biblical theology

A Bibliography of Biblical Theology

biblical theology
Image via Covenant Seminary

Over the last decades, the church has been blessed by countless individuals who have written extensively on biblical theology—that branch of theology focused on who God is and how He reveals Himself through Scriptures. Biblical theology is also concerned about the grand narrative of the Bible, tracing the storyline of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration throughout the Old and New Testaments.

This is not an academic exercise; rather, tracing the thread of redemption helps us as Christians see how God has worked out our deliverance from the very beginning. We learn to see the shadows of Christ in the Old Testament narratives, poetry, and prophets, and how God’s promises will be fulfilled in the New Creation.

For the church as a whole, biblical theology gives us a renewed appreciation for the Bible. Instead of dissecting the Bible verse by verse, we can focus on putting the Bible back together as a unified whole, centered on Christ. Believers of all ages will find value in rooting their story in God’s greater story.

Below you will find a list of helpful resources to guide pastors, leaders, and lay Christians in understanding biblical theology. This list is not exhaustive, but is a compilation of many of the most helpful out there; please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below.

For the Congregation

Introduction

  • Bartholomew, Craig G., and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004. (Amazon)
  • Frazee, Randy. The Heart of the Story: God’s Masterful Design to Restore His People. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. (Amazon)
  • Hamilton, Jr., James M. What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Crossway, 2013. (Amazon | My Review)
  • Murray, David. Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013. (Amazon | My Review)
  • Roberts, Vaughn. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2002. (Amazon)

Going Deeper

  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan?: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002. (Amazon)
  • Anderson, Bernhard W. The Unfolding Drama of the Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006. (Amazon)
  • Carson, D.A. The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010. (Amazon)
  • Criswell, W. A. The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970. (Direct Link)
  • Hafemann, Scott J. The God of Promise and the Life of Faith: Understanding the Heart of the Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001. (Amazon)
  • Williams, Michael. How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. (Amazon)

For Pastors

Introduction

  • Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem?: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2009. (Amazon)
  • Goheen, Michael. “The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story in the 21st Century.” Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., 2006. (Direct Link (PDF))
  • Grindheim, Sigurd. Introducing Biblical Theology. Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013. (Amazon)
  • Klink, Edward W., and Darian R. Lockett. Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. (Amazon)
  • Kostenberger, Andreas J. “The Present and Future of Biblical Theology.” Themelios 37, no. 3 (November 2012): 445–464. (Direct Link)
  • Poythress, Vern Sheridan. “Biblical Studies: Kinds of Biblical Theology.” Westminster Theological Journal 70 (2008): 129–142. (Direct Link)
  • Scobie, Charles H. H. The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. (Amazon | Logos)
  • Williams, Michael D. Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption. Phillipsburg, N.J: P&R Publishing, 2005. (Amazon)

Going Deeper

  • Bird, Michael F. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. (Amazon | Logos | My Review)
  • Bray, Gerald Lewis. God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. (Amazon)
  • Callaham, Scott. “Must Biblical and Systematic Theology Remain Apart? Reflection on Paul van Imschoot” JESOT 5.1, 2016. (PDF)
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012. (Amazon)
  • Hafemann, Scott J., ed. Biblical Theology: Retrospect & Prospect. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002. (Amazon | Logos)
  • Hafemann, Scott J., and Paul R. House, eds. Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007. (Amazon)
  • Hamilton, Jr., James M. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. (Amazon)
  • Kaiser, Walter C. The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. (Amazon | Logos)
  • Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1981. (Amazon)
  • Rosner, Brian S., T. Desmond Alexander, Graeme Goldsworthy, and D.A. Carson, eds. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000. (Amazon | Logos)
  • Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty, The: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013. (Amazon | My Review)
  • VanGemeren, Willem. The Progress of Redemption: The Story of Salvation from Creation to the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996. (Amazon)
  • Vos, Geerhardus. Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments. Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975. (Amazon)

