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Jeff K. Clarke (Canada)

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The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence
The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence
Price: CDN$ 9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A review, commendations and recommendations., Jan. 6 2016
One of the things I love most about Tom Oord's work is that it causes me to approach an old topic in fresh, new ways. His latest book, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence, continues this trend.

Rather than provide an incredibly long and critical review, I would instead like to highlight a few of my favorite ideas mixed with commentary.


First, Tom begins by anchoring his proposal in real life. Any model of suffering, evil and divine providence that wishes to do justice to this triad must always begin precisely at this point. If not, we run the very serious risk of approaching the topic purely from a theoretical perspective, which will help no one. Tom is wise enough to bypass this common error.

Tom's ultimate goal is to address life's biggest questions surrounding the problem of suffering and God's role within it by proposing a new model that flows quite naturally from the open or relational view of God's nature. From this vantage point, Tom seeks to make better sense of faith and life.

As a proponent of open theism, I appreciate any attempt that seeks the maturation of what I believe to be one of the most faithful and honest appraisals of God's nature and character available today. As a result, proposing a new model of divine providence that flows naturally out of a relational understanding of God is both welcomed and necessary.

Utilizing the latest theological, philosophical and scientific research available, Tom intentionally seeks to approach the topic of suffering and God on a multidisciplinary platform. This is critical because it provides space to create a real-life proposal from within a wide arena of thought and experimentation. Tom's writing has followed this multifaceted approach for some time, which is a quality I've come to admire in his work. It is a style that provides his readers with a more balanced and thorough perspective.

I also deeply appreciate Tom's humility, which is sometimes difficult to find in the academy. He is confident in his research and findings, but is well aware that his ideas are a work in progress and open to revision. Confident humility is written all over this work. I appreciate that.


Love at the Center

Tom has labelled his proposal essential kenosis. I'll allow you to investigate the proposal in more detail by reading his book, but the essential theory is that love, not freedom, lies at the center of God's nature and character. That is, God's freedom flows out of and is determined by God's love. If God is love, as John wrote in 1 John 4:8 and 16, this makes the most sense of the story of scripture and proves its rightful place in Tom's order.

Love at the center of God's nature is a common, though not unilateral, belief within the open and relational model. I'm immediately reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Richard Rice in The Openness of God, a book co-authored with other leading proponents of open theism, Clark Pinnock, William Hasker, John Sanders and David Basinger.

Love is central, not incidental, to the nature of God. Love is not something God happens to do, it is the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses God's inner reality. Love, therefore, is the very essence of the divine nature. Love is what is means to be God. (Pg. 19).

God is essentially self-giving, others-empowering love who bestows love first and then from this love, freedom to all of creation. As a result, the priority of love determines what freedom looks like. It is a love that grants genuine freedom to creatures to choose from among viable options. It is essentially self-determining and cannot be coerced or manipulated to choose one way over another.

Therefore, God works by persuasion, moving us along towards His best ideals, while never pushing us to choose one way or another. To force one's will against another would remove love from the equation.

Love at the center of Tom's model of divine providence determines how God interacts with the world and helps us to better understand the place of evil and suffering in the world, including natural evil. God's love, therefore, as Richard Rice once wrote, is not unilaterally directive, but dynamically interactive.

Love and Freedom

If freedom, and not love, lies at the center, it would not only move against the biblical evidence that places love at the center of God's nature, but would also define love in an entirely different way.

Freedom at the center would mean that God is defined first by the unilateral power to determine everything as He wills. Freedom at the center would remove any real sense of choice from creation, including humans, thereby making God solely responsible for everything that happens in the world, including the presence of evil.

Both Tom and I find the latter approach irresponsible and lacking the ability to do proper justice to evil, suffering and creaturely involvement.

God's love, therefore, respects the integrity of human freedom so much as to not intervene, even when bad things could happen.

John Stackhouse says it this way:

Were God to compel us to make only good choices, then we would not be making choices at all, but merely following God's directions as a computer executes a program. Were God to allow us to make choices but then constantly intervene to prevent anything bad from resulting from those choices, it is difficult to see how those choices would have integrity and significance. (John Stackhouse, Can God be Trusted? Pg. 72).

Freedom flows from God's love and is defined by love. Love determines the kind of freedom God bestows on creation. Such love is not unilateral control, but dynamically interactive, working with creatures, while giving space to choose from available options.

