Book Review: What Christians ought to Believe

What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed – Micheal F. Bird

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My RatingMust Read

Level Medium length, fairly easy and does not require more than a basic knowledge of the Bible or Theology.

Summary
The book is essentially an exposition of The Apostles’ Creed. That is, he goes line by line and explains why we believe it and where the proofs are in Scripture. The first chapter is spent on explaining what exactly a ‘creed’ is – which is incredibly important, especially for us Americans and non-liturgical Protestants, who don’t use them. The second chapter is an argument as to why we need creeds. Among the brief history of the cannon and the early church, I also learned that the ‘Peanut Butter & Jelly’ of Australia is ‘Vegemite & Avocado’. So, there’s that.

The remainder of the book breaks down as follows, with a chapter of exposition on each:

  • I believe – a chapter about faith
  • …in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord – split into two chapters, one on the dual nature (fully human and fully God) and the second on the meaning of Messiah and Lord.
  • He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
  • He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried – this line is also split into two chapters, one on the offense and the other on the victory of the cross.
  • He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
  • He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  • I believe in the Holy Spirit,
  • …the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
  • the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

My Thoughts
I remember the first time I went to a ‘liturgical church’ – call and response, where the congregation also recites things – which was a word I didn’t even know. It was my freshmen year in college and this was also the first time I’d ever heard the Apostles’ Creed. This is part of the problem with American Protestantism and the ‘no creed but the Bible’ mentality. So few people know what they believe or why – mostly, I think, because we never articulate exactly what it is we believe, giving us the opportunity to teach specifically, and dive into the reason/scriptural proofs for these beliefs. I was likely in my mid-20’s before I even knew what catechisms or confessions were. It was a loss to me, although they are documents that have been used by educated believers for hundreds of years. Even more dramatically, the Apostles’ Creed has been recited by believers for nearly two thousand years.

This book is a depth of riches. It is a must-read for every Christian, whether new or lifelong believer, pastor or laity. It should be given, by the church, to every new church member or professing believer, as well as the basis of a Bible study, Sunday School class, or even sermon series (or at least a reference). Additionally, you should buy a copy for any questioning/curious unbeliever that you may know. It will become more and more important that believers are grounded in the historic faith of the church, and this is an important first step.

Professional Reader
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Amos 9

This is the final post in my series, Reader’s Guide to Amos. It works(or at least, I’d like it to) as something between a commentary and a Bible Study. Go read the text. Keep that window open. Read through it once to get a broad view of what is happening. Then come back and read through my notes. I’d suggest going back to the text one more time, read through it and when you get to a word or idea you are unsure of, come back and see if there is something in my Reader’s Guide that helps. You can read my original series introduction and the original posts that cover the text up to this point.

Chapter 9

1-4 This is the fifth and final vision of judgement. This vision is different in that there is no symbolism, just destruction, and no spoken words from Amos. These verses show the extent of the Wrath of Yahweh and the inability to escape destruction. There will be no hiding place, not at heaven or in hell, not at the top of the world (Carmel) or the bottom of the sea.

5-6 The third hymn of divine sovereignty. The ‘inescable judgment were reinforced with the celebration of Yahweh’s cosmic power” – Tyndale

7-10 The final woe oracle. Israel is no different than the other nations and will not escape judgment. Yahweh then declares judgment on the ‘sinful kingdom’, which is Israel. However, the destruction will not be total. As He sakes the house of Israel, so shall it be like shaking a sieve, the pebbles will not fall with the grain. The sinners are the pebbles and will die by the sword. Continue reading

Book Review: The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen

The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen -Sinclair B. Ferguson

My Rating –If You are Looking for Something

Level – Short, east

Summary
Like other books in the series, you get a short two for one kind of deal here. The first chapter is a brief biography of John Owen. I don’t he is very well known in the Christian community here in America. He was a British puritan living in the 17th century and quite a prolific author. The second major part of the book focuses on the Trinity, with chapters on each, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Much of the book is drawn from the works of Owen.

My Thoughts
I’ve heard of a number of his books, especially Mortification of Sin, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from him. It is a timely reminder now, as the controversy of the eternal subordination of the Son so going on, of the importance of the study of the Trinity. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon and participated in a study of the Trinity. This likely has much to do with how difficult the concept is for us to understand. It becomes confusing to discuss and can easily lead to error. I know growing up, I never really understood the three persons to be three independent beings. As in, there was God, whom became flesh as a guy called Jesus, and now speaks through the Holy Spirit. That is, the three persons are just the way that God reveals himself, almost something like taking different forms.

Obviously, misunderstanding the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t as severe as deny the resurrection, but it is an important part of theology. Anyone who takes theology seriously, especially those that are pretend theologians, should really make an effort to gain a better understanding. So, if you are looking for something, this is a good intro to the Trinity as well as good info about John Owen.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review (see more in my about page).

Amos 8

This is another post in my series, Reader’s Guide to Amos. It works(or at least, I’d like it to) as something between a commentary and a Bible Study. Go read the text. Keep that window open. Read through it once to get a broad view of what is happening. Then come back and read through my notes. I’d suggest going back to the text one more time, read through it and when you get to a word or idea you are unsure of, come back and see if there is something in my Reader’s Guide that helps. You can read my original series introduction and the original posts that cover the text up to this point.

Chapter 8

1-3 – The fourth judgement vision. The for summer fruit sounds like the word for end. We have a play on words that can either mean that Israel is ripe for judgement (summer fruit being fruit that would ripen in the summer) or that it was during the end of the season for the fruit, as is the coming end of Israel. The joyful singing will turn to wailing and mourning. There will be so many dead bodies, the scene so disturbing that the only response is to yell for silence.

4-14 – An oracle of woe for those whom oppress the poor. They are so obsessed with money that they cry out “when will this religious day or feast be over, so that we can get back to work” The observed the law, not engaging in business, but their man focus was still greed. They longed for the worship days to be over, that they can go back to their dishonest gain.

Ephah was the contained used to measure the grain (by volume)

Shekel was the standard weight – 2/5s an ounce

So they want to make the grain smaller than it appears and the weighing mechanism to appear heavier than it is.

Likely not referring to an earthquake, but instead the trembling is in fear. Fear that Yahweh will not forget their deeds and will bring punishment.

Yahweh will bring floods and darkness.

Everyone will be involved in lamentation. All happiness and goodness will be turned into wailing.

Sackcloth and shaving of the head were signs of mourning.

The coming day will be like that of mourning over the death of an only son.

The lord will then send hunger and thirst throughout the land.

Guilt of Samaria is in contrast to the ‘pride of Jacob’ from v.7. Israel swore to false gods, this is their shame and guilt. The word for guilt here refers to their idolatry. References to Dan and Beersheba may represent how wide spread the idolatry was, as they stand at opposite ends of the land from each other. The formula used in verse 14 sounds like those of swearing allegiance to those gods.

Commentary Sources:
Amos, Obadiah, Jonah: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary)
Joel and Amos (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)
Hosea-Jonah, Volume 31 (Word Biblical Commentary)

Book Review: Billion Dollar Spy

The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal – David E. Hoffman

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy, fast read; medium length

Summary
The story, broadly, is about the CIA field office in Moscow and its operations. Under different CIA directors and even field office directors, their focuses change or ramp up with the escalation of the Cold War. More specifically, the book is about Adolf Tolkachev, a scientist at a research facility specializing in radar technology. He is disillusioned with the Soviet Union and has a cool backstory twist from his wife. This drives him to ‘inflict as much damage as possible.”

My Thoughts
I’ve been on a bit of a Russian kick recently, especially the spy stuff (Bridge of Spies, The Americans, and just finished Crime and Punishment), so this seemed to fit in nicely. This story is so wild when, as you are reading, you stop and remember that it is true. Aside from that, you will read this book as if it were written by Tom Clancy; it is that riveting and compelling. Of course, it is also funny to read about their special spy technology. I have a crappy five year old cellphone, and it has more capabilities in it than most of the stuff they use combined.

I’d highly recommend this book as a must read for anyone who is interested in either spy stories or the cold war. I’m not sure if they play to print it in paperback, but if they do, I’d probably hold off and get it next year and make it a beach read.

Amos 7

This is another post in my series, Reader’s Guide to Amos. It works(or at least, I’d like it to) as something between a commentary and a Bible Study. Go read the text. Keep that window open. Read through it once to get a broad view of what is happening. Then come back and read through my notes. I’d suggest going back to the text one more time, read through it and when you get to a word or idea you are unsure of, come back and see if there is something in my Reader’s Guide that helps. You can read my original series introduction and the original posts that cover the text up to this point.

Chapter 7

In these sections we have five judgment visions against Israel, as well as Amos’ conflict with Amaziah and Amaziah’s subsequent report to Jeroboam, and a woe oracle of future destruction of Israel and finally the actual destruction mixed in. The book finishes on a positive note of the future restoration of Israel.

1-6 – We have the first two judgements, they follow the same outline: Vision, Amos’ intercession, and Yahweh’s response. Amos sees a coming agent of destruction, cries out that they will not survive, Yahweh relents.

7-9 Most translation use plumb line. A plumb line is used to measure, meaning they cannot meet Yahweh’s standard. The word translated here can mean either lead or tin, which would be used to anchor the plum line. However, WBC and others take the (minority) position of translating just to ‘tin’ and not inferring the plumb-line.

“I will not pass by” I will not spare them (as in Exodus).

