Review: “40 Questions about the Historical Jesus” by C. Marvin Pate


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40 Questions About the Historical Jesus fills a niche that relatively few other books on Jesus occupy. As the book’s introduction states, “there are many books that focus only on the background issues of the relationship of the historical Jesus to the Christ of faith” (9). These are issues of the historicity of the Gospels, what we can truly know about the man named Jesus of Nazareth that lived 2,000 years ago, and the like. “On the other hand, many other fine books about Jesus only summarize his life, ministry, death and resurrection as based on the Gospels” (ibid.). So some books primarily focus on the background while others focus on the contents of the Gospels as we now have them.

Both of these approaches have their values, but this is a book that distinctly aims to incorporate both background issues to Jesus and the Gospels as well as discussing the content of the Gospels. A brief glance at the table of contents reveals how Pate goes about this: Part 1 (Questions 1-11) addresses background questions about the historical Jesus, Part 2 (Q’s 12-19) includes questions on Jesus’ birth and childhood, Part 3 (20-32) covers questions about Jesus’ life and teachings, and Part 4 (33-40) zeroes in on the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

How does the book do in accomplishing its aims? I was impressed by the scope of the questions (everything from “When was Jesus born?” to “Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?” to “What is the main message of [Matthew/Mark/Luke/John] about Jesus?”) and by the well-researched and thoughtful answers.

Of course, like most books trying to serve as an introduction and reference to a subject as vast as the background to and contents of the accounts about Jesus, this is far from an exhaustive list of questions. For example, aware of some who question whether Jesus was actually crucified on a Friday or perhaps was crucified on a Wednesday (mainly due to a rigid interpretation of “3 days and 3 nights”), I tried to find a specific answer to those exact objections here in this book. Question 37 answers “Did Jesus remain in the tomb three nights and three days?” but mainly does so by presenting positive evidence for a buried-on-Friday-raised-on-Sunday interpretation rather than answering specific claims to the contrary. This is sufficient, but not precisely what I was looking for.

Still, this is a great resource that serves as an excellent starting place for investigating questions about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

4 stars out of 5


C. Marvin Pate. 40 Questions About The Historical Jesus. Grand Rapids, Kregel Academic, 2015. 408 pp. Paperback. $23.99.

Thanks to Kregal Academic for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

7 Quotes Worth Sharing from “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis


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“Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” —1 Corinthians  11:1 (ESV)

Thomas à Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ has a strong claim to be the most-read book ever written aside from the Bible. What The Pilgrim’s Progress is to works written in English, The Imitation of Christ is to everything ever written.

So what’s so special about it? Why have countless individuals over the centuries since its publication treasured it and read it again and again?

Here are seven quotes to give you a taste for yourself of Thomas à Kempis’ classic on the Christian life. I highly recommend it—it’s one I enjoyed,was challenged by, and know that I will reread in the future.

1. Learning Must be Accompanied by Grace and Love

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? (1)

2. Liberty and joy are incomplete without the fear of the Lord.

No liberty is true and no joy is genuine unless it is founded in the fear of the Lord and a good conscience (18).

3.Christ is the Only One who will never fail us.

He who clings to a creature will fall with its frailty, but he who gives himself to Jesus will ever be strengthened….Cling, therefore, to Jesus in life and death; trust yourself to the glory of Him who alone can help you when all others fail (34).

4. Following Christ entails suffering as well as consolation.

Jesus has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear his cross. he has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him (39).

5. No one (or no thing) is good except God alone.

He who considers anything great except the one, immense, eternal good will long be little and lie groveling on the earth. Whatever is not God is nothing and must be accounted as nothing (79).

6. The Disciple should glory in God alone.

Let Your name, not mine, be praised. Let Your work, not mine, be magnified, Let Your holy name be blessed, but let no human praise be given to me. You are my glory. You are the joy of my heart.

7. It is Grace alone that enables any goodness on our part.

What am I without grace, but dead wood, a useless branch, fit only to be cast away?
Let your grace, therefore, go before me and follow me, O Lord, and make me always intent upon good works, through Christ Jesus, Your Son.

