Monthly Archives: May 2014

Book Review – Martin Luther’s Catechism

Book Review

Review of Martin Luther’s Catechism

By Mark Sooy

My Christian upbringing was one that was full of church activities and events.  My parents sang in the choir, and included me as early as Junior High age.  There were various meetings during the week and work parties on the weekends (particularly the copying and folding of the bulletin for Sunday).  And, of course, there were Bible studies and youth meetings along with Sunday Services and Sunday School classes.

I recall during my young teenage years spending time during a series of Saturday mornings attending a membership class.  We studied basic Christian doctrines and the history of the church and denomination of which we were a part.  At the end of it all, though my memory is somewhat cloudy, we answered some questions about what we believed and about our relationship with Christ.  Once complete, I was a member of the church.

Missing in this short story of my life was the use of a Catechism.  That is, a concise and direct synopsis of the most important of Christian beliefs.  Something I could hold onto and take with me.  Something I could refer to later, and reflect upon day by day.  Somehow I think there are many modern Christians who have missed the benefits of a Catechism, and I would like to heartily recommend the one penned by Martin Luther.

Luther actually wrote two Catechisms commonly referred to as the “Shorter Catechism” and the “Larger Catechism.”  Although varying in length, they both cover the same material.  The shorter of the two was written with the intent of simplicity and memorization, for teaching children and new believers.  The longer one was written more broadly for Fathers to use in teaching their families and for Pastors in teaching their congregations.  It had more commentary than the shorter.  (These are readily available in many versions.)

Luther’s intent can best be summarized in his own words, from his own preface in the Larger Catechism.  Note his intentions for both knowledge (faith) and daily life (faithfulness):  “Being a faithful, earnest exhortation addressed by Luther to all Christians, but especially to all Pastors and Preachers, to diligently exercise themselves daily in the knowledge of the Catechism, which is a short summary and extract of the whole Bible, and to continually put it into Practice.”

The structure of the Catechisms is basic.  Luther desires to cover the “three most important parts of Christian instruction.”  These three parts are (in order):  The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer.  Once complete, he also spends time covering the two sacraments that he recognized:  Baptism and The Lord’s Supper.

Luther makes the point that these teachings of the Bible are so important that even he, a Doctor of Theology, must study them daily by meditating and praying through the various portions of the Catechism.  This was Luther’s heart – to hear the word of God!

Although I would never want to call into question the methods of my teachers and parents, for they did lead me to Christ and teach me His ways, I have still found this to be a welcome addition to my own devotional life and often find myself yearning to sit with my Catechism and drink of the richness found within.  Maybe you will too.

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Book Review – “The Good of Affluence”


Book Review

“The Good of Affluence” by John R. Schneider

by Mark Sooy

The foundation of Christian Worldview thinking follows the contours of Creation, Fall and Redemption.  In this scholarly work, John Schneider explores the subject of wealth from this basis.  Beginning at the beginning, that is, with Creation.

The full title is “The Good of Affluence:  Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth.”  It is a scholarly work, and admittedly difficult reading at times for those not used to the extended argumentation that requires focused attention.  However, it is well worth the effort.

Schneider states his purpose as “renovating” the common perspectives, and misconceptions, of how faith and wealth mix (p. 2).  Rather than a theology of ascetic denial, or even the more common idea of keeping “only what you need,” Schneider sees a theology of “delight” within the text of Scripture.  He states, “Material prosperity (rightly understood) is the condition that God envisions for all human beings.  It describes the condition that God desired for human beings when he created the world” (p. 3).  Thus, he begins his argument with Creation – that God created a good world in which He intended goodness for humanity in the form of material delight.

He builds a strong case for his position as he leads the reader through Genesis as providing the original vision for material goodness.  He proceeds through the Bible carefully choosing texts which legitimately reinforce his ideas.  The Exodus shows God liberating the poor and downtrodden into the materialistically described “land flowing with milk and honey.”  The Prophets (particularly Amos) are used to express the dangers of how “delight” can be twisted into greed, opulence and lack of concern for the poor.

Schneider spends several chapters discussing Jesus.  First, in regards to the misplaced assumption that Christ was part of a lower class, poor family – when in fact He was a member of a somewhat well-off family (possibly similar to our middle class).  Beyond that, Schneider discusses Jesus’ teaching on wealth and notes how Christ turned the ideas on their head – rather than always blast the wealthy for being rich, He had much more to say about their heart attitudes.  He includes a discussion of a number of parables regarding wealth.

Throughout the book Schneider is found to be in dialogue with a number of other writers concerning faith and wealth.  At times he uses their points to bolster his own, and at times he uses them to show the weakness of their thinking in order to prove his own point.  This seems to be a good feature, as it allows the reader to see how Schneider might take issue with current books on the subject of wealth and faith.  Schneider’s work, in fact, dismantles the thin layer of exegesis found in some popular treatments of the subject.

Do not assume that Schneider is simply putting a new spin on the “health and wealth gospel.”  Far from this, he does well at helping the reader see the importance of the heart in regards to material wealth and the reality that spiritual health and a relationship with Christ is wealth beyond measure.  He spends time discussing the dangers of holding on to wealth without any legitimate concern for the poor and oppressed.  The book considers our responsibility to fellow human beings and how to appropriately respond to their needs.  Overall, this book is well-balanced and worth the time and effort to read and understand the “good of affluence.”

