The Jesus Way of Love and Justice: a book review

A recent book I read was Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus. That book is interfaith dialogue at its best. Andrews explored the concept of Jihad and relates it to Jesus’ gentle struggle for peace and justice (also noting similarly gentle struggles within Islam itself). That book, plus another recent read, Craig Greenfield’s Subversive Jesus, (which speaks highly of Andrews) made me want to reach back into his catalog of books and see what else he had on offer.

9781610978514Not Religion But Love: Practicing a Radical Spirituality of Compassion was originally published in 1999, a follow up to Andrews infamous/influential Christi-Anarchy.  A 2006 edition accompanied a 2006 class Compassionate Community Work (published by Piquant Press). Wipf and Stock has republished the book (2012) with a new introduction from Brian McLaren and a forward by Charles Ringma.

The book picks up on the radical vision for personal and communal renewal that Andrews described in Christi-Anarchy (the first chapter is a summary of some of the ideas from the earlier book). This book describes how to work out Jesus’ vision of love and justice in our lives and neighborhoods. Each of the nineteen chapters ends with ‘ideas for meditation, discussion and action, which call us to recall, reflect and relate how we can embody Christ’s relational and communal vision for justice.

The book divides into five parts. Part one, The Heart of Christ, describes Jesus’ vision for compassion, justice, and gentleness as an alternative to the dominant mode of operating in society. Part two, A Heart for Breaking Barriers, describes how living into Christ’s vision breaks down the barriers of futility, selfishness, fear and spitefulness that runs through our hearts. Part three, A Heart for Building Bridges, explores the work of building bridges between people through relationships and groups and through cooperation. Part four, A Heart for Bringing Growth and Change, describes how walking in Jesus’ way of love brings hope, political empowerment, problem resolution and prophetic transformation. The final section, From Half Hearted to Wholehearted Humanity provides ways to press into Christ’s spirituality of compassion through exploring his sayings, stories about his life, through resources, and through courses that Andrews offered (I haven’t checked to see if the courses are still on offer).

This is radical spirituality in the sense that Andrews is calling us away from Christendom back to the source: Jesus Christ. He aims at helping us recover Jesus vision for spirituality and justice and his challenge to the status quo.  Andrews peppers his chapters with stories of how he has tried to live out the way of Jesus in living simply, sacrificially and missionally.

I am tired of statusquo spirituality which tells people to come to Jesus but leaves them fundamentally unchanged in their to injustice, culture and everyday life. Andrews offers a vision of the life Jesus calls us to where we take up our cross and follow in his footsteps. Andrews is inspiring (with a little bit of hippy counter culture thrown in for good measure). I recommend this book for anyone else tired of status quo spirituality who wants to explore what it can look like to live out Jesus’ vision of compassion. This book is challenging and makes you hunger for something more prophetic, transformative, and life-giving than some of the ways the gospel is packaged. Religion doesn’t transform, the radical, relational and sacrifical love of Jesus does. This is a book about how to live Christ’s lvoe out.  I give it four stars.

Note: I received this book from Wipf and Stock in exchange for my honest review.

Markable: a book review

There is a sub-genre of business and leadership books which I call ‘business fiction.’ Books like Who Moved My Cheese?, The One-Minute Manager, The Five Disfunctions of a Team each use a thinly-veiled narrative as a parable to impart managerial advice. The goal is to present the books contents in an engaging, storied manner. Some of these books are better than others, but because their purpose is solely didactic, they all tend to break the first law of good fiction: show don’t tell. The result may be sound business advice, but it will never win a Pulitzer.

 9780801018831Remarkable: Maximizing Results Through Value Creation by Randy Ross and David Salyers is a business fiction. It tells much more than it shows. The central character, Dusty Harts, is not happy at work. He is an executive at a call center company which despite doing well on all the metrics, has a disengaged workforce. He takes his 1968 Ford Thunderbird into a Classic Car Care repair shop owned by Fred Walters. Dusty discovers that Fred is a Harvard MBA and a successful business man himself and begins to pick his brain about the ‘clutch’ situation at work–a moment which will determine how much people will engage. The rest of the the ‘narrative’ is mostly Fred and Dusty sitting in coffee shops and writing equations and diagrams on napkins about how to move a work force for egocentric value extraction to a we-centered value creation. This helps Dusty lead his company to become more engaged (and therefore more profitable), improves Dusty’s family life and makes him feel more fulfilled. Everyone lives happily ever after and in the closing chapter, [spoiler] Dusty is now the sage imparting wisdom to a young executive at his own Classic Car Care location.

