Thursday, December 3, 2015

Children's Book Review: God's Servant Job

Douglas Bond and Todd Shaffer collaborate to present you and the young ones in your life with “A Poem with a Promise”: God's Servant Job. Bond reworks the Ancient Near East verse into a readable, bouncing poem for children of all ages. The meter is easy and true—except for a few notable breaks when sinful dialogue is prominent, ultimately leading to better poetry and influence. Bond follows remarkably well to the text we’d find in modern translations, putting new words to ancient ideas that had me thinking: I’ve heard this before! And of course, what else would we want from a book that attempts bring Scripture to the hearts of little ones? Bond is sure to add a poetic exposition of what he believes to be the central thrust of the book of Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives!” and to relate it to the fulfillment of this truth in Jesus. He also includes a “Big Words,” “Quiz,” and “Let’s Think!” section which will aid parents and Sunday school teachers in discipleship, or even the self-motivated learner. (There are several ‘chapter’ divisions as well.)

Shaffer contributes excellent artwork to partner along the text. If you look at the cover picture, you will get a grasp of the overall style: angular, an almost ‘sketched’ look which seems to remind us of the temporal gap between this world and theirs. The color palette ranges, though, finding appropriate hues to show us the spectrum of the story: from bright heaven, to Satan’s technicolor; from dusty potsherds to the vast mysteries of God’s creation—the mood fits.

All in all, this book is great at the theological, aesthetic, and audience level. I do have a few recommendations for the author, and one disagreement.

First, the least controversial: I think the Big Words section could have included a few more (e.g. covenant, cornerstone, Redeemer).

Second: just preferentially, I would have liked to see an extra stanza devoted to Christ as the fulfillment of the Job typology.

Third: I do not believe that Elihu was condemned in concert with the three other friends of Job. Scripture itself is silent on this matter, but the author says, “My servant Job has seen the light, / But you, his friends, go nothing right.” The illustration likewise includes Elihu amidst the others. The author seems to recover from this when in the “Let’s Think!” section he highlights a parallel between Elihu’s words, Job’s words, and the message of the book.

Those recommendations notwithstanding, this is an excellent addition to any children’s library; even an adult’s. It accurately retells the story found in Job including some of its most famous lines, with simple, up to date poetry, showing forth the message of our Redeemer and the hope his children have of righteousness, justification, and forgiven sins. It’s easy to talk to adults, and oh so difficult to communicate the same things to children, but Bond and Shaffer have done just that.

4/5 stars. I recommend it to you and yours. I discourage, the Kindle (.mobi) version, however because of the division of artwork.

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

This review is crosslisted on Goodreads, NetGalley, and Amazon.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: Prodigal God

Keller’s excellent book is well worth the read for new and seasoned Christian alike. It can be read in a few hours and marinated in for a month. Keller aims to confront the ‘elder brother’ and ‘younger brother’ in us all by portraying a Father of lavish grace, our God.
His thesis reads:

 Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the subject of this book.

And more than ‘proving’ his thesis, he helps us to feel it—engaging the whole human: mind, body, and soul. Of course, that’s an ‘insiders’ opinion; Keller didn’t have to convince me of anything. But when I see other reviews marked at 3 stars or less, I am perplexed. What exactly were the readers anticipating in this book?

Keller offers sound exposition of the parable in question, and although he occasionally makes inferences without detailed argumentation, Keller isn’t writing for the Law Firm Partner; he’s writing for the majority American populace… many of whom would be dissuaded with frequent or lengthy debate or footnotes. Is it true that the ‘careful reader’ should assume someone is supposed to leave and search for the younger brother? Well, I think so, and you may not; but this book is an exposition, not an exegetical debate—the difference: presenting the [understood] intent in a way that has a similar effect rather than arguing minutiae for objective content’s sake.

I think readers will find themselves within these pages. As Keller describes the Christian life as a lake and this parable as the clear, deep section to see all the way to the bottom… I believe readers will also see this parable as the way to see all the way to the bottom of their soul. And after all, isn’t that what Calvin opens the Institutes with: to know God & self, but how one without the other? Truly the gospel is good news to us because it concerns humanity. How valuable, then, a book which confronts the depths of humanity, plumbs its intents, and reveals the infinite goodness of a God who redeems those depths and alters its intents! “Know thyself,” says Socrates; “Yes,” say I—and then read, meditate, repent, and rejoice over the parable of the Prodigal God, because knowing myself leads only to despair until I also know this God. The One who is prodigal toward us. Until I know this elder brother, who sought me in the mire.

Indeed, it is always difficult to get ‘outside of yourself’ to get a better look at your weaknesses and tendencies. So I thank Tim Keller for doing it for me. The dichotomy of ‘older-younger brother’ traverses the book, and although some might find it repetitive; I found it to be a helpful tether to my heart—constantly reminding me, “Now, look… you agree with what he just said, but do you recognize the implications for your faith? Your relationships? Your behaviors?”

Prodigal God shown forth a few new insights I did not expect. And so again my pride is condemned—I thought I knew this parable. And although my understanding didn’t shift from the ‘point,’ I found new shades of color in the tapestry. Historical-Cultural (‘everything I have is yours’), contextual (‘went out to search for it’), personal (‘home’), and spiritual (‘celebrate’) nuance which I found beneficial for my life in Christ.

A worthy introduction to the Christian faith. A worthy discussion platform for small groups. A worthy annual re-read. I give this book 5/5 stars, and commend it to all as young as junior high, and as old as this sinful flesh takes you.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A New Blog... but not a replacement

Hello, faithful readers, friends, and happenstance visitors!

I wanted to inform you of a new endeavor I've begun with some of closest friends. We've started a blog called Vantage Points where we discuss theology & the Christian life. I'm really excited about this project because of how different I think it is from most content on the blogosphere. We'll take one topic per month (November is Theology & Work) and to write a personal perspective on the topic followed by responses by the other contributors.

In other words it looks like this:

I write about theology and work, posted Monday the 2nd.
Bryce responds, posted Wednesday the 4th.
Alex responds, posted on Friday the 6th.

Bryce writes about theology and work, posted on Monday the 9th.
I respond, posted on Wednesday the 11th.
Alex responds, posted on Friday the 13th.

And again.

You may be familiar with this format if you've read the Counterpoints, Viewpoints, or Perspectives series from publishers like B&H Academic or Zondervan.

What does that mean for Preparing for Eternity?

