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Book reviews

Wanderers of Time | John Wyndham

The cover of Wyndham's Wanderers of TimeGolden Age science fiction science fiction is fascinating. Imagine the challenge of writing about space travel when no human had yet escaped our planet’s atmosphere!

In “Derelict of Space,” one of five short stories in Wanderers of Time, Wyndham describes just what it’s like to match velocity and trajectory in an atmosphere-free environment. You can forgive Wyndham for imagining an almost-breathable oxygen level in the bottom of some of the moon’s craters (“The Last Lunarians”).

In “Child of Power” and “The Puff-ball Menace,” Wyndham first writes in short-story form about the ideas which would form his full length novels, Chocky and The Day of the Triffids. The title story, “Wanderers of Time,” takes cues from H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine in portraying a world no longer governed by homo sapiens.

Like much Golden Age science fiction, Wyndham doesn’t develop his characters (although he does attempt a secondary love story in “Wanderers of Time”). What these stories lack in character development, they repay in nineteen-thirties novelty.


Wyndham, John. Wanderers of Time. London: Coronet Books, 1973.

Jesus the Christ | Thomas G. Weinandy

The cover of Weinandy's Jesus the ChristAnalogies, when the subject is God, always fall short.

One of the most common analogies for the Trinity is H20. Just as H20 can be a solid (ice), liquid (water), or gas (steam), God is Father, Son and Spirit. The analogy seems like an apt way to throw light on the inconceivable theological arithmetic where 1+1+1=1 (another analogy)! Weinandy, having thought through the details of the H20 analogy, simply states that “[i]t perfectly illustrates Modalism” (60)! This example demonstrates Weinandy’s clear-sightedness when it comes to the Christology and Soteriology.

Jesus the Christ is a refreshingly straightforward look at who Jesus is and what he accomplished. Weinandy begins with scripture before tracing the thought of the church through the patristic and medieval eras, and into the present. His chronological method is particularly helpful in explaining the multitude of heresies that confronted the church in its formative years.

In approaching this book from a pentecostal perspective, I was struck by the way in which the Spirit preserved and revealed truth throughout the centuries. The Spirit inspired people like Ignatius, Origen, and Athanasius to write, using their limited amount of light, to bring about a more complete picture of the truth.

In a field of systematic theology notorious for its difficulty, Weinandy’s book is a breath of fresh air suitable for a new theological students or thoughtful laity.


Weinandy, Thomas G. Jesus the Christ. Middletown, DE: Ex Fontibus Company, 2017.

Deliverance to the Captives | Karl Barth

The cover of Barth's Deliverance to the CaptivesKarl Barth is a theological giant of the Twentieth Century. His fourteen volume, 9,200 page Church Dogmatics has cemented his legacy. This background is what makes Deliverance to the Captives so interesting. It’s a collection of sermons Barth delivered to “avowedly critical and ‘un-Christian'” (Schwarz in Barth 12) prisoners. Is it possible for Barth to simplify his theology to connect with the every-man?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” For each message, Barth takes a short snippet of scripture and simply reflects on it. “You Shall Be My People” (60-66) is a good example. In preaching on Leviticus 26:12, “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people,” he simply breaks the passage down into its three statements and shares his thoughts on them.

I was impressed by Barth’s bold humility. He didn’t shy away from the fact that he was preaching to prisoners. In fact, he specifically chose passages like Romans 11:32, “For God has made all men prisoners, that he may have mercy upon all.” He didn’t hesitate to include himself as “prisoner.”

Barth’s messages in Deliverance to the Captives have the power to speak to spiritual and physical captives even today.


Barth, Karl. Deliverance to the Captivesds. Translated by Marguerite Wieser. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961.

The Way of Discernment | Elizabeth Liebert

The cover of Liebert's The Way of Discernment“What’s God’s will for my life?” might be the single most common question asked of any pastor. The question usually comes from a person at the crossroads of a major life-decision. Should I change career or stay safe? Should I commit to that mission trip or stay at home? Should I marry him or move on? Elizabeth Liebert provides a holistic way to bring the decisions of life to God.

