The book of Deer

book of deer - the four evangelists
The Book of Deer

This illustration of the four gospel writers comes from the Book of Deer, the earliest surviving example of Gaelic literature from Scotland. The Book of Deer is an illuminated Christian text, similar to the Book of Kells. It is named after the monastery of Deer and contains portions of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, a portion of an Office for the Visitation of the Sick, the complete text of the Gospel of John and the Apostles’ Creed.

Dhammapada

Not overly impressed by the Dhammapada … which I finally got around to finishing this evening. Very repeatative. Lots of do bad and you’ll be damned, do good and you’ll be blessed kind of stuff. Like the book of Proverbs without the essential grace aspect. Not nearly as interesting as the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nagarjuna.

I suppose that says something kinda interesting about myself. I still find Zen fascinating, even though I moved onto Christianity some time ago. But I have to wonder how much of this is due to its Taoist roots over its Buddhist roots. For I continually find Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Sun Tzu arresting but my eyes start glazing over with some Mahayana texts, and even more so with some Theravadan texts. They’re not as playful or paradoxical.

I like teaching that messes with my mind. Which is why I like Jesus so much too.

Book of Cerne

Book of cerne - gospel of lukeThis image is from the book of Cerne, an ancient Celtic Christian text featuring Gospel extracts, Pslams, hymns, prayers and an apocryphal “Harrowing of Hell”.

It was used by the ancients for private prayers and devotions.

Shown here is the opening of the Gospel of Mark, featuring an image of Mark above his symbol, the Lion.

Gita and Gospel

“Here, then, we have the secret of that similarity which we are all so clearly conscious of, when we read a Gospel alongside of the Glta. In the Gospels we have in historical form the authoritative utterances of the historical Jesus; in the Gita we have the imaginations of a poet-philosopher who was clear-sighted enough to realize that an incarnate god would have many things to say about himself, and that his teaching would bear the note of authority. When, however, we look for exact parallels between the two, they are hard to find: the books are so utterly diverse in origin and teaching that they have little in common except the tone of the master. In a few cases, however, the resemblance is rather striking.”

“The Gita is one of the most eloquent possible proofs of the fact that the human heart cries out for an incarnate Saviour. Scarcely less impressive is the evidence furnished by the reception of the Gita by Hindu readers: not the greatest of the Upanishads, neither the Chandogya nor the Katha, has had one quarter of the influence exercised by this late poem; and the secret undoubtedly is to be found in the attraction of the man-god Krishna. How many generations of pious readers have found in the story of the life and teaching of the incarnate god something to which their deepest and most persistent religious instincts have responded! How many to-day turn to Krishna in their trials and troubles!”

“On the one hand, then, we have the imaginative portrait of Krishna, surrounded by millions of adoring worshippers—touching spectacle! On the other, stands the historical Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Man and Son of God, stretching out His nail-pierced hands to India, as He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Rightly read, the Gita, is a clear-tongued prophecy of Christ, and the hearts that bow down to the idea of Krishna are really seeking the incarnate Son of God.”

Farquhar, J. N. (John Nicol), 1861-1929

The Gita and Gospel is available for free in ebook format here.

Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience

reborn-on-the-fourth-of-julyWhen ranking a book I look for three things. Was it thoughtful? Was it readable? Did it leave me different afterwards? Having just devoured “ReBorn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism & Conscience” by Logan Mehl-Laituri, I’m giving it 5 stars. I just couldn’t put it down and even now I’m finished I’m still working though the personal implications.

Logan described his book as a confession, but I’m wondering who’s it was because I found God searching me as I read it. Some sections left me feeling awfully superficial. But in a good way, because as Logan himself says, “the Spirit convicts as well as renews” and the Spirit was definitely at work in this self exposure.

ReBorn on the Fourth of July is an amazing story, it’s completely beyond my own experience, but at the same time Logan strikes me as a very ordinary, accessible guy. You won’t find pat answers here, what you’ll find are challenges for both patriots and pacifists. On that basis, I’d recommend it for both. Especially for those like Logan, who find themselves walking between both worlds.

