About April 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Hearts & Minds Books in April 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

March 2009 is the previous archive.

May 2009 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

April 2009 Archives

April 6, 2009

Calvin College, Cornel West and Finding the Groove: Finding a Jazz-Shaped Faith


The Calvin College Festival of Faith and Music was a tremendously  interesting, fun and striking event; my 16-year old Marissa and I enjoyed the 11 hour trip to Grand Rapids, anticipating the lectures (Mako Fujimura, Andy Crouch, Cornel West), workshops, and concerts---from the large and loud Lupe Fiasco hip hop show, the provocative and joyous indi-rockers Hold Steady, to the quiet and acoustic stuff in intimate venues.  Over the Rhine was large but not too loud (ahh, what a band they have with them this time out, and what a voice Karin still has!) Nashville singer songwriter Julie Lee blessed us with lyrics from Emily Dickinson and a stellar band (including Stephen Mason from Jars of Clay on a brooding lap steel.)  I couldn't help but think her voice was like one of my favorite Southern singers, Nanci Griffith.  The worship musicians were serious, solid, acoustic--the BiFrost Worship Arts Hymns Project, with personal from the Sufjan Stephens' produced Welcome Wagon album (which I hope to review one of these days), was wonderful to behold.  We now have the BiFrost hymns album in stock, which I will review shortly.  Somewhat in the spirit of the Indelible Grace albums, BiFrost offers classic old words re-done by edgy alt acoustic artists like Seattle's Rosie Thomas, David Bazan (Pedro the Lion), Damien Jarado, Denison Witmer, Leigh Nash, and others we really appreciate, done with gusto and hipster earnestness in great low-fi.  (Check out their myspace hereHere is an article from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington about them.)  We're told some label may be picking this up for national distribution, but we have 'em now, and the great price of $10.00.

As much as I liked the Festival music, and being around performing artists, writers and serious cultural creatives--thanks to the Davids Bazan and Dark for their friendship and stories, and Justin McRoberts for his good mind,heart and talent---the highlight was, for many of us, seeing the tidal wave of astonishing energy from one of America's most high profile public intellectuals, Princeton University's Dr. Cornel West.  We've stocked West's books since our earliest days; the Presbyterian Publishing House (Westminster/John Knox) did Prophesy Deliverance! in the early 80s, and it is happily back in print ($24.95), and his Prophetic Fragments, has recently been re-issued by Eerdmans; ($29.00.)  As a major African-American social critic and philosopher, he has been on NPR and Tavis Smiley and popular papers often these days.  There is now great anthology of West's  serious work, The Cornel West Reader (Basic Civitas; $22.00.)  To see a young black scholar publicly thank Dr. West for that book---holding a dog-eared copy up of the 600+ page volume for all to see---brought tears to my eyes, reminding me of the power of books, popping up even at a music/arts festival.

Here is how the Calvin Festival website begins their bio of Dr. West:

One of America's most provocative public intellectuals, Cornel West has been a champion for racial justice since childhood. His writing, speaking, and teaching weave together the traditions of the black Baptist Church, progressive politics and jazz. The New York Times has praised his "ferocious moral vision."  Currently the Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University, West burst onto the national scene in 1993 with his best-selling book, Race Matters, a searing analysis of racism in American democracy...
Searing, it is, and an essential book in our view: Race Matters (Vintage; $12.95.)  In person, his powerful and prophetic talk is laden with sweeping gestures and sly wordplays, and good references to Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye and Funkadelic (who else would link Parliament/Funkadelic with Plato's famous dictum that good education is preparation for dying well, and make the case very well?)  Cornel has a long-standing interest in black popular culture, and is known for his work not only citing Shakespeare and Marx, the Bible and postmodern philosphers, but for his enthusiastic engagement with black music (Coltrane, and Mile Davis, of course, the socially-conscious likes of Gil Scott Heron and Stevie Wonder,  through contemporary rappers like Kayne West.)  This was, legend has it, much of the reason for his removal from his prestigious post at Harvard.

That the Calvin College music Festival team conjured up an interview with Lupe Fiasco done by Cornel West was genius;  they both esteem each other, even cite each other, but had never met.  That it went so well made many say it was worth coming to the event just for that historic moment.  Lupe is a smart, influential and spiritually aware African American performing artist, and to see the feisty, energetic elder West probe him, push him, encourage him, even pastor him, was nothing short of glorious.  I might have wished for more discussion of Lupe's urban vocabulary, the role of satire in his street narratives, the apparent project of using rap to deconstruct the stereotypical excesses of hedonistic rap culture.  What we got, though, was a helpful and inspiring framing of the heart and mind of this popular artist who may not yet even be at the top of his game.  And, that was followed by one of the best lectures/speeches (sermons?) I've heard by Dr. West that evening.  It was great to hear him affirm Calvin and its Reformed vision as that place where this important stuff was going on.

hope on a tightrope.jpgI was so inspired by Dr. West that I wanted to offer our BookNotes readers an incentive to join the conversation. We'll offer the recently published collection of Cornel West, a  recently published handsome hardback (with an exciting CD included) Hope on a Tightrope: The Wit and Wisdom (Hay House; $19.95) for the blog special price of $14.95.

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A brand new title that I read in almost one sitting is one I am very, very eager to promote,finding the groove.jpg especially now.  How does one get a little sleeper of a book known, purchased, respected?  Can you help us get this book discussed?    We need to support this book, so here is my first effort, not a full review, but an improvised shout out: Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith by Robert Gelinas (Zondervan; $14.99) A major tip o the hat to Z for releasing this very, very cool book, a book that is honest, creative, Biblically-faithful and very inspiring.  The author has been steeped in jazz music and although this is not a book for musicians, or even about music, really, it picks up the jazz tradition, uses jazz as a metaphor for the life of faith.  It has been said before, but never with such heart-rending passion: jazz themes such as improvisation, collaboration, working the minor keys, balancing freedom within boundaries, the interplay of the individual and the group, and the like, are great ways into a conversation about how to live as faithful followers of Christ.  What might a "jazz-shaped faith" look like, this book asks---and how could it help us fulfill the message of the gospel in a way no method, no movement, or structured program or ministry plan could?  How might the jazz practices of "casual apprentices" and  "jam sessions" and "time in the woodshed" help us find our syncopated groove in Christ?  This book is fabulous, fun, and very insightful.

Rober gelinas.jpgRev. Gelinas is a pastor of Colorado Community Church, a multi-cultural and multi-denominational mission.  He dedicates much of the book to a friend of ours, the fascinating, fabulous, solid-as-a-rock brother Dr. Carl Ellis (author of Free at Last? The Gospel in the African-American Experience [IVP; $18.00].) Gelinas, like his mentor Dr. Ellis, is obviously fluent in the jazz idiom, but it never bogs down in historical details; he has the requisite quotes from Louis Armstrong and Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns, but keeps it moving, always showing how learning this stuff could be helpful for God's church.  Do I hear an A-men? 

One of the great parts of Finding the Groove is his introductory and delightful overview of several important jazz musicians such as the troubled and seeking John Coltrane, (whose famous liner notes from A Love Supreme are transcribed here) and the seminal Mile Davis.  Gelinas situates these artists in their proper setting, a racially charged and complex transitional era in our nation's history.  He grooves on what might be called jazz novelists, especially Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, a novel that clearly emerges from the racial themes of the jazz age and the Harlem Renaissance.  His riff on the European Renaissance that gave us one Martin Luther and the Harlem one, which gave us another Martin Luther (King), is worth the price of the book!  His naming our sins of racism and the complexities of our culture are vital, but not overwhelming.  He, like Cornel West at Calvin last week, drops wonderfully playful allusions to important works----being a "Blues People" (Amiri Baraka) and "Mo Better Blues" (Spike Lee) and the famous question about "why the caged bird sings" (Maya Angelou) making this a culturally-savvy education and a delight to read.  He offers great sidebar quotes---did you know Martin King spoke at the famous Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964, talking about God's gift of creativity? 

Finding the Groove:Composing a Jazz Shaped Faith
is easy to read, brief, a bit unsettling (jazzeneutics is his invitation to improvise with the Scriptures) and a moving reading experience.  You can check out some of it at www.jazztheologian.com.  Buy the book from us, get your groove on.  Yeah.


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April 10, 2009

Death By Love: Letters from the Cross ( some remarks on open-mindedness, and an array of titles on the atonement.)

Recently, a few sharp customers on varying places on the spectrum of views about the theology of the atonement have asked me to "weigh in" on new ideas, old ideas, classic doctrines and emerging newer perspectives about the theology of the cross. (I recommend Scot McKnight's A Community Called Atonement [Abingdon; $17] for a great introduction to various schools of thought and views on the meaning and implications of Christ's redeeming work if you are unaware of the blazing debates about this these days.) Many know that we carry all kinds of books and encourage reading widely, discussing, being open, showing considerate consideration to brothers and sisters with new insights or troubling concerns. (Remember that David Dark book I highlighted a few weeks back, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything [Zondervan; $15.99.])  I think we have to be open to hearing many voices, hosting hard questions, eager for new, faithful formulations, and we carry a real diverse selection here at the shop.

