Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Profound Simplicity of One Evangelist

Recently, I have been reading about evangelist Billy Graham in Grant Wacker's new biography America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation.  Wacker masterfully weaves together a narrative of Billy's life, theology, preaching, and impact that is first-rate and well-rounded, not falling into hagiography or overt dismantling or criticism.  As a preacher, Billy Graham was not eloquent like a William Sangster or Aimee Semple McPherson, yet he was profound.  His preaching did not hinge on rhetorical flourishes designed to captivate the ears of his listeners, rather he repeated phrases often time and time again to make an impact upon his hearers.  His proclamation was not obtuse as to confuse his audience but centered upon one single aim, " draw men and women to make a decision for Christ (63)."  How did he do this?

Wacker writes, "Whatever the specific topic, the overarching pattern invariably took the same form.  First acknowledge sin's destructive power.  Second embrace God's redeeming power...(63)."  The mere power of his preaching rested upon the Spirit's work, the mighty work of grace, and the proclamation of what Christ has done not for someone out there, but for you.  Therefore, the message was not obstructed by many arcane rabbit trails down the lanes of theological and historical locutions, but rested squarely in the uncomfortable halls of the brokenness of man and the good news of God.

Finally, Wacker contends that, "If the number of inquirers who walked forward to commit their lives to Christ measured effectiveness, Graham was the best in the world at what he did.  For that matter, he may have been the best ever (67)."  How does the legacy of Graham's preaching effect the way we preach today?

1.  Preaching is not primarily designed to tickle the ears of our audience with our locution or learnedness, but designed to point everyone in the room to Jesus Christ.

2.  Often, the Holy Spirit uses our repeated words and phrases in the pulpit to remove the obstacles we face in preaching, so that the Word of God and the good news might be clearly heard, believed, and lived out.

3.  Preaching if it is anything is personal, directing the good news to individual hearers and to the body of Christ.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Our One Great Act of Fidelity

Our Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist by Ronald Rolheiser

Ronald Rolheiser in his gift for broadening our horizons on teachings of the faith, including the Eucharist, shares with his readers a unique perspective on this sacred sacrament in his book, Our Great Act of Fidelity.  Rolheiser begins with the central tenant of the faith, namely that in the Incarnation God became flesh.  From this point, he makes the claim that the continuation of the Incarnation, of Christ’s presence is mediated or found in the Body of Christ, the Supper.  Yet, God still has skin in this world not only in the Eucharist but in the body of Christ, his church (16-17)

Ronald outlines the difference between Catholics and Protestants as a difference in focus, one is focused on the Eucharist as giving meaning to the entirety of the Mass and the other tradition places the Word of God front and center, making worship flow from the Word.  Yet, Ronald focuses on the complementary lenses upon which we should look at the Supper, namely that the Supper invites us to see it as a memorial, as an act of reconciliation, forgiveness and unity, etc (28-29).  Yet, all these approaches can be taken together, for there is not one Scriptural or theological position on the Eucharist that trumps them all.

One of the chapters on the intensification of our unity within the body of Christ struck a chord with me.  Ronald writes, “The Eucharist tries, first of all, to change us so that we become what we receive, one body, one community, one heart, one spirit (38).”  Be what you are, in other words meditate on the fact that as you are joined to Christ in union with him you are also joined to each other believer in an indestructible bond.  This unity helps us fight off the loneliness that comes with broken relationships, depression, and sin.  The Eucharist is also a call to send us out to in grace for service, to wash another’s feet, to bring hospitality to those who need it (68).

Although I don’t have the same view in terms of the physical concepts of the Eucharist as Ronald, I really appreciated this book as it challenged me to see the Eucharist as embodying both union with Christ and his body.  Furthermore, Ronald pushes us out of our comfort zones to see the Eucharist as besieging us with grace to go out into the world in service.

Thanks to Blogging for Books and Image for this book in return for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Honest Evangelism

Honest Evangelism by Rico Tice with Carl Laferton

Have you ever been scared to talk about Jesus?  Have you ever had serious doubts about speaking of your faith for fear of rejection?  Rico Tice is the first to raise his hand in affirmation to these questions.  In his new book, Honest Evangelism, Pastor Rico Tice takes these questions head on and gives us hope in the end.  Rather than skirting around the issue of rejection, Rico says outright that we will be rejected, reviled, and ridiculed for speaking of Jesus and this is all part of the plan.  But, Rico does not leave us there in our rejection, but gives us a hopeful way forward about sharing Jesus with our co-workers, neighbors, and friends. 

