dubiousdisciple

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Who Jesus Is and Why It Matters (Ebook Shorts)

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Has Christianity been derailed from serving the common good to mandating bipartisan stances? If Christian principles mean standing up for God, then in the myriad of complex political issues—from same-sex marriage to immigration reform—how do we know which side to take? Which side is God’s side?Wallis asserts we can find God on the side of compassion. The common good. Throw out your gospels of self-help, personal enhancement, prosperity, and parochial nationalism, and instead look to the story of the Good Samaritan. Until Christianity returns to a “neighbor ethic,” it will not recover its credibility. To this end, Wallis writes a “biblical and theological defense of the common good.” Wallis is neither liberal nor conservative, and calls for both factions to meet in the middle.I do confess, the title of the book gives me pause. A call to be “on God’s side,” as if the author speaks for God, evokes in my mind an image of a holy war. And to some extent, it is; Wallis sees this as war against a broken political system.On that note, I would have preferred that the book was broken in two … one book about church, and another about state. But Wallis doesn’t separate the two. Says he, “If worth and equality are values derived from the belief that human beings are made in the image of God, then respecting both should be a primary task of democratic political systems.” He describes how in June of 2012 nearly 150 evangelical leaders banded together and signed the “Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform.” Sojourners stood side by side in Washington D.C. with the Southern Baptists and Focus on the Family to draw attention to the plight of millions who have been caught up in our broken immigration system. These issues were seen as “fundamental moral issues and biblical imperatives.” The president listened and acted. Mission accomplished.Problem is, I’m not sure Wallis grasps that our democratic system will be no less broken if it caves under the weight of organized religion. Nevertheless, if you are able to separate church and state in your mind as you read– learning about seeking the common good according to the example of Jesus, and learning also of our needed political reform–then you will find thought-provoking conversation on both fronts.Before you read the book you might want to read Matthew 25:31-46.
La Cabaña: Donde la Tragedia Se Encuentra Con la Eternidad

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SPOILER ALERTIt’s amazing how big a splash this self-published book made. I read the story several years back, but picked it up again for a book discussion group I belong to.I don’t seem to be quite as enamored of it as some, but it IS a good story! The gist is of a father whose young daughter is murdered, and who ventures alone a year later to the place of her abduction. He is called there by a mysterious letter from “Papa;” Papa is the name his wife always used for God.He arrives full of skepticism, and is met by three lovable figures: a big black woman (the Father), a plain looking Jewish man (Jesus), and a wispy, mysterious lady (the Holy Spirit). He talks with them, shares their food, does a bit of gardening with the Spirit, and in general works through his fury toward God for the loss of his daughter.Together, over the weekend, they tackle the issue of good and evil and a few other stumbling blocks people may share toward God. He sees his dead daughter again, playing happily by a waterfall, and though she can’t see him through the void, she feels his presence and blows him a kiss. Finally grasping the love of God for him and for his daughter, he begins his journey back home. On the way, he suffers an auto accident and wakes up in the hospital, where he learns he was not gone two days after all, but had his accident on the day he left home.So, it’s an escape into theodicy, plus a bit of unorthodox Trinity teaching, with a little postmodernism thrown in for spice (there’s a not-so-unexpected surprise in the end). If you think I’ve spoiled the book for you, I really haven’t—its value is not in the plot, but in the lively discussions on nearly every page about God.While some reviewers feel the book is a bit sacrilegious in its bizarre portrayal of God, I found the character personalities helpful. It’s more feel-good than thought-provoking, though, as its theology is clearly supplemented by the author’s imagination. But then, whose theology isn’t?
The Almond Tree, The

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Arab-Israeli wars seem a never-ending reality, and Christian end-times interest in Palestine only escalates the conflict. Corasanti’s new novel provides insight into the grassroots tension in Palestine, without favoring one side over the other.I’m reviewing this from the perspective of a religious blog, and from that viewpoint, Corasanti’s first book is definitely a five-star effort! I asked for a copy because my cozy little world is a long way from Jerusalem. I had hoped that my own book about Revelation might alleviate some of the tension from a Christian viewpoint, but in truth, I’m more of a history scholar than a present-day religion nerd. I was hoping this novel would grant me an inside view to the religious commitments and feelings of the two sides, explaining why it is so difficult for these two nations to come to terms, and the author did that well.Young, gifted Ichmad Hamid grows up in poverty after being driven out of Jerusalem, and he seeks to escape the constrains of his little village in order to provide for his family. He battles the hatred his mother and brother hold toward Jews, and accepts a scholarship into a mostly-Jewish university. Education becomes his solution for bigotry and fear, but for others in his family, he is viewed as a traitor. This is his life-long story.Corasanti lived seven years in Israel, and relates the atmosphere very well. I can’t speak to whether the book is an accurate portrayal; that, I must take on trust. But the story is powerful and engrossing, definitely recommended.
The Year of the Lord's Favor: Proclaiming Grace in the Year of Luke

