Category Archives: Book Reviews

Rethinking the Atonement (with Powerful Decolonial and Missiological Ramifications!)

Despite the Cross being central to the Way of Jesus, it is also one of the most misunderstood parts of Christianity. We all know that Jesus of Nazareth died upon the Cross, was buried, and then was resurrected three days later. But why? What was the purpose of the Cross? How does Jesus’ death fit within the story of Israel and how does that death and resurrection affect us today? These are the questions Stephen Burnhope seeks to answer in his book Atonement and the New Perspective: The God of Israel, Covenant, and the Cross.

Starting with the doctrine of the atonement, Stephen shows how the various atonement theories normally tossed around (e.g. ransom, Christus Victor, penal substitutionary, etc.) within the Evangelicalism carry within them a thread of supersessionist in which the story of Israel is effectively removed from the Cross. In response to this trend, Stephen proposes a view of the atonement in which “Israel’s story is both the context in which God’s covenantal work in Christ is situated and the means by which it can best be understood” (pg xxx).

It is this framework that makes Stephen’s book worth buying as he helps us remember the story of Israel and the importance of the Torah – which, contrary to popular option, isn’t about ‘works’ or ‘earning one’s salvation.’ Rather the Torah helped guide Israel in their response to God’s saving race. As Stephen puts it, “Just as the covenant ‘in Torah’ brings about and maintains an atoned relationship, so too does the covenant ‘in Christ’” (pg 235). The Cross isn’t about a legal transaction in which we gain a relationship with God but rather the way in which we are to live within that relationship. Our relationship with the Creator has always been there, it was just fractured and damaged due to the death, sin, and pain present within the world.

To return to Stephen’s book, “Atonement ‘in Christ’ defined in this manner does not start at the cross, any more than ‘in Torah’ it starts with a sin offering. In each case, it begins with a decision in the heart of God to enter into a covenant with humanity…The covenant provides the framework and terms according to which an at-one relationship is firstly established and secondly maintained” (pg 235). Though this may strike many within Evangelicalism as being out there, this framework and conclusion is actually more Scriptural than most atonement theories – especially penal substitutionary atonement which relies on 16th century European culture more than Scriptures.

In addition to grounding the atonement in the story of Israel, Stephen’s view of the atonement opens a fairly powerful decolonial and missiological door. “By reconceiving the relationship of the gospel to Torah in this non-competitive way, accepting each way of relating to God – ‘in Torah’ and ‘in Christ’ – as valid, but different” (pg 226) allows us to think missiological about the ways in which God worked in and through other cultures and people. Consider the story of Jonah, for a moment.  You have a Israelite prophet who goes to a foreign country and preaches a message of repentance to a bunch of people who don’t know a thing about the Mosaic covenant. There are no priests, temple, altars, Levities, etc. Nothing. And yet, the Creator honors their heart and breathes his mercy and grace upon them without having them abandoned their culture (i.e. they repented in accordance with their customs and culture).  “Human life,” as Stephen notes, “has always been lived under the blessing of a covenant promise of God that offered relationship with him through a covenantal nomism” (pg 243).  

For those getting nervous, I must point out that accepting the legitimacy of the Torah (or the repentance of Nineveh within their culture) doesn’t lessen the work of Jesus. Isn’t about the “efficacy or permanence of one [Torah] versus the other [Jesus]” (pg 226). Rather it is about knowing the Creator directly through Jesus or indirectly through the Torah (pg 219). Though Stephen doesn’t go there, I would say that just like God showed himself indirectly through the Torah to the Israelites, we can look for echoes of the Creator within the culture, stories, and customs of people groups around the globe. In finding these echoes, we can use them to introduce people to Jesus of Nazareth, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15, NET).  Powerful ramifications to say the least!!!

Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion

The ‘good news’ of Jesus is one that embraces all cultures and ethnicities. Sadly, however, Christianity as a religion has been used to harm people of color to the point that some are now looking at dismissing the Faith as simply a ‘white man’s religion.’ It is against this false narrative of Christianity being a European invention that my friend Ramon Mayo wrote his book Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion.

