Tuesday, April 23, 2013

LHP Review: IVP Recent Releases


Scott, Robert. Questions Muslims Ask: What Christians Actually Do (and Don't) Believe. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. 162 Pages. Paper. $15.00. http://books.ivpress.com (LHP)


Oden, Thomas C. and Joel C. Elowsky with Cindy Crosby. On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. 160 Pages. Paper. $15.00.  http://books.ivpress.com (LHP)


Oden, Thomas C. Early Libyan Christianity: Uncovering a North African Tradition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011. 336 Pages. Paper. $22.00 http://books.ivpress.com (LHP)

With Libya, Islam, and bad news in our daily headlines, these three titles from InterVarsity are timely, relevant, and informative.


Christians and Muslims don't understand each other very well. Muslims have often heard that Christians worship three gods, or that the Injil, the Christian Scripture, has been corrupted. How can Christians explain their faith in a way that Muslims can understand?

In his work with Muslims in central London, Robert Scott has discovered that many are quite open to talking about matters of faith. In this thoughtful and respectful book, he explores common questions and objections his Muslim friends have discussed with him over the years. Ordinary Christians can read this book to better appreciate where Muslims are coming from. Ordinary Muslims can read this book to better grasp what Christians actually believe, and why.

With discussion questions for both Christians and Muslims, this accessible book is a helpful foundation for understanding and conversation. Use it to start start and continue fruitful conversations with your Muslim friends. (publisher's website)

There are not too many Muslims in Wyoming. Yes, there are some, but conversations are few and far between.

My main concern with this resource is that it may be too idealistic as well as too impractical and idealistic. The "conversation" idea may be misunderstood as if we Christians have something spiritually to learn from Muslims and that is not the case according to Scripture.

The strength of the book is its apologetic usefulness to correct misunderstandings many Muslims assume about Christians, Christianity, and the west. Consider Questions Muslims Ask as one more tool as you speak the truth about Christ in love to Muslims.

Oden and Elowsky provide yet another introduction to the Church Fathers through this devotional.


This unique devotional by Thomas C. Oden and Joel Elowsky and edited by Cindy Crosby offers fourty days of devotional comments from the church fathers about the Gospel of John. Based on the daily Gospel reading cycle from the Book of Common Prayer and written in a brief daily format, this is a perfect resource for Lenten use! (publisher's website)

Consider this as an opportunity to spend next Lent with the Church Fathers. Next, consider spending a whole year with them, and then a lifetime.

The next title seemed like the most obscure topic in the world when I first heard about it. Now, I cannot think of the Passion of Christ and the book of Acts without it.

Buried for more than a millennium beneath sand and the erosions of time are the remnants of a vital, formative Christian presence in Libya. From about A.D. 68 till the Muslim conquest of A.D. 643, Libya housed a vibrant, creative Christian community that contributed to the shape of the faith even as we know it today. By the mid-190s A.D., Leptis Magna could claim favorite sons as the Roman pontiff, Victor the African, and as the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus.


A rich and energetic community produced a wide variety of key players from early martyrs to great thinkers to archheretics. Tertullian, the great theologian, and Sabellius, the heretic, are relatively well known. Less well known are the martyrs Wasilla and Theodore and the great poet-philosopher-bishop Synesius of Cyrene.


Uncovering this North African tradition and offering it to a wide reading audience is the task that Tom Oden sets for himself in this fascinating tour de force. The book, originating as lectures delivered at the Islamic Da'wa University in Tripoli in 2008 and later expanded as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures in 2009 at Dallas Theological Seminary, has been expanded and refined to provide additional insights and references, surveying the texts, architecture and landmarks of this important period of Christian history. It also serves as a valuable companion to Oden's earlier offerings in How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind and The African Memory of Mark. (publisher's website)

How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind helped me see how missionaries from Africa helped plant Christianity in the West, beginning with Europe. Early Libyan Christianity helped me understand how influential and vibrant Libya was in early Christianity.

Consider: Simon of Cyrene (53, 67-68, 76, 79-82, 85, 100-104, 271). Where is Cyrene? Libya. This connection to one who was compelled to help Christ carry the cross, whose descendants where known to the early Christians recorded in Acts has already been worthy of mention in my congregational Bible Class and my Lenten Preaching.

Insights about that one Bible person alone make this book worth the price. 

The Christian history of Libya and north Africa has been intentionally buried. I pray we can preserve this forgotten history for our own sake and as the heritage of those in bondage to the false teaching of Mohammed.

