Book Review: Reordering the Trinity

Book Review: Reordering the Trinity

Author: Rodrick K. Durst

Publisher: Kregel Academic

ISBN: 9780825443787

Reordering the Trinity: Six Movements of God in the New Testament

Reordering the Trinity is a very interesting book that can inspire great conversation with Rodrick Durst’s observations and thesis ideas concerning the nature and movement of the Trinity as revealed in the New Testament Scriptures.

While I’m not personally convinced of Durst’s defense of his thesis, being unsure that  we can reduce the ordering of the persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to a formulaic purpose of intent regarding their placement of order, I do find the argument very interesting.

In a very brief synopsis, Durst presents his case to support the idea that on the basis of the specific order of the persons of the Trinitarian mentions found in the New Testament, we are able to understand purposeful mission of God. In Part Two of his work, Durst lays out his explanation through the following “Trinitarian Matrix”:

  • The Sending Triad – (Father-Son-Spirit) – Missional Order
  • The Saving Triad – (Son-Spirit-Father) – Regenerative Order
  • The Indwelling Triad – (Son-Father-Spirit) – Christological Witness
  • The Standing Triad – (Spirit-Father-Son) – The Sanctifying Order
  • The Shaping Triad – (Father-Spirit-Son) – Spiritual Formation Order
  • The Uniting Triad – (Spirit-Son-Father) – The Ecclesial Order

As I have mentioned previously, the conversation in this book is very intriguing. The author has done a commendable job of presenting his thesis. There is a wealth of information presented in a very conversational tone. It has been my experience that deep conversations about the work of the Trinity are rare in the travels of my fellow Christian learners. I think Durst’s book can be a valuable tool to ignite these conversations and he has been thoughtful to include discussion starter questions at the end of each chapter.

Finally, I add this thought; the appendices, bibliography, and index reference are worth the investment of the book. Durst has included a number of tables and charts, a glossary of terms, and a host of additional tools helpful with experiential exercises. As mentioned, the bibliography is one of the more extensive I’ve encountered in my Trinitarian studies and I found it fairly represented across a broad steam of traditions and doctrinal representations. I will reiterate my lack of conviction concerning Durst’s proposition, but I am highly impressed with his study and will value his work as a very respectable resource for my continuing studies.

Book Review: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

Book Review: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

Author: Eugene H. Merrill

Publisher: Kregel Academic

ISBN: 9780825425592

Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles

A Commentary on 1 & 2 Chronicles, written by Eugene H. Merrill is another fine addition in the Exegetical Library Commentary Series by Kregel Academic. I am one of those who rarely does deep study in the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, not that I do not read from there, but most often the Chronicles is a supporting player to my studies from the books of Samuel and the Kings. It is for this reason I really do not have a strong comparison commentary for 1 & 2 Chronicles and must base my review solely on the merits of this work with a slight nod toward previous commentaries in this Exegetical Series.

One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Kregel’s commentaries is the wonderful charts and tables that are a strong feature in every commentary I’ve reviewed in this series. This work from Eugene Merrill is no exception. It too features a very helpful assortment of charts and tables. Similarly, I really like that the Kregel includes an index of all the charts and special features found within the commentary for easy navigation, for example, there are excurses featured throughout the book and each is notated by page for quick reference, notations of hymns and praises found in the Chronicles are also indexed as are other theological discourses. This, in my opinion, makes this a very handy resource for quick research.

Merrill has included a fairly substantial bibliography at the end of the commentary. I was/am especially impressed with the source material he has referenced for backgrounds and history. I feel my wallet will become substantially lighter after having encountered this list of references, several titles of which really caught my attention.

As I reported earlier in my review, I do not have any comparison to the Chronicles commentary specifically, but I am pleased with the writing style of Merrill and found it understandable and not overly academic or terribly full of Hebrew language, which I would have difficulty understanding since I have no schooling in the language and have to rely on my word study resources and the explanations of the author.

I continue to recommend the Exegetical Commentary Series by Kregel as it represents a solid, Evangelically objective approach to the Scriptures. I’ve come to trust the series and will continue to recommend it to friends and colleagues.

Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb

Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb

(My rambling thoughts on this holy reflection day…)

Holy Saturday. It’s a quandary for me. First, it’s not a day that I usually observed in the scope and sequence of my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. For that matter, neither was Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, or any other traditional observance of the Christian Calendar. We covered Christmas Day (more Santa than Jesus) and Easter (more new Spring clothes and candies than a resurrected Savior). Fast forward… Over the last decade of my life, I’ve become more aware and studied in the traditions of the Church and found that my faith and my daily experience with the Godhead and the people of God have been enriched in ways that words cannot describe. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my spirituality, I often get caught between the tensions of intellectual understanding and the mysterious unknowing. Reflections during the Holy Triduum (evening of Maundy Thursday thru evening prayers of Easter Sunday), cause me great tension as I wonder and wander in my mind over the events that span these days… Here follow some of my thoughts over the past couple days, a Midrash of sorts maybe:

The crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus are a profound mystery to me. I say I understand, but it’s more some measure of assent of agreement to what theologians say it is and what it represents or does for humanity. Honestly, there is far more I do not understand than what I truthfully do understand. The gaps in the Holy Triduum narrative lead us to much conjecture and likely much misunderstanding, but still, I think the tension has healthy benefits…or it can have healthy benefits.

There are some aspects of these “things unknown” that I struggle with more than others. One thing in particular is the reasoning of God for choosing the instrument used in the killing of Jesus (the cross and the subsequent act of crucifixion). Yes, I’ve heard and studied much of the ideas, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, and like that gives us plausible reasoning for the cross, but all of it still falls short of registering in my simple little mind. I don’t get it. Why the cross? Why crucifixion? I simply do not know. Though speculation and theories abound, none of them satisfactorily answer the questions I have, nor do they sufficiently purpose this means of death over and above the sacrificial death of any other holy person—there have been other martyrs, there have been other gruesome, tortuous deaths, and others have given their lives as a ransom for others. We respond, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was the Son of God” and this sets apart the crucifixion as a singular event in the history of humanity. At this juncture, most Christian believers just mute up and solemnly nod in agreement and smother their questions. I do not. As I said, I give affirmation of belief, but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can parrot all the theories and doctrinal statements of belief, but I still don’t understand. For me, it begins to boil down to whether or not the cross is truly the seminal event of the Christian faith. Most of my Christian upbringing leads me to say it was what I was taught; “It’s all about the cross” “It’s all about Jesus suffering in my place” “It’s all about the blood” “There had to be a price for sin…and Jesus paid the price.” I honestly have a tough time nodding my head in agreement that these are the seminal events of the faith I profess. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts, I do think these are pieces of the whole, but the seminal event??? No. I don’t believe that.

Am I saying the cross is not central to the Christian faith? I don’t think I would actually say those words, but I don’t believe I place the same level of importance on this event as what I was lead to believe. The death of Christ is central to the faith…but the instrument of death, I’m not so convinced other than it is associated with Jesus. In other words, had it been a poison lance or a hangman’s noose, either of these might be the little golden charms we hang on our walls or around our necks.

What then, is the critical event of the Christian faith? I say it is the resurrection (The apostle Paul seems to affirm this in his 1 Corinthians discourse chapter fifteen). This begins one of my main points of contention. Many Protestants, especially in the circles that I have traveled, focus almost entirely on the cross, suffering, and death of Christ. All of these are not as much about Christ as they are about Jesus taking “my” place. He suffered for “me.” He died in “my” place. In effect, a translation of this focus can become so “me” centered it loses the focus of redemption and reconciliation entirely. This is not true of the resurrection. The resurrection remains “we” centered. Perhaps that is why so many humans lose focus on the resurrected Christ and want to keep their eyes fixated on the suffering Christ. Again, I don’t know, but I wonder. Regardless, hyper-focalization on the death of Christ inadvertently minimizes the most important aspect of the Christian faith, the resurrection.

But what about those days in-between the death and resurrection of Christ, that Holy, Silent, despondent day when Christ was silent, dead, and buried.

The historical teaching of the Church proclaims Jesus descended into the underworld or place of the dead (the Harrowing of Hell) and defeated the captor of humanity. Exactly how this played out, I am unsure, but we profess similar in our confessions and creeds within the Christian Church. I have my own theory and piecemeal understanding—speculative I am sure—nonetheless, it is what I think I think for this season of my understanding.

