Barry Wolfer

About Barry Wolfer

Barry's Blog
Hailing from the great, and they mean Great, Pacific Northwest, Barry currently resides in Korea with his wife and son. He teaches middle and high school Bible at a Christian school and enjoys air gardening in his meager spare time. Having graduated from Western Seminary (Portland, OR), he hangs his gently used theology degree between the pickaxe and shovel in his air-gardening tool shed. Air gardening: it’s what Pacific Northwesterners do when they live in Asia and can’t have a real garden.



Apologetics at the Cross Book Review

Apologetics at the Cross Book Review

Apologetics at the Cross

by Joshua D. Chatraw, Mark D. Allen
Length: Approximately 15 hours. To read (318 pages).
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Meshing the what and how of apologetics, Apologetics at the Cross is a guidebook on how to witness Christ in a late-modern world. Effective witnesses will vary their approach based on the context, and Apologetics at the Cross helps a Christian understand how.

Who should read this?

Christians who want to understand how to more effectively witness Jesus in an increasingly Godless society.

Apologetics at the Cross Book Review 1

SUMMARY

It seems that most Christian apologetics books focus on either the method of doing apologetics or the construction of a logical apologetic argument. These approaches are helpful, but one downside is the tendency for authors to dwell on minutiae that is either quickly forgotten or suddenly seems superfluous in a real conversation.

Messrs. Chatraw and Allen, in Apologetics at the Cross, have created a unique approach to a book on Christian apologetics by combining methods of apologetics as well as arguments. While they don’t spend a lot of time focusing on logical arguments, a person who is interested in learning more about apologetic arguments can find many helpful books available.

So what is apologetics at the cross? In short, it is the crossroads of the what and how of apologetics, but it also is the cross-bearing apologist’s character and demeanor as he or she witnesses Christ to those around. And finally, it is the centrality of the message of the cross – without which no apologetic message is complete.

Apologetics at the Cross is arranged in four main parts: the Biblical base, the historical base, the theological/philosophical base, and a practical application section.  

Chapters 1-2 describe the Biblical base for apologetics, including 15 ways the Bible ‘does’ apologetics and showing how Bible speakers tailored their approach to the audience. The next two chapters form the historical base by showing a couple dozen more apologetic arguments or ways of doing apologetics down through the ages.

The middle part of the book is the theological/philosophical base, and this is the real meat of the book. Guiding us through making sense of different apologetic approaches the authors repeatedly appeal to Christians having a cruciform, or cross-shaped, life. The biggest apologetic witness, they argue, is the transformed life of a Christian.

When neighbors see Christ at work in you, that’s when eyes are opened to the power of the cross. Yes, words are important, but it makes no matter to win arguments if a non-believer walks away even more calloused.

The authors also argue that apologists (all Christians) ought to prepare a variety of defenses. One non-believer may be challenged by a logical argument, whereas another will be won over by an experiential argument. Having a variety of apologetic tools handy aids greatly in apologetic conversations.

The final section of the book focuses on practical matters. Primary of these matters is how to engage non-believers in apologetic conversations in a culture that espouses relative truth. If we can’t argue truth statements, then what can we ‘argue’? These chapters are of great importance in this day and age, and a great addition to the book.

In the waning pages of Apologetics at the Cross, common defeaters (common arguments opposing the truth of Christianity) are dealt with, as well as helpful questions to ask skeptical late (post)-moderns to get them to think or shake them out of their pat answers.

In summary, a few wisdom-nuggets are bullet-pointed below:

  • The goal of apologetics must be the cross.
  • Instead of dividing into apologetic camps we ought to be united in love.
  • Use different methods and approaches based on the person with whom you are speaking.
  • Apologetics is to be cooperative with the Holy Spirit.
  • Apologetics is crucial in evangelizing.
  • A transformed life is a powerful witness.
  • Apologetic arguments work only as well as the Holy Spirit allows, meaning, you can make great apologetic arguments, but if a person isn’t open to God then those arguments are easily avoided (think, a person plugging their ears and saying, “Nananananana – I can’t hear you”).
  • There is no ‘absolute proof’ for the existence of God – belief in God is, well, belief.
  • Conversion happens in community, never in isolation.
  • Work from the inside out: inside a person’s framework and move out to a Christian viewpoint (start with where they are and then move out to a Christian framework).

ANALYSIS

Having taught an apologetics class for a couple of years, and having immersed myself in a variety of apologetic figures and resources, I figured Apologetics at the Cross would be a fairly standard book on apologetics. Was I ever wrong – I was blown away by this book! The authors creatively combine what feels like all the necessary ingredients for how to effectively engage non-Christians in conversations about the truth of Christianity.

The biggest surprise was the lack of focus on particular apologetic arguments. Well, perhaps an even bigger surprise was the inclusion of a brief history of Christian apologetics. I didn’t expect that in a 300 page book, but the authors made it seem important as they showed the progression of apologetics philosophy.

Back to the lack of particular arguments: I loved how they spent more time on the proper attitude apologists ought to have rather than on the exact wording they should use. There is a lot of wisdom in that.

I could use a lot of space extolling Apologetics at the Cross, but I’ve boiled down my effusing into some handy bullet points:

Pros

  • Even-handed look at apologetic approaches: they don’t favor one approach, nor do they sleight any approach; this fits well with their advice to use multiple approaches in apologetic encounters.
  • Showing the range of apologetic approaches shows how God uses ‘different strokes for different folks.’
  • A call for apologists to be united in Christ rather than divided based upon favored methods. They rightly point out that there is no need for divisions in the body of Christ, and just because you favor one approach doesn’t mean that’s the best approach, so there isn’t a need to denigrate other approaches as long as the apologist is preaching the true gospel.
  • Repeated emphasis on the importance of actions over words. Yes, words are important, but we must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit needs to work in the hearts of unbelievers. A humble gentle approach speaks volumes in a positive way whereas brash argumentation tends to grate on people.
  • Insightful critique of the philosophical underpinnings of modern Western culture, showing why the West is the way it is. This helps the reader understand why certain apologetic approaches need to be shored up to be used effectively.
  • Graphics are exceptionally helpful – simple, easy to understand, superb illustrations of key ideas.
  • A keen eye for simple, accurate key definitions. This is mighty helpful both to initially grasp terms as well as when reviewing the chapter.

Pros as a Textbook

Apologetics at the Cross can be used personally, in a small group, or a class setting. Its versatility is advantageous, and here are some specific positives for its use as a textbook:

  • Good variety of sources: This is a well-researched book with up-to-date, knowledgeable sources.
  • Good list of references: Scattered throughout the book are lists of key apologetic classics. If you want to dig deeper, Apologetics at the Cross shows you were to start.
  • Wide margins for note taking: A thoughtful touch from the publisher lends itself well to note takers.
  • Good price for a textbook: Let all students rise up and say thank you Zondervan!
  • Lectures available online, on DVD, or as an online course allowing individuals, groups, and students greater access to materials and increasing the effectiveness of the book’s content. [Review of DVD forthcoming.]

Suggestions for the Second Edition

As of this writing, Apologetics at the Cross is less than three months old. It’s a bit hasty to talk of a second edition, but I’m calling it early: this book has staying power. So, if the authors ever run across this review, here are my two cents for ways to improve the second edition:

  • Chapter outlines: it would be handy to have an outline at the end of each chapter or major section to help review the concepts, ideas, and logical flow of that section.
  • More sidebars with definitions or explanations, illustrations, graphics, etc. What they have is excellent, but drawing more attention to key terms and ideas through sidebar focus or bolding/italicising key terms would be helpful.

