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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Samra’

Who, in their right mind, turns down a gift?  Apparently, a lot of people do, when they reject the church.

Jim Samra has written a helpful little book called The Gift of Church: How God Designed the Local Church to Meet Our Needs as Christians, in which he argues that the church is, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, a gift from God to help Christians mature spiritually.  In it Samra gives us 6 chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of the church and how it functions as a blessing to Christians:

  • God is uniquely present when the church gathers
  • In the church, there is unity in diversity in Christ
  • We find true community in the church
  • The church is God’s instrument of bringing about spiritual growth
  • The church can accomplish more for God’s Kingdom than individual Christians
  • The church makes an invisible Jesus visible to the world

Mind you, Samra does not ignore the problems of the church; in fact, he even notes that the primary argument against the church is the church itself!  But he, rightly, comes from the vantage point that the church is the collection of God’s people, whom he has redeemed for his name and his purposes.  If God himself hasn’t given up the church, then why should we?  Because of this there are points when Samra almost comes across as too idealistic (I say ‘almost’ because he doesn’t sugarcoat anything), but when I stop and reread Ephesians I realize that Paul himself uses high praise for God’s people, and he was as familiar as anybody with their problems.

Samra offers some useful perspective throughout the book with helpful illustrations (you can tell he’s a pastor).  For instance, in the first chapter he likes corporate worship to a experiencing a full-blown concert, as opposed to listening to a cd on your own.  Sure, listening to the Beatles on the radio is good, but for those experienced them live in one of their many sold out shows, they’d pick the live show.

His take on diversity was good, too.  Many of us think of ethnic diversity when we hear that word, but Samra does point out there are other forms of diversity in the church (without ignoring the racial component).  So, for those who think going to their college Bible study, as an example, is the same thing as going to church, they forget that the church is supposed to include people outside their own demographic.  He didn’t put it this way, but basically by doing this (my college Bible study, the Christian guys at work going to lunch, etc) you are forming your church in a “Jesus + __” manner.  That is, “being a part of our ‘church’ requires you to believe in Jesus and be an accountant.”  But this has never been God’s plan for the church (though this does make me want to have a conversation with Samra on church membership).

Samra’s book is not a “how-to” approach to church.  He doesn’t advocate for a particular style, which means that churches of various stripes (contemporary and traditional, megachurch and house church, etc) can utilize this book and apply it in their context.

My concerns with this book have little to do with content and more to do with might be the perception of it.  For instance, some might accuse Samra of capitulating to our culture, which focuses on “me” more than others, especially God.  Is answering “how the church can benefit you” the wrong approach in a culture that is already me-centered?

The answer to this question comes in the subtitle and is sprinkled throughout the book, which explicitly states the church is designed to “meet our needs as Christians.”  “Needs” is the key word here.  Many people mistake “wants” for “needs,” and Samra does well to avoid this problem.  The local church may not give you everything you want, but God has designed it to meet your needs.

One thought I did have as I finished up the book was that I’d love to see Samra write a follow up from another angle, how God has designed individual Christians to serve the local church.  There is certainly some of this throughout the book, but maybe a stronger focus would help it stand out to those who tend to focus on themselves rather than others.  (Ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church- something like that.)

Who will benefit the most from this book?  My guess is that people who call themselves Christians but have basically given up on the church will probably not be convinced otherwise from The Gift of Church.  They should, and Samra clearly lays out the biblical teaching on the subject.  But in my experience, those who have reached this place probably know what the Bible says and for various reasons have opted to move in a different direction.

But for those who have one foot in the church and one foot out, so to speak, The Gift of Church will probably be of great benefit, and for those of us know need the occasional reminder of why we “do church.”  If you allow yourself to be, you’ll be encouraged and convicted (as I was, and I’ve never really struggled with the church) to stick it out with God’s plan for the church in this world.  Samra is to be commended for a fine book on a worthwhile topic.

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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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