In his death, Christ identified with humanity more intimately than at any point previously in his life. How? I think he identified with humanity more closely through his forsaken separation from God (the Godhead: oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Because Jesus was incarnate (born and lived as human flesh), because he agreed to become human and empty himself of his Divinity (Phil. 2:5-11), he was able to fully experience, understand, and identify with humanity what separation from God was truly like. Before this moment in time, God had never been separated from God. God agreed to break unity with himself for the sake of saving humanity. All his mortal life (Jesus) was readying him for this separation and preparing him for the moment it would take place. The tragedy and heartbreak of the Gethsemane prayers, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, all leading to this point. The travesty of separation was agreed to and accepted for the sole purpose of saving souls, the most wonderful creation of all of God’s created things, humanity. It’s all about the we…not the me.

This moment of “death” precipitated by the narrative of the cross, God-Forsaking-God, led to the Silence of the Lamb (Holy Saturday), but only in temporal time…only in what we could see and hear with our physically limited eyes and ears. In eternal time, happening at the same instance of death that Silenced the Lamb, eternity heard a roar from the Lion of Judah being born gloriously for all eternity, triumphantly redeeming and reconciling God’s greatest creation, human souls.

And thus… The God-Forsaken silence of the Lamb was eternity’s greatest triumph. This is why resurrection matters. It is why I adhere to proclaiming Christus Victor (Irenaeus) opposing a hyper-exaltation of Penal Substitution (Augustine). Christus Victor is all about the “we” while Penal Substitution can easily deteriorate into the age-old trappings of “me.” I have been crucified with Christ, so I might live eternally with Christ.

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

Saturday: Day 4 of Lent

Free of Guilt—Prayed for by God

I don’t know where the Spirit is leading me this Lent, but it is starting out with a very serious departure from my previous seasons of penance, contrition, and somberness. I have several devotional books that have been labeled specifically for Lent and I’m following the Daily Scripture readings from the Book of Common Prayer, providing evidence to me that I have not subconsciously planned or contrived the direction my heart is drawn.  I will continue my practices and devotion, and follow where God leads.

I began my morning with reflection on Psalm 30 and 32. I came away from that reflection with the following as my prayer:

I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me—you restored my health, and brought me up from the grave. O LORD, you have kept me from falling into the pit of death. Weeping and my tears may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. You are the morning, my LORD, You are the Bright and Morning Star! You are my Joy! The Bringer of Light and the Giver of Life! You have turned my mourning into a morning of joy-filled dancing! I will sing joyful praises to you and not be silent. O LORD, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 30)

My disobedience is forgiven. My sin is put out of sight. The LORD has cleared my guilt. He forgave me! All my guilt is gone! I will give thanks to you, My God and King, I will praise you forever! (Personalized from my heart from Psalm 32)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything… God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds as we live in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7 NLT)

The past three days, the Gospel reading has come from John 17. This passage of Scripture is among the most influential passages found in the whole Bible for the context of my spiritual development and continues to be one of the most formative passages of Scripture no matter how many times that I read it. There is something mysterious and divine about the energy that soaks into my soul each time I encounter Christ Jesus, the Living God, through this text. It is the prayer of Jesus, perhaps that is part of its mystery. I find this prayer always challenging and always inspiring. The promise and intercessory petition of God (Jesus) for us, his disciples, is mind-blowing.

Excerpted from John 17:9-26

My prayer is for those you have given me… Protect them, so they will be united just as we are… Keep them safe from the evil one. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message—I have given them the glory you gave me. I pray they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. I am in them and you are in me…May the world know you love them as much as you love me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…

Simply an amazing passage of Scripture. This, prayer of Jesus, is this God praying to God… himself? And praying for humanity, not only for his immediate disciples, but all those who will believe in him/Jesus through their message. Yes, that will make me inclusive in that prayer!!! One of the things that I find so moving about this prayer is how it reveals the heart of God in it. Jesus says as much; “I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so…” (John 17:26). It seems safe, then, to me, to assume that what is happening in this narrative account  of Jesus in the Garden is Jesus revealing God the Father, his heart for us, the loved ones who will follow him and believe in him.

I am so grateful for this “reveal” of God to me… it seems fitting for this season of my life. The “Type-A” personality I am, I can often be tempted to guilt over performance issues where I feel I am not ready, studying, writing, or praying enough (as far as Christian disciplines go). I sometimes feel my thoughts are dark, evil, and unholy… There is no shortage  of stuff that can bring me down and I can be tempted by the darkness and doubt to accept a false image of God—not unlike the false image  that was offered to Adam and Eve during their Garden Temptation, which they ultimately accepted. I can see where that has brought us. I don’t want that image or the catastrophe it brings; no thanks!

