Book Review: Reformation Anglican Worship

Reformation Anglican Worship: Experiencing Grace, Expressing Gratitude (The Reformation Anglicanism Essential Library, Volume 4)

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Short, mostly easy read (occasional Latin thrown in).

Summary

The book is generally what the title says. For those confused from the ‘Reformation’ part, I was, too. I’m not sure why the author(s, it is a series) didn’t use Reformed, as this seems to be what they are discussing. Canmer (who wrote the Book of Common Prayer, and was the main influence on Anglicanism) was heavily influenced by the Reformation and it’s new focus on Biblical reading in the vernacular and Justification by faith. 

Jensen focuses mostly on the Reformed, as opposed to Anglo-Catholic, side of Anglicanism. He makes a strong argument for it being the way Anglicanism started, but does a good job of putting things into a historical context as well as modern impacts. 

This is a short book broken into six chapters – The Heart of Christian Worship, Worship in the English Reformation, Reading and Preaching the Scriptures, The Gospel Signs: The Sacraments, Prayers of Grace, and Music: The Word in Song. There is also a brief introduction where he lays out his goal for the book. Chapter one, lays a basic theological groundwork on worship, based on the Trinity. The remaining five chapters are pretty clear by the title. 

My Thoughts

This was an interesting book to me. I am not an Anglican, but am in the Reformed tradition (though I understand there is a good bit of difference between the two). I’ve recently gained some interested in the Anglican tradition, mostly due to my recent discovery of the use of the Book of Common prayer. Jensen does a great job of weaving thoughts/writing from Cranmer and portions of the Book through each chapter (for those wondering why the BCP didn’t warrant its own chapter).

He doesn’t rely solely on Cranmer, but points to other Bishops at the time and even some writings from the royalty. I thought chapter three (Read & Preaching Scripture) was the most interesting. Knowing a good bit about the Reformation and continuing in the tradition, I was familiar with the focus on the Word Preached. Much less focused on, but apparently quite important in Anglicanism (especially as exhibited in the previous version of the BCP) is the direct reading of scriptures. This includes multiple readings from throughout the Bible at each service, as well as a reading plan that takes you through the OT once and NT three times a year; and the Psalms once a month. 

Sacramentalism is one of the divergent points between Anglicanism and Reformed traditions, but the chapter was interesting and informative. The Music chapter was the shortest, but was quite powerful. This is especially true if you are a member of church that freely uses ‘modern worship’. His critique is harsh, but completely accurate. He points out the irony of the fact (which I was unaware) that Reformation era churches were heavily focused on the performance of music, specifically coral music which can be hard to sing. Now, we’ve moved back to performance. The irony being, we fought to have the congregation be able to sing, to now, being focused on entertainment, with many songs that are not made for congregational singing (or are often hard to sign, but hey, guitar solo). 

The interest on this book would be fairly narrow, btu I do think everyone who cares about proper worship would benefit from this book. If you are interested in worship, you should certainly buy this book.  If you are Anglican, or Reformed, or have an interest in church history or the various aspects of the Reformation, put this on your list. 

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

Modern Cloister: Wisdom and Kingship in the Psalms

Modern-Cloister-NEW

Wisdom and Kingship In The Psalms Modern Cloister

In this episode, we take a closer look at wisdom and kingship psalms and the ways they have been and continue to be used by Christians and the church. This includes reading select psalms in these categories that are meaningful to us. This is the 6th and final episode in our series on the psalms.  In the 1st episode in the series, we provided an overview of the psalms, including their history, organization, difficulties, themes, language style and poetic nature, along with our personal stories in coming to love and appreciate the psalms. In the 2nd episode, we discussed how the psalms were used historically within the church and shared practical insights into how to use the psalms today in both corporate and private worship and prayer, including several on-air, live examples of praying and singing the psalms. In the 3rd episode, we explored praise and thanksgiving psalms. In the 4th episode, we talked about lament and confessions psalms. In the 5th episode, we discussed confidence and remembrance psalms.  You can listen to those episodes below: A Guide to Understanding the Psalms How To Use The Psalms Praise and Thanksgiving In The Psalms Lament and Confession In The Psalms Confidence and Remembrance In The Psalms If you're new to the Modern Cloister, check out our first full series on community via the links below and listen to our introductory episode to learn all about the "why" behind our podcast.  Welcome to the Modern Cloister A History of Christian Community The Decline of Community The Future of Community The Impact of COVID-19 on Community Remember to rate, review and subscribe to be the first to get our newest episodes! And connect with us to share your thoughts and feedback at moderncloister@gmail.com. 
  1. Wisdom and Kingship In The Psalms
  2. Confidence and Remembrance In The Psalms
  3. Lament and Confession In The Psalms
  4. Praise and Thanksgiving In the Psalms
  5. In The News: Supreme Court Takes Up Abortion, Russell Moore Leaves SBC, God Bless the USA Bible, and CDC Guidance

Part six and the final episode of the Modern Cloister series on the Psalms is out, you can find info on Part 1 – a Guide to Understanding the Psalms – here, Part 2 – How to Use the Psalms – here, and Part 3 – Praise and Thanksgiving in the Psalms – here, Part 4 – Lament and Confession – here or listen in the player below (I didn’t have a chance to do a write up on episode 5, but you can listen to it in the player.

