Sunday, June 21, 2015

Slow Pilgrims: The Collected Poems

Slow Pilgrims: The Collected Poems by Scott Cairns

Having drunk the waters of Idiot Psalms before, this complete collection of Scott’s poems is truly a gem.  With all the vigor of a freshly minted monk and the genius of one who has immersed himself in words for a long time, these poems defy my expectations, turn my imagination on its head, and leave me with a sense of awe and wonder.  Some poems remain disturbing after the second reading, yet others push you to gaze above.  Themes of the human condition, faith, sacraments, and very mundane things permeate these poems, giving the reader something to hand their hats on.

One poem in particular certainly changed my expectations of it from beginning to end, this poem is called Laughter.  The beginning opens you up to a familiar laughter, Mom’s, and then the laughter turns into the delight a bully has for his beatings. 

“The whole thing got started
While I was listening to my mother,
giddy on the phone.   It was the way she
laughed that got me thinking….

Anyway, out of nothing particular,
I remembered the day
at camp when that kid from West Seattle jumped my brother
and started punching away for no reason…
All that week whenever
we saw that kid again, he’d look
right at us and he’d be laughing (11).”

The juxtaposition between laughter reminding one of his mother and her glee while also seeing laughter in a more sinister perspective upset my expectations of where Scott was going with the theme, but rather made me the duality of a giddy nature, being used in both times of joy and ruin. 

In the Communion of the Body Scott takes into perspective the diversity of Christ’s bride but also its frailty.  Scott writes,

“Like all of us, the saved
need saving mostly from themselves and so
they make progress, if at all, by dying

to what they can, acquiescing to this
new pressure, new wind, new breath which would fill
them with something better than their own good intentions.

The uncanny evidence that here
In the stillest air between them the one
we call the Ghost insinuates his care…(106-107).”

What you find in these poems is often not so much a connective tissue running through these lines that brings out a beautiful message.  Rather, what you most often find in these lines is the paradoxical nature of faith, the reflection of your own failures, and the suggestion that many things we take for granted can easily be distorted.  Take the giddiness of laughter, seen from the perspective of a mother, you get the sense of something beautiful but also rightfully funny.  Yet, in the eyes of a bully, laughter is the strait jacket that he uses to keep someone in check, to let other people know who’s the boss around here. 

I really enjoyed these poems not just for their aesthetic taste or even the way they are read out loud but for the way they turned my expectations of them on their head.

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

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Books Worth Mentioning on the Apostles' Creed

Many books have been written on the Apostles' Creed presently and in the past.  Here are a few notable books that have a strong emphasis on the theological, historical, and practical side of the Creed.

1. Rooted: The Apostles' Creed by Raymond F. Cannata and Joshua D. Reitano

This book written by two PCA Pastors is a good solid and thoroughly biblical take on the Apostles' Creed.  The authors take apart the creed in thirteen chapters dissecting the biblical witness of the peculiar teaching of the Creed and how the elements of the creed point us to greater fullness in Christ.  The book's strengths are its continual connection with biblical teaching, its practical emphasis on the Christian life, and the down to earth nature of the book's tone.  The weaknesses are a scant interaction with the historical situation in which the creed was written.

*Doulos Resources is a publishing company that was started by J.E. Eubanks Jr., and time and time again produces solid resources both in theology and literature.

2. I Believe: The Christian's Creed by Helmut Thielicke

This book written by the late Lutheran theologian Helmut Thielicke is a very interesting read.  Thielicke, like in most of his writings, is concerned with how Jesus Christ is preached and lived in and among the masses.  His penetrating questions, theological acumen, and robust way of getting to the heart of the issue makes this book a welcome addition to studies on the creed.  To give you feel for Thielicke, here is from his writing on the section in the creed concerning Jesus Christ, God's Only Son,

"But - and here again is the problem - will this flight into a myth hypothesis really get us off the hook of the question of who Jesus was and whether he really lived?  The oldest accounts of him (Paul's report of the Resurrection, for example) were written barely a quarter-century after his death, and a respectable number of witnesses who had been Jesus' companions were still alive.  Myths don't develop in such a short span of time.  At best, the memory of a dead hero is adored with a few legends and transfiguring anecdotes.  The creator of a myth chooses the dim, distant past, beyond the reach of memory.  In 1968 he doesn't invent a divine being who, he maintains, lived in New York and died on Lexington Avenue in 1940.  Of all the theories about Jesus which have been propounded, this mythological explanation is the least likely.

