12.29.2014

Book Review: Urban Apologetics

"Urban Apologetics": the title of this book greatly intrigued me when I heard of it since I am a member of a local church whose building is located in an urban environment and is also beginning to take greater strides to bring the gospel to the urban environment in which our building is located. This book, by Christopher W. Brooks, campus dean at Moody Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Evangel Ministries church in Detroit, serves as a good primer for people seeking to sharpen their thinking and living as they bring the gospel to those who live in an urban environment.

The first two topics Brooks addresses, the relevance of the gospel to the modern city and the two sided-coin of evangelism and apologetics, lay the foundation of Brooks' later chapters which address specific hot-topic issues relevant to America's urban communities.  Brooks' stated goal of this book is to "bring about a greater connection between urban Christians and those who do the work of apologetics and theology" (p. 15). I believe this book serves as a good introductory primer for prospective urban apologists.

The effective urban apologist must be "embodied", pointing to the need for boots on the ground, living in the midst of cities. Social programs attempting to repair the unique destruction sin wreaks in inner-cities or touch and go evangelism blitzes with no remaining presence are both lacking. The effective urban apologist must live out what he preaches in the midst of the city he is heralding the gospel to.

Brooks mentions several other important points in his opening chapters - the rise of "apatheism" and the continuing decline of cultural Christianity in cities, the need to address unique issues urban people face, and the importance of coupling good deeds with gospel proclamation. Brooks strikes the balance well between good deeds and proclamation when he says, "that although love is the primary ethic of the church, winning people to Christ is and always will be the primary mission of the church" (p. 36). To miss the biblical mission of the church would destine an apologetics book to failure, thankfully Brooks retains a proper understanding of the church's mission when considering apologetics and evangelism. Brooks also properly defines the purpose of apologetics as evangelism (p. 40). I personally enjoyed the emphasis Brooks gave to empowering individuals to effectively engage the people in their circles of relationship versus an event-driven kind of evangelism. It will take every man, woman, and child of Christ' church to reach every urban man, woman, and child who have not yet encountered the gospel of Jesus.

The bulk of Brooks' book lies in chapters addressing issues especially pertinent to urban environments: abortion, sexuality, family, religious pluralism, and social justice. In the short space of this book, Brooks gives a proper understanding of the challenges at hand with each respective topic and issues some introductory arguments to deconstruct misunderstandings of and challenges to the respective biblical view on each topic. These chapters should prove helpful to the urban apologist. Brooks, an African-American pastor in Detroit, writes with the insight only gained by living in and ministering to such urban environments over many years.

As with any book review, I need to address the points of disagreement or contention. While I had no strong disagreements with the arguments Brooks presents here, I particularly was curious of his foundational approach to apologetics. One may suspect that the author comes from a more evidentialist apologetic approach based on certain statements he makes. For example when Brooks is addressing the negative consequences of homosexuality, he seems to assign a measure of authority to scientific social research on homosexuality alongside Scripture. I would give Brooks the benefit of the doubt here that he likely does not hold scientific research to the authority level of Scripture even though I would like some more clarity on his approach to addressing secular arguments and the use and authority of Scripture in such arguments.

Overall, I would recommend this book as a helpful primer to Christians seeking to more effectively engage their urban neighbors as they seek to present the gospel to every man, woman, and child.

Note: I received this book for free from Kregel Publishers in exchange for an unbiased review. Please see the author's page here.

5.11.2014

Book Review: Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl

I recently read a book which I normally wouldn't read. I don't think that I, a mid-20s accountant with a minor obsession for theology, hymns, old guns, and scotch, would be considered the target audience for "Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom" by Paula Hendricks. However, as luck (and the wonderful connections Twitter can make) will have it, I have somehow found myself in the midst of the target audience of a gaggle of teenage girls swooning after dreamy junior-high boys. As abnormal the topic of this book was compared to my preferred genres and topics, I really like it and would recommend it.

Paula Hendricks, the self-confessedly boy-crazy girl, who blogs at paulawrites.com and is a regular contributor to the True Woman blog, has penned a helpful and brief memoir about her journey from seeking joy in boys to seeking (and finding) her joy in Christ.

Paula breaks down her story in two main parts: her search for happiness in a relationship and her "breaking and remaking" effected by Jesus' gospel. I don't need to be a boy-crazy girl to relate to the experiences she shares and the pains and dead ends of making a relationship an idol. Paula writes each chapter in a colloquial tone which is easy to read and well suited for her presumed teenage girl audience. Each chapter also has questions for reflection which were thought out quite well and would certainly prove helpful.

As a (rather) amateur theologian coming to a book which I normally would not read, I was very curious to see how Scripture would be applied and if it would be handled faithfully. I was quite pleased with Paula's use of the Scriptures and detected no real errors in exegesis or application. On the contrary, I often found myself underlining and marking up many passages which I found to be faithful interpretations and applications of the text of Scripture. For example, I found the tremendously encouraging assertion, "God is a Person - one who's more interested in securing my forever happiness than my temporary happiness" (p.13). Here is a woman who recognizes something that I fear much of the Church misses: the real personhood of God.

One more thing I loved that Paula wrote, which I think shows that she is a trustworthy writer who is planted on some firm doctrinal ground as to how God reveals Himself: "And then I heard Him. Jesus. He spoke to me through Matthew 11:28-30..." (p.92). A writer working through difficult desires and life situations who doesn't look to her circumstances or mystical experiences to hear from God, but hears his voice in the Scriptures? I can really dig that. Oh, and she quoted a favorite hymn of mine and a Thomas Chalmers sermon, so perhaps you should take this review with a grain of salt. Or you can pick up a copy of the book and read it. If you are a teenage girl...or not.

1.10.2014

Book Review: What The Old Testament Authors Really Cared About

When I first heard of the title of this book, I was a little skeptical. This guy has the gumption to tell us all what the Old Testament authors really cared about? Pretentiousness in the title! Surely this book can't live up to its claim. Welp, I was wrong. This book, edited by Jason DeRouchie, is an excellent introduction to the Old Testament with a keen focus on authorial intent. In this review, I will offer a brief summary of the book and then my reflections.

In this Old Testament survey, several authors and professors walk through each book in the Old Testament in the order of the Hebrew scriptures, which has a definite impact when it comes to understanding the theme of certain books (ex: 1-2 Chronicles). In each chapter, the respective author walks through the purpose(s) each scriptural author had for writing by answering the whos, whens, wheres, and whys of the book. DeRouchie states plainly the purpose of this book: "this survey attempts to present the essence of what is revealed in the Old Testament, with a conscious eye toward the fulfillment found in Jesus in the New Testament" (p.13, emphasis original). This book pairs very well with other works on biblical theology. The chapters are sprinkled with relevant pictures, sidebars, visual and textual graphs, and most importantly, solid biblical exegesis - as far as this amateur theologian can tell.

I was very pleased with the overall content of this book, especially considering that I had never read almost any author contained in this volume before. There are too many helpful things I underlined and noted to share here in this review. I only noted a few items of biblical interpretation which seemed to be a little bit of a stretch. Either way, such items were very minor and not essential to the main meaning of the text in question.

Here is one sample of something in the chapter on Lamentations I found encouraging and readily applicable to my life: "[Speaking of God's faithfulness as the basis for hope in suffering]...therefore, those who look to God have real hope - the confident assurance that he will meet the repentant with real mercy in accordance with his character and promise" (p.405).

I heartily commend this book to everyone who desires to get to know that which composes a large majority of the Bible.

Per FTC guidelines, I note that I received this book for free from Kregel Publications in exchange for an unbiased review.