No More Catholic Guilt! an encyclical review

Like many outside of the Catholic faith, I am a great admirer of the current pope. Francis was elected upon Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement in 2013. When he chose the name Francis (after the 12th Century Franciscan founder) and wowed the world with his simple, generous lifestyle, many have seen fresh winds of change blowing in Rome. In terms of theology, he is not significantly different from his predecessors. He lacks Benedict’s keen theological acumen (no insult here, Ratzinger is brillant!); however here is a pope who is pastorally sensitive and attentive to those on the margins. If there are indeed winds of change blowing in the Catholic church, it is one of tone.

This is what makes Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) so refreshing (yes I know it has been out a while and I’m late to the party). This is his second encyclical (though his first is regarded as largely Benedict’s work). Reading as an outsider, I hear the importance this pope places on gospel proclamation, that the church and all the faithful are given the missional responsibility of making disciples. He also stresses that the church and its ministers need to be thoughtful about how best to engage in the work of evangelization–that this involves holistic mission and care for the poor, as well as thoughtful ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. While many of his examples (and source material) make the most sense to the Catholic faithful, those of us in the other ‘ecclesial communions’ will also find in Francis an appropriate challenge toward holistic, generous and joyful proclamation.

Much of what Francis says here is rooted in Lumen Gentium (Light of Nations) from the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II.  Francis speaks to the following issues:

a) the reform of the Curch in her missionary outreach;

b) the temptations faced by pastoral workers;

c) the Church, understood as the entire People of God which evangelizes;

d) the homily and its preparation;

e)the inclusion of the poor in society;

f) peace and dialogue within society

g) the spiritual motivations for missions (17)

These seven topics give shape to the Pope’s discourse (notice that the alleged economic preoccupation of the Pope is couched and made subservient to the larger question of Christian mission). Reading as a Protestant, I found I could affirm much of what is said here. I still have many points of theological contention ( such as the  authority of the pope, differences on ecclesiology and soteriology) but this is such a generous and magnanimous presentation so I don’t much feel like fighting with the pope. As a preaching pastor I especially loved his words about homily preparation (145-159). As an advocate for mission with justice, I think this is a rich resource for us (especially 176-257).

Yet as I said above, what I appreciate most is tone. This is a book about the joy: joy in Christ through the church. Proclamation is not the main papal imperative here. Joyful proclamation is. Francis calls us back to the idea that the gospel–good news!–is joyful:

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is . . .But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness . . . It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17,21-23,26) (paragraph 6).

I have heard too many ex-Catholics bemoan their Catholic guilt. I have heard far too much from somber saints. How nice to hear a robust ode to Catholic Joy! Well done Papa Frank! 5 Stars

Notice of material connection: I recieved this free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review!

The Church in the Image of Christ :a book review

Karl Barth is the giant of 20th Century theology. He is credited with stemming the tide of theological liberalism and recovering a Christological and theological hermeneutic. Others regard Barth with suspicion seeing in his theology a dangerous trend toward univeralism and an undermining of the authority of scripture. Still others are troubled by his ‘theology from above,’ and his dismissal of natural theology (theology from below). For my part, my forays into Barth’s theology have been fruitful, though not without difficulty. Barth is a prolific and complicated theologian and it is helpful to have a guide who illuminates the significance of his theology for my context.

Kimlyn J. Bender (Ph.D, Princeton Theological Seminary) is associate professor of theology at Truett Seminary (at Baylor) and has previously published a book on Karl Barth’s Christological Ecclesiology (subject and title). In Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology he explores a range of topics: ecclesiology and ecumenical relations, Canon and confessionalism, Creation and Natural Theology. Karl Barth remains his chief interlocutor but he also looks at the work of Fredrick Schleierlmacher, as a counterpoint to Barth, and several contemporary voices.

