Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Inventory Reduction Sale - April 5 - 16, 2010

Inventory is coming and it's time to clean house.  This is the sale I have a love/hate relationship with.  I hate it because I have to reduce the price on a lot of great books from my department.  I love it because I pick up some great deals myself.  It will start on Monday April 5th and go through Saturday April 17th.  I've got a selection of Word Biblical Commentaries, NICOTs, Ancient Christian Commentaries and plenty of good academic titles priced at up to 50% off.  Many titles are only $5.00 or $10.00.  You just can't beat that.   These books are not used or bargain.  They are new.  They simply have been on my shelf for too long and I need to weed through to reduce inventory.  Also, there will be stuff from all over the store not just the academic end.

Sale starts this Monday.  Come early.  Doors open at 9:00 a.m.  Once the seminary students get wind of it the word spreads fast.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kevin DeYoung, the Heidelberg Catechism and Gordon Clark

I've been reading Kevin DeYoung's newest book, The Good News We Almost Forgot, on the Heidelberg Catechism.  Kevin says that Lord's Day 10 is his favorite.  Here are questions 27 and 28 which address God's providence:
Q. 27 What do you understand by the providence of God?
A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty-- all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.
Q 28 How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
A. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move nor be moved.
Here's part of what Kevin wrote for this day:
"I will sometimes ask seminary students being examined for ordination, 'How would the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly Lord's Day 10, help you minister to someone who lost a loved one in Afghanistan or just lost a job?'  I am usually disappointed to hear students who should be affirming the confessions of their denomination shy away from Heidelberg's strong, biblical language about providence.  Like most of us, the students are much more at ease using passive language about God's permissive will or comfortable generalities about God being 'in control' then they are about stating precisely and confidently to those in the midst of suffering 'this has come from God's fatherly hand.'  And yet, that's what the Catechism, and more importantly the Bible teaches."  (59-60)
When I read this I thought of Gordon Clark.  Clark was a Christian philosopher and theologian from roughly the 1930s to the 1970s.  He was unashamedly Calvinist.  Some would say a "hyper-Calvinist."  If Kevin is disappointed to hear students today what would he think of Clark?  Here's what I mean.  In his book Religion, Reason and Revelation Clark quotes Georgia Harkness who was arguing for the necessity of free will in order for people to be held responsible for their actions.  I pick up with the final paragraph of her quote.
"'Some still hold that when the typhoid victim dies from lack of proper sanitation, it happened because it was 'to be.'  There is a good deal of illogical comfort in such a view.  But not many, even of the most rigorous of Calvinists, would now say that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it is the will of God that he should do so!'"
Clark responds:
"This quotation [the full quote is a page long] shows clearly the moral motivation behind the theory of free will; but at the same time it shows so much muddle headedness, misstatement of facts, and fallacious innuendo that before the argument proceeds, one preliminary should be put out of the way.  I wish very frankly and pointedly to assert that if a man gets drunk and shoots his family, it was the will of God that he should do so."  (Religion, Reason and Revelation, 220 emphasis mine)
Now before we dial "1-800-Brian McLaren" to report a Calvinist gone wild let me say a few things.  Clark is not providing a script to use when visiting the victim of such a crime.  This is a chapter dealing with God and evil in a book on theology and Clark is calling it as he sees it.  He was not one to allow "feelings" to diminish the truth of Scripture as he understood it.  Clark had no room for statements like "God didn't will this but he did permit it."  For Clark "permission makes no sense when applied to God."  Why not?  He explains:
"It is quite within the range of possibility for a life guard to permit a man to drown.  This permission, however, depends on the fact that the oceans undertow is beyond the guard's control.  If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission.  The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy's force or the ocean's force.  But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe.  Nothing in the universe can be independent of the Omnipotent Creator, for in him we live and move and have our being."  (ibid 205)  
Of course all of this is only relevant given a Calvinist framework but that's precisely the point.  What I see DeYoung saying is that if we are going to adhere to a catechism that proclaims the providence of God then there should be nothing to shy away from.  Our language will vary in certain contexts (DeYoung's original question is specifically put in the context of pastoral counseling) but the truth remains the same. 

For further reading I suggest John Frame's The Doctrine of God pp. 174-182.   See also D. A. Carson's Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility where he says:
"Similarly, distinctions between permissive will and decretive will appear desperately artificial when applied to an omniscient and omnipotent being; for if this God 'permits' sin, it cannot be unknowingly and unwillingly, and therefore his 'permission' must be granted knowingly and willingly.  Wherein then does this permission differ from decree?"  (214)
My reference to Frame and Carson are not meant to imply that they agree with Clark in every aspect only on the issue of the idea of "permission" as used of God.  Both authors have significant differences or nuances to Clark.  Most notably Frame interacts quite frequently with Clark in his writings.

Monday, March 29, 2010

James K. A. Smith vs. Francis Beckwith

It all started with a review of Francis Beckwith's book Return to Rome by James K. A. Smith.  Here's part of what Smith wrote:
"The path to Rome was a straight shot for an evangelical like Beckwith because he doesn’t see any inconsistency in the core “beliefs” of Rome and evangelicalism (as articulated, for instance, in the Evangelical Theological Society’s doctrinal statement).
But is this because Beckwith has created Rome in his evangelical image? Whose Rome are we talking about here? Which Catholicism? Rome is no monolith—that picture itself is a Protestant myth. Catholicism is chameleon and we constitute, to some extent, our own Romes. Even those who convert to Roman Catholicism, especially North American academics, are always, to some extent, joining the proverbial “church of your choice.”
Beckwith has returned to the Rome of his evangelical dreams: a pure, pristine defender of truth, justice, and—not so surprisingly—the American way. No wonder, then, that he sees no tension between being “both Evangelical and Catholic.” His is an Evangelical Rome. This plays itself out in a curious conversation with his comrade J. P. Moreland. After reading Moreland a passage from an unnamed author who affirms that “the question about truth is the essential question of the Christian faith as such, and in that sense it inevitably has to do with philosophy,” Beckwith asks his colleague: “Guess who wrote this?” After Moreland reels off some favorite Protestant philosophers, Beckwith plays his gotcha: “It’s the Pope!” “He’s one of us!” Moreland replied in exuberance (78).
But somehow, I can’t imagine Benedict XVI on the faculty of Talbot School of Theology any time soon. So what’s going on here? Beckwith’s Pope is like Norman Geisler’s Aquinas: an anonymous evangelical."
Well, Beckwith was not going to remain silent.  He responded on his blog Return to Rome. 

Here's how he started:
"If you want to read how someone from Calvin College can diminish, belittle, and caricature another Christian's heart-felt narrative of his own spiritual journey, read James K. A. Smith's review of Return to Rome. The meanness is palpable. I do not recognize the person Professor Smith describes as me. He is not reviewing the book I wrote. He is, apparently, reviewing the book he wishes I wrote so that it would fit his own philosophical project. In other words, as my New York relatives would say, "Oy vey, does that guy have issues or what?"
And here's how he ended:
"Perhaps, given my own journey and academic life, I should by now have grown accustomed to the scores of insults that have been hurled at me since my return to the Church. But the insults do not usually come from those, like Professor Smith, who pretend to be the lone virtuous custodians of Christianity's lost liturgical kernel. Since becoming a Catholic, I have a better sense of my own smallness. I know that if I died tomorrow, the Church would go on just fine without me. I would not, and should not, be missed. But if Professor Smith were to vanish from this mortal realm, the postmodern, liturgically aware, emergent, anti-modernist, radical orthodoxy Reformed Protestant movement will have lost one third of its intellectual firepower."
Scot McKnight says "there's got to be something more going on here."  No doubt he's right.  I think part of it may stem from the rocky relationship that exists between Smith and what he has termed the "Biola School" (His reference to Talbot School of Theology is where I'm making the connection.  Talbot is part of Biola.)  He explains this in his essay "Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?: A Response to the Biola School" in the book Christianity and the Postmodern Turn
"I first had inklings of this line when I was on a panel with William Lane Craig where we disagreed rather passionately about perspectivalism in science. The notion of a ‘Biola School’ crystallized for me during a stay at L’Abri in Switzerland, where I presented a series of lectures on postmodernism and church. After repeatedly hearing knee-jerk student reactions that sounded all too familiar, I finally asked—somewhat exasperated—whether this was the ‘Biola School’ of philosophy. When three of the students raising criticisms indicated that they had indeed graduated from Biola, my suspicions were confirmed. . . The ‘Biola School’ is broader than Biola faculty, however; I would also include Douglas Groothuis, for instance, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society in general.” (226 n. 1)
Smith says there is a “contrasting ‘Calvin School’ of Christian philosophy—which is found at Yale and Notre Dame—which is less religiously devoted to analytic philosophy, offers a postfoundationalist epistemology that criticizes foundationalism, tends towards presuppositional apologetics, and adopts a less fundamentalist notion of revelation.” (226 n. 2)

