A History of Christianity by Joseph Early Jr.

Posted by on Jul 31, 2015 in Church History, Featured

A History of Christianity by Joseph Early Jr.

51HOyiMixrL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecc. 12:12) With all of the writing that goes on there is one area of writing that will always be with us – the writing of history. People have a fascination with history. History books connect us to the past and its people, places, things, and ideas, some of which we were directly a part of but much of which we were never part of. Every discipline in the history of mankind has books written on its history.

While reading history connects us to the past it also awakens us to a startling reality, not everyone agrees on the what’s, why’s, who’s, and how’s of history. Most facts are indisputable, however, there are plenty of differences. As objective as historians may set out to be in their accounting of history, each person writes from a slightly different perspective and sees things a little differently. No one tells history the same way – and this can be a good thing. If wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors, then history is better told and understood through a multitude of historians.

Young author and historian Joseph Early Jr. , professor of religion in the School of Theology at Campbellsville University, has recently made his contribution to the telling of Christian history in his new book A History of Christianity: An Introductory Survey (B&H, 2015). Joseph is the author of Readings in Baptist History (B&H, 2008) and The Life and Writings of Thomas Helwys (Mercer Univ. Press, 2009).

As a survey, Early touches on the highlights of Christian history since the time of Jesus by looking at the major people, events, and places that shaped it. Written in narrative style, this book is reader friendly, especially for those looking to get their feet wet in the history of Christianity.

Early writes from a desire to show people that God is at work in the history of the world. If history is truly “His-story” then when Christians tell their history they should be doing so with the influence of providence behind every event and person showing how God is working through the march of time. As early notes in the beginning of the book:

When one takes the long view of history, it is easier to see that, regardless of what was going on in the organized church, there are always those who seek to find God’s will for the church. As a Christian and a historian, I hope the readers of this book will be able to see the bright light of the gospel shining throughout the lives of heroic Christians no matter how dark the times may be. After all, we are promised that the light of the gospel will obliterate the darkness. (xviii)

While the book is necessarily short, considering the 2,000 years of history it covers, Early shows that he capable of handling the material in a more in depth manner. His writing is clear and you do not feel like you are bogged down in the minute details of names and dates that can so easily characterize history books. Early wants his readers to enjoy and be drawn into what they are reading and his writing accomplishes that.

A History of Christianity is a well written introductory survey of the history of Christianity. This could easily be a go to book for new Christians looking to learn more about the history of their new faith. It would also serve well as text book for high school history class and homeschoolers. And of course, it is a great book for any Christian looking to learn more about how the Christian faith and the unique life of Jesus shaped not only Christianity, but also the history of the world.

I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life

Posted by on Jul 30, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life

Bonhoeffer on the Christian LifeTheologians of the past have much to teach us. Many of the contemporary theological and practical questions that Christians wrestle with are not new. Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Life series opens up to readers today the insights of the past. As part of that series Stephen Nichols gives us Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life. There is much that Christians today can learn from Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer teaches us to see how orthodox Christology impacts practical missiology.

This is not a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Though there is, obviously, lots of biographical information dispersed throughout the pages of the book, it focuses on a specific area of Bonhoeffer’s theology, not his life in general. We do get to “Meet Bonhoeffer” in the introduction. Nichols walks us, helpfully, through the salient points in understanding the man. He urges us not to see him as “heroic,” but rather as humble. He urges us to understand Bonhoeffer’s connection between life and faith. He walks us through the man’s most important works, and points to the central features of his theology: ecclesiology and Christology. We are quick to point to his heroic death at the hands of the Nazis, but Nichols wants us to see that there is more to Bonhoeffer. Specifically, he wants us to see how the man can influence our own discipleship in the world as Christ-followers. He writes:

Bonhoeffer so well understood how to live because he so well understood the cross on which Christ died. Bonhoeffer also grasped the all-encompassing implications of the cross for human existence. He lived from the cross for the world. This is why he’s worth meeting. (27)

Bonhoeffer has much to teach us about living as Christians in the world.