Old Testament

  • Alexander, T. Desmond. “Royal Expectations in Genesis to Kings: Their Importance for Biblical Theology.” Tyndale Bulletin 49, no. 2 (1998): 191–212. ((Direct Link))
  • Clowney, Edmund P. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. 2nd ed. P & R Publishing, 2013. (Amazon)
  • DeRouchie, Jason S., ed. What the Old Testament Authors Really Cared about: A Survey of Jesus’ Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2013. (Amazon)
  • Duguid, Iain M. Is Jesus in the Old Testament? Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013. (Amazon)
  • House, Paul R. “Examining the Narratives of Old Testament Narrative: An Exploration in Biblical Theology.” Westminster Theological Journal 67 (2005): 229–45. (Direct Link (PDF))
  • Merrill, Eugene H. “Covenant and the Kingdom: Genesis 1–3 as Foundation for Biblical Theology.” Criswell Theological Review 1 (1987): 295–308. (Direct Link (PDF))
  • Murray, David. Jesus on Every Page: 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013. (Amazon | My Review)

New Testament

  • Beale, G. K. A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011. (Amazon | Logos)
  • Carson, D.A. “Current Issues in Biblical Theology: A New Testament Perspective.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 5 (1995): 17–41. (Direct Link (PDF))
  • Kostenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009. (Amazon)

For the Church

Mission/Ministry

  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. “Biblical Theology as the Heartbeat of Effective Ministry.” In Biblical Theology: Retrospect & Prospect, edited by Scott J. Hafemann, 280–286. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002.
  • Lawrence, Michael. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. (Amazon | Logos)
  • Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010. (Amazon)

Preaching

  • Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005. (Amazon)
  • Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching and Biblical Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1979. (Amazon)
  • Clowney, Edmund P. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. (Amazon)
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. (Amazon)
  • Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. (Amazon)
  • Hamilton, Jr., James M. “Biblical Theology and Preaching.” In Text Driven Preaching: God’s Word at the Heart of Every Sermon, edited by Daniel L. Akin, David L. Allen, and Ned L. Mathews, 193–218. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010. (Direct Link (PDF))
  • Merida, Tony. “Preaching the Forest and the Trees: Integrating Biblical Theology with Expository Preaching.” The Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry 6, no. 2 (Fall 2009): 33–42. (Direct Link (PDF))
  • Meyer, Jason C. Preaching: A Biblical Theology. Crossway, 2013. (Amazon)
  • Schreiner, Thomas R. “Preaching and Biblical Theology.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 20–29. (Direct Link)

Children’s Ministry

  • Lloyd-Jones, Sally. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. Grand Rapids: ZonderKidz, 2007. (Amazon)
  • Vischer, Phil. What’s In The Bible? With Buck Denver. DVD. 12 vols.
    (Amazon | Direct Link)
  • Walton, John H., and Kim Walton. The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010. (Amazon)
  • Wax, Trevin. Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture. Nashville: B&H Books, 2013. (Amazon | My Review)

Curriculum

  • The Gospel Project from Lifeway. (Direct Link)

    A multi-year curriculum for Children, Students, and Adults.

  • The Story from Zondervan (Direct Link)

    A church-wide 31-week journey through the entire Bible.

Additional Resources

Series

  • Carson, D. A., ed. New Studies in Biblical Theology. 31 vols. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. (Amazon | Direct Link)
  • Longman, III, Tremper, ed. The Gospel According to the Old Testament. 13 vols. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. (Amazon | Logos | Direct Link)

Audio

Video

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On Ice Dancing, Olympics, and Insider Language

ice dancingOver the last few days, I have watched a significant amount of ice dancing—much more than I am willing to admit. It was thrilling to watch the battle for Gold between the American and Canadian pairs, as well as the elaborate dances and the precise steps necessary to compete at an Olympic level.

Since this was the first time I have ever watched ice dancing, I was introduced to a world of new lingo. Last week I would have thought twizzles was some knockoff Twizzler product; now I know it describes a fast-paced, one-footed coordinated spin. And not just the lingo seems foreign: I still have no idea how scores are tallied, nor what is a good score (other than the highest being good).

The same story can be told for other Olympic sports. Each has rules, scores, and judging that can seem foreign, especially to first-time viewers like me. That is why NBC employs commentators to provide explanation during each competition.

TV commentators, often past Olympians in that sport, could serve as ambassadors, introducing new viewers to their sport. But too often, the commentators focus more on either technical discussion (“The quad landing was not tight enough!”) or on subjective comments (“This team is beautiful! They exude perfection!”). They fail to cater to the uninitiated audience, people who might know nothing about the sport, people who don’t know what you mean by perfection.