What I continue to learn and constantly affirmed is that the Father is far more loving that I can ever imagine. And this loving Father, according to the prayer of Jesus, loves me as much as he loves the Only Begotten Son (John 17:23). Out of this world AMAZING. How can I not praise HIM!!! How can my heart not be joy-dancing-Glad!??!

Here is what my heart sings today:

I am flesh, but I am Divine because Christ is in me.

I am mortal, but my soul is immortal, promised by God to be with Him forever.

I am broken, but in the process of being restored.

I was the son of Adam, but now am the adopted son of God through the Son of God

Glory be to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Entering into the Ash and Dust…

Thursday the day after Ash Wednesday

Entering into the Ash and Dust…

It’s only day two and this is already seeming a different Lent for me. It will be interesting to see where the Spirit of God leads and what the Work of God does with me as I offer myself in this act of contrition and surrender.

I have outlined several disciplines I plan to engage in this next forty days (not counting Sundays), and making time to write and journal my thoughts more often is one of them. Another exercise I plan to engage is meditation and reflection on a series of self-examination questions, which I plan to share on the blog. The past couple years have been pretty lean with regard to my writing time and blogging efforts. I’ve wrestled with trying to push through my lack of desire and shortage of inspiration, but did not feel like forcing myself to write. There have been other challenges and more profitable ways to use my energy in the most recent season of my life. I have felt a bit more inspired lately and hope that I am able to find the energy, inspiration, and time to share the songs of my soul once again. We will see where this season takes us.

I begin this Lent 2016 blog with a prayer and an examination question.

Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find refreshment from the busy world.

Question: “How do I see God at this point or season of my life?”

I sat with this question for some time before actually engaging it and writing out my thoughts. Actually, I’ve been sitting with this question for the better part of a month now as it is one of the questions that I’ve offered to some of the discipleship groups I lead. It is interesting that the idea to blog through the list of questions came to me as I began to step into the Lenten Season. It’s interesting because of my response… Lent brings with it a sense of somberness. We are called to recognize our mortality; “Remember, it is from dust you came and it is to dust you shall return.” We are called to contrition and penance. We are called to reflect upon and share in the suffering of Christ as he journeys to and through his Passion. As I pondered my response to this question about “how I see God…” I was a bit surprised at the incongruity of my thoughts with expected feeling this season often brings.

From my journal…

I sense God is my always-present Counselor-Guide. I am not overwhelmed as often as I once was by the Divine, but I do not consider that a negative or irreverent thing. I don’t mean to convey that I am apathetic or without awe, because that is not true. I believe that God’s Presence with me has become familiar in a very good way. I am still swept away by His Glory at times and I am in awe at the grand mystery of a God who would dwell with and within me—but I am equally comforted and pleasantly “relaxed” in His Presence as I abide with him and he abides with me. I think this is how it is supposed to be and I am grateful and humbled that God has allowed me to experience this relationship with such joy and peace.

I think one of the more joyful and wonderful changes in my relationship with God and how I see Him in this season of my life is this:

I no longer drown in a sea of self-doubt, guilt, and shame. I do not worry about whether I “measure up” to God’s expectations (or what I believe are God’s expectations) of me. I do not feel mired or marred by sin. The Word of God teaches those who believe, receive, and follow, that he will wash away and separate us from our sin—His Word also promises that perfect love, who is Jesus, will cast away all fear. I am fearlessly loved and in love with my God, Jesus the Christ! This very real realization has changed everything about me and the way I see and perceive God. The yoke I carry as a bondservant to Christ is very light. The confidence I have and the knowledge of who I am has never been more powerful or clearer than at any other time in my life. This is all due to how I have come to know and see God in this season of my life.

So, I enter this season of penance and contrition feeling a bit lopsided. My heart sings and I want to continue my shouts of Alleluia, but I will honor the tradition of the Church and keep my alleluia quiet until Easter. I will offer the joy that God has given to me as an offering of sacrifice during this next forty days. I will share in his suffering and share in his Passion. This sacrifice will be part of my Lent.

