Independent Author Spotlight: Jason E. Royle’s The Rapture Misunderstood

Jason E. Royle is pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. In The Rapture Misunderstood, Royle addresses the subject of the Rapture. For readers not familiar with the term and theological debates, the Rapture refers to a moment toward the end of time when Jesus will appear in the heavens, and those who believe in Him who have died will be raised followed by those who are alive and believe in Him. They will rise to meet Jesus in the sky. From there, and even before there, exists lots of disagreement among Christians. Royle’s book deals with themes of eschatology that go far beyond just the Rapture.

Summary

In his introduction, Royle states that he will not definitively answer all the questions. He keeps his promise, and that is a good thing. He divides the book into two parts. The first part is a short story illustrating misunderstandings regarding the rapture. (It seemed that there were a lot of other misunderstandings at work as well.) The second part is a brief summary of different views of the Eschatology. Royle does not argue for any one position over another.

The short story is a puzzling journey that follows Pastor Bell (I assume that he is no relation to Rob) as he leads his small group of disciples to bring about the end of time. Pastor Bell has good intentions but has a salad of theological beliefs and a buffoonish manner of taking himself too seriously. For some reason, a great deal of fictionalized Catholic mysticism shows up in the story, probably a take-off on Dan Brown and the like. In the end, the point of the story is that the timing of the Rapture is entirely in the Father’s hands. We can’t rush it or make it happen.

The second part of the book summarizes the major eschatological views—Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism, including their beliefs regarding Israel, the Rapture, and the timing of Christ’ return.

Analysis

As I wrote earlier, the short story portion though interesting and page turning is strange in some ways. It is hard to know just what pieces of Pastor Bell’s theology the author would agree and which portions he would not, though I suspect with most, that he would not. The Roman Catholic figures that appear are equally confusing. A monk tries to point Pastor Bell and his followers toward grace, but in the end, leads him toward the Vatican and ritual. While his conclusion is well-said, the getting there was hard to understand, because the story seemed to posit that Pastor Bell’s efforts almost worked.

The summary of the different eschatological positions was excellent. I believe that Royle stated each in a way that proponents of the views would find acceptable. For someone looking for a concise and understandable explanation of each, this book is very useful.

(Full discosure: I received a free copy from the author in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

False Dichotomy: Evangelism or Discipleship

biblestudydiscipleshipWhen I became serious about being in church and made my first baby steps in the Christian walk, I learned about evangelism. If I cared about people and loved Jesus, my teachers told me that I must also tell others about Jesus and how He made the way for them to go to heaven. Honestly, I can’t argue with that. It was basic then. It is basic now.

However, I didn’t hear a lot about discipleship until I went to seminary. As I have talked with others through the years, I’ve seen that my experience is not unique. It seems that many churches, church leaders, and others hold evangelism and discipleship in an unnecessary tension. Some almost seem to think if you do one, you have to diminish the other. In fact, I have heard that expressed verbally. However, Jesus never had such a conflict in mind.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gave one command: Make disciples. The other verb forms in those verses–going, baptizing, teaching to obey whatever Jesus commanded–are all participles. Because they explain an imperative form, they also carry an imperative or command form meaning. As we use the phrase today, most people relate making disciples to what happens after people become followers of Jesus. We baptize them* and teach them. We usually associate baptizing and teaching with discipleship. Evangelism is going to unbelievers and sharing the gospel with them.

However, based upon the structure of the Great Commission, I believe that we should think of making disciples as one process with parts–parts that today we often refer to as evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship should not compete with one another for a church’s attention but should both be part of any church’s ministry. The reasons are very practical.