Confessing Christ for Church in World divides into three parts. Chapters one through four make up Part One and explore Karl Barth’s ecclesiology in conversation with American theology, evangelicalism and the Catholic church. Part Two (chapters 5-9) explores Barth’s understanding of Canon and the chastened role of confessions in Barth’s theology. Part Three (chapters 10-11)  explores Barth’s doctrine of Creation and rejection of Natural theology as exemplified in his 1938-39 Gifford lectures. Bender concludes in chapter twelve with a ‘postscript’ on Schleiermacher’s Christology.

Part one begins with a brief summary of Barth’s ecclesiology. Barth sees the church as the body of Christ in his ‘earthly-historical form of existence’ (22). As with any other point of contact between God and humanity, Barth speaks, by analogy, using the Chalcedonian formula to speak of  what the church is (29). That is, the church is to be understood as a divine institution and a human one (fully human, fully divine). Christ is not fully identified with or dependent upon the church, but the church shares in his life and bears witness to his coming (32). As Bender states:

Barth’s own position is to speak of the church as both divinely constituted and historically situated, a reality comprised of both an inner mystery of the Spirit and a society of human persons in fellowship and joint activity. The Church is for Barth both invisible and visible, so that the inner mystery is not sacrificed to the external form, or vice versa, thus maintaining the integrity of each. Barth seeks neither to confuse nor separate the divine event and the historcal and sociological form, presented in a highly dialectical construal of the relation between divine action and historic duration. (36-7).

Bender then surveys recent critiques of Barth (that he subsumes pneumatology into Christology, how his soteriology makes the church appear non-concrete or unnecessary (43-51). However Barth, agrees that the church is a concrete reality, but is concerned that our definition of church doesn’t collapse into its visible expression solely (55). Furthermore,  Barth sees redemptive history coming to close with the cross but that doesn’t mean that he dismisses all human agency(58). Barth’s  high Christology means the church is always subservient to him. As Bender notes, “While the church is necessary for us because God has freely chosen it and freely joined himself to it, it is not necessary for God, nor is God’s salvific activity limited to the church by some type of necessity (62).

In Chapter two, Bender brings Barth’s ecclessiology in conversation with evangelicalism showing where Barth would critique it and  its practice, where he may contribute something of value for evangelicals, and where Barth’s project is sympathetic to its aims. Bender argues that Barth would critique evangelicals for substituting a movement for a church, the ways we may be anthropologically grounded rather than theologically grounded, our triumphalism and secular methodology, our ‘cults of personality,’ and our reliance more on testimony than the gospel (77-78). Bender sees Barth as contributing to evangelical ecclesiology by providing a rich theology of church (rather than a concession to sociological categories or Catholic substance), a critique of evangelical individualism, and a theology which sees church both as divine event and human institution (79-87). Bender sees common ground between evangelicals and Barth in their shared embrace the scandal of the gospel (87), and believe in commitment to a particular congregation (ibid.). and the commitment to mission (89).

In chapter three Barth delves into Reinhard Hütter’s critique of Barth, from a Catholic perspective, and illustrates how Barth provides a radical alternative to Roman Catholic ecclesiology. While Roman Catholicism (in Hütter’s understanding) sees the church as an ‘embodied pneumatology,’ which undergirds the ‘great Tradition’ in the Nemanesque sense (109-110), Bender observes this is opposed to not only Barth but  Protestantism (116). Like many other Catholic theologians Hutter sees a ‘Catholic substance’ in the church’s ecclesial life where the church is the continution of Christ’s work making the church a ‘steward of grace.’ In contrast, Bender observes:

Herein lies the difference between Catholic substance and the Protestant principle. For there is an irrevocable insistence by the latter that the gift never be seen as a transferable entity entrusted to a steward who possesses it, that the church can be a servant and not a steward of grace, and a permanent distinction be made between Giver and recipient, between Christ and his bride, between Spirit and temple. In effect, this insistence is made because a Protestant vision is predicated on a refusal to grant that the church is, itself, an extension of the incarnation. This refusal is in turn joined to a basic recognition that Jesus Christ is present, and not absent, and is so though the power of the Spirit. The church does not “make” Christ present, but Christ makes himself present through the power of his self-attestation (118).

