Book Review: Prayer – Does it Make Any Difference?

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy read, moderate length

Summary
The title pretty much says it all. The book is about prayer, what is it, what do we do with it, why, and what’s the point? The subtitle isn’t necessarily answered, other than to say, maybe – for us and for God – but also, maybe not. The book is broken into five parts, Keeping Company with God, Unraveling the Mysteries, The Language of Prayer, Prayer Dilemmas, and The Practice of Prayer. Each part is broken down into three to six subparts, for 22 chapters in all.

My Thoughts
I’ve not read a book by Yancey before. I thoroughly enjoyed his writing styles. As a writer and not a pastor, this book doesn’t give you theological insights or pastoral guidance like you might find in Keller, but you get something maybe more personal. Most chapters are fairly short and are usually broken down even further, so you get something almost like blog-post type series of his personal thoughts. Of course, there are many good quotes and insights form other author and theologians, but I think the goal is something more personal. He lays out his struggles, or writes about stories he has heard from others. Yancey is afraid to honestly question the point of prayer.

The strength of the book comes with the first chapter and especially the fourth. In the former, you get the reason for prayer as our main form of communication with God, in the latter, the problems and struggle people face. I was a little disappointed with final chapter as he doesn’t really delve into historical guidelines or lay out any practical steps; though in his defense, I don’t think that was his point. Overall, it is a great personal book on prayer and he points out what many people think and struggle with, something that is all too absent in Christian writing. It probably isn’t the best book if you are seeking a practice of prayer, but if you are just starting to study prayer, it is definitely worth putting on your list.

Book Review: The Stand

The Stand

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy read; Very Long (1,150-1,200 pages depending on the edition)

Summary
A mysterious flu-like disease sweeps across the country, then the world killing 99.6 percent of the population. While the disease is 100% fatal, not every one contracts it. The story follows a few different people (some before, some after the flu) that all plan to meet up with a 108 year old woman in Nebraska, before moving to Colorado. Others do not follow the woman, but instead the ‘dark man’, and meet in Las Vegas. Those in Vegas plan to destroy those in Boulder, and eventually take over the world. Those in Boulder prepare to make their final stand (get it?).

If you’ve read much Stephen King, you know there will be twist and turns and other weird things, it can be hard to tell where he is going, because he probably wasn’t sure as he was writing it. My version of the book was the ‘complete and uncut’ version that was republished in 1990. The original was released in 1978, but was about 400 pages shorter. You can read his intros to the book for the explanation, though I still found it somewhat strange, as the book is broken into three ‘books’, why not just publish a trilogy?

My Thoughts
Actually, I’ll start with my dad’s thoughts. King is probably his favorite author and he has read all of his books (including the first publication of The Stand), and according to him, it is a toss-up between this book and Salem’s Lot as King’s best. When I asked other King fans about this, they tended to agree or call Salem’s Lot a close winner, so I guess I know what to read next.

Despite the massive size of the book, it really reads quite quickly. Much of the book is dialogue, so the pages aren’t that full. As always, King writes conversations and peoples’ thoughts so well that speed threw most pages. Some people complain that it drags, but I didn’t really feel that, though I felt he was oddly disproportionate to different times and scenes.

I found the story and people to be compelling, especially the early part of the book, post-flu. It kind of reminded me of the TV show ‘Last Man on Earth’, except most of King’s characters are far more intelligent and resourceful. I found myself thinking, that was smart, I’ll have to remember that…just in case. The first few hundred pages will really make you think, and the rest you read quickly with anticipation as to how it will end. If you enjoy Post-Apocalyptic fiction or are a King fan, this is definitely a book to put on your list.