In this Episode, we continue diving into different genres of Psalms. We have broken them into eight genres, and we cover Wisdom and Kingship, which are two genres people may not think much about. We also discuss the Hallelujah Psalms that end the book. 

Hope you have enjoyed the series. 

I’ve reviewed two of the best books out there (that aren’t commentaries) on the Psalms – How to Read the Psalms & Learning to Love the Psalms – if you are interested in reading more. 

You can listen to the Pod on the player below, or subscribe anywhere podcast are found. You can also listen at our YouTube Channel. Or, of course, come check us out at ModernCloister.com. Hope you enjoy, feedback is always welcome. 

Book Review: God’s Word Alone

God’s Word Alone—The Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series)

My Rating – Probably not worth your time

Level – moderate (having a little knowledge church history is helpful), medium to long (just under 400, but longer than needed, as it was a bit redundant).

Summary

 If, based on the title and subtitle, you expected a book that mostly had a historical focus that placed itself in the time of the Reformation or a book that was mostly about the authority of the Bible, this is not the book you are looking for. More on why not in ‘My Thoughts’ below. The book is broken into three parts with three to four chapters in each. Part One is called ‘God’s Word Under Fire, Yesterday and Today’ which includes chapters on the Reformation, the modernist shift, and today ‘Crisis over Biblical Authority’ (which is mostly about inerrancy). Part Two is called ‘God’s Word in Redemptive History’, there are also three chapters and they go through the redemptive history of the Bible – these chapters have much of the internal apologetics you would expect to find in a book like this. Part Three, ‘The Character of God’s Word and Contemporary Challenges’, is four chapters – Inspiration, Inerrancy, Clarity, and the Sufficiency of Scripture. There is also an intro and conclusion, as well as a ‘series notes’ (this is book one of five on the Solas published at the 500th anniversary of the Reformation), and a forward. 

My Thoughts

This is probably the most mixed review I’ve ever written. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this book, nothing I would particularly disagree with (perhaps with the exception of a possible implication that you are not a Christian if you do not believe in inerrancy – as defined by certain people). However, this book really is a missed opportunity. Barret is a great writer and I’ve heard him in a few interviews, and always really like what he has to say. Part of my excitement for this series was based on him being the series editor. That being said, I can’t really recommend this book. The main issue being so much of the focus was on inerrancy. If you cut 100 pages of inerrancy discussion out of this, it would still be longer than any of the other four books in the series. The fact that Mohler wrote the forward should have made me aware what the real focus would be. Not that I disagree with inerrancy, per se, but if the you are going to make a book in a series longer than two others (Grace, and Glory of God) combined, it should really focus on Authority, which was the main issue during the Reformation. 

Inerrancy certainty matters, but I was expecting a book on the authority of Scripture, especially as it related to the Reformation. Of course, the view of inerrancy in this book is based on the Chicago Statement, which is often interpreted in extremes, being at once so narrow as to seemingly be an argument for the inerrancy of particular interpretation, or qualified and excused to be so broad as to be meaningless. I can’t be the only person who is tired of the Evangelical obsession with Chicago Statement inerrancy. Go read Five Views on Inerrancy , if you are unsure what I’m talking about (I’ve also written a longer post, On Inerrancy, if you have time). 

That being said, Chapter 1, ‘The Road to the Reformation’, and Chapter 10, on sufficiency of Scripture, are great. I’d recommend everyone read them. I also really appreciated Chapter 2, ‘The Modern Shift in Authority’, which dove into our time since the Enlightenment and the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy. I think that chapter is a value addition to the historical point of authority, as during the Reformation the issues was Scripture vs. Scripture plus Tradition/Councils, whereas now it is more of Scripture (or even Scripture plus) vs myself (self being the ultimate authority in modern life). He also does a good job throughout the book pointing out that Scripture alone does not mean only scripture, which I think is another important modern concern (as we so often in the American Evangelical streams are anti-intellectual and will often reject creeds and catechisms). 

Part two of the book was a little odd. It was well written and a great mini-study on redemptive history, but it didn’t really feel like it fit very well. Finally, Part 3 was what you would expect in this book, outside of more historical notes/narrative. I think there is an odd contradiction made in the sufficiency chapter vs the inerrancy, in that we are seemingly alright with one’s focus being only on spiritual matters while rejecting the idea that it wouldn’t be narrowed in another. The clarity chapter did well in pointing to the nuance in understanding scripture, maybe the best I’ve seen it handled. Inspiration was also well written, but I can see the critiques that we are arguing a circular logic in that we believe the Bible is true because it says it is.  It might have been nice to see some more apologetics on the trustworthiness of Scripture. 

