Unchanging Witness–A Book For Our Day

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This issue of homosexuality is the roaring issue on the doorstep of Christianity. That the world is embroiled in it is no surprise, but that some corners of Christendom are bowled over by it is.  The biggest shock of all is what is proclaimed to be biblical and historic in Christianity on the subject. That is why this new book by S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams is so timely, helpful, and important.

The task these scholars tackle with such aplomb is showing that homosexuality has always been biblically and historically wrong  in our Christian faith. They show in one succinct chapter how the gay movement has proceeded since it embarked upon a political path in the 1960s. Then the next 6 chapters show what all parts of Christianity has believed on the subject since the beginning with plenty of direct historical quotation and analysis. They may provide more than you will feel you need, but you will appreciate their careful labor.

The balance of the book examines the biblical passages mentioning homosexuality. They spend time mentioning every argument presented by pro-homosexual scholars. You see these other scholars have been incredibly unscholarly, careless, and even dishonest. Some may not like all that scholarly interaction, but this is a case where it’s needed appreciated.

A person can say they think homosexuality is acceptable because they choose not to accept the truthfulness of Scripture, but one cannot logically or honestly say the Bible supports homosexuality. These authors have put any Christians who study this subject in a great debt by so ably providing that proof.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

To Trump Or Not To Trump, That Is The Question

 

Well, that is a tough question. I’ve thought about it for a long time. Never in my life have I seen people who are a lot like me so torn. I’m Christian and conservative and the greater portion of my friends are too. If I expand my sample to my Facebook acquaintances who are proportionally about 90% Christian and conservative as well, I find the exact situation. They run from Trump-Is-The-Answer to Never-Trump. Worse, they are mad at those other Christians who are opposite of them—I mean really upset.

I’m a great microcosm of this newly divided group. I say newly divided because we have over the years, for the most part, been on the same page about presidential elections. Sure, we liked our options better some election cycles than others, but we have usually landed in the same place. Though we have been both bewildered and upset with Republican leadership multiple times, we have overwhelmingly voted for the Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan. I mean several of us were skeptical that John McCain shared our values, but we compared him to Barrack Obama and felt totally at peace with the lesser-of-two-evils argument. But that argument isn’t cutting it for all of us this time around.

When I say I’m a great microcosm of this group, I mean I have both thought about voting for Mr. Trump and not voting for him. Like others in this group, I’ve NEVER thought of voting for Mrs. Clinton. Still, I’ve never thought Mr. Trump was the answer, I’m positive that he shares neither my Christian nor my conservative values, and he lacks the temperament to be a leader. So while I’ve never for a moment thought he’s just what our country needs, I was at one point deciding to vote for him. At other points I had decided I would not.

Why would someone who has been a Christian as long as I have suddenly vacillate so much? Why would someone who has been so sure of the right answer in every presidential election of his lifetime be all over the place this time? Even worse, why would someone who is a pastor, however unreasonable this expectation may be, not have the explanation this election cycle? In my defense, I am not alone.

The problem with deciding is not one of a lack of intelligent arguments. Both sides have given great fodder for thought. Here’s the best, from my point of view, from each side:

Vote for Trump

  1. The Supreme Court.

Most believe that we have a better chance of molding the Supreme Court a more conservative direction with Trump. Not that the Supreme Court has done either Christianity or conservatism much good in my lifetime, it is still important since there will likely be a few vacancies in this term. We know that Mrs. Clinton will nominate people who continue the moral collapse of our nation. With Mr. Trump, there is at least a chance. I fear he will fail us here, perhaps by nominating his liberal sister, but it is still a shot with none on the other side.

  1. The Lord Doesn’t Advance His Work Through Government, So Vote for the One Least Antagonistic to Christian Work No Matter His Or Her Morals.

That makes a lot of sense. The Lord works in spite of government and almost oblivious to it. Think how little Jesus had to say about Rome. He never did any political crusades. When I first heard that argument from a pastor in Ohio it really got my wife and I thinking.

