Friday, April 17, 2015

(Review) Jesus Greater Than Religion by Jefferson Bethke

Publication Date: October 14, 2014.
Publisher: Nelson Books.
Genre: Christian life, apologetic.
Pages: 240.
Source: Copy purchased by my church.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.


This is the paperback full book version. It can get mixed up easily between the Bible study and the full book version. I know this because some of the members of our small group went to Lifeway Christian Bookstore in search of the Bible study. Once there they did not know the correct book to buy.

The full length book version from the Bible study that began from a poem Jefferson Bethke wrote and has on Youtube. My previous review has the Youtube of his poem.
Bethke touches on several different themes in Jesus > Religion. The main theme is loving Jesus and focusing our life and worship on Him, and that it is far "better" than worshiping ourselves or a religious dogma.
The word "better" is best defined as truth. Truth is in Jesus Christ and His Good News. Instead, mankind has made themselves the object of worship. Praise God for His mercy and grace through Jesus Christ!

My Thoughts:
I love this book for the following reasons:

  • The emphasis throughout the book is on Jesus period. 
  • Bethke does not swerve away from current culture's thoughts on what Christians should believe and be complacent over. I've heard some reviewers state he is a fundamentalist, Bethke just states what the Bible says and does not mix words. 
  • One of my favorite points in the book is in reference to reverse legalists. "They are better defined by what they are against than by what they are for. They are doing the exact same thing as what they are defining themselves against. They are elevating behavior, clothing, and other secondary issues as requirements to gain access into the kingdom. It's a sickness in all of us to put our righteousness in absolutely anything except Jesus, and if we think we aren't doing that, it usually means it's even worse." 
  • Bethke expounds on a problem people have had since the early church, adding rules and actions that are needed for salvation. It's Jesus + a rule. This is nonsense and heresy. Jesus is greater than religion. Jesus is greater than man. 
  • Early in the book Bethke talks about "silence," this is something many people are not comfortable with. "...silence, because in those moments we might actually have to face up to who we really are." I wanted him to elaborate more. Silence is something many people dislike. 
  • "Santa Claus" Christianity. Now that's a candid statement. I have a mental image of children sitting on Santa's lap and giving him their lengthy list of wants. As adults we too can rattle off a list of wants to God and believe that his favor will be in the form of material blessings. 
  • The book ends with an invitation: "Do You Know Jesus?" We need to see this more in books. 

One statement Bethke made I'm not quite in agreement with.
"...religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus' followers see sin as the enemy."
Sin is the true enemy. But, if a person standing before me is holding a gun with the intention of harming me or my family, both the sin and the person is the enemy.
I understand the point he is making, but I had to be clear on what I believe.

(Review) Jesus Greater Than Religion, Bible Study by Jefferson Bethke

Publication Date: November 14, 2014.
Publisher: Lifeway
Genre: Bible Study, DVD member book.
Pages: 112.
Source: Self-purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Jefferson Bethke began this endeavor by posting a video of a poem he wrote that went viral. Meaning it was a big success.

Jefferson Bethke:

This is the video of his poem---a little over 4 minutes

Another video Bethke has on the Unforgivable Sin--- 5:40

Study is available @ Amazon, Lifeway. 

Six study sessions: This includes a DVD, questions for small group dialogue, and an individual Bible study.
The study is on one big theme, but several other themes run through the study.
The big theme is on placing Jesus as the focus of love and life, and not on a particular religious based creed, or achievement pattern.
Some of the secondary themes, but no less important are: transparency, Bible reading, who is Jesus to me, selfishness, and worship style.