*Spoilers (am I required to do that for a 40 year old book?)
This isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but I read the book in June and people at work started calling in sick, saying they had a summer cold, a phrase I had never heard before. Honestly, I started to get a little paranoid. I have three final thoughts, to of which are critiques, but it it will ruin the ending if you haven’t read it; so, you’ve been warned. First and foremost, the ending with Trashcan Man blowing everyone up is stupid and even worse it is completely unrelated to the guys who walked there. The didn’t need to be there, Trash might have killed everyone regardless of their presence. Other problem also with the ending, it was really stupid that Stu and Fran drive back to Maine. Boulder had just turned the power back on and had doctors and a functioning hospital, but they leave despite having an infant and her being pregnant again. Finally, with chapter with Stu and Tom making their way back to Boulder are some of the best writing and sweet/sad story lines you may ever read. Probably makes up for the other parts I didn’t like. Definitely worth the read.

1 Thessalonians 1-2:12

thessalonians_

Check out my intro to 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Today I’m posting my note for 1 Thess 1-2:12.

1 Thessalonians 1
It is kind of funny. Every commentary begins with an explanation that greetings were common in antiquity. Immediately I have two thoughts. First, while very liberal Christians or Atheist may dispute Pauline authorship, I don’t think anyone disputes that it was written in an ancient form. Second, how is that different? Do we not start letters with introductions now? Granted mine typically start with “Y’all” or “Dear Jackass,” (reason 873 I could never have been an Apostle). I guess you have to start your commentary somewhere, look what I just did. Not much to say about the intro, other than Paul merges Christian and Jewish themes by writing ‘grace and peace’. Most Greek letters would say ‘greetings’, which is similar to the work for Grace, so it was a little play on words, and of course Jews often began/ended letters with ‘peace’ (shalom).

The remainder of the chapter is a long, heartfelt thanksgiving which also (per Green) points out all that Paul will later discuss in the letter itself – how the Gospel came to them and their conversion, the character of the messengers, the results of the conversions, the suffering all endured, their mission, and finally, their final hope).

In verses 2-3 they tell the Thessalonians of how they pray for them often and remember the work they have done. In v.4 the another reason for thanks comes as they know that the Thessalonians are among those called by God. With v.5 Paul points out that the gospel came as word from him to the Thessalonians, but was also confirmed and strengthened with the Holy Spirit.

Verses 6-10, shows the Thessalonians becoming ‘imitators’ of Paul (along with Timothy and Silas) as well as the Lord, which lead to them becoming models to other Christian communities in the area (Macedonia and Achaia, and beyond), so that now others further away report back to Paul the behavior of the Thessalonians.

We can also note that in v. 6 Paul says they did all this in ‘much affliction’ and v. 10 shows us a direct and clear belief in the resurrection of Christ, through the power of God, and the coming judgement.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Chapter 2 starts off with a reference back to the thanksgiving of chapter 1, why was it not in vain? Because the Gospel spread through Thessalonica and they are now examples to all in the region. Paul is thankful it was not in vain, as he had already suffered in Philippi and were ‘shamefully treated’ but they dared to speak regardless.

Verses 3-6 are something of an apologetic. Paul is laying out what their message and actions were not. The message does not come from error or impure motives with an attempt to deceive (v. 3), nor did they come with flattery or greed (v.5) or seek glory and position among the people (v.6). Why? What is the point of all this? It is important to remember that in the ancient near east and classical culture, there was nothing unique in what Paul (Timothy & Silas) were doing. There were many traveling preachers (like Jesus himself) and philosophers who went from town to town speaking their thoughts and beliefs in front of crowds. Now, these people need to eat, so they need money, and some made more than others, and if I were doing this, I’d certainly try flattery. We see how affected that is today with the Prosperity Gospel. However, the seek neither money nor position, though they could as Apostles (Paul writes in Timothy 5:17 that Elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who preach/teach).