Of course this doesn't mean we can just throw out any old thing in preference to the new.  I'm turned off when newer theologians cheaply insist that the classic view of Christ on the cross pays for our sins is just so much bloody nonsense, leading to wars and child abuse. And I'm irked when those who disagree with more nuanced and thoughtful articulations of those concerns pass it off as a mere desire for faddishness or being offended by the blood.  (Could it be that those who struggle with this are well-intended and perhaps onto perhaps a partial truth?)  For instance,  in a blurb on the back of a book I'm about to describe, a reviewer says that this book "defends (against) reprehensible attacks" against traditional understandings of the cross.  When new theologians quest for new ways to get stuff said, it isn't necessary or helpful, in my view, to call them names or to say they are reprehensible.  I sometimes don't know who is worse, the edgy new guys or the stuffy old ones. As we recall Christ's great love shown in His passion acts (and mandates--the Maundy Thursday call to wash each others feet!) we can create good spaces for healthy conversation and charitable dialogue.  That is why I liked the title of McKnight's book--we are a catholic community piecing together the best ways to describe the deepest mysteries;  what Lewis calls in Narnia the "deeper magic." 

And, of course, the cross is described as a great mystery.  Who can fathom it all? Even those of us who hold traditional theology surely ponder sometimes, don't we?  Why o why? The great hymns ask the question.  Sure, we can answer it wrongly, we can un faithfully dismiss the witness of the Scripture, but to ponder, to study, to float ideas and suggest better ways to speak about the dearest things of God's gospel, is not reprehensible.  Shame on Crossway for publishing such a blurb.

Yet, the historic creeds and doctrines of the church are being re-considered, sometimes with the best of Spirit-driven motivation, perhaps sometimes not.  Sometimes out of a legitimate need to open up answers to hard questions, unsettled ponderings, and sometimes with less than commendable answers. That has been a huge erosion of traditional knowledge in our churches.  There are many books on the cross and the atonement, from various perspectives and denominational traditions,  many from which I've learned.  I'm open and eager to study this many-faceted jewel from any side I can (and will list a few suggestions later if you share this open-minded eagerness.)  Can liberals learn from conservatives?  Can those with traditional convictions read with charity the newer views? We hope so...

I hope this week-end, as you ponder the cross, the darkness of Good Friday, the ponderous depth of Holy Saturday, and the glory of the Resurrection emerging from the horrible death penalty and State execution of the cross, that you may find yourself wanting to know more about the reasons Christ died, how to properly understand that extraordinary transaction, knowing well the ancient ways of formulating it, learning to say it in the midst of a post-Christian, postmodern culture.  May you stand again at the foot of the Cross, struck as most of us are this time of year, by the centrality of it all.

***

Another quick story:  just the other day a regular customer, an African American church leader, was looking for books on the blood of Christ (interestingly, the blood is mentioned in the New Testament more than the cross.)  I showed her a book that mentioned "penal substitution" and she asked what that meant.  As I explain the typical view that Christ somehow took the punishment we deserved, paid a penalty, averted God's wrath that was due us, she nodded in obvious awareness.  "Some Christians don't believe that?" she asked incredulously.  "No," I noted, "there are those who think that that way of saying it, that metaphor of wrath and punishment and courtroom images, isn't fully Biblical and isn't the most helpful way to describe God's love and Christ's willingness to give Himself."  "Lawd-have- mercy" she replied.  Indeed.  For centuries common Christian folk have read their Bibles and heard verses read out loud and sung hymns and it was perfectly clear that the "he died for my sins" view was not just cooked up by Ansalm, but is deeply rooted in the whole Biblical narrative.  To explore new ways to get it said is one thing;  to deny the obvious Biblical data...well..  Lord have mercy.

Or, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it:

 Almighty God, who has given your only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of a godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work...

Death By Love: Letters from the Cross by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears (Crossway;death by love.jpg $19.99) is an extraordinary book which upholds in blunt and non-negotiable language, the historic Reformation perspective on the cross.  I am not a Mark Driscoll fan, I've not loved his other books, I think he is wrong-headed about some things, and his youtube sermons betray an arrogance and pride that he himself has sometimes admitted to.  Yet, yet, this is a book that brought me to tears, struck me as very, very insightful, and despite the occasional harsh note, is a book rooted in a very deep sense of pastoral care.  The format is extraordinary, and serves several good ends.  Let me tell you about it.

Each chapter begins with a riveting description of a friend of his, a person in his congregation.  Several have faced abuse.  One was a child molester.  One was a sex addict.  Another self-righteous and controlling, joyless and rigid with his upright family.  One has a wife with a brain tumor while another holds deep hatred for a relative. One was raped, another fears hell.  One just wants to know God.  Oh my, how I wish every pastor knew his or her flock this well, able to know so intimately and write with such care, about the horrors of life as experienced by folks in this broken world.  Driscoll and his co-author describe these hard situations without extra sensationalism, but he doesn't water down the problems or his proposals.  Their language is terse and realistic and candid.  Driscoll doesn't beat around the bush.

Then, there is the heart of each chapter, a pastoral letter he wrote to this person showing how a particular doctrine, aspect, or formulation of the cross can be the very truth that frees this parishioner from his or her torment.  And this is where it gets very interesting: Driscoll has absolutely no interest in psychology or in counseling or in strategic empathy as a supportive helper in self-discovery.  He is a preacher, a neo-Puritan pastor, a working theologian.  That is, he is convinced that appropriating the doctrines of justification, atonement, propetiation, imputation of righteousness, Christus Victor, ransom, Christus Exemplar, reconciliation, and such are the keys to healing, hope, and renewal.  In some cases he is exceedingly blunt with little interest in sugarcoating the hard truth; I suspect that not all of these letters were well-received.  He regularly says that he loves the one he is writing to, says dear and tender things, and occasionally reminds us that this letter isn't (of course) the first thing that he has said. (Those schooled in traditional pastoral counseling will be aghast, as I was, at times, but, again, we can know that these are offered in the context of broader pastoral relationships and true friendship.)  These letters aren't the start but the height of his pastoral counsel, after much hand-holding, meetings, confessions, tears and prayer.  Yet, it is no-nonsense, straight-up, Biblical teaching, confident that an appropriation of historic, orthodox theology will make all the difference.

death by love drawings.jpgTo make this book all the more moving, there are very strong black and white sketches of the person to whom the letter is written, each with a hint or smear of red.   The chapter headings are in red ink as well, giving this a classy feel, despite the intense drawings and heavy topics.

Wow.  I have a hunch that typical fundamentalists would not write these letters;  in my experience many older-school fundamentalist Protestants would be afraid to name the sins (especially those of a sexual nature) and would be moralistic and glib in proof-texting verses about proper behavior, as if that alone would shame the person into faithfulness or bring sentimental comfort.  More evangelical pastors and many liberal Protestants and Catholics may believe much of this (although some clearly will not) but it is my sense that many church leaders are much more accommodated to the neo-Freudian worldview and would use more pop psychology than Biblical theology if they had these conversations.  (Some, I would guess, would merely recommend a therapist, although Catholics might utilize the sacrament of confession/reconciliation.)  Although these doctrines are commonplace for those who know classic historic theology, I know of pastors who have never taken a single class on these doctrines.  It is bracing to see a pastor use this stuff in this way.

I am not sure I would commend writing letters like each of these although a few are brilliant and I devoured them, thinking and praying and reflecting on them a lot.  I might want to qualify things a bit, maybe soften the insistence a bit, although that is not Driscoll's style, and I am hopeful that he knew the folks well enough to be confident he was writing what needed to be said, in a manner that didn't offend needlessly.  I am not sure if Driscoll even really wrote all these, or if they are beefed up for the book, with a bit of understandable creative liscense.

Still, I stand in great appreciation for at least three things about Death By Love: Driscoll's Seattle church clearly has attracted people with deep, deep wounds, and as a pastor he knows these folk as friends.  Thank goodness for that.   He believes that theology is life-changing and that teaching these central truths is not tangential but central to the calling of being a pastor.  Right on.   And he shows that there is not just one aspect to the glorious cross, but many ways that the Bible speaks of and our best theologians have learned to say what is so good about Good Friday.  This bombastic punk pastor knows this, that there are many facets to the jewel of the cross, and that we can draw on various doctrines and explanations, with many ways to explain and appropriate the core truth of God's redeeming grace.  If we teach them well, he shows, they become not arcane insights for the weirdos who may be theologically-minded, but become avenues of healing, wholeness, growth and sanctification.   Driscoll the popularizer of heavy theology is also Driscoll the serious pastor.  I commend him for this important effort, and recommend his book to anyone who wants a solid introduction to historic, conservative doctrine, applied afresh amidst the very, very broken world of those who are sinners and those who have been sinned against.  Which is, of course, each and every one of us.


In the next post, I will list a few more books on the cross that I've been taken with lately, a few classics, a few controversial ones, and one or two suggestions for those starting this journey of understanding the apex of our Lenten journey. 

April 11, 2009

The Cross of Christ: An annotated bibliography

Walking out of church last night in the dark, and into the dark, the silence was comforting;  I believe it was Barbara Brown Taylor who I first heard say that many folk prefer the solemn grief of Good Friday more than the triumphant joy of Easter.  There is something about Christ's solidarity with our grief, with our being betrayed, with our sorrows and sadnesses, and something about facing our sin and regrets, that is strangely good. 