Rico says in the beginning, “…if you tell non-Christians about Jesus, it will be painful.  That’s what the books (other than the Bible) don’t tend to tell you (18).”  We live in a world hostile to Christianity and Christ, even more so in Britain than in the U.S.  Yet, hostility is not the only thing we face as we share Jesus with the watching world.  We also face a world with an increasing hunger for meaning, for life that is full of substance, something that materialism and secularism cannot provide (20).  More and more people are hungry for the good news and this is good news for us as we share the gospel.  Yet, we often feel weakness and fear in sharing the good news.  Rico reminds us that the Apostle Paul felt the exact same way as he writes, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words,” (I Cor. 2.3-4) (21).”  It was painful for Paul to talk about Jesus because he was wracked with fear and yet he gave food to his listeners.

The chapter on three things that changed Rico’s view of evangelism is worth buying the book.  Rico looks at God’s sovereignty, God’s grace, and God’s power in relationship to evangelism.  God put your neighbor, your co-worker there, right in your midst.   Not only this, but God knows and has planned out their days and he has yours.  God put them there so that they can hear the gospel (49).  Further, we have the love of our Creator here on Earth.  God the Father calls us his children because of Christ and no one can take this away from us.  No rejection in evangelism can thwart our identity as God’s children.  Lastly, no one can do evangelism in their strength.  God literally has to turn the lights on for people to believe, we are the messengers of his grace.  These truths free us from rejection, works, and believing that if we have the right technique we will win people to Christ. 

This was one of the best books on evangelism I have ever read.  You will be called on the table, especially the chapter on idols, but this is not meant to destroy you but to deal with your own sin.  

Rather, the whole book is geared towards sharing the life giving message of the gospel with others, so that they might have the same hope and future.

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

40 Questions about Creation and Evolution

40 Questions about Creation and Evolution by Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker

Single cell organisms, Darwin, 24 hour creation days, what do all these phrases have in common?  All of these ideas are related to the creation/evolution controversy that still rages on in the academy and in the church.  How as Christians are we to uphold that God created all things and that God has given common grace to scientists who write and teach about human origins?  In their new book, 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution, Professors Keathley and Rooker draw out all you ever wanted to know on the debates concerning creation and evolution. 

In Question 8, the authors take up the relationship of Genesis 1 to Genesis 2.  For many years since the Enlightenment, critical scholarship has divided up the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 by supposing that there are two sources behind the chapters, therefore two different creation accounts.  The authors counter this approach by positing that the ‘unique importance of human beings is clearly seen in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2 (88).”  Further in their argument, the authors state, “…we posit that Genesis 1 gives a general description of the creation of humankind in the framework of creation of the entire world while Genesis 2, on the other hand, gives a detailed description of humankind and their immediate context on the earth in the garden of Eden (90).”  In other words, we get more of a cosmological view in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2 we get a first beginnnings story of how man relates to the created order.

In the chapter on evidence for an Old Earth, the authors bring together 4 pieces of evidence; large-scale, layered, complex, and independent.  Geological and astronomical evidence relate to the large-scale arguments, geological phenomena and living things relate to the layered view, the Sierra Nevada range relates to the complex argument, and independent evidences span the range from lava on the Atlantic Ocean floor to plate tectonics (202-206).  The chapters in the book also present a Young Earth Creation point of view and offer many evidences.

What was most enjoyable about the book was that the authors were given the room to be precise about evolution, Darwinism, and original sin in such a way as to not muddy the waters with terminology.  For instance, the authors describe the theory of evolution in three ways; as a descriptor of biological change, as a theory that all life descended from one common ancestor, and an overarching explanation of how biological change occurs (313).  The first point concerning biological change is uncontroversial (313).  The other ideas need more explanation and this is where this book really is helpful. 