Books, Books, Books

I been buying books! Here’s my latest Kindle acquisitions:

  • Prodigal God by Timothy Keller ($8.66)
  • Bringing the Gospel Home: Witnessing to Your Family Members, Close Friends, and Others Who Know You Well by Randy Newman ($9.00)
  • Virtue Reborn by Tom Wright ($9.99)
  • Jesus@Work by Graham Beynon ($1.00)
  • A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive by Thomas Finger ($15.40)
  • The Third Choise: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom by Mark Durie ($9.99)
  • Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt ($9.68)

I hate to think what that would have cost shopping the old way.

Best Sellers in Hinduism

Every now and then I find it helpful to take a wider look at the spiritual currents moving through our culture, beyond my direct experience of it. In that respect I sometimes find it informative to look at what’s selling in bookstore like Amazon. So tonight I thought I’d take a look at the best sellers in Hinduism.  Here they are:

  1. The Bhagavad-Gita by Barbara Stoler Miller
  2. The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran
  3. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri S. Satchidananda
  4. The Subtle Body by Cyndi Dale
  5. Bhagavad Gita by Stephen Mitchell
  6. Darsan by Diana L. Eck
  7. Remember, Be Here Now by Ram Dass
  8. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
  9. The Four Desires by Rod Stryker
  10. Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith

Looking very “traditional” don’t you think? Get’s me wondering how much Kindle sales are distorting the normal picture, with people stocking up on cheap classics.

More significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Books_menorah

“They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.” – BBC

That’s a lot of “if’s” for such a short statment. Some are claiming these books are more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I’d like to read a translation first.

What covers CAN tell you about books

The other week I drew attention to some esoteric difference between Dispensational Theology, Covenant Theology and Christocentric Theology. Now, given the launch of Jesus Manifesto this week, I thought it might be timely to draw attention to how theological themes can practically manifest in book titles. Here’s some examples:

Reformed Influenced / Covenant Theology

Desiring God – John Piper

The Holiness of God – R.C. Sproul

The Pursuit of Holiness, The Practice of Godliness, Trusting God – Jerry Bridges

The Prodigal God – Tim Keller

Knowing God, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, A Quest for Godliness – J I Packer

Anabaptist Influenced / Christocentric Theology

The Politics of Jesus, Discipleship as Political Responsibility – John H Yoder

Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor – David Augsburger

Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship, ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church – Alan Hirsch

Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World – Lee C. Camp

Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, Follow Me to Freedom: Leading As an Ordinary Radical
– Shane Claiborne

Notice the differences? I hope so, because they’re pretty obvious I reckon. The authors influenced by Covenant Theology show a distinct preference for God, godliness and holiness as keywords. It reflects their theological emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the pursuit of Godliness.

By way of contrast the authors influenced by Christocentric Theology show a distinct preference for Jesus, discipleship, politics and radical (wild, untamed, dissident, etc) as keywords. It reflects their theological emphasis on the lordship of Christ and the pursuit of Christlikeness.

Now, this is not to suggest that Covenant authors don’t write about Jesus or that Christocentric authors don’t write about God, for they both write about both. But their starting points are different and their word selection reflects their starting points. Christocentric authors tend to work from the particular to the general, from the historical to the transhistorical, from Jesus to God. It’s why they all love N T Wright, the Jesus historian. Covenant authors tend to work from God to Jesus … and that’s why they don’t like N T Wright … and see activism against injustice as an optional extra.

Trends in Christian Publishing

Need therapy? This evening I spent some time looking for trends in Christian publishing, guessing book sales could serve as a good litmus test for shifts in Christian focus amongst the Christian community.

So I located a current list of best sellers according to the Christian Booksellers Association and ran it through a text analyser. The results? The top keywords were “love”, “your”, “languages”, “bible”, “God”, “praying”, “power” and “life”.

Interested that “your outweighed “God”, I took a closer look at the titles. Is it just me, or do they seem predominatly focussed on relationship therapy and overcoming anxiety?”

