Absolute meh.

I chose this book on Booksneeze.com to review because: a) I like the topic and b) it had received a couple of bad reviews by people who thought it was too academic for them. I figured I would try my hand at reviewing it, and give the book a fair shake.

I didn’t like it much either. But I really tried.

I commend the author for writing a book on love where he attempts to engage a wide range of worldviews, and present a compelling vision of who Jesus is. Willroth engages Christians, Jews and Muslims, and welcomes agnostics and atheists to the table to consider his theme. As such he makes use of Christian and Jewish scripture, the Koran, as well as scientific and psychological knowledge. I think this does give this book worth for attempting dialogue, joint inquiry in apologetics a mission.

Jesus is love absolute and the way we meet him is by humbling ourselves. Willroth runs through many great theological truths from the creation account in Genesis, to the consummation in revelation. While I may quibble with him in places, in the main, he is accurate in his depiction of Jesus

However, Willroth’s prose lacks a certain winsomeness. To make his case he sometimes resorts to a barrage of quotations, some of them quite lengthy, A number of the chapters end with greek and hebrew words listed with long lists of Bible verses for those wanting to conduct their own word studies. At some points I felt like I was reading raw research for a book; other points I felt I was reading a text that had not been adequately edited. Perhaps this is the pitfall of the self-published. It is hard to read.

How to handle a heart attack?

Enemies
In Enemies or the Heart, Andy Stanley argues that the problems that bubble up in life (i.e. job loss, divorce, broken relationships) are result of our failure to address the destructive forces in our heart. These forces poison our lives and set us up for crisis. It is failure to deal with the enemies of the heart that cause some people to lose there faith. So what are these enemies of the heart?

Ostensibly, Stanley suggests four attitudes are experienced as deep debts in the heart: Guilt, Anger, Greed, Jealousy. Guilt is the belief that “I owe you;” we’ve done something wrong for which we feel we need to atone for.

Anger on the other hand say, “you owe me.” You did something wrong and I hold it against you.

Greed says, “I owe me.” I am going to store up what I can for myself.

Jealousy says “God owes me” as we reflect upon the inequity between our life and someone else (who is better than us).

Stanley says every wound we carry can be traced back to one of these four. So what are the remedies for these ailments?

Guilt is overcome by confession. Stanley stresses public confession as necessary to break the cycle of shame guilt puts us in. Anger is overcome as we learn forgiveness. This involves knowing who wronged us, what they did, what they deserve and our choosing to let go of it. Greed is overcome as we stop hoarding and develop the habit of generosity. Jealousy is beaten when we learn to celebrate those around us.

Andy Stanley has written a good book. It is accessible, warm, humorous and insightful. What I didn’t like about this book wasn’t what it said, but how it was framed. Stanley offers his advice to us so that we could avoid wounding, be whole and have the best life, including best spiritual life we can. Not that this is wrong, but I wonder about the wisdom of commending holy living (a phrase which doesn’t appear in his book) for what it does for you. Why should we avoid guilt, anger, greed, jealousy? So that we are happier and healthier? Why should we confess, forgive, give generously and celebrate others? So that we have better lives? Yes but more.

What happens when holiness doesn’t make your life better? You confess and people judge you. You forgive and get hurt again. You give generously and are taken advantage of. You celebrate others and they use you. Well, there is something more to a holy life besides what it does for you. Sometimes all you get out of it, is that you know you are pleasing God. Holiness is not always instrumental and shouldn’t be treated that way.

But this demurral aside, I thought this book was worth reading and certainly touches on some pretty big issues that every Christian (and non-Christian) needs to wrestle with if they are to grow in their walk with God.

I received a copy for review from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for this fair and incredibly honest review.

Grace is the Name of a Girl

Thanks to Booksneeze.com I received a copy of Larry Taunton’s new book “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief”The Grace Effect

Christian Apologist Larry Taunton, founder of the Fixed Point Foundation has debated with atheists about the value of religion, and Christianity in particular. In fact this book begins with Taunton hashing it out with Christopher Hitchens over dinner. He challenges Hitchens that Christianity answers the problem of evil better than Atheism. He then goes on to talk about the idea of common grace, the idea that when a significant Christian presence infiltrates a culture it brings benefits to the whole society.

The rest of the book is a reflection on this theme through the medium of autobiography. Taunton tells the story of he and his family travelling to the Ukraine to adopt Sasha. Larry’s wife and sons had met her on a short-term mission the year before, fell in love and felt God calling them to adopt her. But as they do they come face to face with the horrors of the orphanage system in the Ukraine and government corruption. They are repeatedly stalled and asked for bribes (gifts). It is clear that the system and government is not
acting in the best interest of Sasha (unlike the Americans when their turn comes). Taunton interprets this as evidence that the Ukraine, nurtured as a secularist state under communism, is inadequate in its moral formation. It has no concept or understanding of grace.