Bender brings this Protestant-Catholic distinction to bear on ecumenical discussions between Evangelicals and Catholics in chapter four. While conversation between the two is increasingly friendly and mutually edifying, too often Evangelical Protestants have conceded their lack of ecclesiology and looked to Rome. Bender sees in Barth a mature and thoughtful alternative to Catholic Substance (133).

Part two examines Barth’s Canon,  his understanding of scripture and ecclesial confessions. Barth’s theological education schooled him in liberal theological assumptions and the historical-critical method. Bender traces Barth’s move away from his training in his early theological works (chapter five) and as a mature theologian (demonstrated by his published dialogue with Harnack discussed in chapter six) to an understanding of scripture rooted in its particular witness to the coming of Christ. In chapter eight, Bender turns to the work of Barth Ehrman (our modern day Harnack?)  and illustrates the problem of reading scripture (and the canon) non-theologically. Chapter eight shows how Barth’s understanding of creeds and confessions brings him into fruitful conversation with Baptists and other non-creedal, free churches. Barth banged out his understanding of Creeds against Lutheranism (not Catholicism). In Lutheran Orthodoxy, the Augsburg confession took on scriptural authority whereas Barth found, in the Reformed tradition, the various confessions were offered provisionally. Bender argues that free church can learn from Barth an appreciation for confessions without a capitulation to a forced subscription (264). While Baptists will find points of tension with Barth, Bender illustrates several points amendable to them in his theology (265).

I particularly enjoyed Bender’s chapter on Barth and atheism (chapter nine). Barth did not see secularism and the growing antipathy toward God as a new problem. For Barth, this was a new spin on an old issue. Religion and Atheism were but two sides of the same coin; both were an idolatrous rejection of Christian particularity: the gospel of Jesus Christ (275). Barth’s response to Atheism was to emphasis the peculiar person of Christ, to subject atheists to critical negation, not allowing them to set the terms of the debate, and to continue to hold out grace toward them through Jesus (271-280). Barth could even see a value in the growing secularism and Atheism in helping the church clarify its identity over and against the wider culture.

Part three discusses Barth’s (and Schleiermacher’s) Christological understanding of creation and his rejection of some-sort of universal natural theology. As Barth’s Gifford lectures demonstrate, Barth was much more interested in the particularity of special revelation.  This Christocentric particularity (and contra-Schleiermacher, an objective Christology) is instructive for us and the church’s proclamation of the God in Christ.

What should be evident from the above summary, Bender is a sympathetic reader of Barth (though I would hasten, not uncritical). I found this book helpful in helping me hear how Barth would critique our age. I recommend this book for students and theologians. As a pastor, I found Bender’s discussion helpful for clarifying the purpose and witness of the church. Whatever differences I may have with Barth (and I am a neophyte in his theology), I appreciate his challenge to secular and sociological modes of church. I also think that Bender argues convincingly that there is a such a thing as a Protestant ecclesiology with substance. The Church is the invisible-that-becomes-visible, bearing witness to our redemption through Christ. I give this book five stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Ash Wednesday: Not Getting Over Our Sin

Here is a brief devotional I shared as part of our Ash Wednesday service at Safety Harbor Community Church:

Most of us have had loved ones die and have felt the dull ache of their absence.  They can no longer give us a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear or we no longer know the empathy that comes from deep relationship. They are dead and gone and part of us died with them.

Similarly most of us know the pain of broken relationships: bad break-ups, abandonment. Divorce. We grieve as we remember the good times we shared with another, but in the end, they are gone, as good as dead to us and a part of our heart died too.

When we consider for a moment the raw pain of grief and heartbreak and our experience of it, we know there is ‘no getting over it,’ we only get through it. When somebody tries to just ‘get over it,’ to move on to the next relationship or to stuff their pain down, it poisons their heart and their relationships. They are the walking wounded and they wound everything they touch. This is why rebound relationships seldom work. We have not done the hard heart work yet. There is no getting over it, you only get through it.

