Posts Tagged ‘Media’
Book Review: Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day
Author: Garry R. Morgan
Publisher: Bethany House ISBN: 9780764210037
This is the second in what is now a series of three books of “Understanding in 15 Minutes a Day…” from Bethany House Publishers. I think this is a great series and very helpful in providing a basic, easy-to-understand overview of various topics concerning religion and theology.
Understanding World Religions is very easy to read with the various religions covered in concise chapters, each of which really do take less than 15 minutes to read respectively. While there are forty chapters in the book, not every one is devoted to a unique religion. For instance, the religion of Islam and its variations thereof are covered over the course of six chapters. Other religions require several chapters as well to explain some of the specific derivations within the particular belief.
I found the book particularly helpful in dispelling stereotypes and providing basic facts that could provide a starting point for accurate representation and conversation of religions other than my own. I think the book would make a great group study suitable for teens and adults.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
By: Miroslav Volf
Publisher: Brazos Press ISBN: 9781587432989
I’ve been meaning to review this book for quite some time now, but it took longer to read it than I thought it would. At just over one hundred fifty pages (not counting the notes section), it is not that long of a read. The point of it taking me longer to read than anticipated was my feeling “over my head” quite often. There are over two-hundred references noted in the book and most of them unknown or unread by me. It was necessary for me to put the book down on more than a few occasions to reflect and research on what I had read. I must say it was worth my time and worth every minute of my effort. I appreciate the challenge the book was for me to read and I appreciate the challenge to me personally with the call to exercise and integrate my faith in ways and in places I might not have been so eager to enter previous to reading Volf’s thesis in A Public Faith.
Volf relates the sum of the premise for this volume in his introduction stating; “My contention in this book is that there is no single way in which Christian faith relates and ought to relate to culture as a whole. The relation between faith and culture is too complex for that. Faith stands in opposition to some elements of culture and is detached from others. In some aspects faith is identical with elements of culture, and it seeks to transform in diverse ways yet many more. Moreover, faith’s stance toward culture changes over time as culture changes. How, then, is the stance of faith toward culture defined? It is—or it ought to be—defined by the center of the faith itself, by its relation to Christ as the divine Word incarnate in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is with this contention that Volf seeks to explore three questions he poses within the pages of A Public Faith. The questions follow:
- In what ways does the Christian faith malfunction in the contemporary world, and how should we counter these malfunctions (chapter1-3)?
- What should be the main concern of Christ’s followers when it comes to living well in the world today (chapter 4)?
- How should Christ’s followers go about realizing their vision of living well in today’s world in relation to other faiths and together with diverse people with whom they live under the roof of a single state (chapters 5-7)?
Personally, I found chapter one, Malfunctions of Faith, fascinating. Volf frames this piece in a framework he calls “ascent and return” malfunctions and bases the discussion on the prophetic illustrations of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. To quote Volf’s definition of these points, he describes ascent malfunctions as “the result from breakdowns in the prophet’s encounter with the divine and reception of the message.” He goes on to say, “Every ascent malfunction is at the same time a return malfunction.” If my paraphrase is correct, the return malfunction further compromises the message or word of God by transforming it in their own name or in the name of some alien god… or god of their own making. This chapter is full of brilliant thinking I had previously been unexposed to; for instance, he describes the concept of idolatric substitution as one of the ascent malfunctions using the golden calf story from the Exodus narrative. It is the introduction to some of these (for me) new concepts using stories I understand or am familiar with that was helpful in preparing me for the next chapters of the book. I will say again, this first chapter was fascinating to me.
Chapter two continue with greater detail and explanation describing practical malfunctions of faith. Specifically, chapter two addresses the malfunction of idleness as it regards faith. Volf shares three main reasons for faith’s idling: (1) for some people, the faith they embrace demands too much, so they pick and choose, as in a cafeteria, filling up their tray with sweets but leaving aside the broccoli and fish. (2) Believers find themselves constrained by large and small systems in which they live and work; to thrive, or even to survive, they feel that they must obey the logic of those systems, not the demands of faith they embrace. (3) Concerning the faith itself, the faith either is not applied to new circumstances or does not seem relevant to contemporary issues. Volf goes on to provide counters to idleness with suggestions on how we might understand and practice an active faith through blessing, deliverance, guidance, and meaning.
I must admit I got a little bit bogged down in chapters three and four having to stop several times, put the book down, and really think through what I was reading. I was relieved when Volf neared the end of chapter four with this summary recap of part one of the book:
Most malfunctions of faith are rooted in a failure to love the God of love or a failure to love the neighbor. Ascent malfunctions happen when we don’t love God as we should. We either love our interests, purposes, and projects, and then employ language about God to realize them (we may call this “functional reduction”), or we love the wrong God (we may call this “idolatric substitution”). Return malfunctions happen when we love neither our neighbor nor ourselves properly—when faith either merely energizes or heals us but does not shape our lives so that we live them to our own and our neighbors’ benefit, or when we impose our faith on our neighbors irrespective of their wishes.