10 Quotes Worth Sharing from “Preaching” by Tim Keller


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Tim Keller’s Preaching is another home-run. While perhaps not as life-changing or spectacular as Prayer, this volume is filled with insights and wisdom from cover to cover. The chapter on “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind” and the bibliography of the best other books on preaching are each worth the price of the book alone! 

And you don’t need to be a preacher to read it. “This book,” says Keller in the introduction, “aims to be a resource for all those who communicate their Christian faith in any way” (p. 4).

Here are ten quotes to give you a taste of Keller’s manifesto on preaching.

1. The Holy Spirit is critical in preaching

…while the difference between a bad sermon and a good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, the difference between good preaching and great preaching lies mainly in the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the listener as well as the preacher (11).

2. True and effective preaching must center on Christ.

To preach the text truly and the gospel every time, to engage the culture and reach the heart, to cooperate with the Spirit’s mission in the world—we must preach Christ from all of Scripture (23).

3. To leave Christ out of a sermon is to not finish the task of preaching.

Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can (48).

4. You cannot preach the gospel without preaching Christ.

To preach the gospel every time is to preach Christ every time, from every passage (57).

(sensing a theme, here?)

5. Culture shapes us more than we would care to admit.

It is a mistake to think that faithful believers in our time are not profoundly shaped by the narratives of modernity. We certainly are, and so when you unveil these narratives and interact with them in the ordinary course of preaching the Word, you help them see where they themselves may be more influenced by their society than by the Scripture, and you give them important ways of communicating their faith to others (118).

6. We find our true selves in Christ.

The process of sanctification, of growth into the likeness of Christ, is also, then, the process of becoming the true self God created us to be (139).

7. The gospel is “the right side of history.”

Such will always be the case. The philosophies of the world will come and go, rise and fall, but the wisdom we preach—The Word of God—will still be here (156).

8. Preaching must reach and capture the heart.

What the heart most wants the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable. It is all-important, then, that preaching move the heart to stop trusting and loving other things more than God….People, therefore, change not by merely changing their thinking but by changing what they love most (159-emphasis added).

9. Preaching can do so much more than just convey information.

A sermon that just informs the mind can give people things to do after they go home, but a sermon that moves the heart from loving career or acclaim or one’s own independence to loving God and his Son changes listeners on the spot (165).

10. End every sermon pointing the listeners to worship Christ

Resist ending your sermon with “live like this,” and rather end with some form of “You can’t live like this. Oh, but there’s one who did! And through faith with him you can begin to live like this too.” The change in the room will be palpable as the sermon moves from primarily being about them to being about Jesus. They will have shifted from learning to worship (179).

MLK The Baptist Preacher


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Among many, many other things, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist preacher. Much of the strength, dignity, and beauty of his message came from a worldview aligned with the gospel and in service of the King. In celebration of this day, his life, and his legacy, here are a few quotes of his from sermons:

  • “The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial” (from “Pilgrimage to Non-Violence,” 1960).
  • “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies” (from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon, 1957).

You can read more about Dr. King’s faith in this article on Christianity Today, where I read the above quotes: Today I’m Grateful for Dr. King

FREEsources: “Glorious Ruin” by Tullian Tchividjian


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Tullian Tchividjian’s book “Glorious Ruin” is FREE today (6/21) for Kindle, Nook, and many other e-reader devices. Just follow the link and pick out your preferred retailer and boom-you’ve got a free book!

From the publisher:

In this world, one thing is certain: Everybody hurts. Suffering may take the form of tragedy, heartbreak, or addiction. Or it could be something more mundane (but no less real) like resentment, loneliness, or disappointment. But there’s unfortunately no such thing as a painless life. In Glorious Ruin, best-selling author Tullian Tchividjian takes an honest and refreshing look at the reality of suffering, the ways we tie ourselves in knots trying to deal with it, and the comfort of the gospel for those who can’t seem to fix themselves—or others.

