Imaginative Worship | Walter Brueggemann

Walter BrueggemannOur worship is an act of spirit-led imagination that permits us to see and live differently, it is very upstream, against the grain of dominant reality.

—Walter Brueggemann, Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 132.

The Christian Faith| Colin E. Gunton

The cover of Gunton's The Christian FaithSystematic theology makes me nervous.

Think about it for a moment. Systematic theologians organize and distill the Bible (a diverse library of literature composed over many centuries) into one structure. The constant danger for systematists is to improperly exegete scripture to make it fit, not unlike trimming a puzzle piece to force it into place. The best systematic theologians are faithful to scripture and treat their own edifice as provisional. I appreciate Gunton’s acknowledgement in the preface: “the Christian faith cannot without falsification be systematized” (xi).

Gunton has done a remarkable job at condensing the heart of the Christian faith into less than 200 pages. He writes with concise precision. Structurally, he uses the tripartite division of the creeds to focus on the Father and creation, the Son and salvation, and the Spirit and eschatology. Gunton’s theology is deeply trinitarian.

Most helpful is Gunton’s understanding of eschatology. Eschatology is not something that only happens in the future when this world is over. Eschatology is the in-breaking of the Spirit of God in the midst of our time in order to bring all creation to its rightful end. This has powerful implications for us. A right understanding of Spirit baptism leads us to reject escapist fantasies that place all hope in the future. Instead, we value the present as the time when we experience God’s perfecting power in our daily lives.

[The Spirit] teaches us to find perfection in the ordinary and power in weakness. That is the way things are transformed this side of the end. (172)

The Christian Faith is nothing to be nervous about. Colin E. Gunton has provided a clear and concise overview of the Trinity and His creation.

—Colin E. Gunton, The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2002).

The Great Dance | C. Baxter Kruger

The cover of Kruger's The Great DanceMany Christians speak of God. A large number of those Christians would affirm that God is Trinity: one being, three persons. Some have learned this from creeds and catechisms, others from hymns. Very few, I suspect, have given sustained thought to what it means that God is Father, Son, and Spirit. This is what C. Baxter Kruger delivers in The Great Dance.

Kruger uses the metaphor of dancing (perhaps picked up from C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity?) to describe the life of Father, Son and Spirit. This life is woven through creation like a great river. The goal of God is to draw everyone into this river, this dance.

I used the word “everyone” on purpose. Kruger has left Calvinism with is doctrine of limited atonement (or more generously stated, “definite atonement” or “particular redemption”) behind. He preaches the good news of the great dance like an evangelist:

The Father himself set his love upon you before the foundation of the world and predestined you to be adopted into the very Trinitarian life of God.  And his own beloved Son, Jesus Christ, has come and accomplished his Father’s dreams for you and the human race.  And even now the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit that this is the truth. (from his essay, “Why I Left Calvinism Behind“)

A fully realized doctrine of the Trinity demands a careful understanding of Jesus’ Incarnation, something which Kruger provides with clarity and passion. Drawing on the work of the Torrance brothers, he explains how the Incarnation was the work of God hammering our sin-gnarled humanity back into its original shape. This work began at birth and continued to and including his obedient death.

Kruger does well to sidestep ontological arguments (homooousia, anyone?) and stresses a relational understanding of the Trinity. This is immensely helpful for modern readers. If God chose to reveal himself in relational terms (Father-Son), then why would we want to privilege Greek philosophical categories foreign to scripture?

My only difficulty with this book was the way Kruger handled suffering, a topic reserved for the final chapter. Suffering is the result of believing the lie of the enemy and divorcing yourself from the great dance. While this is true in part, surely there’s more to it than that. Kruger speaks of the “philanthropy of the Triune God” (33)—that joy that runs through ordinary life which we experience in motherhood and fatherhood, gardening and cookouts, carpentry and friendships. How do we explain the lives of people who suffer deeply and constantly precisely for their participation in the great dance? The Apostle Paul spoke about joy in suffering, rejoicing in trials.

That caveat aside, The Great Dance is a rare book that makes deep theological insight readable and enjoyable. The Great Dance is something any Christian could read to deepen their faith in the triune God.

—C. Baxter Kruger, The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited (Victoria, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2000).

Mermaid Marathons | Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay OordMermaids cannot run marathons because a mermaid’s nature includes leglessness. God cannot create controllable creatures because God’s nature is uncontrolling love.

—Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 148.

Survive | Nate Hardcastle, ed.

The cover of Hardcastle's SurviveOne of humanity’s deepest taboos is cannibalism. This is what makes the 1993 movie Alive so disturbingly compelling. Alive is the true story of a plane crash where forty-five Uruguayan rugby players are forced to survive off the bodies of the dead.

In Survive: Stories of Castaways and Cannibals, Nate Hardcastle has collected sixteen stories of people in survival situations, both fictional and non-fictional. Cannibalism occurs in twelve of the sixteen stories! What is a human being capable of doing when stretched to the edge of survival? Each account is gripping—some are heartbreaking.

Survive is packed full of top-notch writing, from Patrick O’Brian to Mark Twain to Jack London. The stories take you from icy antarctic sleeping bags to the deserts of the American West. Each account will make you question, “What would I do?”

—Nate Hardcastle, ed., Survive: Stories of Castaways and Cannibals (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2001).

Infinite Goodness | Dante Alighieri

DanteHorrible my iniquities had been;
But Infinite Goodness hath such ample arms,
That it receives whatever turns to it.

—Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Trans. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008) Purgatorio III:121-3.

The Mediation of the Spirit | Mark J. Cartledge

The cover of Cartledge's The Mediation of the SpiritMark J. Cartledge straddles two worlds. On the one hand, he is a Pentecostal/Charismatic (P/C) scholar, a member of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. On the other hand, he is a member of the Academy of Practical Theology. In his entry in Eerdman’s Pentecostal Manifestos series, Cartledge brings his worlds into dialogue by offering a P/C perspective on practical theology.

Cartledge’s argument centres on the concept of mediation. After identifying a desperate lack of substantive scriptural engagement in the field of practical theology, he takes a close look at the Spirit-reception texts in Acts, uncovering five different forms of mediation (109):

  1. “Christ mediates the Holy Spirit to the church.”
  2. “The Holy Spirit mediates Christ and the Father to the church.”
  3. “Creation mediates the Holy Spirit to the church.”
  4. “The church mediates the Holy Spirit internally (via individuals, groups, worship, and practices).”
  5. “The church mediates the Holy Spirit externally (via individuals, groups, public worship, and practices).”

Cartledge then applies this understanding of mediation in two different ways. On a practical level, he reviews a congregational study by Mary McClintock Fulkerson, identifying ways the study could be improved through a deeper understanding of mediation. On an academic level, he uses his understanding of mediation to challenge the weak soteriology which exists in the field of practical theology.

The Mediation of the Spirit functions on two levels. Cartledge first provides a valuable addition to P/C studies and practical theology through his scriptural understanding of mediation. On a more theoretical level, he uncovers some systemic oversight in the field of Practical Theology and marks the trail for P/C scholars to continue to contribute to the field of practical theology.

—Mark J. Cartledge, The Mediation of the Spirit: Interventions in Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015).