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Monday, October 21, 2019

"Paul and the Giants of Philosophy" ed. Dodson and Briones. A Review

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman ContextPaul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context by Joseph R. Dodson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How were Paul's writings similar and dissimilar to the paragons of virtue and valor in his day? Did he absorb their categories, and imbibe in their programs, incorporating them into the letters he wrote? These are the types of questions answered in a new 200-page paperback put out by IVP Academic titled, "Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context." The volume is edited by Joseph R. Dodson, associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and David E. Briones, associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and pulls together a cast of collaborators from different venues of academia. I was surprised at how straightforward and simple the publication was to read. High School Seniors, College Freshmen, pastors and seminarians alike would be able to delve into this volume, work their way through, and come forth on the other side conscious of having comprehended the material and gained a few new insights.

The aim of the book is to artificially put Paul "into dialogue with other people in his cultural context who thought just as deeply about many of the topics that mattered greatly to him" (x). Therefore, the authors bring Paul together with folks like Epictetus, Philodemus, Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch, Aratus, Cicero, and Plato. But instead of exhaustively unpacking each aspect of every philosopher, the contributors take one subject and tease it out, such as visions, life and afterlife, giving and receiving, the good life, faith, slavery, friendship, therapy for the weak, and suffering. A few corespondents engage broader subjects and broader perspectives rather than trim their topic to one philosopher. My favorite of these was by E. Randolph Richards, provost at Palm Beach Atlantic University, who addressed the subject of "When is a Letter Not a Letter? Paul, Cicero, and Seneca as Letter Writers." I learned quite a bit from these 9 pages.

Did the book reach it's goal of "comparison brings clarity" (3)? I think so. In almost every section I gained a clearer understanding of the similarities and differences between Paul and a given philosopher on an explicit subject. Though the topics were important (two vital chapters were on suffering), and the engagement with Paul and the philosophical paragons was concise, nevertheless this volume could have been enhanced by adding numerous other discussions, such as, on virtue, discipline, reason, truth, reality, etc. Even a chapter of how each viewed "g/God" would have been a plus.

Overall, I was pleased by "Paul and the Giants of Philosophy." This manuscript can be useful in college and seminary courses. Pastors of every denomination would benefit from a copy of this work. It will make an ideal addition to a book reading circle. And, for that inquisitive investigator in your life, they are going to be advantaged by a copy. In the end, I highly recommend the book.

IVP Academic sent me the book used in this review at my request, and I am grateful. There were no demands made by the publisher; nor any diktats issued by some back-office politburo. Rather, I was left to sink or swim on my own. Hence, all assessments and evaluations in this analysis are mine.

A copy of the book can be picked up here: InterVarsity Press

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Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Book of Common Prayer (2019)" of the ACNA. A Review

Book of Common Prayer (2019)Book of Common Prayer by Anglican Church in North America
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It had to happen sooner or later. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has been playing around with an updated version of the Book of Common Prayer for years (I have some of those trial runs in my library). Finally, they have landed on an 812 page standardized volume, the "Book of Common Prayer (2019)". I actually picked up the deluxe edition, which is an imitation leather binding, but all the inner details are the same. I will say, after using it for a month, I'm pleased (overall) with what I have found. The way it is printed makes it easy on the eyes, and many of the details between its covers are quite satisfying. If you're looking for a way to shape and form your daily devotions and prayers (morning, midday, evening, and night time) this volume is very useful.

The internal matter of this Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is too big to dissect in depth and detail. I will simply hit things I, as a non-Anglican-pesky-Presbyterian have noticed. All of the hours of prayer are nicely set up and robust. There is even a miniature rendition of Morning Prayer (MP), Midday, Evening Prayer (EP), and Compline for family worship. There are a few extra petitions that follow, and then a whole basket full toward the end. There is also a section of extra Canticles close by that appear to follow the translations of the 1979 BCP. There are two formats for the Eucharist ("Anglican Standard Text," and the "Renewed Ancient Text"). Additionally, the New Coverdale Psalter sits in the middle of the volume, and the "Documentary Foundation" which houses all of the doctrinal statements, declarations and the preface for the 1549 BCP. The book includes all the other items important to Anglicans, from pastoral offices, to ordination liturgies, etc.

