Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Books (Page 1 of 6)

Book review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd

Today I have the privilege of posting some brief thoughts on the latest new book from Brian Zahnd, titled Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, published by WaterBrook and released on 15 August.

Those who have followed my blog or my Facebook posts for any length of time will be no stranger to Zahnd. A veteran pastor of 35 years’ standing, in recent years he has become a prolific and increasingly important voice for those who tire of dogmatic fundamentalism and its ugly implications, but who are unwilling to simply throw in the towel and walk away from the faith altogether. As a result, Zahnd is at the forefront of a rising tide of prophetic voices whose mission is to help Christians and non-Christians alike rediscover – in the words of the book’s subtitle – “The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News”. (I have previously reviewed two other books by Zahnd: A Farewell To Mars and Water to Wine).

In a way, Sinners bears some similarity with Zahnd’s previous book Water to Wine: Some of my Story, in that it starts with what he once believed as a zealous young Jesus freak and tracks his theological trajectory from there towards a much broader, deeper and more beautiful faith. The key difference, though, is that where Water to Wine was essentially a biographical narrative that served as a framework for Zahnd’s theological growth, Sinners is unashamedly a work of theology – by which I mean that its focus is theological, not biographical, and it is structured into broad theological topics, including some “hot potatoes”.

A quick word about the book’s title, whose resonance may escape those less familiar with the history of American evangelicalism. In 1741, revivalist preacher Jonathan Edwards preached what would become his most famous sermon, titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, in which he expounded, often in lurid terms,  on fallen man’s utter depravity and God’s deserved utter contempt for humankind. The sermon went on to become a Puritan classic, and was without doubt foundational and extremely influential in later American revivalism and evangelicalism more broadly. (For a flavour of Edwards’s sermon, read Zahnd’s book: he quotes a sample of excerpts from it in the first chapter.)

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Book review: The Uncontrolling Love of God by Thomas Jay Oord

If God is good and loving, why do evil and suffering exist in the world? This question, often referred to as the problem of theodicy, is one of the thorniest issues theologians have had to wrestle with through the ages. And in our twenty-first century world, where stark visual images of all manner of suffering and strife are streamed into our living rooms daily, it is no less important – and no less challenging – a question than it ever has been.

Far from being the preserve of specialists, theodicy is – or at least should be – of genuine concern to the ordinary Christian. Self-described theologian, philosopher and multidisciplinary scholar Thomas Jay Oord introduces the problem thus:

“To a greater or lesser degree, we all want to make sense of life. Yet doing so proves difficult, even for those of us who believe in God. Although we witness beauty, purpose and goodness all around, we also witness random accidents, pain and evil. Simplistic answers to life’s difficult questions […] leave many of us unsatisfied. We need better answers. Believers want to reconcile randomness and evil with the idea that God acts providentially.” (15)

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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: responding to Greg Boyd’s responses

I recently posted a three-part review of Greg Boyd’s colossal new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereafter CWG). (Links here to part 1, part 2 and part 3.) My twin aims in writing this review were (i) to provide a concise and accurate overview of the structure and content of CWG and (ii) to briefly set out the top three things I liked about CWG and my top three concerns with it.

I’ve been thrilled with the amount of comment and conversation my review has generated; if nothing else, Greg is to be heartily applauded for throwing open the debate on a number of crucial theological issues.

This past week, Greg began a series of posts at his ReKnew website titled Reviewing the Reviews. Imagine my surprise when the first review of CWG he chose to respond to was mine! Given that the ideas put forward in CWG will doubtless be discussed by the great and the good of the theological world, I’m over the moon that Greg chose to seriously engage with a review written by an amateur and a relative nobody like little old me. What’s more, he had some really nice things to say about my review, describing it as “excellent”, “detailed and probing” and “an accurate, clear and insightful overview”.

Thanks, Greg!

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 3 of 3)

Today I’m delighted to share with you the final part of my three-part review of pastor-teacher-academic Greg Boyd’s long-awaited new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (hereinafter referred to as CWG).

In part 1 and part 2, I attempted to set out a high-level overview of the structure and content of CWG. While, given the length and depth of the book, this was necessarily a skim over the surface rather than a deep dive, I hope I have done enough that those who have read CWG will recognise my sketch as a reasonably faithful synopsis, and that those who have not will gain at least a bare-bones understanding of what Boyd is trying to do and how he is trying to do it.

