Letter to an Aspiring Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer – First Things

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Letter to an Aspiring Theologian
How to speak of God truly
by Kevin J. Vanhoozer
August 2018

I was delighted to receive your letter asking about the best route to becoming a theologian. Let me confess up front: I’m still in via myself. My business card should identify me not as research professor but perpetual pupil of theology, though if it did, you probably wouldn’t be writing to me. I need to underline the point: Theology is neither a nine-to-five job nor a career. To know and speak truly of God is a vocation that requires more than academic or professional qualifications. The image you should have in mind is not the professor with a tweed jacket, but rather the disciples who dropped everything to follow Jesus. Becoming a theologian means following God’s Word where it leads with all one’s mind, heart, soul, and strength.

Let me say a few more things about what theology is and why it matters, just to make sure we’re on the same page. Theology is the study of how to speak truly of God and of all things in relation to God. But theologians can’t approach the object of their study the way biologists study living creatures or geologists the earth. God cannot be empirically examined. God is the creator of all things, not to be identified with any part of the universe or even with the universe as a whole. Speaking of God thus poses unique challenges. If God had not condescended to communicate to creatures something of his light, we would be in the dark.

Are you familiar with Thomas Aquinas’s definition? “Theology is taught by God, teaches of God, and leads to God.” It’s worth pondering these three prepositions.
By God. Only God can make himself known. There is a prior divine self-communication to which all theologians are accountable. You can’t deploy God’s name simply to add support to your pet ideas or favorite agenda. Theologians aren’t fiction writers, either: We’re not making this up, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche notwithstanding. We’re simply children who love their father and want to know him better, who trust their father’s wisdom (Matt. 18:3), and, for that very reason, keep asking “Why?” (this is my gloss on Anselm’s famous definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding”).

Of God. There are theologies of marriage, the body, leisure, the imagination, and so forth, but they are theological only to the extent that they relate their objects to God, their author and finisher. Theology is thinking hard about what God has taught about himself and all things in relation to himself.

To God. William Ames, a Puritan, uses language much like Aquinas’s: “Theology is the doctrine of living to God.” Theology is more than an academic exercise, more even than knowing God; it’s ultimately about cultivating godliness, in oneself and one’s community. Theology’s proper ends are both contemplative (I dare not say “theoretical”) and practical.

It’s true, there is a guild of “professional” theologians—mostly academics who populate colleges, seminaries, and university divinity schools—and there are scholarly journals and awards to be had, not to mention salaries and sabbaticals. I know it’s tempting, especially when you’re still a student, to revere or perhaps romanticize your teachers and the lives they lead. The reality—grading papers, committee meetings, critical reviews, etc.—is different. It gets worse: Theology ranks very low on the totem pole of academic status. Banish, therefore, all thought of “success,” and don’t confuse making a living as a theologian with living out the knowledge of God. If you aspire to speak of God, do so to please God, not people (cf. Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4)—neither the professionals nor their popularly cultured despisers.

In short: If you see God as a means to worldly fame, power, or popularity, please don’t. There are already plenty of people, too many, who speak of God for the wrong reasons, which means they are not speaking truly of the one true God. You aspire to ­theology, you believe in God, you do well. Yet even the demons believe—and shudder (James 2:19). Becoming a theologian involves not only coming to know God (theology is simultaneously art, science, and craft), but also becoming a certain kind of person, one whose created intelligence has been illumined by the Holy Spirit.

Knowing God, the gospel of God (what God has done in Christ), and all things in relation to God and the gospel is to know reality. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. When theology proclaims the deep mystery—God’s plan of redemption conceived “before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24; Eph. 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:20) and executed in history—it doesn’t promote cleverly devised myths. It awakens disciples to reality. Philosophers study what is, but the Christian theologian sets forth in speech what is in Christ: reconciliation, a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17–18). The world is passing away (even scientists agree, acknowledging that our sun will eventually burn out), but God’s Word endures forever (Matt. 24:35).

All this to say: I affirm your general aspiration, but have you prayerfully considered whether academic theology is your vocation rather than, say, doing theology in the church, perhaps as a pastor or priest? Assuming I haven’t dissuaded you, I’ll now try to address your specific questions by commending four ­adjectives that characterize the practice of theology and then three pairs of virtues that characterize its best practitioners. I haven’t forgotten that you also asked about where you might best flourish as a theologian, and I’ll conclude with some thoughts on that.

