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. 

 

2020 Reading Challenge Review

I set the bar pretty low this year with my 2020 Reading Challenge, so, luckily, I was able to clear it. Some people were able to read more during the pandemic, but that was not the case for me. Two of the books were not on my list originally and were quite short (under 100 pages), but they were free on Kindle, so I tried them out.

I had originally planned to read two Keller books – Songs of Jesus and Meaning of Marriage – but I dropped both of those. I was about nine months through the former when our church started a read through the entire Bible plan and I only read the intro chapter to the latter because it was part of a study my community group was doing that started in March. I planned to pick both of those back up in August/September of 21. Coincidentally, I added two Keller books, I reread Prayer and read Reason for God, somewhat on a whim.

I had also planned to try to get through Greek for the Rest of Us and to read Foundations of the Christian Faith (Boice) with Mrs. MMT, neither of which worked. Other than those, I hit the rest of those on my list plus a few more. Some came because of some prep work for church, and others came on a whim where I just felt like ordering something else to read.

Here are the books in no particular order:

  • A River Runs Through It and Other Stories – a great collection of stories by an incredible writer, I bought this book along with a few others to avoid watching the news and give me something else to do.
  • Blood Meridian – another one I bought to avoid life. McCarthy might be one of the most overrated writers today.
  • Jesus, Justice, & Gender Roles – Technically, also a Keller book, but Kathy. This was free on Kindle and is part of a three part series. Somewhat ironically, this was the only one that was free.
  • How to Read the Psalms – I’m working a long term study of Psalms, had hoped to have it out earlier.
  • The Language of God – My Review, bought this as part of prep of a panel discussion on evolution/age of the earth (watch it here).
  • Anna Karenina – Been on the list awhile, Mrs. MMT stole it from me, read it first and then has complained I have finished. Netflix has the miniseries, so we’ll probably watch that when football is over.
  • The Reason for God – My Review. Fairly famous book that I had not read. I was talking to a coworker who mentioned reading it. He was not someone I would have expected to read something like this, so I felt compelled to get to it.
  • Four Views on Creation, Evolution, & Intelligent Design – My review, again prep for this series.
  • Prayer – My review. I was just struggle in the midst of the pandemic and had hoped to ramp up my prayer life, so I went back to this book, probably the best on prayer there is.
  • The Old Man and the Sea – My review. Good short book.
  • Speaking Truth in Love – This had been on my list for awhile. Not as great as I had hoped.
  • Seaworthy – My review. This might have been one of the wildest things I’ve ever read. Took it from my dad back this summer.
  • Coronavirus and Christ – My review. Free book from Piper.
  • Welcoming the Future Church – My review. I think this is the last ARC book I’ve received.
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Someone at work lent this to me. It helped her, but isn’t something I need too much help with. I may still review it, but ultimately it is a blog post turned into a book, where the guy seems to forget his shtick, and has to add nurmours f*cks on some pages.
  • Reflections at 90 – My review. Been on the list awhile
  • The Great Divorce – Reread it as part of my community group.
  • Dune – I could have sworn I reviewed this. I guess I need to get on it before the movie comes out. A genre defining book that lives up to hype.
  • Jesus Skeptic – My review, another ARC book, one of the better ones. Good for basic knowledge/apologetics.

Book Review: The Old Man and the Sea

The Old Man and the Sea

My Rating: If you are looking for something

Level: Short, easy

Summary

An old fisherman who has not caught anything in days so farther out than usual to catch a fish. He catches a large one that drags him for days even farther out to sea.

Spoiler (for a 70 year old book), while the fish doesn’t get away, he was unable to get it back to shore as sharks pick off all the meat before he gets home.

My Thoughts

This is a classic book, that many people probably had to read in middle school and probably didn’t pay much attention to. The book is at its best when it is the old man and his inner dialogue of not wanting to quite and being stubborn. End the end, it doesn’t work, the incident is a perfect example of sunk cost fallacy. The old man believes himself to be resilient and tough, but he is actually a fool who loses almost every thing and gains nothing. Though as I get old (and continue to be an unsuccessful fisherman), I do gain more empathy for him.

