Every Christian believer ought to take seriously the need for the Church to be and do what God designed it to be and do, as the Bible reveals this to...moreEvery Christian believer ought to take seriously the need for the Church to be and do what God designed it to be and do, as the Bible reveals this to us. (Tragically, too often we don't care about this --and the condition of our congregations shows it.) Warren (who is also the author of The Purpose-Driven Life) here describes the transformation of the local church he pastors into one in which genuine Christian nurture happens, and through which lost persons are regularly converted to Christ in significant numbers, and explains the principles behind that transformation. Its first step was a long series of weekly Bible studies taking a serious inductive look at the Biblical teaching about the church; and its basic requirement was a willingness to subject every extra-biblical, man-made tradition to a serious analysis of its purpose and effect (especially its effect on the congregation's ability to win souls), viewed in the light of the Church's biblical purposes, and a willingness to change those traditions when necessary.
This book is usually associated with the "Church-growth movement," and the label has some value; but labeling can also be counterproductive. Like most movements, this one isn't monolithic (Warren, for instance, does not advocate the ethnic homogenity of congregations pushed by the movement's founder in the 1960s, Donald McGauvran). And people told by their pastors that "the Church-growth movement is a heresy," or similar rot, are apt to react to the label with prejudiced hostility, rather than seriously reading what Warren has to say. (His theology, BTW, is solidly orthodox; the book's preface is written by his friend, Southern Baptist fundamentalist W. A. Criswell, hardly a rabid liberal.)
Warren's heart for the lost, and his concern for the nurture and edification of believers, radiates from the book; and it's a very easy read. Serious understanding of its principles would benefit the common life and ministry of every congregation today!(less)
Regarding the entrenched, traditional religious practices of his own day, maintained without question for their own sake regardless of their relation...moreRegarding the entrenched, traditional religious practices of his own day, maintained without question for their own sake regardless of their relation to human needs, Jesus famously observed that old wineskins cannot contain new wine. Snyder evokes that image in this serious, well thought-out and biblically informed analysis of how little biblical warrant actually exists for much of our current traditional pattern of church organization and life, how miserably that pattern fails to fulfill the divine intention for the Church, and what a new, more biblical and more genuine community of faith might look like in practical terms.
Writing from an evangelical perspective, Snyder's vision clearly has affinities to that of Rick Warren in The Purpose -Driven Church (see my review of that book). Where Warren emphasizes evangelistic outreach, Snyder emphasizes nurturing and supportive fellowship, though neither neglects the other's area of emphasis; the two books are throughly complementary, not contradictory. Though this one was written more than thirty years ago, it's every bit as relevant --or more so-- today than it was in 1975.(less)
This comprehensive treatment of Christian sexual ethics, written by a wise and compassionate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary (one of the worl...moreThis comprehensive treatment of Christian sexual ethics, written by a wise and compassionate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary (one of the world's leading evangelical seminaries), is, IMO, an enormously valuable and significant book, a treatment of one of the most serious topics that every human being has to deal with. Our sexuality is a central part of our identity as human creatures, and our standards for sexual behavior shape all of our human relationships, beginning at the family. Smedes brings the counsel of God, as we know it from the Scriptures, to bear on the subject, and essays the task of interpretation with humility and winsome open-mindedness. (Obviously, I read the first edition of this book; this one differs only with the addition of an appendix titled "Second Thoughts," which the author sums up at the end by saying, "... in the important matters, I have merely tried to say some things more clearly than I said them before.")
Much of the author's treatment strikes a delicate (and biblical) balance between the strictures of the very Victorian/puritanical on the one hand, and the libertine hedonism of a morally adrift society on the other. He clearly recognizes sex as a good part of a good creation (not a necessary evil, nor a defilement of the creation). As something created, then, it's subject to the designs and purposes of its Creator; and those are bound up with the culminating blessing of faithful and committed union between a man and a woman in marriage as the sphere in which sexuality is to be fulfilled. The Christian ethic of fidelity in marriage, and sexual abstinence outside of marriage, thus exists for a reason, grounded in who we are created to be and in how we find true happiness and fulfillment; it's a positive ethic based on what we're for, not on what we're against. (So it's not an arbitrary taboo resting simply on religious prescription.) From this basis, he clearly explains why marital infidelity, uncommitted cohabitation and homosexual activity fall short of this purpose --while calling for love and compassion towards the individuals caught up in any of these behaviors. He also provides a thoughtful and helpful discussion of masturbation (which isn't directly addressed anywhere in the Bible), the role of sexual fantasy in human thought life, and other ancillary areas of sexual life.
Notwithstanding one or two minor disagreements with the author, I think this is (next to the Bible itself) the single most helpful book I've ever read on this subject. I think it would be a constructive read, not just for any Christian, but also for any responsible non-Christian, wanting to better understand his/her own sexuality and how to handle it responsibly and productively as a healthy component of a happy life.(less)
Note, June 5, 2014: I just edited this review (from 2008) slightly, to correct two typos that I discovered.