  1. Mr. Trump Has Never Said Anything Against Parental Rights.

I’ve not actually heard this one, but it concerns this father of six homeschooling children very much. Mrs. Clinton and her it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child attitude strongly feels that the state owns the children. She has believed it her whole career. Even Mr. Obama hasn’t attacked on this front. Perhaps he wanted to and ran out of time, but Mrs. Clinton will likely make an attempt even if Congress, I believe, will keep her in check on this one.

On the other hand:

Don’t Vote for Trump

  1. In a Choice Between Two Evils Choose Neither

When I first heard this from some pastor friends in Ohio, it really got me thinking again. I already alluded to how we have been comfortable in previous elections with the lesser-of-two-evils argument, but perhaps there was a clear lesser of two evils. Can we argue that there must always be a lesser of two evils that we must pick? What if our choices were Hitler and Stalin? Would the theory hold? Some of us have sensed a Hitleresque attitude in Mr. Trump with his trust-me-I-will-fix-it attitude with no details but himself. On the other hand, Mrs. Clinton could be the Stalin with her far-left ideas. (I realize there’s a little exaggeration here, but you get the idea).

  1. Christians Will Lose Their Moral Authority In Supporting Mr. Trump.

A missionary friend shared an article that is far better than what I could say (here). He reminded us how all of us lambasted President Bill Clinton for his lies and affairs in office. We all said then that he lost his moral authority to be President. Now we support Trump? When the next President that we don’t like does greatly immoral things, how can we say anything after Mr. Trump has bragged on his adulteries in this election? This may end up being the most important issue of all as it actually undermines Christianity itself and its voice in our generation.

  1. As Long As We Stay In A Two-Party System, We Need To Force The Republican Party To Get Back On Track.

We are blowing an easy layup this election. Mrs. Clinton is one of the most beatable candidates the Democrats have ever put up with her email scandal and various other gross illegalities. The Republicans need to know that we are true to our principles and not their party. They had better put up a candidate whose principles we can support. In other words, the decades ahead are more important than one 4-year term.

So What Are We To Do?

I’ve seen Christians I respect on both sides. I’ve seen pastors I admire on both sides. I’ve seen missionaries who really love the Lord passionately on both sides. I suspect those who read this article are made up of some on both sides.

Ted Cruz got it right—vote your conscience. I’ll only add that we carefully seek the Lord. I’ve made an emphasis in my ministry for soul liberty and this is a great place for it. It’s time we realize that those who love the Lord are greatly divided here and both sides have good arguments, so the attacks on each other should stop. We should stop accusing those who support Mr. Trump with being immoral. We should also stop threatening those who cannot with supporting Mrs. Clinton.

To Trump or not to Trump? Just take the Lord into the voting booth with you and pray that He will make something good out of our disastrous choices.

 

 

 

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Introduction to World Christian History by Derek Cooper

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This book serves as a short introduction to Christian history and actually covers that territory in 250 pages. It’s other unique feature is the extent it goes to prove that Christianity has a global rather than a western history.

The volume was successful in proving what we often forget–Christianity has had peak periods all over the world. I personally wasn’t aware how some areas, like, for example, the Far East, had periods of flourishing in Christianity. The history is presented in broad sweeps, but you could easily get the big picture and know where to pursue other studies.

Reading a broad introduction also made it easy to notice trends. I was amazed how getting close to any government often spelled a sudden destruction of Christianity. There was proof given too of how European countries that once were highly Christian are now  mostly secular.

The downside of the book is that it makes no distinction of anything ever called Christian. It passes no judgment except where western excesses were presented, or so it seemed to me. In an effort to make a global case, it was too threadbare in presenting American Christianity.

Still, it is a great book for a broad perspective and a global emphasis.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

God Has Spoken In His Son–A Great Theology on Hebrews

book God spoken

Peter O’Brien is one of the most respected scholars of our day contributing some of the most trusted commentaries we have including an outstanding one on Hebrews in the Pillar Commentary series.  Here he has expanded those studies that would have made the Introduction of his Hebrews commentary too long and especially delved into the theology of Hebrews. Unlike some such volumes that I have seen, he discusses what can actually be found in the text and mines its significance to grasping the unique and powerful Book of Hebrews.