Spoiler again – I knew this was a classically tragic story, but for whatever reason, I didn’t even think of sharks. I just assumed the line would break before he could get him to shore.

I detest the lack of chapters or page breaks. I find it annoying and think books or authors that employ this ‘style’ are often overrated for doing something different.

However, overall it is a pretty good book. A somewhat unique twist on an old story. There are cool historical notes about how poor fisherman actually worked back then, which was surprisingly interesting to me and probably a few dozen other people. If you are looking for a short book or an American classic, it is good one for the job.

Book Review: The Reason for God

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

My Rating: Must read

Level: Medium length, around 250 pages; moderate read, some parts are a little philosophical or scientific.

Summary

The title is fairly clear. This is an apologetic work for why Keller thinks there is a reason for God’s existence, specifically the God of the Bible. The book is broken into two parts – The Leap of Doubt, and The Reasons for Faith. The former deals with criticisms or issues that skeptics may have for God, while the later gives proofs. There is also a introduction and an epilogue.

Each of the parts are broken into seven chapters: There Can’t be Just One Religion, How Could a Good God Allow Suffering, Christianity is a Straightjacket, Science has Disproved Christianity, and You Can’t Take the Bible Literally for part one. Part two includes: The Clues of God, The Knowledge of God, The Problem of Sin, Religion and the Gospel, The (True) Story of the Cross, The Reality of the Resurrection, and The Dance of God.

My Thoughts

So, my first thought is that since this book is a little old, and highly influential, not much may seem new to you. Obviously, Keller didn’t invent arguments for God, he is using what is out there, but the way he so intelligently and succinctly puts everything together really stands out and has permeated the reformed/evangelical world over the past decade plus.

Even with that, I think this is a must read for most Christians, as it is more or less an Apologetics 101 in a relatively short book. Again, I think some of the arguments may seem well known, especially the the response to the ‘critique’ that all religions are the same. In some ways this critique is so intellectually lazy, that it should be ignored, but it really can’t be. For one, most Christians don’t take the Bible seriously enough to care whether it is true, but more importantly, on a philosophical level, the idea that the divergent thoughts of some many religions could all ‘be the same’ really needs to be shut down quickly. Now, that doesn’t get you to a ‘god’ and certainly doesn’t get you to the God of the Bible, but this line of thinking is internet atheist level ignorance.

Overall, I think the defense (part 1) section of the book is valuable in teaching people the critiques that are out there, even if some are weak. That isn’t to diminish some of the questions, most of these are thinks Christians have wrestled with for centuries. I think this section is especially valuable for new Christians or high schoolers (or parents of high schoolers), because that is about the time when people will go off and find their first criticisms of religion, especially as the go on and live their beliefs on their own.

I have mixed thoughts on the second part, not because isn’t good (it is great, actually), but because of my own views on the ‘self-evident’ type arguments. On one hand, I believe the proof chapters are the most important, but on the other, I find some to be less compelling. I’m skeptical of arguments for clues of God or knowledge of God. Now, Romans tells us that the ‘law’ is written on the hearts of all people, and there is some clear acknowledgment of this. For instance, read Sapiens or many high level works on Physics, and you’ll get to some ‘universal constant’ or ‘unifying theory of all’, but I wonder how compelling this is to non-believers. For the angry/internet atheist, they already believe in God, they are just angry at him. For the agnostic, they know there is something out there, their question is more on the comprehensibility (even if the couch it in ‘knowability’). Keller admits, even if someone acknowledges some level of ‘higher power’, we still don’t necessarily have the Trinitarian God of orthodox Christianity.

Which is why I think the latter part of section two is so important. Modern evangelism is over run with ‘the feels’, an everlasting by-product of Charles Finney (and the impact of Schleiermacher and the Enlightenment), in which we describe what we ‘know’ about God/Christ by how it has impacted out life. We explain Christ in what he has done for us. This is a non-Biblical practice. We don’t know Christ is Lord because he is ‘in our hearts’, we know because the resurrection is fact.