The challenge facing Christians is ultimately very simple: love God and neighbor rightly so that we may both avoid malfunctions of faith and relate God positively to human flourishing. And yet, the challenge is also complex and difficult… (p.73)
Amen. Complex and difficult indeed.
Chapters five and six are two more extraordinary discourses on very practical applications of living the Christian faith in a pluralistic society. Chapter five, Identity and Difference, addresses the identity of the Christian within the context of a society or community. The context being realized as having an identity that is different from the mainstream of the community…remaining unique, being seen as different, but not being separate… able to contribute without being completely absorbed: This is my paraphrase. Volf summarizes his thoughts as follows; “To become a Christian means to divert without leaving. To live as a Christian means to keep inserting a difference into a given culture without ever stepping outside that culture to do so.”
Chapter six is titled Sharing Wisdom and also ranks as one of my favorite chapters of the book. Volf’s ideas about sharing wisdom was affirming and convicting at the same time for me. The past few years has taught me much in the vein of what is shared in this chapter. I continue to be stretched in my faith and my learning to be Christ-like with teaching like I have found in this chapter. I think anyone reading this book will be stretched similarly if they can maintain an openness to hear what is shared in it.
I think this is an important book; timely in nature, sobering and challenging in its message, and hopeful with its suggestions for correction. I pray it falls into right hands, leaders who are humble, intelligent, vocal, and confident about what God is doing in the world. I’ll close my review with a final quote from Volf on “sharing wisdom.”
Sharing religious wisdom makes sense only if that wisdom is allowed to counter the multiple manifestations of self-absorption by givers and receivers alike and to connect them with what ultimately matters—God, whom we should love with all our being, and neighbors, whom we should love as ourselves. (p.117)
A great book; it may not appeal to a broad demographic, but for those who are willing to endure the challenges it presents, there is “much gold to be mined.”
A few recommended reviews:
Book Review: Speaking of Jesus
By: Carl Medearis ISBN: 9781434702104
Publisher: David C. Cook
The timing of this book was providential, this I know. Before I proceed with my review, I should say that I truly enjoyed this book. I don’t think it is the stuff of earth-shattering revelation, but it is probably one of the most practical and timely reminders of what the gospel is all about that I have read in quite some time. The other book that stands with this one in the same “most practical and timely reminders” status is The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight. This is where the providential part of this review comes in… I read Scot McKnight’s book immediately before picking up Carl Medearis’ Speaking of Jesus book. In my estimation, these two books provided me with a “one – two” punch of divine proportion.
There are parts of this book that I might not completely track with, but on the whole it is masterful in message and mission. Every part of the book is clear: The message, mission, and ministry of our faith is about Jesus… only Jesus. How often we forget this… it is the lost message of Christianity. Medearis makes a strong case for his thesis that the message of Christ has been derailed by the Western Church. He points out how the message of the gospel has been complicated through our reinterpretation of what the gospel means; depending on the doctrine of a particular people group the “good news” might mean many different things. These different things are not the gospel and are certainly not “good news;” these reinterpretations are false messages and most often complicate the way of people to finding and being reconciled to Jesus.
Medearis’ writing style is very down-to-earth and easy to understand. I read this book over the course of a four hour flight and caught myself several times with my head shaking with “yes” affirming nods. He weaves a number of stories from his years as a missionary to the middle east as a means of explaining and illustrating his points. I found these stories engaging and pertinent to the point of the book and the evidence that Medearis had put into practice the things he was presenting to the masses.
The most beautiful part of my experience with this book was the experiment I engaged in upon completing it. I have started sharing my journey through the lens of Jesus. In the most recent opportunities I have had to champion my faith, I have shared by retelling lessons and stories of Jesus. I have pointed to Jesus through the Old Testament narrative, I have made comparisons to my present life as interpreted through the teachings of Jesus, and I have paralleled present culture with the life of Jesus from the gospel accounts. I have done this in the settings of people who are unchurched, churched, and anti-church. In every instance my words have been received openly and deeper discussion has ensued. The conversations continue to this day.
I am thankful for the reminder to keep the story Jesus-centered. This is a good book and a very timely read. I believe this will challenge your thinking in areas, but if you are willing to try telling the Jesus story instead of teaching Christianity, you might find renewal and excitement that you have only dreamed of. I highly recommend this book and also The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight. Reading these together build a more complete picture of where this teaching is based.
I found this on the www.outofur.com blog from the www.ChristianityToday.com website. It features Brian McLaren in a brief segment sharing his ideas on preaching curriculum for the pastor. While I don’t advocate the theology of McLaren, I have been stirred to think from his books and blog. In this video I find myself in agreement with is suggestion. I have a number of thoughts on the current culture of our weekend worship services. I have spent much of the last five months visiting a number of different faith communities and find teaching, instruction, meaningful engagement with the Church universal, and practical discipleship to be lacking in substantive measure.
Incredibly powerful stuff. I stumbled across it in my own web surfing. I think credits go to the WillowCreek Leadership Summit.
We recently began a new teaching (Sermon) series in my local church, titled “Basic Questions.” Yesterday was my teaching date. The question I addressed to answer was “How Do I Serve?” Here is the audio file from the second service and below it is a link to the sermon manuscript.