Here’s a rundown of the 12 books I read in November. A few days out of the office over Thanksgiving was the spark of the high book total. Happy reading.
With Steadfast Purpose: Essays on Acts in Honor of Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr. edited by Naymond Keathley
This work is a festschrift, that is, a collected writing published in honor of an admired scholar. Henry Jackson Flanders was the chair of the department of religion at Baylor University after serving as the pastor of First Baptist Waco, teaching at Furman University, and serving in the military. The collected essays focus on the book of Acts, Flanders’ area of research interest.
I have a great interest in the book of Acts. My doctor of ministry culminating project focused on Acts 13 and 14, along with various aspects of the book as a whole. I’ll grab up any book on the subject of Acts. I was quick to snatch this volume up at a library book sale not only due to the subject mater but also the connection to Baylor University and FBC Waco.
While a fascinating read, the book was not particularly helpful. It raises many questions but answers few. It tears down a great deal but fails to build up. In the end, this book reads as a work of pure academia. Yet, a few essays stand out above the others: “The Unity of the Lukan Writings: Rethinking the Opinio Communis” by Mikel Parsons, “The Most Excellent Narratee: The Significance of Theophilus in Luke~Acts” by Robert Creech, “Sharing Possessions: A Study in Biblical Ethics” by Daniel McGee,
The Southern Baptist Holy War: The Self-destructive Struggle for Power Within the Largest Protestant Denomination in America by Joe Edward Barnhart
If you are interested in the subject this is a masterful take on the events that sent title waves through Baptist life. Perhaps we are still wading in the disturbed water. Perhaps another title way is headed our way. That’s for another post …
The majority of the book’s brilliance is front loaded. The first 100 pages are a fair, even handed look at the subject matter ~ mainly the inerrancy debate. Barnhart dives into particular issues of disagreement and discusses various understandings of the inerrancy issue. It even offers various, and substantial, interpretations of particular Bible passages at the heart of the issue. The remainder of the book takes a very close look at issues that I feel to be secondary topics. While helpful to the overall discussion, I think the last 100 pages provide a distraction from the topic at hand.
This volume is a great companion to Grady Cothen’s memoir, What Happened to the Southern Baptist Convention? A Memoir of Controversy. Perhaps also Baptist Battles by Nancy Ammerman. I will soon begin another book on the same topic Exile: Voices of the Southern Baptist Convention Holy War edited by Carl Kell.
Erasmus and Luther: Discourse on Free Will translated and edited by Ernst Winter
This volume is comprised of edited versions Erasmus’ The Free Will and Martin Luther’s response, The Bondage of the Will. Erasmus was the renowned scholar of his time (1466 to 1536) and is often described as a humanist and a Classicist. Martin Luther was the driving force of the Reformation and penned a number of influential and long-standing theological works. This volume provides two diverse opinions on an often debated subject.
Erasmus’ argument after reading passages in the Bible that describe free will: “Why do you (God) make conditional promise,when it depends solely on your will? why do you blame me, when all my works, good or bad, are accomplished by you, and I am only your tool? Why blame me, when it is night in my power to preserve what you gave me, when everything depends on you anyhow and can be carried out only by your will? Why bless me, as if I had done my duty, when everything is your achievement? Why do you curse me, when I have merely sinned through necessity?” Erasmus obviously argues that wrestling with such questions can only lead on to believe in free will.
Luther responds: It is then essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingency, but that he forces, purpose and does all things according to His immutable, eternal and infallible will. This thunderbolt throws free will flat and utterly dashes it to pieces. Luther goes so far to say directly to Erasmus: I hope to harry you (Christ helping me) as to make you heartily repent ever having published your Diatribe.
The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson
The Pastor As Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan
I first read these books in 2015 as part of my doctor of ministry program. A number of conversations with fellow pastors led me to give them another read.
While both books share nearly identical titles, they differ in many ways. Hiestand and Wilson argue that their book is an “attempt to resurrect a once-thriving but now-deceased vision of the pastor, namely, the pastor theologian.” Vanhoozer and Strachan argue that their book “aims to reclaim the theological pedigree of the world’s boldest profession.” Yet, after laying a similar foundation, the two works begin to diverge down different paths. Vanhoozer and Strachan strive to show that throughout history pastors saw themselves as theologians while Hiestand and Wilson argue that throughout history theologians were in fact pastors. In addition to this subtle difference, the books work towards different definitions.
