The Month in Reviews: June 2016

Reading for the Common Good

This was one of those months where my reading was all over the place from essays in military history to fictional accounts of Irish country doctors to a new book on sleep. There was the usual theology, including a collection of essays on Karl Barth, an outstanding book on the atonement, an inter-generational dialogue on the future of our faith, a discussion of the roles of parents in their children’s faith, and conversely a discussion of the religious choices of “nones” around raising their children. Two other outstanding reads concerned the role of persuasion in Christian witness, and the role of reading in the life of Christian communities. So, without further ado, here is the list!

Confessing Christ

Confessing Christ for Church and World, Kimlyn J. Bender. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A collection of essays in Barthian theology, exploring his ecclesiology, his confessional theology, particularly as it bears on the canon, and his understanding of the relationship of Christ and creation. (Review).

Future of Our Faith

Future of Our FaithRonald J. Sider and Ben Lowe. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016. Two activist evangelical leaders forty years apart pose critical questions for each other about issues facing the church, with responses from the other. (Review).

Christ Crucified

Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, Donald Macleod. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014. A thoughtful, contemporary restatement of the classical doctrine of the atonement including different contended terms in reference to the atonement including substitution, expiation, propitiation, satisfaction, and victory. (Review).

Christ and Crisis

Christ and Crisis, Charles Malik. Grand Rapids: Acton Institute, 2015 (originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1962). Contends that the deepest crisis of his (our) age is a spiritual crisis that the church properly addresses by laying hold of all the resources and pursuing the calling of people of faith. (Review).

An Irish Country Doctor

An Irish Country Doctor, Patrick Taylor. New York: Forge Books, 2007 (an earlier version published 2004). A young doctor fresh from medical school becomes the assistant to a rural, and somewhat eccentric, general practitioner in a small village in Northern Ireland and learns lessons about life, love, and medicine they didn’t teach in school. (Review).

Father of Us All

The Father of Us All, Victor Davis Hanson. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010. A collection of essays arguing from history that war is a tragic but persistent feature of human existence that explores some of the particular challenges that democracies from Athens to the present day United States face as we are faced with the prospect or reality of war. (Review).

Fool's Talk

Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015. Guinness argues for the recovery of the lost art of persuasion that combines good apologetic work with evangelism and is aware of the many people Christians address who are not open to their message. (Review).

The Sleep Revolution

The Sleep Revolution, Arianna Huffington. New York: Harmony Books, 2016. Huffington summarizes the research on sleep, the impact of sleep deprivation on our lives and performance, and steps we may take night by night to reverse this deficit and improve our lives.  (Review).

Losing Our Religion

Losing Our ReligionChristel Manning. New York: New York University Press, 2015. Qualitative sociological research on the religious category of “nones” exploring the different types of “nones”, the influences of time and place, and the parenting choices around religion “nones” face in raising their children. (Review).

dupee.indd

It’s Not Too Late, Dan Dupee. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. A book addressed to Christian parents of teens making the transition from high school to college on the continuing important role parents may play in their teen’s faith journey. (Review).

Miracle Work

Miracle Work, Jordan Seng. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. A description of how God wants to work through us to do things in the world, including supernatural things like healing, delivering people from demons, prophesying, or intercessory prayer. (Review).

Reading for the Common Good

Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Explores how the communal practice of reading in congregations fosters a learning community and shared social imagination the results in clearer congregational identity, sense of mission in one’s setting, and wider engagement with the environment, economics, and political order. (Review).

Best of the Month: This was a tough one. Christ Crucified and Fool’s Talk are both quite good. I’m going to give the nod to C. Christopher Smith’s Reading for the Common Good, a book I wish I’d written and I think vitally important if Christian communities are going to become vibrant learning communities. Smith connected the dots for me about how our personal love of reading can connect into our communal life in life-giving ways.

Quote of the Month: Here I will go with a quote from Donald Macleod’s Christ Crucified, his rejoinder to those who argue that the idea of substitutionary atonement is little more than “divine child abuse.” He writes:

“…the child-abuse charge ignores the clear New Testament witness to the unique identity of Jesus. Not only was he not a child; he was not a mere human. He was God: the eternal Logos, the divine Son, the Lord before whom every knee will one day bow (Phil. 2:10). This is no helpless victim. This is the Father’s equal. This is one who in the most profound sense is one with God; one in whom God judges himself, one in whom God condemns himself, one in whom God lets himself be abused. The critics cannot be allowed the luxury of a selective use of the New Testament. It is the very same scriptures which portray the cross as an act of God the Father which also portray the sufferer as God the Son, and the resulting doctrine cannot be wrenched from its setting in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The ‘abused child’ is ‘very God of very God’. It is divine blood that is shed at Calvary (Acts 20:28) as God surrenders himself to the worst that man can do and bears the whole cost of saving the world.” (p. 64)

