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Entries in Book Notes (29)


Read hard books

I'm just finishing How to Study and Apply the New Testament by Andy Naselli. Every time I read a book, I've always got a few fellow book lovers in mind as I read. Will I recommend the book to that person? As I read Naselli's book, I knew that I would have to qualify my recommendation. I do indeed recommend this book, but with the qualifcation that some may think this book is difficult.

Naselli's writing is not difficult, and the examples he uses are understandable. But if on has only read introductory books on Bible study, this may seem daunting. One of my favourite Bible study introductory books is Reading the Bible for All Its Worth. Yet, I have had friends tell me it's too difficult. I am of average intelligence, and while I found it work when I first read it, it was manageable. I think we have forgotten that not everything must come easy. I think we are so used to reading online, where the average reading level is not overly difficult, that we find more difficult writing a chore. 

Naselli's book contains a chapter on Greek grammar. That chapter right there would turn a lot of people off. Naselli himself acknowledgs that. But he uses both the Greek words (for people who know them) and he transliterates them so that non-Greek users can at least pronounce them in their heads. And the simple fact of the matter is that the New Testament was written in Greek, not English. We can't assume that the New Testament was written for us English speakers. There is value in getting a basic understanding of Greek, because it is a very different language.

There is value in reading hard books. In first grade, I loved reading about Mr. Mugs and when I finished one book in the series, I wanted to keep going. That is how we become better readers. That doesn't stop when we leave school. We can always become better readers. It is especially important now when we live in such an image-saturated world. Who needs to express oneself with wit and skill when one can find a GIF of a silly television show to express one's emotion?

Reading hard books helps us grow as readers. A few years ago, I read what was one of the more challenging books I have read, Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer. There were times when as I read when all I could discern was something similar to the sound of Charlie Brown's teacher. But I persisted, and then there were moments of clarity where I was blown away by what I read. 

If a book is difficult, press on. Get a dictionary. Read in small sections. Diagram the sentences if you have to. Just keep going.

Personally, I think there is a glut of introductory Bible study books. What I would like to see is more in between Bible study for beginners and advanced hermeneutics books. I would say Naselli is in that intermediate category. And it is a good book to follow up those introductory volumes. And for those for whom such matters are important, he uses footnotes, and the paper is very nice for annotating.

While I would recommend the book, I definitely want to emphasize that Naselli's bias is clear regarding what influences him. If you are not a John Piper fan, this book may irritate you. In his chapter about practical theology, he comments that he turns to men like Al Mohler, Justin Taylor, Collin Hansen, and Tim Keller for their analysis of the culture. That seems to me a group that would ultimately sound like an echo chamber. And while I respect them all, I would not turn to them for cultural analysis of Canada. I would be interested to see cultural analysis from more people outside their particular group, not just with a different theological perspective, but those from a non-Western stance and from voices other than just men.

That said, it was a valuable read.


The protection of liturgy

I confess to having absolutely no aversion to liturgy. Every church has a liturgy, of course. Some use a prescribed liturgy such as the kind found in the Book of Common Prayer, and some churches have a less structured liturgy, but if we have an order of service, we have liturgy. 

I started reading Fred Sanders' book The Deep Things of God. Wow. What an excellent writer! I love it so far. In this book, Sanders explores how the Trinity is part of the fabric of our faith, even though we may not realize it (something he refers to as tacit Trinitarianism). Once we realize the foundatioin of our Trinitarian faith, we can probe its depths.

One way our Trinitarianism can become foundational is through things such as liturgy. Sanders aims to show how Trinitarianism is foundational to evangelical faith, but it is also foundational to churches which use liturgy. The majority of the book focuses on how Trinitarianism is evident in more evangelical elements such as the gospel itself, prayer, Bible Study, and conversion. But he includes the reality that liturgy builts Trinitarianism into the church. He does not suggest that every non-liturgical church suddenly become liturgical, but neither does he dismiss liturgy, which I found refreshing. I remember the days, early in my faith, when I stuck my nose in the air after attending a Baptist church with a liturgical form. There was no way I was going to attend that church. I've softened.

Sanders quotes Gerald Bray on the topic of liturgy, and I found his comments interesting:

If the service is good and the spirit of the congregation is right, a fixed liturgy may appear to be an irrelevance, even a constraint on the freedom of the Spirit . . . But when the times of dryness come, when we reach a plateau in our spiritual growth, then the structure of a liturgy that keeps both the biblical depth and the biblical balance can provide us with fresh inspiration and keep us from falling into the many different errors caused by our natural proclivity toward omission and distortion. A person who is well trained in biblical liturgy will have a feel for what is orthodox because it will be embedded into his consciousness.

A few years ago, I took the time to actually look at the Book of Common Prayer. I was interested in the guides for daily prayer. I wanted to incorporate more Scripture into my prayer, and I looked at it online before buying one myself. It was a great way to introduce a rhythm into my prayer time which included regular, daily Psalm reading as well as following a set Scripture reading plan. I am a person who does well with order and rhythm, so it was very helpful to me at a time when I felt a little dry. When you look closely at it, the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer has a lot of Scripture; sometimes, more Scripture is covered in the morning prayer time than is covered in a church service at my own church. You may think I'm falling of the deep end, but consider what other women do when they have times of spiritual dryness. Sometimes, they look for "new" and "better" ways to connect with God, like through books such as Jesus Calling.

When women feel spiritually dry, they look for ways to be closer to him. Perhaps their daily devotion time is falling flat, and they don't know what to pray. They want something to liven things up; so they are drawn to books that promise them a deeper relationship with God, all the while forgetting that the best way to draw close to God is to listen to him speaking to them and dwelling on the truth of who he is. I believe what Bray says may be helpful for avoiding this need to stray toward books like Jesus Calling. I know that when I am spiritually dry, falling back on a better rhythm helps me from looking in areas that won't ultimately have a lasting effect. Even if it's my personal prayer time, a little liturgy helps.