As to learning how to think theologically, let me begin with four adjectives (Trinitarian, biblical, catholic, and systematic) that qualify Christian theological thinking. Each describes a theological habit of mind that has proved useful in getting the understanding faith seeks.

Becoming a Christian theologian means developing a Trinitarian habit of mind. On the one hand, everything begins with divine initiatives, the speak-acting of God. God’s creative and redemptive words—“Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3); “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48)—precede all theologizing. Yet we have to approach God’s Word in three ways: God speaks; God speaks himself; God speaks himself through himself. You must always and everywhere give priority to theology’s principal subject matter, the being and activity of the triune God: the Father speaking the Word through the Spirit.

Theology means thinking about all things in relation to God, and it helps to remember that all three persons are engaged in everything God does (I’m speaking as one who on occasion has been accused of “forgetting” the Holy Spirit!). Commit this patristic adage to memory, in Latin and English: Opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt (“the outward works of the Trinity are indivisible”). Why is there something rather than nothing? Because God the Father created all things in and through the Son in the Spirit. Why is there good news rather than no news (silence)? Because God the Father has reconciled the world to himself in Christ through the Spirit (what Irenaeus calls the “two hands” of God).

Second, the best way to stay focused on the subject matter of theology is to stay focused on Scripture. John Calvin viewed his Institutes as help for aspiring disciples “to find the sum of what God meant to teach us in his Word.” It’s no coincidence that the most important figures in the history of theology—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Barth—also wrote biblical commentaries. Roman Catholics enthusiastically agree. When Benedict XVI called Scripture the “soul of theology,” he echoed Vatican II’s claim that “the study of the sacred page” is the very soul of theology (in Dei Verbum).
Given the fragmentation of theological studies in the modern university, I fear that you may find it challenging to establish your biblical bona fides. Some biblical scholars insist on reading the Bible like any other text, and some theologians think that doing theology is a matter of compiling “proof texts” that establish doctrines. There are better ways of reading the Bible theologically.

C. S. Lewis’s distinction between looking at a beam of light and looking along it clarifies what’s at stake. Those who look at the biblical text analyze it from a critical distance. They see the text, but not necessarily what it’s talking about. In contrast, those who look along the text enter into its strange new world. Looking along the text is the best way to resist what Hans Frei calls the “great reversal” in hermeneutics that took place in the eighteenth century, namely, the exchange of the biblical narrative as our framework for understanding the world for some other story (e.g., neo-Darwinism, existentialism, process philosophy—their name is Legion).

The Bible is not an object to examine under this or that hermeneutical microscope. God addresses us in Scripture and requires our response, and that means we do theology in the first and second person (cf. Martin Buber’s I and Thou). Scripture is not a textbook but the Church’s holy script, and understanding it involves reading all the books in the Old and New Testaments as parts of an overarching story. It’s more than narrative, it’s drama: story made flesh, in which readers today have speaking parts. Karl Barth spoke of exploring the “strange new world of the Bible,” and that’s an apt image. The theologian is a kind of cartographer of this new world, this new life, this “theodrama”: the story made flesh of God’s two-handed outreach to the world.

The third thing you must do to acquire a theological habit of mind is to read the Word of God with and for the people of God. You may be tempted to say something original about God. Let me urge you to make sure your brilliant insights are in line with the consensus of the catholic tradition. Those who swim against the stream of Christian tradition risk subverting the logic of the gospel. We’re apprentices to Scripture, and to those who have read it well before us. To become a theologian is to enter into a centuries-long conversation, started by (who knows?) those two disciples on the way to Emmaus who wondered about the significance of what happened to ­Jesus in Jerusalem (Luke 24:13–24).

The best theologians are apprentices to Scripture and to the consensual tradition of its interpretation. By the way: That tradition, viewed theologically, is the result of the Spirit leading the whole Church into all truth (John 16:13). Thanks to the Council of ­Nicaea, you don’t have to reinvent the Trinitarian wheel. And speaking of Nicaea, every aspiring theologian should study the way Athanasius read Scripture to see how the logic of the gospel gave rise to Trinitarian theology. Catholicity is a well-known mark of the Church; it ought also to characterize theologians. Let the gospel be the center of your thinking, but let catholic tradition fill out its content and fix its circumference. Evangelical and catholic are bedfellows, not rivals.

The fourth theological habit of mind involves thinking systematically as we read the Word of God with the people of God. The Bible is much more than a collection of truths to be organized into a comprehensive system. That way leads to what we might call hard systematic theology. I recommend a “soft” systematics that acknowledges a unity to truth, though not like the truth of geometric axioms, which are not suitable for expressing redemptive history. There are things that theologians must make known, but they primarily concern what God has said and done in history. What unifies Scripture is the story of God’s determination to see through his purpose for creation to the end, a story in which Israel and the Church loom large, with Jesus Christ as its hinge and center. If you aspire to “systematic” theology in the sense of articulating the general coherence of what the Church proclaims on the basis of Scripture, you do well. Doctrines such as the Trinity or the atonement are typically either identifications of key persons or elaborations of the meaning of key events in the story.

One more thing: You might learn these four habits of mind by apprenticing yourself to an established theologian, dead or alive, and reading all his or her works. You don’t have to agree with every detail; the point is to gain a sense of how to think theologically.

Now that we’ve sketched the kinds of things theologians do, let’s turn to your question about the kind of person you need to become. The short answer is “wise”: a person with understanding who knows how to live out what he knows and does so in ways appropriate to his circumstances. Wisdom is the virtue that regulates and balances all the other virtues, so let me provide a sketch of the wise theologian by describing three pairs of contrasting qualities.

First, faith and reason. Theologians need to believe firmly and think clearly. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and theology with trust in God’s Word. Anselm says we must believe in order to understand. Every science has to start somewhere, with some given; theology starts by believing that God has spoken in Scripture (the written Word) and Christ (the revealed Word). Only those who read the Bible in faith can read it as Scripture (authoritative divine address). In general, theologians do well to reason from, not to, Scripture.

Logic is but ethics (honesty) applied to the life of the mind. In this sense, reason is neutral. It does not legislate what Christians can believe but rather tells us what follows from the articles of faith revealed in Scripture. Reason exercises a ministerial function in theology. Reason is best viewed in terms of created, fallen, and redeemed human intelligence. Notice what I just did: I practiced what I’ve been preaching about thinking theologically; I thought about human reason in relation to God. Relating things to the triune God by thinking biblically is the reflex of a mature theologian.

Don’t let knowledge go to your head (how’s that for an oxymoron?). As the Apostle Paul warned, knowledge puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1), inflates our pride. The best remedy for this is constant prayer. Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians reveals well the dangerous gap between what we know intellectually about God and our actual spiritual growth. He points out that a “conceptual ­experience” is no substitute for genuine faith. Theologians must never be content with living at second hand. That’s why prayer is so powerful: Unless we are praying to God, we are talking, as it were, behind his back. In Thielicke’s words, “a theological thought can breathe only in the atmosphere of dialogue with God.” Anselm embodied the tension between faith and reason by writing his Proslogion in the form of a prayer.

Second, joyful truth-speaking and hopeful truth-suffering. To become a theologian, you must be willing to bear true witness and call out false witnesses, casting down idols and ideologies. That’s the shadow side of theology, but the best part is speaking light and truth in astonished indications of God’s goodness. I love John Webster’s definition of theology: “that delightful activity in which the Church praises God by ordering its thinking towards the gospel of Christ.” Being a theologian means getting to have not necessarily the last word, but the word about last things, “the end for which God created the world” (to cite the title of a dissertation by Jonathan Edwards). It’s not only a good word but the best of all possible words, namely, that God glorifies humans and all creation, magnifying his own glory and subjecting all things to the Lordship of Christ, so that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). It’s the privilege of the theologian to bear witness to the length, depth, breadth, and width of the cross and Resurrection. Karl Barth is right: “The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all.”

Theologians need to be thick-skinned witnesses (martyrs) to the truth. Paul was accused by the Corinthians of “misrepresenting God” in testifying to Jesus’s Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:15). Fortunately, present-day Western theologians need fear nothing more than metaphorical crucifixion in the courts of academic or popular opinion. You may know of Richard Dawkins’s letter to a London newspaper complaining, “If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference?” Yes, I know all about “sticks and stones,” but still . . . Well, you’ll discover that what hurts even more than the slings and arrows of secular critics is the indifference to doctrine in the Church itself.

An Evangelical theologian who shall remain nameless once advised a student, “be prepared to be misunderstood and under-valued.” I would add, prepare to be unpopular: Many people resent being told they are not lords of their own lives. Theologians ought not be nags, but they must be “the conscience of the congregation” (Thielicke), reminding people that faith is not the same as anti-intellectualism, and that God is not a supporting actor in their stories but that we have bit parts in his.

Third, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, becoming a theologian requires a measure of boldness and humility—yet another tension you’ll need to preserve. Paul speaks about both in connection to his ministry. To adapt a saying of ­Luther’s, “a theologian is a perfectly free lord of all disciplines, subject to none.” Theologians are free from the methodological constraints of other disciplines. The theologian must not let any other discipline into the driver’s seat. God is the origin and destiny of all things, and theology knows all things in their ­relatedness to God. By the way, if and when you need a booster shot in your rhetorical right arm, you may often find inspiration in the display of bold theology in The International Journal of Systematic Theology (and sometimes in First Things). In the present political climate and blogosphere, however, it’s harder to find good examples of humility. That, incidentally, is why Augustine is one of my favorite theologians: He published a whole book rehearsing his theological mistakes (the Retractions).

Thielicke has some powerful things to say about the temptation to treat truth as a prideful possession. He calls the tendency to look down on those who don’t know as much as we think we do “the disease of theologians.” The cure is to love the truth more than our possession of it. You’ll find this to be especially the case when it comes to theologians’ preferred interpretations of Scripture.

That reminds me. Luther’s adage has a part B: “the theologian is a perfectly free servant of all disciplines, subject to all.” It’s important in reading Scripture not to make theology a trump card for dismissing the work of biblical scholars and, for that matter, ­scientists. Augustine rightly rebukes those who interpret Scripture while ignoring the natural scientist’s knowledge of the world: Instead of embarrassing themselves and bringing disgrace on theology, they ought to shut up and listen.

I’m aware that I’ve only scratched the surface. To pursue these matters further, you should investigate, in addition to Thielicke, Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, Mark McIntosh’s Divine Teaching, Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians, Avery Dulles’s The Craft of Theology, and Ellen Charry’s By the Renewing of Your Minds. (You asked for summer reading recommendations.)

So there you have believing and behaving as a theologian. Let me conclude with a few words about belonging. The question is: Where and with whom are you most likely to flourish as a theologian? As to where, I’ve already mentioned some pitfalls of doing theology in and for the academy. You requested a “top ten” list of theological schools. That’s tricky. I need to know more about your background, what you’re looking for, and future plans. I’ll say this much: Don’t despise the M.Div. degree just because it takes longer, often involves learning the biblical languages, and requires an internship. There is much to be said for reading Scripture in the original languages and for pastoral experience. It’s erroneous to equate theological ­education with theological degrees—call it the sheepskin fallacy.

In one of his own letters to an aspiring theologian, C. S. Lewis warned, “sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job.” It’s a caution worth remembering. Lewis readily acknowledged that some are called to be theological teachers (cf. Eph. 4:11). And, of course, on one level, all Christians should be biblically and theologically literate. Not everyone can be a doctor, but we should all know first aid. Would that all the Lord’s people were theologians (cf. Num. 11:29)! The serious point is that whatever your location, your theology should build up the Church in the knowledge and love of God so that it can worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23–24). You can do this as either a pastor- or ­professor-theologian.
I’m struck by the parallel in Psalm 96:8–9: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. . . . Worship the Lord in holy splendor.” Ascribing means setting forth in speech those joyful indicatives that describe God and his works, and this elicits worship. Sound doctrine prompts doxology.

Finally, with whom should you do theology? In the old days, most of my students identified with a particular confessional tradition. This is no longer the case. We often hear that millennials are more interested in spirituality than organized religion, hence the decline in denominationalism. I know you expressed interest in being a “free-range” theologian (that’s my term, I know, but it’s better than your “lone ranger,” which I fear comes close to the way church historians often describe heretics). Recall what I said above about the importance of reading Scripture in communion with the saints.

I understand your consternation at being forced to act like a consumer in deciding which particular communion to join. But consider: Just as there was no contradiction between belonging to one of the twelve tribes and belonging to Israel, so there is no necessary contradiction between being local (or even confessional) and catholic. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2). There is much to be gained by inhabiting a particular theological tradition (a dwelling place), but confinement to a single room (or, as some translations have it, “mansion”) can be suffocating. The important point is that, whichever room you occupy, you should aspire to building up the whole house: preserving the integrity of its witness, orienting its worship, and increasing its wisdom.

Would that there were competent doctors in every house—in every place where the people of God dwell—in order to nourish them and keep them well. Becoming a doctor of the Church involves more than not doing harm: Our vocation is to speak the truth in love and love the truth (the way of Jesus Christ) we speak and those to whom we speak it. If I speak in the tongues of pastors and professors and have not love, I am a noisy guru, not a theologian. The Church is the theologian’s natural habitat; its edification in truth and love his primary concern; its communion with the triune God his greatest prayer, hope, and joy.

I know you’re concerned that you may not be intelligent enough to become a theologian. Well, God doesn’t call people to do things without giving them the necessary equipment. You would do better to worry about avoiding the theologian’s occupational hazards (blasphemy and heresy). Aspiring theologians, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)—and from what I call Feuerbachian slips, the convenient fiction that God is identical to our best thoughts about him.

A last exhortation: Why not approach the whole issue of whether and how to become a theologian (and where to go to study) theologically? Read Scripture, pray, and worship with other saints. As you do, keep an ear out for divine prompting. After all, one way for faith to seek understanding is to step out in faith. If you’re reading between the lines, you’ll realize that I view all of life as “a little exercise for young theologians.” Godspeed!

Kevin J. Vanhoozer is research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/08/letter-to-an-aspiring-theologian

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The Many Benefits of Reading – Penguin Random House

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The Many Benefits of Reading – Penguin Random House

Cognitive:

Improves Memory: Reading activates the parts of your brain that create new synapses for memory.

Lengthens Life: One study shows that those who read as little as 30 minutes a day live on average 2 years longer than non-readers.

Makes You Smarter: Reading has been shown to enhance vocabulary, improve articulation, and increase creativity.

 

Physical:

Relieves Stress & Lowers Blood Pressure: Just 6 minutes of reading has been shown to lower heart rate and muscle tension.

Improves Sleep: Incorporating a reading routine into your bedtime ritual tells your body it’s time to wind down and get some sleep.

 

Emotional:

Makes You More Empathetic: Reading literary fiction, in particular, has been shown to improve one’s understanding of others’ beliefs and views.

 

Do something for your health and happiness by reading more!

Book Giveaway – Brave Souls: Experiencing the Audacious Power of Empathy – InterVarsity Press

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Enter for a chance to win 1 of 20 advance copies of Brave Souls by Belinda Bauman!

Goodreads entry link can be found HERE

Book Description: What if empathy could save us? From the top of Mount Kilimanjaro to the borders of war-torn Syria, Belinda Bauman takes readers along her journey to empathy. With cutting-edge neuroscience, biblical parables, and stories of brave women from across the globe, she casts a vision for lives and communities transformed by everyday Christians practicing empathy as a spiritual discipline.

Giveaway ends on January 16th, 2019.

Why Reading Books Should Be Your Priority, According to Science | Inc.com

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More than a quarter–26 percent–of American adults admit to not having read even part of a book within the past year. That’s according to statistics coming out of the Pew Research Center. If you’re part of this group, know that science supports the idea that reading is good for you on several levels.

Reading fiction can help you be more open-minded and creative

According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, study participants who read short-story fiction experienced far less need for “cognitive closure” compared with counterparts who read nonfiction essays. Essentially, they tested as more open-minded, compared with the readers of essays. “Although nonfiction reading allows students to learn the subject matter, it may not always help them in thinking about it,” the authors write. “A physician may have an encyclopedic knowledge of his or her subject, but this may not prevent the physician from seizing and freezing on a diagnosis when additional symptoms point to a different malady.”

People who read books live longer

That’s according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. Apparently, the practice of reading books creates cognitive engagement that improves lots of things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.

Reading 50 books a year is something you can actually accomplish

While about a book a week might sound daunting, it’s probably doable by even the busiest of people. Writer Stephanie Huston says her thinking that she didn’t have enough time turned out to be a lame excuse. Now that she has made a goal to read 50 books in a year, she says that she has traded wasted time on her phone for flipping pages in bed, on trains, during meal breaks, and while waiting in line. Two months into her challenge, she reports having more peace and satisfaction and improved sleep, while learning more than she thought possible.

Successful people are readers

It’s because high achievers are keen on self-improvement. Hundreds of successful executives have shared with me the books that have helped them get where they are today.

https://www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/why-reading-books-should-be-your-priority-according-to-science.html

Diverse Theologians to Read in 2019

Thabiti Anyabwile writes:

Recently a brother on Twitter asked if I could recommend some orthodox theologians from around the world that he could read in 2019. It’s not the first time I’ve gotten such a request. So I thought I’d put together a short list of theologians and leaders from differing ethnic backgrounds for those who may be interested to diversify their reading lists.

But first, a couple of words about the list:

It’s clearly not an exhaustive list. Think of it as some places to start and feel free to add others in the comment section if you like.

Also, since the brother on Twitter specifically asked about things to read, I’ve not included a ton of preachers who would be good to consult but limited the list to folks who have written for the church.

I did not include people that are likely to be well-known already by TGC readers.
While I don’t know everyone listed here or their body of work, I’ve tried to list folks I believe to be orthodox.

Finally, I didn’t do all the work for you. I’ve given you names, you’ll have to chase down some of their excellent work yourself 🙂

If you’re interested in a longer list of resources including some works outside of orthodoxy, you can try lists here and here.
American

Soong-Chan Rah (Korean-American)

Richard Twiss (Native American)

Mark Charles (Native American)

Edwin M. Yamauchi (Japanese-American)

Nikki Toyama-Szeto (Asian American)
Latin American/Hispanic

Rene Padilla (Ecuador)

Ruth Padilla DeBorst (Ecuador)
Asian

Ajith Fernando (Sri Lanka)

Bob Fu (China)

Nijay Gupta (India)

Barbara M. Leung Lai (Chinese-Canadian)

K. K. Yep (Malaysia)

Abraham George (India)
African

Femi B. Adelewe (Nigeria)

J. Ayodeji Adewuya (Nigeria)

Daniel K. Darko (Ghana)

Conrad Mbewe (Zambia)
Caribbean

Osvaldo Padilla (Dominican Republic)

Hensworth Jonas (Antigua and Barbuda)
Middle East

Chawkat Moucarry (Born in Syria, lives in France)

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/diverse-theologians-read-2019/

Book Review: David A. deSilva, The Letter to the Galatians (NICNT)

Reading Acts

deSilva, David A. The Letter to the Galatians. NICNT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. lxxix+541 pp.; Hb.; $55.00. Link to Eerdmans

Over the past few years Eerdmans has been replacing older volumes of the New International Commentary on the New Testament. In the case of Galatians, deSilva’s new commentary replaces Ronald Y. K. Fung’s 1988 commentary, itself a replacement of Herman Ridderbos’s 1953 work originally written in Dutch. Each generation of the commentary has grown, from Ridderbos’s 238 pages to Fung’s 342 pages, now deSilva’s 541 pages (plus 76 pages of bibliography). The new NICNT volumes are also larger size volume (6×9 as opposed to 5×7, Ridderbos has a larger font than the other two). Ridderbos had a thirty-eight page introduction, a half page subject index and no bibliography; deSilva’s introduction runs one hundred and eight pages, twenty-three pages of indices and fifty-one pages of bibliography.

deSilva, The Letter to the GalatiansWhat has happened…

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Top books (that I read) in 2018 (w/o comment)

Dru Johnson

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If you listen to our podcast (OnScript), then you already know some of the books I’ve been reading. But here are the standouts in no particular order (and note that I still haven’t read 50% of the books on my desk right now):

Fascinating and compelling books for normal folks:

K.S. Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books

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Fikkert, Holt, and Rhodes, Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give

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D. Groothius, Walking Through Twilight: A Wife’s Illness—A Philosopher’s Lament (OnScript interview with the author)

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G. Thornbury, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?

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L. Peppiatt, Unveiling Paul’s Women: Making Sense of 1 Corinthians 11:2–16  (OnScript interview with the author)

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Y. Hazony, The Virtue of Nationalism 

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Academic Books (if you share my peculiar interests):

J. Berman, Inconsistency in the Torah: Ancient…

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Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas!

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

The Most Notable Books from LifeWay in 2018

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The Most Notable Books from LifeWay in 2018

Leadership/Church Books

Letters to the Church by Francis Chan
Francis Chan writes books when he feels led by the Spirit and has something powerful to say. This is the fruit. Chan digs deeply into biblical truths, reveals reflections on his own failures and dreams, and shares stories of ordinary people God is using to change the world.

Becoming a Welcoming Church by Thom S. Rainer
Welcoming guests to your church can be awkward and often the biggest stumbling block to truly growing your church. Rainer delivers again another practical message to help churches become more welcoming.

Prodigal Prophet by Tim Keller
Tim Keller shares wisdom in what we can learn from the story of Jonah. An angry prophet. A feared and loathsome enemy. A devastating storm. And the surprising message of a merciful God to His people.

Images and Idols by Thomas J. Terry and J. Ryan Liste from Humble Beast
God is the Creator of all things and He created us in His image. Creativity is woven into the very fabric of our humanity. Therefore, Christians should value and champion creativity as a vital part of our image-bearing role. Images and Idols is a theological and artistic exploration of creativity in the Christian life.

Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry by Brian Dembowczyk
Seven out of ten kids will walk away from church after they turn eighteen. About five will return when they have families of their own. But two will never return. These are sobering facts and from Brian Dembowczyk and lessons brought by The Gospel Project. Gospel-Centered Kids Ministry addresses how to communicate with and encourage gospel-centered leaders and parents as part of their ministry.

 

Christian Living Books

On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior
Acclaimed author Karen Swallow Prior takes readers on a guided tour through works of great literature both ancient and modern, exploring twelve virtues that philosophers and theologians throughout history have identified as most essential for good character and the good life. This is a perfect book for anyone wanting to effectively critique good writing and apply it to their lives.

The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
With engaging stories from her own life-changing encounter with radically ordinary hospitality, Butterfield equips Christians to use their homes as a means to showing a post-Christian world what authentic love and faith really look like.

The Read-Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie
Founder of the immensely popular Read-Aloud Revival podcast, Mackenzie knows first-hand how reading can change a child’s life. She offers the inspiration and age-appropriate book lists you need to start a read-aloud movement in your own home. From a toddler’s wonder to a teenager’s resistance, Sarah details practical strategies to make reading aloud a meaningful family ritual. Reading aloud not only has the power to change a family—it has the power to change the world.

The Storm-Tossed Family by Russell Moore
Christianity Today recently announced this book as their 2019 “Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year.” In the book, Moore teaches readers whether you are married or single, whether you long for a child or shepherding a full house, you are part of a family. Family is difficult because family—every family—is an echo of the Gospel.

Suffering by Paul David Tripp
Most know Tripp as the bestselling author of the beautiful New Morning Mercies. Paul David Tripp weaves together his personal story, years of counseling experience, and biblical insights to help us in the midst of suffering, identifying six traps to avoid and six comforts to embrace in his book Suffering.

Mere Hope by Jason Duesing
Influenced heavily by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Jason Duesing crafted a beautiful perspective on hope. Mere Hope offers the core Christ-centered perspective that all Christians share, and that Christians alone have to offer a world filled with frustration, pain, and disappointment. For those in darkness, despair, and discouragement, for those in the midst of trials, suffering, and injustice, mere hope lives.

Growing Down by Michael Kelley
Michael Kelley wrestles with Jesus’ words that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the likes of little children. If that is true, then we must grow down in characteristics that make us functional and effective adults, if we want to truly grow up in Christ.

Words of Grace by Scott Patty
The cover and the content of this book are absolutely beautiful. As a 100-day devotional, it is a pastor’s encouragement, written with a congregation in mind, to build a life centered on God’s Word. Each day’s reading starts with the Scripture. The devotionals expand upon it and are designed to shape your mind by a vision of God and stir your heart’s affection for Him.

Spiritual Gifts by Tom Schreiner
Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, a leading New Testament scholar, shares his personal experience related to spiritual gifts, but more importantly, he unpacks what the Bible has to say about them.

Dignity Revolution by Dan Darling
Darling offers helpful perspective in an age of divide in politics and even our faith. The Dignity Revolution shows us how wonderful, liberating, and empowering it is to be made in God’s image. Embracing this truth changes how we see ourselves and all other humans, and how we treat and advocate for them.

The Advent of the Lamb of God by Russ Ramsey
Ramsey shares how the purposes of God culminated in the coming of Jesus, in twenty-five readings ideal for Christmas or any season of meeting the Savior. The stories are told afresh to help readers hide God’s Word in their hearts by way of their imaginations.

Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble
Noble lays out individual, ecclesial, and cultural practices that disrupt our society’s deep-rooted assumptions and point beyond them to the transcendent grace and beauty of Jesus. This book casts a new vision for the evangelical imagination, calling us away from abstraction and cliché to a more faithful embodiment of the Gospel for our day.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan
From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.”

Do Something Beautiful by R. York Moore
Moore shares how you can reframe your own story, begin seeing God’s story breaking into your life in the everyday moments, leave behind mediocrity, and become a part of that beautiful story.

 

Women’s Books

Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
This must-read book for living in today’s culture is not just a handbook for how we love others and speak truth. It is also a beautiful story of how God redeems and tears down the idols we make for ourselves, no matter what those are. This is a book that will make you love both God and your neighbor more.

Unexpected by Christine Caine
Much in life cannot be expected or anticipated, but this doesn’t mean we have to live in fear. This book offers real-life strategies for embracing the unexpected and trusting the God whom we know is in control.

In His Image by Jen Wilkin
In this book, Jen Wilkin discusses ten ways that God’s people are to reflect His character. When we view our call as representatives of God on the earth, we live with a different level of intentionality and purpose. This book will compel you not only to live a life worthy of being a reflection of God, but also to worship the God who so artfully made you.

If You Only Knew by Jamie Ivey
Everyone has moments in their past that they would rather not share. In this vulnerable book, Jamie discusses her past and the fear that “if you only knew” the whole truth, you’d certainly think differently about her. It’s a story of God moving and redeeming her life and His ability to do the same for you.

Remember God by Annie F. Downs
Is God really kind? When life doesn’t feel kind, we can lose sight of what we know to be true about Him. Yet, in both the good and the bad, we are called to remember God. God’s people have been building altars throughout history as reminders of His goodness and presence—all to remember God.

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst
Sometimes, disappointments are actually divine appointments. Lysa TerKeurst knows this well through her own story. If you are in a place where life feels like it is falling apart, Lysa’s words will be medicine to your soul. God often gives us more than we can handle on our own, but when we give these things to God, that’s when our lives can be made whole again.

It’s Okay Not To Be Okay by Sheila Walsh
We saw a recurring theme in women’s books in 2018: embracing one’s true identity while understanding that the world we live in is not completely what God designed it to be. Sheila Walsh and Lysa TerKeurst wrestle with this in a beautiful and honest way.

 

Children’s Books

Who Sang the First Song? by Ellie Holcomb, illustrated by Kayla Harren
This beautifully written toddler board book dares to ask the question, Who Sang the First Song? Through lovely illustrations, author Ellie Holcomb reveals the truth that God our maker sand the first song and He’s given each of us a song to sing.

Cornerstones (with Parent’s guide) by Brian Dembowczyk
Not only is this book beautiful, but it’s super practical and not imposing at all. It’ a questions and answers format that you can work through at your own pace with your family. Plus if you have super inquisitive kids that ask a lot of questions, you can pick up the Cornerstones Parent Guide that will help equip you with the right answers for your little theologians.

From Eden to Bethlehem by Danielle Hitchen, illustrated by Jessica Blanchard
This unique board book uses colorful and engaging art to introduce little ones to the Gospel using the animal kingdom. From the fall to prophecy to the incarnation, this book is designed to help your kids get a greater understanding of the animal kingdom.

The Prince Warriors: The Winter War by Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler
In this sequel to Priscilla Shirer’s bestselling trilogy, The Prince Warriors return to Ahoratos to find it bare and dangerous. The Winter War is upon them! Don’t miss the adventures of the prince warriors, perfect for all middle-grade readers!

Love Does for Kids by Bob Goff and Lindsey Goff Vidicuch
A whimsical addition to the family’s bookshelf. For those who love Bob Goff and his bestseller Love Does, this is a book full of crazy stories of adventure between Bob and his daughter Lindsey that will inspire any parent and child.

Thoughtful by Dorena Williamson, illustrated by Robert Dunn
This encouraging story shows how life changes when we learn to value those who are differently abled and to champion the power of thoughtfulness. This beautiful story teaches our children the need to be “thoughtFULL” — full of thoughtfulness and awareness, especially to those who have special needs.

Who’s Your Daddy by Lisa Harper, illustrated by Olivia Duchess
Told mostly through a mother-daughter conversation, this sweet story is careful to affirm relationships with the good, strong daddies here on earth, but it is also comforting for children who might be struggling due to divorce or the loss of a father.

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