Book Notice: “Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World”

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TruthMatters picIt is no small secret that university religion departments often provide a lush environment for professors who wish to undercut the historic Christian faith. In recognition of this fact, and in an attempt to respond to such criticisms, Andreas Köstenberger, Josh Chatraw, and Darrell Bock recently published Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World (B&H).

In the book, Köstenberger (Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at SEBTS), Darrell L. Bock (Senior Research Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary), and Josh Chatraw (Ph.D. SEBTS) organize the book around the theological skepticism of University of North Carolina professor Bart Ehrman.

The preface summarizes Ehrman’s approach in his classrooms: “The Bible was put together to suit an agenda. . . . The Bible is basically a forgery. . . . Your Bible doesn’t contain the real words of God after all. . . . The Bible can’t seem to keep its own story straight. . . . The whole basis of Christianity is in question. . . . God doesn’t care. Maybe God isn’t even there.” (pp. xvii–xviii) Thus, Ehrman’s criticisms strike at the heart of biblical Christianity.

Truth Matters serves to challenge skepticism in general and Ehrman’s criticisms in particular. The book is written with lucid prose in a manner accessible to high school or college students. The book’s outline provides the potential reader a glimpse of the authors’ approach.

Chapter 1 – The Skeptical Mystique: What Makes Unbelief So Terribly Believable?

Chapter 2 – Is God There? Does God Care? Then Why Can’t He Do Any Better than This?

Chapter 3 – Let’s Make a Bible: Who Picked These Books, and Where’d They Come From?

Chapter 4 – Contradictions, Contradictions: Why Does My Bible Have All These Mistakes?

Chapter 5 – I’ll Need an Original: How Can Copies of Copies Be the Same as the Real Thing?

Chapter 6 – And the Winner Is . . . Who Decided What Christianity Was Made Of?

Chapter 7 – A Likely Story: How Do We Know Jesus Rose from the Dead?

I recommend this book for parents who wish to serve as trustworthy guides for their children who are preparing for college. I further recommend this book for high school and college students, and for any thoughtful reader wishing to address some of the foremost skeptical questions of our age.

 

The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived

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Final Days of JesusThis blog post serves advance notice: Crossway’s recently released book, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived, is a treasure for the church. Southeastern’s own Andreas Köstenberger and Crossway’s Justin Taylor have collaborated to produce a high quality devotional work underlain by excellent New Testament scholarship.

I plan to draw upon this book as I share with my family during the upcoming holy week. The book is not academic in tone: the prose is lucid and the limited footnotes mainly provide explanatory comments.

The Final Days of Jesus maps out in separate chapters each day of the Passion Week, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. Each chapter is, say, five pages long and works well as a daily reading. The chapters provide a harmonization of all four Gospels in the English Standard Version accompanied by a brief introduction and supporting commentary for each day’s events. Early in the week selected passages are provided, then from Wednesday to Easter Sunday the entire ESV text of each day’s account is reprinted in the chapter.

Köstenberger and Taylor deal with many of the difficulties in the Gospel accounts. These are often hailed as discrepancies by skeptics and can cause careful Christian readers to struggle to piece together four separate accounts of the same story. They write, “We acknowledge differences among the Gospel accounts of individual details and make an honest attempt to suggest plausible ways in which those accounts may in fact cohere.” (19) Thus, this book has apologetic value in addition to its contribution to personal worship.

In addition to the careful arrangement of Scripture and the thoughtful commentary, The Final Days of Jesus makes the Passion narrative come alive with maps that show the locations mentioned the Gospel narratives, color diagrams of Jerusalem, and charts that compare key passages and themes. The charts give visual learners a quick way to understand the flow of Christ’s High Priestly Prayer (82), or the overview of the days of the Passion Week that give Westerners fits as they try to understand the Ancient Middle Eastern chronology (53). The visual organization provided by the illustrations helps to anchor the events of the text in real places, bringing the feeling of concreteness to the story. Due to our familiarity with the story, this feeling is often abstracted from historical reality. Also, the authors provide a glossary and a list of recommended readings graded by their level of difficulty, making this an excellent place to begin a deeper study of the Word.

The authors set out “to provide an aid to informed worship” (21), a task which Köstenberger and Taylor have completed in admirable fashion. This book is fine contribution to the church: it is suitable for those steeped in Christian heritage and biblical knowledge as well as those who are new to the faith or even on the outside of it. Readers will find themselves using the book as a resource for personal or family devotions, as a resource for local church teaching, and as an easy-to-read gift (for believers or unbelievers) that faithfully witnesses to the gospel.

Book Notice: “The Community of Jesus”

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community-of-jesusChristopher Morgan has put forth a steady stream of top-shelf edited volumes in the field of systematic theology. These volumes work very nicely in theology and doctrine courses, whether the courses are introductory in nature or upper-level electives. Morgan’s volumes model how to take complex ideas and mediate them in a lucid and compelling manner to pastors, college students, and seminarians. Morgan’s most recent volume is no exception.

In The Community of Jesus: A Theology of the Church (B&H, 2013), which Morgan (California Baptist) edited together with Kendell Easley (Union University), the authors provide compelling and coherent answers to questions about the nature and practice of the church.

In the introduction, Morgan and Easley note their different experiences in and with the church and how these experiences have shaped their approach. They also point out the significance of the numerous questions that attend any discussion of church: what about Baptism; the Lord’s Supper; church discipline; the relationship to Israel; denominations? These questions, they note, are important but are “ . . . best seen through a broader, salvation historical lens the theology of the church framed by a context of the nature and mission of God.” (xiii)

Instead of seeking to answer all the questions they opt to lay a theological foundation upon which the reader can build a fuller exposition of the church. This in turn speaks to many of the more applied questions. “Our focus is to work toward a biblical, historical, systematic, missional theology of the church.” (xiii) That is, The Community of Jesus is an integrative theology of the church that paves the way for other volumes to answer myriad questions about context and application.

Readers of BtT will be familiar with the contributing scholars. In the first five chapters, Paul House, Kendell Easley, David Dockery, Ray Van Neste, and Southeastern’s own Andreas Köstenberger lay out the biblical teachings––from OT to NT––which inform an evangelical Baptist ecclesiology. In the next four chapters James Patterson, Steve Wellum, Chris Morgan, and your scribe relate the biblical teachings to church history, salvation history, God’s glory, and God’s mission. The result is a smart, clear, and responsible text on the theology of the church.

This book will be a most helpful resource for pastors, teachers, and students alike. Pastors will benefit from the well-conceived plan of the book, which helps them connect the biblical, historical, systematic, and practical aspects of the church to their own ministry. Teachers will welcome the clear writing and concise treatments of large chunks of Scripture and history on this topic. And students, especially undergraduates, will learn to love the church and why this matters to God.