Book Review: Buddhism

Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal

by Keith Yandell and Harold Netland

I recently received a copy of  Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal.  One of the reasons that I wanted to read it was because I know so little about Buddhism. To be perfectly I don’t know many, in any, Buddhists.  So I am not able to learn about Buddhism from friends.  So I did the next best thing, I found a book on it.  I was not disappointed with this book either.  Yandell and Netland do a superb job of overviewing Buddhism.  I have read several other shorter works on the topic of Buddhism, and this blows them all out of the water!

Yanhdell and Netland help the reader better understand Buddhism by overviewing the history of Buddhism, explaining the development of Buddhism  (including the different branches of Buddhism), detailing the doctrines of Buddhism, and finally comparing the differences between Christianity and Buddhism.

The final section, which compares Christianity and Buddhism, was the most helpful to me for two reasons.  First, I know Christian doctrine so when the authors compared Buddhism to Christianity it gave me some categories that I could use to better understand Buddhism.  Second, the authors provide some very helpful information with respect to evangelism. As the authors put it,

The Buddha or the Christ?  The dharma or the gospel? These are not simply variations on a common theme, or different ways of expressing the same spiritual insight. The choice here is between two radically different perspectives on reality, on the nature of the human predicament, and the way to overcome it.

For anyone looking to learn more about Buddhism, and the differences between buddhism and Christianity this is a very helpful book.  I would highly suggest it.

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Plain Ole Jesus – Mark 6:1-6 (pt. 2)

I. A Response of Unbelief (vv. 2-3)

a. The people respond with their mouths to Jesus

In verse 2 Mark tells us that “on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue….”  This was not all that amazing since it was standard procedure to invite a visiting Rabbi to speak in the synagogue.   However, this is where things started to go bad the last time that Jesus was in Nazareth.  As Mark tells us, things were not very different this time around.  In response to Jesus’ teaching “many who heard him were astonished. First Mark tells us that they were astonished at Jesus’ teaching.  You might say that their mouths were hanging open as Jesus talked.  This could be a good thing or a bad thing.  Their mouths could have been open because they were amazed and really impressed with Jesus.  Or, their mouth could have been open because they were amazed and they couldn’t believe that this guy was serious.  Unfortunately, the latter is true in this case.

When the people finally collected themselves and began to speak it was clear that they were absolutely shocked that Jesus was claiming to have any kind of authority over them.

Mark tells us that they were saying ‘Where did this man get these things?  What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?’”  In these two verses the people respond to Jesus with their mouths.  We can’t be certain about this, but it may have even been the case that the people interrupted Jesus message and would not even allow him to finish.  Whatever the case may be, the words coming out of their mouths reveal that they were not pleased with Jesus’ teaching.

One of the ways that the people voiced their displeasure with Jesus was by questioning Jesus’ public ministry:

 

1.  “Where did this man get these things?”

-the “things” is the content of Jesus teaching

-he was not schooled like the other rabbis

-his teaching was new and authoritative

-He was “messing” with their religious system with things like forgiveness and grace (cf. 2:7-17)

 

2. “What is the wisdom given to him?”

-this question is very similar in its goal to the last question

-essentially the people are calling into question his authority

-they refused to recognize God as the source of his wisdom, they wanted to know another human teacher that could give him credibility

 

3. “How are such mighty works done by his hands?”

-they had to acknowledge to miracles because everyone had seen it firsthand

-they still refused to acknowledge God as the source of his power and authority

-they may have even been implying demonic power (cf. 3:22)

 

These people called Jesus’ public ministry into question, but to be honest with you there was not much room for criticism.  His healings could not be disputed, and no one knew the Scripture better than He did.  So, the people turned to what they knew about Jesus to criticize Him.  Specifically, they turned to his family history to discredit him:

 

1. “Is not this the carpenter?”

-a carpenter was like a handy man

-he was not a Rabbi who a received official schooling

-this was another attempt to discredit Jesus’ teaching

 

2. “…the son of Mary…”

-it is interesting that they didn’t say son of Joseph

-it is pretty certain that Joseph was dead at this point, however the normal protocol would have still been to mention his name

-it is probably meant to be a slam on Jesus referring back to his “pre-marital” conception

-in other words, “this guy is an illegitimate child, he can’t be a teacher!”

 

3. “…brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?”

-these were the half siblings of Jesus, the children of Mary by Joseph

-the point is that Jesus was no better than his siblings

-“he is nothing special; why should we listen to him?”

 

As we look at how the people responded with their mouths it is safe to assume that they were jealous of Jesus public notoriety.  Furthermore, it is clear that they rejected the authority that he claimed to possess.

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Plain Ole Jesus – Mark 6:1-6 (pt. 1)

Introduction (v. 1):

Sometimes it is very easy to get caught up in the everyday routines of life, so caught up that we take things for granted.  Whether it is having 3 meals a day, a beautiful sunrise, or the love of our family, we all have a tendency take things for granted.   Unfortunately the same thing is true when it comes to Jesus.  Because we are so familiar with things about Jesus we often take them for granted.  In fact, some people are so familiar with what they think Jesus is that they are unwilling to accept who Jesus really is.  This is the problem that we are going to see as we look at Mark 6:1-6:

He went away from there and came to c his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And d on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and e many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 f Is not this g the carpenter, the son of Mary and h brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And i they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, j “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And k he could do no mighty work there, except that l he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And m he marveled because of their unbelief.

In this passage Mark is not only transitioning into a new account, but He is also transitioning into an entirely new section of his gospel account.  Over the last chapter Mark has been highlighting the power of Jesus.  Based on these passages it would be easy to forget about the opposition that Jesus was dealing with (cf. 3:6).  But that opposition had not gone away.  Despite these displays of power there were still many who rejected his authority.  In fact, this kind of rejection was probably all too common for Mark’s Roman audience.  Thus, Mark recorded this account to help us understand this rejection, and to warn us not to make the same mistake that these people made.

