Posted by: Keith Clark | August 18, 2012

Weekly Wrap

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Posted by: Keith Clark | August 11, 2012

Weekly Wrap

Posted by: Keith Clark | July 28, 2012

A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell L. Bock

I am thankful to be able to participate in a blog tour for the latest contribution to Zondervan’s Biblical Theology of the New Testament series, A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell L. Bock. Each volume in the series includes: (1) a survey of recent scholarship and of the state of research; (2) a treatment of the relevant introductory issues; (3) a thematic commentary following the narrative flow of the document(s); (4) a treatment of important individual themes; and (5) discussions of the relationship between a particular writing and the rest of the New Testament and the Bible. As a companion to more traditional commentaries, this series has the potential to be a great resource for ministers, seminarians, and committed students of the Bible who are interested in glimpsing the bigger picture of a specific book or set of books in the New Testament than is often provided in traditional commentaries.

Bock’s work is the only volume in this series with which I’ve had a chance to interact, so I won’t offer much of an opinion on the actual value of the series. Specifically in regard to his contribution, A Theology of Luke and Acts, my feelings are mixed. The book opens on a strong note with Part One on Introductory Matters. Of particular significance are the outline and narrative survey in chapter 4, which offer the students of Luke and Acts a means for grasping how the smaller sections of the books fit together and function as a unified whole. Part Three affords readers an understanding of the place of Luke and Acts within the broader canon of Christian scripture, particularly the New Testament. This section also gives Bock an opportunity to set forth six key theses about Luke’s theology, which provide helpful touchpoints for reading Luke and Acts.

Part Two, the longest of the three major sections in the book, is a bit more uneven. There are some really solid chapters in this section, including chapters on discipleship and ethics, women and the poor, and ecclesiology. However, the specific chapter I am focused on as a part of the blog tour, Chapter 18 on “The Law in Luke-Acts,” is fairly weak. The chapter deals with pretty much every explicit reference to the law or Moses or to specific practices commanded in the law. There is, however, a gaping hole in Bock’s analysis of the law in Luke-Acts in terms of his failure to comment at all on what light other aspects of Jesus’s practice and teaching and the church’s practice and teaching shed on Jesus’s and the church’s attitude toward the law. For instance, surely Jesus’s response to the desert temptation (Luke 4:1-13) teaches something about Jesus’s view of the law. Likewise, certainly the description of the believers in the early church sharing their possessions (Acts 4:32-37) says something about the enduring effects of the law on the early Christian community.

Aside from content, the layout of the book is very user-friendly and the bibliographies at the beginning of each chapter are very useful. The writing in A Theology of Luke and Acts, however, isn’t particularly readable. Repeatedly during my reading, I found myself thinking a good editor could have improved greatly the final product. Despite its shortcomings, this is a valuable reference work worth consulting during any study of Luke or Acts.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy. I was not required to write a positive review.

Posted by: Keith Clark | June 25, 2012

Book Review: Hurting with God by Glenn Pemberton

“Our response to storms, literal or metaphoric, reveals much about us…. When a problem or crisis erupts, we want an immediate fix. We speak of ‘getting through it,’ ‘getting past it,’ and ‘seeing the light at the end of the tunnel’ from which we will emerge stronger and better for the experience. So we pray for healing (now) and respond to those who are ill by asking if they are feeling better (yet). We share the American dream of being able to triumph over any obstacle and live above every circumstance. And all this self-talk is fine as long as we really do get better or find a happy resolution.

“But what if we or those we love don’t get better? What if the storm never lets up? What if the issue is not about how to ‘get through it’ or ‘getting to the light at the end of the tunnel’ because this tunnel has no end point short of death? What if God chooses not to answer our prayers for healing, for a better marriage, for a way to pay the bills, or for a way out of the mess that is my life? What then? In my experience, when there is no end to the pain or the loss, we simply do not know how to respond to ourselves, to others, or to God. And, in these cases, even the most well-intentioned and sound theological-philosophical explanations about why bad things happen in God’s world don’t matter because they do nothing to help me live now; they do not stop my ain or teach me how to live within circumstances that do not change. At least for now, I don’t care why this storm is flooding my life. I just need someone to teach me how to swim.” (22)

These words from the opening chapter of Glenn Pemberton’s masterful Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms speak to the hard reality of life that many, if not most, streams of popular Christianity seem to deny. In this climate of stone-faced declarations of “the sovereignty of God” on one end of the spectrum and smiley-faced encouragements to live “your best life now” on the other end of the spectrum, Pemberton takes an altogether different approach. Even as he writes out of what I would call a holy dissatisfaction with the church’s failure to equip Christians to deal with the hard reality of life, compassion and empathy are apparent in every word.

