I swore I wasn’t going to dignify the foolishness about Harold Camping and his dumb promises about the end of the world, but I couldn’t resist posting a facebook video clip of Bruce Cockburn’s lovely song “The Last Night of the World.” It seemed a good excuse to share my appreciation of Cockburn’s artistry (and, not a bad exercise: if it really was the last night of the world, what would you do differently?)
â€¨â€¨But now, I can’t help myself. I keep thinking about this odd weekend. I won’t rant and rave but I will name some books that, well, come to mind. And we’ll offer you some deals to hopefully get you to place an order or two.
Firstly: I don’t need to tell our readers that we believe deeply that the Bible presents us with great news that, in Christ, through His atoning death and bodily resurrection, God in God’s mercy is reconciling and restoring and redeeming all things; God is rescuing the cursed cosmos, not destroying it. It is this world that God so loves, after all. It isn’t fully helpful to say we “go to heaven” for eternity because Jesus is, in fact, coming back, (as, in the grand Biblical metaphor, a refiners fire) truly making “all things new.” Matthew 19:28 and Ephesians 1:10 puts succinctly what is explained in Colossians 1 and Romans 8 and imagined in the new creation poetry prophecied in Isaiah, all finally pointing to a (re)new(ed) sky and Earth, promised in Revelation 21 and 22. This “all things new” newness, as Al Wolters explains in the book that is one of our true all time favorites, Creation Regained: Biblical Basis for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans; $14.00) does not tell us that God is making a planet brand new but re-newed or restored; God is healing the planet, not bringing us a new one. (The Hebrew in Isaiah 65:17 is similarly about re-newing, for instance.) This approach has been vital to our founding vision here at the shop and has been a topic of much conversation over the years.
We can get a nice yet provocative little glimpse into the implications of this in Richard Mouw’s fantastic book When the Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem (Eerdmans; $14.00), a book which I cannot recommend more heartily. If you haven’t read it, trust me—it is wonderfully interesting, clear, and helpful. You will understand our bookstore and vision here so much better if you absorb its insightful Biblical vision.
Anybody care to chime in on a “comment” here at Booknotes? Am I right that this is eye-opening and thoughtful Bible study?
For those really wanting to study this, we surely recommend N.T, Wright’s Surprised By Hope (HarperOne; $24.99 or the very excellent DVD series by the same name.) For one you may not have heard of, we have a rare little book imported from overseas called The Future Great Planet Earth: Good News About the Future of the Earth According to the Bible by Dutch Bible scholar Wim Rietkerk (Good Books; $9.95.) [We only have a few of these left and may not be able to fill orders after we run out.]
I suspect you might think that my fascination with new creation and the Big Hope of Christ reigning over a really restored cosmos is quirky or less than central to ponder. It is my experience, though, that once one gets this–all things new, or “every square inch” as Kuyper put it— all other aspects of Christian discipleship—work and calling, evangelism, worship, the Christian mind, the arts, social concern, work for civic renewal, interest in science, racial justice and the like (not to mention creation care itself!) and a healthy approach to spirituality all can more easily fall into place.
What if media outlets and religion reporters (and responsible Christian bloggers and preachers, in fact) pointed people to this kind of stuff as they scrambled to denounce Mr. Camping’s nuttiness? These next days while people are still talking about this remain an open window to share what the Bible really says about the great hope we have!
Another great way to more fully grasp the promised restoration of all things—the continuity between this world and the next, so to speak—is in Michael Witmer’s very nice book, Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why All That You Do Matters to God (Zondervan; $16.99.) I love it and believe it would be eye opening to nearly anyone in ordinary churches of any sort; his style is particularly warm and evangelically-minded, though, so there is nothing fishy. There are few demanding portions, but most is quite accessible and uplifting. The study questions are excellent and give plenty of food for thought and next steps for this radically all-inclusive way of life.
For those wanting a more mainline denominational study most specifically about eschatology, you might want to pick up Lutheran Biblical scholar Barbara Rossing’s popular critique of Left Behind rapture theology called The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Basic Books; $15.95.)