Since it has more than I have time to comment on, I will point out just a few items that pique my interest. First, all or most of the Canticles do appear to have come straight from the 1979 BCP. That's fine, in and of itself, and I have no problem with that. It does mean that they don't always sound exactly like the Biblical texts themselves. For example, the newer BCPs' version of Revelation 15.3-4 always sounds tamer to me than what you read in that passage. Also,because the BCP (2019) takes these Canticles from the 1979-BCP, when you come to the presentation of Isaiah 12, both BCPs leave out Isaiah 12.1, which I have always found hugely disappointing. Isaiah 12.1 reminds us what we deserve and why God's salvation should make you shout and give thanks; "You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me."" You sing/chant/recite that, then you're primed to praise God with the remainder of Isaiah 12!

Second, I noticed in both the "Anglican Standard Text" and the "Renewed Ancient Text" for communion, that the door is open for those with more Anglo-Catholic affections. The liturgical technicians could tease this out better and further, but an easy way for me to see it is in what happens after the bread is "fractured" or broken. The celebrant is allowed two options in the words, drawing from 1 Corinthians 5.7c; either "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" or "Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us". The "has been" follows more the Scriptural emphasis of Christ's once-for-all sacrifice that benefits us in the present (in 1 Corinthians 5.7c, ἐτύθη is aorist passive, rather than a present active. "Has been" fits better). The "is" keeps the door open for the more Catholic Eucharistic direction of Christ's sacrifice somehow breaking in at the present moment. I recognize that the KJV uses "is" and the case can be made that it is a biblical statement.

Further, the Collects for the day are the standard ones. But I noticed in the "Ordinary Time" after Trinity Sunday, they don't necessarily follow the order of either the 1928 BCP or the 1979 BCP. Not a big deal, I'm sure; I simply thought it was worth noting.

Next, in MP, there is the general confession of sin. It is the standard one included from the 16th Century. The 1979 BCP took out the short line "and there is no health in us." The 2019 BCP restored it, and amended it, and I love the amendment, "and apart from your grace, there is no health in us." That amendment is also an allowable addition to the Eucharistic "Prayer of Humble Access" bringing it to say, "Apart from your grace we are not worthy etc." This makes my teeny Reformation-heart sing happy songs!

Lastly, the Psalter is a modernized version of Coverdale's Psalter. If you plop open a 1928 BCP to the Psalter and set it side-by-side with the 2019 version, you will see how they fit. And I'm delighted to note that the gender-specific language, softened or downright changed in the 1979 BCP, has been restored, especially in the places where a particular Psalm is looking forward to the Messiah. This New Coverdale Psalter, because of the modernizing, may not be as poetic as the original, but it is quite usable and and a loyal offspring of its sire.

The "Book of Common Prayer (2019)" is a worthwhile addition to my devotional library. I have been using it for the past month, and will continue to do so for some time to come. I think that Protestants of all flavors and family-groups would find this volume valuable and helpful in their own times of prayer. I especially would encourage pastors to snatch up a copy and thoughtfully use it as they can. I highly recommend this "Book of Common Prayer (2019)".

You can purchase a copy here: Book of Common Prayer (2019)

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Friday, October 18, 2019

General Confession of Sin

As I spend time writing my book on sober-mindedness, I have been led along various side paths that have been good for my soul. One of those side paths came about as I reflected on sober-mindedness, Titus 2.11-12, and a prayer I have used thousands of times in morning prayer for confession of sin. This prayer is the General Confession of Sin in the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred,
and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have
followed too much the devices and desires of our own
hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have
left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to
have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord,
have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those,
O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who
are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto
mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful
Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a
godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy
Name. Amen.