Chapter One addresses God revealing His Son. He sees the clear tie to the Scriptures and even explains how Hebrews uniquely presents scriptural quotations. His reflections were powerful in this study. In chapter two he traces how Hebrews presents Jesus as the perfect High Priest. Jesus is not only superior, but His sacrifice is as well. The next chapter continues that thought to the salvation Jesus provided. He then discussed the people of God receiving this salvation.

He gave a huge chapter on the warning passages that make for fascinating reading no matter if you fully agree or not. Those passages are both unique and central to what Hebrews is giving us and I appreciated him drawing it out so well.

O’Brien continues his outstanding work here and I highly recommend this volume.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures–An Important New Book

book authority

Likely the most important book of its kind for this generation, this massive volume covers the doctrine of Scripture from every conceivable vantage point. Edited by the redoubtable D. A. Carson, this book maintains a consistently high level of scholarship. Though I did not read every page (I wanted to provide somewhat of a timely review),  I read much and was impressed throughout.

The volume begins with a spectacular introductory essay by Carson that was fascinating. He at once laid bare the lines of debate and an outline of the history. Starting a trend that carried through the book, he named names. He was never ugly, but he put people with positions and then evaluated positions in this successful romp through the issues.

Next comes nine chapters on historical topics. There might be more information than you feel the need to know, but in any future historical questions you will likely find your answers here.

The heart of the book was chapters 11-24 on biblical and theological topics. These articles were excellent even if certain parts were somewhat esoteric. Still, the great subjects were fully addressed. The next section on philosophical and epistemological topics carried the theological discussion forward. The section on comparative religion topics was much less interesting to me, but that is likely a matter of taste. The book ends with Daniel Doriani encouraging us to think holistically and then some FAQ by Carson.

This book is a major publishing event. Pastors will find some that is helpful clarification, but some that is needless complication. We must remember, though, that the book is dedicated to scholarly concerns in addition to what is helpful to us. There were statements that I could not agree with in these pages, but this book is a presentation of the conservative position. To that end, it was just what was needed in our complicated days.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Bush by Jean Edward Smith (Presidential Bio Series)

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Here’s the first stab at a definitive biography of George W. Bush by a major biographer. I don’t think it will hold that title long if another famous biographer tries his hand, but it is first in that sense. It’s hard for me to classify this biography. On the one hand, the skilled hand of Mr. Smith is ever present, yet he makes blunders as well. I could hardly put the book down, yet I disagreed often and picked up on clear bias.

There is plenty of research, no character discussed is ever wooden, and you learn much about Mr. Bush’s personality. Still, Smith paints in broad strokes. He equates Bush’s distinct Christianity with a lack of sophistication, his penchant for “deciding” as reckless and brash, and his outlook, particularly on Iraq, a general naivety that continually led him astray.

Smith failed to see that perhaps that Christianity gave him a moral grounding that is often tragically missing in Washington. Right or wrong, he really meant well. His “deciding” was surely better than indecisiveness in horrific events. ( 911, Katrina, the Great Recession–Bush wasn’t a lucky man).When Smith outlined what Bush should have done, he at times looked like the naive one when he seemed to feel that his ideas would have flawlessly followed the script. No matter the plan, the players in Iraq and surrounding areas were the equivalent to having a tiger by the tail. We all learned that together.

When he suggests that Bush overreacted to 911, he doesn’t connect the dots to what he told us in this book–we all wanted to go fight somebody! The Democrats were ready too. A few started disagreeing when Iraq was brought up, but very few at the beginning.Even in this harsh assessment too, there is no doubt that Bush believed there were weapons of mass destruction. If you sincerely believed that to be true, what else could you have done? He writes as if 20/20 hindsight was at Bush’s disposal beforehand.

There’s criticism of his managing of his staff. What president didn’t have staff issues, or been guilty of listening too much to the most agreeable staff members. That’s the human element that always complicates management.