Ultimately, the book fails in what is seemingly its purpose, to argue for the authority of Scripture. One of the reasons I mentioned above that Part Two didn’t seem to fit, is because there are many people who would wholeheartedly agree with everything written in this part, but they play little role in authority, with the exception of the last chapter, on Christ. Similarly, there are many who believe in inerrancy, yet not authority. Most Catholics believe that the Bible is the word of God, yet not the ultimate authority, as do many modernist or Mainline Christians who put their experience over and above Scripture (sometimes without even realizing it). This obsession with arguing the nuances of Chicago Statement inerrancy is really an intra-conservative (possibly, broadly reformed) protestant disagreement. In the grand scheme of life, this is a small segment, and we continue to ignore everyone outside at our own peril. While the book is good, it is mostly an apologetic for inerrancy, narrowly define, with some quality historical notes and other attributes of scripture discussed alongside. So, if you are looking for a book on Sola Scriptura that focuses on the authority of Scripture, this book is probably not worth your time. 

Book Review: The Church

The Church: An Introduction

My Rating – Probably not worth your time

Level – Short (the goal of the series), some academic language, but mostly readable. 

Summary – The book is technically broken into two sections, Foundational Issues and Mere Ecclesiology and More Ecclesiology. However, part one, really functions as more of an extended introduction. The two chapters of this section are The Triune God and the Church, and The Church According to Scripture. The latter looks at the different words used for church, gathering, and temple in the Old and New Testaments. 

The bulk of the book is found in part two, which is broken into six chapters – The Identity, Leadership, Government, Ordinances or Sacraments, Ministries, and Future of the Church. The ‘mere’ versus ‘more’ ecclesiology is a rubric of sorts, wherein each chapter he discusses the ‘mere’ of the particular topic first, which is the basic agreements that all churches have now, or have had in the past. The ‘more’ part is where he dives into the differences between various churches or theological views. 

There is also the series introduction, and an introduction by Allison, conclusion, ‘further reading’, and indexes. 

My Thoughts – Allison is a strong writer, who has had success at the popular level. I’ve read a few of his books and always enjoyed them, but something just wasn’t working right in this. It could have been an editor situation, or the way the put the book together, but it often became quite redundant. I mean in a verbatuum since, he would write an intro paragraph for each chapter that end with ‘I will show X in turn’, then ended the chapter with, ‘I have shown X’. It was oddly academic for what I had assumed was meant to be a more popular writing. His Historical Theology text is more readable than parts of this. Additionally, the ‘mere/more’ was repetitive in the same way and a bit contrived. The actual content, outside of the framework, was very accessible and readable. I’m not sure what was going on. 

The content itself, was kind of a mixed bag. I appreciate his defense/discussion on the Trinity, but it didn’t seem to fit. The Church According to Scripture was helpful and interesting. Identity was quick and solid. Leadership was perhaps the worst chapter. He makes the claim that ‘elder’ and ‘bishop’ are used interchangeable, which is pretty clear not only in the Greek, but also in the way it is used in the NT. However, he also claims ‘pastor’ is interchangeable with these two terms as well. He offers in example nor any linguistic proof, but rather points to Peter saying that elders should be good shepherds (the word translated is how we get the word pastor). He then quickly moves on. I am not entirely sure why he makes this claim, which is clearly lacking support, but I could speculate a few reasons that are beyond the scope of this review. 

Government, Ordinances, and Future were the strongest parts of the book. He explanation of governing options was one of the clearest concise write-ups I’ve seen. The baptism part of Ordinances was short, but I think that is actually a better way to handle. I’ve seen interesting arguments that there aren’t really four views of communion, but really just three, but he sticks with the traditional four views and does a pretty good job with the nuances. Much like Government, the chapter on the Future of the church was one of the best, concise writings I’ve seen. These two chapters function very well as almost a cliff-notes, without sacrificing too much understanding. 

That being said, this book is still probably not worth your time. While still short, there is too much unnecessary writing and the ‘mere/more’ distinctions really fell a little flat. There are a few strong chapters, but others are mixed. I appreciate what Crossway is trying to do by basically giving you chapters on what would be a Systematic, but meant to be shorter and more readable. However, based on this one, I wouldn’t really recommend that approach. Additionally, there are other books that focus on the Church that are better, though not many hit on the future (but there are hundreds of those). Unless this is a topic you are just starting to read on, and really need somewhere to start (in which case you could benefit from the ‘further reading’ section), this book probably isn’t worth it. 