According to Tom, Love respects the integrity of the freedom given and does not or cannot intervene, even when something bad is about to happen. To intervene would cheapen the freedom God has given; a freedom rooted in and defined by love.

This makes creaturely decisions, both human and otherwise, ultimately responsible for our own actions and decisions, as well as for the consequences those decisions create. God cannot be blamed for our choices.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

While God cannot be blamed for creaturely decisions, God is still indirectly responsible for creating a world where the possibility of evil could exist. Tom's model would like to completely remove responsibility for evil from God, but I don't believe this is possible as one who believes that God is the first cause in all creation.

Therefore, I don't believe we can make the claim that essential kenosis solves the problem of evil. While it certainly does provide clarity and helps us to make better sense of the world we all live in, it does not completely absolve God of all responsibility. God is not directly responsible for the presence of evil and does not determine creaturely decisions, as models that place freedom and not love at the center of God's nature, postulate. God, however, cannot be removed from the equation.

My second recommendation would be to give Jesus, God's enfleshed icon, a more prominent place in the essential kenosis model. While Tom certainly did mention Jesus periodically throughout the book, his references were light and peripheral, rather than central and defining.

When speaking of God's nature and character, Jesus essentially needs to lie at the center of our discussions. As the one in whom all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form, and the one who is the image of the invisible God, Jesus needs to hold the prominent place in our models of divine providence. Jesus reveals what God has been like all along and needs to assume his role as primary revealer as we contemplate God's nature and character and the problem of evil and suffering.

I think Tom has given us a great start in The Uncontrolling Love of God, but I would like to see a move towards expanding and moving his ideas forward by incorporating a more pronounced place for Jesus in our conversations. This would bring even greater clarity to God's love, the problem of evil, creaturely freedom and God's interaction with the world.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a timely, appropriate and a highly accessible contribution to the field and deserves a wide reading. Those struggling to make better sense of our world and the place of evil, suffering and God's providence, will greatly benefit from placing this text on their reading list.

Marriage You've Always Wanted, The
Marriage You've Always Wanted, The
by Gary Chapman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.71
33 used & new from CDN$ 4.30

4.0 out of 5 stars This book will help every couple take their marriage to the next level, Oct. 24 2014
Gary Chapman's Book, 'The Marriage You've Always Wanted', lives up to its title. It offers many helpful and practical tips on how to create a healthy marriage.

The end of each chapter includes a Your Turn section that offers an opportunity for each person to reflect on the material just read and look for ways to implement its principles in everyday situations.

While each chapter centers on a specific topic, Chapman works hard to bring the reader back to his main purpose.

The supreme purpose of marriage is the union of two individuals at the deepest possible level and in all areas.


One of my personal favourite takeaways is his idea that in every marriage the key to success is not to focus on always trying to change your partner, but look for ways to change yourself first.

If I intentionally purpose to be more loving, kind, gracious, understanding, and fair, that can and often will positively impact my partner in similar ways.

If, however, I consistently focus on their short-comings and idiosyncrasies, it usually ends up creating more tension, which in turn negatively impacts the relationship.

A Few Quotes

Here are a few of my favourite quotes --

"I can always improve my marriage, and love is my greatest weapon" (p. 42)

"If we could learn the tremendous power of the compliment, we would seldom again revert to complaint" (p. 45)

"When your spouse is talking, it is your turn to listen. Do not sit there and reload your guns" (p. 57)

In the end, I highly recommend this book to every couple who has a sincere desire to create a healthy marriage that lasts. Whether you are newly-weds who have just started the journey together, or 25 year veterans and beyond, this book will help you move your marriage up a notch, or two.

You may purchase this book via Amazon by clicking the book cover above or this link.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
by Scot McKnight
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.71
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The King Jesus Gospel, Oct. 11 2011

The King Jesus Gospel is Scot McKnight's latest contribution to the field of New Testament studies, and seeks to answer the question:

What is the Gospel?

His basic thesis is clear: Evangelicalism in particular is guilty of an extreme over-emphasis on getting people to make a decision about Christ, while the apostles were far more concerned with making disciples. In fact, McKnight asserts that "evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles" (18).

However, our obsession with getting others to make a decision for Christ quickly loses steam. In fact, studies show that "the correlation between making a decision and becoming a mature follower of Jesus is not high" (19). These disturbing trends has led McKnight on a journey to better understand what the gospel is and what evangelism is, while at the same time embrace a style of evangelism that leads beyond decision to discipleship.