I may be way off here but it seems Beckwith represents in a broad sense the "Biola School" and the question for Smith appears to be "Can any good come from Biola?"

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday Begins Holy Week

Today is Palm Sunday which begins Holy Week (All links are to the Catholic Encyclopedia).  One week from today is Easter.  It is the pinnacle of the Christian Liturgical Year.  Let's take a quick look at what comprises Holy Week:

Palm Sunday - This day celebrates the Lord's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  Those who greeted him laid palm branches down as he rode in on a donkey. 

Maundy Thursday - This day was always hard for me to remember.  Maundy comes from the Latin mandatum which means commandment.  This is the day Jesus gave a new commandment to his disciples that they should love one another and the day he washed their feet.  Holy Thursday also begins the time period known as the Triduum.  It ends on the evening of Easter Sunday. 

Good Friday - This is the day our Lord was betrayed, crucified and buried.  Catholics will observe the Stations of the Cross often during this time though it can be observed throughout the year. 

Holy Saturday - The day before Easter and the day our Lord rested in the tomb.

Easter - The day our Lord rose from the dead!

For an Orthodox view of Holy Week see The Historical Development of Holy Week Services in the Orthodox/Byzantine Rite

Whatever your tradition I hope you maximize the significance of this week. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Favorite Retail Stories - 2 "Amanda, Tornados and Gift Wrapping"

Here's three more retail stories I thought you might like. 

Amanda knows her stuff

Here’s a story from my co-worker Amanda. I didn’t ask her if I could print this but I don’t think she’ll mind. 

She was talking with a customer when she noticed a gentleman kept looking at her. After a bit she asked him if he needed any help. He said, “No, I’ve just never heard a girl talk about theology before.”

Battle of the Bands and the tornado

A couple of years ago we had a "Battle of the Bands". The bands were playing in the parking lot and it was loud and people were having a great time. Then the clouds started to form and it began to rain. Everyone came inside the store and we let the bands set up and we resumed the contest inside. It was loud but the festivities continued. Then we got word that we were under a tornado warning. We announced that for safety reasons we had to stop the show and have everyone move to the employee break room. Our break room will comfortably hold about 40 people standing room only. Now here’s the problem—there were about 200 people there. Well, we stuffed as many as we could in the break room and the others mingled in the warehouse. No tornado ever showed up for the show but after about 20 minutes we were able to let everyone back in the store and the show picked up where it left off.  No worse for the wear but there was some creative stacking of the used books in the warehouse. 

Why I don’t wrap

We used to do gift wrapping as an added service. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do gift wrapping well. One day I had a customer ask if I would wrap something for her. I said I would be happy to find someone to help her. She insisted that I would do fine so I wrapped her stuff and sent her on her way. A couple of days later she was in the store and she recognized me. She said “You were the guy that wrapped my books weren’t you?” “Yes, I was.” Then reality hit me. “That’s not your gift is it?” I’ve never wrapped another package since.

Friday, March 26, 2010

In Store Now - Be Still, My Soul

Anything I see by Nancy Guthrie gets my immediate attention. Sit back and let me tell you why. My first exposure to Nancy came when I happened to pick up a copy of her book Holding on to Hope. The year was 2002. It was at a small convention of publishers and they were giving them away. I went back to my room and had some extra time on my hands so I started to read it. Two hours later I was done and I was captured by what the grace of God had done in her life. She and her husband had lost their daughter, Hope, to Zellweger syndrome. Since it was likely any future children would also have the disease her husband had a vasectomy. Nonetheless she became pregnant and the child was diagnosed with Zellwegers before he was even born. They knew the child to be born would die fairly soon after birth. Young Gabriel died one day shy of six months. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to lose one child not to mention two. Flash forward six months. I was at yet another convention only this time much bigger and I see a woman sitting at a table signing books. I notice the book and realize it's Nancy. I had to meet her. When it came to my turn I stepped up and said “I want to thank. . .” I started to choke up and tears started rolling down my face. I didn’t see it coming. She looked at me and said “Did you . . .” I interrupted her and said “No, no. Nothing like what you’ve gone through.” Her response surprised me. “Your pain is just as real.” She had no idea why I was crying (for that matter neither did I). But those words were of immense comfort coming from her.

I want to tie this to something I read in D. A. Carson’s book How Long, O Lord? which I had read years before any of this.
“One of the major causes of devastating grief and confusion among Christian is that our expectations are false. We do not give the subject of evil and suffering the thought it deserves until we ourselves are confronted with tragedy. If by that point our beliefs—not well thought out but deeply ingrained—are largely out of step with the God who has disclosed himself in the Bible and supremely in Jesus, then the pain from the personal tragedy may be multiplied many times over as we begin to question the very foundation of our faith.” (11)
Now nothing truly prepares you for the death of a child but I have to say that my readings of books like Carson’s, Guthrie’s and others certainly did something to help me put into context the pain of losing my Joshua (who died this past September). I believe God used what I had read to help me through those first days and even today they offer solace. I don’t say any of this to commend my faith but rather God’s sustaining grace and the value in thinking through these issues long before you may have to personally endure them.

My Crossway rep was in today and he gave me a copy of Nancy Guthrie’s newest book Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering. In this book Nancy has assembled 25 various excerpts from classic and contemporary authors on the problem of pain. Nancy picked an excerpt from Carson’s book. Here’s part of it:
“Not long ago in my church, a woman I’ll call Mary experienced a recurrence of cancer. Within a few months it had spread throughout her body, and despite treatments, she was very ill. The people in our church gathered for prayer. And although this is not a church from a charismatic tradition, the prayers throughout the day became more and more enthusiastic.
“Lord, you’ve said you will answer if two or three are in agreement. We have 287 in agreement, and we want you to heal her!” “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We want you to show that you are still the Great Physician!” “Lord, will you not have mercy on her husband and her children?”
“Finally it was my wife’s turn to pray (she who had almost lost her life to cancer twice) and she prayed, “Heavenly Father, we would love it if you would heal Mary. But if is not your will to heal her, teach her to die well. She is going to die anyway, and so if the time is now, teach her to die well. Give her a joy of the Lord. Give her a heritage of godly faith, with one foot firmly planted in heaven, so that her husband and children will be stamped by it, and will look to Christ. We don’t ask that she have any easy time, but ask that she be so full of grace, people will see Christ in her.”
“Well, you could have cut the air with a knife. No longer were there 287 people agreeing in prayer. My wife’s prayer seemed to create a break in the chain. She was letting down her side. We found out afterward that some of Mary’s relatives rather wished my wife would go to heaven first so she would know whereof she was praying! . . . Well-intentioned, but poorly informed brothers and sisters who try to deflect people from thinking about death, or who hold out the constant hope of healing, keep them so occupied with matters in this world that they have neither the time nor the energy to think about the next world. They succeed only in robbing their loved ones of the enormous comfort of the gospel as the step into eternity. Whatever the church does, it should prepare its members to face death and meet God. You cannot live faithfully in this life unless you are ready for the next. You can’t preserve morality or spirituality or doctrinal purity or faithfulness unless you are living in light of eternity.” (113-115)
This book is full of the wisdom of veteran Christians who have walked with God and are by no means strangers to pain and suffering. Other contributors include Philip Yancey, Joni Eareckson Tada, Os Guiness, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Newton, Jerry Bridges and many more. This is a book I know I’m going to love and will be giving away to friends. Thank you, thank you Nancy!

