Archive | Review

RSS feed for this section

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

A Moveable FeastA Moveable Feast is my favorite Ernest Hemingway book to date. Published posthumously by his widow, Mary Hemingway, in 1964, A Moveable Feast is a series of short stories, or memoirs, from Hemingway’s time in Paris in the 1920s. In the preface to the book, he states that the reader may regard this work as fiction if he prefers, but “there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.” Personally, I take this to mean that this is largely a truthful telling.

One of the more intriguing features of the book is the repeated mention of the artists and authors with whom Hemingway regularly interacted. Familiar names such F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound are found throughout the book and form part of Hemingway’s regular existence. Paris in the 20s was as cool as Berkley in the 60s, and everyone who was anyone lived in Paris and knew Hemingway (even though he was not well known at the time).

Another notable feature of this book is its time period in Hemingway’s life. A Moveable Feast describes early Hemingway, when he was married to his first wife and trying to make it as a writer.

Some of the best chapters involve Hemingway’s interactions with F. Scott Fitzgerald. If the stories are true (and I’m not sure the Fitzgerald estate wants to admit that they might be), then F. Scott Fitzgerald was crazy. And his wife, Zelda, was crazier. There were moments in my reading of this portion of the book where I literally laughed out loud. It’s simply hysterical.

All of Hemingway’s writing is great. He has the uncanny ability, through short declarative sentences, to make stories come alive. I want to live, and eat, and drink in the places where Hemingway lived, and ate, and drank. I want to visit Paris because of Hemingway and any careful reader with a soul feels the same way. The city comes alive. The people come alive. The food and drink come alive. And the wanderlust is real.

I recommend any Hemingway, but especially A Moveable Feast.
5 out of 5 cups of black coffee.
Number 2 in 2016.

5 of 5-01

 

 

2 of 12-01

Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

HellsAngelsI just finished reading Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs by Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson wrote Hell’s Angels during 1965 and 1966, and is probably best known as the author or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was published in 1972. He popularized a style of journalism known as “gonzo journalism” where the author participates in the story, writes in first-person narrative, and frames himself as the protagonist. Gonzo also tends to be rather satirical in tone.

I ran into this book on a friend’s reading list and thought it sounded interesting, so I decided to dive in for myself. It’s a well written book with a sort of meandering style that doesn’t always progress linearly. Thompson essentially befriended the angels and hung out with them for around a year as he wrote this book. He didn’t actually become a Hell’s Angel, and the gang knew he was a journalist, but he seems to have acquired enough rapport to have written accurately. It reads like a pop culture, anthropological sketch.

I knew going into this book that the angels were infamous, but I’ll admit that some of the details were more raw than I expected. To be perfectly clear, I didn’t expect rape to play such a large role in the story. Drugs, law-breaking, motorcycles, sex––I knew they would all likely play a part––but Thompson’s account of rape is uncomfortable to read.

Nevertheless, this is an enthralling book that captures a splice of 1960’s American counter-culture in page-turning fashion. From Memorial Day rides with hundreds of angels, to theories about the gang’s origins, to the wider culture’s varied reaction to the angels, Thompson captures that 1960’s American culture that I’m fond of reading about. The narrative about the angel’s interactions with Allen Ginsberg is especially interesting. The only part of the story that’s missing would have been an account of the Altamont festival, but that didn’t occur until 1970. Bummer.

 

4 out 5 black cups of coffee.
1st book of 2016.
Read with Caution.

4 of 5-01

 

 

1 of 12-01

 

 

The Books I Read This Past Year

StottI’m getting oftly bad about this blogging thing, and yet I still enjoy it. So, though I haven’t updated this thing for most of the year, I find it to be the appropriate platform to list the books I read over the past year. Therefore, without any further ado, my 2015 book list:

  • One Nation:  What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future – Ben Carson
  • The Cross of Christ – John Stott
  • The Sigma Protocol – Robert Ludlum
  • Robert Ludlum’s The Geneva Strategy – Jamie Freveletti
  • The Great Divorce – C.S. Lewis
  • Robert Ludlum’s The Janson Equation – Douglas Corleone
  • God’s Lavish Grace – Terry Virgo
  • The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz
  • Alone on the Wall – Alex Honnold
  • U2: At the End of the World – Bill Flanagan
  • Knowledge and Christian Belief – Alvin Plantinga

