What to Do When God Goes Old Testament: a book review

New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have argued that the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster, ‘the most unpleasant character in all of fiction’ (15). Many Christians also struggle with the portrait of God they find in its pages, assuming He is more wrath than mercy, and more law than grace. But is this an accurate picture of the God we find in the Old Testament? How do we read the Old Testament faithfully as scripture in light of difficult passages?

9780825443763Renowned Old Testament Scholar Walter Kaiser walks us through some of the difficulties. A short book, reminicent of his Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (IVP 1988), Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament tackles some of the thorniest questions that plague readers of the Old Testament. These include:

  • Is the God of the Old Testament a God of Love or a God of wrath and judgement?
  • Is He the God that ordered the Canaanite genocide or a God of peace?
  • Is He a God of truth or deception?
  • Is He the God of creation or evolution?
  • A God of grace or law?
  • Does He approve of polygamy?
  • Does God rule over Satan or must he overcome him in battle?
  • Is God Omniscient or does he limit his knowledge of the future to guard human freedom like the Open Theists posit?
  • Does the Old Testament subordinate women or give them equal status and authority?
  • What about food laws?

Kaiser surveys the relevant texts and gives a reasoned defense of God’s goodness, God’s mercy and God’s sovereignty.   Kaiser is a Reformed evangelical and gives a scriptural-based response to each quesiton. Given that this is a relatively short book, some of his responses were perhaps too brief for a skeptic or serious scholar; however the general reader (and even the skeptic and serious student) will find plenty to chew on and some direction on where to dig deeper.

Kaiser is an adept reader of Hebrew scripture and I found many of his answers compelling.  He points out that God’s anger and wrath are related to his care for us and His kindness and mercy are more central to who he is (24-25).  In general Kaiser asserts the traditional evangelical positions (i.e. Creationism is incompatible with evolution,  Open Theism is wrongheaded), but his chapter on women is fairly egalitarian.  His chapter on the law challenges the anti-nomianism of dispensationalism on the one hand and theonomy on the other.

My own love for the Old Testament was stoked by a former pastor who had been a student of Kaiser’s at Gordon Conwell.  I have even had the privilege of hearing Kaiser preach. When I went to seminary I pressed into the Old Testament and wrestled with many of the issues that Kaiser presents here. I read this book with interest but I was clearly not his target audience. Kaiser wrote this book for people who find the Old Testament difficult and are not quite sure what to do with it. He is a good guide. I don’t agree with him on every point and would answer some questions differently than he, but I appreciate the way he thoughtfully engages the Bible and seeks to interpret the text faithful to the God he serves. I give this book four stars.

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


The Waiting Begins Again

adventweek1It is the third day of Advent. This Sunday was one of the few Sundays I missed  attending church.  I wasn’t liturgically called into our season of waiting. Instead I spent my Sunday waiting in traffic and counting down miles of Interstate as my family and I made our trek home from seeing family and friends in Maryland.

Our time in the car wasn’t entirely profane. Sarah and I read our Advent devotionals and scripture out loud on our drive. It gave us a brief respite from the monotonous nature of modern travel, with its scenery cropped back and nothing left to look at except a steady stream of billboards and Cracker Barrels.  It was time out of time–time to reflect on what it means to wait for God’s coming. The gospels called us back to the story of Jesus the Incarnate One; the prophets reminded us of His final coming when all will be set right.

Yesterday  I went to my community garden plot and checked the progress there. A few seedlings pushed their way to the surface in my absence, spinach and pea plants poking through the earth. My other plants were healthy and growing. Other places I lived, my garden would be dormant right now (perhaps a woody kale plant hanging on through the frost). My metaphorical frame for the season has changed. Instead of leafless deciduous trees and frozen ground, I have a garden striving toward full potential–life and fruitfulness and world of green. In either case, the point is the same: all of creation groans, and we ourselves, the first fruits of the Spirit, as we eagerly await our full adoption a God’s children and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23).

There is a telos (a goal or end) for the story we find ourselves in. We all wait to see our destination on life’s road, to see our own gardens teeming. But this season is more than waiting for our arrival and full potentiality. It is about waiting for the coming of the Lord. Two thousand years ago God came near in Jesus Christ and changed the trajectory of human history. For now we wait. Christ has died, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again. 

There have been predictions of the end being nigh, false prophets spouting off the day and hour of Christ’s return.  Jesus is coming soon. Maybe. But with certainty I can say, “Jesus is coming sooner.” We don’t know with certainty when we will  reach home, when God breaks in, and creation reaches its end. We do know it is one day closer than yesterday. Jesus is coming sooner. 

To me this is the joy and invitation of Advent. We remember Jesus first coming and we remind ourselves to live like He is coming back, because He is.This mean care for those around us, nurturing of our relationships,  welcoming others into God’s hospitality and loving one another well.  Take some time to listen for creation’s groan as we long for Christ’s coming and our true home.