And that’s it! I can’t think of many changes to make to this excellent book. Read it, share it, talk about it with others: Apologetics at the Cross is worth your while to read again and again.

 

CONCLUSION

Without getting bogged down in details, Apologetics at the Cross breezes through insightful overviews of Biblical and historical apologetics, lays the foundation for a multifaceted approach to apologetics, highlights the importance of a transformed life, and serves as a reminder that we cannot do apologetics in a vacuum. Apologetics at the Cross covers a lot of ground effortlessly, is eminently encouraging, and deserves a wide audience.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

FAVORITE QUOTES

“The goal of apologetics is to clear away the debris of doubt and skepticism in order to make a path for the gospel to be heard.” (p 17)

“We have to give people reasons to want to believe before we can give them reasons for why they can believe.” (p 181)

“Because we minister to multidimensional people, we should adopt a multidimensional apologetic approach.” (p 185)

“Logic alone is incapable of inspiring us to risk our lives for a cause.” (p 291)

five-stars
By | 2018-08-12T22:22:59+00:00 August 4th, 2018|

DENS – No Small Tempest Music Review

by DENS
Length: 20:06 hours.
TCB Rating:
five-stars

Book Overview

Artist: DENS
Label: Facedown Records

Jonah grudgingly went on a journey to deliver God’s message to his enemies. Gleefully he told them they would be destroyed. Morosely he sat and watched God relent at the Ninevites repentance. Then we discover that we are Jonah: his bitterness is our bitterness; his callousness ours. We, not just he, are deeply flawed.

Who should listen to this?

For people who enjoy introspective, reflective music; for fans of My Epic, Everything In Slow Motion, and Comrades

Genre: rock, with flavors of shoegaze, ambient, and post-rock

DENS - No Small Tempest Music Review

OVERVIEW

This four song EP is the soundtrack to the book of Jonah. From the time Jonah encountered the tempest while stowed away on a ship to Tarshish; to being tossed overboard and threatened by drowning in that tempest; to being enveloped in a watery grave; to preaching repentance – it’s all there.

The first three songs are told from the perspective of Jonah. In “Deadrise”, Jonah looks out at the storm feeling alone, and as he is thrown into the water he knows he is about to die. He reflects on his life and his faith in God, but when God calls him to Nineveh he can only ask, “Why would the God of grace make peace with dreadful beasts?”

In “(W)retched”, Jonah is tossed into the briny deep. Baptized, as it were. Oddly enough, this tells Jonah that since God is responding to his actions, he is known by God. God provides salvation in response to Jonah’s pleas, “restoring communion, so it shows that I am known.” God shows him mercy and resurrects Jonah – this too shows Jonah that he is known by God.

But being known by God doesn’t automatically calm the tempest in your soul. In “Sackcloth & Ash”, you can sense Jonah’s personal bitterness and anger at the Assyrian atrocities and his eagerness at their coming, and hopefully assured, destruction. As Jonah ascends the hill to wait for impending doom, DENS breaks from the voice of Jonah to reflect on Jonah’s, and our, hearts.

“Vice & Virtue” is the voice that is an outsider to Jonah, looking at what went wrong for him and realizing that we are the same as Jonah – so quick to condemn in hateful bitterness. In our human condition “we’re not innocent.” It might be easy for us to look down on Jonah, and it certainly is easy for Christians to castigate the Godless wicked, but we must confront the wickedness inside our own hearts. We, as DENS reminds us, are not innocent.

One final note: the first three songs conclude with quietly sung lines from classic hymns. They choose hymns that match the content and voice of the song they are in and provide a fitting conclusion to the story of Jonah.

 

THEMES

As the title suggests, the storm in which Jonah found himself was no small tempest. While listening to this album I quickly started to wonder which was the bigger storm: the one outside or the one inside. Though the outside storm abated as soon as Jonah was tossed overboard, the storm inside raged for months. For years?

And that same internal tempest Jonah faced is the same one facing each of us. Even those who follow Jesus find in themselves struggles, storms, and battles that rage continuously.

As he is tossed overboard and sinks to his apparent death, Jonah recognizes his sin and the holiness of God and is humbled by God’s mercy. This is a right response: God’s mercy ought to provoke us to repentance.

But within the internal ugliness we still recognize that God knows us. Though trials beset us, though tragedy befall, the Lord God knows us all. This provides some consolation as we sink to the depths; as we await our fate which is outside our control.

Despite being known by God, many of us still struggle with anger, bitterness, hatred, and numerous other negative emotions that plague our hearts and spoil our actions. DENS cries out with Jonah, wanting the wicked punished, yet DENS pulls back to reflect on the darkness in our own hearts.

Perhaps with their next album they will work to resolve the tension they identify: we want to follow God, and we do follow God, but we do so imperfectly. In many cases, we aren’t any better than the ‘wicked ones’ we hate and condemn. But where does that leave us? What are we to do with the fact that the hated evil “out there” is the same evil we find in ourselves?

ANALYSIS

The most striking feature of this album is the well-told story of Jonah, followed by the analysis of Jonah and our hearts. Thought-provoking, this is. Why am I so eager to wish for the destruction of the evil ones, when I myself have so much evil in my heart?

DENS weds their music to their lyrics, adding punches when emotions run high and quieting things down when reflecting. In this way, No Small Tempest is a thoughtful and complete, albeit short, album.

DENS pays such attention to detail that during (W)retched, when the sailors speak, DENS has gang vocals to match. And on the final track, when the voice shifts from Jonah to an outsider’s voice, their music takes on a noticeably different feel. This new style feels like DENS’ natural voice, which is entirely fitting considering that lyrically it is their voice.

 

CONCLUSION

Like the book of Jonah, this EP doesn’t resolve. There is no conclusion, it just ends with the fact that we are all bitter haters, stained and marred by sin, quick to judge and condemn, eager to see our enemies and perceived enemies destroyed. But unlike Jonah, DENS recognizes our guilt.

A music review for Top Christian Books by Barry Wolfer. This album was provided by Facedown Records for the purpose of reviewing it.

five-stars
By | 2018-06-20T12:14:50+00:00 June 20th, 2018|

Death and the Afterlife Book Review

Death and the Afterlife Book Review

Death and the Afterlife

by Paul R. Williamson
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (194 pages).
TCB Rating:
four-half-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

“Where do bad folks go when they die?” is an age old question. While examining Biblical evidence, Mr. Williamson gives a thorough treatment to the questions we’ve always had about death and the afterlife.

Who should read this?

Anyone who reckons to die someday. And for those who don’t, read it anyway! This book is helpful for people who want to examine death and the afterlife from a Biblical perspective, especially for those who appreciate in-depth coverage of these topics.

Death and the Afterlife Book Review 1

SUMMARY

Death, they say, is one of the few certainties of life. While nobody knows for certain what happens once a person dies, the Bible does offer some idea about our post-mortem state of being. The problem with this is that because of God’s progressive revelation, Biblical ideas about death and the afterlife have changed over time. And they still are changing.

A growing number of people believe that this life is all there is. A 2011 global survey revealed that half of the world’s population believe in an afterlife, while the other half either disbelieve or are unsure. This stands in contrast to many historic cultures where belief in an afterlife was de rigueur.

