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I am frequently asked about book recommendations. Mostly these are for friends who want to read a good theology book or two. Occasionally I am asked about commentaries by the more adventurous readers (and you can read a response to that here). If you’re not aware (and even if you are), there are a plethora of available modern commentaries on every book of the Bible (for the most part). Knowing what is useful within the available options is a fairly monumental task for the uninitiated.

Thankfully, Zondervan recently published (and sent my way) A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works by John F. Evans. According to the cover, this is the 10th edition, but from what I can tell, this is the first actual published edition from Zondervan. While there are other options (notably the guides that cover Old and New Testaments separately from Baker Academic), I think this should be the new go-to for interested readers and virtually every seminary student.

It is a hefty volume in its own right, coming in at just over 450 pages. The print is small as well, so there is a plethora of information to wade through. Thankfully, there is a guide to the many symbols early on, and then an excellent introduction that not only points readers to other available commentary bibliographies, but gives an overview for evaluating commentaries.

The next section gives a thorough rundown on the available commentaries series out there. Evans is generally evaluating the series from a middle of the road conservative evangelical viewpoint. Basic distinctions are drawn out so that for instance, the reader can have a general idea of the difference between a volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC) and a volume in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series (NICOT). This material alone is a significant help. Just to know what a given series aims to do within the world of biblical commentaries, apart from the next considerations that go into each and every volume in that series, is something that may not come until late in a student’s seminary studies.

For roughly the next 400 pages, Evans takes readers through the Bible book by book, shedding light on the available commentaries for each. He very helpfully includes available reviews in published journals for many of the commentaries. He also offers sections on reference works related to sections of Scripture (i.e. Pentateuchal Studies). This culminates in the terminal sections which offer a short bibliography for a bare-bones library, then an ideal basic library for a pastor, followed by the ultimate reference library of roughly 8-10 key volumes per biblical book.

While I obviously didn’t read this book cover to cover, it wasn’t meant to be used in that way anyway. It is meant to purchased by most seminary students and pastors so they can consult it before making commentaries purchases. This may be the first edition published by Zondervan but you can tell it has been honed and refined over many years leading up to this edition. And while new commentaries will continue to be published, many of the best references are already available. If you use this tools provided by this volume, you ought to be able to evaluate new commentaries more accurately and so continue to make wise use of your resources.

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An increasingly common mode of theology is retrieval. Maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it, but the idea is that we aren’t the first people to ask theological questions. Just maybe some important voices from the past can shed light on our contemporary questions. If one is merely explaining what the past voices said, it’s historical theology. If you’re drawing the historical sources into the present it’s retrieval.

Marc Cortez has done a masterful job of this in his recent Christological Anthropology In Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. While Zondervan doesn’t want to own the fact they published this on their website, they sent me a review copy nonetheless. You’ll notice the word “anthropology” shows up in the title and the subtitle. If I were to take a stab at rewording the title to eliminate jargon, it would actually be longer than it already is. It might help though if you’re new to this type of terminology. Basically, Cortez book is a study of how past voices have understood the man Jesus Christ and how that helps us understand humanity in a theological sense.

His chosen conversation partners are:

  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Julian of Norwich
  • Martin Luther
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher
  • Karl Barth
  • John Zizioulas
  • James Cone

The last two names are actually consider modern, and I suppose Barth is as well. Luther gives us a Reformer’s perspective and Schleiermacher and Enlightenment tinted one. Julian of Norwich gives us a medieval and mystical point of view, and Gregory of Nyssa represents the Church Fathers well.

These historical perspectives are bracketed by an introduction that explains what it means to use a Christ-centered lens for the study and a conclusion that points toward how this study can help our understanding of ourselves. For the former, Cortez explains,

In its most basic form, the fundamental intuition of a christological anthropology is that beliefs about the human person (anthropology) must be warranted in some way by beliefs about Jesus (christological). We will explore more deeply what this “in some way” actually means through these various studies. Even without a more precise explanation, through, the distinctive nature of a christological anthropology is that Christology warrants at least some anthropological claims in such a way that those claims are only true in virtue off the truth of their christological ground (20).