  1. We won’t have believers to disciple without evangelism since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. People have to listen to the gospel before they can profess faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
  2. Discipleship does not slow down the witness. Rather, it multiplies it. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul encouraged Timothy to pass on what Timothy learned from him to faithful men who would teach others. Let’s apply that teaching to sharing the gospel. The town where I attend church has a little less than 9,000 people. For the sake of argument, let’s assume I am the only believer in the city. By the end of this year, I share Christ with two people who I teach to witness to others. Next, each of us teaches two others, and this pattern is consistent for several years. Assuming that this trend continues, between year 7 and 8, everyone in the town would hear and respond to the gospel. Evangelism alone adds believers. Evangelism with discipleship multiplies believers.
  3. Evangelism and discipleship together use the entire spiritual gifting of a church. One-on-one discipleship (or mentoring) is important and helps especially with accountability. I highly recommend it. But no one person has all the spiritual gifts necessary to help a believer reach maturity in Christ. While all should share the gospel, some are more gifted at it than others. My experience has been that most people with evangelistic gifts are not as gifted with the gifts needed to teach these new believers to obey Jesus’ commands. It takes the entire body of Christ working together to help one another grow into the likeness of Christ. So, no church should ever ask, should we emphasize evangelism or discipleship. Both are equally important parts of the process of making disciples.

*I am a Baptist, and I believe biblical baptism is a baptism of believers only by immersion in water. The Great Commission implies this understanding.

Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

A review of 41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate

41willcome41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate is an encouraging book on the importance of waiting for God’s breakthrough in life’s tough situations. Tate is the founding pastor of RockChurch in Illinois.

Tate bases his book on the premise that in the Bible, 40 days (or whatever period) of a trial is followed by the 41st day, a time of God’s intervention, blessing, and work. Tate is correct in seeing this pattern in Scripture. It is why I always take note when I see the number 40 in the Bible. Tate focuses on the story of Goliath defying the army of Israel for 40 days until, on the 41st day, David in faith faces him.

The Good

Tate is a “warm and friendly” writer, encouraging. It is obvious that he has concern for people. The writing style reminds of that of Craig Groeschel and Matt Batterson. The book is illustrated not just with Biblical stories, but also with the lives of people today. The reader passing through difficult days will likely find some encouragement in this book. (I did.) The book is very practical.

But…

Sometimes it is practical to point of passing over deeper theological truth. For example in the chapter on the Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (another 40 in the Bible), Tate emphasizes Jesus use of the Word in terms of claiming God’s promises and launching toward God’s purpose. All of that is fine and well, but a deeper theological truth is at work in that passage. Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. He faced what the first Adam faced and did not sin as Adam did. Because He was sinless, He was worthy to be our Savior. He still is.

However…

Tate’s purpose was not to write a systematic theology but to encourage those waiting for God to help them or to fulfill their dreams. Such people are looking for encouragement based upon God’s Word that will them get to their 41. This book fits that need, and I recommend it.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale’s Blog Network program in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Understanding the Temple: A Review of The Temple and the Tabernacle

IMG_0771The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation is an excellent resource for pastors and Bible teachers. J. Daniel Hayes, a dean of the School of Christian Studies at Ouachita Baptist University, is the author. I will not make my usual list of strengths and weaknesses simply because there were no weaknesses evident. Instead, I will share what I liked about the book and why I think it is important to read.
What I Liked
Despite having dealt with such a magisterial topic, Hayes is surprisingly brief. If you have read my other reviews, you know that I am not a fan of long books. Brevity is a sign of excellent organization and clarity of language. Hayes’ writing is a model for those who, like me, are trying to master the craft. The book is easily assessable to most readers who are familiar with the Bible beyond a cursory understanding.IMG_0772
The structure of the book follows a chronological narrative of the temple as representing God’s presence with His people. While some may object to seeing the Scripture as a story because they think it is a capitulation to post-modernism, the fact of it is clearly evident. Many themes and images serve to unite the narrative of the Bible—the temple being one. Like all of those, the consummation of the imagery is found in Jesus who is God’s presence with His people and will be for eternity. The book includes photographs and diagrams that are helpful for picturing the physical elements of the tabernacle. The final chapter with implications of the truth discussed in the book is worth the price but read the rest of it so you can see how the author got there.
Who Can Use This Book
Though accessible and readable, the book is not for everyone. Some familiarity with the Bible, particularly the connections between the Old and New Testament would be helpful. This book is an excellent reference for Bible teachers, Sunday-School teachers, and pastors.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

 

 

Independent Author Spotlight: Christopher Villanueva

The Gates of the Frontier Universe: A Society Called to Arms is an intense space opera by Christopher Villanueva. Original and imaginative, it is an action packed book and part of a longer series.

