Book Preview

I’ve recently received my latest book for review as part of the SpeakEasy Bloggers Network.

While I am only about halfway through with Speaking of Jesus, I want to encourage you to give it a read. Carl Medearis’s style is not only easy to follow, but easy to want to read the next page. And the next chapter.

Medearis’s premise is simple: instead of trying to win people or convert them to Christianity, we Christians ought to return to actually following Jesus and inviting others to join us.

Yes, this is another version of “people love Jesus but hate the church.” It will likely not be the last either; we have been hearing different versions of that for at least a decade and yet churches and denominations are still caught up with strategies, missions, and gimmicks all with the goal being to “win.”

What if the goal were to follow Jesus?

I like where Medearis is taking me.  I’ll share more when I’ve finished the book.

Book Review – Revise Us Again

Sometimes my powers of observation are so acute it is scary. Then there’s those other times – one of which is this book, which I am reviewing for the SpeakEasy Blog Network. The book is Frank Viola‘s Revise Us Again, which, until this morning, I had read as “Revive Us Again.”

I suppose that’s part of the idea behind titling the book this way.

Revise Us Again is a quick, easy, yet compelling read.  Viola’s passion for Jesus is clear, and his desire is to draw others to Jesus, not to Frank Viola.

Have you ever had someone tell you that “God told them to” tell you something?  Ever had someone suggest, “Let me pray about that…,” then never get back to you?

These are two of the revisions Viola invites, encourages, even implores us to make.

Revise Us Again follows well on the footsteps of The Jesus Manifesto, which Viola co-wrote with Len Sweet.  It is about Jesus; not all the other stuff we have made it about.  The good news is that Viola realizes that it isn’t just about your version of Jesus or my version of Jesus or even Harold Camping’s version of Jesus.

Which Jesus, then?  Read this book and be part of the conversation!

Is It Love, Is It Love You’re after?

Here is my review of Thomas Jay Oord‘s The Nature of Love: a Theology for the SpeakEasy bloggers network.

We have had a philosophical God for several centuries in the Christian West.  By this I mean we define God to the nth degree (I wanted to type that “we define the hell out of God,” but don’t want to offend…) and, in so defining God, we have tended to remove God from the biblical narrative and encase God, rather, in some frame of terms and ideas.

The Bible says a lot of things about God.  Most of the things the Bible says about God it says in story form.  Occasionally more specific claims are made clear: God is a jealous God… God is holy…, God is this or that. Typically the things that God “is” are adjectives; words used to describe aspects, attributes, or the character of God.

In on important case, though, a noun is used in the predicate rather than an adjective: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)

My memory isn’t perfect, but I don’t recall other passages that say God is justice, wrath, power, or any other noun.

Oord contends that in understanding or discussing God, we must begin with love. We don’t, then, weigh love against justice, as many systematics have sent many pages doing. To understand God’s identity in love, Oord leads us through Philippians 2, the kenotic hymn, which describes Jesus “emptying himself.”  This emptying, Oord concludes, indentifies the nature of God’s love.

A Nature of Love develops kenotic love theology in terms of the theologians Andres Nygren, Augustine, and Clark Pinnock.  Oord shows that each fails to take love seriously enough; typically, they fail when surrendering the kenotic nature of love to philosophical definition-making.

Oord concludes with a chapter on “Essential Kenosis” in which he takes on theodicy, miracles, and eschatology; categories which he believes any robust theology must account for, and categories he recognizes will generate the most questions and challenges from readers.

I appreciate Oord’s robust account of God’s love and the progression of history and philosophy through which he leads the reader in the quest thereof.  This book is worth reading if you care about the future, health, and faithfulness of the small “c” church as we we continue into the post-Christendom world that we share.

How good are you at good?

I am in the middle of Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect.  This is a fascinating read.  I’m even more excited because I am reading the book at the invitation of a young man for whom I am a mentor with the Perkins Youth School of Theology.

The overarching theme of the book is that people are not good and bad in isolation of their surroundings. Situation and the systems that influence or control the situation have sometimes unbelievably strong affects on human participants.

One of the points Zimbardo keeps coming back to is reminding the reader of the human tendency to assume that oneself is “better than average.”  In social psychology this is referred to as the Fundamental Attribution Error. In this context, we read about how the Stanford Prison Experiment turned normal, well-balanced young men into ruthless, hate-filled or power-hungry young men.  Similarly, the (older) question of how could Germany fall in line with Hitler’s “Final Solution,” ad so many people willingly participate in such evil?

Zimbardo lays out a clear and convincing case (convincing to me, at least), that none of dare deny that we could be drawn into doing evil.

At this point some of us who follow Jesus are likely to say that having received Jesus as Savior is some sort of trump card to giving in to evil.

I would urge us all, rather, to accept that within us remains the possibility of becoming performers of, or at least condoning, evil.

We need to redeem the cliché “there but for the grace of God go I” from this status.  Truly it is but for the grace of God.  It is also up to us to become as alert as possible to situations and Systems which increase the propensity for evil.

Your Brain Is Amazing!

Among the books I am currently reading is Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From.

In the chapter on “Liquid Networks,” which I read yesterday, Johnson describes the typical human brain.  A human brain, he writes, has 100 billion neurons, each of which connects to (on average) about 1,000 other neurons.   Further, Johnson points out that this

means that the adult human brain contains 100 trillion distinct neuronal connections, making it the largest and most complex network on earth. (By comparison, there are somewhere on the order of 40 billion pages on the Web. If you assume an average of ten links per page, that means you and I are walking around with a high-density network in our skulls that is orders of magnitude larger than the entirety of the World Wide Web.) (location 531, Kindle edition)

Your brain has more connections than the entirety of the internet!

I am rather impressed with our creator – God, thank you for a brain that is more complex, a larger network of connections than the World Wide Web!

May you make use of many of these connections today!

Viral Blogger Review – About You by Dick Staub

Here is the latest review of books I have received from ViralBloggers.  i receive them free on the condition that I read and review them here within 30 days.

I had previously read Staub’s The Culturally Savvy Christian and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to this read.  I was not disappointed.  Staub communicates well in written form, so even disagreeing with points here or there doesn’t detract from this read.

Staubs thesis statement is on the cover of the book, a quote of Hans Rookmaaker: “Jesus didn’t come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human.”  Staub offers a nice correctional move, i think, away from the spirit-body or heaven-earth dualism so common in the West and American Christianity. He catches the truth that God began with creation and called it good before sin entered the picture.

Here is a sample; testimony to Staub’s style and grace. On page 92 he begins a brief section titled “To Be Fully Human Mean s to Embrace Moral and Intellectual Certitude in a Relativistic Age.”  The section is a three paragraph presentation that does not even approach the kind of exclusivism or condescension some might expect from a call for moral and intellectual certitutde.  Staub is all about you finding your particular connection to God, in Whose image you were created.  I think About You can help with that quest.

Almost Christian

More posts will almost assuredly follow from this book I am currently reading.  After reading Kenda Creasy Dean’s Practicing Passion,   I will read anything Dr. Dean writes. The evening earlier this month I heard she had a new book out, I bought it and started in.

Here’s the thought from Almost Christian I share with you today: “Christ sends us into the world as translations of God’s love.”

Consider yourself, if you identify as a follower of Jesus, a translation of God’s love.  What kind of translation are you?

There are, for example, dozens of translations of the Bible in the English language.  It doesn’t take long with any of them to realize some are more readable than others.

Some Christians spend (or waste) a lot of time arguing over which translation is best, or why some are better or worse than others.  There are even still a considerable number of Christians who claim that the King James Version is the only true translation.

Consider, though, what a translation, not of the bible necessarily, is supposed to do.  A translation is affective if, and only if, it conveys the message from one to the other for whom the message is intended.

If your life is to be lived as a translation of God’s love, is that what your life is communicating to those to whom God’s message is intended?