Coming Soon – “Systematic Theology” by Anthony Thiselton

It’s not everyday you see a new systematic theology. For that matter it’s not every year we see one. This November Eerdmans will release a systematic theology from Anthony Thiselton. Here’s the catalog description:

“A first-rate systematic theology from one of the premier theologians in the world today

In this concise, one-volume systematic theology, celebrated scholar Anthony Thiselton covers the various Christian doctrines comprehensively with an eye to practical application for Christian discipleship. Written with students and busy ministers in mind, the book is readable and accessible, with its chapters organized into five fairly equal sections for teaching and learning convenience.

Rather than setting out an abstract system, Thiselton explores theology as a living, organic whole. The book thus includes biblical foundations, historical thought, contemporary writers, and practical implications. Expertly incorporating biblical exegesis, philosophy, conceptual grammar, and hermeneutics, this volume is the most succinct multidisciplinary systematic theology available.”

You’ll want to put this one on your Christmas list. Systematic Theology will be a hardcover with 432 pages and sell for $40.00.

Anthony C. Thiselton is professor emeritus of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England.

Systematic Theology

Frustrated with the Times We’re Living In? Some Advice from Chuck Colson

Here’s some sage advice from Chuck Colson from a forthcoming book (August 2015) called My Final Word (Zondervan). The title of the piece is “In His Hands.”

“This is a time when people are really wringing their hands. I’ve never seen such anxiety over the threats of terrorism, the shaken economy, and possible job loss. All the polls show an amazing insecurity among Americans, with a majority of us thinking our country is on the wrong track.

This is where our Christian faith should kick in and give us a perspective with which we can view these events. We must not succumb to despair, even if the whole world is; despair is a sin because it denies the sovereignty of God.

Our job is not to figure out how all these cosmic events are going to work out–what our relations will be with China, whether the unemployment rate will start down or not. Our job is simply to do what God has called us to do, one day at a time, and do it as well as we possibly can, leaving the outcome in His hands.

People have accused me of being an optimist when I talk this way. But it isn’t a question of optimism. Optimism comes from the word optics, that is, how you see things. We’re not talking about how you see things or perceive things; we’re talking about how God will respond to events, and how He will use us as part of His response.

Philippians 4:8–one of my favorite passages of Scripture because it talks about keeping your mind on things that are good and strong and true–supports this idea.” (pp. 80-81)

My

 

The Shift to Preference Driven Church

In his new book, I Will, (B&H Publishing Group) Thom Rainer charts some of the reasons for what he terms the “terrible shift to the preference driven church.” These are some challenging words.

“I can’t put a specific date on it. Smarter people than I have tried to explain it. Somewhere in the twentieth century, believers, particularly in America, began to shift from an attitude of self-sacrificing service to God and worship of God, to consumer-focused, self-serving attitudes.

It has been a terrible shift.

Some blame it on the secularization of our culture. Others point to the degradation of theology in our churches. Still others say local church leaders themselves have taken on corporate models and turned our churches into consumer-focused organizations.

There is probably some truth in all three explanations. But there is one thing we can say with certainty: the focus in too many of our church worship services is not on God. We are focused on our own selves, our own needs, and our own preferences. See if some of these comments from church members hit home. They come straight from my blog at ThomRainer.com.

That music is not the style I’m accustomed to hearing. If they don’t change things, I’m leaving this church. Wars over worship styles have taken their toll on many of our congregations. Churches have split. Members have stop attending. Church business meetings have turned into verbal brawls. Pastors and worship leaders have been forced out of their jobs.

No, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t have our own preferences about worship and music styles. And we should certainly be given freedom to provide input about those matters. But I know the lack of civility, the harsh words, and divided churches cannot be ascribed to worship. Those are sinful and self-serving behaviors.

I don’t like the pastor’s preaching. Okay, let me be clear here. You certainly should expect your pastor to preach the Word. But preference-driven church members have different agendas. They want the sermon to be their preferred length. They want their pastor to emulate the latest and most popular podcast preacher. Indeed, many church members would like to assign their own texts and topics to be preached each week. Their agenda is not about worshipping God when the Word of God is preached. To the contrary, their agenda is about themselves. Their focus has turned from God to self. They are not worshipping God with fellow believers.