Be Still, My Soul is from Crossway with 176 pages and sells for $12.99.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

In Store Now - Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe

Yesterday we received the newest book from Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe.  I know several of my customers have asked every time they were in the store if it had arrived yet.  Well, it's here!  Incidentally, Gerry Breshears was on Prime Time America yesterday talking about the book.  Since the book came out to the floor just before I was leaving from work I didn't have much time to look at it.  But I did notice the chart on page 267 on views of the extent of the atonement.  Listed are five views: "Heresy of 'Christian' Universalism," "Heresy of Contemporary Pelagianism," "Unlimited Atonement," "Limited Atonement," and "Unlimited Limited Atonement."  That last one is not a mistake.  I've seen this from Driscoll before and it has never impressed me.  He says, "Simply, by dying for everyone, Jesus purchased everyone as his possession, and he then applies his forgiveness to the elect--those in Christ--by grace, and applies his wrath to the non-elect--those who reject Christ.  Objectively, Jesus' death was sufficient to save anyone, and, subjectively, only efficient to save those who repent of their sin and trust in him.  This position is called unlimited limited atonement, or modified Calvinism, and arguably is the position that John Calvin himself held as a very able Bible teacher."  (270)  But this is only one observation based on a quick skimming of the book.  I'll spend some more time with it later. 

The catalog description follows:
"Doctrine is the word Christians use to define the truth-claims revealed in Holy Scripture. Of course there is a multitude of churches, church networks, and denominations, each with their own doctrinal statement with many points of disagreement. But while Christians disagree on a number of doctrines, there are key elements that cannot be denied by anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus."
"In Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe, Driscoll and Breshears teach thirteen of these key elements. This meaty yet readable overview of basic doctrine will help Christians clarify and articulate their beliefs in accordance with the Bible."
Here are few of the reviews:

"I like Doctrine very much. It is a relatively short, clear, and accurate topical summary of biblical teachings, focused on the practical application of doctrine. There is much here to aid readers who have thought in the past that theology was too complicated, uninteresting, or irrelevant. This book is none of those things. It takes off on wings of eagles. It is so important today that believers understand and become committed to all that God's Word says. This book is a wonderful tool to help them do that."
John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

"I offer my unlimited limited endorsement of Doctrine. It's limited with respect to acknowledging that not everyone needs to agree with every point of doctrine outlined in the book in order to benefit from the fair-minded treatment that Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears give to each of the Christian doctrines examined. In areas where Christians are known to hold differing views, Driscoll and Breshears respectfully outline options before clearly stating their own beliefs. It's unlimited with respect to wholeheartedly embracing the clear ambition of the book. In an age when people, even Christians, place such high personal value on internal experience, we desperately need to look outside ourselves—to the doctrines of the Bible—to truly hear and receive the good news of Jesus Christ."
James H. Gilmore, author, The Experience Economy and Authenticity

"Christianity is ineradicably doctrinal, and, contrary to popular instincts, doctrine unites, as Paul makes clear in Romans 16:17. The question for church leaders, therefore, is how to communicate Christian doctrine in a clear, faithful, and winsome way. It is therefore a pleasure to commend this book, an excellent primer in basic Christian teaching. It will serve as an introduction for new Christians, a refresher for church members, and a good text for Sunday school classes. Highly recommended."
Carl R. Trueman, Academic Dean and Vice President, Westminster Theological Seminary

Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and is the author of several books, including Vintage Jesus.

Gerry Breshears is professor of theology and chairman of the division of biblical and theological studies at Western Seminary.

Doctrine is from Crossway with 464 pages and sells for $21.99.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coming Soon from Crossway - The Bible Story Handbook

John Walton has made a lasting impression on me as a student of Scripture.  One thing he impressed upon me was that we shouldn't be reading the Old Testament to glean moral lessons from David, Abraham, Sarah, Esther etc.  The Old Testament is a revelation of God.  Here's how he explains it in his Genesis commentary:
"Solomon is not offered as a model of setting up an administration (1 Kings 2), Esther is not offered as a model for how to change government policy (Est. 4-7), David is not offered as a model for how to get out of a rough spot (1 Sam 21:10-15)--though each is successful and receives no condemnation for how they conduct themselves.  We must take our lead carefully from what can be determined to be the agenda of the text."  (692)
I know what you're thinking.  "But doesn't the New Testament do this very thing?"  Walton has an answer.
"The fact that the New Testament in  few places (e.g., 1 Cor. 10:6-13; Heb. 11) draws its teaching based on role models does not thereby offer a blanket approval for us to do the same.  We can readily accept the New Testament's interpretation of the role models, but our confidence as a result of recognizing their inspiration does not necessarily make their hermeneutic repeatable."  (ibid 694 n.56)
Now this will, no doubt, open a can of worms and could destine a whole lot of sermons for the trash can.  But I think Walton needs to be heard.  Coming this September from Crossway is a book that John and his wife, Kim, have put together called The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 150 Bible Stories from the Bible.  Here's the catalog description:
"How do Sunday school teachers lead children through the stories of Cain and Abel or Judas’s betrayal in a way that reflects the authority of Scripture? Sunday school curricula often glosses over difficult lessons or focuses too much on characters in Bible stories, neglecting God’s self-revelation in Scripture. John and Kim Walton have created this handbook for 175 150 [I found three different numbers in various places.  I think the 150 is correct.] Bible stories to assist teachers and parents in knowing what each story teaches and how to present it in a God-centered way."
"As they work their way through the Bible, the Waltons examine seven elements in each story: focus, theme, application, place in the Bible, interpretational issues, historical and cultural background, and age-group appropriateness. The Bible Story Handbook includes introductory articles on why we teach the Bible, right and wrong ways to use the Bible, and ends with a two-year teaching plan. Every parent and Sunday school teacher will find this unique resource to be invaluable in teaching children to know and love God."
This may be a book primarily for Sunday school teachers but I think there is something here for all of us to learn from.  The Bible Story Handbook will have 352 pages and sell for $21.99. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Store Now - The Good News We Almost Forgot

I'm excited that we finally received Kevin DeYoung's newest book The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism.  Kevin has quickly become one of my favorite writers and I look forward to reading this since my knowledge of the Heidelberg Catechism is minimal.  Here's a couple of paragraphs from the introduction:
"I love the Heidelberg Catechism, not like I love my wife or I love the Bible, but in a deeper way than I love the Chicago Bears and a more eternal way than I love a good deep-dish pizza. 'Love' and 'Catechism' are not two words usually heard together, unless it's something like 'I love that my church doesn't make kids learn catechism anymore.'  Nevertheless, I freely confess I love the Heidelberg Catechism.  I love it because it's old, it's biblical, and it's true.  It's not perfect.  It's not infallible.  It says too little about some subjects and too much about some others.  But it is through and through trustworthy and beautiful, simple and deep.  Most of all I love the Heidelberg Catechism because I love the gospel it expounds and the salvation it proclaims."  (14)
"I have been privileged to have a few books published before this one.  And while I loved working on all of them and trust they all were of some help to the church, none of them warmed my soul and drew me closer to God like this one.  This book may not seem as timely and I doubt royalty sales will cause me to seek out tax-sheltered annuities, but that's not why Christians should write books anyway.  I wrote this book so that others might be drawn into the same gospel ocean that has refreshed me.  The gospel summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism is glorious, its Christ is gracious, its comfort is rich, its Spirit strong, its God sovereign, and its truth timeless.  You can meet Christ here, if you will simply come and see."  (18)
Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, across the street from Michigan State University. A graduate of Hope College and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, he serves on the executive team of RCA Integrity, a renewal group within the Reformed Church of America. DeYoung is coauthor of Why We're Not Emergent. He and his wife, Trisha, have four children.

