imagesAmerican-Football-lover

Over at the Christ and Pop Culture website, I got an article published on cultivating sports atheism:

Football, more so than other sport, cultivates the idea of a sold-out, totally dedicated fan base (e.g., those Bud Light commercials about superstitions). Perhaps it is because unlike the eternal season of baseball that spans spring, summer, and fall, football takes place more or less through a single season (fall) with teams playing once a week. That makes each game loaded with significance in a way that other sports cannot match. Couple this with the fact that the games are either Saturday (college) or Sunday (pro), and you have the makings of a substitute religious service each week where you can worship with the team of your particular denominational affiliation.

On close inspection, the “liturgy” of a football game is hauntingly similar to a worship service. You put on the garments that identify you with worshipers of the same deity (mascot). You gather at a temple (stadium, or couch in front a big screen) where priests (refs) mediate the festivities where the most devoted worshipers (players) lay it all on the altar (field). The resulting spectacle delivers an intensity that can easily translate into a worship experience for some fans.

Read the rest and find out why you might want to pursue sports atheism.

9780310499282

Matthew Barrett & Ardel B. Caneday eds. Four Views on The Historical Adam. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, December, 2013. 288 pp. Paperback, $19.99.

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Read an excerpt

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

Much like Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy, I thought it was best to do a series review for this book. Here’s what it will look like:

In the introduction to this book, editors Matthew Barrett and Ardel Caneday outline the models of origins from Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate. This is a way of getting at the debate behind the debate over the historical Adam. The models, if you’re curious (and even if you’re not) are:

  • Naturalistic Evolution
  • Nonteleological Evolution
  • Planned Evolution
  • Directed Evolution
  • Old-Earth Creationism
  • Young-Earth Creationism

Where you fall on the question of whether or not Adam is historical has a lot to do with how you understand creation itself. If you’re interested in digging into this background debate, pick up Rau’s book (or read my review).

Additionally, even if you are a young or old Earth creationist, that doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with others of the same view on how to understand the days in Genesis 1. Barrett and Caneday outline three gives on how to take Genesis 1:

  • The framework view (the days in Genesis are a literary framework focused on what not how)
  • The analogical day view (the presentation of the days of creation is mainly to present the model work week for man to follow)
  • The cosmic temple view (the creation of the world is also the creation of God’s cosmic temple in which he takes residence on day 7)

If that’s not enough, there four views on how to take the days in Genesis 1:

  • The gap view (a gap between Genesis 1:1-2 that may have been millions of years, 1:2ff is a “recreation”)
  • The intermittent day view (each day is 24hrs but there are gaps between the days of an indeterminate amount of time)
  • The progressive or day-age creation view (each day was a long period of time)
  • 24 hour day view (each day is a successive 24 hour period)

All of this together somewhat outlines the debate behind the debate, and helps to separate 3 of the 4 contributors who agree Adam was historical, but do not agree on other aspects of interpreting the early chapters of Genesis.

The contributors were asked to answer three key questions in defending their position (27-28):

  • What is the biblical case in your viewpoint, and how do you reconcile it with passages and potential interpretations that seem to counter it?
  • In what ways is your view more theologically consistent and coherent than other views?
  • What are the implications your view has for the spiritual life and public witness of the church and individual believers, and how is your view a healthier alternative for both?

To complete the book, we not only have the four contributors making their case based on these questions (and responding to one another), we also have two pastoral responses in light of everything that precedes them. One if from Greg Boyd and the other is from Phil Ryken. Their questions are different, and are as follows (35):

  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence affect the rest of the Christian faith and those doctrines Christians have historically affirmed throughout the centuries?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence shape a Christian worldview, especially the biblical story line from creation, fall, and redemption, to new creation?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence have an impact on the gospel, or how the gospel is preached and applied, specifically in the church?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence have influence on how we live the Christian life and “do church” as the body of Christ?
  • Does Adam’s existence or nonexistence make a difference in our evangelical witness to a watching world?
  • What is at stake in this debate for evangelicals in the church today?

Not to offer too much of a spoiler, but Boyd is going to answer more along the lines of “it has little impact” and Ryken will answer the opposite.

On the whole, this looks like it will be an interesting discussion. I’ve already read Lamoureux’s essay and the responses. He is the only contributor who says no historical Adam, but you’ll have to read next month to see why.

We’ve all been there right? You’re putting together a message for Sunday and you’re thinking to yourself, “Man, this is really coming together. But I don’t want it to be too good. I wonder what I could do to make this sermon less effective.”

