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Overthinking Christian

Our scope here is to rattle evangelical norms that threaten Biblical norms (as well as pretend we are smarter and more "spiritual" than we actually are).

A Good Effort to maintain the Jewishness of the Psalms: “Shalom in Psalms” Book Review

shalomWhat I appreciate most about this translation (called the Tree of Life Version , or the TLV) of the Psalms is that it unapologetically maintains the Jewishness of the Psalms. While our translations, English or otherwise, struggle to maintain the original tone of Jewishness in the Old and New Testament, the TLV wrestles to bring some of that Jewishness back while not being entirely wooden.

The layout of Shalom in Psalms is simple: after each Psalm there is a short and commentary on that Psalm by one of three authors, or at times there will be two authors together, offering their insight. The commentary takes you verse by verse but in a very brief manner, aimed at being more devotional than academic.

I absolutely loved the treatment of Psalm 22. As Christians we often read this Psalm and allow ourselves to be transported automatically to the rugged cross of our Lord, not realizing that the author (who we (mostly) presume is David) is actually going through turmoil. Meaning, Psalm 22 is about his experience and is only later applied to Jesus.

As mentioned, Shalom in Psalms is more for devotional reading than critical study. I personally have thoroughly enjoyed it and am happy to add it to my collection of books though I will use it “devotionally” rather than the study of Scripture.

*I received my copy free in exchange for an honest review from Baker

Wayne Grudem’s Log in his Eye in regards to the Trinity (in its apparent relation to Women subordination)

wayneWayne Grudem believes that because the Son was subordinated to the Father this reveals the subordination which women are to have in relation to men. In other words, the Father has authority over the Son, meaning there is a hierarchical structure within the God-head. I do not hold to such hog-wash (I always wanted to say that!) as the concept of the Trinity is about three equal “persons”, involving no hint of hierarchy. In fact Jesus (according to parts of the New Testament) was not “under” the Father(‘s authority) but rather was there creating with the Father and Spirit at the creation of the cosmos; Jesus (at least in creation) was not “submissive” but was rather very authoritative! While in the Gospels there seems to be some sort of subordination at times, this seems to only be the case in Jesus’ ministry; he is then “exalted to the right hand of God” and given the name above any other name. Yet Grudem (and others apparently) hold to an eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Grudem’s position that the Trinity teaches women subordination says more about his views than what the Bible actually says; more about his bias (=log in his eye) than about what the Bible teaches and implies concerning the Trinity. The Trinity is silent concerning women in ministry and in positions of authority. If you look under every rock for your already-crystallized (or written in stone) positions then you likely will find them.

Are There Apostles Today? “Moving In the Apostolic” by John Eckhardt book review (revised edition)

apostolicJohn Eckhardt comes out swinging in this book (originally written in 1999 but revised in 2017) in explaining that apostleship did not cease with the death of the apostles. Unfortunately, his exegesis usually proves to be forced, his conclusions seeming to have been drawn before giving the Bible texts room to “breathe.” I say this as a Pentecostal, having grown up hearing the theory that the office of apostelship indeed never ceased but that the Church throughout her history “quenched” the Spirit. Eckhardt shares such Pentecostal leanings and while I wholeheartedly would agree that the Church has done her fair share of injustices through time, I don’t hold that the lack of the ecstatic is a sure sign of spiritual illness. Here are a few reasons why I would not recommend this book:

A Disregard of Church History

Eckhardt says that the Spirit wasn’t really present until the ecstatic started happening on a large scale (we trace this back to the early 1900s), making it sound like God did this huge cosmic thing in his Incarnation and Teachings and death/Resurrection/ascension and initiation of his church and then just took off for for 1500 years or so, only to restore the church back to glory in the 1900s. To me this reeks of triumphalism as well as the placing of one denomination on a throne above all others. Of course, every denomination has at one time or another been guilty of this.

“Unique” Exegesis 

A heavy reliance on Acts as a blueprint for how to do church is evident, which is the standard (Classical) Pentecostal position. I have changed my position though I still lean towards Pentecostalism in that I (as Gordon Fee-also a Pentecostal) believe Acts is simply the history of the early church. This does not mean we cannot learn from Acts (God forbid!) but this does mean that there is more going on in Acts then just the ecstatic. There is also the fact that there are no poor in the churches but all (wealth) is shared. I would argue that if tongues is to be named as an evidence of the Spirit, then why isn’t this common (and radical) love viewed as an imprint/evidence of the Spirit as well? (Perhaps that’s for another post!) I realize Acts still is meant to show us how to do church up to a point; but it is written primarily as history and not as some sort of church guide.