Well, not a ton. I'll still be here. I'll still be writing and trying to push you toward Christ and eternity with him. I'll still be offering book reviews. I'll still be engaging in culture. If anything, I hope that it will enable me to give you more because I'm not working on getting Vantage Points up and running--I just need to maintain it.

However, you should also know that I'm working on one more site right now. This other site will focus on the idea of 'subcreation' (a term popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien). Again, I don't think this will detract from Preparing for Eternity, but by differentiating, I hope to give readers here what they want and not have to simply filter out ideas that others would find beneficial. I'll let you know more about that site when it's all good & ready.


As for now, do me a favor and check out Vantage Points, maybe bookmark it, add it to your RSS feed, or like it on Facebook & follow on Twitter. And may God the Spirit encourage your soul as he reveals Christ to you more fully. And be on the lookout for some future creative endeavors, and in prayer for some thoughtful theological-cultural engagement.

In Christ, my Righteousness,
E.J. Boston

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament

When I received this book from the publisher, I was slightly daunted—over 900 pages of careful, scholarly investigation into the New Testament. But the daunting turns to satisfaction page after page. Each segment, each NT book, each subsection (History, Literature, Theology), treats our New Covenant document with humbled admiration and diligence. Indeed, at the start of the book they remind readers:

“’All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work,’ and the student of Scripture must…’be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.’”

They recognize their intended audience to be ‘the teacher and the student’—so they write in a manner ‘scholarly yet accessible,’ and hope to aid the teacher in showing the student that “The NT, with its 27 books, presents both a wonderful, God-given treasure trove of spiritual insights and a formidable challenge for faithful, accurate interpretation.

The book is broken into five sections: Introduction, Gospels, Early Church & Paul, General Epistles & Revelation, Conclusion. Which is, of course, pretty standard. The conclusion, unlike some others deals with ‘diversity in unity’ in the New Testament—an helpful discussion for any student of Scripture. Each book-focused chapter is subdivided into an Introduction; History, Literature, and Theology sections; a Conclusion, Study Questions, and Further Resources. The History section deals with the necessary presumed issues of authorship, etc. The Literature section offers a unit-by-unit discussion, tracing the flow of the book. And the Theology section offers a brief discussion on various theological themes. Throughout the chapter also offer numerous sidebar articles throughout which highlight interesting details, dichotomies, and spiritual meditations. They include a section on the book’s contribution to the canon.. At the beginning of each chapter they offer at-a-glance key facts as well as an objectives list—preparing readers to look for and understand certain elements. Notably they offer three different levels for these objectives lists: Basic/Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.

Oddly enough, this feature was one of the most helpful and encouraging. Grading knowledge levels is an apt reminder that the New Testament is a “treasure trove…and a formidable challenge.” It reminded me that I don’t know all the answers, and that even if I learned them briefly through my reading, I would likely forget them when I had finished. It offers milestones for the reader—perhaps they plan to go through the New Testament once per year. In year 1, they focus on the Beginner objectives. In year 2, they take a look at the study questions in the back and answer them. If they discover their ‘Basic Knowledge’ is adequate they focus on an Intermediate grasp, etc. Similarly, for teachers in university/seminary courses, it becomes easy to encourage students and explain expectations while giving the extra-motivated student a goal to achieve.

When the authors prepared this book (2009), they explained what they thought made The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown distinctive from other NT Introductions (which they appropriately praised. And so it is by their own scale which I grade their book now.

  1. User-friendly. 100% (In accessibility, not simplicity.)
  2. Comprehensive. 100% (In scope, not depth.)
  3. Conservative. 100% (In scholarship, not in politics, and not fundamentalist.)
  4. Balanced. 90%
  5. Up-do-date. 95%
  6. Spiritually nurturing and application oriented. 100%

I say that they are not quite perfect in balance (by which they describe as pertaining to more than date, provenance, authorship, destination but theological themes as well), because while they are certainly better than some other Introductions, I found myself wanting a bit more literature and a bit more theology—whether through intertextuality themes & biblical theology. Of course, I have to temper my desires with the books purpose as an introduction. And so I recognize that they do balance incredibly well… I guess I just want to be unbalanced—on the other side.

I listed up-to-date at 95% due to no fault of the others; it’s simply the reality of contributing to humanity’s understanding in time. Time moves past us, and there are new works out. I do not believe that there are any problems with the body of text, arguments, conclusions, etc. Instead, the recommended resources are now 6 years lacking.

I want to offer one more area for improvement, again understanding limitations of adding to a 900+ page book. I would like to see more room for creative presentation. The authors certainly present countless charts and tables, and a few maps here and there, but I would like to see the biblical data represented in new ways that reveal things about the text or assist the learning process. Perhaps even Flowcharts of Pauline arguments and rhetoric. “If yes, then…., If no, then…”

I want to end this review by widening the intended audience. Most who buy this book will be teachers and students. I think that is too limited. I encourage new members in my church that they should include in their monthly budget an amount for knowing God better. For some it might be as little as five or ten dollars per month. But if we as Christians truly believe the grandeur and grace of God, we ought to be willing to set aside money to know him better. This book’s listing is $59.99, but of course cheaper at certain locations. I can’t tell you how to use your money, but what I can say is

If you don’t have a good, foundational resource to help you understand the New Testament, this one can fill that void.

I don’t imagine you’ll read it start to finish. But if you keep it close to your Bible, you can take a few minutes each time you read from the New Testament to better grasp the whole.

I recommend this book to any Christians who want to understand the New Testament better. Pastors, small group leaders, the retired, the lay Christian, college students.

10/10 stars, 5/5 with no caveats.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: The Accidental Feminist

Courtney Reissig has gifted the world an excellent book on womanhood. From start to finish this book is a well-measured, winsome work given with grace for the sanctification of Christ’s Bride and clarifying of a Christocentric Complementarian vision.

This book is not about feminism. At least not primarily. This is a book about God; about Christ and his love, his righteousness—something which should be apparent from the subtitle “Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design,” but if you’re anything like me, that word “Feminist” becomes a bit distracting and you’re expecting a few more bared teeth, a few more claw scratches, and pages of ink spilled over those tired arguments offered on both sides of the evangelical sphere (and elsewhere); you’d expect the same exegetical arguments you’ve heard from your pastor on a Sunday or in conversation with that young college woman. But if that’s what you’re looking for—you won’t find it here. And yet I can’t say you’ll be disappointed either!

This book takes us where we’re at—men included—which is to say: it takes us as accidental feminists and tries to know and love God better.