My guess is that the commentators are not aware of their insider language. They are talking to each other, discussing what they are seeing on the ice or the slopes, without actively thinking about their audience.

The commentators and their insider language is yet another reminder that communication is both something said and something received; not everything communicated is always understood and comprehended by the audience. A communicator needs to actively think through 1. who their audience is, and 2. how their audience is receiving the communication.

For pastors, we cannot automatically assume all in the congregation know our insider language. Like the Olympic commentators, we can fall into the trap of technical or subjective discussions in sermons, instead of introducing visitors to the simple truths of the gospel. In all ministry settings, let us be sensitive to the needs of our audience.

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Organizing a Pastors Life with HootSuite

hootsuiteAt North Baptist Church, we have several Facebook pages, each dedicated to our youth ministry or our mid-week children’s program. Our primary purpose for each page is to communicate info to families on upcoming events, lessons, and cancellations.

We use HootSuite to schedule our Facebook updates to each page, allowing us to prepare a week’s worth of content in a few minutes. HootSuite is an online dashboard for all your social media accounts. Connecting with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other accounts, you can quickly send one update to each account. Plus you can schedule, allowing you to plan your updates ahead of time.

hootsuite info

For our church’s need the Free plan works fine; we can link to all our Facebook pages and even get some basic analytics. Paid plans allow for more linked accounts, team members, security, better analytics, and vanity URLs.

Check out HootSuite for your ministry’s social media announcements, especially if you need to send an update to multiple accounts, or if you want to schedule updates ahead of time.

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Highlights from Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

outgrowing the ingrown church - book coverLast week I finished Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller. In this book, Miller describes how God worked in both his life and the life of his church, waking them up from apathy towards the unchurched in his community, and inspiring them to be constantly seeking opportunities to serve the lost. Miller’s goals in this book are twofold: 1. To identify and remedy the common causes that keep churches only looking inward, and 2. To inspire and encourage pastors and church leaders into becoming pacesetters in their congregations, starting a renewed focus on the Great Commission.

Instead of writing a normal book review for Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, I thought I would share some of the more impactful (and quite candid!) quotes from this fine book. The quotes below cover the substance of the book, giving you an idea of Miller’s core arguments; but do not skip out on buying this extremely valuable book—especially if you are a church leader concerned about mobilizing your congregation into engaging the community.

On personal motives for evangelism:

  • “Have you ever down a single thing because you love Jesus? Or stopped doing anything because you love Him?” (18)
  • “It is the privilege and duty of each believer to become God’s zealous pacesetter in bringing the lost to Christ by every means available.” (57)
  • “The glory of God is the difference between what we would naturally be or do and what we are enabled to do by God’s grace” (69)

On the role of pastor as pacesetter:

  • “Pacesetters are people who motivate an ingrown church to outreach by setting the example of a renewed leadership… They are the ones God uses to overcome and dismantle the barriers every congregation erects around itself to guarantee its own comfort and security.” (15)
  • “The preacher should see preaching much more as a declaration of war, a conflict in which well-disciplined words march as to war to bring the hearers to surrender to Jesus Christ. We need to use the pulpit as a battle station.” (124)
  • “Preach Christ with a burning faith, hot enough to get people to listen and catch fire themselves.” (133)

On the settledness and comfort of an ingrown church:

  • “We have surrendered our hearts to the familiar forms of our religious life and found comfort of soul, not in knowing God, but in knowing that our worship practices are firmly settled and nothing unpredictable will happen Sunday morning.” (19)
  • “The unity is essentially that of the comfortable, private club determined to protect its institutional values and privileges.” (36)

On how introversion spiritually affects an ingrown church:

  • “The introverted church reflected members’ unbelieving resistance to the will of the King, as expressed by His missionary mandate.” (28)
  • “The sad truth is that one negative critic with a loud voice who speaks from within the inner circle of the ingrown church usurps the role of Christ, wielding the power to make or break programs… Whatever the opposition takes, we will discover that an ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God. As a result, fear casts out love for ”a world that is falling apart,“ a world that desperately needs a community of love.” (31)
  • “Where this distortion of purpose prevails, the danger is that eventually the church will make its own life, programs, and traditions into its object of worship. The church will give to itself the honor that belongs to God alone.” (36)
  • “There is simply not enough zeal for Christ working in their hearts to compel them to open their homes to the unchurched… Members assume that they are much more welcoming than they actually are.” (82)

