Monday, February 8, 2016

Black & Reformed

Black and Reformed: Seeing God’s Sovereignty in the African-American Christian Experience by Anthony J. Carter

In this new second edition of the book, On Being Black and Reformed, Pastor Anthony J. Carter of East Point Church in Georgia has wedded two significant themes in his book; namely a Reformed view of theology and life and the experience of being African-American.  He answers the question that many have been thinking early on, do we need a black theology we a resounding yes for various reasons (25).  One, the alternative to a sound, biblical black theological perspective is an unbiblical one.  A large number of African-American believers follows the truth claims of Christ, the Scriptures, and God and yet feel that the vast swath of Christian theology has ignored their contextual place in history alongside their circumstances.  With a vicious past of racism, degradation, and failing to listen to the African-American voice, the Christian church at large needs to hear these brothers and sisters in Christ today.

Anthony begins his case in chapter 2 after outlining the need for a biblical black theological understanding in chapter 1 with a focus on the main emphases of reformed theology.  What was striking and beautiful about this chapter was that Anthony didn’t just scroll through the five points of Calvinism and leave us there, but he brought us into three major headings of Reformed Theology: the sovereignty of God, the sinfulness of human and the sufficiency of Christ.  These three pillars of the Reformed faith set the stage for a robust engagement with our culture, with Scripture, and with those all around us who need the gospel.  At the end of the chapter, he gets to one consequence of the all-sufficiency of Christ by stating, “The power of the civil rights movement was in the power of Christianity.  The power of Christianity is in the ability to display uncommon forgiveness (60).”  The uncommon forgiveness that believers hold out to the world is on account of the work of Christ and it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we offer this kind of uncommon forgiveness.

The chapter on the Church from Chains is remarkable in Anthony’s ability to retell the plight of African-American believers’ actions in the face of utter wickedness.  One nuance that he makes with respect to Richard Allen is helpful for us to hear, namely that, “The blacks’ response to such hypocrisy-laden Christianity could have been a complete rejection of the one true God in Christ.  Yet instead of rejecting Christ, African-Americans rejected this brand of Christianity, separating what the Bible taught about Christian virtue from what so-called Christians practiced (79).”  Anthony quotes from a long section in Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass in which he narrates for us the despicable differences between these two brands of Christianity, one from the slave masters and the other from the slaves themselves. 

With careful examination of African-American history and a solid engagement with Reformed theology, this is one book you don’t want to miss.

Thanks to Gratia Press and P&R Publishing for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Gifted Mind

Gifted Mind: The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story by Jeff Kinley with Dr. Raymond Damadian

The story of Dr. Raymond Damadian, Inventor of the MRI is a story of great ingenuity and belief.  From the beginning, Ray was a brilliant student and excelled in music and in scientific endeavors.  The first chapter of the book, rather than being an introduction to this life is more of an apologetic for the Christian life.  Damadian states, “Similarly, I attribute the invention of the MRI entirely  to the Lord’s hand in revealing it to me.  I credit His specific intervention to accomplish it reduction to practice (15).”    Dr. Ray in the first chapter seeks to explain that to believe in a closed system in which God never intervenes is to lose our access to His truth. 

Dr. Ray tells his early childhood story in the second chapter and particularly illuminating was the part about his violin.  He started playing at the young age of five and three years in he was encouraged to audition for Julliard.  The audition was a disaster and Ray left midway through.  Yet, the school called Ray back and obliged him to come back and finish the audition.  With violin in hand, Ray was soon called to study under Andrew McKinley at Julliard for the next seven years (26-27).  Later on, after competing for a pre-placement scholarship in the fields of math and science, Ray was selected to go to the University of Wisconsin on a full ride scholarship. 

It was not until later that Ray heard the call of the gospel message, and this in fact from Billy Graham.  Ray writes, “That night Mr. Graham explained Jesus, my sin, the Cross, and faith in terms I had never heard before.  And something supernatural happened as I listened to his words. I understood the gospel and became convinced that I needed salvation (33).”  From this point on, Dr. Ray’s life was never the same, meeting his wife Donna and incorporating his faith into all of life, including his search for an anti-cancer solution. 

It wasn’t until June 18th, 1970 that his first big cancer measurement attempt was done (58-59).  From the a pulse NRM he made the test.  The beauty of this finding is that the MRI produces no radiation as a CT scan would (61).  From this point, Dr. Ray made many advances on his way to making better the MRI but also asking for funding from all over the states, including money from the President who had called for 6 billion dollars to be used for the war on cancer.

This is a very interesting book that captures the faith of one man and his discoveries in the scientific and medical world. 