With the caveat that “feminism is hard to pin down,” that “as culture has evolved, so has the concept of feminism…. To be a feminist today means different things for different people,” Reissig asserts her definition: “equality equals sameness,” and her definition plays out in “the idea that women should be able to be independent if they want to be.” (A definition broad enough and narrow enough to get us on the same page without alienating the outliers.) Truly though, this is accurate for every human—man and woman—since the fall; it is the original sin: I choose my own. This is a problem, but only, of course, if you believe that there is one who has authority over us—namely, God. With these assumptions laid, Reissig proceeds on two propositions: 1.) If we want to understand womanhood, we can’t rebel against the culture; we must seek the Word of God, and 2.) True freedom “is knowing that God had a good design when he created us male and female.” And these propositions set us up for the thesis of her book.

Thesis: “Our understanding of who God created us to be as women has everything to do with our display of him to a watching world.”

So again: this book is not about feminism as much as it is about God. The purpose of womanhood, of gender, is to reveal the God of creation. Does Reissig support her thesis? Yes, I believe she does. In her first chapter she buttresses her thesis with a ‘question of identity,’ short history of feminism, and explanation of God’s design in image, gender, and womanhood specifically. And really, it’s hard to dispute her trump card: if God is God, then God can do and require what he wants. Fortunately for readers, she explains this much more graciously in a way that accentuates the beauty of God and his wisdom. The second chapter continues the story post-fall, highlighting the tolls sin has taken on our will, and the remaining chapters clarify the implications for a God-centered vision of womanhood.

One of the strengths of this book is its approach. Reissig uses a systematic-cultural approach. In other words ‘worldview.’ She lets worldviews clash like ocean on a bluff and lets human experiences become enveloped in the spiritual realities. She is changing the way her readers view the world, not by giving atomized arguments from this or that text—since either side is adept at using the verses in question to further prove their own side. Her persuasive power comes not from Greek languages and ancient Canaanite homonyms, but from a big view of God who created the world and everything it. Reissig isn’t limited to the texts that deal with women, she is free to pull and consolidate all of Scripture into a supercharged punch that leaves you with almost no way to say “I don’t see it.” But the amazing thing is(!) this punch feels like a kiss; Reissig truly loves Christ and wants the world to see him because womanhood has everything to do with the way the world views the creator.

I look forward to the way this book advances the discussion. In order to argue against Reissig, the still-feminist would have to present a comprehensive worldview for ‘equality-equals-sameness’ in such a way that makes God ‘look better’ (that is to say more glorious) than he does here.

Reissig writes with evangelical women as her audience, but she does so in such a way that an ‘outsider’ could understand. She doesn’t presume much, and each of her chapters includes a “Restoration in My Life” section often highlighting subgroups of women who need ‘next steps’ or application points, and a study question section for individual or corporate use.

In later editions of this book, I can foresee improvement in an appendix format: “What about when the man isn’t behaving like a man/Jesus?” and “What about when life seems to require a switch of roles?”

I give this book 10/10 stars and recommend it to pretty much everyone. I see particular benefit for church leaders, women’s ministries, and engaged couples.

I received a free copy of this book from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program in exchange for my honest review.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon & Goodreads.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Baxter: First steps for New Believers, pt.2

A few days ago I gave you the first 10 of a list of practical steps for new believers according to Richard Baxter. Now comes the conclusion to that list... numbers 11-20. Enjoy, take to heart, and again post any comments you have.

1.       Do not let your first opinions about the confusing things in Christianity, where the Bible is not clear, be unfounded, overly certain, or unchangeable; instead hold your opinions modestly with suspicion of your own immature understandings and with room for further information, supposing it possible, or probable, that upon better instruction, evidence, and growth, you may change your mind.

2.       If controversies cause any divisions in your community, make sure to look first at the interest of common truth and common good and the practice of love. And do not become a passionate fighter for any sect of the division. And do not become ashamed of peace, or your teachers, or overturn their teachings just so you can be seen as the truly-passionate or truly-believing person; instead suspect your own immature understandings, and do not voice your opinions until you are clear and certain; and join, instead, with the humble and peace-making… not with the feisty or divisive.

3.       Know that true godliness is the best life upon earth, and it is the only way to perfect happiness. Still try to learn it, therefore, and use godliness as the best choice; and work hard to resist those temptations which make godliness seem confusing, painful, sad, or unpleasant.

4.      Work, work, and work in killing the desires and pleasures of your sinful nature; and keep a continual watch over your senses, desires, and longings; and do not throw yourself toward temptations, occasions, or possibilities of sinning; instead remember that your sanctification & glorification depends on killing the sinful nature.

5.       Be so careful always about which teachers you entrust the guidance of your souls to. And be so careful with what friends you hold dearest and converse—make sure they are not ones who would corrupt your thoughts with false truths, or your hearts with hatred, commonness, indifference, or with an accelerated, divisive passion; but instead, if possible, choose wise, holy, heaven-like, humble, unblameable, self-denying persons to be your daily companions and close friends; but especially for your confidants.

6.       Make careful choices in the books you read. Let the Bible always have the first place, and then let it be the pure, engaging, heavenly works which best explain and apply Scripture; and then the well-researched history books of the church, followed by the works on sciences and arts; but be careful of the poisonous writings of false teachers which would corrupt your understandings, and be careful of pointless romances, meaningless plays, and false fiction which may deceive your imagination and corrupt your hearts.

7.       Be careful that you do not believe the teaching of unpunishable sin as if it were the gospel; and do not think of Christ as unconcerned with sin; and do not pretend indulgent grace for your fleshly peace-of-mind or laziness since these present a different gospel, a different Christ—in other words the teaching and practices of the devil against Christ and the gospel which attempt to turn the grace of God into idolatrous passions.

8.       Beware and watch for the noticeable effects of dying faith and its transition into fleshly affections or a counterfeit grace or faith of a different kind… and so beware of faith practices for religion’s sake.

9.       Do not promise yourself a long life, or  money and success in the world, or else it will entangle your heart with the temporary things and make you worldly ambitious with greedy plans, and it will steal your heart away from God and destroy all your true understanding of eternity.