Salvation-culture or Gospel-culture:

The primary issue underlying this dilemma is ultimately a hermeneutical (interpretive) one relating specifically to our understanding of gospel. McKnight's contention is that the word gospel has been hijacked by what we believe about 'personal salvation,' and the gospel itself has been reshaped to facilitate making decisions. This hijacking means that the word gospel no longer means what it originally meant to both Jesus and the apostles. By equating the word salvation with gospel, we have essentially diluted the meaning of gospel and have created a salvation culture more than a gospel culture. In this climate, we are far more concerned with counting numbers and have an unhealthy interested in trying to determine who is in and who is out. And, while salvation is part of the gospel, it does not require the decided to become the discipled, and virtually ignores Jesus' emphasis on following.

What is the gospel?

McKnight contends that Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; 3-5 and 20-28, recites the apostolic gospel tradition and therefore provides his readers with the essence, shape and form of the original gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ.

What does this gospel look like?

that Christ died, that Christ was buried, that Christ was raised, and that Christ appeared.

The gospel, then, is the story of the crucial events in the life of Christ. Instead of the 'four spiritual laws' held up by so many in the salvation culture, the earliest gospel centered on the four events or chapters in the life of Jesus Christ.

Historically, the word gospel meant to 'announce' something, to 'declare' something as good news. And, to 'gospel' is to proclaim something about something. As a result, the gospel is to announce "good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ" (51). And, while this story includes salvific elements, the story swallows up this salvation component and makes it flow from it rather than dominate it.

The gospel then is the story of Israel that finds its resolution or completion in the story of Jesus. The whole story is told from this perspective so as not to narrow the story to 'four spiritual laws.' By emphasizing the original apostolic gospel as Paul recited it in 1 Corinthians 15, we can re-capture the essence of the story and re-create a gospel culture that includes, but also transcends, the salvation-culture that has come to define much of contemporary Christianity. The danger of focusing on the latter (what McKnight also refers to as a 'plan of salvation' culture), is that we run the risk of preaching the 'plan of salvation' apart from the story. Yet, when this happens,

"the plan almost always becomes abstract, propositional, logical, rational, and philosophical and, most importantly, de-storified and unbiblical. When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future. We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation" (62).

As I mentioned already, this emphasis has lead to the creation of a salvation culture that is foreign to the gospel culture found in the Bible; an emphasis that tends to focus on who is in and who is out.

From these foundational comments, McKnight moves through the remainder of the book to help us to better understand what the essence of the gospel is, what 'gospeling' should look like today, and how to create a gospel culture. He concludes his final chapter by offering a sketch of the gospel and then demonstrates how a gospel culture can emerge from that culture in a series of practical ways.

Final Remarks:

After reading McKnight's excellent book One.Life (which immediately preceded this book and attempted to answer the question, what is a Christian?), I was excited to move on to The King Jesus Gospel. I was not disappointed.

This book articulates a response to questions about how the gospel has been reduced to create a salvation-culture in much of contemporary Christianity, and particularly within Evangelicalism. Thankfully, McKnight's book has provided a series of thoughtful, balanced and biblically informed answers to those very questions. In fact, I believe the book has expressed what many people have believed for some time.

The King Jesus Gospel attempts to restore the original framework of the gospel by anchoring it within the apostolic witness, specifically Paul's creedal recitation in 1 Corinthians 15. By pointing us back to this witness, McKnight desires to recapture the meaning and significance of the original 'good news' and convince his readers to embrace for what it is, the full gospel. Any other gospel, specifically a salvation-culture-gospel such as ours, not only dilutes the original message, but adds a meaning and emphasis to it that the original never had.

While the results vary, the primary consequence of this over-emphasis is a church culture that has lost its memory about what the good news actually consists of. The orientation of the gospel has always been and should always be centered on making disciples. While Jesus and the apostles always called for a response to the good news, the call never usurped the story of the gospel by creating a 'system of salvation' that ultimately ignored the call to follow.

In a salvation culture, 'accepting Christ into your heart' has become the only necessary step in salvation. The result has been four-fold: a partial and inaccurate telling of the story; a cheapening of the gospel by denying its costs/demands; a lack of focus on discipleship (following); and an unhealthy interest in counting 'salvations' (who's in and out). As a result of this orientation, we have created a culture of people who lack an understanding of the gospel and its implications, while also creating a false sense of security.

