Sunday, January 18, 2015

Meeting God in Mark, by Rowan Williams

First of all I want to thank Westminster John Knox Press for making a review copy of this book available to me. They ask only for an unbiased review in exchange. Here is that review.

This is a short text based on lectures given by Rowan Williams in 2014. They took the 4 lectures and provided this text for our edification. The Archbishop takes us on a short tour of the Gospel of Mark with an emphasis on the season of Lent. He wants us to see the Gospel in a new and different way but focusing on the theme of the book and the stunning conclusion it comes to with Holy Week, the death of Christ and the resurrection. As a scholar and translator he gives us his look at the text and where he believes at times we have been a bit short sighted in understanding Mark's intent in the manner in which he presents his material on Jesus.

The book is short, but that doesn't mean it doesn't contain nuggets of truth. There is an introductory chapter on Mark and then three short chapters on the text itself with an emphasis on Lent.

At the end of the book there are Reflection Questions for small group discussion. These are well written and thought out and should provide a reading / study group with plenty of guidance in discussing the material that the Archbishop treats us to.

After that there is a "Lenten Reading Guide" which will take you through seven weeks of readings as well as some devotional reflection thoughts (very short) for that week. It is a good guide and one that you should fine helpful as it takes you through the Gospel of Mark in that seven week period through reading short sections of the scripture.

While Rowan Williams writes on a Theological / Scholarly level for his livelihood you will find this text very clearly written and not above the head of the layperson who wants to learn more about Mark and the Season of Lent.

I think this would be a great guide book for any small group. I also think it will give you much to ponder as you read.

Chapter 2 of the text is my favorite. One of the points that Williams makes is that Mark's writing has been criticized at times for making the Disciples look a bit stupid, mainly because they can't seem to understand Christ's teaching. Let me quote a small section for you;

"It's many times been remarked that the disciples in St. Mark are conspicuously stupid. . . . and there have been some scholars who have suggested that St. Mark is deliberately trying to undermine the authority of those who consider themselves successors of the twelve apostles. BUT, I think that misses the point: because it is absolutely vital to Mark's story that what Jesus says is hard to digest and to understand even by those closet to him. Even those who have most reason for understanding what he's saying are going to get it wrong: and that, of course, is a reassurance to the reader. Mark is saying, 'if you're riding this difficult or shocking, don't be surprised; those who were closest to Jesus found it difficult and shocking too. If you feel stupid and at a loss when confronted with the words and work of Jesus don't be surprised. You're not the first and you won't be the last.' So the dimness of the apostles is not a point of polemic, an axe being ground: it's basic to the scheme."

I found that concept refreshing and enjoyed the way Archbishop Williams brought it to life in his text. There are many other things that I found intriguing and I believe you will as well.

I hope you enjoy this simple short read.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

After Acts, by Bryan Liftin

First of all I want to thank Moody Publishers for making an advance copy of this book available to me for review. The book will be released on February 1, 2015, you can pre-order it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or from Westminster Books.

In this thesis you will find a treatment on the lives of nine notable figures from the New Testament. They are;

Mary, the mother of Jesus

There is also a chapter devoted to “The other Apostles.”

The book is well written and very well researched using the Nicene Fathers, Anti-Nicene and early day historians such as Eusebius. This book is a bit more of a scholarly textbook type discussion than it is a simple read for laypeople. While I don’t think the average layperson would care much for the book that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from reading it, there are truths here they will find interesting. For the Theologian or Scholar I would think that much of what is written here you have already read or studied, but it gives a good concise summary in one book.

Thus I would suggest that the book is written for Pastor’s and Lay-Professional’s who want a treatment on the life of the Apostles after Christ’s ascension. It will delve into many of the details that are needed to be assured that the writings of the four Gospels are truly penned by the men who are claimed to have written them.

It will also give us details on some of the aspects of their travels and the churches that they started and or visited on their journeys. It gives a small bit of detail on the end of life of these men, but not as much as I thought it would. Probably Fox’s book of Martyr’s is a better treatment for that.