Below are some of the biblical passages (KJV) that likely shaped this prayer, and I thought this would benefit others. The final petition reflects specifically the trivium of virtues mentioned in Titus 2.12; the virtues that flow from grace, and are taught by grace.

  • ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. (“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53.6)
  • We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. (“But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward… And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.” Jeremiah 7.24 and 18.12)
  • We have offended against thy holy laws. (“For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2.10)
  • We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; (“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4.17)
  • And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; (“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3.4)
  • And there is no health in us. (“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings… Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved: for thou art my praise.” Jeremiah 17.9-10, 14)
[N.B. I like how the ACNA’s Book of Common Prayer-2019 restored this line to the general confession and amended it: “and apart from your grace, there is no health in us.”]
  • But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. (“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:” “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Revelation 3.17; Luke 18.13)
  • Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. (“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Proverbs 28.13)
  • Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. (“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin… If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1.7, 9)
  • And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen. (“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2.11-14)


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Discover Joy in Work" by Shundrawn A. Thomas. A Review

Discover Joy in Work: Transforming Your Occupation Into Your VocationDiscover Joy in Work: Transforming Your Occupation Into Your Vocation by Shundrawn A. Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Vocational satisfaction and occupational gratification are extremely important to most people, while these usually stay at least two steps beyond their reach. I remember as a young man commencing adult life in the work place, grasping at straws and clasping for any help in this area I could get. Shundrawn A. Thomas, president of Northern Trust Asset Management, trustee of Wheaton College, author and lecturer, gives interested readers handy perspectives on attaining their desired aim in his new 224-page hardback, "Discover Joy in Work: Transforming Your Occupation into Your Vocation." Though the book seems small, it carries more weight than it's size lets on. Easy to read, and organized to be put aside for deeper reflection, this volume communicates nicely to those first launching into the workforce, as well as the seasoned staff member. In fact, this manual will "challenge you to engage in deep personal introspection, encourage you to have a healthy attitude when facing inevitable challenges, and inspire you to view your work as a calling or vocation" (11).

The book simply falls out into three sections: your workplace, your work ethic, and your work life. Simple, but not shallow. Each section is developed to cultivate a better way of seeing work through cultivating a better way of being in work. This is not a pep-talk, or motivational-speech-in-print. Thomas's straightforward approach on subjects such as discovering your talent, developing and deploying it, motivation, performance reviews, pride, praise, criticism, and so forth, makes this a book worth referring back to over the years ahead. But it also provides the employed with healthy measures that can, and should, be engaged immediately.

Of the many examples I could give on the value of this manuscript, I provide two that I found to be very advantageous. First, as Thomas is developing the idea of how work reveals our purpose, he notes that "we have the ability to give our work meaning. We give our work meaning by being purposeful. Being purposeful means to be fully determined to release your potential through your work" (131). But then he wisely lays out three countermeasures: (1) the vocational path you choose does not define you, though it does shape you; (2) the vocational direction you select does not determine your value, instead you create lasting value by doing purposeful work; and (3) your picked vocational route does not define your purpose, but doing purposeful work opens up the discovery of your purpose. At the end he concludes that wherever "here is, you are here on purpose. Your life is a deliberate choice by your Creator" (132). I know too many people who have crashed and burned because they saw their vocation as their definition. It ate them from the inside out, and like an old oak tree, they looked alive on the outside, but inside they were all hollow and unable to stay standing after the big thunderstorm swept through their life. How much healthier the way mapped out by Thomas!

A second example was the authors insightful recognition of four levels of maturity. There is intellectual maturity, which encompasses our ability to think and learn, developing critical reasoning skills, retention of knowledge, and better problem solving. Then, emotional maturity where we have grown in being able to manage our feelings, "knowing your emotions count, but they must not count too much. Emotional maturity leads you to a higher level of self-awareness" (154). Next is social maturity, which is bound up with our ability to relate to others. This includes empathy for others, understanding their feelings and experiences, growing in higher levels of cultural awareness, all of which build healthy working relationships. Lastly, spiritual maturity, where our faith and allegiance to truth develop in us a greater contentment "knowing you are valued by your Creator and not by what you create" (155-6). As I was reading and pondering this section of the book, I was reminded of many work examples of where I and others fell short of these traits, and how important they became in those who had them.