John R. Schneider is a retired professor of theology.  This book is an expansion and revision of an earlier work titled “Godly Materialism: Rethinking Money and Possessions.”

Book Review – “Leading with a Limp”


Book Review

Leading with a Limp” by Dan B. Allender

By Mark S. Sooy

Dan Allender’s treatment of leadership, as a topic, is unconventional to say the least, but refreshing in its own way.  Rather than give a laundry list of “best practices” for leaders to follow, he gives a realistic assessment of what leaders can expect.  “So here’s the hard truth,” he states, “if you’re a leader, you’re in the battle of your life.  Nothing comes easily, enemies outnumber allies, and the terrain keeps shifting under your feet” (pg. 1).

With that realistic admission of the difficulty of leadership, he proceeds to suggest that “to the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive and committed colleagues” (pg. 2).  It is from this perspective, one of leadership shortcomings, that Allender views leadership and suggests a strategy for leading well – in his words, “leading with a limp.”

The analogy of the limp is taken from the story of Jacob wrestling with the Angel, in which Jacob finds himself leaving the struggle with God an impaired human being.  Just so, leaders are men and women with impairments, often inflicted by the God who is molding them into the leaders He desires them to be.

Allender builds his case using a list of leadership challenges that include crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness and weariness.  To these challenges he notes that leaders often respond in negative ways such as cowardice, rigidity, narcissism, hiding or fatalism.  These responses cause ineffectiveness in leadership and often result in broken relationships.  Avoiding such faulty responses will bring about more positive results.

The positive responses to the leadership challenges are much more effective.  Admittedly, these responses are often counter-intuitive and require the leader to think carefully before responding to any challenge.  However, the positive results are well worth the effort as a leader responds in courage, depth, gratitude, openness and hope.  The results, according to Allender, are improved relationships and effectiveness in leading others.

Allender works to help leaders recognize their faults and willingly admit to them – in the presence of those he or she leads.  In so doing the leader more readily identifies with them, and they with the leader.  This aspect of his leadership model shows a positive “lead by example” style that invites other leaders and followers to admit to their own shortcomings as well, essentially creating a “we’re in this together” communal response to leadership failure.

Many personal stories adorn Allender’s ideas on leadership in “Leading with a Limp.”  This gives his ideas a real-world perspective that brings it quite a bit of credibility.  It is not clear if Allender rejects the idea of leadership strengths, but it is clear that he feels leadership should be approached from the leader’s weakness rather than from his or her strength.  This reviewer is not quite convinced in this approach; however “Leading with a Limp” is a solid study of leadership challenges and a worthwhile investment for any leader.

Dr. Allender serves as Professor of Counseling at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He travels and speaks extensively to present his unique perspective on sexual abuse recovery, love & forgiveness, worship, and other related topics.

Book Review – “Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue”

Book Review

“Visual Faith:  Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue” by William A. Dyrness

Worship and the Arts:  Renewal in Tandem

There can be no dispute that Western art and music were influenced in their development by the message of Christianity.  The Church had the power – and the money – to dictate much of the thematic content of the arts.  Beyond that, the culture itself was “Christian” in the broadest sense of the term, and it only made sense that artists and musicians would express their gifts for use within the church and to help spread the message of Christ.

As history wore on, the influence of the Church deteriorated and its patronage of the arts decreased.  In the last 150 years or more, the distinctive creativity that was once the hallmark of Christian art has dissipated to the point that it is hardly distinguishable from other modern art perspectives.  There are certainly exceptions, and a resurgence and energy in the last several decades has shown that Christians can, and do, create art and music at the highest levels.  We can be thankful for the men and women who have begun to re-establish Christian truth as a valid and appropriate message for all artistic endeavors.

In his book, “Visual Faith:  Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue,” William A. Dyrness brings the arts and worship together to paint a picture of renewal that is both thoughtful and intriguing.  In his preface he writes that, “it has become my conviction that the practice of worship provides the most appropriate setting for a fresh appraisal and even a renewal in the arts…I believe that making beautiful forms is theologically connected to our call both to listen and respond to God in prayer, praise, and sacrament”  (Dyrness, pg. 9).

I think Dyrness has a point.  Worship and the arts can interact in ways that will cause us to think and re-think both.  Is the way in which we practice corporate worship as full and expressive as it can be?  Do our expressions in the arts represent a well-grounded biblical and theological understanding of the Christian Worldview?  Are we “redeeming” the arts and allowing the Spirit to renew their use?  Is tacking on a Christian message to any art form enough to redeem it?  Do the forms of art themselves need renewal?  And what of our worship, does it need redemption too?

These questions, and many more, are necessary and vital as we think about our modern worship and our modern arts.  Scholars and professors are considering these things, but pastors and laymen seem to overlook the important implications that these questions raise.  Corporate worship is the main public expression of the Church, yet so few think carefully and thoroughly about it.  I highly recommend Dyrness’ book as a starting point in the discussion.

 

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