In a few moments I get the privilege of performing two great pastoral acts. The first is to invite you to the observance of a Holy Lent. Secondly, I will mark on your forehead with the sign of the cross in ashes and remind you that you are going to die. These two acts together remind us of our need: that we are sinners in need of repentance and they call us to prayer and fasting. We are weak and fragile. Lent and Ashes: two counter-cultural acts.

Our culture is pain avoidant. Anything that numbs our anxiety and makes this life more bearable is indulged in. Americans spend a fortune each year attempting to stave off the effects of aging: cosmetics, surgery, fad diets, teeth whitening and Propecia. All these are attempts to avoid the truth that from ashes we came and to ashes will return (Gen 3:19). When we are stressed each of us have our own strategies of filling the deep void in us. Some of us have wrestled with addictions: alcohol, drugs, pornography. Others fill the void with relationships, shopping, exotic foods, computer games, or whatever.  All of us attempt to avoid what we are feeling: loneliness, shame, isolation. We try to just ‘get over’ whatever we are feeling, and to make our lives feel a bit more manageable.

In Lent we are invited to a different space. A space where we don’t “get over” our hunger, our anxiety, our isolation. We get through it. Lent is an invitation to walk in the footsteps of Jesus our incarnate God who drank down the dregs of our full humanity by going to the cross on our behalf.  Jesus didn’t get over the damage our sin has done to God, to our world and to one another. He got through it.  He made his way steadily to Jerusalem knowing that they would hoist him up on a tree. But we serve a risen savior who has conquered the grave!

We are invited this Lent to fasting and prayer in hopes that God will get us through the pain, anguish and anxiety we face day in and day out.  If you haven’t decided to ‘give up’ anything for Lent, I invite you to do that.  Fasting doesn’t earn you a badge of honor. As Jesus reminds us, we don’t fast as the hypocrites do, putting on a show for others to see.   Joel 2:13 says, “Rend your heart, not your garments.” Our fast is a full turning to God.

Our fast isn’t about impressing people. It isn’t even about impressing God or showing him how serious you are in your prayer life. In the words of Scot McKnight, “Fasting is a whole body response to a grievous sacred moment.” As you enter into this season of repentance and contrition, fasting is our way of responding to God with our whole self—with our hearts and minds and prayer, and with our bodies and will through fasting.

So my encouragement to you this season when you feel disconnected, alone, sad, stressed, strained, overburdened is to not turn to the delights and strategies designed to make your soul feel better.  Instead pay attention to what is rising in you. Let it call you to prayer as you offer yourself up to God anew..  So if you aren’t giving up anything for Lent, consider giving up something that will enable you to strive for more of God.  We have strategies to manage our life that we normally employ. Jesus came to give us new life, abundant life, a transformed life. Pay attention to whatever keeps you from surrendering your life fully to him.

The Jesus whom we are following to the cross will lead us into places of self-denial and sacrifice.  He will also lead us through the realm of sin and death toward life and resurrection. We won’t get over it, but Christ carries us through.

Timmy Time on the Romans Road part II: a book review

A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to review Tim Keller’s Romans 1-7 For You. Tim Keller is one of my favorite pastor-theologians and where I don’t always agree with him, I am always grateful for the way he presents his theological convictions with grace and respect. In Romans 1-7 For You, Keller walked readers through the first seven chapters of Romans, making the case for the universal need for salvation through Jesus Christ and how the just live by faith. But the real treasure in Romans begins after these introductory chapters.

Romans 8 unfolds the mystery of life in the Spirit, our adoption as sons and how in Christ we are more than conquerors,  Romans 9-11 unpack the mystery of predestination and Israel’s hope, chapter 12 tells us how to live in light of the gospel in community, chapter 13, as citizens of the state, and chapter 14-15 describe further how to care for one another and fulfill God’s mission in our world. The final chapter has a list of names of Paul’s coworkers, many of them women.

In Romans 8-16 For YouKeller explores these texts from the second half of Romans. Almost a full third of this commentary is devoted to Romans 8 (a beautiful chapter to camp in). However, Keller honors the shape of the biblical text and walks readers through each section of the text, pulling out points of interest.