Joining the fray of changing beliefs, some even in the evangelical community are calling into question traditional Christian beliefs about death and the afterlife.

In response to these shifting views, Paul R. Williamson wrote a book about, well, Death and the Afterlife to offer “Biblical perspectives on ultimate questions.”

Mr. Williamson outlines five key ideas that Christians historically have affirmed:

  1. An interim state between death and resurrection
  2. The bodily resurrection of all dead people when Jesus returns
  3. The final judgment of all people based on their earthly lives
  4. Eternal conscious punishment in hell for the unrighteous
  5. Eternal life with God for those who believe in Jesus

From these five core beliefs about death and the afterlife arise five chapters dedicated to exploring Biblically these ideas.

Each chapter follows the same basic structure: look at pertinent Old Testament scriptures, scan the intertestamental literature, and then examine New Testament passages related to the topic at hand. Following each of these subsections is an analysis of the literature, and at the end of each chapter is an overall analysis to determine how the Bible most clearly speaks.

Mr. Williamson thoughtfully walks through the Biblical data and makes careful exegesis to determine that the historic Christian beliefs about death and the afterlife probably are what the Bible intends to convey. He states in his concluding chapter that though he has “candidly acknowledged that at least some of the biblical data are not so clear as sometimes assumed. Even so, there is sufficient biblical warrant for what I have labeled the traditional understanding of personal eschatology” (p 193).

ANALYSIS

This is a well-written book that deserves a wide audience. There is much to commend and little to criticize.

Pros

  • Tackles head-on difficult questions and thorny issues: The Bible is less than clear on a number of issues that have major implications. This is one reason why there are so many views on major doctrinal issues, and it can make answering the question What does the Bible say about ___? difficult to answer. I appreciate an author’s willingness to rise to the challenge of discerning in murky areas what the Bible teaches. Mr. Williamson rises to that challenge and is unafraid to sift mountains of data to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions.
  • Biblical supremacy with careful examination of appropriate extra-Biblical literature: Mr. Williamson unswervingly holds to the authority of Scripture, but he at the same time introduces and weighs extra-Biblical data such as intertestamental literature and scientific and historical research.
  • Biblical theology is king rather than proof-texting: Instead of taking a collection of texts that favor a certain position, Mr. Williamson does his best to engage the whole of Scripture, even when Scripture doesn’t readily reflect the traditional position. Rather than explaining away these texts, he sees how they fit in with the flow of Scripture. As God progressively has revealed more of Himself to mankind, we see how and why people have taken different views on death and the afterlife.
  • Puts aside presuppositions to look at Scripture with fresh eyes: My guess is that Mr. Williamson went into the writing of this book holding classic evangelical positions, but he willingly set aside his presuppositions to see what Scripture revealed. Rather than looking at Scripture through the lens of his beliefs, he took off those glasses to see with fresh eyes.
  • Interprets Scripture wisely and even-handedly: Mr. Williamson uses a conservative hermeneutic in that he doesn’t stretch Scripture to fit a shape of his choosing; he unpacks Scripture to let It reveal Itself.
  • Heavily researched: Death and the Afterlife reads like an academic paper in that he places numerous footnotes on each page. This saves a reader from flipping to the rear of the book, and if you don’t like reading footnotes they easily are skipped. While the format might look intimidating to some readers, it is a good way to allow the reader to gain extra insights and find new resources if they so choose.
  • Logical progression and flow: Perhaps because of his academic bent, Mr. Williamson maintains an excellent logical progression in his book. From topic arrangement to chapter format, there is a logical flow that aids the reader in following the proffered information. Readers never will wonder where Mr. Williamson is going, nor will they wonder how he arrived at a certain conclusion.
  • Informative: This certainly is not the least reason to read the book – most readers will chose to read this because they want answers to questions about death and the afterlife. They will not be disappointed, because Mr. Williamson concludes what Scripture says but doesn’t stray into speculative theology.

Clear, informative, and exegetically sound – it is easy to like Death and the Afterlife!

Cons

No book is perfect, but I only have a couple of minor suggestions for changes to make:

  • Relies too heavily on a few authors: At least two of the chapters are based largely on the writings of one or two authors. Seeing footnote after footnote about the same author made me wonder if I would be better served putting this book down and reading the other author instead.
  • Old references in places: Theology is one place where old authors still can speak authoritatively, but brain science is not. Brain science in a theology book? In one chapter, Mr. Williamson delves into consciousness and references 18 year old brain science to support the point he makes. Surely the study of consciousness has developed much in the past 18 years. Fortunately there aren’t many examples I can provide of old references, but I did notice it more than once.

CONCLUSION

Death and the Afterlife does not answer every single question about death, heaven, and hell. Since the Bible hasn’t answered all our questions, Mr. Williamson rests in good company. He speaks where the Bible speaks and is silent where the Bible is silent. This is frustrating to those whose curiosity desires answers, but it is the wisest course to take.

Though contemporary evangelicals might be tempted to abandon traditional beliefs about personal eschatology, Mr. Williamson makes a strong Biblical case for the retention of classical beliefs about death and the afterlife.

I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

four-half-stars
By | 2018-06-15T12:47:24+00:00 June 13th, 2018|

My Epic – Ultraviolet Music Review

My Epic – Ultraviolet Music Review

My Epic - Ultraviolet

Length: Length: 21:41
TCB Rating:
five-stars

Book Overview

Life is more than what is seen. But how do we know truth in the unseen? While pre-packaged answers might make questions easy to answer, they don’t always convince us or ease our minds. In Ultraviolet, My Epic wrestles with pat answers and the unsettling search for truth.

Who should listen to this?

For people who enjoy poetic, well-crafted music; people who wrestle with faith; for fans of As Cities Burn, Thrice, Comrades

Artist: My Epic
Label: Facedown Records
Genre: Rock/Experimental Art Rock

My Epic - Ultraviolet Music Review

OVERVIEW

It is difficult, in five songs, to take much of a journey, but My Epic manages to do just that. Melding fitting music and musing lyrics, Ultraviolet challenges a listener to examine what they think they know about that which they cannot see. If we cannot see something, how do we know it is real? That, the writer of Hebrews says, is what faith is. But if faith is being certain of what we cannot see, how can we prove to ourselves that that which we believe is really there? Therein lies the rub of faith, and one that prevents many people from having faith in God.

Let’s begin the journey that My Epic invites us to take:

We start with “Of Wilderness” – arguably the most memorable song – a grooving track that opens with haunting ethereal tones. Some people are sure of what they believe and spend a lot of energy defending their ordered beliefs. But perhaps those folk have missed something? Perhaps they don’t really have it all figured out. Perhaps fear drives people to not let their ideas be challenged. Sometimes places of doubt/trial/temptation are exactly what we need to help see God more clearly and fully so we realize that we don’t have all the answers (“I think we’re all lost till we’ve lived in the wilderness”).

It’s easy to talk about others who struggle with their faith, but when it’s personal, that’s a different matter altogether. In “Voices,” the search for truth takes a personal tack, which the lyricist Mr. Stone embraces as he commits to pursuing the truth wherever it leads. He wonders if some aspects of his faith aren’t right, but he isn’t sure if this is the Spirit telling him he needs to change his beliefs or just his own wrestling with uncertainty.

