Thursday, February 6, 2014

Theology Made Crystal Clear


I was sent a copy of

Exploring Christian Theology: The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times
to review. Having read other theology books I was prepared for slanted views, undefined terms, and assumptions. I was unprepared for how eminently readable these books are. Yes, “books” because they are two books in one. The first is “Created in Christ Jesus: Church, Churches, and the Christian Life”. The second is “When He Returns: Resurrection, Judgment, and the Restoration. While they are organized similarly, they are very different in tone and subject matter so I will examine them separately.

“Created in Christ Jesus” by Nathan D. Holsteen is like sitting at my friend’s dinner table. The dessert is digesting and we are sipping our glasses of wine or cups of coffee. Now that we are warm and comfortably well fed, I might ask “what do different churches believe about the church in history and what the Bible tells us?” My friend, an expert in theology and church history, would reply by conversing on a level I could understand, using analogies from film (The Bourne Identity) and books (The Cat in the Hat) to illustrate and firmly plant in my mind the current scholarship about the church and major differences. As he spoke, it would become clear to me what I believed and why, and why others might be persuaded to believe differently about these matters. My friend and now spiritual mentor would suggest some short Bible passages to learn and would make sure that I understood the both the dangers that threaten a church’s vitality and simple principals to remember so I could help my own church grow. Finally, if I was still interested, my friend would provide me with a few paragraphs pulled from some of the historical sources so I could read and think about them for myself and a reading list for further study. Yes, that’s all in the book

“When He Returns” by Michael J. Svigel is much more labor intensive. Now my friend has brought his friend along to study with me the sources and Bible passages affecting my beliefs about the End Times. Through Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Zechariah, Mathew, Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 2nd Peter, and Revelation I am led through the quagmire of what the Bible teaches and what churches believe about resurrection and restoration. In a group setting, I would allow many weeks for discussion. My friend’s friend assigns Bible verses to learn as a bedrock for my belief and includes a brief historical overview of the subject. At the end of the evening (which has now stretched into the early morning hours) I am left with some simple facts to remember, common dangers to avoid, and that ubiquitous list of historical sources and future resource material.

Beside their basic layout what is common to both books? Both authors urge us to hold Jesus central and remember the basic beliefs which all believers share even while we discuss the diversity in the details. Both give us hope that we can learn and share our beliefs in a cogent manner and provide us with renewed confidence for the church’s future and our own future with Christ.

What is wrong with this book? There is no perfect book but the issue I take with this (or these) is in only one minor detail. Each book includes a reading list with a brief synopsis and an indication of the difficulty level for each book on the list. The lists are too short and missing some authors. Where is

Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ
Dallas Willard  His book, “Renovation of the Heart” is a careful explanation of spiritual growth. I found only one book each by N.T. Wright and Phillip Yancey. I am not aware of any other highly respected authors that may have been omitted because these are not my areas of expertise, but how about Gerhard von Rad’s “
The Message of the Prophets
” or even C. S. Lewis’ “
The Last Battle

All in all, my quibble with the authors is of lesser importance than some of the potentially divisive details they warn of. This is a fabulous book for your own study or to study with a group. Or why not study it for yourself, and then start a group to study the church and end times. What a great gift for a new believer! The two of you could study it together. Or purchase multiples then give them away to others for their own study. If the other books in this series prove to be as strong, I’ll want all of them to read, study, and give away. This is the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time and it’s one you’ll want to pick up right away whether you are a new Christian or a long-time believer, a pastor or a member of the church, a student or a teacher. Suitable for middle school ages and higher.

NOTE: This book was provided to me for review purposes by Bethany House. I was not required to provide a positive review, but with this book I was compelled to do no less.