Friday, July 29, 2016

remarks on "God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits"

              One of the great 'mysteries of the faith'  for Christians involves the Trinity. The concept of a triune God is difficult for most people, including pastors, to understand.  For years people have used apples, eggs,  and even balloons to try to teach about how the 3 persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and are actually one. Sometimes it seems to work , and other times the student is left just as  confused as he or she was before the lesson.  Even the simple explanations of "3-in-purpose--one  in essence" or "Creator-Redeemer-Sanctifier" tend to  is less than helpful in helping people truly understand.

                Because of the lack of understanding, many pastors tend to gloss over the 3rd person in the Trinity: Holy Spirit.  We pray "Our Father who art in Heaven". We celebrate Jesus' birth, life, death, and especially the Resurrection, but Holy Spirit tends to be forgotten, except on Pentecost Sunday, or in Pentecostal churches.  In fact in his Prologue, the author comments on a survey "which gives credence to [a] controversial claim that " most Baptists are Unitarians who simply have not gotten around to denying the Trinity."

                Against this background of misunderstanding and confusion when it comes to an understanding of the Trinity,  Malcolm Yarnell III, professor of systematic theology, among other titles, has written God the Trinity: Biblical Portraits (B&H Academic, 2016).  He has two stated questions that he hopes to answer in  this book: Is the Doctrine that God is Trinity a biblical doctrine? And is it a doctrine that is necessary to believe?

                Although the writing style is overly academic for a casual read, the subject matter almost demands such an approach.  At times though, it seemed to me that Yarnell was even more wordy than the academic approach calls for.  A few rabbit trails could have been left out. Especially helpful were footnotes instead of endnotes especially when the note did more than cite someone else's work.

                Yarnell addresses 8 different scriptures that describe the Trinitarian nature of God, how the 3 persons work together, and ends with a portrait of the God who will come. In each of his portraits, he is able to make a strong case for his thesis that the Trinity is Biblical doctrine, and that it is necessary to grasp that doctrine in order to  fully experience,  appreciate, and understand  the Gospel Story.

                The epilogue is also especially helpful: after a careful exegesis of each text, the author has drawn several "general theological conclusions"  concerning the trinity. I mention this because all too often the tendency is to skip over things like introductions, prologues and epilogues.  Sometimes that works, in this case, the reader would truly be missing an important piece of the overall work.  Since Yarnell use portraits, painting, art as metaphor, let me putting it this way. Skipping over the prologue and the epilogue would be like looking at a painting and not seeing any yellow or red.

                If you're looking for some light reading, this is not the book for you. If you are truly interested in learning more about the Trinitarian God, this book is a must read. 5/5

                I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was not required to post a positive review. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

BORN THIS WAY, Season Two, premieres July 26 on A&E

The season two premier of Born this Way will be tomorrow, Tuesday, July 26th (10/9c) on A&E network. Watch the season 2 trailer HERE.  

Most of us know someone who has Down Syndrome,  or at least know of someone. And most of us, until we really get to know them for the lovable person that each of them, created in God's image is, are a little nervous about being around them. And then we come to love their smiles, their antics and the generally upbeat way they have of looking at life and the people around them.

When we were pregnant with our son, the geneticist encouraged us, because of our age, to have all sorts of tests done. In the end we opted to not do any of them, because after all, what difference would it make?  But the ‘threat’ was there: you’re at risk, what if there is a problem with this child? Don’t you want to know early enough to do something about it?  But the days of locking away in the attic anyone who is slightly different are gone, and we said no.  Several months later our son was born without any of the conditions that older parents, according to the experts, should be worried about.

Fast forward a few years, and our son is taking a martial arts class. One day there was a new student. According to her aunt, she is high-functioning, but still has issues. And issues she may have, but she also has a smile as wide as you can imagine, and a heart as big as all outdoors.  She still, after 7 or 8 years hasn’t learned, or won’t learn to tie the belt to her karate uniform, (she prefers to tie it in a bow), and she gets a little lazy at times when it comes to the warm-up exercises. But start collecting canned food for a food pantry, and she gets everyone in the family to contribute…and remembers the next year that it should be time to start collecting again.

But beyond that, she’s a typical teenager, and has been for the past 20 years. She has dreams and goals, she likes certain singers, movies and TV shows. She has her favorite foods, and knows what she likes. In other words, she’s much like the group of friends from Born this Way.
The show follows a group of friends, and their parents, through a variety of situations, planning for trips and outings (and having to encourage them to hurry up and get ready) to discussions about dating and how sometimes we need to work for the things we want. It’s funny to notice where something has been censored, but often the filters that society deems necessary for polite company are missing. Sometimes I wished we all were missing those filters…at least you would know what people are really thinking).

It’s obviously not all joy when it comes to Down Syndrome—there are certainly causes for concern, when someone you love doesn’t function at the same capacity as the majority of society, so A&E is doing us all a favor with this show that points out some of the joys and challenges of Down’s kids and their families. Besides giving us a peek at the reality that Down’s families live every day, we all learn to see the disadvantaged in a new light: a light that says “I want to be loved, I want to be accepted, I want to be included, and oh by the way, I want to be your friend, and what an amazing friend I can be. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jesus didn't say a boring, safe, little life!

