Faith is Sight | T. F. Torrance

ThomasFTorranceFaith is God’s gift of sight to those blinded by sin.

—T. F. Torrance in Leonard J. Vander Zee, Christ, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Recovering the Sacraments for Evangelical Worship (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004), 63.

Buber | Vermes

The cover of Vermes' BuberTo man the world is twofold, in accordance with his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.

The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.

The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.

The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.

These sentences launch Buber’s most famous work of philosophy, I and Thou. In his small book, Theistic flavoured existentialism reaches poetic heights never before explored.

I and Thou is the pinnacle of Buber’s written output, but his life consists of much more. This is what makes Pamela Vermes’ biography of Buber for the Jewish Thinkers series so fascinating. Vermes explores Buber’s passion for Hasidism which begins his career and culminates in his later books, Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters and Late Masters.

Buber was passionate about the Hebrew Bible, which he spent decades translating into German. He wrote other works of Biblical interpretation—Moses and The Prophetic Faith—which explore the characters of the Bible with philosophical acuity.

As a biographer, Vermes excels in summarizing the major works of this literary and philosophical giant without over-simplifying. Like Buber himself, Vermes’ writing requires attentive reading.

This biography has inspired me to go beyond I and Thou and continue exploring the works and mind of Martin Buber.

—Pamela Vermes, Buber (New York: Grove Press, 1988).

In Control | Victor A. Shepherd

Victor ShepherdMany people understand sovereignty to mean unlimited, unqualified power, or the capacity to coerce and control. However, this kind of power is more typical of evil. God is sovereign, but he is not all-controlling; the problem with the world is that, while God is sovereign, we are in control.

—Victor A. Shepherd, The Committed Self: An Introduction to Existentialism for Christians (Toronto, ON: BPS Books, 2015), 213.

Purity | Jonathan Franzen

The cover of Franzen's PurityFranzen frustrates me.

His craftsmanship is top notch. He handles dialogue, character perspective, and pacing expertly. He is among the best novelists writing today.

The topics he explores in this book are all fascinating—the fall of Eastern Germany, Internet information leaks, family mystery. I expected to love Purity.

My frustration comes with the character of his characters. They are just plain unlikable. They act with selfish cruelty that leaves me confused about who to cheer for. The anti-hero is so anti, there’s nothing redemptive.

Franzen has painted a world I don’t want to live in, although the mystery gripped me until the end. One of Purity’s final thoughts illustrates the whole:

It had to be possible to do better than her parents, but she wasn’t sure she would. (563)

—Jonathan Franzen, Purity (Toronto, ON: Bond Street Books, 2015).

Kingdom Love | Scot McKnight

Scot McKnightKingdom mission, in a word, is love: God’s love for us, our love for God, and God’s love dispersed into us through the Spirit so that we love others and embrace them in God’s love.

—Scot McKnight, Kingdom Conspiracy (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014). 204.

The Black Swan | Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The cover of Taleb's The Black SwanWhat you don’t know is far more relevant than what you do know. The books you haven’t read yet are more valuable than the ones you have read.

What we do know allows us to speculate and create forecasts about the future. What we don’t know—the black swan—renders our patterns meaningless.

This truth comes painfully alive in Taleb’s graph of a turkey’s life. Every day the turkey receives food from the farmer and grows in size. Extrapolating from what the turkey knows suggests a rosy future for the bird. Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey’s black swan.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a unique author. He is bluntly irreverent, with the sort of disdain for common opinion only Žižek could match! This book is equal parts scientific analysis on logical fallacies and philosophical reflection on the role of randomness in life. Taleb’s prose is at the same time dense and page-turning.

The Black Swan will help you live well in a life where highly improbable events happen.

—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007).

Theological Roots of Pentecostalism | Donald W. Dayton

The cover of Dayton's Theological Roots of PentecostalismIt’s tempting to think that the modern Pentecostal movement was created ex nihilo. We imagine God invading Topeca, Kansas and Los Angeles, California in order to restore the New Testament church in a completely new and unanticipated fashion. This comforting origin story, however, is simply untrue.

Just as the Spirit of God moved over the surface of the deep in Genesis one, he moved across the theological and doctrinal landscape of early twentieth-century America to accomplish his work. In Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, Donald W. Dayton examines the doctrinal landscape to uncover the antecedents of early Pentecostal doctrine. He finds the roots of Pentecostal doctrine in the Methodist Holiness tradition.

Early Pentecostals spoke of the “full” or “foursquare” gospel. Dayton quotes Amiee Semple McPherson in describing this:

Jesus saves us according to John 3:16. He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4. He heals our bodies according to James 5:14-15. And Jesus is coming again to receive us unto Himself according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17. (21)

Jesus is our Saviour, Baptizer, Healer, and soon coming King. The roots of all four of these doctrines can be found in the Methodist Holiness tradition with a few notable changes.

Where Methodists emphasized Sanctification as an act of grace subsequent to salvation, Pentecostals emphasized the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Some Pentecostals held on to Sanctification as well as Spirit Baptism which created a five-fold doctrine.

The other curious change is the Pentecostal emphasis on Pre-Millennial Dispensationalism which drives so much mission work. “Methodist and Holiness traditions have historically had little interest in eschatology or have inclined toward a postmillennial eschatology” (146). Dayton roots the rise of Pentecostal Pre-Millennialism in John Fletcher’s doctrine of Dispensations.

Theological Roots of Pentecostalism is a detailed and fascinating look at how Pentecostal doctrine evolved and has served to drive a powerful worldwide movement.

—Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987).