Monday, July 23, 2012

Doctrine of the Trinity not irrelevant

Our Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-OneOur Triune God: Living in the Love of the Three-in-One by Philip Graham Ryken
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a good introduction to the Trinity. The authors discuss the concept of the Trinity, the various roles of the persons of the Trinity, and our responses to each of the persons.

What I appreciate about the book is that it highlights the relevance of the doctrine of the Trinity. Too many believers see the Trinity as a biblical teaching, but one that doesn't make much difference in their everyday lives. Bogus thinking.

Nonetheless, I was looking for more depth. The book is great for those who are investigating the doctrine of the Trinity for the first time; but I was looking for more.  If I were a new Christian, I would have rated it higher.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's like Treasure Island, only different

Victory: An Island Tale (Modern Library Classics)Victory: An Island Tale by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spoiler alert: If you're going to read this novel, you might not want to read the last paragraph of this post.

An island adventure on the other side of the world in the days of the British Empire. A misunderstood man, an abused woman, a vengeful enemy, bad guys. Love, pity, jealousy, slander, greed. It has the makings of a great story.

The book slowly builds (and sometimes very slowly) into a mighty crescendo at the end. The point of view switches around so you see inside Heyst and Lena, as well as the bad guys. Some times the psychologizing is heavy-handed and unrealistic. But overall, not a bad tale.

The biggest puzzle to me is the title. Since everyone dies at the end, where's the victory? Unless it's Schomberg, the German hotel owner, a despicable character. He is avenged on his contrived enemy Heyst, but he still lost the girl. Cliff Notes suggests it's Lena, the girl Axel Heyst rescues from the orchestra at the hotel; she finally wins Heyst's love. But I think she already had it before she made her sacrifice, even though he had difficulty expressing it. Perhaps it's Heyst himself; he overcomes his indifference to the world when he experiences feelings for Lena and does what he can to protect her. When she dies, he cannot be indifferent to that, and he kills himself beside her, burning everything down around them. Now that's love, baby.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The blessings of Christian fellowship

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in CommunityLife Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is about the reality and blessedness of Christian fellowship, demonstrating that genuine fellowship is more than what evangelicals realize.

All five chapters--"Community," "The Day with Others," "The Day Alone," "Ministry" [i.e., service], and "Confession and Communion"--feed the mind and the heart.

Especially interesting to me was ch. 2, "The Day with Others," and Bonhoeffer's comments on such topics as the Psalms (especially interesting when compared with C. S. Lewis's Reflections on the Psalms; Bonhoeffer says the Psalms are the prayers of the corporate church as well as the prayers of Christ through his body), reading the Scriptures (read whole chapters to your family), and work/employment in the world (having a secular job is good for the soul).

My other favorite chapter was ch. 4, "Ministry." Lots of good thoughts on the primacy of servanthood and how we can serve one another.

Below are some quotes I especially enjoyed, though without context:

"So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?' (Luther)." (ch. 1 pp. 17-18)

"Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate." (ch. 1 p. 30)

"[S]piritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ ..." (ch. 1 p. 36)

"Work plunges men into the world of things. The Christian steps out of the world of brotherly encounter into the world of impersonal things, the 'it'; and this new encounter frees him for objectivity; for the 'it'-world is only an instrument in the hand of God for the purification of Christians from all self-centeredness and self-seeking. The work of the world can be done only where a person forgets himself, where he loses himself in a cause, in reality, the task, the 'it.' In work the Christian learns to allow himself to be limited by the task, and thus for him the work becomes a remedy against the indolence and sloth of the flesh. The passions of the flesh die in the world of things." (ch. 2 p. 70)

[Commenting on Rom 12:16] "Because the Christian can no longer fancy that he is wise he will also have no high opinion of his own schemes and plans. He will know that it is good for his own will to be broken in the encounter with his neighbor. He will be ready to consider his neighbor's will more important and urgent than his own. What does it matter if our own plans are frustrated? Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way?" (ch. 4 p. 95)

[On the ministry of listening] "Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking." (ch. 4 p. 97)

[On the ministry of helpfulness] "This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.... It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God's 'crooked yet straight path' (Gottfried Arnold). They do not want a life that is crossed ad balked. But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our scheule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God." (ch. 4 p. 99)

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Insightful Biblical look at challenges of our day

The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual OpennessThe Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mohler does a good job of evaluating current issues facing the church in the light of biblical theology, and he does so with power. Imminently readable, helpful, and sobering, the book puts steel in one's backbone.

The issues he takes on include, but are not limited to, the new understandings of hell, the Emerging Church (and Brian McLaren), Open Theism, and post-modernism. This is no long, mind-numbing tome, either; Mohler communicates an much in short, succinct chapters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Prayer book hasn't lost its luster

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and DevotionsThe Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions by Arthur G. Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my fourth time through praying the prayers of this book, and it has not lost its luster. Very helpful in obeying Ps 103:1ff.: "Praise the Lord, O my soul." The book helps me to exalt the Triune God and to humble myself.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012