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Ha! How can so serious a topic be so entertaining? Not that the book is funny, per se, but that the writing kept a smile on my face all the while Arthur was indoctrinating me. Tom, please come back to the States and set up church in my neighborhood!This book is a not-so-subtle call to redirect our aim toward the original flavor of Christianity. The Lord’s Supper, and the year of the Jubilee, become sort of the uprights of our goal posts. Arthur notes that the Year of the Lord’s favor, its concern for the poor and its celebration of the joyful experience of reversed fortunes, establishes the framework for the entire Lukan narrative. While nothing should be taken away from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, when Luke moves it down to the Plain–to the level of the people–its flavor changes, and it becomes more direct. The poor are the focus.Did you know that today, the average American consumes 50 times that of the average citizen of Bangladesh?Arthur proceeds to trek through the Gospel of Luke (and a few stray passages from other books) presenting opinionated discussion. Its three or four page reflections make for an excellent bathroom reader. (That’s a compliment! Really!)By the final quarter of the book, however, the tone turns more somber. Perhaps Constantine managed to twist the cross into a swastika, but we’ve never managed to untwist it. The horrors of war are only one example of how Jesus’ ministry has undergone a stark reversal. Is the Age of the Lord’s Favor merely a pipe dream?
The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom

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Are the stories of Christian persecution during Christianity’s early years really true? Or should we recognize them as apologetic exaggeration?Candida Moss takes a hard look at how such stories are derived, and she has high standards for what counts as persecution. Execution for merely refusing to recant one’s Christian beliefs doesn’t measure up (prosecution is not persecution, any more than prejudice is persecution). Yet she makes her point strongly that widespread, repeated persecution of Christians before the time of Constantine is no more than a myth.There is much at stake in this discussion, because it is a common apologetic tactic to claim “proof” of Jesus’ resurrection by referring to his followers’ willingness to die for their beliefs. But what if this willingness to sacrifice for one’s principles, in the few cases where it is genuine, differs little from the principles of many other philosophers of the day? Socrates, for example, was equally willing to die for his principles.Moss writes with intelligence and deep research as she presents her case that Christian martyrdom stories are distorted by their chroniclers, often presented with unsubtle motives. Eusibus, who played a key role in defining orthodoxy, very effectively employed martyrdom stories to further his own theological agendas.But is there an even darker side to exaggerating the stories of our martyrs? Does an over-admiration for martyrdom promote an us-versus-them atmosphere that encourages polarization? More than a rhetorical question, Moss fears that overplaying martyrdom does Christianity a disservice. It leads us to believe persecution (perceived or real) is evidence of God’s approval. Evidence that we are the chosen ones. Maybe we should quit playing our martyr cards and instead pay a little more attention why Christians were so despised. Moss pulls no punches as she explains why Christians didn’t fit in with either Gentile or Jew.I remember growing up with 1 Peter 4:12 in mind: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.” Are we as Christians supposed to ignore such advice? Perhaps Moss was never teased as a child for professing Christian beliefs. Perhaps she’s simply telling us it’s time to grow up. Perhaps she’s insinuating that the reward isn’t worth the suffering. Whatever your personal experience in “carrying your cross” and “suffering for Christ,” you can bet this controversial book will provoke emotions. Moss writes bluntly, unafraid to step on a few toes. But maybe it is time to grow up.
God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain

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Wherever you turn, evil rears its ugly head. This book is the case for God in a world filled with pain, and it makes for a sober read.Meister and Dew have collated a series of essays about the problem of evil, with noted theologians—twenty one in all—examining the issues through several different lenses. It’s an interesting collection, with a myriad of different tones … some aggressive (the New Atheists get put in their place), some philosophical, one almost apologetic. While there are differences of opinion, all essays are by evangelical Christians, so the presentation is admittedly one-sided.There are two basic types of evil discussed in this sort of debate: natural and moral. Hurricane Sandy is an example of natural evil, while Hitler is an example of moral evil. The question is, what sort of loving, omnipotent God would allow either?To these two, I would add a third type, because it is what disturbs me most: eternal damnation. I was glad to see this topic addressed as well, and glad to see it included in a discussion of evil. Seldom do I see apologists really do justice to the utter horror of the word “eternal.”I’ll award a special thumbs up to those articles that I found most captivating: * James K. Dew Jr. does a good job of laying out a brief historical review of the dilemma of evil. * James Spiegel discusses “soul-making theodicy,” the argument that suffering is good for us, and it led me to some interesting research in the Bible. * Chad Meister questions whether the “hiddenness” of God is an evil, and while the whole topic leaves me a bit nauseous, it opened my eyes to the way many Christians think. Many are genuinely baffled at why God does not reveal himself to everybody. * Gregory E. Ganssle argues that the existence of evil not only fails to disprove God’s existence, but provides evidence for Christianity! I didn’t see that one coming! * Two essays at the end are interesting, on Intelligent Design and the role of evil in evolution, though they are in conflict with one another. One is by known ID proponent William Dembski, and one by Karl W. Giberson teamed with Francis S. Collins.* Finally, there is a transcript of a debate in the final pages of the book between a believer (William Lane Craig) and an atheist (Michael Tooley), which fails to inspire … the two miss each other like ships in the dark. I did chuckle, however, at Tooley’s argument that if Jesus were truly raised from the dead, it was surely by the evil Old Testament Yahweh whom Jesus worshipped rather than by “God,” the all-good, omni-everything being, Christians today worship. Who else would resurrect someone as vindictive as Jesus? I’m sure that went over well!
Exposing Myths About Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends

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In general, I enjoyed this one. I hardly agreed with everything Russell wrote—probably no Christian will—but it introduced several thought-provoking topics. The subtitle is A Guide to Answering 145 Lies and Legends, and that’s what it is. 145 short discussions, under the following headings:Christianity is Dying OutChristianity is DestructiveChristianity is StupidJesus and the Bible Have Been Shown to Be FalseChristian Beliefs Have Been Shown to Be WrongMiracles Are ImpossibleWorldviews Cant Be EvaluatedWhat’s New Is TrueI may as well get this out of the way first: Russell comes down hard on liberal Christians, who he says dilute the message of the Bible. Guys like me are allowed to call themselves followers of Jesus, but never Christians. Oddly, the book then closes with a passionate plea to recognize and embrace truth. Eh? Mr. Russell, it was my search for Truth—my deep, hard-nosed research into the Bible, with all its warts and human touches—that turned me into a liberal. Anyway …The word “myth” may not be quite what Russell means. His “myths” seem to fall mostly into two categories: (1) inappropriate stereotypes about Christians, and (2) misinterpretations of scripture. For example, one of the myths is that Christians hate Jews, but guess what? Some do, and they find their justification in scripture to do so. Russell’s point is that such feelings and scriptural interpretation aren’t “Christian.”I noticed that Russell has some strange ideas about atheism, and may need help dispelling some of the “myths” he himself believes about atheists. For example, in discussing the myth that Christians need a crutch, Russell turns the tables, explaining that atheism can also be a crutch; indeed, “The most persuasive argument for atheism is its permission to do whatever we feel like doing.” Huh?Russell loves to talk about cosmology and science. He feels the findings of science now indicate that the existence of God is more likely than not, so such topics get quite a bit of press time.The book is bold and serves as an apologetic for Russell’s particular brand of Christianity, which makes it interesting reading. You’ll learn who really burned down the great library at Alexandria (not the Christians), what the Word of God is (not the Bible), how quickly Christians began to worship Jesus as God (immediately), and where to find heaven and hell (in a spiritual state, not in a place). 145 topics was probably too many for 350 pages, as many of the discussions left me hungering for more.
Immortal Diamond: The search for our true self