On the role of the church

  • “The entire church is a ”sent church,“ a commissioned body that is itself involved in the harvesting task.” (53)
  • “The commissioned church is hospitable. It aggressively and joyfully seeks out the unchurched, laboring to welcome them into the church as members of the body of Christ. Its leaders self-consciously reject a ”Christian clubhouse“ atmosphere and devote themselves to developing in the congregation an open face to the community and the world beyond.” (81)
  • “A willingness to reach out with the gospel to the ”unwashed“ is the mark of a transformed heart and life.” (145)

Hopefully these quotes give you an idea of what Outgrowing the Ingrown Church is like. Again, I highly recommend this book to any pastor or church leader looking to kickstart their congregation into seeking and serving those far from Christ.

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Seven Attributes of an Ingrown Church

ingrown churchOver the weekend I picked up Outgrowing the Ingrown Church and I couldn’t put it down! Seriously, this book is a goldmine for church leaders who want to see their church embrace the community. The author, C. John Miller, wants to push ingrown churches—those focused on the needs of its own members—into becoming outward-focused—seeking the physical and spiritual welfare of the community.

When introducing the concept of a ingrown church, Miller provides seven attributes (pages 29–36); each highlight a church’s inward focus and indifference toward the Great Commission. Here are the seven attributes, along with my brief description of each:

1. Tunnel Vision – An indifference to the lost, along with a focus on human limits of the church.

2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority – Prideful, elitist attitude held by the congregation; us vs. them.

3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion – Church members driven by the fear of rejection or conflict.

4. Niceness in Tone – The church has developed a comfortable & safe routine; ministry is safe and predictable.

5. Christian Soap Opera in Style – The church culture is engulfed by gossip.

6. Confused Leadership Roles – Church leaders (both pastors and lay) are expected to do the work of the ministry, not the congregation. The church wants managers of ministries, not pacesetters of evangelism.

7. A Misdirected Purpose – The church is consumed by a survivalist mindset; visitors & outsiders are a threat to this social club.

Thanks be to God that each of these attributes are reversible, allowing an ingrown church to become externally-focused, seeking to make God’s name known in the community.

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Stats on Youth Hate Crimes

Earlier this month I taught an Adult Bible Fellowship lesson series on Millennial Culture. The goal was to show how different Millennials are than previous generations, and giving these parents and grandparents some insight into how Millennials think. For this series, I relied heavily on the great resources put out by The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, as well as a new site I found: SecureTeen. Here’s a very helpful infographic that I didn’t have time to fit into my series:

Infographic: Youth Hate Crime USA

Source: SecureTeen

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The Church is Not a Self-Help Group

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image22152810Introduction

Oprah Winfrey has the Midas touch when it comes to books; anytime she recommends a book it jumps to the top of sales lists. Plenty of her book selections can be classified as “Self-Help”—the generic category which includes psychological, philosophical, and quasi-religious tomes. All books in this category offer the reader a chance to change: to improve relationships, to tune out fear, to slim waistlines, and to bring out the inner you.

Books like these cater to the self-help mindset, which says you can become a better you. When held within Christian circles, this thinking teaches that God will give you what you need to become a better you. He can help you live your best life now.

In his book Soul Searching, sociologist Christian Smith coined a term to describe this mindset, as demonstrated in adolescent Christian, calling it Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism teaches that the ultimate purpose of life is to be good, enjoy life, and be happy. God is not too involved in one’s life unless that person has a problem; only then will God steps in to help the person resolve the problem.

Entire books have been written concerning the myriad problems of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism; I only want to focus on three issues here:

  • God is seen only as a commodity
  • Focus on behavioral modification
  • Church is reduced to a support group

God as a Commodity

In Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, God becomes a commodity—something to be obtained and used for your own benefit. This makes the Creator submit and serve the created. God’s value is determined by what he does for you. People don’t want Jesus anymore, only what Jesus does for them.

In this mindset, the death of Christ is not as important as the life of Christ. Jesus lived a perfect moral life, and he serves as a role model for each of us. When we are having trouble living a good and moral life, ask Jesus and he will help you overcome so you can live the good life.

Focus on Behavioral Modification

This type of mindset focuses the believer on correcting external, superficial behaviors, rather than dealing with the underlying sins causing those behaviors. Even the motivations for change are superficial: people want to be seen as good and moral people, instead of changing as a response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So a wife wants to argue less with her husband because it would make her life easier, instead of seeing their marriage as a microcosm of the relationship between Christ and the Church. A father wants his kids to obey him in public because it is embarrassing, rather than embracing his identity as spiritual leader and chief disciple-maker in the family. A college student wants to break her addiction, but fails to deal with the underlying sins at the root of that addiction.

Church Reduced to a Support Group

In Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the church becomes a means to the end of a person’s self-help goal. People start looking at the church for what it can provide them and what needs it meets. Like with God, the church is viewed for what it provides. They are not looking for the Bible to be preached, unless it can help them get more money or move up the corporate ladder or have a better spouse and kids.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of churches willing to fill this role. Their sermons are motivational or inspirational talks, with a few verses sprinkled in as prooftexts. The ministries revolve around a focus of improving the quality of life, instead of rooting people more in their relationship with Christ. Lessons given in the children’s and youth ministries could—with little modification—be given in a public school assembly without offending anyone. These type of churches are reinforcing and strengthening Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to their members, helping them focus on improving themselves.

Pilgrims on a Journey

Perhaps a more helpful way to view the church is as a gathering of pilgrims. The Christian life is a journey, a movement from where we once were towards what God has called us to become. The church’s role in that journey is to be a gathering place where we can fellowship, encourage, and equip each other on this journey. It is where we can carry out all the “one another” commands. Finally, it is where we can worship our King, the cause and source behind any change. It is in His image we are being shaped, only through His power.

The church is where we are constantly reminded that this life isn’t about us, and that our successes and works are gracious gifts from the Father. In the church we see that Christ is the primary change agent, and that he often moves in spite of us.

 

Series on False Church Self-Identity:

 

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Dismissing Jesus

dismissing jesusIntroduction

In Dismissing Jesus: How We Evade the Way of the Cross, author Douglas Jones says the 21st-century church has reflected the world too much, at the cost of neglecting the teachings and priorities of Jesus Christ. This is seen especially in middle-class American churches, in which people seek to have Christ as well as all the trappings of the middle-class. These churches have abandoned the exclusive worship of Jesus in favor of syncretism, adding idolatry of Mammon to the worship agenda. Mammon, which Jones defines as “the broader cult of domination, unsacrificial wealth, violence, and greatness” (12), is so ingrained in our culture that we are blind to its effects. We are on the wide path that Jesus describes in Matthew 7, one that leads to destruction.

The remedy that Jones offers in this book is to return to the narrow path, which he labels the “Way of the Cross.” It means a rejection of the ways of the world, in favor of complete submission and obedience to Christ. It means a focus on the heart of Jesus, reflected in the acts of weakness, renunciation, deliverance, sharing, enemy love, foolishness, and community. By embracing the priorities of Christ, and rejecting the ways of Mammon, we will be made more in his image than in the image of the world.

Structure

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 looks at characteristics of the Way of the Cross, found in the teachings and actions of Christ. Part 2 highlights the obstacles in our way of following the Way of the Cross. Part 3 gives readers a glimpse of what a Christian community truly united on the Way of the Cross looks like.

Part 1

In Part 1, Jones clarifies the Way of the Cross. Devoting a chapter to each, he discusses the characteristics of weakness, renunciation, deliverance, sharing, enemy love, foolishness, and community. With each, Jones notes how countercultural and counter-Mammon each trait is. He also shows how Christ embodied each trait, and called his followers to walk the same path. These characteristics provide a measuring stick with which to evaluate today’s church.

Part 2

In Part 2, Jones seeks to provide practical examples of how we are more reflective of Mammon than we are of Christ. He touches on several key areas, including how we view church, sin, God, politics, military, and money. If you are like me, there will be some chapters you resonate with, cheering “Amen!”; other chapters will leave you broken and wounded, feeling like David when Nathan says “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).

Part 3

In Part 3, Jones concludes the book by giving a glimpse of what the church ought to look like away from the grasp of Mammon. He provides examples from history—like the Basiliad community founded by Basil of Caesarea (237–239)—giving hope to readers that this type of life can be lived. He provides practical advice for church leaders who long to move their congregations in this direction. Most of all, he provides encouragement to all, as breaking free from the bonds of Mammon is an extremely difficult journey.