Bonhoeffer’s view of the Christian life takes a decidedly cruciform shape. The subtitle of the book “From the Cross, For the World,” encapsulates the two major themes of Bonhoeffer’s work: Christology and Ecclesiology. Nichols begins his survey with an understanding of what it means to be “in Christ,” pointing to the cross as both a model and a means of justification. Nichols is not shy to address the issue of Bonhoeffer’s conservativism. One central point of debate in Bonhoeffer studies is the question: Was Bonhoeffer an Evangelical? Nichols notes that the debates will likely rage on, but he sees no reason to question his “conservative bona fides.” He writes:

Bonhoeffer should not be counted among theological liberals. He was a theological conservative. He not only had an orthodox view of Christ; he also prominently displayed that view in his work and placed it at the center of his thought and life. He held to the doctrine of justification by faith, and he had a high view of Scripture. (81-82)

The cross, as central to his theology, was a reminder of our weaknesses, particularly as it points to our sin. We cannot deal with our sin, we can do nothing to resolve this problem. Justification is all of God, our role is simply to believe. Faith is, says Bonhoeffer, “the most profound human passivity” (41). We are in constant need of grace in the Christian life.

Furthermore, this cruciform shape of Christian living leads us towards suffering. The cross is a rebuke to the power systems of his day (particularly the Nazis), a rebuke to individual arrogance, a rebuke to self-justification. Instead, the cross calls us to sacrifice and humility. Nichols summarizes:

Bonhoeffer saw implications within an orthodox Christology for how one lives. By coming to grips with our own sinfulness, we cultivate a little humility. By coming to grips with Christ’s humiliation and his taking on flesh and fully identifying with us, we cultivate a little more humility (Philippians 2). And from this stance of humility comes service to others…Christ’s humiliation forces us first upward to look to him, then outward to look to others. (49)

From the cross, for the world.

Here we begin to see the true shape of the center of Bonhoeffer’s theology. Nichols calls it a Christo-ecclesiological-ethic. “We could simply say that according to Bonhoeffer, life is lived in Christ, in community, in love” (53). Nichols highlights how central love is to the work and practice of Bonhoeffer. He guides us through the ways he cared for the Confessing church, the seminarians he trained at Finkenwalde, Jews facing persecution, and, while in prison, still attempted to care for his own family. Nichols guides us through Life Together and Ethics to see how Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on love is manifest. For all of Bonhoeffer’s theology practicality is essential. That his Christology would have implications for life is not surprising, then. From the cross, for the world, is a fitting summary for how Bonhoeffer viewed the Christian life. Orthodox Christology can and should shape practical missiology.

This is a fantastic book. With both a historian’s insight and a pastor’s heart, Stephen Nichols introduces us to Bonhoeffer in a way that would, I think, have pleased the man himself. He tells us about Bonhoeffer’s views on the Christian life not just to give us information, but, more significantly to challenge our own faithful living. This is a work of history written for practical application. In reading it, not only was I enamored with Bonhoeffer, but I was challenged to think critically about my own personal Christian life. I highly recommend both this Theologians of the Christian Life series, and this particular volume, Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life, to all readers. You will be challenged to see how your theology should move you to action, particularly the actions of love.

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Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith

Posted by on Jul 29, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith

Real Christian What does it really mean to be a true Christian? Are there observable traits that identify the real Christian from the fake, marks that clearly demonstrate one is really a follower of Jesus vice one who merely pays lip service? The answer to those questions is a resounding yes and Todd Wilson, in his helpful book Real Christian: Bearing the Marks of Authentic Faith, explains for the reader precisely what being a real Christian is about.

Wilson begins by defining the term real. This is important given unless one grasps what the real version looks like, the fake will be that much more difficult to spot. He rightly notes “Real Christians bear the marks of authentic faith in ways that can be seen, heard, and felt.” This means real Christianity involves more than simply saying you are a Christian. It demands action that is observable by others and that impacts the world around you for the glory of God.

