Brief Book Review: The Faces Of Jesus

The Faces Of Jesus: A Life Story

Author: Frederick Buechner

Publisher: Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press

97 pages + Introduction, ISBN: 1-55725-455-9, Hardcover

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

Frederick Buechner is an ordained Presbyterian minister and, over the years, has become somewhat of a popular and prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction works.

This little volume is divided into six chapters in addition to the Introduction: 1 Annunciation, 2 Nativity, 3 Ministry, 4 Last Supper, 5 Crucifixion, and 6 Resurrection.

Buechner—in this reviewer’s humble opinion—has the gift of attention grabbing turns-of-phrase that surprise and inspire the reader. Sometimes these turns-of-phrase have the capacity to confront readers with the foreboding judgment of God and the all-encompassing grace of God that are able to make readers laugh and cry—perhaps at the same time. Such is the brilliance of Buechner. Here are a few examples:

When you think the world is on fire, you don’t take time out to do a thumbnail sketch. Nobody tells us what he looked like, yet of course the New Testament itself is what he looked like…(p. ix).

If he [Jesus] is the Savior of the world as his followers believe, there never has been nor ever will be a world without salvation (p. 4).

It is no wonder that from the very start of his ministry the forces of Jewish morality and of Roman law were both out to get him because to him the only morality that mattered was the one that sprang from the forgiven heart like fruit from the well-watered tree, and the only law he acknowledged as ultimate was the law of love (p. 42).

God makes his saints out of fools and sinners because there is nothing much else to make them out of. God makes his Messiah out of a fierce and fiercely gentle man who spills himself out, his very flesh and blood, as though it is only a loaf of bread and a cup of sweet red wine that he is spilling (p. 59).

If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mad Tea Party (p. 61).

He could be Dostoevsky’s Father Zossima, who said, “Fathers and teachers, I ponder, ‘What is hell?’ I maintain that hell is the suffering of being unable to love” (p. 65).

If ever there should turn out unbelievably to be a God of love willing to search for men [and women] even in the depths of evil and pain, the face of Jesus is the face we would know him by (p. 79).

Thus for Jesus the only distinction among people that ultimately matters seems to be not whether they are churchgoers or non-churchgoers, Catholics or Protestants, Muslims or Jews, but do they or do they not love—love not in the sense of an emotion so much as in the sense of an act of the will, the loving act of willing another’s good even, if need arise, at the expense of their own (p. 91).

This is a powerful little volume, and I hope it will be regarded as a spiritual classic for many years to come. Highly recommended.

 

 

Advertisements

Brief Book Review: Making Sense of the Cross

Making Sense of the Cross

Author: David J. Lose

Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress

187 pages, ISBN: 978-0-8066-9851-9, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

At the time of writing, the Rev. Dr. David J. Lose held the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is now the President of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Making Sense of the Cross is written in very accessible prose—actually it is a conversation between an imaginary professor and student. In Lutheran pedagogical style, it takes the catechetical method of questions and answers.

The contents of the work are as follows: Acknowledgments, Introduction, Chapter 1: A Man Hanging on a Tree, Chapter 2: Portraits and Perspectives, Chapter 3: Ransom and Victory, Chapter 4: Substitution, Satisfaction, and Sacrifice, Chapter 5: Example and Encouragement, Chapter 6: Event and Experience, For Further Reading.

After focusing on the different and unique material of each gospel, especially their Passion Narratives; Professor Lose reviews the three theories of atonement. The theories are: the Classic theory, also called the Ransom theory and the Christus Victor or “Victorious Christ theory, made popular by Swedish theologian Gustaf Aulén; the substitution or Satisfaction or Sacrifice theory by Anselm in the eleventh century, who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and then revised by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, and tweaked further by John Calvin in the sixteenth century; and the Christ as Moral Example or Christ the Exemplar or the Divine Example theory by Peter Abelard, who was born some fifty years after Anselm.

Dr. Lose examines each theory and highlights their strengths and weaknesses. He employs four questions to analyze each theory: i) What is God like? ii) What’s broken about the relationship between God and humanity? iii) How does Jesus’ cross repair what’s broken? iv) What picture of the Christian life is given? (p. 84)

After finding each theory wanting since they are merely theories; Professor Lose turns to event and experience in his final chapter. Herein he draws a lot on Pauline theology; emphasizing the scandal of the cross; as well as the all-encompassing love of God in Christ on the cross. The motifs of dying and rising for Christian daily living in relationship with Jesus is what sets us free to love, serve and forgive one another—hence carrying out the ministry of reconciliation in response to Jesus’ reconciling work on the cross.