Yet, the spoken word, music and sermonettes led me to ponder, again, what I wrote yesterday about the need for a robust and open-minded discussion about the meaning of the cross.  Tethered as I am to historic Christian orthodoxy, I do not want to re-invent doctrines for newfangled purposes.  Yet, it is mysterious, isn't it?  Why does a forgiving God need blood shed?  Which position in church history---the ransom theory, the penal substitution doctrine, the Christus Victor teaching---says it best?  Although it is a strong, Calvinist approach, I hope you read my comments in the last post on Mark Driscoll's pastoral letters called Death By Love
which is one good example of how historic doctrine can be shared to great effect for those who are in deep pain, longing for healing and hope, and in need of the redemptive power of the Lamb who was slain.

Here are a few more books we recommend if you, too, want to be clearer about the teachings on the cross, and if you want to join the on-going conversation about new and old formulations about this core aspect to Christian faith and discipleship.  I hope every so many years you take up a book or two like this, studying and knowing the deepest things about the deepest truth.


cross of christ.JPGThe Cross of Christ  John Stott (IVP) $26.00  I am always tickled to tell the story of how some liberal mainline pastors saw, in The New York Times, while staying at a hotel where I was selling books at their gathering complimentary story written by David Brooks on moderate, evangelical Anglican writer John Stott.  They came to me asking if I had heard of this "Stoot" guy that Brooks was raving about.  Of course I had a selection of his stuff on the book display; we take something of his nearly every book table we do.  It is a sad statement about our churches that folks do not know this thoughtful, gentle, balanced, faithful writer of dozens of helpful books. (His Basic Christianity is now in a 50th anniversary edition and has sold millions.)  Many pastors and thoughtful laypeople have said that this book on the cross is the best they've read on the subject, and is considered among thoughtful evangelicals to be a classic, and certainly the highpoint of Stott's prodigious output.

Ajith Fernando, a Sri Lanka Christian leader, says of it, "I have no hesitation in saying that this is the most enriching theological book I have ever read." 

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die
  John Piper (Crossway)  I love this little book of one or two page Bible meditations, each on a different thing that the texts tells us are why Jesus died.  Piper is a very conservative Reformed Baptist, so you can be sure he takes the standard texts about our justification by God's grace at face value.  He is also an honest Bible guy, so he happily notes diverse motivations and outcomes----we become reconciled, we can break down walls of hostility, we can give our wealth away, we can become peacemakers, agents of reconciliation, and the like, all things specifically named in the Scriptures when they talk about the results of the work of the cross.  Yes, this is a standard devotional of classic texts and I cannot imagine anyone who loves the Bible or the life of Jesus not being "strangely warmed" by these wondrous texts.  Here is a great deal:  we have these reflections also on audio, a lovely unabridged book-on-CD by ChristianAudio on sale for $5.98.  What a great resource, even to give away or loan out.  It is about 3 1/2 hours, read by Robertson Dean.

Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of Atonement  edited by Mark Baker (Baker Academic) $16.99  What a wonderful collection, with scholars, pastors, writers, church leaders, storytellers and preachers,  even poets and novelists, all weighing in on aspects of the cross.  Included in these short reflections are Richard Hays, C.S. Lewis, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Brian McLaren, Luci Shaw, Rowan Williams, Debbie Blue, Curtis Chang.  There is a highly favorable endorsement on the back by Marva Dawn, which may remind you that it will be Biblically faithful, historically solid, socially engaged and well-written. She writes, "This collection is an outstanding contribution to widen our comprehensions and deepen our adoration."

The Atonement Debate  edited by Derek Tidball and others  (Zondervan) $18.99  A few years many evangelicals spilled much ink sometimes even mis-quoting Steve Chalke when he said that typical views of penal substitution could be seen by some as "cosmic child abuse" and that we have to be careful how we talk about this essential matter.  Of course, he is fully right, it could be, and has been, seen as that.  That begs the question of what Chalke thinks, and what the Bible and our best theologians say;  he is surely correct, though, that we must be careful how we communicate the good news and the scandal---"foolishness" as Corinthians puts it--of the cross. This good book is a collection of papers that were convened around Chalke's views, organized by the Evangelical Alliance and the London School of Theology. Contributions are included by Chalke, Chris Wright, I. Howard Marshall, Joel Green and many others.  It is a superb compilation of various sub-topics, with sections about history, exegesis of key passages, engaging contemporary thinkers, and pastoral suggestions. Very strong.

Stricken By God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ  Edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin  (Eerdmans) $32.00  I have not waded through all of this yet, but it is the best collection of serious essays representing this new view.  Endorsements include Stanley Hauerwas, Greg Boyd, and Rene Girard (obviously a very important figure in the movement rejecting scapegoat theories and "redemptive violence.")  Here is a phrase or two that captures the question: Did God really pour out his wrath against sins on his Son to satisfy his own need for justice? Or did God-in-Christ forgive the world even as it unleashed its wrath against him?  Was Christ's sacrifice the ultimate fulfillment of God's demand for redemptive bloodshed? Or was the cross God's great "no" to that whole system?  This distinctively panoramic volume offers fresh perspectives on these and other difficult questions emerging throughout church history.    Authors include James Alison, Marcus Borg, C.F. D Moule, Richard Rohr, Miroslav Volf, J. Denny Weaver, Rowan Williams, N.T. Wright, Kharalambos Anstall, Sharon Baker and more.

Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition
  Hans Boersma (Baker Academic) $28.00  Although it is a mammoth work, this may be my highest recommendation for those within the scholarly discourse.  Boersma is open-minded and eager to interact with the newest thinkers, especially those who are concerned about the socio-political implications of anything other than a nonviolent understanding of the cross.  He takes these thinkers seriously, interacts with their important concerns, and, finally, ends up with a somewhat chastened but still standard position on the legitimacy of the Reformed emphasis on penal substitution.  A neo-Calvinist from Canada, Boersma seems to represent the best of evangelical scholarship, Reformed thinking, philosophical depth, and exceptionally ecumenical openness.  Highly recommended for those reading scholarly work...

community called atonement.jpgCommunity Called Atonement  Scot McKnight (Abingdon) $17.00  I mentioned this yesterday as a key and fabulous volume which introduces the various views and discussions, in a gracious and inclusive manner.  Tony Jones of the emergent village, has helped create a new series of books called "Living Theology" and this was the first in that series (a new one is on questions of faith and science.)  McKnight, here, is balanced, clear, reasonable, and deeply ecumenical. As evangelical brainiac Kevin Vanhoozer says, it "remixes biblical metaphors, integrates doctrine and praxis, and deconstructs one-sided theories of the saving significance of the cross."  It is wise to place atonement theology within the context of God's redemptive work in the world.  Hint for those who may care: McKnight's wholistic approach seems to have much in common with the patristic model of recapitulation.

Saved From Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross Mark Heim (Eerdmans) $26.00  Oh my, what a great example of mature thinking, careful new ideas, a deep care for Christian truths and a contemporary sensibility that doctrine must be alive for postmodern people.  Rooted in the very best scholarship about nonviolent theorist Rene Girard (and his scapegoating theories), this is as warm and caring as an academic book can be.  Highly recommended for those wanting new formulations that are interesting, beautifully conceived, and well-argued.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts  Joel Greene & Mark Baker (IVP) $17.00  A major contribution, this is written by a world-renowned Methodist evangelical scholar and a highly regarded Mennonite.  Although they may not be as interested in Girard as many in the nonviolent atonement movement, they are eager to explore non-Western ways of understanding the cross, and help us see news ways of talking about God's redemptive work.  Very provocative, yet reliably solid

Triune Atonement: Christ's Healing for Sinners, Victims, and the Whole of Creation  Andrew Sung Park (WJK) $19.95  Well, this book deserves a long and serious review from someone more knowledgeble than I.  I have appreciated Dr. Park's previous works where he takes the Asian concept of han and uses it to help us gain a more multi-faceted (and, he thinks, truly Biblical) understanding of sin.  Han includes sin and sinned-againstness.  It includes moral complicity and broken fallenness.  Here, he appropriates this multi-faceted view of sin and shows that Christ's atoning work is for, well, everything!  In good teacherly fashion he explains most of the standard views throughout church history, and then offers his own peculiar mix, drawing on and holding up the work of the Holy Spirit, especially.  (I am not sure of this, but I recall that this was a theme of a major World Council of Churches event a few years back---the Spirit's work in the redemption of creation--and is a historic emphasis of the Orthdox.) Dr. Park is very aware of not only the early, medieval, Reformation church views, but is in dialogue with the wildest new thinkers, too, making this a useful guide to the topic.