My Thoughts:
My husband and I will begin a new small group study in our home this Sunday evening. This is a new ministry of our church. So far we have 16 adults signed up. The group is a mix of couples and singles. The ages are 30s through 60s. Men and women. Jesus > Religion is the study we'll be using.
I have read through the Bible study and the paperback version of the Bible study. I'll be reviewing the paperback version soon.
I believe this is an excellent study for the following reasons:

  • Straightforward. It's easy to understand and relate to. 
  • Candid and direct. Bethke asks hard questions. Questions that some people may squirm in their seat over. However, they are important questions. For example: Who do we say Jesus is? This is the most important question we'll ever answer. It is a question of life or death. 
  • The study can be used for young adults, not just adults. At least high school age can benefit. 
  • Material is easy to use for leaders. There is a brief section in the start of the book that gives helpful advise to leaders. 
  • This is a perfect study for newbies to Bible study. The format is easy to read, understand, and follow along. 
  • The questions are thought provoking, engaging, and solid conversation starters. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bible Reading Update

The last Bible reading update posted was March 13. 
Since my last posting I've read:
Jeremiah chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. 
John chapters 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. 
Acts chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28.

Links of interest:
Bible Gateway "Holy Week" Infographic Published in Newsweek. 
Study online with N.T. Wright. 
Walk With Jesus During His Last Week on Earth. From the book The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas J. Kostenberger and Justin Taylor. The link is from The Gospel Coalition. This link shows several videos to watch.
A 5-Minute Video Overview of the Whole Bible for Kids by Trevin Wax, from The Gospel Coalition.
The Hope of Heaven with Billy Graham. Included is a 28 minute video.
Why Are We So Lonely by Cole Nesmith, from Relevant magazine.
A Holy Experience by Ann Voskamp. The following link is How to Recover the Lost Art of Dying Well: What Kara Tippetts Taught Us.
Death Has Been Swallowed Up by Death by Matt Emerson, editor Gavin Ortlund, The Gospel Coalition. 
Jesus Ever Lives Above, for You to Intercede by D.A. Carson, editor Gavin Ortlund, The Gospel Coalition. 
From The Reagan Review, The Day of The Crucifixion. A print out timeline is included of the Day of Crucifixion. 
All Scripture links from Bible Gateway. 

Are you reading your Bible?

Friday, March 13, 2015

(Review) Christianity in Roman Africa: the development of its practices and beliefs by J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen

Publication Date: November 30, 2014.
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Genre: Early Church History in Africa.
Pages: 723, plus 153 color illustrations and drawings.
Source: Free copy from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

To read more information @ the publisher: Christianity in Roman Africa. 
and Meet This Book.

Link @ Amazon:
Christianity in Roman Africa.

Link @ Christian Book:
Christianity in Roman Africa.

Christianity in Roman Africa covers the modern day countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia.
Husband and wife writing team, J. Patout Burns, and Robin M. Jensen, began the quest for the book in 1994. After a trip to Tunisia in 1996, the book began to come together.
They utilized both archaeology and literature for confirmation. It will be explained in the introduction that utilizing these features are common, but worship itself will be analyzed. "The objective of this study is to correlate these two forms of evidence in the investigation of the forms of worship and other practices of Christianity."
Christianity in Roman Africa had its own specific theology. Conflicts in the various groups and teachers sparked problems. Principally the Donatist controversy.
In 180, twelve martyrs were brought before the proconsul in Carthage. From this date, we understand Christianity had at least began 50 years before. Carthage was a busy metropolitan sea town. People from other countries traveled through Carthage. The spread of Christianity was higher in cities and spread slowly in the countryside.
The beginning chapters are an overview of Christianity in Roman Africa, including the geography of the land, the political history, and invaders. Persecution during the period of 180-260 is explored. Chapter four looks at the churches. How and where they met for worship. Pulpits, decorations, baptisms, and burials are examined. Chapters five through twelve is considered the essential part of the book.
Each of these chapters reviews chronologically the development of the practice and the accompanying theology usually proceeding from Tertullian through Augustine. Each chapter ends with general observations in two categories: the first summarizes the significant points of contact between archaeological and literary evidence; the second reviews the interaction of practice and theology in the particular subject of the chapter. Page LIII. 
The last chapter defines holiness in the church.

