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Five New Books

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Being part of the Baker Books Blogger program, I’d like to mention a few books I have been provided recently. I’ve not had the time to write a fuller length analysis, but I would at least like to offer a few short notes on the quality of what I’ve been sent.

The Ride of Your Life by Mike Howerton

The entire book is built around the analogy of five lessons learned from the author as he taught his son to ride a bike. The book is split into these five categories, and Howerton derives some spiritual lessons from each of them. My primary criticism of the book is that most of the spiritual lessons that Howerton suggest, seem to be derived from experience more from scripture itself. Overall this seems like nothing more than the typical Christian Inspirational reading being printed these days.

 Unshockable Love by John Burke

Any book that puts a quote from Mark Batterson on the cover has already made quite a statement about what you can expect to find on the inside. The back cover asks the question: “Why were “sinners” so attracted to Jesus, yet repelled by the religious? It had everything to do with the heart of Jesus. They sensed Jesus was for them – not against them.” Burke makes too much out of the sinner’s ability to respond to God, and it’s evident just from the back cover. Well written, but not in-line with the totality of scripture.

Steel Will by Shilo Harris

Steel Will is a biography, and as such it’s a better quality than many of the Christian books I’ve read recently. It’s not busy making some of the pretentious connections that most inspirational “christian” reading does these days. It’s worth a read, especially if you’re interested in the military, or the process of dealing with hard circumstances (Harris was in a humvee in Iraq and was struck by an IED which resulted in severe injuries, and a long road to recovery.)

Same-Sex Marriage by Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet

Same-Sex Marriage is probably the most thoughtful book I’ve received from Baker as I have been doing these reviews for the last couple months. While I don’t think it’s the ultimate book on gay marriage, it was useful. A particularly interesting chapter to me was Chapter 8, Learning from the past, which considered how homosexuality became acceptable, and what we may need to take into consideration in our response. One particularly salient point that most Christians could learn from today was that telling stories doesn’t change our responsibility to present good arguments.

Next – Pastoral succession that works by William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird.

What I said above in relation to Unshockable love, goes here too. The book’s back includes reviews from Rick Warren, John Ortberg, and Mark Batterson. My biggest criticism here is that it seems to be a bit pragmatic. “Here’s some strategies that work”.  No real foundation is laid down Biblically, or historically for what Pastoral succession should look like. It feels like a practical/pragmatic management handbook. This book is for pastoral succession what John Maxwell’s books are for leadership.

Written by Agrammatos

October 26, 2014 at 7:53 PM

Posted in Book Reviews, General

The First Time We Saw Him – A Review

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“Christ…had all sorts of friends who wouldn’t be welcome in church. He would hang out with them at bars, and go to their parties, and it didn’t make people happy with him.”

The theme of this book intrigued me initially. The aim of the author, Matt Mikalatos, was to bring a fresh perspective to the parables and life of Christ so that eyes that have been accustomed to reading the story of Christ might see it in a new light.

It’s true that the average modern reader will miss certain nuances in the Old and New Testament due to unfamiliarity with the cultural context, so it would reason that modernizing some of the story of Christ and his parables could be a good thing. However, I have a number of concerns that grew as I read the book.

My main concern is that anytime a message is altered to ease understanding we have to recognize that the alterations may have wider effects than we intend. For example: there have been attempts to explain the trinity, but by attempting to present the Godhead in a more understandable form we’re likely to unintentionally promote heresy, e.g. If we say the trinity is like water (it can be solid, liquid, and gas) then we are, perhaps unintentionally, espousing Modalism. When I picked up the book I was assuming that Mikalatos was taking some of the parables of Christ and modernizing them, however the book is quite a bit more than that.

The First Time We Saw Him is not just a modernizing of the parables of Christ, but a modernizing of highlighted portions of Christ’s story. It beings with his conception and ends with him being resurrected. It’s more of a selective paraphrase of scripture akin to the Cotton Patch version, or The Word on the Street. Now  paraphrases can have the benefit of jump-starting our consideration of a passage from a new angle we had not seen before, but often it also trivializes the person, and character of God. The story is fundamentally changed by trying to make it more accessible to a wider audience.

For instance, in the second chapter there is a correlation drawn between the Pharisees of Christ’s day, and modern church goers who are too caught up in externals. Mikalatos tells us that Christ wasn’t too caught up in the external appearances like the Pharisees, or the modern church goers: “Christ…had all sorts of friends who wouldn’t be welcome in church. He would hang out with them at bars, and go to their parties, and it didn’t make people happy with him.” I’m somewhat at a loss for the original story that Mikalatos is modernizing here. I can’t think of any instances in the life of Christ that would have direct correlations with him attending a modern party, or a bar. Scripture tells us Christ ate with Publicans and sinners, but that’s a far cry from the modernization being offered. In fact, when most modern readers consider Jesus going to bars and attending parties, they are going to be imagining something quiet a bit different from anything recorded for us in scripture.

I would argue a much better method, but more difficult, is putting some serious study into the life of Christ, an understanding of his parables, and the culture at the time. We can’t just transpose meaning out of one cultural setting into another and expect to have one to one comparisons for everything. Something will always get lost, or added. Read with caution, like you should everything.

I received this book for free from Baker Books in exchange for my reviewing it, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Written by Agrammatos

October 8, 2014 at 1:29 AM

Posted in Book Reviews