Review: We Believe in One God

6966364Following on the heels of the highly acclaimed Ancient Christian Commentary series, the Ancient Christian Doctrine series brings together a five-volume patristic exploration into the substance of what the early church believed about the Christian faith. The series presents a curated display of primary Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac source material from the church fathers, translated into English and organized around the content of the Nicene Creed.

The initial volume of the series, We Believe in One God edited by Gerald L. Bray takes the reader through the opening article of the Nicene Creed (“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”) and uses it as a framework for an exploration of patristic thought concerning the doctrine of God. Each of the major section opens with the text of the Nicene Creed in Greek, Latin, and English, and the word or phrase being discussed is highlighted for the reader in bold. Before being brought into the commentary from the early church fathers, the readers will meet an introduction to the historical context of the Creed and an overview of the general content of the section. Those who are acquainted with the Ancient Christian Commentary series will be met some with familiarity here.

The comments are organized under the major section by author and each excerpt leads with a single bolded phrase to summarize the content. This makes identifying it quick and easy for the reader to find relevant information, and each excerpt is properly cited for further exploration. Additional material in the volume includes biographical sketches, a timeline of ancient Christian sources, indexes, bibliographies and keys to original language sources.

The usefulness of the Ancient Christian Doctrine series and this volume in particular, is almost bursting at the seams. The organization of the content is well-situated to immerse the reader into the writings of the early church and navigate those waters with ease, and the additional material adds to this exploration. The translations of the excerpts are articulate and easy to read—some of them being translated into English for the very first time. The book itself is beautifully built and will survive ample use for many years. That is, beauty of the content is matched with an equally stunning presentation.

The only shortcoming identifiable in this volume, and to be honest, this is a shortcoming that exists in any volume that attempts a similar task as the Ancient Christian Doctrine series is the lack of larger context for the reader. To be fair, the editors have painstakingly sought to include as much context as possible and did so under the assumption that readers could investigate the larger context for themselves. Nevertheless, a paragraph is generally surrounded by more paragraphs, and those paragraphs are generally surrounded by even more paragraphs within a broader context that may or may not be relevant to the reader’s needs.

The Ancient Christian Doctrine series is a landmark resource that will serve an interdisciplinary audience for many years. The initial volume, We Believe in One God edited by Gerald L. Bray takes the readers on a journey through the landscape of patristic thought concerning the doctrine of God. It is well-organized and perfectly situated to equip the interested reader with a portrait of early Christian belief. From scholars to students, and pastors to the layman, this is a volume that should be referenced by all. It comes highly recommended!

Review: Destroyer of the gods

29894928Larry W. Hurtado is Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Hurtado has authored numerous books related to early Christianity, including Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity and The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Most recently, Hurtado has written a blockbuster of a book and thought-provoking investigation into the distinctiveness of early Christianity within the Greco-Roman context.

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World is an important and well-thought monograph that explores various aspects of the early Christian movement. The goal of the book is to display the uniqueness of early Christianity in the vast religious landscape of the Greco-Roman world. The book begins with a quick survey of early Christianity through the lenses of non-Christians, including both Jewish and Pagan critiques of Christians. Hurtado concludes, “a good many outsiders, who were the overwhelming majority of the populace, regarded Christians and Christianity as objectionably different and certainly not simply one group among an undifferentiated lot” (p. 35). It is this discovery that establishes the subsequent chapters as the reader is guided through the distinctiveness of early Christian ethics, worship, and more.

The entire book is fascinating and chocked full of rich historical commentary on the Christian movement of the second century. However, one of the most exciting chapters in the book has to do with the early Christian interest with the written word. That is, according to Hurtado, the early Christian movement was particularly interested in books—a “bookish” religion. The implications of this fly in the face of the popular misnomer that early Christians were primarily concerned with oral tradition rather than written words. Early Christianity, according to Hurtado, was uniquely fond of reading, writing, copying, and circulating text. In fact, the modern book likely discovers its origins in the early Christian utilization of the codex. Thus, Hurtado concludes, “the young Christian movement [was] distinctively text oriented in context of the varied religious environment of that time . . . ‘textuality’ was central, and, from the outset, early Christianity was, indeed, ‘a bookish religion’” (p. 141).

Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World by Larry W. Hurtado is a worthwhile investment for anyone interested in early Christianity. Hurtado is usually lucid in his presentation, but this book easily tops the charts of Hurtado’s life works. The reader will likely appreciate Hurtado’s interaction with contemporary scholarship and sensitivity to make the subject matter accessible to a wide range of readership. While much more could surely be said about Hurtado’s treatment of early Christian ethics and worship, in my opinion, the chapter outlined above is alone worth the price of the book. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

 

Review: What Christians Ought to Believe

27840609Creeds have functioned as educational instruments in the life of the Christian Church since its inception. One of the most formative of such Creeds, especially within early Christianity was the Apostles’ Creed. It is here that orthodoxy concerning the basic beliefs of the Christian faith has been both preserved and passed to subsequent generations. In What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’ Creed, respected New Testament scholar Michael F. Bird uses the framework of the Apostles’ Creed and establishes a working and palpable summary of core Christianity.