10.   Make sure that your faith is truly of God and given to you by God, as the beginning, the way, and the end; and that everywhere in your life is written “Holy to God”—first and especially upon your soul, then upon everything you have or do; and make sure you do not lead others astray with an inconsistent, hypocritical relationship toward people.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Baxter: First Steps for New Believers, pt.1

I'm sure you've heard of Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions. Well, today I offer you an updated version of the Rev. Richard Baxter's Directions to Young Christians, or Beginners in Religion, for their Establishment and Safe Proceeding contained within his Practical Works (Volume II). It is certainly interesting to me that Baxter's idea of 'practical' is quite different from what many people today think is 'practical.' Nonetheless, here you go. In his volume, Baxter presents a list of 20 with significant explanation for each. But I have rewritten the subject heading for each section... and given you only 10 of them (the next 10 will be posted in a few days). And although these are directions for the young Christian, I think all believers would do well to follow Baxter's wisdom. Feel free to post your comments here!

1.       Be careful! Do not let the newness or examples of truth and Christianity convince you more than the truthfulness and need of the Christian faith; or else, when the newness and examples are gone, your religion will die.

2.       Be careful of being ‘Christian’ only in mind without passion and practice; or being only in passionate practice without thoughtfulness; but instead make sure that thought, passion, and practice are unified.

3.       Work hard at understanding the right way of Christianity, and see true teaching in their proper priority and purpose, that you do not mistake the primary issues for unimportant or the curious for the most important. For this reason make sure you are well grounded in theology; and do not refuse to learn some theology that is true and holistic, and remember it always.

4.       Do not hurry to controversies of theology, but when you do deal with them, let them have the appropriate amount of time and passion; but make your daily faith founded upon the undoubtable, vital truths which all Christians agree to be true.

5.       Be extremely grateful for the mercy with which Christ converted you, but do not see your first understandings and choices as the most important; instead remember that you are a child in faith and must expect to grow and mature after time and faithfulness.

6.       Do not be discouraged at the difficulties and persecutions which come against you after you have decided to walk with God.

7.       If it is in your power, live under a perceptive, faithful, concerned, searching, convicted pastor; and persistently attend his preaching and use his counseling conversations for more wise choices and for worshiping rightly; just as you would take the advice of medical doctors for health, lawyers for legal matters, and professors for schooling.

8.       Understand the excellence of unmerited love and unity among believers, and do not easily believe rumors against them; especially make sure that you do not join yourself to a clique because of someone’s pretended authority, number, truthfulness, or Christlikeness, and in so doing remove your proper love and community from other Christians by becoming most passionate about your clique and neglecting the common interest of the church. Instead love a Christian as a Christian. And promote the unity and well-being of all Christians.

9.       Be careful not to let any persecution or someone else’s bad choice make you feel illegitimate feelings or do illegitimate actions, and so steal away your love, humility, and purity as a Christian; or do not let them make you disregard your position by guarding against, despising, or rebelling against your authorities who are the officers of God.

10.   Do not get rid of or avoid an extreme without fearing and being careful of the opposite extreme.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: Locke's Trial Run

Thomas Locke has done it again… which is a feat worth mentioning because he has done so by crossing genre lines. Trial Run fits into the genre of Thriller proper but can be further categorized as techno- and psychological making this only the second I’ve read of this exact kind (the other being Skin by Ted Dekker). But if you’re familiar with the movie Inception, you’re familiar with the genre of Locke’s latest book.

*This is an analytical review; for plot overview please read the book description or other reviews. My goal here is to help you understand in which ways you will be influenced by this book (in addition to offering a few suggestions at a literary level).

This book presents the world as one in which external forces will always attempt to divide & conquer the good, loving, and true… but of course the good, loving, and true is more powerful (if only they face the evil head on). Indeed, a purpose-filled fate pulls us forward and although we don’t exactly know what the purpose is…we can trust that the transcendent “fate” is one which has the good, loving, and true as its end. If fate is the main theme, its supporting themes are love, forgiveness, community (teamwork), and inevitability. I list inevitability as a distinct subtheme because there is only one instance in which the characters question fate and attempt their own path… in other words: not only is there a fate guiding circumstances, but the characters simply accept fate as inevitable… there is no libertarian questioning here. Readers might be surprised to find several cases of romantic tension in the book, but they will be happy to discover that it is never forced (and to my literary critic mind, happy to find that all things aren’t tied up tidy with bows).

The book takes place in a contemporary world in the collegiate, scientific, and government settings and introduces us to a wide array of characters. In fact it’s hard to determine who the “main” character is—which is something I am glad to struggle with! There is no primary character which allows us readers to hear the stories of individuals as they fit into the whole and to be an outside observer… seeing ourselves in parts of the individual and being able to evaluate them in relation to the whole; consequently allowing us to do the same with our own persons. The character profiles aren’t exactly stock, but some of their relationships are unfortunately. There is, in my opinion, a character who plays the Deus ex Machina (if I can say that at all when the book is nearly based on the motif!); but it’s done in such a way that I didn’t realize until the book was over. That, I believe, is an excellent use of the plot device. The plot itself is rather curious. There is no overtly noticeable plot structure, and yet I wanted to read and read more. The best way I can describe the plot is “filling in the blanks.” The book presents so many questions all the way through that you continually want to know. It does this through both assumption and introduction, or both dropping you in the middle of the story without the assumed facts to bolster your understanding and by presenting new events and ideas that are certain to play a role later (and maybe already have! If we only knew the answers).

I think that, literarily, Locke needs to work on variety of sentence structure. During one instance, we are supposed to feel the calm tranquility of love and communion, but his sentences are so short that I read it like a rushed tryst. It seemed like once he started a flow of sentences, most of them followed that pattern for paragraphs & pages at a time. Included in this, Lock often resorted to the construction: “Not so much _______________ as _______________” which became pretty annoying. I think the construction is a good one for giving nuance and for heightening the moment, but it was certainly overused.

This book is written for thriller/sci-fi fans, and I think it offers them purpose… even if the purpose itself is still unknown. There is a reason, and a good one, that this technology is extant. There is a reason, and a good one, that we as humans feel peril and want a resolution. In comparison to Locke’s first book Emissary, it is similarly well-written (using a few stock elements), but ultimately engaging. In comparison to Skin, I much preferred the ending of Trial Run, if ending it could be called since this is the first in a series to come, but the tension of Skin is more poignant than in Trial Run.

I offer this book 8/10 stars, or 4/5 and recommend it to fans of the movie Inception who appreciate a bit of romance along the way.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the Publisher for review; my thoughts are my own.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Book Review: The Pilgrim by Davis Bunn

Davis Bunn writes a historically informed work of fiction concerning the Helena, mother of Constantine. At times, the book seems hagiographic, but Bunn makes clear that Helena never thought of herself that way. In fact, nearly all of the characters are floundering in doubt and brokenness, with only the details ranging.

