I hope you read through the two lists we’ve recently published over at the “review columns” pages of the website as they told about a few particular books about reading the Bible which we think would be helpful. You know we write a lot about, and suggest books to help us, engage culture, work for justice, reflect on the “signs of the times” and nurture the calling to use hearts and minds to pursue our holy vocations (whatever they may be.) Yet, this “wholistic” vision of missional discipleship, of Kingdom living, of living out of a distinctively Christian worldview perspective, will never fully catch on unless we hear the Word proclaimed in our congregations and in our small group studies and prayer groups. That is, the Word as it relates to and shapes our live in the world, the Word proclaimed as a coherent narrative that can upend the false stories of this world. So I am not trying to sound pious or doctrinally correct here—to “balance out” our suggestions about peacemaking or the arts or Christian views of science or work or economics. No, we believe that robust discipleship depends upon our deep, profound commitments to be Bible-shaped people. Sons and daughters of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32) “knew the times and knew what God’s people should do.” Their insight about the times and their confidence about a faithful response happened, surely, because they knew Torah. They were wise covenant children. Let it be so with us.
And so, with my sermon ended (for now–heee, heee) here are a few random selections of mostly recent books you may not know about but that seem somehow germane to the larger lists of books about the overview of the Biblical narrative and such that we posted last month.
The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Crossway) $15.99 This handsome small volume is a fabulous collection of sermons preached—and never-before published–by the famous minister of Westminster Chapel in London in the middle of the 20th century. Here is excellent Bible exposition and eloquent proclamation and good examples of how this preacher understood how to see the gospel in any portion of the Bible. Lloyd-Jones is edifying and strengthening, a contemporary Puritan in the best sense of the word, with backbone and kindness and love for the Supreme glory of Christ.
Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation John W. Wright (IVP) $19.00 No matter if you are a preacher, teacher, or just serious Bible student, learning how to communicate the nuances of a given text within the broader theme of salvation history is tricky, at best. The blurbs on this are too numerous to quote, but Wright (of Point Loma Nazarene University with a PhD from Notre Dame) gets raves from Ray Anderson, Stan Hauerwas, Marva Dawn, Brent Laytham, James K. A. Smith (who says it “should be required reading.”) Winsome and prophetic. Good for learning the story, and better for learning to tell the story. Highly recommended.
Journey to the Common Good Walter Brueggemann (WJK) $16.95 Speaking of prophets, I am sometimes stunned, left nearly breathless, by the passionate and insightful and most often faithful sermons of dear Walter. He is on my short list of those who I esteem as mentors and heroes. Here we have three mighty lectures—aww, go ahead an call ’em sermons—which were delivered at Regent College in British Columbia. (We sell the audios and they are excellent.) There is remarkable Bible exposition here (some nothing short of brilliant, some a bit overstated, some quite comical) and the trajectory is towards a full-orbed neighborliness that helps people of faith contribute to the common good for the glory of God. As he has in other places, he offers thought-provoking comparisons between the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC and our own griefs and losses (such as the horror of 9-11) in the post-modern West. This will make you think, help you see things in the Bible you may have missed, and illustrates a master teacher at work. What a book.
Manna & Mercy Daniel Erlander (Dan Erlander Publications) $8.00 How can I even begin to explain this? This is the whole Bible story told in an 81/2 x 11 workbook-looking thing that is hand-written, with little cartoony characters throughout. It’s actually pretty cool, with a few almost looking like woodcuts. Yet, the Biblical scholarship is serious, and the footnotes include the aforementioned Dr. Brueggemann, radical activists who understand the theme of justice and who see the flow of the Biblical narrative as a subversive movement against Empire. The theme comes from the wilderness wanderings, of course, where the God of abundance offers enough, but the spirit of fear leads to hoarding, idolatry, and finally, systems of oppression and barbarism. This is a vision of the Scriptures that takes seriously Torah and prophets, and wisely sees Jesus as the One who brings a regime of grace and love, enabling us to live in ways that are just and good. It might remind one a bit of Jesus for President, another fully visual telling of the Bible story, with an Anabaptist/resistance slant. The author is a Lutheran activist with a large social consciousness who is clearly rooted in the grand Story of liberation and shalom. This isn’t for children, really, but the cartoon approach may have appeal to some younger readers. Serious stuff, if playful. Wow.See the (religiously powerful) guys complaining in the upper right corner—saying some don’t deserve free food? And the “a place for you” inscribed near the table? This is pretty typical of his style, adding these little commentaries from time to time within the meticulous drawings.