Written in a conversation tone, Ramon does a phenomenal job at tracing the roots of Christianity from its Middle Eastern beginnings to growing up within North Africa. As Ramon so eloquently writes:

“The Christian faith was blossoming and flourishing in African and Asian soil way before Islam overpowered Egypt and the rest of North Africa. The major doctrines of the faith were hammered out in Alexandria and Antioch before the tribes of Europe wholeheartedly embraced them. To believe Christianity is the white man’s religion is to ignore the truth of its origins.”

And in learning the truth, we shall be set free as Jesus of Nazareth once said (Jn 8:32). How so? Well, in dismantling the colonial whitewashing of Christianity we do two things:

  1. We allow those of us who are of a white-European heritage to embrace the multi-cultural multi-ethnicity nature of the Faith, which, in turn, will take us deeper into the love of the Creator which is poured out for all of creation (human and non-human).
  2. We open the door for those of us who are Indigenous and people of color (IPOC) so that we can embrace Jesus of Nazareth while remaining true to who we are within our own ethnicity and culture.

If I may return to Ramon once again as he summarizes things beautifully:

“There are enormous benefits to following Jesus, and it’s credible regardless of the baggage you get with it. But if you can drop the baggage then it makes it more bearable. Then you don’t have to defend something that doesn’t need defending or make apologies for it. The unnecessary baggage is what gets ridiculed and insulted by well-meaning atheists and armchair philosophers. Only a bigot full of hatred wants to be a part of a belief system put in place to help one group oppress another group.

“There’s a certain cognitive dissonance when it comes to Christianity if you are a person of color. Christianity came along on the boat as a tool and goal for colonization. Who would want to be a part of something used for that agenda? And this is where you get the talk about how the Black man’s original religion was taken from him. This is where you get the talk about how Christianity was used to justify slavery and keep slaves in line.

“This is not the Christianity I’ve outlined and explored in this book. And this is why this book had to be written. For the first thousand years, Christianity was a global religion. It stretched from China all the way to the western coasts of Spain. It was not just the property of Europe. It navigated its way to Nubia and modern-day Afghanistan. It was as much at home on the coasts of India as the coasts of Greece.”

Wow! What a powerful statement full of life and truth! I highly recommend and endorse Ramon Mayo’s book Reclaiming Diversity. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy. =)

Top Cherokee History Books

A quick review of nine (9) great history books about the Cherokee Nation.

Below are the books included in the review in order of appearance:

Two bonus books referenced in my video:

Bradley Jersak has done it again!

Bradley Jersak’s A More Christlike Way: A More Beautiful Faith is another great book looking at how to follow Jesus through the chaos of our current time. Check out the below video for more details about this great book.

“The Inner Life of a Counselor” by Robert J. Wicks

Over the past few decades Dr. Robert Wicks noticed an uptick in the promotion of mindfulness and positive psychology among counselors.[1] While helpful, these concepts seemed to ignore the “wisdom literature of world spiritualities”[2] that addressed the same concerns long before the rise of modern psychological movements. Accordingly, Wicks decided to write the book The Inner Life of a Counselor to “provide encouragement to professional helpers”[3] to let go of the nonessentials while embracing a greater focus on mindfulness and engaging in practices that enhance a healthy perspective of life no matter what is happening around them.[4]

Though I found myself enjoying and agreeing with the all practices promoted by Wicks, it was the concept of humility that found fertile ground in my soul. Wicks defines humility as “the ability to fully appreciate our innate gifts and our current ‘growing edges’ in ways that enable us to learn, act, and flow with our lives as never before.”[5] As someone with a high ‘learner’ and ‘input’ theme on the CliftonStrengths assessment,[6] I have a desire to seek information which can lead to a paralysis of action due to my appetite for knowledge. Paradoxically, these same strengths can cause me to assume I know something when I really don’t. By adopting a “sense of equanimity”[7] through humility, the hope is that I can learn to appreciate the growing edge of my desire to learn while also embracing the reality that I don’t have to know everything.