"Discover Joy in Work" is a class act! When as a young man starting out in the work world,most of what was available in that day happened to be positive mental attitude material; books written by Peale, Napoleon Hill, Zig Zigler, the early Tony Robbins, etc. I'm not saying anything derogatory about them or their work, but this book was the kind of substance I really needed. Positive, but also prudent; joyous while being judicious. To read this book is almost like having your own personal mentor sagely advising you as you seek to move upward and onward! I highly recommend "Discover Joy in Work"!

My appreciation goes out to IVP. I asked for a copy of this work to review, and they happily sent it. They made no demands. They took no hostages. They asked for no ransom. They simply left me to my own devices; thus, this appraisal is all my own, given under no duress.

The book can be purchased here: Discover Joy in Work

The author's website is here:
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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"Sophrosyne And The Rhetoric Of Self Restraint" by Adriaan Rademaker. A Tiny Review

Sophrosyne And The Rhetoric Of Self Restraint: Polysemy and Persuasive Use of an Ancient Greek Value TermSophrosyne And The Rhetoric Of Self Restraint: Polysemy and Persuasive Use of an Ancient Greek Value Term by Adriaan Rademaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this 375 page manual, Rademaker digs deep into some major classic Greek works such as Homer, Aeschylus, and Plato to see how sophron and sophrosyne, and their cognates, were understood and used. This long and labor-intensive study found that the words were polysemous – they had a variety of meanings and implications. The areas of definition were slightly different based on the object’s class, age and sex. For girls and women, it normally indicated quietness and seemliness, even marital fidelity. For young men and boys, again the notion was quietness, along with order and decentness. For slaves, order and obedience. For the polis, there should be good order and sound judgment. Finally, adult men carry the weight by exhibiting respect for the gods, lack of violence, not being unjust, quietness, moderate and measured, sane and prudent. In the end, Rademaker compiled the multifaceted definitions and inferences into a broad swath of general categories that fall under good sense. The good sense to avoid harming oneself or others; and the good sense to avoid indecency and disorder. At the end of the day, the sophroneo words carry the thought of prudence, decency, quietness and soberness in a way that relates to control of desires.

I read this scholarly volume as research for my own book on the way the New Testament uses sophroneo and it's fellow-words. I found it very helpful, and useful in giving some serious historical and linguistic background to an important word-set. I highly recommend the book.

If you're interested in obtaining the book you can find it here:

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Monday, October 14, 2019

"Carpe Diem Redeemed" by Os Guinness. A Review

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the TimesCarpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times by Os Guinness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the other side of mid-life I am feeling time racing by me like a bullet train into the sunset. I think of it regularly. I’ve already spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired, and now I’ve spent 20 years in Christian ministry, and my head is reeling a bit from the speed of it all! In many ways Os Guinness, prolific author, insightful social diagnostician, and one-time guest scholar and senior fellow of numerous institutions, has provided the public a valuable and venerable dossier built from his experiences and perceptions. “Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the times” is a 176 page sobering hardback reminding readers that each of our lives is short and, realistically, will barely make a ripple in the cosmic pond. Further, that the sun doesn’t rise or set around our star. And yet, in spite of the brevity, we have the opportunity to do our part; “we humans are significant agents for either good or ill. Thus those who respond to God’s call, who come to know him and walk with him, become entrepreneurial partners with him in advancing his purposes in the world” (34). Written simply and sincerely, it is readable by anyone who will plunge into it’s depth.