This is thin fiction. The characters do not live and breath, they are mere mouthpieces for the principles  which Ross and Saylers desire to impart. But hey, that is my standing critique of the whole genre. What of the principles themselves? For the most part I think the advice imparted is sound. There are four maxims of value creation: (1) We are designed to create value in life, (2) Authentic positivity is the byproduct of creating true value, (3) to continuously create value, leverage your passion and strengths to solve problems and (4) ownership empowers people to take responsibility for creating value (181). Ross and Saylers approach also advocates bringing value to every endeavor by making relational deposits in people rather than seeking simply to ‘extract value’ and getting what we can out of people. They make a good case for reflective and thoughtful leadership (thinking about the whys and making the ‘superior decision’) instead of reactive leadership and business as usual. There are lots of concepts and ideas  worth underlining.

So I can suggest this book to leaders of companies and organizations. Not because it is riveting fiction, but because it may spark your thinking about the character of your leadership, and because the book is markable. You can mark it up. Maybe more than once. It is re-markable.  I give this book three stars

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

The Fullness of Christ in the Early Church: a book review

One of the theology profs at my grad school used to say something like, “All the new heresies are the old heresies with fresh make up and a mini skirt.” Leaving aside his troubling gendered association of apostasy, his point is a good one: there is nothing new under the sun, there are simply variations of an old theme.

9780830851270This is demonstrated in The Earliest Christologies: Five images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age James Papandrea, associate professor of church history at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary,  explores the various views of Christ in the second and third centuries (before Constantine and councils). Some thinkers in the area were Adoptionists, denying the divinity of Jesus; Others were Docetists, denying  Christ’s humanity. The middle position was Logos Christology—affirming Jesus Christ’s full  divinity and humanity and paving the way for Nicea and Chalcedon.

Papandrea explores five images of Christ in the early church. He distinguishes two different types of adoptionists: Angel Adoptionists and Spirit Adoptionists. The Angel Adoptionists held that the human Jesus was rewarded by God for his perfect obedience and given an indwelling angel. This happened proactively at the moment of his conception because of God’s foreknowledge (25-26).  Thus they accepted the Virgin Birth but neither the man (Jesus) or the indwelling angel (the Christ) were considered divine (27). They accepted the gospel of Matthew as canon and prominent teachers include the author of The Shepherd of Hermas and Lucian of Antioch (Arius’ teacher) (29-30). With this Christology, salvation is based on merit and human effort (31). Little is known about the actual lifestyle of the Angel Adoptionists (31).

Most adoptionists were Spirit Adoptionists, believing that Jesus became the Christ through the anointing of the Spirit at his Baptism (35). This gave Jesus power to perform miracles in his ministry; however the Spirit withdrew at Jesus’ passion (35). Thus the union of human to God was temporary, focused on the concept of anointing rather than indwelling (35-36). They likely used an edited form of Matthew’s gospel, excising the birth narratives (39)  The Spirit Adoptionists affirmed the preexistence of the Spirit, safegarding Jewish monotheism by removing Jesus from the realm of divinity (42). Jesus was just a man filled by the Spirit, and as such not unique (36).  Adherents of Spirit Adoptionism included Theodutus the Elder, Theodutus the Younger and Paul of Samasota (36-37). As with the Angel Adoptionists, Spirit Adoptionists were ‘optimistic about human nature’ advocating strict  adherence to the Jewish law (41). This manifested itself as a strict asceticism among adherents, vegetarianism and the use of water at the Eucharist (43).

