One of the first Christian books I read as a young believer was Strength to Love by Martin Luther King. The writing and insights are breathtaking. And if you have not read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail you simply must.
Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul
This is not a “how to” book, which among other things, makes it so good.
Anderson’s uses her wide-ranging experience in gardening to tease out lessons on humility.
The author is vulnerable about her own foibles and failings, but not indulgent. Throughout her beautiful and winsome book, there are many wise reflections on what matters most.
A book to savor, especially for those who are tired of the typical formulaic approach in much of popular, Christian literature.
Commentaries on books of the Bible are not created equally. You have to be shrewd in what you consult. The better ones come in all different types from the devotional to the technical.
My favorite ones are those who combine great care with the text of Scripture, are well-written, and offer many connections to our own time and day. Right now, I am reading one of these kinds of commentaries: Christopher Wright’s terrific work on Jeremiah. It is part of The Bible Speaks Today series (InterVarsity Press). Here is something I pondered today:
“The reign of King Josiah was a time of great religious fervent and national resurgence. It was all very impressive. But what was God’s point of view? According to Jeremiah God sees a people who are a disappointment to God, who are being disloyal to their covenant relationship with God, who are already feeling the shock of disasters that foreshadow worse to come, and who are living in brazen denial and delusion. It is a frightening mirror to hold up to the people of God in any generation, with stark relevance to our own.” (Emphasis added)
My Patheos review of a fine biography on John Knox:
Jane Dawson’s new biography of John Knox is being hailed as the definitive treatment we now have. Diarmaid MacCulloch says Dawson’s work “renders all his [Knox’s] previous biographies obsolete.”
Dawson teaches at the University of Edinburgh and is a noted authority on sixteenth-century Scotland and Calvinism. She had access to new sources, not the least of which are the papers of Knox’s confidant, Christopher Goodman.
There is much helpful background in Dawson’s fine account on what the culture and church were like in Knox’s day. Some authors can get a bit tedious in trotting out various details about the milieu in which their subject lived. The reader can easily lose sight of the subject under consideration. In Dawson’s case, the historical context is used judiciously so we are continually drawn to the life and impact of John Knox.
The Knox we get in Dawson’s account is full-throated. We see Knox doing heroic things, yet dogged with depression and doubts. We also learn that Knox had a keen awareness of his penchant to pride. So Dawson certainly doesn’t traffic in hagiography, yet it is clear she finds much to commend about Knox.
Dawson makes it clear that Knox was no Calvin. Of course, Calvin was no Knox. Like Calvin, Knox had great respect for the power of language, such as “adding a ‘double translation’ incorporating alternative meanings for some of the single Latin words to convey the complexity or nuances within the original text.” But Knox’s strongest suit was the spoken word. And the spoken word was powerful in a “non-literate” culture (notice that Professor Dawson does not say “illiterate”). As Dawson makes clear, Knox’s speaking gifts meshed well with the oral and aural culture he lived in.
The year 1543 was a critical one for John Knox. This was when Knox began to embrace some Protestant beliefs. As Dawson tells the story, we do not know whether Knox’s change of mind occurred incrementally or was more dramatic. Either way, Knox’s thinking was clearly moving away from the Catholic understanding he long took for granted.
If one were to choose which book of the Bible had the most impact on “famous” conversions, Romans would surely be at the top of the list. One thinks of Augustine, Luther, Wesley hearing Luther’s Preface to Romans, and Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans, which “fell like a bombshell on the theologians’ playground.”
Remarkably, it was not Romans that convinced Knox of the Protestant understanding of salvation by grace through faith. Rather, it was the gospel of John and most notably, the seventeenth chapter. Dawson writes that John 17 was the chapter that gave Knox the ability to understand “how justification, sanctification and predestination were linked.” Calvin’s teaching further enhanced Knox’s understanding of this seminal text. Dawson’s account of the massive influence John 17 played in moving Knox to a Protestant understanding of the Christian faith is as poignant as it is provocative.
Knox’s reverence for the Bible ran deep. Like his mentor, George Wishart, Knox believed that true ministers studied the Bible well and desired to impart what they learned. Though not directly involved like others, the new Geneva Bible translation thrilled Knox. The Geneva Bible would have incalculable influence on noted wordsmiths such as Shakespeare, Donne, and Bunyan.