This question of how the very Trinity is involved in redemptive work is a fascinating one, and I applaud this book for raising such matters.  Sadly, it is poorly written, with some sentences being terribly perplexing; when a tone of grace was called for it was wooden. (Perhaps this is owing to a language barrier if English is not Park's native language.)  I suspect he wants it to be used as a textbook, so he makes academic allusions to scholars and books that typical readers may not appreciate. (How many readers know what a "womanist" theologian is? How many will follow his brief argument that they could be two Holy Spirits, the Spirit of Jesus and the Paraclete, who are actually one?  Can it be taken for granted that folk know James Cone or Chad Meyers whose names he drops in passing?) Dr. Park offers what is helpful about each approach, and some fair critique of each of the major views written about throughout church history, but the criticisms are too often terse and unqualified. ("This is wrong..." he simply says, as if it is a foregone conclusion that it is as wrong as he says in one short sentence.  I wanted to shout "come on, brother, that isn't fair!"  Why a prominent denominational publisher would let this important work get published without adequate editing is beyond me.

Another beef: the great last chapter on God's redemptive work over all creation feels tacked on; consistent, but disconnected. (He says in the forward that it is an intregal part of the book, but it doesn't appear until the end.) His case makes sense, but he doesn't tie it into the flow of the book. While he shows that God's healing hope for animals and Earth is taught in the Biblical text, he doesn't do what he should have in a book on this topic: ask how the Triune atonement works to reconcile creation.  Did Jesus' shed blood have any effecicy for animals?  Why or why not?  It is a great, great question, and a good chapter (as far as it goes) but it wasn't adequate in a book about the meaning of the cross.  

So, the new Triune Atonement is fascinating, saying some good stuff, bringing together various schools of thought, and extending them from our Triune God into all of creation.  I just wish it were more careful, more clear, more willing to use a tentative tone when asserting grand ideas.  Yet, at the end of the day, I appreciated his efforts and commend the book for those wanting an interesting example of new formulations by this Korean-American scholar.

in his place.JPGIn My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of the Atonement  J.I. Packer & Mark Dever (Crossway) $16.99  Many Packer fans have read and re-read his introduction to Puritan John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ and it is considered one his best pieces.  It is in here, as are several other important articles, essays and unpublished work of Packer.  Dever (of Capitol Hill Baptist Church) offers a few good chapters, too, offering a younger voice of old school Calvinism.  David Wells says, "This book contains some of the finest essays that have ever been written on the death of Christ."  Tom Schreiner says, "Every student and pastor should own this volume, for the contents are so precious that they deserve more than one reading."  Tim Keller says--get this!---"The essays in this volume are some of the most important things I have ever read."  Keller continues, "If you want to preach in such a way that results in real conversions and changed lives, you should master the approach to the cross laid out in this book."  Sinclair Ferguson says "The magisterial but too-little-known essay "What Did the Cross Achieve?" is itself worth the price of the whole book."

The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness  Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington (Crossway) $15.99  Do you want gospel transformation?  Do you want to know how all this theology of the atonement and understanding justification by grace impacts our lives?  Are you yawning with a "so what" about this post about theology books?  This is an excellent study of how the apostles taught about the atonement as the basis for faith living and makes the historic views of penal substitution very understandable.   There is a classic Scottish work from 1870 called The Apostles' Doctrine of the Atonement by George Smeaton.  Most of us won't pick that up, but this book is clearly patterned after it.  Make time to read this and learn how the cross is not just for obtaining forgiveness, but is the power for Christian living, day-by-day.

Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment 
Mark Osler (Abingdon) $16.00  This is a unique study comparing the most infamous criminal proceeding in history---the trial and execution of Jesus---and capitol punishment in the US today.  The author is a Christian law professor and former federal prosecutor (and expert on sentencing guidelines whose work has been cited in the Supreme Court.) In each chapter he explains details about the trial of Jesus and uses that as a springboard into stories of injustice and legal corruption and the horrors of death row.  Not a study of the atonement, but a close reading of the trial and passion narratives as a guide into discussion about the ethics of modern crime and punishment.  Troubling, informative, and a new way to read the Bible in contemporary context.

Perhaps a poet and hymn-writer should get the last word: Listen to the moving, gentle song
How Deep the Father's Love for Us as done by Ferdnando Ortega.  

 

April 13, 2009

The meaning of the gospel: Surprised by Hope (and an announcement about the forthcoming N.T. Wright release, "Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision")

A good, thoughtful friend posted a fair question at the end of my bibliography the other day (acrucifix.jpg bibliography which described just a handful of books that illustrate the range of views and writing on the subject of the cross.) She basically asked that if some thinkers suspect that "penal substitution" and "paying a price" for our sin and averting God's wrath isn't the most basic reason Jesus came to Earth, and isn't the point of the cross, what else could it possible be?

Oh my, what a good question.  Of course, my bias tends to be fairly traditional on this question, so I wouldn't recommend just any hare-brained books that come along. I am not proposing that Jesus' cross accomplishes anything less than the reconciliation of all things back to Himself (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1.)  As a few of the books which I mentioned show (like the one by Piper) the Biblical witness names a number of different things accomplished by the death of Christ. New ideas of just how that happens, which verses are more literal, and which wax metaphorical, which we understand clearly and which take some historical/cultural background to understand, and how best to say it all, are worth knowing about, especially if they suggest that the more typical formulations (especially in evangelical piety) are themselves somehow not inherent in the Biblical text. 

crucifix icon.jpgI certainly cannot answer the question simply, which is why I recommended books that might. I don't mean to be cheap, but the answer is, partially:  well, if you really want to know, read some of these books, or read about them, at least. It is a bit complicated, isn't it?  That's why these books are there and it why we commend reading widely.  For starters, you could check out wikipedia on atonement, penal substitution, or justification, for instance, which describes in fairly objective fashion, some various figures in church history that have had different theories about how the effecicy of the cross works. 

And, please recall my suggestion that we be open-minded and gracious as we read and learn and discern and discuss;  the website that was linked in the comment has some pretty firm comments, verging on smug nastiness, I'm afraid. Another website had ugly, self-rightous comments, such as one about a writer which said he (or his views) were "garbage. And that is an insult to garbage."  This from a person defending a high view of the Bible and mature doctrine.  So sad.  I recently re-read C.J. Mahany's little book on humility called Humility: True Greatness (Multnomah; $12.99) and it was wonderful hearing from a staunch Calvinist that we must seek truth and charity, clarity and graciousness.  It is a deeply theological work, yet sweetly practical and sensible.

It seems to me that we can say this much quickly when we are asked "why the cross?": the bigger question is what was Jesus all about, what was His mission, and how can the specific statements such as "The son of man came to give his life as a ransom for many" or "I came to seek and save the lost" or "I came to bring a sword") be harmonized and related properly, but in some overall sense of meaning?  What is the largest context to make sense of the life and teachings, death and resurrection of the Christ?  Jesus came, it seems to me, to fulfill the promises to Israel and establish a Kingdom "on Earth as it is in heaven."  His inaugural sermon in Luke 4 in which he plainly says why He was anointed with the Spirit and what he purpose was, cites Isaiah 62 which everyone knows is an allusion to Leviticus 25, the Year of Jubilee, the every 50th sabbath year---announced on the day of atonement---when through grace,  justice would be done, economics would change, land would be healed, and everybody in the community got a second chance, poor and disabled and imprisoned alike. Jesus famously then said that in their hearing, this Jubilee had come to pass!  When he implied that this gracious regime change might include outsiders, they wanted to kill him.  Garbage, I guess.

In the synoptic gospels, whenever the "good news" is mentioned---the same good news that the complex apostle Paul proclaims and explains---the phrase "the Kingdom" is what is being discussed. ("Preach the Kingdom to all creation" it says in Mark.) The details of justification through God's grace, how election and the atonement happens, the necessary imputation of righteousness, and all the rest, are, it seems to me, how details of how one enters the Kingdom.  That is, the cross is not the gospel, God is not the gospel (as John Piper puts it in one lovely if misguided book by that name) but the Kingdom come is the gospel.  Of course the mainline liberals of the 20th century were wrong: the Kingdom is not just "deeds without creeds" or mere social humanism or even liberation from injustice.  One need not be a social gospel theologian to take Matthew Mark and Luke, most obviously, at face value when they say that the gospel is "the gospel of the Kingdom."  Therefore, the role of the cross is to defeat Death and allow us to enter the community of the King.  It is not the point of the gospel, it is the entrance to the gospel.

So, while we indeed need to get our doctrine(s) of justification and atonement right, we who understand it will revel in the meaning and glory and mystery of the cross, we dare not leave it at that.  We are to proclaim the foolishness of the cross, which stands for so much more than the fine news of being forgiven (however we best describe that holy transaction.)  We are converted to be fit for the Dominion of the King, which is the great good news.

Imminent Domain.jpgThose that follow these things will know that I've long believed this Kingdom definition of the gospel, owing much to everyone from Abraham Kuyper, Hermann Ridderbos and Al Wolters to Ronald Sider, Howard Snyder and Jacque Ellul. A simple little book that says it wonderfully is called Kingdom Come: How Jesus Wants to Change the World by Alan Wakabayashi (IVP; $13.00) which we highly recommend.  A brand new one delightfully called Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration (Eerdmans; $12.00) just came out by Ben Witherington III, a fine Bible scholar from Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.  Just fabulous!  Of course the Kingdom themes animates some of the best work being done about "the missional church" (Gruder et al.)  This isn't new stuff.