At times Pemberton sounds like a pleading pastor: “I’m concerned for well-intentioned churches whose assemblies of praise and triumph only know how to pray for and celebrate healing but ignore the chaos raging all around them. Must it be that, because we affirm that God reigns, we have to pretend that everything must be okay or will soon be?” (24).

At times he sounds like a passionate prophet: “In our rush to be positive and enthusiastic, we isolate even further those who are hurting. I don’t need a church that ignores my pain or glibly tells me everything is going to be alright–I know better. If we really want to attract people to the gospel, we first need to practice the gospel in our assemblies–reaching out to the sinners, the outcasts, and the lepers instead of choreographing a command performance for those who experience life as whole (unless, of course, who we really want to attract are the wealthy young families with potential)” (196).

At times he sounds like a trusted teacher: “We need to recognize [a] danger that we tend to overlook, a danger as ominous to our relationship [with God] as a lack of respect [for God]…. When we think of God only in terms of a sovereign king and judge, we become yes-men with endless affirmations for what God chooses to do; we limit appropriate speech–especially compared to how I might speak to my spouse or friend. Unless we are careful, our reduced set of metaphors for God leads us to an unstated set of assumptions for what is appropriate instead of the witness of Scripture leading us to what God wants in this relationship. The question we should be asking is what does God dare us say, not what we dare to do” (150-151).

Deftly weaving together personal testimony of his own rides on life’s chaotic sea with his scholarly insight into the psalms (his detailed explanation of the contours of lament in chapter four and his treatment of the imprecatory psalms in chapter nine stand out), Pemberton makes a compelling case and offers practical suggestions for the reclamation of lament as a vital part of the church’s corporate language and the individual life of faith. Hurting with God is a triumph precisely because Pemberton remains completely true to his vocation as an academic, not compromising his approach to the text one bit, while communicating in a manner that is not only accessible but preeminently practical.

As such the book is a prime candidate for use as a teaching text in a church’s education ministry, as a resource for discussion within a small group, and as a means for equipping individual Christians for personal spiritual development. Not only is the book of immense value for its ability to promote the reclamation of lament, it also is certain to stimulate the spiritual formation of readers in a variety of other ways, including the way they approach corporate worship, the way they read scripture, the way they think about their interactions with others, the way they conceive of the nature of sin, and the way they feel about trouble in life and the world. I cannot recommend Hurting with God highly enough.

Disclaimer: Thanks to ACU Press for a review copy. I was not obligated to write a positive review.

Posted by: Keith Clark | June 23, 2012

Weekly Wrap

Posted by: Keith Clark | June 22, 2012

Music Review: Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones

Last fall, I shared a bit about my grave concern over the children’s music I’d have to listen to and to which I’d expose Carson as a young child and I mentioned how much Mindy and Carson and I have enjoyed the albums made by Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson, the wonderful singer-songwriters behind Slugs and Bugs.

I’m thankful to have discovered another incredibly good album for kids, Rain for Roots: Big Stories for Little Ones. The album is a result of a perfect match, the literary talent of Sally Lloyd-Jones, author of the widely acclaimed The Jesus Storybook Bible, paired with the musical talent of four gifted singer-songwriters (Sandra McCracken, Ellie Holcomb, Flo Paris, and Katy Bowser). The lyrics, which come from Lloyd-Jones’s Baby’s Hug-a-Bible, have been set to simple folk melodies that are relatively simple so that they can be picked up easily by young children, however they avoid the dangers of being overly simplistic or repetitious. And while the melodies are simple, they are fleshed out beautifully, and in diverse ways (varied tempos, different instrumentation, etc.), by these outstanding singer-songwriters and other talented musicians, including some of their husbands. On a few songs, some of the singers’ children sing along, offering a subtle encouragement to little listeners to sing along as well. They’ve also included in the digital booklet guitar chords and tunings for the songs, so that children or families could enjoy playing and singing them together. Perhaps most importantly, these songs do a great job of instilling in children the basic notion that God loves and cares for them individually, while reminding them God’s love is for all creation. The manner in which the album has been made by a community of believers (who fittingly conclude the album with an a cappella rendition of “Doxology” by the contributors and their families) rather than an isolated individual implicitly reinforces this communal ideal. This is a great album we’ll enjoy with Carson for years to come and I hope you or someone you know might enjoy it too.