However, by placing discipleship within the summons, we make the call more complete and people begin to understand the significance of the decision to follow from the very beginning, rather than sometime later.

In The King Jesus Gospel, McKnight offers us a way forward by encouraging us to embrace the whole gospel of Jesus Christ; an embrace that includes a summons to follow Him as Messiah and Lord, but one that also includes an understanding of what that summons entails.

I highly recommend this book as essential reading for everyone who desires to better understand, re-capture and embrace the original good news of Jesus Christ. The book will illuminate and confront a wide variety of shared assumptions people have about the gospel, and offer a way forward by providing a more thorough and biblically-informed foundation for belief and practice. If read widely, this book has the potential to begin a conversation that could ultimately bring about a contemporary reformation; one that includes a return to the original good news that Jesus is Lord.

Why God Won T Go Away
Why God Won T Go Away
by Alister E. McGrath
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.96
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading, Aug. 12 2011
This review is from: Why God Won T Go Away (Paperback)
Why God Won't Go Away is Alister McGrath's latest engagement with what has been popularly referred to as the New Atheism. His primary area of concern centers on the work of its four leading proponents: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. He also expands the conversation by including the global virtual community the New Atheism has since generated.

The book is organized into three parts, each building on the other to form a coherent picture of the current debates.

In part one, McGrath provides an historical overview of the beginning stages of the New Atheism, while highlighting the differences between the old and new strands. The primary difference has less to do with the essential belief inherent to atheism (God's nonexistence), and more to do with the New's emphasis on their hatred of religion in all of its forms (anti-theism).

Part two highlights three core themes that underlie the New Atheist's hostility:

1. its critique of religious violence

2. its appeals to reason

3. its appeals to science

as the foundation of rational beliefs.

McGrath points out in chapter three that religion can go wrong and promote violence. And, when it does, it should be challenged and changed. However, where most people see religion as something that can go wrong, the New Atheism see it only as something that is wrong - end of discussion. As a result, all religion should therefore be eliminated.

In response, McGrath argues that the problem is not religion, but fanaticism, which can be found in many areas of life, including politics. Furthermore, upon closer examination, Christianity's leader (Jesus Christ) in particular offers a "transcendent rationale for the resistance of violence" (69). In Jesus, the cycle of violence was broken. So, when any of its adherents fail to follow Christ's example, they are not very good Christians.

In the end, New Atheist's appeals to violence as an argument against religions proves nonsensical. It is an unfair emphasis on the pathological forms within religions; forms that can also find a place in politics and science.

One of the hallmarks of the New Atheism is that it seems to think it has a monopoly on truth (a critique that even comes from other, more moderate, atheists). In fact, "the New Atheism makes rationality one of its core defining characteristics and emphatically and aggressively denies that any alternative view can be regarded as rational" (83), a belief that does not find resonance in other forms of atheism.

However, New Atheism refuses to confront the truth that every worldview, whether religious or secular in orientation, goes beyond what reason and science can prove. Questions that pertain to value and meaning often cannot be proven through empirical methods, yet are nevertheless maintained as trustworthy. As McGrath points out,

religious faith is not a rebellion against reason but a revolt against the imprisonment of humanity within the cold walls of a rationalist dogmatism. Human logic may be rationally adequate, but it's also existentially deficient. Faith declares that there's more to life than this. It doesn't contradict reason but transcends it. It elicits and involves rational consent but does not compel it (89).

McGrath confronts the final core idea of the New Atheism in chapter five - its appeal to science. He makes the statement that they do "more than simply reflect the cultural stereotype of the 'warfare' of science and religion," they actually "depend on it for its plausibility" (121).

They appeal to what has commonly been referred to as scientism, which claims that all that is known or can be known is capable of verification or falsification using the scientific method. However, as McGrath concludes, "to limit oneself to what reason and science can prove is merely to skim the surface of reality and fail to discover the hidden depths beneath" (129).

In the end, McGrath draws the conclusion that the angry, loud, and aggressive debate tactics utilized by the New Atheism, especially when faced with a high degree of clear evidence from the religious other, will not be able to sustain the movement for the long term. While the older, and better argued atheism, may have a degree of traction, the Newer forms do not. While they believe their anti-religious rhetoric will be heard and make a positive impact, their weak and illogical form of argumentation will ultimately be the cause of their downfall.