Recommended Favorites (hard to pick just one):

 

The Books I Read This Year

BOOKS I READ THIS YEARFor the past several years, I’ve annually set a goal to read one book every single week during the coming year. Three years ago I got relatively close to this goal, completing a little over forty books. Two years ago I think my average was closer to one book every two weeks. And this year I’m capping it out with my worst performance ever, having read just twelve books during 2013. But honestly, who cares! I know you probably don’t. So with no further ado, here are the books I did read during 2013:

Best non-fiction book of the year:  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society – Lesslie Newbigin

Best fiction book of the year:  The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

Surprisingly good book of the year:  Erasing Hell – Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle (surprising because of how kindly and thoroughly Chan & Sprinkle debunk the pseudo-scholarship of Rob Bell’s Love Wins).

Complete List:

  • The Holiness of God – RC Sproul
  • Everyday Church – Tim Chester & Steve Timmis
  • Love Wins – Rob Bell
  • Erasing Hell – Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle
  • Tribes – Seth Godin
  • Robert Ludlum’s the Utopia Experiment – Kyle Mills
  • Across the River and Into the Trees – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
  • Does God Desire All to Be Saved? – John Piper
  • Five Points – John Piper
  • The Gospel in a Pluralist Society – Lesslie Newbigin
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)

 

5 Sentence Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

the-cuckoos-callingThe Cuckoo’s Calling is a detective / murder mystery novel written by JK Rowling under the pen name “Robert Galbraith.” Rowling’s true identity as the novel’s author remained a mystery until after the novel had begun generating a fairly positive response online. Upon public revelation that the novel was indeed written by Rowling, sales rose 4000%. Personally, I have zero skill for being able to figure out plots in movies and books before they are revealed, so the ending of the book caught me by surprise; however, I think the average reader would find the plot fairly un-predictable and the book quite enjoyable. In my opinion this is a great book and continues the tradition of great character development from the pen of Rowling; at minimum, this is a vastly better book than The Casual Vacancy.

4.5 out of 5 black cups of coffee.

coffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cuphalf-coffee-cup

Love Wins by Rob Bell & Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

love-wins-erasing-hell

This Past Weekend I Preached About Hell

This past weekend at Basileia, I preached a sermon addressing the question, “How Could a Loving God Send People to Hell?” It was a challenging and sobering sermon, and I can honestly say that I’m glad I don’t have to address such emotional and sobering topics every week. You can listen here if you’re interested.

In preparing to address this topic, I thought it might be prudent to reacquaint myself with the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. When the book came out about two years ago, I knew I didn’t agree with Rob’s view, but frankly I just didn’t feel like getting overly involved in the controversy. As it was, a few off-handed comments I made on Facebook got me more involved than I meant to be. But I’ve waited to read the actual book until an opportune time presented itself.

So this past week, I quickly “audio-booked” a copy of Love Wins. I followed my reading by checking out a few reviews by people I trust, and then I decided to go ahead an “audio-book” a copy of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, which is sort of a rebuttal. To call Erasing Hell a rebuttal is a bit of stretch honestly, it does address Bell’s views, and it was written in response to Love Wins, but it’s basically just a fresh look at the biblical teaching on heaven and hell.

I’m Not Sure There’s Much of a Point in Writing a Detailed Review

There’s really no reason for me to get into a detailed review of each book (because there’s a ton of reviews on the interwebs). However, I will say this: I think Rob Bell is a great writer and a compelling communicator, but I also think he’s misrepresenting the Bible on the issue of heaven and hell. Bell can claim that he is technically not a universalist because he still believes in the concept of heaven and hell, but readers should know that he completely redefines the definitions of both. Rob’s somewhat unique ideas have been alluded to in his other books and sermons for quite some time, but he really fleshes them out in Love Wins. Love Wins is an extremely convincing book until you begin to look closely, and then everything falls apart.

When I Was in Junior High, Starter Jackets Were All the Rage.