Hiestand and Wilson argue for an “ecclesial theologian” who above all else “is a theologian who constructs theology as a vocational pastor.” They coin an interesting phrase by stating “theology has become ecclesially anemic, and the church theologically anemic. ” While I don’t feel they support this phrase with solid evidence, it does create a great primer for discussion. Hiestand and Wilson best articulate their vision for an ecclesial theologian with the following:
“Inevitably the grind and press of the pastoral vocation forces one to grapple in profound ways with one’s theological conclusions. A theologian’s theodicy is deepened (and confronted) when he has to conduct the funeral of a six-week-old baby who was accidently killed by his own mother when she shifted in her sleep. And one’s theology is pressed and shaped in profound ways when one has to provide counsel to a husband whose wife is on her third affair, or to a women whose husband has left (for the fourth time) because of a drug addiction.”
I could not agree more. They go on to expound that an ecclesial theologian inhabits the ecclesial social location, foregrounds ecclesial questions, aims for clarity over subtlety, theologizes with a preaching voice, is a student of the church, works across the guilds, works in partnership with the academic theologian, and traffics in introspection.
Vanhoozer and Strachan argue for the pastor as “public theologian.” Their understanding of this term includes: First, pastors are and always have been theologians. Second, every theologian is in some sense a public theologian, a peculiar intellectual, a particular generalist. Third, the purpose of the pastor-theologian being a public intellectual is to serve the people of God by building them up in the faith . This definition is best demonstrated in the section of the book describing the pastor as an artisan in the house of God and describing the practices of the pastor-theologian as disciple maker, evangelist, catechist, liturgist, and apologist.
BH Carroll by Jeff Ray
BH Carroll was the longtime pastor of First Baptist Waco and was the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His shadow is long in baptist life. This volume was published in 1927 by Jeff Ray, professor of Homiletics and rural sociology at Southwestern. Ray obviously had a personal relationship Carroll, even stating that on two separate occasions he lived in the Carroll home for periods of months. As you would expect, this read as hagiography not a true biography. No faults are exposed … unless by accident. On one occasion, Ray tells a story to emphasize Carroll’s humor and humility, but in the process records statements that are racially incentive but were obviously commonplace at the time of publication.
My favorite quote comes from Ray’s description of Carroll’s work ethic:
If he spoke today on the creation story in Genesis and every passage in the Bible bearing on that subject seemed to be at his finger’s end, it was not the result of magic nor of supernatural gifts, but of hard study ~ not Aladdin’s lamp, but the plainly midnight lamp.
This is a dated and noncritical biography. Surely a better look at Carroll’s life and impact is available. I’ll need to find it.
Barna Trends 2018: What’s New and What Next at the Intersection of Faith and Culture
I was unaware that such a compilation of research existed. Sure, I’m familiar with Barna. Yet, I did not know that they published a concise, and extremely readable, summarization of a year’s worth of research data.
I’ll admit I’m both a research data skeptic and junkie. I always take research studies with a grain of salt ~ sample sizes, methods, and research questions can always be manipulated for varied purposes. On the other hand, I much rather have research over a bunch of well reasoned assumptions! In our current cultural climate, a tad bit of research goes along way.
I particularly enjoyed the annual report on Bible engagement. Here’s a bit of info on motivation for increased Bible engagement: Important part of my faith journey 56%, difficult experience and searching for answers 39%, saw how it changed someone else for the better 30%, went to a church where Bile became more accessible 23%, significant life change 22%, someone asked me to read it with them 20%, downloaded onto smartphone 17%, media conversations around religion/spirituality 11%.
A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller
Books on prayer are a dime a dozen … and many are not worth the dime. While this is not a particularly great book, it is a wonderful discussion on prayer. This is not a great book because Miller is far too autobiographical and personal in the discussion on prayer. He returns to his own life time and time again. In particular, he often returns to the living illustration of his autistic daughter when discussing various aspect of prayer.
While the repetition makes for a poor book, it drips of prayer. It is not an academic lecture on the nature of prayer. Rather, it is a wellspring of insights from a man of prayer. It is well worth your time.
