more inclined to love us during our trials.

That reminded me of something that someone said to me over a decade ago.  I was complaining to a leader of a small group about not feeling particularly loved in the group.  He replied that people reap what they sow: if I want friendship, then I need to sow the seeds of friendship myself.

There is some wisdom to that.  Of course, it is far from absolute.  And I mean FAR from absolute.  A person can try without success to make friends.  Articles attest that loneliness is quite common in this day and age.  Still, it is good for me to ask myself: is there anything that I am doing, or not doing, that may be turning people away from me?

Amidst all of this, I should remember that it is better to give than to receive.  I should try to be nice to people, even if I am not entirely certain that they will reciprocate, and even if I fail to make a connection with them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Write-Up: Discovering the Septuagint

Karen H. Jobes, ed.  Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

The Septuagint (or LXX) is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible.  Many scholars agree that the Septuagint for the Pentateuch was made in the third century B.C.E., while the Septuagint for the other books of the Hebrew Bible was made in the centuries after that, up to the first century C.E.

According to the “How to Use This Book” section, this book “is intended to aid students who have had at least three semesters of koine Greek begin to read the Greek Jewish Scriptures as found in the Rahlfs-Hanhart critical edition of the Septuagint” (page 9).

The book has ten chapters, and each chapter concerns the Septuagint for certain biblical passages.  Chapter 1 looks at Genesis 1-3.  Chapter 2 concerns Exodus 14-15.  Chapter 3 is about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  Chapter 4 covers the Book of Ruth.  Chapter 5 concerns the additions to the Book of Esther that are in the Septuagint.  Chapter 6 is about specific Psalms: Psalms 21-22, 33, 99, 109, and 151.  Chapter 7 looks at chapters from the Book of Hosea.  Chapter 8 covers the Book of Jonah.  Chapter 9 concerns the Book of Malachi.  And Chapter 10 looks at chapters of Isaiah, including passages from chapters 6-7, 52-54, and 61.

Each chapter begins with an introduction about the Septuagint for the biblical book.  The book’s senior editor, Karen Jobes, contributed to many of the chapters, but other scholars contributed to chapters, as well.  The chapter then goes verse by verse through the Septuagint passage.  The Greek for the verse is presented, and that is followed by notes.  The notes translate or parse words in the verse, comment on grammar, and occasionally offer interpretational or historical insight. The notes do not parse every single word.  To quote once more from the “How to Use This Book” section: “Generally, though with some exceptions, Greek words are parsed and defined only if they do not appear in Metzger’s Lexical Aids for Students of New Testament Greek, the vocabulary expected of students who have had three semesters of Greek” (page 9).  The book also provides some assistance on the grammatical notes.  Pages 13-14 provide a list of the grammatical abbreviations that are used in the notes, and pages 345-347 have a “Glossary of Technical Terms.”

After all of the verses of the passage are covered in the chapter, an English translation of the passage—-specifically the New English Translation of the Septuagint—-is presented.  Some may wish that the book had provided the English translation after each verse, rather than presenting the English translation near the end of the chapter.  The goal, however, is for students to work through the verse themselves, and later to check their own translations against the NETS.

After the NETS translation of the passage, the chapter has a chart about how the passage is used in the New Testament, if the passage is used there.  The chart refers to the Septuagint verse and the New Testament verse where the Septuagint verse is engaged, and it briefly mentions the “context or theme”, meaning how the New Testament is using the verse.

The book is especially interesting when it offers interpretational or historical insight.  The comment on Genesis 2:2, for example, notes that the Septuagint translator differed from the Hebrew Masoretic by saying that God completed God’s work of creation prior to the seventh day, rather than on the seventh day, in order to stress that God did no work on the Sabbath.  The note mentions other texts (i.e., the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Peshitta, and Genesis Midrash) that have a similar interpretation of Genesis 2:2 to that of the Septuagint.  On Jonah 3:4, the note observes that Jonah in the Septuagint says that Nineveh will be destroyed after three days, whereas the MT states that it will be destroyed after forty days.  The note mentions the view of Augustine that the LXX translators were divinely inspired to change the MT so that the passage would foreshadow Christ’s resurrection on the third day.

There were many such gems in the book.  But there were also times when more elaboration could have clarified ambiguities, provided additional perspective or context, or made the book richer.  Is a psuche (soul) something that humans and animals have that animates them, or is it something that a human being uniquely is (Genesis 1:30; 2:7)?  Why does the LXX for Isaiah 53 go out of its way to disassociate God from the suffering servant’s suffering, as the notes indicate that it does?  Why does the LXX for the Book of Hosea consider Baal a goddess?  And how can John 19:36 apply Psalm 33:21 (34:20) to Christ’s crucifixion, when the LXX states that God will prevent righteous people’s bones from being crushed, not just the bones of one person (namely, Christ at his crucifixion)?