A basic premise of this book, one that I need to hear and be reminded of, is that Holy Spirit is not a thing, but rather the 3d person of the Trinity, Leon Fontaine argues a strong case that within many local Churches, Holy Spirit is not given the credit that He is due. The Spirit Contemporary: Unleashing the Miraculous in Your Everyday World, ( WaterBrook, 2016) is full of examples of how Holy Spirit works, and some practical tips for learning how to recognize what He is doing.
Fontaine starts with a question: Why read this book?  And he wastes no time, and pulls no punches in answering his own question. "It's time that we stop living boring, safe, little Christian lives and start thinking differently about God, about life and about ourselves".   In effect it's  time to unleash the power of Holy Spirit, it's time to learn how to communicate the good news with non-believers in contemporary ways. Nobody is suggesting that the message be changed, what Fontaine suggests is that we get back to basics, and learn how to share that message in ways that are meaningful and relevant in today's culture and context.
Fontaine comes from a Christian background, but as a young man, newly trained and hired as an EMT, he quickly found that evangelizing, and even prayer, on the job was frowned upon - even though urgency was often a prime factor. So he learned to adapt to the situation and how to open doors to the necessary conversation. Some of his methods are found in this book. Along with some of the miracles which are credited to the work and intervention of Holy Spirit.
I enjoyed reading this book, and it gave me much to think about, but I have to confess that many times I'm one of those people living the boring, safe, little Christian life, so my 'comfort zone'  was immediately challenged. I wish I had the ability to see Holy Spirit at work in as many ways as Fontaine does, but in the meantime I need to learn to stretch myself. That being said, for my taste there were too many personal examples and not enough scripture to support his premise.  As I said I may need to learn to stretch myself just  a little more.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

How will you greet those who are seeking refuge?

                Seeking Refuge sounds like it might be the title of a novel, and then you read the  subtitle: On the Shores of the Global Refugee Crisis, and decide that this book is probably more than fiction.  And as you read you quickly come to realize that this must be true because there is no way anyone could make this up. Seeking Refuge , (Bauman, Soerens and Smeir;, Moody Publishers, 2016, is the all too true story of an ongoing crisis.
            The crisis is a global crisis and shows no signs of slowing down. It starts in one country and quickly moves to another. People on one continent are affected, and soon they move to another continent, and eventually some move to still a third continent.  Seeking Refuge is the story of 60 million people who have been forcible displaced from their home.  For many of us immigration, migration and Refugee resettlement  is a just political term, a nightmare, full of misconceptions and misperceptions. But within the pages of this book we are confronted with the harsh reality. Several harsh realities in fact.  
            There is a crisis, and we want someone else to deal with it, after all, how does it affect me, but then our cities become places of refuge and we can no longer hide from the facts.  The authors ask us to think biblically about migration: Jesus was a refugee. His family was forced to flee their homeland because of a tyrannical government ( Matthew 2:13-15). And for those who do read the Bible, there were many heroes of the faith who left their homeland and traveled to another land.  Throughout both Testaments of the Bible, there are admonitions on how to treat the alien, the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee. And it should come as no surprise to read that they are to be treated kindly and with love, while expecting them to respect the laws of the land to which they have migrated.
            Christians should be aware of and take into account the biblical perspective on forced migration. And then comes the next step. Put a human face on the story. And the stories in this book are markedly human.
            Of course when dealing with the unknown, there are fears, and the authors also address that fact, along with some ways to alleviate those fears.  Facing the fears is a first step on a wonderful journey that moves us from fear to seeing those who migrate here as good neighbors, friends and sometimes even family.
            That's on a personal level. But maybe we need more than that.  This is a global problem, a global crisis that needs to be addressed on a larger level.  In this country the President has raised the limit on the number of UN approved refugees, all of whom have been thoroughly vetted by several  Departments of our Government. The president can raise the limit, but he is not going to personally meet an additional 15, 000 refugees, get them settled, help them find their way around, teach them how to shop and bank here in the US.  So this is an excellent opportunity for the Church to get involved. You or your church can contact World Relief or (as in my case in Utah) Catholic Community Services, and learn how to be a volunteer, learn how to get involved in this rewarding endeavor.
            The authors provide several practical opportunities to  help, and then offer a word of caution. As helpful as we want to be, sometimes we have to be careful that our helping doesn't hurt. Doesn't hurt those we are trying to help, or doesn't  hurt the one helping.  It's sometimes much easier to 'do for' than to help others learn how to do for themselves, and in this process of helping, it's important that the families being helped learn how to be self sufficient rather than dependent.
            Individuals step up, the Church takes the lead, or at least a major role, and yet the global crisis continues. Why? What are the root causes and what needs to be done?  It's easy to point a finger at a hurricane, an earthquake, a corrupt government, or even a war. But those things all happen in many places and people get on with their lives. What's the root cause? Often it's injustice, it's a deliberate disregard for the poor and disenfranchised.  Earthquakes and hurricanes destroy cheaply constructed buildings - the contractor takes shortcuts to line his own pockets.  Corrupt government officials get rich off of programs  designed to help the poor. And wars are generally about wealth and power, things that the lower classes generally don't possess.  Social injustice might be the root cause, so it's important to look for solutions. And that must be done at higher levels than the local church. Elections are coming, get informed, and then vote for those who take a reasonable stance on immigration and refugee resettlement.
            My prayer is that this book would galvanize governments, churches and individuals to reach out, to the strangers among us; but more importantly that the reasons, the root causes for the problem would be addressed, and the global crisis solved  once and for all.
Five Star rating 5/5