When I was in Junior High, Starter jackets were all the rage. To be cool, you had to have a Starter jacket. And I really wanted one, but I didn’t have a hundred dollars, and neither did my parents. However, my best friend, Chris Medina, had a step dad who was overseas in the military, and he could get Starter jackets for thirty-five dollars. Finally I had my chance! I could afford thirty-five bucks! I chose a Washington Redskins jacket (I still have it to this day) and I couldn’t wait for Chris’ dad to ship it back from overseas. However, when the jacket finally arrived, things just weren’t quite right. It looked like a Starter jacket, and it felt like a Starter jacket, but I noticed the stitching was a little off. Starter’s normal high quality seemed a little bit “jankey.” The Starter logo didn’t look right, and the tags on the inside of the coat didn’t seem authentic. I quickly realized that I had a fake. It was a pretty good looking fake, but it was fake. Everything seemed ok, until I looked closely. Rob Bell’s theology in Love Wins looks and sounds great . . . at first. But as you begin to examine it more closely, you begin to realize everything is a little off. The facts don’t add up. It begins to seem “jankey.” It looks good at first, but it’s a fake.

Like a 300 Pound Linebacker

The best way to examine this reality for yourself is to read Bell’s book and then read Chan’s book Erasing Hell back to back. I actually like Chan’s rebuttal of Love Wins more than anyone else’s. He’s extremely gracious, careful, and thorough. And he writes in a somewhat similar fashion, for a similar audience, and with a similar sized book. To put it bluntly though, Erasing Hell annihilates the theology in Love Wins, but it does so in a really nice way. It’s like getting tackled by a 300 pound linebacker, and then having that linebacker help you back up off the ground. Honestly, it’s hard to even take Bell seriously after reading Chan. You just realize that Bell did really poor exegesis, really poor historical research, really poor word studies, and a really poor job of exploring the Bible’s overall scope on the topic of heaven and hell. I highly recommend Erasing Hell, and honestly I can’t say enough about how helpful a book it is on this entire topic. Thank you Francis Chan!

I know some of you who may read this blog post will disagree with much of what I’ve just said, and that’s fine. You’re entitled to your own opinion, and I’m entitled to mine. But, I would urge anyone who is wresting with the issue of heaven and hell, or who has read Rob Bell, and read about the controversy surrounding Love Wins, and wonders if Rob Bell is telling them the truth or lying, to please consider reading Erasing Hell. Just give it a shot. And then read the Bible passages that each book mentions for yourself. Read them in context, and ask yourself, “What is the Bible really saying?” And finally, ask God to reveal to you what He has really said on the topic of heaven and hell.

You May Not Like What You Find

If you examine closely and honestly, you may not like what you find. But God continually asks us to trust Him and embrace hard truths throughout the Bible. We have to do this with the topic of judgment and hell too. Honestly, we cannot afford to be wrong on this issue.

Book Review: Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis

everyday-church

Two of My Favorite Authors

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis have probably done more than anyone else (excluding Tim Keller and Jeff Vanderstelt) to help me understand what applying the gospel to everyday life looks like. Their first book, Total Church, rocked my face off. And Everyday Church is more of the same.

What is a Missional Community anyway?

I began planting a church about two years ago, and it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. One of the things we knew we wanted to do while planting Basileia Church was to have missional communities. But to be honest, none of us completely understood what missional communities were, we just knew they sounded awesome. Our first concept was that it was an outreach thing and a numbers thing. In other words, in our collective minds a missional community was a small group that tried to reach people, and it was a slightly larger small group (20ish people instead of 10). That’s a stupid idea I know, but that’s what we thought.

It wasn’t until a few of us heard Jeff Vanderstelt, Steve Timmis, and Jonathan Dodson begin explaining missional communities that we really began to understand what they were. When I read Total Church, the picture started coming together more and more. And when I finally began trying to incorporate all these ideas into the life of our church, God began doing really cool things. I’m still learning, but it’s been awesome.

My Whole Life I’ve Never Really Understood Healthy Evangelism

I’ve always known and understood that evangelism is something I should do, but I’ve never been very good at doing it. I’ve shared the gospel a fair amount of times, and I’ve seen some people follow Jesus as a result, but I’m willing to say that at least 85% of the time evangelism felt weird and contrived. I believed what I was saying, I just never really believed that the way I was going about it was actually very effective. I lean reformed doctrinally, so I was confident that God was working everything out and would draw people to Himself, but I still felt like there was more to it. And I think there was more; it’s this idea of missional living, missional community, and everyday church that made things feel authentic and real. Instead of evangelism being an event, it was a way of life.