Hopefully that’s never been what you’re thinking. I know there are a lot of sincere pastors out there who still preach less than stellar sermons, but I don’t know of any who are consciously trying to be bad. Everyone should be striving for excellence in preaching the word, regardless of how well equipped they may feel for the task.

Though it may be a bit presumptuous of me, a lowly high school Bible teacher to offer advice on preaching, I’ve listened to my fair share of sermons and took several preaching classes in my Bible school/seminary career (from which I retired as a back-to-back-to-back graduate). I’m also a freelance theoretician and have to keep many of the same principles that undergird a good sermon in mind when I’m teaching. I’m a hopeless analyst (kind of like a hopeless romantic, but less songs more blog posts) and so continually think about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to preaching and teaching the Word.

So that being said, here is my tongue-in-cheek advice for how to take an otherwise good opportunity to preach the word and ruin it.

Don’t exegete

I mean you can read the text and all, but definitely don’t explain what key words mean in context or how the different phrases and clauses fit together. People don’t have the attention span for that kind of thing, much less the grounding in English grammar and syntax. Definitely don’t have a single big idea that you’ve drawn from the text by careful study and then cross-referenced it with reliable commentators. Who has time for that? Just get up there and read the passage and then kind of comment on whatever sticks out to you in the moment.

Then, use some part of the text you’re supposedly preaching as a spring board to talk about some bit of doctrine you’ve been really into lately or connect it to some popular theological book you’ve been reading. Sprinkle in adjectives like “gospel-centered” and “missional” for good measure. Your sermon will be so theological, it will hardly be noticed that you didn’t really unpack the text you started with. Do this often enough, and you’ll perfect the “Start with the text, expand to a rant” approach.

Don’t illustrate

Serious preachers of the word don’t have time to tell personal stories, much less draw connections from current events, history, sports, or pop culture. If you’ve only got 40 minutes to an hour to hold people’s attention, you better explain as much of TULIP as possible, or at least make sure everyone’s on-board with substitutionary atonement. Taking time to tell stories instead of teaching theology is what those postmodern emerging church types do. People came to hear you bring it and the more doctrinal heat you can throw the better. They get enough personal interest stories on the news and social media, they don’t need you wasting time in your sermon when you could be explaining the finer nuances of covenant theology.

Don’t apply

Mainly this is because knowing sound doctrine is an application in itself, but also because you shouldn’t need to make concrete applications in your sermon anyway because if people just knew theology better, they’d live better. If you help them grow in knowledge and teach doctrine well, application will take care of itself. If you just reckon more and more with your justification, you’ll naturally grow in sanctification.

Do This Instead

Now, while hopefully nobody reading this will take my advice seriously, I don’t think it’s too far off the target of how some young preachers who are restless and Reformed think when it comes to preaching. Often this is the case with a certain type of pastor, one who is heavily into doctrine and might be more on the self-taught well-read end of the spectrum. What is supposed to be an occasion to preach the Word ends up turning into a theological lecture. Nothing against theological lectures, but that’s not what the Sunday sermon is supposed to be. Interestingly enough, if you lean toward theological lectures, you’re reducing your sermon to imparting knowledge, which means you’ll probably lose anyone in audience more knowledgeable than you. If nothing else, you’ll only challenge people who know less than you, instead of faithfully expounding the Word in a way that challenges everyone.

Also, a sermon will seem longer than it needs to be if it is just relentless exposition or theological explanation. Maybe you don’t struggle to clearly explain and stay focused on the text. But, part of exposition is illustrating the text in a way that enhances modern understanding. Not only that, but it will really help boost your audience’s attention to illustrate the text well. Not every little part of the text, but as many of the main points as you can. Don’t be afraid to tell stories and use other connection points your audience would find meaningful.

Lastly, don’t get up, exegete the text, illustrate it well, and then fail to draw any clear and concrete applications. Building on the previous two points, don’t get up and just try to impart knowledge, either in a bland, un-illustrated sense, or even in a fully developed picturesque sense. Imparting knowledge and teaching information in a sermon is good, but not enough. The goal is not just to show people more things (like additional facets of doctrine), but to show people how to see things differently (like how this particular text comes to bear on this particular cultural context). If you major on the latter, it doesn’t really matter if people in the audience know more than you. They might have read every commentary on the passage you’re preaching, but the way you illustrate and connect the passage to the daily life of your church is unique and potentially life changing. In fact, it’s really the only unique thing you have to offer. Your exposition should be tried and true. Your application should be fresh and new. If you shoot for that, you can’t go far wrong.

contend

Aaron Armstron, Contend: Defending The Faith In A Fallen World. Place: Cruciform Press, October 2012.  108 pp. Paperback, $9.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Back in the spring, at TGC to be specific, I had the privilege to not only meet Aaron Armstrong, but to also hang out with him and some of his friends at a Chik-fil-a. I was the only American in the mix, and I think that made it more interesting (read: fun). All that to say, Aaron is a great guy, and you should read his blog if you don’t already. He not only reviews a lot of great books, but he posts a lot of great original content. Plus, he can help restore your faith in Canadians to be fine upstanding world citizens.

