Minds Like Crows | Thomas Merton

Thomas MertonOur minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.

—Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Books, 1972), 104.

Incarnation | Thomas F. Torrance

The cover of Torrance's IncarnationThe centre of the Christian faith is the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. Who Jesus is (Christology) and what Jesus did (Soteriology) comprise the crux of Christianity.

Thomas F. Torrance taught these two classes at Edinburgh University from 1952 to 1978. This volume, Incarnation, contains the notes of Torrance’s Christology class as edited by Robert T. Walker. The book is dense and full of historical theological detail. Consuming Incarnation on the printed page was challenging enough—I can’t imagine having to grasp this material in lecture format alone!

Torrance begins with a careful description of his “scientific method” which is probably not what you’re assuming. For Torrance, a subject has to be studied according to its own internal logic. The Christ has given himself to be understood by scripture. Rather than import some modernist framework for understanding how Jesus is fully God and fully man, Torrance stays with the logic of scripture.

The most important theme of Incarnation is the atoning nature of the hypostatic union. Even though the second volume in this series is dedicated to Soteriology—Atonement, Torrance repeatedly emphasizes how the union of God and man in one person was a crucial element in the salvation of humanity. If your Christology is wrong, your Soteriology falls apart. The unassumed is the unredeemed.

Incarnation is full of detailed historical arguments, from Scripture to Patristics to the Reformation. Every view is carefully explained and evaluated. In order to better grasp this material, I have summarized and offered some reflections on each section.

In the end, Torrance’s theology leads to doxology. You can’t help but be inspired to worship the God-man who assumed our fallen human nature in order to redeem humanity.

—Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ, Robert T. Walker, Ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008).

Experiencing God | Victor A. Shepherd

Victor ShepherdIn much of the church today there is a misguided emphasis on our experience of God. If we are serious about God, our experience with God will in fact overtake us; but if we are serious first of all about an experience of God, that is qualitatively no different from a seriousness about our experience of anything. “God” becomes no more than the intrapsychic event of our experience, and the reality of the personal encounter escapes us.

—Victor A. Shepherd, The Committed Self: An Introduction to Existentialism for Christians (Toronto, ON: BPS Books, 2015), 220.

Between God and Satan | Helmut Thielicke

The cover of Thielicke's Between God and SatanImagine the scene. After decades of life as a tradesman, with growing awareness of his true vocation, Jesus goes to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin. What relief! The heavens open, the Spirit descends, the voice of the Father validates his Son and his Son’s ministry.

Immediately, the same Spirit that descended gently like a dove throws the Son into the wilderness where he encounters Satan and wrestles with the depths of temptation. This trial will define his ministry.

Helmut Thielicke, a German theologian, first published this meditative study on the temptation of Jesus in 1938 in order to “strengthen the followers of Jesus Christ in their resistance to ideological tyranny” (v). The book was reissued in 1946 after the collapse of the Nazi regime. The book was most recently reissued in 2010 emphasizing the fact that the tempter works in every era.

If we are going to resist the tempter, we need to look to Jesus, the perfect human, who resisted temptation until the end. Thielicke approaches the temptation of Jesus with a keen understanding of anthropology and human weakness.

Between God and Satan is an excellent devotional book which will open up many avenues for understanding the significance of Jesus’ temptation.

—Helmut Thielicke, Between God and Satan Translated by C. C. Barber (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1958).

The Gospel | Timothy Keller

Timothy KellerThe gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

—Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2011), 48.

The Lord’s Supper | Thomas R. Schreiner & Matthew R. Crawford

The Cover of the Lord's Supper“This is my body” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Hoc est corpus. Defining the verb, “to be” in this context has been one of the most divisive tasks the church has undertaken. On one side of the spectrum you have the transubstantiation of the Roman Catholic church. On the other side you have the memorialism of Zwingli’s  descendents. “Do this … in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25).

In The Lord’s Supper, Schreiner and Crawford have collected essays from Southern Baptists which reflect on the “biblical, historical, theological, and pastoral issues” required to properly understand the meal (391). The survey of Biblical material is particularly helpful. Köstenburger leads the volume with an essay exploring the Passover roots of the meal before Pennington and Hamilton Jr. survey Gospel and Pauline literature, respectively.

The historical essays begin with the church fathers, pause on each of the reformers, and close with a look at recent Baptist history. Here the polemic of the volume comes to the forefront. Each of these essays examine the way a particular group understood the Lord’s Supper before pointing out how these views are in part faulty. This volume is “a book written by Baptists for Baptists, a fact that [the editors] make no apology for” (391).

There are challenges even within the Baptist camp. In Gregory A. Wills’ essay, “Sounds from Baptist History,” he traces the movement of the Southern Baptist church from close to open communion. (Close communion is restricted to church members whose regeneration and subsequent baptism has been demonstrated.) You can almost hear the pain in his voice when he writes, “The widespread adoption of open Communion among conservative Southern Baptists indicated that they did not cross the twentieth century unscathed by the progressive currents against which they struggled.” (311). “Close Communion was not the only victim. … The traditional church practices and structures lost their basis in a ‘thus saith the Lord'” (312).

Craig L. Blomberg offered this blurb for the back cover: “While Schreiner and Crawford stress that this volume was written by Southern Baptists for Southern Baptists, it would be a pity if this emphasis prevented their book from receiving the very wide readership that it deserves.” Blomberg is right. The Lord’s Supper provides the reader with a thorough education on the various elements of our Christian meal. If you’re not a Southern Baptist, be prepared to interact critically and thoughtfully with the material.

—Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, Eds, The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes (Nashville, NT: B&H Academic, 2010).

God Must Love | Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay OordGod must love. To put it as a double negative: God cannot not love. Kenotic love is an essential attribute of God’s eternal nature.

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 161.

The Skeleton Tree | Iain Lawrence

The cover of Lawrence's The Skeleton TreeAh, the old bait-and-switch.

I ordered this book expecting a good survival story that I could share with my son. The Skeleton Tree is about two boys stranded in the Alaskan wilderness. Visions of Lost in the Barrens danced in my head. Unfortunately, much of the book was taken up with the relationships and broken family history of the two boys. Survivalism took a back seat.

Lawrence is a Governor General’s Award winning author of young adult fiction, so I’m aware that this opinion reflects my own biases more than the quality of the writing. Lawrence’s prose is crisp and descriptive. Still, if this reflects the state of young adult adventure writing, I’ll stick with the classics.

—Iain Lawrence, The Skeleton Tree: Only the Wild Survive. (Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2016).