Okay. So I don’t buy that rapture stuff, and don’t think that the most reasonable, faithful, and historically-accepted way of reading the texts allow for that. I wish the news reports wouldn’t have assumed, as many did, that the only thing wrong with Camping’s agenda was his date-setting and over-confidence. I don’t think orthodox believers should concede that that was the only problem; he is just way, way off on a whole lot of stuff about a faithful way of seeing history, our place in the world, and God’s intent and promises…
I think we have regrets about the weekend End fiasco because, as Gabe Lyons nicely put it on Good Morning America, this stuff distracts us from our real purpose and work, from being busy serving God and neighbor. Some evangelicals (although actually fewer than you might think, I’d say) have allowed end-times speculations, bizarre interpretation of Daniel and Revelation, and weird methods of counting of numbers and names in the Bible to determine who the anti-Christ might be, to distract them from serious missional engagement. I hate to sound snide about it–and I pray that I do not–but sometimes when well-meaning customers come in the story asking for books of “prophecy” (like is American in the ends times, a la John Haggee, say) I direct them to Haggai commentaries. Spend some time with Amos or Habakkuk, I sometimes suggest, if you want prophecy. Eugene Peterson’s wonderful and slightly revised Run With the Horses (IVP; $15.00) is a fabulously rich and easy-to-read set of meditations on Jeremiah. God’s prophets spoke into their times, calling for social reform and holiness and justice and cultural repentance, they didn’t just invite people to try to predict the future. How can we help folks get that?
< br />Oddball religion isn’t very attractive and, frankly, minimizes the legitimate Biblical teaching about judgement. Camping is easily dismissed, but a God who, as the creed puts it, will return to judge the quick and the dead, is not. In our effort to distance ourselves from Camping and his ilk, we laugh him off, and maybe lose an opportunity to create a meaningful reputation of people who do, indeed, have a high regard for the Kingship of Christ, know that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and wants to promote holiness–social and personal–because we desire to be true agents of authentic righteousness. We shudder to think that Camping confuses people about judgement, but he is right in some basic sense, as the creed affirms.
Still, the best way to even talk about judgement or wrath is to first earn the right to be heard by doing the good works that Jesus told us to do. To need to be ready to explain our hope (as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3) suggests that somebody might actually ask us: why do you seem so hopeful in light of the dreary evidence of our cultural malaise? What would it mean to live as people who are asked that? (Why else do we have to be ready to explain that hope, unless we are raising eyebrows and provoking folks to wonder what we have going on! This presumes the opposite of a doomsday theology!) The aforementioned Mr. Lyons has documented how younger evangelicals are themselves eager for such a principled and wholistic faith, who want to be known as hopeful restorers, contributors to cultural re-integration, not turning into the cranky critics (of their parents left wing or right wing or disengaged religion.) Maybe his book The Next
Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Doublday; $19.99) would be the perfect antidote to the weirdness of Camping’s camp. (It was mostly the strength of this book, and his giving voice to a new generation of culturally-engaged younger evangelicals, that inspired ABC to call him and invite him on air over the weekend.) Or, how about using those “Q Group Studies” DVDs I posted about a week or so ago that he produced? Talk about responsible, moderate, thoughtful, socially-active and culturally-engaged discipleship. Talk about real world spirituality. If our churches were more known for this sort of stuff, that would be on the nightly news, not some sad old radio preacher who has little to say that is wise or good or beautiful or true. If you feel like you need to do some “catch up” ball, showing your community of faith and neighbors (and especially younger adults) that you’ve got a better picture of faith than what was on the news over the weekend, get these going in your group. You’ll be glad you did.
Of course, the flamboyantly bad witness of preacher Camping has not been the only black eye for conservative Christians these days. There is a cottage industry of books against the Christian right the last few years, some of them more alarmist than called for, some more polemical than insightful, and several more bellicose and intolerant than the right-wingers they are debunking. Yet, a bit of helpful critique of the dead-ends of socially-active fundamentalists and evangelicals is called for, especially if we tend to dismiss Camping’s crowd as a really fringe cult.
