I recall hearing the statement years ago, â€œFive years from now you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet.â€ There is a great deal of truth to that claim. The people we meet and the books we read influence our thinking a great deal. As part of our ongoing research we spend a fair amount of time reading. Not only does this include material by the various groups we are researching but new material by Christian publishers as well. We typically can put a review or two in the printed Journal but it occurred to me that we can put more reviews and post them more frequently in on the blog. That will help me because the reviews are beginning to stack up and it will answer a question that I am asked fairly often, â€œWhat are you currently reading?â€
Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrmanâ€™s Misquoting Jesus by Timothy Paul Jones (IVP Books, June 8, 2007; 175 pages; $13.00)
Although the book is written as a response to Bart Ehrman the book should be considered by those who have never even heard of Bart Ehrman. Timothy Paul Jones has written a very layman friendly explanation of the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible as we have it today. One of the driving forces of Jonesâ€™ interest in this subject began in his teens as he had access to information which seemed to cast the Bible in to the category of being unreliable. He writes:
“Nothing had prepared me for these revelations â€“ and I knew that no one in my church or at home was prepared to deal with such doubts either. If I dared to voice these questions, my words would merely confirm their suspicion that academic study leads inevitably to disbelief.” (p. 19)
The importance of this work to the average believer and church cannot be underestimated in light of the increasing assaults on the faith â€œonce for all delivered to the saintsâ€ (Jude 3). I was recently speaking and mentioned that some of those who deny the validity of the Bible and validity of the Christian Faith claim that there are more mistakes in the New Testament than there are words in the New Testament. The immediate response from the group was â€œshow me.â€ It was a teachable moment as I explained how something we would call â€œtyposâ€ today exist in the copies of all of the manuscripts of the New Testament documents but that they do not change any major or minor doctrine and we do know what it should have been and very often can trace back to when the â€œtypoâ€ crept in. Jones deals well with explaining textual criticism, claims of inaccuracies and responses. He writes with a very grace filled demeanor as he acknowledges the validity of criticisms and demonstrates the weaknesses of the criticism with sound reasons and evidence in defense of the reliability of Scripture.
Very helpful features of the book are the â€œLook It Up,â€ â€œThink It Outâ€ and â€œKnow Moreâ€ sections sprinkled throughout each chapter. Rather than abandon using words the reader may be unfamiliar with or which may lose the reader the word, such as â€œinerrancyâ€ is put in a â€œLook it upâ€ section along with a brief explanation and/or definition. The â€œKnow Moreâ€ sections give good background information such as:
What happened to the autographs of the New Testament texts? Around A.D. 200 Tertullian of Carthage claimed that the churches of Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus and Rome still possessed Paulâ€™s original letters. In time, the autographs became worn, so they were replaced and discarded.
Jones also deals with the issue of canonization as well as the process of copying and authorship of the originals. IVP also provides a downloadable Guide for Leaders and Learners
Walking the Walk: Getting Fit with Faith by Leslie Sansone (FaithWords, July 8, 2007; 272 pages; $19.99).
I am always amazed at the opportunities which God provides. This work is a case in point. Joy and I have been using Leslie Sansoneâ€™s indoor walking programs since January of this year. We really like them since we are not dependant on the weather. (That also removes weather related excuses for not walking). We pop the DVD in and off we go. Although we began at a mile a day and couldnâ€™t imagine doing more we have been doing 4 miles a day for a good long while now. There is nothing necessarily spiritual about the program it is just good, sound physical exercise and Leslie comes across as very friendly and knowledgeable in all of the routines. The kind of person you would like to visit and talk with. So imagine my surprise when in early June I received a phone call from the Faith Words P.R. firm, Trent & Company trying to contact Gwen Shamblin (Weigh Down Workshop/Remnant Fellowship) in an attempt to secure her endorsement of Sansoneâ€™s new book. I explained the issues related to Shamblinâ€™s false & heretical teachings. I was told that Leslie had discovered churches are using her program and has developed a Christian program and workbook and was asked if we would review it. This review is really in two parts.
The DVD programs are pretty straight forward physical exercise programs which include walking in place, knee lifts, side steps, as well as some upper body movements. Although I was sent some DVD programs, the one that goes with the book was not included. On the Walk Slim Fast Start 1, 2 & 3 mile program there were some personal testimonies at the end but during the workout itself it was her standard routines. The â€œSlim Walk 4 Fast Milesâ€ was all of that without testimonies. There is no theology involved but a fair amount of physical exertion and sweating. I would recommend the various DVD in home walking systems which are available at her website as well as Amazon.com and in other retail outlets.