The Docetists were also (broadly) of two types: those that denied that Jesus had a body at all (Docetism and Docetic Gnosticism),  and those that thought Jesus had a “ethereal” body which appeared human (Hybrid Gnosticsm. Hybrid Gnosticism (or quasi-docetism)  developed somewhat later, possibly in conversation with the mainstream church and a concession that Jesus did seem to actually have a body (70)  Both forms of gGnosticism demeaned matter in favor of the ‘spiritual,’ though in practice it manifested itself differently. Those who thought that Jesus’ body was an illusion, denigrated their bodies as evil and practiced asceticism (64). The Hybrids were more hedonistic, though possibly no-more than Roman society at large (82-83).  Neither type of docetist believe in Jesus humanity. Thus he has no birth,  or resurrection. Jesus was simply the offspring of gods in a polytheistic pantheon.

Papandrea presents Logos Christology as ‘the middle way’ between adoptionism and docetism:

Logos Christology, as the middle way between these alternatives, refused to allow either of Jesus Christ’s two natures to be diminished. Logos Christology embraces a full divinity that is preexistant and a true humanity with a real human body. This is a hristology of descent because the divine Logos starts out in the dine realm as equal to the Father and descends to humanity to take on our human condition (Phil 2:6-8). Furthermore Logos Christology refuses to separate Jesus from “the Christ” as though they were two separate entities, but rather consider the whole incarnate Jesus Christ as one person. (88-89).

Thus Logos Christology affirms Jesus humanity and that he is the divine Son of God, his bodily resurrection, his virgin birth, his incarnation. The practical payoff of this view is a belief in the doctrine of grace, and Christ’s atoning sacrifice, resurrection and the dignity of creation. Rather than legalism or a strict asceticism, Christians could have a more balanced approach to their bodies and matter (104).

Papandrea’s final chapter explores why Logos Christianity won, instead of these other alternatives. But he also show how these early heresies had a legacy. Adoptionism evolved into Arianism in the forth century (119). Docetic Gnosticism paved the way for modalism (120). In his final pages he observes the modern forms of Adoptionism and Doceticism (125-127). Modern day modalists and practical docetists in the church, continue to deny the dignity of embodied life. Adoptionism is seen in contemporary scholarship that draws a strong distinction between “the historical Jesus” and the “Christ of faith” (125). Old heresies remade for today.

Papandrea has produced an accessible guide to these early Christologies. It is an introductory overview, so could certainly be more detailed at points; yet Papandrea does give a good analysis of the controversies and the implications for sotierology and anthropology. This would be a good supplementary text for a systematic or historical theology course. It also has the advantage of describing the significance of these histories for today. As a pastoral leader, this book clarified my understanding of the roots of contemporary issues facing Christology in the church.  I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

God is For Us: a Lent Review

The season of Lent starts in a week. If you are hoping to find a good Lent devotional, one of the best on the market is God For Us (Paraclete: 2013).  I used it as my primary devotional a couple of years ago and referred to it throughout the Lenten season last year. The book has a poet or spiritual writer give a week’s worth of daily devotions. Contributers include: Scott Cairns, Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Luci Shaw, James Schaap and Lauren Winner. Beth Bevis’s historical articles on the celebration of Lent and various feast days punctuate the text Ronald Rolheiser, OMI writes the introduction and all of this was assembled under Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe’s editorial eyes (both of Image Journal).

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God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter (Paraclete 2016)

For this Lenten season, Paraclete has just released the readers God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter – Reader’s Edition. The book’s text is the same as the previous edition; however the earlier edition was sort of a coffee table book, with glossy pages full of art. The Reader’s Edition is a simple paperback with french flaps. While I absolutely loved the beauty of the previous edition, this is somewhat more practical and user friendly. I felt guilty about underlining and making notes in the original edition (I still did it) because it was such a pretty book. The Reader’s Edition doesn’t contain the art or the glossy pages and is more portable.

However, I did notice one small error unique to this edition. Page 35 of my copy, mistakenly attributes the entry to the late Richard John Neuhaus (I have a review copy, so I may be looking at a proof copy). My guess is that this a typographical error. Neuhaus contributed to the companion volume God With Us: Readings For Advent and Christmas which Paraclete also published a reader’s edition of, late last year. I checked that page of the devotional because I remembered that the lectionary readings for that day (First Sunday of Lent) didn’t correlate to the passages that Richard Rohr discussed in his devotion. They still don’t.

This doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the overall text. This devotional stands apart for its ecumenical spirit–bringing together an impressive list of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox (Cairns) spiritual writers. the devotions vary, but they are all quality.  If you are looking for a devotional that will deepen your experience and appreciation of the practice of Lent, this is perhaps the best one out there. Bevis’s contributions give this a historical rootedness often missing from devotional literature.  I give this edition 4.5 stars.

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

P.S.–This devotional is also available from Paraclete with a companion CD of Easter themed Gregorian chant. I have not listened to the CD, but I have been impressed with Paraclete’s collection of sacred music and see how popping this CD in as you read the book will help mark sacred time.

The Freedom of the Triune God and Our Own: a book review

Paul Molnar, professor of systematic theology at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, previously published a major work on the Immanent Trinity, the inner-relations of the Triune God in eternity–Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Immanent Trinity: In Dialogue with Karl Barth and Contemporary Theology (T & T Clark, 2005). In Faith, Freedom and the Spirit (IVP Academic 2015), he returns to the topic of Trinity, this time exploring the economic Trinity–God’s revelation to us in time, especially as it relates to theeconomy of salvation.  He wrote this book “as a discussion of just how a properly conceived pneumatology would assist such theologians speaking of the economic Trinity to think more accurately about divine and human interaction in the sphere of faith and knowledge within history” His aim is to “explore God’s relations with us and our relations with God within the economy by focusing on the activity of the Spirit who enables faith and freedom” (7). He affirms human freedom and the Triune God’s actions within history; however he refuses to reduce Trinitarian theology and Christology to a historicized versions of it, and reflects thoughtful on the role of Spirit in mediating the gospel of grace to us.

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Faith, Freedom and the Spirit: The Economic Trinity in Barth, Torrance and Contemporary Theology by Paul D. Molnar.

Throughout this book, Molnar is in dialogue with Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance and several contemporary theologians. Molnar has published monographs on both Barth and Torrance. In general, Molnar defends Barth against the neo-Barthian revisionists and uses Torrance to critique Barth in the places where Barth is inconsistent. Barth remains the genius of twentieth century theology, but where Molnar disagrees with him, he tends to follow Torrance. This is especially true when it comes to Torrance’s careful distinction between Christ’s vicarious activity for us and his ‘inner being as the Word’ (341-44).  Barth certainly affirms both, but his writings are inconsistent and allow for confusion regarding Christ’s mission and processions, and the error of subordinationism (339-340).

Faith, Freedom and the Spirit is made up of eight chapters.  The first two chapters explore the role of the Holy Spirit in imparting faith and bringing true knowledge of God through the incarnate Word. Chapters three through six critiques the missteps by contemporary theologians in understanding the relationship between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity, as well as contemporary misreadings of Barth. Chapter seven explores the obedience of the Son in the economic Trinity (and why this doesn’t necessitate subordinationism, especially according to Torrance’s reading). Chapter eight unfolds the theology of grace and how it enables true human freedom (freedom to live by the Grace of God through surrender to Christ)–God’s work in human history. A brief conclusion reviews the terrain and declares the necessity of the Spirit’s work for living the Christian life.

Continue reading The Freedom of the Triune God and Our Own: a book review

Midlife Mission, Not Midlife Crisis: a book review

I have a confession to make. I’m forty. I aged out in June and I am forced to face the fact that I’m statistically closer to the grave than the cradle. In many ways I don’t feel forty yet. I feel like I’m still becoming who I was meant to be. I don’t feel like I’m established. There is so much I had hoped to accomplish at this point,  there is security which has eluded me, such as a fulfilling job and  life success.

4434Authors Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty both have successful ministry careers.  Greer is the president and CEO of Hope International, a global micro-finance organization. Lafferty is the senior pastor of Willowdale Chapel in Jennersville, Pennsylvania.  Greer watched Lafferty navigate his forties and decided to learn from him about how he could avoid a midlife crisis and be propelled towards meaningful mission (17). 40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Mission in Midlife is Greer and Lafferty’s call for us to reevaluate our lives and press into the things which matter.

