Book Recommendations

If you love to read, publishers are putting out some great books this season, and I want to share with you some of them. So let’s get started!

Books on waiting

Two books on waiting have come out this spring from Zondervan and Crossway and I happen to know both of the authors! How cool is that? I’ve only read snippets of each book–still waiting on my copies–but I feel comfortable recommending these books.

Thornton1. I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You (Zondervan) by Grace Thornton. Grace and I met when I began working at The Alabama Baptist shortly after graduating from Beeson. Grace is a gifted storyteller and writer. As a single female, Grace eventually left her job at the newspaper to write and tell stories for a Christian international organization. Before and during this time, she blogged at gracefortheroad.com. Her post, “I Don’t Wait Anymore,” had more than 2 million visits. Here’s the short description of the book on Amazon:

Have you been waiting for life to turn out the way you expected?You’re not alone.There are lots of us out there who feel that way. Grace Thornton is one. She had dreams, plans, and ideas for what life should look like. For one, she thought she’d be married. She thought she’d have kids. She thought God would bring her the life she’d been waiting for because she knew He was good and she tried to be obedient.But that’s not what happened. Not at all.

So she found herself wrestling with God. Who is He if He doesn’t bring along the life, husband, and 2.5 kids she thought He was supposed to? And where should she go from there?

When she got brutally honest with herself and asked the hard question, “Why do I think the world has more to offer than God does?” the answer was stunning. Her honesty led to the path God had for her. One that would write a story for her life that was even better than the one she had dreamed for herself.

This positive and encouraging book offers inspiration to anyone who wants to live a fulfilling life right now. Grace decided to let go of her expectations of the way life “should be” and grasp God’s hand for the adventure He had for her.

Here’s a video of her talking about the book:

Howard2. Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed (Crossway) by Betsy Childs Howard. Betsy and I met at Beeson. At the time she was working on staff, and I was a student. At the time, Betsy took one class a semester at Beeson. Not long after I graduated from Beeson, Betsy became the web and publications editor. She continued to take one class a semester and a year ago graduated with a M.A.T.S. degree. In May of 2014, Betsy wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) called, “Should I Be Content with My Singleness?” The day after her article was published, she received an e-mail from a pastor in Manhattan. And the rest, as we say, is history. She wrote about her love story following this article here. Betsy resigned from her position at Beeson to  marry and move to Manhattan with her new husband, and she now works as an editor for TGC. Our paths crossed once more when I was hired to take over for Betsy. Betsy trained me in her position and we stay in contact throughout the year. In fact, we recently interviewed Betsy for the Beeson podcast to talk about her book. It goes live on Tuesday (May 24). Here’s the short description on Amazon about Betsy’s book:

We’re all waiting for something.

It might be a spouse or a baby. It might be a home or healing. Regardless of what we’re waiting for, it’s easy to feel discontent when things aren’t going as planned and our dreams are delayed—especially when the questions of “Why?” and “How long?” remain unanswered.

God uses seasons of waiting to teach us patience and make us more like himself. But sanctification is not the only purpose God has in mind. When we wait faithfully with unmet longings, we become a powerful picture of the bride of Christ waiting for the day when he returns and God’s kingdom reigns.

Book on love/Love story

Keeners3. Now after reading about waiting and how to wait, here’s a wonderful book of love, an impossible love in fact. Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles, and Hope against All Odds (Chosen Books/Baker) is written by a husband and wife team, Craig and Médine Keener. Craig is a well-known and well-respected New Testament scholar and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. He just published 4 volumes on Acts, and is the author of many books. Médine holds a Ph.D. and is the pastoral care coordinator of Formation Ministries at Asbury. This book is riveting! I could not put it down. It took me only two days to read it. Their story is a testimony of the power and faithfulness of God – how he is able to take broken lives and restore them and how he is mighty to save and to heal. Their story is not just a feel-good story about love. It is a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit in the world. The Holy Spirit used their book to convict me of my lack of faith and prayer and to push me to see the world differently. What a great God we serve! I highly recommend this book to you. The Keeners also will be on the Beeson podcast next Tuesday.

