Book Reviews

John Wesley's Teachings

Dr. Thomas C. Oden has written a 4 volume set that explores the teachings of John Wesley.   He  believes  the most pertinent step toward the deep renewal of The United Methodist Church is to return to the wellsprings of Wesley’s own teaching. The need has never been greater!  This exercise in spiritual formation under the direction of Wesley himself will benefit each of us and our church.  These books  are not concerned with numbers but with our own life with God, each one of us.  The hope is to encourage the reader to pray for the Holy Spirit to draw the Body of Christ into greater unity, and to pray for the bishops of the church to open their hearts to Wesley.  Dr. Oden describes this as the first step in regard to UMC renewal and theological integrity.

 

“I firmly believe that the teaching of Wesley himself can have as much effect upon the church today as it did in the 18th century”.

Dr. Thomas C. Oden

Dialogues: Amongst People Called United Methodists

The United Methodist Church is arguably at a crisis point.  There is talk of separation from all sides and great uncertainty about how General Conference 2016 will address the growing division within the church.  Dr. Billy Abraham’s book, Dialogues: Amongst the People Called United Methodists, provides a timely look at the debate.  He broadly defines different “types” of individuals and how their positions inform discussions about the future of The United Methodist Church.  As usual, Dr. Abraham is direct and insightful.  Regardless of your views, you will find this to be an invaluable exercise in examining the issues from all sides and gaining a greater personal understanding of what is at stake.

Forgetting How to Blush

(Excerpts from a book review of Jesus, the Human Face of God by James V. Heidinger II published earlier in Good News magazine.)

More than a decade ago, Peter Kreeft, professor of Philosophy at Boston College, wrote that “The sexual revolution will possibly prove to be the most destructive revolution in history.” After reading Karen Booth’s new book, Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism’s Compromise with the Sexual Revolution (Bristol House, Ltd., 2012), I am convinced Kreeft was right. Karen Booth is a United Methodist Elder and currently heads the Transforming Congregations ministry within the UMC. She writes that after 16 years of local church ministry, she felt God’s leading her to witness to God’s call “for sanctified sexuality” and to help God shape local congregations “into safe and welcoming ‘redemption centers’ for all those who struggle with sexual sin.” Through the witness of a former openly-gay seminary friend who tend years later had been transformed, healed and was happily married, Karen had to re-think the popular view that homosexuality was “genetically caused and predetermined.” With the help of Exodus International and a more in-depth look into the scientific research about same-sex attraction, along with a more open-minded look at Scripture, Karen realized she had been misled by the media and the conventional wisdom of the day. God’s grace was adequate, regardless of our sexual brokenness. Before long, Karen became a member of the board of Transforming Congregations, and then in 2003, its Executive Director. Forgetting How to Blush may be the most important book that Bristol House, Ltd. has published in its young history. It is, without question, the most comprehensive and well-researched volume I have read to help one understand how the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s found currency and legitimacy in major segments of American society, including the historic mainline denominations. Karen looks at the pro-gay activism within the UMC and her chapter on pro-gay ideology provides essential material for those United Methodists who really want to understand the debate taking place within the church. She concludes by rightfully cautioning the reader against the temptation to accept the supposed “middle” or “third” way in the sexuality debate, which would have the church say, “We are not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality.” Karen Booth has done a service to the church by giving us this profoundly important volume. It would be an excellent resource for group study in your local church. When you finish her book, you will better understand the answer to the question Karen’s friend Bonnie asked her some eight years ago: “Karen, how did we get to this place?” You will also understand why the title is as it is. It’s from Jeremiah 8:12: “Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.”

Silenced

by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea
Oxford University Press, 2011
(A book review by Thomas F. Farr)

Seventy percent of the world’s population lives in nations where freedom of religion is subject to severe restriction.  In SILENCED, Marshall and Shea go bravely where the media fear to tread.  Based on an extensive examination of Muslim-majority countries, they contend that laws and policies punishing blasphemy and apostasy are not only a major source of religious persecution, but also an obstacle to stable democracy and the defeat of Islamist terrorism.

Blasphemy has been understood classically as manifesting contempt for God or, worse, assuming the attributes of God.  But today in many places the definition has been broadened to include any criticism of the favored religion, usually Islam.  Blasphemy continues to be criminalized throughout the Muslim nations of the greater Middle East, Africa, and South and East Asia.  Converts from Islam—apostates—are often imprisoned, tortured, or murdered.

In Pakistan, Muslim governor Salman Taseer and Christian cabinet member Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in 2011 for demanding the repeal to anti-blasphemy laws.  Polls show broad public support for the murderers.

One Egyptian convert to Christianity—a married woman—was arrested by local police and transferred to State Security in Cairo, where she was tortured, including with electric shocks, photographed naked, and then released to her family, who dragged her screaming from the station.

It is perhaps providential that SILENCED is hitting the book stores at this moment when religious persecution is reaching historic levels.  Approximately 270 Christians are killed each day (10,000 per year) because of their faith.  The rate of martyrdom has tripled in the past 100 years.  SILENCED will dismay Western “realists” and others who prefer their foreign affairs stripped of religious ideas and actors.  But among the victims of religious persecution, and those who see religious freedom as critical to stable democracy and the defeat of Islamic terrorism, it will be welcomed and celebrated. ♦

A Faith That No One Would Die For

(This is the conclusion of a WALL STREET JOURNAL book review by Barton Swain of a new book entitled JESUS by Jay Parini.)

“But the real trouble with Mr. Parini’s stance isn’t so much its incoherence as its banality.  It’s the same with all attempts to make religion palatable to the learned.  Rather than accepting its authority or ditching it altogether, the urge is to weaken its demands and make its doctrines vague or optional.  The result is usually an agreeable but boring philosophy that anyone can adopt and no one would die for.  ‘The Way of Jesus…’ Mr. Parini writes, ‘involves self-denial, a sense of losing oneself in order to find oneself, moving through the inevitable pain of life with good cheer, accepting gracefully the burdens that fall on our shoulders and the tasks that lie before us.  This is true discipleship.’

“If that’s all Jesus came here to tell us, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about.”

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