What Christians Ought to Believe - A Review

Are you looking for a solid, theological book that you can read devotionally? If you’re not, you should be. If you are, then pick up Michael Bird’s latest book, What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine through the Apostles’s Creed.

 Everything Bird writes is entertaining. His punchy prose springs from the page, even when he’s writing deep theology. He intentionally uses attention grabbing language and examples to make important points memorable. The purposefulness of Bird’s exuberant writing is what keeps his books from being over the top. He uses snappy rhetoric only to punctuate the most important points, not merely to entertain.

 Summary

 What Christians Ought to Believe is divided into fourteen chapters, so a chapter by chapter summary would be tedious and unproductive. However, an overview is in order.

 Bird begins with a basic defense of creeds and their relation to a biblical faith in four chapters. This is a necessary discussion for Free Church Christians (such as myself) who have historically questioned the place of creeds. After giving sound reasons to study the creeds—though certainly not slavishly—Bird shifts to a discussion of the nature of faith. This section outlines what biblical faith is in contrast to the generic call to believe that culture issues. Faith is substantive. Faith requires a solid object. Faith is a gift from God. Faith is enhanced when it is placed in the God who is carefully described in the Apostles’ Creed.

 Having laid the groundwork for the remainder of the study, each of the remaining ten chapters picks up a phrase from the Apostles’ Creed and explains why proper belief in that element of traditional Christian doctrine is necessary for a healthy orthodoxy. It's a simple structure, but effective.

 Application

 Each of the chapters has from twelve to sixteen pages. I read a chapter a day in the morning as part of my daily devotions for a couple of weeks. The rich theology, solid history, and entertaining prose make this an excellent way to begin the day. There are enough clear divisions within the chapters so that slower readers could easily make this a longer study without losing the flow.

 This is the sort of volume that I would love to see used as college level book study. I am giving it strong consideration for use in our homeschool curriculum, when my oldest gets to high school. It would also be a worthwhile resource for the discipleship of new adult believers. The reading level is moderate, so for the right audience, this would be an excellent tool.

 I could also see this being used as an auxiliary volume in a systematic theology course. Bird references sections of his Evangelical Theology after each chapter, but What Christians Ought to Believe could be used apart from his systematics.

 Whether the book is included in a course, used as a small group tool, or simply for personal edification, this is a volume that warrants attention.

 Conclusion

The one potential weakness of this volume is that there are a few cases where some readers may find Bird's illustrations to be excessively shocking. This will depend on the audience. One example is in Bird's account of first hearing the gospel, he relates a humorous story that includes monkeys giving themselves testicular exams. Many readers will find it funny and move on, and the story serves to wake the reader up to get the gospel in the same paragraph. However, some readers may find a few such flourishes to be a little too much locker room talk for a serious theology text.

What Christians Ought to Believe is a great addition to a theological library. It is well-written, theologically sound, and expresses the Christian faith positively. Instead of making a case against heresy, Michael Bird lays out his case for orthodoxy. If we continue to get books of this tenor and quality, there will be a lot to cheer about in the near future.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this from the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

The Story of God's Love for You - A Review

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones is my favorite Bible storybook available. The illustrations by Jago are interesting and faithful to the text. The audio version, narrated by David Suchet, is well produced and engaging. It is a product that the whole family has enjoyed greatly since it was released several years ago.

When Zondervan announced the forthcoming release of a grown-up version of the book, The Story of God’s Love for You, I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure how well the story would convey without the pictures.

As it happens, this little volume does stand well on its own without the illustrations. While I still prefer the full version of the book, the big kid’s version is almost as good.

BEGINNING AS THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE

For those that haven’t encountered The Jesus Storybook Bible, the approach is worth considering. Most Bible storybooks focus on particular scenes in Scripture that seem most likely to be interesting to a young audience. Thus, while still well-told, a regular refrain tales make their appearance in most Bible storybooks: David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, Moses and Pharoah, Jesus calms the storm, etc. These are the same stories that I was raised on in Sunday School and seemed to come up with a regular frequency.

Often missing from the traditional approach to children’s Bible storybooks is any sense of the big picture. How does the crossing of the Red Sea fit into the bigger picture of the Bible? Is the Bible just a loose collection of hero tales and miracles? The metanarrative of Scripture has been tragically lacking in many books intended to bring Scripture down to the cognitive level of children.

As a result, many children grow up in the church with no sense of what God is doing through the Bible. This has allowed young Christians to fall prey to skeptics who assault the apparent inconsistencies between the miracle-less present and the supernatural accounts of the past. It has created a broader culture may know that David and Goliath is a story about little beating big, but is unaware that this has the additional significance of being God’s anointed one defeating the seemingly unconquerable evil. In other words, David and Goliath tells a piece of the bigger story of Christ defeating evil in the world.

Sally Lloyd-Jones takes those stories, which have been made to trite and simple over the years of Sunday School tradition, and reinvigorates them with a theological approach. She tells us,

The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life.

You see, the best thing about this Story is—it’s true.

There are lost of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. To Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

This approach unites the stories in Scripture into a tapestry of wonder, which is woven (often untidily) through with the golden thread: Jesus saves because God loves his creation. Lloyd-Jones communicates that truth so simply a child can comprehend it, but without dissolving the polychromatic hues of Scripture into a monochrome mass of christocentric allegory.

STANDING ON ITS OWN

Even having lost most of Jago’s lovely illustrations, the text Lloyd-Jones wrote is edifying. It takes a reader willing to put up with a bit of child-like simplicity and sometimes silliness to enjoy the volume. Her prose is playful, which could make the adult concerned with being grown-up disdain this volume.

However, taken on its own merits and enjoyed for what it is (an entertaining retelling of an amazingly complex story), The Story of God’s Love for You gets along quite well. For the seasoned saint who needs encouragement, there are reminders of God’s always surprising affection for us on nearly every page. At times the capricious retelling highlights an aspect of a story that would have otherwise remained obscure to the accustomed eye, which always tends to read what the mind already knows.

This volume may also have use in introducing new believers to the big picture of Scripture. Again, the attitude of the reader makes a great deal of difference. However, Lloyd-Jones hits the high points and provides a basic hermeneutic that can help the novice to see the purpose in many of the stories of the Old Testament. They aren’t just weird fables of an outdated God; they are pieces of the bigger story, which is the most exciting story of all.

The Story of God's Love for You
By Sally Lloyd-Jones

Note: A gratis copy of this volume was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Wildlife in the Kingdom Come

If there is one thing most theologians are in need of it is a good laugh. After hours of poring over the sometimes terrible writing and convoluted thoughts of people we are generally in disagreement with, a little levity would seem to be a welcome thing.

I was pleased to be introduced to an old, humorous book a few months ago by Bruce Ashford. He credits Paige Patterson with bringing him to the font of amusement. Personally, I don’t care how it got to me. I just think it’s funny.

The book is Wildlife in the Kingdom Come: An Explorer Looks at the Critters and Creatures of the Theological Kingdom. It was written (and illustrated) by Ken C. Johnson and John H. Coe. Cast your memory back to the 1980’s and you may remember seeing Ken Johnson’s name as the creator and writer of McGee and Me! Or, more recently, from his work with Adventures in Odyssey. John H. Coe is actually a trained theologian who is at Biola and, amazingly, actually lists this book on his faculty page.

Wildlife in the Kingdom Come contains several dozen brief discussions of theological movements or elements of theology and a representative drawing. It is very tongue in cheek. It also leaves no theological movement protected, making fun of theologians of every stripe. The footnotes are humorous, too, citing authors such as Clark P. Nock and R. C. Sprawl.

Most of the humor is not highbrow. It relies on puns, caricatures and stereotypes. Of course, if the punchlines were too sophisticated it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to read. Who wants to work to get a chortle, anyway?

Some Quotes

I’ll give five quotes to provide a taste of the book:

“Long ago in an age when the primitive shores of the Textual Critic Coastlands were forming, a fierce and tyrannical giant roamed the earth, the terrible Textus Receptus (TR). Rising from the Erasmus Manuscript Marshes, the TR ruled these lands particularly during the Jurassic Era of King James.”

“Anyone wishing to explore the theological kingdom will inevitably encounter the Problem Passage. This terrifying creature roams the Theological Hillsides and creates extremely difficult going for the would-be traveler. By positioning himself stubbornly on the explorer’s path, the Problem Passage impeded any attempt to forge a trail toward a complete theological system.”

“In the heartland of the Teaching Timberlands that border the Pulpit Prairies thrives the ever-stoic and staunch Expository Sermon. Though less daunting and spirited than his cousin, the Topical Sermon, this meticulous creature is an instinctive digger and a study in discipline.”

“Many centuries ago zealous (and at times, unbalanced) expeditions sought to rid the Great Primitivchuch Plains of a dreaded and poisonous parasite, the Heretic. Found throughout the theological lands, the Heretic is most fond of feeding off helpless hers of Unorthodox and Neoorthodox whose diet lacks any substantial dosages of doctrine of theological presuppositions. Although small and difficult to detect at first, the bite of this malicious little pest can have devastating results. As infection forms around the bite, schism and dissension spread throughout the body of the helpless victims. This condition ultimately gives way to such fatal diseases as Arianism, Modalism, Universalism, and the Ten-Percent Tithe.”

“By far the most beautiful and colorful of all the birds in the Moral Highgrounds is the proud Pelagian. This reigning king of pomp and splendor typically spreads his impeccably plumage for all to see. His feathered feat is usually an unabashed attempt to attract as many admirers as his flock can carry. So impressive is the sight that some have suggested that his brilliant display has a blinding affect [sic]  on the admirers of this unfallen fowl.”

Conclusion

The list goes on. There are pages of these punny quips and sidelong theological references throughout. As a student of theology, I have guffawed, wheezed, snorted, and cackled at some of the jokes. My family things I’m crazy anyway, so that makes no difference.

The biggest downside of this book is that it is out of print. However, I still commend it because there are relatively inexpensive copies available used through Amazon. Trust me, theological friends, this is worth your money. It’s a skinny book, too, so it won’t be that much more weight the next time you move.