The most skeptical thing you can say is that the earliest believers accepted the resurrection as fact. I think this is truly the starting point for anyone interest in apologetics or skepticism. People died for this belief, people only decades after Christ died. There has to be a reason, and it also lends credence to truth and reliability of the Bible. Far too many Christians are unaware of this, either through lack of care or critical thinking or challenge or knowledge of history. Again, this is a great, important section for new believers and high schoolers, especially those headed to college, because these are the base facts of our beliefs.

Paul himself says that if the resurrection doesn’t exist, we (that is Christians) are the most of all to be pitied. Yet far too many of us can’t easily explain why we believe what we believe as a truth (often, if we can, it is only as a ‘feels’). This book is a must read for all Christians either as your first run, teaching you the basics of reason and understanding, or the older Christian as a reminder on the basics of the truths to which we believe.

Book Review: Four Views on Creation, Evolution,& Intelligent Design

Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Medium length, moderately to highly (especially the last chapter) scientific/technical language (from three of the authors)

Summary
The format is the now standard Counterpoint Series – Essay/Argument, responses from the other three authors, then a rejoinder. Also, intro and conclusion from an editor (this time, from one that is affiliated with one of the other authors, which I don’t think I’ve seen before, however, he does acknowledge this up front).

The four views are Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth/Progressive Creationism (also often known as Day-age Creation), Evolutionary Creationism (also known as Theistic Evolution, but she explains why they is a weak and broader term than her view, which I found compelling), and Intelligent Design.

My Thoughts
I was torn on how to rate this. Three of the authors made this a five star, must read, but the first author was just a disaster. I would give him a zero if possible. I’ve read probably 10 of the Counterpoint books and his essay was the weakest one I’ve ever read. He weakens not just this book, but the entire series.

Ham has no education or training in either science or theology and it shows. He doesn’t seem to understand how science works, and is unrelenting in his belief that his theological interpretation is the only valid one. His understanding of church history (claims that his view is the historical one, which is demonstrably false) and Hebrew is also lacking. His responses boiled down to ‘na-uh’, putting things in ‘scare quotes’ the he didn’t agree with, and questioning the salvation of the other authors.

The editor even pointed out in the conclusion that he refused to shorten his essay, due to be the only one to support Biblical authority (the editor also expressed dismay over the lack of charity). Obviously, this is incorrect as there are multiple conservative (SBC, PCA, etc.) pastors, theologians, commentaries authors, Hebrew scholars, and seminary professors that do not share his view. I assume when he said he wouldn’t meet the standards everyone agree to, that he threaten to leave the project, and it is a shame that the editor and publisher didn’t just allow this to happen and move on without him. The book would have been far superior with his absence.

Now back to the good part. Ross was likely my favorite writer of the group. He made compelling arguments for the ‘Day-age’ view of creation. So, he uses the more general ‘framework theory’ of Genesis 1, not that they are literal days. He agrees with geology and physics that the world is Billions of years old, but not with biology that we evolved (explicitly reject the ‘common descent’ evolution). He sees God involving himself in the changes to species throughout time, creating new ones in history. He also had a fascinating argument that one reason there have been no new species since humans came on to the scene is because God rested from creation. Not sure if I believe it, but compelling and interesting nonetheless. He take the order of creation to be literal, so expects that science will prove that at some point. I generally agreed with his interpretive view, but I wonder about picking some science and not others.

Haarsma took the Evolutionary Creation view, making the point that creation is the point and evolution modifies it, not the other way around, as with Theistic Evolution. Also, ‘theistic’ is no necessarily the God of the Bible. She accepts science on both age of the earth and evolution. She also takes the ‘framework view’ which is common among Evangelical scholars. She doesn’t take the creation order as literal and supports common ancestry. Her organization (Biologos) seems to be focused on evangelism to those in the scientific field, so she starts with accepting science, and then moving to God and Christ.