The ironic fact is that New Atheist anger at the persistence of faith has inadvertently stirred a huge interest in the whole God question. It's made people want to reflect on the other side of the story...

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the New Atheism, its leaders, their writing, arguments and the general Christian response. It will help you to move pass the rhetoric and embrace a more balanced approach that stems from well-researched and more persuasive forms of argumentation. 4 *

The Nature of Love: A Theology
The Nature of Love: A Theology
by Thomas Jay Oord
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 34.98
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading., June 23 2011
The statement 'God is love is as close as scripture comes to defining the nature and character of the Triune God. If such is true, then why is it that "many theologians write their formal theologies with love as an afterthought," and not as the centerpiece of their theological endeavors? In response to this perennial concern, Thomas Jay Oord has written The Nature of Love: A Theology.

Systematic theologies have often began the discussion of theology proper by emphasizing themes other than God's love as the apex of all that can be said about God. Ideas such as God's sovereignty, the church, eschatology or a closely related axiom have come to dominate and therefore create a picture of God that is lacking.

Oord begins by providing a definition of love based in the witness of scripture --

To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.

With a well-rounded, biblically informed definition in place, Oord then moves forward in the next three chapters by examining and critiquing the writings on love by Anders Nygren (Agape Theology), Augustine of Hippo (Love as desire) and Clark H. Pinnock (Open Theology and love). He concludes the final chapter by offering a view of God's love in Jesus Christ as the center of God's nature, while using the three aforementioned authors as conversation partners. He then proposes a new theology of love he calls Essential Kenosis, and offers a series of practical ways in which this theory affects other biblical themes such as creation, ethics, eschatology, miracles and Christ's resurrection.

Oord disagrees with the typical kenosis theologies on a number of important levels. Other theories suggest that God's love is essential within the Trinity, but contingent in relation to creation. Oord's fundamental concern centers on the contingent aspect of God's love. If God's love is intrinsic to what it means to be God, then God's love is essential in all respects; within the Trinity and towards creation. Based in the witness of scripture, and supremely in Jesus Christ, God's love cannot be split in two, regardless of the subject at hand. In the end, God loves necessarily, both within Trinitarian relations and towards creation (what Oord calls involuntary kenosis).

Traditional theories propose that God voluntarily self-limits Himself in relation to creation, whereas Oord's view is one of involuntary divine self-limitation. The difference between the two is that the latter removes the contingent aspect of love in relation to creation. That is, there is nothing outside of God that imposes limitations on Him, and any limitations in God exist by virtue of God's own nature what it means to be God. As one whose nature is love, "God necessarily gives freedom and/or agency to others and cannot withdraw, override, or fail to provide freedom/agency" (126).

As a result, Essential Kenosis offers a new way of thinking about the simplicity of God's love, particularly as it relates to the problem of evil (Oord's primary concern). Oord believes that the theory "clears God from any credible charge of culpability for causing or failing to prevent genuine evil" (126). God's essential love for creation makes freedom necessary and irrevocable. Genuine evils occur when human beings misuse this freedom to undermine rather than promote love (over all well-being). God, therefore, never uses coercion to manipulate human choice, but utilizes persuasive love in His attempts to move people forward to choose love over evil. As before, this removes culpability on God's part and helps to explain why evil is permitted.

In relation to miracles and eschatology (theology of the last things), Oord's theory prioritizes God's inability to utilize coercion and emphasizes persuasive love and human cooperation with God's love as the primary means to witnessing miracles and bringing redemption through to its final consummation. Both of these ideas, Oord claims, are deeply rooted in the biblical witness.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I deeply appreciate Oord's emphasis on Divine love as the primary characteristic of God's nature and the time he spent thinking about the practical application of that idea. His ability to analyze and converse with three very different theological traditions and their love proposals proved to be very helpful in shaping and adding weight to his overall argument.

I do, however, wished he had spent more time developing the theory of essential kenosis by relating it specifically to Jesus' inauguration of the Kingdom of God. He mentioned the idea briefly on Page 20, but never really brought the idea to bear on his arguments thereafter (at least not in a direct way). If establishing the Kingdom of God was of central significance in the ministry of Jesus (and it was), and if Oord desired to make his theory truly christocentric in orientation, he should have allotted more time to what he called "God's loving reign."