The two questions that then frame the study are “what does is mean to say that Christology somehow grounds anthropological claims?” And second, what issues in anthropology can such christologically oriented anthropologies meaningfully address?” (23) In the conclusion, Cortez makes a distinction between minimal and comprehensive christological anthropologies (225):

  • A minimally christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants important claims about what it means to be human and (2) the scope of those claims goes beyond issues like the image of God and ethics
  • A comprehensively christological anthropology is one in which (1) Christology warrants ultimate claims about true humanity such that (2) the scope of those claims applies to all anthropological data

He then notes that all of the case studies he worked through are the latter. Ultimately, each case study Cortez presents is from a perspective that is “convinced that a christological vision is necessary for a theologically adequate understanding of the human person,” yet also demonstrates “continued diversity within this common conviction” (232). In other words, they share a philosophical base even if they reach some varied theological conclusions. The authors are asking different questions and responding to different challenges. What Cortez suggests is that bringing these different perspectives to bear in our modern (and/or postmodern) context can be a fruitful theological project. These past theologians provide a kind of methodology that we can and should utilize in the present.

While not long, this book is fairly dense and it’s not something you’ll want to take the beach for light reading (unless you’re weird). The individual chapters can be read out of order (if you’re into that) but it is a commitment to really sit down and read a single chapter at once. I wouldn’t recommend pausing in the middle. It’s not actually that bad, I just want you prepared.

If you or someone you love is interested in studying the human person in light of theology and more importantly, Jesus Christ, this book is worth procuring. You don’t need a seminary degree to read and benefit from it, but you probably do need to be used to academic theological writing. If you are, you’ll benefit from listening to key voices from the past in order to have the tools to better understand the present (I think I said that before).

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Few theologians are doing more to revitalize theology in content and form than Kevin Vanhoozer. While I think I would recommend pretty much all of his books, his most recent Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom, might be the best for getting acquainted with his thought.

As a collection of essays, many of which began as oral presentations, you are able to get a “snapshot” of Vanhoozer in his element, but without necessarily committing to a sustained theological argument spanning several hundred pages. His Drama of Doctrine changed my life, but it’s not for the faint of heart. And in fact, this collection of essays is for people who want to see his theodramatic systematics at work without committing to reading his “Great Pumpkin.” While not necessarily a sustained argument, it at least indirectly offers a sustained plea for “incorporation the imagination into the work of theology as a sapiential systematics” (12).

Having established all this, Vanhoozer offers a formal introduction to his collection of essays, seeing the imagination as a helping provide the metaphors by which a holy nation lives. There, he explains that his “working hypothesis throughout this book is that the church needs a biblically formed, reformed and transformed imagination in order to live out a vital faith (44). He then explains that the chapters the follow are organized like an art exhibit. Because after all, what is a Vanhoozer book without a metaphor operating at the theoretical level? He continues explaining by saying,

The reader proceeds through a foyer and then through three galleries. Each gallery contains various biblical exhibits: essays that depict various scenes of the church’s worship, witness and wisdom. Each part of the book also includes a sermon – an exercise in faithfully imagining biblical truth (44).

The promenade begins in the foyer, where I discuss certain introductory matters of “prolegomena” – suggestions for imagining biblical authority and evangelicalism – including the importance of the imagination. The first gallery focuses on the church as a royal priesthood and examines scenes of the church’s worship. The second gallery looks at the church as a school of prophets and focuses on Christian witness. The third and final gallery visits scenes that dramatically test the church’s wisdom (44).

Vanhoozer suggests that these three galleries correspond to the three offices that characterized Israel’s life as holy nation and that apply the work of Christ. In other words, prophet, priest, and king. He then provides five unifying themes as we prepare to “view” these “scenes” (45-46):

  1. A common concern for the well-being and edification of the church
  2. A concern for what it means for the church to be biblical and for theology to be a species of biblical reasoning
  3. An assumption that the unity of the Bible is a function of the divine drama of redemption that it recounts, and of which it is an ingredient
  4. A concern to rehabilitate the evangelical imagination
  5. A common goal that doctrinal theology be eminently practical, ministering understanding and vision to head, heart and hand.

With all that in mind, the essays that follow are vintage Vanhoozer. Because most were originally oral addresses, they are fairly accessible, although as a writer, Vanhoozer is generally accessible anyway. Just consider it a bonus that these essays are stand alone and easily digestible, although still thought provoking and imagination stoking. As such, you can work though the book however you please, but I went through it chapter to chapter.

Considering both Vanhoozer’s importance, and the importance of the topics he continues to address, this book is worthy of your attention. Whether you’ve never read anything by him, or read everything by him, there is still something to gain from paying attention to his work here.


Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 327 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Recently, IVP Academic has stepped up their series game. In the past they’ve released the Christian Worldview Integration series, Contours in Christian Theology, and several commentary series. They continue to publish titles in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, as well as the Strategic Initiatives in Evangelical Theology series.

Now, they’ve added the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture series, and thanks to their generosity, I’ve gotten the first two volumes. In brief, the series “promotes evangelical contributions to systematic theology, seeking fresh understanding of Christian doctrine through creatively faithful engagement with Scripture in dialogue with Catholic tradition(s)” (back insert).

The series will be edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, so it is only fitting that they coauthor the inaugural volume, Theology and The Mirror of Scripture: A Mere Evangelical Account. Like any book associated with Vanhoozer, you can see the allusion game is already strong in just the title. In the opening Unscientific Preface to Mere Evangelical Theology, the authors state “we do not pretend to give a universally compelling description of what evangelicals in fact profess and practice. Our intention is rather to offer a normative proposal of what evangelicals ought to profess and practice, if they would be truly evangelical – if they would correspond to the gospel that is according to the Scriptures” (11).

The book that follows offers readers an agenda (part 1) that explains the material and formal principles of evangelical theology (first two chapters, an leaning into Rorty’s mirror analogy). Then, the authors offer an analysis of what the practice of theology ought to look like (chapters 3-6). Here, we see theology is ultimately in search of wisdom, and that not surprisingly given the authors, this includes a good dose of theological exegesis. It also includes theology in a community and with high standards of excellence.

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The next volume published in this series is Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule by Jonathan Leeman. As he explains right off the bat in the preface,

This book has two main goals. The first is to replace the map of politics and religion that many Christians have been using since the democratic revolutions of the eighteenth century with a more biblical one. The second is to explain where the local church fits onto this redrawn map as a political institution or embassy of Christ’s rule (13).

My prayer for this book is that it would give you, the reader, a better understanding of what the Bible says about church as well as how it describes the political map on which the church serves the purposes of Christ’s kingdom. And I pray that it might equip you in the work of building up your local congregation in holiness and love for Christ’s kingly purposes (17).

To accomplish all of this, Leeman starts with two basic questions: what is politics? (chapter 1) and what is an institution? (chapter 2).  Pretty straightforward, but it takes about 100 pages to answer these questions. But it accomplishes goal #1 so Leeman can spend the next four chapters devoted to goal #2. In successive chapters, he covers the politics of creation, fall, new covenant, and kingdom.

It is hard to imagine a more timely book with the upcoming election season upon us. If you are a bit more conversant with political theology than I am, you might want to check out this more in-depth review and response over at Mere Orthodoxy (part 1, part 2, response, questions, joint statement). You might want to just pick up a copy for yourself. Who’s to say?

In both of these cases though, you have solid evangelical contributions to Christian doctrine. As a general rule, if Vanhoozer had a hand in writing something, you probably want to grab it. And when he’s editing a series with Dan Treier, you better put it on your watch list. If you’re invested in the development of evangelical theology, you’re going to want to add both of these titles to your library.

You can see the publisher’s page for both here and here, and get a sneak peek at the newest volume that comes out later this year here.

 

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been a staff writer with a website called Christ and Pop Culture. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me reference it, and perhaps link to articles I’ve written. Recently, my writeup on Unashamed posted (a good companion to The Soul of Shame) and you can get it free for a brief time. You can read my full write up here.

That’s right, by being a member of Christ and Pop Culture, you can support the writers who put out pretty stellar content on the site, and get free books (and other stuff too). You can read more about membership here. In my time doing the write ups, here’s some of the books that were available:

That should give an idea of the track record of books that are offered. Recently, I was working on a write-up for David Dark’s Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, Due to a slight miscommunication, a more full length essay was already commissioned on it, and you should be able to read that here. Before I found that out, IVP had graciously sent me a hard copy of the book, so I felt like I should still post my thoughts on it.

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Dark writes in a meditative style, which makes the book a fairly easy read. However, he is helping readers reflect on their religious practices. Many of these might not seem to be so religious on the surface, and so Dark’s style helps disarm readers and move them toward reflection. In doing so, he shows that if we have entered into relationships with others and with facets of our culture, we have engaged to some extent in religious practices. Culture itself is intimately tied to religion and Dark subtly unmasks the connection. You can get a better feel for what he’s up to in the book by watching this video. Had you been a member before now, you would have just snagged yourself a copy!

