Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review - Galatians For You

Galatians For You by Tim Keller, is the first installment in the God's Word For You series from The Good Book Company. Per the Series Preface, the series aims to provide expository studies of Biblical books for a broad audience in a manner that is "Bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applied, and easily readable." Each volume is written with three different purposes/audiences in mind: "Read," as a guide to the contents of the book; "Feed," as a daily devotional, and "Lead," as a resource for preaching and teaching through the book. The books aren't intended to be commentaries, and the reader is not expected to have understanding of the Biblical languages or even a high level of Scriptural knowledge. Keller approaches the material verse-by-verse, providing historical context, links with other Biblical texts, insights from other theologians and scholars, and personal application (including reflection questions). There's also a Glossary of key terms, an Appendix on recent scholarship on Galatians, and a Bibliography for further study. Throughout his study of the epistle, Keller continually connects the text back to the overarching theme of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the freedom it brings to those trust in him.

To be honest, I pity the authors who have to write subsequent volumes in the series, because Keller has set the bar pretty high. I was initially skeptical about the Read-Feed-Lead format, but the book weaves together the different purposes and audiences quite well. In less skillful hands, a book with such a wide intended audience could easily degenerate into an appeal to the lowest common denominator, but not so here. Even in writing for enquirers and new believers, it is apparent that Keller wants to encourage readers to stretch and grow in their knowledge of the text, and ultimately of the Lord who gave it. And his questions for reflection are hardly fluff, but are actually quite thoughtful and even convicting. An example picked at random: from the chapter on Galatians 2:1-10, "Both personally and as part of your church, do you tend to over-adapt or under-adapt the gospel for the culture around you?" My only caveat is that I'm not sure that Keller's book by itself is enough to handle to Lead aspect (i.e., leading a Bible Study on Galatians, or preaching through it), but there is a companion study guide that is tailored for small group study.

The book's greatest strength lies in the way that Keller clearly articulates and emphasizes the theme of the Gospel of grace throughout his treatment of the epistle. From the very start, Keller stresses the need for Christians to truly understand the grace of Christ and to never underestimate their need for it. In fact, in his second chapter he writes:  
You might think: We covered this in Chapter One of this book! And we did - but this letter, in its structure as well as its content, shows us that the gospel of grace underpins every step of the Christian life. Paul will keep coming back to it; so should we, in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts, our preaching and teaching.
Grace is not only the means of gaining the salvation achieved by Christ's death and resurrection, it is also the means of living the Christian life. In discussing everything from the error of the Judaizers, to the work of the Spirit, to the role of the Law, to the profundity of the believer being adopted as a child of God, Keller ties it all back to the complete sufficiency of Christ's work and the utter folly of trying to improve upon. As Keller memorably puts it, "you can't add to Christ without subtracting Christ. He is either all [our] value or He is without value." Furthermore, Keller does a great job of translating the situation of Galatians, which revolves around discussions of potentially unfamiliar subjects such as circumcision and food laws, into terms more accessible to a modern audience, such as the threats posed by social/racial divisions in the church or the dangers of unflinching adherence to non-essential cultural and theological distinctives. On the latter, Keller does not hesitate to sound a word of caution for his own Reformed tribe, observing that championing justification by faith alone does not always protect against relying on good doctrine as a source of salvation. In Keller's treatment, Galatians is hardly relegated to the record of religious debate from millennia past; rather, it is supremely practical and relevant to readers in our own day (and all others).          

The few quibbles I had about the book did little to detract from its overall value. As mentioned above, despite its usefulness, I'm not sure it succeeds as a one-stop shop for preaching/teaching. Individuals seeking to lead a Bible Study or preach through Galatians would be advised to use Keller's book in conjunction with other resources. One other aspect of the book that nagged at me was the way that Keller glosses over Paul's references to people being cursed/condemned. To be fair, Keller makes it clear that Paul sees the right understanding of the Gospel as a matter of eternal life and death. But when discussing "the curse" or "condemnation", Keller devotes much more time to the subjective, present experience of his audience, such as the anxiety and insecurity of the person who constantly fails to live up to whatever standard of works-righteousness they have adopted. True as that is, I don't think Keller's emphasis on the subjective aspects of deviating from the Gospel do justice to Paul's concerns. In general, I'm not a fan of "turn or burn" type preaching and teaching, but given the sharp tone and language of Paul's letter to the Galatians, I wish Keller would have focused more on the big picture of what is truly at stake when the Gospel is corrupted. Nevertheless, this omission did not significantly interfere with my enjoyment of the book.  