One of my Scripture readings today came from the prophet Habakkuk. It was interesting to me as I read (Hab. 3:1-18), I found what I thought was a parallel of my own spiritual paradox of emotions with Habakkuk who writes the following:

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even when the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD!  I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me sure-footed as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. (Hab. 3:1-18 NLT)

 I love this from Habakkuk. I’d love to say I really identify with his words, but seriously, I’ve not been where he was. I’ve had a pretty easy life compared to most of the inhabitants of this world…even on my worst days. Nonetheless, I can identify when I look at the big picture that includes the realm of spirit and eternity. This life cannot compare to what God has intended for us. We are His children! We are stardust! We are comprised of the Mystery of the Divine! Made in the Image of God!

I love my faith! It is wholly a gift from God, and fully rooted in Him. I love the narrative of the Holy Scriptures that God has provided for those who will believe Him and believe in Him. I love the wisdom of God’ word and O love how it awaken my soul and affirms that God is with me, with me, and eternally for me. Praise Him. Amen!

My Prayer excerpted and personally modified from Psalm 37:1-24

I will trust in the LORD and do good. I will live safely in the land and prosper. I will take delight in the LORD, and he will give my hearts all its desires. I will commit everything I do to the LORD. I will trust him and he will help me. God will make my innocence radiate like the dawn. I will be still in the presence of my LORD, and I will wait patiently for him to act. I will not worry or be angry about evil people or their wicked schemes. I am learning that it is far better to be godly and have little than to bee evil and rich. Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent—they will receive an eternal inheritance. The LORD directs my steps and delights in every detail of my life; though I stumble, I will never fall, for the LORD holds me in His hand.

Glory be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Book Review: Water to Wine

Book Review: Water to Wine

Author: Brian Zahnd

Publisher: Spello Press ISBN: 9780692569184

Water to Wine: Some of My Story

This is the first book I’ve read by Brian Zahnd, although I’ve been a follower of his blog for quite some time now. I’ve enjoyed his writing and the theology he embraces, so when I heard him announce he had published a portion of his life’s story, I eagerly ordered the book to learn a bit more about him. I’m glad I did… This book has been one of the more affirming and encouraging books I’ve read in a long time. While it’s not my intent to pontificate about me in this review, I will say without reservation Water to Wine is also some of my story. Even more intriguing than Brian’s story being so uncanny in its similarity to my own, is that this same path traced by Brian Zahnd seems to be a common thread in the journey of so many Protestants.

This portion of Zahnd’s story begins with the desire to truly connect with the deep wisdom and mystery of the center of Christianity, the God-man, Jesus. Brian speaks of his ministry success and expresses his disenchantment with a “paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude.” He was yearning for something deeper, richer, fuller… What follows is an epic and eye-opening exploration to the ancient paths of the Christian faith and the discovery of traditions of deep-wisdom forged by the original apostles and disciples of Christ and continued by the saints who have followed them through the ages. This is The stuff of true disciples of the Way of Jesus Christ.

Chapter by chapter, Zahnd interweaves some of his story with the history and experiences of those faithful followers through the ages who left the breadcrumbs of faith for us to follow. There is nothing that I do not absolutely love about this book, but there are several chapters that resonate so deeply within that I know it is the affirming nod of the Holy Spirit. One of these affirmations comes from chapters three, four, and five where Brian reflects on his reintroduction to the discipline of prayer…and perhaps even the redefining and rediscovery what prayer truly represents and can be. As I mentioned earlier, so much of what he “found” in this chapter was an echo of my own discovery with fixed-hour prayers, ancient prayer books, contemplative prayer, and more wrapped up in this richness of unity with the Godhead and with the fellowship and communion of the saints.

Another chapter that is among my favorites and maybe my very favorite is chapter seven, Grain and Grape. In this chapter, Brian shares a wonderful exploration and treatment of the Eucharistic celebration that is the Table of the Lord. I love the connection he makes with the Incarnation of the Lord and the sacrament of Communion, the Eucharist. He writes; “The more deeply we are influenced by the sacred mystery of the Incarnation—that God became human—the more seriously we will take the sacraments of Baptism and Communion.” What proceeds for the remainder of this chapter following those words is an exhilarating journey into the realm of sacred mystery and earthbound glory.