Still, he can’t escape the inevitability of needing to wrestle through questions of faith so he embraces the struggle to find answers (“There’s no way to silence it. There’s nowhere to hide. I brace myself as steps approach, to eat the flesh and leave the bones. I’m scared but I will only know if I face it, so I’ll face it”).

Those raised in the church know the answers to theological questions. How? We’ve been taught the right answers. But if a person relies on pat answers, is that really faith, the certainty of things unseen? In “So Be It”, Mr. Stone struggles with doubts that have crept in about the Christian beliefs he has been taught. There’s a sense of loss, isolation, and fear of the unknown, but he has no choice but to accept this and continue to seek truth.

Still, in the midst of this doubt and confusion he holds onto the hope that God will lead him through so he will find the truth.

So here we are in our journey: you’ve been raised in the church and know what to believe but find yourself with questions for which there are no easy answers or which have seemingly valid alternative answers apart from God. What now? We fall back on God and cry out to Him. And if we can’t hear His voice?

Still we cry out and wait. “In Absentia,” the fourth track, talks about the pain of God’s silence but the hope that stills burns within a believer. When all seems lost he or she senses God in the darkness (“In this night more lovely than the dawn, Your hand finds mine here in the dark. When I’ve no form left to hold You close, Your voice itself becomes my home”).

The fifth and final track, “Two Nights,” admits that maybe no one knows the truth. Who can know if we know – after all, isn’t that where faith steps in? Just as some patterns stay hidden until revealed in ultraviolet, sometimes truth stays hidden when we look with our natural eyes. Sometimes things are only revealed spiritually (“We search for all our lives, it stays just out of sight. Some things in the light, will only show in ultraviolet”).

And with that, My Epic concludes the first part of our journey into exploring the realm of the unseen, with part two, Violence, due out in late 2018.

 

THEMES

Since the rise of naturalism, spirituality has taken a hit. Ages ago the unseen spiritual world was taken for granted and the question wasn’t Is there a god, but Which gods are real. My, how times have changed. The pervasive attitude of Question Everything has infiltrated even the church, and to a large extent the church has done a poor job of responding.

Sure, there is the proper teaching of Scripture, but how many churches suffer from poor teaching of Scripture? And is sheer teaching enough to sustain the faith of the pew-warmers who have never experienced God and live as nominal Christians because “That’s the way we do it”? The fact that thousands have left Western churches is a telling answer.

Too often the “search for truth” is merely a platform upon which to attack Others. My Epic reminds us that a genuine search for truth can be difficult, emotionally exhausting, long, but ultimately hopeful. If there is no glimmer of hope in your own search for truth, perhaps you have gone wide of the truth.

Truth and Hope: a well-matched pair.

 

ANALYSIS

There is a fine line between earnestly searching for truth and coming across as angsty. There already is far too much angst-driven music out there in this emo-scarred world, but it’s an easy emotional sell so bands keep cranking it out. On the flip side, there also is far too much Christian music offering pat answers. It’s sort of like a sanitized version of country music, except Jesus is the answer to life’s problems rather than beer or a new truck and girlfriend.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for looking into Jesus as the One Way, but to flippantly say Jesus will solve everything while repeating Scripture-as-mantra smacks of Pharisaism and the very problem that My Epic rails against in Ultraviolet.

To honestly search for truth about things unseen; to earnestly seek answers at the cost of doubting what you’ve always been taught: this is not angsty emo – this is the core of being human.

And My Epic nails it.

Though Ultraviolet could be fuel for a pouty sad-fest fire, that’s not what’s intended. Ultraviolet is the soundtrack of the search for truth in a darkened world filled with prescribed beliefs. To see the truth, to see what is really real, we must not look with eyes of flesh but with spiritual eyes. This, though, can be scary. What if we were wrong before? What if we get it wrong now?

The search for meaning, purpose, and value is not a new one. Stretching back at least as far as Ecclesiastes, people have been searching for truth for millenia. In one sense, Ultraviolet adds nothing to this conversation that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. But while Ultraviolet doesn’t necessarily speak of new ideas, My Epic’s marriage of lyrics and music is masterful.

Again and again, My Epic finds the perfect tones to match the lyrical content. When the lyrics say there is a voice that cannot be silenced, a constant droning noise in the background illustrates this. When Mr. Stone sings, “So I’ll face it” a confident tone emphasizes it. When a flicker of hope is spoken of, the music locks step and we hear the hopeful tones come through.

Ultraviolet is a rare album. Though I hesitate to label this a concept album, it is rare to find an album as cohesive as this. In the world of rock, it is rare to find an album where the lyrics and music wed so masterfully. And it is a rare treat to hear the combination of honesty and soul-searching depth, to be challenged to examine my own beliefs, and to leave reminded that God is the source of truth and that in Him we can hope and trust.

The final song of Ultraviolet reveals that there must be more to this search. It can’t end here. And fortunately for us listeners, it doesn’t. Violence, the companion to Ultraviolet, is set to release in late 2018 and “promises to be the band’s heaviest project to date.” I can’t wait.

five-stars
By | 2018-06-06T20:30:24+00:00 June 7th, 2018|

Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament Book Review

Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament Book Review

Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament

by Greg Carey
Length: Approximately 5 hours. To read (152 pages)
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

It turns out that God wasn’t as silent as the term ‘400 years of silence’ suggests. Rising from Jewish apocalyptic literature, key mainstay ideas such as Messiah, resurrection, and final judgment thoroughly flavor the entire New Testament. This book traces the rise and influence of apocalyptic literature in the New Testament.

Who should read this?

Those wanting a greater understanding of apocalyptic literature, its influence on the New Testament, our interpretation of it, and how we ought to respond to it.

Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament Book Review 1

SUMMARY

We tend to think that Messiah is all over the pages of Jewish Scripture. But He isn’t. Well, Messiah is there, but the idea of Messiah wasn’t a fully formed idea until after the last of the Biblical prophets had their say. When we read the New Testament, Messiah seems to be an integral part of the understanding of 1st century Jews and Christians, so how did the idea of Messiah coalesce from a collection of prophecies scattered throughout the Old Testament? If Old Testament Jews didn’t conceive of the concept of Messiah, how come New Testament Jews did?

These questions are answered when one studies apocalyptic literature between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC. It was during that time period when the Jewish ideas of Messiah, the resurrection of the dead, and final judgment took form and came to the fore of Jewish thought. Along with these ideas, more codified understandings of Satan and demons developed and were added to the Jewish theological underpinnings.

Understanding that these ideas about Messiah, resurrection, and judgment came primarily from apocalyptic literature helps us see just how influential Jewish apocalyptic literature was on Jesus, the writers of the New Testament, and the early church.

In Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament, Mr. Carey takes us on a brief but broad tour of Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic literature, teaching about its purpose, use, and how it commonly is interpreted. After this enlightening introduction, we are led to explore apocalyptic themes and discourse in Paul’s writings, the Gospels, some extra-Biblical sources, and finally, the New Testament’s single apocalypse – Revelation.

By the time the reader arrives at Revelation, he or she realizes that the New Testament writers were steeped in the apocalyptic tradition and that it flavored all their writing. “Apocalyptic concepts, assumptions, and literary devices occur all over the New Testament, and they function in remarkably flexible ways” (p. 141).

Mr. Carey helpfully concludes with four takeaways from his book:

  1. We should note the “ubiquity of apocalyptic discourse in early Christianity.”
  2. We should understand the varied sources of apocalyptic literature: starting with Jewish prophets, through intertestamental apocalyptic literature, New Testament writers, as well as non-canonical books.
  3. We should discern the “rhetorical flexibility of apocalyptic literature.”
  4. We should see the “link between apocalyptic literature and politics.”

