Here I Stand | Book Review


The Protestant Reformation marks its five-hundredth anniversary this coming October 31st. On that date in 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The theses called into question the selling of indulgences, which the pope granted to reduce time in Purgatory for either the buyer or the buyer’s intended beneficiaries.

“As soon as the coin in the coffer rings,” preached Johannes Tetzel of these indulgences, “the soul from purgatory springs.” Sales of indulgences were quite lucrative, helping Albert of Brandenburg buy the archbishopric of Mainz and Leo X build St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The text of the Ninety-five Theses was largely biblical and theological, but the subtext was a German critique of Italian grandiosity.

Luther intended his theses to instigate a “disputation…on the power and efficacy of indulgences,” as the incipit to the printed placard put it. He didn’t intend to divide the Church or rend the unity of medieval Europe. Like many of his contemporaries, he wanted to reform Catholicism and restore the simplicity of the gospel. Dissemination of his theses set in motion a process which did that, though in ways he could not foresee that All Hallows’ Eve.  After Luther, Christianity and Christendom would never be the same. We moderns live in his world-historical shadow.

Here I Stand by Roland H. Bainton narrates the events of Luther’s life, focusing on the years between the posting of the Ninety-five Theses in 1517 and the publication of The Augsburg Confession in 1530. Though Luther was born in 1487 and died in 1546, 1517–1530 is the crucial period. Luther’s theology matured: he defined the doctrine of justification by faith, translated the New Testament, revised the liturgy, and wrote catechisms for adults and children alike. It was also during this period that Luther broke decisively with Rome; the Evangelicals divided into Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist camps; and Christian princes intervened in political disputes, protecting the nascent Lutheran movement. In these years, religious radicals took over Müntzer, German peasants revolted and Luther’s theology of both church and state advocated a middle way between extremes.

Bainton’s prose is clear and his narrative forward-moving. Here I Stand is a work of genuine scholarship—with a chronology, bibliography, and index—but it is written for a broad audience. If you’re interested in Luther’s life, or the history of the Reformation, I encourage you to read this biography first.

Here I Stand was first published in 1950, but I read the 2009 reprint in the Hendrickson Classic Biography series. It is available as a reprint from other publishers too.

 

Book Reviewed:
Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: The Life of Martin Luther (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2009; orig. 1950).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Advertisements

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Christina Quick profiles Leila Ojala, who shares the challenges and opportunities of planting a church in Summit County, Colorado. Quick writes: “It’s an especially harsh environment for church planting. The population is overwhelmingly millennial, unchurched, and transient, with more than 10,000 young adults coming to the ski resorts to work each winter and thousands more arriving to play, party and smoke pot for a season. Even the year-round residents seldom stay more than two years. And only 4 percent identify as evangelical Christians.” Ojala isn’t deterred by the challenges. “How we measure success is based on what God is telling us instead of what other people are saying,” she says. “Success is seeing individuals become disciples of Christ, and disciple makers, as the kingdom of God grows in and through their lives.”
  • In an excerpt from their new book, Known, Dick and Ruth Foth write: “So the question is, How can we get to that place [of feeling fully at home] with loved ones, co-workers, or neighbors? Doesn’t it make sense that, if God designs us for relationship, real friendship is fed by a growing experience of God’s love? When we know down deep that we are loved, accepted, and affirmed by the God who created us and knows all about us, we are free to give ourselves to others.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Monday’s Influence online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with the nation’s foremost historian of Azusa Street about the history and significance of this revival. Prof. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. — “Mel to his friends” —is senior professor of church history and ecumenics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A credentialed Assemblies of God minister for 47 years, he is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House.
  • George O. Wood — aka, Dad — shares the story of how an Assemblies of God church planter changed the trajectory of his father’s and hence his family’s life. Then, he concludes: “We may plant churches differently today than standing on a street corner, but plant churches we must! Thousands of communities in the U.S. do not have the witness of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered church. Therefore, we must be more aggressive than ever in our church-planting efforts.”
  • Chris Railey talks about the AG is growing the kingdom of God through church planting.”The task ahead is overwhelming, but the One who hung the stars is faithful and will show us the way. God wants to continue growing His family by multiplying His church. We must pray, believe, and work like never before as we embark on the next 100 years. More souls saved! More lives changed! More people coming to Jesus! The vision is big, but we’re thankful Jesus can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine!”
  • Christina Quick relates the story of J. J. Vasquez, an AG church planter in Winter Park, Florida. “Though the young Hispanic ministers initially wondered whether they would connect with the predominantly white, affluent, middle-aged residents of Winter Park, the couple trusted God with their ministry as well. ‘Our skin color didn’t match, and our age demographic didn’t match,’ Vasquez says. ‘We don’t blend in, but we’ve learned that loving people is the universal language and culture.’”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

The Azusa Street Revival | Influence Podcast


In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I interview Prof. Mel Robeck about the Azusa Street Revival. Mel is a friend and fellow Assemblies of God minister, but in his day job, he’s senior professor of church history and ecumenics at my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, as well as the editor of the new Azusa Street Series of books from Gospel Publishing House (see my reviews here and here). If you’re ever in the Los Angeles area, make sure to take Mel’s self-guided tour of early Pentecostal sites.

