Tag Archives: Theology

Quick Review: 1 Peter Honor Shame Paraphrase

I’ve spent some time the last couple of weeks going through Jayson Georges’ paraphrase of 1 Peter, which includes some context and basic commentary. It’s primarily a paraphrase, translated to highlight in the language of the letter the honor-shame context and dynamics embedded in and around the letter.  This is what seems to be the beginning of a series as he has recently released a paraphrase of Esther as well.

Some might struggle if they don’t have the imagination or the creativity to utilize paraphrases in context. But this is a helpful exercise to draw near to the original context of the letter and the issues that people cared about and were most affected by.  1 Peter was a great letter to start with because the issues of suffering and persecution addressed.  These themes start to become a bit richer and clear through some of the honor-shame language.

I personally enjoyed some of the leadership/overseer sections of the letter as portrayed in the paraphrase, but the strength is really it’s clarity of the honored identity of Christ for those that see community and social relationships through this lens. It illustrates the contrast between what is honored in God’s Kingdom compared to what is honored in the world.

So – definitely worth checking it out if you want to challenge yourself with thinking about many in the ancient world viewed the issues of identity and persecution….and many people today as well.

 

Quick Review: God and the Gay Christian & Mohler’s Response

I’m not going to do a deep dive on this issue, because there’s plenty out there already for that.  I’ll just share some of my impressions and analysis of the books.  One of the things that I’ve found frustrating over the years when some well known, or even some less than well known, Christians come out with an affirming view same-sex marriage is that they seem to say the same thing.  They typically start by saying they have really wrestled with the Scriptures, but then they give an argument that is not really based on Scripture as the reason for their belief or position.

To his credit, Matthew Vines has wrestled with Scripture and I think one of the things that clearly shows through this book is a really sincere effort to ground his position while maintaining a commitment to inerrancy.  But Vines, despite the cover caption “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships” resorts to the same default.  Because the approach or the book does not offer support for same-sex relationships. Others on the affirming side, as quoted in Mohler’s SBC response to Vines, offer freely that it’s really not possible to offer Biblical support for Same-Sex Relationships and efforts need to be made elsewhere to prove the point.  And this shows in Vines’ methodology in that he takes the 6 most referenced Scriptures related to homosexuality and then tries to offer different interpretations for each of them.

One thing I thought was very weak in the book was how much rests on emotional appeal and the logical fallacy that since Exodus International closed its doors and apologized for damage done, then it is clear that sexual orientation can’t or shouldn’t be viewed as wrong or sin. Another dimension of this argument is that because such denial or efforts to suppress perceived sexual identity leads to suicide, then such efforts or thinking that change is possible is wrong and should be repented of.  These are real issues that merit a lot of study, sensitivity, and attention.  But the conclusions drawn should not be held as a given based on that data alone.

Vines throughout is respectful in his writing, sincere in his hopes and desires, but just can’t escape poor hermeneutics and agenda driven interpretation.  For someone with little or no training in Biblical interpretation, this book would seem to provide overwhelming proof that maybe the Bible does not say what people think it says. But as some of the responders in Mohler’s book of response to this show, this is as clear of an example of letting agendas drive interpretation as anything you’ll found out there.

That being said – I think it’s an important book for Christians to read to wrestle with these texts and understand the arguments Vines is making and to wrestle with how they would respond. I suspect many would feel paralyzed to respond to such arguments and therefore it’s actually a great opportunity to help people develop more responsible and compassionate theology that represents what the Scriptures teach related to sexual identity and orientation rather than the foolish and hurtful “Adam and Eve, NOT Adam and Steve” references that get through out there from time to time. The church needs more people equipped with robust theologies of identity and sexuality that actually is anchored in and faithful to Scripture and Vines’ book I hope is a catalyst to helping people go deeper into the Scriptures and do good theology which translates to more integrity in defending the Scriptures as well as more respect and compassion in representing the Scriptures to others that have rejected what the Scriptures teach.

