3 Reviews, 2 October
Liberating King by Stephen Miller
“Faith is not pretending everything is ok, when it’s not,” (51) says Stephen Miller, in his book, Liberating King. The book itself is a series of meditations from a worship pastor who, in this book, seeks to connect various vignettes in Scripture to his own life journey. Miller weaves in various allusions and anecdotes from culture as well, but the recurring theme is application to worship.
As a writer, Miller is introspective and honest, but the chapters virtually stand on their own and I envision this as a series of reflections that could be read as part of a service or as part of preparation for one. At times, it seems a bit disjointed as an overall book. Miller’s observations, while honest and revealing at times, seem to stand more on their own. I see this as an accompanying study to a series or as a reflective piece during lent. As a stand-alone book, though, I wanted a bit more at times.
The chapter, “Learning to be Brave” stands out as Miller mixes personal loss with a challenge to stand one’s ground in a shaky culture. It’s what being liberated means—the ability to live free of needing to have it together. If there’s a soundtrack to go with it, I’m interested. As I think there’s more that can be said and Miller introduces more than expounds his subjects. With all that said, the church needs more books from outside the pulpit or the academy and I am grateful for Baker for putting this author in print.
What Christians Ought to Believe by Michael Bird
Many churches no longer recite creeds, print creeds, or agree on what creed will define them. So, why pick up a book that introduces Christian doctrine through an exposition of the Apostle’s Creed? First, this particular creed has always been a solid summary, answering the question, “What do you believe?” in a way that still upholds classic orthodoxy. Secondly, as a culture we’re in danger of losing our own story if we cannot hold on to context.
Michael Bird sets out his case in the opening pages, explaining why creeds are worth our time and then subsequently takes the Apostle’s Creed piece by piece. In laying out the implications of each statement, Bird, an Australian scholar, weaves research, primary sources, and Scripture to lay out the meaning of each phrase. Chapters 3-14 focus on explaining what the Apostle’s Creed means and Bird is articulate from a theological perspective. What concerns me is that because it’s a bit weighty, this likely will remain of interest to a relatively small audience. Serious theologians would go straight to systematic sources such as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology or other similar works by John Frame or Michael Horton.
While the audience may be a bit narrow, Bird’s book can be a good addition to one’s library as a primer for other doctrinal treatises. I also can envision this being used in an undergraduate or upper level high school setting. “What Christians Ought to Believe” is a great title and will invite some and not others. Regardless, the idea is worth exploring. What do you believe?
Rescuing the Gospel by Erwin Lutzer
This is an attractive book and as I delved in to it, I was increasingly excited that Baker took the time to publish not only a book that sets out to describe the context of “The Story and Significance of the Reformation,” but did so in a winsome manner. I am guessing that stereotypes abound as to the importance or controversies related to the 16th century Reformation and the aftermath of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and their writings. What makes the story so important is not only the rise of various Protestant flavors abounding on the landscape, but for readers to note that the church once held such a prominent place in culture that to disagree or even protest (this latter part we certainly take for granted in the U.S. where we see protests weekly) was to question not only the status quo, but the way the world worked.
Lutzer does an admirable job of telling a story and not just relating historical events. I was especially moved by the time Lutzer took to point out the impact that Luther and his wife Kate had on the idea of marriage. During a time when priests held themselves up as celibate examples, Luther radically closed the gap between those who would count themselves as holier than thou and the sacred elements of life that we so often take for granted. See pg. 137 for a succinct summary of these ideas.
On pg. 174, Lutzer wisely states that Calvin is not universally loved. He was not in his own times and he is not today and that’s healthy. The story isn’t about whether we hold some men and women up as heroic or heretical, rather the story of the Reformation is about whether grace is something worth standing up for and whether the church needs to be periodically challenged. Whether you love or hate the church, understanding the impact of the Reformation is important simply for being a well educated and thoughtful citizen. Many lessons have been learned for the good and for the ill because of the willingness of men and women to raise questions and to take stands. I recommend the book and hope it gets a wide reading.