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EFAC Australia

Essentials

Reading Romans with Eastern eyes: Honour and shame in Paul’s message and mission
JACKSON WU
IVP ACADEMIC, 2019

Here is a book I can highly commend to all as it has provided for me one of the freshest renewals of reading Scripture I’ve had for some time. The Romans Road is a well worn path and the flow of thought, turns of argument, illustrations and complications are familiar territory for me as they will be for many of you. My highlighter and notetaking tends to gravitate towards the same passages whilst I might move across other parts a little more swiftly. This is for good reason and the great history of Western exegesis is something I will continue to give thanks to God for. But it turns out that same gravitational pull has kept me from seeing the full picture of Romans. It turns out I needed some Eastern eyes to help me.

Jackson Wu’s book, Reading Romans With Eastern Eyes does exactly that. It begins with an education in what it means to view the world through Eastern eyes and then applies those eyes to Paul’s letter to the Romans and beyond. The book is not a commentary. It doesn’t go through the entirety of Romans line by line. It draws out some of the most significant insights that this perspective brings. Yet at times it does take the reader sequentially through detailed portions of Romans with the voice of a commentary. It is an uncommon and very valuable book in that regard.

What will the church be known for in 2020? This is the question that I’ve kept coming back to time and time again over the last few months. Will we be known for suddenly unleashing a bandwidth surge of low budget worship services onto the internet like a great wave every Sunday? Will we be known for watching on helplessly as society and the economy crumbles, all our normal strategies for practical support hamstrung by physical distancing? Will we be known for losing half of our young people who didn’t like the way we “pivoted”? Perhaps there is even a longer and sadder thread that we will only become aware of as hidden stories slowly start to surface. Or perhaps we will look back at 2020 and retell a story of greater fruitfulness and missional creativity! I certainly hope we are known for our love and unity in Christ.

Supernatural: What the Bible teaches about the unseen world—and why it mattersSupernatural
MICHAEL S. HEISER
LEXHAM PRESS, 2015

There’s nothing like your first year as an incumbent to send you scurrying to the Christian bookstore, desperate to upskill yourself in the many issues pertinent your new congregation’s life. Relationship counselling, grief and loss, deconstruction of faith, power dynamics, family systems, staffing for growth, managing a team, persistence in prayer—I’ve felt the need to learn and grow in all of these areas, and more. A specific need in my new context has been confidence in engaging with the unseen or supernatural realm. My faith heritage hasn’t been closed to such things, but I always want, as I suspect you do, as much Biblical support for my ministry methods as I can get before I’m willing to roll something out “from the front.”

 

Enter Supernatural by Michael S. Heiser. The clean, modern cover claims: “What the Bible teaches about the unseen world—and why it matters.” Michael Heiser was FaithLife Corporation’s (Logos Bible Software) Theologian-in-Residence but apart from that, he doesn’t have a particularly remarkable pedigree. Supernatural is one of three short books distilling his original academic work The Unseen Realm (Lexham Press, 2015). The longer book is not inaccessible and does provide good background, but it still doesn’t answer every critique you might have of Supernatural, or its fellows, Angels (2018) and Demons (2020). However, Heiser also has a very generous web presence, with full text of many academic articles freely available for those wanting to explore further.

God is good for you: A defence of Christianity in troubled times
GREG SHERIDAN
ALLEN AND UNWIN, 2018

Christianity in Australia is in crisis. Greg Sheridan is a committed Catholic layman deeply concerned about Christianity’s demise and wanting to offer hope. A journalist by trade and writing on international affairs for The Australian he has a handle on the state of Christianity across the West as well as insights into other faiths.

Sheridan moves deftly between popular culture and academic engagement to understand what has been happening in Australian society. He charts the increasingly negative way Christians have been portrayed in films and television through recent decades. He is not afraid to tackle key theological issues—he critiques the New Atheism from an orthodox Christian position, he explores the issue of eternal judgement and its attendant questions, he sets out a Christian apologetic for evil and suffering and the sins of Christians, he offers a defence of the Old Testament as inspired literature and worth a read. As well, he puts the case for Christianity producing the progress of Western Civilisation. This chapter title says it all, “What did we ever get from Christianity—apart from the idea of the individual, human rights, feminism, liberalism, modernity, social justice and secular politics?”

Pandemics are full of pain, extraordinary change, and major readjustments through every aspect of society. For the church there is no simple playbook to take off the shelf and implement that will fix all our problems and keep us sharing and growing in Christ. Even though the church has been through pandemics before, we’ve never had the current scientific and technological tools available to us that enable extraordinary connection and change the landscape of what church community could and should be. Each local church seems to have walked a unique path and there are no simple answers. Instead there is a variety of advice that abounds, a constant need to change strategy, and endless expectations. At worst it devolves into crippling comparisons.

Anyone tired of decision making, sifting through information, and communicating through change management? There is a great promise at the start of Proverbs that is a balm for a confused and weary pastor’s soul. It declares that these proverbs are:

“for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
(or ‘inexperienced’ as in CSB)
knowledge and discretion to the young” (1:2-4)

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