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Another book that I received thanks to Crossway before I knew it would be free for members is Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley’s Conscience What It Is, How To Train IT, and Loving Those Who Differ. I liked this book so much that I immediately put it to use in class and decided to require it next year for my 11th grade Bible class. There are several diagrams within that I tried to recreate on the board (which is difficult for a lefty, but I’m a professional at this point). I am told it was helpful to several students as they prepare to navigate going away to college and starting to live by a different set of rules (or at least not having as many rules as previously).

While a short book, I think it does a masterful job of covering a much neglected topic in practical theology. D. A. Carson thought so too and that’s probably why he wrote the foreword. As try to navigate the straits between legalism and licentiousness, a book like this helps to clarify the discussion and offer a way for Christians to think about their Christian liberty and how it relates to those in their community. I would highly recommend this book, and it’s free if you’ve become a Christ and Pop Culture member by now. If not, why keep waiting?

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We all have a story. One thing all of stories unfortunately have in common is incidents of shame. To one degree or another, shame becomes part of virtually all of our stories. For some, it is not an incidental detail in a larger story but the bulk of the story itself.

Along these lines, Curt Thompson introduces his book The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About Ourselves. He says, “This, then, is a book about the story of shame. The one we tell about it, the one it tells about us, and even more so the one God has been telling about all of us from the beginning. Most important, this book also examines how the story of the Bible offers us a way not only to understand shame but also to effectively put it to death, even if that takes a lifetime to accomplish” (12-13). He continues,

The premise of this book, then, is that shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity. These gifts include any area of endeavor that promotes goodness, beauty and joy in and for the lives of others, whether that be teaching our first graders, loving our spouse well, managing forests, conducting healing prayer services, creating a new medical technology, offering psychotherapy or composing symphonies (13)

From this premise, Thompson, a psychiatrist specializing on the intersection between interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) and spiritual formation, unfolds the story and definition of shame in the first chapter. In the following two chapters, he draws on his specialization in IPNB to help readers better understand the nature of shame at that level. This leads to a discussion in chapter 4 about our nature as storytelling creatures and chapter 5 then places this within the biblical narrative.

Starting in chapter 6, Thompson presents a path forward. Healing from shame requires vulnerability, and that tends to take place in community with others. He discusses here how the shame that we feel and have internalized often works against us when it comes to actually overcoming it (see for instance the Brene Brown TED talks). Chapter 7 gives readers ways to address their shame using Scripture. Chapter 8 takes this into community and how that can either nurture shame or be catalysts for healing. Chapter 9 finishes with an eschatological touch as Thompson casts vision for how our freedom from shame can lead to joyfully engage our various creative callings.

While I would take a few things here and there with a grain of theological salt, this is a valuable book for those engaged in ministry. You don’t have to be a full-time counselor to encounter people who are burdened by shame. You might even be so yourself. Thompson’s insights from IPNB, as well as the idea that shame can take on a life of its own to be put to demonic means (Thompson prefers personify evil) were my main takeaways from the book. I might have switched chapters 4 and 5 as well, giving the biblical background and foundation first, then expanding the idea of lives as storytelling creatures. On the whole though, this is a well written book that covers an important topic. I’d recommend giving it a read.


Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About OurselvesDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Christians have had an interest in western philosophy for pretty much as long as both existed. If you’re late to the game, you’d probably be surprised that many philosophers, at least post-Augustine, would have considered themselves Christians. The Enlightenment kind of gradually ruined that, but not before some significant thinkers emerged. One of those was Søren Kierkegaard.

When it’s comes to Kierkegaard, it is hard to imagine a philosopher simultaneously receiving as much love and disdain, both from Christian circles. Depending on who you ask, Kierkegaard is either super important and helpful or misguided and to be generally avoided.

Mark Tietjen is aware of these realities and tackles them head on in the first chapter of his recently published Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. This is after a noted philosopher and Kierkegaard scholar (Merold Westphal) has foreworded and commended the book to us. In that first chapter, Tietjen says right off the bat, “My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Søren Kierkegaard is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church” (25).

From here, he briefly sketches Kierkegaard’s life before dealing with questions related to Christian appropriation of philosophy in general and Kierkegaard in particular. He then gives an overview of the general areas of Kierkegaard’s thought and how broad ranging and practical it can be.

