16 November, 2021

HIU Prof Seeks to Help Readers ‘Rediscover’ Jesus at Christmas

by | 26 October, 2021 | 0 comments

By Jim Nieman

Professor of New Testament Dr. Carl N. Toney has written academic books in the past, but with Ruining Christmas—Rediscovering Jesus, he targets a wider Christian audience.

“People in my church would get excited about each book,” says Toney of Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif., “but I found myself apologizing and deferring by saying, ‘This book is probably not for you.’ So, it struck me, Why not write a book for people in my church? Why not write a book that the average person might enjoy and benefit from?

“Christmas seemed like the natural place to begin since its where the story of Christianity begins.”

The first part of the book’s title, “Ruining Christmas,” has drawn some mixed reactions.

Some people may dwell on a particularly bad Christmas experience—perhaps due to the loss of a loved one—which makes the holiday difficult or has “ruined” it, Toney says. “If we find ourselves in those moments of loss, then this book is meant to help us find hope by rediscovering Jesus.”

“Sometimes we need to ruin unhelpful ideas or habits,” Toney adds. “We can see this in the commercialization of Christmas, but we may also find some of our church traditions also get in the way. So, this book also explores some of the traditions around Christmas that may distract us from finding Christ.”

The book is written for anyone who has questions about Christmas.

“I try to explore the historical questions surrounding Christmas’s origins—from the date of Jesus’ birth to the establishment of the December 25 holiday around the time of Constantine,” Toney says. “I look at the origins of various traditions from Santa Claus to Christmas trees to Advent wreaths. But we also dive into the biblical accounts from the shepherds to the magi.”

As an example, he cites Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem.

“Most of us grew up with this image of Joseph and Mary scurrying around Bethlehem, trying to find shelter,” Toney says. “They are constantly turned away until a kindly innkeeper gives them a place among his animals. But the problem with this story is that there is no inn and there is no innkeeper.”

CARL N. TONEY

“Older translations translated the Greek word katalyma as ‘inn.’ But newer translations have noted that this word is better translated as ‘guest room.’ This translation reveals how Joseph’s family had been ashamed of this couple because Mary was pregnant before marriage. While Jesus was rejected by his extended family, part of his mission was to welcome those who are rejected.”

Toney notes that a second “guest room”— the location of the Last Supper—appears at the end of Luke.

“As a Passover meal, this was meant for family, and we see Jesus gathering his new family and making a place for everyone at his table,” he says. “The story challenges us to consider how we treat unwed parents. It reminds us that we need to be welcoming of others.”

“Whatever the topic, our goal is to ask spiritual questions that result in practical habits to be cultivated throughout the year.”

Reaction from those who have read the book has “very positive,” Toney says.

“I’ve had parents tell me that this is exactly the sort of book that they plan on sharing with their teenage kids who have questions about their faith,” he says, “[and] pastors have joked with me how they’ve just found their next sermon series to steal.”

Ruining Christmas—Rediscovering Jesus is published by Cascade Books (an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers). It is available in hardbound, paperback, and as an ebook/Kindle. It is also available from Amazon.

Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.

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