I am not comfortable in the worship services. ‘Someone is sitting in my pew.’ ‘The cushions on the chair are not comfortable.’ ‘I don’t like the times of the services.’ ‘The music is too loud.’ ‘We have to sit too close together.’

You get the picture. The time of corporate worship is about me, myself, and I. It is about my needs, my preferences, and my wants. It’s hard to find God in this scenario. It is all about us. It’s not all about God.” (pp. 30-32)

I Will is a hardcover with 128 pages and sells for $12.99.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, one of the largest Christian resource companies in the world. Also a respected pastor and researcher, he has written more than twenty books and coauthored the No. 1 best seller Simple Church. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons, several grandchildren, and live in Nashville, Tennessee.

I will

Coming This Fall – “Parables” by John MacArthur

John MacArthur is without a doubt one of our best selling authors. Coming this fall we’ll be treated to his newest book Parables (Thomas Nelson). Here’s the catalog description:

“Jesus was a master storyteller, and the parables He told were ingeniously simple word pictures with profound spiritual lessons. Understanding the parables is a crucial matter for followers of Jesus. Jesus told parables so His people might comprehend His message about the kingdom of God clearly.

Master expositor and Bible commentator John MacArthur has spent a lifetime explaining the Word of God in clear and comprehensible terms. In Parables he helps Christians understand the essential lessons contained in the most famous and influential short stories the world has ever known.”

Watch for it in October. Parables will be a softcover with 288 pages and sell for $24.99.

John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, president of the Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. In more than four decades of ministry, John has written dozens of bestselling books, including The MacArthur Study Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus, and Slave.

Parables

My Last Day

After 15 wonderful years in Christian retail I am finally moving on to a new chapter in my life. Starting Monday I will be a publicist for Baker Academic and Brazos Press. I’ve learned a lot while in the retail environment. I never planned on being in retail. But I caught the retail bug while working at various retail stores while in seminary. That sounds strange to say–especially for someone who was planning on teaching–but it’s true. I enjoy the pleasure of meeting new people every day and having a contingent of regular customers who have become staples in my life. My position as a buyer for Bibles and academic books has been incredibly fulfilling. It’s no secret that my favorite imprint is Baker Academic and Brazos Press. To have a closer connection to that amazing staff is a privilege I eagerly await. Part of my responsibility will be to maintain the Brazos blog. Come visit me from time to time and see what’s new from Brazos Press.

My appreciation for Christian fiction and music

I started with Baker as a cashier working at the store in Holland, Michigan. The only remaining staff person from that store now works by my side here at the Grand Rapids store–Chris, our fiction buyer. She delights in telling people that she got me to cross over to “the dark side.” It’s true. I’ve never been a fan of fiction but she introduced me to Steven James and I was immediately hooked. Yes, it’s only one author but it was a step in the right direction as far as she was concerned. Her job was done. Thank you Chris for all that you’ve taught me. I’m a better person because of our friendship.

Prior to Baker I rarely listened to “Christian” music. But I’ve developed a strong liking for two artists: Matthew West and Jimmy Wayne. I have had the pleasure of meeting both of them. If they ever come to the store I’ll be in the front row.

Books, Bibles and Trends

During my first training session in the Holland store my trainer said in passing “We can’t seem to keep this book on the shelf.” The book she was referring to was The Prayer of Jabez. As I reflect on that I think of the books/trends I’ve seen come and go. I’ve seen Left Behind get left behind. The “Emerging Church” emerged and has now wilted. I’ve seen the birth of a few Bible translations (English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard, Modern English Version, Common English Bible and the new Passion Translation) and the death of at least one (TNIV, although some have argued it was reincarnated in the 2011 NIV). More than a few study Bibles and devotional Bibles have been introduced into the market. They include (in no particular order) The Archeological Study Bible, The ESV Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The NLT Study Bible, The NIV First-Century Bible, The NIV Essentials Study Bible, The CEB Study Bible, The Chronological Study Bible, The Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Reformation Study Bible, The Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible and soon we will see The NIV Zondervan Study Bible. We also saw the introduction of the Waterproof Bible. When it first came out I took one and put in a fishbowl full of water. It stayed there for two months. I still have it today and it looks like brand new. They hold up quite well.

Industry changes

I’ve watched the industry change in dramatic ways. Hundreds of bookstores have closed including a few chains. Family Christian stores is on life support. The publishing landscape has changed as well. In my time Baker Publishing Group acquired Bethany House and made a sizeable acquisition from both Hendrickson Publishers and Regal Books. HarperCollins bought Zondervan and then later Thomas Nelson. Random House purchased Multnomah. When I first started field reps (vendor reps that would actually visit a store) were numerous. Now there are only handful. Speaking of field reps I want to give a shout out to two who have been with me the longest: Larry Avery (HarperCollins Christian Publishing) and Jerry Gortmaker (Noble Marketing). Both have taught me so much about being a buyer and understanding the nuances of the industry. Thank you!

Some favorite events.

We’ve hosted a lot of events over the years. We have worked hard at making Baker Book House more than a bookstore. We are a resource for the community to come together and engage with each other and to discuss the pressing issues of our culture.

There are two events that stand out for me: William Lane Craig and Fr. Robert Barron. As different as these authors are a common thread is the way in which they incorporate philosophy into their vocations. Craig with theology and apologetics and Barron with theology and culture. Both have been a huge influence in my intellectual life. Close behind these two was our forum on homosexuality (featuring Justin Lee and Wesley Hill). We took a risk with this one but we knew that many in the church were struggling with how to talk with loved ones who either identifed themselves as gay or were dealing with same-sex attraction. The event focused on the importance of dialogue. The question at hand was a simple one: how do two people who have firmly-held convictions on the subject talk to each other? It was not a time for persuasion but rather a model of tolerance and dialogue. Most people got it. Some didn’t. Other favorites would include Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, John Walton, Norman Geisler, Kevin DeYoung, Michael Wittmer, Steven James, Michael Horton, Richard Foster, and John Dickson. Of course there’s always a story about the one that got away. I had Bart Ehrman booked and ready to go but it didn’t work out. I found him to be gracious and more than willing to come to the store. Our plans were to have him along with Craig Evans talk about Ehrman’s new book How Jesus Became God. Both men were excited about the possibility. I think that would have been a great event.

Book Tables

Doing book tables was a regular part of my job. As I look back I figure I’ve done over 200 book tables. Most of them were in churches but I’ve also done them in seminaries, hotel ballrooms, a couple of  high schools, a movie theater, a civic center, a college gym and one pub. One of my most awkward tables was when I did my first all women’s conference. The church had converted all the restrooms to ladies’ rooms. When nature called I scrambled to find a restroom that was allocated for my gender. Fortunately for me they had one (though it was outside in another building). Since that time whenever I did a women’s conference (and there were more) that was my first question. The record for fewest books sold at a table–one.

Future of this blog

I didn’t start this blog. It kind of landed in my lap after a coworker started it and then left two weeks later for a job with Zondervan. I had no idea what I was doing. Over the years I’ve made it into something that I hope has served some purpose. I’ve received lots of compliments and have a small following. Thanks to all of you who have helped me find my way and provided comments. Special thanks to my friend Paul Adams who helped me on several occasions to tweak or repair the blog as needed. Without his help there would be no blog. Not a healthy one at least. Any imperfections remain my own. My replacement (who has not been named by the time I wrote this post) will take over the responsibilities of the blog. I’ve scheduled several posts through the last half of July and August to help him/her along. Most of those are notices of forthcoming titles. The Spring 2016 list from Baker Academic and Brazos Press is especially strong. I think you’ll find many of them quite interesting.

Final thoughts

I love my job. I love the people I’ve worked with both past and present. They have shaped me in more ways than they will ever know. For the purpose of this blog I’ve referred to them as “staff” but they are so much more. They are friends. Some of them walked with me through one of the darkest times of my life–the death of my son. They carried me when I felt I couldn’t go on. They cried with me in quiet moments. They pushed me forward knowing I could go further than I thought I could. But far outnumbering the tears of sorrow was the laughter we shared. Our lunch conversations would range from our favorite TV shows to the history of the birth control pill. We covered it all.

It’s a job I leave with memories I will cherish and friends I know I can count on whenever I need them. The best thing about this new chapter of my life is that I will stay with Baker. This is a company like few others (and I’ve had plenty of jobs). Though I never met the founder, Herman Baker, I’ve worked closely with his son, Rich, and his grandson, Dwight (the current president). I can testify that it is a company that cares about every facet of the business especially the people. You could say I’m moving from one hand to the other. Today I’m in the left hand. Monday I’ll be in the right. Different hands, same heart.

Fr. Barron at Aquinas College

We will be at Aquinas College this morning hosting a book table for Fr. Barron’s visit there. His topic is “Thomas Merton and the Metaphysics of Peace.” The lecture is based on an article he did in the Josephinum Journal of Theology (Summer/Fall 2003). It is also included in the book Bridging the Great Divide (Rowan and Littlefield). He begins the essay saying that he’s never been comfortable with those who have seen a “huge gap” between the thought of Merton in his early days and the latter Merton. There is authentic development but it “is always marked by a continuity of principles and stability of form.” (p. 199) He recounts an early event in Merton’s life which would prove to be life-changing.

“In a particularly lively section of The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton speaks of his discovery of Etienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy at the Scribner’s bookstore on Fifth Avenue and how that book revolutionized his life. He bought the text because he was enrolled in a course in medieval French literature and ‘had five or ten loose dollars burning a hole’ in his pocket. But he was mortified when he noticed the nihil obstat and the imprimatur on the frontispiece. So disgusted was he by this association with Catholic dogma that he was sorely tempted to hurl the book out the window. By ‘a real grace,’ he didn’t throw it away; in fact, he actually read it.

The ‘big concept’ that he took away from Gilson’s study was ‘contained in one of those dry, outlandish technical compounds that the scholastic philosophers were so prone to use: the word ‘aseitas.” This designates the fact that God exists through himself or by himself (a se), that he is, in Aquinas’s language ipsum esse subsistens, the sheer act of to-be it-self. This pithy but profound description convinced him that what Catholics mean by God is not some ‘vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age,’ but rather something ‘deep, simple, and accurate.’ A child of his skeptical age, Merton had assumed that the God in whom Christians believed was nothing but a projection of their desires and ‘subjective ideals,’ a Feuerbachian fantasy or Freudian wish fulfillment.”

The essay is brilliant and well worth reading. As a matter of fact this book was one of my favorites from Barron. Many of the articles are previously published material but it’s nice to have it in one resource. His essays “Priest as Bearer of the Ministry”, “Priest as Doctor of the Soul”, and “Mystagogues, World Transformers, and Interpreters of Tongues: A Reflection on Collaborative Ministry in the Church” are worth the price of the book alone.

Bridging the Great Divide is a paperback with 312 pages. It sells for $24.95.

Bridging the Great

Fr. Barron is Here Tonight!

Three years ago I sent my first email to Fr. Barron’s office requesting him to do an event at our store. Tonight I see the fulfillment of that initial request (followed by numerous others). His topic tonight is “To See According to the Icon of Jesus Christ: Reflections on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.” We will live stream the event so you can watch it. See the link here. It will be recorded so you can watch later if you like. But there is yet another way you can benefit from the lecture. It is chapter 5 in his new book Exploring Catholic Theology (Baker Academic).

He explains the premise of his talk. He notes that up to the year 1300 “the most important spiritual writers were precisely the theologians: Paul, Origen, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Irenaeus, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas. If you had asked Aquinas, for example, to name the difference between his systematic theology and his spirituality, he wouldn’t have understood the question. But after 1300, theology evolved into a more strictly academic university discipline, and what we have come to call spirituality branched off into a distinctive form of thought. It is extremely instructive that, after this watershed year, the people we consider the most important ‘spiritual’ writers–Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Jan Ruysbroek, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Blaise Pascal, Thérèse of Lisieux, Thomas Merton–were not academic theologians. The sad consequence of this division is that we do not tend to appreciate the transformative, salvific dimension of our theology. We tend not to see that the dogmas of faith are a primary means by which we become grafted onto Christ and through which we properly see the world. I would share with Balthasar and Henri de Lubac the conviction that the repairing of the division between theology and spirituality is a pressing concern of our moment in church history. It is this healing, especially in regard to the Catholic intellectual life, that I would like to explore.” (pp. 63-64)

Our event is full so I would discourage coming to the store. But Aquinas College will also live stream the event there. Fr. Barron will be at Aquinas tomorrow at 10:00. We will be hosting a book table there. I hope to see you tonight or tomorrow.

Exploring Catholic Theology