The church needs more people equipped with robust theologies of identity and sexuality that actually is anchored in and faithful to Scripture and Vines’ book I hope is a catalyst to helping people go deeper into the Scriptures and do good theology which translates to more integrity in defending the Scriptures as well as more respect and compassion in representing the Scriptures to others that have rejected what the Scriptures teach.

After I read Vines’ book, I read Mohler’s response. I had mixed feelings on the response.  One one hand, there was well thought out arguments from Scripture and good theological counterpoints to Vines’ that I think put Vines into proper perspective.  But I did not like the tone of a couple of the responders in their arguments – especially Mohler’s individual response.  I just don’t think these discussions require snarky jabs that come across as condescending or arrogant.  There were times I felt like the responses had a courtroom feel where they were acting like bantering lawyers rather than communicating in grace and truth.  I did not feel that from several of the responders including Denny Burke and Heath Lambert.  Lambert’s was the best of the responses in my opinion in his piece entitled, “Is ‘A Gay Christian’ Consistent With the Gospel of Christ?”

I did not feel that from several of the responders including Denny Burke and Heath Lambert.  Lambert’s was the best of the responses in his piece entitled, “Is ‘A Gay Christian’ Consistent With the Gospel of Christ?”  The whole Mohler response, which can be found online in its entirety via search as a pdf, is worth reading through.  Vines’ arguments are countered clearly, but most clearly the hope that you can provide Biblical support for same-sex marriage is dealt a heavy blow.  I just wish all the voices in the response could avoid some of the cheap shots that just don’t help the conversation or relationship building in what at times is a very hostile dynamic.

I’ve got several more books from different perspectives I’m wanting to read as I continue to refine my own positions and equip myself to engage the discussion with integrity and faithfulness to Scripture as well as with compassion, understanding, and love for real people who see things differently from me – both in terms of the issues themselves and in regards to sound hermeneutical process.

If you are are affirming in your position – I still have yet to see much work drawn deeply from Scripture that supports same-sex relationships as the arguments get redirected elsewhere.  If you are non-affirming, don’t be scared of this book – it’s an opportunity to learn and equip yourself to think more deeply and more responsibility about complex issues. This book alone will not equip someone to jump into the deep end of the pool of these issues, but it can be a resource in conjunction with others that can help sharpen one’s thinking and theology.

But I’ll say this – while I’m sad for how many may uncritically conclude from this book that there can be a Scriptural argument for same-sex marriage, I came away with an appreciation for the search that Vines is on though I do not believe his search has led him to truth as of yet.  I hope he continues to seek truth and I too hope to continue to read and study and learn as there’s so much in this arena I need to learn.

 

Quick Review: Strong and Weak

One of the richest and most practically helpful book I’ve read this year is Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak.  It’s the third book I’ve read by Crouch this year and all three form together what I would describe to be a trilogy related to a theology and practice of image bearing. You can see some of my thoughts on the 1st of these books Culture Making here or the more recent Playing God here.

Strong and Weak is roughly an extension of Playing God.  Playing God  is a more in depth look at power and privilege. Strong and Weak continues that, but Crouch introduces a framework for understanding social ethics, relationships, and authority among other things.  This allows for a really clear conceptual understanding of much of what he unpacks in Playing God.

Crouch builds his book around a 2 x 2 chart. The X axis is represented by the concept of vulnerability, while the Y axis is represented by the concept of authority. Crouch draws from the first couple chapters of Genesis these two significant aspects of what it means to be an image bearer. Having the authority and ability to take meaningful action on one hand, and having the posture of vulnerability and risk on the other.

In the chart there are 4 quadrants, which Crouch describes as flourishing (high authority, high vulnerability), suffering or poverty (low authority, high vulnerability), withdrawal or apathy (low authority, low vulnerability) and exploitation (high authority, low vulnerability).  The book is organized around these quadrants and their implications for relationships, community, and even leadership as well.

