“A Meal with Jesus”- Book Recommendation

I recently read an excellent little book by Tim Chester called “A Meal with Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community, & Mission around the Table.   It’s a study of several portions of Luke’s Gospel that deal with Jesus at various meals.  I was greatly challenged by much of what was said, especially in the practical applications of hospitality in cultures where even families don’t eat meals together anymore.  There’s also some challenging chapters on the ways we can use food and even hospitality to feed our idolatry rather than worship God and bless others. I immediately passed it onto my wife for her reading shelf since it’s hard to start applying new ways of hospitality without your wife being on board!

Here are some quotes to entice you more:

“Meals can be a visual representation of our hearts. If our hearts are concerned for position, honor, status, or approval, then that will be reflected in our dining etiquette. Consider how your meals express your vision for life.  Think about who’s invited, how they’re served, what you hope to achieve, and the layout of your home.  Do they express the vision of the kingdom of God?”

“Many people love the idea of the church as a community. But when we eat together, we encounter not some theoretical community, but real people with all their problems and quirks. The meal table is an opportunity to give up our proud ideals by which we judge others and accept in their place the real community created by the cross of Christ, with all its brokenness.”

“If guests offer to help, then take them up on their offer. Your aim is to love, not impress. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more than he provided it. Letting others serve us creates a relationship of equality and intimacy.”

There are a lot more little tidbits here worth reading.  I found some of the thoughts on meals very similar to Eugene Peterson’s writing in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” from which I hope to put some quotes up in the near future.

“Justification” brief impressions…

Just finished reading N.T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision. I don’t really feel up to writing a full/exhaustive review or thoughts from it.  So here’s a few brief thoughts:

-As most know, Wright can write.  His pen is sharp and quick, which is bad for his real opponents but less helpful during friendly sparring.  One will not be bored or feel tedious at any point in this book.

-Wright lets his frustration get the better of him at times, comparing his opponents to pre-Copernican geocentrists and other bits of “Why can’t they be as brilliant as me?” pepper the book (though unfortunately more in the book’s beginning.)  I’m more of a make-your-argument-THEN-take aim guy, and I feel Wright might have found more sympathy by going in peacefully and working the disagreements from there.  You almost wonder why he isn’t as conciliatory in the beginning than one finds him in later portions.  Smugness is never a virtue, and portions border on it.  I’ll include here the few frustrating bits where he says things like “I didn’t say that, PAUL said that” as if people are disagreeing with Paul directly and not with Wright’s interpretation of Paul.

-Wright has a lot to teach the “Old Perspective” guys.  His skills in synthesizing great canonical themes are a treasure to the church and provide some great insight.  He and the NPP guys are right in continuing to throw the Jew/Gentile conflict background at us, especially in Romans and Galatians.  His chapter on Galatians is excellent.

-Wright hates the medieval language of “merit” being introduced in the exegetical topic of “justification.”  Rightly so.  That was the Reformers playing on the Catholic’s home turf and having to invent some fancy passing schemes to go around the mud if you ask me.  And yes, sometimes guys let that language slip in where it really doesn’t belong in the subject of imputation.

-Wright emphasizes the concept of union with Christ, which seems to be a huge topic for Paul, was ironically a pretty big topic for Calvin from what I’ve read of him, and which many common Evangelical traditions have pretty much ignored.

-At times, it seems like Wright bends over backwards to avoid using the language of imputation, even when describing his own views.  His take on the pistos tou Christou issue is that of the subjective genitive (Faithfulness of Jesus Christ) as opposed to objective (faith in Jesus Christ), but that reading implies that Jesus’ faithfulness is imputed to us, it seems to me.  I wrote in the margin several times after some of his sentences…”so X is credited/given/dealt/reckoned to us…kind of like it is imputed to us?”.

-Wright has some amazing cards in his hand.  Sometimes he overplays them.  (kind of like in RSG where he’s dealing with the Intertestamental literature and pretends like a mere belief in “heaven” but not “resurrection” wouldn’t have given people enough hope to be martyred.  I agree that Resurrection of the body is the biblical teaching…but the other conclusion has been proven to be false by countless historical examples.) He’s good at slipping in unwarranted (but usually GREAT sounding) conclusions after making a good argument overall.

