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? 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

(Review) The Confessions of St. Augustine (Modern English Version) by Augustine

The foreword is written by Warren W. Wiersbe.

Publication Date: 2005. First written between A.D. 397 and 400.
Publisher: Revell.
Genre: Memoir, confiteri.
Pages: 208.
Source: self-purchase.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.

Link @ publisher for the 2008 edition. 

Aurelius Augustinus was born in Thagaste (Arabic name) or Tagaste (ancient name), North Africa in 354. This city is now modern day Souk AhrasAlgeria.
Baptized by Ambrose in 387.
Bishop of Hippo in 396.
Died in 430.

To read more information about Augustine:
Project Gutenberg
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Early Church, a biography

A few reviewers have remarked they felt gypped at not getting the "full works" of The Confessions of St. Augustine. There are thirteen volumes-books of The Confessions of St. Augustine. Most people do not want to read thirteen books of confessions. It seems logical to read an abridged version, unless the reader is working on writing a book, or a term paper, etc.

You are matchless, O Lord.
So our praise of You must rise above our humanity.
Magnificent is Your power.
Your wisdom has no limits.
And we lowly creatures aspire to praise You. What is a human being, but a tiny particle of Your creation? Each human carries within the mark of coming death. That mortality bears witness to human sinfulness. It declares to all that You rebuff the proud.
Yet despite our lowness, human beings aspire to praise You, though we be but a particle of Your creation. You awake in us a delight at praising You. You made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its place of rest in You.
The above is the opening page of The Confessions of St. Augustine. 

The Confessions of St. Augustine is a sort of journal, but it is much more than this. It is considered a confiteri, meaning "the praise of a soul." In The Confessions of St. Augustine, Augustine shares certain features of his life, but not with the emphasis of documenting pivotal points as in a biography. Instead, he shows God's work in his life and his complete restlessness without God. Further, Augustine pauses on reflecting on his life and glorifies God. In Augustine's early years, he reflects on his immaturity and in chasing after knowledge, pleasure, and reasoning. Augustine's mother was a Christian. He knew she prayed for him and yet he continued living in his prideful existence. Augustine's examination of this period of his life is humbling and moving.

My Thoughts:
The Confessions of St. Augustine is the second book in a row I've read where I've had to read slowly. Stopping often to think. Turning things over in my head. I am a fast reader, a little slower in a non-fiction book, but still fast. This is not a good habit when reading the Bible, I'll be sharing a little later a new technique I've began that slows me down. Stay tuned for my next Bible Reading Update.

I loved this little study. It is a small (abridged) book. However, it is packed with beautiful language. It is an honest reflection on life. It is difficult, and something most people refuse to do, to reflect back on our life and examine closely: choices, decisions, reactions, consequences, pain, joy, detours, lessons, and growth. I believe it is important that we have a solid healthy reason for reflection. If we are looking back on our life to pity ourselves, this is a poor reason. But if we are looking back on our life to examine God at work and how He has and is actively molding our brief life, then we have matured in our faith. Maturity is costly. It comes about when we have learned several painful lessons that God has brought to our doorstep and into our living room.
While reading The Confessions of St Augustine, it might be a good idea to jot down on paper meaningful quotes from the book. Later, compare your own thoughts of the past against St. Augustine.
I loved it that Augustine will stop at a thought and openly magnify the Lord. Do you do this? Praise God and sing to Him?

"I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable."  Psalm 145:1-3. ESV. Scripture link from Bible Gateway. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

(Review) One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

Publication Date: January 4, 2011.
Publisher: Zondervan.
Genre: Thanksgiving, reflection, journaling.
Pages: 241.
Source: self-purchase.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Kindle copy @ Amazon. 

For a biography of Ann, which includes her Christian beliefs: A Holy Experience. 

Ann's website, which is filled with beautiful photographs, Bible studies, journal writings, and freebie printables: A Holy Experience. 

I waited on purpose to read this book in order to move past the gazillion reviews and critics.
At Amazon, the book has 1,661 reviews, of which 1,317 are 5 star reviews. I read a few of the low score reviews--no comment nor arguing with other reader's opinions.

One Thousand Gifts was on sale at Lifeway early in January for less than $5. I bought a few copies to keep and giveaway as gifts.

Ann Voskamp is a farm wife in the Midwest. She is the mother of six children. People who are not aware of the hard work of being a farm wife or caring for six children might believe Ann lives a "simple" life in the country. They are mistaken. Ann is a busy wife, mother, and partner to a hardworking farmer.
At the encouragement (dare) of a friend, Ann began making a one thousand things to be thankful for list. The list was the preemptive beginnings of the book and devotional that followed.
Ann began by sharing a painful story from her childhood, her sister's death. Ann reflects on this period of her life, primarily its pain, but also how it has led to living a fuller life. Further, a life in eucharisteo.

My Thoughts:
There are several points about the book that you should be aware of before reading.

  • The word eucharisteo is used often. The following links will give you a solid definition of the word: The High Calling and Bible Gateway. Ann uses the word in reference to giving thanks in life, everyday life, both small moments and large moments. 
  • Ann's writing style is wordy. Some readers might define her style as verbose (using more words than necessary.) I love her writing style. I love slow-natured books, not always, but often. When I'm aware the atmosphere of a book is going to be reflective, poetic, deep-thinking, and emotionally moving---I settle down my speed reading eyes. 
  • The book is a journal of sorts. Ann shares her days, the simple details of washing dishes or caring for a sick child. I was reminded of another book: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The copy I own was originally my dad's and purchased in 1963. I read this book years ago and might read it again. It's considered a "Catholic" book so there are some people who are afraid of it and will not read it. 
  • Lastly, Ann brings experiences from her past and present, and they are teachable features for the theme of the book: living in eucharisteo. 

I love love love this book. It has meant so much to me to be reminded of living in eucharisteo/thankfulness. I'm still grieving the death of my dad, and my mind if I'm not careful reverts to a pity-party, but when I focus on the things I'm thankful for, no longer am I inward focused but outward focused. Outward focused means I'm thinking on the things of God.

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Colossians 3:1-2. ESV. 

A favorite quote from the book:
"We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace" Page 39.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Future Reviews

I'm reading two books for reviews.
One is a chunkster, the second book is small but filled with meditative writing.
Christianity in Roman Africa: the development of its practices and beliefs by J. Patout Burns Jr. and Robin M. Jensen.
Published by Eerdman, November 2014.
There are 723 pages, with 153 color photographs and black ink drawings.

The Confessions of St. Augustine by Augustine of Hippo.
Foreword by Warren W. Wiersbe.
Published by Baker Books/Revell Publishing in 2005.
There are 199 pages.
This book is an edited version of the original. It is considered to be a confiteri (read the definition provided by link) and not necessarily an autobiography.
This little book has been sitting on the bookshelf gathering dust. Christianity in Roman Africa refers to Augustine. I thought the two books complemented one another.