Archive for July, 2010

Review of Apparent Danger

July 28, 2010

Apparent Danger: The Pastor of America’s First Megachurch and the Texas Murder Trial of the Decade in the 1920s
©2010 by David Stokes
Published by Bascom Hill Books
391 pages

Growing up as an independent fundamental Baptist (IFB) and graduating from an IFB college, I was taught that Dr. J. Frank Norris was a hero. He was one of the founding fathers of (Baptist) fundamentalism. He not only was the pastor of one megachurch but two megachurches at the same time! This was before (1930’s and 1940’s) there were megachurches or “virtual” campuses. In the late 1940’s the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth Texas and the Temple Baptist Church of Detroit Michigan had a combined membership of around 25,000! The fact that Norris killed a man only added to his fundamentalist street cred. Both the Bible Baptist Fellowship and the World Baptist Fellowship owe their genesis to Norris.

This is a fascinating book about a sensational murder trial. I will not spoil the book by giving you the jury’s decision. The author certainly has his opinion of guilt or innocence. You can decide for yourself if Norris was a murderer or not. What I found more fascinating was the personality and pulpit style of Dr. Norris (yes the “doctorate” was honorary in true IFB fashion). Although the author shows some bias, this was not a pastor to emulate. His un-Christlike and un-biblical manner speaks volumes about a movement who would consider this man a hero.

Review of Unburdened: the secret to letting God carry the things that weigh you down

July 23, 2010

Unburdened: the secret to letting God carry the things that weigh you down
©2010 by Chris Tiegreen
Published by Saltriver
219 pages

Chris Tiegreen is a very engaging writer who works for Walk thru the Bible. He is currently the editor for indeed magazine, which the Walk thru the Bible website describes a “deeper life” devotional. He as authored a series of one-year devotionals for Walk thru the Bible and four other books. He comes across as very honest and sincere, willing to share his personal struggles and shortcomings.

The major premise of this book is that we as believers can obtain a level of freedom that non-Christians cannot. Our burdens do not have to defeat us because we have God’s promises. “The unburdened life isn’t so much about avoiding burdens as it is about carrying them with the strength of Another” (p.12). We must “spend more time dwelling on how big God is than on how big our problems are” (p.34).

There is much good counsel in this book. Tiegreen encourages us to trust in God, to rely on his promises. He challenges us to draw strength from the Psalms, which “are more than historical information. They are case studies” (p. 75). He warns against being preoccupied with our own agendas and fears of the future. Good advice all, but I cannot recommend the book.

In his introduction he admits that the deeper life movement has influenced him. In particular he mentions three books; Let Go, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret and Absolute Surrender. I was familiar with Hudson Taylor and Andrew Murray (Absolute Surrender) but not with Let Go, which was written by Francois Fenelon. Tiegreen refers to Fenelon as a “seventeenth-century French theologian” (p. 105). He was actually a Roman Catholic priest who advocated Quietism .

This influence shows up in the book. While discussing different types of trust in God he writes
“Another kind of trust involves believing God for something he has specifically promised us. When we’ve prayed a request and received a confirmation from him by faith – relevant and pointed Bible verses brought to our attention, a timely word in sermons or from other believers, outward signs that confirm God’s voice to us, the repeated whisper of his Spirit in our hearts, and any of the other ways he speaks…” (p. 87).

Later he gives a personal anecdote
“I had been weighed down by a huge prayer request for a very long time. I was convinced God had promised the answer I was asking for, but the answer lingered. And lingered. And lingered some more. Anyone who has waited on God to fulfill a promise can understanding the pain of waiting – and the questions that come with it. Did I hear him wrong? Have I been presumptuous? Am I believing him for something he never promised? Have I missed his answer somehow? Did I get disqualified by sinning or losing faith?” (p. 167)

The things that God has “specifically promised us” are in the Scriptures. They are objective truth. There is no need for subjective “confirmations.” The “other ways” God speaks are not whispers and signs, but the Word of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). The questions that he asks on p. 167 are the wrong questions. Did he hear God wrong? I don’t know, was what he heard from the pages of holy writ? Was he presumptuous? I don’t know, was this something promised in the Bible? Did he believe for something God never promised? Again, that depends, was it in the Scriptures?