The book is built on the philosophy that God uses people to encourage faith; such an undercurrent is carried by the main theme of calling individuals to faithful obedience while supplying their needs; and subthemes include community and healing/restoration. The plot flow is one of journey/pilgrimage set in Roman-ruled Judea C.E.(but I will not give a plot synopsis here). Bunn is clearly writing to Christians for Christians, and I think it is this reality which allows this book to succeed in its purpose: Bunn is writing to people who already convinced of the story at a macro-level, and so seeing it in the micro encourages the readers. There is little challenge of thought or ideas. The good guys are clearly good, and the bad are clearly bad. The reader already knows what is going to happen even if they are unfamiliar with the history. The characters are essentially two-dimensional, except for a few who are one: e.g. the primary antagonist, Severus. But it is to the historically-interested Christian subculture that Bunn writes, and so this is relatively unproblematic.

From a historical standpoint, it seems a bit too contemporary in certain plot elements (i.e. “someone at that time wouldn’t have said/done that!”), and some of the Christian elements seem anachronistic (e.g. there are phrases or behaviors that seem like American Evangelical rather than 4th century Christianity). And yet it is historically informed. Geographically and socio-politically it rings true. Oftentimes the dialogue flows in the very way 4thC Latin would have… it ‘sounds’ ancient—just enough for you to remember this is historical, but not so much that you think the author is being dramatic.

From a literary standpoint I find that there is much that could have been improved upon. Again the characters are too flat, so a few layers would have been helpful—take creative liberties!—we already know it’s historical fiction, so make the history come alive… and include a few notes on the relationship between the history and the narrative. The chapters and scenes seemed a bit disjointed (like fast-forwarding), and the dialogue seemed a bit forced. The ‘great mysteries’(in character & plot) were overplayed, and un-affective (i.e. we didn’t feel the suspense or shame). A few characters were introduced and described as if they would be significant players, only to disappear for chapters at a time. If I were to summarize my literary critiques I might say: I didn’t feel the need to invest in the story.

And yet… I have given it 3/5 stars. Why so? Well, really I give it 5/10, but rounding down to 2/5 seems unnecessary… and of course, I have to keep in mind the target audience and the reason for which it was written. It appears to have been written to offer an introduction to St. Helena, mother of Constantine, and to be an encouragement to believers enduring doubt or shame. And with just such purposes it succeeds. I wouldn’t actively recommend this book to very many people, but the type of person I would recommend it to is clear: for Christians who are broken, recovering from guilt or doubt, or for Christians who want an introduction to Helena.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the Publisher in exchange for my honest review.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Book Review: Recapturing the Voice of God

This is an area of discussion much needed for today’s pulpits… unfortunately I wish this book had been postponed another couple months. We need people talking about this, but not talking about it poorly. Steven Smith’s Recapturing the Voice of God: Shaping Sermons like Scripture needed another pass with the editor, and a bit of interaction with some dissidents. All in all, I give this book a 7/10 or 3/5 (rounded down) because the content is there, but it’s not quite there, wrapped with bow.

Book thesis:
“The humble ambition of this book is to show a preacher or teacher how the genre influences the meaning of the text and give practical help for those who want to know how we can shape our sermons to reflect this meaning.

Smith writes to pastors and teachers with the caveat that this book is an introduction—and this is testified over-and-over again with recommended resources for further study at the end of every chapter, and a voluminous bibliography in the back. In fact, its sheer size may be a point of anxiety for the pastor who wants the few best resources to look into… not the whole gamut of scholarship since the 50s. Smith supports his thesis a bit vaguely at times—showing the Bible expositor how the genres of Scripture tend toward a kind of sermon structure best suited to re-animate the biblical authors meaning.

Smith loosely categorizes 9 genres into 3 major categories. Story contains OT Narrative, Law, Gospels/Acts, and Parables. Poem/Wisdom contains Psalms, the Wisdom Literature, and Prophecy. And Letter contains Epistles and Revelation. Again, they are loose categories with some overlap but Smith makes a pretty compelling case for categorizing them where he does. The macrostructure of Story applies to the genres therein (even Law—because Law is given in the context of narrative), and there are microstructures singular to the particular subgenres. Similarly with Poem/Wisdom (though there is great diversity between the Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Eccelesiastes, and Job). Truth be told, the Letter category seems a bit arbitrary since Revelation is all over the board, and the Epistles bear resemblance to the Prophetic literature.

Each chapter breaks down into Interpretation, Communication, and Structuring a Sermon; it ended with a sample sermon, study questions, and recommended resources. I found that the Interpretation section often asserted things without interacting with dissidents/counterarguments. And at the risk of wanting my cake and eating it too: I was surprised to find Smith prolonging his pen so often in the interpretation sections and swiftly passing through the Structure sections. Truly, you must understand the text before you know how to convey its meaning, but the Structure sections (the apparent thrust of the book) remains scant to my eyes. I think the readers would be better equipped if these sections included multiple examples of sermon outlines from the genre in question. Smith offers a sample sermon in each chapter, but the benefits could be multiplied if confused pastors could see the variety even a single genre provides… after all different texts reveal different structures. On the other hand, the study questions were at the perfect level of cognition—requiring enough thought to solidify the ideas presented without being obscure or menial. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised with how well Smith handled some of the more complex or ‘scary’ genres: prophecy, Psalms, and Revelation; and yet I was dissatisfied with his mediocre treatment of Luke, Acts, and some epistles.

So let me get to my biggest dissatisfactions…
1.      Editing. I found an uncanny number of typos and inconsistent/confusing headings. But really they were all things that are entirely amendable, things that the college English professor docks you for because it shouldn’t have happened. I think just a couple more weeks before the book hit the printer would have given the time for another spell, grammar, and outline check and would have presented the book in a much more professional manner. Most of the content is there, but it’s still sitting in the store-given plastic bag, unappealing.

2.      The Introductory matters. Chapters 1-3 could use some revision. Again this seems like someone was on a time-crunch. Like the author had written the first draft and never got around to checking it out and revamping his arguments. Occasionally the author would give an example to ‘prove’ his point without telling you what the point was! We had no lens to interpret. At times he leaves his question ultimately unanswered—he gets into the discussion but leaves it vague; he seems to start writing about something only to end up saying, “But we all already know the rest” or “we aren’t going to talk about this.” And he seems to assume things he shouldn’t. This sort of ‘unworked’ feel pops up a couple places in the remainder of the book (e.g. 185 where he states, “Let’s deal with a few strategies,” but that is the final sentence of the section… and he doesn’t explicitly answer this in the remaining sections), but it is predominant in Chapters 1-3. In fact, I think the book would have been better if it simply had the Introduction followed by chapters 4-12.