Contend is Aaron’s second book published with Cruciform Press (his first, Awaiting A Savior, is worth checking out as well). However, from what I’ve read (and I think I’ve read all the Cruciform) titles, this is the most researched book (or at least the most footnoted). Much of that I imagine is because a strong case for contending in our postmodern culture needs to be made. Unless you’re already one of those people who gravitate naturally toward apologetics, you might feel like either a) there isn’t really a big need for apologetics (wrong) or that b) apologetics is an exercise in futility (wrong, but possibly true the way some people do it).

Enter Contend. The book itself is grounded in Jude’s appeal, and early on Aaron comments,

One thing we can draw from Jude’s appeal is that sometimes it is more important to defend the faith than to examine and rehearse what we believe. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, Jude is affirming that there is a time and purpose for all godly behavior. To face inward, affirming and clarifying among and between orthodox believers everything God has done for us— this is a necessary, ongoing activity of the church. But that must not and cannot be our exclusive preoccupation. We must also at times— as a necessary complementary activity— be intentional about facing outward, contending with those who deny who God is and what he has done, whether these voices come from within the church or without. (Kindle Loc. 122-127)

From here, Aaron traces the context of our modern culture and why contending for the faith is necessary. As he concludes, “Contending must be understood and exercised as an act of mercy toward those who doubt and those who have been deceived, regardless of whether they claim faith in Christ.” (Kindle Loc. 323-329)

In the next chapter, Aaron then begins the journey of helpfully guiding the reader through the content of what we’re defending (the doctrine of God and the Gospel), and the challenge before us (to do the contending well and wisely). At the end of chapter 3, he notes that everything up to that point has been groundwork, and so the practical turn happens with the final two chapters. First, we read about the job of the clergy (most importantly, to faithfully feed the flock, but also to correct errors, and protect from wolves), and then the role of the congregation (build up your faith with Scripture and persevere). Since he alliterated with C’s, it is only natural to have a final chapter titled “conclusion,” in which Aaron encourages readers to put into practice what they’ve read, and to do so with love and humility.

In a way, I think this book has something to offer both types of people I mentioned earlier. Aaron does a good job of setting the context in chapter 1, establishing the need for apologetics, both inside and outside the church. I’m not sure you could read that and walk away thinking that we don’t have our work cut out for us. On the other hand, his practical suggestions in the final chapters help to ward off the feeling that apologetics is a waste of time (i.e. needed, but not effective). He sets modest goals by using the idea of “contending” for the faith, which is not the same as “having all the answers” or “destroying all the false theology out there.” By defending key doctrines against assault, you can focus on what’s most significant and see more fruit in your labors (though your job is to contend, the Spirit’s job is to produce fruit).

All that to say, I would commend you Aaron’s work here. It is a thoroughly researched, easy to read, motivational exposition of Jude’s appeal for our modern context. He focuses on the basic, foundations of our faith that need to be defended and then gives sage advice on how to do so. The book strikes a fine balance between doctrinal exposition and practical application, making it very epistolatory. Yes, I just said epistolatory.

But, don’t just take my word for it, watch this video of Aaron explaining more:

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Have you ever tried to start watching a new TV show in the second season instead of the first? 1 It is certainly possible, but often it feels disconnected and hard to follow what is going on.

If you start reading the Bible in the book of Exodus the effect is similar. Though obscured in English, the first Hebrew word is “And,” which shows the continuity with the book that came before it, Genesis. 2 As we drop into the first 7 verses we read:

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:1-7, ESV)

If we were to outline these verses, they fall into what’s called a chiastic structure:

A.  The names of the sons of Israel who came into Egypt with Jacob (1a)

B.  Sons with household/families (preliminary fruitfulness) (1b–5)

C.  DEATH of Joseph, his brothers, that generation (6), but

B´. The later generation bore fruit exceedingly (continued fruitfulness) (7b)

A´. Descendants of the sons of Israel fill the land (7a, c) 3

When it comes to the names, it would be a mistake to make too much or too little 4 It is important that they are listed, but the order does not appear to be significant. The significance is that these are the sons of Israel who have prospered in a promised land, and it is a glimpse into the fulfilled promise to Abraham that out of him would come a great nation.

