Benefit of the Doubt by Greg BoydWhat is faith? What does it mean to have great faith? What does faith look like in our relationship with God? What is the nature of our relationship with God? These are the questions that drive Greg Boyd’s book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. Part theology, part philosophy, part auto-biography, Boyd takes the reader on a journey of exploring the nature of biblical faith, contrasting it with the certainty-seeking faith he sees in many believers today.

Boyd argues that the problem with faith today is that it is most often expressed as an intellectual, or psychological, certitude. Using the metaphor of the “Strength Tester” carnival game, Boyd writes that the goal for many Christians today is “to hit a faith mallet as hard as you can in order to send the faith puck up the faith pole to get as close to the certainty bell as you possibly can.” (26) Faith has become the removal of, or the resistance to, doubt. The greatness of our faith is directly related to how certain we are about various beliefs; and God, of course, will reward our great faith by answering our prayers and showering us with blessing. Our relationship with God, then, is entirely dependent upon how certain we are in our minds that various things are true.

In chapter 2, Boyd gives eight compelling reasons why this approach to faith is misguided and unbiblical. While each of his objections to certainty-seeking faith give cause for reflection, I found the third objection quite compelling: “It replaces biblical faith with magic.” Some would immediately object to this statement, but I think there is deep truth in this statement. What, after all, is magic? Boyd defines it this way: “Magic is generally understood to involve people engaging in special behaviors that empower them to gain favor with, or to otherwise influence, the spiritual realm in order to get it to work to their advantage.” (38) Certainty-seeking faith aims to make God act on our behalf (through healing, perhaps). It is a means to an end. “One of the many differences between ‘magic’ and biblical faith is that magic is about engaging in behaviors that ultimately benefit the practitioner, while biblical faith is about cultivating a covenantal relationship with God that is built on mutual trust.” (39)

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The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard BauckhamThere are many different interpretive models for the book of Revelation. Some approach it as though it were a code to be deciphered, matching ancient images with present figures in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the last days. Others see it as a uniquely Christian history with little or nothing to say to believers today. As we seek to understand this fascinating and oftentimes befuddling book, perhaps we should interpret it in basically the same way we interpret every other book of the Bible. That is to say, maybe the key to unlocking Revelation’s secrets is to simply ask, “What did this mean to the people to whom it was originally written?”

In his book The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Richard Bauckham takes this basic exegetical approach, and manages to make sense of, and draw compelling meaning from, John’s Apocalypse. Bauckham starts where most Christian exegetes start with any other biblical book by asking, “What sort of book is this?” The answer, he discerns, is that “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.” (2)

John’s work is a prophetic apocalypse in that it communicates a disclosure of a transcendent perspective on this world. It is prophetic in the way it addresses a concrete historical situation – that of Christians in the Roman province of Asia towards the end of the first century AD – and brings to its readers a prophetic word of God, enabling them to discern the divine purpose in their situation and respond to their situation in a way appropriate to this purpose.
In other words, the book of Revelation is John’s attempt to speak into the lives of real Christians in a real place by giving them a heavenly perspective on their temporal challenges. “Life looks overwhelming from your perspective,” he says, in essence, “but I want to show you your life and your circumstances from God’s perspective.” Revelation is, at heart, a pastoral work. It is a call to abandon the idols of the Roman Empire and the futility of its warmongering ways, and to instead worship the true God and lay hold of the victory of the “lamb who was slain.”

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momentmakerCarlos Whittaker’s life is full of hilarious, awkward, and powerful moments. Whether it’s a bird feasting on his children’s just-released flock of pet butterflies, buying a round of drinks for a returning troop of soldiers, or humiliating a girl by being too romantic, Carlos Whittaker lives his life in the moment. He is a man who was born with an innate ability to seize every moment and draw every last drop of life out of it, and in his new book Moment Maker, he wants to show you how you can live this way, too.

Whittaker identifies three types of moments in life: created moments, received moments, and rescued moments. Created moments are those special events in life that we make for others – birthday parties and romantic dates, for examples. Received moments are those times in life when things just happen, almost out of the blue. Rescued moments are what happen when your plans go awry and you’re faced with the choice to double down on the moment or just cash out. The common element of the three types of moments are that they push us beyond the boundaries of our self-centeredness and into the lives and hearts of others.

Being a moment maker is about living for others on purpose. It’s about pursuing the happiness and well-being of those around you, whether they are family, friends, or strangers. Moment makers imagine possibilities in life that the rest of us don’t see. They open their eyes to those around them, living according to the schedule of love rather than their daily calendars.

With often-funny and always-engaging stories, Whittaker invites the reader to wake up to the possibilities of a life full of created, received, and rescued moments. This book is particularly challenging for introverts like myself who would much rather enjoy the comfort of a quiet room and a good book than take the risk of moment making for the sake of others. Not all of us will be able to live life the way Carlos lives his, but we can all stand to be more invested, and more interested, in the happiness and well-being of others.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

In his book The God First Life, Stovall Weems, pastor of Celebration Church in Orlando, wants you to uncomplicate your life by doing it God’s way. Working from the familiar passage of Matthew 6:33, Stovall writes that God will provide all the things we need in life, but he has to remain first in our lives, “regardless of my questions or regardless of whether I understood something or how I felt about it.” (17) When we put God first, we get a new family, a new life, and new freedom. The life we instinctively want and pursue, he argues, is only available through “God-first living.” (20) 


A life of anxiety is never an issue of unmet need but always an issue of disordered priorities. -Stovall Weems, 22

Stovall uses the three “new” promises – a new family, a new life, and new freedom – to organize the book. Our new family is God’s family, into which we are adopted by faith in Jesus Christ, and with whom we are called to do life together. This new family is vital because “community is where God shapes us into the image of Christ.” (63) Our new life is the life in the Spirit, empowered by God himself to do more and become more than we ever thought possible. This new life is also a life of worship, prayer, and service. Finally, the new freedom we have is the grace we enjoy from being set free from sin. We are free from the sins of our past and empowered to live for God in the present. Putting God first, walking out the powerful promise of Matthew 6:33, is the key to all of this. Stovall concludes, “you will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced – God’s way.” (154)

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In his latest book, Futureville, author Skye Jethani argues that the way we envision the future deeply affects how we live in the present. Our lives are guided by our eschatology – the way we view the end of things and the (if there will be one) new beginning. Using the 1939 World’s Fair as the controlling metaphor, Jethani guides the reader through several different ways of viewing the future, and how those visions of the future (eschatologies) direct and shape our lives in the present.

There are, he argues, three general ways we envision the future coming about. He calls them Evolution, Evacuation, and Resurrection. Evolution is the belief in the inevitability of human progress to create an ever-improving world. This view, popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, is girded by the innovation of science and the capacity of human reason. It is championed by “Change the World” propaganda. In many ways, the Church has embraced the Evolution view in its many “crusades” and willingness to influence political power for Christian ends. The trouble with this worldview, however, is that it turns our culture into a battlefield. “With more power, we tell ourselves, we can muscle our agenda into existence and force others to submit to our vision of the future.” (58)

Evacuation is the belief that the whole world is going to be destroyed, and it’s the Christian’s job to get as many people into the escape pods of salvation as possible before the fire reigns down from heaven. Evacuation is about escape. “Central to evacuation is the belief that believers will be entirely spared from the pain and suffering awaiting the rest of humanity.” (64) In this view, Christians evangelize out of safe pockets of purity, where everything they consume carries a “Christian” label. This inevitably leads to a culture of disengagement and self-centeredness, where everything becomes about the safety and purity of the isolated community of faith.

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