Monthly Archives: December 2016

Clarke’s Books of 2016… and a Quick Year in Review

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. Moving past the culture wars to love people with biblical truth.

People To Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, by Preston Sprinkle. My book of the year for 2016.

Christians are people of the “Word,” so it really is a good thing for Christians to practice the discipline of good reading. However, I do not get a chance to read as much as I would like to do. Thankfully, Audible.com and ChristianAudio.com supplement my hunger for good books, as I commute to work or try to knock out my “honey-do” list at home on Saturdays. So, I would like to offer a brief review of some of the books that have helped shape me over the past year (also, I have a quick year in review below):

People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, Preston Sprinkle. The best book I have read this year on a controversial topic, and probably the best book ever on this particular topic. Sprinkle has the right combination of pastoral sensitivity to hurting people and an orthodox reading of Scripture, that I simply have not found in other books on same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage. If you care about people who struggle with gay and lesbian questions, or you struggle yourself, you need to read this book. I introduced the book here on Veracity.

When a Jew Rules the World, Joel Richardson. As with the topic of creation, I find that an obsessive preoccupation with the “End Times,” including the topic of national Israel, tends to invite a type of unnecessary dogmatism that preemptively shuts down conversation among Christians, where there is honest, principled disagreement regarding the interpretation of the Bible. Richardson’s book is a spirited defense of premillennialism, written at a popular level, with a definite future for national, ethnic Israel in view.  But Richardson does not fit the caricature of dispensationalism I learned some years ago in college, that sees itself as the one and only way to read the Bible. He shook my categories! Richardson has his convictions, but he seems willing to rethink certain elements of popular prophecy that do not have sufficient Biblical backing in his view. I am not wholly convinced by Richardson, in how he reads certain passages of Scripture, he is more obsessive about the “End Times” than I think is necessary, and he goes a bit over-the-top in linking amillennialism with antisemitism in church history. Nevertheless, I confess that he has given me a lot to think about, and he has encouraged me to keep a more open mind. I will hopefully get back to blogging on the topic of Christian Zionism in 2017. Look here for a detailed review I wrote on Veracity.

We Belong to the Land, Elias Chacour. Chacour is a Palestinian Christian in Israel, and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, who for the past fifty years has sought for justice and reconciliation between Palestinian Christians and non-Christian Israelis. This is a fairly brief book, composed mostly of short essays chronicling Chacour’s story since the 1960s. But it helps to give a different Christian perspective to the Middle East conflict, that most American Christians know next to nothing about. Chacour was instrumental in building schools for Palestinian Christian children, at a time when many Israelis resisted such efforts. If you are bothered by Joel Richardson, read Elias Chacour for an antidote.

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, Eugene Rogan. I have become friends with some guys from Turkey, and I have wanted to learn more about World War One, and the Middle East. If you want to understand what is going on in that part of the world today, including some of the history behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this British historian, Eugene Rogan, is a fascinating and yet still scholarly story teller, of how that part of the world has gotten into the mess that it is in right now.

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture, John Walton and Craig Keener. An excellent resource that I use almost all of the time now in studying the Bible. A lot of popular Bible teaching today fails to properly appreciate the original context of the Biblical writer and the original audience. As John Walton succinctly puts it, “The Bible was written for us but not to us.” If you use this alongside a good study Bible, it will give you a lifetime of insight into understanding God’s Word. It serves as the perfect complement to my ESV Study Bible.

The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, Aviya Kushner. Written by an orthodox Jew, Kushner writes about the fascinating world of Bible translation, from the perspective of someone who grew up reading the Bible in Hebrew. She intersperses her discussion of different passages of the Hebrew Bible with a colorful and personal travelogue of sorts. Though not a Christian, I learned a lot about some of the ambiguities in Bible translation from Kushner, which ironically gave me a greater appreciation for God’s Word, the Bible. Some of Kushner’s family survived the Holocaust, making the story even more compelling.

When God Spoke Greek: The Septuagint and the Making of the Christian Bible, by Timothy Michael Law. In preparing a Bible study in Romans for both a small group Bible study and an Adult Bible class, I soon learned that the Old Testament Scripture quotations Paul makes in his letter do not always match the text we have in our English Old Testament translations. When God Spoke Greek opened my eyes to understanding the crucial role that the Greek Septuagint, that the Apostle used, has in helping us to understand things like Biblical inspiration. They did not teach me this stuff in seminary, but they should have. It was like a mini-revolution in how I looked at the Bible. It also helped me to see why some evangelicals have been drawn towards Eastern Orthodoxy, but that is another subject! See this review on Veracity.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Ronald Bainton. A classic that every Christian should read, particularly since we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation next year

………………………………………………………

And to top things off, here is a quick review of the year 2016 for me. Last year, I put up a “Top Posts of the Year 2015,” but I only have a few things to add for this year, so this is why I focus mainly on the books I have read.