Thanks to Master Books and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ready to Return

Ready to Return: Bringing Back the Church’s Lost Generation by Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley, research by Britt Beemer

The church is in trouble in the West and this is no lie, for there has been for many years a growing secularism that is eating away at the livelihood of the historic church.  Ken Ham and Jeff Kinley decry this global diminishing of the church in their new book, Ready to Return.  They look at the spiritual departure from churches in Europe as a sign of both a unhealthy belief system but also a church that has weak in its proclamation and stance on the real issues of the day (9).  What is the way forward for the church to regain its footing?

The authors posit that the real issue at hand is the nature of biblical authority (58).  The questions to begin this discussion are: Did God really make you? and Is He really the Creator?  These questions point back to the origins of humanity and the divine work in the beginning.  Man was created with purpose and this comes straight from God’s design, being made in His image and reflecting his nature (65-66).  The authors then try to dispel the notion of evolution by pointing out logical inconsistencies in its method and looking at the moral claims it makes.  There are certain problems in the way they look at evolution here; one, they equate evolutionary origins thinking with an atheistic worldview in which morals are only decided by man (although this could be the case in some instances, it’s not a given).  Secondly, they don’t really help us understand what kind of literature Genesis is, its audience and its literary genre.  All of these questions need to be answered first before we can talk about a young or old earth view of the world. 

Lastly, the authors regard the age of the earth issue as a central gospel issue.  They make the claim that this is not a salvation issue, but they verge oh so close in saying exactly that.  The main issue I have here is that they have not engaged the best bible-believing scholars who adopt an older earth position but basically state that if you take the evolutionary positions of millions of years then you undercut the biblical narrative and God’s Word.  If the authors were trying to make certain older earth Christians feel guilty, they have surely done their job.  My main objection to their work is that they fail to really engage the best arguments out there from an evangelical perspective.

Thanks to Master Books and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Story of Everything

The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit into God’s Plan for the World by Jared C. Wilson

The title alone begs one to dive straight headlong into this book.  For those of you familiar with Jared C. Wilson, The Storytelling God and The Prodigal Church are some of my favorite books of his.  His passion for seeing God’s glory shower over all creation and central focus on Jesus Christ is admirable in many ways.  In this new book, The Story of Everything, Jared takes a wider angle lens and looks at the most significant events in the Scripture as providing a solid paradigm for a robust biblical theology.  The book is accessible, winsome and chalk full of good news for every believer.
One of the important points that Jared makes in his book concerns Genesis 1-2 and creation.  Often we see this story of beginnings as relevant to the beginning of the story and the end of the story, but fail to see how Genesis 1-2 is consistently used as a whole Bible theme.  Jared writes,

“Genesis 1 lays the foundation for the truth about God and all his ways. It tells us: Yes, there is a God. He is very powerful. He made you and he made everything. But it also shows us that anything we want to know about anything must in some way go back to Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 and 2 is an anchor, a foundation, a template for all that is good and orderly in the world. Genesis 1 and 2’s creation accounts are the source of all good theology. The Ten Commandments, for example, are sourced in Genesis 1 and 2 when they tell us not to have any other gods and when they tell us to rest from our works on the Sabbath. When John introduces us to the truth about Jesus in John 1, he goes back to Genesis 1 to place the Son of God at the scene of creation (47).”

Thus, Genesis 1 is paradigmatic for understanding creation, the oneness of God, the polemic of the Pentateuch, the Sabbath, and Jesus.  If we begin to read the Bible with a wide angle lens we will not miss the import of Genesis 1 for the whole Bible.

Secondly, Jared positively helps us understand culture, its meaning, and our relationship towards it.  He notes, “The problem is not so much with “culture” per se. It is with people and the kind of worship with which they drive their cultural influence (86).”  Genesis 4.20-22 provides the genesis of culture-making, technology, animal husbandry and yet as Lamech bears witness to, we have corrupted the good that God has made with sin, twisting the good aims of creation for destructive ones.  Jared helpfully uses the phrase “and the kind of worship with which they drive” to signal that every cultural entity is moving either toward God and his glory or away, there is no neutral ground with respect to aims of worship. 

This is a very thought provoking and enjoyable book.  Jared covers God’s plan for evil, pain, and fun by looking closely at Genesis and giving us a whole Bible look at these issues.  You will find much to be nourished by in this book.