Coming Soon: I’m currently reading Kirsten Hannah’s The Nightingale, historical fiction exploring conditions in German-occupied France through the lives of the Rossignol (which means “nightingale”) daughters and their father. I’m also working my way through David Maraniss’ account of the life of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Mattered. Lombardi was one of the coaching greats of my youth. Maraniss explores the tension between faith, family, and football that was his life as well as the way Lombardi transformed pro football. I’ve just begun Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian by Michelle Lee-Barnwell, exploring whether there is a different way of thinking about gender roles than these two polarized positions. Marva Dawn’s In the Beginning, God is an older work meditating on what the creation accounts reveal to us of the character of the God of Creation.

My summer project has been the creation of an index of reviews on Bob on Books. Since the inception of the blog, I’ve reviewed around 350 books. Soon, hopefully, you will be able to scroll through a list of these by author. Of course, you can always use the search box on any page to find whether I’ve reviewed a book or to search on a topic. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how I can continue to make the blog more useful as a resource for “thoughts on books, reading, and life.”

Review: Christ Crucified

Christ Crucified

Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement, Donald Macleod. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A thoughtful, contemporary restatement of the classical doctrine of the atonement including different contended terms in reference to the atonement including substitution, expiation, propitiation, satisfaction, and victory.

The cross is not only the most significant symbol of Christianity, but this act, and its meaning is central to Christian hope. The cross also raises telling questions, of which the most significant are: Why did Jesus die? Was this truly necessary? What did this accomplish? And, what does this mean for us? When we get beyond the vague sentiments that this “shows us the love of God” (how does the cruel death of a man on a Roman gibbet show love?) or that “he died for us” (why did he choose to die when he could have avoided it? how can one die for us all? why was this death necessary? what about us needed dying for?) we are faced with questions like these whose answers take us into the deep purposes of God and the raw truth about the human condition. Hard questions, and yet at the end, profound good news.

Donald Macleod in this work explores the death of Christ and its significance. The book is in two parts. The first is a meditation upon the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and their theological significance. Of particular value in this section in light of questions raised about the idea of Christ’s death as a substitution for us, which some have alleged to be “divine child abuse” Macleod provides this striking defense:

“…the child-abuse charge ignores the clear New Testament witness to the unique identity of Jesus. Not only was he not a child; he was not a mere human. He was God: the eternal Logos, the divine Son, the Lord before whom every knee will one day bow (Phil. 2:10). This is no helpless victim. This is the Father’s equal. This is one who in the most profound sense is one with God; one in whom God judges himself, one in whom God condemns himself, one in whom God lets himself be abused. The critics cannot be allowed the luxury of a selective use of the New Testament. It is the very same scriptures which portray the cross as an act of God the Father which also portray the sufferer as God the Son, and the resulting doctrine cannot be wrenched from its setting in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The ‘abused child’ is ‘very God of very God’. It is divine blood that is shed at Calvary (Acts 20:28) as God surrenders himself to the worst that man can do and bears the whole cost of saving the world.” (p. 64)

The second part then takes seven words that are used to describe different aspects of Christ’s atoning death: substitution, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, satisfaction, redemption, and victory. A number of these are often contended against as well, yet he defends these with careful textual study and devotional eloquence. His discussion of the use of hilasterion as the word used for ‘mercy seat’ in the Greek Old Testament is an example, giving us the vivid image of the place where sin is expiated and the judgment of God against sin propitiated. I am hardly new to such discussions, but Macleod’s clear, theologically acute, and devotionally rich writing left me pausing to rejoice again in familiar truths understood with freshness, and in some instances greater depth.

The uses of this book, it seems to me are several. First, it is one to be used devotionally in measured, thoughtful reflection, perhaps reading a section of a chapter at a time. Second, it is a significant book for any who bear witness to the good news of the cross. Any thoughtful person will raise questions similar to those I mentioned at the beginning of this review, and to be able to speak biblically, clearly, and joyfully of the work of Christ is our great responsibility and privilege. Finally, those who raise the question of the cross as divine child abuse, or repudiate the idea of penal substitution need to engage with Macleod’s writing, and not the straw men representations of the doctrine of the atonement often cited in their arguments. I would set this alongside John Stott’s The Cross of Christ (reviewed here) as one of the very best books I’ve read on the cross.