Jesus’ Origin, with Pictures

Messiah: Origin is the second graphic novel to come out of Zondervan, and it sets out to tell the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, through a couple of combined methods. Kai Carpenter illustrates a fresh translation by Mark Arey, and the efforts are to be commended. Taking the Gospels and harmonizing them to paint as complete a picture of Jesus’ birth, childhood and his launching point of His ministry, Arey and Carpenter create an interesting work of art that I think serves as a reminder of the past, while asking questions about the present. Arey comes from the Orthodox tradition, and as such, he comes from a faith that uses art to express itself in worship. This is a bit of a foreign concept to many Western Protestants, but I don’t think it should be. This past decade has seen a serious renewed interest in liturgical artistry (see some James K.A. Smith’s or Constantine R. Campbell’s work), and this is a good foray into that same arena. I can see myself going through this work with my sons during Advent, using the pictures to help tell that famous story in an exciting new way. Arey’s translation does take some getting used to, but it fits well with Carpenter’s style. From a worship and theological perspective, this is an exciting book.

However, there is a flipside to that. As someone who has read comics and graphic novels for most of their life, there are a few things that Zondervan needs to sort out quickly if they are going to continue in this vein. First of all, the cost is very high, especially when I consider that it will be purchased by many people who already know the story. I will pay $19.99 for a hardback copy of the Annihilation series from Marvel because I want to know how it ends. If I want to know how Jesus’ life begins, I can pick up an entire Bible with study notes and maps for the same price. $19.99 is simply too much to ask for a book like this. Size is also an issue. I know that may be nitpicking, but again, I am accustomed to something a particular size and weight when I am reading a graphic novel. Zondervan does a beautiful work up, but I would suggest they study Marvel’s efforts a little bit more before releasing the next volume.

Aside from those very minor practical complaints, I think Messiah: Origin is one of the coolest things I’ve read in some time. My suggestion: if you can find it at a price that is reasonable to you, purchase it as quickly as possible. It is a satisfying journey visually and spiritually.


Parenting A Toddler (A Guest Post)

This is a guest post from my wife, Sarah. Enjoy!

Spending all day with children can be trying, frustrating, nerve-wracking and simply exhausting. Any parent, teacher, day care worker or even volunteer knows that children can also be the greatest gift and blessing on this Earth. Erin MacPherson, mother of three, uses personal experiences, professional advice and (my personal favorite) humor to write The Christian Mama’s Guide to Parenting a Toddler. The book is one in a series designed to encourage and steer Christian mothers.

No child is a as simple as textbook answer, and MacPherson does not have all the solutions, but her modestly titled chapters and bullet point list of tips make this a very easy read during those few minutes at naptime, when you think you should be doing the laundry or the dishes or cleaning. You can even read it while you are on your lunch break or waiting for the bus.

MacPherson does an excellent job relating to moms, both stay-at-homes and those who work outside of the home. She opens up to her readers, helping moms avoid feeling alone in the frustrating and trying times of rearing a two year-old. She gives “How-to” and “How-to-not” tips on difficult subjects like potty training and tantrums, and even gives some fatherly advice from experienced dads in one chapter. All of her advice and ideas on everyday toddler happenings are wonderful, but her guidance on incorporating Jesus into our daily activities captivated me, especially in her chapter on discipline.

After reading her book, I feel more in control and empowered to be the mother that Christ wants me to be. I find myself taking an extra moment to act, rather than react, when dealing with my 2 year old. After all, I am the adult and I am the one walking with the Holy Spirit guiding me.

A Year Just Isn’t Enough

Daily devotionals are not my thing. Often, they become a cheap substitute for studying my Bible, so I’d just prefer to stick with my morning coffee and my copy of The Voice. However, when I saw that Thomas Nelson was offering up A Year with G.K. Chesterton for review, I couldn’t resist. And when I realized the editor was Kevin Belmonte (who worked on Amazing Grace, a movie definitely in my top 10), I was hooked.

Initially, I was disappointed by the brevity of each entry. Beginning with a Scripture for each day, Belmonte has included two quotes from Chesterton. The first is usually relevant to verse, while the second often builds upon the general thought while pursuing Chesterton’s typical madness versus sanity motif. And that is of course what makes the devotional so charming: it captures Chesterton’s penchant for turning a phrase in a daily vitamin format. So the brevity which I initially disdained turned out to be perfect for the intended goal.

