Book Review : Exploring Christian Theology

exploreWhen it comes to the word theology, images of dusty books, seminary classes, and Greek/Hebrew translation come to mind. Volumes upon volumes have been written in an attempt to explain and understand the nature of God. Dallas Theological Seminary professors Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel has offered a contribution with their joint effort, “Exploring Christian Theology; The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times”. The goal of their book is to make the very basic tenets of theology available to everyone. Their choice of doctrine to explore includes the church, sanctification, and end times study.

Exploring Christian Theology is written in two parts: Spiritual Growth and the Church (Holsteen) and End Times (Svigel). Each part is subdivided the same way containing the following elements: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past, and Shelf Space. What I enjoyed most were the Retrospect, High Altitude Survey, and Passages to Master sections in each part. The authors did a nice job of laying the proper historical groundwork so that a modern application could be made. Holsteen and Svigel’s commentary on the most prominent and familiar scripture passages within the section of writing was very helpful. Although this is a theology book, the authors chose not to use difficult language which makes the books very readable. This is a plus.

I had some minor issues with the book. The format of the book is counterproductive. It appears the authors desired to include as much information on their material as possible. The inclusion of unnecessary peripheral material takes away from what they set out to do. For example, there are 31 pages of quotes from authors, scholars, and church leaders from the time periods of their writing. The section on recommended and further reading could have been left out as well.

My greatest issue with this book is the simply the choice of subjects to be covered. Their goal was to cover the basic tenets of theology. For the time, space, and length of work the authors chose, I believe the three that were chosen are not the most basic of tenets. Doctrines such as Theology Proper (God), Christology (Jesus Christ), Harmatology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), and Pneumatology (Holy Spirit) would have been preferable if the goal was to provide the basics. As a pastor, if I were asked to recommend a theology book, it would not be this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Publishing as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Reason For Belief

reasonsIn our day and time, the need for solid Christian apologetics is great. With the continued rise of false religion, it is becoming more and more necessary for a clearly articulated and straight-forward defense of God’s Word to be put before this false teaching. In their new book, “Reasons for Belief; Easy to Understand Answers to 10 Essential Questions”, authors Norman Geisler and Patty Tunnicliffe have written such a book. In tackling these ten questions, they are in essence, dealing with the ten “straw-man” arguments that non-believers give as their “reasons” for unbelief. The ten challenges are:

1. “Real truth does not exist. ‘Truth’ is just truth to you.” 2. “God does not exist.” 3. If God exists, he isn’t necessarily the God of the Bible.” 4. “Miracles don’t happen.” 5. The New Testament’s many errors make it unreliable. It’s more like a collection of myths and legends.” 6. “Jesus never claimed to be God.” 7. “Jesus didn’t prove he is God.” 8. “Jesus did not rise from the dead.” 9. “The Bible isn’t the only true religious book.” 10. “Christianity is too narrow. There are many ways to God besides Jesus.”

From the beginning, the writers share how they will approach these challenges. They write, “We’ll approach this as a defense attorney would when seeking to prove a defendant innocent of a charge. They’d present solid evidence. They’d establish a fact-based alibi. To prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, they might appeal to fibers, prints, marks, tracks, even DNA. We’ll look at many facts. We’ll examine eyewitness accounts. We’ll appeal to science, to history and archaeology, and to prophecy. We’ll appeal to manuscript evidence and more.” Their chart on p.13 shows, in reverse order, this case-building process. Their responses to the ten challenges are, in order:

1. Truth exists and we can know it. 2. God exists 3. He is the God of the Bible. 4. Miracles are possible. 5. The New Testament is reliable. 6. Jesus claimed to be God. 7. Jesus proved to be God. 8. Jesus rose from the dead. 9. The Bible is the only true holy book. 10. Jesus is the only way to God.

The design of this book is beautiful. In each chapter, the argument against belief is presented, given in the form of a potential problem. Then, the writers lay out arguments; theological, scientific that refutes the problem at hand. At the end of the chapter, the natural and logical conclusions are drawn from the evidence. Throughout the book, the writers focus on four major worldviews: Pantheism, Atheism, Deism, and Theism. They filter all the evidence through these worldviews and allow the reader to see the only accurate biblical worldview is Theism. The most help tool in this book is the multiple charts that are included. The charts cover topics such as prophecies, religious comparisons, miracles, truth claims, and may others. Although written by a scholar, it is not written over the head of the average Christian wanting to know more on how to defend their faith. Smart. Informative. Sharp. Go read it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Book Review : God Forsaken

“God Forsaken; Bad Things Happen. Is There a God Who Cares? Yes. Here’s Proof.” is Dinesh D’Souza’s new book. As the title suggests, there is a portion of the population who feel this way. They feel as though God has abandoned them. They feel as though God does not care and even may be “out to get them”. D’Souza tackles what is arguably the most often-asked and most difficult question of our day to answer. How is it that God can be so good and at the same time allow evil and suffering in the world He created? He sets out to answer this question using a modern and scientific approach. D’Souza gives three purposes for writing this book. First, to “answer the atheist argument that evil and suffering in the world somehow contradict the idea of a God who is both omnipotent and good.” Second, to “convince both unbelievers and believers that there is a reason and purpose for evil and suffering”. Third, to “specifically address Christians who are suffering.”

D’Souza writes from the vantage point of a debater, who through the years has debated many of the leading atheists of the day. For the most part, this book is written to address their own positions as it relates to the omnipotence of God and human suffering. In Chapter three, “Limits of Theodicy”, D’Souza defines theodicy as the “task of reconciling divine omnipotence and goodness with the existence and extent of evil and suffering in the world.” He says that for centuries Christian authors and thinkers have been active in this practice and have offered many different theories of vindication for God. D’Souza believe the standard and usual answers are no longer sufficient.

God Forsaken meticulously lays out the reasons why an omnipotent God may allow evil and suffering in this world. Such reasons are that He may have a morally sufficient reason to allow it, there may be a greater good to be revealed through the evil and suffering, some evil is necessary for humans to exist, and much evil caused at the hands of humans themselves and not by God. These are simply stated here, but D’Souza defends these positions in great detail throughout his work. This book is not an easy read. It is written from a scientific approach, which at times is a hindrance. There is also very little scripture references throughout. Chapters five and six, covering God’s sovereignty and man’s free choice will likely frustrate the Calvinist readers and bring out the “straw man” arguments. I found the target audience to be a bit confusing. Is it a book for Christian apologists geared toward atheists, or is it book for Christian apologists to encourage other apologists? In spite of this ambiguity, this book will be well worth your time.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : The Coming Revolution

I must admit that I have always had an interest in the political landscape of our nation. I do my best to keep up with the leaders, decisions, and trends that will affect, positively or negatively, the future of the nation of which I am a citizen. The current political climate in America reminds me of someone who continues to put air into a balloon, while all the while ignoring the warning signs of the impending burst. I cannot remember a time when the decisions being made on behalf of the people of these United States were so drastic and monumental. The current political setting has caused many to become discouraged and fearful; to wonder, at times out loud, what the future hold for the United States of America.

In Dr. Richard G. Lee’s new book “The Coming Revolution; Signs From America’s Past That Signal Our Nation’s Future”, Lee reveals through past history and present circumstances that our country is on the verge of another revolution reminiscent of 1776. This coming revolution is not one of bullets and battles, but one of the ballot box. Of this coming revolution, Lee writes, “What this book proposes is a revolution that is far superior to a violent rebellion. It is a revolution of faith and ideas, a new commitment to a higher cause. It is a revolution that will fulfill the charge our forefathers gave us during the founding era. A tremendous hunger for restoration of accountability exists in this country, and the popular reaction to the progressive agenda in Washington may be a blessing. Excessive control and a burdensome taxation are driving the people of this country back to the basics and, hopefully, leading to a renewal and resurgence of the American Spirit”. Lee begins his book by giving the reader a portrait of our nation. He does so by  taking a brief look at the founding of our country, the major advances that lead to America’s greatness, and the current social and political issues we face today.

Dr. Lee references many of the early documents that make up the scaffolding of what the values and principles of this country rest upon. He describes what is known as the “American Spirit” which is defined  as the sense of unity that existed between the early American colonies that allowed them to work together, grow together, worship together, and prosper together. He shows how this American spirit originated with the Puritans and the sermons of the Great Awakening. Lee lists the influences the Great Awakening had upon early America. These include unity and community among the colonies, moral and spiritual worldview, a spirit of independence, and a belief in manifest destiny, among others. Lee also shows the areas where America is losing ground to popular culture. He includes health care, education, the institution of marriage, to name a few.

A note to readers. Those who label themselves as moderates, progressives, liberals, or socialists will not enjoy this book. Lee often cites how the current administration has drifted from the intentions and principles of the founding fathers. This book is written in support of the Tea Party Movement that has taken a prominent position over the past year. He said this of the Tea Party, “the movement stands for a smaller government, fiscal responsibility, individual freedom, and a conservative view of the nation’s founding documents.”. Lee chronicles just how far the Obama administration has gravitated from these formative beliefs.

The best part of this book, in my opinion, is the fact that after Dr. Lee lays out the problem, he does not leave the reader there wondering what can be done. Instead, he lists ten things that can be done right now in order to make a difference. Some of these are pray for America, register to vote and know the issues, and let your elected officials know how you feel, to name a few. I highly recommend this book. It is not an easy read, in that there is a great deal of historical information which is necessary in order to understand Lee’s position. The Coming Revolution is great food for thought on the issues facing America today.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review : Nearing Home

I recently finished Billy Graham’s new book, “Nearing Home; Life, Faith, and Finishing Well”. Billy Graham has been one of my favorite preachers, authors, and examples for many, many years. “Nearing Home”, in my opinion, was primarily written for, and directed toward, older adults. This is not a book of theology. In it you will not find the major doctrines of the Bible discussed and debated. Instead, it is a book of wisdom, advice, and encouragement written by a man who is staring the effects of old age squarely in the face. He writes with grace. It is this same grace that has marked his life as a servant of God, and it is the same grace that enables him to deal with poor health and other life-changing decisions. “Nearing Home” deals with the subject of aging, while practically dealing with subjects such as wills, retirement, and finances. Graham reminds the reader that our God-given purpose is not over until life itself is over.

 “Nearing Home” helps the reader learn how to take hold of God’s will for your life, lean on God when loved ones are lost, navigate life-changing transitions, and biblically deal with fear. The book falls into ten chapters. It does not have the standard feel and structure. Instead, this book takes on a conversational format;  mingled with scripture and personal stories.  This is a simple read written by a man who has given his life to the single purpose of honoring God and leading others to do the same. He encourages and inspires the reader to face the uncertain future with the certainly of Jesus Christ. A quote that inspired me is this one: “The most eloquent prayer is the prayer through hands that heal and bless. The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.”  “Nearing Home” is well worth your time.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Book Review : Why God Won’t Go Away; Is the New Atheism Running on Empty?

I have just finished Alister McGrath’s new book, “Why God Won’t Go Away; Is The New Atheism Running on Empty?” In this book, scholar, historian, and theologian McGrath introduces the reader to a group of anti-theists known as “New Atheists”. New Atheism is defined as “an enthusiastic advocation of atheism and a scathing criticism of both religious belief and cultural respect for religion.” McGrath identifies two kinds of atheism. The first is Apathetic Atheism. This group takes the position that says “I don’t believe in God”. They feel no real need to defend their beliefs and have no serious heartburn with organized religion and faith. The second group is known as Committed Atheists. This group takes the position that says “God does not exist”. They have reasons for their beliefs and possess a desire to make those reasons known to all. New Atheism falls in this second category, but goes farther. They do not tolerate religion and believe that apathetic and committed atheists are “cowards”. New Atheism is aggressive and, as McGrath says, “militant” in nature. He says, “The New Atheists make rationality one of its core defining characteristics and emphatically and aggressively denies that any alternative view can be regarded as rational.”

Why God Won’t Go Away is divided into three sections. In the first section, he introduces the reader to the four leading voices of the New Atheism: Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. He also lists their recent works and how they have contributed to this movement. In the second part, McGrath focuses on and unpacks the core themes of violence, reason, and science. It is here that he exposes the flaws in the New Atheism movement. Thirdly, McGrath explores the question, “Where does the New Atheism go from here?” It is here that he chronicles the decent of New Atheism from the mainstream and how it is losing traction with its original and sympathetic audience.

I really appreciate McGrath’s method of writing in this book. He was kind and fair while giving a solid rebuttal to New Atheism. He has chosen to take the high road in his explanation and handling of this movement. This makes the book work. “Why God Won’t Go Away” is well written, researched, and presented. He has succeeded in pointing out the internal problems of New Atheism and their reluctance to have an open mind. McGrath’s subtitle asks the question, “Is New Atheism Running on Empty?” I believe he has answered that in the positive. I highly recommend this book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”