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Book Review
Jan
13
2014

Fiercely Moderate Theology: Reflections on Covenant Affirmations by Donald C. Frisk

Author: Donald C. Frisk
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Covenant Publications (2003)
Language: English
Pages: 175
ISBN: N/A

Covenant Bookstore

The Evangelical Covenant Church (hereafter simply the Covenant or ECC) is passionate about unity, fiercely moderate, and insistent on irenic theological dialogue. While carefully articulating a robust, orthodox, and systematic Christian theology, these values shine through most in Donald C. Frisk’s Covenant Affirmations: This We Believe. Throughout the book, Frisk surveys a range of perspectives on each doctrine, drawing from a number of diverse sources and traditions, highlighting the strengths and potential blind spots of each, then invariably manages to carve out a balanced way forward. What results is a theological proposal that is truly catholic and Christian. “Recognizing the possibility of divergent interpretations [of Scripture], the Covenant encourages discussion of the issues within a context of trust and love.” (p.153) I find refreshing this entire approach, and the creative doctrinal formulations it produces. It is positioned to have broad appeal, since it is grounded in sound theological method, respects the Covenant’s Pietist roots, and yet remains open to insights from other branches of the Christian family tree. However, there was at least one section that I found confusing. Uncharacteristic of the book as a whole, Frisk’s delineation of divine revelation, the “word of God,” and The Word of God (Jesus), struck this reader as a bit convoluted at one point. Nevertheless, I could find little to nothing in Covenant Affirmations seriously objectionable. I would only want to suggest a constructive and complementary layer of future theological exploration. These three areas of reflection will frame what follows.

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Jun
03
2013

The Right Kind of Indoctrination: A Review of Donkeys and Kings by Tripp York

Author: Tripp York
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Wipf & Stock (2010)
Language: English
ISBN: 9781606089408

Amazon

Christian Children's Books [sigh]

I love reading to my kids before bed. But I find it very difficult to find books that I’m truly excited to read with them. Many Christian children’s books out there are just too hokey. Before finding Donkeys and Kings: And Other “Tails” of the Bible by Tripp York, the only Christian books I'd ever been excited to read to my kids were those from The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. Part of it is just pure selfishness. It’s not just that I don’t want to subject my kids to the subpar storytelling of some Christian children’s books. It’s more that I just can’t tolerate hearing myself read them—and I can only roll my eyes so much before they are bound to get stuck in the back of my head. That's why I'm so thankful for Donkeys and Kings. It’s biblically-literate, theological-astute, accessible to children, and interesting to adults—all at the same time! Also York is a genuinely great writer. His storytelling is compelling, he creates interesting characters, and he skillfully utilizes dialogue.

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Jun
01
2013

God's Future Has Arrived in Jesus: A Review of Prototype by Jonathan Martin

Author: Jonathan Martin
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Tyndale Momentum (2013)
Language: English
ISBN: 9781414373638

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Official Website

About the Author

I think I first encountered the work of pastor Jonathan Martin when I read his powerful blog post reconciling his views on the "politics of Jesus" with his love for Martin Luther King Jr.'s ethics of social justice. When I later found out he was Pentecostal, I was intrigued by him even more. Very rarely, if ever, have I encountered a person who combines Pentecostal spirituality with sophisticated social-political ethics. After that, I began listening to his church podcast: Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC. Since then I've been a vocal advocate. Which is why I have been excited to read and review Prototype.

Sidenote: Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church and author of Sun Stand Still, writes the forward for Prototype and at one point appropriates the metaphor of this blog, calling Martin a "theological graffiti artist". I have to say, Furtick dodged a bullet with that one. If he hadn't been applying that description to Martin, you'd be reading a very different mention of Furtick right now, and it would not have been pretty! You're safe for now Furtick, but watch your step!

About the Book

Prototype is one-third personal memoir, one-third church planting testimonial, and one-third systematic theology. Skillfully woven together with highly evocative writing are stories about ecstatic experiences, complex theological concepts expressed in layman's terms, conversion testimonies, creative biblical interpretation, and disarming humor. What holds all these disparate elements together is the personality of the author—a self-proclaimed member of a community of "liars, dreamers, and misfits"—and the person of Jesus Christ, who is "the prototype of a new way to be human."

