Monday, October 29, 2012

REVIEW: Jesus a Theography

Jesus a Theography (Leonard Sweet and frank Viola, Thomas Nelson, 2012). A friend recently reminded me of a saying that I haven’t heard recently, but is still applicable: “to understand the God of the New Testament, it is necessary to understand the God of the Old Testament.” Likewise if we are to have a good understanding of Jesus the Christ, it helps to see Him foretold in the Old Testament. Viola and Sweet have done an outstanding job of making those connections that we might miss. At times I thought they were stretching just a little to make some of the connections, but for the most part they are spot on.
            Especially helpful are the times when they put the Old and New Testament (or as they call them the First and Second Testaments) texts side by side. This is not a biography, nor is it intended to be, but a commentary on the biblical signposts to Jesus. Along the way, the reader is gently nudged into the realizing that scripture is intended to be read in its entirety, and not as two separate parts.
            Reading as a Christian, I had no choice but to let scripture continue to transform me; as a pastor, I made lots of notes for future sermons and studies; and as a student, I was impressed with the detail and research that was done to be able to write this book.
            My only complaint is that the authors used end notes instead of footnotes. I find it much easier to look at the bottom of the page to check the references instead of flipping to the back of the book. Granted, many of the notes are simply indicating the particular scripture being quoted, but much of the commentary is interesting and informative and it would be a shame to miss it simply by not taking the time to refer to the end of the book.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the booksneeze review program in exchange for posting this review. I was not required to give it a favorable review. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: The Just Church

Biblically speaking, the Church, local churches, and individuals are supposed to care for the widows and orphans; and Isaiah foretold doom for those who ‘make unjust laws, issue oppressive decrees, deprive the poor of their rights, and withhold justice from the oppressed of [God's] people’.( Isaiah 10:1-2a, NIV). As we sit comfortably  in our pews on Sunday mornings, we know that the prophet wasn’t speaking about us. Or was He?  In The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-taking, Justice-seeking, Disciple-making congregation (Tyndale Momentum, 2012) Jim Martin of International Justice Mission (IJM) asks us to look at our role in helping see that the oppressed are allowed to experience the justice that has been withheld from them. From our vantage point of the western church, most of us think about slavery, sex trafficking, oppression and violence in terms of faraway places, but as Martin points out, they might be happening in our home towns too.
This is a call to come out of our comfort zone; to see the link between discipleship ( in terms of following Jesus) and the search for justice. We are warned that this is not for the weak-hearted, and that confronting evil can be dangerous, but counting the cost of discipleship is one of the things that as Christians we are called to do.  Martin shares some of the stories that point out the need for the Church to focus on justice; he describes the work of IJM, and invites us to consider how we might participate in the mission of justice.
Who wouldn’t want to help in such a noble cause? Of course most people get fired up and either want to write a check, and forget the sordidness of the situation or they want to board a plane to head to distant lands to ‘whup the bad guys’. Martin points out why neither of these solutions is the best to be found, and offers alternatives that can make a difference.  
Financial support is good, but IJM wants people and churches to engage in their mission, to focus on injustice, and to be an advocate for its elimination. The book has practical applications for churches to develop a justice mindset that allows them to define their mission, and ‘safely’ get involved with the agency.  (Martin points out that some of the oppressors are violent and dangerous people, so ‘safely’ is relative, but there are steps to take to avoid putting yourself deliberately, (and without safeguards) in harm’s way).
Martin suggests three stages to getting involved with IJM, or developing an ethos for the church that includes a passion for justice. There are several chapters with suggestions (and templates) to help the church Encounter: Meet the God of Justice in an unjust world; Explore: Discover the intersection (in your church) of Talent, Need and Call; and Engage: Move from fear to faith.
You may not like confronting the ugliness of the world, but you’ll definitely grow if you accept Martin’s challenge to re-examine your view of the link between discipleship and justice. 
Guaranteed to get your attention!