On the other hand, the book is a problem. Although the material that is unrelated to spiritual questions such as the â€œFit Factsâ€ sections is good and helpful the other material goes from questionable to dangerous. There are â€œWitness for Fitnessâ€ sections in the book with testimonies primarily from Evangelicals and Evangelical churches. One Sansone’s best and most accurate worldview statements in the book is:
The first question to ask yourself is, What do I really believe in? Thatâ€™s actually a tough question. We think we have a good handle on our beliefs until we need to verbalize them. The words donâ€™t come, because our core beliefs are locked away in a part of ourselves that is difficult to translate into words. But itâ€™s important to truly know our deepest beliefs, because they affect all our actions.(p. 31)
As Leslie Sansoneâ€™s beliefs flow out on to the printed page we find a mix of Catholic, biblical, occult and New Age. I attempted to contact Leslie Sansone through the PR company several times prior to the release of the book in hopes of addressing what may be unintentional false teaching. Although the PR Firm assured me that she would contact me that has not happened. A few exampleâ€™s will be helpful here:
On page 22 Leslie writes:
Choose as talisman to get you in the mood for walking with God.
A talisman is by definition an occult object imbued with occult powers. I am not altogether sure why the Beacon Evangelical Free Church in Galloway Township, NJ (p. 58) or New Home Ministries in LaPlace, LA (p. 99) would sign on with this as it is in direct conflict with Deuteronomy 18:9-14 and other Scripture. It is possible that they had not seen the book prior to agreeing to be witnesses in it. Other issues are that we â€œthink our own destiny in to beingâ€ (p 41), we are â€œpart of a compassionate universeâ€ (p 49), God is â€œemanating from every object and person, including youâ€ (p 74). These latter two examples are pantheistic in origin. Visualization is promoted (p. 83). The reader is prompted to depend on their feelings to find truth:
If your heart is open and full of love, the Spirit will intercede and steer you true. Let your love for God guide you, and you can trust that you are always living according to His purpose.â€(p. 164)
Although the walking programs are very well done I would strongly recommend staying far away from the book as it currently stands. Any churches that are currently using her DVD programs should NOT introduce this book into their groups. It would take a major theological overhaul to bring this book to resemble anything that we find in Scripture. The Apsotle Paul was pretty clear that bidliy discipline is only of little benefit (1 Timothy 4:8) in a book where his emphasis was sound doctrine and correcting false teachers. We have and continue to make ourselves available to Ms. Sansone to assist on this but up to this point there has not been much interest.
The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath (IVP Books, June 8, 2007; 144 pages; $15.00).
Richard Dawkins has been a very readable writer for Darwinian evolution for a number of years. However, he has not seemed to be able to bring about a complete abandonment of God or god in the process. His 2006 book, The God Delusion was intended to do just that. Dawkins wrote on page 5:
If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.â€
Prior to being a Christian theologian, Alister McGrath had an earned doctorate in molecular biophysics and a fairly good grasp of the issues involved. McGrath shows the difference between Dawkins and the late Stephen J. Gould and their view that science can answer all questions. Gould did not believe this. McGrath expresses some sadness at Dawkins departure from what he argues well into an area for which he seems to be ill fitted and prepared. Compared to the length of Dawkins book (416 pages) this is fairly short. McGrath writes of Dawkins book:
The book is often little more than an aggregation of convenient factoids suitably overstated to achieve maximum impact and loosely arranged to suggest that they constitute an argument. To rebut this highly selective appeal to evidence would be unspeakably tedious and would simply lead to a hopelessly dull book that seemed tetchy and reactive. Every one of Dawkinâ€™s misrepresentations and overstatements can be challenged and corrected.
McGrath and McGrath address the essential arguments in four chapters:
1) Deluded About God?
2) Has Science Disproved God?
3) What are the Origins of Religion
4) Is Religion Evil?
His points are well made and will be helpful to those who are talking with friends who have read or are reading Dawkins. One area of weakness is the few paragraphs on Intelligent Design (30 & 31). McGrath erroneously places them in the category of the â€œGod of the gaps.â€ The focus of I.D. is not to declare Who God is but to demonstrate that there is evience that an uncreated creator or designer exists. Young Earth creationists will not be as happy with some of the arguments as McGrath tends to fall in to the progressive creation camp with Hugh Ross. However, many of the points made in response to Richard Dawkins are not dependant on this view and will be helpful in talking with those who have read Dawkinsâ€™ book.
Infinite Impact: Making the Most of Your Place in Godâ€™s Timeline by Stu Weber (Tyndale House Publishers, October, 2007; 250 pages; $22.99).
The writing style is devotional and might be best termed as an attempt at challenging the reader to develop a theology of remembrance. Being an apologetics ministry it was initially a bit of a struggle but a needed one to stop for a time and think about my place in Godâ€™s timeline and how my life will impact others even after I am long departed from this world. It was also helpful to reflect back on those who have gone on before us. Stu Weber has a knack in sharing stories from his personal life with which many will be able to identify in a very personal way.
While many in the church are biblically challenged those in apologetics and discernment ministries tend to be worship challenged. Although I am concerned about Weberâ€™s choices in Bible paraphrases the intent and benefit of his book is to step back from fine tuning an argument and spend time with the Savior Who loves us. Learning to look back at the, as Weber calls them, â€œtimeline markersâ€ also encourages us in what God will do in the future. It is a good reminder for He is the reason that we do what we do and when we forget that we need some refocusing.