My Thoughts:
Christianity in Roman Africa appeared one cold December afternoon leaning against my front door. I don't remember emails exchanged, nor agreeing to review the book. I must admit, the weight of the book, both physically and intellectually intimidated me. I was sick in December and January. I began reading the 723 page book in February.
When I began reading Christianity in Roman Africa I knew two things:
  1. There was a Church presence in north Africa.
  2. Augustine and Tertullian were early Church fathers. 
My mind has been enriched with a wealth of information. The following bullet points will show what stood out to me. 
  • Persecution was not continuous but occasional. 
  • The Church had more than persecution to worry about. Religious practices and beliefs were not in unity among all Christians. Arguments and pride over one way or another led to one group believing it was "the true Church."
  • African Christianity was located not only in north Africa, but also in southern Spain, and Rome.
  • Tertullian's interesting belief in baptism. Further, the long ritual of baptism itself. This includes oaths, a ceremony of turning away from idolatry, and commitment to Jesus Christ. When a person made a decision of belief in Jesus Christ, baptism was not a quick ritual. It was a process that took time, thought, and maturity. 
  • Defining Church leadership and governing. 
  • The practice of praying for the dead. This is a point I needed clarification. When and why did Christians pray for the dead? The book explains that it was believed people praying for the dead could help them in some way in their sufferings. 
  • Each of the significant leaders in the African Church are expounded on throughout the book. These men are Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. 
  • The Christian Church in North Africa declines sharply after the Muslim conquest in 698. I would like to know more about this point in history.   
Christianity in Roman Africa at first sight is written for a person of "higher learning." A scholar. A teacher. A pastor. I believe it is a book written for anyone wanting to understand the origins and beliefs of the early church in Roman Africa.
The book is organized well, balanced, and has clarity. I might have gotten lost in the lengthy historical facts; instead, I understand this area of the world and the history of Christianity more clearly.

Bible Reading Update

The last Bible reading update posted was February 21, 2015. 
Since then, I read 2 Corinthians again, this time in the King James Version. 
2 Corinthians chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
This is the 3rd time in 2015 to read 2 Corinthians. In January, it was read from the English Standard Version, and in February it was read from the New King James Version.  
Also finished reading the book of Luke chapters 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24. 
John chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 
Jeremiah chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 
Numbers 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. 
All the above Scriptures (except 2 Corinthians) was read from the English Standard Version.

I'd mentioned in the review of St. Augustine's book that I've began using a technique that slows my Bible reading. I needed to slow down, reading with the intention of meeting a deadline or just trying to cross it off my list is WRONG. I'm not using all of the symbols listed on this link, it would take a really long time. But I use several of them. The symbols are a Precept creation.  I found another site with more information on how and why to mark symbols in your Bible. Bible Marking Symbols by Randy A. Brown.  If you want to take it a step further you can join a Bible Journaling group, one that illustrates with pictures, artwork, etc. in the margins of Bible page itself.
The following links will give you an idea of what I'm referring to:
Illustrated Faith
Rebekah R. Jones

Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram all have Bible Journaling groups and shared images.
Several publishers and Bible translations offer wide margin Bibles. My Bible is the ESV Journaling Bible by Crossway. The Bible is not a study Bible, there are no reference verses, notes, etc. It is strictly Bible passages with wide margins for taking notes, doodling, artwork, or all of the above!
In addition, Proverbs 31 Online Bible Studies has a Verse Mapping post showing another way to dig deeper in Scripture.

Lastly, have you heard of the SOAP method of studying the Bible?  This is another help for reading and studying the Bible.
ESV Journaling Bible. 

A photo of my journaling art/symbol work. The pages are John chapter 3-4. 
Bibles are expensive. Try researching prices online, followed by utilizing Lifeway coupons. Often Lifeway will email me 20% and 30% coupons. I found my Bible in the Lifeway bargain shelf early this year, also had a coupon.
In the above photo there is a set of Scripture cards, this is my Bible memorization Scripture cards. The cards were bought in a package of 24 at Hobby Lobby for $1.99. The ribbon is looped through and holds them together. I can take this set anywhere I go. I'm in the Siesta Scripture Memory Team. The goal is to memorize two verses per month. Beth Moore, Living Proof Ministries is the host.

Are you reading your Bible?