The remaining four chapters are the core of the book and deal with Kierkegaard’s general thought on Jesus Christ, the human self, Christian witness, and the life of Christian love. Tietjen illustrates and illumines throughout by exposition from Kierkegaard’s writings. Here readers will be able to determine for themselves the value of Kierkegaard’s writings for us today.

I was particularly drawn to the motif in the subtitle. One may well wonder what being a Christian missionary to Christians entails. In the conclusion, Tietjen draws together the threads for why Kierkegaard would see the task as not only possible but necessary. He then lists out the rationale (161):

  • If there are some who are Christian in name only, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are some who have inherited a perverted form of Christianity and know nothing better, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who value created goods over the Creator, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who struggle to trust in God and his goodness, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who fail to believe God can redeem even the least redeemable person, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who lose hope that God’s kindness, forgiveness, and redemption extend even to them, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians
  • If there are Christians who “speak in tongues of angel,” and so on, but have not love, then one can be a Christian missionary to such Christians

Given what I see in our contemporary culture, it’s not hard to suggest there is a still a need for this kind of role. One might call it a “prophetic” type role, but I like the idea of a Christian missionary to Christians. In some sense, I feel like my calling involves a bit of that, especially as it relates to youth and college culture. Kierkegaard can serve as a model and template for how to pursue this calling.


Mark A Tietjen, Kierkegaard: Christian Missionary to ChristiansDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 173 pp. Paperback, $20.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new title in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is in want of a place on my bookshelf. On first glance, today might seem better suited for a different kind of post. But, as I read recent events, it’s a call to start taking prayer seriously. With that in mind, I’d really commend this book to you for its analysis of prayer and it’s timeliness.

Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer is J. Gary Millar’s second work in the series. It is also an excellent companion to Tim Keller’s Prayer. Here, as is true in many titles in this series, Millar traces the nature of prayer from Genesis to Revelation. His chapters are divided by traditionally Old Testament divisions (Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Writings). Before turning to the New Testament, he devotes a chapter to the Psalms. He then offers chapters on the Gospels, Acts, Paul, and the later New Testament letters. The afterword ties everything together and applies it to our current evangelical context.

Millar defines prayer as “calling on the name of the Lord,” hence the title of the book. In the introduction he offers an important clarification about what his work is trying to do (beyond just tracing out the passages most germane to prayer):

Initially the focus will be on showing how “calling on the name of the Yahweh,” or prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer. On moving to the New Testament it will become apparent how calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and how, after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible, it will be argued, is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised; as Calvin expressed it, “through the Gospel our hearts are trained to call on God’s name” (18).

Without editorializing too much, that’s exactly what the present moment in our nation (and world) calls for. The gospel trains our hearts to call on God’s name to bring restoration and redemption to a broken world. We are asking God to come through on what he has already promised and we do so in the name of our new covenant Mediator and his Holy Spirit.

It is in that afterword that Millar laments the downturn in evangelical emphasis on prayer. He then offers several reasons that he thinks the church is praying less (233-235):

  1. Life is easy
  2. The communications revolution
  3. The rise of Bible study groups
  4. The availability of good teaching
  5. The dominance of pragmatism
  6. The vacuum created by cynicism

If 3 and 4 seem weird to you, you’ll have to read the book to see why he includes them. Having diagnosed the issue, Millar offers these insights for relearning to pray in light of his biblical theology of prayer:

  1. We pray recognizing our greatest need(s)
  2. We pray realizing that it is always going to be hard work
  3. We pray patiently (while looking for interim answers to big prayers)

He then suggests five no brainer prayers that the New Testament teaches us to believe God will always come through on:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. To know God better
  3. For wisdom
  4. For strength to obey/love/live for God
  5. For the spread of the gospel

Ultimately, we are praying for God to do his covenant work through the gospel (239). I mentioned earlier that this book is a good companions to Keller’s. I think the main reason for that it is this book shows in a fairly exhaustive fashion what the biblical prayers look like and then draws summary conclusions. Keller’s book provides good historical analysis and pastoral how-to. Millar’s book, through extensive biblical quotations (more so than a normal volume of NSBT) shows the logic of prayers in the Bible.

Because of that, this is definitely a book you want to add to your library. Not only that, you ought to read it and apply it. I’m in the process of doing that now and I hope you’d join me in doing the same.


J. Gary Millar, Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of PrayerDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 264  pp. Paperback, $24.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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I left off the story on Tuesday in mid 2013. I was working several jobs, Ali was crazy busy at her job, and our involvement at church was waning. We tried to leave, but found no open doors. We pulled back from leading a small group and discipling multiple people and just focused on us that fall. I was still teaching Bible at school, but that was about it. Capacity and morale were both low.

Toward the end of the year, we began praying about the possibility of me just going back to school to finish a Ph.D. A few things fell into place over the fall and by February, I was on the way to Louisville to take the entrance exam for SBTS. I ended up being accepted, and planned to start in the fall of 2014, working on a Ph.D in Christian Philosophy.

Unfortunately, the burnout that had been simmering since the previous summer, and left unaddressed, hit all at once. While we still hadn’t resumed leading a small group, I had still been doing a lot. I hit a wall that summer and just didn’t get much of anything done. I also began having increased anxiety about the Ph.D thing. I deferred until the spring semester hoping some recovery time would make a difference. It didn’t, and I withdrew in December.

At this point, rather than leading a group, we had eased into a coaching role for small group leaders at our church. I had also now been mentored by one of the elders at church for over a year. It was also during this season that I started teaching at SHIFT regularly. Many Friday nights through spring of 2015, I was teaching through Ephesians to a multi-ethnic group of UCF students. At one point, we had thought it might be something I could put more full-time effort into.

However, there was still a bit of disconnect and the timing wasn’t quite there. You’ll notice that Ali has faded into the background of things going on at this point. She had been struggling with working full time and me being unable to secure anything full time. Some of this changed when she was able to chaperone on the fall retreat for the school I teach at in 2014. She had two realizations then. One was that she was an essential reason why I was able to do what I did with the students there. The other was that she had married a youth pastor, he just happened to work at a school. I was the one primarily pursuing ministry, but I was dependent on her to do so.

A byproduct of this was that Ali got to know a few of the girl students really well. As work allowed, she would come by school and try to connect with them more. This continued on into the next school year, the one just completed, when she also chaperoned again. It was also at this point that she began getting together to meet with and mentor a couple of the senior girls.

By April, she was able to go on the senior trip as a chaperone. In part, this was because I was going, but she was going to have to pay for her own airfare. We had gotten a Southwest credit card when we thought I’d be flying back and forth to Louisville for Ph.D work. That fell through as you remember, but we continued to use everyday purchases to build up points, thinking they’d come in handy. When the opportunity came along for Ali to go on the trip, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the airfare otherwise. What had seemed like a dead end was really a setup for something else down the road.

It was on the trip that Ali began to realize that she could have a fruitful and significant impact on many of my students. She is more of a nurturing and counselor type than I am. While my students might like me for the most part, they might not open up to me about certain things that they’d be more comfortable talking to Ali about. This was especially true for the students that were in Ali’s van for the duration of our California road trip. She may have had more impact on them through the conversations they had in the van than I did teaching Bible for four years. But, in a way, I think the two complemented each other.

Before we had gone on the trip, I had offered a proposal to our church, recently renamed One Hope because of its independence from the CrossPointe movement. I hadn’t realized it until last fall, but a big reason it was hard to do much was because of the leadership structure. It’s a story too long for this post, but once we were independent, I could just submit a proposal to the elders for consideration. I did so for a position as campus ministry director and spiritual formation pastor as a way to unite two things I had been doing within the church. Because of financial considerations, the offered had to be tabled, but I was encouraged to pursue support raising and develop the newly created campus ministry director position. In the future, the staff opportunity could be reconsidered.

In light of all this, Ali and I felt that God was leading us to step out in faith and raise support as missionaries to students in east Orlando. That’s essentially what we are because of our connection in at least three worlds: local church, local Christian school, largest undergrad university in America. We would love to be able to do more at church, more at the school, and more on campus to reach and disciple students and young people in general in the 15-25 range. And we’d like to do it together. I don’t think either of us are effective alone as we both are together. But, that means raising enough monthly commitments to eliminate some of my side work, and ideally all of Ali’s work. While she has a secure job, her paycheck is heavily dependent on the generosity of others through tips. God has provided well through the generosity of others that way, and we are praying that he’ll continue to do so through this new avenue.