This is a different approach from Meyer. His group, The Discovery Institute, isn’t focused on evangelism or apologetics, but instead focuses on the issues within the science, and the argument that the science itself calls for a creator. In that way, his group does not have faith statements for the God of the Bible or Christ and has other religious and non-religious people within his organization; though he himself is a committed orthodox Christian. His focus was entirely on the science of biological evolution, and did not make much of a theological argument (which is fine, that is how his organization works). He accepts all science on age of the earth and biology in regards to evolution, his point is to argue that is was directed by God (which is not really different than Haarsma essay). His article was maybe the most interesting, but certainly the most technical, so get ready, it might take awhile.

Three of the authors have PhD’s in science, and then there is Ham. Due to this, there are some technical aspects of the writing in all chapters. There is also the academic argumentation that occurs in, well, academic/scientific research, but for some reason it seems odd in this book. Maybe that was an editorial decision. It is also likely, unavoidable, though, were I the editor, I don’t think I would allow arguments that use scientists who point out issues with evolution, yet still fully support it. That is just how science and research work, and the fact that these issues don’t sway those scientist somewhat undermines the argument.

Most of the authors cited widely, with the exception of Ham, who only cited himself (which is fine if you are published) or his organization (or their printing arm). He also labeled others who disagreed that were cited elsewhere as ‘atheistic’ regardless of what they actually believed, I assume in an attempt to scare people. Again, I would just cut him out entirely, so I’ll ignore the other issues with him.

Another editorial change would be to lock down some definitions. There seemed to be at least four working definitions for evolution alone, which sometimes lead to people talking past each other. I would have liked to see some more discussion of ‘special creation’ for those who support evolution, but I guess Haarsma mentions a few things that makes her views clear, while Meyer stuck to science and no theological arguments.

I’m actually still torn on the inclusion of Meyer. His arguments were inline with the others, with huge agreement with Haarsma. It is just that his tactic is different. Ultimately, I think he brought a lot of value, but due to his nature, it didn’t leave much for the others to interact with. Haarsma and Ross, agreed with him and his critiques of science, respectively. As I mentioned above, he article was maybe the best, but as he isn’t really arguing a different ‘view’, it left the chapter feeling a little disconcordant.

If you have interest on the science (mostly settled) and theology (all over place) of creation, this is a book to put on your list. As for age of the earth, if you are a committed young earth, this book will help you understand the old age arguments and show how it doesn’t have to end your faith. If you are trying to understand young earth, you should probably look elsewhere, as Ham is a street corner preacher that yells at people as the pass bye. Certainly there are better sources out there. The strength of the book is evolution science (though Ross and Haarsma have PhD’s/academic careers in the astro-physics realm, which does come up and is quite good), so if that is what you are interested in (while still maintaining a Christian belief, or if you don’t want to see the Christian belief that discusses evolution seriously) then this book is a must read. If you interest is the theology of evolution, this is still good, but the Four Views on the Historical Adam (my review) is better. If you are trying to read everything you can about all these, put it on your list.

 

Book Review: Coronavirus and Christ

Book Image

You can get the book here, for free. 

I’m not doing to normal format today, just a quick review of a short book. You can get it free (digitally, at least) from Desiring God. There are multiple formats. I read it on my Kindle, but look at the PDF, ignoring all the notes and copyright/table of contents, you are looking at about 90 pages. Piper breaks the books in to two parts after an intro about what is happening and where we are (or were, the book was written mid March) – The God Who Reigns Over Coronavirus and What is God Doing Through the Coronavirus.

The first part is five short chapters, all on some aspect of God’s sovereignty. This shouldn’t be too surprising coming from Piper. As always, that sovereignty is both comforting and a little scary. We know that God is in control, but often we wish it was us instead. Likewise, there is a strong line of Christ’s Supremacy, and how He should be out focus. This part is saturated with Scripture, especially Paul.

The second part is what he calls ‘paths’, but I find that a little confusing, because they are not exclusive. Either way, the part heading is a little clearer in that these are things that God is/may be doing with Coronavirus. I don’t agree with all them, necessarily, and Piper even points out that people might; however he lays out what he things God is doing, and then explains why. The six ideas are – Picturing Moral Horror, Sending Specific Divine Judgement, Awakening Us for the Second Coming, Realigning Us with the Infinite Worth of Christ, Creating Good Works in Danger, and Loosening the Roots to Reach the Nations.

