Was Jesus God?
Richard Swinburne, Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780199203116, 175 pages, $24.95, hardcover.
British scholar Richard Swinburne is known for his philosophical investigation of Christian truth. This book (like his former volumes such as The Existence of God), is an example of natural theology; he takes an empirical approach to discovering the truth of God and uses philosophical reasoning and biblical truth to arrive at propositional truth.
If there is a God, Swinburne reasons, He would certainly love those whom He created. Likewise as creator He would have the right to impose certain restrictions on the ones He has created. Since God gave humans freedom of choice, He also provided that their bad choices would leave His creatures in a terrible fix. Being the good God that He is, He provided a way for humans to get out of the mess they had created for themselves by this freedom of choice.
The solution to that dilemma was for God to come to earth Himself and show humans how to live and to provide a way for humans to experience His forgiveness. On earth in the person of Jesus, He emptied Himself of the outward manifestation of the godhead in order to experience being human, but remained sinless.
Commenting on the probability that Jesus was God, the author states, "He must be the only founder of a religion or other prophet whom there is good historical evidence that his or her life had the requisite character [to have been God in the flesh]." That "requisite character", Swinburne contends, is demonstrated in His miraculous birth, His numerous miracles, His claim to be the Son of God and fulfillment of prophecy, His resurrection from the dead, the preservation of the inspired Scriptures, and the survival of His Church.
The author concludes that belief in Christ's deity is the only sensible outcome of an honest examination of the evidence.
Swinburne's book covers ground that Christians should be very familiar with, but he comes at it from the angle of a skeptic, sharing how we can help non-believers come to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
Take: Highly Recommended
Essential Church: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts
Thom S. Rainer and Sam S. Rainer III, B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tenn., 2008, ISBN 9780805443929, 259 pages, $19.99, hardcover.
We all know about declining church attendance. These two authors set out to study the problem by talking to dropouts. Their findings: church is no longer essential to many people's lives, thus the title. They have found some common traits among declining churches and call them "Seven Sins of Dying Churches". They also found some churches that are reversing the decline.
The book has enough statistics to prove their research, but its thrust does not rely on them. Some of their findings surprised me. These days, people drop out of church and still consider themselves Christians. They dub these people the "dechurched." Many grew up in church yet did not get well grounded. With no vital sense of community, when they stopped attending, nothing changed. So, they think they no longer need church! The failure is obvious.
With a positive tone, this book gives us a comprehensive yet not burdensome analysis of the problem and offers corrective action based on the weakness encountered in their research. The remedy they propose is summed up in four words: Simplify, Deepen, Expect and Multiply. The authors tell us what these steps look like when put in practice.
They caution that there is no formula for success in every case, but their ideas make sense. When a sentence or paragraph focuses your random thoughts into something you can work with, you know the authors have done something right. That happened to me several times while reading this book.
No one would suggest that man's strategy can compensate for a lack of God's presence in anything, but these authors definitely believe that the Church also has a responsibility to act on this issue.
Type: Church Community
Persuaded by the Evidence: True Stories of Faith, Science & the Power of a Creator
Doug Sharp and Dr. Jerry Bergman, editors, Master Books, Green Forest, Ark., 2008, ISBN 9780890515457, 288 pages, $13.99, softcover.
Doug Sharp and Dr. Jerry Bergman have compiled a collection of articles recounting the testimony of creationists who are in scientific careers. Some present creationists began as evolutionists, some as theistic evolutionists, and some holding to young earth creation. All thirty-eight writers express their personal and scientific belief that God created the world apart from evolution.
Bergman, a former Jehovah's Witness, points out that evolutionists have cultlike characteristics. Evolutionists, he believes, hold to their dogma much like a cult holds to their beliefs.
Many scientists believe evolution with blind faith. "It must be true," they reason. Most evolutionists will not even consider the possibility that creation might hold some truth and vehemently oppose any idea for existence of matter except through an evolutionary process.
The book contains 38 testimonies (some from such noted creationists as Henry M. Morris and Duane T. Gish) and a special biography of Mortimer Adler. While the testimonies cover a broad spectrum of unbelief and error, each points the reader toward the truth of the biblical account and God's power to transform hearts and minds.
Type: Biblical Creationism
I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: The Stories Behind 100 of the World's Most Popular Worship Songs
Lindsay Terry, Thomas Nelson Press, Nashville, Tenn., 2008, ISBN 9781418519698, 267 pages, $19.99, softcover.
Lindsay Terry has added another volume to his considerable repertoire of hymn histories. Most of his other books are about older hymns. This book, however, traces the development of many new hymns and praise songs. The popularity of many of these newer songs shows some changing tastes in church music.
Terry developed almost all these song histories by personal contact with the authors or those who knew the author. Twenty-eight of the songwriters have given us their personal recollection on the development of the song they wrote. These interviews are on a CD included with this book. Many of his profiles have been featured in the bimonthly "Story Behind the Song" column in Pulpit Helps.
One of the most endearing hymns, "No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus," is by Dr. Charles Weigle. Dr. Weigle had his own private apartment at Tennessee Temple University when I was a student there (1955-1961). I often heard him sing that touching hymn-a hymn born out of his personal travail.
Other songs profiled here include "The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power" by Andrae Crouch, "Awesome God" by Rich Mullins, and "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt Redman.
In this latest volume of song profiles Terry has researched the background of 100 titles. He believes that knowing something of the background of a hymn stimulates one's appreciation of the hymn. Readers should find this collection encouraging as they work out their faith in daily life.
Type: Church Music
Take: Highly Recommended