A Gracious and Compassionate God: Mission, Salvation and Spirituality in the Book of Jonah by Daniel Timmer

Daniel Timmer’s contribution to the New Studies In biblical Theology is a worthy addition. His exploration of Jonah is as thorough as one will find. While this is NOT a commentary on Jonah (i.e. verse by verse) it out does most of the commentaries out there. This is a wonderful example of Biblical Theology, with Timmer exploring topics such as mission, spirituality, conversion and of course the place of Christ in Jonah. Timmer skillfully ties this book into the wider corpus of sin, judgment, the day of the Lord and the gospel. Oh how narrow and shallow is our sunday school treatment of Jonah.

Highly Recommended.

Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts by William Webb

This is probably one of the most fascinating books I have read in a while. The topic of corporal punishment is a big one with both the pro & anti smacking lobby’s pretty much entrenched in their positions. Webb seemingly takes on the pro smacking group in a very aggressive way at the beginning of the book. His argument is that while the ‘two-smack’ on the buttocks proponents are trying to uphold discipline without abusing the child, their claim that their position is biblical is false. Webb spends the first chapter showing that the biblical position of corporal punishment bears NO resemblance to the ‘two-smack’ on the buttocks approach. In fact, to hold a biblical position would require far more violence with no age restriction, striking on the back and sides with the intention of marking.

For a brief moment you actually think Webb may endorse such an approach. But he does not. His point is that he AGREES with the two-smack proponents, but that they should not claim that they follow scripture. On the contrary, to hold the biblical position is to NOT do what the scriptures literally say!! Webb’s approach is called the redemptive movement approach. He argues that to understand scripture you need to know it’s historical & cultural context. In other words, when you realize the uncontrolled violence which was allowed and often practiced then the biblical directives become redemptive as they seek to place boundaries in a culture without boundaries. Webb writes: “The forty lashes of Deut 25:1-3 must be understood against it’s ancient social context, which included beatings of up to 200 lashes or strokes, open wounds, bodily mutilations and other forms of torture.” So the two-smack proponents are, in Webb’s opinion RIGHT not in a literal, biblical way, but in a redemptive movement way, showing grace and more restraint / and kindness in their discipline methods.

This is a fascinating argument and well worth wrestling with. I really like Webb’s other work, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals which uses this approach. Webb is easy to read with a compelling argument.

Highly recommended.

God In A Brothel: An Undercover Journey Into Sex Trafficking And Rescue by Daniel Walker

Daniel Walker’s account of his undercover journey into the world of sex trafficking is very powerful. Here is a man committed to trying to make an impact into this incredibly degrading and harmful industry. His story is moving on so many levels – the stories he tells of the young women; the struggles and conflicts he faced while undercover and trying to free them; the burden he carried for those he could not help; and the temptations which he faced and the boundaries he crossed.

You will cry, and you will be moved. You will feel anger and frustration as you read. You will feel immense sadness at the cost Daniel pays at the end of the book. But for me, the feeling i came away with is one of confusion and some shame. With a global church consisting of billions of Christians and resources in the trillions, why are people like Daniel Walker fighting this fight, and battling this battle seemingly on their own. I know there are many involved with the fight – but there should be more. Sex trafficking is lucrative because there are people who want to pay for the sex. The whole Church needs to be aware of what is going on and the whole Church needs to be involved, in varying levels, in fighting this fight and ending this practice.

Highly recommended!

Seeing Is Believing: Experience Jesus through Imaginative Prayer by Gregory A. Boyd

To the consternation of many of my friends, I really like Greg Boyd. He is a smart, thoughtful and passionate for Jesus.

This book is a defence of imaginative prayer, or cataphatic prayer.

Why don’t Christians live in the freedom and joy of the gospel? Boyd argues it is because information about the gospel does not transform you. You can believe in your mind that 2 Cor 5:17 is true – you are a new creation, but that will not enable you to become a new creation.

Boyd argues:

We tend to have a naive conviction that if only we read

another book or get involved in another Bible study,

our lives will be significantly changed. As a matter of

fact, this is not the case at all. Indeed, contemporary Western Christians are as a whole arguably

the most informed generation of Christians in all of church history.Yet no one would be so foolish as to

suggest that we are the most transformed.To the contrary, research suggests that the faith of American

evangelicals generally has very little effect on our day-to-day lives.

