Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Quest for the Trinity - Stephen R. Holmes




A rich survey of the doctrine of the Trinity

The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History and Modernity
Author: Stephen R. Holmes
Publisher: IVP Academic (www.ivpacademic.com)
Pages: 231

In The Quest for the Trinity Stephen R. Holmes argues that recent scholarship on the Trinity departs from traditional understandings. After a brief analysis of current thought, he starts with how the Bible has been read, how it should be read, and how patristic exegesis is different than our own. This period is analyzed in detail because it is crucial to the formation of the doctrine of the Trinity. From there Holmes moves to fourth century debates on the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit.

Holmes looks at Augustine and the West before reviewing anti-Trinitarianism around 1700. The nineteenth-century roots of the twentieth-century revival of the doctrine are examined, before the book closes with another glance at recent writers viewed in light of all that has been considered.

Technical terms and doctrinal fine points make for challenging reading of a book intended for upper-level undergraduates. It is most readily absorbed by sustained concentration; it’s not bedtime reading.

It would be an excellent textbook on the history of the doctrine of the Trinity. Christ spoke with authority, and on this subject, the author does the same. His breadth of understanding is evident, enabling him to guide readers through the labyrinth of history and debate.

What this lacks in readability is made up for in content. Christ bid his disciples to cast into the deep for a catch. What I like about this is that I can return to it knowing that I will be fishing in the depths for those treasures of knowledge and wisdom which ultimately come from Christ.

Holmes does not resort to attacks in critiquing those championing a revival of the doctrine. It’s more like laying a straight stick next to a crooked one so that you can see the difference.

In the process, one begins to see this lofty teaching more clearly. In speaking of the challenge faced by Gregory of Nyssa, the author writes, “Gregory’s great need, then, was to defend simultaneously three things: the core conception of deity as one, simple and undivided: the basic binary metaphysical distinction between Creator and creation which therefore does not admit any degrees of deity; and the exegetical and liturgical imperative to confess that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each real and distinguishable, and each properly named God” (106-107).

In particular, I appreciated the often-repeated emphasis on the simplicity of the divine nature, even if paradoxically, our ability to articulate it and comprehend it will always fall short. Even so, in a summary statement at the end, Holmes does an admirable job of defining the indefinable:

The divine nature is simple, incomposite, and ineffable. It is also unrepeatable, and so, in crude and inexact terms ‘one’ (199).

Even in these brief quotations, one can see the complex language. It is a banquet for scholars but a challenge to digest for the average Christian. However, those hearing the call to come up higher will find the means here. God rewards the smallest of steps.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Becoming - Jenny Simmons




Former Addison Road singer lets questions lead to a more satisfying faith

The Becoming
Artist: Jenny Simmons (www.jennysimmons.com)
Label: Fair Trade Services
Length: 10 tracks/37:45 minutes

Part of The Becoming by Jenny Simmons is gaining the right perspective. On “Where I Belong,” the peppy opener, Simmons sings, “I, I am right where I belong/Don’t need a place to call my own,/With You I am home.” What if, despite waywardness, restlessness and strife, we are right where we belong? Is there consolation in knowing that even when Christ’s followers lose their way, they can rest in belonging to Him?

Questions multiply on the next song, “What Faith is About”:

What if I'm not sure I heard You right
And I've found a thousand reasons not to try?
And what if I can't face the great unknown
But there's no way back and nowhere left to go?

Here, the searching ultimately leads to a more satisfying faith:

But what if I try even when I'm scared
And Your courage meets me there?
What if I hope against all hope
And believe in every trial

Experience becomes the hope found in “This I Know,” “When I take my final breath/I know I’m ready/Heaven waits for me.” It’s the confidence that having lived well by grace, no matter how one departs this life, one can look forward to being with Christ.

These first three songs are radio-friendly, in the pop/rock mode, but the fourth, a personal favorite, has a reggae rhythm punctuated by slide guitar. It’s whimsical in sound and sentiment:

When it comes to being free
I am my own worst enemy
Well I can criticize every move I make
I get a microscope on my mistakes
And I steal glory from the One who made me

It startles to think that being overly critical takes away glory from God’s work in our lives.

The song even provides a fresh take on the familiar line: “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Simmons knows the truth but needs help believing that “it’s not because of anything I’ve done/This love is unconditional,/So at my worst or at my best,/You don’t love me less,/You love me more/This I know for sure.” This is nothing new, but what a difference it might make to truly believe it. This is the foundation for true freedom. 

