Tag Archives | HarperOne

To Know As We Are Known | Parker J. Palmer

The cover of Palmer's To Know As We Are KnownThe way in which we know things—our epistemology—matters. If we view the world objectively, as an object to be categorized and filed, we do damage both to the world and to ourselves. True knowing “requires the knower to become interdependent with the known” (32).

Parker Palmer, author and educator, develops his philosophy of teaching in To Know As We Are Known.

To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced. (xii)

Teaching has to be more than the passing down of objective facts. Genuine teaching brings learners into a community where they interrelate in faithfulness to the subject. Palmer even offers some practical advice for teachers to transition in this direction.

Stories are important for Palmer. A film about the nuclear weapons program, the account of a desert father, and the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate are all illustrative fuel that Palmer uses to flesh out his ideas.

To Know As We Are Known is an important book for both teachers and students that challenges the epistemology of the Enlightenment.

Palmer, Parker J. To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. New York: HarperOne, 1983, 1993.

The Rise of Christianity | Rodney Stark

The cover of Stark's The Rise of ChristianityThis book destroyed one of my cherished apologetic views. I have always understood the rise of the early church as pure miracle. After all, how could a group of persecuted people following a crucified “criminal” become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire in a mere three centuries? The only comparable phenomenon I knew of was the rise of Islam, but it grew because of military conquest.

It turns out that there are good logical ways to understand the rise of Christianity in those early years. Rodney Stark, using his sociology toolbox, turned his attention to this phenomenon in the aptly titled, The Rise of Christianity.

Stark begins with basic growth arithmetic. Numerically speaking, Christianity grew at 40% per decade, which is similar to the growth of Mormonism. For those first years (when the New Testament was written), it would have looked painfully small and inconsequential. However, 40% growth per decade creates an exponential curve.

After justifying the overall growth trend, he turns his eye to the factors which led to such growth. Here a few of the causes that stood out:

  • The incredibly strong social networks of the Jewish people, the source of Christianity’s first people, empowered the spread of the good news. There was a reason even Paul started his ministry in local synagogues.
  • Christianity developed a surplus of women due to the prohibition of female infanticide and abortion. This increasing number of women would have married and brought men into the faith, swelling their numbers.
  • Ancient cities were horribly overcrowded and dangerous places that bred disease. Christians offered a vision of hope to the oppressed and, through selfless care during times of epidemics, saw more of their sick live.

It turns out that the growth of the early church is the natural effect of living the sort of eternal life that Jesus both taught and lived. While I would be the last person to deny the effective work of the Holy Spirit (after all, that’s how every person comes to Jesus), it was moving for me to see the way that God’s Kingdom grew in the midst of the kingdoms of the world.

The early growth of Christianity is a deeper sort of miracle than I had realized. Rather than relying some deus ex machina, the early church grew by embodying (incarnating) their self-giving Saviour in the midst of a depraved and crumbling Empire. Many parallels can be drawn between the Roman Empire and Western culture. Perhaps the church is poised for a new burst of life!

—Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (New York: HarperOne, 1996).

The Bible Tells Me So … | Peter Enns

The cover of Enns' The Bible Tells Me So ...Fear not.

Those two simple words comprise the most common command in the Bible. Ironically, though, many Christians live in—if not precisely fear—at least a certain uneasiness about scripture. Here are some of the big issues:

  • How could God command the genocide of the Canaanites?
  • How could God annihilate the entire human race in a flood?
  • Why do different passages of scripture take opposing views?
  • How can Genesis speak intelligently to the modern world?
  • How did Jesus and Paul get away with interpreting scripture so … creatively?

Many Christians repress or explain away these issues, but deep down, the tension remains.

Peter Enns confronts the questions head on. His solution is simple: the Bible isn’t an instruction manual on God, it’s the account of how flawed human beings experienced God.

Reading the Bible responsibly and respectfully today means learning what it meant for ancient Israelites to talk about God the way they did, and not pushing alien expectations onto texts written long ago and far away. (65)

If the Bible is analogous to incarnation (fully God and fully human), Enns swings the pendulum from our longstanding Evangelical Docetism (not fully human) towards the Ebionism (not fully divine) side of the spectrum.