This is not so much a book about Why God allows suffering or even How we should approach suffering—it is a book about the tremendously liberating and gloriously counterintuitive truth of a God who suffers with you and for you. It is a book, in other words, about the kind of hope that takes the shape of a cross.

Via David C Cook Ebooks

Book Review: One Way Love


one-way-love-book It wasn’t until his recent exit from The Gospel Coalition that I started paying attention to Tullian Tchividjian. I’d heard his name before, read some of his blogs, and knew he was one of Billy Graham’s grandsons, but I couldn’t tell you much about him or what made him distinctive. But when he got caught up in the middle of a bit of controversy with TGC, I decided to start paying closer attention. There’s a bit of a debate/discussion in the Church right now over sanctification: what should the believer’s approach to it be, how should we preach on it, where does the power and motivation come from, etc. On the one hand you have folks who emphasize our own effort partnering with God in the process. On the other (and this is the camp Tchividjian is in), you have those whose sole focus is God’s grace-any effort on our part cannot be really mandated or exhorted but rather must come solely as a response to God’s grace. I personally think both sides are looking at the same coin and arguing that what they see on their side is more important. In other words, they are more similar than they would care to admit. But I had more of an outsider’s perspective on it than anything-I wasn’t up to date on what each side had said in the past and what they really believed. This is the lens that I read “One Way Love” through-what does Tullian say about the role of grace in our lives once we’ve trusted Christ with our life and salvation? But that’s not the only answer that I got in the process. First, the Pros of the book:

  • Tullian shares much of his personal story throughout the book. To say that he identifies with the Prodigal Son is an understatement. I hugely appreciated his humility and vulnerability-not many believers, let alone pastors, would feel comfortable being so open about where they’ve come from.
  • Tullian’s writing style is conversational and warm-he’s not writing from some distant ivory tower or insecurely lashing out at his critics, but rather sharing his life and beliefs. It’s easy to identify with and to like Tullian.
  • Tullian uses many great sources to add to or flesh out some of his points. Tim Keller, Jerry Bridges, Brennan Manning, and Paul M.F. Zahl are just a few of those he references. You get the feeling that Tullian’s done his homework in researching what others have to say about grace and its role in our lives.
  • Tullian champions grace. You can’t read too much of the book without his passion and love for the grace of God dripping off the page. This is a very good and refreshing thing.

There are, however, some Cons to the book:

  • The book’s structure. Tullian says in the beginning that the book is adapted from a series of sermons…and it shows. It’s not a major flaw, but there are definitely ways where the book might have worked better if it had been designed as a book from the beginning. The book can be a tad repetitive at times.
  • Tullian seems to generalizes those who are on the other side of the sanctification divide. This is, to an extent, unavoidable. But I couldn’t help but think several times “Do people really preach that way? Do people really teach that way?” I know Tullian has a lot of personal experience here that I don’t…but I don’t feel he backed up some of the claims he made about the “opponents of grace alone.”

In summary: I enjoyed “One Way Love” and had some definite personal takeaways. His descriptions of what unconditional grace looks like in marriage and relationships in general were especially convicting and inspiring. My eyes were opened to just how conditional my love often is and I was reminded of my constant need of grace.  post-tbird I also thought his discussion in Chapter 10 of how total depravity affects Christians both before and after conversion to be very interesting (and worth some more thought). As Tullian says, “We never outgrow our need for grace–ever” (p 219). post-tbird  This book is an excellent reminder of that, wherever we are on our journey of faith.

Book Review: Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret


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I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me. -Hudson Taylor

This week I finished reading Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. I’ve been reading more biographies lately, specifically of missionaries and other great men of faith. My interest was piqued when I read Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer but didn’t really become a priority until reading  Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot, which I briefly reviewed on Goodreads. I was deeply impacted by both of these men’s heart to know God, approach to life, and lasting legacy. And so I turned my attention to the life of Hudson Taylor.