At one point in Acts we are told that the church (in Acts) experiences a respect from the surrounding city-favor some translations will say. Does this mean that this is prescriptive for all churches? Eckhardt thinks so, writing that “God gives apostolic churches favor in their cities, regions and nations.” This is bizarre to me, since the early church experienced more hardship than so-called “favor”; and since Paul seems to think that to be a Christian is to suffer. So does Jesus (more importantly) for that matter.

Concluding Thoughts

Though I hold that the office of apostleship has long ended, I do not pretend that this is an issue that can be easily resolved. Those on both sides of this debate may be grasping at straws since Scripture can be muddy or foggy in this respect. While the author (a continuist) is prone to offering weak “proof” texts to uphold his position, the same seems to be occurring from many in the cessasionist crowd. Those on both sides try to resolve this issue (and others) by mere Bible-proofing, leading to circular (never-ending) arguments. Humility from all Christians is a requirement. Can we admit as the Apostle did that not all things are really that clear?

 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (Paul in 1 Cor 13:12, The Message)

*I received my copy from Chosen in exchange for an honest assesment

The Gospel and Social Inequality; “Dream With Me” by John M. Perkins (book review)

dreamNever having heard of the John M. Perkins, Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win (Baker, 2017) served as a great introduction to someone I now consider a true American hero. Containing stories of the hardship he and others experienced before and during the Civil Rights era, the book at hand deals with the past and present racial tension of America, all the while maintaining a gentle tone. At times being brought to tears and at other times laughing at the author’s wit and charisma, I recommend Dream With Me for the following reasons:

This book is hope-filled

Having much experience with racial reconciliation, Perkins’ gentle wisdom seems to bleed onto all the pages as he offers his two-cents (which I think is very valuable) on certain issues. The book being rooted in Scripture, I agree with the author’s assessment that if the gospel doesn’t spill over into everyday living then it’s not really the gospel. That the gospel cannot simply be about a personal salvation that carries little or no social and racial implications.

This book stresses human responsibility

Too many times Christianity is used as a means to escape issues plaguing our world. I understand that for those around the world who live in severe poverty, their relationship with God (as well as their Christian community) really is a means to escape the harsh reality of their world. As for most of us in America who don’t experience this level of suffering, it’s a sham when we hide behind statements like “God is in control” to simply opt out of our responsibility in our culture. I hold that God indeed is in control, and yet believe he still calls us to partake in a non-passive stance; to actually be “present” in our world. If all we do is pray to God, go to church, and maintain relationships with fellow Christians, it is likely we have fallen prey to an “escape from reality” mentality which is foreign to the New Testament. Perkins realizes this and points out the sin of complacency.

The Book is Relevant

Though Perkins begins by stating that he is in fact no writer, it doesn’t show. Though we have plenty of well-written books, they more often than not deal with yesterday’s concerns rather than the issues plaguing today. Dream with Me is a book that those on the political Left and Right (and those like me who find both sides equally appalling) should all read with an open heart as it proves to be ever-relevant. We live in a time where so many are confused, convinced that their political party will bring heaven to earth. Many times we (myself included) have pre-programmed answers to questions before we’re even asked the questions! (As Paul said, Brothers, this should not be!) This book is a call to humility, a reminder that not one single person has all the right answers. We may as well stop barking (or preaching?) at one another. We owe it to the so many unknown and unnamed who, like John M. Perkins, suffered for where we are today.

*I recieved an electronic advanced manuscript from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Katharina and Martin Luther, Michelle DeRusha (book review)

martin-and-wifeI admit that more than once I have wondered about Martin Luther’s relationship with his wife and who she was exactly. In this sense author, blogger and speaker Michelle DeRusha does us a favor in uncovering who Katharina Luther was in her newest book Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk (Baker, 2017). This being her third book, DeRusha is very articulate, the reading at hand proving to be very readable. Noting the lack of material on Katharina Luther the author sets out to fill this gap, using, admittedly, speculation at times since there is not much surviving material on Katharina Luther to work with. (We have much more surviving documentation on Martin Luther.)

Early on DeRusha delves into the life of Katharina before her marriage to Luther, going into detail of her life as a nun. Bringing us into the world of that time, the author tells the story of Katharina doing the socially unacceptable: running away from the nun-hood. Not only was it most certainly frowned upon for Martin Luther to marry a runaway nun but Katharina was was also older in age, making her undesired for marriage. Yet both of these factors did not stop Martin Luther from marrying her.