In summary, Galatians For You is highly recommended for anyone seeking to better understand Paul's epistle, whether as a new believer or as a lifelong student of the Scriptures. Although the book is not overly-long, Keller has packed enough insight and application between its covers to keep the thoughtful reader engaged for quite some time.

(Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for writing a review, though without any stipulations on its content.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

 Behold! The LEGO City police station. Our kids have been talking about this particular set for MONTHS. They have been poring over tiny pictures on the backs of other, smaller sets they received for Christmas. Running to catch glimpses of it every time we are in Target near the toy aisles. Wishing. Hoping. And now, thanks to Nana and Papa, their dreams have come true!

 And we got to spend last Sunday evening putting it together.
This kid. He poses now. Love him.

 The box was big. It came with lots of stuff. Like plates. And four sets of instructions. Four sets! I've never had anything like this in all of my childhood. My Barbie dream house with the elevator didn't have that many instructions. Or maybe it did, but I didn't have to put it together!

Nine bags. Secretly, Gaines and I were enjoying this way too much. We split up the work. The older boys each helped build the cars and Gaines and I helped work on the construction of the actual buildings.

 Jacob putting the finishing touches on a police van.

 Ethan proudly showing off a new police cruiser.

Ethan and Daddy constructing the garage with doors that slide up and down.

The police officer can ride on the ladder on top of the truck. Why?!

A glorified parking garage...but this is going somewhere, I promise!

First floor of the command center. (Hey! I built something!)

Level two.

Calvin really wanted to help, but for him that means just grabbing everything in reach. Thankfully, bedtime was fast approaching so we said good night to the littlest Redd.

Jacob discussing all the cool features and how the police are going to use them to catch the bad guys.


And the third floor is done!

Ethan showing off his police officer. A red-headed Redd!

 The best thing about these city police sets is that they are made to be played with -- openings in the sides and back let you move the figures around and use the furniture and gadgets inside.

See this? They included a little Lego height chart for taking mug shots!

Here's how it all fits together --notice the large screen TV and a swivel chair on the first floor. Also, a doggie door on the back for the K-9 unit.

Gaines showing off the cool sliding jail doors.

 And ta-da! We have a completed police station!

 Adding on the helicopter Ethan received makes it a fully functioning metro crime-fighting machine!

 A close-up to show you how the bad guys escape from their cells using the toilets that secretly flip out of the wall and jump to a strategically-placed handrail. Quite useful, those.

Team Redd accomplishes their most daunting Lego mission to date. To protect and serve!

Monday, March 18, 2013

2012 Books Read -- Allison

You're telling me it's the middle of March already? I am supposed to have celebrated five and a half major holidays, four family birthdays, and I'm just now posting my 2012 book list?! I suppose I have some catching up to do.

This is, perhaps, my shortest book list of the last decade. I partially blame my tendency last year to get caught up in various forms of Angry Birds (Space! Star Wars!) as well as my evening addiction to television.  2012 also was a hard year on many fronts, but I found hope in fairy tales and fiction. And Scripture, of course. I read Philippians with my CBS group, with our church women's circle, and listened to a sermon series from our new pastor on this most joyful of Paul's letters. Last fall I also read Ephesians, my absolute favorite epistle.

As for the books on the following list, I would heartily recommend every single one. So at least when I did read, it was quality!

  • Traveling Mercies
  • Loving the Little Years
  • Fetching Jonas Blake
  • Charlotte's Web (read with kids) 
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (read with kids)
  • The Total Money Makeover
  • Stuart Little (read with kids)
  • Death Comes to Pemberley
  • Shepherding a Child's Heart
  • The Charlatan's Boy
  • Me, Myself, and Bob: A True Story of God, Dreams, and Talking Vegetables
  • Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs
  • A Ring of Endless Light
  • The Tale of Despereaux
  • The Yearling  
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Let's Study Philippians