The words of Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki as retold by Wick were of special importance to me. In the retelling, Shunryu Suzuki told his disciples that they were “all perfect as [they] are” though they “could all use a little improvement.”[8] This struck me as echoing Jesus of Nazareth who loved people where they were while also calling them forward into a new way of life (e.g. John 8:1-11, Luke 19:1-10).  To do this, though, we must be willing to unlearn what we know. As Wicks states in his book, “wisdom comes about when we take knowledge and add humility, but humility is not possible without a willingness to unlearn so something new can be entertained – even about concepts, themes, and philosophies of living that we have known well in the past.”[9] It is giving up a ‘perfect’ life in exchange for another that is also ‘perfect’ that may, in the future, be exchanged for yet another as the Spirit of the Breath of Life transforms us into the image of Jesus “with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV).

In his novel The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens notes that a horse hitched to a cab is quite often not pulling the cab but running from it. In reflecting on this passage, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom commented that often “we are the horse that runs away from the cab in fear of its life.”[10] If we don’t regularly stop and humbly review our inner thoughts and beliefs, they can capture “our hearts and drive us on”[11] to places that we ought not go. Hence Wicks’ suggestion to create space in our lives to sit in silence and solitude so that the “irrational but as-yet-undisputed thoughts about ourselves and the world”[12] will surface. Once they have surfaced, we can then face and process through them as we grow in humility and self-awareness.

Commonly when in a ministry situation, whether in a formal counseling session or not, I find myself feeling very inadequate for the task at hand. No matter what education I have or how much information I have accumulated, I find myself at a loss in what I am supposed to do. In thinking about the concept of humility, I feel that it might give me the freedom to be with the person in need without having to have all the answers. It is an acceptance and recognition of my “growing edges, defenses, overinvolvement in [my] own ego, and characterological styles.”[13] At the same time, humbly accepting myself as I am means that I can continue on my journey of personal improvement and information gathering so that I might have a response, that, while maybe not ‘correct’ per se, would be of benefit to the person of concern. It is a both/and concept of being comfortable with the tension of knowing and not-knowing.


[1] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012), x.

[2] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, x.

[3] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, x.

[4] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, x-xi.

[5] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 8.

[6] CliftonStrenghts, “Understand how your talents work with others”, Accessed on March 23, 2019. https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/home/en-us/cliftonstrengths-themes-domains.

[7] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 14.

[8] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 15.

[9] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 101.

[10] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 50.

[11] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 51.

[12] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 12.

[13] Robert J. Wicks, The Inner Life of the Counselor, 106.

“The Roots of Christian Mysticism” by Olivier Clement

Christianity has changed a lot since its early days with “distortions and caricatures…constantly being hawked about.”[1] Clement’s book is an effort to remind people of the mystic roots of Christianity.[2] To that end, the book includes large portions of text written by the early Church Father with Clement’s own words being used to connect the passages along with some brief commentary on the material.[3] Topics addressed within the book include, but are not limited to the mystery of God, the church, the Eucharist, passions transfigured, prayer, contemplation, and love. The primary theme throughout the book is that our lives, hopes, dreams, and prayers should be centered around Jesus of Nazareth. It is a “spirituality of resurrection”[4] that starts today and goes beyond death.


[1] Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press of the Focolare, 2017), 9.

[2] Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 9.

[3] Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 11.

[4] Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 307.

“On the Incarnation” by Saint Athanasius

Saint Athanasius’ primary focus is to explain why the Creator God had to take on bodily flesh for the salvation of humanity.[1] To that end, he first addresses the dilemma of life/death and knowledge/ignorance before looking at the death of Jesus and his resurrection. The final two sections of the book deals with the Jewish and Gentile objections to the incarnation and resurrection. Athanasius ends the book with a request for the reader to not only study the scriptures, but to live a “life modeled on the saints”[2] so that they can fully understand the words of the scripture. This ending effectively drives home the point that the incarnation cannot be fully understood by those who are not actively following Jesus and allowing the Spirit to cleanse their soul.