Three elements set this book apart from the rest.

  1. Grounded. Liebert grounds her discernment practice in the writings of Ignatius of Loyola. From the initial prayer of examen to reflections on consolation and desolation, Ignatius’ fingerprints are all throughout this book. From those Ignatian roots, Liebert moves out to glean wisdom from a variety of other sources, from Jonathan Edwards to the practices of the Quakers.
  2. Practical. Liebert is not only interested in providing a theology of discernment. She invites readers to “begin [their] own discernment process, rather than just thinking about discernment” (xi). To facilitate discernment, Liebert has included a series of exercises throughout the text which will give the reader the practical tools necessary to develop their own discernment practice. The book is so practical, I suspect it will become one of my most lent-out volumes (and re-purchased when my book isn’t returned)!
  3. God-Oriented. While some of the discernment practices included would find a welcome reception in a corporate boardroom, the overall thrust of the book is to determine God’s will (or to use Liebert’s preferred word, “call”). To retain this focus she emphasizes spiritual freedom through indifference. By this, Liebert stresses indifference to anything other than God’s fundamental call.

The Way of Discernment is theologically rich yet easy to follow. I will be sharing it with anyone who is seriously concerned with determining God’s next steps for their life.


Liebert, Elizabeth. The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Borne | Jeff Vandermeer

The cover of Vandermeer's BorneRachel and Wick live in a nightmare. The world they can’t remember—except through drug-like memory beetles inserted into their ears—has been destroyed and abandoned by The Company. Their lives have been reduced to scavenging the debris and detritus of failed biotech experiments. Then Rachel found Borne on the flanks of Mord, a multi-story bear-human hybrid experiment. Did I mention that Mord can fly?

If you’re reading this second paragraph, you might enjoy the New Weird genre described by Rose O’Keefe as “cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant.” Vandermeer’s Borne is not meaningless fiction. Publisher’s Weekly elevates it beyond weird fiction. Borne is “weird literature.”

The ethical dilemmas that Rachel and Wick face resonate with those that humanity faces in real life. This is all wrapped in a mystery story that will keep you frantically turning pages until you reach the end.

Like his earlier Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne is a compelling work of New Weird literary fiction that challenges the reader to see the real world in a new light.

 


Vandermeer, Jeff. Borne. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.

The Apostle Paul | Stanley E. Porter

The cover of Porter's The Apostle PaulMy first exposure to Paul’s life, thought, and letters came in my second year of Bible College when I was assigned F. F. Bruce’s magisterial Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free for a Pauline Literature class. One could view Stanley E. Porter’s Apostle Paul as a necessary update to Bruce’s work (xi). Porter begins with Paul’s background and reconstructs a chronology of his life and writing before analyzing the thirteen Pauline letters.

Porter is a specialist in the Greek language—a strength that shines through on almost every page. His knowledge of Greek allows him to situate Paul’s writing within broader Greek cultural norms, shining light on various details of Paul’s letters.

Particularly interesting was Porter’s section on pseudonymity. It is frequently argued that some of Paul’s letters are pseudonymous (written by someone other than Paul). Porter forces the reader to confront the implications of this view. First, it is fundamentally deceitful. The church from the start viewed the thirteen letters as Pauline which led to their canonical status. To believe that someone other than Paul wrote in the apostle’s name means the other person wrote deceptively. Second, there is the issue of double-pseudonymity. If you believe someone other than Paul wrote the letter, then the recipient is also in question, adding another layer of confusion. Porter repeatedly emphasizes textual evidence (or the lack thereof) over speculation and questionable hypotheses. The problem of pseudonymity, “combined with the evidence available, points to the Pauline letters being actually authentic” (168).

The New Perspective on Paul (led chiefly in various forms by Sanders, Dunn, and Wright) is another major area of debate in Pauline theology. Porter holds the traditional view against the New Perspective. For Porter, the New Perspective is not supported by Jewish evidence. Furthermore, the New Perspective misunderstands Paul’s use of language, especially the way that Paul understands “law.”