Along with Scripture, God uses people, and this certainly was the case with Knox. Dawson’s handling of George Wishart’s influence on Knox provides fascinating detail and a model of sorts for spiritual formation. Wishart was unafraid to proclaim the gospel with clarity. His open denunciations of the false church of the Pope were matched by his sincerity. Knox was much impressed. Knox even mimicked his mentor’s approach to preaching. Issuing strong calls for people to repent was the fruit of George Wishart’s indelible imprint on Knox. Wishart’s martyrdom sealed his honorable reputation with Knox.
Another commonality between Wishart and Knox was their consistent stance of “no compromise,” especially when it came to the integrity of the church. Initially, Knox had high hopes with the rule of Edward VI, but the final part of his reign eventuated in a major disappointment. Dawson writes, “The initial elation created when demonstrably Protestant measures had been introduced was dissipated by the harsh realities of being in coalition with a political faction that needed to maintain its power. The political art of the possible was a concept Knox shunned and he treated compromise as another term for lack of zeal.”
With biography, there are always certain things we wish we knew. Biographers know this, and some take greater liberties to speculate or even slip in a detail that is impossible to know. Here Dawson shows scholarly restraint. For example, while describing a period of time early on when Knox may have been lacking in courage, Dawson writes, “In later life Knox possibly felt embarrassed…” Dawson keeps her account moving with the particulars we can be confident of not the ones we wish we had.
Like his mentor Wishart, Knox believed the Roman Catholic Church was hopelessly corrupt. Knox didn’t flinch in saying the Catholic Church “was worse than the Church of the Jews when it condemned Christ to death.” These were dangerous times to be a Protestant minister, which is what Knox was by 1547. To be a Protestant minister meant carrying “a suspended death sentence.”
It is impossible to speak of John Knox without including his famous battles with Mary Tudor, Queen of England (latter dubbed “Bloody Mary”) and Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox declared that Mary Tudor was an “open traitoresse to the Imperiall Crown of England” who cleverly under an “Englyshe name she beareth a Spaniardes herte.” The latter charge was directed at Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain.
Knox’s disagreements and difficulties with Mary, Queen of Scots were also substantial. As Dawson writes, Knox “told Mary she was ignorant and deluded and failed to recognize the plain word of God.” But Dawson argues that the caricatures of their famous feud do not adequately capture the complexity of their relationship. Though Dawson makes clear that Knox retained his prophetic role, he was not opposed at times to a more conciliatory posture. Consider these surprising words Knox communicated to Mary: “I pray God, Madam, that ye be as blessed within the Commonwealth of Scotland, as ever Deborah was in the Commonwealth of Israel.” Another time in a most unlikely partnership, Knox and Mary were a tag team to convince the Earl and Countess of Argyll to not get divorced. Dawsom comments that Knox and Mary could get along “provided there was no religious element.”
Knox loved purity and truth. It is no wonder then that he said Calvin’s Geneva was “the most perfect school of Christ.” The diligence Calvin displayed in battling the “Libertine” group’s influence was something Knox admired in the great Reformer. In this, Calvin mirrored what Knox found so noble about George Wishart.
John Knox’s marriage to Marjorie was a happy one. Like Sarah was to Jonathan Edwards, Marjorie was a true partner in ministry. She drew the favorable attention of no less than John Calvin. Marjorie had a mature understanding of Scripture and was well educated. She gave John Knox two sons and three daughters who survived childhood, though she did not live long herself. John Knox was devastated and sunk into depression when his beloved wife of only five years died.
Knox’s relationships outside the home were also critical to his well-being, especially when he struggled with depression. No one played a bigger role as encourager and counselor than Christopher Goodman. Knox was certainly a leader with considerable gifts. However, like the apostle Paul who needed Titus to “comfort him in his depression” (II Cor. 7:6, NASB), Goodman was an indispensable ballast to Knox’s battles with melancholia.
According to Dawson, Knox was best suited to lead during a crisis. Dawson brings up Churchill as a modern day version of this type of leader. However, as is sometimes the case, one’s greatest strength may carry an attendant weakness. Dawson observes that when “peace and diplomacy” were sorely needed Knox would not be the best person to tap as the leader.
