Friday, August 16, 2019

book review: Restless Faith

Title: Restless Faith: holding evangelical beliefs in a world of contested labels
Author: Richard J. Mouw
Publisher: Brazos Press
Date: 2019

Richard Mouw is a respected leader within the evangelical community for many years. He has often been a voice of reason. So when I saw this book on an important topic for these turbulent days, I wanted to read it. And wanted to like it.

But I couldn’t. Not because he doesn’t come to a clear conclusion. I somewhat expected that with a title like Restless Faith. But more because I didn’t find he really engaged with the issues. While his emphasis on dialogue is important, I didn’t find much in this book that will help evangelicals dialogue around the cultural and biblical themes that shape evangelicals.

Mouw concludes by saying: “For me, the only way to be a properly functioning evangelical is to keep arguing about what it means to be an evangelical.” Restless Faith (p. 174). Agreed. But, I’m not sure this book moves the dialogue along very far.

This book was been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group
and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
This is my honest review. All opinions are strictly my own.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

book review: Love Over Fear

Title: Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World
Author: Dan White, Jr.
Publisher: Moody Publishers
Date: 2019

Dan White Jr., has written a great little book on living in our polarized world. I found the book a little slow getting started as the initial chapter on “The Way Fear Works” is long and maybe a little dry, but it is a helpful, and necessary framework, for the rest of the book.

As the Acknowledgements says this is a book that will “slightly irritates both conservatives and progressives.” Dan shows a better way than the “Us vs. Them” approach that cable news, social media, and our own voice often encourage. The better way is simple but not easy. It is the way of Jesus that takes genuine interest in others, for the sake of knowing them, not winning an argument.

His final chapter, “The Aikido of Forgiveness” unpacks Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:39-41, and shows us the upside down tactics of the kingdom of God. He moves us from reactive, which is often negative, to active which offers real hope.

This is a practical and important book that will challenge all who read it with an open heart to root out fear and begin to practice love and civility in a world that greatly needs both.

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “Ethics”, helps us understand that judgmentalism
suffers from false seeing. It is a love affair with our own words, expectations and ideas.
You cannot love real and raw people with the judgmental mind, because you will always try to control them, fix them, or size them up before you give yourself in love to them.”

~Dan White Jr, “Love Over Fear”, p152 #LoveOverFear

This book was provided courtesy of Moody Press.
This is my honest review. All opinions are strictly my own.

Monday, May 13, 2019

book review: Faith Lies

title: Faith Lies: 7 Incomplete Ideas That Hijack Faith and How to See Beyond Them
author: Darrell Smith
publisher: elm hill
date: 2019

Faith Lies: 7 Incomplete Ideas That Hijack Faith and How to See Beyond Them by Darrell Smith is a very good book - one I will highly recommend. Darrell Smith writes in an easy to read way, that invites you into the story he is telling of getting rid of the seemingly required religious ideas or spiritual beliefs that are distortions of the real truth.

Here's a summary of the lies
LIE 1 - The Bible is the Literal Word of God - The Bible is not the written record of God’s dictation. God was most certainly the inspiration for the Bible, but not the medium. People were the medium — they did the storytelling, the writing, the selecting, and the interpretation that resulted in the Bible. The Bible is not God’s Bill of Rights and Constitution. Rather, it is a divinely inspired story of progression that should open things up rather than constrict and regulate.

LIE 2 - God is Angry and Doesn’t Like Me-Especially When I Sin - Instead of perceiving God as a loving parent, many of us understand God as a cosmic scorekeeper, intent on our purification. Understanding God as a loving parent not only requires a reframing of our perception of God but also invites us to see each other and ourselves as beloved children.

LIE 3 - The Devil is God’s Counterpart - This is the bad idea that the Bible presents a continuous, consistent narrative about the devil. It simply does not. Moreover, when we string together what we actually have--disparate statements about satan made by different people, from different places, languages, cultures, and times--we arrive at the strange notion that there is a “good” god who is responsible for the “good” things in our lives and a “bad” god (satan) who handles the “bad” stuff.

LIE 4 - I Am Supposed to Protect and Defend God and My Faith - There are real tensions and conflicts around the globe today that are built on the notion that as people of faith, one of our jobs is to defend our faith or our God. Rather than settling for a god who needs our protection, we can follow the powerfully divine thread of moving “beyond the tribe” that is found throughout the Bible.