Strengths

A key of Sci-Fi is world creation, and Villanueva does an excellent job. The world (or better described “universe”) that he creates exists in parallel to our own and once interacted with our own while maintaining interest in it. The Galactic Court is like a confederation of peoples and planets that must rise to face the threat of an unknown enemy who turns out to be an old one. Despite the fact that action begins with a back-story, Villanueva develops the back-story with minimal intrusion into the present storyline, yet with clarity.

Villanueva is excellent at describing action sequences, and the novel does not suffer from a lack of them. The book is like an action movie. While most characters remain on the surface of development, some, such as Reed, one of the main characters, have some depth in development. The author manages tension and suspense well.

Weaknesses

My most common complaint about independent authors is length—usually too long. While I grant that Sci-Fi/Fantasy needs more pages to allow for world development, this book goes beyond that. There are too many characters, too many worlds, and too many action sequences. Also, sadly from my perspective, the evil characters are more entertaining than the morally sound ones.

Analysis

If you want an action-filled space opera and are an avid reader who reads a great deal, this book (and series) are probably for you. If not, then perhaps a classic Asimov, Bradley, or Clark novel would be better.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.

Independent Author Spotlight: Katelyne Parker’s Hosanna

I don’t expect first novels from independent authors to be great. I will settle for good. Hosanna by Katelyne Parker exceeds my expectations. It is the best book that I have read recently.

HosannaSet in a small Georgia town in the mid-twentieth century, Hosanna is a child born to an unwed, white mother and an African-American father. Scandalous as that would have been in that era, the mother, Miss Gracie, is in love with the father, Addison. Miss Margret, the grandmother, is racist. The result is a secret that everyone but Hosanna wants to keep buried.

The themes of the story are multiple. The racial issue is central to the story as the walls of segregation are beginning to fall, albeit very slowly. Hosanna grows up victimized by her white grandmother’s racism, her white mother’s silent suffering, and her bitterness at the injustices that she suffers. The depiction of racism both personal and systematic is brutally realistic and thought provoking. Beyond these darker elements, there is a message of hope about what happens when one trust in God. Without giving spoilers, the message is one of love and reconciliation.

Analysis

The writing is first person with the language reflecting the local vernacular. For some that may be a minus, but to my Southern ears, it was poetry. The plot moved forward consistently with a sense of gripping suspense. The characterization was multi-dimensional Few characters were one-dimensional. Hosanna could be an infuriating character, but as a reader, I never lost my sympathy for her and desired to see her reach her goals in the end.

Some readers will find the depiction of racism deeply disturbing. (Shouldn’t it be?) The “N” word is used with all of its malice. The author depicts violence but not gratuitously.

Theology

In the novel, the local church and its pastor struggle to be either the purveyors of racial injustice or the source of its solution. Hosanna struggles throughout the story to trust God and to let go of her bitterness. The author depicts God as being interested in the oppressed and injustice. There is no complete explanation of the gospel, but faith is an important concept throughout the book, especially in the life of the character named Mother Hill. The importance of family and kindness is seen through Hosanna’s love interest, John Irvin.

Conclusion

Read this book. No matter your view of racial issues today, you will find it challenging.

Note to my readers in the great and most awesome state of Georgia: Katelyne Parker will be at the Decatur Book Festival on September 3, 2016, at 3:00pm for a brief talk and book signing.

(Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)