While v. 2-6 point the readers back to Genesis 12:1-3 and the original promise to Abraham, v. 7 points readers back to Genesis 1:27 and the command to be fruitful and multiply. As Stuart comments,

The point made by such language is twofold: (1) that Israel’s amazing population growth was the result of God’s original design and ongoing care and (2) that Israelites were living, at least in small colonies or scattered families, in sufficient numbers as to dominate the population of one part of Egypt at the time of the persecution, that is, just in the eastern Nile delta area of Goshen, even if they were not the sole inhabitants of that general area. 5

So on the one level, it is showing how God was fulfilling his promises, but it does more than that. As Blackburn points out,

When interpreted firmly within the context of Genesis 1, God’s mandate to be fruitful and exercise dominion has the distinctly missionary purpose of making himself known throughout creation. Because humanity is the image of God (1:26), the command calls for God’s image to spread throughout, and ultimately fill, the earth. Furthermore, as humanity spreads throughout the earth, he is called to exercise dominion, governing God’s creation as befits his status as God’s image. The effect of the commandment, then, is that life on the earth would witness to the character of God, as God’s image spreads and governs according to his likeness and character. 6

This then is the stage setting for the book of Exodus. This is a book about God’s work in and through the nation of Israel. It is a book with a missionary heart as it reveals more and more of who God is. In fact, if we only had the book of Exodus, we could learn many things about God 7

  1. God controls history
  2. God’s name is Yahweh
  3. God is holy
  4. God remembers his people
  5. God acts in salvation
  6. God acts in judgment
  7. God’s anger can be averted
  8. God speaks
  9. God is transcendent
  10. God chooses to live among his people

As you can see, Exodus, while telling the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, is also telling us a lot about the God who did the delivering. It’s probably for this reason Philip Ryken can say that “In some ways the whole Bible is an extended interpretation of the exodus.” 8 The story of the Exodus becomes the paradigm for redemption throughout the Old Testament, effectively making it the gospel of the Old Testament. As Ryken further explains,

Beyond the Pentateuch, the book of Exodus has wider connections with the rest of the Old Testament. The exodus was the great miracle of the old covenant. Thus many passages in the Psalms and the Prophets look back to it as the paradigm of salvation. The people of Israel always praised God as the One who had brought them out of Egypt. The New Testament writers worshiped the same God, and thus they often used the exodus to explain salvation in Christ. Indeed, a complete understanding of the gospel requires a knowledge of the exodus.

He concludes that “a complete understanding of the gospel requires a knowledge of the exodus.” The story of the Exodus is then our story. Though we cannot completely identify with the nation of Israel, we share much in common. Looking to the shape of their story, we can see that “as we trace their spiritual journey, we discover that we need exactly what the Israelites needed. We need a liberator, a God to save us from slavery, and destroy our enemies. We need a provider, a God to feed us bread from Heaven and water from the rock. We need a lawgiver, a God to command us how to love and serve him. And we need a friend, a God to stay with us day and night, forever” 9

Notes:

  1. Last week, Joey Cochran had a great idea on his blog. What if Christian bloggers spent more time on expository blogging through books of the Bible? I thought about it for a bit, and then decided to start with Exodus since our church is starting a new series on the book on Sunday. After Exodus, I plan on doing Hebrews.
  2. As Cole comments, “The initial ‘and’ found in the Hebrew makes clear that Exodus is not a new book, but simply the continuation of the Genesis story, and the fulfillment of the promises made to the patriarchs.” See R. Alan Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary. TOTC. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973, 59.
  3. See Eugene Carpenter, Exodus. Edited by H. Wayne House and William D. Barrick. Evangelical Exegetical Commentary. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012.
  4. According to Douglas Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 58.
  5. Douglas Stuart, Exodus,62
  6. W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of The Book of Exodus. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012, 29
  7. This list is from Cole, Exodus: An Introduction and Commentary, 22-43
  8. Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory. Preaching The Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005, 19
  9. Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, 24

I’ve waited a bit to say anything directly, but back in December I submitted an application to start Ph.D studies in the modular format through Southern Seminary. My original plan when I went to Dallas was to stay all the way through to complete a Ph.D (or go elsewhere and do so). Getting married changed the trajectory of that, but the idea of Ph.D work never really went away.

We felt God leading us to move back to Florida when I graduated, and so I put Ph.D work on hold in favor getting involved in a local church and spending some time in the classroom teaching. Much of what I’ve been doing as a book reviewer has been a placeholder activity for “school” when I’m not in school so that the eventual transition would be easier.

For a while, I even contemplated just not doing a Ph.D and even this past summer was looking more for a job in as either an associate or youth pastor rather than as a teacher. But, all of those doors closed, and in the fall I started back at the same school I’ve been at since we moved.