Mark introduces this account by telling us that Jesus, “went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.”  Here we find Jesus leaving the area of Capernaum, where he had been ministering, and returning to his hometown of Nazareth.  This was not the first time that Jesus had been to Nazareth.  In fact, the last time that Jesus had been back home ministering things did not end well.  Luke 4:16-31 tells us that the people became so outraged at Jesus that they tried to kill him.[1] Additionally we know that Jesus own family came from Nazareth to Capernaum because they thought Jesus had lost his mind.  To say the least, Jesus was not very welcome in His own home town.

Despite the cold reception Jesus still went back to His hometown.  This time, however, things were a bit different.  The last time he was in Nazareth he was launching his ministry, and was relatively unknown to those outside of this small town.  This time he was returning as a very popular teacher.  He even had a group of disciples return with him.  My guess is that the people were very interested to see Jesus again, and to see if anything had changed since the last time he was in town.  As we go deeper into this passage what we are going to see is that nothing has changed.  The people of Nazareth respond to Jesus in unbelief again, and this time Jesus responds to their unbelief.


[1]Some take this passage as a parallel passage to Mark 6:1-6.  However, (1) The visit in Luke was at the beginning of the great Galilean ministry.  In this account Jesus is well into that phase of his ministry. (2) In Luke’s account Jesus was alone and proclaimed the beginning of his ministry.  In Mark Jesus is a well-known teacher with disciples following Him.  (3)In Luke the people violently attacked him, trying to kill him.  Mark records no such events.  (4) Matthew clearly distinguishes to visits – Matthew 4:13 & Matthew 13:54-58

Friday Quote:

Thus discouragements, properly sustained and carefully improved, become our most fruitful sources of eventual encouragement….

Charles Bridges
The Christian Ministry
p. 17

Sometimes the “eventual” part of this seems as if it will never arrive, however it is usually a lot closer than we think.  Maybe not in terms of an actual change in our situation, but certainly in terms of a sanctifying effect on our attitude.

Book Review: The Word of God in English

 

Usually I try and keep the book reviews that I do on this blog limited to newer books, or books that a lot of people have not already written on.  However, today I am breaking the rules.  Today I want to take a look at The Word of God in English by Leland Ryken.  I want to do this for a couple of reasons.  First, I have the review on file. Second, I think  it is important that we all re-think our views on English Bible translations.  It is so easy to get caught up in the marketing tactics that publishers use to try and get us to by the version that they print (by the way I don’t blame them, they are trying to run a business).  We need take a step back and think critically about what English Bible we are using.  Ryken, although I don’t think he gets everything right, helps us to critically think through this issue.

Leland Ryken’s purpose for writing The Word of God in English is straight forward.  The very first line of the preface states that “this book has as its purpose to define the translation principles that make for the best English bible translation.” (9)  Ryken articulates these principles in part by evaluating the plethora of English bible translations currently available.  From the beginning he makes it clear that in his opinion “only an essentially literal translation of the bible can achieve sufficiently high standards in terms of literary criteria and fidelity to the original text.” (10)  This statement contains the two primary criteria that Ryken looks at when evaluating English translations: literary excellence and fidelity to the original text.

The primary impetus for this book was “a seismic shift in translation theory and practice [which] occurred in the middles of the twentieth century.  Up to that point, most English bible translations had operated on the premise that the task… was to reproduce the words of the original in the words of the receptor language.” (13)  This all changed with “Eugene Nida, who championed his theory of ‘dynamic equivalence.’” (13)  This new theory was quite a bit different than the former emphasis of accuracy to the original text.  Ryken defines it as “a theory of translation based on the premise that whenever something in the native-language text is foreign or unclear to a contemporary reader, the original text should be translated in terms of a dynamic equivalent.” (18)

As Ryken shows at length, the transition that occurred moving toward a dynamic equivalence approach to English Bible translation has created quite a few problems.  As Ryken states, the chief problem with dynamic equivalent Bibles is that “they arrogate to translation something that should be left to interpretation and commentary.” (26)  Or, to put it another way, they often interpret the original text for the reader instead of conveying it for the reader to interpret.

 

The thoroughness and straightforwardness of this book make it an important contribution to the field of English Bible translation.  With rare exception Ryken thoroughly defines his terms, makes his argumentation clear, uses a vast number of vivid illustrations, and consistently provides specific examples.  Additionally, he is straightforward and pointed in his criticism of specific bible translations and the entire dynamic equivalence theory.  In chapter seven Ryken makes it clear that how one translates the original text is ultimately and ethical issue.  “A translation is not exempt from ordinary ethics of publishing, with its cornerstone of putting before the reader what an author wrote as accurately as possible.  It hardly needs to be added that this ethical claim has unique weight when the author in question is God.” (137)

One weakness in this book is Ryken’s tendency to emphasize literary excellence over fidelity to the original text.  This does not necessarily mean that Ryken values one over the other, however there are times in the book when he certainly emphasizes one over the other.  For instance, in chapter 17 Ryken speaks quite a bit about “tone” and “memorability.”  His point is that most modern day translations are lacking in both and for this reason “have given us a Bible that is less exalted than the original.” (270)  The problem with this is twofold.  First, Ryken compares the modern day bibles to the King James Version rather than the original.  He simply does not deal with the “tone” or “memorability” of the original.  Secondly, tone and memorability are subjective criteria for evaluating translations.  These are minor points that demonstrate a minor flaw in an excellent book.Leland Ryken. 

Bibliographical Information:

The Word of God in English: criteria for excellence in bible translation.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002.  336 pp.