So, we admit that there have been others who have presented the watching world with some pretty sad stuff, and we should reflect on it from time to time. â€¨â€¨Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics by Jonathan Dudley (Crown; $21.99) is a fascinating new study that might help us right about now. Dudley is a young author, a science graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids and a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School. From abortion to gay marriages to evolution to the ethics of stem cell use, the last decade was full of hot-button culture warring. How did the science, and the politics of this science, develop as it did, and why? And how would a young man coming of age in the evangelical sub-culture that esteemed the politics of Jerry Falwell and James Dobson come to conclude that their views are fatally flawed? â€¨â€¨Religion observer and eloquent reader and writer Phyllis Tickle says
Hands down, Broken Worlds is the most insightful, clear-eyed, and popularly useful overview to date of why and how evangelicalism has come to be such a powerful and intractable political and doctrinal bloc in American affairs…Written in vivid, conversational style, Broken Words also carries within it the gentleness of affection and familial courtesy, for Dudley was himself reared evangelical. There is no meanness of spirit here, no clanging of swords. There is simply an urgent demand that we look now and accurately at how politics has led many among us to reversals of our historic faith and practice , and, ultimately, to divisive and destructive civil politics and prejudices.
Dale Martin is a professor of religious studies at Yale and he writes,
Jonathan Dudley has rendered a great service with this brilliant book. By taking on the use by social conservatives of both science and scripture to push their agenda…Dudley exposes the inconsistencies and contradictions in their claims as well as their methods of interpretation and argument. The remarkable aspect of Dudley’s book is its astonishing juxtaposition of scientific and religious knowledge and sensibilities. Dudley is equally educated in theology, biblical studies, and biological sciences. The combination is unusual and notable; the writing accessible and elegant.
I do not think this interesting book is the final word on these contentious issue, how the evangelical right has aided contentiousness by failing to be adequate in science, Bible or theology. I haven’t finished it myself, so don’t even know if I agree with it all. But who cares? It is making me think and offering some context and perspectives to consider. I do agree that it is a valuable contribution and might be well worth reading with a friend or book group.
Perhaps we might supplement our somber reflections on “what went wrong” with the good news that, in fact, Biblically-informed folks have done much, much (much!) good in Western civilization. The the ordering of thought about the world derived from the Bible has allowed for the development of science and democracy and medicine. Who better to remind us of that than a person of color, born in the sub-continent of India, of Hindu descent who has studied various worldviews—Eastern, secular, and Christian?
Vishal Mangalwadi has been a person of great interest to me for years; we have imported books of his from Indian presses, in fact, as he has written with great passion and authority about the relationship of Biblical truth and
social reform. Some think this gentleman activist is the “Francis Schaeffer of India” because he has brought together the uniquenesses of a Christian worldview, shaped by solid theology, into a wide-as-life cultural engagement, and a passion for both evangelism and social justice. He has studied in ashrams and in his countries leading secular universities–and spent part of a year at Schaeffer’s Swiss L’Abri. In fact, after his studies there, Mangalwadi returned to India to boldly serve the rural poor through several creative initiatives. His frontline engagement fighting oppression and corruption has landed him in jail, helped prevent a mass revival of widow-burning, and led to politically organizing peasants and lower-caste “untouchables.” Christianity Today has even called him “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” Which is to say, he has earned the right not only to be admired, but to be read.
Vishal Mangalwadi’s major new release, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created The Soul of Western Civilization (Nelson; $22.99) is the kind of handsome, big hardback that you want to spend much time with. It is broad in scope, lucid and insightful, learned and inspiring. I tend to shy away from books which are too quick to connect Western culture with Biblical religion, in part because Western culture, despite all the very good and helpful developments, has done way too much harm to be celebrated without qualification. And some who write books celebrating Western culture seem nearly tone-deaf to the cries of the poor, the deathly faith in progress that has ravaged the Earth, the way in which industrialization was successful on the backs of slaves and the destruction of native peoples. If one can’t say that, and mourn it adequately, then I simply don’t have stomach for the singing of accolades. In this fallen world, all historical development is a mixed bag, and it is nothing but hubris–or worse, ideological idolatry—to suggest otherwise.
