Category Archives: Reviews

Jesus Behaving Badly

2466I like Mr. Rogers. He no doubt revealed more of Christ in his neighborhood than many evangelicals do today. But Mark Strauss says that Jesus isn’t a Mr. Rogers lookalike or the warm fuzzies, flannelgraph Jesus.

Mark Strauss (Ph.D. University of Aberdeen) is professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary in San Diego. He is the author of several books including Four Portraits, One Jesus (2007) and commentaries on Mark’s Gospel in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series and Expositor’s Series. He is also the associate editor for the NIV Study Bible.

In his latest book, Jesus Behaving Badly: The Puzzling Paradoxes of the Man from Galilee (IVP Books-Sept 2015), Mark sets out to reveal Jesus of Nazareth in all of his complexities, paradoxes, and tensions.

Echoing the refrain of Albert Schweitzer (Quest of the Historical Jesus), Mark says that we must resist the temptation to fashion Jesus into our own image or into what we’d like him to be, ignoring the parts that we don’t like or those bits we simply don’t get. It’s all or nothing when it comes to Jesus.

The book suggests that we often overlook that Jesus was judgmental, provocative, chauvinistic, racist, anti-environmental, and angry.

Or so it would seem without understanding his first-century context and the manner and method of Jesus in light of his own situation.

Mark writes:

So when  we observe Jesus’ apparent bad behavior with reference to slaves or family values or the death of pigs or the cursing of fig trees, we are asked to view him as he is, not as we wish he were–not as someone with twenty-first century sensibilities toward equality or the environment. We may not always be happy with the results, and we probably shouldn’t be. Ultimately we have to decide if we are going to sit in judgment on Jesus or listen and learn from him. (pg. 14)

In 12 chapters and exactly 200 pages, Mark addresses the following:

  1. Everybody Likes Jesus
  2. Revolutionary or Pacifist?
  3. Angry or Loving?
  4. Environmentalist or Earth Scorcher?
  5. Legalist or Grace Filled?
  6. Hellfire Preacher or Gentle Shepherd?
  7. Antifamily or Family Friendly?
  8. Racist or Inclusivist?
  9. Sexist or Egalitarian?
  10. Was Jesus Anti-Semitic?
  11. Failed Prophet or Victorious King?
  12. Decaying Corpse or Resurrected Lord?

While this book is for popular reading, it will not disappoint.

Jesus Behaving Badly looks at some of the puzzling and seemingly offensive things Jesus said and did, and tries to make sense of them. What we just might find is that when Jesus is at his most difficult, he is also at his most profound. (pg. 14)

Is your church dealing with any of these concerns? Want to read the book in a class or a small group? Well, there are discussion questions for that!

I had a brief conversation with Mark a few years ago at SBL in Atlanta. He is not only a scholar within historical Jesus studies, he is a pastor as well. It wasn’t a long conversation, but I’ll never forget the interest he took in my family and his sincere encouragement to me in life and ministry. He is a living example of a disciple who is holding the academy and the church together.

That’s why I’m happy not only to recommend this book, but also to suggest you get to know Mark better by reading all of his works.

Want a good book for Christmas? This one will do.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

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Benefit of the Doubt

http://www.amazon.com/Benefit-Doubt-Breaking-Idol-Certainty/dp/0801014921/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378440591&sr=8-1&keywords=Faith%2C+Doubt%2C+and+the+idol+of+certaintyGreg Boyd sent me a copy of his most recent book, Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty (Baker Books, 2013). Thanks, Greg!

The book came out in September and I finished it last month. I apologize for the delay on the review. I’ve been trying to keep up with reading, writing, daddy duties, and preparing to move across the country. It’s a challenging time right now.

If you follow the blog, you know that Greg is a friend and mentor of mine. So, I’m a little biased. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and I’m a faithful podritioner at whchurch.org.

However, no matter how I might feel about someone, I always try to read with an open heart and mind. If anything, my relationship with any author simply means that there is a level of experience and trust there that allows me to more easily consider new ideas, while still being able to read critically.

I never always agree with everything anyone says. Unless it’s Jesus, of course. But I have found that I agree with Greg on many things.