What Christians Ought to Believe is a brief book that would be ideal as an entry level college or adult Sunday school textbook. Bird covers the entirety of the Apostles’ Creed and provides clear and witty (both characteristic of Bird) explanation along the way. For example, the section titled “Believing in the Father” includes numerous subsections, such as the one true God, the triune God, a father of us all, God Almighty, creator and creation, and more. These subsections are functional explanations of the theological implications to be understood (according to Bird) from within the specific line or phrase from the Apostles’ Creed—in this case, “…God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

The book opens with a helpful introduction that allows the reader to better grasp the usefulness of Creeds within our increasingly Creed-less Christian culture. This introduction both justifies Bird’s work and sets the stage for the exploration that follows. Each chapter concludes with a summary of the “Story” to bring the pieces of the study together and a recommended reading for further study—many of which will point the reader to Bird’s larger work Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Zondervan, 2013). After walking the reader through the various aspects of the Apostles’ Creed, Bird closes the volume with an appendix on the early text and tradition of the Creed and a number of indexes.

Overall, I was very impressed with the brevity and clarity of this volume. Bird is generally an engaging author, and this volume exemplifies that characteristic well. As with any work related to Christian theology, the opportunity for disagreement with the author will arise at numerous points. However, as one who sometimes disagrees with Bird, I found his treatment here both evenhanded and well-informed. Consequently, after some consideration, I will likely be using this book in the near future as the basis for an adult education curriculum. It’s an easy to read, thought-provoking, and engaging introduction to the Christian faith that is firmly grounded in the history of the Christian church. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Mosaic of Christian Belief

26598226The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (2nd ed.) by Roger E. Olson is an up-to-date, revised and expanded exploration into the history of Christian doctrine. As with the previous edition, Olson does an excellent service to the reader by thematically tracing the contours of Christianity down through the centuries in and easy-to-read package. Olson carefully unearths much of the consensus teaching to be discovered in the history of the Church, including details surrounding various areas of doctrinal diversity, and adds an additional chapter on the Holy Spirit.

There is much to be excited about here. First, and probably foremost, Olson does an incredible job keeping his audience in focus as he surveys the land of theological belief. Olson makes historical theology exciting and accessible for the nonspecialist. Second, Olson’s overall tone is to be appreciated as he interacts with various figures and ideas that have plagued the history of Christianity—some for good, others not so much. Third, while addressing various doctrines (divine revelation, the Trinity, divine providence, Christology, Soteriology, Eschatology, etc.), Olson constructs a picture (or mosaic) of Christian belief as it has been handed down through the centuries. The benefits of this are immediately accessible to the reader and compound as the journey continues.

Those familiar with Olson’s work will be able to easily detect his theological bias and Arminian presuppositions. This framework is visible throughout and should be noted. However, compared to some of Olson’s other works, The Mosaic of Christian Belief is much more mild and balanced. If you identify with Olson’s tradition, you will likely find his analysis helpful and cooperative in your convictions. Those who do not identify with Olson’s theological tradition will unavoidably approach disagreement more frequently than others. Still, as one who rarely agrees with Olson, for the reasons mentioned above (and more), I found The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity to be an excellent (possibly even one of the best) introduction to historical theology.

 

I received a review copy of this books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity

173611Paul Barnett (Ph.D., London University) is recognized by many in the field of New Testament studies as one of the most respected historical scholars on the origins of Christianity. As well as being an Emeritus Faculty member of Moore Theological College, Barnett is currently a fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and a teaching fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada. Barnett has authored numerous books, including a number of commentaries and monographs related to the various aspects of New Testament studies.

Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times has been long acknowledged as a quintessential classic at the top of Barnett’s lengthy literary corpus. Barnett guides the reader through the complexities of the Hellenistic backdrop that characterized much of the culture during the ministry of Jesus—from the incarnation to the resurrection—and the development of the New Testament Church. The approach is both comprehensive and readable, and Barnett firmly roots his research in primary source material. This affords the reader a better grasp of the New Testament from within its historical context, and thus, allows for a better recognition of the significance of the early Jesus movement within the first century world.

The scope of this volume is quite impressive. Not only is the reader exposed to the historical landscape of the New Testament, but Barnett has likewise interwoven detailed interaction with contemporary critical scholarship concerning the Historical Jesus and other related issues. It is here that Barnett does well in demonstrating the historical shortcomings of the critical attempt to construct a chasm between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Moreover, the reader will certainly appreciate the emphasis Barnett places on the Christological motivation that underlined the missionary effort of the early Christian community, as well as the imperative nature of a bodily resurrection in early Christian worship. This is by any measure a breath of fresh air brought to a table that is far too often plagued with canonical discontinuity and confusion, and for this readers everywhere should rejoice!

Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times by Paul Barnett is an invaluable resource that should be read and re-read by anyone interested in the origins of early Christianity. Barnett is judicious and clear as usual, and his treatment therein is nothing short of comprehensive. Barnett leaves the eager reader with nearly no stones left to turn. This is a volume that should be consulted by many and done so often, both in the church and in the academy. It comes highly recommended!

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Baptist Story

23492913The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A. G. Haykin is a landmark textbook on the history of the Baptist movement. Chute, Finn, and Haykin guide the reader through roughly four hundred years of Baptist history characterized by three key interrelated themes: “promoting liberty of conscience, following Christ’s will in our individual lives and churches, and proclaiming the gospel everywhere” (p. 344). Still, Chute, Finn, and Haykin are well aware that Baptists haven’t always lived up to these ideals, and to the benefit of the reader, the authors aren’t afraid of being transparent along the way.

The Baptist Story is divided into four major sections: (1) Baptists in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, (2) Baptists in the Nineteenth Century, (3) Baptists in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, and (4) Baptist Beliefs. The majority of the book is devoted to the earlier years of the Baptist movement, namely the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, as these years are instrumental to the modern expression of the Baptist story. Chute, Finn, and Haykin do the reader a favor therein by integrating stories of non-English speaking Baptists, ethnic minorities, women, and minority theological traditions within the context of historic, orthodox Christianity.

One of the clearest strengths of The Baptist Story is its treatment of the African-American Baptist tradition. Chute, Finn, and Haykin rightly credit George Liele, a freed slave turned Baptist missionary, with being the pioneer of the Baptist missionary movement. Liele planted a church in Savannah, Georgia, prior to the close of the eighteenth century, before relocating to Jamaica as an indentured servant, where he formed a small congregation in 1783—a decade before the missionary work of William Carey in India. The story and impact of George Liele is both encouraging and inspirational, and Chute, Finn, and Haykin do well in making it a central treatment of the book.

There are a number of other strengths that could be mentioned, including the usefulness of the volume within the classroom setting, the clear and concise communication of each of the most significant events and themes within the Baptist movement, the intentional desire to uncover and unearth unfamiliar faces within the Baptist tradition, the utilization of photographs and textboxes throughout, and much more. However, the omission of several important figures and events proves to be an unfortunate weakness to an otherwise outstanding book. For example, while Chute, Finn, and Haykin rightly recognize R. Albert Mohler as a significant Baptist voice at the turn of the century, it would have been appropriate to say more than a few sentences about the controversy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary when Mohler became president (p. 289). For some these omissions will be minor, but for others, the omissions of such significant events and figures may compromise the usefulness of the book. I stand with the former.

The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement by Anthony L. Chute, Nathan A. Finn, and Michael A. G. Haykin is an excellent and engaging journey through the historical landscape of one of today’s most influential religious groups. Chute, Finn, and Haykin are well-positioned tour guides for this journey, and the reader is certain to benefit greatly. If you are looking for a book that will educate and encourage your heart toward the mission of Christ, past, present, and future, then this book comes highly recommended.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: John Calvin

0664231810T. H. L. Parker is a widely respected authority on the life, ministry, and thought of John Calvin. Parker is the author of numerous books related to Calvin, including, Calvin: An Introduction to His Thought, Calvin’s Preaching, Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God: Studies in the Theology of John Calvin, and Portrait of Calvin. Parker’s career has in many ways been Calvin-saturated, and the present volume displays this reality extremely well.

John Calvin: A Biography beautifully chaperons the reader from the early years of Calvin’s childhood and youth, all the way unto his anonymous burial in a common cemetery. The roadmap that is traveled between the dates that would have been on Calvin’s tombstone, had he been buried with one, is both exciting and encouraging, and Parker masterfully illustrates the story as would a close friend or family member. The book itself is extremely well-written and easy to digest. Although some historical knowledge about the context is assumed by the author, and, therefore, will lack the needed explanation for some.

The reader will be hard-pressed if tasked the duty of deciding which sections of the book are to be considered most helpful, as Parker does an excellent job throughout. The book is both well documented and thoroughly researched. My only complaint is the utilization of endnotes rather than footnotes. Nevertheless, I think most readers prone to pick up a biography on John Calvin will appreciate the interwoven discussion about the development of the Christianae Religionis Institutio—more commonly known as, The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Parker also has an outstanding and informative retelling of the trial and death of Servetus—another event most readers will be eager to engage with concerning John Calvin. Furthermore, Parker has also included two very important appendices dealing with the dating for various events in Calvin’s life and Calvin’s conversion story.

John Calvin: A Biography by T. H. L. Parker is an authoritative, accurate, and informative representation of one of the most influential individuals of all time. Parker has displayed his knowledge of “all-things” Calvin well, and the book reads more like a memoir from a close friend than an interested biographer. While there remains to this day some several hundred biographies about the man John Calvin, few will come as close to the man himself than this. If you are looking for a concise engagement into the life, ministry, and thought of John Calvin, John Calvin: A Biography by T. H. L. Parker should be your first stop. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.