Taunton paints the Ukraine as a place where darkness reigns and is reflective on what it means to take Sasha from there and bring her to America, a place formed by Christian conviction (even in its secular expression). This story is rather heartwarming and it is hard not to feel this father’s anger at the injustice his adopted daughter had to endure and his joy at the knowledge that he brought her into a better life, where she receives appropriate care from family, the medical community, and society at large.

When this book ends, Taunton is again eating dinner with Christopher Hitchens where he observes Hitchens observing Sasha and reflects on how the life of his daughter testifies to the reality of grace.

I remain critical of his characterization of Ukrainian society. He includes a brief history of Russia’s (and the Ukraine’s) conversion to Orthodoxy, and implies that their version of the Christian story is empty of grace. Add to this decades of communist indoctrination about the absence of God and you have a spiritually impoverished society and a bunch of scoundrels. This is no doubt true and his experience seems to warrant some of these conclusions, but he unfairly absolutizes these statements. So when he contrasts corrupt Ukraine with good Christian America, he comes off sounding a tad nationalistic. There are certainly other reasons for corruption besides secularism. The economics of enforced redistribution under communism probably encouraged baseline corruption from the citizenry on the basis of personal survival. I am no atheist, but I just not sure that Taunton has made his case that ‘atheism’ is to blame for all that ails the fallen Communist Regimes. He may be partially right, but I don’t think it is as simple as he makes it out to be.

I do agree with Taunton’s central premise: that the Christian heritage in America has impacted wider society for the common good. I am not sure that he would convince the skeptical through his tale, but it is coherent to those of us who share his faith. And it is impossible to read this book and not love Sasha!

Getting Intimate with the Almighty

I first came across a book by Greg Paul several years ago. I was new to urban ministry and the stories, people and insights of Greg Paul’s God in the Alley were well worth it, though frequently heartbreaking.

This book was different. It was not about justice and while a few of the stories were about sanctuary and the neighborhood his church is in, this was much more personal. He told the stories of his relationship with his parents, his children, people he was privileged to walk along side. He told the story of God’s relationship with us. The stories of Greg and the people he loves dovetail with God’s story and he sees in them the God he loves and who loves him even more passionately.

Greg Paul uses the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation to tell God’s story (a helpful framework given to him by Rod Wilson of Regent College). At each point, Greg’s life and metaphors converge to tell the story of God’s love. We are created by a loving God. God looks on our sinfulness not with anger and judgmentalism, but with sadness of seeing the pain we are in. God in Christ is our great redeemer. The God of love holds our future.

I would suggest reading this book slowly and devotionally. As someone with ‘pastor eyes’ reading this, I love how Greg Paul is able to share how biography intersects theology. The truth of Grace is not a doctrine, but a lived reality. We all need to know this more.

Can you Dig it? A review of Joshua Harris’s Dug Down Deep

I am not a big fan of Joshua Harris. I haven’t read his book on dating (more accurately not dating) or anything he’s written on relationships and marriage. I did read his book on the Church (“Stop Dating the Churc”h re-titled as “Why Church Matters”). I found it mediocre and insensitive to where people are coming from when they are ambivalent to church. I also found him theologically narrow.

So I was surprised that Harris’s book on doctrine and theology was something I actually enjoyed. In this book, Harris describes his ‘conversion’ to the sort of Christian who cared about doctrine. Then he reviews various different doctrines, in sort of an autobiographical survey of systematic theology. This is really what makes this book work. The theological weight of this book is rather light, though he does point readers to deeper places (and Wayne Grudem). What you get instead is Harris’s wrestling with doctrine and the story of why he thinks certain truths matter. This is autobiography as theology which endears it to me, even if I do not sign off on all of Harris’s generally reformed model of the faith.

I think doctrine matters and this is a passionate defense. More than that, Harris comes across as likable. His last chapter about ‘humble orthodoxy’ is the best part of the book. Harris is not arguing for a narrow and intolerant orthodoxy; rather he is arguing that Christians hold on to truth without compromising. This doesn’t mean they need to be judgmental and narrow-minded. Point well taken.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

Looking for work in all the wrong places.

I want a job as a pastor. This is hard to get. Particularly when I see problems with how churches have done things. I don’t want to be an Emergent church-planter because by-in-large, these are reactionary white guys hating their mega church background (I’m sympathetic but not my issue). I care about justice and would love to pastor an urban church. However given this economy urban churches are not hiring, or I am not connected with their denomination, or I don’t have as much experience as other applicants. And still I feel called. Lord show me where you are leading, go before and prepare the way.

Readings- By Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz, Bells in Winter. New York: Ecco Press, 1978, 10.

Readings

You asked me what is the good of Reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday, though the heads of Caesars
On coins are different today. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There are plenty of persons whom the text calls
Diamonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, bedeviled (as for the “possessed”
It’s no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print or screens,
Rarely engaging in arts or literature.
But the Gospel parallel remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which exasperated by the sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into the water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.