Enter Dr. Mangalwadi. His recounting of Western history, and how it has been supremely and decisively shaped by Biblical truths—or truths derived from Biblical revelation—rings right. He realizes that not all that has happened in the West has been good. He realizes that not all that has happened in the name of Christ has been Christ-like. And he does not demonize other cultures or worldviews.
Yet, he has clear-headed insight about how ideas have consequences. It is not unfair to note (as Gandhi did, in fact) that the Hindu religion does not offer much incentive to work for historical change or social justice. The Biblical witness is one which teaches much about human dignity and freedom and justice; the consequences of these ideas have been wonderful. Follow these historic ideas down from Moses at Sinai and Jesus on the Mount and Paul at the Acropolis, through Augustine and Aquinas and Calvin and Witherspoon, Wesley and Wilberforce and you end up understanding Martin King and (or so it seems to me) our author, Vishal Mangalwadi.
Mangalwadi teaches us much about how the worldviewish assumptions about the nature of nature, the impact of time, the role of history, the ways of humans and institutions and other deep notions have played out in very significant ways creating the plausibility of what developed in Western history. It certainly isn’t just that people following Christ are nicer or more noble, but that their impulse to serve and to create meaning and to make a difference create a dynamic, a dynamic that yielded universities and hospitals and counter-voices to the narratives of colonialism and violence. Even at its worst, there were reformers, offering truer visions for church and state, business and culture, education and family. Notions of rights and responsibilities were decisive. Ideas about innovation and creativity were important. Art and science and new institutions blossomed. Mangalwadi tells the up-side of Western history with an inspiring verve that reminds us of the difference the Judeo-Christian faith has made. All of this because of the Holy Bible.
I value books like this and hope you do too. They are wise and informative, serious enough to be taken seriously but not so weighty or dense that you have grimace as you attempt to dutifully plow through them. I have noted before how much I respect this author and book and, in light of the bad press Christians have gotten because of this Camping nonsense, I thought it the perfect time to invite you to read it. And share it with others. Maybe send it to your local religion reporter if they did a less than helpful story on the end of the world stuff. It has some truly thrilling stuff in it and tons of historical insight. I’ll bet you will learn a lot, and be thankful.
Here are some of the endorsements that celebrate this volume.
“This is an extremely significant piece of work with huge global implications. Vishal brings a timely message.”
Ravi Zacharias, author, Walking from East to West and Beyond Opinion
“In polite society, the mere mention of the Bible often introduces a certain measure of anxiety. A serious discussion on the Bible can bring outright contempt. Therefore, it is most refreshing to encounter this engaging and informed assessment of the Bible’s profound impact on the modern world. Where Bloom laments the closing of the American mind, Mangalwadi brings a refreshing optimism.”
Stanley Mattson, founder and president, C. S. Lewis Foundation
“Vishal Mangalwadi recounts history in very broad strokes, always using his cross-cultural perspectives for highlighting the many benefits of biblical principles in shaping civilization.”
George Marsden, professor, University of Notre Dame; author, Fundamentalism and American Culture and The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship
“The Indian perspective is a breath of fascinating fresh air for American readers. I wish and pray that it finds readers willing to have their minds shaken and their hearts, yes, their hearts, stirred as well.”
James W. Sire, author, The Universe Next Door and Habits of the Mind
“This book is well overdue! If there is one book that has shaped Europe’s art, architecture, commerce, education, ethics, family life, freedom, government, healthcare, law, language, literature, music, politics, science, social reform, and much more, it is the Bible. Yet biblical illiteracy is almost universal in Europe today. We need Vishal’s clear, prophetic, Eastern voice to jolt us back to reality before our rich biblical heritage slips beyond our grasp.”
