Tag Archives: book review

Review of “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”

Do I “…see strangers as neighbors and neighbors as family of God“?

Do I “…recoil at reducing a person to a category or a label“?

Do I “…see God’s image reflected in the eyes of every human being on earth“?

Do I know that I am “…like meth addicts and sex-trade workers…,” …taking my “…own sin seriously – including the sin of selfishness and pride“?

Once I’m done asking myself these jack-hammer questions, I can move on to the second paragraph in the preface to Rosaria Butterfield’s most recent book The Gospel Comes with a a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World.  Whew.  But for a person that’s being honest with their heart’s default mode and their daily practices, that’s about the pace of the book from launch to landing.

In a sense, Dr. Butterfield’s book is a little like Aslan, good but not safe.  But that’s kind of her point.  If a life motivated by the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is safe and comfortable, then it is a life unfamiliar, in some very practical ways, with the God who entered the un-safe-ness of life under the sun in order to love and rescue the unwashed and the unworthy.  So in her very narratival fashion, Dr. Butterfield walks her readers along the smooth and jagged edges of what it looks like to regularly open one’s home to neighbors, dogs (hers and the neighbors’), strangers, church members, grad students, at least one black snake, and a seemingly constant stream of children (the source of the aforementioned reptile).  She draws the reader along with story after story of how regularly having people in the home opens up an expectation that no topic is off-limits.  As she says, “We were – as we almost always are around here – a politically mixed group.  Unbelieving neighbors and church members all together (p.120).”  But this is all what we might expect if the people seated around our dinner tables reflected our neighborhood as often as it it did our hand-picked group of friends.  As she says a little earlier, “The gospel creates community that welcomes others in… It isn’t always easy.  It begins with recognizing people as your kin (p.86).”

Dr. Butterfield’s book excels in amazing ways at setting a vision for radically, ordinary hospitality and its transformative power for our post-Christian culture.  Her closing list of “Imagine a world where…” is pure gold and worth typing up and putting on the refrigerator or bathroom mirrorWhile she does get down to the practical and the nitty-gritty of what it looks like to practice radically ordinary hospitality (see her “The Nuts and Bolts and Beans and Rice” in the concluding chapter), this reviewer’s fear is that this vision of hospitality is so far from where most people live right now that folks won’t know where to start and, in turn, fail to do so.  We all know that feeling well.  You get up on Saturday morning determined to clean out the cluttered garage only to raise the door, see the mountain of undifferentiated stuff that has to be tackled, and then close the door in favor doing some other task your familiar with.  So if I had to recommend a starting place, I would simply offer Dr. Butterfield’s wise words from her conclusion:

In married households it is vital that both husband and wife share a calling for hospitality and work together to establish a budget for time and food and people.  Wives, let your husbands lead. Husbands, be sensitive to your wife’s energy level… the pace is set by the one who feels the most frail… [Hospitality] should make us stronger in Christ.  If hospitality becomes a point of contention, something is wrong.  Stop and reevaluate.  Pray.  Map out goals and values.  Be a team.

Of course the ministry of hospitality isn’t simply practiced by married couples (something Dr. Butterfield says as well), nor will it look the same for all households.  For instance, I have a single friend whose hospitality ministry looks like foster-parenting two children taken from a home due to the current opiate epidemic.  I have another set of friends who are hosting an international exchange student; another set of friends who gave a lady a home during a period of time when her marriage was crumbling; and another set of friends who are slowly working their way through the church membership rolls and inviting a different family over each Lord’s Day.  At the end of the day, Dr. Butterfield’s vision for practicing radically ordinary hospitality is as bold and bracing as it is alluring and refreshing.  If Christ’s redeemed people began practicing and coordinating this kind of hospitality, then walls would crumble as our doors opened, and we would be able to “…put the hand of the hurting into the hand of the Savior (p.207).”

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Poetry: ESV Reader’s Bible Volume III

Check out this book on Goodreads: Poetry: ESV Reader’s Bible Volume III https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33615932-poetry

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The Bruised Reed

Check out this book on Goodreads: The Bruised Reed https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/770495.The_Bruised_Reed

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I keep forgetting. . .

…to post my Goodreads stuff on here. And since I finished a few things recently, here they’ll come in rapid fire manner.

Check out this book on Goodreads: Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15893597-sensing-jesus

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Review of Stephen Meyer’s book “Darwin’s Doubt”

Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent DesignDarwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel somewhat unqualified to give this volume a thorough or critical review since my BS is in Environmental Science and I do not have a command of the peer-reviewed literature on many of the relevant disciplines Meyer touches on. That being said, Meyer appears to have a thorough command of the peer-reviewed literature and consistently refers to it throughout his book to make his case, frequently using the words of convinced-and-published Neo-Darwinists to demonstrate so. Another feather in Meyer’s cap, one that I do feel qualified to grant him, is his ability to use both inductive and deductive reasoning well. This is a skill seldom displayed in the science-centric articles I have come across over the years.

Probably the most enjoyable part (for those who dwell in the light of geekdom) was the amazing crash course in evolutionary studies that Meyer gives his readers. I learned so much about the Burgess shale, epigenetic information, developmental genetic regulatory networks, protein folds, combinatorial space, etc. that I feel like I can now digest some of Meyer’s primary source materials (peer-reviewed, scientific journals) with enough of a rudimentary understanding to be able to read with a more critical eye.