I found the first and third chapters to be interesting, but not sure it was the strongest case. I had the most disagreement with the second chapter. The second half were the strongest three, especially the calls to action he gives in the final two chapters.  Those are good reminders of our call in life as Christians and how we should be/act different(ly) than society as a whole. Our call to serve and reach people for Christ should be our highest priorities, even in the midst of tragedy.

He ends the book with a short prayer regarding Covid-19. In some ways the book could be a long sermon, especially the way he lays out the foundations of God’s reign over the world, followed by six ways God is acting. It is strongly Biblical and theologically sound. It is free and short, so if it is worth it for most people to read, even if you are one of those people (like me) who are trapped inside with a bunch of kids, while still trying to work remotely. As I mentioned, I don’t necessarily agree completely with all his points (in part two), but all are worth reading and pondering; the reminder of Who reigns (part one) over all is always a good thing to read and remember, especially in a time of great uncertainty, fear, and crisis.

Book Review: A Full Life

A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Easy, short (just over 200 pages), but a little slow

Summary
This isn’t a book about his presidency, he almost spends the least amount of time on that (his shortest chapter, by one page, is about his entire political career leading up the presidency). It is quite an autobiography either, because it isn’t comprehensive enough, though it is obviously written in the first person perspective. Mostly, it seems to be just a few thoughts on most of the major events in his life.

The book is broken into eight chapters – Archery & the Race Issue, this is the town in which he grew up, with additional thoughts on race at the time (and now to some extent); Navy Years, about his time in Annapolis and in the Navy including the first nuclear submarine, up until his father dies; Back to Georgia, leaving the Navy, taking over the family farm, foray in to politics; Atlanta to Washington, from running for Governor to running for President; Life in the White House; Issues Mostly Resolved, major political issues that he considered mostly complete/accomplished; Problems Still Pending, the issues that were not resolved; Back Home, post presidency, including his work with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity.

My Thoughts
I generally enjoyed this book. It is written well enough, but it can be a little slow. In some ways, it feels like talking with an old man, the stories are a little long winded, and some don’t seem to have a point. I didn’t mind this too much, it reminded me of talking with my granddads (both of which passed away last summer). They were from Georgia and South Alabama, both born a few months after Jimmy, and both served in the Navy. The one from Georgia, also named James, likewise taught Sunday School in a Southern Baptist Church for decades. So, for me, there was some very familiar about his life stories (except political office aspects).

Carter was out of office four years before I was born, and up until a few years ago, all I really knew about him was ‘stagflation’, ‘malaise’, and that yankees (especially Kennedys) didn’t like him. Granted, by his own admission, these are his views of events, but it does make me want to go find his official biography of his presidency. I didn’t know that he created the Departments of Energy and Education, that he was a proponent of Universal Healthcare, or supported decriminalizing weed. It is honestly a little depressing that we are still having these debates more than 40 years later with little to no progress.

The other thing everyone knows about Carter is that he is the ‘greatest ex-president ever.’ This certainly shows in the book, as he was in his early 50s when he was out of office, he felt he had a lot to do, and didn’t want to ‘just’ have a museum or library. That is why the Carter Center exists, he wanted a place to work, and it has done a great deal of good, especially as it pivoted to tropical diseases over the past few decades.

The two issues chapters were some of the most interesting, especially to see a politician state such clear positions, and to see how many are unfortunately still issues today. I don’t agree with all of his politics, but I appreciate his articulation and reasons behind it. If you have interest in Jimmy Carter, this alone probable makes the book worth it.  A little slow, but short and easy to read, he gives us something between a diary and an autobiography. Overall, I think it is one worth putting on your list.

Book Review: Jesus Skeptic

Jesus Skeptic

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy, moderate length (300ish)

Summary
The subtitle does a good job of laying out the premise of the book. As a trained skeptic (journalist) he looks into the impact of Christians and into the credibility of the claims for Christ. The latter is a kind of a classical apologetics for Christ, while the former is more of a modern defense and response to some of the attacks against Christians today.