[1] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. John Behr (Yonkers, New Jersey: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 49-50.

[2] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 110..

“Pastoral Care” by St. Gregory the Great

In 590 C.E. St. Gregory the Great was elected as the bishop of Rome after the death of Pope Pelagius II.[1] Though he initially tried to avoid the position, he eventually agreed to serve the church and the people of Rome in that role. A year later, Gregory released his book Pastoral Care as “an apology for [his] wish to escape the burdensome office of a bishop.”[2] Within its pages, Gregory outlines the difficulties and challenges one must face in the office of a pastor along with some character guidelines for new recruits. As it happens, the book would become the “standard handbook of pastoral care” [3] for the next thousand years with priests and pastors around the world diving deep into its pages.

            The text itself is divided into four parts with each part building upon its predecessor.[4] The first part is focused on difficulties of pastoral ministry and the character traits required of the office. The second part “sets forth the inner and outer life of the good pastor.”[5] The next selection is the longest part of the book were Gregory outlines how to deal with “nearly forty different classes of people.”[6] The final part is a brief chapter reminding pastors to take care of themselves and refrain from pride as they are but humans serving others through the grace of God.

I first read St. Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care about a decade ago when I timidly stepped into the role of an associate pastor at a small rural church. Though I enjoyed parts of the book, I found Gregory’s advice to be heavy handed rather than servant focused. This time around, however, I had an entirely different impression of the book, finding it beneficial and worth study. Part of this shift in thinking comes from reading Thomas Oden’s Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition in which he outlines the grace and love within Gregory’s tome.[7] The second part of my shift comes from personally experiencing the difficulties and challenges of pastoring. Having had to walk through some tough pastoral situations over the years, I have come to appreciate Gregory’s advice and encouragement. There is a reason this book has become a staple of pastoral care for the past fourteen hundred years.


[1] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, trans. Henry Davis, S.J. (New York City: Newman Press, 1978), 3.

[2] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 4.

[3] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1984),https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

[4] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 20.

[5] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 4.

[6] Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care, 8.

[7] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition,https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

“Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition” by Thomas C. Oden

After years of teaching pastors and Christian leaders about the merits of modern psychotherapy, Thomas Oden became “painfully aware of the so-called outcome studies reporting the dubious effectiveness of average psychotherapy.”[1] This awareness lead Oden on a circuitous journey that ultimately concluded with him turning towards the psychological insights held within the pastoral tradition “expressed by the ecumenical consensus of Christianity’s first millennium of experience in caring for souls.”[2] The book under question is the result of this journey with Oden actively promoting the pastoral soul care teachings of the early church.

            The first chapter of the book is devoted to unpacking Oden’s personal research showing the shift in the early 1900’s away from classic tradition of soul care to the teachings of modern psychologists and psychotherapists.[3] The result of this shift is that, in Oden’s option, there is no longer any “distinction between Christian pastoral care and popular psychological faddism.”[4] The problem with this shift is not just a theological issue, but a practical one as the modern psychotherapy cure rate is about the same as what would happen if nothing was done.[5] The answer to this crisis isn’t to forgo modern research, but to develop an approach to pastoral care that blends both the modern and ancient insights into the human soul.[6]

            After this stage-setting chapter, Oden shifts gears to exploring the life and message of the most influential writer on pastoral care in the history of Christianity.[7] The person in question is none other than St. Gregory the Great (540-? C.E.), whose Pastoral Care became the “standard handbook of pastoral care” [8] for over a millennium. To that end, chapter two of Oden’s book is devoted to St. Gregory’s background, pastoral work, theology, and other influences. Chapters three and four dive deeper into the content of St. Gregory’s book with Oden highlighting the overlap between modern clinical psychotherapy and the soul care promoted by St. Gregory.