Here’s a video about Craig and Médine Keener’s story that is told in the book.

Medine from Jorge Castorena on Vimeo.

Theology/Biblical Studies Books

Padilla4. If I were to rank the books in importance this book would be #1. And of course it has nothing to do with who wrote it! The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History and Theology (IVP Academic) is written by my beloved and adored husband, Osvaldo Padilla. This book is an advanced introduction to the study of Acts and makes for a good companion to commentaries on Acts. This book is for the advanced theological student as Osvaldo explores deeply issues of genre, authorship, and interpretation. Because of the advanced content, I recommend this book for seminary students or those, such as pastors, who already have a seminary degree, who want to go deeper in the study of Acts.

Hays5. This is my last recommendation for this post. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor University Press) by Richard B. Hays is one of those books that every theology student must read. I’m only into the first part of the book, but it has me captivated. It’s content is rich, which is to be expected given the quality of works that Hays has produced. What makes this book even more special is how this book came to be published. In his moving preface, Hays explains that he had written the majority of this content by 2010 when he was asked to become the dean of Duke Divinity School. From 2010-2015, his work on the book was at an almost standstill with the exception of giving lectures on the topic in Cambridge during 2013-14. He announced his intention to step down as dean in 2016 so he could finish writing the book, but a few months later after this announcement he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Friends, colleagues, and his publisher pulled together to help Hays finish what very well may be his last book.

What books are you reading now or plan to read this summer? What books would you recommend?

Happy reading!

Kristen

Review of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood

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Introduction:

It’s been more than a year since Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood book came out. So why review this book now?

First, Evans keeps growing in popularity thanks to this book, which is a New York Time’s Best Seller. Since publishing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, her platform to write and speak on subjects such as Scripture, women in ministry, faith, etc., have grown to reach a much wider audience. Through the means of this book and her blog, Evans is becoming a formative voice for young evangelical Christians. Secondly, The only negative reviews and criticisms on this book that I have found have come from those in the camp which Evans criticizes in much of her book. I hope my contribution comes from the fact that I am neither strictly complementarian nor egalitarian (although I come closer to the latter than the former); therefore, my response will hopefully be more nuanced.

Synopsis:

Evans is a self-proclaimed “liberated woman,” having emerged from the fundamentalist, evangelical tradition of which she grew up in. After becoming frustrated with the views held by those in The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and others on the far right (as she sees it!), Evans decides to challenge the hermeneutic and thereby the adjective “biblical” they utilize for an interpretation regarding women. To achieve this she set aside one year to follow all the commands in Scripture for women—literally. Her book reads like a satire, showing through narrative and sarcasm how it is impossible and foolish to apply all the commands of the Bible literally and universally.

Another purpose for writing this book was to liberate women from the fears of getting Scripture wrong, Evans said during an interview on The Today Show. One way she accomplishes this goal in her book is by using comedy relief, a transparent writing style, and being open to discuss typical “forbidden” issues such as sex, fears of becoming a mother, etc. She also engages with her readers by using diary entries, photos and many personal stories throughout the book.

This book is divided by months, and each month of the year is given a chapter. She begins each month with a to-do list, concludes with a “read more” section that directs readers to her blog and a feature of a woman in the Bible. Instead of following all the biblical commands for women collectively for the year, with the exception of not cutting her hair, she divided the commands into months. She either kept the commands for an entire month or for a shorter length of time within the month. So, for example, she only practiced being modest for the month of March, and she only followed the “command” to praise her husband at the city gate (Prov. 31:28) on one particular day in the month of January.

