Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

Whereas last year I had a hard time naming 5 good books I read in 2009, I’m having trouble keeping it to 5 for 2010.  Actually, I forgot The Cross and Christian Ministry and The Prodigal God last year, so the list would have been pretty good.  I started making my list earlier this year to avoid the same mistake.  As with previous years, this list is comprised of books I read for the first time this year, not that were published this year.  In fact, I don’t think I even read 5 books published in 2010.  Unlike previous years, I’m giving an order to this, in order of ascending appreciation.  Interestingly, despite the fact I reviewed 10 books this year for publishers, none of the books on this list were from them. 

This list does not include revised editions of books I’ve previously read, otherwise Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition would have made the cut. 

5. Conforming to Christ in Community, by Jim Samra

I first mentioned this book back in June, and as I’ve thought back on the books I read this year, this one stood out as a strong one because of it’s usefulness, despite it’s dissertationy feel (because… um… it’s a dissertation).  I’m currently reading Samra’s scaled down book on the value of the church, which is also quite good, but my guess is that I’ll revisit this one when I want to refresh myself on Paul’s teaching on the church and its importance for the maturation of Christians. 

4. The Pentateuch as Narrative, by John Sailhamer

I mentioned this book a couple months back as my new “curveball” book for the Pentateuch.  When I need a slightly different take, or someone to help me make connections within the Pentateuch that I easily miss, John Sailhamer is my guy.  It’s hard to think of the first five books of the Bible as disjointed and boring after reading Sailhamer. 

3. Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World, by M. Tsering

The world of Tibetan Buddhism is a fascinating one, and its worldview couldn’t be much more different from the biblical one.  This book is a wonderful introduction to this worldview, and offers many suggestions how to share Christ with those who hold it.  This book is so well done that I think anyone interested in missions and cross-cultural evangelism would do well to read it because many of the principles are universal. 

2. A Call to Spiritual Reformation, by D A Carson

I read a lot of Carson this year, so much so that I could have done a top 5 just with Carson books and they’d all be very good.  I opted not to include more than one Carson book.  The God Who Is There is outstanding, I’ve benefitted greatly from the two volumes of For the Love of God during my morning quiet times.  I could add Collected Writings on Scripture and make it 5 (Scandalous wouldn’t quite make the cut).  But when I needed a boost in my prayer life, I turned to this book and it delivered.  So I chose this one out of the many because of the impact it had on me personally.  Using the prayers in Paul as a guide to our own prayers seems like such an obvious approach, I wonder why I had never thought of it.  I’ve read a lot of Carson, not just this year but in previous years, but this is my favorite and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

1. Salvation Belongs to Our God, by Christopher J H Wright

Despite also reading The Mission of God, which is Wright’s massive and more detailed book demonstrating the missional character of God, this shorter book stands as my favorite of the year.  As I mentioned in my review, I ended up taking 33 pages of notes on it!  It’s not that I agree with everything in this book, in fact I’d say I agreed more with the previous book on this list than this one.  But Wright captivated me with his ability to place things in the context of the biblical story in a compelling manner.  This is biblical theology done well.

Looking Ahead

My reading load for 2011 will be much smaller due to some major constraints on my personal time.  However, I am currently reading John Jefferson Davis’ Worship and the Reality of God, Jim Samra’s The Gift of Church and will soon be starting Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.  On top of that, I plan on reading David Platt’s Radical and John Piper’s Think, and Ron Jaworski’s The Games that Changed the Game.  The first three will all be reviewed here; the other 3 may get a mention.  I’d be interested to know what books BBG readers enjoyed reading this year, so feel free to leave a comment.

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Being Conformed to Christ in Community: A Study of Maturity, Maturation and the Local Church in the Undisputed Pauline Epistles, by James Samra.  This book is the published version of Jim Samra’s Oxford dissertation in the Library of New Testament Studies series.  Full disclosure: Samra is the senior pastor of a church in Michigan, where my wife’s uncle also pastors.  He (my uncle-in-law) is the one who gave me this book because he thought I’d be interested, and he was right.  It is a rare dissertation that makes me say, “this would make a great teaching in the church.”  In fact, I think some of this work might show up in his upcoming release, The Gift of the Church Being Conformed to Christ in Community is a bit dissertationy, which keeps it from being ideal for church goers, but the fruit of Samra’s labor begs to be distilled in a more popular format.  For Samra, the process of maturation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, and this process is intended to be lived out and aided by life in the local church (note the emphasis on ‘process’).  To give a taste, Samra sees 5 components to the process of maturity: 1) identifying with Christ; 2) enduring suffering; 3) experiencing the presence of God; 4) receiving and living out wisdom from God; and 5) imitating a godly example (p168).  While this book showcases Samra’s skills as a New Testament scholar, I was more blessed by his obviously pastoral concern for the church.  I look forward to his next book.

Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World: Defending and Sharing Christ with Buddhists, by M. Tsering.  I remember hearing an Asian pastor once say “it is 10 times harder for a Buddhist to come to Christ than a Muslim.”  The opinion was obviously observational, and perhaps hyperbolic, but gets at a major issue in sharing Christ with a Buddhist: the Buddhist worldview is far removed from a Christian one.  This book deals specifically with Tibetan Buddhism, which is, in many ways, quite removed from the earliest (some might say ‘purist’) forms of Buddhism.  Tsering gives an overview of the religious history of Tibet, showing the movement from early shamanism to modern Tibetan Buddhism, which is essentially a combination of Buddhism and shamanism.  He surveys the worldview of Tibetan Buddhists and the struggles of reaching them with the gospel (both historically and strategically).  There are wonderfully helpful tidbits throughout the book.  Anyone interested in the intersection between Buddhism and Christianity, or even in cross-cultural missions more broadly, would benefit from reading this book.

