Thursday
Aug072014

‘C.S. Lewis: A Life’

Caleb Yarbrough
Arkansas Baptist News 

In “C.S. Lewis: A Life,” Alister McGrath, professor of theology, ministry and education at King’s College in London and head of the Center for Theology, Religion and Culture, marks the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ death by shedding new light on the late Christian thinker’s life and lasting impact.

One would be hard-pressed to name a figure that has shaped modern Christian thought more than the late English scholar and professor C.S. Lewis. His path from atheist to Christian apologist has been well-documented, and his classic works, including “The Chronicles of Narnia” series and “Mere Christianity,” have allegorically and straightforwardly argued for the legitimacy of the gospel.

In the book’s prelude, McGrath acknowledges that numerous biographies of Lewis already exist. He defends himself as Lewis’ biographer by submitting that he differs from many of Lewis’ previous biographers in that he never knew Lewis personally. 

McGrath writes that his lack of personal knowledge or relations with Lewis combined with the fact that he, himself, hails from the same region of the world, attended the same institution of higher education, is a career academic and shares the experience of converting to Christianity from atheism following deep academic study allowed him to study Lewis’ life and work exclusively through the professor’s written works while utilizing a keen understanding of their cultural and spiritual context.

In preparation for writing “A Life,” McGrath read Lewis’ entire catalog, published and unpublished, in chronological order. He submits that this intense study, combined with his impersonal, yet relatable, relationship with Lewis, gives him new and unique insight and understanding regarding the writer’s life.

Caleb Yarbrough is staff writer for the Arkansas Baptist News.

Thursday
Jun262014

Teach the Text - 1 Corinthians

Book Review by
Doug Hibbard 

1 Corinthians, a volume in the Teach the Text Commentary Series, is available from BakerBooks. Authored by Preben Vang, professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University and formerly of Ouachita Baptist University, this full-color volume examines Paul’s first Epistle to the church at Corinth.

The format remains consistent through the Teach the Text series. The Scriptures are broken up into teaching- or preaching-size sections. Each one receives approximately six pages to work the passage from understanding through teaching. The major sections are “Understanding the Text,” “Teaching the Text” and “Illustrating the Text.”

The 1 Corinthians commentary begins with a discussion of the background of Corinth. This information provides the reader with an understanding of the city, a valuable foundation for studying Corinth. Some commentaries focus more on the Apostle Paul and why he wrote, which has value, but the information on the city provides clarity about why Paul wrote what he did.

Additionally, Vang handles sensitive passages like 1 Corinthians 6 regarding lawsuits among believers well. Rather than simply dismissing it as past issues and justifying suing others or demanding believers never utilize government courts, the concepts behind the rule of Scripture are addressed. Vang demonstrates how Paul was not telling believers to eschew criminal courts for wrongs done, but that it is far better to testify to Jesus than to win a lawsuit. 

The historical and cultural background of the passages regarding attire in church and women’s roles within the church are handled delicately. Again, Vang provides the understanding of how life was in Corinth and how this shows through in Paul’s writing. He does not provide a clear decision on how these issues should be applied today, leaving that decision to the interpreter. This echoes the typical method of a teacher, to provoke questions and leave the answers to the reader.

Reading through the 1 Corinthians commentary provides the teacher and the preacher with insight to the background on Paul’s letter. Further, the “Illustrating the Text” sections bring forward different ways to communicate the points in the text. 

The visual ideas and the media links are helpful for the teacher who needs to break out of a rut in presentation. 

I continue to find the Teach the Text Series a helpful addition to my studies of Scripture to prepare for teaching and preaching.

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church in Almyra.

Thursday
May292014

‘Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World’ 

Book Review by 
Doug Hibbard

Assaults on the historicity of Christianity abound in the current age. The modern bookstore and college campus are two of the major fronts of these assaults. “Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World” deals primarily with the latter, though it also serves to equip trips into the former. From the opening chapter addressing the claims of Bart Ehrman through the following seven chapters, the authors address some of the major popular objections to Christianity.

First, let’s take a look at the authors. Andreas Köstenberger is professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Darrell Bock is professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary. Josh Chatraw is a pastor of preaching and students at First Baptist Church in Dublin, Ga. All have earned doctorates in their fields, so the work here is not simplistic refutations.

Second, let’s take a look at the material. Overall, “Truth Matters” presents apologetic material in an expected manner. Each chapter poses a major question and then provides an expanded answer for that question. As an example, one chapter deals with the origins of the New Testament canon by posing the question, “Who picked these books, and where’d they come from?” This chapter then provides answers regarding the canonization of Scripture based in history.

Third, let’s take a look at the presentation. The inclusion of Chatraw shines through in the presentation of the material. While I am certain that Köstenberger and Bock are effective communicators, including a pastor who regularly works with students has helped keep the material easy to digest. The authors use theological terms, as is appropriate, but do not overload the reader with jargon. This puts the material at a reasonable reading level.

Fourth, let’s take a look at the usefulness. “Truth Matters” should certainly be part of a senior high study curriculum for your youth group. If it’s too much for them to read and consider, then your discipleship program needs to step up a notch anyway. It’s also a valuable addition to an adult or collegiate study group. I would suggest a particular value to mature, longtime church attenders who may not realize the questions that their own families or co-workers are actually asking.

Fifth, let’s take a look at the value. In bulk, and even not in bulk, the cost of “Truth Matters” is reasonable for a well-constructed hardcover. It delivers on the promise of providing clear answers in order to understand the Christian faith.

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church in Almyra.

Thursday
May012014

The Social Church 

Book Review by 
Doug Hibbard

What comes to mind when you think of “the social church”? For many of us “good Baptist” folks, we think of ice cream on a Sunday night or potlucks for dinner. Maybe we think of the dreaded planning of wedding showers and baby showers.

Justin Wise has a different idea of “social” under consideration in his book titled “The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication.” He’s referring to the explosion of what is called “social media” in the recent decade and how that technology can connect people. His book is an effort to share his experience of developing digital strategies for churches. 

Wise admits in his introduction that this is not intended as a “how-to” book. Instead, this is geared toward explaining the “why-to” of social media and calling for more willing involvement by churches in the digital realm. Wise lays out the need for going where people are and connecting in that space. He explains how he started a Facebook page for his church and the pleasant surprise that it became a positive ministry involvement for the body.

To his credit, he acknowledges that objections to digital participation exist and deals with the some of them. It is in the realm of answering objections, though, that “The Social Church” falls short. Falling into the category of “digital native,” Wise envisions only theoretical or emotional objections to involvement with digital media. He does not address concerns that many smaller churches have, including time involvement and cost. His response to those who are on the other side of the digital divide, the generations who are not computer-savvy, is unfortunately dismissive. Alongside this, he notes readily that such media outlets as Friendfeed or MySpace have already flashed and gone, showing the volatility of social media, but considers churches that hesitate to enter the digital realm as abandoning it rather than watching for better opportunities.

The strength of Wise’s work is his admission in the later chapters that social media is no substitute for real presence and connection. This is valuable, as he has spent much of the book advocating heavy investment of time and resources in feeding the social media accounts of the church. Admitting the power of one-to-one live relationships, though, undercuts much of his advocacy of social media as a primary focus. Instead, social media should be a secondary help for actual relationships.

Does Wise’s “The Social Church” persuade? Not very well. He speaks with a certainty that will embolden social media advocates and may draw a few hesitant folks toward the social side, but this may well alienate the major objectors. Also, while Wise’s subtitle is “A Theology of Digital Communication,” he spends as much effort presenting marketing and technology information as he does scriptural information. Is it a helpful book? In a limited manner, yes. However, I would look elsewhere for a comprehensive guide for church social media.

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church in Almyra.

Thursday
Apr032014

‘Called to Stay’

Book Review by 
Rusty Keltner

As I skim over the books in my library, I see that most of those books clearly fall into easy-to-define categories like preaching, reference, Christian living, spiritual disciplines and so on. Even though I use those books often, there is a very small part of my library that challenges me and cannot be easily labeled like the rest of my collection. “Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church” by Caleb Breakey is a book that fits into that category. It is written to those who have already or are planning to leave the church, and it calls them to stay and become agents of change. Breakey’s book comes from his own personal experience as a believer who was tired of the church not living up to its calling.  

“Called to Stay” is easily divided into three sections. In the first, the author lays out clear biblical reasons for not abandoning the church. The first three chapters may be the best part of the book. They consist of some great arguments from Scripture and an introduction to the role of the infiltrator, a role that is referred to constantly throughout the book. Breakey encourages those who have been disenchanted with church to begin changing the church instead of leaving. He writes, “Investing in believers – no matter which spiritual stage they’re in – is a massive part of the great commission.”

The second section of the book is a practical, how-to guide to being an infiltrator. Breakey discusses the need to dig deep and get beyond the surface with other believers.  He gives a number of questions and ways to take average conversations in a deeper spiritual direction. In this section, the author also deals with the role of the Holy Spirit, praying and dealing with emotions. The infiltrator gets to know other believers better by gauging how they respond to four areas of the Christian life: love, obedience, trust and knowledge.  

In the concluding chapters, readers are told when they should leave the church and are encouraged to stay if their church does not meet those guidelines. At the end of each chapter, Breakey leads readers to an online video that discusses the chapter and invites them to have a discussion about the chapter with him and others through social media.

Overall, this book presents a great argument for staying in the church in spite of the flaws we so often see. While it is primarily written to the laity, pastors will also benefit from reading this book. Breakey did a great job of addressing a very current issue in the church from a biblical and practical standpoint.

Rusty Keltner is pastor of First Baptist Church in Corning. The Arkansas Baptist News welcomes book reviews from Arkansas Baptist pastors and church members on religion-based books, preferably published in the past six months. Reviews should be 350-400 words in length.