This book is no exception.

Here is the publisher’s summary of the book:

“In Benefit of the Doubt, influential theologian, pastor, and bestselling author Gregory Boyd invites readers to embrace a faith that doesn’t strive for certainty, but rather for commitment in the midst of uncertainty. Boyd rejects the idea that a person’s faith is as strong as it is certain. In fact, he makes the case that doubt can enhance faith and that seeking certainty is harming many in today’s church. Readers who wrestle with their faith will welcome Boyd’s message that experiencing a life-transforming relationship with Christ is possible, even with unresolved questions about the Bible, theology, and ethics. Boyd shares stories of his own painful journey, and stories of those to whom he has ministered, with a poignant honesty that will resonate with readers of all ages.”

I didn’t realize how much I needed this book. Not only does Greg speak to my own experiences of shifting beliefs, and agonizing doubt about a number things over the years, it also makes sense of the certainty-seeking faith held by others close to me who think I’ve gone off the deep end.

Greg says that many Christians think faith is feeling certain about everything, therefore doubt is the enemy of faith. These folks can’t handle any ambiguity. Doubt is sin. Everything in the Bible is black and white.

Those with certainty-seeking faith get their life from feeling certain about right beliefs. Greg believes that their salvation is even wrapped up and hinges on believing the right things, and feeling certain about them.

“Believing that one’s salvation depends on remaining sufficiently certain about right beliefs can cause people to fear learning things that might make them doubt the rightness of their beliefs. It thus creates a learning phobia that in turn leads many to remain immature in their capacity to objectively, calmly, and lovingly reflect on and debate their beliefs.” p.76

Having grown up among conservative evangelicals in the South, this is something I’ve seen over and over again. The very people who say they want to learn seem almost incapable of processing anything that challenges or contradicts what they were taught and believe in their church.

Greg says that certainty-seeking faith is a self-serving quest. He writes, “Though certainty-seeking believers claim to care about believing the truth, they are actually only concerned with enjoying the secure feeling of being certain while avoiding the pain of doubt” (p.52).

Benefit of the Doubt is an honest glimpse into Greg’s own journey of faith and doubt. He talks about how he was an atheist as a teenager, came to Christ in a fundamentalist church, lost his certainty-seeking faith in college, and discovered a faith built on the foundation of a living Christ.

Greg learned to embrace doubt as a part of a covenantal (relationship based) faith with Christ. Ultimately, biblical faith is found in a person, not in any particular belief found in or about the Bible.

He writes, “The all-important center of the Christian faith is not anything we believe; it’s the person of Jesus Christ, with whom we are invited to have a life-giving relationship.” He goes on to say, “Rather than believing in Jesus because I believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, as evangelicals typically do, I came to believe the Bible was the inspired Word of God because I first believe in Jesus” (p.159).

Greg is calling for a restructuring—a new model of faith. He calls it the “Concentric Circles” paradigm (Figure 8.1 on pg. 171).

At the center is belief in Jesus Christ, the first circle is dogma (what has traditionally been understood as orthodox Christianity), the second is doctrine (different ways the church has interpreted dogma), and the third outer ring is the realm of opinion (different ways of interpreting doctrine).

“Identifying the center as the intellectual foundation of the faith, and sole source of life, and by distinguishing it from all other beliefs, this model allows hungry people to enter a relationship with Christ and participate in the life he gives without requiring them to first resolve a single other issue.” p.173

Greg believes this model “creates space for people to think on their own” and that it does so “without watering down the traditional definition of historic-orthodox Christianity.” Doubt is allowed, even beneficial.

Yes, but what about all of the verses that seem to make doubt an enemy of faith (e.g. John 20:27; Mark 11:23; James 1:6; etc.)? Greg addresses each verse that has been used to uphold the certainty-seeking model of faith.

“You may end up disagreeing with me, which is fine, but your convictions will be more refined and stronger for having done so. On the other hand, you may end up embracing a kind of faith that is more secure precisely because it is free of the need to feel certain. You may discover a way of exercising faith that is more vibrant precisely because it empowers you to fearlessly question, to accept ambiguity, and to embrace doubt. And you may end up agreeing with me that this way of doing faith is not only more plausible in our contemporary world and more effective in advancing the kingdom, but it is also more biblical.” p.32

If you feel beaten down, overwhelmed, or turned off by certainty-seeking faith, and you want to understand how doubt is an essential part of real covenantal faith, I highly recommend reading Benefit of the Doubt.