God there is so many things that drive us to distraction. Some them are seasonal: Christmas shopping, holiday traffic, the hustle and bustle. Some are personal:  family struggles, vocational crises, broken relationships,  hopes deferred and deep disappointments.  Some of them corporate: Injustice, War, Terror, Poverty, and Apathy for the Vulnerable. We cry, “how long O Lord?”  We remember your coming and we long for your coming again–your second Advent. When all sorrow and suffering will cease. Amen




Advent Family Story Time: a book review

You can get one of those Advent calendars with the worst-chocolate-ever but there are better ways to help your kids enter into the season of Advent. Arnold Ytreedie has authored a number of children’s books, including three other Advent devotionals. With Ishtar’s Odyessey he takes families on a journey from Persia to Bethlehem.

I9780825443930shtar was a young prince, the son of a wise man. he begins the story as a somewhat sheltered ten-year-old, fearful of life outside the palace walls and he doesn’t like his daily lessons. One night, reviewing the constellations he discovers a new star prophesying the birth of a king to the West. Honored for his discovery, Ishtar is compelled to accompany his father and uncles on a six month journey to pay homage to the new king. Along the way he meets new friends: Jotham, Bartholomew and Tabitha (all characters in Ytreeide’s other Advent devotionals).

Ytreeide weaves his fictionalized tale of the magi’s journey into daily readings for Advent. Each entry ends with a scripture and a short reflection on that part of the story. Ytreeide also suggests foods to enjoy on particular days of the week which correlate with the story and Advent customs to enrich and reinforce what children are learning through the story.

If your kids like stories, this is an interesting and engaging way to help them enter into Advent more fully.  At the beginning of the story Ishtar is a pagan (named after the Babylonian goddess of love), at the end of the story he worships Jesus, the Son of the one true God. I give this four stars.

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









Ready to Wait: a book (p)review

Looking for a devotional which is accessible and theologically rich?  One that explores liturgy, Scripture and the Spiritual life? Here is a good choice for Advent and Christmas and one I plan to spend a little bit of time with.

time-to-get-ready-an-advent-christmas-reader-to-wake-your-soul-6Mark Villano the Director of Mission and Ministry at Marymount California University. In Time to Get Ready: An Advent, Christmas Reader to Wake Your Soulhe combines scriptural insights, liturgical reflections with pop-culture and true-to-life illustrations.  Villano  guides us as we prepare to enter into the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

Villano has spent more than a decade in Catholic Campus ministry. He explores spiritual insights in a culturally relevant manner. However this isn’t just  ‘a college devotional.’  Villano helps all of us enter into the true meaning of season–the coming of a Savior and the rhythm of God’s grace.

While Villano is deeply steeped in the Catholic tradition, this is a reader that all Christians can read fruitfully. He doesn’t speak of Marian devotion in ways that makes a Protestant like me uncomfortable. Instead he commends Mary’s response (week four of Advent) in a way that invites us to respond with similar openness to Gods movement in our lives.  Each daily reading explores the Bible, Christian tradition and its meaning for us. On the whole, I found the entries I read orthodox and inspirational [typically I read every word of books I review, but I made an exception and skimmed this one as I plan to use it through out the holiday seasons].

I look forward to spending time with this devotional through Advent.  Available at paracletepress.com, Amazon.com or wherever good books are sold.  Preliminary rating: 4 stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Get Ready to Wait: a book review

Every year the holiday season comes earlier. Coffee cups, mall Santas, ornaments, christmas music and grocery-store-eggnog all proclaim the yuletide cheer as the retail industrial complex screams,”Happy Holidays!” The Christian tradition has its own way of preparing for the holidays: Advent (beginning this year on November 29). More than just a time for marking the shopping days before Christmas, Advent is about preparing your heart to enter fully into the mystery of God’s coming to us in the Incarnation of Christ.

God With Us: Reader’s Edition edited by Greg Pennoyer & Pregory Wolfe

Now is the time to start thinking about how to wait well. Paraclete Press has several devotional resources designed to help us enter into the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. God With Us: Reader’s Edition of a paperback version of one of my favorites. Like its companion volume God for Us (which walks through Lent and Easter), it brings together a group of writers from across the Christian tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant–in both Evangelical and Mainline), under the editorial gaze of Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (from Image Journal). Eugene Peterson writes the introduction and four authors each write a weeks worth of devotions for each day of Advent. The late Richard John Neuhaus provided the devotions for week one. Poets Scott Cairns and Lucy Shaw write the devotions for weeks two and three, respectively. Memoirist Kathleen Norris’s offerings make up week four, leading up to Christmas while  Emilie Griffin reflects on the special days between Christmas and the feast of Epiphany. Punctuating each section is Beth Bevis‘s brief histories share the historical context of the church’s practice of the season and various feast days.