In and through the ministry of Jesus Christ, God's reign was articulated and demonstrated in a multitude of ways. Miracles, exorcisms, preaching, teaching, and healing all proved that God's kingdom had been inaugurated in Christ. If God's love is demonstrated to creatures by granting them genuine freedom, and creaturely cooperation is the means whereby God's reign on earth is realized, then Oord would have done well to weave the theme into his theory more prominently, which would have added significant weight to his overall argument. To only briefly mention it in the first chapter proved to be a costly misstep.

Yet, in spite of this miscalculation and other less significant disagreements, the book deserves serious attention. It will help readers to better understand and appreciate God's essential love towards creation and how that love impacts every other area of theological exploration. It seeks to build on the work of others by incorporating their insights into a new model of love that attempts to more accurately reflect the biblical witness and contemporary concerns.

I recommend this book to everyone who is serious about exploring new possibilities in their theology of God. Oord moves the conversation forward by offering a creative, biblically informed, and well-researched proposal that will positively impact future dialogue on the subject. The Nature of Love is an important contribution to this ongoing discussion.

The Seraph Seal
The Seraph Seal
by Leonard Sweet
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.49
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Seraph Seal, June 17 2011
This review is from: The Seraph Seal (Paperback)
The Seraph Seal is a fictional apocalyptic novel that combines contemporary semiotics (signs), technology, theology and ecology with end time scenarios to create a story of adventure, renewal and hope.

Set in the year 2048, the story centers on the life of Dr. Paul Binder, professor of history and cultural semiotics at the University of Virginia. Binder is a self-professed agnostic who has come to believe that only those things which can be proven by empirical observation are true, thereby leaving anything associated with the Divine out of the picture. All of this begins to change, however, after witnessing a car accident just outside of his home. While the scene of the accident left him speechless, what effected him most was the note he found there, written to him -

Dear Dr. Binder,

If you are receiving this letter, the year will be 2048 - thirty-six years after your birth and the birth of the eight. The Time of Becoming has now reached fruition. Locate the manuscript of the Diatessaron. You have been chosen to unlock the future of your world. The cross key will guide you. Use it wisely.

And so the story begins - taking him on a journey of discovery of ancient documents, puzzles, clues and himself. Through it all, Binder unlocks the secret identity of the four horsemen (eight in total including their four counterparts) by using the insights gleaned from the four elements (earth, wind, water and fire) and the four transcendentals. Through a series of sophisticated plots, insider conversations and musings of world leaders, Binder and his team begin to understand the keys to unlocking the story of the ages - one that ends in the destruction of the world and begins in the renewal of another.

What I appreciated about this novel more than anything was the use of contemporary and futuristic scientific, technological and ecological models that far exceeded similar stories. The inclusion of the journals and notes of Paul Binder and the Alphabet of the Apocalypse at the conclusion of the book can be read before or after the story has been read. These chapters include definitions and clues that help the reader to unlock and better understand the varied plots, ideas and schemes.

All in all, The Seraph Seal is an intelligent and thought-provoking book. I recommend it to those who would be interested in reading a kind of apocalyptic novel that will move them beyond similar pieces of modern literature into something more stimulating.

God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?
God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?
by David T. Lamb
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.98
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God Behaving Badly - Worth Reading., May 31 2011
The God of the Old Testament has consistently received a bad reputation since Marcion formulated the idea of two distinct deities between the testaments during the 2nd century. The idea has been articulated primarily due to the way God has acted in the narrative of the Hebrew scriptures, particularly in relation to His ordering the killing of thousands of people during many of the recorded battles. These episodes have resulted in very serious accusations that God is angry, sexist, racist, violent, legalistic, rigid and distant.

With these things in mind, David Lamb set out to address these specific concerns in his book God Behaving Badly. The book represents his attempt to "reconcile the supposedly contradictory portrayals of God in the two testaments," by addressing those passages that have often been used to further the two-deity argument.

Lamb's basic contention throughout is that many have concluded that God is angry, sexist and racist, etc, primarily due to a misreading of scripture. When the problematic texts are read within there appropriate contexts, all of the problems don't immediately disappear, but they do begin to take shape and take on a meaning that has often been missed.

