God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard Bauckham

In my Introduction to the New Testament 2: Acts to Revelation class we read three books. The last one was Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation, part of the New Testament Theology series by James Dunn. I normally would not bother writing a review of a school textbook, but I thought this book would be of interest to Christians struggling with how to read the book of Revelation (Pet peeve alert! There’s only one revelation in the book of Revelation. So it’s Revelation, not RevelationS).
Bauckham was the professor of New Testament Studies at the University of St. Andrews until 2007 where he retired to focus on research and writing. The Theology of the Book of Revelation was written in 1993.
The best thing about this book is that it takes a very scholarly look at the book of Revelation without becoming overburdened with a verse-by-verse commentary. This means it gives a thorough overview without bogging down in the Greek translation. It is organized into seven chapters. Chapter one introduces common problems when reading Revelation. Two through six give a thematic overview of the book, each focusing on a different theme. The final chapter presents (disappointingly, for a book about Revelation) 11 different points for reading Revelation today.
Chapter one, “Reading the book of Revelation,” provides what many forget to do: place Revelation in the context it was written in. Bauckham presents the case that Revelation is both a book about the now (prophecy) and the end times (apocalypse). Understanding that the book is written in both genres helps us avoid many of the pitfalls of interpreting it too close to us (finding prophecies in everyday events) or relegating it to the first century (finding no comparable situations to today).
Chapters 2-6 give four themes: “The One who is and who was and who is to come,” “The Lamb on the throne,” “The victory of the Lamb and his followers,” “The Spirit of prophecy,” and “The New Jerusalem.” The most important and easiest to understand parts of this book are the introduction and conclusion. These chapters become somewhat technical and had a tendency to go over my head. However, they are good for reading through even if you do not understand all that is written.
Chapter 7 “Revelation for today” is Bauckham’s way of encouraging Christians to reopen the book and seek to understand what is there. He gives 11 points as springboards to understand its relevance to today. The best advice is given at the very end, “Revelation can help to inspire the renewal of the doctrine of God which is perhaps the most urgent contemporary theological need” (p. 164).
Overall, the book is interesting due to its ability to take the book of Revelation and allow it to interpret itself. This is something needed by many theologians, especially ones reading the book of Revelation.

Bauckham, Richard. 1993. The theology of the book of Revelation of New Testament theology. Cambridge [England]; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review 6: Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger

For my final book review for the Church Planting class, I decided to read the book that first began studying this new expression of Christianity entitled Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Also, it was co-written by the professor of the Church Planting class, Ryan Bolger.  Bolger is currently the Associate Professor of Church in Contemporary Culture at Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies. Eddie Gibbs is the Senior Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies though partially retired.
In Emerging Churches, they attempt to give a snapshot of emerging churches in the USA and England. These two places were chosen based on budgetary issues and a similarity in culture. The book is organized into 11 chapters. The first chapter gives the cultural situation out of which these expressions of church emerged. The second chapter gives an overview of emerging churches and some of their identifying features. Chapters three through five give the theoretical tenants of most emerging churches. Chapters 6-10 describe the more practical and active components of most emerging churches. Chapter 11 serves as a summary of all of their findings and will be skipped in the chapter-by-chapter comments below. There are two appendices giving the story of each of the 50 church founders they contacted and their methodology for the study itself.
The description of the cultural setting for these expressions of church is very rooted in a postmodern mindset, though they would be considered more constructive than deconstructive in their approach to contextualized forms of church. The traditional church structure and mindset is becoming quite foreign when compared to where their cultures have shifted. The emerging churches are attempting to re-contextualize for the new culture by producing a new form of church, mentioned in chapter two.
The emerging church is not a group of young people rebelling against old people. In fact, the thing that surprised me the most about these groups is that they are not attempting to “reach” any group of people. They are Christians who had become strangers to their peers and began to see that their expression of church was the major reason people rejected God. Gibbs and Bolger summarized the principles in this way (each color representing a different aspect of the emerging church, so I have taken out the numbers):
Emerging churches, as they are embodied in postmodern cultures, are those who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live, who transform the secular realm, as they live highly communal lives [essential aspects]. Because of these three activities, they welcome those who are outside, they share generously, they participate, create, they lead without control, and function together in spiritual activities [derivatives of the essential aspects].”  (p. 45)
Chapter 3 “Identify with Jesus” show how they have attempted to return their theology from a Pauline-focused to Christ-centered. This is something that is greatly needed in the church today. The only possible critique of this theology is that it must be balanced so that Paul and the epistles do not become obsolete or minimized. At the same time, this shift is a needed one.
Chapter 4 “Transforming Secular Space” is one I believe is amongst the most important and needed critiques of the church today. Often we stay in our buildings and corners and wonder why the world around us rejects God. Emerging churches take worshiping God in the heart language and in the heart way in a unique way by re-merging the dichotomy of sacred and secular.
Chapter 5 “Living as Community” returns the focus of the church from the institution to a family. This is a needed shift because churches have often become a volunteer organization where people come to socialize and perform rituals and then separate never to see each other again until the next week. Emerging churches live as a community and define their community by the members of their church instead of the other way around.
Chapter 6 “Welcoming the Stranger” describes a shift in evangelism. Instead of going to people and telling them to change their beliefs, they want to focus on becoming intimately involved in their friends’ lives (or inviting outsiders to join their lives) and allowing the Spirit to move them to become Christians. Chapter 7 “Serving with Generosity” presents a similar swing in the rationale behind service. In them, benevolence is less about impressing people to come to their church or giving a handout for the sake of humanity but becoming the gospel to others so they might see our good works and give glory to God. The only possible negative critique of this shift is can they become so open and accepting of all people that the gospel is lost in niceness? For example, if a Buddhist saw their good works and wanted to join them, a balanced approach would be to actively encourage that person to allow the God of creation to lead them though not condemning them and requiring them to forsake their entire Buddhist philosophy of life. I think they are close to this mindset and appreciate their balance so far.
Chapters 8, “Participating as Producers,” and 9, “Creating as Created Beings,” focus on encouraging all Christians to create whether it is in the worship setting and sharing their talents there or outside the corporate setting and creating art, music, dance, etc. for the glory of God. All of this is worship in that it is for the glory of God.
Chapter 10, “Leading as a Body” entails how they have shifted from a hierarchal structure to a flat structure focused on giving all a voice. Of all the principles, this is one I could map directly to the Restoration Movement and find where our tradition and how we have read the Bible helps them as they challenge us. Leadership can become so flat that confusion and anarchy reign. This means there has to be a leader (or leaders) who have the authority to lead. In this way, the Restoration Movement has excelled. At the same time, emerging churches stress leaders who are appointed based on their ability to be spiritual guides for the group. Although the Restoration Movement has stressed this in the past, it is more commonplace that church have appointed elders who were more successful businessmen (in my tradition, only men are appointed by the congregation in the position of elder) or older than the rest. Ministers were brought in from far away because of their resumes instead of their ability to teach the congregation. In this, emerging churches can challenge Churches of Christ to acknowledge men who are currently serving instead of appointing people they think will serve well.
Overall, I believe this book is an excellent study in allowing the leaders of each church describe itself. Their uncritical descriptions allow the reader to decide if these actions are biblical, beneficial or best for their situation. For this, I am grateful for reading Emerging Churches.
Gibbs, Eddie, and Ryan K. Bolger. 2005. Emerging churches : creating Christian community in postmodern cultures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Class Summary for Dec. 1

Today in class we discussed the attributes of Emerging Churches as described in Gibbs and Bolger’s book Emerging Churches (see my review next week). Here is how they wrote it: “Emerging churches, as they are embodied in postmodern cultures, are those who take the life of Jesus as a model way to live, who transform the secular realm, as they live highly communal lives [essential aspects] Because of these three activities, they welcome those who are outside, they share generously, they participate, create, they lead without control, and function together in spiritual activities [derivatives of the essential aspects].” These aspects are not set in stone and not all churches would agree to them. The most interesting thing is that it looks very similar in theory to the Restoration Movement’s principles. Their theology may not be exactly the same, but I believe churches in the Restoration Movement, if they have an open mind, can actually learn from emerging churches and use our principles to challenge theirs. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review 5: The New Conspirators by Tom Sine

