New Creation | Frank D. Macchia

Frank MacchiaParticipation in God is participation in the eschatological freedom of the divine life in history to move all things toward new creation.

—Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 48.

The Confusion | Neal Stephenson

The cover of Stephenson's The ConfusionEpic doesn’t begin to describe it. The Confusion’s story-line literally circles the globe!

The Confusion is the second of three volumes in Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy. I wrote about the first volume, Quicksilver almost a year ago. The final volume in my 3,000 page adventure is The System of the World.

This second volume contains Book 4: Bonanza which details Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe’s exploits as well as Book 5: The Juncto which follows Eliza. In the interest of making the plot less confusing, Stephenson con-fused book 4 and 5 so they followed the same chronology. It worked. The moment when these two books first cross paths was electrifying!

As with Quicksilver, the number of topics covered was very broad. The most interesting idea for me was the shift from a society where money equals the value of the gold or silver the ruler’s face is stamped on to a system where something of lesser value can stand in place of a greater amount. Today we take it for granted—the polymer $10 Canadian bill in my wallet is worth less than a cent in raw material, but it’s much more valuable. Imagine living in the generation that made that transition—this is precisely what Stephenson does.

The Confusion was less confusing and a good deal more compelling than Quicksilver. I eagerly await the final three books in The System of the World.

—Neal Stephenson, The Confusion (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004).

Prayer & Need | Thomas Merton

Thomas MertonThe man whose prayer is so pure that he never asks God for anything does not know who God is, and does not know who he is himself: for he does not know his own need of God.

—Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island (New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1955), 43.

Robopocalypse | Daniel H. Wilson

The cover of Wilson's RobopocalypseWith a portmanteau like Robopocalypse, how can you go wrong?

The setting is the near future. An AI researcher has made a mistake and his electronic child, Archos, has become sentient.

The author has serious credibility. Wilson holds a Ph.D. in robotics and has already written a non-fiction book on the topic, How to Survive a Robot Uprising. The grounding of his imagination is strong.

The structure of the book is also unusual and interesting. The major parts of the book are chronological, beginning before the robot uprising and continuing to the climax. Within each part, however, the chapters follow seemingly discrete characters whose plot lines grow and merge over time.

Stephen King called this book “terrific page-turning fun” which is precisely what it is. Robopocalypse is pure science fiction candy.

—Daniel H. Wilson, Robopocalypse (New York: Vintage Books, 2011).

Baptized in the Spirit | Frank D. Macchia

The cover of Macchia's Baptized in the SpiritBaptism in the Spirit is the central distinctive note of Pentecostalism. Unfortunately, that central point has been relegated to the realm of experience, with little serious work done on its theological implications.

For all of their talk about the importance of pneumatology, Pentecostals have yet to couch their narrow pneumatological interest in charismatic/missionary empowerment within a broader pneumatological framework. (19)

This is the task Macchia undertakes in Baptized in the Spirit. What are the soteriological, eschatological, Trinitarian, missional, and ecclesiological implications of Spirit Baptism? As Macchia connects the dots between these fields of theology it becomes apparent that Pentecostal’s distinctive doctrine has much to contribute to the ecumenical conversation.

Don’t let the cover of the book fool you. A translucent sheet blowing in the desert overlaid with “Spirit” in flowing script implies that the writing is aimed at a superficial level. It’s the sort of book I would pass over had it not been given to me by a trusted friend (thanks Pastor David Long)! This is an academic work that demands the attention of the reader.

The chief strength of Baptized in the Spirit is the way Macchia uses Spirit Baptism to make connections that were not clearly visible before. It is as if Spirit Baptism is a missing puzzle piece that pulls together and unifies the diversity of Christian theology. Given this Spirit’s first appearance as the wind of God blowing over the chaos of pre-creation, this shouldn’t come as a surprise! While reading, my mind bounced back and forth like a Plinko puck as connections between what I had formerly assumed were separate doctrines were bridged.

If you’re the sort of Pentecostal who values both experience and theology, this book is an inspiring exploration of Spirit Baptism across the wide expanse of systematic theology.

—Frank D. Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).

Inexperienced Prayer | Tom Wright

N. T. Wright's Picture[Paul] knows that the prayers even of young and inexperienced Christians are every bit as powerful and valid in God’s presence as those of a seasoned apostle.

—Tom Wright, Paul For Everyone: The Prison Letters (London: John Knox Press, 2002, 2004), 78.

A New Humanity | Luciano Lombardi

The cover of Lombardi's A New Humanity

It’s been said that most of Paul’s writing can be boiled down to, “Hey you two—get along!” Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ephesians where Paul goes to great lengths to convince Jews and Gentiles that in Christ they participate in one new humanity.

There are two key perspectives that make Lombardi’s commentary shine. In the first place, he is determined to understand Paul first as a Jew. One of the early footnotes on Ephesians 1:4 made me want to stand up and cheer:

Other scholars will focus on the terms holy and blameless to reference an “imputed righteousness” that effects substantive change to our being through a transfer from Christ to us. Such a view assumes that Paul is using Greek philosophical categories, where being is understood in terms of substance, as opposed to Hebrew relational categories that describe God’s connection, in His own presence and action, to humanity and creation. Paul’s writings make far more sense when he is considered to be thinking as a Hebrew rather than as a Greek. (21)

This Hebrew understanding of Paul seems blindingly obvious but is often overlooked by the Reformed tradition.

The second perspective Lombardi brings to the text is a solid understanding of Paul’s Roman milieu. Using the history of Rodney Stark, Lombardi brings out elements of Roman culture that illuminate many of the things Paul wrote. For example, it’s difficult for Twenty-First Century Christians to understand why Paul would not call for an end to slavery. The observation that “the Roman Empire literally ran on slave power” (123) along with the statistics that back the statement up helps clarify why Paul wrote about how slaves should behave.

The pastoral insights interspersed throughout the commentary are very apropos. To continue with the topic of slavery, Lombardi notes that “one of the lessons to be learned form this is the importance of choosing where to fight the battle against evil in society” (124). In another stand-up-and-cheer worthy line, he observes that “beginning to address attitudes and behaviour is more conducive to change than trying to coerce the adjustment of cultural norms by influencing legislation” (124). This is worth remembering this election year!

A New Humanity is a brief but thought-provoking look at the new sort of unity God has accomplished in Christ. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 ESV).

—Luciano Lombardi, A New Humanity: A Walk Through the Letter of Ephesians (Belleville: Guardian Books, 2014).