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May
26
2013

The Story that Subverts the Myth: A Review of Torn by Justin Lee

Author: Justin Lee
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Jericho Books (2012)
Language: English
ISBN: 9781455514304

Amazon

"For a gay guy, Justin Lee is incredibly straight-laced."

That's what I kept thinking as I read Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. I realized about half way through the book, that I was waiting and looking for the "edge" that a gay Christian author is supposed to have. I expected him to be super-opinionated, angry, vitriolic even. Why is that? It quickly dawned on me that, even though I was reading this book from a place of openness, I was nevertheless projecting my own stereotypes of gay people onto Justin. Oh how wrong was I. Justin Lee is the nicest, 'goodie-two-shoes' you should ever expect to have written a book on such a controversial topic. He couldn't have had more grace and nuance. He couldn't have broken more molds.

Does that mean I agree with every conclusion at which Lee arrives? No, not necessarily. But what it does mean is that Torn is not a book that can be easily dismissed. Lee is careful to present his story and his perspective in a very winsome way. One of the reasons Lee's story is so powerful is because of its clear ring of authenticity. Antagonistic readers will have a difficult time claiming Lee isn't completely sincere. Lee doesn't come across as "having an agenda", like the common caricature of the homosexual community holds. And Lee professes devout faith in Jesus. That is why this book will challenge any reader who thinks their position on human sexuality is unshakable.

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Jan
10
2013

The Worst Book on Racial Reconciliation Ever?—A Critical Review of One New Man by Jarvis J. Williams

One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology

Author: Jarvis J. Williams
Paperback: 142 pages
Publisher: B&H Publishing 2010
Language: English

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B&H

Ephesians 2.11-22 is one of my favorite passages in Scripture. It's one of the passages that most inspires me to pursue the unique and beautiful Kingdom of God that transforms the world. It's also one of the clearest passages in the Bible regarding racial reconciliation—a subject about which I am very passionate. So, naturally, when I saw the title of Jarvis J. Williams' book, I was excited to read it. I was also interested because I deduced from the book's endorsements and Williams' online faculty bio that he is a Neo-Calvinist. As a highly critical opponent of that movement, I hoped that Williams could break my stereotypes and surprise me with thinking on racial reconciliation that doesn't toe the party line. Unfortunately, my hopes were thoroughly dashed and I was deeply disappointed. In this critical review, I will attempt to relate all the ways One New Man did not live up to its billing, nor adequately address the subject of racial reconciliation. An exhaustive recounting may very well be beyond the scope of this review, but I will nevertheless endeavor to highlight the most important ways this book fails.

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Jan
07
2012

Good Stuff Around the Web (January 2012)

  1. Zach Hoag, pastor of Dwell Church in Vermont (and a neo-Anabaptist, New Perspective scholar) offers a straightforward assessment of three positives that can be attributed to the otherwise awful Neo-Reformed movement in the US. His insights are particularly relevant as one who was formerly among them.

     
  2. Over at Jesus Creed (Scot McKnight's blog), guest author "T" discusses nonviolence and the authority of the State, raising some critically important questions. He compares the evil-restraining authority of the State to the concession of divorce God permitted in the Mosaic law:

    "I would like to offer an analogy for additional consideration and discussion. Divorce is permitted and even ‘ordained’ in God’s law. But Christ makes it clear that divorce was ordained only as a concession to our hard-hearted wickedness. It is not God’s preference or ultimate intention by any stretch of the imagination, even though it can bring a measure of “peace” to a warring couple. God hates divorce, even though he has it as an option in is law, and even Jesus permits it, in limited cases.

    How much is violence, even violence by a human government, the same as divorce in God’s eyes? Consider how much God was willing to take upon himself in order to have real reconciliation, not just between sinful man and himself, but also among “warring” men?"


  3. Derek Ouellette, of Covenant of Love fame, has written a review of a book on humility. From his review it sounds like a book we can all recommend to our arrogant friends.

    Please direct copies for me to my P.O. box :)
     

  4. Carson T. Clark, the evangelical Anglican blogger extraordinaire, is asking whether Calvin would be a Calvinist by today's standards, but more specifically if Beza (a student who followed Calvin) is more responsible for "Calvinism" than Calvin.