The book is from Moody Publishers with 256 pages and sells for $14.99. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

What is the Future of Publishing?

I found this video at Michael Hyatt's blog (he's the CEO of Thomas Nelson).  You need to watch it all the way through to get the full impact. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Store Now - Revelation

Another commentary on Revelation?  Do we really need it?  Of course we could ask this of any commentary but on Revelation it is particularly important.  I did a couple of studies of Revelation years ago but was quickly discouraged by them when I saw they were nothing more than wildly subjective interpretations based on no evidence at all.  Even when I went to Moody and Trinity I avoided discussions of Revelation because I didn't want to get involved in useless discussions of the meaning of 666 or the 144,000.  I didn't realize there was a much saner approach available.  When I saw this new commentary by Joseph L. Mangina I wasn't sure what to expect.  First of all it is a "theological" commentary on the Bible.  My impression of the Brazos Theological Commentaries has been mixed.  Some of them I love while others have been a disappointment.  Such is the case with any series (although to date I've been very happy with the BECNT and Pillar series).  Anyway, I have been skimming this commentary and the more I skim the more I'm impressed with what I see.  This is one of those commentaries that I've put on my "read all the way through" list.  Here's a sample of why I'm so happy with this commentary. 
“Yet when all has been said, it must be admitted that these middle chapters [6-18] remain rough going. Revelation is disconcertingly unsentimental in its portrayal of both God and evil. Indeed, much of the therapeutic force of the Apocalypse may well be to purge us of some of our fantasies concerning God. Rowan Williams writes that if one such fantasy is that of God as the classic Freudian father, ‘an authority figure who could sort out all our problems, who is always there on hand to help us out of situations where we would otherwise have to take responsibility,’ the opposite danger might be that of ‘projecting on to God the characteristics of an idealized mother, always accepting and soothing.’ On the other hand, God the ultimate daddy, endowed with the magical power to make everything right; on the other hand, God the great mommy, accepting us ‘just the way we are.’ It should be evident that both fantasies are grounded in a mixture of fear, self-love and the seemingly infinite human capacity for self-deception."
"The genius of Revelation, we might say, is that it helps to purge us of these and other such fantasies concerning God. God is not whatever we would like him to be. God is God. He is the Creator and Pantokratōr glimpsed in the heavenly worship—power indeed, but not power at human disposal and control—and he is also the Lamb, slaughtered victim-as-victor. If the image of the all-powerful God should free us from our sentimentalism concerning God, the image of the Lamb of God should free us from our fear. If there is a hermeneutic for interpreting the violent passages in Revelation it can be only the cross. ‘How could it be said more clearly,’ writes Jacques Ellul with penetrating insight, ‘that all that is read afterward [i.e., in the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls], all these abominable things, are under the cover, under the signification, under the embrace of the love of the Lamb. And nowhere else. That all is situated in the cross of Jesus Christ, that these texts must not be read in themselves but only by relation to that love which sacrifices for those who hate it.’” (97)
And this,
“The wrath of the Lamb! This is indeed an unexpected twist. That the Father should be wrathful is not a totally unfamiliar idea, especially in the kind of theology where ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ stands between sinful humanity and the Father’s judgment. On this reading, Jesus is the purely passive and human victim who absorbs or deflects the Father’s anger. The problem with this view is the sharp tension it seems to posit between the divine anger and the divine love, as also between the persons of the Trinity. It is much better to say that the divine wrath is the form that God’s love assumes when it encounters resistance on the part of the creature; it is the divine ‘no’ to the plight of humanity in this ‘present evil age’; and so Christ appears on the same side as the Father, as equally the agent of God’s love and his judgment. Jesus Christ is the judge—what conviction could be more fundamental to the whole New Testament witness?—and therefore, inevitably and necessarily, the executor of the wrath and judgment of God.” (106)
This is "theological" commentary at its best.  Do we need another commentary on Revelation?  When they're this well written and with such depth I have to say yes.  Revelation is from Brazos Press with 288 pages and sells for $29.99. 

Joseph Mangina, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, has taught at Wycliffe since 1998. Born and raised in New Jersey, he began his theological studies at Yale Divinity School. Two years of church work in the divided city of Berlin were followed by a return to Yale, where he completed a Ph.D. in systematic theology in 1994. His theological interests run the gamut from ecclesiology, biblical interpretation, Christianity and culture, to ecumenical theology. He serves on the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue commission for Canada.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Get a Free Copy of the Common English Bible New Testament

Jeff from the Scripture Zealot is keeping me busy with some very helpful links.  The Common English Bible New Testament is due out this fall and the entire Bible will be out in 2011.  You can request a free copy of the New Testament by going here.  You can see a PDF of Matthew here.  Here's just a bit of info from their website:
About the Common English Bible
The Common English Bible is not simply a revision or update of an existing translation. It is a bold new translation designed to meet the needs of today’s Christians as they work to build a strong and meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
A key goal of the CEB translation team is to make the Bible accessible to a broad range of people; it’s written at a comfortable level for over half of all English readers. As the translators do their work, reading specialists from more than a dozen denominations review the texts to ensure a smooth and natural reading experience. Easy readability can enhance church worship and participation, and personal Bible study. It also encourages children and youth to discover the Bible for themselves, perhaps for the very first time.
Who Is It For?
The Common English Bible is committed to the whole church of Jesus Christ. To achieve this, the CEB represents the work of a diverse team with broad scholarship, including the work of over one hundred and fifteen scholars—men and women from twenty-two faith traditions in American, African, Asian, European and Latino communities. As a result, the English translation of ancient words has an uncommon relevance for a broad audience of Bible readers—from children to scholars.
The CEB will be at a 7th grade reading level with most books scoring at a 6th grade reading level.  "The CEB is sponsored and endorsed by the Common English Bible Committee, which is an alliance of mainstream Protestant denominational publishers, including Presbyterian (USA), Episcopalian, United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, and United Church of Christ representatives."