The Rain for Roots folks have given me a 10% off discount code to share here on the blog, so if you’d like to get a copy of the album click over to the Rain for Roots site and enter the promo code EXPLORING as you check out. While the album will soon be available on other sites, including Amazon, for which I am an Associate, I’d encourage you, if you are going to buy the album, to purchase through the Rain for Roots site so that the artists themselves receive the maximum compensation for their hard work.

One body. Many parts. In the practice of ministry, it’s easy to allow the “many parts” portion of Paul’s “one body with many parts” metaphor for the church to drive one’s ministry. This is problematic on multiple levels. First, ministry becomes primarily about relationships and interactions with individuals or individual interest groups. These individuals and interest groups can begin quickly to pull the minister in a variety of different directions. Without a sense of the “one body” guiding ministry, the minister may feel divided and unsure how to proceed. Before long, the minister driven by an awareness of the “many parts” likely will feel overwhelmed by the demands of ministering to each of the many parts, and may even feel as though there no longer is any “one body” at all, but rather a bunch of little bodies. Feeling so much pressure, the minister rarely has any energy left to equip the laity for the work of ministry.

Because it is so easy to fall into this pattern of ministry, The Equipping Pastor: A Systems Approach to Congregational Leadership by R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins ought to be required reading for anyone involved in church ministry. Drawing on systems theory and family systems theory, Stevens and Collins repeatedly remind ministers to operate out of an awareness of and with attentiveness to both the “one body” and the “many parts.” Such an approach to ministry begins with a minister making an intentional commitment to join the body with which he or she is working. Having joined the church, the minister can then work to cultivate in the members of the congregation an interdependence characterized by the valuing of both unity and diversity. As the members of the church become interdependent upon one another and on Jesus, the head of the church, the minister can attend to leading “the process by which people find their maturity in their life together in Christ” (41). By giving themselves to the more manageable task of leading the process rather than leading each individual person, ministers preserve the time and energy to be attentive to the subsystems in the church (both structural and functional) and to the development of each member into a community of people, the body of Christ. It is important to recognize, however, that a minister’s success in developing such a community is predicated largely upon the fit of his or her leadership style with the style to which the church is prepared to respond at a given point in its history. Sometimes this may necessitate the minister’s adopting a different leadership style, but other times it may necessitate the minister transitioning to another congregation so that a more compatible minister may join the church.

While the case for taking a systems approach to ministry is convincing in and of itself, Stevens and Collins aren’t simply interested in such an approach for its own sake. The book culminates with a challenge from the authors for ministers to use this systems approach to ministry as a jumping-off point from which to liberate and empower the laity for mission. Thus, in the final chapter of the book, ten principles from the preceding material are highlighted and then applied toward the end of liberating and empowering the laity for mission.

In this era of one-size-fits-all instruction manuals for church leadership, church-in-a-box congregations popping up all around, and a childish rejection of theory in favor of all things practical (as though theories and practicality are somehow mutually exclusive), a nearly 20-year-old book that offers no solutions, no step-by-step directions, no money-back guarantee, and values theory is likely to be ignored by many. But ministers who recognize that each church is a unique context that requires thoughtful engagement and intentional, contextual leadership will benefit greatly from the wisdom of Stevens and Collins. Their perception into the systemic life of the church will be sharpened. Their ability to keep the one body and the many parts developing toward maturity will be strengthened. Their ministerial imagination will be ignited by the on-the-ground examples given in the book and liberated by the systems approach to ministry. In short, they will have been equipped more than adequately to become successful equippers themselves.

Posted by: Keith Clark | May 19, 2012

Weekly Wrap

Posted by: Keith Clark | May 18, 2012

Broken Hallelujahs 7

The last couple months have been a whirlwind as we’ve tried to prepare for our transition, so I am way behind writing and posting my thoughts on the final chapter of Christian Scharen’s outstanding new book Broken Hallelujahs: Why Popular Music Matters to Those Seeking God. Nevertheless, here’s the final installment. Thanks again to Chris for providing a copy of the book.

Chapter 7 of Broken Hallelujahs (“Practicing Surrender”) is aptly named, as it turns from a proposal of a way to counteract the constricted imagination to the working out of that proposal in relating to popular culture. While Scharen acknowledges the value and importance of Andy Crouch’s call for Christians to make culture in his book Culture Making, he emphasizes that his purpose is quite different. There is a time and place for Christians to make culture, but there is also a time and place for Christians to learn to discern the cries being raised throughout the culture. Whether they appear to be “Christian” or not, the testimony of scripture seems to suggest God is present both in the cries and with those raising them (think for instance of Amos 9:7, in which God speaks through Amos to tell the people of Israel theirs are not the only cries to which God has responded by performing an exodus). Here Scharen makes perhaps the most challenging claim of the entire book: that “cultural creations cannot be Godforsaken” (142). While this may be exceedingly difficult to swallow at first, is it not in response to the most hopeless cries (of the slaves in captivity in Egypt, of the exiles in a foreign land, of a homicidal zealot of his faith) that God responds in significant ways? If we shelter or protect ourselves so as not to hear those cries, what hope do we then have of responding in God’s name or on God’s behalf?