 
But the clearest, most important, and most prolific author nowadays about this is N.T. Wright.  His amazing, 2008 book
surprised by hope.jpgSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperOne; $24.95) is a perfect follow-up to Easter, ideal to be read this Spring!  I've raved about this book here before, and just today on a Pittsburgh talk show I blurted out that it was one of my all-time favorite books.  I don't think I was grandstanding, either.  I really think it is brilliant stuff, very important and very helpful, bringing together a missional vision, based on an understanding of the inaugurated Kingdom, secured by the Victory of the resurrection, prefigured in the bodily resurrection of Christ.  No, no, no---readers of BookNotes surely know---Jesus didn't die just to get us Fire Insurance, so we don't go to hell and can live in heaven forever as angels.  Ugh. The Bible insists that we can have abundant life now (John 10:10),  that he rose in the flesh, and we say, with the Apostle's Creed, that we believe in resurrection of the body.  That, of course, means, our bodies.  In a (re)new(ed) Earth---paradise regained, creation restored, heaven come down to Earth.  It's the spring coming to all of Narnia, the curse working backwards, after the long Winter under the witch's power. The death of Aslan isn't the point, of course, it the return of the rightful King as He restores the place he so loves.

The fine-tuned theological scholarship that I commended in the last posts about the cross are prelude to this, bigger, more urgent matter: what is the atonement for?  I liked Mark Driscoll's pastoral letters about the theology of atonement, applying these great truths to hurting people, yet I think it occasionally missed this proper Kingdom vision.  (Some truly Reformed guys are so fixated in explicating precise doctrine that they don't always get to the missional heart of God and the implications of the Kingdom for whole-life discipleship in the world.)  I'd want to say that the point of the cross is so we might fulfill Matthew 6:33 and seek only the reign of God, Christ's Kingdom. I believe for Paul, "the cross" is shorthand for "the gospel" and that is always understood as the reign of the victorious and ascended Lord.  God promises that all will be well for those who have such hunger and thirst for His righteousness, which cannot be divorced from the call to serve God in the world.  This can be seen as nearly begging the question of what the cross, qua cross, means.  I hope you don't think that of me today, since my last two posts commended serious reading on this specific topic.  I now just want to put it in broader context.  John Stott's wonderful book on the cross which I touted, by the way, seems to do a bit of this, and I am glad.  As always, he is a reliable and balanced source.

N.T. Wright, though, does a very great service in helping us with this Kingdom vision of a hopeful future, but, for what it is worth (and it is worth quite a lot in my book) he also is a careful, creative, Biblical theologian on the finer tuned systematic stuff as well.  For instance,  here is a long article by Bishop Wright that discusses a few books/authors/positions on the atonement, even offering some very serious critique to a book which I wanted to highlight in my bibliography (Pierced for My Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey & Andrew Sach)  It was getting a bit long, and it is a serious work, so I deleted my annotation. Wright is perplexed why good evangelicals think the book is so Biblically-rooted when he thinks that it is demonstronably not. In one hefty must-read article, Wright exposes the inadequacies of the right and left, liberals and conservatives, and offers this Kingdom vision that tries to take quite seriously the nature of the unfolding Biblical narrative, the Jewishness of Jesus and the covenantal echoes in the epistles, rather than merely cite strung together prooftexts, read through a lens of medieval or modern hue.  I think it is very well worth reading, especially to anyone who nodded when Becky posted her fine query. 

For those who were intrigued by the books about the non-violent atonement, I might suggest this overview, from the justice & spirituality journal, Clarion, which is a good introduction to this project and why it is valuable.  It is excerpted from Brad Jersek's chapter in Stricken By God?

By the way, speaking of non-violence, Ron Sider's wonderful little book Christ and Violence
(Wipf & Stock; $15.00) is one of the key books on the evangelical pacifist's bookshelf.  I so appreciate that he does not root the demand for love of enemies merely on a sentiment about loving everyone or the mandate to "turn the other cheek."  He more profoundly places it in within historic Protestant soteriology from Romans: "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)  Ron figures if that is the way the cosmic King of Kings deals with his enemies, we can do no less.  Now that is a part of the discussion about the atonement that we need from the camp that is insisting on the literal penal perspective.  Do they love their enemies very much? Do they invite us to live out the way of the cross even in our public lives, our politics?  Hmmm.  Here is a quote from a more recent book of his, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience (Baker; $12.99) which reminds me of the need to be always asking what response we give and live to the doctrines we profess:

When Christians today reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins, they are offering a one-sided, heretical message that is flatly unfaithful to the Jesus they worship as Lord and God. Only if we recover Jesus' gospel of the kingdom and allow its power to so transform our sinful selves that our Christian congregations (always imperfect to be sure) become visible holy signs of the dawning kingdom will we be faithful to Jesus. Only then will our evangelical words recover integrity and power.  
 
Justifcation Wright.jpgAND, lastly---a drum roll, please: we can now take pre-orders for a marvelous new book that is coming out in May on this exact topic, a thoughtful book by N.T. Wright in response to the good critique written of his views of justification written last year by John Piper.  As you can see, it will be called Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (IVP; $25.00.)  It is important, not least because there are so many folks wondering exactly where he stands.

You may recall that I did a fairly favorable mini-review of Piper's fair, fascinating (and very informative) critique of Wright (which was called The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright.)  I have to admit I've got a glimpse of some of this---Wright's response to Piper and others--- and it is very, very rich stuff.  We'll be offering a big blog special when it arrives---25% off--so you can order it now if you'd like.  We still have copies of Piper's book, too so you could order that, too.  It usually sells for $17.99.  While supplies last, we have some selling for $10.00.  Just let us know if you want the Piper one now, or if we should send them together, when Wright releases in a couple of weeks or so.

April 19, 2009

Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church by Peter Schmiechen

saving power.jpgPete Schmiechen is the President Emeritus of Lancaster Theological Seminary and in the preface to this major work he notes how his work as a UCC pastor, an academic, and then a seminary President shaped his on-going passion for this important topic. It shows;  this is a serious and wide-ranging book and yet is certainly not written for the theological guild, or even for exclusive use as a seminary text, but for working pastors, church leaders and interested learners of all sorts.  The sub-title is important since Dr. Schmiechen is interested not only in learning how to explain and formulate the reconciling work of the Cross, but how that might shape pastoral practice and typologies and styles of congregational formation and church life.

The last few posts here at BookNotes have, I hope, reminded readers of our (rare, I'm told) tendency to read widely, to stock books which represent the best of various schools of thought, and to invite customers into generous conversations that might transcend some typical polarities within the Body of Christ.  In plain words, that means we sell books that are theologically liberal and theologically conservative, stuff that is classic and stuff that is innovative, books that are reassuring and books that provoke.  (I keep saying this to readers and customers, otherwise our selection may just look confused, which I suspect some fear we are.)  Further, we hope to invite customers, readers, reviewers, friends, into deeper dialogue with authors, denominations and traditions perhaps other than their own.  This question about the substitutionary atonement, Christ paying the penalty we deserve, justification through grace at the expense of the blood of the Christ who came to pay a ransom--- these are important matters.  The Bible calls us to proclaim God's good news, and we are overjoyed to announce that, for those in Christ, there is now no condemnation.  But that surely implies a backstory, a context, a situation where there was some condemnation, judgment from which we are---because of Christ---now free.  How the cross and death of Christ fits into that story---and the broader gospel Story of the coming of the Kingdom of God---is an endlessly beguiling matter.  So one more book here, again---see our special pricing offer, below.

Saving Power: Theories of Atonement and Forms of the Church (Eerdmans; $35.00) offers a thoughtful, thorough, and interesting study of ten different schools of thought regarding the way the saving power of God's grace gets said.  These ten are grouped in four categories.  With each atonement theory, he offers a case study, and explains the critical issues that have been raised (and that he himself may have) with that approach.  For instance,  the notion of Sacrifice has as its main proponent the book of Hebrews;  Justification by Grace explores, of course, Martin Luther.  The case study for Penal Substitution is the work of old Princeton scholar Charles Hodge, about which S says, 

(he is) one of the strongest defenders of the theory, based on appeals to Scripture, tradition, and reason.  Hodge has no interest in innovation but claims only to be consistent with these sources.  It is not surprising that, for so many followers, such a formidable defense should provide legitimacy for this theory. Conversely, those who would reject this theory will have to deal with the biblical and theological sources used by Hodge.
In the mid-19th century, Hodge taught (for 50 years) at Princeton and as a leading defender of historic orthodoxy "shaped the general theological character of the Presbyterian church."
Of course few Presbyterian Church (USA) seminaries teach him now, although he is esteemed in PCA circles. Regardless, it was an excellent choice for Schmiechen since his intellectual shadow has been cast upon most evangelicals, whether they realize it or not.

Well, on he goes, walking us carefully through Athanasius and Anselm, who emphasize the renewal and restoration of creation, respectively.  He has a chapter on the cross as reconciliation (he had an earlier book on this drawn largely from I Corinthians 1 and 2) and one comparing Irenaeus and 20th century liberation theologians.  Under the theme of "The Wondrous Love of God" he looks at Peter Abelard, John Wesley, and Jurgen Moltmann.