Keller is more pastor than scholar and he draws heavily on such evangelical luminaries as Leon Morris, John Stott, F.F. Bruce and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  As to be expected, this is a Evangelical Reformed take on Romans, but it is written at an accessible level for pastors and lay people alike (one of goals of the series). I am especially grateful for the stress that Keller puts on Paul’s anguish for his people when he turns to his discussion on election (58). He also does a good job of emphasizing the diversity of Paul’s coworkers in Romans 16.  Not being quite as Calvinist as Keller, I do have sections that I quibble with but I appreciate Keller’s attention to the text. I also favor a more Anabaptist reading of Romans 13, but probably need to dig deeper in personal study before I commit to a view.
On the whole like this volume. Serious students of Romans would want to go deeper and may make use of the commentaries he lists in his bibliography. Yet for many of us Romans, as a whole, remains opaque to us. We love to quote passages and put isolated verses to work in our evangelism, but have a difficult time tracking Paul’s argument from beginning to end. If that describes you, I commend this volume (and Keller’s early volume) to you. After all, Romans 8-16 is for you. I give this commentary four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the Good Book Company and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for this honest review.

I give this commentary 4 stars

Unkingdom Come as it is in Heaven: a book review

Whatever we say about the Kingdom of God it is not like any other kingdom we’ve seen. To say Jesus is Lord is to declare Caesar is not and to sound the death knells on empires everywhere. In The Unkingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance author Mark Van Steenwyk examines how the gospel is about far more than personal transformation. It exposes the lies of consumerism, the dehumanizing effects of the powers on communal life, and the myraid ways that ‘empire’ or ‘Christendom’ poison the well. The good news is that real freedom from powers and structures is possible According to Van Steenwyk, Christ’s kingdom is an unkingdom where Jesus is unking (96).  In Christ it is possible to live with a group of people (church) without being ruled.

If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Van Steenwyk is a part of two maligned and poorly understood groups: he is a Mennonite and an anarchist. As a Mennonite and therefore stands within a tradition which strives to be a faithful witness to Christ while looking suspiciously at the Constantinian drift in the wider culture. He is also an anarchist challenging the dehumanizing structures and powers at in our society. These converge in his vocation as pastor of the Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis, his work as an editor for Jesusradicals.com  and as host of the Iconoclast podcast. The themes of this book were also addressed in an earlier book, The Holy Anarchistthough this volume is better executed and crafted.

Van Steenwyk has some challenging stuff to say and he says it well, but the thing that makes this book a compelling read is how he weaves his theological and sociological reflections together with his personal narrative. He tells of his early camp conversion and the radical streak he had which was effectively exorcised by the charismatic church he grew up in.. As a young teen he was a patriotic, cowboy hat wearing Garth Brook’s fan brought to tears singing ‘I’m proud to be an American.” Yet as his faith matured, Van Steenwyk began to question the evangelism-as-conquest approach of his Evangelical upbringing, and the highly individualistic gospel he had proclaimed. This set him on a journey to a more communal and political witness (or apolitical, though not in the apathetic, disengaged sense).

Van Steenwyk is astute at naming the insidious nature of structures and powers, controlling-myths that blind us, the false promises of consumerism, and the ways that religion, even Christianity, can be a enslaving power, rather than a wellspring of freedom in Christ. In the latter part of the book he invites us into practices which help us enter more fully into the Unkingdom of God:  He invites us to encounter the feral God through experimenting with God, embracing our creaturleliness,and practicing silence (121-6); he summoned us to walk with Christ with a localized imagination, paying attention to what is in front of us, and learning from the margins (133-8). He calls us to discern the subversive spirit through open worship and consensus decision-making, the practice of naming powers and resisting, and ‘arguing with Jesus’ through engaging both scripture and what is rising in us in opposition as we read (145-9).