Later in the fall though, Ali and I thought independently of each other that God might be leading me back to school. Also throughout the fall I felt more confirmed in the classroom and pursuing excellence in teaching, rather than pursuing vocational ministry in the church. I still want to be heavily involved in the local church, but I really want to work with college students in the classroom. In order to do that though, I need to complete a Ph.D since I’ll always be at a disadvantage for teaching opportunities without one.

I realize having one is not an instant guarantee of a job, so I’ll continue to teach where I’m at, and hopefully add some adjunct positions to compliment other work that I do (like working for Docent Research Group, something I might talk about in another post). I do think that it will improve my thinking skills and ability as a researcher. I hope that in doing so, it will also lead to professional development as an educator.

Though I’m glad I waited a few years before embarking on Ph.D studies, I kind of came full circle to where I would have applied if I went straight from Dallas. In my last semester, I started an application to go to SBTS and focus on some aspect of Christian Philosophy. Now, 3 years later, I’m applying for the same thing, but with a bit more focus and direction. I’ll be applying for the general Ph.D in Christian Philosophy, and if I pass the entrance exams, I’ll be starting this fall. I really don’t know how good my chances are, but if this is God’s leading, and Ali and I think it is, then I’ll hopefully be going back to school this fall and racking up the mileage points going back and forth to Louisville.

9781596382176

John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. November 2013. 1280 pp. Hardcover, $49.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to P&R Publishing for the review copy!

Back in the fall, P&R Publishing was gracious enough to send me a review copy of John Frame’s latest 1000+ tome. Not only have I been reading, but several guys in the systematic theology read-thru have as well (see my post on Sunday Night school).

In order to give myself time to read through the book, and to interact with a little more depth, I thought I’d do a series review. The idea is that it will run in parallel to the series review of Michael Bird’s Evangelical Theology, which also came out last fall (see my intro post, and the first part of the review).

But, Frame’s is much longer, and contains more sections, so here’s what the series posts will look like:

  • Introduction
  • The Biblical Story
  • The Doctrine of God Part 1
  • The Doctrine of God Part 2
  • The Doctrine of the Word of God
  • The Doctrine of The Knowledge of God
  • The Doctrine of Angels and Demons
  • The Doctrine of Man
  • The Doctrine of Christ
  • The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
  • The Doctrine of the Church
  • The Doctrine of the Last Things

Alert readers might notice that several of Frame’s systematic sections share titles with full length books in his Lordship series. Frame knows what you’re thinking and so he just goes ahead and clears things up in the preface:

Certainly these earlier books have been a great help to me in writing this one, and readers of those books will see here a basic continuity of thought and approach. They might even suspect (rightly) that in many places some text has been cut and pasted from those past books. But I have tried to do more than to summarize the big books and to expand chapters of the smaller one [his Salvation Belongs to The Lord]. Rather, I have tried to rethink everything to make it more biblical, clear, and cogent (xxxi)

What I’ve read so far is original material, but looking at the sections on the Word of God and knowledge of God, much of the material is similar, but it is very condensed. This still leaves his section on the doctrine of God at almost 500 pages (the largest of the book). This is compared to the section on angels and demons coming in at under 20 pages (similar incidentally to Horton’s treatment).

Typically, I’d expect that the the areas of systematic theology that an author has extensively treated elsewhere will be stronger than others (very true of Horton’s work). This also appears to be true of Bird who is light on philosophical foundations and epistemology, but heavy on Christology (which he has published several books on). It is hard to say at this point if it is a detrimental defect, but it is certainly a weakness if a one is attempting to systematically treat all the topics (though I realize there is some justification for less space on angels and demons than other doctrines).

In any case, I’ve enjoyed the opening two sections and am looking forward to reading the rest in community and offering up thoughts to you here. It’ll probably take until later this fall to finish, so hopefully you’re willing to commit to the long haul.

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It’s been about 3 years since I started regularly reviewing books on my blog. I’ve read a good many books in that time span. Along the way, I’ve had to make several course corrections and still continue to do so. When it comes down to it though, most of the course corrections can be boiled down in way or another to fighting what I like to call “book lust.”

In some ways book lust is just a byproduct of being a bibliophile, but in other ways, it is a way for lust to run around un-checked in your heart under false pretenses. I think it is fair to say lust is a human problem, not just a guy problem, and for some guys it’s not the Victoria’s Secret catalog that is the big problem, it is the Spring Release catalog from their favorite publisher. 1 And perhaps this is worse since alarms would go off if a good Christian husband signed up to receive the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but we wouldn’t bat an idea if he regularly gets multiple catalogs from book publishers.