In each of the issues, Lamb addresses the major concerns by helping us to better understand the most contested passages within them. He takes care to provide the reader with a clear and concise appreciation for the texts in question, while providing clarity on what actually happened, reasons why and what it means for us. At the close of each chapter, he normally includes a New Testament example from Jesus' ministry that coincides with the Old Testament emphasis within the chapter. He then moves on to provide very practical advice on how to implement his conclusions in our contemporary context, which proves to be very helpful.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed and deeply appreciated reading this book. Lamb writes in a very clear, concise and often comedic style that captures the attention, moves the conversation forward, while providing answers to the legitimate concerns many people have when reading the Old Testament. His approach is highly readable, which makes the book very accessible to most everyone.

With this in mind, I highly recommend God Behaving Badly to everyone who has ever read the Old Testament and formulated deep concerns about God's actions. The book will provide clarity on many of these important issues, while helping the reader to gain a more accurate and faithful appreciation for the God revealed within its pages.

Scripture And The Authority Of God: How to Read the Bible Today
Scripture And The Authority Of God: How to Read the Bible Today
by N T Wright
Edition: Hardcover
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scripture & the Authority of God, May 26 2011
Have you ever read a book and wanted to highlight almost everything in it? This was my reaction when reading N.T. Wright's newly revised and expanded book, Scripture and the Authority of God (previously titled The Last Word - 2005).

Wright's thesis is stated clearly in the preface - "The phrase 'the authority of scripture' can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for 'the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture'." By setting the scripture in the larger context that the biblical writers themselves insist upon, we will begin to more fully appreciate the role that scripture ought to have in our lives. A role that includes, and yet transcends, the conveying of information about to one that takes an active part within the ongoing purposes of God. As Wright contends, "Scripture is there to be a means of God's action in and through us." This action enables us to see who God is and who we are in relation to the establishment of God's kingdom. Through scripture, God equips his people to serve to serve his purposes, particularly as he reveals Jesus Christ within its pages.

Wright then provides us with a better way to read scripture - what he refers to as the five-act hermeneutic. This method of reading scripture takes seriously the typical concerns related to genre, setting, literary style, etc, and the very important differences these things make in properly reading the narrative. He then takes it a step further by offering a multi-layered method; one that involves knowing where we are in the overall drama of scripture and what is appropriate within each act. The acts are: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus and the church. They constitute different stages in the divine drama which scripture itself offers.

The primary purpose set out in reading scripture this way is to understand it better and to pay tribute to the differing stages of the overall narrative, while finding our place within it. As a result, we must act in an appropriate manner for this moment in the story, and not another. While we will be in direct continuity with former acts, we will also be living with a sense of discontinuity, in that our ultimate fidelity will belong to the stage in which we live. For example, when we read Genesis 3-11, we read it as a second act in a play in which live in the fifth., with Jesus as its climax and turning point (act four). Wright argues for a developmental approach to reading scripture that honors the Old Testament as it stands in the Christian canon, but one that at the same time moves beyond it to fully embrace our act.

Such a method helps us to better appreciate, understand and practice scripture in ways that are appropriate to where we are within the divine drama. It has the ability to move us toward a more-informed and contextual reading that will likewise enable us to live in a contextual way that is congruent with our stage in the story, rather than trying to act-out stage one or two.

Wright concludes his new edition with two case studies that show us the value of reading scripture this way: Sabbath and monogamy. These two essays are very helpful in fleshing out his proposed method, while at the same time offer us helpful insights into these two contemporary issues.

I highly recommend this book to every christian who desires to read the bible in a more informed and contextual way. I think the five-act model proposed will be immensely beneficial in helping us move through the countless debates in church and culture that often center on inaccurate readings of scripture. By paying careful attention to the whole narrative of the bible, we will place ourselves in a better position to weigh the issues in a more appropriate and biblically faithful way, while at the same time become more effective at living out our part in God's cosmic drama.

Is God a Moral Monster?
Is God a Moral Monster?
by Paul Copan
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.83
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is God a moral monster?, May 18 2011
Have you ever read the Bible and concluded that the picture of God you see in both Testaments seems to be in contradiction with one another? If you've ever thought that the God of the Old Testament is seemingly portrayed as an angry, blood-thirsty, jealous, worship-demanding King; while the New Testament seems to paint a very different picture - a God of love, grace, kindness, and mercy, you're not alone.