If you are familiar with any of these authors, you know how deeply they have reflected on the spiritual life and the wealth of insights they have for waiting and watching well.  This is really a beautiful book and one of my ‘holiday favorites.’  I read a library copy several years ago and am happy to delve back into it for this season. Five stars, for sure.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Gospel Conversations: a book review

Gospel Conversations is designed to help biblical counselors care like Christ for those we counsel. Navigating the compass points of the counseling coveration, Robert Kellemen explores how counselors bring healing through sustaining, healing, reconciling and guiding. Kellerman is the executive director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and CEO of RPM ministries. He sees his role as a counselor as bringing people face to face with the truth of God’s word and encounter with Christ. Through this book, he imparts tools that biblical counselors can use to grow in their competencies to comfort the afflicted and challenge the comfortable.

Kellerman suggests twenty-one competencies for biblical counseling, Sustaining relational competencies involve the counselor growing in their ability to connect, empathize, listen, comfort, and share scripture emphatically, Healing competencies include growing in our ability to effect relational mind and soul renewal, encourage, compose a ‘scriptural treatment plan,’  lead counselees in a Theo-dramatic conversation and in stretching scriptural explorations. Reconciling competencies probe issues theologically, expose heart sins, apply truth relationally, calm the conscience through grace, enlighten and empower.  Guiding competencies involve fanning into flame the gift of God in people, helping them author empowering narratives, constructing insight-based action plans,  and having target focused conversations.

Because of the place of the Bible in the healing process, Kellerman’s model is different than the contemporary therapeutic model. Kellerman (and other biblical counselors) urge us toward a thoughtful Christian model for soul care which differs from that of secular psychology (p. 98). There may be some antagonism towards psychology here, but the hope is that the Christian alternative is every bit as rigorous and comprehensive in dealing with what ails the human heart. Kellerman focuses on helping people get to the root of their problems (sin and suffering).

This is a helpful textbook and handbook for growing as a counselor. I have no antagonism towards psychology, per se, but my competency to counsel is different from that as a therapist. What I want people to do is to see themselves as God sees them, pursue a right relationship with Him and allow the Spirit of God to do the work of sanctification in them as they give their heart and mind to Him. Every Christian model of counseling (including a more psychologically oriented one) wants this. While I personally think other forms of counseling are tremendously helpful in the healing process, this model approximates what I do as a pastor when I meet with those in need. I have a Master’s of Divinity (that pastor degree), but the extent of my training in pastoral counseling is this: know when to punt to a more qualified counselor; nevertheless pastors play an important role in the healing process, reminding people of God’s presence, his work of salvation through Jesus and His ongoing ministry of reconciliation. Kellerman writes an engaging text for help students learn biblical counseling better and I think it is a great resource for anyone who engages in the ministry of pastoral counseling. I give this four staIrs.

Note: I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews (and Zondervan) in exchange for my honest review).

Sid and Rosie’s Christian Year: a book review

Penelope Wilcock is the novelist behind the Hawk and Dove novels (haven’t read them) She has worked as a Methodist Minister and chaplain and been a tutor and trainer for Methodist preachers. In 52 Original Wisdom StoriesWilcock takes us on a journey through the Christian year following the stories of Sid and Rosie. Sid and Rosie are an older couple. Sid is a Catholic turned Quaker.  Rosie is a spiritual-but-not-religious soul  who has left regular church attendance behind. Both are thoughtful believers despite their distance from the church. Sid draws on his history with liturgy. Rosie’s reflections bring her into contact with the East– Buddhism, Taoism, etc. They are remarried and have children and grandchildren, though none together.

Wilcock begins with Advent and ends with the feast of Christ the King. Each narrative ends with questions for ‘sharing and wondering’–discussion or personal reflection–and a prayer. And all the stories are fully-photocopiable, free-of-charge for use in churches and groups. In addition to the broad liturgical rhythms, some of these stories reflect on feast days for particular saints. The breadth of the Christian year allow Wilcock to engage the whole human experience and each story is a revelation about the spiritual life, the human experience, and Sid and Rosie.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured this would offer me some liturgical reflections, a way to beef up my preaching, especially in high seasons like Advent, Lent and Easter. But I got something different. By placing her reflections in the voice of Sid and Rosie, two ‘Dones’ who had left mainstream religion behind, she offers us an insider-outsider perspective of those who believe but don’t readily belong. There is also a quotidian quality as they fit Christianity into daily-life, unadorned by ecclesiastical vestments.

But Sid and Rosie aren’t theological lightweights. They deeply engage the Christian story and seek to follow Jesus. They reflect on hosipality, love, life,  death, brokenness and more. I liked meeting them in these pages. I give this three-and-a-half stars. My point of critique would be, I wish that Sid and Rosie came to a richer engagement with Church as a body of caring believers. They engage the tradition well, but I think there is something to the experience of the Christian life they are lacking.

Note: I recieved this book from Kregel Publications (and Monarch Books) in exchange for my honest review.