Zahnd concludes this portion of his testimony with a bit of an apologetic…not an apology. This is an explanation and invitation to “come and follow” on this incredibly rich ride that is the Christianity that has been born out of those early followers of Jesus. No, this is not a return to the old, but an honoring of the ancient as we stand on the shoulders of those who have faithfully journeyed before us. We walk side-by-side in the age we live, building on the traditions that have been time-honored methods of forming disciples of Jesus.

There is much more that I could detail about this book, but I have been deliberately vague in the specifics of what Brian shares. If you are the slightest bit intrigued, I strongly encourage you to buy the book. If you have felt that following Jesus and the promises of your faith have fallen short of what you have believed it should be, buy the book. You might find a door opening that will set the course for the greatest adventure of your life…and ultimately be the faith that you have always believed was calling to you all along.

Maranatha: 1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2015

1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2015

It begins; a new Church calendar year has started today. I have grown quite fond of this time through the years. It signifies many things to me: hope, newness and fresh starts, putting to rest hurts and failed expectations are a few of the more prominent things that are on my mind on this First Sunday of Advent in the year 2015.

This time of year brings to the front of my memory a couple of the most significant heartbreaking moments in my life when I lost my sister in a tragic automobile accident in 1992 and two years later in 1994, almost to the same date, I lost my grandfather also to tragic automobile accident. While the years have been merciful in healing the raw pain of those losses, the felt absence of these beautiful and dear souls in my life has never been healed. It is for this reason there is always a sense of somberness mixed with hopeful and hope-filled expectations infusing my soul as I begin again the retelling of the Gospel—the salvation of humanity in the coming of God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

This morning, while sharing with a group, reading from Scripture (Lectionary text Psalm 25:1-5), I was captured by several words from the text; the words trust, truth, and hope were ringing like a clanging gong in my soul. As I sat reflecting and holding those words in silence, I listened for what the Spirit might bring to my memory about them… the thought of “confidence and security” seemed to emerge from the triad of trust, truth, and hope. I read through the text again.

This time as I read the text, additional details and clarity of understanding came into view. Considering my own somber memories mentioned earlier, and reflecting on the state of current events, both domestically and abroad, I was struck with a sense of dread and a feeling of helplessness in a world engulfed in chaos. Only a fool will deny the craziness that surrounds us. It seems no place is truly safe. Violence abounds at every compass direction, racial unrest seems as volatile as it has ever been in my lifetime—maybe in the history of this country, social inequality continues to divide our nation between the haves and the have-nots…and this, arguably, in one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. Globally, there are wars and rumors of wars; terroristic acts and crimes against humanity continue to reveal themselves in each pressing of the daily news. Chaos, fear, dread, despair, and hopelessness are the main entrees of earth’s buffet in year 2015. Still, the words “confidence” and “security” were the words coming to my mind as I read through this Psalm 25:1-5 text. So, I read the passage again.

1 O Lord, I give my life to you.

2     I trust in you, my God!

Do not let me be disgraced,

    or let my enemies rejoice in my defeat.

3 No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,

    but disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.

4 Show me the right path, O Lord;

    point out the road for me to follow.

5 Lead me by your truth and teach me,

    for you are the God who saves me.

    All day long I put my hope in you. (Psalm 25:1-5 NLT)

I continued with silent reflection, pondering these words amidst the other thoughts that were populating my mind. I considered the many temptations throughout any given day to allow myself to become consumed by the depressing state of the world I live in. I thought about all the hate-filled rhetoric that dominates the airwaves of the news media and the devices of social media. I was reminded how easy it is to forget that still, even in the midst of chaos and darkness, my salvation and my hope are in God alone. The Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Blessed Holy Spirit is my Agent of trust. Christ Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-us, is Truth incarnate. This is my Hope and my Rescue from a world in chaos.

I feel that the Spirit of God was reminding me that darkness and chaos are real. The pains of my losses are real. The possibility of becoming consumed, overwhelmed, and ultimately defeated by the distractions and destruction of evil amongst us today is equally real. On the other hand, salvation and truth are real…a right path that leads out of the darkness and into the Light of Hope and the Presence of God is even more real than the threats of chaos and darkness. This is what Advent calls us to remember. Christ is coming. Christ has come. Christ will come again.

In the coming days, I will be told by forces distracting my world that I need to consume. I will be told my life is not satisfying or gratifying or fulfilling for a myriad of reasons. I will be told I should be afraid…I need to retreat, hide, defend, attack, hoard, and protect. I will be pushed and taunted, pulled and cajoled to enter into a race I cannot win, where even the leaders who run out front are still losers in the end.