All that being said, I have found this book beneficial for myself. I learned some things. I saw some things for the first time. I captured a pithy proverb or two about preaching. I am confident about a foray into the book of Revelation. And so I give this book 3 stars… recognizing its potential value, and hoping for soon updated editions… with a few of my suggestions taken into consideration.

I recommend it [the updated edition] to pastors who feel they’ve run themselves into a rut in the pulpit. The ones for whom every sermon seems the same with three alliterated points and the same conclusion each time. Unfortunately it’s the ones who haven’t realized they’re driving themselves into that rut that need this most and who are most unlikely to read it.

I also recommend  it to students of Scripture who aspire to the pulpit one day. And to teachers of small groups (though for this group I think it has least immediate application).
One of the benefits of this book is its introductory level—not just to sermon structure but to genre interpretation. I would show persons this book alongside Preaching with Variety by Jeffrey Arthurs and Preaching God’s Word by Duvall and Hays. Of course each book has its niche, and so should it be; this niche relates to conveying the text through appropriate structures. After all “we preach a text, not a sermon.”

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review; all thoughts are my own.

This review is crosslisted on Goodreads and Amazon.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What do we need?

Why didn’t Jesus incarnate immediately after the fall?

                Have you ever considered why God didn’t solve the problem of sin immediately or at least sooner? Was it simply to wait for the Roman world to perfect crucifixion? But didn’t Babylonians and Assyrians have plenty of painful death methods and the attitudes to match? Was it because the Roman roads would provide avenues for the spread of the gospel? But wouldn’t the single Adamic family make for a much easier evangelization process? Was it simply because God wanted more humans? But couldn’t there have been some metaphysical way for regenerate humans to birth regenerate babies? Was it perhaps because he wanted every individual to experience their own fallenness to appreciate newness of life? Whatever blur of possibilities coalesced in the goodness and wisdom of God, I offer one additional reason.

Without the intermediary millennia, we would have misinterpreted the person and work of Christ—which is to say the person and work of God himself.

What is it that you and I need?
Is it Money? Acceptance? Marriage? Security?

What would Adam and Eve have said? …

 Imagine the scene in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve have eaten; God comes to them on the flurry of wind:

“Adam, where are you?”
“Here am I.”
“Why were you hiding?”
“Because we were naked and ashamed.”
“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I told you, ‘You shall not eat?’” asks God.
“The woman you gave me—she told me to eat.”
“Why did you do this?” he asks Eve.
“The serpent deceived me,” is her response.
“What is it that you need?” asks God.
“Forgiveness!” they say.
“Look,” says God, “I will provide what you need: Here is my Son in human flesh. I require his death for your forgiveness.” After this sacrifice God asks, “Do you understand what I’ve done for you? And do you understand who I am?”
“Yes,” responds Adam, “you have removed our transgression from us through your Son, and you are the God who forgives and the self-sacrificing one.”

Wonderful! How true, and how good!

But what if he had waited until they had been removed from the garden for several years? Then Adam might respond, “You have removed our transgression from us and restored us to your presence through your Son; you are the God who forgives, the self-sacrificing one, and the one whose dwelling is goodness!”

And so the fullness of God’s character comes more to light!
But now insert several thousand years. And imagine that during those years God gives his people prophets. And Kings. Delivering judges and priests. A tabernacle, temple, and ark of covenant. Circumcision and promised land. Law. Impossible children and doubting husbands. Victory over armies, Sabbath rest, Jubilee years, exilic sojourns and returns, cities of refuge, twelve tribes, shepherds, sacrifices, wisdom, Passover feasts, and waters traversed, and psalms.

And then God says, “Look, I have given you these things, but what is it that you need?”
And humanity responds, “We need a true prophet, a righteous king, a delivering judge, and a holy priest. We need the presence of God dwelling in our midst and a seal of the promises you have given we need to have the sinful flesh removed from our bodies, and a place of security and inheritance; we need the law fulfilled in all righteousness and an absence of all failure; we need a son, the true Son who comes whence nothing should be expected and the faithful husband who never forsakes his bride! We need a conquering general, a true rest, a full restoration, release from bondage, a return, a place of safety, a people to call our own in diverse-unity, a guiding shepherd, a sin sacrifice and fellowship offering,; we need wisdom and direction, a full table of celebration, a passage through chaos, and a new song!”

And God says, “Behold! I give you what you need! Here is my Son, in whom I have caused all my fullness to dwell! He is your Savior and your Redeemer, the lamb who was slain; the lion of Judah who takes his throne, the true meeting place of God and man, an inheritance forever, who seals you in his covenant and removes all unrighteousness from you; his a priest forever, the fulfillment of the Law, the propitiation of my wrath, the expiation of sin, the substitute for your sin and death; the liberator of captives, the baptism, the bread and wine, the wisdom of eternity, the shepherd, the head tribesman, the new covenant, and the new song! Look unto him and be satisfied! Look upon him and know me!”

Why did God wait so long? Because he had to explain to us what happened when we rebelled against him; he had to show us our need, and teach us what to look for in a Messiah. He had to give us the categories to interpret the person and work of Jesus, that we might know God. Because he is what we need, but we would never have realized who he is unless he was patient; we never would have understood our need unless he told us.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Book Review: Bonhoeffer's Seminary Vision

This book is not for everybody, but it’s probably for more than you’d think at first glance. In fact, if you’re reading this review, it is probably for you. Paul House offers a worthy parry & thrust into the discussion on the future of education. This book is a polemic, and House tells you upfront which side he comes down on—and strongly at that. However, I don’t think you can walk away from this book thinking that House has pigeonholed Bonhoeffer onto his own side; he lets Bonhoeffer speak. (Self-proclaimed) non-historian House expertly retells the seminary years of Bonhoeffer, setting his most popular works in their chronological and more powerful context.

Book thesis: This book attempts to do two things. First, it tries to examine Bonhoeffer’s theology and practice of theological education in their original context. Second, it endeavors to assert the biblical necessity of personal, incarnational, face-to-face education for the health of pastors and churches.