What Others Are Saying

Here is what others (that I respect & trust) have written:

“If you’re a Christian who wrestles with doubt or you know someone who does, Benefit of the Doubt is one of the best books ever written on the subject.”–Frank Viola, author of God’s Favorite Place on Earth; blogger at www.frankviola.org

Benefit of the Doubt is a deeply personal yet profoundly theological look at the important role of doubt in the Christian faith. Prepare to feel a little less crazy, a little less alone, and a lot more challenged to take the risk of following Jesus with your head and heart engaged. Boyd is the best sort of company for the journey.”–Rachel Held Evans, blogger at www.rachelheldevans.com; author of Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood 

“If you ever wrestle with an inner skeptic (like me) or regularly interact with skeptics, this book offers hugely helpful insight into the benefits of doubt and how to leverage doubt in deepening our trust in God. I predict many people who read Benefit of the Doubt will find it profoundly life-changing.” –Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor, The Meeting House; author of The End of Religion; www.bruxy.com

“Boyd has gotten used to exploring new territory, and in this book he dives into the issue of doubt and certainty–and recovers the lost treasure of Christlike humility and childlike wonder. Enjoy.”–Shane Claiborne, author, activist, and lover of Jesus; www.thesimpleway.org

That’s plenty of reason to read this book!

___________________________________________

* Listen to Greg’s interview on the very funny, The Drew Marshall Show.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Are You Making a Difference?

Difference Makers: An Action Guide For Jesus Followers (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2013) by M. Scott Boren, Foreword by Scot McKnight

Scott Boren writes, “Most difference makers have more in common with George Bailey than the heroes of The Avengers.” Just ask the folks in good ole Bedford Falls. One ordinary life can make an extraordinary difference!

If you’ve ever felt like you’re not making a difference where you live, or you’re just not real sure how to engage your neighborhood and community for Christ, then I believe that Difference Makers can help you and your church.

Difference Makers is written in forty short chapters that can be read as a 40-day study or in larger sections. Each section concludes with a suggested activity. There is even a study guide at the end that includes an icebreaker, focus Scripture, and discussion questions. It’s ideal for small groups.

Difference Makers offers practical ways for making a Kingdom difference in your local neighborhood and community.

Do you struggle to know how you can bring change around you? Does it seem like you don’t have any extra time in your schedule? Do you feel like you’re all alone and the task is too daunting? Get this book!

One of my favorite chapters in Difference Makers is ch. 16 on Paying Attention to the Spirit.  God is always at work around us.

“The Spirit moves, but reading what the Spirit is doing requires that we pay attention to the whispers and nonverbal cues. By simply being attentive to the mystery of what God is up to in those around us, we discover the hidden ways that redemption is being woven into the fabric of life” (p.88).

Difference Makers challenges us to look beyond the surface in order to think in a “deeper” way when it comes to our neighborhood.

  1. What is positive and therefore calls for a response of support (e.g., a local battered-women’s home)?
  2. What is a natural part of life and therefore calls for redemption and use for God’s kingdom (e.g., vacant buildings that resulted from a recession)?
  3. What is unacceptable and therefore calls for subversion (e.g., hungry, undocumented families)?
  4. What is negative and therefore calls for active resistance (e.g., sex slavery)?

And in ch. 20, Paying Attention to the Routines, Scott writes:

“While books, sermons, and concepts about God’s love can be helpful, we become difference makers as we listen to God and pay attention to where he is at work in the routines of life. And as we pay attention to these routines, the life of making a difference gets inside of us. It becomes more and more who we are” (p104-105).

Scott reminds us all that what we do really counts for the Kingdom, more than we know. His book will encourage you to seek out ways to make a difference as Jesus followers motivated by a sincere love for others. This is a book you will want to read and discuss with others in community.