In the end, Mr. Carey links apocalyptic literature and action. “Apocalyptic literature articulates the connection between our overarching values and our daily behavior” (p. 151). A lofty claim indeed, but one that demands we learn more about apocalyptic literature and its impact not only on the New Testament, but on our lives.

ANALYSIS

Apocalyptic literature always seems shrouded in mystery. This mystery is not helped by the myriad interpretations of Daniel and Revelation and the all-too-often-complex timelines that are created to explain how many days from such and such this or that will happen to that country when this other country attacks them. Oh, and the US attacks on Syria were prophesied in Revelation! For many people, Revelation has become the Christian version of Nostradamus.

I remember reading a book on apocalyptic literature and Revelation a couple of years ago and having my eyes opened to the stunning realization that perhaps Revelation was written to people in the 1st century AD. Like every single other book in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean there aren’t prophecies of future events, but Revelation, like the other books of the Bible, was written at a certain time for certain reasons and to a certain audience.

So reading books about apocalyptic literature is akin to peeling back the mysterious shroud and seeing what is behind, but, like Dorothy, revealing the truth behind the curtain can leave one feeling disappointed – maybe the revelation isn’t as grand as the intrigue. Still, reading a book like this feels a bit like the discovery of secret knowledge.

In the final analysis of Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament, there is much to love and little to loathe. Here’s my breakdown:

Pros

  • Mr. Carey’s simple explanations help a reader breeze through somewhat confusing concepts. In a short amount of space you will get a good handle on the key ideas to better understand the genre of apocalyptic literature. The reader always has a clear idea of where Mr. Carey is taking you, and this helps the reader grasp the content and implications more easily.
  • There is coherence in his arguments and flow in his writing. Again, this makes the book easy to follow and a joy to read.
  • All sections have clear introductions and conclusions which add to the high level of readability contained in this book. A reader knows exactly what to expect from each section and after reading a chapter you get a succinct recap handily summarizing the main points of the chapter.
  • Mr. Carey does an excellent job of supporting his arguments with examples both from the Bible and from extra-Biblical texts. Though I wouldn’t typically endorse using non-Biblical texts, for this type of book that explores the influence of Jewish literature from the 3rd-1st centuries BC it is essential. Mr. Carey makes plenty of citations and backs up his claims well.
  • This book helps the reader better understand the background and context of key New Testament ideas of Messiah, resurrection, and final judgment.
  • And finally, this book bridges the gap between the Old and New Testaments. Between Malachi and Matthew, a lot happened in Jewish history and philosophy. Understanding at least a part of what happened during the intertestamental period goes to great lengths to help readers better understand Jesus, the early church, the writings of Paul, and the book of Revelation. This book opens eyes as to how influential apocalyptic literature was in 1st century Judaism and Christianity.

Cons

There is really only one negative about this book, but it’s a big one. It’s the reason I dropped a star from this otherwise excellent book. I’m not sure of the exact term to use, but Mr. Carey is a liberal Bible scholar. Perhaps minimalist would be a better term? I’ve separated my complaints into three categories:

  • There is a chipping away at Biblical authority. Earlier I said that it is essential to use non-Biblical texts in this book, but when those books are held up as equal in value as Biblical texts, there is an erosion of the view that the Bible is authoritative. This view especially came forward when Mr. Carey put the Gospel of Thomas on equal footing as the Gospel of John.
  • Along similar lines, there is an undermining of Biblical inerrancy and inspiration. There are several times when Mr. Carey uses phrases that effectively mean or connote “if the Bible is accurate or true.” Saying that is a huge breach of trust to those of us who hold to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
  • These first two views of Scripture combine in an oft-held liberal/minimalist view that Paul only wrote half the letters he purportedly wrote. To further compound the problem for this particular book: if you view extra-Biblical texts as on par with Biblical texts, and if you doubt the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, what does it matter if Paul actually wrote a letter or not? If you don’t view Biblical texts as any greater than extra-Biblical texts, authorship shouldn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter then don’t spend time defending your view that Paul didn’t write half the letters he claimed to write.

To summarize these cons: Mr. Carey doesn’t seem to have much faith in God’s Word being truth; he has hope but he doesn’t have faith.

These cons are serious enough that some people will dismiss this book out of hand. I only removed one star from my rating for Mr. Carey’s view of Scripture because I felt it rather easy to look past. Mr. Carey’s view of Scripture doesn’t get in the way of the core ideas of the book, and if a reader goes in fully aware of the eroded view of the importance of Scripture, one easily can read, enjoy, and learn much from the book.

CONCLUSION

Apocalyptic Literature in the New Testament is a very well written book. Highly engaging and informative, I learned much and came away glad to have read it. I would encourage you to read it too! Yes, I have some stiff criticisms, but I found they didn’t get in the way of the key messages of the book. I hope other readers also will be able to overlook them as this is an otherwise excellent book. The reader will come away with not only a greater understanding of apocalyptic literature but also a greater appreciation for how much apocalyptic literature influenced the New Testament.

four-stars
By | 2018-04-26T22:16:52+00:00 April 25th, 2018|

Jesus Through the Centuries Book Review

Jesus Through the Centuries Book Review

Jesus Through the Centuries

by Jaroslav Pelikan
Length: Approximately 9.5 hours. To read (232 pages)
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

How has the view of Jesus changed over time? In answering this question, Mr. Pelikan recounts church history as seen through the lens of the view of Jesus through the centuries.

Who should read this?

Anyone desiring to learn more church history, and those interested in how the views of Jesus have changed over time. This is not a beginner’s church history book but better suited for those who already have a working knowledge of church history.

Jesus Through the Centuries Book Review 1

SUMMARY

In Mr. Pelikan’s own words, “The nature and purpose of this book [is] not a life of Jesus, nor a history of Christianity, nor even a history of theological doctrines about Jesus, but a series of images portraying his place in the history of culture.”

From the time when the concept of Messiah arose, followers of God have had a view of Him. Jesus faced much opposition from those who expected Messiah to act in certain ways, but Jesus continually surprised even those closest to Him when he didn’t fit their preconceived Messianic notions. So it should come as no surprise that even after Jesus lived, died, resurrected, and ascended into heaven believers still change the way they view Jesus.

With this book, Mr. Pelikan shows the intersection of faith and action – how one’s view of Jesus changes their life and leads them to action. Mr. Pelikan does this by looking at individuals and movements throughout church history. Despite Mr. Pelikan’s attestations, this is a book on church history, but it’s not your regular book on church history as it focuses on how throughout history the church viewed Jesus and how that prompted action in response to its view. So while church history is infused in these pages, the primary flavor is Jesus.

Each of the 18 chapters of this book focus on one view of Jesus. Some, like Rabbi, Son of Man, and Prince of Peace, come straight from the Bible, while others, like Cosmic Christ, Teacher of Common Sense, and Liberator, relate to a cultural view of Jesus. The chapters are arranged chronologically, but they can span more than a century so there is overlap in time periods. Mr. Pelikan doesn’t provide dates for the chapters, but I get the impression that some time periods are lacking entirely while other periods are covered over several chapters. The reason for this is Mr. Pelikan focused on the different types of views of Jesus over time rather than on how each generation viewed Jesus.