Having made his strongest case for practicing surrender in relation to popular culture, Scharen takes turns reflecting on three cultural offerings which would typically be labeled “secular,” demonstrating how each can enrich the ability of Christians to live faithfully in the world. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series becomes for Scharen and his family a window through which to see lived out some of the deepest Christian values, such as self-giving love. The music of Sigur Rós provides through its musical soundscape a glimpse of the kind of beauty and majesty in which the Bible repeatedly insists God is interested. Lastly, the prophetic lyrics of Arcade Fire “[open] up avenues of reflection on some of the issues that matter most in life–who we serve with our lives, how we live, love, and create with the gifts we have been given, and what is worth fighting for and against” (155).

Regarding this final chapter, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I wish Scharen had chosen for reflection cultural offerings in which it might be more difficult for the average churchgoer to find anything “good.” As best as I can tell, there aren’t many Christians who would object to listening to the music of Sigur Rós or Arcade Fire, and while there are certainly more who would object to reading the Harry Potter series, they tend to be an extreme minority. Far more Christians, however, would object to listening to rock bands that occasionally employ “explicit” lyrics or reading books that describe more “explicit” acts. It might have been helpful, then, for Scharen to reflect on a band or a book that would be the subject of more widespread objections. On the other hand, my sense is that if Scharen’s approach to remedying the constricted imagination is to take hold, it will be a gradual process, and many readers might need to be eased into this approach by way of rather non-controversial cultural offerings. In choosing this approach, I believe we get a glimpse at Scharen’s pastor’s heart, which seems truly to long for all Christians to reject the constricted imagination for an imagination that can handle anything and everything popular culture has to offer. And indeed, having been shaped by the book, I feel I’m more equipped than ever to answer the calling of God as Scharen put it so wonderfully at the end of the first chapter: “God calls us to join in as broken-but-beginning-to-be-healed coconspirators in the great unfolding of our lives in God” (25).

Posted by: Keith Clark | May 15, 2012

Transition

Our family is in the midst of a significant transition. After months of discernment, reflection, and prayer, we announced to the Hohenwald Church on March 25 that I would be taking an offer to work with another congregation. This decision was, in many ways, the most difficult decision we’ve had to make to this point in our lives. Our Hohenwald church family has loved us and been good to us, and we’ve grown to love them dearly too. We will forever treasure them in our hearts. We’ve developed a number of friendships that have blessed us tremendously, and we’ll be sad to leave those friends. It became increasingly clear to us, however, that we were feeling called to transition at this point in our lives and ministry to partner with the Southern Crescent Church in Tyrone, Georgia, just outside Atlanta.

After making our announcement, I continued to work through the end of April in an effort to ensure that the transition would be as smooth as possible for the Hohenwald Church. During that time, we’ve been extremely busy preparing for our transition: cleaning out my office, packing up our house, making the various arrangements that go into an interstate move. Since concluding my work in Hohenwald, we’ve moved on to house hunting in Tyrone and enjoying a few days at the beach. We’re now visiting dear family and friends we rarely have the opportunity to see.

In the meantime, I’m carving out time to pray about and begin planning for our ministry with the Southern Crescent family. I’m thankful for friends and mentors with whom I can share conversation and from whom I can receive wisdom as I prepare for this next phase in my ministry. Likewise, Mindy, Carson, and I are thankful for family and friends who are refreshing us so that we will be rejuvenated and reenergized as we begin this next phase in our lives and our ministry as a family.

We are incredibly excited about the opportunity that is before us as we partner with the Southern Crescent family. We are filled with anticipation for the new relationships and friendships we’ll make, the opportunities we’ll have to serve together, and the ways God will shape us as we follow Jesus together. We appreciate your prayers as we try to follow faithfully the leading of God into new territory.


During the remainder of our transition period, blog posts will be rather sporadic (as they have been over the last month and a half). I’ve got a few new reviews I’ll be posting and may post an occasional reflection. Once we get settled into our new context, however, I’ll resume more regular posting.

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