Thanks to Crossway for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Mark for the rest of us

Mark (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) Vol. 2 by Mark L. Strauss

This newer commentary set put out by Zondervan is an excellent series, and this volume on Mark by Mark L. Strauss is no different.  Many of you will no doubt recognize Strauss, as he has labored in the field of NT studies for many years, producing substantial works on the gospels, choosing a translation of the bible, and his newest work is on paradoxes in the Bible.  This work, coming in at the hefty weight of 784 pages, leaves no stone unturned as Strauss covers introductory matters, textual issues, commentary, and theology.  The helpful layout of the book made for easy reading in that you could looking at the Scripture and Mark’s commentary alongside each other, comparing notes and engaging the original text in an accessible manner. 

What I particularly enjoyed about this commentary was its judicious balance of weighing the importance of Mark’s narrative alongside cultural and grammatical insights.  While Strauss bears witness to the importance of the term “gospel” for a Greco-Roman audience (enthronement of a king or emperor’s birthday), he helpfully points us to the OT usage where Isaiah envisions a time where the sovereign reign of God over the cosmos would endure and this would be predicated by peace (60).  Strauss goes onto to connect this theme with Jesus’ preaching on the kingdom of God.  While it is important to stress the Greco-Roman usage of gospel, Strauss helpfully steer us toward the ensuing narrative where John Mark talks about preparing for the messenger who will prepare the way for Jesus.  This overarching narrative of God’s act of bringing his kingdom with a King is part and parcel of what it means that salvation is near. 

In terms of the more disputed matters, Strauss take Markan priority, he sees Mark 16.9-20 as not part of the original text, and he focuses in on discipleship and Christology as providing the main lens in which to view Mark.  His scholarship is impeccable, wide-ranging and fair to opposing sources.  He references the Qumran scrolls, looks at cultural elements from Homer to rabbinic interpretations and carefully engages the latest NT scholarship. 

I hope you will enjoy this volume and be encouraged by its words.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Hymns of the Heart

Hymns of the Heart: Discovering God in the Psalms by Adam Faughn

Have you ever needed a guide to reading the book of Psalms in the Old Testament?  Has it ever occurred to you that focusing on certain psalms will help you in your study of the Bible?  Adam Faughn helps his readers get in the heart of the psalms as he looks at 35 of them in his new book, Hymns of the Heart: Discovering God in the Psalms.  The book is designed to open up the prayer and worship book of the OT and help us discern the meaning for today.

Adam gets into each psalm by looking at the structure, theology, and message of each psalm for today.  With an appreciation for the historical context of each psalm, Adam weaves together scholarship, story and application that helps the reader understand each psalm in its context.  With most chapters being around 10 pages, you can easily pick up the book and learn more about each of the 35 included psalms.  One thing I really thought was done well in this book was Adam’s insistence in drawing out the emotional tenor of each psalm and how it has affected his own spiritual life.  The psalms are certainly meant to push us toward various emotions from anger to joyous celebration all the way praising the God who made us.

If you want an accessible guide to some of the Psalter, Adam’s book will encourage your faith.

Thanks to BookCrash and Start2Finish Books for the copy this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Notables Books Worth Reading

Here are a few books I'm reading this Christmas season that you might also enjoy:

Sean Michael Lucas is Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi and a wonderful church history scholar as well.  He taught at Covenant Seminary while I was there and his prior book on On Being Presbyterian is my go to book to introducing people to the historic Presbyterian faith.  This new book traces the roots of the PCA from early on in the 19th century, through the ruckus that was caused between the North and the South Presbyterian bodies and stretches toward today with the founding of the PCA in 1973.  With an eye toward the theological shakeup with the beginning of Union Seminary and the emergence of social gospel emphases, Lucas does a great job at identifying the roots that eventually came to be the PCA.  This is much more than a book on the PCA but a book on Reformed identity and the shaping of a story that affects a much broader Protestant evangelical contingent.

Jared Wilson, pastor and award winning author has written a wonderful book designed to bring us into the story of the Bible from the beginning.  He begins with the yearning that moderns feel in their search for significance in various ways and answers this yearning through a fully orbed understanding of God's work in history and this leading to his redemptive aims.  Accessible, engaging, and drawing us into what God has been doing in the world, this book will surely encourage your faith.

Widely thought of as one of the most significant theologians in our day, Jurgen Moltmann in his new book, The Living God and the Fullness of Life has written a provocative and engaging work.  In this new book, he first chronicles the aims of many in our culture who hold onto secular optimism through a secular story, also looking at materialism and the divorce today between those who hold onto a divorce between the body and the mind.  Moltmann counters this philosophies with his own version of how the living God invades our world.  Caution: Moltmann in this book as in others reinterprets and re-envisions many traditional views of God, including those seeking to look at God as impassible and immutable.  Moltmann sees a God who has suffered at Calvary and also one who repents at the ways in which God has looked upon sinful humanity.  Engaging and thought-provoking but not fully orthodox, you will find much to learn from in this book and some to disagree with.