At this point, some of you are thinking, “what kind of weirdos is he talking about?” Others are thinking, “What kind of sorcery is this that allows him to read my mind?” If you’re in the former category, you could just skip this post (unless someone you know is afflicted with book lust). If you’re in the latter category, here are 3 ways you can fight against this tendency. I am speaking specifically to people who are book reviewers, but it could apply to anyone who geeks out about books.

Don’t Say Yes To Every Free Book

For book reviewers, you are usually initially limited to blog tours and book reviewer programs. These are often narrow in their availability. In the case of blog tours, you are at the mercy of whatever the particular publisher wants to put a tour together for. For the reviewer programs, it is usually a narrow selection as well, but at least there are multiple options at a time. In both cases though, the limited availability may tempt you to just request whatever you can because, hey, free book!

Don’t do this.

First, you’re setting a up habit (indiscriminate book requesting) that will come back to bite you when you have more options on the table. It might not seem like you’ll get to that point, but if your faithful in your reviewing and your traffic goes up, you’ll probably find yourself in a position to request books from bigger publishers and they’ll actually send them to you.

Second, you’ll end up reading some less than stellar (read: boring/pointless) books. Because of the nature of book reviewer programs and blog tours, you have to read and review that particular book if you want to get another. If you don’t look before you leap (or research before requesting), you’ll end having books to read and interact with that really aren’t worth your time.

Third, if you practice indiscriminate book requesting, you are probably fostering book lust. You are putting yourself into a position to apply your desire for instant gratification to receiving free books that you wouldn’t actually pay for otherwise. If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t request it for free. You’re just after a free book, and that’s how addicts think.

Don’t Request Books Primarily To Build Your Library

When I first got into reviewing books, it was a more tight financial time. I was in my last year of seminary, and there was no book budget (which was a mistake). I could buy books I needed for school, but if there were books I wanted, my options were the library or requesting them for review. After we moved for Florida, the library got smaller (not mine, the seminary I had access to), but my requests got larger. Ali was glad I wasn’t spending money on books, and I was glad I was getting free book and building my personal library.

In doing this, I found book lust will lead you to exploit your connections to get the biggest books you can simply because they are free. The books in the picture above are the first “big” books that I got from a publisher. I requested them because a) I wanted to add them to my library, and b) because I wanted to see if I could get them for free. As you can see, I did get them, but now I had to fulfill my responsibility to review them. 2

Needless to say, requesting books to build a library isn’t actually economically in your favor. To pick just one pictured, Waltke’s OT Theology took a long time to read. The book is only $30. I spent more than $30 worth of my time reading and reviewing it (and I didn’t even read it cover to cover to do the review). Economically, I actually took a loss, but in doing so, I fed my desire for instant “free” book gratification.

Don’t Try To Stay on The Cutting Edge of New Books

A big part of reviewing books is reviewing new books. You can easily lapse into a desire to not only get more and more free books, but can also feel like you have to always have the latest and greatest. Unfortunately, this fosters a kind of latent chronologically snobbery where you are most interested in books just published or soon to be published (since that’s all you can request) and you tend read less and less books that have been around for a while and proven their credibility and value.

Every time you read a brand new book you are taking a risk that it is a waste of time. If the book is 30 years old, you can probably figure out the value before you read it. If it is 30 days old, you’re limited to the blurbs (which are always positive) and you really have no perspective on the lasting value. If your goal is to stay on the cutting edge of the latest and greatest, you’re training yourself to devalue the past and to always be looking for the latest and greatest, which let’s face it, is just textbook unchecked book lust. There is no contentment, there is just the desire for newer, better, and more.

There are probably more ways to fight book lust, but in my own experience, following these steps has proven helpful. Probably during the first year and a half I was reviewing regularly, I was doing the opposite of all 3 of these things.I gradually moved away from each, and hopefully I’ll continue to grow and be able to enjoy reading and reviewing books without unknowingly fostering book lust.

Notes:

  1. There is certainly a connection between the two, and this is not to say a guy who lusts (in a non-sexual) way over the new book releases is doing that instead of lusting over beautiful women. It is to say that leaving lust un-checked in one area of your heart invites it to also proliferate in another.
  2. I treat all requests made on my end as a contract to actually review the book to some extent if it is sent to me. Looking at the books in that picture, I had instantly had a lot of reading on my hands.

51mhKP0nmCLAndrew Louth, Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, October, 2013. 172 pp. Paperback, $20.00

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Andrew Louth is professor emeritus of Patristic and Byzantine studies at Durham University, England. Conveniently, he is also a priest of the Russian Orthodox Diocese of Sourozh (Moscow Patriarchate), serving the parish of Durham. Basically, in Durham, he is like the N. T. Wright of Eastern Orthodoxy (except with a better beard and more exotic wardrobe).

