Tag Archives: Christianity

The Witness of John’s Gospel

41INwEFqdcL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Gospel of John is often given to new Christians to read because its central message is the divinity of Jesus Christ.  It is often given to unbelievers for the same reason.  Many have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior after reading John’s Gospel.

Adam Hamilton’s JOHN: THE GOSPEL OF LIGHT AND LIFE (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016) is an exposition of the Gospel of John for both the Christian layperson in search of a better understanding of John’s Gospel and the non-Christian seeking to know more about the Christian faith and the person and work of Jesus Christ upon which that faith is built.  It is not a commentary.  It is not a ponderous scholarly study intended for the seminary student.

Because the book is about John’s Gospel and its central theme, “the identity and meaning of Jesus,” Hamilton includes the entire Gospel of John from the Common English Bible. Thus one can read the Gospel along with Hamilton’s guide to its major themes.  The study is divided into six chapters, each of which is followed by a portion of the Gospel.  Hamilton notes in his introduction that the book is suited for small group study.  If used for a small group study, a DVD is available for purchase, as well as a paperback guide for the small group leader.

As fallen creatures we live in darkness until that darkness is pierced by the light of the Gospel.  The light brings life both now and beyond physical death, for the darkness cannot overcome the light.  The life of the believer is lived in the light that is the Word, the Word that was in the beginning, was with God, and was God.  The born-again follower of Jesus Christ lives knowing, as Hamilton puts it, that “Death is just a period at the end of a sentence before a new sentence begins.”

Hamilton points out that John’s Gospel should not be read as though it were some sort of mini biography.  The emphasis is on the “meaning—the spiritual significance” of the events in Jesus’ life and the words he spoke.  It must be read at two levels, even allegorically at times.

On one level the account of the various miracles performed by Jesus are related in a straightforward manner.  They tell us that water was turned into wine, that a blind man was made to see, or that a lame man was made to walk.  On a deeper level they answer the questions that confront all of us:  Who is this man Jesus?  How does he affect my life?  What is required of me?  We are compelled to answer the question that Jesus asked of his disciples in Matthew 16:13-17:  “But who do you say that I am?”  It is the most important question that must and will be answered by every human being.

Here and there Hamilton points out interesting insights that otherwise might go unnoticed.  One example is John’s mention that when Jesus was on the cross the soldiers “affixed a sponge to a hyssop branch, dipped it in sour wine, and raised it to his lips.”  Why does John include that little detail?

In suggesting an answer, Hamilton calls our attention to Exodus 12:21b-22a, Leviticus 14, Numbers 19, and Psalm 51:7 to help us understand the important symbolism of the hyssop branch.  When we read those Old Testament passages in light of John 19:28-30, we are reminded that the Bible from Genesis through Revelation is a book about Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.  He is the “second Adam” who came to restore what was ruined by the first Adam.

In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (KJV).  Later John reminds us that for the Christian living a more abundant life does not mean a life of idle contemplation.  At the end of his Gospel John again quotes Jesus:  “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (20:21).  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to serve, to witness, and yes, to suffer, always knowing that Jesus Christ stands on the other side of the Jordan with his arms open wide to welcome us home.

JOHN: THE GOSPEL OF LIGHT AND LIFE is the first book by Adam Hamilton that I have read.  Having done, I will go on to read other titles by him.

Until next time be good to all God’s creation and always go under the mercy.

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C. S. Lewis and the Meaning of Life

Whenever I pick up a book by Alister McGrath, I expect it to be interesting, informative, and a delight to read.  His most recent, If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, meets all of my expectations.

Professor McGrath previously published a biography of C. S. Lewis, C. S. Lewis—A Life (2013), that added little more than another Lewis biography to the already long list of such.  We do not need any more biographies.

What McGrath provides for us in If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewisis an understanding of the role of a Christian worldview in answering those perennial questions of the meaning and purpose of the existence the universe and our role in it.  In brief, this is an apologetic for Christianity.  It is an argument for the relevance of Christian faith as discovered by C. S. Lewis and revealed in his writings.

As with many thinking Christians through the ages, Lewis confronted head on the limitations of using reason alone to find the meaning of life.  Reason alone must fail, because reason cannot alone prove its own reliability, or as Lewis put it in an essay titled, “The Poison of Subjectivism”:  “Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring.”

The answer to the dilemma, as Lewis discovered, is to find truth and meaning in “a world beyond the frontiers of reason.”  Clues to this insight are found in our interaction with the world around us, what some refer to as “general revelation.”  Meaning is found in understanding that the history of creation is a story, a metanarrative.  God’s self-revelation as found in the Bible is a story in three parts—creation, fall, and redemption.  It is not a make-believe story that begins with “Once upon a time.”  Rather it is the true myth that begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (ESV).

Lewis, himself, said it best:  “Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth:  a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened:  and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths:  i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”

If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewisis not only a good introduction to C. S. Lewis and his Christian apologetic writings but also a good introduction to Christianity.  It would be an ideal gift for those nonbelievers who have read and enjoyed The Narnia Chronicles, and who might, just might, come to know the real Aslan.

I have only one criticism.  If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis is a poor title for a very fine book.  It leads the prospective reader to expect some sort of fictional dialog between Lewis and the author.  The subtitle, Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis, would have been a better choice.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always walk under the mercy.