My more strict and evangelical friends may find reading a UCC leader a bit of a stretch, but I truly recommend this nearly majesterial work.  As Hans Boersma (of Regent College) puts it

Convinced that many of the church's problems may be traced back to a lack of clarity in atonement theology, Peter Schmiechen presents a comprehensive range of atonement theologies with integrity, theological acumen, and, at times, surprising analyses.  Refusing to reduce the meaning of Christ's work to one model or theory, Schmiechen boldly presents to less than ten theories, describing their strengths and weaknesses.  Those who wish to immerse themselves in the broad spectrum of Christian reflection on the saving power of God in Jesus Christ will be impressed with the lucidity, depth, and congeniality with which he approaches each of the theories he discusses.  Even where he feels the need to express his strong reservations, Schmiechen treads carefully, respectfully, and yet frankly.
Or as the ever-thoughtful and winsome Walter Brueggemann blurbs: "Schmiechen's sturdy scholarship is an important resource for the church seeking to find its way back to the saving truth that is larger than all our pet projects."

Here are all the lyrics of a marvelously rich song, "Come Ye Sinners" a Joseph Hart hymn from 1759 that is poetic ("weak and wounded/sick and sore"), theological mature in deep awareness of God's grace, and, in Indelible Grace's folk-rock rendition, (sorry, this is just a portion of their recording) is one of my all-time favorites.  It is from the first of their five CDs, simply called Indelible Grace.   Give us a holler if you want to order any..
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April 23, 2009

Culture Making, the Christian Scholars Network and bookselling for the fun of it.

A few days ago we had the privilege of setting up a book display at a central Pennsylvania Brethren in Christ church, surrounded by lovely luncheon tables, each decorated with tableaus about culture-making.  To call these table centerpieces wouldn't do as they were little works of educational art, each with a theme, each with a card asking the famous "5 questions" from
culture making lined.jpg Andy Crouch's Culture Making website. Do I need to tell you that Andy was the speaker at this important gathering?  Can I say again how much we love that book, Culture Making: Recoving Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20), how important I think it is, how good it would be for you or your group to take it up, to give theological meat to the bones of our natural inclination to be busy making much (or not so much) of the world.  There is even a free study guide for download at Andy's site. It has been widely discussed in various venues, pro and con, the website is a hoot to explore (keep visiting as they keep adding good stuff) and I still say it was one of the top two or three books of 2008.

This event, though, was not just to promote the book and the audience was not cultural creatives, media folk, pop-culture fans or artists.  They were teachers, informal intellectuals, Christian college professors, pastors, grad students and others who see investing in higher education as a worthy goal, a strategic goal, itself an example of important culture making.  Patrons, supporters and those who are interested in the good work of Tom Grosh, who worksTom and Andy Crouch.JPG with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Faculty and Grad Student Ministry, gathered to hear Andy reflect on the ways in which this new central PA project----a mission we're calling the Christian Scholars Network--- would be an example of the general themes he draws out in Culture Making.  Culture-making by networking adult Christians in the academy?  We work with students, care about campus culture, send campus workers like IVCF or CCO staff to minister to students in this great time of transition in their lives.  What about the staff of colleges? Deans, teachers, assistants, researchers, counselors, student affairs staff?  How do we come alongside them, encourage them, resource them, challange them?  Is it hard for them to live out an natural Christian faith in the secular campus setting?  And how about affirming the work of grad students and PhD candidates?  IVCF has a national movement called "the emerging scholars network" which we think is also very important.  Although our Hearts & Minds "vocations" annotated bibliography is basic and designed for beginners in the journey of developing a Christian perspective in various academic disciplines, fields and callings, it really is an important resource.  I should have announced it at the Network event.

I had the wonderful opportunity to make small talk with two significant scholars from two colleges here in the area, a philosopher and a scientist (not to mention an inner city teacher, an artist, a retired theologian, a student at Hershey Medical School.)  We didn't solve the worlds problems, let alone the problems of the academy (hee heee) but it was good to connect.  And good to have Andy call us to intentional Christian integration, the effort to relate faith to learning, to be Biblically-informed and distinctive as scholars and teachers, administrations and serious students.  Thank God for the grad students and workers, professors and pastors that attended and intended to be further involved in Tom's ministry.  He hopes to continue conversations about raising a respectable evangelical witness at places which are commonly known in these parts---Dickinson, F&M, Elizabethtown, York, HAAC, Millersville and the like.

I made a plug for some books in my part in the program.  As you might guess, I reminded them that we may not need to work so hard pushing what Marsden called "the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship" (a title of his book inspired by a critic in the New York Times who declared a Christian perspective in higher learning "outrageous") if we started younger, explained the vision of faith & learning being integrated, used the language of vocation, calling, scholarship, and such, with our undergrads, so, for the formation of future Christian scholars I recommended The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Derek Melleby & Donald Opitz (Brazos; $14) as a gift for high school students who are college bound.  Every youth pastor and anybody who works on campus should have a few of these to pass on to students who need help relating faith and higher learning.  As Tom brought in Andy to inspire local scholars, I felt the need to remind folks of this handy little book which raises these questions in simple, fun ways for those who aren't yet serious scholars, but are ordinary students.

A natural follow up was another all time H&M favorite: Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP; $17.) This is a grand book for a group of faculty or grad students to ponder. Steve wrote this on the heels of his work with CCO doing ministry with law & med students, and his time doing serious consulting with various church-related college administrators. It was a perfect title to recommend in that setting.  What can be done to help young adults mature in faith in ways that are integrated, sustainable, faithful?  Can the things they learn on campus make a difference, a real difference, in their lives as they unfold year by year?  Fabric of Faithfulness documents (based on interviews with 30 & 40- somethings) how they maintained the radical Christian commitments that they learned in college to think vocationally and worldviewishly--relating Christ's Kingship to all they do, in private and in public, in home and at work, in prayer and in politics--over the course of the ups and downs of life in the modern world.  It is a bit rigorous reading for most 18 year olds, I'm afraid (even though Stan Hauerwas famously wrote he wished we could give one to every student going off to college) it surely is ideal for older students, grad students, teachers and administrators. How do we find people and principals and programs that can impact those in formative times in their lives? Can faculty be significant mentors to young adults?  Can they really teach in a way that inspires Christian conviction?  How does what we learn make a difference?  Can a thoughtful and intellectually integrated faith last in the post-Christian climate of the new millenium?  What a great choice for academics, or those who support their work, to read and ponder.

vocation of the christian scholar.jpgThere are books on this project of "thinking Christianly" and we commended a few on the Christian mind.  Messiah College's Richard Hughes has a lovely, lovely book called The Vocation of the Christian Scholar which we really like. (Get a nice look at it here.)  James Sire's Discipleship of the Mind is very helpful as is the sequal, Habits of the Mind, on the calling of being a Christian intellectual.  I believe that Parker Palmer's little book To Know As We Are Known (subtitled "a spirituality of education") is wonderful, to be reflected upon by teachers of all kinds.  Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton's must-read worldview book Transforming Vision has a few excellent and insightful chapters on the task of the Christian scholar and how to develop an awareness of creational norms for various disciplines and life areas.  The appendix, written for undergrads, the "bibliography we can't live without" is an asset for anyone serious about developing the Christian mind (did I note that we helped with that??)  So I highlighted a couple of books and explained why what we do here at the bookstore might help faculty or others on campus.  Christian scholars unite!  Get theByron preaching.jpg resources out!  Spread the word that, outrageous or not, Christ calls us to be faithful in our work, which means thinking in new ways about the ideas that shape our work.   I didn't have a bull-horn, but I was sort of on my soapbox, if a mere book announcement can become abooks and customer.jpg quickie homily. 

Of course, we mostly celebrated Andy's work** among us that day in Elizabethtown, glad for non-denominational evangelicals, anabaptists, Episopalians, Presbyterians and all sorts of folks to unite around this cultural mandate which God so graciously gives in Genesis.  We have the huge and uncontainable privelege of stewarding God world---from caring for the Earth to caring for families, caring for neighborhoods and caring about international trade, working in GodlyByron talking.jpg buying habits and playing habits, thinking habits, work habits.  To practice Christian discipleship all the live-long day, in the world but not of it, through God's common grace for the common good---ahh, this is the calling of us all.  Crouch is a help, a surprisingly interesting ally, in our awareness of how culture impacts us, and how we can impact culture, and, finally, how we can be more human and humane.  (One of the earliest church fathers, you may recall, said the glory of Christ is a human who is fully alive!)   For Christians interested in work like Tom's "Christian Scholars Network" Culture Making is a great resource, inspiring and insightful.  It was wonderful being a part of this launch, and I hope telling you about it might open horizons in your own mind.  Who can you unite with?  What sort of networks are needed in your profesional or vocational arena?  Can Hearts & Minds somehow serve as a resource for your ongoing reading in being faithful in every zone of life, agents of cultural transformation and truly human social good. Can we help you make more of your life, your world?  Let us know.

**Here is a very interesting video interview; with Andy.  I'm not sure the blond read the book, but Andy holds forth remarkably well.  Check it out.