-The issue I most had questions about going in (after hearing some of the Reformed critiques of Wright, some better than others, which had to lead to some of that written frustration here) was that of how this “future justification” works with the present justification in his scheme.  now maybe he saved all that for his forthcoming Paul book or he deals with it in the recently released “After you believe”(?-help from any readers of that?)  Ironically, he barely discusses it in detail.  He makes a brief mention of it at the end of Galatians (in Gal. 5, though “hope of righteousness” could mean either “hoping for [future] righteousness” (as he takes it) or “hope produced by righteousness”. He doesn’t discuss the options but kind of launches into a prelim of what he’ll do in Romans 8.), but even the mention of it in Romans is small.  It has something to do with actually living out righteousness in the power of the Spirit, making sense of the “reward”-type texts of Scripture, and somehow assurance and “resurrection life” fits in.  I came in confused and left confused at that point.  At points his description sounds (ironically) very similar to Reformed guys like Piper (justified in Christ now, future judgment vindicates/justifies the life lived by the Spirit…), but apparently they disagree with him there and I simply hope he’s making a fuller case elsewhere for his view. Many of his objections in this sections go more towards the Keswick-type pietism than his Reformed critics.

-I would still take “righteousness” as going deeper than “covenant faithfulness.”  It does include that, which is why it works very well as a definition at some points, but I think it goes beyond just God conforming to the norm of a covenant, but to the kind of God who makes good covenants in the first place.  Expanding this takes righteousness back to creation and better answers the problems of Genesis 3-11.  (Piper’s view of the term narrows off in a different direction.)

-Longest chapter on Romans. “Greatest document ever penned by a human being.” Didn’t leave out chapters 9-11.  Did leave out 12-16, which explicitly highlights that theme of Jew/Gentile relationships as core to Paul’s motivations for writing the letter.

-Since the nature of review largely focuses on disagreements, I’ll add that I thought he brought out a lot of great stuff in many places in the text.

-No mention of the pastoral epistles.  I know why, but disagree.

-In all, Wright asks a lot of good questions.  I didn’t always agree with his answers, but those are good questions.  The OPP and NPP concerns must both be dealt with, and Scripture (not tradition) is our only way forward.  At times, both sides (even Wright, though he attempts a middle ground in many places) wrongly go for an either/or when a both/and conclusion is warranted.

Book Review- Radical by David Platt

Check it out here on SBC Voices.

Easter book thoughts…

I’m kicking myself right now.  I’m getting ready to prepare a Bible study on the events of Easter for our youth and I was mining a couple books for great quotes.  It’s usually easy for me to find a great quote.  I just start looking at all the stuff I’ve underlined (or formerly-“highlighted”…I’ve since learned that my inability to draw a straight line makes mechanical pencils far easier to correct!  Plus, for some reason, my wife brought about 100 fully-leaded of them into our marriage…so might as well get some use out of them.)  However, apparently I was rather inconsistent a few years ago when I spent a month or so reading NT Wright’s “Resurrection of the Son of God.”  The first couple chapters bear some highlights, but then…NOTHING!!  And I know that’s nothing to do with the book’s content (It picks up a lot of steam near the end as he goes through the New Testament itself).  Arrrgh.  Nothing like reading a 700-page book to find out that 3/4 of it bears no sign of your having visited.

That said, when the topic of Easter and the Resurrection comes up, I have two works that I find really helpful:

The Resurrection of the Son of God (RSG)– NT Wright

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (CFRJ)– Gary Habermas and Michael R. Licona

RSG is the work to read on the theology and historical background of Jesus’ Resurrection.  Wright wades through Greco-Roman and Jewish thoughts on the afterlife, as well as spending time doing some excellent biblical theology in both Old and New Testaments regarding the concept.  His continual reminder that resurrection isn’t merely “the afterlife”, but clearly refers to a bodily “life after life after death.”

CFRJ is a more “lay-friendly” approach focusing on a “bare minimal fact” approach to arguing for the Resurrection.  The authors essentially want to defend 4 or 5 things almost all historians (Christian and secular) agree upon.   They are: the crucifixion of Jesus, Jesus’ disciples believing he rose and  appeared to them, the conversion of Paul, the conversion of James the brother of Jesus, and lastly (though with a few caveats distinguishing it from the previous four) the empty tomb.  Using those facts alone, they provide a fairly impressive argument.

I know there are probably some more “theological” or “devotional” works on the Resurrection.  If you know of any, I’m certain I would be glad to hear about them.  These two are very useful in each their own way.

Now to finish kicking myself!

Words from “Gilead”

If you haven’t read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, you should.  Stop reading junk on the internet and go read some compelling story-telling and beautiful prose.  The book is a celebration of existence, told from the hand of dying pastor to his son.  It won something called the “Pulitzer Prize.”  Here’s a section I liked:

“I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again.  I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that.  There is a human beauty in it.  And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us.  In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.  Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.”