According to the unanimous testimony of the accounts, it was always Jesus' acts that solved the question of his identity (76)."

3.  Other Titles: Exploring and Proclaiming the Apostles' Creed, Edited by Roger Van Harn

This title is a collection of essays by specialists in history. theology, NT, OT, and ethics.  Some of the highlights are Richard Burridge's essay on Jesus Christ Our Lord, Richard Norris on the historical situation of the creed.

I Believe: Exploring the Apostle's Creed by Alister McGrath, Affirming the Apostle's Creed by J.I. Packer, and The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters by Luke Timothy Johnson.

I can't comment on these last three books in that I've only perused the first two, but I can say that Packer's and McGrath's books are thoroughly evangelical treatments of the subject and will provide good spiritual nourishment for those who read them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung

As the debate surrounding same-sex marriage heightens in the airwaves of our culture, there is no measure of this issue dying down anytime shortly.  We have heard both sides of the issues, from the evangelical Christian to the mainline Protestant.  Yet, we still do not have a book that deals succinctly with the biblical arguments and yet answers the specific questions people have about homosexuality.  In steps seasoned pastor Kevin DeYoung, no stranger to debates, with his new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?  Kevin doesn’t merely repeat old arguments but seeks to get into the context of the biblical passages and objections from those who support homosexuality. 

The book is divided into two major sections, the first dealing with understanding God’s Word and what it says about homosexuality (3 passages in the OT, 3 in the NT), and the second dealing with common objections (from wrong side of history, God of love, etc.).  What was really fascinating to me in reading the book was that Kevin did not just go to the scholars who think like him but also included lesbian and queer studies professors who understood quite clearly what the bible teaches about homosexuality.  In one instance, “The gay Dutch scholar Pim Pronk, after admitting that many Christians are eager to see homosexuality supported by the Bible, states plainly, “In this case that support is lacking.”2 Although he doesn’t think moral positions must be dependent on the Bible (which is why he can support homosexual behavior), as a scholar he recognizes that “wherever homosexual intercourse is mentioned in Scripture, it is condemned. . . . Rejection is a foregone conclusion; the assessment of it nowhere constitutes a problem. (55).”

In parsing Romans 1.26-27 Kevin also looks at what popular philosophers of the day thought about para physin or contrary to nature in terms of homosexuality’s relationship to nature.  Kevin writes, “For example, Musonius Rufus, a popular philosopher who lived around the same time as the Apostle Paul, observed, “But of all sexual relations those involving adultery are most unlawful, and no more tolerable are those of men with men, because it is a monstrous thing and contrary to nature (41).”  Kevin goes onto build his case by a return to the natural design or way that God first created all humanity. 

In Appendix 2 Kevin responds with a healthy dose of grace to those struggling with same sex attraction.  He writes, “I imagine a young man coming up to me as his pastor and saying, through tears, “I find myself attracted to men instead of women. I feel so dirty. I’m so ashamed. I feel bad, miserable, and mad at myself and like a failure before God every second of the day.” In this situation I would eventually get to the call of Christian discipleship to live in purity of thought and deed, but that’s not where I would start because this man already feels impure. I’d tell him that feeling this does not make him a failure, and that the desire to walk in holiness is evidence of the Spirit’s work in his life. I’d tell him about the good news of the gospel (106).”  This winsome and grace-filled response is truly beautiful and something everyone needs to hear.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and its balance of biblical faithfulness and practical guidance in all the issues surrounding homosexuality.

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