A final great point:  Andy in his wonderful presentation gave some good reasons why we should support Grosh's "Christian Scholars Network" and why investing in the university, or those who work in college settings, is vital for Christian cultural faithfulness.  Our forebears started colleges and universities but perhaps didn't steward them well:  some have fallen away from Christian faith, for better or for worse (Crouch suggested it is a very mixed bag and only to be lamented.)  Yet, he insisted, in a highlight of his talk, that we need not go quickly to the strategy or talking point that "college faculty shape the next generation of gatekeepers" and to impact college students for Christ and reform the university we must also reach faculty with the gospel, since the ideas that are taught in colleges will soon trickle down to street level, shaping culture, often for ill.  Yes, it is true that colleges may be influential settings for young people in transition, and yes, the ideas there grow legs and can be hugely influential.  Yet Crouch made a spectacular argument that due to commercialization of learning, the consumerism of students and their parents---coupled with the way in which industry and the military pay for the most interesting research these days---the university may actually be declining in its often emphasized influence.  It simply may not be as influential or strategic for shaping culture as it once was.

Did you get that?  The colleges and universities of our era may have reached their zenith of influence, may be in decline (in terms of societal influence) and yet we must support and invest in them, in the very elites that live and move and have their being in those hallowed ivy leagues.  Why?  Because some things are just good to do.  Not because of utilty.  Not because it pays off. Not because we "get" some ministry bang for our buck.  The fine arts and the fine sciences, for instance, are not always obviously "for" anything.  They are good to do.  We should support those who live in such arcane arenas, and be glad that God may get glory for jobs well done. 

His proof text for this?  Psalm 111:2 which reads, "Great are the works of the Lord, they are to be studied by all who delight in them."   An early scientist had it emblazed over his primitive lab. Perhaps it is something we should all emblazen all over this good world, over art studios and work benches, labs and libraries.
boy reading.jpg Perhaps it is a motto for booksellers, too.  Sometimes, it is just good to read stuff.  Maybe the next time I try to convince customers to read Crouch or Garber, rather than lavish useful praise and suggest their significance, I'll just say "Because."  Some things are just good to do. Take up and learn.  Have fun. Praise God.

Culture Making, the Christian Scholars Network and bookselling for the fun of it.

culture making lined.jpgA few days ago we had the privilege of setting up a book display at a central Pennsylvania Brethren in Christ church, surrounded by lovely luncheon tables, each decorated with tableaux about culture-making.  To call these table centerpieces wouldn't do as they were little works of educational art, each with a theme, each with a card asking the famous "5 questions" from
culture making lined.jpg Andy Crouch's Culture Making website. Do I need to tell you that Andy was the speaker at this important gathering?  Can I say again how much we love that book, Culture Making: Recoving Our Creative Calling (IVP; $20), how important I think it is, how good it would be for you or your group to take it up, to give theological meat to the bones of our natural inclination to be busy making much (or not so much) of the world?  There is even a free study guide for download at Andy's website. The book has been widely discussed in various venues, pro and con, the website is a hoot to explore (keep visiting as they keep adding good stuff) and I still say it was one of the top two or three books of 2008. So it was great to be with him again.

This event, though, was not just to promote the book and the audience was not mostly cultural creatives, media folk, pop-culture fans or artists (one common audience for the book.)  They were teachers, informal intellectuals, Christian college professors, pastors, grad students and others who see investing in higher education as a worthy goal, a strategic goal, itself an example of important culture making.  Patrons, supporters and those who are interested in the good work of Tom Grosh, who worksTom and Andy Crouch.JPG with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Faculty and Grad Student Ministry, gathered to hear Andy reflect on the ways in which this new central PA project----a mission we're calling the Christian Scholars Network--- would be an example of the general themes he draws out in Culture Making.  Culture-making by networking adult Christians in the academy?  Church groups often work with students, care about campus culture, send campus workers like IVCF or CCO staff to minister to under-graduates in this great time of transition in their lives.  What about the staff of colleges? Deans, teachers, assistants, researchers, counselors, student affairs staff?  How do we come alongside them, encourage them, resource them, challenge them?  Is it hard for them to live out a pleasant, vibrant Christian faith in the secular campus setting?  And how about affirming the work of grad students and PhD candidates?  IVCF has a national movement called "the emerging scholars network" which we think is also very important.  Although our Hearts & Minds "vocations" annotated bibliography is basic and designed for beginners in the journey of developing a Christian perspective in various academic disciplines, fields and callings, it really is an important resource.  I should have announced it at the Network event.

I had the wonderful opportunity to make small talk with two significant scholars from two colleges here in the area, a philosopher and a scientist (not to mention an inner city teacher, an artist, a retired theologian, an engieering student, a med student at Hershey Medical School.)  We didn't solve the worlds problems, let alone the problems of the academy (hee heee) but it was good to connect.  And good to have Andy call us to intentional Christian integration, the effort to relate faith to learning, to be Biblically-informed and distinctive as scholars and teachers, administrations and serious students.  Thank God for the grad students and workers, professors and pastors that attended and intended to be further involved in Tom's grad student and faculty-oriented ministry.  He hopes to continue conversations about raising a respectable evangelical witness at places which are commonly known in these parts---Dickinson, F&M, Elizabethtown, York, HAAC, Millersville and the like.

I made a plug for some books in my part in the program.  As you might guess, I reminded them that we may not need to work so hard pushing what George Marsden called "the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship" (a title of his Oxford University Press book inspired by a critic in the New York Times who declared a Christian perspective in higher learning "outrageous") if we started younger, explained the vision of faith & learning being integrated, used the language of vocation, calling, scholarship, and such, with our teens and undergrads, so, for the formation of future Christian scholars I recommended the delightful, smart Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness by Derek Melleby & Donald Opitz (Brazos; $13.99.) It is surely the best gift for high school students who are college bound.  Every youth pastor and anybody who works on campus should have a few of these to pass on to students who need help relating faith and higher learning.  As Tom hosted Andy to inspire local scholars, I felt the need to remind folks of this handy little book which raises these questions in simple, fun ways for those who aren't yet serious scholars, PhD candidates or college profs, but are more ordinary students. I wasn't kidding when I said it would be good for some of those smart guys to read it, too...

A natural follow up was another all time H&M favorite: Steve Garber's Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior (IVP; $16.) This is a grand book for a group of faculty or grad students to ponder. Steve wrote this on the heels of his work with CCO doing ministry with law & medical students, and during his time doing serious consulting with various church-related college administrators. It was a perfect title to recommend in that setting.  What can be done to help young adults mature in faith in ways that are integrated, sustainable, faithful?  Can the things they learn on campus make a difference, a real difference, in their lives as they unfold year by year?  Fabric of Faithfulness documents (based on interviews with 30 & 40-somethings) how they maintained the radical Christian commitments that they learned in college to think vocationally and worldviewishly--relating Christ's Kingship to all they do, in private and in public, in home and at work, in prayer and in politics--over the course of the ups and downs of life in the modern world.  It is a bit rigorous reading for most 18 year olds, I'm afraid (even though Stan Hauerwas famously wrote he wished we could give one to every student going off to college) it surely is ideal for older students, grad students, teachers and administrators. How do we find people and principles and programs that can impact those in formative times in their lives? Can college faculty be significant mentors to young adults?  Can educators really teach in a way that offers coherence and inspires Christian convictions about responsibility to act?  How does what we learn make a difference?  Can a thoughtful and intellectually integrated faith last in the post-Christian climate of the new millennium?  What a great choice for academics, or those who support their work, to read and ponder.

vocation of the christian scholar.jpgWe stock a lot of books on this project of "thinking Christianly" and we commended a few on the Christian mind.  Messiah College's Richard Hughes has a lovely, lovely book called The Vocation of the Christian Scholar  (Eerdmans; $16) which we really like. (Get a nice look at it here.)  James Sire's Discipleship of the Mind is very helpful as is the sequel, Habits of the Mind, on the calling of being a Christian intellectual.  I believe that Parker Palmer's little book To Know As We Are Known (subtitled "a spirituality of education") is wonderful, to be reflected upon by teachers of all kinds.  Brian Walsh & Richard Middleton's must-read worldview book Transforming Vision has a few excellent and insightful chapters on the task of the Christian scholar and how to develop an awareness of creational norms for various disciplines and life areas.  The appendix, written for undergrads, the "bibliography we can't live without", is an asset for anyone serious about developing the Christian mind (did I ever note that we helped with that??)  So I highlighted a couple of books and explained why what we do here at the bookstore might help faculty or others on campus.  Christian scholars unite!  Get theByron preaching.jpg resources out!  Spread the word that, outrageous or not, Christ calls us to be faithful in our work, which means thinking in new ways about the ideas that shape our work!  I didn't have a bull-horn, but I was sort of on my soapbox, if a mere book announcement can become abooks and customer.jpgn improvised homily. 

Of course, we mostly celebrated Andy's work** among us that day in Elizabethtown, glad for non-denominational evangelicals, Anabaptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and all sorts of folks to unite around this cultural mandate which God so graciously gives in Genesis.  We have the huge and uncontainable privilege of stewarding God world---from caring for the Earth to caring for families, caring for neighborhoods and caring about international trade, working in GodlyByron talking.jpg buying habits and playing habits, thinking habits, work habits.  To practice Christian discipleship all the live-long day, in the world but not of it, through God's common grace for the common good---ahh, this is the calling of us all.  Crouch is a help, a surprisingly interesting ally, in our awareness of how culture impacts us, and how we can impact culture, and, finally, how we can be more human and humane.  (One of the earliest church fathers, you may recall, said the glory of Christ is a human who is fully alive!)   For Christians interested in work like Tom's "Christian Scholars Network" Culture Making is a great resource, inspiring and insightful.  It was wonderful being a part of this launch, and I hope telling you about it might open horizons in your own mind.  Who can you unite with?  What sort of networks are needed in your professional or vocational arena?  Can Hearts & Minds somehow serve as a resource for your ongoing reading in being faithful in every zone of life, agents of cultural transformation and truly human social good. Can we help you make more of your life, your callings, your world?  Let us know.

**Here is a very interesting video interview; with Andy.  I'm not sure the blond read the book, but Andy holds forth remarkably well.  Check it out.

A final great point:  Andy in his wonderful presentation gave some good reasons why we should support Grosh's "Christian Scholars Network" and why investing in the university, or those who work in college settings, is vital for Christian cultural faithfulness.  Our forebears started colleges and universities but perhaps didn't steward them well:  some have fallen away from Christian faith, for better or for worse (Crouch suggested it is a very mixed bag and only to be lamented.)  Yet, he insisted, in a highlight of his talk, that we need not go quickly to the strategy or talking point that "college faculty shape the next generation of gatekeepers" and to impact college students for Christ and reform the university we must also reach faculty with the gospel, since the ideas that are taught in colleges will soon trickle down to street level, shaping culture, often for ill.  Yes, it is true that colleges may be influential settings for young people in transition, and yes, the ideas there grow legs and can be hugely influential.  Yet Crouch made a spectacular argument that due to commercialization of learning, the consumerism of students and their parents---coupled with the way in which industry and the military pay for the most interesting research these days---the university may actually be declining in its often emphasized influence.  It simply may not be as influential or strategic for shaping culture as it once was.

Did you get that?  The colleges and universities of our era may have reached their zenith of influence, may be in decline (in terms of societal influence) and yet we must support and invest in them, in the very elites that live and move and have their being in those hallowed ivy leagues.  Why?  Because some things are just good to do.  Not because of utilty.  Not because it pays off. Not because we "get" some ministry bang for our buck.  The fine arts and the fine sciences, for instance, are not always obviously "for" anything.  They are good to do.  We should support those who live in such arcane arenas, and be glad that God may get glory for jobs well done. 

His proof text for this?  Psalm 111:2 which reads, "Great are the works of the Lord, they are to be studied by all who delight in them."   An early scientist had it emblazoned over his primitive lab. Perhaps it is something we should all emblazon all over this good world, over art studios and work benches, labs and libraries.
boy reading.jpgPerhaps it is a motto for booksellers, too.  Sometimes, it is just good to read stuff.  Maybe the next time I try to convince customers to read Crouch or Garber, rather than lavish useful praise and suggest their significance, I'll just say "Because."  Some things are just good to do. Take up and learn.  Have fun. Praise God.


April 26, 2009

Justification by N.T. Wright now on sale here

A week or so ago I published several posts about the mysteries and centrality of the cross ofJustifcation Wright.jpg Christ.  We recommended a few books of varying viewpoints and of different tones.  This, of course, is dear to the heart of the redeemed, and it is good to often revisit the core claims of the gospel.  Justification by faith is surely one of these topics about which we can always learn more, always find new ways to describe, and deeper reasons for praise, adoration and faithful response.

We noted that N.T. Wright's book on justification, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (IVP; $25) has been long awaited by many of us, and particularly so after the hefty critique offered by John Piper in his book 2008 The Future of Justification (Crossway.)  We offered to take pre-orders at a 25% discount.  Now, the wait is over: the new N.T. Wright volume is here, and it will surely be one of the most talked about theological books of the year.  It is rigorous and thoughtful, of course, but not only for the academic or theologically mature.  This is a book for us all, serious, in-depth, but accessible.  I am sure you will be reading about it, hearing about it, and, hopefully, will be able to form an opinion yourself.  It is, in our opinion, one of those books that is worth owning and working on.

Here are some blurbs that adorn that back.  I love 'em, and enjoy knowing that it is commended by such an august crew.  Books that create this sort of buzz, that are seen as this significant, don't come around that often.  We are pleased to offer it to you.   

"For some time now, I have watched in puzzlement as some critics, imagining themselves as defenders of Paul's gospel, have derided Tom Wright as a dangerous betrayer of the Christian faith. In fact, Paul's gospel of God's reconciling, world-transforming grace has no more ardent and eloquent exponent in our time than Tom Wright. If his detractors read this book carefully, they will find themselves engaged in close exegesis of Paul's letters, and they will be challenged to join Wright in grappling with the deepest logic of Paul's message. Beyond slogans and caricatures of 'Lutheran readings' and 'the New Perspective,' the task we all face is to interpret these difficult, theologically generative letters afresh for our time. Wright's sweeping, incisive sketch of Paul's thought, set forward in this book, will help us all in that task."

--Richard B. Hays, Duke University

"Tom Wright has out-Reformed America's newest religious zealots--the neo-Reformed--by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study."

--Scot McKnight, North Park University

"Like Paul himself writing to the Galatians, in this book Bishop Tom expounds and defends his interpretation of the apostle's teaching on justification with passion and power. At the same time, he seeks to move beyond divisive categories (old perspective versus new; soteriology versus ecclesiology; justification versus participation) so that Paul can speak from within his own context and thereby to us in ours. The result is an extraordinary synthesis of the apostle's--and the Bishop's--views that should be read by the sympathetic, the suspicious and everyone else."

--Michael J. Gorman, St. Mary's Seminary & University, Baltimore

"N. T. Wright provides yet again another fresh and exciting exposition of the apostle Paul. Here Wright shows how Paul proclaimed justification by faith as part of the Bible's theodramatic story of salvation, a story that stretches from creation to Abraham to Israel and all the way through to Jesus the Messiah. Wright responds to many criticisms including those of John Piper, and regardless of whether one gravitates toward Wright's or Piper's unpacking of Paul, you cannot help but enjoy the sparks that fly when these two great modern pastor-scholars cross swords over the apostle. Moreover, Wright artfully brings readers into the narrative world of Paul, and he sets before us a stirring portrait of the apostle to the Gentiles and his gospel."

--Michael F. Bird, Highland Theological College, Scotland

"Frank theological table talk is sometimes a necessary endeavor. Tom Wright's Justification is his substantive reply to critical work by many, including John Piper, on the New Perspective. Wright correctly reminds us that this approach should be better called New or Fresh Perspectives. The goal is to open up the text concerning what it originally said in the first century, not change it. This book sets up a meaningful and significant conversation between the camps in this debate through its direct interaction with the critique. It should be read and reflected on, just as work on the other side should be. So I recommend this book and say, pull up a chair to the table and pay careful attention to the conversation. In the dialogue, all of us will learn more about what Paul and Scripture say about justification (and a few other things as well)."

--Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

"I find it quite stunning that a book dealing with the subject of justification could be this compelling of a read. Along the way you find yourself getting caught up in the momentum and energy of the book which pulls you into the momentum and energy of THE BOOK--which is, of course, Tom's point."

--Rob Bell, author Velvet Elvis

"John Piper, it turns out, has done us all a wonderful favor. In writing the critique that invited this response, he has given Bishop Wright the opportunity to clearly, directly, passionately and concisely summarize many of the key themes of his still-in-process yet already historic scholarly and pastoral project. Wright shows--convincingly--how the comprehensive view of Paul, Romans, justification, Jesus, and the Christian life and mission that he has helped articulate embraces 'both the truths the Reformers were eager to set forth and also the truths which, in their eagerness, they sidelined.' Eavesdropping on this conversation will help readers who are new to Wright get into the main themes of his work and the important conversation of which it is a part. And it will give Wright's critics a clearer sense than ever of what they are rejecting when they cling to their cherished old wineskins of conventional thought."

--Brian McLaren, author A Generous Orthodoxy

"This is a sharply polemical book, and N. T. Wright occasionally rises to Pauline heights of exasperation at his opponents. At bottom, though, it is about Pauline basics--about Abraham and Israel, eschatology and covenant, courtroom and Christology. With debates about perspectives old and new swirling around him like a cyclone, Wright does what he always does--he leads us carefully through the text. Some will doubtless remain skeptical about the Copernican revolution Wright proposes, but we are all indebted to him for reminding us once again of the breadth of the gospel of God and the majesty of the God of the gospel."

--Peter Leithart, author of Solomon Among the Postmoderns

"This sprightly and gracious yet robust work is Tom Wright's carefully argued and scripturally based response to those who think that he has deeply misunderstood Paul's doctrine of justification. Although it is intended especially for those familiar with the debate between the various scholarly perspectives on Paul, it is in fact a straightforward and reasonably succinct exposition of Tom's interpretation that incorporates a defense of his approach to Paul in general and his exegesis of specific passages in Galatians and Romans in particular. This is definitely one of the most exciting and significant books that I have read this year. Like all of the author's work, I found it hard to set down once I had started to read it. Strongly commended!"

__I. Howard Marshall, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

Here is a good interview with Wright.  Reading it, you'll surely want to get the book.

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Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision

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