This book “originated as a series of monthly public lectures delivers in the academic year 2011-2012 at the Amsterdam Centre for Eastern Orthodox Theology (ACEOT) in the Faculty of Theology in the Free University of Amsterdam” where Louth happens to be a visiting professor (and I should note, has a different cover than the one I pictured, but I like this picture better). Because he works smarter and not harder, “the lectures were, from the beginning, intended to be turned into the chapters of a book” (xi). The result still “retains some of the informal tone,” and Louth hopes you will be indulgent (you should).

The opening chapter raises the question of starting point. As Louth had noted at the end of the introduction, “the experience of martyrdom and persecution has been the crucible in which Orthodox Christians have found their faith refined” (xx). Moving  from this, Louth notes that an introduction Eastern Orthodox theology may involve learning dates, facts, and concepts along the way, but “at its heart it is an introduction to a way of life” (3). Appropriately, Louth’s introduction is a “personal” introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy as a way of “thinking and doing, being and praying.”

Chapter 2 then jumps headlong into the question “who is God?” Louth starts with Christ, moves to the Trinity, then to the Spirit, before returning to refine his Trinitarian dogmatics (which naturally includes a discussion of apophatic theology).

Chapter 3 is on the doctrine of creation and the discussion delves into everything from creation ex nihilo, the distinction between God’s essence and energies, sophiology, and angels and demons. It is a wide range of topics, and I found the discussion of sophiology particularly interesting.

Chapter 4 is on Christology. His trajectory starts with the Gospels, and then goes resurrection then cross. He wedges a discussion of the apostolic witness in between, but the bulk of the chapter is a discussion of the early church councils on Christology (which is interesting to get an Eastern Orthodox perspective on).

Chapter 5 is on sin, death, and repentance and presents a non-Augustinian understanding of the root (ancestral sin instead of original sin). Adam and Eve figure prominently, but in Louth’s account, it is not pivotal that they be strictly historical. He notes the controversy about this, but in the Eastern Orthodox account of sin’s transmission, it isn’t necessary to have a historical Adam and Eve. Death is seen as the central plague of human existence rather than sin, and the resurrection triumphs over death chiefly. Also, there is more continuity in Orthodox thought with man’s nature and the animals, so evolution per se doesn’t cause as much cognitive dissonance. Louth neither affirms evolution nor denies Adam as a historical figure, but just points out the Orthodox framework doesn’t consider these points as controversial as an evangelical framework does. Lots of food for thought here, and something I might return to at a later date.

On the heels of this discussion, chapter 6 is on humanity, specifically, humans as created in the image of God. This is a hugely important topic with Eastern Orthodox theology so it is the predominant focal point. The last part of the chapter draws out implications for an Orthodox understanding the church as a community if its individual members are God’s image bearers.

This provides a nice segue for the next two chapters. The first, chapter 7, is on the sacraments as well as the importance of icons. This is one of the longer chapters in the book, yet I was a bit disappointed in all of Louth’s constructive work on icons he doesn’t deal with objections to them, specifically, the how their use in Orthodox worship doesn’t violate the second commandment or diminish the incarnation (the latter being something they hold in very high esteem). I suppose given the nature of his work (being mostly constructive), he didn’t feel obligated to deal with standard evangelical objections. In any event, I understand the whole argument a bit better, though I am still uncomfortable with it (which is why I’m not Eastern Orthodox).

The second, chapter 8, is on liturgy proper. While he does explain the liturgy of the Orthodox service, as well as the liturgical calendar, Louth goes beyond just that and establishes an understanding of time and space in which to make sense of this flow of worship life. Basically he highlights the importance of understanding time as cyclical (though not in denial of its linear nature) and that having a “participatory theology” lends itself to a repeating cycle of church liturgical life.

The final chapter, chapter 9, is as expected, on eschatology. As you might guess, Louth is not a dispensationalist, though pinning him down in an evangelical scheme might be difficult. The discussion of the chapter deals with where the entire world is headed (universal eschatology), where each of us is headed (individual eschatology), and then problems in eschatology (the word “millennium” is not used, but in a pinch, Louth would probably fit a post-mil framework). He briefly discusses purgatory (and denies it), and then ends the chapter pointing out that the hope of universal salvation lingers within Eastern Orthodox, fits much of the theological emphases, and even has major defenders in recent years. And with that, the book is done.