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Ready to experience the mystical side of Christianity with a Franciscan friar? Here’s a journey that Father Richard Rohr promises will secure a happier existence. It’s the quest for your True Self … the resurrected self, the “immortal diamond” deep within you, which he says is neither God nor human, but both at the same time.It took me a little longer than usual to get into the book, which keeps it below a five-star review, but it was worth the persistence. My problem was that Rohr writes with a sort of matter-of-fact authority that left me wondering if I missed the proof text somewhere along the way. Perhaps I did; Rohr has published around two dozen books since his first in 1976, and this is the first I’ve read.Rohr’s target is those who sense God is closer than they’ve been told. If you find yourself “in recovery from religion,” you’re in Rohr’s crosshairs. He wants to introduce you to a deeper meaning to life, deeper even than the surface Christian tradition that has been your paradigm to date. While Rohr’s heritage is clearly Judeo-Christian, and many of his quotes come from the Bible, he aims at uncovering the perennial truths that all religions share.Resurrection is key, both of our Lord and of ourselves. Resurrection is necessary for new life, life in unity with God. As “children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36), our relationship with God changes … we “breath God in and out—much more than we ‘know’ God, understand God, or even talk to God.” There is an intimacy with God at this level that we never reach within our selfish, base existence, the “False Self.”A deep read, if you’re ready to take the leap.
Muhammad: Prophet for Our Time

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In 1991, Karen published a biography of Muhammed, the founder of Islam. In 2006, she published this updated biography, hoping to focus more on his life and teachings that contradict the image of Muslim extremism, so that we Americans could put September 11 behind us and recognize Islam as a religion of peace. I haven’t read the first book, but I definitely enjoyed the second.This is not the story of Islam or an interpretation of its scriptures. It is just a sympathetic biography of its founder. While Karen gives us both the dirt and the glory, she manages to put Mohammed’s story in its societal setting so that we can grasp his original teachings and decisions.Mohammed’s laws, for example, were designed for a small, struggling community, never for the vast empire that succeeded him. His jihad, which does not mean “holy war” but which means “struggle,” was a tireless campaign against greed, injustice, and arrogance.Arabs in Mohammed’s time did not feel it was necessary to convert to Judaism or Christianity, because they believed that they were already members of the Abrahamic family. In fact, the idea of conversion from one faith to another was alien. Pluralism was the more natural belief, and Muhammed embraced pluralism. A verse often quoted to prove Islamic exclusive beliefs actually means just the opposite:“For if one goes in search of a religion other than islam unto God, it will never be accepted from him, and in the life to come, he shall be among the lost.”Of course, Muhammed did not call his religion “islam”; the word simply meant self-surrender, and had nothing to do with a particular denomination or belief. In its original context, the teaching meant just the opposite of exclusivism. Muhammed hated sectarian quarrels, and was offended by the idea of a “chosen people.”But Muhammed did believe reform was necessary. He despised the suppression of Arab women, and he could not condone any caste which separated those with money from those without. He personally gave a large percentage of his earnings to the poor, and expected the same selflessness from his little band of followers. All such kindnesses would be rewarded in paradise, he promised.Does that mean the stories of Muhammed’s wars and raiding expeditions are rumors? No, and here Karen shows a little too much sympathy, as she explains the cultural expectations. A clan could hardly support itself without raiding, she explains! Stories of Muhammed’s harem are juicy as well. Nevertheless, this appears to be an honest portrait of a complex man who tried mightily to reform his little area of the world for the better. Highly recommended.
Like a Lily

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I enjoy Bible-based historical fiction, so long as it doesn’t get too romancy. This one pushes the limit for me (hey, I’m just a guy), but the gooeyness didn’t detract from the scholarship and culture. Do be aware that by “culture,” we’re talking about the very tip…royalty in the king’s palace, not us common folk.Michal, daughter of King Saul and the first of many wives to David, tells the story of David’s rise to political greatness. Michal seldom gets any sympathy votes among Bible readers, so it was fascinating to hear the story from her angle. Other than this fresh perspective, though, I think the book stays pretty close to the Bible’s slant when selecting its heroes and villains.Culture is indeed the point, where the patriarchal society dominates, where polygamy among the elite is accepted with nonchalance, where Levitical revenge and gory warfare are a way of life. While these morals seem foreign to us today, Havel and Faucheux take seriously their undertaking to write a story based on the Holy Bible “in an acceptable manner, [for] Scripture is truth.”That conviction may account for the odd omniscient ending. Yet it’s a good story, definitely entertaining.
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