At the start of each chapter there is what he calls an initial cross – an artistic symbol representing that particular view of Jesus. This graphical depiction shows the representation of Christ and is expounded upon in the chapter. Usually, Mr. Pelikan highlights one to three people that represent that view of Christ par excellence. In this way we learn about key figures and their movements in church history, but from the perspective of how they viewed Jesus and how that view prompted them to act. Additionally, Mr. Pelikan sometimes highlights how the broader culture perceived Jesus, and we find examples of these views in the art and literature of that day.

Through symbols, artwork, and Christian examples, Mr. Pelikan briefly summarizes, illustrates, and explains a view of Jesus and how it influenced those in that era. A person’s view of Jesus – if they are at all serious about Jesus – necessarily prompts him or her to act. Jesus, after all, called His disciples to take action, and throughout history there have been those who built churches, traveled to other lands, took up arms, pens, and brushes, started movements, and influenced the world around them. Mr. Pelikan shows how fervent believers have done this throughout history, and in this way we see how views of Jesus through the centuries impacted the church and the world.

ANALYSIS

I have a problem with this book, but I have a hard time putting my finger on exactly what it is. On the one hand, Jesus Through the Centuries is a unique walk down the path of church history, but on the other hand, isn’t this book supposed to be more about Jesus than church history? Perhaps I got that idea from the book’s title? Then on another hand, this book is about Jesus – or at least how people have perceived Jesus and how that influenced their thinking and actions – but on still another hand, there is hardly any talk about Jesus.

Most of the book is filled with stories of people who are major players in the history of the church with comparatively little talk about the view of Jesus. Yet is is how those people viewed Jesus that compelled them to start monasteries, paint paintings, start revolutions, and give up their lives, so Jesus is there in the pages, just not very explicitly.

So I guess I’m hung up on the title. “But it’s a great title!” It is a fantastic title, but it’s misleading. “But it’s about how the view of Christ has changed over time – it’s all about Jesus!” Yes, but it’s not as much about the view of Jesus as it is about the actions people took based on their view of Jesus. “But the subtitle, His place in the history of culture, tells you to expect that!” Okay, okay, it must just be totally my fault for thinking the title a misnomer. Next time I need to pay more attention to subtitles and not have so many expectations for what a book will be about.

Title bouts aside, I still have reservations about this book: Does it truly focus on Jesus through the centuries? Are the key players and events of church history conditioned on the actors’ view of Jesus or do key people arise more in response to cultural and socio-political pressures? Not to mention the prompting of the Holy Spirit to act out God’s plan through history. So while this book is about Jesus, and despite Mr. Pelikan’s protestations, I couldn’t escape the sense that this book is more about church history than it truly is about Jesus.

To give an example of this, let’s look for a bit at Chapter 11: The Divine and Human Model. In a chapter that talks about how people live out the calling to become like Jesus, Mr. Pelikan engages in what appears to be Francis-worship. Mr. Pelikan displays a pro-Roman Catholic bias throughout the entire book, but in this chapter it gets in the way. Saying that “most people” would call Francis the most Christ-like figure in church history (Even more so than Paul?); the papal designation of Francis as the 2nd Christ; glorifying his stigmata; and treating Francis as the ultimate example of a Christian: to me this appears to be Francis-worship.

Francis of Assisi certainly has been an influential Christian and is worth noting in this book, but the chapter in question was primarily about Francis and had precious little to do with Jesus, illustrating my contention that this book truly is more about church history than it is about views of Jesus. While Chapter 11 is the most egregious example, it is not the only instance of other people overshadowing Jesus, as it were.

That said, this is a unique book on church history as it overlays the view of Jesus on top of history. It focuses more on specific people and movements rather than on dates and events. Most of the time there are no dates supplied, so Jesus Through the Centuries reads as a fresh take on church history. Additionally, because of the emphasis on the church’s view of Jesus, there is a unique lens which produces a unique view of church history. In short, this book is unlike most other church history books.

The perspective that Mr. Pelikan takes also adds an interesting flavor to the study of the legacy of Jesus. Some of Jesus’ lasting impact on society and culture is the same from age to age, but other aspects change. It is these changes on which Mr. Pelikan focuses, and the result is to add broader understanding of how Jesus has changed the history not only of the church but of the world. This leads to some fascinating discoveries about how there came to be monasticism, the Crusades, the Reformation, various art movements, and more modern revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.

By focusing on the church’s changing view of Jesus, Mr. Pelikan shows how believers live and act in response to their perception of Christ. Though this book was written more than 30 years ago, it shows how each generation views Jesus in light of society around them, thus challenging our current generation to examine how we view Jesus and how that prompts us to act. In this sense, Mr. Pelikan wrote a timeless book that keeps updating itself as culture and society change.

While he doesn’t explicitly train people to critique the contemporary view of Jesus based on society and culture, if one pays attention to how Mr. Pelikan examines culture through the ages it is possible to learn to do the same thing. This also makes for an interesting self-examination: How do I view Jesus, and how does that affect how I live my life?

One more strength of this book is its form. Each chapter is written about a facet or epoch of church history, so the reader is presented with relevant characters and thoughts behind each age and movement. The basic view of Jesus in each chapter is presented clearly at the beginning of the chapter, and the reader gets a good sense of the salient points before getting a more in-depth look at that view of Jesus. And the writing! Mr. Pelikan writes beautifully, succinctly, and majestically. His wording is wondrous to behold; his style, elegant. One gets the impression that in this book you have reached the pinnacle of church histories simply because of the linguistic style of Mr. Pelikan.

CONCLUSION

There is much to like and appreciate about Jesus Through the Centuries. If one is able to overlook the strong Roman Catholic promotion and doesn’t expect to read a book strictly about Jesus but approaches this as a unique church history, this is a superb book and well worth the read. Mr. Pelikan spends most of each chapter illustrating how people viewed Jesus rather than writing about the view of Jesus itself, and because of this we can see more easily how believers were spurred into action by their view of Jesus.

four-stars
By | 2018-04-26T22:24:01+00:00 April 3rd, 2018|

War of Words Book Review

War of Words Book Review

War of Words

by Paul David Tripp
Length: Approximately 9 hours. To read (245 pages)
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Too often, speaking from the heart is like shooting from the hip: it’s hasty, dangerous, and inaccurate. How can we improve our communication? We need a heart transformation and we need it now. Rather than speaking from the depths of our selfishness, God can change us to speak redemptively to others.

[i]Who should read this? [/i]

Anyone who can speak; anyone who wants to help not hurt; anyone looking to reduce the frequency and severity of arguments. I’m guessing that covers nearly every single adult ever.

War of Words Book Review 1

SUMMARY

Words hurt. Words wound. Words kill. But words also bring healing, relief, and life. God used words to bring worlds into existence, and God will use words to condemn the judged to an eternity apart from Him. To say that words are important is an understatement. To say that we should be judicious in our word choice is obvious.

So why then is this book written? In the words of Mr. Tripp, “It is not a discussion of the techniques and skills for effective communication. Rather, it is the story of the great battle for our hearts that is the reason for our struggle with words.”

And stories he does tell, from the Bible, from his own life, and from his experiences as a pastor and counselor. These stories serve to illustrate the struggles we face in our wars of words. With frequent illustrations from his own life, we become aware that Mr. Tripp is not coming from a place of expertise, but as a co-journeyer, Mr. Tripp humbly offers practical explanations for why we war with words and how to fix the heart problems that arise.