The Pentecostal Blessing | Book Review


In How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, Frank Bartleman offered this interpretation of the history of the Azusa Street Revival: “God found His Moses, in the person of Brother Smale, to lead us to the Jordan crossing. But He chose Brother Seymour, for our Joshua, to lead us over.”

Bartleman’s biblical allusion accurately captures the historical sequence of events at Azusa Street. “Brother Seymour” is, of course, William J. Seymour, the well-known and much-loved pastor of the Azusa Street Mission. “Brother Smale” — Joseph Smale — is less well known, however, even though his preaching laid the groundwork for revival in Los Angeles.

That preaching is on display in The Pentecostal Blessing, first published in 1905 and now brought back into print by Gospel Publishing House. The book contains the substance of several sermons Smale preached at the First New Testament Church of Los Angeles in the fall of 1905.

Smale describes the purpose of his book this way:

In the following pages a treatment of this subject of subjects [i.e., the ministry of the Holy Spirit] is attempted in the hope of imparting a vision, where it does not exist, of the Holy Ghost as the one and all-sufficient and divinely ordained Person, and inspiration, to meet the manifold needs of Christian souls individually, and in their corporate character of churches; and that a faith may be born in such that this blessed Person of the Trinity is only waiting to be rightfully honored by us before he will fill with glory and power these lives of ours and those of the whole church of God throughout the earth [emphasis in original].

Chapter 1 identifies four misconceptions of the gospel “which seriously affect a true embodiment and illustration of Christian life, experience and service.” Chapter 2 contrasts “The Church of Today” and “The Church of the Scriptures,” concluding that modern Christians “pretend to be what they are not, God’s representatives, and men know it.” Chapter 3 explains the contrast between today’s church and the biblical church. “Having failed to honor Him [i.e., the Holy Spirit], we have failed in all things vital to Christianity, and therefore vital to a true representation of the church of Jesus Christ.”

Chapter 4, “The Pentecostal Blessing,” argues that “Pentecost involves a second work of grace” [emphasis in original]. “There is something more than the act of union with Christ,” Smale writes. “There is a growing knowledge within the soul of all that is involved in that union.” Pentecost is this soul-knowledge or spiritual experience in ever-increasing measure. “Oh, believer, be ever going in for more and more, and more and MORE” [emphasis in original].

Chapter 5, “The Magnificence of Pentecost,” is the longest chapter in the book. It outlines Smale’s understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 6, “The Secrets of Pentecostal Fullness,” answers the question, “How are we to know the Holy Ghost in this, His Pentecostal character and fulness [sic]?” This knowledge is experiential and practical rather than abstract and theoretical.

Reading The Pentecostal Blessing, you can understand why Bartleman depicted Smale as the Azusa Street Revival’s “Moses.” On point after point, Smale enunciated a practical theology of the Holy Spirit that shaped the Pentecostal movement as it emerged from Azusa Street.

And yet, Smale never experienced what Charles Parham and William J. Seymour called “the Bible evidence” of baptism in the Spirit. He never spoke in tongues. Many of his congregants participated fully at Azusa Street, and he himself spoke well of Azusa Street and William J. Seymour to the end of his days. But in Bartleman’s arresting image, Smale was Moses, not Joshua. He came to the edge, but he did not cross over.

So why read The Pentecostal Blessing today? For historical purposes, of course. Revivals don’t happen in a vacuum, after all. They have precedents. Read it for spiritual purposes, too. The Pentecostal Blessing can still bless Pentecostal readers today as it challenges them to go deeper with the Holy Spirit. And finally, read it as a reminder that while God has worked mightily through the global Pentecostal revival that sprang from Azusa Street, He is at work in broader Christianity too. Pentecostals can teach the broader Christian community, but we can also learn from them.

Two final comments about this book: First, it has an excellent 21-page introduction to the life and thought of Joseph Smale by Tim Welch, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Smale. Second, the book itself is a serendipity. Though historians knew of its existence, no one had a copy. Then, in 2008, a friend of the Assemblies of God archivist, Darrin Rodgers, found a copy in a garage sale in Oklahoma, bought it for 25 cents, and donated it to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. It is the only known copy of this little gem of a book.