“Adopted for Life” – Book Review

Adopted for Life was released last year and made its way onto a lot of bloggers’ “Best of 09” lists.  Dr. Russell Moore is dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in “LOU-eh-vool”, Kentucky.  He also is on pastoral staff at a local church.

Adopted for Life is a blend of Biblical theology, the personal narrative of Moore’s own experience adopting two little boys from Russia, and practical advice for those considering or interested in adoption.  More than that, it aims at not just informing individuals and families but also churches and pastors to find their place as well.  It is a compelling blend of orthodoxy (right beliefs) and orthopraxy (right actions) rooted in the Gospel.

The first chapters are Moore’s tracing of the theme of adoption in the Bible.  For almost 40 pages, Moore brings out the Biblical teaching on adoption from Israel’s story to the new family made up of Jew and Gentile sharing one Father.  He excels at reminding us of the tension in the first century between Jew and Gentile and how the “adoption” language used by Paul relates.  He also spends some time in the third chapter looking at the most overlooked of the Christmas story characters-Joseph, and relates that both to the Old Testament deliverance of God’s people but also to the modern “anti-children” sentiment so many (even Christians) hold onto.  He roots the importance of adoption in the “fatherhood” of God (much likes James 1:27).

The rest of the book is a continued telling of his own story–from his own struggles with having children, bitterness towards those who did not struggle with fertility at all, and God’s work and provision in moving the Moores to adoption.   It is filled with practical, concise advice regarding things like domestic vs. international adoption, whether to use agencies, cultivating a culture of life in one’s church, foster care, the issue of race in adoption, even things like selecting a gender and dealing with disabilities.  Yet in this practical section, Moore manages often to remind us of the Biblical theology of adoption that should shape our thinking about as simple things as whether to adopt a boy or a girl.  The strength of the book is that is not simply a good summary of the theology of adoption followed by a good practical section, but rather the way the two are interweaved.

Whether you are young without children (that’d be me), or are contemplating adoption, or have your “quiver full” and simply want to know how you might still be involved, or are older and wondering how this topic relates to you at all, I heartily recommend this book to you.  It is emotionally moving, theologically compelling, and practically informing about a subject that is very near to the heart of God, the Father “in whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”

“Who Made God?”- Book Review

Edgar Andrews’ Who Made God?: Searching for a theory of everything may be the funnest book I’ve read so far this year.

Andrews is a world-class scientist, whose lifetime of work at the University of London and as a consultant of several major chemical companies throughout the world give him a platform for attempting to write a book such as this.  Who Made God? is titled after what Andrews found to be “the sceptics favourite question” from atheists regarding the issue of the existence of God.  He might have also titled his book An Hypothesis of God’s Existence. He spends several chapters on defense, before spending most of the book studying the idea of God in the fashion of an hypothesis–that is, rather than arguing from the evidences to conclusions, in true scientific fashion, he sets forward an hypothesis–namely that God exists and that this God is the God described by the Old and New Testaments.  Then using his extensive insights, both in physical and biological science, he examines whether what we find in the world confirms or falsifies the hypothesis.

Andrews excels in the explanation; he takes complex ideas such as quantum physics, string theory, and genetic mutations and puts them into words and ideas that the non-technician can understand.  His wit and analogies make the book hard to put down, even if one finds oneself sludging through some pretty thick scientific mud.   For example, “There are several problems with Stenger’s (another physicist and author) bold claims.  First of all, he confuses ‘nothing’ with ‘nothing’–which is an intellectual feat in itself.”  or “I have a feeling that Dr Stenger might be like a man climbing Everest in a T shirt–brave but somewhat alone.”  These are just a few examples.

He also will make some happy as he not only discusses the major evolutionary and creationist worldviews (and their implications), but also builds in discussion about theistic evolution (noting several different types) and the Intelligent Design movement.  One of his major strengths is his consistent ability to distinguish between science and philosophy.  He notes that in searching for origins, evolutionists often fall into philosophical speculation of things like multiverses (many universes) and, he points out, once science has opened the door to philosophical speculation of one type, then creationism and other groups are just as welcome to enter the fray.  He doesn’t argue that the two spheres have no overlap, but rather that we must acknowledge them and not make empirical “scientific” statements that actually belong in the philosophical realm.

All that said, Andrews’ book is worth the read for anyone simply interested in science in general and especially for those who are interested in the overlap between science and Christianity and on the question of God’s existence.

One extremely helpful thing about the book is Andrews starts each chapter with a 2-3 paragraph summary of what will be discussed, along with a helpful list of 2-4 vocabulary words introduced for the non-scientists among us.

So, that said, I encourage anyone interested in these things to pick up a copy of Edgar Andrews’ Who made God?.