I need to say at the start that there may be two reasons why readers will be disappointed in this book: first, they may think it uses most of its pages to recapitulate information we already know if we have read (1) a biography of Bonhoeffer, (2) the Cost of Discipleship, and (3) Life Together; and secondly, they may think it is too argumentative and critical of ‘technological advancements’ for ‘distance education.’ And yet, House (and by extension, I) warn you that such ‘problems’ with the text are precisely what House wishes to communicate. In other words: House accomplishes his thesis to the utmost; so if you don’t like the thesis, you will not like this book.

But let me explain why I think his thesis is valuable. It’s easy to read The Cost of Discipleship or Life Together and extrapolate all of the pithy statements and insightful ideas divorced from the context they were written in; but when the manuscripts are placed  in a chronology of Bonhoeffer’s life, and the editor constantly turns to show influence and implications of each section, the works come alive with new vigor. And so Bonhoeffer becomes less an ivory-tower theologian, and especially less a spy, and more a committed disciple of Jesus Christ striving with all his efforts and energies and passionate heart to equip more disciples of Christ for the ministry of the church in dark days. In some sense the two major chapters that form this book are 75% summary of Bonhoeffer’s books, and yet I think even the reader familiar with Bonhoeffer’s books will find fresh and powerful insight into the weightiness of the call of Christ. And, perhaps more significantly, they are struck with the example of one who remains faithful to the commission with which he charges others. Reading Bonhoeffer’s ideas in this context both magnifies the call and encourages the called: for he who calls is faithful and preserves his people to the end.

As far as polemics are concerned: you will find a sincerely convinced seminarian espousing a very specific seminary philosophy and critiquing a similarly specific seminary philosophy. House shows a humble conviction, however, always reminding readers that his idea is not staunch traditionalism, but rather an informed faith in Christ, God incarnate, who gathered disciples face-to-face, and builds his church doing the same. The final chapter reveals the deep wisdom House has accumulated from sincere and lengthy reflection and dialogue about arguments and counterarguments; about seminary life now and future. His arguments are not trite and childish, but measured and thoughtful. He takes disagreement seriously and (I believe) proves that more than anything, he wants to be faithful. He announces his indebtedness to others and his pleasure at serving with seminaries who model this incarnational model, but he does not pretend that these are the only institutions who are truly honoring Jesus. He offers suggestions for a variety of ministerial training centers from large seminaries to denominational programs. You may disagree with his conclusions, but you will have to wrestle honestly with the biblical text and example. Nonetheless whether you find the argument persuasive, you will have no doubt that House really does “endeavor to assert the biblical necessity” of this education model.

I offer one potential area of improvement. House states pretty early on that he is not an Hagiographer (he also states that he is not an historian). And it may be difficult to believe this is true from this text alone. Not only does he show apt ability in bringing the history to life, but he does not critique Bonhoeffer’s own ideas or actions. Surely Bonhoeffer was not yet perfect, and yet we find no mention of failures. This is, in part, due to the de facto nature of history and the purpose of the book: ‘what did Bonhoeffer believe and do about seminary?’ but it may leave the reader wondering if everything Bonhoeffer did really was appropriate. Perhaps there is nothing worth criticism that fits the scope of this book, but I am at a loss to know whether that is true. Indeed, every time a place for possible criticism arises—the daily seminary schedule, the absence/return from seminary, the correspondence with friends or family, the resistance, etc. House mentions that ‘others’ have disputed the reasons or integrity, but House himself never does. For this reason, I believe House is open to the charge of hagiography; and yet I am the more grateful that his focus is upon edifying and building the body of Christ. Indeed, you must remove a false structure before building a sound one in its place, and so accuse me of hagiography: I find House’s work excellent.

As I stated before: this book isn’t for everybody, but it’s for quite a few more than you’d expect at first. With 5/5 stars, and no comparable work I’m aware of, I recommend this book to

Seminary Presidents (and Christian Universities)
Seminary Prospects
Parents of Seminary Prospects
Church Elder Boards
Senior Pastors
Youth Pastors
Directors of Denominational programs

I received a free digital copy of this book for review as part of Crossway’s Beyond the Page program.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lewis and Perelandrian Gender

C.S. Lewis is not always graciously received in Gender-discussions. Feminists and Egalitarians dismiss him as a product of his time (ironically forgetting that the clock has continued spinning), and Complementarians blush when his example of the neighbor and the dog is brought up (see Mere Christianity).

It is true that gender debates will always occur in-context… so perhaps there is some wisdom in reminding ourselves that Lewis lived in a different era. And yet, that can’t be the whole story. Our examples include females in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean Gender discussion is moot, or that later generations will find nothing valuable in the way we think and discuss now… or else we are simply a species of chronological snobs. And so, I offer to you a piece from Lewis’ Perelandra which (I hope) can be received with goodwill.

Both the bodies were naked, and both were free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary. That, one would have expected. But whence came this curious difference between them? He found that he could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided, yet it was impossible to ignore. One could try—Ransom has tried a hundred times—to put it into words. He has said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody. He has said that Malacandra affected him like a quantitative, Perelandra like an accentual, meter. He thinks that the first held in his hand something like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with the palms towards him. But I don’t know that any of these attempts has helped me much. At all events what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity. All this Ransom saw, as it were, with his own eyes. The two white creatures were sexless. But he of Malacandra was masculine (not male); she of Perelandra was feminine (not female). Malacandra seemed to him to have the look of one standing armed, at the ramparts of his own remote archaic world, in ceaseless vigilance, his eyes ever roaming the earthward horizon whence his danger came long ago. “A sailor’s look,” Ransom once said to me; “you know … eyes that are impregnated with distance.” But the eyes of Perelandra opened, as it were, inward, as if they were the curtained gateway to a world of waves and murmurings and wandering airs, of life that rocked in winds and splashed on mossy stones and descended as the dew and arose sunward in thin-spun delicacy of mist. On Mars the very forests are of stone; in Venus the lands swim. For now he thought of them no more as Malacandra and Perelandra. He called them by their Tellurian names. With deep wonder he thought to himself, “My eyes have seen Mars and Venus. I have seen Ares and Aphrodite.” He asked them how they were known to the old poets of Tellus. When and from whom had the children of Adam learned that Ares was a man of war and that Aphrodite rose from the sea foam? Earth had been besieged, an enemy-occupied territory, since before history began. The gods have no commerce there. How then do we know of them? It comes, they told him, a long way round and through many stages. There is an environment of minds as well as of space. The universe is one—a spider’s web wherein each mind lives along every line, a vast whispering gallery where (save for the direct action of Maleldil) though no news travels unchanged yet no secret can be rigorously kept. In the mind of the fallen Archon under whom our planet groans, the memory of Deep Heaven and the gods with whom he once consorted is still alive. Nay, in the very matter of our world, the traces of the celestial commonwealth are not quite lost. Memory passes through the womb and hovers in the air. The Muse is a real thing. A faint breath, as Virgil says, reaches even the late generations. Our mythology is based on a solider reality than we dream: but it is also at an almost infinite distance from that base. And when they told him this, Ransom at last understood why mythology was what it was—gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility. His cheeks burned on behalf of our race when he looked on the true Mars and Venus and remembered the follies that have been talked of them on Earth.