The author shares of this couple’s love as well as suffering, especially Luther’s many health complications which proved to worry his wife very much. Still Luther would insist on keeping busy in ministry up until the point of his early death.

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The reading is fairly light and I’m grateful for that. I was also surprised to hear of the great Reformer’s humor since he is more often than not portrayed as a dead-serious religious man who simply quotes Bible verses all day; an emotionless dry academic-type person. But this book puts flesh and blood on him, portraying him for what he is: a real life human being! I was surprised to learn that he had a very playful relationship with his wife and was not a “master” over her as much as he was a companion. He proved to not be a man of his time in that regard, especially when male-dominance was the (church) cultural norm.

This book teaching me things I had not known before as well as having an easy-going and lax style, I would recommend this book as a resource, especially since so much is said and written about Martin Luther and so little about his marriage and life-companion.

*I received my electronic review copy for an honest assessment from NetGalley.

“If God isn’t anti-earth or anti-culture, then why are we?” Keith Green and Reflections on the Incarnation (Video Included)

public-domain-images-free-stock-photos-001This Christmas season I studied John 1, falling in love with John’s simplistic and creative depiction of a God who becomes (hu)man. Here we encounter a God who chooses to enter our world, engaging with our “worldly” culture (at least that of the Jews and Romans 2,000 year ago). In John 1 the author utilizes metaphors of “light” and “darkness” which are common in the Old Testament (OT). While we tend to automatically think that darkness=wickedness, in the OT it has the connotation of disorientation, of people stumbling because the light has been switched off. It’s John’s opinion that God Incarnated as a human is the hope for humanity to be able to “see”once more, so that we can finally stop stumbling over things and each other. But what does it mean for us today that Jesus the “Light” entered the “darkness?” The outward “darkness” that covers the earth, as well as the inward darkness that plagues every human soul?

The late Keith Green wrote a song titled “Asleep in the Light” which I grew up listening to, thanks to my dad. Green, a radical follower of Jesus (he let homeless folk use his house while he and his wife moved into an apartment!) had a lot of beef with the church after he became a Christian. His complaint in this song is that the church is hoarding the light and simply saying “God bless you” to people while proceeding to shut the door on them. I think his argument is valid and still applies to today’s church in America. This is the church which tends to be so focused on the spiritual as to forget that our relationship with God is meant to spill over into how we relate to those around us, those in our non-Christian (“secular”) culture. The spiritual and the natural are not sworn enemies. At least, they’re not supposed to be.

Why is it that we feel the need to retain our Christian bubble and keep the light only where the light already is? Jesus the Light entered darkness. In the Incarnation he provides us the model for how we are to live our lives; as lights in darkness, bringing clarity where there is disorientation. Or rather, Christ in us bringing clarity (light) to situations which call for it. No one would think to place lamp posts in a neighborhood one or two inches away from the next lamp post. What a waste of resources and lack of common sense! But I fear that’s exactly what we do when we only retain Christian friends and only “do life” with other Christians.

The Incarnation reveals a God who enters our world while many times we want only to escape ours. It reveals a God who interacts with humans while too many times modern Christians shy away from non-believers. Ultimately the Incarnation is incompatible with an escapism that solely cries to God “Take me to heaven!” while turning a blind eye to an earthly neighbor. Jesus taught his disciples that the model prayer to pray includes “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” as well as “forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.” Meaning, it’s not just about our relationship with God; it’s equally about our relationship with our fellow man.

While we many times cry “Come Lord Jesus” we don’t realize that those praying such a prayer in Revelation were being slaughtered like cows. Why is this our “go-to” prayer, our prayer by default, when we face not even 1/5 of the persecution of the early church? Now I know that we still suffer here in America; my point is solely that the United States is among the most fortunate nations of our planet. Christians of the early church did not lead lives of comfort.

Two Takeaways

1)A personal relationship with God is never meant to equal a private relationship with God; our neighbor is always involved. And 2), true Christian spirituality requires that we interact with our culture and world, not create an “us vs. them” outlook.

Recommended reading: They Like Jesus But Not The Church, by pastor and teacher Dan Kimball.

Paul Behaving Badly (2016 Book Review)

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Drawn in by the title as well as some of the endorsements, I am currently finishing up the November release by IVP titled Paul Behaving Badly: Was The Apostle A Racist, Chauvinist Jerk? It’s refreshing to discover a new book written by academic authors that is not dense, (you won’t need to keep a dictionary close by for this one!). A delicate handling of individuals texts is definitely a trademark throughout the reading as the authors (E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien) pay very close attention to detail in their examination of Paul’s letters. Though proving to be basic, Paul Behaving Badly is definitely not ‘dumbed down’ in its content.