It gives rise to a different kind of liberty on “Letting You Go.” I can’t help thinking of it in relation to Taylor Swift’s monster hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” a break-up song with attitude. “Letting You Go” is a goodbye song that is a more sober reflection. The desire for freedom may be the same but Simmons’ take is a mature realization that an unhealthy dependence needs to end. Young women in particular will find help and encouragement.  

The music is guitar-driven. I like it best on the slow to mid-tempo songs, which may get less radio play, but contain gospel and country influences. The closing “Come Healing” features pedal steel and is an invitation with a twist. It’s not a call to people to respond; it’s welcoming various forms of healing. Strings grace the title track, which opens with acoustic strumming, as does “Broken Hallelujah.”

This former lead singer of Addison Road chronicles the difficult journey toward wholeness and freedom. These songs deal with the “in-between,” where questions play a role in finding truth. Being honest with ourselves and God fosters self-discovery and growth. In every situation, it’s learning to depend entirely on God.

Michael Dalton

Saturday, March 2, 2013

VeggieTales: Lettuce Love One Another!




VeggieTales shows the way of love

VeggieTales: Lettuce Love One Another!
Length: Approximately 123 minutes

Even though I knew that VeggieTales: Lettuce Love One Another! includes three different stories, while watching for the first time, I found myself distracted by the first one, Abe & the Amazing Promise. I struggled to see how it fit with the theme of showing love to others. Perhaps I needed to learn this story’s lesson of patience.

Abe is all about Abraham and Sarah waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is staged as an interview with Abraham, who recalls the events while being filmed. The impatience of the film crew shows that being patient is a way to show love to others: “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4a ESV). As Junior Asparagus notes, it’s hard to wait when you have “cookies on the brain.” The idea is that we can trust God to do what He promised, even though waiting is not easy.

Of course, it’s not enough to refrain from being impatient. In Tomato Sawyer and Huckleberry Larry’s Big River Rescue we learn the importance of helping others. You can summarize the thought in one of the wise sayings from the book of Proverbs, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them” (Pro. 3:27 NLT). This time, instead of Larry being the one who gets in trouble, it’s Tomato Sawyer who is reluctant to help.

Some might not want little ones to learn the story of King David’s sin with another man’s wife. No worries! The worst thing in King George & the Ducky is the selfishness and greed. Sex is never part of this retelling. This is about thinking of others. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19: 19 NLT).

It’s not as serious as it may seem. What makes it fun is the zany humor. The subtle aspects and pop culture references broaden the appeal. It’s remarkable that these stories can be appreciated by all ages.

Five new “Bible Bits” found in and around the stories give this more substance. They consist of brief Bible lessons illustrated with drawings that are moved like objects on a flannelgraph. It’s a change from the standard animation. Each one is narrated. Together they provide examples of forgiving, helping, giving, praying and sharing.

Bonus features include three silly songs, “The Biscuit of Zazzamarandabo,” “Sneeze if You Need To” and “Endangered Love.”

Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind - Charles Swindoll




One of America’s finest Bible teachers makes the Psalms intensely practical.

Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind
Author: Charles R. Swindoll
Publisher: Worthy Publishing (www.worthypublishing.com)
Pages: 306

What is about the Psalms? How is it that one like Psalm 23 has become so familiar? I recall a friend reading them for the first-time and being amazed at the honesty. It reminds me of a line in an Andrew Peterson song (“No More Faith”): “This is not another song about the mountains/Except about how hard they are to move.” This ancient collection of songs is not pie-in-the-sky rhetoric. Perhaps it is because they relate so well to fallen human nature that Charles Swindoll finds encouragement in Living the Psalms.

His choice of psalms serves as a counterpoint to the ills that wear God’s children down. In these applications, Psalm 8 is an antidote for feeling overlooked. Psalm 19 is the answer to divine silence. Psalm 27 combats fear. Psalm 137 provides hope against lingering consequences. Insignificance recedes in the light of Psalm 139. Psalm 142 is a balm for depression.  

These selections, like the Psalms, can be read over and over for profit. They are arranged in a devotional format. Each Psalm is divided into five days of short reflections. Each one of the 26 chapters covers a different Psalm, with the exception of a couple of weeks where two closely related psalms are reviewed.

Swindoll may be best known as a preacher and teacher, but he writes extremely well, which makes for easy reading. It only takes a few minutes to read a passage.

Even so, the wealth of wisdom in his sentences is amazing. When considering references to babes and the heavens in Psalm 8 he writes, “Infants may be small and the stellar spaces silent, but both convey a profound significance to the observer. So it is at those times in our lives when we may think we are no longer that valuable or necessary. While God honors us by accomplishing His work through us, that is not the basis of our value. To put it another way, we are not valuable to God because of our usefulness. He values us whether we are productive or not” (31).

Swindoll is a teacher’s teacher. He not only draws upon a lifetime of experience, he is a master communicator. His teaching methods are worth studying and emulating. He makes studying the Psalms an intensely practical exercise. Each daily reading concludes with a brief “Making it Strong in Your Soul” section that provides suggestions to make the lessons come alive.

Christian speakers have sometimes made fun of those who define Hebrew and Greek words when the meaning of a biblical text may seem clear. Swindoll shows how judicious use of this method reveals helpful layers of meaning. It’s not a waste of time. He recognizes the value of illustration and knows when to use it.

The author’s encouragement is balanced by his willingness to challenge, “While it’s difficult to understand the reason, God has planned that we continue to live in a hostile, wicked, non-Christian world system (kosmos). He deliberately did not remove us from an atmosphere of hostility. Instead, He has promised to preserve us through the conflict. He has made possible a plan of insulation, not isolation. God isn’t interested in our isolating ourselves, hidden away like hermits in a cave, but rather in our living courageously on the front lines, claiming His insulation amid an evil environment” (171).

As Annie J. Flint wrote in “He Giveth More Grace,”

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.  

In addition to being one of this country’s foremost Bible teachers, Swindoll is like a prophet of grace: “The longer I live and the more time I spend with the Lord (and with others), the more I am driven back to the answer to most people’s problems: sincere, Spirit-empowered, undeserved love. It’s called living by grace. Once Christ is in full focus, it’s amazing how powerful love can be!” (153).

For those who might never have seen the value and beauty of the Psalms, this is a fine introduction to some of the highlights. This book should be helpful to anyone wanting to deepen their relationship with God and rise above their personal challenges.

All Things Possible - Mark Schultz




God is the greatest reality and that makes all things possible.

All Things Possible
Artist: Mark Schultz (www.markschultzmusic.com)
Label: Fair Trade Services LLC
Length: 10 tracks/35 minutes

Mark Schultz has never sounded better. All Things Possible may be his finest hour as a singer/songwriter. Much credit goes to Seth Mosley and Pete Kipley, the producers. Mosley shares some of the songwriting credits along with others like Cindy Morgan and Mia Fieldes. Mosley’s creative energies are everywhere. He also plays various instruments.

Modernized production makes Schultz more vibrant. The pop/rock has an edge, and the ballads are not overly sentimental. Vocals are restrained. It’s just what Schultz needed with his first release on a new label.

It may seem clich├ęd, but hope abounds. This is something that Christian artists like Schultz can offer in the world of music. It’s not built on utopian dreams or wishful thinking but on the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. These tracks encourage while acknowledging the harsh realities of life. “It is Well” (not the hymn) is one example:

When my strength is gone
Oh your cross stands strong
And your mercy never fails
It is well

“All Things Possible” becomes a jubilant chorus of praise towards the end:

My God is strong and mighty
My God is faithful
My hope is in the Lord
For He is able

The resignation in “I Gave Up” is not about defeat. It’s a bold way of being done with the old and what weighs down. The opening line sets a defiant tone: “I gave up all my striving.”

I like the picture in “Love Walked In.” Believers in Christ can follow Him by walking in when others walk out. Early Christians cared for those abandoned by society. Later Christians did not desert the sick and dying during the Great Plague of London. Christ strikes me as One who does not leave for the reasons that humans do. The sober yet winsome melody is a perfect complement to the theme of restoration.

Presumably, “I Will Love You Still” is an ode to Schultz’s wife. It also applies to how God’s sees his children.

If ever you should fall
If ever you should break
If ever you should turn from me and slowly walk away

I will love you still

Piano, French Horn and strings are all that’s needed for this lovely melody.

A couple of tracks have short, distinct, and even whimsical flourishes at the end. It’s evidence of the care that has gone into this recording.

The love of family, Schultz’s wife and newborn child (2012), is a sanctifying influence. He looks like a contented man on a cover with a cartoonish city in the background. The city of God is far more real than the city of man. God is the greatest reality and that makes all things possible. 

Come to the Waters (Collector's Edition) - Children of the Day

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