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I have a confession- I like to pick on philosophers.  To give an example, I’ll share a funny story from an OT prof in undergrad.  He was at a conference for Christian professors, intending to go to a session for OT professors.  He accidentally ended up in the session for philosophy professors and couldn’t get out.  What transpired (with perhaps some hyperbole) illustrates why I couldn’t go into philosophy.  According to my professor, they never actually arrived at the topic of discussion because they spent the entire time arguing over how certain words were best defined.  From the perspective of my professor, these were the worst kind of philosophers- talking about everything except the important things.  (Before Cousin Jeremy flays me, I should note that I’m needling.  I actually really enjoy philosophy… in 30 minute doses.)

As cumbersome as constantly worrying about proper definitions can be, philosophers of this ilk are on to something important.  What we mean by certain terms that we drop in casual conversation is of utmost importance, especially when we are discussing matters of eternal importance.  So while I do believe one can go too far down this road, constantly worrying that their words have no meaning until they explicitly define them for their listeners (which, of course, could descend into a never-ending cascade of defining the definitions), I think it is good to make sure that everyone is more or less on the same page.

I bring this up because I’ve recently been recalling my interactions with adherents to other faiths overseas.  I’ve had conversations over meals or cups of tea/coffee with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists regarding their faith, Jesus, Christianity and a whole host of other topics.  These are instances where I’ve had to be sure that the other person is at least in the same ballpark as I am.

Let me give an example.  When a Muslim from another country asks me, “Are you a Christian?” it would be easy for me simply to say “yes.”  After all, I am.  But what I mean by “Christian” and what they mean may be, and probably are, two different things.  Instead of answering the question, though, I usually ask them what they mean by “Christian.”  The reason is this: “Christian” carries certain cultural connotations for them that it does not carry for me.  Most non-Christians in the non-Western world assume all Americans are Christians.  Many of them watch American TV via satellite (I’m caused some confusion overseas for not knowing the latest American pop phenoms) and assume that what they’re watching is representative of American culture and, thus, Christianity.

Christians sleep with multiple partners (example: a female friend was teaching English to a group of Muslim girls in Asia when they asked her about prom night.  They had seen on TV that American girls lose their virginity on prom night and were intrigued.  Keep in mind, their assumption is that these girls on TV are Christians).  Christians get drunk frequently.  Christians never go to church, never pray, never worship, and never mention God unless they’re swearing.  Christians use crude language.  Perhaps most importantly of all, Christians always support the American government, especially when they are attacking Muslims.

So if I answer “yes” to the question, I may be confirming some or all of these points, and potentially many others (I should note that not all non-Westerners think these things about Christians, but many do).  Is that what I want?  But if I ask them to explain what they mean, I get an inside track into their perception of Christians.  I can affirm what is true, deny what is wrong and clarify what is confusing.  But most importantly, I get to talk about Jesus, who is the centerpiece of all I believe. 

This goes for any number of terms we’re accustomed to leaving undefined: sin, salvation, God, heaven, hell, and so on.  These potential problems are multiplied when talking with a Buddhist, for example.  At least when I’m talking with a Muslim, I know that we can stand on common ground on a couple points: they have concepts of sin, heaven, hell, creation, etc., that are similar to ours.  Even though we understand God differently in many ways, at least we are both monotheists (though Muslims often don’t think we are) and don’t need to be convinced of God’s existence.

Buddhists, on the other hand, don’t even believe in a god.  Because of this, bad karma is different from sin, because they don’t believe in a God who can take offense to an immoral act.  Salvation and enlightenment are very different, as are nirvana and heaven.  Resurrection?  Forget abotu it.  If I’m going to talk with a Buddhist, I must take time to explain what I mean and let them into my worldview, just as I try to enter theirs.  It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Applying it to our context here in the West, I wonder if we should take time to define our terms more clearly for people.  A coworker might ask you on Monday morning, “what did you do this weekend?” and you may reply, “went to church.”  Do they know what that means?  What would change if you answered, for example, “worshipped God in a community of redeemed sinners”?  Would that open more doors to talk about what it really means to be the church and to follow Jesus?  I’ve used this approach before when a coworker asked if I were an evangelical.  I asked them what they mean by that term.  I’m happy to affirm my status as an evangelical, properly defined.  But if my coworker is thinking mostly in terms of how I vote in the elections and what TV programming I watch, then I don’t want to affirm those things.  Even if I line up with most evangelicals on many issues, that’s not what makes me an evangelical.  My belief in Jesus, as He is portrayed in the Bible, and the saving power of the Gospel is what makes me an evangelical.

So maybe the philosophers are right.  Maybe we do need to take a few minutes to define our terms and explain clearly what we mean.  Keep in mind, I’m not advocating abandoning our terminology in our culture, doing so will only spring forth new terms that will eventually become ill-defined.  I’m pushing us to assume less.  I’m pushing us to ask more questions, to get into the minds of those we talk to and understand where they’re coming from.  Doing so will open more doors that will otherwise be shut.  Spending more time explaining what we mean will give us a chance to talk about Jesus, which is what we should be trying to do anyway.

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