Bush had some failures for sure. Like most of us, often our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses come from the same component of our personality. It was likely true for Bush too. Amazingly, he quotes Bush admitting, to some degree, many of the very things Smith perhaps overemphasizes. I actually grew to appreciate Bush in places I had not before, especially in things like his handling of the mortgage crisis. We teetered on the edge of a crisis to rival the Great Depression and it called for measures that we might most of the time strongly disagree with. It’s almost 8 years later and Bush clearly got that one right.

As for the book, Smith tells us he thinks Bush is a horrible disaster in the first paragraph. (Was the editor asleep?) Forget building a case and convincing the audience over the course of the book. That crazy method put him on trial as much as Bush page by page.

So is this a great book? I closed it at the end more confident that Bush was a genuinely good man who gave it his all. I was further convinced that Bush would be a guy quite enjoyable to spend a day with. He’d defend his overall approach as it was a matter of principle to him, yet he would readily admit his mistakes, and he’d be a gracious host whether you agreed with him or not. I found that refreshing here in July 2016 as this book hits the shelves and we are in more danger than in Bush’s days and miss his magnanimous ways.

So I reached those conclusions and grew in appreciation of Bush while this book I couldn’t put down tried to convince me that he was a failure. Does that make it a five-star wonder or a one-star dud? I have no idea. I’ll be gracious like George W. Bush and give it 4 stars.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The World and the Word–An Introduction to OT

book world

This volume is a substantial, in-depth introduction to the Old Testament by respected scholars Eugene Merrill, Mark Rooker, and Michael Grisanti. You can tell it aims beyond basic, beginning study as it has a less flashy look (there’s a place for those too) and much text to digest.

Three chapters lay out in a helpful fashion the world of the Old Testament. Historical and cultural aspects presented here moor the Old Testament days for us.

Chapters 5-9 cover the text of the OT and how it has been studied. In the process, you get quite a history of trends and the various critical methods that the OT has been subjected to. While some of us would find little value in that subject, it was written with purpose–to show how much OT study has run off the track with dubious critical approaches. So many available OT Introductions are infected with those methods and this serves as a powerful corrective.

Chapters 10-44 cover the books of the Old Testament. Some of the issues addressed above are discussed again in regards the individual book. Further the contents and theology are effectively presented. Though charts and maps are few, those presented are excellent.

To my mind, this is a fine asset to have and I plan to consult it in individual book study in the days to come.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Josephus–Carta’s Illustrated The Jewish War

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Carta Jerusalem keeps finding ways to put their treasured maps into the hands of Bible students. This book is especially creative in that regard. Most of us are very familiar with Josephus and here we have the popular translation by William Whiston of Josephus’ The Jewish War.  What makes this classic new and vibrant is the Carta maps profusely interspersed at appropriate places in the text. 

An added jewel in an introduction by noted New Testament scholar R. Steven Notley that really helps us get hold of the life, writings, and importance of Josephus.

Pictures of places add even more as does a users’ guide for The Carta Bible Atlas and The Sacred Bridge, which are the best in the field and are loved by many of us.

This is a publishing event and a real asset to have!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets

book prophets

Here is a highly-respected reprint in paperback of a title by Gordon McConville on the Old Testament prophets. Covering both the Major and Minor Prophets, this book gives the extra coverage needed for an in-depth study of these special books of the Old Testament.

His brief Introduction establishes the issues involved in beginning study of the prophets and their place in the Bible. Then he launches into a chapter for each prophetic book of the Old Testament. Chapter length corresponds well to length of book.

He begins each study with a discussion of date and destination. Then he will delve into a critical interpretation of the book that will discuss several topics of the book at hand and provide something of a history of interpretation. Next he jumps into structure and outline and covers the contents of the book. He works around to theological themes and concluding topics. He gives a handy list for further reading too.

The book is helpful. He seems to have a little too much fascination with things like form criticism that many Bible students find of little value, but otherwise you will find help. It’s not one the flashy introductions aimed more at beginning students as it aims at someone with some theological training under his or her belt. I consider it a handy volume to add to my shelves.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

The Truth About Being Always Positive

a smile

We’re told to always be positive. We’re to take it so far that we should never say anything negative. Some not only say it’s the right thing to do, but also the Christian thing to do. But we must ask: is that true?

