Author Archives: befranks105

Review & Reflection: The Resurrection Fact

51x5ck9kbal-_sx331_bo1204203200_The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critics is a useful volume.  Published just in time for the Easter season, this book contains contributions from a number of Lutheran Pastors and scholars seeking to respond to contemporary critics of the Gospel narrative who doubt or deny the resurrection of Christ.  The books editors open the book with a stirring quote from Martin Luther:

“He who would preach the Gospel must go directly to preaching the resurrection of Christ.  He who does not preach the resurrection is no apostle, for this is the chief part of our faith…The greatest importance attaches to this article of faith.  For were there no resurrection, we would have neither comfort nor hope, and everything else Christ did and suffered would be in vain.”

Using this perspective as a starting point the authors carefully set out to defend the fact of the resurrection.  This is not an issue that is presented as expendable or negotiable – for the contributors the resurrection is “the Christian assertion” (pg. 1).  The book offers many helpful responses to those who would challenge this assertion.  The book offers positive content (explaining the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts) and negative content (challenging the faulty scholarship of popularizers such as Bart Ehrman).  Each chapter contains meticulous footnotes as well as a Recommended Reading list at the end.  The writing isn’t difficult and as a whole the book does a good job of bridging the gap between the pew and the academy.  Thoughtful Christians (or non-Christians) will find here a thorough, scholarly, yet accessible explanation for why Christians believe in the fact of the resurrection.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


What She Said, What He Heard: Seeking Clarity from the Hosts of Truth’s Table

16789247_252016845245779_3788875330823913472_nDear sisters in Christ,

Quite a controversy has emerged over the last week or so.  Ever since your podcast “Gender Apartheid” dropped on March 25th the Reformed social media world has been embroiled in discussion and debate about what was said, what was meant, and how we ought to respond to it all.  Considering the fact that this episode has garnered over 8,000 listeners in less than two weeks I’d say you’ve succeeded in beginning a discussion about these issues of race and gender in the church!

It seems to me, however, that before we can move forward in discussion and debate in any profitable way we need to seek clarity on a few points.  The (very public and polarized) responses which emerged in the wake of your podcast demonstrated how different people were able to listen to the same episode and walk away having heard very different things.  We seem to have a classic “What she said/what he heard” situation and clarity is needed if we are to pursue purity and peace.

So this letter is not an attempt to respond to anything you’ve said nor is it an attempt to heresy-hunt.  This letter is simply a brother in Christ seeking to understand the positions and concerns of his sisters in Christ on some important issues.  In that same spirit, would you be able to offer some clarifying comments on the following ten points and questions?

  1. You said that our churches are filled with “toxic masculinity” and “patriarchy”.  Are there some specific features or examples of these things that commonly manifest themselves in our churches?
  2. What are the specific changes you would like to see instituted in our churches to overcome what you call “gender apartheid”?
  3. Could you talk a bit more about which specific roles or tasks that women do not commonly perform in our churches in which you would like to see women serving?
  4. Could you unpack what you mean when you assert that “gender is a social construct”?
  5. Many have been unsure of what was meant by the comment at the end of the podcast about “transgender perspectives”.  Could you unpack what was intended by that comment?
  6. Your comments about “ordainability” have prompted a lot of discussion.  Do you think you struck a healthy tone in the section where you discussed “ordainability” purely in terms of male anatomy?  Do you think you accurately and even-handedly represented the views of your “opponents” on this and other issues?
  7. Do you believe that the men in our churches are commonly restricting women from biblically accessible roles simply because they want “power”, or only see women as “sex objects” or “work-horses” as some have taken your comments on the podcast to suggest?  If so, do you see this as a wide-spread issue?
  8. A lot of the discussions and response which have taken place about the podcast have centered on whether or not y’all were arguing for the ordination of women.  Could you clarify your position on the issue of women’s ordination (whether as Pastors, Elders, or Deacons)?
  9. Many of your critics heard echoes of various streams of thought which have become popular in the liberal academy over the last few decades and are concerned by this potential influence.  Do you think the categories and perspectives of Critical Race Theory, Liberation Theology, or Intersectionality are helpful for Christians discussing issues of race and gender?* To what extent do you see the work of these schools of thought as overlapping with or reinforcing your own work with Truth’s Table?
  10. Now that the podcast has prompted such a wide discussion is there anything you wish you had (or had not) said in the podcast that could offer additional clarity?

I hope these questions open the door for some much needed clarity on these important questions.  It is my prayer that all involved will be able to move forward in faithfulness and unity!

Your brother in Christ,

Ben Franks

*Since I originally published this letter the brothers over at “Pass the Mic” did a podcast which addressed this question in part.  I would still love to hear any additional thoughts that y’all would add to their comments. 