M. Scott Boren has been working with churches to help them develop effective community through small groups for more than twenty years. He is a trainer, consultant, and founder of The Center for Community and Mission.

Scott has authored Introducing Missional Church, Missional Small Groups, and The Relational Way. He shares life with his wife, Shawna, and their four children. They currently serve at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, MN.

Scott can be reached at www.mscottboren.com.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Finding the Naked Anabaptist

Most of my readers know that I grew up a Southern Baptist. I went to a Baptist university for my undergrad, and served in two SBC churches. Seven years later, I can say that I no longer think of myself as a Southern Baptist, for several reasons.

Primarily, it’s because I have found that I’m more closely aligned with another historical tradition in theology and church practice—Anabaptism.

I first encountered Anabaptism in college. I learned that the Baptists actually have historical roots going back to the 16th century Anabaptist movement.

John Smyth was an English separatist who planted the first Baptist church in Amsterdam. Before his death he had moved to receive believer’s baptism by the Mennonites, an Anabaptist group named after Menno Simons.

Smyth’s friends, Thomas Helwys and John Murton would return to their homes to form the first Baptist church in England. For my Baptist friends, the Baptist church was a mix of Protestant and Anabaptist ideas. It was Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Menno Simons all under one roof.

Roger Williams was responsible for planting the first Baptist church on American soil. He rejected the theocratic view of the Calvinistic pilgrims, detested the idea of a Christian nation, and argued for religious liberty and separation of church and state––an idea that the Anabaptists had been ruthlessly persecuted for a century earlier.

So who were the Anabaptists? And what is Anabaptism? 

The Anabaptists were a scattered and diverse group of 16th century separatists who first originated in Switzerland. The self-identified “Swiss Brethren” called for a “radical reformation” of the church that went far beyond the reform movements known as Protestantism.

The early Anabaptists rejected infant baptism as a civil rite, which denied the church’s relationship to the state, and called for strict adherence to the teachings of Jesus following a believer’s baptism.

Since it appeared they were being baptized a second time, their opponents called them Ana-baptists (re-baptizers).

These radicals claimed that Protestants only wanted a “half-way” reform because they refused to put down the sword and follow Christ in non-violence. They posited that the Reformers only rested in grace, but did not walk in resurrection life. Obeying Christ is the evidence of a changed life.

The Anabaptists denounced the emperor Constantine as “the great dragon” for fusing the cross and the sword in the 4th century. They called for a restoration of NT church life. This undermined the very foundations of Christendom (church militant and triumphant), and made them enemies of both Protestants and Catholics who held to the power of the sword.

Many Anabaptists were martyred during the 16th century. Their ideas would live on in the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Brethren in Christ.

The Naked Anabaptist

Enter Stuart Murray, chair of the Anabaptist Network and PhD in Anabaptist hermeneutics. Stuart is the founder of Urban Expression, a pioneering urban church-planting agency, and has spent the last fourteen years as an urban church planter in East London.

His recent publications include: Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World (2004), Church after Christendom (2005), Changing Mission (2006), and The Naked Anabaptist (2010).

In his book, The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith, Stuart sets forth a fresh vision of the core convictions held by Anabaptists today.

Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills in St. Paul, has written the forward to The Naked Anabaptist. [It’s worth mentioning that his church is presently considering aligning themselves with an Anabaptist denomination.]

Stuart says that Anabaptism is being (re)discovered by folks from many different traditions. In fact, you might be an Anabaptist and just not know it.

“We believe that the Christendom era has bequeathed a form of Christianity that has marginalized, spiritualized, domesticated, and emasculated Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is watered down, privatized, and explained away. Jesus is worshipped as a remote kingly figure or a romanticized personal savior. In many churches (especially those emerging from the Reformation), Paul’s writings are prioritized over the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. And in many Christian traditions, ethical guidelines derived from the Old Testament or pagan philosophy trump Jesus’ call to discipleship.” The Naked Anabaptist p. 55-56

What does Anabaptism look like stripped down to to the bare essentials? Listen to Stuart discuss the core convictions of the Anabaptist Network.

Stay tuned for a Q&A with Stuart Murray next month on Anabaptism.

Suggested Anabaptist Reading:

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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