I’ll confess right now that I didn’t know much about Hudson Taylor himself or the geopolitical and spiritual history of China in the 19th Century before reading this book. In that sense, the book was hugely educational and informative for me. I feel that I have a much better sense of Hudson Taylor’s life, beliefs, and impact, as well as a more complete knowledge of Chinese history (especially as it relates to Chinese believers).

The book was written by one of Hudson Taylor’s sons and daughter-in-law around 1932 and recounts all of his life, from his upbringing and conversion to his death. This lends a few advantages and disadvantages to the book. In the pros column I would say that the book’s comprehensive scope gives a wonderful picture of just how far God took Taylor and the amazing things he used him for. As the decades passed, Hudson Taylor’s belief in what God was able to accomplish continually grew until he was trusting God for answers to prayers that would frankly seem ridiculous without the innumerable assurance of God’s faithfulness he received. In this way, the book functions as a guide to understanding how Hudson Taylor could believe God and an invitation to the reader to trust in the same way.

The other side of the coin is that the book’s scope is just entirely too large to give a detailed account of everything it mentions. Many times it will sum up a missionary journey, a series of events, or even a few years in a few short sentences. In several instances, I found myself wanting more details, more substance, and more meat on the bones of the narrative.

But the authors’ concern is not so much detailing every single occurrence of Hudson Taylor’s ministry as in revealing the heart of the man himself. What was his spiritual secret that enabled him to accomplish all the amazing things he did? What drove him to push ever-deeper into inland China to reach the unreached?

In his own words, Taylor answers that question with a name: Jesus.

What, can Jesus meet my need? Yes, and more than meet it. No matter how intricate my path, how difficult my service; no matter how sad my bereavement, how far away my loved ones; no matter how helpless I am, how deep are my soul-yearnings–Jesus can meet all, and more than meet.

And that is the book’s greatest aspect: a view into a heart blazing for Christ and burdened to share the gospel with the unreached. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul gives the Corinthian church one of the simplest pictures of discipleship and growth in Christ when he tells them, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Hudson Taylor was a man who loved and imitated Christ well. Tweet this May books like this encourage and embolden us to imitate him and others like him who, in the midst of all their human failings and shortcomings, fell deeply in love with Christ and pursued him with all they had.

 

What’s a biography that you’ve read lately? What’s a story you’ve heard that inspired or helped you in your pursuit of Christ?

 

Calling: As Simple As G+P+V?


A recent article on Time.com titled “What Should You Do In Life?” had a short formula to help answer the article’s titular question. But surely a short little formula can’t answer a question that important! Or can it? I drew out the formula on a napkin like the article suggested you could do:

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What the equation promises is that your calling is the sum of your:

  • (G)ifts
    • These are the things we’re good at doing. Our talents or skills, natural or developed.
  • (P)assions
    • The things you care about-that get you fired up.
  • (V)alues
    • The preferences you have in how you do things and live life.

So just figure out what you’re good at, what you care about, and your preferences in how you do them and you’re set! Done. Pretty easy, right?

Well…

Maybe not.

Maybe what you’re good at isn’t something you’re particularly excited or passionate about. Maybe you can’t come up with much that you’re good at or maybe no one does what you care about in a way that you value and would want to learn or imitate. Maybe you just have THREE more confusing questions instead of one now (“What are my gifts? What am I passionate about? What do I value?”). Maybe x, maybe y, or maybe even z!

That’s a lot of maybes. A lot of uncertainty. And it can be a scary place to be.

No matter what our questions might be, Christ is our certainty. Before all else, Christ calls us to himself.  post-tbird

“Follow me” Jesus says in Matthew 4:19 (ESV, emphasis mine) to a group of fishermen about to go through some major job transition.

“Come to me” Jesus says to “all who are weary and heavy laden” in Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest.”

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” he says to the crowd at the Feast of Booths in John 7:37.

The questions of career, vocation, etc are important ones, even critical! But the first and most important question has already been answered definitively at the Cross for us. This gives us hope in the rest of the questions.