There is a process of moving towards a place of real faith. Wilson aptly explains the first steps toward authenticity begin with a change of one’s heart. He comments, “A transformed heart is what gives rise to all the marks of real – from humility to hunger. And nothing else but a new heart can do this.” This statement dives right to the heart (no pun intended) of what it means to be born again. As born again believers, we have a new perspective on life, a new way of living, one oriented on loving God and loving others.

One particular chapter I appreciated in this fine book is Wilson’s discussion of what it means to hunger after God. This is another term we have all likely heard many times and even declared for ourselves as something we desire. A mark of a real Christian is evidence of hungering and thirsting after righteousness – the things of God and God Himself. Wilson rightly avers concerning what a hunger for God looks like in practice that “When it is fed, spiritual hunger doesn’t go away; it grows…Make it your ambition, then, to feed on God as much as possible.” As we seek after God, we are told we will find Him. When we find Him, we will desire more of His presence. More of His presence means more of Him in our lives which in turn will reflect godliness in our lives that others can clearly see.

Another helpful aspect of this book are the chapter resources provided at the conclusion of each chapter. Wilson provides the reader with questions for reflection that will assist in digging deeper into the material covered in that particular chapter. Additionally, he provides several passages of Scripture for further study as well as excellent resources. These chapter resources make this book a great value for not only personal study, but also for use in a small group environment or a family Bible study setting.

To be a true believer is to be a real Christian. Authenticity in a world replete with fake spirituality is more important than ever. I highly recommend this book for all believers all along the spectrum from the babe in Christ to the most seasoned in the faith. We all need a reminder that faith without works is dead faith. Wilson does an excellent job of encouraging the reader to seek after God so that He may be glorified in our lives for the purpose that we may show a lost and hurting world the joy of serving our loving and gracious God.

This book is available for purchase from Zondervan Academic by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Zondervan Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Praying The Bible

Posted by on Jul 28, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

Praying The Bible

41lqTumrDVL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I have to admit when I first heard the title of Dr. Whitney’s new book “Praying the Bible” my very first thought was that it was all about preaching the gospel to myself. Praying the Bible is a lot like preaching the gospel but it’s also totally different. In preaching the gospel to ourselves, we’re seeking to apply the truth of Scripture to our lives. In praying the Bible, Dr. Whitney says we’re, “taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through your heart and mind back to God. By this means his words becomes the wings of your prayers” (32).

Dr. Whitney wrote this book to help people with their prayer lives. Often times in our prayer lives we can focus only on saying the same things over and over again. So, Dr. Whitney writes to help us deal with our wandering boredom in prayer and to help us saturate our prayer lives in the Word of God. He states, “The Holy Spirit causes all the children of God to believe that God is their Father and fills them with an undying desire to talk to him” (14). The solution to a routine boring prayer life according to Dr. Whitney is to, “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particular a psalm” (27).

Dr. Whitney notes that praying the Bible is not engaging in hermeneutics (34-35) but is prayer (35). He explains that, “Bible reading is secondary in this process. Our focus is on God through prayer; our glance is at the Bible. And we turn Godward and pray bout every matter that occurs to us as we read” (35). When we’re praying the Bible, we are reading the biblical text but with a view to take what it says and pray through it. Praying the Bible is another way to take what we see in the text and apply it to our lives. We do this by thinking God’s thoughts after Him as we read His Word and pray them back to Him. The goal of praying the Bible is that Scripture would shape our prayer lives and every part of our life. As Dr. Whitney says, “When you pray the Bible, you aren’t just praying ordinary words you are praying words of spirit and life” (43).