LIE 5 - There is One Right Way to Believe and One Right Way to Behave - One of the root lies of fundamentalism-in all faiths-is the notion that true faith is defined by believing the right things and acting the right way.  Isn’t it more likely that we are all part of a diverse creation that flows from a God that cannot be contained by any one belief or behaviour?

LIE 6 - Faith is a Private Matter - Much like whom we voted for in the last election or how much money we make, people have wrongfully accepted the idea that faith is a private matter and not to be shared with others. The spiritual life has always been a communal life. We require others to undertake our journey, and others need us, too.

LIE 7 - Real Faith is Blind Belief - The idea that true faith has no doubts or questions creates a powerless and impotent faith that discourages critical thinking and fosters the ridiculous assumption that science and faith are unrelated. Real faith actually requires doubt, criticism, and exploration in order to change us—let alone change the world.

Faith Lies is an excellent read. While wrestling with these difficult questions/lies, Darrell Smith writes in an easy to read manner, adding personal, often humourous, reflections of his journey. He invites us to wrestle with the "truths" many if us have been led to believe in our faith journey. He challenges us to dig deep into what we believe and find meaning in God's love. 

Just before reading this book I had a conversation with someone about doubt. They saw doubt as one of their highest values. Smith would argue that it is not doubt that is the highest value but wrestling with what we believe.

At the end of the book, Darrell Smith provides an excellent list, by chapter, of additional resources to explore.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Speakeasy"
This is my honest review. All opinions are strictly my own.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

book review: outbreak

title: outbreak
author: davis bunn
year: 2019
publisher: bethany house

Davis Bunn has written a book that will keep you reading. His characters are well developed. The locations are described so that we see the book as well as read it. 

The story revolves around the possibility of a pandemic impacting not only West Africa, but much of the world. As the leading characters see the devastation caused by the outbreaks in West African villages, they are faced with questions for which they have no answers. Every question seems to lead to more questions. Even as they are looking for answers, someone seems to be doing everything they can to stop them. Who are they? What exactly are they doing? And why?
I liked the way that Bunn brings a subtle faith aspect to the story. There is something underlying changes in character, but it is not fully spelled out, there is a sense of there is more to unpack.

There are many unanswered questions in this book… Maybe Book One in a new trilogy?

If you enjoy suspense, this is a good read. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group
and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."
This is my honest review. All opinions are strictly my own.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

euthanasia - MAID

In 2015/6, assisted euthanasia, known as MAID (medical assistance in dying), became legal in Quebec/Canada. As the table below indicates, between 10 December 2015 and 31 October 2018 at least 6,749 have died. The reason for the “at least” is as the table indicates numbers for NWT, YK, and NU are not included. As well, it is not unreasonable to suggest that more individuals have been euthanized than the table shows.

How do we as followers of Jesus respond?
  • All human life is precious. Life is a gift from God for us to respect and protect through all its stages. Each person’s life has worth, regardless of their age or ability, because they are made in the image of God and loved by him. This belief in the sanctity of all human life compels me to oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide.
  • God calls us to care for those who are vulnerable, including those who are ill or near the end of life. Palliative care is a compassionate response that supports and cares for those who are suffering or terminally ill.
We recognize that in our world, many set up a hierarchy of value on people. Some people are seen as more valuable than others (for a variety of reasons that goes beyond the scope of this post).

With the “right” to choose MAID, I fear that this “right” may be imposed on the vulnerable – the elderly, the disabled, the chronically ill. Vulnerable persons do not always have people who will speak up and advocate for them. They may be pressured to choose death. 

There is currently a study underway by the Canadian Council of Academies to consider extending access to euthanasia and assisted suicide to:
  • minors, and,
  • those for whom mental illness is the sole underlying medical condition.
Fear and despair often fuel a request for assisted death. Many who are ill or at the end of life are concerned about being a burden and may be afraid of what lies ahead. The compassionate response is to support and encourage them, to provide high-quality palliative care, not to end their lives.

God calls us to care for the vulnerable. We are called to love our neighbour. Jesus’ parable of the Samaritan teaches that our neighbour is anyone who is in need. In both the Old and New Testaments, the people of Israel and followers of Jesus were commanded to care for the foreigner, the widow, the orphan and the poor. In Matthew 25:34-36 Jesus tells us that when we minister to the vulnerable in our society, we are ministering to him.

As God’s people, we are to care for those:
  • Living with a disability or serious illness
  • Struggling to receive proper medical care
  • In despair, believing their lives aren’t worth living
  • Afraid of losing capacity or afraid they may suffer
  • Needing pain control, support, or quality palliative care
All human life is precious. Each person’s life has inherent worth and dignity because we are created by God, made in his image, and loved by him. Euthanasia and assisted suicide fundamentally devalue human life. They communicate that some lives are not worth living, that people with disabilities or illness are better off dead.

Allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide shifts our medical system from a presumption for life to one in which a patient, amid scarce resources, may feel the need to justify not choosing death. Forcing someone to justify their continued care and their existence denies the dignity we affirm in us all.

We affirm human worth and dignity with compassion. The suffering experienced by many living with illness or disability requires a response. We believe the compassionate response is to support and encourage people who are vulnerable, to provide high-quality palliative care, not to end their lives.

Table: Number of Medically Assisted Deaths in Canada

Timeframe Total assisted deaths
Number of medically assisted deaths in Canada provided between January 1 and October 31, 2018 (not including Quebec, NWT, YK, and NU)* 2,614
Number of medically assisted deaths in Quebec between December 10, 2015 and March 31, 2018 1,664
Total number of medically assisted deaths in Canada since legislative enactment (between December 10, 2015 and October 31, 2018) including available data for Quebec^ (not including NWT, YK, and NU) 6,749

*On April 3, 2019, the Minister of Health and Social Services of Quebec tabled a new report by the Commission on End-of-Life Care about the state of end-of-life care in Quebec which includes more comprehensive data on MAID in Quebec.

^Quebec’s data in this calculation represents 1,664 MAID deaths between December 10, 2015 and March 31, 2018, as reported by the Commission on End-of-Life Care. Approximately 7 months of Quebec’s MAID data is unavailable which will result in an under-reporting of the total MAID deaths in Canada.

Monday, April 22, 2019

book review: Atonement and the New Perspective

Title: Atonement and the New Perspective

Author: Stephen Burnhope
Publisher: Pickwick Publications
Date: 2018

Over the last few years, there has been a revisiting of the theology of the atonement. One of these recent books is Stephen Burnhope’s “Atonement and the New Perspective: The God of Israel, Covenant and the Cross”.

Debate within Reformed Evangelicalism has been characterized by claims for supremacy to be granted to penal substitution, versus arguments for a kaleidoscopic, multi-model understanding. An important consideration that is often lacking from the discussion is any positive theological reflection on God’s pre-existing relationship with Israel (often, this gets reduced to providing the negative side of law-versus-grace and works-versus-faith, as the 'dark' background against which the light of Christ may shine more brightly).

Scholarship centred on the “New Perspective on Paul” has dismantled the old stereotypes around first-century Judaism. Burnhope’s book asks how we can think about the atonement when it is brought into conversation with the new scholarship. It concludes by proposing a “new perspective” on atonement in which Christ is central, Israel and Torah are affirmed, and the traditional metaphors find new relevance.

Burnhope writes from an Evangelical perspective with Evangelical concerns about atonement in mind and is well aware of the history of the doctrine before and after the Reformation as well as current Evangelical movements. Burnhope’s book offers a helpful outline of not only the new perspective on Paul but also on the main points in the Evangelical conversation about penal substitutionary atonement. 

There is an excellent discussion of the issue of supersessionism in relation to atonement. Burnhope doesn’t dodge the difficulties. He does a nice job of reframing the debate with an examination of the religious background of Paul and a reminder of the inaccuracies of our lazy contemporary readings of first-century Jewish and Christian religion. 

Those who are wedded to the penal substitution model of the atonement probably won’t like Burnhope’s approach. However, I think he raises some excellent points around the covenant-making motif that causes us to consider a plurality of ways about the cross.

Burnhope’s work is quite technical so it may not be for the average reader. Pastors who consider theology a vital component of their work will find it helpful. You may not agree with all of Burnhope’s conclusions. He helpfully presents an excellent overview of numerous contributors to the discussion of atonement.

Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from the publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review.
The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Friday, March 08, 2019

Either-or World

We are living in a world, especially on social media, which increasingly sees things as either-or. Here are a couple of recent examples.

  • Support for veterans or for first nations.
  • Support for refugees or for our poor.

It seems to me that an either-or world is a world which makes no room for and. It makes no room for new possibilities. And so…

  • We build our political worlds around either-or. 
  • We build our economic models around either-or.
  • We build our social worlds around either-or.
  • We build our religious worlds around either-or.

We create dichotomies that I often think are artificial and harmful. So I hear people say thing like

  • You have to be anti-abortion or you are evil.
  • You have to hold to this particular interpretation of scripture or you are a heretic.
  • You have to be conservative or liberal (depending on who you are talking to) or you are wrong.