So what did they do instead? Verses 7-12 say they did not make demands (or become a burden) but were like a mother caring for children and shared themselves as well as the Gospel (v. 7 & 8) and they they worked day and night (v. 9) and, like a father to his children, exhorted them to walk in a manner worth of God (v. 10 & 11). It is interesting in a literary sense that Paul compares himself to both a mother (actually, trophos, a wet nurse, but a feminine and motherly act, nonetheless) and a father. The overall point being, they did not act like the typical traveling speaker, but instead worked and lived among the Thessalonian, helping, encouraging, and teaching them.

*There is an odd textual variant of note here in verse 7 as well. Paul says they were ‘gentle’ (per ESV, NASB, HSCB & KJV) among them. Now, if you are (for some reason) using my notes along with your Bible, you might possibly see the word infants (or perhaps children; NIV, NET, & NLT) instead. The word in question is different by only one letter – epioi (gentile) and nepioi (infant). Manuscript evidence seems to indicate the reading of infant, but gentile seems to make more sense here – a woman can act gently during nursing, but if you’ve ever seen an infant eat, it can be pretty savage, which doesn’t seem to fit the point he is trying to make. The commentaries seemed split as to the correct reading, but the explanation I feel best about is that there was a scibal error that added the n, and that text happened to be copied more than the other and here we are. It doesn’t change anything major about his overall feelings and actions, but it is a good reminder that the Bible wasn’t handed to us by Christ himself.

 

That’s it for this week, I’ll try to do better next time.

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Biblical Studies Carnival 149 is Up

Looks like we are going mostly by numbers now, but Karen Keen has the July 2018 Carnival up.

If you are interested in hosting or know someone who might be interested please contact Phil. Contact info from his post today –

I am borderline desperate for the rest of the year!  Please contact me via email (plong42@gmail.com), twitter direct message (@plong42) or comment here in this carnival. Whether you are a relatively new blogger or you have hosted a carnival in the past, do not hesitate to contact me. October, November and December are open as of July 1. It is not too early to volunteer for a 2019 carnival.

He’s clearly past desperate as I will be hosting next month, but goes legit again the following month with Jim. The carnival is mostly hosted by scholars and students, but there a few pastors and at least on completely pretend internet theologian that has hosted in the past. If you are interested, hit up Phil and get some more info.

Introduction to Thessalonians 1 & 2

thessalonians_

I’m starting a quick series looking at 1 & 2 Thessalonians over the next few weeks. I have an intro for y’all this week, then a few weeks of commentary, followed by a review of the commentaries (see links below). Hope you enjoy and/or find it helpful.

The books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written to the Christians of the Macedonian city of of what is today Thessaloniki. Formerly known as Thessalonica, the city was named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister and served as the capital of Macedonia.  Often when we read books of the Bible, the places are too old and far away for us to make a connection, but they city is only still around today but is actually the second largest city in Greece and an important center of the region.

The church was established as part of Paul’s missionary journey as described in Acts 16-18 and the letters were likely written sometime in the early 50’s AD. There is no series denial of attribution to Paul for Second Thess, though there are a few who question First. There are early attestments from church fathers and each have been considered cannon until the 19th Century and rise of German Higher Criticism. Certainly, no Evangelical or academic Christian scholar doubt either today.

One interesting thing I came across while studying these letters is the arguments of which letter came first. It is important to remember that even though they are referred to as ‘first’ and ‘second’, when the Bible was put together, the Epistles were not ordered chronologically; they are ordered by length. Wannamaker (NIGNT) argues that ‘second’ was actually written first based on the reference in ‘first’ to a previous letter. In his theory, ‘second’ is written while Paul is in Athens and Timothy delivers it, which is the reference to his visit in ‘first’. Much of the rest of his reasoning boils down to the lack of evidence to consider ‘first’ to be written first. Wannamaker is not the first to make this argument, and spends time with those who argue against it, but appears to be in the minority of modern scholarship. Of the commentaries listed below, only Green (Pillar) interacts at any length.