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Dec
29
2011

Hosting the Word in the Shadow of Empire: A Review of Countdown to Sunday by Chris Erdman

Author: Chris Erdman
Paperback: 206 pages
Publisher: Brazos Press - 2007
Language: English

Amazon

Introduction

Reading Countdown to Sunday by Chris Erdman felt like a blessed ambush. It's difficult to express just how timely this book is for me. I stumbled upon Countdown, seemingly by chance, from a recommendation on a pastor's blog. Little did I know that it would reinforce much of what God has been teaching me for nearly the last 6 years, and reinvigorate my passion for ministry.

I'm reading this book just before beginning the awe-inspiring task of church-planting. On the one hand, the confluence of all my experiences and passions in church-planting gives me confidence that it is precisely what God has been preparing both myself and Osheta for. On the other hand, it is also a terribly intimidating feat that no sane person embarks upon with immodest self-confidence. Therefore, this word of encouragement is no small blessing.

Preaching has been one of my life’s passions since I was seventeen and felt the call to serve as a leader in God's church. My pastor discipled me as a preacher, and preaching has characterized my life ever since. But since moving to Boston, preaching opportunities have not been as plentiful as they were in New Orleans. I have felt stifled, bottled up. Perhaps that is biggest reason I have taken to blogging. Communication is like air for me, and writing has replaced preaching as my primary means of expression. I'm not complaining; I've grown to love writing. Nevertheless, Erdman's book cut me to the heart in a most fantastic way. It brought me right back to my love for preaching, and energized that love. Erdman reframes preaching as the adventure, the risk, the challenge, and the joy that it once was for me. Erdman also reminds me that preaching is God's chosen method of remaking the world. And before anyone misunderstand what he means by that, I’d recommend you read the chapter in which Erdman writes about social justice as street preaching (chapter 24).

I'm not entirely sure I will be able to capture just how inspiring I've found this book in such a brief review, but it's my hope that I can highlight at least a few aspects of this book I found brilliantly compelling. And if you find yourself in need of energizing, I hope this review compels you to pick it up and read it—whether you're a preacher or not!

A Brief Preliminary Note on Note-making

There comes a point when underlining passages in a book becomes nearly pointless. I'm not entirely sure I didn't underline more lines than I left unmarked. Every sentence of this short book is carefully crafted to provide maximal impact—and it delivers! It's quite possible that I've added as much ink to my copy of Countdown as did the printer. Each time I'd underlined a thought worth returning to, I'd end up continuing to underline the next two or three or four lines. Before long, I'd underlined half the page, and it would have been easier to just draw a big bracket next to the whole section. If you do end up buying Countdown, just go ahead and buy yourself a couple highlighters too.

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Dec
27
2011

To Kill a Tulip: A Review of Against Calvinism by Roger Olson

Title: Against Calvinism
Author: Roger E. Olson
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Zondervan - 2011
Language: English

Amazon

Introduction

First off, I am not at all unbiased in the infamous Calvinism v. Arminianism debates. In fact, I've been more than a little complicit in making them contentious at times. In the past, I have spent many a night, up late, "debating" with both Calvinists and Arminians about the particulars of divine providence, human responsibility, divine foreknowledge, and the ontological status of the future—both in person and online. Therefore, I won't pretend that I come to Olson's book as a neutral third-party. However, the reality is, none of us do! We all come to Olson's book, all books, perhaps especially the Scriptures, with our preconceived notions firmly in hand, as much as we'd like to deny it.

Secondly, I am neither a Classical Arminian nor a Calvinist—nor any sort of "moderate" or "nuanced" Calvinist (whether such a thing actually exists is debatable). I'm more than happy to locate myself within the broad and historic Free Will tradition of Jesus Christ's Church that includes Christians from nearly every stripe (many Roman Catholics, many Greek Orthodox, Wesleyans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Anabaptists, many Baptists, and all who call themselves "Arminians"). And, by the way, this tradition predates both Calvin and Arminius. But, specifically, I will even further identify myself with the label "Open theist." Some will not gladly accept such a label, and as a result, I know many who I'd call "closet Open theists." As Olson himself has argued, a particularly militant and vocal coalition [wink] of Calvinists have succeeded in convincing a dishearteningly large group of gullible evangelicals in the US that Open theism is "controversial." They haven't proven that Open theism is heretical—far from it! Instead, their arguments have been blatant caricatures. They haven't been required to show Open theism's actual error. They have only needed to claim the view contains error loud enough to convince enough people not to investigating the view for themselves.