Written in a world steeped in social injust...moreNote, June 5, 2014: I just edited this review (from 2008) slightly, to correct two typos that I discovered.
Written in a world steeped in social injustice and oppression, a major theme of the Old Testament is that this deformation of society is a result of rebellion against God, and that God is on the side of the oppressed and will act decisively at the end of history to usher in a new order of justice and righteousness for those who respond to Him in faith and obedience. The New Testament builds on the same foundation, recognizing in Christ the promised King of the new order and looking forward to his return. This, not date-setting nor obsession with de-coding symbolic prophecies that supposedly give a detailed scenario of "endtime" events, was the substance of Christian eschatology; it appealed to the masses who knew the present order to be messed up, and inspired the believers to work for justice and righteousness here on earth in the meantime.
Centuries later, however, as the Christian hierarchy became part of the establishment, and increasingly compromised its ideals of social justice, eschatology came to be ignored and marginalized in Christian thought, and its revolutionary aspect tended to be lost. In the early 1800s, when John Nelson Darby created the theology of dispensationalism, which this book uncritically propagates, his eschatology largely ignored the social ethics of the coming kingdom to focus instead on a bizarre interpretive system for Bible prophecy, focusing on a racist view of natural Israel as God's eternal chosen people, destined for world domination. (Given this view, the close connection between dispensationalism and extreme hardcore modern political Zionism is not surprising.) All the elements of Lindsey's eschatology as outlined in this book derive directly from Darby: the secret "rapture" (which was Darby's signature invention) of the Church seven years before the Second Coming, the peculiar interpretations of the "tribulation" and "Antichrist," the role of Israel in a pre-millenial battle of Armageddon, etc. Through much of the 19th-century, followers of Darby's system were regarded by the evangelical church as theological weirdos. But with the turn-of-the-century popularity of the Scofield Reference Bible by Darby disciple C. I. Scofield, with its voluminous dispensationalist notes that uneducated readers couldn't distinguish from the actual Biblical text, this view went mainstream, and today it's the unchallenged "orthodoxy" of much of the conservative church. Lindsey's book provides its clearest popular presentation, but it also underlies the fictional Left Behind series.
Refuting the voluminous interpretive fallacies of this book would take a second book, not just a review. Suffice it to say that the author's exegesis typically bears no relation to the way the original readers of the Bible would, or could, have understood particular passages; that it ignores the historical and literary contexts of most of the material it purports to interpret, and that fundamentally it boils down to an attempt to force a pre-chosen interpretation unto the text rather than letting the text speak for itself and shape the interpretation, rather than the other way around. It is of no value as anything but a drastic example of how NOT to approach Bible study, if you have any intellectual integrity!(less)
Recent years have seen an upswing of interest, in Christian circles, in the early Celtic Christianity of the British Isles during what we call the "Da...moreRecent years have seen an upswing of interest, in Christian circles, in the early Celtic Christianity of the British Isles during what we call the "Dark Ages." The Celtic monasticism and missionary activity of that time were significant forces in shaping Western Christianity. To some believers today, including the authors of this devotional, that branch of the Church seems to offer a model which is fully orthodox, but more wholistic, inclusive, and Biblically-balanced in its lifestyle than many later traditions. How accurate that perception is can be debated; but there is no doubt that this is a fresh and winsome work of devotional literature.
Each of the 15 devotions in the book starts with an invocation, then provides an imaginative reconstruction of some event in the life of a Celtic saint (Patrick, of course, is the best known). This is followed by a reflection on a spiritual truth the story illustrates, an original poem and a Scripture text, a brief prayerful meditation, and a blessing. A number of the invocations and blessings are actual translations of traditional Celtic originals.(less)
A recent discussion, with a Goodreads friend, of Western socio-economic history and the accompanying socio-economic thought brought to mind this gem o...moreA recent discussion, with a Goodreads friend, of Western socio-economic history and the accompanying socio-economic thought brought to mind this gem of a book, read in my early college days and a germinal influence on my own thought. (In terms of its effect on my thinking, I'd actually rank it as one of the most important books I've read, and I've upped my rating of it from four stars to five to reflect that.) Of course, my own strong personal reaction to the book will give the review below a strong element of "reader response" criticism, starting with where I was coming from when I read it.