Great Article by Mark Galli and a Forthcoming Book by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett

Readers of this blog know how much I appreciate Mark Galli.  His latest article in Christianity Today is superb.  Here's the opening paragraphs:
"In a therapeutic culture in which psychology is the lingua franca, it's easy to inadvertently subvert the gospel, to imagine we're talking about the gospel when we're really talking about the anti-gospel.
A few months ago when I was traveling, I attended a local church that was 'the' evangelical church in that suburb. The text for the day was the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). The preacher began by reminding us of the context—the search of a shepherd for a valuable sheep; the search of a woman for a valuable coin. We were then told that the father in the parable, when he saw his wayward son far off, did not see someone who was selfish or a loser. Instead, through all the junk, he saw something valuable: a son. The sermon concluded with a reminder that God gives us the ability to see the treasure, the value in everyone we meet.
I am one with this preacher's motives and aims. But in his desire to proclaim the magnificent love of God, he inadvertently fell into language that actually proclaims bad news—all this talk of the intrinsic value in the object of love. This preacher did not go so far as to say it, but I've heard the following in sermons and read it in books by respectable evangelicals: 'You are unique and valuable. You were worth so much to God that he was willing to die to redeem you, so you could be in his family.' And this: 'We are worth the price God paid for us, the death of his Son.'
But of course this gets it exactly backwards. Unfortunately, in an attempt to convey the radical love of God, such well meaning Christians actually sabotage it.
For if we have some measure of intrinsic value to God, a number of things follow: First, it is our value, and not God's love, that forces God's hand. He looks at us and sees something of value, and being a reasonable fellow—one who knows and appreciates things of value—he pretty much has to redeem us. The love of God is not given freely in mercy to the undeserving, but instead to the deserving—because, after all, we are of infinite worth! God would be a poor judge of character if he did not choose to die for us."
The article is well worth reading:  Love Needs No Reason

In the current issue of Christianity Today we have an excerpt from a forthcoming book by J. I. Packer and Gary A. Parrett, Grounded in the Gospel.  In this important book Packer and Parrett argue for recovering the time-tested practice of catechesis. 

Here's what they say is the problem with Sunday School:
"Today, however, things are quite different, and that for a host of reasons. The church in the West has largely abandoned serious catechesis as a normative practice. Among the more surprising of the factors that have contributed to this decline are the unintended consequences of the great Sunday school movement. This lay-driven phenomenon swept across North America in the 1800s and came to dominate educational efforts in most evangelical churches through the 20th century. It effectively replaced pastor-catechists with relatively untrained lay workers, and substituted an instilling of familiarity (or shall we say, perhaps, over-familiarity) with Bible stories for any form of grounding in the basic beliefs, practices, and ethics of the faith.
Thus, for most contemporary evangelicals the entire idea of catechesis is largely an alien concept. The very word itself—catechesis, or any of its associated terms, including catechism—is greeted with suspicion by most evangelicals today. ('Wait, isn't that a Roman Catholic thing?')
We are persuaded that Calvin had it right and that we are already seeing the sad, even tragic, consequences of allowing the church to continue uncatechized in any significant sense. We are persuaded, further, that something can and must be done to help the Protestant churches steer a wiser course. What we are after, to put it otherwise, is to encourage our fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the wisdom of building believers the old-fashioned way." (emphasis theirs)
The book should be out next month.  It is from Baker Books with 240 pages and will sell for $16.99.

Friday, March 19, 2010

My First Father Daughter Banquet

I attended my first father daughter banquet last night.  I was a bit apprehensive at first but I'm not sure why.  Maybe it was the prospect of getting dressed up.  I had a wonderful time spending the evening with my two beautiful daughters, Sarah 17 and Bethany 10 1/2.  I have to add the "half" because that's important at this time.  The evening was hosted by one of our local Christian radio stations (WCSG 91.3) and Baker Book House was one of the sponsors of the event.  We enjoyed a concert from artist Meredith Andrews.  Bethany was excited about seeing her and was doubly excited about getting her autograph on a CD.  Sarah decided on a cool T-shirt.  I'm already planning on going next year.  The tickets go fast and both nights this year sold out early.  If you're a dad and have an opportunity to go I would highly encourage it.  You won't be disappointed.

Sarah, me, Bethany

We enjoyed a front row table.

Your Church is Too Small - A Blog Tour Review

It's an honor to be a part of this blog tour hosted by Zondervan on John Armstrong's new book Your Church is Too Small.  Thanks to Zondervan for the advanced reading copy. 

When I was at Trinity I had the pleasure of having Carl Henry for a class. One day he told us that we need to think in terms which will “move Christendom.” I thought “I’ll put that on my calendar. ‘Take final exam in Henry’s class. Move Christendom.’” Well, I passed the final exam but have not done anything that I would consider worthy enough of moving Christendom.

As I was reading John Armstrong’s book, Your Church is Too Small, it occurred to me “This guy is thinking in terms which could move Christendom!” But let’s clarify one important point: this book is not about growing church membership. John has a bigger vision than simply transforming a small church into a mega church. No. Your church is not simply the little white church with a steeple on Little Church Ave. It is part of the church which Christ prayed for in John 17 and spans the globe. This church includes Catholics, Evangelicals, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostals, Reformed, Wesleyans and more. We begin with Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23.

John notes that some have focused on what the prayer does not mean rather than on what it does mean. (42) When pressed they usually adopt an interpretation which appeals to something along the lines of the invisible church. But this can’t work since Jesus would be praying for something we already possess. The invisible church is united! Rather, Jesus is speaking of a “relational unity” or a “unity between persons that is rooted in their relationships with one another.” (43) I think John is supported here by Paul in Romans 15:5 where he prays that God will give to them “the same attitude of mind toward each other that Jesus had.” Doug Moo observes in his commentary “Paul’s concern is not, at least primarily, that the believers in Rome all hold the same opinion of these ‘matters indifferent’; but that they remain united in their devotion to the Lord Jesus and to his service in the world.” (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 871) It is this very unity which John says has been undermined by divisions and fractions in the church. “We must” he says “cultivate a holy discontent about our unholy divisions.” (63) At the root of these divisions is sectarianism. He defines sectarianism as “mutual exclusivity, an exclusivity that thrives when people and groups believe they have a superior claim to truth. Sectarians believe their church/denomination/tradition can best ‘represent the body of Christ, to the exclusion or minimization of other genuinely Christian groups.” (92) It is here I think John shows some careful thinking because he reminds us often that we should not give up what makes us distinctive. “I agree that everyone should believe that the church they embrace is the ‘right’ one. Problems often arise, though, when Christians and churches believe that their brand of Christianity is entirely right—a way of thinking rooted in the notion that I am one who believes the truth and you believe a lie.” (93) There is a tightrope which John walks and he keeps his readers aware of the dangers of going to either extreme. One example of the extremes to be avoided are between uniformity and deviance. “When uniformity goes too far, we oppress and suppress those who disagree with us; when deviance goes too far, we allow almost anything that our age deems appropriate. Unity in Christ and the truth must be our pattern.” (138) This is a big dream and John knows it will take work. He says, “I am sure on one thing: idealistic dreams of unity will not bring about unity itself.” (89)

The pattern for our unity is also seen in the Trinity. In the Trinity we see three persons in perfect union and harmony. But we are fragmented and divided. The solution John says “is for Christians to first cultivate a love for catholicity and then prayerfully reach across our divisions, challenging each other to embrace the mission of Christ together.” (104) We have to stop thinking of ourselves as simply Methodists or Baptists or Lutherans. Together we are the people of God. We could say the Methodists, Baptists and Lutherans (and others but you get the point) of Grand Rapids are the Church at Grand Rapids. (See the chart on page 109.) There is much more that ties us together than divides us. John cites the Apostle’s creed as a prime example of something which unifies us. “We find no other document in early church history, apart from the Bible, that served a greater purpose in uniting Christians in their common faith. The creed was confessed in one’s baptism, affirmed regularly by the whole gathered church, and openly used to express the kind of essential Christianity that united believers.” (78)

John’s term of preference is missional-ecumenism. The back of the book contains a helpful glossary and there we find this definition of missional-ecumenism: “I wish to stress these two truths: (1) God is both a unity in himself and as such a sending God, and (2) God’s revealed desire is that we would be (relationally) one with him in this sending and sent (mission) process—thus the term missional-ecumenism.” (203)

I resonate with a lot of what John says. His early start on this path was triggered by meeting Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Slowly his defenses came down and he realized his fears were “negatively impacting his spiritual life and bringing with it deep anxiety.” (31) Eventually he “discovered a wonderful liberty in letting go of the need to always be right!” (39) In my job here at Baker on the Church Relations Team I’ve been to dozens of wonderful churches. I’ve met Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, and plenty of Reformed folk who I’ve learned so much from and value all their friendships. John says that he still has some “misgivings about parts of the ecumenical movement.” (170) He does not elaborate much on this point. (I suppose too much of that would be counter to his intent.) I have some concerns of my own as I read the book. I’ll simply enumerate them here.