While chapters one through four sets out the problem with our prayer lives, the solution, and the method, chapters five and six looks at praying the Psalms, and other parts of the Bible. Chapter seven calls readers to pray “through a psalm for at least seven minutes” (64). In chapter eight the author helps us to evaluate our experience with praying the Bible while chapter nine helps us to understand what we’ve learned so far from this book. The book concludes by looking at how George Muller, one of the great prayer warriors in the history learned to pray the Bible in addition to exploring how Jesus prayed on the cross, and the early believers in the book of Acts. Praying the Bible has two appendixes. In the first appendix, the author gives a Psalms of the Day chart that helps the reader to know which chapters to read in the Psalms on the specified day of the month. Appendix two looks at how to pray the Bible with a group.

When I first heard about Praying the Bible I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it. Having read this book last week and reflected on it over the weekend, I’ve become convinced that this is a powerful and helpful little book. I read this book in two readings which is pretty rare for me to sit down and read even a small book that fast. My normal reading preference is to read a chapter at a time and digest what the author is saying and how they unfold what they write about throughout the whole book. All of that to say this is an excellent, well-written, and very helpful primer on a topic that many Christians will likely not have given much thought to. I highly recommend Praying the Bible and encourage Pastors to pick up several cases of it for their parishioners and hand it to out to people in their church so they can learn to pray the Bible. This would also be an excellent book for Bible College and seminary students to read as they regularly read through the Bible in their various Bible and theology classes. Praying the Bible is an excellent and helpful book that will help Christians to grow in their love of the Lord by learning to love the Lord of the Word of God and the Lord of their hearts—Jesus Christ.

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Side By Side

Posted by on Jul 27, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

Side By Side

CDo9zGrXIAATvwiI love the way that Bob Kelleman has distinguished between two types of counselors in the church. One group is the advanced student with specialized training in crisis counseling situations. The other group is what he terms “spiritual friends.” In Side By Side Ed Welch offers a primer on the practices of that second group. This is one of the most helpful, practical, and simple tools readers can find for learning how to love others well.

Welch is a highly respected counselor within the Biblical Counseling community. He is a faculty member at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, and a vital second generation leader within the Biblical Counseling movement. He has written on a wide array of counseling issues, covering topics like addiction, co-dependency, depression, and anxiety. Side By Side is different, however, in that it focuses more on methodology than on a particular crisis issue. As a philosophy of lay counseling it serves to equip the average believer to fulfill the one another commands of Scripture. In that regard it would serve small group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and deacons well; not to mention being of general benefit to any and every Christian.

The book is broken down into two parts. Part one addresses the reality of our neediness. “Your neediness qualifies you to help others,” writes Welch (15). Our usefulness, then, begins as we come to understand more clearly our own neediness. Welch explains part one by saying:

This part of the book begins with a simple sketch of who we are. From there, it will help you understand, admit, and practice your own neediness.

Understanding who we are and how needy we are is developed as Welch walks us through three realities: life is hard, our hearts are easily drawn away from God, and life pressures will expose what’s really going on in our hearts. Admitting and practicing our neediness begins by confessing to the Lord and asking for His help and admitting to others and asking for their help.

Asking others for help is particularly important in Welch’s scheme. It’s important because it truly reveals our understanding of weakness. Welch writes:

Asking people for help makes calling out to the Lord seem easy by comparison. The Lord already knows we are weak and needy, but other people? That is a different story. They may not know, and we desperately want to appear competent before them. (60)

Confession to others reveals our own awareness of and willingness to own our weakness, and it is this quality that prepares us so well to help others. In particular, Welch notes how this characteristics invites the necessary humility that enables effective counsel (59).

Part two turns from “You are needy” to “You are needed.” In this section we examine a number of essential skills that will “enhance the basic things we already know and do every day” (65).  The skills discussed and developed in these chapters are indeed basic at some level. Some readers might wish for something more in depth or “advanced,” but the simplicity of these skills is part of Welch’s overall point. Anyone can and should do this kind of counseling. He writes:

This book identifies the skills we need to help one another. It is for everyone – friends, parents, even neighbors. Along the way we will find that God is pleased to use ordinary people, ordinary conversations, and extraordinary and wise love to do most of the heavy lifting in his kingdom. (11)

It is a book for “spiritual friends.” It’s the kind of resource I not only feel confident giving to any Christian, but it’s the kind of book I want every member of our church to read! The skills are basic and yet his discussion of them sheds some helpful light and gives some needed direction to applying these skills in love for other needy people.