For my next Church Planting book I decided to read The New Conspirators by Tom Sine. Tom is a prolific writer who began the Mustard Seed House in Seattle, Washington, a community of believers who attempt to live the Great Commission together. He is also an adjunct professor at Fuller’s campus in Seattle.
The New Conspirators is a book in which Sine has five “conversations” writing about different aspects of Christian life and new theologians who are challenging traditional churches. Conversation one suggests that Christians take four groups serious: Emerging churches, Missional churches, Mosaics and Monastics. Conversation two critiques modern popular culture. Conversation three looks at the state of the church today. Conversation four speaks about the challenges the globalized world gives to each class of people and the church. Conversation five ends the study by giving practical examples and principles for living out the previous chapters.
Normally I read the assigned books for class and if I like them I’ll put them on my Amazon wish list (http://bit.ly/grahamwishlist). However, this book is difficult for me to decide if I want it or not. On one hand I loved the major sections on contemporary culture, how it influences individuals and the church collective, and his practical advice from conversation five. On the other, his hyperbolic doomsday scenarios are completely devoid of God he also says is all-powerful. These types of worst-case scenarios are extremely naïve and take innovation in production as static, doing exactly what he complains most mission agencies do, “It is rare to find a Christian organization that researches how the context in which they do mission will likely change before it does strategic planning” (p. 130). This is my biggest problem with theologians who write on economic ideas. They often speak negatively about globalization and the free market and then put their foot in their mouth giving simplistic views and faulty logic about economics and how to solve poverty. However, I have previously written about this topic, so I will not belabor the point more.
The opening chapter (after the forward by Shane Claiborne and the acknowledgements) gives an opening shot across the bow. Sine’s writing is very cut and dry. He gets to the point quickly. These are turbulent times (I have yet to read a book that does not start out this way regardless of when it was written) and there are a small group of people who are working to buck the trend. The first conversation gives names to the movements and leaders of each movement. This chapter is a great introduction for anyone looking for a summary of new expressions of Christianity in the Western world.
Conversation two, “Taking the Culture Seriously,” is also a solid piece of writing which describes the major cultural shifts going on. Except for a few places where he makes sure to include the obligatory “the widening gap between the rich and poor” concept, his warning that nothing is spiritually neutral in how it is used is one which should be heeded. The only weakness I can see in this is that he focuses so much effort on the fact that people are going heavily into debt to keep up their lifestyle and yet never blames the people for doing it. This is why I respect people like Dave Ramsey more than most theologians. He at least puts the blame squarely on the person. “The culture may have told you to do it but you went out and bought that car, got that $50,000 education to make $30,000 a year, or went $10,000 in credit card debt. Now get to work or sell everything you can to pay off the loans.”
Conversation three, “Taking the Future of God Seriously,” is an interesting critique of modern culture. Sine’s idea that we have replaced the final coming of Jesus with disembodied spirits going up to meet him in the air is a great critique of Western theology. However, the idea that we can produce heaven on earth before that time reeks of utopianism. Poverty will never be eradicated. To encourage Christians to help as many poor people get on their feet as we can is different than complaining that all Western countries are evil because poverty continues to exist.
Conversation four, “Taking Turbulent Times Seriously,” is basically summed in my previous post and comments above. The only thing I would add is that he does not denigrate the rich but challenges them to offer training and education to those who wish to do more with their lives. This was one of the most refreshing surprises of the entire book.
If I could, I would take conversations one and five (“Taking Our Imaginations Seriously”) and create a great book of wonderful suggestions and people thinking outside the traditional church box. This conversation alone is worth the price of the book. In it he gives great suggestions and practical examples of people taking their spirituality and making it real by loving their neighbor as their self. His suggestion to start really, really small is really, really good. Often I think Christians become so paralyzed by the plight of the poor around the world that they may forget that “the system” is no more than a group of people who need to know God one by one (or the entire group at the same time, if possible). I appreciate everyone who tries to make life easier/better for the world. Interestingly Sine includes a section on entrepreneurship with a mission. This can be where Christians can have the most impact. Encouraging Christians not to be Christians who get stuck with a job because they are unwilling to minister but to how the Good News of Jesus and the salvation of the world can change their coworkers is a shift I love. In times like these I wish I were one of them. Being with theologians all day can wear on a person after a while.
In the end I decided to add the book to my wish list. If I use it in a class, I’ll probably use only the first and fifth conversations completely and use sporadic chapters in the middle. His great suggestions and practical theology are worth enduring the doomsday ideas about economics and what causes people to have high mortgages.
Sine, Tom. 2008. The new conspirators : creating the future one mustard seed at a time. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books.