I Probably Felt the Most Alive in College

In college I was part of a community of believers that really loved one another and where we honestly pushed one another towards godliness. And I’ve got to say it was awesome; I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. And I don’t think it was just because it was college. It was the friendships, and the desire to see one another walk with God, and learning how to use our gifts for God, and the sense that we had real brothers and sisters in the faith who loved one another. But there was an element missing. It was mission. A lot of what we did in college was self-centered. I didn’t even really realize it at the time. But our group never reached out very well. And we didn’t even realize we were blowing it; we were seeking to be the best Christians that we knew how to be. Our experience in church was that evangelism was this “second or third tier” thing that no one really did, except occasionally. We thought God just wanted you to know His word, and sing great worship songs, and maybe go on a mission trip, and not sleep with our girlfriends / boyfriends until marriage. But everyday mission was a foreign concept. Evangelism, if we did it, was this separate event where you shared the Roman’s Road. It definitely wasn’t a part of everyday life. This honestly was a great community, but it wasn’t a missional community.

Everyday Missional Living

The thing that makes evangelism feel natural is doing it all the time as part of your everyday life. It’s learning how much you still need the gospel, and how much your buddies still need the gospel, and how much your neighbors need the gospel, and learning how to talk about the gospel and challenge yourself to put faith in Jesus all the time. Sometimes people will argue that “friendship evangelism” doesn’t work; it’s jus an excuse to be lazy. I mean you can’t just be a designated driver for your plastered college buddies all the time, without ever sharing the message of Jesus, and expect them to come to faith. That’s true. But missional living isn’t friendship evangelism as I just described it. Instead, it’s learning that you are a missionary all the time. I’m learning to redeem every part of my day for the purposes of God. Rather than evangelism being something that I (at best) do once a week for a few hours, it’s something I’m trying to do all the time. And it’s something our whole community participates in together. For me, this has made all the difference in the world. Evangelism no longer seems contrived, but genuine. I’m part of a group of believers who love one another and who are on mission together for the good of the community in which we’re planted. We want to bless the community and see our neighbors and friends and acquaintances come to know Jesus. We’re learning how the gospel message is what’s needed in every situation. We don’t need behavior modification, we need Jesus’ grace. And we’re learning to pray a lot. I need God to work all the time. I need Him to make things happen. I can’t do anything on my own.

I know I’m Not Really Reviewing a Book

At this point I know I’m not really reviewing Everyday Church, I’m just telling you how I’ve been inspired and instructed by it. In a nutshell, it’s a follow up to Chester and Timmis’ first book, Total Church. One big difference between the two books is that Everyday Church is based loosely on 1 Peter, where as Total Church is a more systematic explanation of what a missional church looks like. I love both books. Everyday Church goes through 1 Peter because it’s one of the most instructive books in the New Testament for describing how the people of God should live as missionaries in the midst of a culture that it continually finds itself more and more at odds with.

Anyway

Instead of getting in the nitty gritty of the book, let me just say, “You should read it.” You should read Total Church too. They’re both life-transforming, and I don’t say that lightly. Perhaps my ramblings on this blog post demonstrate how much I love this book, and I hope they have inspired you to check it out too.

Everyday Church Easily Earns 5 out of 5 Cups of Black Coffee.

coffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cup

Book Review: The Holiness of God by RC Sproul

the-holiness-of-godWell this is embarrassing

For a guy who generally tries to average about one book a week, I have to admit that I’m a bit behind my intended pace. Ok I’m a lot behind. This is actually the first full book I’ve finished this year. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent some time reading lots of different things, I just haven’t finished anything until now.

One of my goals this year

Every year I try to read from a wide variety of books, but I’m always attempting to read all of the things that I should have read a long time ago. I’ve read very few classics in either literature or Christian theology, and I want to be better acquainted with important works. So, I began this year with the intent of reading three important theology books that I’ve never read before (sort of modern classics). The first is this one: R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I plan to follow this by reading Stott’s The Cross of Christ, and Packer’s Knowing God.

Not that I Can Probably Add Anything

I’m quite sure that I am not able to add anything to what’a already been said about The Holiness of God, it was originally published in 85 I think, and it’s fairly beloved. But, I’ll go ahead and tell you a few thoughts. (This is really less of a review and more of a collection of loosely collected thoughts).