Lafferty and Greer share vulnerability about their experience of aging. They also engage a third dialogue partner: Qoheleth. The author of Ecclesiastes provides insights on refocusing our life midstream.  Greer and Lafferty (and Qoheleth) address midlife (ch. 1), the meaninglessness of life (ch. 2), disappointment with our life not going how we had planned (ch.3), the lose of  ‘thrill'(ch. 4), facing mortality (ch. 5), growing in generosity (ch. 6), breaking the addiction to go-go-go (ch. 7), aging well (ch. 8),  deepening our relationships in midlife (ch. 9), relinquishing control (ch. 10), finding meaning outside of ‘a job’ (ch. 11), and living a life with lasting purpose (ch. 12).

In their introduction, Greer and Lafferty write, ” Our hope is that this is not just another self-help book loosely based on Christian principles or a list of ways to ease the symptoms of midlife. Rather, we want to address the underlying questions of midlife through the timeless wisdom fo Ecclesiastes. Although many issues in their forties, others face them in their thirties or fifities” (17-18). Sharing vulnerably from their life experience, they delve into each theme, highlighting the wisdom and insights of Ecclesiaties and exploring what it means to live life on mission in life’s latter half.

This book speaks meaningfully to me in a way I wish it did not. I would rather be young, invincible, and immortal. But the experience of forty means I have to face up to life and press forward knowing that reckoning and resurrection await those who fear God  and keep his commandments (183-184).  Greer and Lafferty’s conversational tone draws you and causes you to reflect on what life could be like moving forward.

I recommend this book for those near forty, those who are forty or fortyish, and those who saw forty a long time ago and still pretend they are forty. Greer and Lafferty show how Ecclesiastes speaks to midlife. I give this four stars.

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

 

Church Planting, Apostolic Style: a book review

Church planting is all the rage lately. You can read books on it, you can go to conferences, attend denominational workshops on it. Is there anything new to say on the subject?J.D. Payne didn’t write Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers to say anything new.  Instead he calls would-be-church planters back to a biblical model of church planting patterned after the Apostle Paul (14).

9780830898909The heart of his model is simple: evangelize an area, gather converts and baptize them, and identify as church (22). Identifying pastoral leaders, celebrating communion, having systems of discipline, good preaching, etc., are all necessary for a church’s vitality and health, but Payne distinguishes between what the church is (a local gathering of disciples) from what it does (the work of the ministry) (26-27). So the four necessary components for church planting are sowers (evangelists), seed (the gospel), soil (a culture, city or community) and the Holy Spirit (19-20). That’s it. Simple right? Difficult to implement, but conceptually simple.

Payne goes on to describe practices of plant team members, the stages of church planting and  implied changes in leadership structures and development,  methodology and ethical guidelines. His discussion of the phases of church planting will help planting pastors and teams Payne is pastor of church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham and has written several books on church planting. He has a good deal of practical insight on the process.

Throughout the book, Payne stresses two persistent features of apostolic church planting:  (1) a church built from new converts/disciples is the rule, transfer growth is the exception; (2) our models of ministry should be simple enough to be reproducible. This roots church planting in the great commission call (Matt. 28:16-20).

One of the best features of this book is its brevity. He has written a more comprehensive resources on church planting, Discovering Church Planting (IVP, 2009).  This book  distills Payne’s thinking  on planting and answers some questions not addressed in the earlier volume.  But this book is not as comprehensive as the early book, and doesn’t discuss in-depth every aspect of what you need to know in church planting. What you have instead is a short book that is accessible to an entire church planting team (pastors, leaders, elders, etc.). There is enough substance here to be helpful, without putting off the non-readers in your plant team. So I think this is a tremendous practical resource.

I appreciate Payne’s discussion of methodology. He focuses on the simple and reproducible (84-5),  he warns against the dangers of paternalism as we minister cross-culturally (85),  he provides a framework for identifying our focus in the mission field, considering a people group’s needs and receptivity to the gospel (94-99). These are important components in crystallizing a ministry vision and I found it quite helpful.

I read this book as a non-church planter. I have been lucky enough to have been a part of a couple of church plants in my life, and for various reasons feel more drawn to planting a church than I ever had before. Apostolic Church Planting was helpful for me to see, in outline, the process and begin to dream about what it may look like. I give this book four stars.

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