A major strength of this book is Porter’s balanced handling of the evidence for every Pauline question and debate. While he is never shy about stating his preferred option, the reader has unprejudiced evidence at hand to pursue a different reading.

I suspect The Apostle Paul will inspire a new generation of Pauline students to dig deep into the thirteen letters that bear his name.


Porter, Stanley E. The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought, and Letters. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Pentecostalism | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's PentecostalismWalter J. Hollenweger (1927-1916), an ordained minister with the Swiss Reformed Church, book-ended his academic career with large works on pentecostalism. His ten volume (!) doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was condensed then translated into The Pentecostals—a highly readable and insightful book on the origins of the global Pentecostal movement.

Pentecostalism is more than an update to The Pentecostals. In his earlier work he privileged history over theology. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is “a thoroughly theological book” (92) in which he traces the diverse roots of global pentecostalism. Hollwenweger identifies five theological roots which have fed the movement we see today:

  1. The Black Oral Root. While in the West today, “Pentecostalism is fast developing into an evangelical middle class religion” (19), things were different in the beginning. Hollenweger shows how pentecostalism is thriving in Africa, even if sects like the Kimbanguists of Zaïre make Western theologians nervous!
  2. The Catholic Root. Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Wesley brothers, who were in turn influenced by Roman Catholicism. Hollenweger traces the uneasy but definable influence of Roman Catholic theology on the pentecostal movement.
  3. The Evangelical Root. In this slim section, Hollenweger follows “the traces of Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification through the American Holiness movement” (181). His discussion of the relationship between pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism (ch. 15) is particularly insightful.
  4. The Critical Root. In this disproportionately large section of Pentecostalism, Hollenweger reviews the numerous critical issues which pentecostals are beginning to face. Fortunately, pentecostals can no longer be described as “anti-intellectual, evangelical-fundamentalist and anti-ecumenical” (van der Laan in Hollenweger 201)! Pentecostal scholarship has started to rigorously address broader theological issues such as liberation theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and post-colonial missions. From my perspective studying at McMaster Divinity College, the two decades of pentecostal/charismatic scholarship that followed the publication of Pentecostalism have added immensely to all the areas which Hollenweger surveys.
  5. The Ecumenical Root. This is Hollenweger’s wheelhouse. In both of his books on pentecostalism he repeatedly laments pentecostal disengagement with the ecumenical movement. In Pentecostalism he is cautiously optimistic that pentecostals are now engaging with the universal body of Christ as expressed by the World Council of Churches.

In Pentecostalism, the “elder statesman of Penteecostal studies” (Cox), shows the astounding breadth of global pentecostalism. Though technically an outsider, Hollenweger handles the diverse issues of this massive movement with critical sensitivity. I only wish he had a chance to update his work one last time before his passing.


Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

Spirit Hermeneutics | Craig S. Keener

The cover of Keener's Spirit HermeneuticsEveryone has a hermeneutic lens through which they view the world—whether they realize it or not. For every academic who examines their hermeneutics with rigor (i.e. Gadamer, Thiessen), there’s that sweet soul in the congregation ‘claiming’ Jeremiah 29:11 for herself.

In Spirit Hermeneutics, charismatic New Testament scholar Craig Keener examines what a healthy pentecostal hermeneutic might entail. His conclusion is encouraging. The sceptical cessationism of twentieth-century Western christianity has given way to a hermeneutic that values God’s current active role in interpretation.

Keener thoughtfully covers a number of key topics. He emphasizes the role of global pentecostalism in reading scripture. Majority world views are just as valuable as Western views. He values careful exegesis (as his four volume commentary on Acts amply demonstrates), yet emphasizes boldly emphasizes the value of lay devotional reading.

For devotion and for church edification, . . . exegesis occurs within the believing community. Acts 15:28 does suggest the value of truly Spirit-led community understandings. (277)

When I ordered Spirit Hermeneutics, I expected to read a scholarly approach to pentecostal hermeneutics. What surprised me was the personal elements of this work. Keener adds autobiographical details which do more than illustrate his approach—they inspire the reader to challenge their presuppositions and to engage scripture afresh.


Keener, Craig S. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

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