Response:

First, in way of a positive review, I share in Evans’ grievance with those on the far right who fit Scripture’s picture of a woman into an image of a 1950s June Cleaver. She is right in highlighting the inconsistencies in the application of what women can and cannot do in Scripture by those in The Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and the like. For example, some on the far right will make 1 Timothy 2:12-14 the guideline for women in ministry while not grapping sufficiently with passages of women prophesying, teaching, serving as deaconesses, etc. (see 1 Cor. 11:5, Judges 4:4 or Luke 2:36). I also agree with Evans that some women have gone too far in their application of Scripture. Evans summarizes one woman’s belief saying, “Ambitions that might lead a woman to work outside the home … constitute the kind of ‘evil desires’ that lead directly to sin.” She quotes another saying, “A young mother’s place is in the home, keeping it, guarding it, watching over those entrusted to her. To do otherwise will surely cause the Word of God to be blasphemed. Even if you could disobey God and it not produce visible ill consequences, it would only prove that God is long-suffering … but the judgment will assuredly come.” (pgs 23-24) These women whom Evans quotes, I believe, have it wrong.

While I sympathize with some of Evans’ criticisms, I had a number of concerns with this book.

First, Evans employs a classic liberal approach to Scripture. She calls this approach a hermeneutic of love, echoing perhaps back to St. Augustine’s hermeneutic of love for the neighbor. But the question is whose definition of love does Evans use? The one she seems to employ is not the one defined by God; rather it sounds more like something from Rob Bell’s Love Wins book. For example, she writes, “I … am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell.” What does she do then with John 14:6? Perhaps she is just being provocative here, which she tends to do a lot in this book, and in saying “different” she is referring to believer’s baptism versus infant baptism or Calvinism versus Arminianism. However, since she does not explain her meaning she is being unhelpful and setting up a broad understanding of love that is not consistent with Scripture.

Another common factor of classic liberalism is the tendency to interpret and apply Scripture with you, the interpreter, at the center. It is a humanistic approach. In conjunction with this is a tendency to replace a relationship with Jesus with a mystical spirituality, where the person’s spiritual journey is the most important aspect and Jesus is reduced from an incarnate, crucified, resurrected God-human to a “divine,” “a spirit,” “a presence.” Sometimes I felt as if I were reading Schleiermacher! Consider these examples. Evans writes, “And sure enough, I found myself connecting to that same presence that I encountered during contemplative prayer, the presence that reminded me that the roots of my spirit extended deep into the ground. I got less done when I worked with mindfulness, but somehow, I felt more in control” (page 29). And, “Instead, meditation filled me with a sense of security, strength, and unyielding resolve. As I prayed, it felt as though my feet were extending through the ground, growing into long, winding roots, while my torso stretched like a trunk, my arms and fingers extending like branches. With every prayer and every silence the image of a great tree returned to me again and again until I found myself sitting up straighter, breathing in deeper, and looking up. I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. … Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn’t mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften” (p. 16)

Count how many times the pronouns, “I,” “me” and “my” were used. Jesus is nowhere to be found; the interpreter takes center stage. This is also an example of spiritual mysticism. Scripture has no concept nor teaching about prayer the way Evans described it. And if so, Evans does not give a Scriptural model for it. Also, if context determines meaning, the God she mentions is not necessarily the God of Scripture.

There are many other examples I could cite, but I want to narrow in on one other significant example. During the month of January as Evans sought to follow the guidelines of Proverbs 31, she was told by one Jewish woman (who was not a student of Scripture but was simply Jewish) that Proverbs 31 is sung by her husband to praise her in everyday tasks. Proverbs 31 can be reduced to “eschet chayil” or valorous woman. Evans runs with this and then determines that Proverbs 31 should be condensed to a blessing we should give every woman – “a woman of valor.” Valor then is determined not by who we know (God) or what He does through us or what it has to say about wisdom but rather about what we as women do. “The woman described in Proverbs 31 is not some ideal that exists out there; she is present in each one of us when we do even the smallest things with valor” (p. 90). She will continue with this idea throughout the rest of her book. When she gets to the chapter on justice and recalls her trip to Bolivia with World Vision, she spends pages 238-246 admonishing “women of valor” by what they had accomplished despite their poverty and with the help of World Vision. Jesus isn’t mentioned as having a part in this. Only at the very end of the chapter does she credit Jesus for His ministry to the poor.

