“A Whispering Call” now available in paperback

In A Whispering Call, Joe LaGuardia explores the treasure of God’s unfolding drama of salvation from the earliest pages of Genesis to the advent of Jesus Christ.  It is a celebration of scripture and a plea to take a renewed interest in the First (Old) Testament.

“By way of neglect,” LaGuardia writes, “the church has lost the ability to read the Old Testament independently from the Jesus whom Christians serve…The breadth and depth of the Old Testament solicits as much, and begs a closer reading by Christians, various faith groups, and people of no faith at all.”  A Whispering Call seeks to let the Testament stand on its own, to hear ancient voices for a new day, and rediscover the hope that launches the greatest story ever told.

A Whispering Call is LaGuardia’s second anthology of essays on sacred scripture, and it is sure to encourage, challenge, and inspire readers in the journey of faith.  It promises to bring biblical principles to life and affirm God’s mission in the world.

Every essay pays careful attention to biblical research and cultural insights, and each includes a series of study questions perfect for private devotions or public use.  Read them for group discipleship, incorporate them in the classroom, peruse them to prepare for that next sermon.  They promise to enlighten and entertain.

Order your copy today!

Here are some excerpts from the book…

On scripture…

God’s Word is not a sounding board that reinforces our cliché beliefs about Jesus; nor it is an echo chamber as cheap as social media platforms sometimes assume…Regardless of contemporary, common arguments about the nature and inspiration of scripture, the ancients believed that the Bible was a dangerous book, one that beheld the mystery of God and reinforced the fragility and myopia of God’s people. 

Its radical message had the power to transform lives, communities, institutions, and nations.  In the words of Barbara Bowe, savoring scripture makes the difference between admiring the flame of a candle and touching the flame of a candle so as to engage that which is dangerous, purifying, and–in many ways–scathing.

On sexual abuse and #MeToo in the Old Testament…

Although forgiveness [in the Bible] breaks cycles of violence, forgiveness does not exclude speaking out, protesting, and resisting personal or systemic abuse.  It does not condone violence or look in the other direction.  Jesus’ forgiveness does not give us an excuse to continue to see, seize, and subdue like Shechem did with Dinah.  Rather, the act of forgiveness calls us all to holiness, restoration, and healing.  It gives the oppressed a voice–all who are at the center of our texts of terror–and empowers those of us on the sidelines, that we might intervene…It is not enough to say “I’m sorry,” we must right wrongs so that reparations can prevent future abuses and exploitive practices.

On the state of the church…

Many people claim that today’s church is worse off than ever before and in need of reform…Some Christian scholars believe that this is not the end of the church, but only another beginning–the Holy Spirit is moving the church from the laurels of comfort and inspiring a new movement of outreach and missions that pivots God’s people from an inward-focused ministry to an outward-focused missional agenda.  Fundamentalism will collapse in on itself, exposing the false gods of nationalism and tribalism, while the God of Pentecost–always breaking boundaries of ethnicity, gender, race, and economics-is moving well beyond the walls of the church.

On justice in the Bible…

If there is any voice for justice crying in the biblical wilderness, it is the prophet Isaiah. Throughout his message to Israel, he called for people to “do justice” (1:17). Echoing other prophets, such as Micah and Amos, he challenged people to have mercy. This was not only for personal enrichment, it was a community ethic in which relationships were set straight, economic injustices repaired, and people long-neglected were protected and honored. Justice was not about having one’s head in the clouds, but about making space for others in one’s own living room. It was not a reach beyond community, it was a diligent plan to make community one of integrity and compassion—an organic, living model built on the theology that all people are part of God’s creation, even if some people do not believe in that fact.

For Isaiah, justice means caring for the refugee, widow and orphan. It means insuring economic opportunity, minimizing debts, sustaining land ownership, and understanding that if things are not right between neighbors, then things with God will not be right.

Book on Old Testament is almost here!

A proof copy, pens, labels, random junk, and Nerf guns: Everything you need for a life well lived.

By Joe LaGuardia

Books are labors of love.  It doesn’t matter if a book is a novel, memoir, fiction or non-fiction, or–in this case–a collection of essays, books take years to put together, edit, tweak, rewrite, love, and hate.  It was well over four years ago I began this one, my forthcoming book containing essays on the Bible and the Old (First) Testament.  I am happy to announce that, in less than a month, I will be releasing, A Whispering Call: Essays on Sacred Scripture and the First Testament.

