Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Some Book Recommendations

When I choose a book for leisure reading (as opposed to wanting to learn something), I look for those I hope will make me put the book down and worship for a bit at least once (and preferably more).

Here are three books that recently made me repeatedly stop and marvel at who God is and/or what he's done.

Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple
Krish Kandiah says the truth about God is usually found in the tension between two opposing thoughts about God. He is a compassionate God who sanctions genocide, a God who owns everything yet demands so much from his followers. He looks at 13 episodes in the scriptures that reveal things we need to know about God's ways, his character. You will worship.

The Joy of Fearing God
I'm to the point of thinking all of Jerry Bridges books should be added to the must-read list. In this gem, Bridges explains what the fear of God is (spoiler: It does not mean a constant fear that God is about to smite you) and why it is the key to a closer, deeper relationship with God. He takes the reader through a discussion of God's greatness, holiness, wisdom, and love then explains how we ought to respond to all of that. I think I highlighted half the book.

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God
Rankin Wilbourne takes a concept I was ... familiar with (the believer's union with Christ) and unpacks it in far more detail than I had imagined was possible. He tells us what it is, why we don't hear about it more, what it does for us, and how to live fully in it (sadly, he has no magic recipe, it requires work). This one really has the potential to be life-changing. I need to read it again.

If you pick up any or all of these, you will not be disappointed.

(Note: These aren't review copies. I paid for all of these.)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Stories and Scenes

I want to expand on the idea behind my previous post, The Tale of the Faithless Bride. We say the keys to studying the Bible are context, context, and context. It is vitally important to read any scripture in the context of the surrounding text. A sentence can only be properly understood in its paragraph. A paragraph can only be understood in conjunction with neighboring paragraphs.

Then there is historical context — we can't try to make a text written in the 10th Century BC mean something that it could only have meant in the 1st Century AD. There is literary context — you don't interpret poetry like epistles or epistles like poetry.

There is also a narrative context. A story is made of scenes, and a scene can only be properly understood in terms of the story.

For example, the tale of Joseph and Potiphar's wife is a scene in Joseph's story. In isolation it is a story of virtue as Joseph honors God and his master by refusing her advances. That's not a bad story.

But it's really a scene in Joseph's story. First Joseph is betrayed by his brothers. Then he is betrayed by his master's wife and, ultimately, his master. But "the LORD was with Joseph" as the text reminds us repeatedly. In the context of Joseph's overall story, this episode is another example of, as Joseph later put it, God intending for good what people intended for evil. God uses this event to providentially maneuver Joseph to a place where he will be able to save Egypt and the covenant family from the coming famine.

In the same way, Joseph's life is a scene in the story of the founding of Israel. All of the events that happen to Joseph serve to explain how the covenant family got from Canaan to Egypt. It reveals God's providence in the creation of Israel along side the tales of Isaac's miraculous birth and the exodus from Egypt. Joseph's story, as interesting as it is, only exists because God was doing something bigger than that.

And the story of Israel (from Genesis 12 to Nehemiah 13) is a scene in the story of redemption. Genesis 1 and 2 tell how mankind was created. Gen 3 recounts the fall. Gen 4-11 tell just how bad things got (while also explaining some things about humanity). Then in Genesis 12 God starts his rescue plan; we meet Abram whom God has decided to set apart to create the line from which the Messiah will come so that "all peoples on earth will be blessed." Then the Israel "scene" takes us to the turning point of the story — the arrival of Christ.

And, yes, that means that the life and ministry of Jesus is a scene in the overall story of redemption. For all its immense value to us, it is not properly understood apart from the larger story.

The Bible is a story. It is the story of how humans fell and God rescued them. And even though we know how it will end, we are waiting to see exactly how the final chapter will play out. The climax is still to come when the Lion from the Tribe of Judah will return to claim what is his, punish the wicked, and restore what was lost. Then the story will be complete. But that won't be "the end." It will be a new beginning.

Come, Lord Jesus!