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The heart is led by the mind. As much as this world would like to argue the opposite, that feelings and emotions drive our existence, what we think about, believe, and know is what leads our hearts. John Piper, in his excellent book Think, argues that “thinking is one of the important ways that we put the fuel of knowledge on the fires of worship and service to the world.” (15) Thinking is a process by which we give greater glory to God. Unlike other books on this topic, Piper writes in two ways that are often overlooked in this subject matter: 1) Devotionally and 2) Expositorally. This book is part devotional as Piper is constantly drawing the subject matter back to the practical side of how it effects our relationship with God. Piper also focuses his energy on two pericopes of scripture Proverbs 2 and 2 Timothy 2. Other books such as Henry Blamiers The Christian Mind, Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, or J.P Moreland’s Loving God with all Your Mind, argue the centrality of Christian thinking from a historical or philosophical prospective without the devotional thoughts and exegesis of scripture. Piper, echoing his preaching style, seamlessly weaves these two aspects into his book.
The book begins with Piper explaining his journey to being a “thoughtful” Christian. From his time in academia to his time in the pulpit, Piper briefly tells the story of how he began to understand the importance of thinking. The writing and preaching of Jonathan Edwards, a man whom Mark Noll called the greatest American Mind ever, had a profound effect on Piper during this period. During this first section of the book the aim and purpose of the book was clearly articulated. Simply put: “thinking is a God-given means to glorify him Greater.” (16)
The book is really a collection of short chapters that flesh out thinking as a habit of the Christian. He spends significant time on facing the challenges of Relativism and Anti-intellectualism. He does this, as I said earlier is rare in these types of books, by exegeting stories and confrontations from the life of Christ. Needless to say, Piper obliterates relativism, which he articulates probably the best I have ever read. He also makes great work of the “become like little children” passage that is oft quoted as a means of keeping up ignorant pretense.
All in all, Piper argues for a necessity of Christian thinking, augmented with Christian love and humility. He does make sure to properly define humility and love, not as tolerance and doubt, but as a posture towards the other person and God. This was a fantastic read, that was challenging and at the same time edifying.
The Real Jesus: The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels
If you have ever seen a special on the Life of Jesus and been confused at the Jesus that was shown or have ever wondered why the Discovery Channel’s Bible didn’t quite line up with what you read in your Bible, Luke Timothy Johnson has written this book as a way to explain those in consistencies in what you read in your Bible from what you might see on a documentary. The book is written at a little bit higher level, its not a scholarly work but still tough to follow at times.
Johnson begins the book with an explanation of the rise of the Jesus Seminar and their blitzkrieg on research on Jesus. The Jesus Seminar is composed of “scholars” who author papers, hold seminars and conventions, and speak and teach on the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many of the members of this organization are in some form of Academia. They have become most famous for the way they criticise (from the greek krites meaning “to judge”) ancient documents, especially the Gospels, and the history surrounding Jesus. The Seminar has a peculiar way of finding the “historical kernal of truth” hidden amongst the layers and layers of tradition and religious propaganda in the gospels (their summary not mine). Each member is allowed to vote on the historical reliability of the current statement or event associated with Jesus. This is done with 4 different colored beads: black meaning he definitely did not say or do this; grey meaning he probably didn’t do it; pink meaning it something he could have done; and red meaning Yeah that’s Jesus! (4)
Within the book Johnson points out some key issues that he sees with the Jesus Seminar:
1) The media circus surrounding it. Johnson takes issue with Robert Funk’s ringmaster personality as one who is not trying to further scholarship, but to create a media frenzy directly opposed to the church. Funk is on a mission, according to Johnson, to reclaim the gospels from the control of the church. (6-20)
2) The elevation of Apocryphal material as more historically accurate than the gospels…a ploy by liberal scholarship for centuries. The view that the Gospel of Thomas is more reliable because of its dissenting views and its un-corrupted text is another topic for another time.
3) The amount of conclusions that scholarship has arrived at. Chapter 2 traces the history of the “third quest for the Historical Jesus” and their theories on who Jesus is and was. His issue is not with scholarship, but the fact that the seminar can’t seem to come to a consensus with who Jesus was. In the last 20 years the scholars have come out with diametrically opposing view points on who Jesus was. There is no way that both sides of the seminar could co-exist, not everyone is right. (29-56)
4) The division within church as to how to approach scholarship and how to confront these teachings. We are caught between worldviews, which Johnson points out well in chapter 4.
5) History is and of itself difficult to know and understand. Johnson, himself a historian, argues that history is largely unrecorded and un-represented. In arguing that history is a difficult undertaking, especially in the methodology of the Jesus Seminar.
6) The Jesus seminar rejects any form of “religious” tainting of the Historical Jesus. They look for religious propaganda within the gospels. Johnson argues that the Jesus of Faith is the Jesus of history. By pointing to all the extra-biblical evidence for Jesus, the writings of Paul, and other evidence of Jesus, he argues for a “historical probability” where all the evidence of Jesus points to the religious community documenting it well.
All the evidence cited by Johnson in this book points definitively to a Jesus that was adequately and correctly depicted in the canonical gospels. He attacks liberal scholarship as represented by the Jesus seminar, not as heretics but as poor historians. This book was a fresh attempt to argue against the type of scholarship that permeates documentaries and media. Johnson argues for the history of the Bible.
John Piper and D.A. Carson are two men who have changed evangelism over the last few decades. Their ministry runs in counter distinction to most churches of today. There are very few examples in the Christian Church that embrace the intellectual side of worship that these two men have exhibited in their differing (yet strangely similar) roles. These two men exemplify and teach in this book what it means to embrace a statement made by one of Pipers Professors quoted in the book: “Why can’t we be like Jonathan Edwards, who in one moment could be writing a devotion that would warm your grandmother’s heart and in the next give a philosophical argument that would stump the thinkers of his day?” (39) Carson and Piper in this book attempt to bridge the gap between scholarship and Sunday service, between university academia and church attendees. Throughout the book, the inner question for the reader is: “How does one raise the level of study amongst the congregation.
The book is made up of 2 lectures, one by Piper and the other by Carson, given at an event located at Park Community Church in Chicago on April 23, 2009, that was sponsored by the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The two editors of the book (Owen Strachan and David Mathis) bookend the talks by Piper and Carson. Piper began the night with a telling of his testimony that was the six chapters of his life. During this part of his lecture we meet the men that made him who he is and learn the stories that affected his ministry. From his high school days learning proofs in geometry (which taught him logic and a passion for defense of ideas), his time in Munich where he saw great scholarship but no heart to, and his time in a teaching role at Bethel were his passion for preaching in the local church was rekindled. As Piper told his story, the number of people he read, looked up too, and was influenced by enthralled me. His mantra, which he repeated several times throughout his address, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”, colored every ounce of his ministry and his scholarship. Piper finished his lecture with 9 points of scholarly pasturing, all of which should be implemented if we are to guide our churches into a deeper knowledge and passion for God. He sums it up on page 67 by saying: “What ‘scholarly’ would mean for me is that the greatest object of knowledge is God and that he has revealed himself authoritatively in a book; and that I should work with all my might and all my heart an all my soul and all my mind to know and enjoy him and to make him known for the joy of others…Surely this is the goal of every pastor.” I want to be the kind of pastor that can say this!
Carson then comes to the pulpit and begins his lecture by articulating the meaning behind the verse: “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12.30) He explains with the Hebrew understanding of the heart, Jesus is emphasizing the heart and mind as being the same ting and your soul and strength are equated. The first and third words indicate how we think, and the second and fourth indicate with what passion we should think these things. (75) He moves onto tell his story, which he does in far less pages than Piper but is none the less fascinating. He finishes his lecture with 12 points for being a Scholar-Pastor, a few of which really stood out to me. He reminds pastors to avoid “devotional” reading and “study” reading. He encourages critical thinking in devotions and worshipful reading in study…something that I have longed struggled with. He encourages pastors to remember that what we get excited about; students get excited about…simple concept, hard to remember. Finally he instructs us to love the church. With my experience with church, sometimes my study leads me away from loving the church. I get disappointed that no one got my awesomely prepared lesson, or my word study went over their heads, or they didn’t get how great my archaeology handout was.
The only issue I had with this book was the lack of practical application in turning the tide of intellectual study within a Church. As I stated earlier, the church is in dire straits intellectually. Members for 60 years don’t know the basic flow of the Bible, or the method of Salvation, or can name the books of the Bible. Putting things on the lowest shelf does no one any good and never challenges anyone to reach. The problem with Piper and Carson’s lectures was that they really don’t know how bad it is out there in some Sunday school classes and churches. Another book that touches on this subject Loving God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland gives some helpful advice, but this book left out the practical advice for putting together a Sunday school plan, or an apologetic ministry, or any other pursuits (one church that is doing it very well is Sunnybrook Christian Church in Stillwater, Ok…check out their website and see how they push their people intellectually). I am fortunate to have some men who exhibit this quality in ministry. Guys like: Pastor Chad Laughry in Kearney, NE who is published in the newspaper writing about theological debates, Academic Dean Doug Aldridge at Ozark Christian College, Randall Birtell and Matt Bevens in my small group. These are men who are Scholar-Pastors, engaging the world in ideas and in ministry. Overall this was a challenging book to read, however, one I greatly enjoyed!