While neither the Gospel message nor the pastoral instruction and advice are lessened or lost by the order of the letters, certain interpretations could change or be influenced depending on whether you find a particular point ot be a follow up. Wannamaker certainly appeals to ‘first’ to be written second as a reason for his side on some of the trickery passages to interpret; likewise Green refutes some interpretations. As for me, I find the arguments for ‘second’ be the original letter more convincing, and particularly think that comes out in the references to the second coming in each letter. The fact that ‘first’ is longer, but hits the same topics, just with more detail, appears to me to show a clarification that can logically only come later.

The letters both cover similar topics and are both relatively short. ‘First’ is only five chapters while ‘second’ clocks in with three. Major themes in each include the second coming, work/idleness, and suffering/perseverance. Of course each open with long greetings and ends with encouragement/blessing/benediction. ‘First’ also includes notes on Timothy report from his visit (possibly when he delivered ‘second’), Paul’s longing to see them again, and a few other instructions.

 

Commentaries Used:
The Letters to the Thessalonians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC))
1 and 2 Thessalonians (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (IVP Numbered))
The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Bible Speaks Today)
Commentary on 1 & 2 Thessalonians (The New International Greek Testament Commentary)
1-2 Thessalonians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament)
1-2 Thessalonians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series)
The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Book Review: 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith

50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology

My Rating – If you are looking for something (if you’ve read other Systematics then pass)

Level – Fairly easy read, longer (400 pages) and a bit repetitive

Summary
This book is a mix of things – an intro to Systematic Theology, a teaching guide, and reference book to broad theological topics. Allison writes from a broadly Evangelical Protestant perspective. The author has broken the book into eight parts – the doctrines of the Word of God, God, God’s Creatures, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Salvation, the Church, and Future Things. Each part has varying numbers of chapters, giving you 50 total.

As the subtitle states, the point of the book is to be a guide to understanding and teaching theology, and this leads to a somewhat unique structure to each chapter. It starts with a one or two sentence summary, then bullet points of the main themes, and a list of key scriptures. The largest section of each chapter is ‘understanding the doctrine’, which is broken into three sections – major affirmations, Biblical support, and major errors. After this is ‘enacting the doctrine’, which is basically what the doctrine looks like in our lives, followed by ‘teaching the doctrine’ which includes discussion points as well as a teaching outline. Each chapter ends with a list of resources, however only three Systematics are listed.

My Thoughts
I’ll start out by saying I realize this is an ambitious book, attempting to be both an intro to theology as well as a teaching guide to Systematics.  As an intro, I think Allison does an adequate job. Most full books on theology pass the 800 mark, many going in to the 1,200-1,500 range, if not multiple volumes, so I appreciate his attempt to condense it to about 200 pages or so. Unfortunately, it still manages to feel too redundant. Part of this is due to the structure, having a summary and bullet points then the body, but I think the publishers must have had the intent to make each chapter stand on it’s own, as opposed to building on each other. This forces him to refer back to chapters (or state future points) and the points get repetitive. On the other hand, this is also a great way to learn and internalize the content, which may well have been the goal.

As a teaching guide, I think this could come in handy. The teaching outline presented at the end of each chapter appears to be quite helpful. The book could also function as a quick reference if you have other Systematics you like to use. If you broke out the teaching portions, you might end up with a 125-150 page book, which would likely be worth it on it’s own. If you are looking for something to help you teach theology to other, and you are already familiar and have other books, I think this book would be worth a look. However, as far as a book to study theology on your own, you are probably better off finding something else.

I’ll end the review with a couple theological points and issues regarding the book. First, the main reason I can’t really recommend the book as a way to begin deep study into theology, is that he does argue much with counter points. He lists them as errors, but doesn’t really state how/why others believe this or what their proof-texts necessarily are. If you are really trying to learn at a deeper level, you need to know more about the errors than just that they are errors.