See for yourself. Just looking at the top 10 it seems 7 would fall into one of those two categories. And there’s many more further down the list with titles like “His Needs, Her Needs”, “The Love Dare” and “The Power of a Praying Wife”.

You know what this reminds me of? Well firstly of Christian Smith’s characterization of American religion as “moralistic therapeutic deism”. But secondly, from sociology and missiology, that folk religion is characterized by focus on fear, power and everyday life. Just like this.

Now don’t get me wrong, as a trainee counsellor and married man I’m all for working of marital relationships and empowering couples. I own some of these books myself. And I’m also all for connecting with culture and where people are at. Folk religion has its place. But I’ve got to start asking questions when things start looking unbalanced. I mean, there’s hardly anything on the bible in that list, or on deeper Christian teachings, or even on essential Christian practices other than prayer. Heiburt talked of the flaw of the excluded middle. Have we fallen into the flaw of the excluded heights? Are we really so different from teen witches chasing after love spells?

Books of the Apocrypha

Have you ever wondered what to make of the Apocrypha? Today I was asked, Is it true they are not in the standard bible cos they were written in Greek not original hebrew language?? What bible has them? How many books r there & r they bona fide??”

Now, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the Apocrypha but this is what I know.

Firstly, when discussing texts, any texts, it’s always good practice to go to the primary sources and see for yourself, and not to rely exclusively on secondary sources (like me). So, with that in mind here are two sites where you’ll find the books of the Apocrapha available for reading. I personally found one read of “Bel and the Dragon” was all that was required for me to appreciate why that’s considered non “bona fide” by evangelicals. Why not read Bel (it doesn’t take long) and see what you think?

Sacred texts Archive: The Apocrypha

Parallel Apocrypha

Secondly, when discussing controvercial texts, it’s also good practice to explore each side of the argument and not just rely on one side. I’m a Protestant so you’re going to get a Protestant response from me. But I’m a thinking Protestant so I’d insist that you also familiarize yourself with Catholic, Orthodox and alternatives perspectives, and again, make up you’re own mind, not accepting what I say without testing it. So, here is some wider reading:

Wikipedia: The Apocrypha and Deuterocanonical Books (a mishmash view)

Catholic Encyclopedia: The Apocrypha (a Catholic Christian view)

Manachos.net (an Orthodox Christian view) 

The Old Testament Canon and Apocrypha (a Protestant Christian view)

Now for my own opinion. I do not consider the Apocrypha to be inspired or authoritative. But, given the place of the Septuagint in Christian history, it can be helpful to have access to it. As for Catholic acceptance of the Apocrypha as deuterocanonical, well, though there are obvious doctrinal differences between Protestantism and Catholicism  I think the more important causes lie elsewhere.

The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray

I’ve learned that Stuart Murray’s new book, The Naked Anabaptist, is scheduled for publication in July 2010. It’s about Anabaptist Christianity “stripped down to the bare essentials.” Here’s some extracts:

In many nations, then, not only in Britain and Ireland, there are growing numbers of ‘neo-Anabaptists’ and ‘hyphenated Anabaptists’. Neo-Anabaptists identify with the Anabaptist tradition and are happy to be known as Anabaptists, but have no historic or cultural links with any Anabaptist-related denomination. Hyphenated Anabaptists find inspiration and resources in the Anabaptist tradition, but do not identify themselves as Anabaptists. They might be Baptist-Anabaptists, Methodist-Anabaptists, Anglican-Anabaptists, Pentecostal-Anabaptists or various other combinations.

‘Post-Christendom’ celebrated the demise of imperial Christianity and welcomed the opportunity to rethink all kinds of issues as the church found itself back on the margins of society. It suggested that, as the mainline traditions associated with imperial Christianity struggled to adjust to this new situation, perhaps some of the necessary resources are to be found in the radical tradition associated with Anabaptism.

As a neo/hypenated Anabaptist I’ll be looking forward to it.