 

Book Reviewed:
Joseph Smale, The Pentecostal Blessing: Sermons that Prepared Los Angeles for the Azusa Street Revival (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2017; orig. 1905).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

Truth Doesn’t Have a Side | Book Review


On Saturday, September 28, 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu began the autopsy of a 50-old white male. Case A02-5214 was straightforward. The man had died of a heart attack. His name was Mike Webster.

Perhaps I should say the Mike Webster: Pittsburgh Steeler, center to Terry Bradshaw, four-time Super Bowl champ. Though “Iron Mike” was adored as a football icon in Pittsburgh, he had fallen from grace after his career ended. Memory loss, depression and erratic behavior, coupled with addiction, left him — in Omalu’s words — “a bankrupt, divorced, homeless man living in his truck” at the time of his death.

A heart attack killed Mike Webster, but Omalu suspected that the radical changes in behavior were the result of brain damage. Outwardly, Webster’s brain looked normal. But when Omalu fixed it in formalin and examined the tissue under a microscope, he discovered massive damage at the cellular level. In a 2005 paper about Webster’s brain, Omalu gave the damage a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — “a bad brain associated with trauma over a long period of time.”

Just how much trauma had Mike Webster’s brain experienced? Over the course of his football career — high school, college, NFL — it has been estimated that he experienced the equivalent of 25,000 car accidents. Those collisions, often helmet to helmet, left an indelible mark on his brain.

“I believe God did not make human beings to play football, especially children.” ~Dr. Bennet Omalu

One would think that the discovery of CTE would have been welcomed by the National Football League (NFL). After all, if you know a problem exists, you can begin to prescribe a solution. And indeed, the NFL had begun investigating the problem of concussions among its players around the time.

Two years prior to the publication of Omalu’s first CTE paper, for example, the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Committee published a series of paper stating that concussions were rare in professional football and that better helmets could protect against them. Omalu’s first CTE paper implied that the brain trauma associated with high-contact sports was severe. (As Omalu autopsied the brains of other deceased NFL players, however, his repeated findings of CTE suggested that the severe brain damage was routine.) The NFL sent a letter to the journal that published Omalu’s 2005 paper, demanding that it be retracted. Privately, they trashed his reputation.

As late as 2016, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys stated, “We don’t have that knowledge and background and scientifically [sic], so there’s no way in the world to say you have a relationship relative to anything here. There’s no research. There’s no data.” Denial, it seems, is not just a river in Egypt.

For those not in denial, Omalu’s research, combined with the research of others, has established the reality of CTE. The damage is so bad that Omalu states, “I believe God did not make human beings to play football, especially children.” This is a radical stance, especially in America, a country that loves its “Friday night lights.” Omalu believes it is the only reasonable stance in light of the evidence he has uncovered, however.

So, why tell Omalu’s story in an article for a Christian leadership magazine? Because Omalu is a devout Christian, and his crusade against brain injury is an example of using one’s influence for the common good. Pastors and other congregational leaders need to remember that their discipleship efforts should prepare congregants for life in the secular world. Basically, Christian faith should make doctors better doctors. (And teachers better teachers, plumbers better plumbers, etc.)

Second, Omalu’s story is an example of prophetic influence. We often associate biblical prophecy with future events. It is that, of course. It is also an exposure of injustice and a call for repentance, however. Those injustices violate the shalom in which God created people to live. Omalu’s medical research forces us to ask a question: Should we be entertained by high contact sports that do such damage to those who play them professionally?

In the late fourth century, St. Telemachus wandered into a stadium and witnessed the violence of a gladiatorial contest. Running onto the stadium floor, he yelled, “In the name of Christ, stop!” Bennet Omalu is a modern-day Telemachus.

Should we be entertained by high contact sports that do such damage to those who play them professionally?

And that brings me to a third point: prophetic influence is costly. St. Telemachus, for example, was killed by enraged fans of the gladiatorial contest. Omalu’s detractors have questioned his credentials, cast aspersions on his findings, and trashed his reputation. Everyone wants to call out society’s injustices. Few are willing to pay the price.

Fourth, Omalu’s story shows the power of what he calls “conformational intelligence.” He defines the phrase this way: “a phenomenon whereby the way you think and perceive the world, including your sense of right and wrong and good and evil, are controlled, constrained, and constricted by the expectations, cultures, traditions, norms, and mores of the society around you without you even knowing it or being aware of it.” The biblical term for conformational intelligence is stronghold.

The reason why prophetic influence in society is costly is precisely because one is calling its strongholds into question. Professional football is a fan favorite and a big money maker. Calling that sport into question because of the damage it does to players’ brains exposes our national pastime as a national stronghold. No wonder the NFL went after Omalu.