*I received a copy of this in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: Learning to Love the Psalms

Learning to Love the Psalms

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Medium read (can get slightly technical), moderate length (250+)

Summary: Godfrey takes a different approach than most books on the Psalms. Instead of looking into categories of Psalms, he studies them in their original five ‘books’, and looks for similarities within each ‘book’; plus he breaks out the final five Psalms and treats them separately from the other five books.

There are no chapters in  this book, but there are seven broad sections. After a large intro section that includes chapters introduction the Psalms, poetry, difficulties, speakers, and structures, there are the five sections (one each on the five ‘books’), a section on the final five Psalms, and a short afterward. Each section has chapter on the structure and character of the ‘book’, followed by a mini-commentary on six or seven of the Psalms in the ‘book’. The final section has a brief intro chapter, then reviews each of the last five Psalms. 

My Thoughts: He has attempted a relatively difficult task in trying to find the original reason for the groupings in each book. I appreciate what he has done, and I think his work is the best I’ve seen that doesn’t use the typical category/genre, but I remain unconvinced. It is a fascinating way to try to study the Psalms and as modern western people, we really want a reason for the layout of the Psalms. He makes the most compelling argument I’ve seen, but as I said, I’m not entirely convinced. 

The other oddity of this book is his mini-commentary on numerous Psalms. These just didn’t land correctly. Some were a little academic, some were devotional, others were likely draw from sermons (as they point to Christ in our life now, in an application way), the remaining was a mix of all these. While they were mostly good, and all educational, the inconsistency bothered me. This could have been an editorial decision, to lay out his notes this way, but it should have been a bit more focused. 

For these reasons, this book would not be the first I would recommend if you wanted to start a study on the Psalms. That being said, the intro section was quite valuable. The chapter on difficulties in the Psalms was particularly valuable. Likewise, the chapter on ‘recurring themes’ functioned as a mini-lesson with a different take than the most usual genre discussions. The structure and character chapters are interesting, but how much you gain from those will be dependent on how strong you find his overall argument. Outside the intro, the final five Psalms section is probably the best, as it is a very clear division and we know much of how these particular Psalms have been used throughout history. Overall, a good book, written well, and if you are looking to dig into the Psalms and are purchasing multiple books for your study, this is one to put on your list. 

 

 

 

Book Review: How to Read the Psalms

How to Read the Psalms (How to Read Series)

 

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy read, short (<200 pages)

Summary

The book is what the title says, a guide to reading the Psalms. The book is broken into three parts – The Psalms Then and Now (chapters 1-5), The Art of the Psalms (6-8), and a Melody of Psalms (9-11). The chapters are The Genres of the Psalms; The Origin, Development and Use of the Psalms, The Psalms: The Heart of the Old Testament; A Christian Reading of the Psalms; The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul; Old Testament Poetry; Understanding Parallelism; Imagery in the Psalms; Psalm 98; Psalm 69; Psalm 30. Part three (the last three chapters) is essentially a mini commentary on these three Psalms, in which Longman shows the aspects of the Psalms that he has covered in this book. There is also an intro and epilog, as well as an answer key to the exercises and a guide to commentaries, which is quite helpful. 

My Thoughts

The Psalms is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and Longman is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars/authors, so this is a pretty straight forward must read for me. The book is short and cheap to begin with, but it is over 30 years old now, so you can find copies for a few dollars. Buy the ones with a harp playing shepard on the front, it is the older one. They have since repackaged the book with a weird eyeball on the front. 

The best part of the book is probably Part 2, where he goes through Old Testament poetry. This disconnect between ancient Hebrew poetry and the modern western conception of poetry is probably what keeps most people from diving into the Psalms as much as they should. It is not only one of the longest books in the Bible, but it is the most quoted in the New Testament. All kinds of prayer and reading plans for centuries have called for an immersion in Psalms. It is an important book, and I think a large subset of Christians (low church/baptist/non-denom people like me) really miss the value of the Psalms. 

Longman spend Part 1 of the book arguing for the value of the Psalms, especially how they have been used historically. I would have liked him to go a little deeper into the genres chapter, but the Psalms are notoriously hard to categorize (and some fit many or all categories). His short exegesis of the three selected Psalms is also helpful in understanding the different genres and poetic structures.

Overall, if you want to start reading the Psalms regularly or already are, but are struggling to understand parts, this is a great, short book that will give you a broad overview into some of the confusing aspects. The book itself is actually short the Psalms, so well worth it. His commentary guide at the end is also helpful (though slightly dated) in diving even deeper; but if are wanting to get into a better understanding of how to read the Psalms, this book is a must read. 

Book Review: The Wisdom Pyramid

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read; short (< 200 pages)

Summary
Modeled on the old school (though not as old as I thought) ‘food pyramid’, McCracken seeks to give us guidelines for what to consume to gain wisdom. The book is broken into two parts. First, keeping with the food metaphor (eating too much, too fast, and unbalance) is the ‘source of our sickness’ which has three chapters: Information Gluttony, Perpetual Novelty, and ‘Look Within’ Autonomy. Part two lays out the pyramid in these chapters: Part Two Intro, The Bible, The Church, Nature, Books, Beauty, The Internet and Social Media, and What Wisdom Looks Like (which is part summary and part conclusion for the whole book). There is also an introduction (An Unwise Age) that does well to diagnoses many of our current issues.

My Thoughts
The first part of the book was unexpected. I thought the focus would be just the pyramid, but McCraken does a great and concise job of diagnosing the problem. That made the book stronger and I appreciate his continued use of the food metaphor. Overall, I agreed with most of his food groups, but not all. In his defense, he points out that the metaphor breaks down a bit, but the overall focus was balance. Starting with the Bible is a good choice, obviously you can’t really read it more than all other books combined, and his point isn’t that you should read other books.

The next two levels, the church and nature, were really well done. Considering these are all short chapters, everyone should read this the book, but these two chapters were probably the best. He does a great job of pointing to the communal aspect of church, and reading this now (hopefully with the end in sight) in the pandemic, is an important reminder of what we are missing. I was skeptical of nature at first. I enjoy the outdoors (fishing, hiking, camping, etc.), but I’m usually wary of Christians how push it as necessary (conflating the outdoor life with ‘manliness’), but that is not at all what he did. He writes of the value of nature for our brains, touching on neuroscience, and the enjoyment of God’s creations. He reaches back to Augustine and Calvin and the ‘two-book’ theory of general revelation. It is probably one of the best handlings of nature by a Christian author that I have read.

Books, of course, was great. He is a big book guy, I’m a big book guy. I remain skeptical that if you are not an avid reader, that you would agree with him. Most people aren’t going to read 30-50 books a year, but maybe he could have set a goal for people on the lower end, or people who don’t challenge themselves to read, preferring, instead, to live a life of functional illiteracy. I must point out, because it is so often incorrectly quoted, that C.S. Lewis said read ONE old book for every three NEW books. People often flip the quote.

The weakest chapter for me was beauty. I understand he was likely being vague so that it could encompass various arts, but I wonder if the point would be clearer/stronger, if he dove into one think (i.e. Music). Or at least encourage people to actively participate. This may not be what he actually believes, that we must create, but I find that to be a little closer to the truth. The final chapter is on social media/internet. He makes a compelling argument to not abandon them completely and offers strong guidance on how to cultivate use. I am not a heavy social media uses, so much of what he offered seemed simple, but I know it is more difficult for others.

I thought one thing that was missing, or maybe just not pointed out clearly enough, was TV. I could see how quality TV/Movies (he is a professional movie critic) could fit into beauty, but also (he points to bingeing on Netflix) social media/internet. Maybe I’m just old for thinking of TV as a separate category (don’t worry, I do stream shows, no cable at the MMT household), but on the other hand, I don’t know many things that waste as much of peoples time in mindless consumption as TV. Sure, you may mindlessly scroll for 30 minutes on Facebook, but people will eat dinner in front of the TV, then watch for another four hours, before going to bed.

The only other issue I had, and to stick with his food metaphor, was this was really just a sampling. Again in his defense, I believe this was by design. I will likely pull more books from his end notes than I typically do. I’ve read most of the tech ones (his big omission was Irresistible, about the way tech has been made to be ‘addictive’. I had not read many of the books from the nature chapter, that seem like they integrate theology and nature well or on a psychology and nature level.

Overall, I think everyone needs to read this book. It is relatively short and can give you great guidance on your consumption. Extra points to him and the publishers for adding discussion questions. I already know a guy who is doing this book with his men’s group. This book would be a great discussion starter on how you are spending time and ways you can reorder your intake, especially on tech and books. It isn’t perfect, and many people will disagree with the levels (outside of the top and the bottom, hopefully), but it is a compelling starting point and a must read.

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

Book Review: The City of God and the Goal of Creation

My Rating: If you are looking for something

Level: Moderate read, short (just under 200)

Summary

Alexander traces the concept of ‘City’ throughout the Bible, starting with Genesis (specifically Tower of Babylon) through the rest of the OT (specifically Jerusalem as the temple city) to the end of the New Testament (with the coming of the New Jerusalem as described in Revelation). 

The book is broken into eight chapters, The Godless City, The Temple-City, The Holy Mountain City, The Royal City, Envisaging a Transformed City, and Hope for Jerusalem beyond Divine Judgement, Seeking the City That Is To Come, and Anticipating New Jerusalem. There is also an introduction (plus the series introduction), a ‘further reading’, as well as general and scriptural indices. 

My Thoughts

If you are expecting the title to be drawn from Augustine’s book of the same name, you’ll be a little disappointed. This is where it is important to closely read the book description. That is not the fault of the book, but I was expecting something else. I’m sure the Augustinian influence was part of the title choice, but if you are looking for a well known book from the past to play off of, I would have gone with ‘Tale of Two Cities’. The bulk of the book, the first six chapters, deal with the Old Testament dichotomy of Babylon vs. Jerusalem. Chapter 7, deals with Christ/Us as the new temple/new city, while only the final chapters discusses the future New Jerusalem in the New Earth.

As a professional city planner, any discussion of cities is interesting to me. Alexander does an excellent job in his exegesis of the various Biblical Passages that deal with the two cities. I would have liked to have more about the New Jerusalem, but I suppose as part of the ‘not yet’, we don’t know a good deal about it, nor do we have much to say. As far as the physical attributes of the New Jerusalem, his understanding and interpretation is one of the best I’ve read.  

Overall, this was a good book, particularly for anyone specifically interested in the Biblical treatment of cities. However, I wonder how broadly interesting it may be. Again, this is not the fault of the book. When I finished it, I went back to review the series intro. Each book is narrowly construed, by design. I don’t know if the long term plan is to bind them all in one massive take on a Systematic, with each book being a section, but that is ultimately how they read. I’ve read Work and Our Labor in the Lord, it is also pretty good, and I see a few others I’d like to read. However, popularily, I think most will enjoy this book, but it is probably best for those looking for something specifically about cities.  

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

Book Review: A River Runs Through It, and Other Stories

Rating: Must Read

Level: Easy narrative, short (just over 200 pages).

Summary

This book consist of three short stories: A River Runs Through It; Logging and Pimping and “Your Pal, Jim”; and USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook, and a Hole in the Sky. All are quite short at 104, 20, and 90, respectively. The first is his most famous story, and the one that was made into a movie. The movie actually does a pretty good job, but of course misses some things, yet often quote directly, which is always a nice touch. It is a somewhat meandering story of his life in relation to his brother, as well as his brother in law (which the movie downplays). There are many funny stories and anecdotes of his early adult life, underpinning the story is that of needing help, and helping ‘brothers’ (of which he includes his BiL, in contrast).

The second story is about his summers spent in a logging camp, and his competition with ‘Jim’. He showcases his own pride, but it is also one of the best portrayals of love/hate relationships between men, in such a short story. It is also quite funny. The final story is about a summer working for the US Forest Service. Again, themes of pride, respect for his boss, and dislike for ‘the cook’, but this story has an point/ending you may not be suspecting, in that they attempt to rob a casino. Not quite, but that makes it sound more dramatic, more of being cardsharks in a poker room, that they know will end in fights and them running away with money.

My Thoughts

While the other two aren’t quite as good as his more famous first story, try to buy a copy that has all three instead of just A River Runs Through It. It is the same price or cheaper, and if you ever want to read an author because of a story that was recommended, buying the anthology book is a good way to decide if you want to read more. In Maclean’s, these three are his only writings for general audiences (apparently he also wrote a field manual for the Navy and a textbook while teach at Chicago). That is my general tip for buying books.

Maclean is a fascinating person. Famous to me for fly fishing and the movie made from this book. He also worked for the Forest Service and spent summers working in logging camps. He spent most of his life as an English professor at the University of Chicago; the publisher of this book. Interestingly, this is the only fiction the press has ever published. Again, fascinatingly, he refers to it as fiction in the sense that they are stories that he believes to be true, somewhere between historical fiction and autobiography. This book was a huge success and then he died, which is truly tragic. He was old, so, not tragic in that way, but if he had more stories in him, I’d read every one of them. His uniqueness also stems from his time and place in life. He was born over 100 years ago, but overlapped with my life. However, in some instances his life seems even longer before the modern are due to living out in the intermountain west. The jobs and aspects of his daily life as a teenager/young adult seem so foreign now as I write this.

I’m not a big highlighter, I don’t like my books marked up, but I intend to read back through this a note a few things. There are at least 10 worth note in A River, and maybe three to five in the other stories. Half the quotes from the latter made it into the movie, fortunately. One of my favorite quotes, and the movie fails a bit at this, as I said above, though there is still a focus on the brotherly relationship, is his bit about once brothers reach a certain age, the question of who can beat who, if not settled, must be put down and left alone. This maybe stuck out more to me than others. My brother and I are unusually close in age (7 months), so the question of the better fighter (me) still looms in our 30s, and now I also have twin sons.

The second two stores are just great short stories of summer work and life in manual labor a century ago. Though perhaps logging camps today aren’t as different, certainly the pride/personality differences he highlights remain.  I think anyone interested that time or life, would find these stores interesting. I worked for a summer in Montana when I was 19, which got me into fly fishing, which naturally led to this book (I spent time on the river the movie was filmed, but not his actual river), so the notion of summer work or migrant (by choice) work is familiar, in some ways, to me (though, I moved on and did not continue the life).