7:10-17 gives us a break from the judgment visions. Amaziah, which is the head priest in the center of worship for the kingdom sends word to the king about Amos and his prophecies. Amaziah then accuses Amos of basically being in it for the money. ‘Eat your bread’ meaning make money or get money for food.

Amos response, saying he was not a professional prophet and worked as a cattle breeder and an attendant to trees before God called him. Then he responds with a prophecy of what will happen is Amaziah in the coming judgment. It is mostly tied to separation and loss of land in the exile. His wife will be forced to support herself in the city, his children will die, his land will be given to others, we will be sent off and die in a foreign land.

Commentary Sources:
Amos, Obadiah, Jonah: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary)
Joel and Amos (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries)
Hosea-Jonah, Volume 31 (Word Biblical Commentary)

The Recent Police Shootings

UPDATE – My editor has suggested that I revise some of the language regarding the police, especially in light of last night’s events. The concern being that it may come off as overly biased towards cops. However, I have decided to leave it unchanged. The post isn’t about police. I’m trying to explain my experiences, and these were the thoughts we had. It sets up how we interacted with and thought about cops. The main point is that my views, due to my life, are vastly different than those experienced by others (see linked article at end).
Very little, if anything, about last night’s actions are good. They are clearly bad for the cause and were acts of hate. This is not how we change to world for the better. Paul tells us in Romans the way we need to follow – Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Also, go read Russell Moore’s latest on how preachers can react.

***

I’m not even really sure how to write what I want to say. There are so many odd reactions to the recent shootings of black men by the police, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, that it is tough to know where to start. No surprise that race would be an issue, though it is disappointing that it is also turned into a political issue, almost of as one side supports police shootings. Worst of all is the reaction I hear from fellow Christians. It especially bothers me when they are the supposedly libertarian/limited-government types whom should be suspicious of the government. From the Christian side (though, it’s not just Christians), I tend to hear one of two things – that they shouldn’t have been doing anything wrong to be stopped by the police or that ‘all lives matter.’

Philando was stopped for a broken tail light. Think about that. We are saying that the loss of his life is his fault. That a minor traffic infraction is punishable by death. I don’t care if they found 10 kilos of blow in his trunk, that’s not a reason to kill someone. Mrs. MMT drives a baby blue Mazda 3. She had a tail light out for a bit once, but she didn’t get pulled over. Let’s not pretend that was really the only reason he was pulled over. Continue reading

2016 Reading Challenge Mid-Year Update

I’m pretty pumped to report that the challenge is going well. With a set goal of 31 books to read this year, I have knocked out 28 at the halfway point. They are as follows:

A History of the World in 6 Glasses – My Review
A Walk in the Woods
Crime and Punishment
Do More Better – Review
Four Views of the Historical Adam – Review
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
How to Read Genesis – Review
How Would Jesus Vote – Review
Just Do Something – Review
Meditations – Review
Mile Marker Zero
The Billion Dollar Spy – Check back next Wednesday
The Blue Zones
The Church – Review
The Lathe of Heaven
The Mighty Weakness of John Knox – Review
The Millionaire Next Door
The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen
The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards – Review
The Year Without a Purchase
Tyndale Commentary on First Peter – Reviewish
On Writing – Review
Pirate Latitudes – Review
Sailor and Fiddler
Seeking Refuge – Review
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life – Review
Thinking, Fast and Slow
Who Moved My Pulpit

Best Fiction – Lathe of Heaven
Best Non-fiction – Billion Dollar Spy, On Writing was a close, close second. I considered breaking these into two categories and call the former best narrative non-fiction.
Best Christiany book – How Would Jesus Vote

Currently, I am reading a few different books: Light In August, Pillar New Testament Commentary on James, Trout Bum, just started What Christians Ought to Believe (great so far), and still rolling through Morning by Morning. I had also put aside Presidents and the first volume of Reformed Dogmatics, so I need to pick those up again and get moving. If I can finish these up, I’ll have exceeded my goal, which is pretty exciting.

Here is a short list of what I’d like to hit next. Obviously, I won’t know them all out by the end of the year, but I should burn through a few. Having knocked out one good sized piece of Russian literature and closing in on my goal for books read this year, I think I am going to try and take down War and Peace. Hopefully, with six months left in the year, I can knock it out. In no particular order:

Fiction

  • Just After Sunset
  • Hyperion
  • True Grit
  • Last Girl
  • Something free on lending library
  • Greatest Short Stories
  • Everything that Rises must Converge
  • It’s a Brave New World
  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace

Non Fiction

  • Reflections at 90
  • Better Angles of Our Nature
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach
  • Misbehaving

 Christian Life

  • The Call
  • Discipline for Christian Men
  • 4 Views of Hell
  • Plan of Salvation
  • Don’t Waste Your Life

Theology/Bible Study

  • Core Christianity
  • Second volume of Reformed Dogmatics
  • Church History in Plain Language