Jesus says that words reveal character. He says that words reflect the heart of a person. When a person believes in Jesus he or she is given a new identity. Christians carry this identity of being little-Christs out into the world, so when Christians speak they speak not as themselves, but as the mouthpiece of Jesus. This of course does not mean that every word that comes from a believer’s mouth issues directly from God Himself, but it means that we represent Christ and should speak as if Jesus Himself is speaking. And how would Jesus speak? Lovingly. Redemptively.

Our natural inclination, when we are upset or hurt by someone else, is to lash out at them with our words. We condemn their actions, or themselves; we defend ourselves; we speak from our pain, woundedness, pride, and vanity. None of this is how Jesus would speak, but since we aren’t Jesus, we reason, our speech really isn’t that bad. We are, after all, saying the sorts of things everyone else says all the time.

But Jesus calls us to be perfect as our Father is perfect, and this perfection includes perfection of speech. Which is impossible. On our own, at least, which is why we need the Lord’s help to transform our speech from hurtful to helpful, always keeping in mind that we speak on behalf of Jesus and need to speak redemptively into the lives of the people around us.

The first step in speaking redemptively is to admit we make mistakes and repent of our hurtful words. Remembering that words flow from the heart, we essentially are repenting for our heart-set of pride and self-centeredness. “Real repentance always involves confession,” says Mr. Tripp, and don’t just confess to God but to the people we have hurt with our words. After confessing our sins we must commit to speaking redemptively into the lives of those around us. Confessing sin is a good start, but if it doesn’t lead to change it is not a redemptive confession. Committing to change our speech patterns will help our patterns actually change.

It is never too late to start; never too late to redeem our words, but we must start – the sooner the better. It won’t be easy – change usually isn’t – but if we commit to practicing speaking as Jesus would speak, slowly but surely our speech patterns will be transformed into ones of which Jesus is proud. Our goal is to speak like the King: redemptively. We must, as Jesus does, choose to speak the truth, in love, with restraint, while gracefully forgiving those around us. We must do this because we speak for the King and bear His name. Nothing less than perfection is acceptable.

ANALYSIS

My biggest complaint with this book is that the first section of the book didn’t really need to be written. In it Mr. Tripp tells us that words matter and we can hurt or heal people with our words, therefore, be careful. I’m stating the obvious to say that he’s stating the obvious. We all know that words matter and that we can hurt people with our words. How do we know that? Because we all have been hurt by the words of others, and, if we are being honest with ourselves, we all recognize that we ourselves hurt others with our words.

It’s fine to talk about this in a book, but it doesn’t take 60 pages to explain how hurtful words can be and that there is a war of words going on. Taking 60 pages to explain both Biblically and sociologically how damaging our words can be made for a slow start to an otherwise excellent book.
That said, the concluding part of the first section was insightful as Mr. Tripp delved into the root nature of our talk: selfishness, which he labels idolatry. It was fascinating to see ‘hurtful words’ broken down to a heart level, and that chapter was helpful in identifying motivations behind my own hurtful words and thoughts.

In the second section, Mr. Tripp builds his case that we are God’s ambassadors upon the logic of the first section, so there is a nice logical progression to the book. Still, the middle section runs longer than it needs to as some of what he writes about is pretty obvious once you recognize that there is a conflict within us between what we ought to say and what we actually say. Like the first section, there are some good insights scattered throughout – enough to keep my interest in the book, but not enough to make the book a must-read.

But the final section – oooo. The final section is golden! This section is what makes the book worth reading and why I recommend people to read it. I hate to urge people just to skip to the end and read the final section, but I think mature believers who already have examined their own talk-life can reasonably skip to the final section without being greatly confused or at a loss. It contains tips for gaining control of one’s tongue, and Mr. Tripp speaks to the heart – the heart we must have in order to gain control of our tongue and win the war of words.

Another aspect of the book that I appreciate is all the personal anecdotes sprinkled liberally throughout the book. These often humorous stories illustrate the point Mr. Tripp makes and they show his own vulnerability and personal war of words. This not only is helpful, but makes the content more believable as it is field tested. First-hand experience doesn’t always assure the most reliable source of information, but when a pastor/counselor writes about the collected first-hand experiences of hundreds or thousands of people, the content is more believable.

But perhaps the greatest strength of this book lies in its approach. Most self-help or Christian living type books have endless lists, or helpful-but-all-too-often-cheesy acronyms for us to remember lists of things that we are to do or not do. If you can remember all 7 or 12 keys then you can level up in Christianity, but if not, there’s always the follow-up book that will be more helpful for your specific case. Thankfully, Mr. Tripp does away with most of that by focusing not on steps but on the heart. His approach is refreshing, insightful, and much needed.

CONCLUSION

Is it possible to win the war of words? Absolutely not! On our own strength, that is. We must rely on God to guard our tongue, stop tearing down others, and start speaking redemptively into the hearts and lives of those around us. Can we do this? Absolutely! With God’s help, of course.

This book points out what we all know and experience: words hurt. But more importantly, we are called to use our words to speak love, healing, and redemption into others. This is not just the job of pastors and counselors; this is the job of all believers. No it is not easy, but yes it can be done. No it will not happen overnight, but if we keep practicing our words can heal more than they hurt. We can and we must for the sake of Christ, whose name we bear and in whose name we speak.

four-stars
By | 2018-08-05T01:33:17+00:00 March 19th, 2018|

Mere Christianity Book Review

Mere Christianity Book Review

Mere Christianity

by C.S. Lewis
Length: Approximately 7.5 hours. To read (227 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Mr. Lewis describes the mere (simplified) essence of Christian practices and beliefs adhered to by all major branches of Christianity. Covering doctrine and practice, Mr. Lewis runs the gamut of basic Christianity.

Who Should Read This?

Anyone looking for a basic Christianity 101 type book; anyone looking for a rational defense of Christian beliefs; anyone looking for great sermon or teaching illustrations. It is designed for those who don’t already know a lot about Christianity, so Mr. Lewis has kept it accessible to novices yet thought-provoking for seasoned Christians.

Mere Christianity Book Review 1

 

SUMMARY

It was Britain during the height of World War II. People were hounded by the threat of bombs and missiles falling from the sky and wondering why oh why, not too many years after the Great War had ended, was another war claiming the lives of so many of their own, and for what purpose?

Amidst the existential angst of the day, the BBC aired a series of radio talks to help people understand the basic beliefs of Christianity in order to help their listeners gain perspective on suffering and the bigger picture of life, death, and the hereafter. I suspect that the BBC would not host such a series today. Apparently, 75 years ago Christianity was not so taboo.

C.S. Lewis was tasked with communicating to listeners the essence of Christian faith. He was selected not so much for his expertise in Christianity but because he himself was relatively new to the faith and offered the perspective of an initiate rather than an expert. As a result, Mr. Lewis offers loads of analogies and illustrations to make his points easy to understand and relate to. It also results in a conversational tone rather than a professorial tone that he likely would have adopted in a talk or book on English literature. It is this warm conversational tone that makes Mere Christianity so palatable, easy to digest, and beloved by many.

To ensure that he was getting the mere of Christianity, Mr. Lewis ran his scripts past clergy from four denominations. They agreed that what he said was indeed essential to all branches of Christianity and not slanted towards one particular confession. One result of this is that Mr. Lewis does not delve into specific details about practices like baptism and communion. He keeps it general and paints broad strokes.