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Meaning of the Cross

From St. John Chrysostom:

"For the cross destroyed the enmity of God towards man, brought about the reconciliation, made the earth Heaven, associated men with angels, pulled down the citadel of death, unstrung the force of the devil, extinguished the power of sin, delivered the world from error, brought back the truth, expelled the Demons, destroyed temples, overturned altars, suppressed the sacrificial offering, implanted virtue, founded the Churches. The cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Son, the rejoicing of the Spirit, the boast of Paul, “for,” he says, “God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Gal 6:14]. The cross is that which is brighter than the sun, more brilliant than the sunbeam: for when the sun is darkened then the cross shines brightly: and the sun is darkened not because it is extinguished, but because it is overpowered by the brilliancy of the cross. The cross has broken our bond, it has made the prison of death ineffectual, it is the demonstration of the love of God."

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Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms

Make The Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms

Make the Words Your Own: An Early Christian Guide to the Psalms by Benjamin Wayman

The Psalms have been used since the beginning as an early guide to the faith for Christians.  The early church Father Athanasius has given us a guide to these psalms to help us in our journey of faith.  Benjamin Wayman, professor of religion at Greenville College in his introduction outlines the major points of Athanasius life, including the fact that in 367 he penned the earliest guide to the Psalms.  With intractable wit and devotion, Athanasius is a sure guide in helping us through the Psalter.

In the introduction, Wayman points out that, “Athanasius instructs us to personally apply the Psalms, the practice of which conforms our lives to Christ.  Through praying the words of the Psalter “as our very own,” we learn a new language that makes possible a new life in Christ.  Thus, we become what we pray (xxii).”  The range of emotions the psalmists deal with, the depths of suffering, the joys of worship, all these things lead the Christian to hold onto the psalms as our very own. 

The Psalms are divided into different sections; ones for suffering, betrayed, harassed, reflection, daily life, etc.  Athanasius provides a brief description or way to use the psalm in worship that is both encouraging and illuminating.  For Psalms 14 and 53, Athanasius writes, “Whenever you hear people speaking profanely against Providence, do not join them in their disregard for God, but intercede with God, saying Psalms 14 and 53 (90).”  These psalms point to those who denounce God but also to the psalmists trust that God is Israel’s refuge, that he is our refuge as well.  Furthermore, these psalms point to a restoration of Israel’s hopes.  Athanasius is wise to point us to these psalms as a way of contrast between those who fear God and those who revile Him.

The translation by Wayman gets to the heart of Athanasius message of how the Psalms are to be used in worship.  This book is one that will be used again and again as a way to pray to God in times of abundance and times of little.

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

40 Days with the Holy Spirit

40 Days with the Holy Spirit by Jack Levison

If you know Jack Levison, you know that he is chalk full of good writing on the Holy Spirit.  In his new book, 40 Days with the Holy Spirit, he boils down some very good devotions for us to meditate on the Holy Spirit.  The book combines scriptural passages, prayers, even exercises for us to work through, giving us a fully orbed view of the Holy Spirit.  Overall, the book is simple yet profound, small but weighty, challenging yet understandable.  Jack gives us grace here, challenges us to see the Spirit’s work as overwhelming, but also reigns us in to see how the Bible comes alive with witness to the Spirit.

Jack gets to the uneasiness of sonship and slavery by writing, “I’m  not so sure I understand this contrast because sometimes I am stuck in the middle between sonship and slavery, like a domestic on a British landowner’s estate, consigned to drudgery downstairs in order to serve people upstairs.  I’m  not quite a slavey but not exactly a son, I inhabit a world where I am free to go but also obligated to stay, to get the job done day in and day out…God’s passion for you isn’t a response to your expert attention to obligations.  God’s passion lies in a primal love for us, sons and daughters who respond in faith with only one word that matters: Abba (39-40)!”   Jack gets to the heart of the weightiness of life’s frenetic pace and our familial relationship to God with this quote.  Yet, he brings us back to God’s love.

Jack points us to a wonderful thing in speaking about the Spirit and truth on Day 19.  He writes, “Jesus teaches that study and spirituality, a vibrant spiritual life and a life of learning, go hand in hand (71).”  Should we pray earnestly for fruits of the spirit and spiritual gifts?  Yes.  But, in spirit and truth we worship God, and this involves learning the great truths of the faith.  Learning does not necessarily impede the outpouring of spiritual gifts but enhances our spiritual experience of God.  Truth and Spirit are two sides of the same coin, two elements in worship that are never to be torn apart.

You will be encouraged by this book, by the prayers alone, and your own wrestling with and reflecting upon the Holy Spirit.

Thanks to Paraclete Press for this book in exchange for an honest review.