It is a testament to how good a book is, when upon finishing it, I have no desire to place it on the shelf–marked off as done and collecting dust. I’ve thumbed back through the pages several times already, re-reading passages I had underlined. There is so much here that causes me to examine again the way racism, unjustice to Native-Americans, the marginalization of children, the bankruptcy of political discourse on the right and left are the effects of empire and institutionalized structures. I also love how vulnerably Van Steenwyk tells his own story. Sometimes anarchists/anabaptists are dismissed as idealists who don’t live in the real world. Van Steenwyk shares the ways he has struggled to move from patterns that are selfish and accommodating to the dominant culture to a lifestyle that is more communal, more radical and ultimately more faithful to the gospel.

I need books like this. There are a lot of ways where I would be out of step with Van Steenwyk. I am challenged by and enlivened by the writings of Anabaptists and Christian anarachy. The former because it is part of my heritage, the latter because I have been a part of churches with an unhealthy authority structure, and in my own role as pastor have sought to lead in ways that were non-manipulative.  Still I sit somewhat outside of both camps. Van Steenwyk call is to a faithfulness to the gospel and resistance to the powers. I can get behind both objections even if I demur from his conclusions at various points (i.e. consensus leadership, his handling of Romans 13, etc). I still happily give this book 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who  would like an accessible and thoughtful take on the life of radical discipleship. ★★★★★

Thank you to SpeakEasy for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Linear Notes in my Old Bible

We send three of our kids to AWANA at the local mega-church on Wednesday nights. We do it because I think getting the Bible into kids is important and are kids like it. Sometimes I wonder if they are just learning to parrot verses instead of learning the scriptures and my anxious oldest occasionally feels stressed by the process. My kids get points each week for church attendance (they are pastor’s kids, so they’re killing it) and bringing a Bible. Of course they don’t actually use their Bible there, it is just another burden to bear. But anyway, my daughter needed a Bible last night and my wife  pulled out one of my old ones and handed it to her. 

I hadn’t used this Bible regularly in about ten years, but I had read through it several times. I take lots of notes as I read, underline things. I think it was in the Divine Conspiracy that Dallas Willard talked about a green-letter Bible with the things Jesus did were in green. So in a different Bible I read through the gospels, underlining the Jesus verbs with a green pen. The practice taught me that reading with a pen in hand helped me pay attention to the words on the page. In this Bible, I wrote YHWH in the margins anytime I saw the all-caps LORD in the Old Testament.  Whenever ‘Christ’ appeared in the New Testament, I wrote “King” and when I saw direct references to the Holy Spirit (in either Testament) I drew a dove in the margins. These, and other occasional notes embellish the text. 

image

The Front and back of my Bible is even more interesting. There are doodles and drawings: an arm nailed to a cross, a table with bread and wine, a Bird of Paradise blossom, faces and a sword. My daughter delighted in showing her Awana leaders my random drawings all night last night. And then there were notes. These were things I saw fit to write down. Some of them from sermons and messages I heard. Some personal observations. Some incomprehensible. There are some pearls of wisdom here that speak to me now, and other things that are frankly perplexing. Whatever they were, these are the things I thought were important enough to write in Bible a decade hence:

I. Serve II. I’m all about the Work  III. Make the most of every opportunity and Party

“You got to get to the point whee you know you can’t do anything, then you are ready”[attributed to my wife]

“We are responsible not for saving people but by being the human touch God wants to use”

“Leadership not about setting vision but holding the vision.” [attributed to some one named Dave].

Genesis–how God sees is different

Exodus–how God is different from other Gods

Leviticus–how we are to be is different; how God is to be worshipped

Deutoronomy–The Divine covenental If then. . .

GOOD NEWS FOR THE POOR, Luke 4–>personalized education, free-captives, healthcare

D16D58591cf91cf94e3f6f96b67588 [don’t know what this is. a product code? Evidently important enough to write in my Bible]

Under the heading Romans 12:1-14

1-2 Don’t conform

3 Think w/ sober judgment of ourselves

5 members of one another

6-8 conflriluging (?) gifts

9,10 Love one another with brotherly affection (don’t fake it) How am I with my brother and sister? Out do one another in honor

11,12 Serve Lord, Rejoice in hope, be patient with one another

13 contribute and show hospitality–outsiders and ourselves

What is the root issue involved in irritation?