Of course, the biggest story of the year is the 2016 American Presidential election. Many Christians are optimistic, whereas others are apprehensive. I do not think anyone really knows yet for sure what it all means. I guess we will all start to know something within a few months. Here are just a few of the other notable, thoughtful events and Internet postings of 2016 that quickly come to mind:

  • The Andy Stanley preaching controversies. The famous pastor of a megachurch in Atlanta, who is also the son of Charles Stanley, another influential American pastor, has ignited a contentious debate among evangelical leaders: Should preaching be geared primarily towards the believer or the non-believer? But while this is a significant debate here, the discussion also reveals a disturbing, underlying trend in the church: Much of the critique of Stanley has come from selected “soundbites” from his sermons, without sufficient attention paid to “fact checking” the various claims made about Stanley. Have evangelicals succumbed to the temptation of simply passing information on about other Christians, without properly verifying the truth of these claims? What does this tell us about how we treat the Bible? Do we really study the Bible, in context, or do we just rely on Scriptural “soundbites?”
  • The confused evangelical response to LGBTQ concerns. Most Christians I know believe (as I do) that things like gay marriage and transgenderism are not part of God’s original design and purposes, but they are perplexed in knowing how to respond and care for real flesh and blood people who struggle with these issues.

 


Andy Stanley, and Critics Who Shoot First, and Ask Questions Later

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley. Promoter of Biblical truth... or compromiser?

Atlanta Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley is in trouble again with a number of his fellow evangelical leader friends… or have his “friends” succumbed to a “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later” approach to evaluating his preaching?

Do you “fact check” what you read on social media, or any other source of news and information, particularly when it involves a controversial matter of grave concern?

I had just come back from a Christmas trip to visit family, when I ran across a Patheos blog article with the alarming title, “Andy Stanley: Please Relent or Step Down from Pastoral Ministry.” Mmmm…. Yet another scandal among God’s people? A megachurch pastor gone astray? What embarrassment for the Christian faith is it this time?

In this article, the author compares Andy Stanley, a megachurch pastor in Atlanta, and son of popular Bible-teacher Charles Stanley, with the mid-20th century liberal minister, Henry Emerson Fosdick, and a modern-day prosperity doctrine guru, Joel Osteen. Wow! If you know anything about evangelical theology, these are serious charges to lay against any evangelical pastor.

Andy Stanley’s preaching faux pas, per the Patheos blogger, was taken from an early December 2016 sermon delivered by Andy Stanley, regarding Christmas and the difficulty that many people in our secularized culture today have believing in the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Our scientific world has tested the credibility of such miracles, and so, many wonder if the Virgin Birth is not some type of man-made fiction. In responding to the doubts of many, Stanley was partially quoted in a Washington Post article as saying, “If somebody can predict their own death and resurrection, I’m not all that concerned about how they got into the world.”

What does that mean?

The Patheos blogger I was reading, along with a wide variety of other Internet bloggers and Christian media outlets, since early December, took this to mean that Stanley believes that the Virgin Birth is not an essential matter of Christian faith. Others interpret this by saying that Stanley was “questioning the significance of the virgin birth.” Even the venerable president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Al Mohler, took exception to Stanley’s statement as quoted by the Washington Post, on a recent “The Briefing” podcast (though it should be noted to Dr. Mohler’s credit that he did not name Stanley directly):

If Jesus was not born of the virgin then the Bible cannot be trusted when it comes to telling us the story of Jesus, and that mistrust cannot be limited to how he came to us in terms of the incarnation. The fact is that biblical Christianity and ultimately the Gospel of Christ cannot survive the denial of the virgin birth. Because without the virgin birth, you end up with a very different Jesus than the fully human, fully divine savior revealed in scripture.

Now, I agree with folks like Al Mohler that the Virgin Birth is an essential doctrine to Christian faith. It is one of the historic, fundamental beliefs of Christianity, not to mention the entire foundation for the Christmas story. But is it accurate to say or imply that pastor Andy Stanley is now denying the essential doctrine of the Virgin Birth?