It is not surprising to see the enthusiasm for Dawson’s, John Knox. It is engaging, lucid, comprehensive, peppered with fascinating details, and an ennobling account of a major figure of the nascent Protestant movement.
Many of us experience awkwardness when we see someone whose physical struggle limits a “normal life.” They may be paralyzed or missing a limb. Whatever the problem, I believe a Gnostic-like understanding of the body, even for too many evangelical Christians, makes us unable to minister more holistically to those who battle with daily pain and the limits placed on them by physical problems.
Here is Doreen teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary. Professor Michael Svigel has Doreen in every year to talk about her book and field questions. Doreen’s book is required reading for the class as you can see from this snippet of Michael’s syllabus for the course.
III. COURSE TEXTBOOKS
- Required: Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity, vol. 2, The Reformation to the Present Day. Rev. and updated. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.
- Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. (260 pages)
- Moore, Doreen. Good Christians, Good Husbands? Geanies House, U.K.: Christian Focus, 2004. (200 pages)
- Oden, Thomas C. After Modernity…What? Agenda for Theology. Paperback ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. (224 pages)Response Paper (25%)There will be one 7–10 page paper required for this course. This will be a summary, evaluation, and personal application paper in response to the book Good Christians, Good Husbands? by Doreen Moore. The paper will consist of three clearly-labeled sections: 1) summary of the book reporting the basic thesis and content of the book (approximately 1 to 2 pages); 2) evaluation of the book, including a critical review of the book’s argument, evidence, use of history, and conclusions, including at least three positives and three negatives (3 to 4 pages); 3) personal application of the book, including a discussion of how the argument of the book affects your view of history, ministry, and family and a description of how one can utilize the information in the book in ministry (3 to 4 pages).
Random reflection from one of my writing projects:
Our cultural healers (Oprah, Tony Robbins, et al.) have no concept of sin and so can offer no real sense of redemption. Unfortunately, many Christians mimic the same approach of our cultural healers. Too many self-proclaimed Christians offer a superficial remedy and are increasingly embarrassed by the “ancient paths where the good way is.” (Jer. 6:14-16)
Is it any wonder that many of us Christians have no problem consuming and being influenced by large amounts of popular culture?
It is common to see Christians use the 1+1+1=1 equation to describe the trinity. Their intention is good, but I think utilizing this equation as an illustration of the trinity is misguided.
When we look at the equation we conclude that the trinity is irrational. All our lives we have known 1+1+1=3 not 1. But now we are instructed that there is a heavenly math of sorts where it equals 1.
I was sharing the gospel with a Muslim years ago at the University of Texas in Dallas. He said he could never become a Christian because the trinity was irrational. I shared with him that irrational was not the right word. Mysterious to be sure, but not irrational.
Irrational would mean we are saying God exists simultaneously as one Person and three Persons. Another irrational option would be to say God exists simultaneously as one Being and three Beings. But of course, Christians don’t believe either one of these things.
We do believe that God is one in His Being or Essence, yet three in Person. Each Person is fully God not 33.333% God. That is why you can’t conceptualize the trinity. It is indeed beyond our understanding, but that does not make it irrational.
I asked my Muslim friend if he could conceptualize everything about Allah. He conceded that he could not. He could not get his head wrapped around such things as God being uncaused or self-existent. I asked if he thought uncaused or self-existent would be irrational. “Not if He is God,” he replied. Of course, it would be irrational to say God is both self-existent and dependent on someone/thing else for His existence.
So let’s drop the 1+1+1=1 for the trinity. We don’t want to give the impression that belief in the Christian God is irrational. Mysterious and beyond our comprehension to be sure, but not irrational.
Brian Matthew Jordan’s new book addresses an issue that others have either missed or been mistaken about: the poor treatment of Union soldiers upon coming home.
Since the war was fought in the South, those civilians experienced the horrors up close and personal. Their soldiers came back to a very appreciative homeland.
Since the war was not fought in the North, those civilians largely wanted to move on to more “positive” realities rather then be reminded of what the so-called Civil War had wrought.
Jordan has done yeoman’s work on the research and writing. It is no wonder this book was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize.
There are some difficult and dark issues to wrestle through when it comes to the horrors of war. It is hard to imagine a better starting point than Jordan’s fine book.