In this third and final part, I will briefly set out what I consider to be the main strengths of Boyd’s work in CWG, as well as my main concerns with it. There are many positive things that could be said about this book, and more than a few concerns that one might validly raise about it; for the sake of space and time, I shall limit myself to three positive points and three primary concerns.

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 2 of 3)

Today I continue with my review of Greg Boyd’s much-anticipated new book The Crucifixion of the Warrior God (which I will henceforth refer to as CWG).

In part 1, I sketched out an overview of Volume I of CWG, in which Boyd underlines the centrality of the crucified Christ as the paramount interpretive guide to scripture, explores instances of Old Testament divine violence and lays out his “Cruciform Hermeneutic”, according to which the cross must serve as the criterion for determining the degree to which any biblical text explicitly reflects the true revelatory “voice” of God. In this second part, I will briefly overview Volume II, in which Boyd sets out and applies four principles that together form his “Cruciform Thesis”.

Introduction: Boyd kicks off Volume II by asking readers to consider an imaginary scenario in which he witnesses his wife engaging in what appears to be atypical and disturbing behaviour. Based on his several decades of marriage, Boyd knows his wife well enough to be certain that, despite appearances to the contrary, the behaviour he sees is not congruent with his wife’s character. He must therefore conclude that, even though what he sees appears disturbing on its surface, there must be something else going on – some explanatory set of facts that is hidden from Boyd and which, if he were made aware of it, would explain his wife’s apparently disturbing behaviour in ways congruent with what he knows to be her good character.

This introduction deserves particular mention because its fundamental point – the idea that “there must be something else going on” – becomes a kind of leitmotif that frequently recurs throughout the rest of the volume. Whenever the Old Testament appears to depict God in ways that we know are not congruent with the supreme revelation of God seen in Christ on the cross, we should conclude – so argues Boyd – that there must be something else going on. And, as conscientious readers of scripture, we should diligently search for what that “something else” might be.

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Book review: The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd (part 1 of 3)

Today I have the privilege of beginning to review the long-awaited new book by Greg Boyd, titled The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, officially released on 1 April 2017.

Weighing in at some 1,400 pages, with no less than ten appendices, an extensive bibliography and copious footnotes throughout, this truly gargantuan work took Boyd around ten years to write: no surprise when you consider that, as well as being a prolific author (with over fifteen books to his name), Boyd pastors a large church in St Paul, Minnesota (USA) and is also an adjunct professor of theology.

To make my review as accessible as possible, I had originally planned to write it in a single post. However, given the size and scope of the book, I’ve decided to break my review down into three parts. In the first two parts, I will attempt to provide a concise overview of the structure and content of the book; in the third part, I will share  some thoughts on the book’s strengths and weaknesses as I see them. (I hope to post parts 2 and 3 over the next few days.)

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Book review: How Jesus Saves the World from Us by Morgan Guyton

Guyton bookToday I have the privilege of reviewing the first book by Morgan Guyton, titled How Jesus Saves the World from Us: 12 Antidotes to Toxic Christianity.

I’ve been following Morgan’s writings for a few years now, first on his personal blog and more recently at his Patheos blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice. I’ve always found him a stimulating and thought-provoking writer, so as soon as I heard he had a book coming out, I got in touch and asked for a review copy, and he was kind enough to oblige.

In terms of context, Morgan and his wife Cheryl are directors of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Perhaps as a result of his background and vocation, I find that Morgan’s worldview and theology are informed by a broad range of church traditions, in addition to which he is an astute cultural commentator.

There are a few reasons I’ve always been drawn to Morgan’s writing, and I find these characteristics just as present in his book as they are in his blog posts. First, he writes with clarity, freshness and incisiveness; many of his sentences and paragraphs pack a powerful punch; they “zing” off the page with a real edge that makes his work compelling to read. You may agree with the things he says, or you may not; either way, you are unlikely to be indifferent. Second, he somehow pulls off the difficult task of combining this high-octane style with an attitude of great humility and authenticity. The result is that he can say piercingly critical things about beliefs and/or behaviours without leaving you, the reader, feeling offended or defensive – because you know the person at whom he directs his fiercest criticism is himself. He is disarmingly honest about his own struggles, shortcomings and failures, and this lends great credibility to the insights he proffers. And third, his writing is peppered with colourful imagery, cultural references and playful allusions, making it genuinely fun to read, even when he is addressing matters of great import.

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