My other problem, and I think this is worse, is that while trying to keep the book geared toward a broader theological level, he gives positive info an different theologies, some of which are completely incompatible. Certain points of Reformed and Arminianist theology cannot both be true. One of them has to be an error, and it is strange that he did not take a stand (though as you read his ‘Biblical support’ it is clear at times where he falls). Likewise, he lists all the points of Dispensationalist theology as equal to Reformed and other historic views of theology. While refusing to call this an error, he does come down on other things, such as calling Annihilationism a heresy. This is especially odd as he wrote a text book on Historical Theology and knows well that support for Annihilationism has much, much deeper historical roots that theologies such as Dispensationalism. I find it odd the doctrines for which he will take a hard stand, will promoting whole theological systems that are wholly incompatible with each other. It is a major failure of the book and one of the reasons I cannot recommend it as much as I would like. You’d be better served by are larger study that looks at points and counterpoints of each doctrine/theology or a study that takes a strictly orthodox view.

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

 

Book Review: Believe Me

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

When you receive an advanced reading copy to review, you are supposed to have the review out before the book is published, something I rarely do. However, today is one of the days I’ve done it correctly. This book will be available for purchase starting tomorrow, June 28.

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Short, easy read

Summary
The subtitle kind of says it all. How did Evangelicals so overwhelmingly support Trump (more than any other candidate in history)? He received 81% of self identified Evangelicals. There are people who dispute the support, due to the self identified label and have found that people who attend among those who attend church weekly, the support drops to 40’s. However, Fea is a historian, and clearly knows that we as Evangelicals are now tied to Trump, whether we like it or not.

The book isn’t necessarily a critique of Trump or his policies, but just an explorations as to why this man, of all people, would be considered the ‘Christian candidate.’ Excluding the intro and conclusion, the book is broken into five chapters: Evangelicals Politics of Fear, how people have used fear to drum up support; The Playbook, how Christians have used fear over the past 70 years or so to affect politics in certain ways; Short History of Evangelical fear, from the Puritans to today Christians; Court Evangelicals, those famous Christians today who seek power and influence the ways courtiers once did with kings; and Make American Great Again, what exactly does Trump mean by this, when was it great, and for whom?

My Thoughts
I’m pretty sure the first time I came across Fea’s blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home was during the 2016 elections. He very clearly, as was I, seemed confused as to how Trump had the Evangelical vote. Many Christians now, including some of the most vocals supporters, say they chose Trump because he was better than Clinton, but many of them were supporters in the Primary. Fea points out in the book, that prior to Trump jumping in the race, Carson lead the Evangelical vote, but shortly after, Trump took it over, lost it briefly a few months later, and after recovery always lead. To some people, this made sense, to others it is absolutely confounding.

A twice divorced billionaire, who brags about infidelity, believes if you are rich you can grab random women ‘by the pussy,’ doesn’t believe in asking for forgiveness (a pillar of Christian beliefs), and is so ostentatious that he seems to be the physical embodiment of avarice seems to be an odd choice for the so-called Evangelical vote. This book is essentially Fea trying to understand what happened.

If Court Evangelical is a new term to you, it will likely be the most interesting chapter. The most striking to me was chapter five, Make America Great Again. As Christians, we need to seriously consider the ‘great again’ part and it’s implications. It might be great for me, a Protestant white guy, but what about basically everyone else that exists? And how serious is he about getting back to the ‘good ol’ days’?

There’s a lot more I could write about this topic, and if you are interested, the book is a must read. It is a great intro into how to think about Evangelical support for Trump. Even if you are supporter, especially if you are a ‘supreme court’ supporter, you should really read this book. I do have two brief criticisms and then a final thought before this gets too long.

First, a theological issue. Fea must come from an Arminian branch of Protestantism, as he misunderstands a few things about Puritan thought as well as Calvinism. It doesn’t necessarily change anything in the book, but if you come from a Reformed or Lutheran background, you’ll see some theological and hermeneutical errors. Second, he is a little too quick to say someone in not a Christian. While I agree that Trump shows not a single ‘fruit of the Spirit’ nor any ‘good works’, I’m hesitant to ever doubt someone’s profession of faith.