Students, laity and adherents of non-Christian faiths who are not familiar with the theories of atonement will benefit from this volume. It shall also serve as a helpful review for more seasoned pastors and scholars, and inspire further conversation and study. To compliment this work, one can order from Augsburg Fortress a Leader Guide and DVD.

 

 

Sermon 12 Pentecost Yr A

Read my sermon for August 27, 2017 here: 12 Pentecost Yr A

Sermon 9 Pentecost Yr A

Read my sermon for August 6, 2017 here: 9 Pentecost Yr A

Brief Book Review: Islam What Non-Muslims Should Know

Islam: What Non-Muslims Should Know

Author: John Kaltner

Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, Augsburg Fortress

136 pages, ISBN: 0-8006-3583-3, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

At the time of writing this little volume, John Kaltner was Associate Professor of Religion at Rhodes College, Memphis, Tennessee. The author provides a cordial, brief overview of Islam.

As the fastest-growing religion in the world, Professor Kaltner appeals to his readers to become more knowledgeable of Islam; to go beyond the often mis-information and stereotypes presented by the Western mass media; to realize that Islam is a diverse and complex faith, just as is Christianity and Judaism.

The volume contains a Preface, six chapters, and concludes with suggested Resources for further reading and study. The chapter titles give readers a sense of the book’s movement: 1. Islam Is a Diverse and Complex Faith, 2. Islam Is a Religion of Orthopraxy, 3. Muslims Respect Judaism and Christianity, 4. There Is No Institutional Hierarchy in Islam, 5. There Is No Clear Separation between Religion and Politics in Islam, 6. Jihad Does Not Mean “Holy War.” At the end of each chapter Professor Kaltner includes Questions for Discussion, which would make this volume an accessible source for study groups or introductory courses.

Readers will learn, among other things: some of the history of Muhammad, the difference between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims, the five pillars of faith, additional popular practices of faith, the different attitudes among Muslims concerning non-Muslims, terms such as ka‘ba and hijra, ijtihad and ijma, hadith and ummah, and that the three largest Muslim populated countries are not Arab nations, they are Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

The sections on Western influence and Islam, Reformism, social activism and the distinctions between greater jihad and lesser jihad are helpful for non-Muslims.

The suggested Resources include brief annotations for further reading and study.

 

 

Sermon 8 Pentecost Yr A

Read my sermon for July 30, 2017 here: 8 Pentecost Yr A

Our 2017 Norway holiday

Recently my wife and I went on a wonderful holiday to Norway. At one time in the past Norway was among the poorest countries of Europe; now it is the richest. There are countless places to visit and things to do in this most beautiful country. One of the things we enjoyed doing was to visit some of the churches. With the exception of the Anglican church and the last two photos below, these are Lutheran churches. The Lutheran Church of Norway is the largest denomination. Here are some photos.

Our first port of call was Eidfjord. We visited two churches there, the old one dating back to the twelfth century, with stone walls five feet thick!

The new Eidfjord church.

The new Eidfjord church chancel had some impressive artwork, depicting biblical themes.

Our next port of call was Ålesund. The church here was locked unfortunately, and it was pouring rain when I took this photo.

Our next stop was the UNESCO world heritage site, Geiranger Fjord. We attended the worship service (all in Norwegian) in this octagonal church on Norway’s constitution day, May 17, 2017.

Members of the 17th of May parade dressed in traditional Norwegian costumes.

Our next port of call was Bergen, where we visited three churches.

The Church of the Cross.

St Mary’s Anglican Church.

Bergen Cathedral exterior.

Bergen Cathedral chancel, with altar, elevated pulpit, and pipe organ.

Bergen Cathedral windows.

Kyrke in the village of Flam.

Then we sailed on to the beautiful city of Stavanger, where we visited Norway’s oldest cathedral, dating back to 1125.

Stavanger Cathedral pulpit.

Stavanger Cathedral stained-glass windows.

Stavanger Cathedral pipe organ.

After that, we stopped at Kristiansand and visited the cathedral there.

Mjondalen Church side view.

Mjondalen Church.

Our final port of call was Oslo. This is the Roman Catholic cathedral, Trinity Church.

Oslo Trinity Church.