However, A River, stands on its own a great American work of literature. You will not find as much about marriage/family, brothers (in all senses), the existential issues of family and needing help, fishing, fighting, drinking, the Westminster Standards, or outdoor life, all packed into 100 pages in any other book. Sometimes when I read a book, I can become almost frustrated, because I read it and think, if I ever could write well, this is how I would want to write. Maclean had me putting this book down in multiple points to stop and thing, this is exactly how I feel and the perfect way to write this. This is easily one of my favorite books of all time, probably top three in fiction (broadly defined), and if you are interesting in anything mentioned, this book is a must read.

Book Review: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy

Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)

My Rating: Must Read

Level: Moderately difficult (four of the five are academics and some of the terms/phrases used reflect this), medium length (300+)

Summary

I’m finding this harder to summarize than you may think. If you grew up in the conservative Christian world, as I did, you’ve doubtless heard the word ‘inerrancy’ without much clear meaning, making this book incredibly compelling. You might not know that the inerrancy as you know it came from a relatively recent development and statement called the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy‘ from the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. This book is more a debate on the statement, specifically its use, than inerrancy writ large, though that is discussed. If you haven’t read the statement, go read it before reading this book. Due to this, and the multitude of discussions that can come from the topic, this book is different than others. So in this series have clear delineations – the world is thousands vs. billions of years old, the millennium is pre/post rapture, etc. – yet, even in those, often, the writers speak past each other and don’t always remain in topic. This is the most dramatic of those instances, except, the essays are so far apart, that it actually works, for the most part. 

This is one where you need to read the introduction, they explain that they sent these authors the assignment or reacting to the Statement, then sending back three problematic verses that challenge the statement. The editors then editors then selected three of the verses and each author was to respond. The authors were chosen to be on different spectrum of evangelism, and in different disciplines with Frank/Vanhoozer being theologians, Bird (who wrote one of the best systematics out there)/Enss as Biblical Scholars, and Mohler being a historical theologian (if you listen to his podcast, you know that he changes his title often, but in reality, at this point, he is a political pundit). 

In the intro, the editors point out how different the essays ended up being, and so grouped them differently than planned, so they broke the book into three parts – Perspectives on Inerrancy and the Past (with Mohler writing what he calls the ‘classical view’ and Enns writing that inerrancy isn’t what the Bible does), then a break into the International View from Bird who writes that inerrancy isn’t necessary, and finally, Renewing and Recasting Inerrancy (Vanhoozer writing for an ‘Augustinian View’ and Franke writing the Racasting essay). As is typical in this series, after each essay were responses from the other authors. Unlike others, there was no rejoinder, probably due to length (and possible the jumbled way the essays mixed), which was a good decision overall. While this likely had the best Intro, it probably had the worst Conclusion of any in the series, but it still made some good points.

My Thoughts

I understand why the editors set it up they way they did, I’m sure it was a long and agonizing debates, trying the suffel these essays around in a coherent flow. As I wrote, I came up with other ways to rearrange, but as I finished, all but one were clearly inferior. However, I do think there is a better way (I doubt my idea is unique, and it was surely discussed and discarded for reasons, likely behind the scenes, of which I am unaware), that would also flow better in the typical ‘views’ sense – I’d keep Mohler first, as the cheerleader view, then group Bird/Vanhoozer together as generally supporting inerrancy in concept (maybe they disagree) but not supporting the Statement/ICBI or how it has been used, and then finishing the book with Enns/Franke as supporting neither the Statement/ICBI, how it has been used, nor the concept itself. This layout also accomplishes having a theologian/scholar in each section. 

That being said, I was excited to read this book, it has been on my list for about five years before I finally got around to it, which is too bad, I wish I had read it years ago. I don’t want to sound fanboy, but just having Enns, Bird, and Vanhoozer in one book is worth the cost. I had never heard of Franke before, and after reading his essay, I see that is probably due to him being outside of my perspective, so that is a nice addition. Overall, the book lives up to the hype and is the best of the Counterpoint Series, and contro a comment from Bird in the book, the place I would recommend someone start if they want to dive into theological topics. I will attempt some brief thoughts on each essay and then an additional recommendation on how I think the book could have been improved.

Few Christian authors today have the rhetorical flourishes and persuasive writing abilities of Mohler. I read his essay and came away think, ‘how is this a debate, all Christians should affirm the Statement as written’, even if I was a little skeptical of his historical claims. Then you read the responses, which were universal (in a way unlike any other essay) in pointing out that he didn’t actually say anything. Again with universal agreement, the responses criticized both his use of classical and history, as well him more advocating his interpretation as inerrant that the Biblical text. In this sense, his essay very aptly pointed out all that is wrong with the statement and how it has been used, that the remainder of the book will point to. But man, is his writing good. I think now (almost 10 years after writing the book) that he has solved CRT, he can move on to a life fully in politics.