An undertone in the book is the importance of context. “If you want to understand someone’s motives and the significance of their of their beliefs or actions, you have to consider them in light of the age and culture in which they acted” write the authors (p. 18, Introduction). We cannot overstate that Paul was a man of his time and not a “twenty-first-century American” (p. 19, Introduction).

I found Paul Behaving Badly to be very refreshing in many ways, one of them being that the authors don’t try to give easy answers to a complex topic, leaving room for ambiguity as well as room for the reader to come to his or her own conclusions. There is no shoving of an agenda down the reader’s throat, something that is a problem in both “liberal” and “conservative” Christian literature.

WHO IS THIS BOOK FOR?

Anyone who tends to avoid Paul’s letters, preferring perhaps Jesus (or the Psalms?), should pick up a copy. For those also who have made up their minds about Paul as a sexist or homophobe, this book may (or may not) prove to challenge such common assumptions.

I would also recommend this to anyone interested in NT studies and yet doesn’t want to delve into the heavy academic reading right away. This book bridges the gap pleasantly between the academy and the lay person.

*I received an electronic copy of this book for an honest assessment from NetGalley.

Black Earth, Timothy Snyder (book Review)

black-earth-picInside the head of Hitler it is very dark and eerie, and no one should want to go there. Timothy Snyder, in a very large format, brings the reader face-to-face with the very twisted and corrupt (as well as mad) mind of Hitler whose name alone carries with it connotations of hell itself. But Snyder also reminds us of an important fact; that Hitler and the Nazis are not the only contributors to the holocaust, the air having been so permeated with anti-Semitism to begin with (and certainly not only in Germany). The silence of many religious institutions contributed to this horror as Christians, politically-powerful and influential (and great in numbers) stood idle and watched, some even cheering, the destruction of the innocent. As Snyder writes, “Much of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church , in Poland as elsewhere in Europe, continued to explain that Jews were responsible for the evils of modernity in general and communism in particular” (p. 70). The holocaust to some, then, was not a horror but a relief.

Snyder writes very matter-of-factly and in a “textbook” format, Black Earth leaning towards being a heavier read. Noting that though the Jews were definitely seen by Hitler as the lowest of the low, they were certainly not the only ones to suffer. He writes of one “Erich Koch, chosen by Hitler to rule Ukraine, [who] made the point about the inferiority of Ukrainians with a certain simplicity: “If I find a Ukrainian who is worthy to sit with me at table, I must have him shot”” (p. 18).

The author makes the argument that Hitler was not in fact a nationalist but simply played on the high nationalism of his day in Germany, “his fellow Germans [being] of interest [to him] only insofar as they could be rallied to join a mindless war for future racial prosperity” (p. 33). Hitler viewed the Jew as the root of all evil, a view that was popular in that day, although Hitler added his own unique twist to such a notion (see p. 5, Introduction). Snyder informs us that to Hitler the Jew could be likened to the deceptive and cunning serpent in Eden who ruined it for humanity, Jews themselves not having a part in humanity since they were a “nonrace” (p. 4) or a “counterace” (p. 5). Hitler’s tendency towards paranoia is made evident throughout the many pages of Black Earth as is his sole reason for living and breathing which is to destroy the Jew.

Who is this for?

As someone who has not studied the Holocaust in depth I found Snyder’s book very informative. I believe it’s a great resource to have at at hand to simply reference to. It could serve as an introduction to the Holocaust for some though the reader should take into consideration that the book is both extremely long as well as a heavy read. But, if you enjoy reading historical books that are more dense as well as matter-of-factly, this may be one you’ll enjoy.

 

*I received my copy of Black Earth from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest assessment.

A Thought on Hitler’s Naturalism

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As I currently read through Black Earth which details with the atrocity of Hitler’s worldview and regime as well implications for today, I am interested in a theme which keeps popping up; the conviction Hitler held that said humans are really no different than animals. I don’t suggest that if someone believes this they will become a monster (as Hitler was clearly one) and likewise this is not an anti-evolution rant as I think that Christianity and evolution are not in fact sworn enemies. Rather I am simply reflecting on how a set of ideas can be interpreted so differently by different people. To some the belief that we and animals are equals is a call to repent, a call to respect God’s creation (our fellow creatures); whereas to someone like Hitler such an idea meant that we must become like animals who viciously fight for dominance, competing to survive with blood to pay and no regrets. I would love to hear your thoughts and initial reaction.

Leave your comments below.

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