The book is broken into three parts – Skeptics Welcome, Measuring Christianity’s Impact on Society, and The Most Influential Person – as well as preface, intro, conclusion, and three appendices. The first part is autobiographical and how he came to start exploring Christianity. As an aside for this section, I didn’t like his capitalization of ‘primary evidence’ or him treating the term like it was new or proprietary. The second part looks at things like scientist who were Christians during the scientific revolution, the early Christian efforts to care for people which led to the creation of hospitals, as well as the establishment of public education and Universities. The final part is mostly classic apologetics – did Jesus exist, what did he do, what did his followers believe about him.

My Thoughts
This is also a little nit-picky, but the subtitle doesn’t match the order of the next parts in the book. He explore impact first. Of course most early schools were started to train pastors, and public schools were established to teach literacy, so that people could read the Bible. He takes this to combat the attack that Christians are anti-intellectual today, and as general evidence of the goodness of Christianity (especially with hospitals). He is a little all or nothing in that approach, because there are certainly anti-intellectual Christians, and many of those are big in the home school movement and the general attack on public school that exists today (all with no trace of irony). He has a chapter on the scientific revolution, and the impact of Christians who were important scientist. The stories are good and the evidence of their belief is pretty clear, but I don’t think it will have the apologetic impact he seems to think it might. Similarly, he focuses on abolitionist and slaves that were Christian, but I think attacks on Christianity will only focus on defenders of slavery (which he does acknowledge) or generally doubt the validity of the slaves beliefs.

The final section is the best part of the book, and probably the most useful for young or new Christians. Proof that Jesus (the person) existed is overwhelming and not in dispute in academia, I think the only doubters are internet Atheists, but he does a good job displaying the information from sources outside of Christianity. A common attack against Christian beliefs is that the Resurrection and Deification of Christ were much later additions to the established Church (despite clear evidence to the contrary in the Bible). I think the Divinci Code makes this claim, so it is pretty popular now. Of course there is non-Christian written evidence by Jewish and Greek historians written a few decades (not centuries) after Christ that state that Christians claim Jesus was raised from the dead and that they worshiped him as a god.

The final chapter alone is worth the book. The middle section is good. It is important for Christians to know their history and the impact we’ve had on the world, but the apologetic aspect of the last part is of greater importance. As a church, we’ve done a poor job education our people and this is especially true in history and apologetcs. The books is really well written and very accessible. My hope would be that it would spark some interest in Christians knowing more about ourselves and better able to defend attacks. If you are starting this topic, or already interested, this is a book to add to your list.

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

Book Review: The Bible Tells Me So…

The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Medium length, easy read (Enns is an academic, but writes for a popular audience)

Summary
In some ways it is a little difficult to summarize this book. This is one of his few books that is written entirely for popular audiences, and he uses a unique form/structure, so it bounces around some. If you are familiar with Enns, there won’t be too much new here. For the most part you are getting some higher criticism, difficult passage in the Old Testament (as in, both things we just don’t like and unclear Hebrew), Jesus reinterpreting the Old Testament and changing the Law (because he is God), and Paul doing the same (in light of the resurrection).  The first chapter is autobiographical and touches on the subtitle of the book, but the following chapters mostly fit into the above outlines.

There are seven chapters – I’ll take door number three; God did what?!; God likes stories; Why doesn’t God make up his mind?; Jesus is bigger than the Bible; No one saw this coming; and The Bible, just as it is. The last chapter is a mostly summary and concluding remarks. Each chapter is broken into short (usually just under 5 pages) writings on anecdotes or individual passages form the Bible.

