Make America Read Again: 2018 is Lit Edition

Trying to keep up with my reading in the first months of 2018.

Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon

T. David Gordon teaches media ecology and biblical studies at Grove City College. Suffering from cancer and given a 25% chance to live, he wrote this book as a screed against contemporary preaching. The writing style is definitely confrontational and he pulls very few punches while basically stating over and over again that preaching in our day and age sucks.

Unfortunately, he does not add much (if any) data that backs up his very broad criticisms. One of his main focuses is TV and the internet have come along and culture is now more visual. People no longer have the ability to perform sermons with a careful consideration of the words used or with any ability to write well. While people may agree this is generally true, he cites no studies or academic research which would bolster his claims.

As I mentioned before, this book reads like a rant and comes across mostly as a cranky old man lamenting on how culture has changed. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few valuable nuggets in this short book. He recommends that potential pastors and current pastors study English literature for one which actually seems like a wise insight. Otherwise, there isn’t much substance here other than Gordon droning on about how much he hates the preaching in our day and age.

Lester Lauding Level:  2 (out of 5)

Quotes:

“Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging people to question whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which is exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ.”

“As a medium, reading cultivates a patient, lengthy attention span, whereas television as a medium is impatient. One is therefore suited to what is significant; the other merely to what is insignificant.”

“I would guess that of the sermons I’ve heard in the last twenty-five years, 15 percent had a discernible point; I could say, ‘The sermon was about X.’ Of those 15 percent, however, less than 10 percent demonstrably based the point on the text read. That is, no competent effort was made to persuade the hearer that God’s Word required a particular thing; it was simply asserted.”

“Ministers have found it entirely too convenient and self-serving to dismiss congregational disinterest on the basis of attenuated attention spans or spiritual indifference. In most cases, the inattentiveness in the congregation is due to poor preaching—preaching that does not reward an energetic, conscientious listening. When attentive listeners are not rewarded for their energetic attentiveness, they eventually become inattentive.”

Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns

Author Peter Enns has had an interesting relationship with the Evangelical church.  One of the hosts of the podcast, “The Bible for Normal People”, he no longer attends an Evangelical church but still remains engaged in issues impacting this specific niche of Christianity.  “Inspiration and Incarnation” was first published in 2005 when Enns was (I believe) still involved personally with Evangelical Christianity and in this work, he highlights a very important problem.  How do Evangelicals approach the Old Testament?  One may find Evangelicals in denial that such a problem exists at all but once we drill down into the issues that Enns brings up, a different story emerges.

The framework to approach the OT (according to Enns) is viewing the canon of books as inspired by God but also having an incarnational element.  Sort of like Jesus being fully God and fully human.  Of course, Enns admits this is not a perfect analogy but his goal in offering this framing is to investigate the Divine origin of Scripture but also it’s human element.  That people were carried along by the Spirit of God in their own languages, cultures, history, scientific understanding (certainly limited compared to today) and spiritual understanding.

Enns’ divides the book into three major contemplations:  1)  The Bible as compared with ancient near eastern literature.  2)  The Old Testament and theological diversity  3)  The New Testament and it’s interpretation of the Old Testament.

Enns seems to be suggesting that 1 and 2 are problems but I would contend that they aren’t or at least not as much as he may say.  Much of the ancient near eastern literature (the epic of Gilgamesh or Enuma Elish) pre-dates the Old Testament writing.  The Code of Hammurabi also pre-dates the law.  This isn’t a problem for Old Testament understanding.  Evangelicals believe God inspired people to write His Word according to their own cultural understandings.  One of the scholarly interpretations of Genesis 1 is that it was written specifically to combat other creation narratives and to show that Elohim was the One True God who created everything ex nihilio.

The theological diversity is not especially problematic either. Enns points out Proverbs that seem to disagree with one another (Proverbs 26:4-5).  Differences in the accounts of the ten commandments between Exodus and Deuteronomy.  The philosophical ideas in Ecclesiastes versus other teachings in the Torah about God and life.  All of this again is acknowledged by most Evangelical scholars.  Different people (men and women) wrote down Scripture over an extended period of time.  Might it be possible that these men and women had some different beliefs in the cultures they lived in?  Absolutely and the idea of God inspiring Scripture still applies in those scenarios.  The diversity of the Old Testament gives a full picture of the hard reality of life and how a nation (community) of people sought after God.

The third point that Enns brings up is how the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament and thereby how they interpret the Jewish canon of Scripture.  Here, Enns has a very uncomfortable point.  Try reading the Gospel of Matthew for instance and each time you come across a prophecy citation from the Old Testament that was fulfilled in Christ, go back to the specific Old Testament passage and read the whole context.  It will not take us long to discover that the New Testament writers did not adhere to a more conservative hermeneutic standard of “grammatical-historical” interpretation.

Enns “solution” is to acknowledge that second temple setting of apostolic hermeneutics and the difference that those authors had in approaching Scripture versus what we have today. He states that Scripture interpretation should be viewed as more a path to walk then a fortress to be defended. He also argues that interpretation of the Bible should have more of a community-oriented sense then individual (which may fly in the face of our western sensibilities).

“Inspiration and Incarnation” is a compelling, thoughtful and challenging read.  Enns has a gift in bringing scholarly type ideas down to words that anyone could understand.  This book is a good tool in helping people further engage the Old Testament text honestly.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

Quotes:

“Ours is a historical faith, and to uproot the Bible from its historical contexts is self-contradictory.”

“It is worth asking what standards we can reasonably expect of the Bible, seeing that it is an ancient Near Eastern document and not a modern one. Are the early stories in the Old Testament to be judged on the basis of standards of modern historical inquiry and scientific precision, things that ancient peoples were not at all aware of? Is it not likely that God would have allowed his word to come to the ancient Israelites according to standards they understood, or are modern standards of truth and error so universal that we should expect pre-modern cultures to have made use of them?”

“The findings of the past 150 years have made extrabiblical evidence an unavoidable conversation partner. The result is that, as perhaps never before in the history of the church, we can see how truly provisional and incomplete certain dimensions of our understanding of Scripture can be. On the other hand, we are encouraged to encounter the depth and riches of God’s revelation and to rely more and more on God’s Spirit, who speaks to the church in Scripture.”

“It is wholly incomprehensible to think that thousands of years ago God would have felt constrained to speak in a way that would be meaningful only to Westerners several thousand years later. To do so borders on modern, Western arrogance.”

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

We purchased this book back in January to read to my daughter.  “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” has the distinction of being the most crowdfunded original book in history.  Reportedly, publishers didn’t want to publish this work (or perhaps wouldn’t give the authors and illustrators what they wanted) so they put the book out by themselves.

This is the story of 100 women from the past and present.  The book provides one page summaries on women who are (or have been) queens, politicians, scientists, naturalists, philosophers, inventors, ballerinas, writers, pirates, astronomers and others.  Each woman is profiled with the one page summary and also an illustration.  The illustrations in the book are beautiful and were done by 60 female artists all over the world.

Reading this to my daughter is a great experience because it continually shows her that women can do anything or can be anything they want as they follow their passions and curiosity.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago

I read this book regularly to my children.  My son is not 2 yet so obviously he just enjoys the unique and cool illustrations by Jago.  My daughter enjoys the Biblical stories being written in a way that she can understand and the book, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, appropriates softens some of the violent or intense content.

From Genesis to Revelation, “The Jesus Storybook Bible” lays out the Biblical story.  The mission of the book is to bring Jesus into each account.  The garden of Eden, the flood, the exodus and the life of David all end up being arrows pointed to the coming Messiah Jesus.  This is probably being picky but I do have mixed feelings about bringing Jesus into Old Testament accounts.  As we read the Old Testament, we need to be mindful that the Hebrew Bible was written within a particular historical and cultural context.  Pulling the writings out of that context can lead to some funky interpretations.

That being said, I give this book a pass on that point because this serves as such a good tool that the whole family can enjoy and that gives opportunities to talk about Jesus and the Christian faith.

Recommended for parents of young children who wish to introduce their kids to the incredible Biblical story.

Lester Lauding Level:  4 (out of 5)

Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

On a vacation to Whidbey Island, I read this book to my daughter and son for the first time.  This is my favorite Dr. Seuss book of all time which, through the common original illustrations, provide contemplation upon the nature of life.

Lester Lauding Level:  5 (out of 5)

Quotes:

“You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.”

“Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do with that ball
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.”

“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. 
But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

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About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
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