This book will wet your appetite for more study on the lives of the Apostles and the early church. If you enjoy it you will find yourself wanting to delve into early church history and working through more documents to gain more information.

Liftin does a great job of pulling together all the resources and putting them into a volume that will enhance your understanding of the early church.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Case for Christmas, by Lee Strobel

As I was reading this short little book I realized that much of the material that he discusses was also in "The Case for Christ." That doesn't mean that this little book can be effective, it just means that much of the material is covered in his longer writing.

The Case for Christmas is his document that sets out to examine and determine the truth about the Virgin Birth of Christ in a little town called Bethlehem. He proceeds to interview several people who will help him to document whether or not to trust the writings of the four Gospels or whether to dispense with them and continue to believe that Jesus is not the son of God.

He interviews several people with extensive backgrounds in their chosen fields;

1. Craig L. Blomberg, PhD is a Theologian that Strobel discusses the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament with. Strobel wanted to know if those accounts can be trusted.

2. John McRay, PhD was interviewed to discuss the Archeological / Scientific side of the debate.

3. Donald A. Carson, PhD was interviewed to discuss whether Jesus fulfilled the test of having the Attributes of God, i.e. being fully human and fully God.

4. Louis S. Lapides, MDiv, ThM was interviewed to talk about whether or not Jesus fulfilled the Prophecies of the Jewish Old Testament in relationship to the Messiah. Lapides is Jewish and found Christ through exploring the Old Testament Texts. He now pastor's a Christian Church.

Each of these men will discuss certain aspects of the Case for Christ being born in Bethlehem and coming as God incarnate to bring Salvation to the world.

The interviews are interesting, educational, thought provoking and down right uncanny in how they weave together to paint a picture of Jesus and His mission on earth.

Some people think that Strobel manufactures the answers and puts them together a bit to cleanly. Well, that doesn't mean he didn't do his job, in fact that means that he did do his job, to prove that the virgin birth of Jesus was indeed the Divine act of God to send His Son to earth so that we would have a way to restore our relationship with Him.

Read this, then read the Case for Christ and you will see how compelling the case is for the truth.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

I read this book years ago, but decided that I wanted to re-read it this Christmas. Because of my mother's death on Christmas day thirty plus years ago I have always had a bit of depression that weaves it's way in at Christmas time. It didn't help this year that I also officiated at two funerals during the month of December, it brought back many memories.

So, I thought I would read again C.S. Lewis's book on his grieving over the death of his wife. He had married late in life and married a woman who already had grown children. She became the light of his life (other than Christ). So when she died it was a great blow to this Godly man.

His faith did not waver, but his thoughts about how Christians comfort one another and how God comforts us were things that were hard to encounter and decipher. People meant well, but did they truly understand grief.

C.S. Lewis gives us a crisp, clear message on how he dealt with his loss and the clear agony of the grief that encompassed him. I think that the one quote from the book that struck me was how this Philosopher / Writer / Theologian who was use to thinking things through, making sense of the black and white of an issue and determining the cultural and historical and theological truths came to have a small crisis. Here is the quote that signifies that crisis;

     "Feelings, and feelings, and feelings. Let me try thinking instead."

He goes on to talk about wanting to look at her death from the rational point of view, but every time he tried his "feelings" got in the way. For this philosopher to be "betrayed" by emotions was probably a truly difficult crisis. BUT, it was a crisis that brought him to the feet of Jesus and a crisis that brought him to the point of writing his thoughts down and sharing them in a book with all of us.

If you know C.S. Lewis and his writings then you will understand how difficult this book was for him to write.

If you have known grief in any significant way then this book will give you a clear picture of how one Godly man dealt with his grief and thus some insights on how you can deal with your grief.

I truly want to thank C.S. Lewis for sharing his heart and soul with us in this text. After thirty-three years I could finally read it, understand it, and apply the truths of it to my life.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Walking with the Master, by Stan Lemke

I personally know the author of this study book. I had both of his daughters in my College Bible Study for years. They were well taught in regards to the Bible and other subjects as well. So when they told me their dad had written a study book I thought I would take a look at it.