In the end-notes, Tiegreen references over 175 Bible passages. I only wish he didn’t wonder off the sure-footed path of Scripture onto the slippery slope of subjectivism.

This book freely provided for review by Tyndale House Publishers and there was no expectation of a positive review.

A Review of Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word

July 14, 2010

Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God’s Word
©2010 by Nigel Beynon & Andrew Sach
Published by Crossway
158 pages

My maternal grandfather never finished the eighth grade. But like many of his generation, what he lacked in book smarts he made up in practical skills. He was a jack-of-all-trades. His garage looked like a hardware store. When the Lord called him home, he had more than enough tools to spread around to his three grandsons. In fact, in the twenty-five years since he died, I have had to buy very few tools. Unfortunately I don’t know what to do with most of the tools in my toolbox. Handyman I am not.

Thankfully I am little handier with the sixteen tools in Beynon & Sach’s toolbox. Regardless of your interpretive skills however, this book is worth reading. The authors, who both minister in Great Britain, have written an easy to read, very practical manual on how to understand the Bible better. They sharpened these tools while working with college age students. I believe students even younger would be able to profit from this book.

Their high view of scripture is demonstrated while describing “some of the joys of understanding the Bible correctly:
• You hear the voice of your heavenly Father speaking to you in the Bible
• You learn what he is really like from his own lips…
• You discover the wonderful truth of salvation and how to be sure of heaven
• You find out things that are on God’s heart…
• The truth actually changes you. Get this: it doesn’t just inform you of things, it does things in you.” (p. 12)

The sixteen tools that will help you dig deeper are: The Author’s Purpose, Context, Structure, Linking Words, Parallels, Narrator’s Comment, Vocabulary, Translations, Tone and Feel, Repetition, Quotation/Allusion, Genre, Copycat, The Bible Time Line, Who Am I? And So What? Each tool gets its own chapter and includes examples and exercises.

“Author’s Purpose is king. It is the tool par excellence, the Swiss army knife from which all of the other tools fold out, and which keeps them all together. In some ways, the whole point of having a Repetition tool or a Linking Word tool or any other tool is to help you to get a hold of the Author’s Purpose. Never forget it!” (p. 30)

Next comes the Context tool. Beynon and Sach contrast reading an encyclopedia and a novel. Many people read the Bible like an encyclopedia, but it should be read more like a novel because context matters. This is seen in the Linking Word tool. “If, since, consequently, for this reason, therefore, because, so that – these are all linking words and they’re worth their weight in gold. These words can help us to see the flow of an argument; they reveal cause and effect relationships between different statements.” (p.49)

Although they recommend reading a variety of translations, they caution the reader to make sure they read at least one literal translation.

There is a statement that you should be aware of. While discussing the Genre tool they state that Genesis chapter one is controversial because of the debate “on whether the creation in six days refers to a literal period of 6 x 24 hours, or whether it is a poetic way of speaking about the careful ordered way in which God made the universe.” (p.105)

The only tool that left me conflicted was the Copycat tool. In fact, the authors seem to be a little tentative on it themselves. They start with a caveat. “Not everything done by a Bible character is good. And even good things they do are not always normative; that is, they may not hold for all Christians at all times.” “To put this another way, there is a danger in mistaking something that the Bible describes for something that it prescribes.” (p.112)

Perhaps a check against abusing the Copycat tool is the Who am I? tool. By this they mean who am I in relation to the text. They warn against the “Moses-is-me syndrome.” We all have a tendency to make ourselves the hero of the story. “But we shouldn’t have to think very hard before we realize that none of us is the king who defeats God’s enemies and rules over God’s people (David), or the mediator who led his people out of slavery (Moses), or the one with the power to heal lepers or raise the dead (Elisha). There is someone else who fits those descriptions much better than we do!” (p. 128) Of course they are referring to Christ.

In conclusion, Beynon and Sach remind us that we must ask ourselves “So What?” All the Bible knowledge in the world is useless if it doesn’t impact our lives. I believe that if a believer will start using these tools as she reads the bible, there will be a greater potential for that change.