These distinctions have led some to conclude that the various writers in both Testaments talked about a different God altogether. Others have moved one step further and determined that the Old Testament should not even be a part of the Biblical canon. Others still have accepted both Testaments as inspired Scripture, yet have never understood the portrait of God they see depicted in the Old. These concerns present us with nothing new. If Christians have often struggled with trying to find a reasonable conclusion to this important issue, many others who do not subscribe to the Christian faith have all the more.

In his latest book, Paul Copan confronts this issue head-on. Using the criticisms of the New Atheists as his conversation partners (specifically Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens), Copan attempts to forge a better way forward by looking through a broader interpretive lens that incorporates God's overarching goal for the Israelite people, and ultimately, for everyone who ever lived.

The book is broken down into four parts:

1. Neo-Atheism - This section highlights New Atheists arguments against the God they see highlighted in the Old Testament and their shared criticisms.

2. God: Gracious Master or Moral Monster? - This section discusses the topics of God demanding worship, divine jealousy and abuse/bullying.

3. Life in the Ancient Near East - This section is the longest in the book and deals with Israel's developing legislation pertaining to food laws, war, woman, polygamy, slavery, ethnic cleansing and the relationship between religion and violence.

4. Sharpening the Moral Focus - This section concludes the book by providing arguments against Atheistic claims concerning the unnecessary relationship between God and morality and the absolute necessity of reading the Old and New Testaments alike through the lens of Jesus Christ.

Copan has also included a discussion/study guide at the end of the book for use in small groups.

Is God a Moral Monster? is a question that many people from various walks of life have asked over the centuries and continues to be front and center in contemporary debates. The question is one that cannot be avoided and must be confronted honestly and thoughtfully. Paul Copan does just that. Written in a style that makes it accessible to most everyone, he provides a contextual and careful examination of the issues, while offering a more biblically faithful way forward. I found the book extremely helpful in finding a way through the historical distance I face in reading the Old Testament and finished the book with answers to many of my questions. I think you will too.

I recommend this book to everyone who has read the Old Testament and asked many of these same questions. I think you will find the book to be stimulating, thoughtful, engaging and profitable. If you have ever desired to better understand the context of the Old Testament, this book is a step in the right direction.

Heaven Revealed: What is it Like? What Will We Do? And 11 Other Things You've Wondered About
Heaven Revealed: What is it Like? What Will We Do? And 11 Other Things You've Wondered About
by Paul Enns
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.70
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heaven Revealed, May 18 2011
Heaven is a subject that has captivated countless number of people around the world for centuries. It is a place that conjures up a series of questions, ranging from who will enter (and who will not), location, sights, sounds, duration and activities. As a result of such questions, people have arrived at a variety of conclusions. Unfortunately, many of these conclusions have not been rooted in the witness of Scripture, and have proved to be little more than fanciful and inaccurate speculations.

With these things in mind, I was delighted to see that Dr. Paul Enns (minister through Biblical Training & Leadership Development, Idlewood Baptist Church, Tampa, Florida, and serves as professor and director of the Tampa Extension, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) had developed a new book on the subject.

After suddenly losing his wife Helen after 45 years of marriage, Enns went looking for answers about the afterlife. His search began and ended within the pages of Scripture and theological exploration.

Enns confronted the same questions that many of us have about the afterlife, and specifically about the prospect of heaven. He addressed these questions in this book.

Where is heaven? What kind of body will we have? What will the new heaven and earth look like? What will life be like in heaven? What will we do in heaven? What will our relationships with others be like?

The book spells out his answers to these questions in a way that is highly readable and clear. For instance, in chapter 12, he explains that, in continuity with our earthly life, we will retain our distinctive identities in heaven, and will be known as we are now. The idea then lends itself to a further conclusion that we will also be reunited with loved ones who have gone before us. These ideas and many others like them make the book very interesting and thought-provoking.

Though at times it seemed like he was over-extending himself in certain areas, making 'claims into certainties' based on one or two passages from Scripture, and in turn making general statements into sweeping actualities for everyone, I still appreciated his sincere attempt to grapple with the issues in a fair and reasonable way.

I recommend this book to everyone looking for answers about the prospect of the afterlife in general, and the hope of heaven in particular. You may at times disagree with certain ideas, but the book overall will help to instill hope and peace about life after death and generate a longing to one day spend an eternity in a place where death and decay will be no more.

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