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I’m always on the lookout for helpful primers on the subjects I study. Often, introductory texts can be so daunting it is hard to know where to start. Thankfully, new books continued to be published. Even if there is overlap at times, that just means there are more options for just the right audience. In that light, here are three primers I’ve come across recently that I really enjoyed.

First off, J.A. Medders and Brandon Smith have published Rooted: Theology for Growing Christians. Russell Moore thinks its legit and you should too. I corresponded with Brandon a bit about it and then the publisher, relatively new Rainer Publishing, graciously sent me a review copy. In a relatively brief 120 pages, Medders and Smith introduce readers for the need to study theology, and then cover four key topics: God, His Word, Redemption and The Gospel, The Church and The Future. Experienced readers will notice this is the basic contours of a systematic theology. However, this is written for someone who doesn’t know that and so it is jargon free. Though not necessarily in narrative form, the topics are expounded in relation to the general story line of Scripture. This gives the book a good connection to biblical theology and makes the entry point easier for someone who hasn’t study the topics in detail.

Because of its style, length, and focus, I decided to make it a required book for my 9th grade Bible class. Traditionally, this class is an Old Testament survey, but since I teach Systematic Theology for 11th grade, I thought it might be a good introduction earlier in high school to prepare them for a more detailed study a couple of years later (if you’re curious, I use Bible Doctrine for that class). I suppose I’ll have more to say after putting it to use in class this next year, but I’m excited to see it help open up a window into studying theology for many students.

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While we’re discussing books I’ve liked and decided to use in class, let’s talk about Jared Wilson’s Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. Thanks to Baker Books, I snagged a copy and devoured it pretty quick, as is my custom with many of Wilson’s book. I was reading as I was finishing up my last spring with a senior class I had taught since they were freshmen. Many of the topics in Wilson’s book had come up in class throughout the year, either directly or through Ask Anything Friday. Looking ahead to the next graduating class, I thought they’d benefit from reading a solid book in a conversational tone to supplement our class discussions.

Topics that Wilson tackles include subjects like how the Trinity is practical/relevant, the difference between the Christian God and other gods, how the Christian view of humanity is both the most realistic and optimistic, how Jesus claimed to be God, and how he triumphed over evil and injustice. You know, pretty basic stuff right? Actually, several of these are potentially thorny issues. There are full length apologetics books on each of the topics Wilson addresses, but he introduces readers to the core issues in an understandable way. In other words, I think he presents his case for Christianity in a way that a high schooler could pick up on and (hopefully) not get too confused. Even if you’re not using this book in a class like I am, it seems like it would be a great book to read with a friend who has legitimate questions and wants to explore what makes Christianity so unique and compelling (to borrow from the subtitle). As with the previous book, I’ll try to remember to let you know how it works out in class.

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Lastly, and not for a class (unfortunately), IVP sent along Douglas Groothuis’ Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to A Vast Topic. The history of Western philosophy, while a footnote to Plato, is not an easy topic to master. The best way to march through the history is with Coppleston’s volumes (11 I think). But, most of us don’t have time for that. What you do have time for is Groothuis’ book. You also have no excuse to not know something about philosophy since it shapes just about everything in our culture whether you like it or not.

Because you’re hopefully curious at this point, these are the seven sentences that Groothuis uses to introduce us to the history of philosophy:

  • Man is the measure of all things (Protagoras)
  • The unexamined life is not worth living (Socrates)
  • All men by nature desire to know (Aristotle)
  • You have made use for yourself, and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in you (Augustine)
  • I think, therefore I am (Descartes)
  • The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing (Pascal)
  • The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all (Kierkegaard)

Certainly other key sentences could be chosen. However, I think this is a good balance of ancient and modern, and covers a broad range of topics within philosophy. It is hard to imagine two more influential sentences than those listed by Socrates (found in Plato’s writings, just FYI) and Descartes. Likewise, the sentence from Augustine is from his Confessions, which is a must read for anyone really, regardless of your interest in philosophy. It is both an introduction into Christian life and conversion, and the first autobiography of sorts.

The sentence from Protagoras gives you an idea of the foundations of Western philosophy, a tradition that sought knowledge without recourse to revelation. Likewise, the sentence from Aristotle shows just how relevant philosophy is to any context, ancient or modern. The last two sentences show that philosophy can easily cross over into psychology and that for me, was my initial draw to the subject. I was blown away by my intro to philosophy class early in my studies at Liberty. Since then, I’ve come back to it again and again, and this little primer by Groothuis is a great introduction to the topic.