Celebrating Christmas: A Review of THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS

 I wish to state at the beginning of this review that THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS: BATTLES IN FAITH, TRADITION, AND RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION (Master Books, 2013) is a very attractive, beautifully illustrated, and interesting book.  It is a book that will no doubt find a warm reception among evangelical Christians.  All of that said I wish to voice a few words of caution.

First off, one should note that the book is a product of the Answers in Genesis ministry.  The logic behind this examination of Christmas traditions and the Bible, simply put, is that a Christian’s celebration of Christmas should be a celebration of the birth of Jesus.  That assumption goes without saying.  As those popular yard signs evident everywhere at Christmas say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

We celebrate the birth of Jesus because God entered into history as the God-man, a space-time historical event, in order to reverse the effects of the Adam and Eve’s fall, also a space-time historical event.  It is important that there was a historical Adam and Eve, and a historical Fall, if Jesus Christ is to make any sense at all.

Where I find myself at odds with the book is when it implies that in order to believe in the historical truth of Genesis, one must accept the idea that the earth is young, that the days of creation were twenty-four hour days, and that it is possible to somehow date those events.  The logic of those involved with Answers in Genesis notwithstanding, the simple fact is that what we have in Genesis is a series of historical events, not a chronology.  Not until the call of Abram (Abraham) does Genesis intersect with verifiable history.

Another area where I find myself at odds with the book is the implication that celebrating Christmas with Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and other traditional secular Christmas icons is somehow incompatible with celebrating the birth of Jesus.  Why cannot a Christian teach children about the birth of Jesus, while at the same time pointing out that Santa Clause is a fun game that people play at Christmas?  By denying children the fun of celebrating Christmas as do most Christians is much more likely to prevent them from accepting who Jesus Christ is than putting hot chocolate and cookies out for Santa and sugar cubes for his reindeer.

Still, despite my reservations, I find THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS a worthwhile read.  I simply urge the reader to keep in mind that it is authors’ opinions, not biblical truth, regarding that wondrous holiday we call Christmas.

How the Bible Shaped Western Civilization

Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011) is a thought provoking, sweeping survey of the history of Western Civilization from a particular perspective. Mangalwadi’s argument is very easy to summarize. It is the Judeo-Christian worldview that makes Western Civilization unique. That worldview is derived from the Bible, the Old Testament that comes from the ancient Hebrews, and the New Testament that is largely a product of the early Christians. Behind this is the presupposition that it is worldview that determines the uniqueness of a civilization, that is, its moral values, its cultural expression, etc.

Those familiar with the Christian writer, Francis A. Schaeffer, will find Mangalwadi’s book a more scholarly version of Schaeffer’s popular book, How Should We Then Live? (1976). The connection between the two is made clear in the brief bio at the end of the book and on the book jacket. It is also clear from a quick internet search of Vishal Mangalwadi. Christianity Today, we are told, referred to Mangalwadi as “India’s foremost Christian intellectual.” The numerous endorsements from a list of prominent Christian writers revels that many of them see Mangalwadi as Schaeffer’s successor. Making this connection will guarantee that the book receives attention from Christian readers who want to understand the relationship between Christianity and Western Civilization.

Mangalwadi, like Schaeffer, defends his thesis by numerous examples from the history of Western Civilization. The result is a list of examples of the Bible’s influence in the history of the West, without necessarily demonstrating that that influence was the sole influence, or the most significant influence. At times, his sweeping conclusions demand evidence, but none is given. An example is Mangalwadi’s assertion that the Great Awakening provided the moral force, “which launched the American Revolution” (p. 205). It is not that the statement is in error so much as that it does not acknowledge the complexity of influences—moral, economic, etc.—behind the American Revolution.

Readers with some background in history as a discipline are “turned off” by books that try to “prove,” for example, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Such books are often written by individuals who lack any credentials as historians. They do not so much want to relate and interpret history they wish to promote a particular ideology. They are propagandists, and their books are propaganda, not history (See, e. g., Jill Lapore’s The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History [201]).

I am not saying That The Book that Made Your World lacks scholarship, or should not be taken seriously by those interested in the roots of Western Civilization. Western Civilization is the product of a synthesis of three traditions—Classical Humanism, Judeo-Christianity, and Germanic. Mangalwadi’s goal is to demonstrate that the Judeo-Christian influence was the determining cultural influence. Unfortunately, his presentation too often denigrates the other two traditions.

I would agree in general with the argument that the Judeo-Christian religious tradition is what makes Western Civilization distinct, just as the uniqueness of every other civilization is determined by its worldview, rooted in its dominant religion. In order to understand the history of any civilization, one must try to understand its religious roots. My fear is that Vishal Mangalwadi’s very interesting and thought provoking book will be ignored by most everyone except those who already agree with him, especially those familiar with Francis A. Schaeffer’s books. Mangalwadi is preaching to the choir, as they say.

Apart from any weaknesses, The Book That Made Your World is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in understanding how religious worldviews influence the character of a civilization. It should also raise questions about the future direction of world history. Western Civilization is clearly in decline. Is it because the West has cut itself free from its tap root? What will the death of Western Civilization mean for the future? These are questions that other writers with an audience beyond Evangelical Christians are wrestling with (See, e. g., Benedict VI’s Europe Today and Tomorrow [2007] and George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral [2006]).