We make no room for new opportunities

  • You have to be anti-abortion or you are evil.

I am pro-life, which means we work for the caring of the unborn and the born, for the health of the infant and the mother, including the post-abortion mother.

  • You have to hold to this particular interpretation of scripture or you are a heretic.

We need to remember that all theological models or interpretations are just that – a model or interpretation. Basically, they are an attempt to put boundaries around scripture, and around God. And, in most (99%) cases those interpretative models become more important than scripture and God (I will probably get a lot of push back on that, which I think demonstrates the point). We make no room for mystery, for views that are bigger and more diverse than my mind can hold together.

  • You have to be conservative or liberal (depending on who you are talking to) or you are wrong.

I have never been a member of a political party. I have voted (and this I am sure will get me in trouble with some) Conservative (in its various incarnations here in Canada), Green, Independent, Liberal, NDP, and I have refused my ballot. When will we learn that the Kingdom of God is political, but it is not about a political party?

Let's learn to live in the and.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Giving Up – for Lent

Lots of people talk about giving something up for Lent.
Forget giving up sweets, alcohol, caffeine or anything else. 
Giving up specific food and drink choices is kids’ stuff. 

What if we just give up? 

Isn’t that what the gospel is about?
The only way to live is to die.
The only way to experience resurrection is to be dead.

When the Gospel is proclaimed, it stays light-years away from reliance on success or on any other exercise of what Robert Farrar Capon calls “right-handed power”.

A long time ago, in 1957, Mabel Williamson wrote a little book entitled “Have We No Rights?” in which she shows that as Christians we must be willing to give up the right to the comforts of life, physical health and safety, the privacy in business, friends, romance, family, and home.

However you practice Lent, make sure you realize that whatever you are doing is not earning you points with God. That's the whole point of the gospel - Jesus looked after it all. There is nothing - zilch - nada - zero - that you can do.

Practice Lent by immersing yourself in the Gospel - we are reading the Gospel of Luke this year - not so we can brag about how biblical we are - but so we can understand a little more of...
  • who Jesus is
  • what he did
  • & who we are in him & because of him

Thursday, February 14, 2019

book review: revelation

Title: Revelation
Translator: Michael Strauss
Illustrations: Jennifer May Reiland
Date: 2017
Publisher: Spuylan Duyvil

Bible translations are difficult to review. Some reviewers get all tied up in knots over translations of individual words. In this brief review, I want to highlight how this translation came across to me.

There are two parts to this work. The actual translation and the illustrations.
The illustrations are interesting. There is a lot of detail in the images and they tie in quite nicely to the text. A word of caution – some of the images are nudes.

The translation is well laid out, taking advantage of the poetic portions, using a mixture of languages.
The translation is without chapter and verse markings which is appropriate for a text that is meant to be read and absorbed rather than studied. As much as I enjoy studying [I have a BSc, an MDiv, and a ThM] there are times when it is good to set aside the study aspect and immerse yourself in the text.

This translation reads well. It works well as spoken word. There is a good flow to the text.

this book was provided to me free in return for a review

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

book review: insurgence

title: Insurgence
author: Frank Viola
publisher: Baker Books
date: 2018

This like the other Frank Viola's books I have read are rooted in his desire that his readers would prize Jesus above all else, and that they would submit every aspect of their life to his Lordship. 

There are common threads in many of his writings. This book packages it a little differently: an extended series of short, hard-hitting ideas or concepts, each backed up with lots of scripture, and collected into 5 major themes throughout the book. 

The style makes it easy to read in short segments. At times it seems a little condensed, but he then expresses a similar thought in another chapter. 

If you are looking for a traditional "how-to" book on Christian living, you won't find it here. But if you want a fresh, and also ancient, perspective on Christ’s advancing Kingdom vs the current world systems in which we are all part of and comfortable living in - this is a good option.

One criticism, it might be a little long and a tiny bit repetitive.

I received a copy of this book from Resourcing Leaders
Graf-Martin Communications

book review: it's okay not to be okay

title: It's Okay Not To Be Okay
author: Sheila Walsh
publisher: Baker Books
year: 2018

Sheila Walsh writes with an openness and honesty. She writes out of personal experience but also roots her journey in biblical truths - without becoming preachy. 
This is not a deep book or one you pick up looking for theological statements, rather it is the first-hand story of a woman who has been through some difficult times and who offers the wisdom she has gained along the way.

I would recommend this book

I received a copy of this book from Nuts About Books
raf-Martin Communications Inc