If your options are: 1) be joyful and look for the positive, or 2) be grumpy and find the bad in every good, then your choice is clear. No one likes the person who sees the dark cloud beyond every rainbow, or the person who finds pain in every pleasure, or the person compelled to never suffer alone yet who seems to always suffers much. Still, does that mean nothing negative should ever be thought or said? Is there a better point of balance on this subject?

An article entitled “The Harm of Swarm” by Christine Rosen got me thinking. She was writing about “smarm.” That word (either as a noun or a verb) has to do with “behaving in an ingratiating way in order to gain favor.” Swarm was never a familiar word to me as in my childhood we preferred the phrase “laying it on thick.” Still, we’ve all seen it. Likely, some salesperson we’ve met along the way first comes to mind.

In our day it extends far beyond sales. Some websites have said only positive things can be shared, and even some review sites now only accept positive reviews. Social media naturally lends itself to this approach too. I’m glad my wife only shares on Facebook some nice thing I’ve done instead of those days she is convinced I’m a moron who needs to take a long walk off a short plank. Of course, no good could ever come from hurting those we love and live in close proximity to and a positive Facebook presence makes complete sense.

You might be surprised at the research the article I referenced shared about people reading their Facebook news feed. Studies have shown that many people are discouraged or even depressed by reading their mostly positive Facebook news feed ( they may even “hide” the few negative friends on their list). Why does that flow of positive not have a positive emotional impact on many people?

Because it’s not real! (I believe you could enjoy Facebook if you kept your head on straight here). You see all those perfect pictures and posts, those lovely couple posts, or those awesome children pictures, and you compare that to your own imperfect life and somehow you feel worse.

That article goes on to show how it corrupts us politically and filters through society, but I was thinking of how it affects our Christian lives.

We are fragile people for sure. Too much negativity aimed straight at us will soon put us over the edge. I know that I won’t find you helpful or caring no matter your intentions if you bombard me with all that’s wrong with me. I assume I’m not too unique in that regard. On the other hand, even the Bible suggests that their are times for “the wounds of a friend.” Thoughtful prayer, careful word choices, and checked motives are essential to pull this off for good. Many of us well understand the balance in this instance.

The danger of allowing yourself only to live in a world of positive spin, however, is that you more and more leave reality. Then those efforts to rid yourself of unpleasant fear backfires because there is nothing quite as scary as the unknown. It’s just in this case that it’s an unknown of your own creation.

For example, we have had much horrible news in regards to the morals of our land recently and any thinking Christian knows what that means before the Lord. Some even limit what they allow themselves to hear about it because the prospect of persecution or God’s judgment is just too horrifying to contemplate. But is that the best way to manage the fear?

Think of these two options and decide which is really best: 1) Don’t read articles or watch stories of these latest cultural disasters at all to avoid thinking about it–it’s bad, you know, so I don’t want to think about it, or 2) gather information of what happened including the long-term spiritual ramifications and then from the perspective of reality (not excessive pessimism but true present realities) seek out the positive realities–God still reigns and Christianity often thrives in horrid times– and form a spiritual plan for yourself and your loved ones. Is this question not the ultimate no-brainer for a Christian?

This is not to deny that there might be an occasional day that I don’t need to think about the bad news. Maybe I just need to listen to birds sing and watch the children play for a day or two to bring the necessary balance back to my heart and mind. That approach, though, does not have me hiding in non-reality to fix a fear that will only grow in an environment of an unreal world. Truth is always your best choice.

Again, we are not talking about the negative person who spins events until there’s a goblin behind every bush and a conspiracy in every news item. We are talking about an honest look. We are talking about being real. You not only need to be a real person, but you need to face a real world. Perhaps our timing isn’t great in our country as we are clearly at that unpleasant moment of our history that is a jolt downward.

Still, this honest look will not hurt me. It will prepare me. The cost of carelessness with my Lord just got much greater. With that knowledge I can find the comfort that His grace is always the superior of the darkest times. And that is far better comfort than the cult of always being positive.