Side By Side is a practical primer for being godly friends. All Christians should read this book, and I am convinced that a church that reads this volume will be better equipped to be the church Christ has called them to be. I cannot commend it highly enough.

 

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For the Love of God’s Word

Posted by on Jul 25, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured

For the Love of God’s Word

For the Love of God's Word There is a definite issue afoot when it comes to sound biblical interpretation and for that matter, biblical literacy. Many sermons are certainly preached in churches across the world and many are being trained in Bible colleges and seminaries. With that said, do the people in the pews, the pastors delivering the sermons, the students in school, or the professors and academics training those bound for the ministry know how to understand and apply Scripture? Unfortunately in some cases the answer is a resounding no.

This means there is the need for sound biblical interpretation and to better practice the discipline known as hermeneutics. Now this discipline is not just for academics. However, many of the books on this subject matter are written with the scholar, academic, and Bible college/seminarian in mind with the average laymen often left out in the proverbial cold. Kregel Academic, in an effort to address this disparity, has provided an abridged version of Andreas Kostenberger and Richard Patterson’s excellent larger work Invitation to Biblical Interpretation. This abridged effort aptly named For the Love of God’s Word makes the discipline of hermeneutics accessible to the laity, providing them a solid foundation upon which to understand and engage in sound biblical interpretation.

Kostenberger and Patterson rightly note that “Biblical interpretation is hard work. The one who wants to master the handling of God’s Word must be like the apprentice of a master craftsperson. Over time, and through practice, that apprentice will learn to skillfully use many tools. Likewise, the biblical interpreter must know what interpretive tools to use and how to use them. This is what it means to “correctly handle” the word of truth.”

Throughout this excellent book, the authors provide the reader with those necessary tools of the biblical interpretation trade. By first setting the groundwork and foundation of the “hermeneutical triad” of history, literature, and theology, the authors enable the reader to have a working understanding of how to approach the biblical text. God’s Word was written within the confines of actual history. Thus, when we read Scripture we are reading about real life events involving actual people, actual nations, both with impacts on not just salvation history, but all of history. Understanding the setting of the prophetic books for example, is essential in grasping what those prophets were addressing. Each book of Scripture is written in a specific genre meaning there are hermeneutical rules for engaging history as opposed to grasping books of poetry. Finally, after engaging those two parts of the triad, one can dive into the theological meaning and application of the passage.

I truly appreciated that the authors provide objectives for the reader to reach and the fact these objectives are provided at the beginning of each chapter. This approach gives the reader something to think about as they are reading, helping them to hone in on the specific purpose the author is tying to get across in that chapter. Furthermore, an outline is provided so the specific topics of that chapter are not a mystery.

Overall, I found the discussion and information to be sound, informative, insightful, and written in a manner that all believers will find useful. There certainly are what I would call “nerdier” discussion points provided in some of the chapters such as an engagement of how to identify a chiastic structure in a passage or noting the various types of prophetic narrative. Even when those more academic minded aspects of hermeneutics are discussed, the information is presented in a way that will not be over the head of those who have never seen or heard such terms before. In fact, they make it their focus to present the information in as practicable a manner as possible so that terms are not just nerdy terms, but rather are tools that can be used in everyday Bible study.

All believers are commanded to be students of Scripture. For that reason, I highly recommend For the Love of God’s Word as an essential treasure trove of information for those both new to the disciple of hermeneutics and even those who are familiar with and use all of the tools noted in this book. Most importantly, the information provided in this book will help you better understand God Word and any book that has that focus and successfully accomplishes that mission will receive a resounding vote of support from me. This book does just that so I encourage you to get a copy and use the tools contained within its pages.

This book is available for purchase from Kregel Academic by clicking here.

I received this book for free from Kregel Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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