Summary:

I think Evans’ lack of theological training and maturity is evident and problematic to her wanting to be taken serious in evangelical Christian circles. Instead of her offering work that is helpful to further along the discussion of women in Christian ministry, she widens the gap and confirms conservative complementarian belief that a woman’s place is in the home and not in biblical teaching. And irony above all ironies, I think that she is one woman who would do better to remain silent at this time.

Winner Announced: October book review & giveaway

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Book Review – Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 217 pp. (Paperback) 

I first want to thank Dr. Randy Richards (E. Randolph Richards), my former college professor, for sending me two free copies of his book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, coauthored with Brandon J. O’Brien, for this review and giveaway. This book blessed me and challenged me in my reading of Scripture. Therefore, I am excited to let you know about this book and to give one of you lucky readers your own copy. So let’s begin…

Summary:

In this 217-page book, coauthors Richards and O’Brien seek to have a conversation with their Western readers, you and me, about what presuppositions they might bring to the Bible that would inform their interpretation. They call these presuppositions, “cultural blinders,” and use the metaphor of an iceberg to describe how some of these blinders are obvious, others not as obvious, and then those that are deep under the surface.

The purpose of this book, then, is to address nine common Western presuppositions “by which Western readers read – and even misread – Scripture,” so that as the readers become aware of their own presuppositions it will help them toward a more “faithful reading and application of the Bible.” Their primary goal, they write, “is to help us learn to read ourselves.” (See page 16.)

Richards and O’Brien also outline a couple of caveats in their Introduction that are important to keep in mind while reading this book. For one, they admit they are writing as “insiders,” as white, male, Americans. This is important to remember because some of these presuppositions might not apply to everyone who lives in the West (i.e. Canada or Western Europe) or everyone who lives in the United States (i.e. Latinos, Asians, or Blacks). They also admit to using generalizations and oversimplifications in this book due to lack of space and language. This is important to keep in mind while reading this book so that when you encounter it you will “give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The nine “cultural blinders” addressed in this book are: mores (or moral views of a particular group); race and ethnicity; language; individualism vs. collectivism; right/wrong vs. honor/shame; time; rules vs. relationships; virtue and vice; and self-centeredness. In these chapters, the authors not only demonstrate how these presuppositions are manifested in the Western culture but also how they might be antithetical to the worldview of the Bible. With the exception of perhaps a couple of examples, you will not find interpretations of certain passages of Scripture nor interpretive steps to use while reading the Bible. Rather the authors provide modern-day and historical examples to demonstrate how “biblical interpretation is a cross-cultural experience” (p. 22), and at the end of each chapter they provide questions to ponder and discuss. Richards and O’Brien conclude that they are “trying to help you become a certain kind of reader: the kind of reader who is increasingly aware of his or her cultural assumptions” (p. 212).

My thoughts:

This book has the tendency to make you feel uncomfortable, and I believe the authors hope for this outcome. Consider the following quote on page 17, “To begin with, we can no longer pretend that a Western interpretation of the Bible is normative for all Christians everywhere.” Even though none of us might admit it, we like to think our interpretation of Scripture is the correct one, the best one or the only one. But what Richards and O’Brien do in this book is show that our interpretation/application isn’t necessarily the only biblical one and in fact many times it may be incorrect! They challenge the most personal things about us – things that make us particularly American or Western – and it is frankly uncomfortable. You might even feel somewhat defensive while reading, but if you put this aside you might be able to consider what they are saying is of value.