[Sidenote: In a course I took this semester on conflict in Christian organizations, one of the authors we read had a term for leaders who lead by creating a false enemy and produce group cohesiveness by vilifying the Other. He called them Demagogues. …So…there's that.]

Third, what drew me to Olson's book most wasn't his deliberate attempt to refute Calvinism. I've read lots of books and articles that refute Calvinism. Heck, I've written some! No, what drew me to Olson's book was his deliberate attempt to finally lay to rest a retort I hear constantly from Calvinists. I call it the "You-Just-Don't-Understand-Calvinism" retort. Calvinists are notorious for claiming to be victims of caricature. Even while they are also notorious for caricaturing other views. I can't tell you how many times, after backing a Calvinist into a philosophical corner, their response is: "You just don't understand Calvinism." Apparently, Calvinists are convinced their views are incredibly complex and esoteric. (In case you were wondering—they aren't.) But Olson leaves no room for this defense. He demonstrates on nearly every page that he has gone directly to the sources, read them, studied them, understood their arguments (often better than most Calvinists do), and nevertheless comes to many of the same conclusions we Free Will theists have held for centuries:

1) Calvinism is theological determinism
2) Calvinism relies solely upon carefully-crafted proof-texting
3) Calvinism renders God morally ambiguous
4) Calvinism does not reflect the character of Christ

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Dec
23
2011

The "New" Story of God: Job, Plato, and the Open View—A Review of The God Biographers

Author: Larry Witham
Hardcover: 204 pages
Publisher: Lexington Books - 2010
Language: English

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Special thanks to Tom Oord for providing a review copy of this title.

General:

The God Biographers is a fascinating book about the way God's story has been told in doctrines down through the centuries of religion and philosophy. Perhaps the grand irony is that the book itself becomes a biography of God as it attempts to tell this epic story. Larry Witham, the book's author, described as a veteran journalist on the book's jacket, sets out to, "[look] closely at the cultural and scientific context of each age and how these shaped the images of God." He argues that, "Each biographer labors under the influence of a particular cultural milieu." Therefore, the book becomes primarily a journey through historical theology dating from the Classical period in Greek thought to present day Open and Relational theisms. However, Witham's survey is not merely a general overview. The author specifically details the views of God's biographers as they relate to one of the single greatest tensions in theism: the relationship between divine providence and human volition. In the service of this very specific focus, the author employs the book, and figure, of Job as an overarching theme in which to ground the discussion. This odd yet often-cited ancient Hebrew text stands apart as one the clearest examples of this essential antinomy. Yet, for as many biographers as have attempted to tell God's story, at least as many interpretations of this book have accompanied them.

The God Biographers is also a book about two competing biographies of God that have remained enmeshed in a struggle for the hearts and minds of theists since the very beginnings of philosophical and religious thought. The first biography is that of an aloof and "unchangeable monarch," while the second tells of a God who participates in a “dynamic relationship [with] the universe." (p. 2) Astute readers will recognize these two biographies as classic summaries of the competing visions of God developed by the Greeks and the Hebrews. Early Greek philosophers warred against the oppressive myths of capricious gods, who meddled in the affairs of humanity, often for sport, and inflicted meaningless suffering upon helpless victims for their own amusement. In their place, Plato, Aristotle and the like exalted a view of the Supreme Being as an impersonal, static reality that neither felt "passions" nor "changed" in any way. By contrast, the Hebrews exalted a view of God as utterly personal: a living, dynamic presence who revealed himself to their people through the law and prophets, led them out of slavery in Egypt, and responded to their prayers. Over the millennia since humanity began to think and write about the divine, Greek, Jewish, Islamic, and Christian scholars have all had to grapple with these diametrically opposed biographies and account for the realities of daily life, advances in human understand of the world, and the sacred texts of the Bible (and Job in particular).

Job is a fitting theme since his story is one of a righteous man who is suddenly stripped of everything. He is depicted as an innocent victim of tragedy at the hands of an enemy: the satan. God's relationship to this calamity has always presented God's biographers with a primal trilemma often called the "problem of evil." And its exploration in relationship to God is called "theodicy." Attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, the problem can be summarized thusly:

Is God:

  • "willing but unable to take away evil (impotent)"
  • "able but unwilling (malevolent)"

or


  • "both willing and able—so why is there evil at all?" (p. 27)

Theists since Lactantius have felt compelled to address this “problem,” but perhaps no century has been more filled with reminders than the twentieth. Two World Wars and the explosive advancement of science brought theism and evil into sharp contrast. Appropriately, then, Witham spends a good portion of the book in this period.