Jeff Fountain, director, Schuman Centre for European Studies, the Netherlands
“Vishal’s book is one of a kind–vast in scope, penetrating in its depth, and prophetic in its message. If we fail to listen and recover the importance of the Bible in personal and public life, then the sun may set on the West.
This book is a tract for our times and a must-read for anyone concerned with impacting our culture.”
Art Lindsley, author, C. S. Lewis’ Case for Christ
“With solid, detailed information, clarity of presentation, and logical force, Vishal Mangalwadi enables anyone willing to see how our ‘Western’ world depends entirely upon what the Bible, and it alone, teaches about reality and how to live.”
Dallas Willard, author, The Divine Conspiracy and The Great Omission
Want a great resource to share with someone–or use to brush up your own awareness—of just how influential a Christian worldview has been to the formation of Western arts, science, medicine, literature, human rights, politics and culture? For the last few years we’ve highly recommended a hardback called A Faith and Culture Devotional edited by the very smart and very energetic Kelly Monroe Kullberg and her partner-in-promoting wonder and goodness, college teacher and radio host, Lael Arrington. Here is the review I wrote when it first released. (Read it if you want to know more, if you wonder if this would be a good gift for someone you know.) Gladly, it is now available in paperback (bearing a slightly new titles and a very cool cover design.) It is now called Faith & Culture: The Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith (Zondervan; $14.99.) At 300+ pages, it is more than a bargain! We’d love for you to order some of them—-love it!
We think this daily reader is a great, great resource to have on hand, a remedial education on stuff that we may not know. It would be great for a smart high-school student going off to college, or a lovely bed-side reader for anybody with a good curiosity. Dozens of respected authors helped make this a reader-friendly anthology, useful and fun. Highly recommended.
We need not only ponder the way the Bible has shaped the best of Western ideals and culture, but we can happily learn about great saints and reformers. We can be inspired by great stories of the past. This is what Serious Times by James Emery White does.
But, also, can I put another plug in here for the fabulously well-done, New York Times best-selling (and Hearts & Minds award-winning) biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas? I’m sure you know, but it is called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nelson; $29.99) and we are fully proud to commend it. Or, we’re always eager to promote Metaxas’s equally acclaimed book on abolitionist and Christian social reformer, William Wilberforce, called Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (Nelson; $13.99.) What great and truly influential books they are! There are many books like this, and I have told you about this James Emery White one before. It is a favorite, and having met the author at the CCOs Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh last winter, I love it all the more. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day by James Emery White (IVP; $15.00) offers chapter-length introductions to a handful of Christian leaders, offering insights that we can apply to our own lives in our own serious times. What a great book, and what good insight about William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St Patrick St Benedict, C.S. Lewis, Mother Teresa and “the wild boar in the vineyard” the church reformer, Martin Luther.
MY HOPE–AM I NAIVE?
Would that the media might recall this sort of stuff every time a Harold Camping attempts to creates a media sensation or some less than admirable person of faith fouls up. Perhaps the reason they do not is partially because our local faith communities aren’t known for being these kind of people. Some churches just don’t help people be activists or reformers; they don’t promote character formation or create cultures of learning about our past or our present. Is it shallow of me (or hopelessly naive) to believe that books like this can help change us, help us become the people that are known (to use Gabe Lyons good phrase from Isaiah 58) “restorers”? How I long for a day, in the spirit of Matthew 5:16, when some discredited cult leader gets some national press, that local journalists and bloggers say, “Nope, we’re not going to cover that. Because we know the sorts of people that most Bible-believers really are. We know that those who hold to the fundamentals of the faith aren’t wacky. They are restoring this messed up world, and their faith in Christ is hopeful and good and admirable. These are the folks we’ll tell about instead.” To the extent that our selling these sorts of resources helps fuel that kind of thoughtful and active maturity, we are very, very glad.
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