For me, the chapters on honor/shame vs. right/wrong and rules vs. relationships were the most meaningful and challenging. I appreciate that Richards and O’Brien are not afraid to talk about the “elephants in the room,” and I believe their frankness to talk about hard, difficult and sensitive interpretative issues is one aspect that makes this book a good one. One example of this is found at the bottom of page 33 in the chapter on mores. “[Western] Christians are tempted to believe that our mores originate from the Bible,” they write. They then give an example about drinking alcohol. Whether or not you change your interpretation regarding an issue such as alcohol, the authors give you good reasons to think more critically about whether your interpretation is universal or cultural.

One possible negative effect this book may have on a reader is that it might leave him/her discouraged, believing that one cannot interpret Scripture with Western eyes or that those in the East are necessarily better biblical interpreters. If you read the book carefully, especially the Introduction and Conclusion chapters, you will find this is not the belief of the authors. In fact they even suggest someone writing a book called, Misreading Scripture with Eastern Eyes! Keep in mind they are being somewhat provocative and critical to make a point within a short amount of space.

Quickly, I must mention a couple other things about this book. One, the authors had me laughing out loud. I am so glad they shared so many personal stories about cross-cultural (mis)communication. At times I felt like they were in the room with me sharing funny stories over coffee. Secondly, I finished the book in a week and half simply because it is compelling and easy to read. The authors have a gift of taking difficult issues and discussing them in a way that is easy to understand without dumbing down the material. It was very enjoyable.

Lastly, I recommend this book to be used in Bible studies, church small groups, introduction to biblical interpretation classes, and book clubs. The material alone would foster great discussion, but as an additional discussion aid the authors provide questions at the end of each chapter. I also recommend that pastors, church ministers, and Bible teachers read this book to help them with their preaching, teaching and interpreting of Scripture. I think one of the values of this book is to make us more humble interpreters, which would be an invaluable posture for all Bible teachers and leaders. Lastly I recommend this book for every American (and other Westerners) Christian who wants to become a better student of Scripture. For interpretation happens when the author (such as Luke or Moses) and the reader (you) meet in the text of the Bible. Therefore, as interpreters we need to be aware of what we bring with us to the text, and I think this book is a helpful tool to get us there.

Thank you all who entered in this giveaway. I enjoyed this book so much I wish I had more copies to give away! I also loved reading your comments, and I hope that you will put this book on your reading list. 

So now to the winner. Congratulations Erin, #7, you are the winner!

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Erin, please e-mail me at kristenrpadilla@gmail.com with you mailing address and I will put your book in the mail for you! Congratulations, and thanks again for entering. 

To win:

Thanks to Dr. Richards, I’m doing a fun GIVEAWAY! Simply comment below to enter… and here’s what you need to know:

What do I win? One person will win one free copy of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.

What are the rules? You need to live in the United States in order to enter this giveaway.

How long does the giveaway go for? The giveaway begins today, Oct. 7, and ends at 12 a.m. on Oct. 21.

How do I enter? The only mandatory option to officially enter this giveaway is to leave a comment (see below). Once you have done this, you can enter as often as you like, using as many of the options below as you’d like. Be sure to leave a comment EACH time you do one of the following:

MANDATORY ENTRY: Leave a comment telling me why you want to win this book! You will find the link to leave a comment up at the top of the post by the blog title. [For 1 entry.]

OPTION 1: Share this facebook status about the giveaway: ”@Kristen Padilla is giving away one free copy of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. Enter to win at http://www.kristenrpadilla.com” Please comment below with a link to the shared status. [For 1 extra entry each time.]

OPTION 2: Share this Twitter status or something similar about the giveaway: “Enter 2 #win #free copy of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes from @kristenpadilla http://www.kristenrpadilla.com” Please comment below with a link to your status. [For 1 extra entry each time.]

OPTION 3: Follow @kristenpadilla on Twitter! Remember to comment below that you did! [For 1 extra entry.]

OPTION 4: Want another entry? Pin your favorite blog post to your Pinterest page… and leave a comment here with a link to your pin! [For 1 extra entry each time.]

OPTION 5: Follow my blog and let me know you did! [For 1 extra entry.]