Review & Reflection: Bible Studies on Mark

51tefsmei2bl-_sx322_bo1204203200_When it comes to the study of the Scriptures there are no shortage of resources.  But solid, short, and sound resources can be harder to come by.  William Boekestein’s Bible Studies on Mark is a welcome addition to the collection of helpful Bible study resources available.  The book is short (around 200 pages) with each chapter coming in at right around 10 pages.  This makes for easy reading, and Boekestein’s prose flows smoothly while also delving deeply into the text.

The book is neither a formal commentary nor simply an aid to personal devotion.  It is, as the title suggests, a Bible study, and as such it has much to offer to the reader.  Boekestein spends the first chapter defining the literary form of the Gospels in general and drawing out the particular theme of Mark’s Gospel.  The Gospels, he argues, are “theological biographies” which are significant both for what they have in common and what they explore uniquely.  As he points out: “Mark, more than the other Gospel writers, includes the kind of details that help us imagine that we are in the story.  Mark presents his message not as a dry lawyer’s brief but as a fast-paced historical account of the ministry of the Savior of the world.”

Each chapter contains a number of questions for reflection or discussion at the end.  The depth and nuance which Boekestein brings to these studies could make them profitable for both small groups and individuals.  The Pastor or teacher who is teaching on the Gospel of Mark will also find much that is useful in these pages.  While the chapter end notes can be a distraction the book is well structured and well written.  I have no doubt that any reader who thoughtfully and prayerfully works through these studies will walk away with a clear understanding of Mark and a deeper love for Mark’s Savior.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James

51bqeytnh3l-_sx350_bo1204203200_I was recently offered a review copy of Tim Keller and Sam Allberry’s book 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James.  This is the first time I’ve been able to get my hands on a copy of a title from the Explore by the Book series put out by The Good Book Company.  The book is well designed and well put together.  It’s a hardcover book that is attractively designed and well constructed.  As the first sentence of the introduction describes it: “This book is not an end in itself.  It is a means of accessing the treasures of a far greater book.  […]  So, rather than seeing these devotionals as snacks, view them as meals.  Set aside half an hour in your day to work through the study, and to respond to what you have seen.”  Unfortunately (as this is a review book) I wasn’t able to spend a full 90 days to work through each chapter but after looking through the book I think I can give at least a general overview of what the book has to offer.

The book casts a fairly broad net by attempting to walk the reader through John chapters 14-17 (with notes written by Sam Allberry), the book of Romans (with notes from Tim Keller), and the book of James (again, with notes from Allberry).  That said, the tight structure and specific purpose of the book keep it from being either unwieldy in size or vague in content.  Each chapter covers a specific portion of Scripture (sometimes just a few verses) and offers a few words of comment and context with thoughtful questions to push the reader deeper into the text (many chapters also include a section to highlight points of application).  Guidelines for prayer are also included together with a blank page for notes and prayers.

I’ve never been much on “devotionals” as such, but this book seems to be strong in orienting the reader to the text without allowing extra “fluff” to distract.  I would imagine that this could be studied in a group, but it’s probably best fit for the individual believer looking to bring some structure, focus, and flow to their personal Bible study.  All in all, this looks like a helpful tool for the believer who appreciates some guidance for times of private worship.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

 


Review & Reflection: Finding Forgiveness

finding-forgiveness-2-front__79526-1465501101-1280-1280Stanley D. Gale’s new book Finding Forgiveness: Discovering the Healing Power of the Gospel is a gem of a book.  It is short and sweet but lyrically rendered and biblically informed nonetheless.  The book is made up of five brief chapters with titles like “Forgiveness and the Gospel”, “Practicing Forgiveness”, and “What about Forgiving Ourselves?”  Gale takes a pastoral approach and he offers thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

As he shares in the introduction, the book grew out of a shorter booklet he wrote for Reformation Heritage Books called Why Must We Forgive?  In fact, he admits that: “Those of you who have read Why Must We Forgive? will experience a sense of déjà vu in that what you read within will sound familiar.  I have taken the approach of dividing the content of that booklet and augmenting and illustrating it in greater detail.”  I did not have the chance to read Gale’s prior booklet, but there was nothing in this larger book that felt out of place or awkwardly attached as some projects of this sort do.  Gale  brings a writers eye and a Pastor’s heart to the subject and I’m confident that many will find his reflections on the subject of forgiveness to be of help.

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


Review & Reflection: The Hidden Life of Trees

9781771642484_custom-a316d76aa28097c907ce59c0adae992a2bfa0386-s400-c85I’m not a science guy.  Or at least, I haven’t been in the past.  But I’ve recently been looking to expand my intellectual horizons a bit by looking into some topics that I don’t already love or have familiarity with.  To that end, I’ve been looking for a specific field of science that I could dig into to help me become more engaged in science in general.  After several months I’ve decided that botany and horticulture are a good place to start.