Boundaries–Availability vs. taking advantage

Steve Sample: “Think Gray”

Take it in then respond

Sometimes you need someone to pray for you

Recap:

  1. Don’t conform
  2. sober judgment
  3. body
  4. brotherly love
  5. hope, patience
  6. Constant love and prayer

Under the Heading “Relational Evangelism”

  • Initiate intentional self disclosure
  • Ask existential q’s
  • talk about books you’re reading
  • learn to talk about yourself as a follower of Jesus
  • use your imagination in showing compassion
  • talk about your prayer life
  • talk about your failures (otherwise they think xianity is for ‘perfect’ people)
  • talk about your ideas
  • tell people why they are like Jesus not just why they need JEsus
  • tell them why they are close to Jesus
  • tell people what Christianity (written with a chi rho and a capital “T”) cost you. If you talk about the cost it reveals the treasure
  • “Is life better with Jesus than it is without Jesus?”

What’s interesting about your old Bible? 

30 Events that Shaped the (Evangelical) Church: a book review

I am a bit of history buff so on this score I may be a bit more critical than the general reader. Still I was excited to read 30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. Ganksy is the author of twenty-four novels and eight books of non-fiction and this isn’t his first foray into Church history. He also wrote 60 People Who Shaped the Church (Baker Books, 2014).  These thirty historical vignettes failed to capture my interest, were light on analysis and were highly selective. I think church history is far richer and more interesting than what is presented here.

I admit that Ganksy culled together some facts I did not know and is generally even-handed in his presentation of these events. Nevertheless he is not a historian and relies heavily on other popular level histories (such as Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language) and older, more dated material. He is responsible in what he shares, though he occasionally conflates events. Where I took issue with Gansky was in the 30 events he chose for this book.

The first three chapters cover biblical accounts (Pentecost, the conversion of Paul, and Acts 15 council in Jerusalem). The next couple of chapters describe Rome burning (under Nero) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  This is followed by three events in the patristic period: the edict of Milan, the first council at Nicea (though he gives us the Nicene Creed text as it was finalized at the second council at Constantinople in 381), and Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate. Nevermind that the patristic period is far richer than this, the medieval period is vastly under represented, descring only three events in over a thousand years: the schism between the Chirstian East and West in 1054, and Pope Innocent III and Boniface VII’s consolidation of papal power. The rest of the book takes us from the Reformation to the present ( the Gutenberg Bible in 1456 is proto-Reformaiton) and tells a largely Protestant Western story (Catholicism is described as significant points in relation to how open or closed they are to Protestant expressions of church).

Gansky describes the publication of the King James Bible, the birth of the Baptists, The Great Awakening, Bishop Usher’s chronology, the Scofield Bible, the Fundamentals (conflating the 1910’s publications with five fundamentals described by the Niagra meetings of 1876 to 1897) the Neo-Evangelical movement.and the Jesus People. He also talks about other significant events for the church such as the American Bill of Rights, Charles Darwin’s publications, the Scope’s Monkey Trial and the Rise of New Atheism (by this he means secularism and does not even mention the principal New Atheists or 9-11).

This is all a very Protestant Evangelical Story and  an American tale (I say this as a Protestant Evangelical American!). I would have given weight to other events. Things like the fall of Rome, the rise of Christian Monasticism, the Crusades, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement. Ganksy never says ‘the 30 events’ only 30 events and there is room to have a different list.  Still I didn’t by and large find his account compelling. For a deeper look at significant events in the life of the church, I recommend Mark Noll’s Turning Points (Baker, 2001).

But on a note of appreciation, I think that Ganksy did a great job of describing the Evangelical and Fundamentalist story, noting the philosophical differences between the two. As an Evangelical with fundamentalist roots, Ganksy names part of my story too. I give Ganksy’s effort three stars.

Notice of material connection I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.