Book thoughts: God's Battle Plan for the Mind

I just finished reading God's Battle Plan For the Mind, by David Saxton. Here on this last day of 2015, I finished one of my favourite reads of 2015.

Drawing from the rich resources of Puritan writing on mediation, Saxton presents an argument for the necessity of meditation in the Christian's life. Naturally, he does not mean what the stereotypical view of meditation is, i.e. emptying one's mind. Rather, one fills the mind with Biblical truth. Saxton presents a case for the necessity of meditation, both deliberate and occasional, and then reviews important occasions and topics for meditation. He evaluates both the benefits of meditation and the enemies to meditation.

Overall, the message was clear: a Christian needs to be a thinking individual. A Christian's sanctification requires concentrated thought on Biblical truth. I think this message is even more needed more than ever because we live in a world where nothing is ever "turned off." Because there is always continual noise, both visual and audible, we have to make a concerted effort to withdraw and ponder seriously Biblical truth. I have been very convicted as I read, as I think about how often I waste valuable time just noodling around the internet when I could be thinking upon better things.

At the conclusion of the book, Saxton shares some very good words:

The believer's ultlimate purpose is to glorify God through becoming more like Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 3:18). Of course, conformity to the image of Christ occurs gradually rather than instantaneously. This process of progressive sanctification is all of the Lord's grrace, yet it is a duty in which God's people are responsible to participate. Paul describes this process of ever-growing change in Ephesians 4:23-24: "And be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holinesss." This passage reminds us that a believer grows into the likeness of God by replacing sinful attitudes with a renewed perspective "in the spirit of [our] mind." The battle against sin starts in the mind -- the thoughts or what one dwells upon. This is why meditation is so important. It is God's ordained plan for biblical thinking, renewing the mind, overcoming sin, and thus growing in greater Christlikeness.

I also found convicting Saxton's discussion of how our love of entertainment can draw us away from Christ. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say, meditation is much more work than being entertained, and perhaps that is why we don't engage in it as much as we ought.

This book is not a long read, and the bonus is that he uses footnotes instead of endnotes. There is a very nice bibliography at the end which will introduce the reader to some of the best Puritan writing on the subject. One of the books, by Nathaneal Ranew is quoted often, and I happen to have that on my shelf. It will be one of the "as yet unread" books I tackle this year.

Meditation should not be onerous, but it is work. Saxton makes that clear. However, we should regard it as a privilege. To spend time in fellowship with Christ through meditation should make us aware of our union with Christ. And that can only be a positive thing.


One is the loneliest number

A while ago, my dear friend, Persis, sent me a book about women's issues. The book is called Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War Between Traditionalism and Feminism, by Rebecca Groothius. I knew who Groothius was before reading the book, and I knew that this book is written from a perspective with which I have disagreements. In reading this, I have not fallen of some sort of theology wagon. There is value in reading things which challenge or thoughts. There is my defense for all three of my readers.

The book, as the sub-title indicates, is about the tension between what is seen as tradition and what is seen as feministic. It's very enlightening. Groothius has done her homework. So far, one of the most compelling things I have read is her comment about the danger of individualism:

At the core of virtually all modern ideology is the creed of radical individualism. The individual -- his or her rights, needs, desires, and so forth -- is considered paramount and absolute. The individual's basic responsibility is see to be herself or himself, rather than to others. This consummate self-centeredness, in whatever sphere it is applied, inevitably results in the breakdown of friendship, marriage, family, community, and society. The problem inheres, then, not in the idea of women's rights per se, but in basing an understanding of women's rights on the humanistic world view of radical individualism.

Quite a few years ago, I took the one and only political science course of my university education. The author of the textbook echoed similar thoughts, pointing out that our political convictions will arise from whether we see the individual or the greater good as paramount. This is also applicable in our life of faith.

We come to Christ on our own. We do not come to Christ through church membership, or on the faith of our parents. That much is clear. But once we are born of the Spirit and members in the body of Christ, the principle of community and thinking outside ourselves becomes crucial, just as Paul says in Romans 12:3-8:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Yes, we are individuals, but we are members of one another as well. Individualism taken to an extreme is ultimately not good for the Body of Christ. And I don't think it's good for society, either. There are days when I look around, and the words of Judges echo in my head: "And everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

I'm not sure what else I will learn from this book, or how it will challenge my thinking, but this principle of the danger of extreme individualism is something we all have to be aware of, whether we're talking about serious issues in the church or just living our day to day lives in the privacy of our homes.


We have to have skills

I'm on a bit of an Ed Welch kick right now. Even though I am still in the middle of Running Scared, I bought his new book. I so appreciate how he distills theology into real life situations. This is practical theology at its best, in my opinion.

In his new book, Side by Side (look for a review at Out of the Ordinary next Wednesday), Welch establishes two truths: we are needy and we are needed. Before we can come alongside others, we have to recognize that we are needy. That truth goes a long way in keeping us humble.

He encourages the reader that we can and should grow in our trials. In fact, he considers it a skill:

One of the critial spiritual skills for every follower of Jesus is to bring order to the internal ruckus and grow in trouble rather than rage or wither in in (2 Cor. 4:16). Tribulatioin will not win in the end. In the midst of physical misery we can have hope, and hope is one of our most valued responses to the difficulties of life.

To rage or wither in tribulation; that is the question. When we rage against it, we struggle, worry, and fret. We resist God's dealings in our lives. It can lead to bitterness and hardness of heart. When we wither, we just give up and ignore that God is present and hears us. It is indeed a skill to bring order from the ruckus, and it's a skill that starts with theology; with knowing who God is.