The book was well worth reading just for the following visual illustration. Miller remarks that the secular world has removed the Shepherd from Psalm 23. He then highlights what happens to the psalm when you remove the Good Shepherd and everything he does:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil,
overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy by Calvin Miller
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Calvin Miller is under appreciated. His writings are varied but always profound. This thin volume is to a brief introduction to Celtic forms of prayer. Miller provides a short introduction to Patrick and the Celtic tradition and then gives short, helpful chapters on six different forms of Celtic prayer: Trinity prayer, Scripture prayer, wandering prayer, nature prayer, Lorica prayer (asking God for protection), confessional prayer.
“Long ago,” Calvin Miller writes, “when the Celts built their own rustic kingdom of God in what would later be the British Isles, their fervor in prayer washed their world in a vital revival.”He goes on to say “Hunger for Christ keeps us talking to God till our separation is swallowed up in our unending togetherness with him.”
Each chapter provides an introduction to each form of prayer and also provides suggestions for putting together your own versions. Miller could have easily made this volume 100 pages thicker but writes with constraint. It would be a great companion to a Patrick biography. I might have to pick one up.
Scripture Revisited: A theology of the New testament and Christian Tradition by Gerhard Stubben
Gerhard Stuben along with writing a handful of books, is part of the team at Patristica Press. I took advantage of a Patristica Press promo that offered this book as a free PDF. I gladly downloaded the file and printed the book out on paper. Just call me old school.
Stubben wrote this book to “engage with Christian Scripture as a (post)modern person writing to (post)modern people, as a Christian who has no choice but to honestly engage the findings of biblical scholarship and who wants to remain authentically Christian even in their wake.” He does this by developing an interesting understanding of apostolicity and ultimately developing a canon within the New Testament canon.
By the end of the book (he goes through a number of variations before reaching final form), he develops a hierarchy of Scripture:
- The apostolic writings
- The gospels
- The Old Testament
- The creed
- Select early Christian writings
He does this in order to “offer the church not only a way to be more honest with the texts and what they actually say, but also to offer ways forward to read these sometimes contradictory text theologically without appealing to subjective opinions and the equally subjective notion of ‘the guidance of the Holy Spirit.’ By rigorously reading, hierarchically arranging, and critically comparing the various texts in the New Testament, I think we have found just such a way forward.” If you got lost in the weeds there … Stubben creates a structure that allows you to alleviate the tension of “contradiction” by merely submitting to the passage on the higher level of authority.
While the book is engaging and the argument well developed, I simply can’t agree. I don’t agree with what Stubben calls “contradictions” nor do I believe a hierarchy alleviates any tension. Rather, I believe it creates a host of more problems.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (The Chronicles of Narnia) by CS Lewis
I will not give another rundown of the Narnia series. While I feel that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is weak as a whole, it has some amazing parts. Here are the contenders for my favorites passages:
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”
“I have been here all the time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”
“Do not look so sad. We shall meet soon again.”
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy, “what do you call soon.”
“I call all times soon,” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away and Lucy was alone with the Magician.
“Gone!” said he, “and you and I quite crestfallen. It’s always like that , you can’t keep him; it’s not as if he were a tame lion.”
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary by JRR Tolkien edited by Christopher Tolkien
I have to admit this was a difficult, slow read. I’ve loved the Beowulf story since I first read it in high school. I’ve reread it a number of times since. Yet, it is almost unrecognizable in Tolkien’s translation. The back story tells us a good reason why. Tolkien never intended for this book to be published. He translated it for his personal enjoyment and for the sake of collegiate lectures. In fact, the book is mostly comprised of Tolkien’s commentary on the text. The book’s bulkiness is derived from Tolkien’s commentary notes that give incredible detail, line by line, on why he translated specific words they way in which he did. There is no doubt of Tolkien linguistic genius. Tolkien’s third son, Christopher, has made a career of publishing his father’s unpublished work. This work takes Tolkien unpublished translation and attaches notes from Tolkien’s class lectures.
While I enjoyed working through Tolkien’s Beowulf, it was a labor. Most English translation take the story and put it into fairly readable prose. After all, it is mostly read by high school students. Tolkien’s work is that of a scholar meant for scholars. At many points I was forced to read it out loud in order to digest meaning. Beautifully written … but no walk in the park. More like a marathon … up hill … in the snow.