Guinness takes up the task of deciphering what “carpe diem” should mean for men, women, girls and boys of all walks of life. Instead of being a motto for self-centeredness, or a meaningless mantra for absurdity, it is a valuable perspective for Christians. That “seizing the day, making the most of life and understanding the meaning of life are inseparable. All three require that if we are to master time, we must come to know the author of time, the meaning of time, and come to know the part he calls us to play in his grand story” (9). The author, without mentioning it, is filling in the Apostle’s injunction, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5.15-17). One important healthy way this manifests itself is by truth “well-lived“ which “outweighs both a truth well-stated and a truth well-argued” (79). How important that thought is! Instead of fighting, scratching and clawing to win virtual debates and sound-byte skirmishes, come to recognize that life is short and the better approach is to actually reach a hand out to help a flesh-and-blood neighbor; to take a home-cooked meal to an acquaintance who has just returned from the hospital after her latest chemo session; to give a few moments a week aiding a local food bank; and the list could go on.

One of the other values of “Carpe Diem Redeemed” is how Guinness maps out the three major views of time. The eastern, cyclical view sees all time revolving unendingly in a circular fashion and the only hope is to escape. There is also the strictly modernist linear perspective, that all time progresses on without any meaning other than that which humans fabricate to sooth their angst. But then there is the covenantal outlook that sees how God began it all with a goal, how he guides time and creation and people toward that objective, and will bring all to their telos, their purposeful end. To have this final view of time becomes liberating and purpose-filling. I especially appreciated his unpacking of Sabbath and sabbaticals, their value, and how embracing these keeps us free of becoming modernity’s “time slaves” (39-40).

The sagacity between the covers of this book is rich; and in view of a quick and brief life, it is deeply wisening! As Guinness dealt with time and our place in it, he mentions how we handle the past: remembering the past with clearheadedness, keeping the door of forgiveness open so that our past (personally, socially, nationally, ethnically) does not tyrannically rule our present or future. That we then can be liberated from playing the more-victimized-than-thou card. For those “who perceive themselves as victims and respond by portraying themselves as victims end by paralyzing themselves as victims” because those who seek “to use the past as an instrument of power” causes them to “remain prisoners in their past and never become free...they become prisoners of their resentment” (92). Poignant and perceptive at several levels!

“Carpe Diem Redeemed” is a valuable book, and important in the face of each of our transient lives. Preacher, pastors and parishioners should run out and snag a copy quickly. It would be ideal for book reading groups, and personal reflection. I highly and happily recommend this volume. Seize the day and seize a copy!

My grateful appreciation that IVP was willing to send me a copy, at my request, used for this review. The publisher made no demands on me, and gave me no ultimatums. Ergo, all analysis In this short report is mine, freely penned and happily given.

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

“The Four Cardinal Virtues” by Josef Pieper. A Review

While camping with my wife in Oregon I finally finished this classic work. Pieper addresses the four classic, constitutional, crucial or cardinal virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. As he unpacks each virtue the author channels Thomas Aquinas (and some Augustine). And yet he doesn’t simply parrot this Medieval theologian. He takes up what Aquinas gives, works with it, and adds his own thoughtful flavor to the dish.

Though Pieper was a Catholic thinker, and the material assumes some perspectives from that tradition, nevertheless, it is accessible to Protestants as well. There are insights aplenty that will catch readers a bit off guard. Whether he is tackling Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, social justice, virginity, sensuality, casuistry or severe asceticism, Pieper surfaces in places one could not foresee. And the forthrightness of his observations and assertions is refreshing. Such as when he sees that prudence and magnanimity have deep affiliations, while insidiousness, “guile, craft, and concupicence are the refuge of small-minded and small-souled persons” (20). My copy of this valuable volume is marked, page after page, with highlights and notes. This is a book I will return to repeatedly!

For those who are unfamiliar with the cardinal virtues, this is an excellent manuscript to become familiar with them. In many places it will set you back in your chair and give you pause. In other spots you will find yourself saying, “Yes! Exactly!” In a day and era where so many social values are being flattened and made pallid, this volume is a refreshingly thoughtful set of insights that the reader will benefit from immensely. I highly recommend the book.