Upon reading and hearing these things, I harkened back to another controversy that pastor Andy Stanley had earlier in 2016, a story covered here at Veracity (part #1 and part #2).  In that controversy, Stanley was accused of denying Biblical inerrancy. Yet strangely enough, Stanley made his own defense by appealing to one of Stanley’s teachers and mentors, Norman Geisler, who was glad to offer support for Stanley. Norman Geisler was one of the primary architects behind the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, articulated in the 1970s. So, it really is strange to imagine that Andy Stanley, an enthusiastic student of Geisler’s, would find himself accused of denying Biblical inerrancy, then defended by Norman Geisler, and then still be accused by some of his fellow evangelical leaders as being “dangerous.”

Strange. Very strange indeed.

It reminds me of something Yogi Berra might have said: It is like “deja vu all over again.” Continue reading


The Incarnation in Three Minutes

Merry Christmas, from your friends at Veracity, and enjoy the following video. If you have a friend who is skeptical about the supernatural aspect of the Christmas miracle, and its implications, encourage them to read this exchange by pastor Tim Keller and an agnostic New York Times journalist, and discuss.

 


Daniel’s Seventy Weeks #5

The primary traditional alternative to the more modern, dispensationalist reading of Daniel 9:24-27

A more traditional alternative to the more modern, dispensationalist reading of Daniel 9:24-27.  (Image credit: sdru.org)

If you have been following this series of blog posts (#1, #2, #3, and #4), you will know that the “Seventy Weeks” of Daniel 9:24-27 makes for a very demanding study. So, as we are getting very near to Christmas, I need to wrap this blog series up, even with all of the loose ends still out there.

Thankfully, neither your salvation, nor mine, hangs in the balance with getting Daniel 9:24-27 exactly right. For example, no central doctrine of the faith is at stake, as you ponder the mysterious meaning of Scripture phrases like “the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary” (verse 26). But the study is well worth the effort, as it will spur you on in learning more about Biblical prophecy, just as it has done for me.

At one point in my studies, over the past two years in this passage, I ran into the following statement by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of Britain’s most brilliant and popular expositors of the 20th century. Lloyd-Jones lived in an era when many Christians tended to be very dogmatic in their particular interpretation of Daniel 9. His comments on the debate over Daniel 9’s “Seventy Weeks” are worth savoring:

I am simply trying to put before you some of the various ideas and type of interpretation, while indicating, as anyone who is concerned to teach the Scriptures must do, the interpretation that most commends itself to my mind and to my understanding. I shall continue to repeat this because it seems to me to be the most important point I can make in connection with this whole subject. If I can somehow shake the glibness and the dogmatism that has characterised this matter I shall be most pleased, and I thank God that there are signs and indications that people are prepared to consider this matter anew. It may well betoken a period of blessing in the history of the Church.” (Great Doctrines of the Bible: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, The Church and the Last Things, page 119).

Martyn Lloyd-Jones has the right perspective. We are not talking about the deity of Christ, or salvation alone through Jesus, here. OKAY??? I may hold (and you may hold) to a different interpretation of a difficult passage like Daniel 9. Hopefully, believers can discuss this matter with clarity and charity towards one another, by studying the Scriptures anew. Continue reading


John Glenn: Christian Faith and the God of Creation

Annie and John Glenn, in 1965. They where married for 73 years, until his death in December, 2016.

Annie and John Glenn, in 1965. They were married for 73 years, until his death in December, 2016.

To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible,” so said astronaut John Glenn, during his space flight aboard the Space Shuttle in 1998. “It just strengthens my faith. I wish there were words to describe what it’s like.”

This is a powerful testimony, decades after he became the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. The American novelist and secular writer, Tom Wolfe, in his essay on “The Faith of John Glenn,” in the Wall Street Journal, observes that Glenn’s Presbyterian confidence in God stood out back in the those early days of the Mercury program, too. In my years working as a contractor at NASA, I never had the opportunity to meet John Glenn, who recently died at age 95, but I always considered him to be a man of integrity and admiration.

By seeing God revealed in creation, above the curvature of the earth, John Glenn followed the lead of where his faith took him, which might seem controversial to some. In a day and an age where many think Christianity is in opposition to science, John Glenn was an advocate for science education in the public schools, even endorsing the teaching of biological evolutionary theory, seeing no contradiction between evolution and his Christian faith.

Christians today do indeed hold to a wide variety of differing viewpoints on the subject of creation and human origins. But I hope believers of all perspectives might be encouraged by the outspoken testimony of this man of faith, who saw God revealed in creation.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: