Magazines 2018 May - Jun Five reviews from May/Jun 2018

Five reviews from May/Jun 2018

17 May 2018

The Problem of God, by Mark Clark. Rethinking Holiness, by Bernie Van De Walle. Exhale, by Thousand Foot Krutch. The Devout Life, by Roger Helland. Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown. Art by Ann Balch.

The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity
By Mark Clark 
Zondervan, 2017. 272 pages. $19.99 (e-book $11.99audiobook $25)

MARK CLARK is uniquely positioned to speak to a skeptical post-Christian culture. Born and raised in an atheistic home that fell apart when he was eight years old, he tells us how at 15, standing by the casket of his 47-year-old father, his mind was "flooded with questions about God. I was a skeptic then, and in many ways I still am. The longer you’re a Christian, the more you come to realize that faith requires skepticism. Believing in one thing means you have to challenge and exclude other things."

In an amazing story of providential grace, Clark came to faith in Christ, and at 29 was planting the Vancouver-based Village Church, now a multisite congregation focused on reaching skeptics.

Clark addresses ten God questions fuelling contemporary skepticism.

Clark addresses ten God questions fuelling contemporary skepticism – the faith and science conflict, God’s existence, the Bible, the Christ myth, a world of evil and suffering, hell, the biblical view of sex, hypocrisy among Christians, Christianity’s claim to be exclusively true and Christian beliefs about who Jesus is.

Clark writes as a seasoned skeptic – these are not hypothetical questions for him. In each chapter he honestly faces the skeptic’s problem, and after clearly identifying the challenge, carefully develops answers that are reasonable and satisfying. His writing is accessible and friendly, yet firm. He welcomes questions, prodding readers to look at all the evidence before drawing conclusions.

This is an excellent book for Christians seeking help in explaining their faith to a disbelieving culture, and for skeptics open to understanding what Christianity really is. High school and university students will find this a valuable resource for navigating the challenges to faith they face in the classroom. –DAVID DANIELS

Rethinking Holiness: A Theological Introduction
By Bernie Van De Walle 
Baker Academic, 2017. 176 pages. $27.99 (e-book $13.99)

HOLINESS IS not a hot topic in our time. If by holiness you mean moral purity, resulting in saintly behaviour, that notion goes against the prevailing moral relativism in our society. If I can decide what is right or wrong, true or false, I can live how I wish and no one has a right to question my conclusions. And nobody likes a goody two-shoes.

But holiness isn’t only or first of all a moral commodity or conduct code, writes Bernie Van De Walle, a theology professor at Ambrose University in Calgary. "Holiness is a category of theology proper," and it derives from God. It is "the transcendence or absolute otherness that is basic to God’s being." And our own holiness flows from God’s because God created us as human beings in His image.

Biblically the author is right, and his focus on God’s holiness and its meaning is a helpful correction to popular perceptions, and often disparagement, of holiness. But in referring to holiness, Van De Walle frequently shifts between using the two definitions in a way that creates some confusion for readers.

Van De Walle spends a fair bit of time considering how our creation in God’s image links to our holiness. Over the centuries, various views of the meaning of the image of God in us have arisen in the Church. Readers who don’t hold with his particular relational view (God’s image is "not inherent to individuals, but describes humanity collectively, in relation to one another and God") may disagree with some of his conclusions. –MARIAN VAN TIL

Thousand Foot Krutch 
TFK Music, 2016. $19 (digital $9.99)

EXHALE IS THOUSAND Foot Krutch’s 10th album, the follow-up to 2014’s Oxygen: Inhale. But that doesn’t mean this Canadian heavy metal trio has been holding its breath since then. With over 1.1 million albums sold (an amazing feat for a Christian band), 11 active rock radio hits, numerous soundtrack slots, plus a massive presence in professional sports, the group has been extremely busy (including releasing a live CD/DVD combo pack in 2017).

Even today metal is a rare thing in Christian music. Most of the songs here, like "Off the Rails" and "Lifeline" are full of adrenaline and verge on thrash metal. However, the music isn’t lost in a barrage of pounding drums and distorted guitars. Surprisingly, the vocals are the loudest things in the mix, making sure the lyrics aren’t buried. At the same time the guitars and drums are full, crisp and relentlessly driving.

Trevor McNevan’s razor-edged vocals are matched by his scorching guitar work. His solos are short and melodic, yet they work very well with the riff-heavy accompaniment by bassist Joel Bruyere and drummer Steve Augustine. (The three are from Peterborough, Brantford and Hamilton, Ont.)

The lyrics tend to be more thought provoking and searching than in-your-face evangelical. For example, consider the plea of "Lifeline" – "Give me a reason I can believe in, I need it all this time, Send me a lifeline." And the message of "Born Again" – "I’m not an angel in disguise. I’m just a man, that by grace, was given a second chance, Feel like I’ve been born again."

The album ends with a dramatically quieter track (with strings and acoustic guitar) called "Honest." –TERRY BURMAN

The Devout Life: Plunging the Depths of Spiritual Renewal
By Roger Helland 
Wipf and Stock, 2017. 198 pages. $29.99 (e-book $9.99)

THEOLOGIAN DONALD Bloesch claims churches today suffer from a "crisis of piety," that our churches are missing out on the "devout life." This book addresses that problem by commending the spiritual legacy of 17th century Pietists.

Author Roger Helland, district minister of the Baptist General Conference in Alberta, sees in the Pietists a commitment to reading the Bible with body, mind and soul. Doing so renews other areas of our lives such as prayer, community, vocation and mission.

The Pietist movement influenced the Moravians, the Methodists and the 19th-century movements in North America and Britain who are the forebears of today’s Evangelicals. Pietism was basically a lay movement with emphasis on small groups known as colleges of piety.

Helland lists ten devotional postures which make up the ten chapters of the book. He introduces us to the practices of Pietists such as Johann Arndt, Philip Spener and August Francke by referring to their historical practices and writings. He also biblically substantiates their theology and practices. Finally, he shows us how their spirituality is relevant today.

He concludes with his framework of how church communities can be revitalized through leadership renewal, conceptual renewal and structural renewal.

Each chapter in this book contains a wealth of insights and practices, so it’s not one to read straight through. Better to digest it a chapter at a time.–PYE CHEW

Reading the Bestsellers

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
By Brené Brown
Random House, 2017. 208 pages. $30.99 (e-book $16.99, audio CD $32.99)

BRENÉ BROWN IS a University of Houston researcher who has studied shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy, and written bestselling books on such topics. She abandoned church in her early 20s, but returned in 2005 to an Episcopal church with her husband and children. Today she says, "Faith is the organizing principle of my life."

She believes prayer and cussing aren’t mutually exclusive, so there is profanity in her books, but it’s minimal. Brown cites wisdom from a variety of sources including historical figures, her own research and the research of others, Buddhism and Christianity.

This book looks at the concept of belonging and examines the problem with thought silos. She uses sociological studies to argue many in our society are returning to an isolated and insular life – sorting ourselves "geographically, politically, and even spiritually into like-minded groups in which we silence dissent, grow more extreme in our thinking, and consume only facts that support our beliefs." We are losing the ability to have an open and calm discussion about issues we disagree on, and so hot-button topics are dividing families, churches and communities.

The book explores which traits and thought patterns enable a healthier stand-alone, braving-the-wilderness perspective – to shun the thought silos and be authentic. Only by showing up with courage and vulnerability, to take a risk and trust despite the possibility of criticism and ostracization that might follow – only that way, she argues, can we truly belong.

True belonging, she argues, is not about group membership, but about when we belong to ourselves. Perhaps an Evangelical might rework that as not belonging to a denomination, but belonging to God. –LISA HALL-WILSON

Canadian creatives

Old Violin (oil on board, 11.5″ × 21″) from the All Things Holy series by Ann Balch. PAINTING © ANN BALCH

"This 18-month series of paintings looks at how ordinary things in life have served to make me more aware of God’s presence and nature. Old Violin took me back to my six-year-old self, weeping at the beautiful sounds coming from a neighbour’s violin, the first time I was aware of perfection. I understand beauty and perfection as being inseparable, part of the same equation of ‘rightness’ that underlies the ideals of justice and mercy. God is all these things and wants His world to be all these things, so seeing any glimpse of those ideals evokes a sense of joy and thanksgiving."