There is a downside to a single-serving Chesterton. For instance, when reading an excerpt from one of his various biographies, you’re tossed into the middle of something that you may have no prior knowledge of. Don’t know who Sir Walter Scott is? Better figure it out, and quick. Of course, learning is often motivated by such gaps in our knowledge base, but I don’t know if that was Belmonte’s original end game. Regardless, the negative aspects are far outweighed by the general pleasure of enjoying G.K. Chesterton every day.

At the end of the day (or the beginning if you’re like me), this is a book well worth your time. Add it to your already established routine. Chesterton goes well with The Book of Common Prayer or perhaps the Prayer Book of the Early Christians. A little bit of wit goes a long way, after all.

Red Letters and Matching Eyes

The Red Letter Christian movement is something that is starting to gain momentum in the Western Church, so when the opportunity arose to read the manifesto (so to speak) of said movement, I was excited. While I knew going into Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo’s “dialogue” that I would have areas of contention, I enjoy reading perspectives that differ from my own. After all, I’ve been wrong before. Undoubtedly, Claiborne and Campolo did what they do best: in this easy to read conversation; they put on quite a show. Unfortunately, its a show that is riddled with problems in logic, a false sense of openness and historical misinformation.

I realize that sounds harsh, so I want to clarify. I love Shane. I’ve never met him, and I disagree with his writings frequently, but he loves Jesus (often better than I do). When two people have deep disagreements, but can agree on Christ then the disagreements seem much less important. I don’t have to have the same politics as Shane in order for me to see that his heart is fixed on God. He’s a guy who truly gets the red letter expression, “love God with all your…body and spirit.” Not to mention he shares a passion with me: ecumenical dialogue. Shane understands that Christian includes Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans and every one else who holds to the orthodoxy of the Church. I can’t help but love a fellow brother who loves God’s people.

All that being said, I was disappointed in some of the points in Red Letter Revolution. For starters, it doesn’t seem to promote much of a revolution. To revolve is to return to a starting point, and this book deviates from much of the early Christians perspectives on issues that face the Church today. What are we getting back to? I know the book promotes ideas like the “New Testament Church,” but that’s impossible. We cannot recreate Pentecost, nor any other factor that contributed to the Acts 2 description of God’s body. We draw principles from it (like selling our possessions to care for one another), but we don’t try to imitate that moment. We absorb it and move forward. God’s kingdom isn’t stagnant, so I’ve never understood the argument of “returning to the way Church was.”

I also felt throughout that Shane and Tony took many liberties with folks like Saint Francis of Assisi. As a Franciscan friend of mine put it, “people like to remake Saint Francis in the image of their own ideologies; he’s easier to digest that way.” Insinuating that Francis was an “environmentalist,” for instance, is so anachronistic that its kind of silly. The book muses about whether or not Francis would have been part of the Occupy movement (and suggests he would have), despite the fact that Francis wouldn’t even stand up to the people corrupting the monastic order he started. I dig Francis, but I don’t idealize him. He wasn’t perfect. And you feel like he’s this giant when you read Shane write about him, but that is the result of selectively telling stories about him. That kind of stuff bothers me, as a Church History teacher particularly, because we have to recognize that God uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. And we’re all crooked sticks.

Not only do I have historical issues with the work, but philosophic ones too. The book is clearly modeled on the Socratic dialogues, but it is missing the driving force behind such conversational pieces: there’s nothing to dialogue about. Dialogue comes from the Greek word meaning to dispute. But there are certainly no disagreements going on in Red Letter Revolution. Tony and Shane see eye to eye on pretty much everything they discuss. Why would I want to listen in on that conversation? It’s not challenging, nor is it encouraging. I need two sides; I need to hear and understand the other side. Otherwise I’m stuck speculating how John Piper might respond to Tony or Owen Strachan to Shane. It’s just not enough to have a one-sided conversation.

There are other issues I have with the book, but as I think on them I don’t know if they’re worth sharing. At what point do I stop, out of love, critiquing my brothers in Christ? I know that for all we disagree on, there are far more eternal matters on which we agree wholeheartedly. While I didn’t find much in this book to challenge me to live differently, I certainly respect the effort. In truth, this book probably wasn’t written for me. So does my opinion even really matter? Maybe. Either way, I want to encourage everyone, whether you pick this book up or not, to love Shane and Tony. They are men who desire God. And that’s a movement we can all take part in.