Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes Which Hinder It - by Roland Allen



The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church by Roland Allen is a rather short but very thought provoking book.  In it, he somewhat implicitly asks the question, Who builds the Church? Leading to that thought, he critiques our method of Evangelization, are we doing it right? Do we need to organize the expansion of the church?  Do we need to establish mission stations, do we need missionaries who depend upon appeals for money for their support.  Will the Gospel spread if we don't purposefully come up with a plan to spread it?

Allen warns that what we are trying to do in our methods is to organize the work of God, to dictate where people will get saved and a time period in which their salvation must happen.  But as Allen points out, "For spiritual work spiritual organization is necessary; but can we create a spiritual organization of spiritual forces?  Only a divine intelligence can do that.  But we attempt to do the work of that divine intelligence; by fixing our stations and immobilizing our men….But to be God's agents in spiritual movements we must follow, not lead.  We want to lead, and, in trying to lead, we are simply left behind.  We say:  'Here we will have our buildings,' but the spiritual movements may be growing unseen by us in another place and by other means….The organization is always too late.  For we can organize the external results of a spiritual movement, but we cannot organize a spiritual movement. "

 One of the main points of the book  is that we don't need professional missionaries or Christian organizations dedicated to evangelism in order to spread the Gospel. The Church is the only Christian organization promoted by the Bible and therefore we should assume that the Gospel will be spread by means of its members working within that organization rather than in a parachurch organization.  How will the Gospel be spread in other countries? Well, Allen points out that God can use any way He wants. He can use a member of a local church in Lansing, Michigan going on a business trip to Ethiopia to spread the Gospel to an Ethiopian he meets in the process of doing whatever work he does there.  Let's say he talks to Ethiopian about the Gospel, the Ethiopian believes, and the American Christian gives him a Bible and goes back to America, as his business is done. But even though that American Christian leaves, the Ethiopian studies the Bible given to him, and spreads the Gospel to his fellow Ethiopians and thus a church can springs up, without there being any money having ever been particularly dedicated to spreading the Gospel in that area of Ethiopia.  Christ will build His church.

Interestingly, Allen points out that the "great commission" is not repeated in the epistles, and the Apostles did not make evangelistic appeals to the churches, they didn't give out calls for people volunteer to go into far away countries to spread the Gospel.  They apparently assumed that the Holy Spirit would bring individual church members to the right people and to the right places without their needing to organize the work or plan it out.  This may sound absurd today, but we don't need "Professional Missionaries", all Christians are missionaries.  He points out that people "have been obsessed with the idea that a man to express his missionary zeal properly must be a member of some other body within the Church and that church membership is not sufficient." 

 Oh, and by the way, this guy was writing in the 1920s! It is still so applicable to today, perhaps more so than even in his day.

Another thing that Allen critiques that really seems to be prominent in our day is the "Social Gospel"; warning that feeding the poor and helping the sick is not the Gospel itself. You really can't preach the Gospel without "using words".  "'Seek ye first,' said Christ, 'the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Putting intellectual enlightenment and social reform first in time, we have, by deeds which speak louder than words, taught men to seek 'all these things' first, and some today justify their action by identifying intellectual enlightenment and social and political reform with the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  To identify the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness with social and political doctrines always has led, and always must lead, to disaster.  The Kingdom of God and His Righteousness are founded in Christ, but these doctrines and reforms can easily be divorced from Christ, and are pursued by many who won no allegiance to Christ." To apply this today, ending world slavery, creating democracies and republics, is not the Gospel of Christ.  Somewhere in the book Allen says something along the lines of: A person can become a vibrant Christian and remain a slave, a person can be a dedicated, enthusiastic Christian and live in a country ruled by a dictator, a Christian can be a joyful Christian and be malnourished.  A change of outward circumstances is not the Gospel.  Christ is All-Sufficient, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.  Point to Him first, and anything else that He thinks is needed for the convert will come after their acceptance of Him.

Lastly, Allen greatly laments Christian organizations reliance upon money.  He notices that anytime missionaries see an opportunity for the further spread of the Gospel they make it seem as though it cannot take place without money. Christian organizations unconsciously teach their converts that money is the power of God unto salvation. "They continually bemoan the fact that their greatest difficulty, their most serious anxiety, their most bitter disappointment, arises from the lack of support from home.", lacking the support either of money or of more paid recruits, they assume that the work of God won't get done, not considering that perhaps God doesn't want it to happen their way, perhaps God wants that particular organization to close. That's one of the questions he asks, would a Christian organization be willing to close in order to further its cause if that's what it would take?

There are other things Allen addresses that are quite interesting and intriguing thoughts.  But, to sum up Allen's book:
He warns us that we are trying to make people into New Creations ourselves, essentially taking the job of the Holy Spirit into our own hands.  We don't need to make people moral before they can come to Christ, that will come afterward, we don't need to change people's surrounding  circumstances before they can be a vibrant Christian.  We don't need money to spread the Gospel. We don't need professional missionaries and Christian organizations to spread the Gospel. We don't need money to create a church.  Christ will build His church. 

 I highly recommend this book.

Many thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com

My Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
*****

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Kingdom Files (book series) - Who was Esther? and Who was David? by Matt Koceich


These books are intended to teach kids about various biblical characters.  I read the ones on David and Esther.  The books are made up of various "files" for kids to investigate the particular characters in any of the given books. Starting out with a "Fact file", which gives a few facts about the person you are looking into, including a tiny timeline with about three events selected.  Next comes the "Action File", giving a summary of the person's life, along with various illustrations.  Lastly comes the "Power File" which gives you some ideas of what you can learn from the life of the person you are studying, and also provides you with memory verses from various books of the Bible.

I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed with these books. First of all, they seem more like books for kids younger than 8, not 8-12. The biographies skip too much, it doesn't mention that Jonathan's father tried to kill Jonathan when Jonathan defended David, it doesn't mention that David's wives were taken when the city he was living in was raided, it just said that they recovered everything that was plundered.  There is no mention of David's sin with Bathsheba, or his having her husband killed, it just says later on that David made mistakes in his life.  When David's son Absalom is chasing David, it has a "Clue" on the side: "David was being chased by someone close to him.  He was being hunted even though he hadn't done anything wrong." But, don't we know from the Bible that this was a part of the consequence of his sin with Bathsheba (See 2 Samuel 12:11)? That was certainly something that was very wrong.

Also, the "Clues" scattered throughout their book don't make much sense to me.  The introduction to the books says that the "Clue Boxes will offer applications to help you keep track of your thoughts as you make your way through the files." Okay, fine.  But look at one of the "Clues" "Crags of the Wild Goats is located in the Judean wilderness. It's made up of rocky cliffs.  The ibex mountain goat is found in this area".  What kind of application is that?   How does that help me keep track of my thoughts? It helps me keep track of the story, but doesn't keep me an application to anything.  They should have just been called "Fact Boxes" or "Investigating Further".  Their purpose as "Clues" just didn't make sense.

Speaking of facts, in the "Fact File" there is information that is not so factual.  For instance in the fact file in the Kingdom File on David, after talking about the temple and that it was mainly used for sacrifices to God, it says, "Once a year, the high priest would go into the holy of holies, pray to God and ask God to forgive the people of Israel's sins."  And so God just forgave their sins on the merit of the prayers of the high priest? I'm not sure that the High Priest prayed at all. The High Priest had to go in to the holy of holies with the blood of an animal, he couldn't just pray for the sins of the people to be forgiven, there had to be a sacrifice of an animal on their behalf.  "but into the second the high priest alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself, and for the errors of the people"(Heb 9:7)ASV

In the "Kingdom File" on Esther, "On the surface, Esther's story is very similar to our spiritual life stories because she was taken from a faraway place into the presence of a king, just as Jesus saves us from our sins and brings us into His Father's house."  Ummm… Esther probably wasn't the most excited when she was taken away from her home to be one of a bunch of other candidates to have a chance to be the King's replacement Queen…failing that, she would definitely become one of his concubines.  She would probably rather have stayed with Mordecai, where her life surroundings were more likely to be moral. This part of Esther's story is hardly an accurate comparison to Jesus saving us from our sins.

And now for the illustrations…the cover images are pretty neat, ones I would have liked examining as a kid, but the ones on the inside would have disappointed me.  Especially the ones in the David book, where, unlike on the cover, he looks very blond; so much so that when they depict him as a young man and give him a beard he actually looks old.  And at least one of the pictures is biblically inaccurate.  The book tells about where Saul goes into a cave and, unknown to him, David's men are there hiding and David cuts off the corner of Saul's robe.  It doesn't tell WHY Saul went into the cave…but I can live with that.  My problem is that this part is illustrated and has Saul wrapped up in his robe sleeping in the cave and David cutting off the corner of his robe.  That's false.  Not that I think that part should be illustrated in the first place, but don't illustrate it wrong!

All in all, these books just weren't accurate enough for me to like them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

These books may be found at Amazon.com 
Who Was Esther?

My Rating: 1 out of 5 Stars
*

Monday, August 20, 2018

Old Hickory: The 30th Division - The top rated American Infantry Division in Europe in World War II - by Robert W. Baumer




Originally I was looking for a biography that would tell about General William K. Harrison, as I had learned some things about him and wanted to know more.  There is no biography that I could find that was in print about him, but I came across this recently published book about the division he was assistant commander of, "Old Hickory: the 30th Division by Robert W. Baumer

This account of the 30th division was interesting in and of itself.  These guys were quite tough, and determined.  Made up of National Guards, they remained vigilant with their duties even when, in preparation for them to be trained to join the fight, higher ups demanded that their national guard commanders be replaced with regular army commanders.

They were not a part of the first wave of D-Day, they were in a following wave some days later, but they were a big part of Operation Cobra, which was to break through further into France. Before I read this book, I had never really considered the problems that military air force bombers would have in hitting their targets accurately. In Operation Cobra, the 30th division is set to push further into France, but there would be an air bombing of the enemy first to soften things up for the men on the ground, to make their advance easier. There was some concern beforehand that the bombers would have difficulty in telling where to drop the bombs, but those concerns were brushed over.   It was a disaster.  The bombers hit their own men, killing many. Their losses were more than the Germans.  The attack wasn't followed through with that day and postponed until the next.  The Germans didn't know that the Americans had hit their own men, and they thought that what had happened was some sort of trick.  And then the same thing happened on the following day.  I almost laughed with amazement at the message that was sent to one of the Generals: "They've done it again".  It was horrific and quite demoralizing. But the attack by the men still had to happen, and so they set out, even traveling through the carnage of their own side caused by friendly fire.  You feel so bad, not just for the guys who were traumatized by it on the ground, but also for the pilots who were the cause of such demoralization to their own side.  They had a really tough job.

Also, although Harrison is talked about quite a bit in the volume, I thought it interesting that it doesn't mention that he's a Christian until he acts uncharacteristically and uses some inappropriate language, and then it makes sure to note that he was a "deeply religious man".  It goes to show that the world knows that Christians are supposed to be different and will notice inconsistency their faults more than in those who are not believers. One of the things Baumer emphasizes is that Harrison was very brave, and wanted to lead from the front. "He would become one of the most frequently seen general officers of WWII in the front lines with his men, and widely admired for his courage."  At one point, He ends up getting wounded while at the front and the general he served under saw him and Harrison felt the need to defend his actions, saying something along the lines of, "How else was I supposed to lead my men?" He apparently took the responsibilities that God had given him very seriously, and wanted to them well.

Before I wrap up, I do want to mention that there is a bit of foul language in the book, mainly in the quotations of various people. Also, the description of the guys having gone through "hell" in their multiple difficulties was WAY overused (not that it's accurate in the first place), I don't know that I've ever read a military book that used that description as much as is used in this volume. 

That said, the book was pretty well written, and really 'pulled' me in places.  I found it intense, and parts are quite intriguing, I also liked that it included maps that give an idea of what was going on and where what the objectives were, I also found some things quite funny.  To give an example, during one of the 'war games' that the 30th division participated in, they were up against Patton, and he quit just before he was about to lose to them! 

Many thanks to the folks at Stackpole Books for sending me a free review copy of this book  (My review did not have to be favorable)

This book may be purchased at Amazon.com and at stackpolebooks.com

Monday, July 16, 2018

Literary gift ideas for lovers of classical fiction

I read a lot of religious books and history, but I also like to read classic fiction as well.  Several of my sisters also like to read and I enjoy hunting for gift ideas for my sisters for Christmas and birthdays, looking gifts inspired by Austen, Alcott, Beatrix Potter and other writers of classics.

Here are some sources I've come across:



https://literarybookgifts.com/
This is a website that was brought to my attention recently, it has shirts, backpacks and tote bags, all with simple designs inspired by various classic books, including, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and Pride and Prejudice. To get 20% off anything in the store, use the promo code SNICKERDOODLES20  The code can be used an unlimited number of times.  

Here are some pictures of things that caught my eye:

A little Women Tote bag
It looks pretty and simple, and comes in small, medium and large sizes (All sizes are the same price):










































An Anne of Green Gables back pack
Comes in small, medium and large sizes (each the same price) and has a padded laptop sleeve (check the size of your laptop first, to make sure it would fit):





And a Jane Austen back pack inspired by lady writers. Again, comes with a padded laptop sleeve. And you can order the back pack in large, medium and small sizes, again all sizes are the same price:





And here are a few other sites:


This site has t-shirts, scarves, totes and posters with various classic literary themes. There are various images you can choose from, and if you look closely you will find that all of these images are actually made of up all, or part of the book, in very, very tiny font.  My cousin bought my sisters and I a Jane Austen's Emma poster for Christmas one year, and you really can look closely at any part of it and start reading the book!

This lady sells elegant, pretty, literary Jewelry.  It looks as though the shop is temporarily closed, but it should be back up again sometime soon.


Hobby Lobby has storage boxes that look like books.  I love the antique looking ones. You don't need to by them online of course, they should have some in your local store in the section with storage boxes/trunks.




Friday, July 13, 2018

The Essential Jonathan Edwards





I've read a biography of Jonathan Edwards before, and I've read a small part of his writings, but still have felt as though I don't know Edwards and his works very well.  When I saw that this book, The Essential Jonathan Edwards:  An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America's Greatest Theologian, by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney, was available to request for review, I thought that this would be a good way to introduce myself more fully to Edwards.

The book is divided into five parts.  Part one gives a high level biography of Edwards with quotations from his works interspersed throughout.  The other sections are more topical,  with chapters dealing with Edwards' thoughts on "Beauty" (having chapters such as The Beauty of God, The Beauty of Creation etc.),  the other sections are "The Good Life", "True Christianity" and "Heaven and Hell".  All of these parts contain summaries of Edwards writings on various subjects along with many  quotations from his writings.

Do I feel like I know more about Edwards writings more?  I suppose so.  Does it make me want to delve into his writings? Sadly, no.  This is probably going to sound awful, but I found this book very boring. I stopped when I was about half way through and just skimmed the rest (the book is over four-hundred pages).  

Perhaps a lot of my boredom came from Edwards' writing style, he seemed kind of mystical or something, in my opinion.  It just grates me the wrong way. It seemed more like some of his thoughts were floating in the air of unlimited conjecture without a firm grounding in exegesis of biblical texts.

Let me give you an example,

"the Old Testament church was as Christ's mother, but the New Testament church is his wife, whom he is joined to and whom he treats with far greater endearment and intimacy.  He forsook his mother also in this respect. Vis.  As he made a sacrifice of that flesh and blood, and laid down that mortal life which he had from his mother, the Virgin Mary.  'That which [is] born of flesh is flesh,' though he did not derive flesh from his mother in the sense in which it is spoken of, John 3:6, viz.  Corrupt sinful nature, and therefore did not forsake his mother for the church in the same sense wherein the church is advised to forsake her father's house for Christ's sake…..Yet Christ derived flesh from his mother, viz. the animal nature and human nature, with the corruption that is the fruit of sin, viz. with frailty and mortality.  This Christ forsook, and yielded to be crucified for the sake of the church."  Huh? That is really confusing. The editors of this book comment, "The doctrine of the church developed here is quite unique.  Old Testament followers of God represent 'Christ's mother, while New Testament believers are 'his wife.'"  It certainly does seem like a unique thought, and I don't see its biblical basis…

Edwards seemed to use a lot of typology, and was too….I'm not sure how to term it, scholarly? For my taste. Especially when he makes typological connections that are not given as such in the Bible.  Also, at times he seemed to be trying to work up emotions or something with his descriptions of the loveliness of God, of Christ.  Can one over 'describe the loveliness of Christ, of God? I think one can if one's descriptions savor more of the imagination than of solid basis in God's revelation of Himself.  Don’t we think that one cannot rival God's own descriptions of Himself in His Word?  Even Edwards? I'd understand more if he seemed to be exceeding texts, which I suppose he could have been doing, but then my opinion would probably be that he used too many illustrations.  I don't know, I'm still thinking about it, It's still rather hard for me to pin down why I don't like his writings, I've read other long dead authors whom I've liked.

I'm sorry if I'm misreading Edwards, but right now, this is my impression.  I'm not rating this book only two stars because I thought the authors did a bad job of putting this together.  I actually think that they probably did an excellent job.  I simply find that I don't particularly like Edwards as an author. 

Many thanks to the folks at Moody Publishers (MPNewsroom) for sending me a free review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)

My Rating: Two out of Five Stars
**

This book may be purchased at Christianbook.com and Amazon.com



Friday, June 1, 2018

CSB Worldview Study Bible - Navy Leathertouch



The Worldview Study Bible seeks to remind Christians that the Bible is not just a book that we read to feel more religious, we are changed by it, our thinking, our worldview, our perspective of everything is changed when we use it to renew our mind.

This Bible has many articles in it, scattered throughout and dealing with various 'worldview' topics, articles like: "Biblical Models for Business", "Engaging LGBT Advocates", "Emperor and King Worship in Biblical Times", "Animal Rights" , "A Biblical Assessment of Abortion", and so on.  Some of the articles are quite interesting and helpful.  Others, I had some trouble with some of the content.  For instance, in the article on "Biblical Formation",  dealing with various ways one can utilize the Scriptures, it says, "Praying through the Bible flows naturally from Scripture meditation.  Giants of the faith, such as Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and especially George Mueller, made a habit of praying through Scripture…..Praying the Scriptures helps to assure that one's prayers are biblically sound and pleasing to God."

 I think that if praying through the Scriptures was a way to pray correctly, then Christ would have told the disciples to grab some copies of portions of the Old Testament and pray them. He could have demonstrated by quoting one of the Psalms, or a passage of Isaiah.  But instead he gave them a model prayer.  How does one pray through the book of Leviticus? Or Judges? Should we pray the imprecatory songs, while thinking of a particular person who hates us when we are told in the New Testament to "Love our enemies"?  How would we know that the Scripture we are praying is the right scripture for us to be praying at that moment?  The Apostle Paul shows us that it is already assumed that we will have trouble praying biblically sound prayers, that we do not know how to pray correctly, but that's where the Holy Spirit comes in, "And in like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered;"(Rom 8:26) The Spirit wouldn't need to intercede for us if we already knew how to pray as we ought, and the Bible doesn’t say that we ever will get to a point where we know how to pray correctly, this side of eternity.  That's where our Helper comes in. 

And then, there is an article that seems to downplay the validity of Christian young earth creationists arguing with Christian old earth creationists, as if they should focus on arguing their common enemy (atheistic evolutionists) rather than debate the validity of each other's hermeneutic. But don't we remember that bad doctrine will most likely come from within the "church"?  Aren't we to look out for our brethren and correct them in a fault? Aren't we judging those within the church, see 1 Cor 5:12 (I know, that passage is dealing with practical moral sins, not necessarily bad viewpoints, but its implications may apply here as well), aren't we critiquing the viewpoints of those within our midst, making sure that we all have an accurate view of God's Word? We don't expect the world to listen to us, we don't expect the world to ever have a correct viewpoint, but we do want to help our brethren, fellow Christians, stay away from dangerous hermeneutics.  We are our brother's keeper.      

This Bible also has a good deal of commentary.  A lot of it seems pretty useful, and using a literal grammatical historical hermeneutic.  For instance, in the commentary on Jeremiah 29:11 it says, ""While it is true that from an eternal perspective God has good plans for believers (Ps 84:11; Rm 828), this of cited verse should be understood first with respect to its addressees; exiles who would have to wait an extended time for God to restore them…"  But the hermeneutic seems to change in spots, like in Revelation, where it speaks of the 144,000, "The number 144,000, with multiples of twelve and multiples of ten (completeness), is symbolic of the entire people of God.  That the tribe of Dan is missing while Joseph as well as Manassah (Joseph's son) are listed further supports the symbolic nature of the list."  Huh? How do those things clue us in to this section's not being literal?  The context would seem to indicate that it should most certainly be taken literally. After the description of these tribes, the VERY NEXT verse says,  "After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number".  Differentiating this group of many peoples from the sealed of the twelve tribes of Israel.  How much clearer, could it be?  It differentiates between those in Christ who were sealed from Israel, and points out a more inclusive group later on, encompassing all peoples?  How much clearer could John get in describing what he saw? Does he have to go through each tribe and say, "And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, Judah was the son of Jacob (also called Israel), the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, born in the year such and such.  The tribe of Judah was made up of all of the living descendants of Judah.  The first descendant's name was George, the second, Robert…..the 12,000th, Charles.  And I also saw that their physical features resembled Judah's.  12,000 from the tribe of Reuben were sealed, Reuben was the son of Jacob (also called Israel), the son of Isaac…." Would that make it more likely to be literal?  I suspect that some would think that the more detailed it gets, the more figurative it is.  Omissions and replacements of tribes does not mean that this is not to be taken literally, it probably should be taken VERY literally and the omission of Dan might be significant in some way, taken as such.  We shouldn't assume that the omission of one of the original tribes indicates that this is not Israel.  Why would God HAVE to choose men from the tribe of Dan to be sealed in order for this to be literal, ethnic Israel? Do we not remember what Paul tells us in Romans 9?  Not all Israel is Israel, and that God has the right to choose whomever He wishes within Israel (even individual tribes).     

This "Worldview" Bible has a lot of good notes, and some interesting essays, I just don't like some of the concepts in the essays, nor do I like the inconsistency in the hermeneutics.  Also, the essays scattered throughout seem a bit too distracting.  I think that if you are going to put multiple essays in a Bible it would be better to put them at the end of the book, and then you can just look up the page number in the index if you want to read a particular article, instead of it breaking up the text.  

This particular study Bible is okay but not great.            

Many thanks to the folks at B&H publishers for sending me a free review copy of this Bible! My review did not have to be favorable.    

My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
***

This Bible may be purchased at Christianbook.com and at Amazon.com