Mere Christianity is broken down into four different books. Book 1 is a moral argument for the existence of God; Book 2 narrows the field from any god to the God of the Bible; Book 3 outlines basic Christian behavior based on cardinal and theological virtues; and Book 4 focuses on how God works inside of believers and answers questions about why God needed to become man.

As one steps back to eye the finished product it becomes apparent that each book and each chapter build on each other to present a compelling argument for the saving power of Jesus. Mr. Lewis starts, of all places, with quarrelling, a choice that makes me chuckle as he is arguing – arguing – for the truth of Christianity. Adroitly using quarrelling to show the existence of an objective moral standard that he calls the Law of Human Nature, he moves on to show that this objective moral can only come from a Higher Power, and since we have all violated the laws of this Higher Power, we have cause to be uneasy. Quarrelling → objective morality → God exists: all in 30 pages. Mr. Lewis is a genius.

In Book 2, we are given an oversimplified, brief overview of the world’s religions and explanations of how evil came to exist, why God sent Jesus, and how faith works. Again, in around 30 pages. This is all well and good, if you buy into Mr. Lewis’ logic, but if you don’t then I suspect you will be crying foul at this point in the book. “Too simplified!” you’ll cry. “You aren’t addressing the real issues!” you’ll mutter under your breath. But by now we aren’t even halfway through the book, so just hang on to your questions and complaints to see if Mr. Lewis addresses them.

It is at this point in the book that Mr. Lewis steps back from doctrine and moves into praxis – How does it look to live as a Christian? To answer this in Book 3 he dives into some weighty moral issues surrounding sexuality, marriage, forgiveness, and pride. Defining our relationships in terms of self, others, and with God, Mr. Lewis shows that pride taints all of these relationships and drives us to the pursuit of selfish pleasure.

He contends that pride is the chief sin and lays out his case accordingly. Book 3 is rooted in the ‘seven virtues’, and while he doesn’t tell one how to be more virtuous, he does demonstrate how a neglect of the virtues leads us further and further from God.

Mr. Lewis ends Book 3 with a discussion about the three great theological virtues: faith, hope, and love, but as this book is intended to present a rational argument for the truth of Christianity, he focuses more on faith than on love. His closing argument in this book is that while many may profess assent to Christian faith, that is simply the beginning of true faith; we must let God’s truth penetrate our very being, changing us from the inside. But we ourselves are helpless to do this – we must let allow God to change us. How? It is in Book 4 that he describes this process.

The mechanics of sanctification, the process of a believer becoming more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, are difficult to explain, but Mr. Lewis, ever the able analogist, starts by showing how the creator of something is necessarily of a higher order and substance than that of the created. Think here of a toymaker crafting a toy or a baker baking bread.

God has made us as tin soldiers, and sin has rendered us lifeless, so to breathe life into His tin soldiers He transformed Himself into a tin soldier to impart in us a bit of Himself so as to turn us into the higher order being that our Maker is. God shows us how to be like God by becoming a man-who-lives-like-God-and-really-is-God-but-is-also-a-person-like-we-are. That would be Jesus. God is interested in turning us into an entirely different kind of being than we are, and while it is impossible for us, it most certainly is possible for God.

ANALYSIS

Mere Christianity is a much-hyped book from a much-hyped author, which usually is a recipe for disappointment. And I was disappointed. I found it thoroughly meh. The first time I read this book, leastways. But then I re-read it several years later with a small book club and found it far more enlivening when discussed in a group. And then I read it with a class I teach and we spent weeks discussing and digesting, and the rumination became illumination and the genius of Mr. Lewis revealed itself like a pearl peeping out of an oyster shell. Conclusion: read and discuss this book with others.

One reason Mr. Lewis is so quotable is because he is a writer through and through. He knows writing, but more importantly, he knows his audience. He knows how to get inside the reader’s head and speak to him or her in a way that will be listened to. But his writing requires reflection, so if you consume this book quickly you likely will not get much from it. Slow, steady, and lots of time to think, ponder, reflect, and discuss it with others: then you will glean much.

Another reason Mr. Lewis is so quotable is his command of the English language. Given his profession that shouldn’t be a surprise, but when you write a sentence containing three colons you are either a madman or a genius. Or a poor writer. I suppose there are other options as well, but Mr. Lewis is a genius, no matter how many other options you include. He basically is the Muhammad Ali of writing: his writing floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. No matter how hard swung is his truncheon of truth, he doesn’t come across rude or condescending, which also allows his writing to be accessible and palatable.

Mr. Lewis is a superb analogist. I mentioned earlier the tin soldier / toy maker analogy and in briefly summarizing it it lost its glow. That’s my fault, not his; his analogy is brilliant. Earlier in the book he used a ship analogy to explain the three key relationships (self, others, God), and his illustration is so effective that his explanations immediately become understandable and applications leap off the pages even before he writes them. And in the preface he includes a house / hall analogy that makes clear his purpose of writing the book. Beyond these three are some equally astute analogies that explain the origin of morality, how we are aware of morality, how morality guides us, and the sexual saturation in society.

Another strength of this book is the combination of logic and simplicity. By not focusing on details that are quibbled about, and by writing with an apologetic focus, Mere Christianity is a streamlined book that makes sense, is easy to follow and understand, and is a fair depiction of the basics of Christian faith and practice. Though not completely airtight, his arguments are well-presented and logically lead from premises to conclusion.

That said, by focusing more on Christian practices, Mr. Lewis has oversimplified Christian beliefs to the point where a reader will come away with a better understanding of how a Christian ought to behave rather than of what a Christian believes. Though this book makes a good apologetic argument for the existence of God and explains how God transforms the life of a believer, I’m not sure a person will read it and be able to articulate the Gospel or core Christian beliefs.

A niggling concern of mine is the fact that it took me two or three reads through this book to get much out of it. For as much of a genius as he is, I don’t seem to connect with Mr. Lewis as well as it appears many people do. I’m sure it’s me, not him. I don’t think I’m a dullard – but then if I were I also wouldn’t think so – so I’m not sure what to make of the need to read the book a few times to appreciate it. Again, I will just recommend that you discuss this book in community so as to wring out the wisdom of Mr. Lewis that drips from its pages.

Mere Christianity
List Price: $15.99
Price: $10.50
You Save: $5.49
Price Disclaimer

CONCLUSION

Most books on Christian apologetics focus on the reasons for belief in the existence of the Christian God and don’t bother getting into Christian faith itself. Conversely, most books on Christian faith explain Christian tenets but they neglect a defense of the existence of the Christian God. In Mere Christianity we find a unique blend of both apologetics and theology, which results in apologetic theology. If there is such a thing. Apolotheology, anyone?

While not the best apologetics book and not the best theology book, Mere Christianity does a good job of outlining a moral defense for the existence of God; explaining how a Christian ought to live; how God transforms a believer’s life; and providing ample discussion material over topics of God, Christianity, and morality. I encourage you to read this book, discuss it with others, and see for yourself why Mere Christianity is a much-hyped book.

five-stars
By | 2018-04-26T22:28:27+00:00 February 12th, 2018|

Oops!

Hi, thanks for dropping by! Looks like you caught us changing … our site design. Please excuse our mess! If you find any bugs or have an suggestions, email us at info@topchristianbooks.online. We’ll definitely reply.

Pin It on Pinterest