I love nature – hiking, hunting, gardening, and just being outside – so something that allowed me to understand and appreciate the things I already come into contact with seemed perfect.  Also, since I am an amateur gardener, it just seemed to make sense to study an area of science that would allow me some real world application as well!  Since narrowing my focus to these two fields I’ve been spending the last few months learning more about the subject and I am hooked.  I’ve taught myself the names of all of the trees in my office park, learned some of the basics of plant terminology and identification, and slowly but surely built up a list of helpful resources (blogs, podcasts, and Youtube videos) that have helped me to get a feel for the study of botany and horticulture.

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Peter Wohlleben in Hümmel, Germany

But nothing has been as helpful or stimulating as reading Peter Wohlleben’s incredible book: The Hidden Life of Trees.  Don’t misunderstand me, Wohlleben’s book is not a botanical textbook or introduction in any way.  In fact he has a somewhat narrow focus in this book.  Wohlleben is a forest manager in Hümmel, Germany who has over 20 years experience as a Forester.  In 2015 he wrote The Hidden Life of Trees in an attempt to connect the modern reader to the wonders of the forests in which he spends so much of his time.  The book has been wildly successful and just been translated into English this year.  I stumbled on The Hidden Life of Trees at a local bookstore and quickly decided to take it home.  Listen to a bit of Wohlleben’s writing if you want to understand why I was so taken:

“Four decades ago, scientists noticed something on the African savannah.  The giraffes there were feeding on umbrella thorn acacias, and the trees didn’t like this one bit.  It took the acacias mere minutes to start pumping toxic substances into their leaves to rid themselves of the large herbivores.  The giraffes got the message and moved on to other trees in the vicinity.  But did they move on to trees close by?  No, for the time being, they walked right by a few trees and resumed their meal only when they had moved about 100 yards away.

The reason for this behavior is astonishing.  The acacia trees that were being eaten gave off a warning gas (specifically, ethylene) that signaled to neighboring trees of the same species that crises was at hand.  Right away, all the forewarned trees also pumped toxins into their leaves to prepare themselves.  The giraffes were wise to this game and therefore moved farther away to a part of the savannah where they could find trees that were oblivious to what was going on.  Or else they moved upwind.  For the scent messages are carried to nearby trees on the breeze, and if the animals walked upwind, they could find acacias close by that had no idea the giraffes were there” (pg. 7)

These short paragraphs capture what makes Wohlleben’s book so good.  First, his writing is engaging and accessible.  He uses a conversational style that pulls you in and writes short chapters that keep you reading.  Each chapter focuses on one aspect of forest life (i.e. the hidden life of trees) and he uses anthropomorphic language to make it easy for us to relate to the rhythms of life in the forest.  Second, as the example of the giraffes and the acacia trees shows, he does a marvelous job of pulling us into the action.  Trees live life in the slow lane (to borrow a phrase from the book) which means it can be much harder for us to connect with them than with animals.  But just because things happen slowly with trees doesn’t mean they aren’t happening at all!  Trees defend themselves, send out warnings and messages, and even “talk” through the vast underground web of roots and fungi that connect the trees of the forest to one another.

There is more that could be said about the book, but I truly believe it speaks best for itself.  If anything you’re read so far intrigues you and you want your own understanding of forest life deepened and developed then I’d encourage you to pick up Wohlleben’s book.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have!

 


Review & Reflection: Martin Luther

carr_luther__94669-1447194841-1280-1280

I’ve been itching to get my hands on a copy of one of the books in Simonetta Carr’s acclaimed “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series for years now.  So when I had the opportunity to write a review for her book on Martin Luther (which is her latest addition to the series) I jumped at the chance!  I’m a church history buff (I’ve been both studying and teaching on the subject for years now) so I’m always fascinated to read more about Luther and the Reformation.

Of course one of the great challenges in a work like this is to present the basic outlines and significance of Luther’s life in a way that does justice to both the man and his times.  Too many  accounts of his life (particularly ones intended for young readers) fall into hagiography or stop the story just as it’s beginning.  Simonetta Carr does neither of those things.  Instead she offers her readers an informative and engaging introduction to Luther’s life from birth to death.  She hits the high points of his dramatic story (his abrupt decision to become a monk, dramatic conversion, and stirring courage in the face of Papal displeasure) without painting him as a spotless saint (she talks about the horrors of the Peasant’s War, the troubles he faced in the work of Reformation, and his unfortunate tirades against the Jews later in his life).  The prose is steadily written and easily read.  The illustrations are lavish and the visual material arresting.  The book is beautifully produced and well-made.

One of the things that most surprised and delighted me about the book was how many facts and tid-bits were new to me.  Even though I’ve been learning about Luther for years she had a wonderful way of weaving striking new insights into this introductory text.  She managed to write a book that is both accessible to new readers and engaging for those who are already familiar with her subject.  I give this book high marks on all counts and now I’m itching to get my hands on the rest of the series!

I would like to thank the good folks over at Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a free review copy of this book.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.


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