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One of the ways we keep up around here is to read what others are or will be reading. At any given time there are 8-10 books on my desk and I tend to take them on one at a time in between other aspects of the ministry. From time to time we post our reviews and since Stephen Burnett reviewed Why We’re Not Emergent by Two Guys Who Should Be two weeks ago it seemed about time for me to get a little caught up on this as well.

The first will be Mark Mittelberg’s latest offering Choosing Your Faith: In a World of Spiritual Options (2008; Tyndale House Publishers, $19.99). Mark has done a service to believers and non-believers in laying out and analyzing criteria by which we can and should examine our world view and embrace the beliefs which pass the test. Although an Evangelical himself the criteria he discusses can and should be applied to the Christian claims as well. The book isn’t an apologetic for Christianity directly as much as it is a call to ask the hard questions, understand relativism, pragmatism, tradition, authority, reality, intuition, knowledge, mysticism, logic, evidence and science. Each of these can be helpful or, if not properly understood, harmful. For example, in his chapter “I Just Feel That It’s True” he discusses a number of instances where individuals made decisions based on feelings they had and then tests them to see if there isn’t something else that was factoring in which guided their feeling. He opens with a scene from Star Wars where Obi-Wan Kenobi has Luke Skywalker practice defending himself with his light saber against a “seeker” robot while wearing a helmet which prevented him from seeking in order to teach him to rely on “feeling” the force. In Mittelberg’s analysis he points out:

To illustrate the limited nature of intuitive information, let’s look back through some of our examples, starting with the scene from Star Wars. Remember that Obi-Wan Kenobi put the helmet on Luke Skywalker and told him to stop using his eyes and just act on his on instinct. But notice that Obi-Wan failed to heed his one advice. That is, he did not put on his helmet to block his own sight in order to instinctively sense how Luke was doing with this new, superior approach. Instead, he stood and observed him in the old-fashioned way – with his own two eyes – which were just like the ones he told Luke not to be deceived by. So much for stretching out your feelings.(p. 94-95)

Choosing Your Faith: In a World of Spiritual Options would be good to use in a small group setting to discuss and develop in your thinking in order to be better able to ask questions of the beliefs of others. It would also be a good book to give to non-believers who are willing to question their views and apply the criteria to faith delivered once for all to the saints (Jude 3).

Where Are All The Brothers? (2008, Crossway Publishing, $9.99) by Eric C. Redmond is compact (103 pages) book that is an introductory level apologetic which includes other issues and objections not commonly addressed in a defense of the faith. The chapter titles are:

1 – Isn’t the Church Full of Hypocrites?
2 – Wasn’t the Bible Written by Men?
3 – Isn’t the Church Geared Toward Women?
4 – Isn’t the Preacher Just a Man?
5 – Doesn’t Islam Offer More for Black Men?
6 – Aren’t some Churches Just After Your Money?
7 – Is Organized Religion Necessary?
8 – Jesus Never Claimed to Be God, Did He?
9 – What to Look for to Find a Good Church.

Some of the material is more pertinent to the African-American culture but much can be helpful to men in general. The chapter, “What to Look for to Find a Good Church” is short, to the point a gives a list of vital things to consider which can be helpful for those who have been in cults and are leery about making another commitment. The appendixes are helpful especially Appendix B, “The Church Does Not Welcome Homosexuals.” Primarily Redmond attempts to take the primary objections for not getting involved in church and answering them. Again, it is introductory level but many are at that level and may be more willing to read this than something more in-depth.

Surprised by Hope:Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008, HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, $24.95) by N.T. Wright. I touched on some of this in the blog article Is Wright Wrong? in February but wanted to delay further comment until I had the opportunity of reading it myself. It is a mixed bag and as I read it I can see why Brian McLaren would gravitate toward some of the things Wright has to say.

On the positive side, Wright does a very good job of articulating the physicality of the resurrection, both our Lord’s in the past and ours in the future.

In Wright’s discussion of how we examine historical evidence be rightly points out that:

There are, after all, different types of knowing. Science studies the repeatable; history studies the unrepeatable. Caesar only crossed the Rubicon once and if he’d crossed it again it would have meant something different the second time. There was, and could be, only one first landing on the moon. The fall of the second Jerusalem Temple took place in A.D. 70 and never happened again. Historians don’t of course see this as a problem and are usually not shy about declaring that thee events certainly took place, even though we can’t repeat them in the laboratory.( p. 64)

Many of his concerns in the book surround his contention that many or perhaps most believers are not well taught on this importance of the physicality of the resurrection and the physical connectedness of the resurrection body to our current body. As a result there is some sloppy thinking on what happens when we die. As I read Surprised by Hope I was reminded of Bill Hybels March 19, 1996 talk, “Life Beyond The Grave” which he opened with the words, “Jesus taught that every single human being would be resurrected immediately following death…”. It is little wonder when the pastor of one of the largest churches in America seems to have little biblical understanding of the resurrection that many Christians likewise are unclear or confused on this issue. This really bothers Wright and unfortunately leads him to an equally false belief:

A massive assumption has been made in Western Christianity that the purpose of being a Christian is simply, or at least mainly, to “go to heaven when you die,” and texts that don’t say that but that mention heaven are read as if they did say it, and texts that they the opposite, like Romans 8:18 – 25 and Revelation 21-22, are simply screened out as if they didn’t exist.(p. 90)

I don’t know of very many Christians, pastors or Christian authors who hold this view. Rather, they primarily teach that being with Christ and accepted by God is the purpose of being a Christian. Many think of Christ as being in heaven and therefore describe their future state of being with Him as “in heaven.” However, his view becomes a necessary one for the second half of the book. By portraying Evangelicals as primarily concerned about getting to heaven and particularly those who hold to a pre-tribulation rapture and pre-millennial tribulation he erects a strawman that he and through his writings, Brian McLaren and the emerging church can attribute much of the world’s evil upon. The contention is that the church has shirked its responsibility of kingdom living and thus we still have poverty, sickness, an imbalance of wealth, etc. In essence he holds Christians responsible for what unbelievers do and how they act with little if any acknowledgement for the sacrifices and missions on the part of many churches and believers over the centuries. For example, Wright states:

As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, one major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt. I have spoken about this many times over the last few years, and I have a sense that some of us, like old Wilberforce on the subject of slavery, are actually called to bore the pants off people by going on and on about it until eventually the point is taken and the world is changed. There are many good books on the subject from different points of view, and I don’t want to go into the arguments now. I simply want to record my conviction that this is the number one moral issue of our day. Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret – or rather the dirty enormous secret – of glitzy Western capitalism.(p. 216–217)

Should Christians be concerned about the poor, the sick and the hungry? Absolutely. Should believers live a life commensurate with the type of servanthood which our Lord displayed? To be certain. I am not sure how that gives us the right to demand that unbelievers live and act like believers or to hold them to biblical standards and Wright never attempts to support his proposals which must result in exactly this action. Although there are many things in the second half of the book that are very good there are others that are very troublesome and I can see why the emerging church leaders look to him as their theologian of choice. This is a book that needs to be read with care, much thought and likely with a group of a few others to wrestle with the ideas he is promoting.