It’s Better Than I Thought

Theologically I’m a reformed guy, but my heroes of the faith aren’t always made up of the typical cast of characters. I’ve never been much of a Sproul guy. In the previous little exposure that I’ve had to his writings, I haven’t been that impressed (I’m not sure I should say that out loud, but it’s true). It’s not that I disagree with anything he says necessarily (although I’m sure I do), It’s just that I had a hard time getting excited by his writing style, or tone, or something along those lines––I’m not really sure. So, I began this book thinking of it more as a chore than a delight. But, I’ve got to say that The Holiness of God really surprised me. It’s a good book. There’s apparently a reason it’s considered a modern classic. wink. wink. Sproul writes well, better and more creatively than I expected. He uses lots of examples and illustrations to get his points across, and he remains scholarly but easy to read.

This Book Made Me Wrestle with My Faith

I’m probably most thankful for this book because in God’s providence, He used it to make me wrestle with a few areas of my faith. Specifically, chapter 6, aptly named “Holy Justice,” caused me to struggle. Sproul says in the second paragraph of the chapter:

“Whoever reads the Old Testament must struggle with the apparent brutality of God’s judgment found there. For many people this is as far as they read. They stumble over the violent passages we call the ‘hard sayings’ (99).”

In chapter 6, Sproul deals with issues like Uzzah touching the arc of the covenant and being killed on the spot by God, and God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And I’ve got to be honest, though I’ve read and even wrestled with these passages for years, and though I could easily have answered the typical objections to these passages, I was still rattled as I reexamined them for myself. I wasn’t rattled so much in my head as in my heart. Did I really believe that God was just to kill people in these situations? And further, did I really believe that God was just to judge me as a sinner? Sure, I know I’m a sinner, but why is that such a big deal? Why is God so much about Himself that He must receive glory and must punish sin? I know the biblical answers to these questions. I’ve heard John Piper talk about this for years, and I know justice is a biblical idea and the cross only makes sense if God cares about justice. But for some reason while reading Sproul, my heart began to wrestle. Doubts began to pop into my head. I didn’t know if it was demonic attack, or stress, or a crisis of faith, or what. To be honest, it scared me a bit. I mean, I’m a pastor for crying out loud! But it was a good, healthy wrestling match, and it helped me.

Ultimately, as I begin calling out to God and dealing with my heart, I felt like this is what He spoke to me:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

In verse 17, the Apostle Paul says that the righteousness of God is revealed only from faith. As I read this verse for probably the 500th time, God seemed to be saying, “Ben I know you know the answers in your head, and I know that your heart is struggling to understand my justice and my righteousness, but realize this: You can only understand it by faith. My righteousness and justice will never completely make sense to you if you’re thinking about it in a human way.  It can only be understood by faith. It can only be accepted by faith.” And that helped me. I began to trust God more deeply and truly. I began to re-accept the things that were hard for me to hear, but that I knew were true.

My faith has been strengthened. I recently told our congregation that we must wrestle with our doubts. If we don’t wrestle, our faith will remain shallow and weak. I feel like God took me through this experience so that my trust and faith in Him would increase.

Final Evaluation

You should read it. It is actually really good. You’ll understand the Christian faith better by reading this book. And if you’re due for some wrestling with God, you just might wrestle.

4.25 cups of black coffee out of 5.

coffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupquarter-coffee-cup

 

Book Review: Total Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis

total-churchTim Chester and Steve Timmis’ book, Total Church is one of my favorite reads in the last couple of years. I’ve been in the process of reading and digesting this work for much longer than I would have expected with a 200 page book. But every time I would start to read again, the content was so good, so challenging, and so helpful, that I would find myself re-reading chapters, and encouraging others to get a copy and re-read chapters with me. To date, this has been the most helpful book I’ve read in helping to plant Basileia Church. This is the book that I most want all the people of Basileia Church to read, and it’s the book I want all my friends considering church planting to read.

So what is it about? The subtitle of the book tells the whole story:  “A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community.” In the authors’ own words:

“This book argues that two key principles should shape the way we “do church”: gospel and community.  Christians are called to a dual fidelity: fidelity to the core content of the gospel and fidelity to the primary context of a believing community. Whether we are thinking about evangelism, social involvement, pastoral care, apologetics, discipleship, or teaching, the content is consistently the Christian gospel, and the context is consistently the Christian community” (15-16).