Friday, July 8, 2016

God's Word doesn't and hasn't changed

         When does truth change? Or does it? Perhaps what changes is how society perceives something according to an ever-changing set of cultural and contextual mores. In their book Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition ( B&H Academic, 2016) S. Donald Fortson III and Rollin G. Grams offer the idea that society’s view towards homosexuality may have changed to include legalization of same sex marriages, and the right of transgender people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with, but for the Christian, there is still the very real presence of God's Word which is unequivocal about the topic. Their premise is that the meaning of God's Word has not changed in the tens of centuries since it was written, and when it is compared with the traditions of peoples throughout history, things have not really changed until the last few decades. But what has really changed. Not God's word, not the facts of how homosexuality has been seen across the centuries, just how today's culture sees it.
                So we are forced to look at the fact that postmodernity and even modernnity have created a new paradigm. A culture that sees truth as a moving target.  Your truth may not resemble mine, but if it's valid for you, it's equally as valid and as true as what I might believe. The problem with that is God never authorized mankind to put their own slant on His Word.
                So this book, Unchanging Witness, looks at homosexuality from a variety of standpoints, and in doing so the authors find no reason to suppose that for the various millennia of Judeo-Christian tradition that rabbis, priests, pastors, scholars, and theologians have been misinterpreting God's Word as far as the comments, the prohibitions and the teachings concerning Homosexual activity.  I want to be very clear at this point. The authors are very sensitive to the many different approaches to  the LGBTQ movement, even within Christian churches who have identified as open and affirming, who focus on the commands to love one another to the exclusion of the various categories of sinful behavior that are found throughout Scripture, and express their opinions in a very respectful way. 
                The book is  divided into two parts: Part I includes discussions of the "Gay Christian Movement", Historic Christianity and Homosexual Practice (from the times of the Church Fathers, the Middle Ages, and during the Renaissance and Reformation. The authors move next to the "Modern Church and the Homosexual Crisis". This section includes discussion of approaches of Roman and Orthodox Catholics, Evangelicals and Mainline Denominations"
                Part II is a discussion of the Bible and homosexuality, and the authors address texts from both the Old and New Testaments.  In this section they also include information from extra-biblical literature about the prevailing views of homosexual practices in the surrounding societies at large.
                This is a very touchy subject in many churches, and many pastors have strong feelings one way or another about how to deal with issues relating to the LGBTQ population within the church and within the larger community as a whole. There is also an excursus concerning women and slavery, pointing out some major differences in the issues, and how it is not necessarily fair to say that just as the church's positions on women and slavery have changed, so is it time to change the prevailing thought on homosexuality.
                This is not necessarily an easy book to read, but it is certainly one that will make you think, and hopefully solidify your position on the topic. God's Word has not changed over the millennia, and the reader is forced to ask himself if the Word has suddenly changed now, and if so what else in Scripture that has been part of our theology across the years might also be subject to re-examination.
                Obviously the authors have their opinion on the subject, and that is that from the beginning there are scriptural prohibitions against homosexual behavior and activity. Usually laws are enacted because a certain type of behavior is causing a problem, in this case, God had ordered the people to go forth and multiply and that wasn't going to happen within same sex partnerships. So even though homosexual practices have been around for a very long time, and they manifest themselves in a variety of ways, it goes against God's created order.
                There is no hate, no animosity expressed here, just a careful examination of what God's unchanging and eternal Word says about a subject that is one that must be addressed  by local churches and members of their various congregations. This seems to be a call to remember that while Jesus loved sinners of every class and type, he did not encourage them to continue with their sinful behavior. As he told the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11) "has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin."
                Do you love someone enough to share the unchanging truth of God's Word as well as the good news?

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. I was not required to post a positive review. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

HillSong Let Joy Rise in theaters Sept 16, 2016

      If you've been a Christian for long, you've probably heard Hillsong, or at least one of their songs. This group from Australia has had an incredible journey over the past few years, and it's being documented in a Movie that will release on September 16th. "HillSong--Let Hope Rise".  An official trailer for the movie was released today and you can watch it here.

           If you're already a HillSong fan, you'll want to see this film, and chances are you're already a fan and don't know it: you've heard their songs on the radio, or perhaps even sung them in church.

     HillSong--Let Joy Rise, September 16th in a theater near you!