Book Review: Evolution’s Purpose

Evolutions-PurposeThis is the latest in the series of books I have received for review through the SpeakEasy Blogger network. Of all the books I have received for review, this has been my most challenging read yet .

First off, it has been a while since I read such straightforward academic philosophy.  This called for slower, more careful reading.  Thankfully, I found I was drawn back toward my years of school and the volumes of reading I had done then.

In response to questions about evolution and faith I began, about 10 years ago, responding that “I don’t believe in science.”  What I mean by this is that I do not expect the same things or kinds of knowledge from science as from faith. What I do not mean is that evolution is a godless attempt to kill Christianity.

So, I was intrigued to get hold of this title, as I am curious to read how people treat religion and evolution with each other’s context(s). McIntosh treats both with respect. He describes himself as one who does not “subscribe to any organized religion (xxiv). (I often want to ask such individuals if they subscribe to any disorganized religion.)

I wish I had more profound things to write about this book.  I enjoyed what I read, and was intrigued at McIntosh’s efforts to argue that we are, indeed, progressing while at the same time wanting to, no, insisting upon, avoiding the cultural arrogance of Social Darwinism.

Could we ever again name a war “The War to End all Wars”?  Are we better, or even better off, than our grandparents’ generation, or their grandparents’ generation.

Progress is a dangerous thing to argue because one tends to assume the position that one’s vantage point is better than all the others.  Each of us set up some set(s) of categories  by which we understand the world. Likewise, we tend to insert ourselves into the place of privilege in those categories.

The hardest part of recognizing change, progress, evolution may be admitting that we are not at the apex of it. All of history has not moved with purposeful intent towards today; rather, today is a part of life, history, and evolution’s movement in the direction of the beautiful, the true, and the good.

It is, I suspect, the habit of each generation or civilization to understand itself as that which all the past was laid out to give us.  This book, on the other hand, read as a provocative challenge to interpret that we are still on our way somewhere.

The Awakening of Hope (Book Review)

ImageWhen I see Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s name on a book, I want to read that book.  When I also see Shane Claiborne’s name, I would walk barefoot through snow to get a copy.  Fortunately for me, this time all I had to do was respond to the offer from SpeakEasy.

The Awakening of Hope is a primer for living out the Christian faith.  This very readable book is written in the form of an apology; not an “I’m sorry” apology, but as an explanation of beliefs, thoughts, and actions. The practices described are clearly and easily identified with the New Monasticism,

For me, the chief attraction of this book is this positive focus primarily on practices.  There are helpful, instructive words inside about specific beliefs of Christians, but these paragraphs arise in the midst of a discussion of practices.  The practices covered are: eating together, fasting, living together, making promises, not returning violence for violence, and sharing good news.

I am pretty sure people get tired of other people arguing for one belief or against another;  I know I do.  I don’t think this is because most of us want everyone to agree on everything.  I think it’s because of the arrogance, condemnation, and condescension that fill so much of the air when differing opinions interact.

The Awakening of Hope, on the other hand, intends only to describe the way of life, and thus the beliefs, of a particular subset of those who understand themselves to be following Jesus.

If you are potentially interested in the resurgence of an ordered life, or just curious about it, this is a great place to start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Naming my own sin only

I am reading my latest free book – Johnathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Awakening of Hope. The chapter on fasting reminds me of the importance of naming sin. To name sins sin is
“to see them as a corruption of the way we were made to be…. A world in which sin can be named is a world that can be redeemed.”

This got me thinking about my propensity to name the sins of others so much more quickly than I name my own.

For this first week of Advent, I am going to work to live by this: I will name my own sins rather than those of others.

Who is with me?

Being Jesus in Nashville -a book review

image

I have to admit that I was drawn to read and thus review Being Jesus in Nashville in part because it was turned down for publication by “Christian” publishers. I was also a little imtrigued that a multiple Cy Young Award winning pitcher was now writing about Jesus. I quickly learned that this is a different Jim Palmer.

Long story short, I very much appreciate Palmer sharing this story with us. I’m not sure I buy all the theological pariculars he offers, but I surely resonate with his journey and the evolution he has faced throughout his life.

Like any of us, Palmer was not satisfied with the Jesus who wants to forgive us but leave us substantially the same until some miraculous post-life transition happens. Like John Wesley, Jim Pamer was (and is) determined that “following Jesus” actually means following Jesus. Thus the title and premise for the book; Palmer seeks becoming Jesus for Nashville, his home. He concludes, through a story that, I assure you, is provocatively worth reading, that he ought rather learn to be Jim Palmer as God created him to be.

Let me be clear: Palmer did not give up on following Jesus, or decide to settle back into the American Christianity that is “not perfect, just forgiven.” Rather, he learned through an interesting set of events interpreted through his passion to follow Jesus that the more or more closely he follows Jesus the truer he becomes to the person God actually created him to be.

Read Being Jesus in Nashville; tell me what you think. I would very much enjoy having conversation(s) about this book. In fact, I believe that’s just the kind of response Palmer would want.

Book Review – Sacrilege

I find it refreshing when an author lets you know early on where he or she is coming from.  Hugh Halter does so in Sacrilege: finding life in the unorthodox ways of Jesus.  In the second paragraph of his Acknowledgments (p.18), Halter defines the gospel as “the message of Jesus about a new way of life that he called the kingdom of God.”

If you don’t agree that Jesus was out to teach and lead into a new way of life, you won’t much appreciate Halter’s book.  You should still read it, though, because he is on target far more than he is off.

Halter chooses the beatitudes as the frame on which he hangs his argument that Jesus came to smash “the spiritual, religious, traditional, and pop idols of his day.”  Here again, though, the reader is challenged by Halter’s assumption that today’s society mirrors that in Jesus’ day. if it does, as Ahlter alleges and I agree, then much of what Jesus did comes against current religion.

Where I’m a little thrown off, though, is when Halter suggests that we substitute the word apprentice for follower and/or disciple with reference to Jesus.  Especially as he presents a definition of what he means by apprentice.  I am concerned that narrowing definitions for substitute words will lose too many people.  Halter is too propehtic is his call to lose people on word choice.

But, then, merely to call people to follow Jesus, or to be disciples, would lose his voice in the crowd.  Most anyone who claims to be a Christian would also claim to be a follower or disciple of Jesus.  Could “apprentice” help here?  Perhaps it could, if our society could separate the word from the Donald, of which I am skeptical.

Apprenticeship is an attractive metaphor for what it is to be a Christian.  Sadly, our society doesn’t generally understand apprenticeship anymore.  It’s too condescending to our cultural collective to assume that someone would actually spend time – years – learning to emulate every behavior of another.  A 12 DVD set is about the max we’d like to have to wait to “arrive.”

Yet, Halter chooses words well when he suggests that we aim to become like Jesus the man rather than like God in heaven. (If I see one more “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” bumper sticker, I think I’ll puke).  The whole lot of us Christians have written off becoming Christ-like because of our genericized imagination of God.  We dont’ need generic God; we have Jesus.  Want to know how God-in-flesh would live ?  Read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  For that matter, read all four.

Halter writes very readably.  Sacrilege is worth the read if you are at all interested in how Jesus’ people might return to news that is good to offer the world.

#SpeakeasySacrilege

Book Review: The Silent Years

Have you ever wondered what Jesus’ life was like other than what we find in the Gospel accounts?  If you haven’t, you should.  Either way, I recommend Alan Green’s The Silent Years.

I encourage you to read this, and otherwise (on your own or with others) to wonder what Jesus’ life was like because I believe Incarnation is about God being fully human.  Reading the bible accounts of Jesus can leave him too far away, to much, well, a bible character rather than an actual person.

I like to remind people, especially during Advent and the Christmas season, that baby Jesus messed his diapers as much as the rest of us did.

Alan Green offers a very readable imaginative version of Jesus’ life. I read a couple of other reviews before writing this one, both of which are concerned with Green’s not portraying Jesus as divine.

I, on the other hand, find this particularly helpful.  Green’s Jesus is human enough that he doesn’t presume his own divine nature so as to differentiate himself from others. Green’s Jesus stands out from everyone around him, but does so in very human ways.   Green’s Jesus is believeably human and believably divine.

Yes, there is the point at which Jesus (Yeshua throughout the book) confesses having sinned. However, the sin he confesses is a sin – of wanting to kill a man for raping a woman.  I’m not convinced that such a thought is a sin.  I am more likely to think it a sign of mental and emotional health to feel this way.  Even here, Green’s Jesus seems to me very appropriately human.

Even the fact that Green refers to Jesus as Yeshua throughout helps his cause. Don’t you expect more of someone named Jesus?  Again, this step helps accomplish Green’s task of pulling Jesus out of the scriptures and into reality.  At least it does for me.

So read this book.  If you find something in The Silent Years that you believe contradicts what scripture teaches about Jesus, go with scripture.  If you think Jesus is or was no more than a Bible Character that you may or may not remember from Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, read this book.

Book Review: Speaking of Jesus

Carl Medearis is a pastor and follower of Jesus. He wants the world to know Jesus.  He is convinced that if people are introduced to Jesus, they will be willing, even eager, to learn from him and follow his ways. Having lived in Lebanon for 12 years, he is also a leader in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations.  Speaking of Jesus: the art of not evangelism is his invitation to the rest of us who follow Jesus to “quit defending Christianity” and begin inviting people to follow Jesus along with us.

In one sense this is another in a long (recent) line of “they love Jesus but hate the Church” books.  Since I haven’t read any of the others, I offer this one as a good one to read, if you only read one.

Medearis invites all of us who follow Jesus to reclaim our Lord and Savior at the expense of defending the Church, organized religion, or institutional Christianity.  Though I grew up in the Church, I did not feel beat up by Medearis’ characterization so much as encouraged that Jesus is really what each of us, at one time or another, found endearing and attractive about this faith.

The author has extensive positive experience sharing Jesus, his life and teachings, with those of other faiths and no faith. In each shared experience, Jesus is shared openly and inoffensively.

“Jesus didn’t come to build a Kingdom. He brought one with him.”  Simpler, clearly words have rarely been spoken, yet this line near the middle of the book captures Medearis’ overall intent; to invite us to join Jesus and to share Jesus.

Speaking of Jesus is challenging and reaffirming.  I’ve got this theology and Jesus stuff down in my head.  I know the answers to most questions.  I am smooth and quick with words that fit the situation.  Yet I am increasingly aware this is not what most people are looking for.

Medearis challenged me to offer Jesus rather than reason and compassion rather than passion. He takes on the “us versus them” that so easily characterizes so much inter-religious talk from several different angles.  I really appreciated the variety of ways he shares that it comes down to Jesus; not beliefs, not reason, not “winning.”