Further, Timmis and Chester explain:

“Being gospel-centered actually involves two things. First, it means being word-centered because the gospel is a word––the gospel is news, a message. Second, it means being mission-centered because the gospel is a word to be proclaimed––the gospel is good news” (16).

The rest of the book is basically an explanation and exegesis of these two statements. Following the introduction,there is a chapter on the gospel and a chapter on community, and then the rest of book covers all of the topics that flow out of these two foundations: evangelism, social involvement, church planting, world mission, etc.

The thing that makes this book great is that it is deeply theological and deeply communal. Many would lead us to believe that a church can either be deeply theological or deeply communal, but not both. The argument is usually described like this: “If a church chooses to be good at community, it will come at a cost to theological obedience. Or if a church chooses to be theologically astute, then it will come at a cost to true community.” This is a classic liberalism versus conservatism argument. Liberals apparently do community well, but at a cost to good theology. Whereas conservatives apparently do theology well, but at a cost to true community. Chester and Timmis paint a different picture altogether. (And as a side note, I would argue that it’s not good theology to be bad at community, and it’s not good community to be opposed to hard truth).

To put it another way, the type of church that Chester and Timmis are describing feels very post-modern in a communal sense but not very post-modern in a theological sense (I realize I may not be using post-modern in the most correct sense of the word, but just ignore that for a second and follow my train of thought). It’s very obvious that Chester and Timmis deeply believe the Bible. They don’t don’t deny propositional truth, and yet they’re describing church in a way that feels very at home in a post-Christiandom. What they’re describing sounds not only plausible in my city, but exciting. This description of church will work among people with little or no Christian background (which is increasingly the situation we find ourselves in within the urban centers of America). And Chester and Timmis don’t seem to simply be reacting to the changing culture around them, and thus scrambling to try and figure out how to “do church” these days. Rather, they seem to be reflecting deeply on the Scriptures and trying to figure out how to “do church” period. The authors are actual practitioners, not just theorists. They came to believe what they believe by reflecting on the Bible, putting it into practice, and seeing what happened. The result is both theologically pleasing and pragmatically feasible. A rare combination in the midst of pendulum-swing-prone-Christianity.

Here’s the other reason I really love this book. It’s teaching me how to share my faith in a way that feels both authentic and obedient to the Bible. I’ve struggled all my life to share my faith the way that the Bible commands. It always felt contrived and sales-pitchy. I knew I was supposed to do it, in fact I wanted to do it, it just never felt right.  Lots of times I shared, I was trying to be obedient to God, but it didn’t feel like it was doing any good. But now, finally, I’m seeing what living a life of mission looks like. The result has been that I look forward to sharing my faith with new friends. I don’t feel embarrassed to share the gospel. I can see that the gospel really does change lives. Is it still difficult at times? Yes, certainly. But it now feels more like a new way of living, a way of life where all of my life is mission, instead of a segmented time where I try to be obedient to the Great Commission for a couple of hours. This is life-changing. This is authentic. This is New Testament.

I love this book. You should read it.

5 out of 5 cups of black coffee.

coffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cupcoffee-cup

Book Review: The Escondido Theology by John Frame

the-escondido-theologyI just finished reading The Escondido Theology by John Frame, which is perhaps the strangest title for a book, ever! The subtitle of the book – “a reformed response to two kingdom theology” – gives the average consumer a gist of the content, and yet I still find it to be an absolutely awful title for a book. The world “Escondido” means absolutely nothing to the average person, unless he or she happens to know that it’s a town in California where Westminster Seminary California is located. The cover design doesn’t help sell the book either, it’s pretty bland to say the least. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but honestly we all do. So this book has literally nothing going for it, except perhaps that it was written John Frame, who is one-beast-of-a-theologian (I mean this in a positive sense).

Anyway, blah, blah, blah, none of that really matters. I decided to read this book at the recommendation of a friend, who said he thought it offered a compelling critique to some of the writings of Michael Horton. I should mention that both myself and the aforementioned friend like Michael Horton and John Frame, and have read several of their collective works. But no one’s theology is perfect, so it’s good to read one point of view and then to hear counter arguments. If theological critique is done in a loving and irenic spirit, then arguably, everyone is the better for it. I should also add, that I’m a church planter and I named the church that I’m currently planting “Basileia Church.” Basileia is the Greek word for “kingdom,” and our church’s mission statement reads, “For the Kingdom of God in East Nashville.” If there’s any one branch of theology that I geek-out about, it’s kingdom theology. I find it an absolutely transfixing theological subject that is exciting and often overlooked.

