Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact by Marvin Jones

This is one of the most difficult books I have had to read in a long time.  It was difficult primarily because of my unfamiliarity with world history and the subsequent difficulty in knowing the position the characters play, and partly because of the way the book is laid out.  The book is not chronological or linear, except in an iterative way.  Not having a detailed table of contents made it difficult to see the development of thought and the flow of the book.

For these reasons, I would suggest reading a hardcopy of the book, rather than with an eBook reader.  I found the eBook version hard to reread previous sections and keep track of where I was in the general framework of the book. Below is my attempt to give a rough outline that might prove helpful to those reading the book.

1.       Basil’s life: An overview
2.       Conversion and theology
a.       Salvation
                                                                           i.      Asceticism
                                                                         ii.      Asceticism, Arianism and the church
                                                                        iii.      Theological development(Homoiousios, Homoousios and Hypostasis phases)
                                                                       iv.      Bishop Basil
                                                                         v.      Marcellus
                                                                       vi.      Marcellus, Athanasius, and Basil
b.      Pastoral Public Ministry
                                                                           i.      Ministry of the Word
                                                                         ii.      Worship
                                                                        iii.      Preaching
                                                                       iv.      Continuing Theological Development
                                                                         v.      Reward in heaven
                                                                       vi.      Basil’s contribution to Evangelicalism (The Scriptures and the Church)
                                                                      vii.      Theological Development
3.       Solace in the desert
a.       Intro
b.      Saint Anthony, the Anchoritic monk
c.       Pachomius, the Coenobitic monk
d.      Monastic trip
e.      Monastic reform
                                                                           i.      The rationale for coenobitic reform
f.        Basil’s contribution to Evangelicalism
                                                                           i.      Holiness in the church
                                                                         ii.      The moral Rules and the Large Asceticon
4.       Development of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
a.       The Nicene Creed
b.      The Arian resurgence
c.       Athanasius’s contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit
d.      Didymus the Blind
e.      Contribution to Evangelicalism
5.       Basil’s Contribution to the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
a.       Arianism in the Late 360s
b.      Basil’s On the Holy Spirit
c.       Prepositions and deity
d.      Council of Constantinople
6.       Basil’s Hexaemeron
a.       Allegory versus literal
b.      The witness of the Hexaemeron
c.       Richard Lim’s theory
d.      The Content of the Hexaemeron
e.      The sovereignty of God
f.        Six literal days for creation
g.       Creation instantaneous and ex nihilio
h.      Young earth and evolution
i.         Contribution of the Hexaemeron
j.        Contribution to Evangelicalism
7.       Basil Speaks Today
a.       Ecclesiastical contributions

b.      Theological contributions

Overall I found the book quite helpful in understanding the importance of knowing the struggles that are behind the very concise, precisely worded creeds left to us by our forefathers in the faith. In addition, I found the excellent discussion of monasticism and asceticism quite helpful and relevant to the issues now facing the church.  One of my favorite quotes from the book (Kindle location 1301-1302)
“Again, Basil seemed to reject the isolationism of the monastic movement simply because his devotion to the Scriptures compelled him to think ecclesiologically.”

I received this book for free from Christian Focus via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Book Review: Active Spirituality: grace and effort in the christian life by Brian G. Hedges

In a progression of fictional letters, author and pastor Brian Hedges explores the tension between grace and effort in the Christian life.  In this way Brian helps a fictional Chris understand the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as he seeks to grow in his walk with God in the midst of temptation and discouragement.  I thought the book started out a bit slow, but by the third chapter, I was hooked.

One of the striking features of the book, is Brian’s use of solid Christian fiction and nonfiction to help illustrate the many scripture references he uses.  For example, in the chapter on backsliding, after carefully laying out the scriptures in which God reminds us to remember his saving acts, Brian uses the memorable story of Jill seeking the lost prince of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair.  In this, and other chapters are frequent uses of Paul Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress, several of C.S. Lewis’s books, excerpts from John Owen, John Newton, J. I. Packer, Leland Ryken, Charles Spurgeon, Octavius Winslow, William Gurnal, Gordon Fee, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Augustine, William Bridges, John Calvin, D. A. Carson, and many others. He also uses Baptist and Presbyterian church standards and hymns.

In no way do these other illustrations get in the way of or take away from the impact of scripture. The illustrations taken from literature serve to add weight and clarity. Brian is quite pastoral and not wooden, shallow or dry. The letters have the feel of good literature, in that they evidence progression in the emotional life of Chris and his relationship to the letter writer Brian. They realistically deal with the ups and downs of the Christian life and thus serve as an encouragement to us who need assurance.

The book has two very useful bookends.  The first chapter is an opening letter to the reader explaining how the resurgence of Reformed theology has increased the awareness of the extent of grace not only in beginning the Christian life, but in living the Christian life.  While he applauds this, his experience has been that this truth can seem to dismiss the necessity of effort in continuing as a Christian.  In laying out the definition of doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, he explains perseverance as requiring both grace and effort in order to find our place in heaven.

The last two chapters contain more detailed information on the sources he quotes.  Many of the works noted in the Bibliography should be on the new Christian’s reading list, and contain both old and new works well worth reading.

Are you struggling with assurance or the relationship between grace and effort in the Christian life? Then this book is one you should read.

I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.