Here is the caption on the back:

A Whispering Call, Joseph V. LaGuardia’s second anthology of essays on Sacred Scripture, is sure to encourage, challenge, and inspire readers along the journey of faith.

A Whispering Call explores the treasure of God’s unfolding drama of redemption from the earliest pages of Genesis to the Advent of Jesus the Christ.

It places readers in the shoes of biblical heroes and villains.  It brings biblical principles to life.  It affirms God’s mission in the world and calls us to participate in that mission as a holy people.

LaGuardia crafts each essay with careful attention to biblical research and cultural insights both ancient and contemporary.  Read them for personal or group discipleship, incorporate them in the classroom, or mine them for devotional use.  By way of scripture and study, you might hear God’s whisper in your life too!

There you have it.  I hope that the book will be released in the first week of August, just in time for the school year and a revival we are planning at First Baptist Church.  It will be available to order in paperback or Kindle, and details will follow.  Keep me in your prayers, the editing process is about as fun as going to the dentist.  No offense to my dentist.

Blessings, Rev. Dr. Joe LaGuardia

Biblical scholarship creates conflicts where they often do not exist

A picture on my desk of St. Matthew reminds me that God's Word is inspired and God-breathed.

Writing about the Bible in his latest book After You Believe, popular scholar N. T. Wright notes, “The whole story is the whole story.”  There are plenty of people who would like to slice and dice the Bible into sections; others simply ignore what they don’t like while proof-texting to support their own values.

Many who read the Bible approach it like the media approaches newsworthy stories: They look for conflict, even when no conflict exists.

In fact, the Bible is said to have many conflicts:  Between Old and New Testament, Law and grace, God of wrath and God of love, Jesus and Paul, works and faith.

It is easy for people to believe that such conflicts exist when we don’t really have time to read the Bible in the first place.  As biblical illiteracy rises, it is becomes easy to “pull one over” on the masses.  Yet, when we do take a close look at the Bible and read, as N. T. Wright admonishes, “the whole story,” the conflicts are few and far between.

Take Old and New Testaments.  The assumption is that Jesus, who inaugurated the “New Covenant” with his death and resurrection, wiped away the moral and ethical fabric of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament, so says the argument, is irrelevant.  A close look at Jesus’ ministry, however, proves the opposite.  Jesus did not do away with the Law or the Old Testament in general; rather, Jesus called his followers back to the heart of the Law.  No wonder the New Testament authors emphasize that, in Christ, God continues to etch the Law upon our hearts.

This is ultimately related to the conflict that some see between the God of the Old Testament (wrath) and the God of Jesus Christ (love).  One of my fellow colleagues who writes for the Rockdale Citizen wrote a good article on this subject last week, so I won’t spend much time on this point.

It is important to emphasize that God does not change over time.  God’s purpose is pure and consistent throughout history.  God is one who creates humankind to be in relationship with Him, and everything God does after the Fall of Adam and Eve intends to restore this relationship.

A close reading of the Law–from Exodus to Deuteronomy–shows that God seeks to liberate humanity from their wayward habits.

This also brings us right to St. Paul, who seems to contrast the Law with God’s grace throughout his letters.  Romans, in particular, seems to pit the two against each other, allowing God’s grace to win out.

Again, a closer reading shows that Law and grace are not diametrically opposed to one another, as if God’s Law did not make room for grace.  The Law was established precisely because of God’s grace.  It’s just that humanity managed to use the Law to hinder humans from reconciling with God (that’s why the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had this view of the Law, were so opposed to Jesus’ interpretation of the Law).

A last conflict seems to exist between Jesus and Paul.  We see this within churches today.  Some say that they rely on Paul’s writings and the personal moral code that Paul seems to advocate.  Others rely on Jesus’ sermons and propose a more community-centered, social justice ethic.

Paul and Jesus both care about personal salvation and community morality.  All but three of Paul’s letters, after all, were written to churches, not to individual Christians.  And Jesus speaks to individuals throughout his ministry, such as when he told the Rich Young Ruler to sell all that the ruler had.

My guess is that scholars will keep arguing that conflicts exist in the Bible for as long as they continue to do what they do.  It would benefit all of us, however, if we simply read the Bible for ourselves.