Benefits

Dismissing Jesus is not a book you skim through, nor is it a book you nod and agree with. This book will challenge you, stretch you, and make you truly think about whether you more reflect the ways of Mammon or the Way of the Cross. By far his strongest chapters are those explaining the Way of the Cross in Part 1. Each reads as a wonderful sermon, packed with rich exegesis and challenging application. He does a fine job unsettling all types of readers, especially in Part 2, when he goes to war against the embedded practices of Mammon in our lives. Perhaps the best compliment I can give Douglas Jones is to say I must read this book again soon, for it will take another reading to process everything in the book.

Conclusion

Overall, Dismissing Jesus is a very powerful book for the 21st-century church. As I said above, I will be processing and working through the implications of this book for some time to come. Douglas Jones has written a much-needed book for the 21st-century church, and I pray that pastors and church leaders will read it and heed to the changes that Jones, and ultimately Christ, calls the church to make.

Book Info

Thanks to Cascade Books a review copy of this book!

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The Church is Not a Walled Fortress

walled fortressIntroduction

In the movie Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (I know, I’m a horrible person for watching the movies before I read the books; I have since repented and read the books), there is a scene when the soldiers and people of Rohan are under attack. The king has them flee to the safety of Helm’s Deep, an impenetrable fortress. The people flee to the safety of the fortress, while the soldiers prepare to defend her against the forces of evil. Fleeing to Helm’s Deep sets the stage for a great defensive battle, with the Rohirrim fighting for their very lives—and the lives of their people.

Walled fortresses served very well as defensive barriers—keeping enemies away from the people and armies of the king. Not all the people under the king lived in the fortress; they lived and farmed the grounds surrounding the fortress. It was only in times of warfare that they would enter the protection of the fortress.

Church as a Walled Fortress?

In the minds of some Christians, the local church is seen in similar lines as a walled fortress. It is a place of safety from the world. It is where Christians can gather for fellowship and encouragement.

In some ways this mindset is correct. As Christians we are not wired for this world. Peter calls us “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). We are also called to be different than the world: to be in but not of the world (John 17:15–16), to not love the world (1 John 2:15), and to not be shaped by the world (Romans 12:2). Hauerwas and Willimon describe us as resident aliens who are living in a Christian colony.

However, when carried too far this mindset can hinder the roles of the church and followers of Christ. We turn the walled fortress into a barrier keeping out both the world and those seeking God. We turn inwards, becoming a clique instead of a welcoming committee. Much like a country club, a church with this mindset only exists to serve and protect current members.

This is an abandonment of Christ’s command to go and make disciples of all nations. As Jared Wilson brilliantly said:

Many local churches have ceased fishing for men and instead become keepers of the fish tank.

Popping the Christian Bubble

Another way the walled fortress thinking is played out in American Christianity is in the Christian Bubble. This is the phenomenon, found throughout middle-class America, where a Christian family predominantly interacts with only other Christians. They go to a great church on Sunday, then listen to an inspirational radio station on the way to the local Christian coffee shop. The kids go to a Christian school, while the parents socialize at a midweek parents Bible study. The father might work at a secular job, but he is only close with a few other Christians in the office. The vast majority of the family’s time each week—along with their social interactions—are found within a Christian context. To the family, this is preferred, since it is safer than being out in the world.

None of those things listed above are bad or wrong; most of them (like Bible studies and Christian schools) are good and necessary. But when they are used to keep people away from the rest of the world, this is not good. We cannot turn into a 21st-century version of the Amish, shutting out the rest of the world and living life as a closed community.

If we are called to reach our community, how can we do that if we have little to no connections within our community? How can we do that if we are hiding from our community?

It is hard to defend a Christian bubble when Christ never seemed to stay away from the world. He was constantly mobbed by both those who loved him and those that would eventually call for his death. He ate with thieves, liars, and prostitutes.

As Christians, we need to find a balance point in our lives: a balance between being in the world while not being shaped by the world. We must retain our identity and culture as foreigners, as people living for the New Creation. We also must take a look outside our walled fortress, so we can love those that are far from Christ. Often, this will mean stepping away from the Christian bubble, into the messiness of the world. But that is exactly what Christ did when he came to earth: he entered the messiness of this world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).

(image credit: covilha)

Series on False Church Self-Identity:

 

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