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Counterpoints series) Walter Kaiser, Darrell Bock, Peter Enns (Zondervan) $16.99 This is one of the most interesting topics for those seeking a renewed understanding of the “one true story” of the whole of Scripture, so this is critical, urgent, stuff. The authors, each with prestigious PhDs (from places like Aberdeen and Ha
rvard) and years of scholarly writing, thankfully, do an excellent job bringing three different “takes” on the basic question, and I learned much from every one. As with the others in this on-going series, each author offers feedback and critique of their conversation partners, which offers even a deeper bit of learning as the discussion goes back and forth. Really good.
Four Views on Moving beyond the Bible to Theology (Counterpoints series) Walter Kaiser, Daniel Doriani, Kevin Vanhoozer, William Webb, Mark Strauss, Christopher Wright, and Al Wolters (Zondervan) $19.99 This is another great release in this fascinating series, and the high calibre of discourse is invigorating, informative, and, I’d wager to say, pretty accessible for nearly anyone reading this blog. What a fabulous bit of debate about the role of the Bible in forging theology, and how theology might inform life itself. Unlike others in this good series, a few extra voices are invited in at the end, Strauss & Wright and Creation Regained author and worldview scholar Al Wolters who do good summaries of the conversation and remind us what all is at stake. Highly recommended.
Perspectives on Our Father Abraham: Essay in Honor of Marvin R. Wilson edited by Steven Hunt (Eerdmans) $26.00 Random collections of essays offered in honor of the retirement of a scholar or professor are often hard to describe, let alone sell. This, though, is a perfect anthology for anyone interested in Wilson’s renowned work on Jewish-Christian dialogue, the Older Testament influence on the Christian Scriptures, and, particularly, on the role of Abraham. Wilson’s own classic (called seminal by some reviewers) Our Father Abraham became the source for an PBS documentary and is here further explored by a range of scholars. Find here interesting, thoughtful, pieces by his Gordon College colleagues, writers such as Lauren Winner, and authors from both mainline Christian and Jewish perspectives. Nearly 400 pages, in 17 serious chapters, this is a gem of a resource, and a book we are proud to celebrate.
Here is part of the review from Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman: “…a remarkable volume…insightful and provocative views that are sure to challenge and inform…I highly recommend it.”
But listen to this, from Sonia Schreiber Weitz of the Boston Holocaust Center
Continuing to fill our lives with his great wisdom and envisioning beautiful possibilities along the way, Marvin Wilson builds bridges of love between Christian and Jewish communities. As for me, a survivor of the Shoah, Marv restored my faith in humanity, and for that I am eternally grateful.
It isn’t every bit of scholarly Biblical study (by a teacher at an evangelical college, no less) that garners this sort of touching tribute. It makes us want to honor that kind of scholarship, that bears that kind of fruit eh? These essays may not interest everyone, but it should be in church libraries and owned by those interested in details of Jewish-Christian Scripture discussions.
Jesus Matters: Good News for the 21st Century edited by James R. Krabill and David
Shenk (Herald Press) $16.99 I would be remiss to compile several lists of books about the Bible and not focus a bit on recent books about Jesus. There are many–of various sorts and perspectives–but I wanted to hold up this one as a vital and interesting collection on why Jesus matters, and how His reign might led us to personal and society healing and hope. It has some very sharp authors, and the writing is mature, but clear. This is a welcome resource for adult classes, small groups, book clubs and such. The various authors are not all Mennonite, but the editors and publishers have this particular radical tradition. It seems to me that this is a gift from the good folks at Herald Press that all of us can appreciate. This is handsomely designed, too, with some nice pull quotes, good discussion questions, a bit of helpful scholarship appropriated by those wanting to serve the church and helps us better understand the person of Jesus and what it means to be a disciple in our day. A moving forward by Shane Claiborne. We highly recommend it and hope it is often used.