But Meyer’s strength is also the book’s weakness. Some of the chapters are so very dense, saturated with technical terminology, that it was a strain to keep up. I found myself mentally checking out and having to review what I had just been over.

Ultimately, this reviewer felt Meyer did a solid job of two things: 1) critiquing the Neo-Darwinian claim that the diversity of animal life (with special reference to the Cambrian explosion) arose through the accumulation of random mutations and “edited” by virtue of natural selection; and 2) making a solid case for Intelligent Design based solidly on a broad and detailed understanding of the evidence found within the published, peer-reviewed scientific literature and the history of science from Darwin on. Combine these two things with Meyer’s ability to handle inductive vs. deductive reasoning well, and a reader who has a high tolerance for difficult reading is in for a treat.

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Review of “Imagination of God” by Brian Godawa

(full disclosure: I was provided a free e-copy of this volume by the author for the purpose of writing an honest review.  All page numbers will be from the electronic edition, epub format.)

I had graduated seminary and been involved in ministry in the local church for a few years when the book Word Pictureimagination-of-gods: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination (2009) was first published.  I had been struggling to figure out how to communicate about the Christian faith and biblical content in better ways in our image-driven culture.  I had wrestled with the question, “How do I excite people about a word-and-text-based way of viewing their world (i.e. Christianity) when everywhere else in their lives they are goaded and stimulated by images, videos, and little glowing screens.  So Word Pictures‘ content was like a fresh breeze to me.  Much of what was written I had already learned in various places, but Godawa was able to bring all the pieces together in such a way that it just clicked.  So when this book was republished this year under the title The Imagination of God: Art, Creativity and Truth in the Bible (2016), I was very much pleased.  And what follows is my attempt to help show how works like Godawa’s Imagination of God can help Christendom in the West bridge the gap from being captive to modernity over to a faithful and satisfying engagement with an image-driven culture without falling into the chasm of postmodernity.

After centering the reader in the personal dilemma out of which Godawa’s Imagination of God sprung, he moves on in chapter 2 (pp.19ff) where he lays out a very non-technical discussion of the nature of the Bible as a literary feast.  And like any good diagnostician, Godawa pinpoints the problem that necessitates volumes like his, namely that the study of the Bible had been hamstrung by the 17th-18th century Enlightenment’s preoccupation with precision and empirically-verifiable data.  In his words, “the biblical narrative became eclipsed by the pursuit of factual empirical verification of the text: a modern scientific obsession (pp.21-22).”  This obsession of understanding the Bible in such a literal and mechanistic manner ironically led to a widespread inability to see the Bible’s text in all its rich fullness, robbing people of their ability to fully know the true and living God.

The next two chapters, “Word versus Image” and “Iconoclasm” take the readers into the battle of ideas and its corresponding history.  Godawa demonstrates quite cogently how “…the structure and method of theology affects the content of theology…” and that any theology that neglects “…story, image, symbol, and metaphor… is not being strictly biblical in its method (p.57).”

But in this reviewer’s personal opinion, the real heart –  the real meat and potatoes – of this book is found in the next three chapters titled, “Incarnation,” “Subversion” and “Cultural Captivity”.  It is here where Godawa’s strength really shines through.  Here is where he applies the previous chapters’ argumentation to our own cultural context and helps us see how it isn’t postmodernism that gives superior tools for communication but a fully biblical Christianity.  In the chapter “Incarnation” he makes the point that the power of story and imagery are so potent because they embody truths that would otherwise be abstract and elusive.  But when “[n}arrative imagery incarnates truth (p.70),” readers/viewers can see the truth dramatized, creating an openness and an ability to identity with the truth portrayed — an openness that would have otherwise remained distant if the truth had been communicated through propositions and/or logical argumentation.  And Godawa rightly points out that at the center of all good Christian doctrine is the Truth Incarnate, the Word made flesh.  Not a mere proposition, but a person.  And it is this Person, this God-in-the-flesh Person, who enters the story of humanity and, with the drama of his life and teaching, punctures the pretensions and the feigned ignorance of humanity, subverting the truth claims of any and all-comers.  And “Subversion” and “Cultural Captivity”, the titles of the next two chapters, is where Godawa shows how — following sound, biblical precedent — we can use the “narrative, images, and symbols (p.93)” of our cultural context and subtly appropriate and redefine them within the superior system of a Christian worldview.  This is not a capitulation to the non-Christian mores and alternative worldviews of our day. This is, in fact, the conquest of them.

The remainder of the book  and its appendix, though not of as crucial a nature as the preceding three chapters, are a valuable read for any Christian who feels hamstrung or without the cultural vocabulary to engage these issues that swirl around us.  And any church leader who doesn’t have a firm handle on the use of story and image in the communication of the gospel today could do a lot worse than beginning with this volume by Brian Godawa.

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Review of Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield

When I picked up Rosaria’s book in 2012, I thought to myself, “Well… she’s an English professor.  openness_unhindered_coverAt least the prose will be enjoyable.”  Now I’m ashamed at how low my expectations were.  I had no idea how her book would become the tip of the spear for a rewewed cultural discussion dealing with sexual identity and orientation.  Since that time it has been my privilege to get to know Rosaria through emails, prayer request exchanges, and a shared event at a local university. So when I saw that she was due to release her second book at the beginning of July I was delighted and my expectations were so much higher.  To say my expectations were met would be an understatement and not because I now consider Rosaria a friend but because the book is excellent in so many ways. Continue reading

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