1) How is the gospel defined in an ecumenically acceptable way? John mentions the problem of the “gospel wars” which are “accompanied by huge debates, conferences, and books.” (161) But, he says, “When we reduce the gospel to manageable ideas, we demonize other Christians who do not preach the gospel as we do. A favorite text can be Galatians 1:6-9, where Paul warns about false gospels. (Rarely do those who use this text pay careful attention to the context or its social setting; instead it becomes another proof text for attacking Christians!)” (162) John says he used to engage in these kinds of debates and that it was “not totally wrong.” He says we need truth and “without truth there is no real Christianity.” (162) “But,” he says “I am now firmly convinced that without a serious commitment to missional-ecumenism, we will never get the proper balance needed for modern reformation.” (162) What does it mean to have a gospel that is not a “manageable idea?” To me a manageable idea is something that I can adequately understand enough to clearly communicate it to someone else. Clearly, this is not what John is talking about. Perhaps he has in mind that the gospel is not something which I can wield at whim or use for my own purposes (for fame or fortune?). I would certainly agree with that. But he ends this discussion with no clear definition of what the gospel is. The huge debates, conferences and books exist because people disagree about what that message is and I’m not ready to say it is all just pointless debate.

2) Questions on defining a Christian. By asking this question I open myself to being charged with being sectarian. I say this because John says when he “held tenaciously to sectarianism” he would wrestle with this question. (146) Can someone wrestle with this question and not be sectarian? I hope so because I’m wrestling with some of what John said and I don’t mean to be narrow-minded or parochial. I agree that a Christian has the Spirit of Christ. On that we agree. But why do we stop with Romans 8:9? He says he gave up asking the question because he doesn’t know who has the Spirit and who doesn’t. From here he was free to be more concerned with his own faith and attitudes. (149) He says the role of judging who is a real Christian or not is a church matter and not a private one. (150) It is a “type of ministry . . . done well by wise leaders who earnestly labor in such demanding work (see Matthew 7:1-6).” (150) But the appeal to Matthew 7 seems to indicate that there is a certain observable behavior which these wise leaders may use in their judgment. Is it only the ever-judging Christian who sits in judgment of a professing believer who shows not fruit in their life or can’t it be a sign of love, care and compassion which moves a brother or sister who is deeply troubled by what may be a self-deluded person and therefore confronts (with the appropriate grace and humility which is so often missing) the contradiction in that person's life?

3) I appreciate the appeal to the early creeds as a way of emphasizing our unity. But creeds arose not only as a formulation of what we believe but also in response to heresy. How far back and which creeds do we accept as “ecumenical?” The Reformed church does not accept all of the seven ecumenical councils in part due to some of the rulings on icons.

I don’t mean for my questions to take away from the good I see in what John is arguing for. Perhaps it is the latent sectarian in me. I would like to think it’s just some honest questions.  The book is full of sound wisdom and I often found my questions were answered as I kept reading.  There are numerous charts which help clarify parts of John's argument.  Some I found extemely helpful such as "The Dangers of Losing the Catholicity of Denominationalism" on page 142  Others I found less helpful and problematic such as "Comparison of Attractional and Incarnational Approaches" on p. 176.  John is well aware of the mine fields that surround a position like his but he shows courage in his move forward.  Indeed, he's not afraid to caution his readers with words as if from a returning troop from the front lines: "Those who recognize God's desire for unity and begin to obey his commands will also need to learn how to forgive others, since every effort at unity involves misunderstandings among sinful people.  You are guaranteed to get hurt!  We simply cannot undertake this kind of praying and teaching without the Holy Spirit's grace and power."  (83) 

We created an ecumenical calendar that we sell in the store which features the church calendar with significant dates of importance to Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Messianic Jews. We did this to foster within our church relations team an appreciation for the larger church of which we are part. I can say that those of us who worked on this learned a lot and we developed valuable relationships with members of each of those communities as we put it together. I pray that John’s work and vision will grow. We may be witnesses to a move in Christendom. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sneak Peak at the HCSB Study Bible

You can get a sneak preview of sixteen pages of the forthcoming HCSB Study Bible which is due out this October.  My thanks to Jeff from the Scripture Zealot for providing the link who, in turn, found it at Anwoth who offers some of his initial observations.  Ah, the internet.  Here are some of my observations:

1) It’s full color. Zondervan’s Archeological Study Bible is the father of the full color study Bibles (The old Rainbow Bible is no comparison). The real test will be in the transparency. As much as I love the Archeological Study Bible often times the color pictures show through and become very distracting. Color maps also appear on the same page as the text. The same is done in the ESV Study Bible. Very helpful and extremely attractive.

2) It’s not red letter. I’ll have customers jump for joy and others who will complain. My guess is they will have a selection of both. But while the text is black the verse numbers are blue and the chapter and paragraph headings are brown/tan (?). This includes the cross references and the numbers at the bottom of the page beside the notes. I suspect this will be across the board in all editions which is unfortunate because there will be some who don’t like the extra color in the text since having a little blue number in the middle of a sentence will be a distraction for reading.

3) Word Studies. There are blocked off segments which offer a closer look at a particular word. They provide the Greek pronunciation, the HCSB translation, the number of uses in that particular book and the number of uses in the NT. It then gives a paragraph or so on the meaning of the word.

4) Essays. I’m not sure how many there will be but the sample shows one by Robert Stein on the “Differences in the Gospels.” If this is an indicator of the quality of the other essays we will not be disappointed.

5) Notes. Here’s where the real test comes with any study Bible. Sixteen pages is not much to judge by but I liked what I saw. I won’t be surprised by a theological bias since every study Bible has some bias to it. For the record I don’t know of a study Bible that has “just the facts” with no “man’s opinion.” I have had customers ask me for it. One test for me is how much the notes overlap with other study Bibles. After a while they start to repeat each other but with varying expressions. To some extent this should be expected.

Here’s one note I found interesting on Matthew 3:1 which reads “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Wilderness of Judea.” To understand the note better you should know “Archelaus” is mentioned in 2:22 (“But when he [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea . . .”

"In those days means “during the time of Jesus’ residence in Nazareth” rather than “during the reign of Archelaus.” After all, Archelaus reigned from 4 b.c. to a.d. 6, too early for John the Baptist to have begun his ministry since he would have been under age 12. In OT usage, “in those days” often referred to a time of prophetic fulfillment (Zph 1:15; Am 9:11; Zch 12:3-4; Is 10:20). Matthew probably used the phrase in conjunction with his references to fulfilled prophecy to emphasize that God’s promises were being fulfilled through Jesus and John the Baptist, herald and predecessor of Messiah. The location of John’s ministry (Wilderness of Judea) is reminiscent of the ministry of the prophet Elijah (1 Kg 17:3; 19:3-18; 2 Kg 2:1-12), whom many Jews believed would appear again to prepare the way for Messiah (Mt 17:10-13). Josephus described John’s ministry in a way that closely matches the gospel accounts (Ant. 18.114-119)."
The Bible is due out this October. As I get more information on it I’ll pass it along.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

In Store Now - Introducing the New Testament

How do you get 781 pages of material into 176 pages?  Ask Andy NaselliIntroducing the New Testament: A Short Guide to its History and Message is new from Zondervan and is a condensation of the larger work by D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo An Introduction to the New Testament