I think the writing is good, the theology is fine and the practical applications that you will make from your study are going to be ones that you treasure for a long time.

This is not a quick read book. You must take it slowly, savor the writing and contemplate all that you read, learn and need to apply.

I think Stan hit a solid triple with this book. I'm looking forward to his next text so that I can see if he hit a home run.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From Maccabees to the Mishnah, Third Edition by Shaye J. D. Cohen

For a history book written by a Professor from Harvard I found that this text was completely readable and easy to follow. It is scholarly but written for even the layman to understand.

This is the third edition of the book, for some great reviews go back to the first and second editions and you will find very lengthly well written reviews. For a third edition you expect to find some new material. Chapter 8 is the best section of "new" material as it takes you from the Jewish culture and history to that of Christianity. The first two editions lacked this section, but that was not an oversight it was intentional as the book is about the culture and history of Israel before the advent of Christianity.

For most Christians we have not read the history of the Jews that is found most commonly in the Apocrypha. This was included in Catholic Bibles but is absent in Protestant Bibles. But more than the history of the Apocrypha Professor Cohen takes us through the history of Israel from the time of minor prophets through the 400 years of silence leading up to the New Testament. It is a great textbook for us on learning much more about the nation of Israel and what happened to them and brought them to the place that they are today.

I found that material highly interesting and found myself asking, why hadn't I heard about the first two editions? I'm grateful that I heard about this third edition and grateful to the publisher for making a review copy available to me.

For students of the Bible and Christianity I think that this textbook is a must read as it will bring together many aspects of the nation of Israel that answer underlying questions that you might have as to why they rejected the Messiah, why they act the way they do and the frustration they must have felt with the subjugation they underwent by being over run and ruled by foreign kings and dictators forever.

I won't go into the technical side of the book, I think that this is done by reviews of volume two. The first two reviews by David Blair and Bruce Marold are excellent and well worth your read.

Consider this as your next technical read or a gift to the one you know who loves history, theology, or anything Jewish

Monday, December 8, 2014

Trading Secrets by Melody Carlson

Melody Carlson writes Amish novels, but they are a bit different than most of those that you will read from someone like Beverly Lewis. Melody's novels give us a bit different look at the culture and the struggles and the desires of those involved in the Amish life.

In this story, Micah Knight became the pen pal of Zach Miller. That doesn't sound to daunting or troublesome, until you realize that Micah is a girl and that Zach is a boy. For the Amish it was difficult enough to allow their children to have an English pen pal, but if it came out that a boy and girl were corresponding that would be almost unforgivable. It wasn't that Micah was being deceitful, it's just that she didn't know that and well, Zach thought Micah was a boy.

When Micah realized that a girl and boy shouldn't correspond she didn't correct the issue, she continued to let Zach believe she was a boy. But when she is invited to visit the Miller farm in her late teenage years she realizes that the truth is going to have to come out.

Of course the Miller family is not excited to learn that Micah is a girl. Zach is angry. But Micah really wants to seek his forgiveness and spend time with him and the family. You see, Zach has been a very good sounding board for Micah as she grew up. He was there for her, via letters, when her mother died.

The story is well written and enjoyable. The characters take on a good quality and you feel as though you get to know them well. The surprising thing is that Melody doesn't write Amish characters that are all sweet, smily and accepting. She writes true feelings and some of the characters, such as Zach's mother, don't come off as kind, loving and hospitable. That is a bit of a shock to those who read Amish novels for fun.

Further, Zach really wants out of the Amish life. He was hoping that Micah would be helpful in getting him out, but to discover that Micah is a girl throws a wrench in his plans.

Will Zach ever forgive Micah? Will they ever re-build their relationship? Will Zach's parents ever accept Micah? Will Zach leave the Amish life?

Those are interesting questions and the story is well developed. I enjoyed every minute of it and believe you will as well.