Based on the author's expertise in this area, I would very much like to hear Dr. Oden's opinion of Jenkins' The Lost History of Christianity (http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2010/12/noted-review-little-known-christian.html).

We hope to review The African Memory of Mark in the future since we have already reviewed How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind (reproduced for your convenience from 3.1, below). 

LHP Review

Oden, Thomas C. How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. 208 pages. Cloth. $19.00. www.ivpress.com (LHP)

Years ago, I began a surprising correspondence with a young pastor in the African nation of Cameroon. He faces many challenges pastoring a congregation because of the unique challenges posed by the rapid expansion of Christianity on that continent. And many Christians in Africa are unaware of their ancient Christian heritage.

"Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture. Decisive intellectual achievements of Christianity were explored and understood first in Africa before they were recognized in Europe, and a millennium before they found their way to North America" (9) This clear thesis encouraged me to read the whole book in one sitting. I simply did not want to put it down.

633 million Christians in Africa by 2025 (10). What does this mean? Thomas Oden's book is has arrived at just the right time. The author honestly struggles with the term that is Africa (16ff, 80ff) and demonstrates how oral tradition have endured. This leads to other questions.

"….why is Christianity so often perceived in Africa as a Western colonial import? How can Christians in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa [later described as "Two Africas," Chapter 4], indeed how can Christians throughout the world, rediscover and learn from this ancient heritage?" (publisher's website)

It may be because of that oral tradition and the lack of a "written intellectual tradition" so important to western scholars and Africans today (28ff). Harnack (57) and other liberal continental "theologians" are also to blame. "….the exegesis and theology and liturgy that were first refined in Africa finally returned to Africa in the prayerbooks and penitential practices of both Catholics and Protestants, but in forms that seemed unrecognizable as African. Indeed, by the time [Christianity] returned, it seemed alien to Africa…" (75).

Answering the questions Oden raises may also help the church respond to Islam and also to be more familiar and comfortable with "catholicity," both in the term and in its reality. "The aim of catholicity in Christian teaching is to reflect the wholeness of apostolic truth to the whole world. The criterion is the accurate attestation of truth, not the egalitarian goal of making all voices equal" (92). He criticizes modern liberal ecumenism, seeing "earlier evangelical ecumenism [was] closer to ancient ecumenism" (115).

Africa's gifts to the Christian tradition are enumerated (42-43). Oden backs up his assertions somewhat briefly. I wish there were more. Perhaps this will be part of the larger project he envisions.

"Theologian Thomas C. Oden offers a portrait that challenges prevailing notions of the intellectual development of Christianity from its early roots to its modern expressions. The pattern, he suggests, is not from north to south from Europe to Africa, but the other way around. He then makes an impassioned plea to uncover the hard data and study in depth the vital role that early African Christians played in developing the modern university, maturing Christian exegesis of Scripture, shaping early Christian dogma, modeling conciliar patterns of ecumenical decision-making, stimulating early monasticism, developing Neoplatonism, and refining rhetorical and dialectical skills.

"He calls for a wide-ranging research project to fill out the picture he sketches. It will require, he says, a generation of disciplined investigation, combining intensive language study with a risk-taking commitment to uncover the truth in potentially unreceptive environments. Oden envisions a dedicated consortium of scholars linked by computer technology and a common commitment that will seek to shape not only the scholar's understanding but the ordinary African Christian's self-perception" (publisher's website).

I see this book as a natural companion to the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. That set will soon be supplemented by "the five-volume Ancient Christian Doctrine series…the Ancient Christian Text series…and the series of volumes titled Ancient Christian Devotional, all published by InterVarsity Press" (148). These are ambitious projects. Equally ambitious is Thomas Oden's desire to make texts available "in a low-cost, reader-friendly format, many of them for small group use by both lay and clerical readers in the villages and cities of Africa" (145). Perhaps those books, and this neat book will find their way to African pastors like my friend in Cameroon and the readers of this issue of QBR.

The volume concludes with a "Literary Chronology of Christianity in Africa in the First Millennium," (157ff) and a Bibliography.

"Thomas C. Oden (Ph.D., Yale University) recently retired as Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology at The Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He is general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture and author of numerous theological works, including a three-volume systematic theology" (publisher's website).

This resource, as well as the author's future plans would complement the ongoing work in Africa by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

The Rev. Paul J Cain
is Pastor of  Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Morrill, Nebraska,
and serves as Wyoming District (LCMS) Worship Chairman and Editor of QBR

Pray for both apologetic and evangelistic work among Muslims. Equip yourself spiritually, practically, and historically with these resources from IVP.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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