Now, you may not agree with Enns. Many people don’t. (There’s a great joke in the Acknowledgements section about the “Evangelical Witness Protection Program.”) You do have to respect a man who is so transparent with his views that he lost his teaching post at Westminster Theological Seminary. He also handles these issues with a genuine laugh-out-loud sense of humour.

Whether you agree or not, “fear not.” God is more than big enough to handle our questions.

—Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So …: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (New York: HarperOne, 2014).

The Gospel According to the Earth | Matthew Sleeth

The cover of Sleeth's Gospel According to the EarthA cursory glance around this blog should make it clear that I place a high value on God’s creation. I would struggle to enjoy life without the lakes, rivers, granite outcroppings, and all the rest of the flora and fauna of Ontario.

As a pastor, I’ve struggled to preach on these issues. When I think about Christianity and ecology, I feel challenged on two fronts:

  1. Any talk of environmentalism raises the specter of liberal theology.
  2. I’ve only heard three main Biblical texts used to speak of “natural theology”, and they all come with conservative rejoinders: Genesis 1-3 (“but the world be destroyed anyway”), Psalm 19 (“but the climax of this Psalm is on the written word”) and Romans 1 (“Paul only speaks of the natural world to leave pagans without excuse”).

The Gospel According to the Earth is the book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Sleeth speaks about the relationship between the body of Christ and Christ’s greater creation without getting caught up in such limited perspectives. He explores topics you wouldn’t expect—like music, hospitality, and rest—along with the traditional categories.

I do have to note that some of his biblical quotes felt forced. He stretched the interpretation of a few verses to fit his framework. Overall, though, I was amazed at the sheer amount of scripture that speaks to our responsibility toward God’s good creation.

This book is very easy to read and filled with practical ideas at the end of each chapter to put the message into practice. I’d recommend it highly to any Christian seeking to understand their role on our planet.

—Matthew Sleeth, The Gospel According to the Earth (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010).

God’s Problem | Bart D. Ehrman

The cover of Ehrman's God's ProblemYou know the old saying about what happens when you assume …

Let’s look at the subtitle of Ehrman’s book and unpack the assumptions: “How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer”.

  • Assumption Number 1: Our most important question is, “Why do we suffer?”
  • Assumption Number 2: The Bible was written to answer the question “Why do we suffer?”

“Why do we suffer” is clearly Ehrman’s most important question. In an autobiographical first chapter he describes how this question led him to dismiss the evangelical Christian faith he was raised and educated in. In his words, “The problem of suffering became for me the problem of faith” (3).

Reading this book from a Christian perspective, the first chapter evoked pathos and a desire to walk with Ehrman through his intellectual and faith struggles. Unfortunately, his use of tragedy for shock value combined with an air of intellectual superiority quickly undermined any sense of empathy.

Ehrman brutally describes human suffering. From the Nazi concentration camps to children dying for lack of clean water, nothing is exempt from his eye. While it’s critical in a book like this to state the depth of human suffering, he uses graphic suffering to bludgeon carefully nuanced and sincere attempts towards an answer.

The bulk of God’s Problem consists of chapters which describe how different biblical authors wrestled with the question of suffering:

  1. People suffer because God judges sinners
  2. Suffering is a consequence of sin
  3. Suffering is the path to redemption
  4. Suffering makes no sense
  5. God will even out the scales in the afterlife

For Ehrman, these views are often mutually exclusive. His historical method precludes any systematic understanding of the whole canon. In the end, he accepts the view of Job (without the prelude and conclusion)—that suffering simply makes no sense.

Let me offer one more implicit assumption—that we should be able to fully comprehend the biggest mysteries of life including, should he exist, the mind of God and the nature of suffering. This was the sort of theological arrogance that God challenged Job about.

I’ll be honest. I don’t know why a good and powerful God allows evil to exist. I do know that Ehrman’s disdain of any attempts to reach towards an answer is no help on the journey.

—Bart D. Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008).

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