The simple 2 x 2 chart provides a really helpful framework to understand some really complex dynamics as well as the powerful and countercultural implications of gospel action through people in different quadrants.  It provides a helpful way of understanding servant leadership, empowerment, social responsibility, and community development all in one.

This book is about 150 pages or so, very readable. I highly recommend you read this – it has something for everyone and it serves as an incredible teaching tool to help people understand how to look at the importance of both authority and vulnerability – which cover a surprising amount of the issues leaders have in negotiating the social realities of their contexts.

This is an important and helpful resource that should help people think more theologically and responsibly about the dynamic relationship between authority and human relationships.  I really encourage you to find time to read it.

 

Quick Review: Jesus Feminist

I recently read Sarah Bessey’s Jesus FeministAn Invitation to Rethink the Bible’s View on Women. Again – I don’t do full blown reviews because those can be found on the interwebs, but I like to share some of where I find there to be value for those looking for different things to read.

First, I really enjoyed the read as the author writes in a way that I really appreciated and enjoyed. There’s just great life and artistic quality in the writing that I enjoyed. It also makes for a quicker read than many books.

Second, the book really wasn’t what I thought it was – with its provocative title and everything.  I was expecting a deeper dive into egalitarian versus complementarian issues or the debate on women in ministry, but really I found the book to be more oriented towards mobilizing women towards engaging in mission and matters of justice and love in the world.  So that was a bit surprising to me, but I appreciated that the book’s focus was not just to re-hash or argue for a position theologically. It seemed to be to be more of an exhortation to women (and men for that matter) who are paralyzed or stuck by rigid traditionalism and an inspiring call for them to get engaged in mission.   There’s nothing on that front that anyone should have a problem with.

The word feminist no doubt will rile up folks and probably created a buzz, but I didn’t find this book to be advocating feminism in the contemporary or liberal manner. In that sense, I felt like the title was slightly misleading. But on the other hand, she draws attention to Jesus and often overlooked or minimized parts of Scripture that speak to how men and women ought to be partnering with one another on mission.

In general – I did feel like she bypassed or minimized some of the key parts of the discussion and some of the harder questions. At one point she declares, “I’m out” in reference to the debates and conflict over women in leadership and all that.  I completely understand why she and others feel this way, yet I’m not sure any of us can just bypass a question that does require a decent amount of study, dialogue, and engagement.

But I enjoyed the book and resonated with a lot of it despite the fact that some aspects of the conversation might have been minimized or quickly dismissed. It was not a full-blown academic treatment of the roles of men and women in ministry, but there are some great insights and perspectives that add to the discussion and dialogue.  It was refreshing to read in a lot of ways – in a lot of the content and the style of writing.

Quick Review: Culture Making

I recently finished Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and wanted to share some quick thoughts on the book. I had been wanting to get to it for quite a while and some of the discussions I’ve been in recently related to ministry and education gave me cause to finally dive in.

Essentially the book presents a theology and practice of creative stewardship and work. After an exploration into what “culture” is and how it works, there is an analysis of the many ways people engage culture.  The most common expressions of how Christians engage culture are noted as condemning culture, consuming culture, critiquing culture, or copying culture.  There are some similarities to some of the categories offered by Reinhold Niebuhr as well as to more recent work by Tim Keller. But Crouch’s focus is primarily on culture as it relates to creativity and calling (thus the title) as opposed to a full-blown theology and practice of cultural engagement that includes political and social engagement. The term cultural engagement doesn’t really even capture Crouch’s thrust – he focuses rather on “culture-making” instead.

Crouch, drawing on Genesis and the Scriptures, argues for two other paradigms that are more “Biblical” in nature.  He names creating culture and cultivating culture as the two approaches to culture that are often overlooked by Christians, but that provide the greatest redemptive contribution to God’s purposes in restoring the world.  He uses the metaphors “artists and gardeners” to illustrate what is involved.  Cultivating refers to the work of stewarding the best of what humanity is and has created while creating obviously refers to the effort given to bring dreams into reality for the sake serving mankind and glorifying God.

I found the discussion incredibly helpful and enjoyable, especially because creativity and cultivation have long been overlooked. Creativity has had its champions, but I was intrigued by the role of “gardeners” in the church and in the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking about this and feel like it is a neglected aspect of the church’s engagement with culture.  Maybe the historian in me is drawn to the idea, but it feels significant to me.

There’s a lot more in the book including content related to power and other topics that are of interest, but the thrust of the book is above – helping people understand the many ways they navigate culture and to consider that the best way to impact society for good and for God is through the creation of new cultural goods. The argument being that bad or insufficient culture isn’t transformed until something better comes along to replace it. One of the incisive criticisms Crouch levies at the church is noting how most efforts to bring Christian worldview to the table in relation to culture stops in the realm of critiquing culture, falling well short of creating culture.

My final note is that Crouch gives an insight in his introduction that really stuck with me. He notes the popular maxim, “Pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on you.” I’ve always understood the kernel of truth here and the call to diligent stewardship exercised in dependence on the Lord, but something never fully felt satisfying to me.  Crouch critiques the application of this phrase, affirming that we need to learn to work as if it all does depend on God – because it does. Stewardship is implied, but the freedom of exploring vocation in the guidance of the Holy Spirit opens doors for creativity and inspiration.

I think this book gives a lot to chew on – not every person may be gifted or inspired to be a creator or a cultivator, but these are elements that every community would be wise to nurture for the sake of both worship and mission.

 

Quick Review: Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge

I recently read Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace and wanted to post a few thoughts as I found it a really rich book on several levels.

The book is dividing into two sections.  As the title suggests – the first half focuses on giving and the second half focuses on forgiveness.  I would say first of all – the first 3 chapters as a theology of giving is one of the best and maybe the best Scriptural and theological grounding of giving that I’ve come across.

The dynamics of giving, receiving, taking, and exchanging are covered in this section in a way that explores giving through the overall Biblical narrative.  So Volf grounds giving and receiving in the doctrine of creation and the image of God. He also explores the depth of how sin and the fall corrupts loving giving and receiving in ways that provide a strong critique of the many ways we manipulate each other in community and even seek dominance as one community over an other.

The forgiveness section is also very well done and is framed on top of Volf’s work in the 1st half of the book on giving.  I had not thought about forgiveness through this lens before, but I found it powerful for reflection and thought.  Understanding the giving and receiving dynamics and sides of forgiveness are crucial to developing an ethical practice of peace and reconciliation and restoration.

Volf’s personal background and history as one who has experienced great loss and has had to struggle through these themes at the deepest of levels brings credibility and power to the reading.  This is a book I’ll keep coming back to in the future both personally and for teaching.  The kindle version is only $5 too 🙂

 

 

Quick Review: Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?

I read last week Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? which is part of the Four Views Counterpoints series.  The book is edited by Wayne Grudem, but has four authors that interact with one another over the key issues of the debate.  There is cessationist, an open but cautious perspective, a third wave perspective, and a perspective that represents charismatic and pentecostal theology and perspectives.

In general, this has not been a topic that I have been very concerned about or have spent a lot of time wrestling with theologically.  But it was helpful for me to get the broad contours of the conversation.  Of most interest was the approach and needs involved in working towards a foundation of ecclesiological unity even if some areas of doctrine and practice vary.  There is a great challenge here given how the practice of miraculous gifts or lack thereof impacts culture and experience in dramatically different ways. Some of the key gifts involved in the discussion are prophecy, healing, and tongues.

I think it was helpful to see the authors develop some kind of consensus for what key theological issues are and even see where the differences are.  I was most intrigued to read the pentecostal perspective as I have been least familiar with pentecostal theology, but now that I’m teaching some students from pentecostal backgrounds it was very helpful to me.

I run and live in circles where most would fall in the cessationist or open but cautious camps.  I think for many who have not been exposed much, they can easily dismiss pentecostals without really understanding some of the perspectives grounded in Scripture.  There are some hard things to work through to find a unity in doctrine and practice given the full range and strength of the positions involved, but this is a helpful model of the type of dialogue and collaboration in that direction.