I was raised (long story!), in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, which proudly considered itself ultra-conservative both religiously and socio-politically. (In fact, I'm a product of five years of education in the congregation's parochial school --though even then, I was inclined to read a lot outside of class and think for myself.) One theme they harped on was that capitalism as we know it in the modern U.S. --that is, oligarchical, monopolistic, and operating on purely "rational" profit-maximizing lines devoid of ethical content-- is an essential part of "Conservatism" (which is absolutely good, as opposed to the "L" word, which is absolutely evil). A corollary of this was that the poor (with possibly rare exceptions that you could count on your fingers) were so because they're improvident, stupid, and lazy, and that giving them any consideration fostered bad behavior and made the economy unsound. This line of thinking was then sanctified as a tenet of Christianity, "Biblical economics." It would probably be fair to say that a hefty number of people then and now, both inside and outside of the Christian church and the conservative movement (which are not the same thing, though they tend to be lumped together) would define both entities in terms of this thinking. Indeed, in explaining the historical shift in Western Europe, in the Commercial Revolution of the early modern era, to this sort of economic order, replacing an older feudal system that was significantly distinct from it in many ways (and by my high school days, I was aware that a shift HAD occurred, and that the present order didn't date from Biblical times!), modern critics of capitalism tend to finger Protestant Christianity as the villain that caused the whole thing, an argument exemplified in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (No, I haven't read Weber's classic, but I think I've read --and listened to, in college-- enough about it to fairly represent the gist of it.)
Even as a pre-teen child, though, and even haphazardly reading the Bible once in awhile only in the King James Version (because the newer translations were, according to the church, Satanic counterfeits!), I was struck by the gaping disconnect between the content of the Bible and the content of the preaching/teaching I heard from church and school. As my own beliefs took shape in my teens, I became a Christian; and I also came to identify my own thinking as conservative, in the sense of wanting to conserve both a moral and social order of community and family handed down from long good service in the human past, and an incredibly beautiful and precious natural creation. But I had real questions and doubts about how the whole framework of capitalist "Biblical economics" fitted with this. That (finally!) brings us to Tawney's book.
Unlike Weber, who was a sociologist, Tawney was an academic historian, a world-class expert on the social and intellectual history of 16th and 17th century England, which is the main focus of this study, his best-known work. (He was also, in the words of one recent pundit, "a radical Christian," though, with academic detachment, he doesn't state that explicitly here.) Here, he disputes Weber's one-sided and superficial analysis, by a careful study of the primary sources, starting with the medieval background, continuing through Luther's and Calvin's actual socio-economic teachings, and the responses of the English reformers to the economic questions raised by the Commercial Revolution of their day. His thesis is that the Protestant reformers, no less than the medieval Catholic Scholastics, espoused an economic philosophy based on rejection of materialism and gain for its own sake, acutely concerned with ideas of justice and right and wrong, and explicitly favoring consideration for the poor, for workers, and for customers. (As he points out, this doesn't mean medieval society perfectly embodied these principles; but as he also points out, theory does have some significance for practice in a society, even if not as much as the theorists want it to.) This is true over the entire spectrum of economic issues of that day --enclosure of formerly common land for private profit, price-gouging, usury (an old English word meaning, like its Hebrew equivalent, charging interest on loans --the modern pretense that both words only mean "excessive interest" is the lexical equivalent of saying, "Oh no, silly, 'adultery' doesn't really mean marital infidelity; it just means excessive marital infidelity!"), etc., all of which the Protestant churches opposed as vigorously as the Catholics, and for the same serious religious reasons. When they finally jettisoned this stance in the late 1600s, it was in response to changes that were already accomplished and entrenched in society, and accomplished because the rising wealthy commoners had emancipated their daily behavior from religious authority (an emancipation greatly aided by the break-up of Christian organizational unity --but that wasn't an effect that the Protestant reformers had aimed at.) Tawney doesn't speculate on whether the capitulation was a deliberate ploy to curry favor with the newly rich and powerful, or just an unconscious response to the new "selfishness is good!" zeitgeist of the day (I'd personally surmise that both factors were at work). This is necessarily a summary of 287 pages of text (the rest of the 337 pages are source notes and index); but I checked out and skimmed a copy again to make sure I wasn't oversimplifying or misrepresenting from faulty memory from 40 years ago. Written for average intelligent readers (of course, educated in a more rigorous school system than ours), the style is jargon-free and conversational without being dumbed-down, and I personally didn't find it at all dry or uninteresting in any part.
For me, this book was an intellectual catalyst that took my inchoate doubts and misgivings and gave them a concrete voice. I came to see that there IS a tradition of serious, intelligent Christian thought on socio-economic questions which actually reflects and applies the teachings of the Bible in concrete and practical ways; and that moral criticism of capitalist abuses can be based on this tradition, not drawn from outside of it. (Also, I came to realize for sure that the "selfishness is good" school is not, historically, a natural ally of the kind of conservatism I believe in; rather, it's a natural enemy.) And finally, though Tawney's analysis basically covers only the early modern era, it gave me an interpretive key to understand the desire of the wealthy capitalist class to free itself from moral and religious restraint as a broad, ongoing process that continues to shape Western intellectual and economic history --a process that explains the whole elevation of first Hume and then Darwin to thrones of unquestioned authority in Establishment thought, that explains the horrors of slavery and the Industrial Revolution, that explains today's twisted "globalism", and much else. I'd recommend this book to any reader who wants to understand the genesis of the modern world.(less)