There were times when the book noted differences between the LXX and the MT.  At times, it sought to account for those differences, on the basis of the LXX translators’ differing ideology or historical context, or confusion of one word with another.  At other times, however, it simply noted the difference, without explanation.

On the grammatical notes, there are cases in which the glossary at the end offers a definition for technical terms.  But not every technical term was defined in the glossary.  Perhaps students with three semesters of Greek are expected to know the meanings of the technical terms that are not in the glossary.  Fair enough, but why did the glossary define some types of participles, but not others?

There were cases in which looking at the verses themselves could help a person determine the meaning of a grammatical term.  That said, the glossary would have been more helpful had it included more examples or illustrations of what terms mean.

Students would probably do well to treat the grammatical notes as general guidelines, not as absolutes.  For example, on page 183, we read that the usage of the pronoun autos (he) is “often unemphatic” in the Septuagint.  Later, on page 267, there is a statement that the LXX for Malachi 1:4b is using pronouns for emphasis (“They will build, but I will tear down”).

Would this book be worthwhile as a textbook for students?  Could students get the same experience going through the Septuagint on BibleWorks?  Overall, I would say that this book can be useful as a textbook, on account of its notes.  Like I said, there were times when I was hoping for more, but what the book does offer is informative.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, by Jeremy Pierre

Jeremy Pierre.  The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience.  Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Jeremy Pierre teaches biblical counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is also the Dean of Students.  Pierre is also a pastor and a member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life is about the desires of the heart and how they can lead to problems in life.  The book offers guidance about how one can counsel someone else and help that person to identify and apply Christ-centered solutions.

A strength of the book is that it highlights the importance of appreciating where people are.  Simply telling people to stop sinning and to obey the Bible does not necessarily work, according to Pierre, although those are ultimate goals.  Helping people to identify the desires of their heart and the role that they play in their decisions, by contrast, can be effective.  For instance, are they obsessed with approval from others, and this is why they are angry?  Do they play video games a lot because that gives them a sense of accomplishment, which they are not getting at work?

In terms of spiritual guidance, a biblical counselor can help people to clarify their views on God and prayer, in order to assist them in dealing with any roadblocks in their Christian walk.  Pierre has a lot of narrative in the book, but he also includes thoughtful questions that a biblical counselor can ask.  A point that Pierre makes is that a Christian worldview can enable people to place their struggles in some sort of perspective: to focus on glorifying God, rather than just on themselves and whether their own desires are being met.

Pierre is clear that this is a process and that many people do not do it perfectly.  Pierre also acknowledges that such a Christ-centered approach will not solve every problem: a person with clinical depression may still be clinically depressed, for instance, but she can still glorify God, and perhaps even be closer to God on account of her depression.  Pierre seems open to the possibility that his suggestions can help non-believers, too, but he says that the help would have limitations, in their case: one can do righteous things without being a Christian, and God’s common grace can help a non-Christian, but a transformed heart that accompanies spiritual regeneration is what can enable a person to love God and to desire and do God’s will.

The book had positive and constructive insights about how one can look at life and other people.  For instance, the book talked about how people can fall into ruts when they are isolated, how church can be a place where people value others apart from their social status, and how we should view people realistically, yet charitably.  The author was honest about his own personality flaws.  And the book was clear, yet it had a sophisticated prose, which can give readers a sense that they are reading something substantive.  I cannot say that this book taught me anything earth-shakingly new, but I was edified in reading it.  This book perhaps can help people to organize and to clarify what they already know to be true. If they lack previous familiarity with the sorts of points that Pierre makes, on the other hand, then they will learn something new.

In terms of critiques, the book could have been more specific about some things.  How, for instance, can Christ meet the desires that people are seeking to meet elsewhere?  What exactly is it about Christ that does that?  Pierre says that people should seek to build others up in the Lord, but what does that mean, on an interpersonal level?  Pierre may feel that he answered these questions, and maybe he did, on some level.  The book has its share of constructive insights: about gratitude to God and service to others, as well as the importance of depending on God in spiritual struggles.  Still, after reading the book, the sense that I get is that Pierre diagnosed the problem well, and he effectively showed that people need something constructive apart from their self-centered desires to focus on.  The Christ-centered solution to distorted human desires, however, perhaps could have been better developed.

Pierre seems to write from a Reformed, Calvinist perspective, and there is nothing wrong with that, necessarily.  Still, there was a case in the book when he was using his Calvinism to help people to feel better, when it could potentially raise some troubling questions.  For example, he encouraged victims of abuse to think about God’s justice and hatred of sin, but then he also said: “[God’s] relationship to evil events is indirect: he withholds the common grace of his righteous character directing the actions of people created to be like him” (page 172).  Does that imply that God somehow causes evildoing?  Perhaps such a thought can encourage a victim that God has a plan for horrible experiences (not to put words in Pierre’s mouth), or to rest in God’s sovereignty.  Still, a number of people would find that concept troubling.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.  My review is honest.

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