I think I have read all of Enns’ book so far (if you haven’t, this is probably a good intro to Enns), so I mostly new what he was going to say. His essay was twofold in pointing to our modern view of ‘inerrancy’ and reading the Bible as if it were written by journalist is a completely different way the Bible would have been read for thousands of years, which is why there are clear contradictions (but only insofar as we have overly literalized our reading of the text) and that we are making a category mistake in the way we approach the Bible. The second part criticizes the Statement/ICBI itself as being a small subset of evangelicals from the beginning, being a political statement, and essentially arguing a hermeneutic more than a view of scripture. While the Statement saw the Bible has truth in what it affirms, but then states that science cannot overturn the Bible. Whether you want to admit it or not, this latter statement necessarily implies a literalist interpretation. Enns calls the statement an intellectual disaster for evangelicals. 

Bird’s essay is probably the best of the book for me, as I tend to agree with most of his scholarly and theological points. He is also an outsider from the American evangelical world (which is why he doesn’t know that the Canada has its own football, distinct from American, or that only yankees say ‘iced-tea’, Southerns says sweet tea or simple, tea), which separates him from the Moral Majority/Political right playbook interpretation of scripture that Mohler is beholden to. Bird is also funny, you get funny visions like ‘Kim Kardashian attending a Jihadist for Jesus fundraiser’ and bad puns like ‘not for all the iced(sic)-tea in Kentucky (presumably pointed at Mohler?). Bird affirms what he calls infallibility, which is an actual historical use and term. He agrees with most(all?) of the points of the Statement, but mostly criticized for its narrow view of interpretation and the fact that the ICBI is about as ‘international’ as the winner of the ‘World’ Series (see, that’s funny). He rightly points to it being used as a bully pulpit of hermeneutics in that if you don’t agree, you are rejecting scripture and therefore God, and that there are over a billion Christians around the world who do not insist on inerrancy nor does the Westminster or London Confessions use the word. 

Vanhoozer’s essay similarly affirms infallibility and most of the words of the Statement, while criticizing its use and interpretation, but from the (American evangelical) inside. He differs slightly from Bird in that while Bird seems to say drop it or rewrite it entirely (this time actually internationally), vanhoozer would like it to be revised. The crux of his argument is an interpretation based on Augustine’s view of scripture, which took a high view, stating that if something seemed wrong it was either the translation (though he was referring to the poor latin copies in existence in that day, during the decline of Kiona Greek) or in his understanding. Yet, it seems Augustine would reject the Statement, as he doesn’t think it has to do with science (he did not believe in a six day creation, though not due to ‘science’ as it was in his day). Vanhoozer also points to the ‘affirm’ piece of inerrancy (which is somewhat contradicted elsewhere in the statement) in that the Bible is not a textbook for geology/biology (also, an actual historical view as Calvin said ask an astrologer). Vanhoozer is a long writer and uses pretty high end academic terms, so get ready.

With all due respect to Franke and his position, I don’t have much to respond to. While I really enjoyed all of his responses (probably the best responder behind Bird), his essay was, well, odd. He clearly rejects inerrancy as a concept, but not in the concrete way that Enns does. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what he believes. He refers to an understanding of the Bible as a ‘missional community’, and at times sounds like a charismatic/pentecostal while at others sounds more like a ‘classical’ liberal protestant. He refers to himself as post-liberal, post-modern, and post-foundationalist. As with the others, he had many criticisms of how the statement is used and I found myself in agreement or learning for these, but not much from his positive articulation. He simarlily uses high academic language, including concept I had to go look up, such as foundationalsim.

He did bring up one interesting critique of this volume itself, that it is five white guys talking about inerrancy.  While that is a little too reductionistic, as I think it diminishes Bird’s view as a non-American (though maybe he deserves it for disparaging football), just for the problem of being white.That being said, various surveys put black Christians as making up about 1/4 to 1/6 of the US Christian population, depending on how you define things. Let’s meet in the middle can call it 1/5 and there are five authors of this book. I would have been very interested to hear a black church (either a historically black denomination or a SBC pastor who serves in a black community) theologian/scholar talk about the view on inerrancy in the black community. I think this would have been more valuable than Franke’s essay (I’m an American in the South, so my apologies to the international readers, as this clearly would benefit them less). 

A few other concluding thoughts, the attempt to interpret the three scriptures was a mixed bag, but perfectly illustrates the issues of true ‘inerrancy’.  I don’t know if this is an academic thing, or just because it is a ‘Christian’ publication, but I liked that everyone praised each other before disagreeing with them, I think that attitude of humility is sorely needed right now. While it was disjointed at times, I think the diversity of perspective or even essay topic helpful and interesting. I think for anyone interested in inerrancy, Biblical interpretation, Biblical studies, theology, American evangelicalism, or even study the Bible, this book is a must read.