Book Review: Why Church History Matters (Rea)

“Every Christian follows tradition. Whether we affirm the canon of Scripture, Trinitarian explanation or even denominational distinctive, we embrace tradition. This is true whether we call it ‘tradition’ or prefer softer terms such as ‘precedent,’ ‘custom’, or ‘common practice.’”

Why Church History MattersAs interest in history dwindles in our intensely technological age, reasons for studying the past are increasingly in need of explanation. This is especially true when it comes to the history of Christianity, where the intersection of emphasis on contemporary relevance and Protestant theologies which are summarily uninterested in the past have combined to produce generations of Christians who are illiterate when it comes to the faith of earlier Christians. In response to this growing trend, Robert F. Rea advocates the importance of studying Church History in Why Church History Matters: An Invitation to Love and Learn from Our Past (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014). Continue reading

Book Review: Believe (Frazee)

Believe (NIV)The Bible is a complex book, full of countless stories, prophecies, and genres of writing, each of which (ostensibly) applies to the Christian life in some way. It is no easy task, however, to read the entire Bible and grasp how each portion relates to the others or how 21st century Christians should engage the scriptures in their complexity. To assist those journeying towards God through a close reading of the Bible comes Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus (Zondervan: 2014) edited by Randy Frazee. Continue reading

Book Review: Fields of Blood (Armstrong)

Fields of BloodFor many people living in the West, an assumption exists that religion is inherently violent. After all, they say, just look at the evidence: religion has caused wars, the Crusades, terrorism, religion has made people hate and kill others for nothing more than the ideas that were in their heads. According to this view, religions are not only necessarily violent, but they are responsible for much (if not all) of the violence in recorded human history. However, an explanation of the history of violence is not so simple, argues Karen Armstrong in her latest book Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 512 pages). According to Armstrong, though violence is an unfortunate reality of human history, evil and warfare are not necessarily religious in nature nor does violence always arise from religion. In the impressive and exhaustive tome that is Fields of Blood, Armstrong traces the relationship between religion and the history of violence, arguing that “We cannot afford oversimplified assumptions about the nature of religion or its role in world.” Continue reading

Book Review: The Didache (O’Loughlin)

“There are two ways: one is the Way of Life, the other is the Way of Death; and there is a mighty difference between these two ways.” (Didache 1.1)

The Didache (O'Loughlin)Thus begins the Didache, that early Christian text also called the “Teaching of the Lord Given to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles.” Since its rediscovery in 1873 by Philotheos Bryennios, the Didache has fascinated scholars and Christians with its short yet dynamic statements on the manner in which Christians should live their lives. It was thus with great eagerness that I read Thomas O’Loughlin’s The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010). Continue reading

Book Review: Firsthand (Shook)

FirsthandNFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, speaking about Christianity, once said that “There comes a time when you can no longer cling to your parents’ coattails and you have to chose to make it your faith.” In Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own Ryan and Josh Shook tackle the issue of transforming the secondhand faith that many American Christians grow up with– their parents’ faith– into a vibrant firsthand faith of their own. Ryan and Josh grew up as preacher’s kids, got to a point where they were tired of Christianity and set out on their own, only to later realize that they needed an authentic relationship with God– not merely secondhand religion that had grown up with. Continue reading

Book Review: Forgotten Gospel (Bryan)

Forgotten GospelFor nearly two thousand years, the Gospel has stood at the center of the Christian faith. This is especially true for a certain segment of American Evangelical Christianity, which remains committed not only to the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, but also to the careful definition of the meaning and implications of the term “gospel.” It is this conversation that Matthew Bryan engages in Forgotten Gospel: The Original Message of a Conquering King (Selmer, TN: Greatest Stories Ever Told, 2014). Continue reading

Book Review: The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Butler)

Can God really be good? Will God really judge all non-Christians? How can you believe in a God who commanded genocide?

The Skeletons in God's ClosetThese are questions which many people—many Christians—struggle to honestly answer, queries which have caused people to walk away from the Christian faith, problems that have eroded many hearts and minds. And, lest we be seen as overly dismissive, these are significant and important questions, questions which need understanding and (when possible) answers. To help us think through such questions, Joshua Ryan Butler has written The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War (Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 2014). Continue reading

Book Review: Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament

9780800699178hThere is no shortage of literature available on the Christian New Testament. Whether you peruse Amazon or wander through your local bookstore, there is no denying that scholars, pastors, and writers aplenty have published their thoughts on the history and meaning of the New Testament. How do we make sense of all this literature? One way involves the consultation of conglomerate sources: those volumes written from a variety of perspectives by a number of scholars whose insights balance and inform one another. The Fortress Commentary on the Bible: The New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. 771 pages), edited by Margaret Aymer, Synthia Briggs Kittredge, and David Sanchez, stands as an excellent example of a New Testament reference work worth engaging. Continue reading

Book Review: Religion in Human Evolution (Bellah)

Religion in Human EvolutionRobert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution stands as magnum opus of breathtaking proportions. Developed from the Merlin Donald’s work on cultural evolution, Karl Jasper’s insights on the axial age, and drawing upon a range of historical, anthropological, and biological sources, Bellah traces the evolution of religion within human culture from its origins in primordial play to the theoretical turns of the Axial Age. Central to this argument is that nothing is left behind during the evolution from episodic to theoretical culture through the mimetic and mythic. As a result of this massive study, Bellah argues that the evolution of human religion, which culminated in theoretical religious discourse in axial cultures and refigured preceding mimetic and mythic culture, continues to influence human religion and culture today. Bellah’s latest monograph stands as in-depth treatment of the evolution of human culture that is a must read for those involved in the study of the history and sociology of religions. Continue reading

Book Review: The Body and Society (Brown)

The Body and SocietyIn the updated 20th anniversary edition of his classic work, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Peter Brown examines the “practice of permanent sexual renunciation—continence, celibacy, life-long virginity” that developed in Christian circles from the first through fifth centuries.[1] In this work, Brown examines a vast array of perspectives within the early Christian context, purposing to clarify notions of the human body and society within Christian renunciation and to examine the effects of those ideas among Christian writers.[2] This review will summarize Brown’s work and offer an assessment of the strength of his claim that there was no mainstream perspective on sexuality and the body in early Christianity.[3] Continue reading