And no wonder Omalu — an immigrant — was able to see through its conformational intelligence. As an outsider to American culture, he didn’t share our blind spots about football. If we’re going to exercise prophetic influence in our society, we need to develop an outsider perspective. Christians need to be in the world but not of the world, as Jesus said (John 17:16,18).

Truth Doesn’t Have a Side tells Dr. Bennet Omalu’s fascinating story. It’s not essential reading for Christian leaders; but for those with eyes to see, it’s an enlightening tale of influence used Christianly in the real world.

 

Book Reviewed:
Dr. Bennet Omalu with Mark Tabb, Truth Doesn’t Have a Side: My Alarming Discovery about the Danger of Contact Sports (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles | Book Review


Early Wednesday morning, April 18, 1906, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northern coast of California. It remains to this day the greatest natural disaster in that state’s history and one of the greatest in U.S. history. Approximately 3,000 lives were lost, and 80 percent of the structures in San Francisco were destroyed.

Nine days earlier and 400 miles south in Los Angeles, a spiritual earthquake took place whose tremors are still being felt. On April 9, William J. Seymour laid hands on Edward Lee and prayed for him. Lee began to speak in tongues. Soon after, others in their prayer group did the same. In time, the group moved from 214 N. Bonnie Brae St. to 312 Azusa Street. And thus was born the Azusa Street Revival.

The modern Pentecostal Revival has multiple origins, but its epicenter is Azusa Street. For three years (1906–1909), Azusa served as the center of a network of revival-minded radical evangelicals who longed to evangelize the world with the purity and power of New Testament Christianity. The Assemblies of God, founded eight years after Azusa began, can trace its own roots to what happened there.

Frank Bartleman was one of the first chroniclers of the revival. His book, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles, has now been reprinted by the AG’s Gospel Publishing House as part of its new Azusa Street Series edited by Cecil M. Robeck Jr. and Darrin Rodgers. The text of the book is identical to Bartleman’s 1925 edition. What makes the GPH edition valuable is its 25-page introduction by Robeck and an index of names. Robeck is the nation’s premier historian of Azusa Street. (See his The Azusa Street Mission and Revival [Thomas Nelson, 2006] for a more in-depth treatment.)

Bartleman’s memoir is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the character and history of early Pentecostalism. Bartleman doesn’t focus exclusively on Azusa Street, however. Rather, building on his own experiences as a faith evangelist, Bartleman portrays the precursors to and spread of the Pentecostal Revival throughout metropolitan Los Angeles. What emerges is a picture of a revival in which Azusa Street plays an important role — but by no means the only one.

Reading Bartleman’s account, two things stood out to me in particular. On the positive side, Frank Bartleman was a man of great faith, deep prayer and singular vision. He longed to see Christ’s church unified in love, and he opposed the prayerlessness, selfishness and over-attention to manmade doctrine and organization that stood in the way of unity.

My dad likes to say that your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. If that’s the case, then the flip side of Bartleman’s ideal was his never-ending criticism of churches that fell short of it. This included the Azusa Street Mission itself.

“The truth must be told,” Bartleman wrote. “‘Azusa’ began to fail the Lord also, early in her history.”

Why? Because, according to Bartleman, the mission erected a sign reading, “Apostolic Faith Mission.” He felt that this sign was a concession to “party spirit.” He also disliked worship services that weren’t totally spontaneous, as they had been at the start of the Azusa Street Revival. If Frank Bartleman were part of your church, my guess is that he would be a handful.

Even so, it’s the high ideal that shines best in How the Spirit Came to Los Angeles. Today, we long for revival in our churches. Bartleman’s testimony forces us to ask whether we’re praying enough, selfless enough and trusting God enough to move in our day as He did from 1906 to 1909 in the humbler sections of Los Angeles.

 

Book Reviewed:
Frank Bartleman, How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: The Story Behind the Azusa Street Revival (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2017; orig. 1925).

P.S. This review originally appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Dave E. Cole writes “What the Church Can Learn from Harley-Davidson”: “Evangelism today must be more than an outreach program or big event. It takes place when every Christ follower accepts the personal command of Jesus to develop friendships with the unchurched, by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. There is hope for the 65 percent of churches that are plateaued, as they reexamine the mission and engage in relationships with the unchurched. I want to challenge every Christ follower to make friends with the unchurched and live an outward-focused life.”
  • Alton Garrison shares “God’s Plan for Your Church”: “On the Day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus Christ poured out the Holy Spirit on His disciples, empowering them to be witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth. Acts 2, which reports that initial outpouring, is not merely a historical precedent for Christians today but also a spiritual paradigm — a pattern of renewal and revival in every generation of the Church.”
  • Finally, we note a recent Gallup poll about denominational affiliation: “Americans are gravitating away from denominational church labels.”

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: