Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Jesus,Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar

October 5, 2015

No it’s not a joke. It’s a book. Actually it is also a joke, but this post is about the book. Catholics and Protestants have historically tended not to consider each other part of the “true” church.Progress has been made but there is still too much suspicion on both sides. The popularity of Pope Francis with both Catholics and Protestants is what authors Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus use to explore what Protestants and Catholics might have in common in their book  Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar.

Rock and Tammeus write in the Introduction, “If the call of the twentieth century to Americans was to get racial harmony right (obviously still a work in progress), the call of this century is to get religious harmony right.” (Kindle location 64). This book is a small but accessible step toward ecumenical, intra faith dialogue.

Although the book focuses on Catholic and Protestant discussion, the authors give a good introduction to interfaith dialogue and offer some good resources that readers can use to learn more.

In the introduction they give a useful description of interfaith and ecumenical dialogue, ” It is important to understand that the purpose of authentic ecumenical and interfaith dialogue is not to convert others who are participating in the discussion. Rather, the purpose is simply to know and to be known. This requires humility as well as a willingness to ask nonhostile questions and to listen intently.” (Kindle location 80)

The book is based on a 2014 sermon series from Second Presbyterian Church in Kansas City Missouri. For each chapter there is a scripture passage and then the sermon. The sermons explore the link between the scripture passage and an aspect of the Pope’s actions or statements. Each chapter ends with some questions for further discussion and reflection. This makes the book helpful for book groups and other study groups. Each chapter can stand alone and so one could pick out one or more of the seven chapters if a group wasn’t able to discuss the entire book. Because it is based on sermons, the book is very accessible. One doesn’t need to be a theologian, a scholar or an expert in ecumenical dialogue. All you need to bring to the book is a willingness to read and consider.

For readers who may not have spent much time thinking about Protestant- Catholic dialogue, let alone interfaith dialogue this book is a good introduction and example of finding common ground while maintaining theological particularities. For readers who have experience in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue this book is still helpful as it asks open ended questions that persons of all backgrounds and experiences can reflect upon.

If you are looking for a book to spark thought and discussion about Catholic and Protestant ideas, I recommend this book.



  • You should know that when I lived in Kansas City, I was a member of Second Pres and Bill Tammeus and I attended the same adult education class. Also I received my copy of this book free from Net Galley in exchange for a review. However if I hadn’t liked the book, I would have just posted my comments on Net Galley and not on my blog. (Unless the book had been really awful and the public needed to be warned away)

Three Books: Three Reviews

April 11, 2015

Over the past few weeks, I have read three quite different books that I wish to bring to your attention.

The first is A Compact Guide to the Whole BibleThis book is intended to be a semester long introduction to the Bible for Christian colleges and churches. What makes this book unique is its focus on the Bible as scripture and as story. The authors do not spend  much time with historical context and literary criticism as these topics have been well covered in other books. They do spend time explaining what scripture is and is not. Then they lay out the big picture: the meta narrative. Only then do the authors begin their discussion of the various sections of the Bible. This book helps the reader make sense out of the entire text. It shows how the different “parts” fit together and why the Bible is shaped in the way that it is. This book is not dumbed down and it is not overly technical. It is written for average, intelligent lay people who want to understand the Bible well. A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible is well worth your time.

The second book is The Gospel of Jesus, by Ben Witherington III. In all honesty, I almost didn’t read this book after I discovered it was an attempt at telling a “unified” story about Jesus using the four gospels. I was afraid it would be stilted and dull and either too dramatic or too holy. However I did read it and I am glad that I did. Witherington uses the Common English Bible as his main translation and admits to rearranging some events (just as the original gospel authors did). He also adds historical, cultural and geographic details into the story which add greatly to the book. He does an excellent job of making the people in the New Testament come to life. Overall Ben Witherington succeeds in his attempt to tell Jesus story in a fresh, interesting, and faithful way.

The third book is Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents. I really wanted to like this book. I wanted to like it so much that I  read it twice to give it a second chance. McKnight’s thesis in this book is that the church is not supposed to be a gathering of the similar(theologically, culturally, ethnically, etc) but rather a fellowship of differents.

On the plus side there is quite a bit of information about Paul and the historical and cultural context of the first century CE. McKnight’s work here is very good and very interesting and worth reading. He grounds his argument for diversity in the church today in the diversity in the early church and Paul’s insistence on that diversity.

What is lacking, in my opinion, are good real life examples of churches which are truly fellowships of differents. The book lacks stories about churches that learned to live and thrive as diverse communities. There aren’t stories about churches that experienced conflict and managed that in a faithful and healthy way. There aren’t stories of churches who have struggled with issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and theological differences. The majority of examples in the book are about individuals and are not examples of managing and overcoming situations of conflict or exclusion.  There is also the obligatory, for evangelicals, chapter on “the gay issue”. Again, McKnight’s discussion of the sexual habits and norms of first century Rome is very good. But his language and discussion suggest he considers same sex orientation as sin and he stops well short of advocating for full inclusion in the church. Read this book for the very fine discussion of Paul and first century Rome and skim the rest.

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