            On a personal level I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Oden’s book and his promotion of the classical tradition of pastoral soul care. While I firmly believe that psychotherapy can be helpful, I also firmly believe that the role of a pastor is vastly different from that of a professional psychologist. In this I have been influenced by Eugene Peterson who reminded pastors that their job was to call people to worship God and not to be counselors.[9] Accordingly, I found Oden’s comments about recovering the classic role of a pastor very lifegiving and freeing. In this, Oden has fulfilled his goal of helping ministers like myself find freedom from modernity while grasping the “emerging vision of a postmodern classical Christianity.” [10]


[1] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1984), https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/introduction-30/.

[2] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/introduction-30/.

[3] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[4] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[5] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[6] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[7] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

[8] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

[9] Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York City: HarperOne, 2011), 136-142.

[10] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/introduction-30/.

“Mysteries of the Middle Ages” by Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill’s book Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe is the fifth volume of his acclaimed Hinges of History series. The goal of this series is to “retell the story of the Western world as the story of the great gift-givers, those who entrusted to our keeping one or another of the singular treasures that make up the patrimony of the West.”[1] Accordingly this book sought not so much to document historical events as to introduce the reader to the complex world of the Middle Ages and tell the story of how the “combined sources of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman cultures”[2] shaped our modern culture.

            Rather than starting at the beginning of the Middle Ages, Cahill begins with a Prelude focused on late antique Alexandria, Egypt, before moving into an Introduction that bridged the gap between the antique and medieval periods. While this beginning seems odd and very circular, it helps the reader understand “by contrast: how different are the seeds from the soil that nourished them, how splendid will be the flowers compared with the seeds.”[3]

            Chapter one begins sixty-five pages into the volume with a focus on exploring the medieval fascination with female virginity. Using the life of St. Hildegard (1098-1179 C.E.) as an example, Cahill unpacks the “unassailable assumption…[that] the sacrificial virginity of exceptional religious figures…made them more Christ-like than the rest of us.”[4] Interestingly enough, Cahill follows this chapter with a chapter devoted to love and romantic desire as seen through the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204 C.E.). Though it may sound strange, the fact remains that “the pious worship of the Virgin and the adulterous worship of the lady of the manor”[5] both flourished at the same time along with a general rise in status for all women.

            Following a short intermission about the rise of Islam, Cahill dives into the world of education as seen through two rival universities. Chapter three was focused on the rise of reason and scholastic theology at the University of Paris and its effect on the wider world. Chapter four looked at the “new scientific sensibility”[6] growing at the University of Oxford. Peter Abelard (1079-1142 C.E.) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 C.E.) were the two gift-givers of scholastic theology at Paris while Roger Bacon (1214-1292 C.E.) lead the scientific charge at Oxford.

            In keeping with his tendency to utilize pairs, Cahill’s next two chapters explores the artistic side of the Middle Ages through art and poetry. Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337 C.E.) and his “nearly scientific quest to reproduce more exactingly in art the very things his eyes could see”[7] is the focus of chapter five. The poet of Florence, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321 C.E.), is the gift-giver of chapter six with his desire to “get things straight, the things that really matter.”[8] Though Giotto and Dante used different mediums, they both sought to capture the real world.

            Cahill summarizes the material in the book in chapter seven along with a short selection about the emptiness within the political structure of the medieval period. There was “no Roman emperor, good or bad, to bend to” nor was there a pope “to whom we need pay the slightest heed.”[9] Following this chapter there is a brief Dantesque critique on the state of the modern Roman Catholic Church in which Cahill calls the church to “return to the practices of its apostolic foundations.”[10]

            On a personal level, I found this book very informative and interesting as it helped flesh out the impersonal events (e.g. battles, wars, political power struggles) I previously studied. As an heir to the dual tradition of Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman cultures, it is always interesting to learn about the values and philosophies that have shaped my worldview and influenced my actions. 


[1] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe (New York City: Nan A. Talese, 2006), iv.

[2] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, v.

[3] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 3.

[4] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 100.

[5] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 121.

[6] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 221.

[7] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 264.

[8] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 291.

[9] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 310.

[10] Thomas Cahill, Mysteries of the Middle Ages, 316.