The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity with Jesus Michael Hardin (JDL Press) $17.95 I mentioned that I wanted to suggest some titles you might not otherwise know about. This is written by one of the smartest guys on the planet, a Lancaster, PA, fellow who, after leaving the narrow and intellectually unsustainable views of Jesus from his fundamentalist past, undertook years and years of study to see how the pieces of the Bible might fit together, linking Rabbinic thinking about Hebrew Scripture, Jesus’ own re-working of Torah, and how early church letters thought about the saving work of the peace-bringing Savior. The book is exciting and big in its vision. It has some oddities about it (the many fascinating and important footnotes are inexplicably in Roman numerals making it maddening to use; the author is prone to condescend and the tone shifts from irenic to bombastic, from chatty to arcane, too quickly for my tastes; he is remarkably familiar with the latest controversial speculations of the Jesus Seminar and the oldest views of the church fathers but seems to not care much about the best evangelical thinkers of our day (although, to his credit, he cites Ben Worthington and N.T. Wright and Luke Timothy Johnson on occasion); he sees the cryptic work of Rene Girard–memetic realism and psychological insights about scapegoating– as the key to understanding the nonviolent atonement; he leans a bit on the work of Walter Wink without a nod or a wink to Marva Dawn’s important critique of Wink’s view of the powers; he tends to lack nuance in his dismissal of “American” Christianity, without really saying which branch or sort of American faith he despises.) So the book is weird and, for me, finally less than convincing.
Yet, yet, yet, it is so very interesting, learned, challenging and provocative that I happily recommend it to anyone serious about studying our Lord and Savior Jesus and learning more about the gospels in their first century setting. It is not for those who haven’t read much Biblical scholarship or who don’t enjoy serious digging. Brian McLaren has a dear forward and, as Brian will do, he tells you five themes to watch for. One, of course, is Michael’s absolute love for the person of Jesus and his serious commitment to follow Him. He may say goofy things without explaining (like that certain gospel texts aren’t historically accurate) but his love
for those texts is palpable. And sometimes, what he says about them is very, very good.
This hefty volume, despite the annoying title, is important for anyone wanting to be brought up to speed on the latest sorts of conversations happening in the neo-liberal/modernist wing of the church. Well, that isn’t exactly fair, since Michael hangs around with the guild of super-academic scholars, progressive Christan peace activists, and old-order Mennonites and he clearly rejects some of the liberal dismissal of the salvific work of Christ offered by old-school liberal theologians and higher critics. Like N.T. Wright (but more so, or so it seems) he is fluent in–and often appreciative of— the world and assumptions of the Bible critics, yet wants us to love Jesus and embrace His commonwealth. Still, he cites the latest stuff from James Alison, Dale Allison, Marcus Borg, Walter Wink, Rita Nakashima Brock, Dietrich Ritschl, and a host of scholars from Europe and the states; this is not your mama’s Sunday school class, that’s for sure. Is he right? Does his novel take on things bear Godly fruit? Does his knowledge of ancient insight and his insistence on importing the work of Girard into the Story make sense? You must decide, but it is a book worth struggling with.
Conservative evangelical friends will wonder why I promote a controversial and provocative book with a rather rare thesis. I don’t know, to be honest. I like much of what he says here about how to handle the Bible (even while I vigorously disagree with some of it), and those of us with more traditional understandings need to be pushed and probed by others who know the Hebrew and early church stuff well and have much to teach us. Michael seems as quick to cite the Loeb Classic Library edition of Josephus or the 3-volume Mekilta de-Rabbi Ishmael or the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha as he is the church fathers or 20th century phenomenological philosophers. (He reminds us often that Enlightenment logic is simply not adequate as an epistemology for knowing this stuff and, of course, he is right!) And, as you must know, I agree with his basic assertion that Christ taught non-violence and that we are called to the holy work of peacemaking. And, I don’t know of any other Christian book that cites the prog-rock band Yes.
A friend of Michael’s is Tony Bartlett, another rising star in the peace-able, Girardian, Biblical criticism movement, whose robust Biblical nonviolence allows him to move in ways that those wedded to more traditional presuppositions may not. Bartlett has a new book coming early next year, Virtually Christian, which Hardin cites approvingly. As I said, Michael draws on a plethora of sources and he knows oodles of good folks. Hardin’s other work can be seen in the notable volume on the atonement of Christ which he co-edited, Stricken by God? and his work in the Colloquium on Violence and Religion. You can find more of his Biblical comments at www.PreachingPeace.org. You may not find his deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian faith fully compelling, but I think you will be glad for the experience. It is an amazing piece of work. Read The Jesus Driven Life and see what you think.
Imaginary Jesus Matt Mikalatos (Barna) $14.99 While I’m on a roll suggesting stuff you may not want to hear about, but, upon consideration, might be just the thing you need, let me tell you briefly about this crazy, fun, wild ride of a novel. It may be just what you need to think through the need for paying closer attention to Jesus. Short version: the main character knows Jesus. I mean really knows him. The first line goes like this, “Jesus and I sometimes grab lunch at the Red and Black Cafe on Twelfth and Oak. It’s decorated in revolutionary black and red with posters and pictures of uprisings on the walls.” But yet, soon enough, a wild chase ensues with a furious, blue-collar dude who (named, in a fishy way, Pete) says that he knows the real Jesus and this guy isn’t the real Jesus. Spoiler alert: Pete’s right. Our hero Matt is following the wrong Jesus. So he has to, uh, destroy the imposters.
Listen to one of our most reliable guides to the life of spiritual formation, Gary Thomas, saying what he thinks of this hoot of a story:
Take the theological forcefulness of Bonhoeffer, combine it with the imaginative whimsy of C.S. Lewis and the wit of Charles Spurgeon, and you get Matt Mikalatos. Imaginary Jesus marks the debut of one of today’s most prominent young Christian writers.
I am not so sure about the prominent part. That depends on you. Wanna make this a good seller? Order a few today and get some crazy friends and check it out. You won’t regret it.
CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet Michael Emlet (New Growth Press) $15.99 Well, perhaps these creative and programmatic re-thinkings of Scripture and discipleship aren’t up your alley right now. Maybe you most need something less akin to “a new kind of Christianity” but just a new way to live it with reliable fidelity. You want to know the Word and the world, but you don’t want anything fishy. I can tell you with great confidence, this is the book for you.
Emlet is a man we respect, a scholar who reads widely, and does energetic work with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, a ministry with the audacious task of “restoring Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church.” Think about that. They believe that the gospel of God, seen in the life and work of the Christ, is the power we need for not just salvation, but sanctification. That is, a gospel-centered life can bring healing and hope, even for brokenness and painful struggles. Emlet is a Biblical scholar and a counselor. He’s written on topics such as Asperger’s Syndrome, dealing with angry children, OCD. He stands squarely in a particular tradition of Christian counseling, yet this book is so full of Biblical insight I’m tempted to put it under the Biblical studies section, rather than Christian growth or psychology. Actually, the book does include a lot about Biblical interpretation, including exercises—using various kinds of passages, in different practical ways. It is no surprise that the book emerged from a class he was teaching on how to interpret and apply the Scripture.
I so respect the culturally-savvy, professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, our friend, Dr William Edgar. He knows Emlet well and says this:
Many authors can tell you what the Bible is and how to read it. Many others can offer wisdom to face life’s problems. Few can do both. Mike Emlet wonderfully bridges the two worlds. CrossTalk not only gives us numerous examples of applying the Scriptures to daily life, but also models how to go about it on our won. This book is a marvelous resource for anyone who wants to know how to navigate the often-troubled waters of personal experience.
Paul Miller, whose NavPress book on Jesus called Loved Walked Among Us is fabulously helpful, and whose recent book on prayer, A Praying Life, i
s one of the best I’ve read in ages, has this to say about Crosstalk, one of the best endorsements one could find.
In Crosstalk, Mike Emlet is serious about applying all of Scripture to all of life. Mike teaches us how to weave together the story line of Scripture with our own stories. And Mike gets the story right. It is a gospel story. Mike’s passion for the immediacy and centrality of the gospel story comes through on every page.
Ruth: The Story of God’s Unending Redemption Robert Wauzzinski (Dordt College Press) $14.00 I reviewed this with great gusto a few weeks back, here, having first mentioned it when it came out in February. I mention it now, here, for two reasons. Firstly, if you are thinking about starting up a Bible study group in the fall, and in the next weeks will be wanting to do a certain book of the Bible, you know we have tons of inductive studies, small group discussion guides, and Bible study booklets. This small study of Ruth is a step better—not a full commentary, of course, but offering insight one won’t find in a fill-in-the-blank job. And, Rev. Wauzzinski brings together a few urgent themes in this one study that we’ve noted these last weeks. It places Ruth in the broader history of redemption, seeing how Christ’s own Kingdom is pre-figured in this ancient Hebrew text, and it has this all-too-rare explication about justice, charity, and public righteousness that, for those with eyes to see, is really there in the text. So many Bible studies focus on our own personal faith and the inner journey that they fail to see the whole-life implications of God’s story as it is translated into our own time. This is a Kingdom book, for sure!
The author, handsomely shown above, will be visiting our bookstore from the mid-West on Tuesday of this week, sans Geneva gown, I hope.
If you want an autographed copy, now is the time to ask.
We will honor the 20% discount we offered before, but if you order before Tuesday, we can get it autographed for you.
Just tell us to whom to make the inscription. He can sign ’em any way you’d like.
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