My Thoughts
If you never read any of Enns, this book could be a good places to start. If you have read most of his other books, maybe pass. Alternatively, if you want a summary of this book and response you could read Longmen’s Confronting Old Testament Controversies. You do get a little bit more of the his life story in the first chapter, but I was expecting more on the subtitle. I thought there were be more a thesis regarding our hyper focus on arguing/defending the Bible, and then the impact of that on how we read it. I agree with the former, and was really hoping on my insight on the later. However, often the subtitle and sometimes in the the title are written by the editors/publisher. I might have passed if I had know how small a part of the book this idea was.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I really like Enns as a writer, his style is short and funny. Everything is very readable, almost like a large compilation of blog posts (but better/more organized). There are points with which I disagree, and some of his translation seem a little too lose, making them lead more to the point he is trying to make than a stricter/better interpretation. It wouldn’t be a the top of my list, but if you’ve read a good bit about OT issues/problems/’contradictions’ or the way Jesus/Paul change/reinterpret them and you are still looking for something, this would be a good option. He has an appendix of notes and further reading from people who agree and disagree with him.

Book Review: The Big Sort

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy read; moderate length (300+)

Summary
With increased mobility, the country to more and more choosing to live in areas of like-minded people. This has the effects both of intensifying our own beliefs and not knowing anyone else with ideas different from ours. This has had profound impacts on our national politics. The book is divided into four parts – The Power of Place, The Silent Revolution, The Way We Live Today, and The Politics of People Who Live Like Us. Each part is broken into three chapters each. There is also a great intro, if you are in a library or can find a book store, it’d be worth your time to go head and read at least this chapter.

My Thoughts
You might think the title is a riff on the largely known book and popular movie, the Big Short; I did, but actually, this book was written almost a year ahead of it. I have no idea if the titles are independent, or if the short was a play on the sort.

The basic premise of the book is that we are in fact living in more and more like communities and that this change is bad for us. We live increasingly with people just like us. That is fairly easy to prove, based on census data, voting data, and surveys. What he spends much of the rest of the book showing, is that this separation leads to negative consequences. For instance, social psychology of groups/tribes (as chapter three is called). Experiments showing people are more likely to have the extreme view than individuals – attempting to show you belong. On scale of 1-10 on how liberal/conservative someone is, the group average may by a six, but when they all get together or have to make a joint decision, that response ends up being an eight.

So, you have this odd case where the decision or policy of the group ends up being further on the spectrum than most of the individual members. Then you end up with the corollary, that you can’t imagine another person have the opposite view, the view that is different from the group. This is exacerbated with the sorting of our communities so that one might not even come into contact with someone of a different political belief.

He also writes on the move in marketing to focusing on tribes. He describes two white women that advertisers had previously seen as the same (age, income, gender, ethnicity), but now targets them differently, mostly based on political views. One particularly interesting chapter to me, he looks at church growth and the focus and the seeker sensitive movement as people try to reflect an audience or attract a specific group. His point with these two chapters is that the sorting into smaller and specific groups is impacting every aspect of our life.

It has even influenced the way we watch TV, there are rarely discussion on anymore, they also have to be combative and argumentative, to draw ratings. Somehow, we take that to be the correct way to act in public. He has a funny reference to ‘your fired’ to show that people would rather watch abrasive personalities than anything constructive. Personally, this is why I’ve stopped watching most sports coverage. I used to watch my shows on ESPN, but they have adopted the model where the yell over each other in disagreement, but I just find that too obnoxious.

Overall, I think Bishop proves his thesis. Clearly, our communities are sorting and (as the book is over 10 years old) we’ve already moved past some of his concerns and things are worse than predicted. It would be really interesting to have a follow-up after the 2020 Census and Presidential Election. The writing is good, the author is a writer and it shows. The writing is quick and often funny. The only issue I have is that it becomes fairly redundant. He will cite a study in one chapter, or even go into it in detail, and then in a later chapter, cite it again and describe it as if we don’t know what it is. The book has the feeling of multiple independent articles compiled together. This is likely more on the editor/publisher than the author, but it does start to feel a bit tedious.

I should caveat this review somewhat with the point that I have a degree in geography and a masters in city planning, so I was very familiar with many of the studies and ideas in this book. Also, as I previously had an academic interest in this topic, it may well not be as popular or interesting to a wider audience. I say you should put this on your list, but that would be if you already have a deep interest in politics, particularly in the idea that we are polarizing ourselves, or popular geography. If not, maybe grab it if you decide you are looking for something about it.