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Dec
12
2011

Jesus in Context: The Kingdom Movement—A Review of Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright

Title: Simply Jesus: Who He Was, What He Did, Why It Matters
Author: N. T. Wright
Hard Cover: 208 pages
Publisher: HarperOne - 2011
Language: English

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The Context of Jesus

Writing this review during Advent heightens my awareness of the critical role context plays when we approach the topic of Jesus. It is precisely the context of the birth narratives we read this time of year that make significant the many prophecies we see fulfilled in Jesus. The story just wouldn't make sense if the evangelists didn't set the stage with the words from the Hebrew prophets. Jesus isn't simply born "long ago" or "far, far way." Jesus is born at a very specific time in history, in a very specific place in the world. This matters tremendously for the story's impact. Were Jesus to have been born at any other time in history, in any other place, he could not have been Israel's Messiah and therefore he could not be the Jesus Christians worship; he would be neither "Jesus of Nazareth" nor "Jesus Christ."

N. T. Wright further sets the stage of Jesus' story by letting readers into many of the  assumptions citizens of first-century Palestine (whether they be Jew or Gentile) would have made about Israel's Messiah due to the development of Judaism up to that point. This insight is critical for understanding Jesus because this is the understanding of the  Gospel authors who wrote about Jesus—and the Gospels are our primary source of historical information about Jesus.

[Sidenote: Some observant readers will note my use of the qualifier "historical" in the previous sentence and might begin to question Wright's approach to the study of Jesus. This is to be expected. In recent US evangelicalism, many pages of ink, many pixels, and many mp3s have been used to campaign against any quest for the "historical Jesus". Wright is aware of the misgivings among US evangelicals toward such pursuits, and he is prepared to defend his methodology. For more on this, I'd recommend readers to his essay entitled, "A Grateful Dialogue: A Response" in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel edited by Carey C. Newman. Yet Wright even takes a moment in this book's preface to briefly comment on why we need both theological and historical study of Jesus. He writes,

"…writing about Jesus has never been, for me, a matter simply of 'neutral' historical study (actually, there is no such thing, whatever the topic, but we'll leave that aside for the moment); the Jesus whom I study historically is the Jesus I worship as part of the threefold unity of the one God. But, likewise, writing about Jesus has never been a matter simply of pastoral and homiletic intent; the Jesus whom I preach is the Jesus who lived and died as a real human being in first-century Palestine. Modern western culture, especially in America, has done its best to keep these two figures, the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith, from ever meeting. I have done my best to resist this trend, despite the howls of protest from both sides."]

This context which Wright provides is the socio-political-religious atmosphere of Jesus' day. What type of world does Jesus arrive in? Who did Jews expect him to be? Who did Romans fear he would be? These are important questions, without which we can scarcely piece together the story of Jesus, and therefore we cannot know if we are following him correctly.

Imagine I tell you to vote for Barack Obama in the 2012 election, but you've never heard of him or know anything about US presidential politics. You ask me to tell you his story. Now imagine trying to tell the story of Barack Obama's campaign for president in 2008 without mentioning George W. Bush, September 11th, or the war in Iraq. Imagine if you couldn't mention Islamic fundamentalism, conservative evangelicalism, socialism, or liberalism. Would his story make sense? Who would you think Barack Obama was? What about all the many references he makes to the previous administration, to presidents with whom he shares ideals, or to the US Constitution? If you had no clue what he was referring to when he mentioned these people, events, and so on, would you be able to determine what his campaign was all about? Would you be able to say definitively on what platform he ran?

So it is with Jesus. The context into which Jesus of Nazareth enters is a swirling, dangerous ball of energy. Therefore, Wright appropriately and brilliantly utilizes the analogy of "the perfect storm" throughout the book to describe the various pressures that surrounded Jesus. He also uses the analogy to describe the pressures we encounter approaching Jesus today. In both cases, I found this use of the analogy both helpful and memorable.

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Welcome to TheologicalGraffiti.com

T. C. and Tyson Moore

Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban minister, sometimes designer, writer, preacher, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.

Shalom,
T. C.

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