Finally, I really appreciate the intro and concluding chapters in this book. I’m told some people do not read these, but you really should. I am sure Fea will be attached as a ‘liberal’ or people will say he is not a Christian for writing this book, but the intro makes it pretty clear what he is trying to do. Even more, the conclusion is a great piece of writing on the confusion about the support for Trump. He wrote so much of what I’ve felt or wondered. It’s not that voting for Trump is wrong, it’s that the fact he is viewed as the Evangelical leader just makes no sense. If you are rich, or think the most dangerous think in America is Mexicans picking our fruit, or if you want to ban Muslims, or if you are just a party line Republican, then Trump makes the most sense. And all of that is fine, but to tie him up in religious language and say he is the best candidate for Christians is just confounding.

This vote will follow Evangelicals for all of American history. If you are curious as to how we go her, this book is a must read.

 

*I received a free copy of this book from Eerdman’s Publishing in exchange for an honest review. This is my first review for Eerdman’s and the first time I’ve received a galley proof in hardcopy.

Excurses

Articles
Koinonia was the winning word in the spelling bee.

Trump as George Costanza.

Trevin Wax on Fahrenheit 451’s recent screen adaptation. I think the book is one of the more frightening and accurate of the mid century dystopian future novels, check out my review for more.

Speaking of dystopian. Here’s another another article about the misuse of additional verses. Also, if you are just interested in hearing more of the depressing, shameful, and embarrassing situation, check out this short article from the AP. These actions are far worse, but previously in the week, Sessions used Romans 13 to tell people to submit to the authorities. This is fine, he is correct, this is the meaning of this verse, but where was this verse under the last President?

Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds

Books
Relatedly, I finally received a review copy of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, which you can pre-order now and will be available next Thursday. I hope to have my review up the day before.

I’m about 600 pages into The Stand, and the first 250ish are all about the disease spreading, all during June. Well, it is June right now, and the past week or so, almost everyone in my office has been sick, all with similar symptoms and honestly it started to freak me out a little.

Podcast
Whitehorse Inn discusses Christianity in North and South Korea.

It may sound strange to recommend listening to a podcast where someone is being given a tour, but I enjoyed it. If you like bourbon/whiskey or visiting distilleries/breweries, you will too. Also, if anyone from Wild Turkey happens to be reading, I am open to sponsorship’s (I know how much brands like to be involved with religion and politics, especially with from a site with seven readers).

Father’s Day Reading Recommendations

If you are a dad of a young child or a soon to be dad, I have a few recommendations for books to check out this Father’s Day.

Best pre-dad book I’ve reviewed – The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life
Best pre-dad I haven’t reviewed – Be Prepared
Another good pregnancy/first few months book that has a great guidebook style (my review) – We’re Pregnant! The First-Time Dad’s Pregnancy Handbook
Best book for early childhood – Brain Rules for Baby (Updated and Expanded): How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five
Best Gospel-centered parenting book (my review) – Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family
Best book for men in general, but certainly has a few value for fathers and husbands (my review) – Disciplines of a Godly Man (Paperback Edition)

*This book is more focused on women, but is actually a pretty good read. My advice to dads and pre-dads who fear their wife might be over-protective is to have them read this book (y’all both read, she’ll appreciate the effort if nothing else) – Bringing Up Bébé

A few others to consider:
The Pregnancy Instruction Manual: Essential Information, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice for Parents-to-Be (Owner’s and Instruction Manual)
The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance
Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn–and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less
How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind

The suggestion skew young as they are all about pre-dad to preschool, mostly baby and toddler books, but I’m young (ish) and have just the one preschooler, so I don’t know what to tell you other than to check back in the next few years for more. For borader parenting books I’ve reviewed, but don’t necessarily recommend, check out my review of Fearless Parenting and my review of Talking with Your Kids About God.