Category Archives: Conversation

A New Year Perspective

When asked about the “greatest commandment,” Jesus encapsulated in His response a broad perspective on life and relationships.  Reflecting upon his answer at this time of year can help us as we move forward in every area of ministry.  His answer gives us perspective.

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”  (Mark 12:29-31)

First, we must know God.  This is the essential element of understanding life and all of our relationships.  There is only one God, and we know Him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He is the Creator of all things, both seen and unseen, and we are part of His creation.  Our very life is dependent upon Him, as well as our salvation.  He is God, and we are not, though we often attempt to displace Him in His proper role.

Secondly, we must know others.  In knowing them, we must love them.  In loving them, we come to know them more fully.  All of their idiosyncrasies, their foibles, their habits – both good and bad!  As we take a look at others, we really see how needy they are, in every facet of life.  We can see in their need the reality of their dependence upon God.  Such is the human condition.

Thirdly, we must know ourselves.  Our love for others is inherently connected to our knowledge and love for self.  Too often we view ourselves separate from the others around us.  However, we must overcome this delusion and realize we are the same as they.  We need God’s supply and sufficiency each and every day.

So, really, there are only two sides here, rather than three.  God is on the one side as Creator, Sustainer, and Provider.  We and all the “others” are on the other side as needy and dependent upon God’s care and provision for us.

Keeping this in mind as we serve people in 2017 will help us keep the proper perspective.  As we serve those around us, we serve them out of our own dependence upon the God whom they need as well.  We are no better than they in this regard, whether they are believers or unbelievers, young or old.  As we depend upon Christ for our life and our sustenance, we can be a light for others who search in this darkness.  May we be faithful in showing forth His light throughout this New Year!

 

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Review – “Life of Jesus: Who He is and Why He Matters”

Review

“Life of Jesus:  Who He is and Why He Matters” by John Dickson

by Mark Sooy

In preparation for teaching a course on Gospel Literature I was given John Dickson’s book, Life of Jesus: Who He Is and Why He Matters.  The book, along with the accompanying DVD, has been a refreshing look into this Man we call Jesus, who we also know to be the Author and Creator of life itself.  Dickson is unapologetically orthodox in his faith, yet discusses the person of Jesus in a way that brings new light to the reality of who He really is.

This study’s purpose is “to provide the inquiring, the skeptical and believers alike with an opportunity to explore Jesus’ life and to consider its significance for today” (p. 175).  I found this to be the case as I read and considered Dickson’s fresh approach to the subject.  I think it fits this purpose well as I prepare to teach college underclassmen, but also relevant in ongoing discussions that I have with atheist friends and skeptics, as well as well-meaning but uninformed believers.

Dickson has created the book, as well as the DVD, in six parts that discuss the framework of Christ’s life and covers many of the modern questions about His life, His deity, His miracles and His claims.  His use of historical data, along with quotes from both secular and Christian scholars, makes his arguments and ideas a potent resource for the dialogue that Christians should be having in today’s culture.

Part 1:  God’s Signpost.  This section explains Jesus as a “tangible sign of God’s interest in our world.”  Not only does Dickson deal with the big question of God’s existence, but he shows how Christ is one of the ways in which God has interacted personally with the world – and why.  He demonstrates that Jesus is not only a significant person in history, but a vital part of God’s intentions for the world that he created, as well as the humanity he desires to restore.

Part 2:  Christos.  Under this title Dickson explores the “identity of Jesus and His critique of ‘religion.’”  As can be expected, he shows the reality of Jesus the Man while at the same time unraveling the arguments against Christ lifted up by those opposed to Christian teaching.  He reveals a true picture of Jesus and dispels many myths and misconceptions about who He really is.

Part 3:  Kingdom Come.  Here Dickson takes on “Jesus’ vision of the future and it relevance now.”  Although it may seem from this title that he has not shown the relevance of Christ in today’s world, in fact Dickson shows His relevance page after page.  In this section, he is specifically noting the redemptive activity of Jesus.  He considers Jesus in the historical context of other teachers, as well as His miracles during His earthly ministry.  In this respect, Jesus is also relevant now for the redemption He continues to offer those who respond in faith.

Part 4:  Judge and Friend.  As Dickson considers the ideas of “Jesus’ thoughts on ‘religious hypocrites’ and ‘rotten sinners,’” he spends time debunking another list of misconceptions about Jesus and both his teachings and his life.  He notes that Jesus often taught about judgment, but of the self-righteous as opposed to the sinner.  In addition, he taught forgiveness for the sinner and showed in His ministry the reality of God’s grace and mercy to those in need.

Part 5:  Cross Examination.  In this section on “Jesus’ death as the source of life,” Dickson reveals a clear picture of the reality and scourge of crucifixion in the ancient world.  His treatment of its history is short but well done.  Beyond that, he discusses the reasons for the death of Jesus from many perspectives – political, social and religious.  He also gives a clear explanation of how Jesus viewed His own death.

Part 6:  The Resurrection.  Finally, the matter of the resurrection is raised.  “How could it happen?  What does it matter?”  These are the questions that Dickson raises and answers in another example of clarity and brevity using historical commentary and an analysis that reveals a balanced perspective for this core element of Christian teaching.

Overall, I highly recommend this treatment of the Life of Jesus by John Dickson.  I can see the benefit of this study in any small group setting, whether the participants are believers, skeptics, doubters, or any combination of those interested in seeking a greater understanding of Jesus and His life.  This is one I will keep in my library.

 

Dr John Dickson is founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity (Australia). He has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specializing in the birth of Christianity. An ordained Anglican minister he is also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), where he teaches a course on Christian origins.

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.

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.”

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