Boyd also says:

The most fundamental reason why believers do not experience who they are in Christ, and thus don’t 
experience the peace they can have in Christ, is that their experienced self-identity is rooted in the 
flesh.Their experienced self-identity is not in line with their true identity as believers in Christ. 
The way they see and experience themselves, and thus the way they see and experience God and the world, 
is not in conformity with the way things actually are. They are to some degree caught in the web of deception 
that is the flesh.They intellectually believe the truth, but they do not experience the truth as real and thus 
do not consistently live according to truth.
 

The book is about how to experience the truth of KNOWING who you are in Christ. I confess that I found the book a blessing and very helpful as I read it. And I think there is much in this book which can be helpful, even for those who do not like Boyd’s theological position. He firmly states that there is NOTHING we can do to achieve our status in Christ and the Church and Western Christianity has preached for too long, and with damaging consequences a “try harder” message.

What the “try harder” solution does is confuse the effect with the cause. It puts the caboose before the engine. It implicitly assumes that what the believer does determines who the believer is, rather than vice versa. It makes behavior the means to acquiring a new identity rather than making a new identity the means of acquiring new behavior.

This book challenges us to quit trying harder, and to enter into the reality of what Christ HAS done and is doing in us. Let me finish with a final quote from Boyd which I think summarizes his position well:

The key to experiencing the peace of God as an ongoing reality in our lives, then, is not in trying hard to achieve it. This can only make us more anxious! The key, rather, is to cease from our own striving and let the Holy Spirit do his work in pointing us to Jesus. The key is in allowing the Holy Spirit to make Christ real to us and to rest, just as we are, in this reality. In doing this we allow the Holy Spirit to overcome deception in our lives with truth, performance in our lives with grace, hiddenness in our lives with openness, and thus destruction in our lives with wholeness. As we through the power of the Spirit experience the peace Jesus offers us as we are, in the midst of all our anxiety, the peace that characterizes his life becomes ours by grace. As we behold the glory of his peace, we are transformed into this peace from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings – Lectionary Cycle B

 

I really like this series of Ancient Christian Devotional. Based on the Anglican three year liturgical cycle (years A-C) and using the revised common lectionary, these books give you a wonderful introduction to 1. A rhythm of prayer; 2. The Church fathers.

 

This is a great devotional tool, and it can be tackled in a number of ways. Each weeks readings are based on the Revised Common lectionary for that Sunday. Beginning with a theme and opening prayer, you then have a number of passages from the Church fathers relating to the Old Testament reading, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel readings. Then there is a closing prayer. You can use it once a week as an extended time of prayer before the Sunday worship, or you can take a few of the readings each day throughout the week.

 

To read the passage of scripture in the Bible and then read the comment by the church fathers is both a useful and edifying experience. Whether you want some structure to your daily prayer life, or you want an introduction to the Church Fathers and what they said, I really like, and would recommend this series.

 

The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World by Jonathan Powell

I really did enjoy this book. Jonathan Powell was Tony Blair’s chief of staff during the years Blair was Prime Minister. He is also a student of Machiavelli, and what Powell does so well and fascinatingly is interweave sayings of Machiavelli into his account of his years with Blair – and it works wonderfully.

For a political book this is very gripping & enjoyable as well as informative. Not once did I feel bogged down nor was I struggling through chapters. Powell has added a valuable and important insight into the Blair government; it’s internal struggles and conflicts and most strikingly, the humanness and ‘normality’ of government. By this I mean that politicians are not titanic personalities who are doing superman work, but flawed, fragile and ego-centered human beings struggling to a job they have been given to do – and more often than they would like, having a bad day.

Highly recommended.

God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? by David Lamb

The answer to the question posed by the title of this book is, of course, no! David Lamb is tackling a question which is rife among many Christians throughout the western church – how can I reconcile the God of the Old Testament to the God of the New Testament. Lamb ably, and in a way which is very accessible, answers this question. And his answer is that of course, God has not changed, nor is he a different God:

The main point that these texts are making is not simply that God is unchangeable, but that God is unchangeable about his commitment to bless his people.

The question “What is God like” – “What is his nature like” is at the core of Lamb’s book and it is an important issue to wrestle with. Lamb says that:

We will find…that the God of both Testaments is loving. He affirms women, is hospitable towards foreigners and brings peace, not a sword. He is not legalistic but gracious, not rigid but flexible, and not distant but near.

If you want to now HOW Lamb comes to this conclusion, you will need to buy the book and read it. It would a be a worth while exercise to do so!!

Recommended.