A little bit of the backstory to this book is that John Frame used to work at Westminster Seminary California with many of the men that he critiques in this book. He was not fired from the school, but claims that in the 1990‘s his theological views were increasingly scorned at the school because they differed from many of the other professors. Due to this development, Frame took at job at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Now years later, Frame has written a book that is essentially a collection of longer, technical book reviews that critique many of the works that the men at Westminster Seminary California have published. Frame argues that increasingly the professors at Westminster have formed a unique theological school of thought within the reformed movement that he refers to as “Escondido Theology.”

Frame assures the reader that he has not written this book to “get even” with his former colleagues, but because:

“The Westminster California professors have written prolifically, and though there is some good in this literature I believe the net effect of their work has been dangerous…Unfortunately, many have supported the Escondido literature, without, I think, quite understanding it…But anyone who thinks the Escondido theology is merely a conservative movement within the Reformed community has not seen it rightly” (Frame, xli).

So there you have it, a book of reviews, critiquing the particular brand of  Two Kingdom Theology that has developed in the last 30 or so years at Westminster Seminary California.

Specifically, Frame reviews the following works:

  • Christless Christianity – Michael Horton
  • Recovering the Reformed Confession – R. Scott Clark
  • A Biblical Defense of Natural Law – David Van Drunen
  • Kingdom Prologue – Meredith Kline
  • Covenant and Eschatology – Michael Horton
  • A Secular Faith – Darryl Hart
  • Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down & A Royal Waste of Time – Marva Dawn
  • A Better Way – Michael Horton
  • With Reverence and Awe – Daryl Hart & John Muether
  • Dual Citizens:  Worship and Life Between the Already and the Not Yet – Jason Stellman

He ends the book with two short chapters titled, “In Defense of Christian Activism” and “Is Natural Revelation Sufficient to Govern Culture?” In my opinion, these two small chapters are actually some of the most helpful in the book, and I wish Frame had done a little less reviewing and a little more personal writing on the topic of the kingdom and two kingdom theology.

My opinion of this book is that it’s interesting at times, ultimately unsatisfying, and not nearly as useful as it could have been. Despite Frame’s intention to keep personal wounds from affecting his assessments, it still seems as if he unfairly criticizes his former co-workers. In his reviews, he repeatedly mentions portions of their books that he agrees with, but he also seems to aim unnecessary jabs in their direction. Perhaps most telling, is that if one searches the web, he finds Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary, and many others claiming that Frame failed to fairly represent their views. It would have been more helpful to write a book that explained the two kingdom view of the Escondido school and then compare it to the one kingdom view of Frame and others. In this proposed book, if the Escondido Theologians had agreed that Frame adequately represented their views, then the two sides could have discussed which view more adequately represented the content of Scripture, rather than just taking pop shots at one another. I fear that instead, neither side completely understands the other, and they just keep talking over each others’ heads.

That being said, I do agree that a conversation needs to be had regarding the Scriptural appropriateness of the Escondido school’s two kingdom theology. Is the two kingdom view the best way to formulate Scripture’s teachings on the interaction between the church and culture? I personally don’t think it is. At times when I read the Escondido Theologians, I feel as if they’re advocating an unhealthy separation between Christianity and culture for fear of falling into some sort of Nuevo-social-gospel-liberalism or as a reaction against the mistakes of the religious right. So I actually find myself in agreement with Frame on many points, I just wish he had written a different sort of book. Perhaps he felt he needed to take an aggressive approach to get everyone’s attention, or maybe this book was meant to be a launching pad for further discussions on the topic, but ultimately different sorts of books will need to written on this subject if any headway is going to be made.

Overall
2.5 of 5 black cups of coffee.

coffee-cupcoffee-cuphalf-coffee-cup

Not a book for most people, but interesting if you know the players or are already part of the discussion between one kingdom and two kingdom views. Someone please write a more concise book that fairly represents both sides and allows readers to make an informed decision on this theological topic.