This is an impressive work.  If I were doing this I wouldn't know where to begin.  It's important to know this is not just a cut and paste of the larger work.  Andy did considerable rewriting of much of the material.  But he still managed to retain a lot of the meat of the book.  There are even a couple of extra features which make this even more appealing.  Each chapter ends with the question "What Does _____ Contribute to Our Understanding of the Faith?"  There are questions for review and discussion which make it handy for small group studies.  And each chapter also includes a section of "Recommended Resources" which is broken down into three parts: Introductory, Intermediate and Advanced.  The discussion of the "New Perspective" is a model of clarity and involves a mere four pages.  The danger in any kind of condensation is that critical details are omitted or brushed over in a facile manner.  But that's why this is a simple introduction.  It's meant to get your feet wet not to bathe in.  (There's always more to be said on almost everything.  Even the preface to the larger edition says the following of itself: "Although the brevity of this volume precludes detailed discussion of many topics we would have like to pursue, we hope the constraints we have chosen will enhance its value. emphasis mine)  But Andy shows he knows where a little more discussion is required.  The authorship of 1 & 2 Corinthians is treated with one sentence: "Paul is identified as the author in the opening verses of both letters, and few have contested the claim."  (90)  But when it comes to the authorship of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus we have an acknowledgment that "most modern critical scholars hold that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudonymous, that is, the author is not Paul but someone addressing the people of his own day with what he thought Paul would have said to them."  (123)  Then he surveys five arguments offered against Pauline authorship and provides a brief response to each one.  Each book is laid out with a similar outline.  I'll use Luke as an example:

A.  What is Luke about?
B.  Who wrote Luke?
C.  Where was Luke written?
D.  When was Luke written?
E.  To whom was Luke written?
F.  Why was Luke written?
G.  How does Luke Compare with Matthew and Mark?
H.  What is the relationship between Luke and Acts?
I.  What does Luke contribute to our understanding of the faith?

All of the books have questions A - F and I.  Other books have questions unique to them.  In Mark we have "Is Mark 16:9-20 Authentic?" In Acts we have "What Style of Literature is Acts?"  In 1 & 2 Corinthians we have "How Do the Historical Puzzle Pieces Fit Together?" which addresses the Corinthian correspondence. 

This is a fine book which would do well for church libraries or small group leaders.  New believers or high school students just starting a study of the New Testament could also benefit from this volume.  This was no small task to accomplish but kudos to Andy on a job well done.  Oh, and it's only $12.99. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Just for Laughs!

I was delighted to see John Walton this past Friday even if we only had 10 minutes to talk.  I'm very excited about a couple of projects he's working on one of which is the Job commentary for the NIV Application Commentary series.  This video has been out for a while but if you haven't seen it I think you'll enjoy it.  It shows his marvelous sense of humor. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Unlearning Protestantism - First Impressions

Why is a good Protestant boy like me reading a book called Unlearning Protestantism: Sustaining Christian Community in an Unstable Age?  When I first heard about it at sales conference I was assured that the author, Gerald W. Schlabach, was not attempting to convert Protestants to Catholicism.  Sure enough here's how the book starts:
"This book is not about encouraging people to abandon Protestant churches.  It is not a pamphlet to persuade Protestants to become Roman Catholic.  Rather it is about virtues that all Christian communities need to sustain their communal lives, whatever their ecclesial location."  (9)
As I read through the first chapter statements like this kept my attention and made me want to read on:
"What all of us need are the practices and virtues that make it possible to reform, protest, and even dissent out of love for one's Christian community--even while sustaining a doggedly loyal commitment to 'hang in there' with those among whom we disagree." (32, emphasis his) 
And, coming off the heels of McLaren it was refreshing to read these words:
"It is one thing to say that every human institution and tradition must be continually vulnerable to prophetic critique and correction.  It is another thing to hold all tradition suspect as a matter of principle.  A church then must either face the unstable prospect of perpetually starting over or pass along its convictions through traditions that go covertly by some other name."  (35) 
I like what I've read so far and look forward to what's ahead.  See also the recent starred review in Publishers WeeklyUnlearning Protestantism is from Brazos Press.  It has 288 pages and sells for $28.99.

Gerald W. Schlabach (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is professor of theology and director of the Justice and Peace Studies program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the founder and director of Bridgefolk, a movement of Mennonites and Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other's traditions, explore each other's practices, and honor each other's contribution to the mission of Christ's church.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

This is the opening prayer for today from the devotional I'm following.  It comes from Jerome. 
"Show me, O Lord, your mercy, and delight my heart with it.  Let me find you whom I longingly seek.  See, here is the man whom the robbers seized, mishandled and left half dead on the road to Jericho.  O kind-hearted Samaritan, come to my aid!  I am the sheep who wandered into the wilderness--seek after me, and bring me home again to your fold.  Do with me what you will, that I may stay by you all the days of my life and praise you with all those who are with you in heaven for all eternity."

Jerome in his study. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Store Now - Scandalous

This week has been unusually busy at the store in part because we have a major sale this weekend and I have a book table to host at a local Church Ministries Conference.  But I wanted to let you know that we received our copies of D. A. Carson's newest book Scandalous.  I know some of you have been anxiously waiting for this and I told you I would let you know as soon as they were in.  Warning: I did take most of them with me to the book table but there are still copies at the store.  If we do run out I'll have whatever didn't sell at the book table back on Monday but I think we should have enough for everyone.  I did start reading it last night in between the conference sessions and I like it (It's like a big piece of cherry pie!).  I'll give you more information when I have a little more time. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Brian McLaren - It's Hot in the Kitchen

While I may have stopped reading McLaren others haven't and some of the criticism is white hot.  Consider these words from Tim Challies:
"It wasn't too long ago that I wrote about Brian McLaren and got in trouble. Reflecting on seeing him speak at a nearby church, I suggested that he appears to love Jesus but hate God. Based on immediate and furious reaction, I quickly retracted that statement. I should not have done so. I believed it then and I believe it now. And if it was true then, how much more true is it upon the release of his latest tome A New Kind of Christianity. In this book we finally see where McLaren's journey has taken him; it has taken him into outright, rank, unapologetic apostasy. He hates God. Period."
And again,
"McLaren says he would prefer atheism over belief in the God so many of us see in Scripture. Well, he is not far off. This new kind of Extreme Makeover: God Edition Christianity is no Christianity at all. It is not a faith made in the image of Jesus Christ, but a faith made in the image of a man who despises God and who is hell-bent on dragging others along with him as he becomes his own god."
The responses to Challies are mostly positive (which is to be expected given that they are from like-minded readers) but there are some serious comments which push back.  Much less pejorative but just as insightful is this review from Bill Kinnon.  McLaren did respond to Kinnon which I found interesting.  In the response McLaren says he "enthusiastically affirm[s] the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Yes, I'm a wholehearted Trinitarian."  He also says on the issue of the physical resurrection of Jesus he sides with N. T. Wright rather than Marcus Borg.  I'm encouraged by these admissions but I can't help but wonder if McLaren will still think this way 5 years from now.  He has already gone so far and more than one person has spoken of the "trajectory" they see working in him.  Is it just a matter of time before he merely wants to start "asking questions" about the Trinity?  Perhaps with a little more prodding he'll start to wonder if the bodily resurrection of Jesus is really all that important.  In his response to Kinnon he says "I repeatedly say that I'm trying to create space for conversation on important questions, not offering the final answers. I say again and again we're on a quest. I also repeatedly affirm that the ten questions I deal with are just a beginning."  Therein lays the problem.  An enthusiastic Trinitarian today can become the enlightened Unitarian tomorrow if that's where the quest leads him.  That's not a quest I care to join.      

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why I Stopped Reading Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity

I've decided to stop reading Brian McLaren's book A New Kind of Christianity.  The reason would be obvious if asked why I stopped eating onions and switched to cherry pie.  My reasons are as follows:

1)  I've read enough of it to see that the reviews I've read of it were substantially correct.  Mike Wittmer, Scot McKnight and Kevin DeYoung are spot on in their critiques.  From what I read I saw no serious misrepresentations. 

2)  I have a growing number of books vying for my attention and some are too tempting to put off any longer.  Among these is the book I'm reading now in preparation for a blog tour next week on Your Church is Too Small.  I'm also happily skimming Peter O'Brien's new commentary on Hebrews.  And with reviews like this of the Pillar series it's even harder to refrain any longer. I'm also well into N. T. Wright's newest book After You Believe.  (So at least HarperOne still has my attention with one of their books.)   

3)  My time is too valuable to continue reading something with which I have such significant disagreements.  With all due respect to McLaren he will have to wait till another time. 

4) There is a tone to McLaren that quickly pushes all the wrong buttons in me.  This causes me to react with more emotion than reason and at that point I know it's time to put it down. 

So for now I'm giving up on the onions and eating some cherry pie.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Favorite Retail Stories - 1 "How Much Did You Say?"

Working in retail can be a lot of fun. That may sound odd to many of you but I really do love my job. I thought I would share some of my favorite experiences with you so you could see what I like about it. I’ll also be asking some of my co-workers for some of their highlights.

One of my favorite stories comes from a few years back. A couple of gentlemen came in and said they wanted to buy a substantial number of books and were interested in what kind of discount I could provide. I said let’s see what you get and we’ll work from there. They spent a few hours shopping and filled up a cart full of books. Since they had to leave they asked if I would tally the total and have it ready for them the next day.

When they arrived the next day I told them that with a generous discount their total came to just under $5,000.00. The gentlemen looked at his friend and said, “This isn’t good.” I said, “I assure you I’ve given you the best discount I can.” He responded, “No, you don’t understand. We have $20,000.00 to spend.” “Oh!” I declared, “I think we can fix that.” He asked for a Baker Academic catalog and after going through it a few minutes said “Just give me one of everything.” He then proceeded to fill up a couple of other carts. By the time we were done the total came to right around $18,000.00. What he didn’t tell me in the beginning was that he was buying for a seminary located in South America. As he wrote the check I thought this is where I find out this is all a scam and the check will bounce. But it didn’t. The check cleared and the books were sent to South America. This wasn’t the first time Baker has had overseas seminaries make purchases but it was my first experience with it. We’ve also had customers bring in a missionary and tell them “Get what you need. It’s on me.” This is such a delight to see. Most missionaries are operating on a shoe string budget and to witness this kind of generosity does the heart good.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Michael Brown on Tyra Banks

I don't watch the Tyra Banks show since I'm usually at work during her show.  Even on the occasional weekday when I'm off (like today) I don't watch it.  But I was alerted to this from Michael Brown's ministry.  Apparently, Brown was asked to be on the Tyra Banks show to discuss the issue of transgendered children.  If you watch the segment from the show you'll see Brown doesn't have much of an opportunity to speak since he is often interrupted.  He did, however, provide a short response later which you'll find below.  I found it interesting that at about 4:50 he mentions a study of London taxi drivers which showed that the spatial reasoning part of their brain was larger than the average person.  This was particularly interesting because N. T. Wright mentions this same study in his new book After You Believe. (38 See here for the link Wright provides.)  Wright isn't talking about transgendered children but both men cite the study as evidence that our brains are changed or re-wired based on our behavior. This reminded me of another book just out called Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain which, though I've not read it, I think probably argues along similar lines concerning the effect of pornography on the brain.  I find the whole subject fascinating.  The incident with Brown on the Tyra show only shows once again how even when the media finds an intelligent person of faith to speak they really don't give him any time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

In Store Now - An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit

I've not featured many titles from Baker's Charismatic imprint Chosen.  More often than not this is simply because I've got so much else on my plate I don't have time to read many of their titles and I'm not as familiar with many of the authors.  I did spend a couple of years in the charismatic movement in the late 70's.  At the time my favorite author was Derek Prince who is still enjoying newly published works in spite of his death in 2003.  This is made possible because of his long-running radio broadcast.  Many of those broadcasts are being translated into a print medium.  But today I want to tell you about a new book we just got in last week. 

Vinson Synan is a professor of church history and dean emeritus of the School of Divinity, Regent University. His most recent book, An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit, is a combination of history and personal memoir of the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement in America.  Synan starts, as expected, with the Azusa Street revivals.  No, he wasn't an eyewitness to it but it was only proper for him to start with the acknowledged beginning of the contemporary Pentecostal movement and Synan says he's every bit "a child of Azusa Street" (24).  Synan's father preached with Oral Roberts in 1948 and he still has vivid memories of those early days of camp meetings.  In those days he says the churches he attended would be more aptly described as "Wesleyan-Holiness" rather than Pentecostal.  It is fascinating to read of his first-hand account of Oral Roberts in the "Tent Cathedral" in 1949.  As I read through the book names jumped off the page like old friends: Demos Shakarian, Chuck Smith, Dave Wilkerson, David du Plessis, Dennis Bennett, Ralph Wilkerson, J. Rodman Williams, Larry Christenson, Harold Bredesen, Don Basham, Peter Wagner, Bob Mumford, John Wimber and, of course, Derek Prince.  Some of these names were more familiar than others but all of them brought back some kind of memory.

Synan covers a number of issues that have dotted the history of the movement such as the Jesus movement, the "Fort Lauderdale Five," the "Latter Rain," the "Third Wave," the Vinyard movement and the Toronto, Brownsville and Lakeland Revivals.  During the time I was in the charismatics the "Shepherding movement" was the controversy of the day. I remember it well.  Synan does not shy away from the controversies and debates that sometimes fragmented Pentecostals into undesired factions.  He devotes a chapter to the prosperity gospel (chapter 7).  He does acknowledge that some teachers have abused the doctrine (most notably Robert Tilton and Gene Ewing p. 124).  But he says that "as I matured and ministered as a pastor, college professor and national leader, I came to know many of the prosperity teachers and some became close personal friends.  I was torn by what I heard from other friends who strongly opposed the prosperity gospel and what I saw and heard from friends who promoted the prosperity message."  (114)  The chapter goes on to provide a defense/context for the prosperity gospel.  The chapter does not quite reach the level of an apologetic but he does try to show some of the benefits that this message has provided especially in third world countries.  Pentecostals will find much encouragement here.  Synan says the effect of this teaching has had a huge impact in raising families from low level incomes into a healthier middle class and this is a good thing.  He concludes the chapter with "[i]n my opinion, the offer of salvation, holiness, healing and Pentecostal power is still the best cure for both spiritual and material poverty."  (126)  I remain less than convinced. 

I was surprised in his recounting of the Brownsville revivals he didn't mention the interaction between Michael Brown and Hank Hanegraaf (see here for one example).  My guess is since he did not have a personal involvement in the discussion it would be better left untouched.  Speaking of personal involvement, Synan recounts one of his visits to Toronto to see first-hand what the revival was all about.  At one of the services he says he saw "a man laying on his back behind the pulpit.  He was twitching and laughing.  Later, he came and sat beside me.  I looked up and recognized him as Clark Pinnock, the famous evangelical scholar.  This was indeed surprising to me."  (162)  The book is full of anecdotes like these which give it a warm and personal feeling to what could have been a dry history.  I wish there had been some pictures. 

This is a fun book.  Charismatics and Pentecostals will enjoy reading such a first-hand account of much of their history.  Those outside those circles will learn much about their brothers and sisters and, I believe, help them understand them and their history a little better.  It is a hardcover with 224 pages and sells for $17.99.