Quick Review: The 3D Gospel – Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

I recently finished The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jason Georges. This had been on my list for over a year since reading The Global Gospel by Werner Mischke last year and attending Mischke’s online webinar hosted by mission nexus.

This is a fairly brief (less than a 100 pages) primer on how to see the full range and impact of the gospel as expressed in different cultural contexts.  Georges uses the metaphor of a multifaceted diamond that reflects the same essence in different ways.  I actually appreciated the diamond metaphor as it provided a more holistic and integrated approach to the discussion about guilt, shame, and fear which sometimes degenerates into either/or application.

The book gives a great, user friendly intro to the discussion and unpacks the correlation between the gospel, culture, and ministry application.   For each of the 3 main culture  (guilt/innocence, shame/honor, fear/power), Georges provides a succinct summary of the salvation narrative through each of those thematic areas of focus, followed by the core ministry approach that may be the most appropriate expression of ministry for that culture.

The connections between culture, the gospel, and ministry expressions is really helpful as it helps one begin to think about contextualization and integration of the gospel into a specific context in specific ways.  I’m very encouraged that more and more are providing practical and theologically grounded efforts at contextualization in light of these common themes in different cultures.  It may not make since to many who have not experienced much beyond their native culture and context, but these perspectives and efforts to provide real tools for ministry are incredibly valuable.

Because of the brevity and and clarity to this book, I really am motivated to find ways to use this in my ministry and leadership training.  There is potential application beyond evangelism and discipleship to other aspects of ministry and leadership development that excite me, but it serves as a great intro and primer to how to think about contextualization in non-western contexts so I highly recommend this as a resource.

 

Quick Review: The Kingdom of Christ

I was able to recently read Russell Moore’s The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective and instead of providing a full review I will share some of where I think this as a lot of value.

This is theology and doctrine resource so it’s heavier reading and there were parts where I labored through it.  Other parts were very compelling because the implications are significant for the church’s impact on society and its understanding of its identity and mission.

The book is fundamentally a treatment about how a new unity of evangelical theology and thought has slowly developed since the culture wars of the early 20th century.  The key figure throughout this book is Carl F.H. Henry as Moore unpacks Henry’s critique of evangelicalism in the post-war era and explores his beliefs of what is theologically required for the church to have a faithful and responsible witness to and engagement with society.

The heart of the book is really tracking how reformed and covenant traditions as well dispensational branches of evangelicalism have found some common ground and through dialogue and engagement have corrected some errant theology and found a foundation from which there can be a unified understanding on how to engage society.

Doctrinely speaking, the book takes a fairly deep dive into the integration of eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology for the sake of a healthy theology of mission in the world today in the face of the extremes of isolationism and capitulation to the world.   One expression of this that is discussed thoroughly is the liberal protestant movement towards the social gospel compared to the perhaps dualistic isolationist faith of the fundamentalists in the early 20th century.

I found it interesting in that I have one set of grandparents that were fundamentalists (independent baptists) and another grandfather who probably would fall more in line as a pragmatic liberal protestant.  I have both sides of this debate in my own family history and it’s interesting to reflect on the strengths and limitations of each, particularly from a doctrinal standpoint.

But of critical importance for most Christians today is the eschatology piece.  This book is a great resource to really think deeply about how poor eschatology or an inadequate theology of the kingdom of God leads to really poor assumptions about how to engage the world and society. The prevalence of “Left Behind” theology and attitudes that it’s all going to burn any minute so why invest deeply in engaging society is an attitude and perspective that undermines the integrity and witness of the church.  This book provides a healthy corrective to that type of theology.

All in all – while the general outlook for mobilizing evangelicalism towards a healthy biblical and theological foundation seems bleak because of how hard it is to see sound theology spread to the local level and the masses, it is encouraging that scholars seem to be uniting in these core areas in the face of rising new challenges.