Louth closes out with recommended readings for those who want to dig deeper, and then lists the books he referred to. Though he has been writing in pretty plain and easy to follow English, reading this book was somewhat like visiting a foreign country (I suppose that’s the point). It is at least visiting an entirely different theological culture. We share much in common (especially in Christology and Trinitarian theology), but differ noticeably in other areas (the transmission of sin, the nature of liturgy, the hope for final salvation for all). But just like visiting other cultures broadens your own horizons, familiarizing yourself with a different take on Christian theology broadens your theological horizons.

One thing that stood out to me as I read Louth’s work is how liturgical the whole thing was. By that I mean he quotes from prayers and liturgical readings at length to make many of his points. He is as we might say, “steeped” in the liturgy of his own church. Though an academic, he is clearly also clergy and his pastoral nature comes out in how often he points to common liturgical elements (common to the Orthodox at least) to draw out what he is saying or hammer a point home. In the same way a Reformed theologian might refer to WCF or Heidelberg, Louth refers to the liturgy. It was motivating to me to be able to draw on something similar to that in my own theologizing, but I sadly, do not have anything like that because of where I go to church.

In any event, I found this an interesting and profitable read. It is a good starting point for understanding Orthodox theology and there is plenty of direction at the end for anyone who wants to read further up and further in. If you’re intrigued by Eastern Orthodoxy and would like to learn more from someone who is steeped in its theology and liturgy, this a great book for doing just that.

b95f2af6488511e2918122000a9f0a12_7If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I review a few books here and there. It wasn’t always this way, but at least the mid-point of seminary, it’s been a pretty regular (if not the only) feature of my blogging activities.

For me, it all started because I got interested in the John Piper/N. T. Wright controversy (among others) and also had the opportunity to do a couple of book reviews for class assignments. The result was the first several book reviews I ever published:

This was merely a sometimes feature at this point, but then I found out if you asked publishers for a book, they might send it to you in exchange for an honest review. The first one I contacted and got involved with was Crossway, soon followed by IVP AcademicKregel, and New Growth Press. Later I would get connected with Baker AcademicEerdmansP&R Publishing, and Zondervan and I was off and running.

In another post, I explain a little more about that process in 3 easy steps. Elsewhere, I give much more detail about the actual requesting and reviewing process. As part of an on-going attempt to blog through the ins and outs of book reviewing, I wanted to offer a caution about the initiation process and offer you an opportunity.

First, I think everyone should be adept at doing a book review. Maybe not journal article level critical reviewing, but everyone should be able to read a book, explain concisely what it is about, and then think critically about the contents, offering an evaluation of some sorts. If you’re a blogger, you should do this from time to time whether or not publishers are sending you books.

Much of the draw for me getting into book reviewing was the “freeness” of the books, but I was also keen on sharing books with others. I like to think of myself sometimes as a book consultant. I was doing that on some level for my classmates in seminary since I had a reputation for reading over and above the required amount. I often got asked if I knew of a good book on __________. I usually did (and sometimes more than one), and enjoyed sharing that knowledge.

This of course is textbook maven activity, and if that’s you, you’ll probably enjoy the whole book reviewing process. If that’s not you, you might not want to jump into the deep-end of the book reviewing. Yes getting the free books is nice, but unless you really like sharing about books you’re reading, you might not enjoy the strings attached to those free books.

I found it to be burdensome at times myself, but that was from mistakes I was making that I’ll share with you next Friday. The upshot was that I learned my lesson and can now share it with you. Book reviewing is good skills to have, but doing it a ton isn’t glamorous, and it’s necessarily something you should aspire to unless you’re really committed. I think when it comes down to it, being a “book reviewer” isn’t something that you should want to be a singular activity (or something you put on your resume). For the most part, I’ve been using the process as a placeholder for doctoral work, and when I actually start that, the book reviewing will taper way off.

Anticipating that, I’m taking steps to diminish the amount of review related reading I do, and that also means less reviewing. This probably won’t be noticeable until June or so, and that’s where you come in (this is the opportunity I baited you with a few paragraphs ago). To fulfill my obligations to review certain books, but to also curtail the amount of reviewing come summer, I’ve decided to offer you the opportunity to do the reviewing for me. The idea is that I’ll showcase other reviewers during the month of June (alongside a couple of other scheduled review series posts). I haven’t quite decided on the exact books to send out, but I’m willing to part with several of the free books on my shelf in exchange for you putting together around a 1000 word review. I’ll post the review here, but also link to your site.

If you’re reviewing with a publisher that you haven’t worked with before, this could be your “in” to get started into more reviewing. If this interests you, contact me through the contact form below and we’ll hash it out over e-mail. The only requirements are that a) you actually read the book and submit a review to me by June 1st and b) you are already a blogger and have done a book review or two before.