C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, EPub Edition., vol. 2, Space Trilogy (HarperCollins Publishers, 2012), 171–173.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: Blind Spots by Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen presents the Christian world with an helpful, new book that seeks to honor the individual strengths God the Spirit has given his church—highlighting the need for courage, compassion, and commission in a full-orbed, multi-facetious reality rather than a truncated and limited one-ism which esteems a single strength and derides the remaining two. “Not a balance,” Hansen says, but the fullness of each applied in the appropriate circumstances. Indeed, Christ was compassionate! But he also chastised the unrepentant sinner. Yes, Christ was bold! But he also presented the gospel in communicable stories. Christ was Prophet, Priest, and King who knew precisely how use his head, heart, and hands in whichever fashion the individual needed.

Book Thesis:

“This book is about seeing our differences as opportunity. God created us in splendid diversity of thought, experience, and personality. And when these differences cohere around the gospel of Jesus Christ, they work together to challenge, comfort, and compel a needy world with the only love that will never fail or fade.”

Hansen further explains his motivation for this next installment in Crossway and TGC’s Cultural Renewal Series:

“I wrote this book because my arguments stopped working. I pointed to Bible verses. I appealed to reason. I turned to church history. Nothing changed with my opponents.”

And he did not write it in order that

“You would find popularity with the world or make peace with one another at the expense of the revealed truth of God’s Word,”

But rather that we all

“Might learn to compare [ourselves] more to Christ than to other Christians.

By entrusting ourselves to Jesus, we need to be willing to reposition and repent wherever necessary.

Does he accomplish all he set out to do? I think he certainly makes an excellent start. In truth: this book is short: a mere 128 pages from cover to cover, and although I think its brevity is one of its strengths, there is an inherent trade-off. Collin gets the ball moving, nudging it over the hill, but what happens thereafter will be the result of people incorporating its truth into their lives and churches.

I wanted him to tease out some of the implications on church life; I wanted him to provide exposition/case studies of NT periscopes; I wanted him to relate it to the Christ-and-Culture dialogue; I wanted more than this project was meant to accomplish. And so I have to state that it did accomplish its goal. (And indeed, isn’t it better to have been left wanting more than trudging exasperated to the finish line?)

I found myself evaluating my own strengths and weaknesses, holding up a mirror and seeing some real blind spots, thinking “You tell ‘em!” only to be confronted with being told. But more importantly I was shown Jesus and I was encouraged in the task which he has given us. I was shown the reality of our world—one of tragedy AND hope, not full of excessive pessimism or optimism; I was strengthened in faith in the King who is reconciling the world to himself and will return to renew and judge the earth. I was given greater appreciation for my church and the individuals within it who are skilled and impassioned, many times in different ways than I am. I was able to see beauteous harmony in diversity, and challenged to develop those areas in my life that I forget Jesus also perfected through his incarnation.

The picture Hansen offers of the regenerate church on mission is an exciting possibility—and I pray that countless Christians engraft his passion to end the sex-slave trade; that the courageous, the compassionate, and the commissioned rise up together to shine light in one of the darkest corners of our world today.

I hope that this book becomes a source of study for small groups across the church, that a grass-roots revival of unity might tremor from the bride of Christ through the world, indeed as Hansen states:

“The world can ignore another special-interest group. They can ignore another awareness campaign. They can even ignore another law. But the world cannot ignore churches united around this vision, Christians who put this compassion into action. We don’t even need a political majority to act….You can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God even if you can’t claim an ally in the White House.”

I rate this book 5/5 stars with hopes for supplementary material to come.

I recommend this book to all Christians young, and old, immature or mature in faith; and I hope especially to see this book in church contexts.

This book might be compared to Dennis Hollinger’s Head, Heart & Hands, Thabiti Anyabwile’s The Life of God in the Soul of the Church, Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, Total Church, as well as some other books that focus on unity of character & church.

I received this book from Crossway Publishers as part of their Launch Team to introduce Blind Spots into the world.

This review is crosslisted on Goodreads and Amazon

Friday, April 17, 2015

Frost on Friendship [and Gospel Partnership]

I came across a poem on friendship, partnership, and beauty in its own right. In the poem Frost recounts an aspect of farming life, and finds in it a deeper camaraderie—one that arises from seeing the means as an end in themselves. And only when the moment is seen with clarity are his eyes opened to the whole, and he who thought himself alone discovers that unity is found in diversity and partnership found in tasks separated by millennia.

And so, as I consider my friends and family in faith who are harvesting the fields, and even when I feel at times alone in prayer—or they alone in field—I am comforted, knowing that I pursue my task, and recognize the beauty  found in the task itself; not the end only. And soon we will sit beneath the tree of life and reminisce on life which Grace has carried us through.

What is Paul? What is Apollos? Are they not servants? One plants, the other waters, but God gives the growth.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers few... Therefore, pray.

I have some sheep that are not of this fold.

I must go to another city to preach, for this is why I came.

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.

I thank God for you always when I pray.

I plan to visit you on my way to Spain.

Behold I have retained a remnant who have not bowed down their hearts to Baal.

And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria, and all of Judea even to the ends of the earth.

(As with all poetry I recommend reading it once through at a normal pace, and rereading it leisurely that the Spirit might encourage your hearts, lo even with the words of mere men.)


I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,--alone,

“As all must be,” I said within my heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a bewildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as fast eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
Leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening bird around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,
“Whether they work together or apart.”, 

Robert Frost, "The Tuft of Flowers" in Robert Frost's Poems (with an introduction and commentary by Louis Untermeyer), New York: Henry & Holt Company, 1971.


In connection with unity in diversity, be sure to check out Crossway’s forthcoming book Blind Spots by Collin Hansen.