The Spirit of God bids me, “Slow down and do not be afraid.” We are reminded in the Advent that the blessing of hope for which we wait is coming. God is reconciling all creation to himself. He speaks to chaos and tells it to come to order. It will happen and this is a truth that can be trusted. This is our hope: Christ is our Hope. I will reject the temptations to join in with fruitless fray of a world gone mad. I have been invited to travel a different path, a right path, a road to follow that delivers me to my God who saves me—he is Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. Amen.

The theme of Advent is waiting, waiting for God, waiting with sometimes rising impatience, deepening frustration, and frequent disappointment. We wait, we hope, we look. And in that attitude and perspective one finds the whole liturgical year’s forward drive and direction. “Small wonder then that at this time, the beginning of the Preparation, the Message of Announcement is so completely illuminating and wide-reaching. It signalizes no individual event; it marks no one day or hour; it describes no single trait or act; but centralizes in its words the Whole Story and carries it home to the waiting heart.”

“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). The Church begins the year by looking forward to the birth of her Beloved, the Word made flesh. As an anxious bride, she counts the days, preparing, longing, constantly anticipating the joy that will be hers when the time will be fulfilled and Emmanuel will indeed be God-with-us. But the Church gives voice not only to the expectant joy of a bride or of a mother at the impending birth of her child. Mother Church expresses her deep longing for the coming of Christ in glory at the end of the ages. It is not a fearful dread that the Church wishes to instill in her members when through the psalms and hymns and readings and prayers she calls on us to think about the Parousia, the final coming, but rather she points us to the goal of our efforts to keep awake and to watch: unending union with Jesus Christ. All our work and study and prayer and living has one purpose and meaning: to bring us and all humanity into the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. So the central prayer of Advent is the one word, the concluding prayer of the Bible, Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.  (From Journey into the Heart of God: Living the Liturgical Year by Philip H. Pfatteicher)

Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God

Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God

Author: Thomas Jay Oord

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830840847

The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence

I like Tom Oord. I like that he is a thinker. I like that even when he postulates an idea, he’s not always resolute in its absoluteness. He seems to always be exploring, processing, and attempting to understand. I remember the first time I was exposed to the “open view” of God, sometime around twelve or thirteen years ago, and I immediately rejected the idea as something that could ever be considered within the paradigm of my theology. I could not escape the gnaw of this open view though, and when it appeared on my radar again around eight years ago, I started to do some investigation and deeper reading. Tom Oord and others have been instrumental in the continuing evolution of my thought, perception, and growing relationship with God through their writing and lectures on a more open and expansive understanding of God’s relationship and His engagement in the lives of men and women. While I’m not an open theist, I know for certain my understanding of God and relationship I live with Him is far more healthier now than it has ever been in my life, in large part because of my willingness to engage this dynamic of the uncontrolling love of God. I share this preface for those who may be highly resistant to ideas previously foreign to your thinking about God. I was that guy. I am no longer that guy. This is a worthy book to read.

Oord begins this work with questions regarding the goodness of God and the tragic events that can call that goodness into question; these are the “why questions” and the reasoning behind the chapter title Tragedy Needs Explanation.

The case for God’s uncontrolling love builds with chapter two as Oord further develops his thesis, drawing distinctions between God’s sovereign control over every detail of existence and the possibility of randomness as a factor in the circumstances and happenings of life. It will be necessary for each reader to draw their own conclusion, but one thing I particularly enjoyed from this chapter was the brilliant synthesis of philosophy, science-physics, and theology. I think, in general terms, we are often want to speak and quantify our beliefs in binary terms… If I am reading Oord’s ideas correctly in this section, he promotes a mixed view of causation and randomness in all the events and circumstances of life, he concludes this chapter with these words; “Both randomness and regularity persist in the universe.”  I have likely way oversimplified his wonderful presentation, but this is my simple review and my very, very brief synopsis.

The elements of free will and determination are explored in chapter three, which was a very insightful and interesting read. There are far too many excellent points in this chapter to do justice in this short review, but I can share a teaser with the following quote:

The two words, free and will, capture what most people mean when they talk about the freedom to choose in any particular moment. But philosophers use various terms to talk about free will. The philosophical label libertarian free will describes what I believe is the most plausible view of freedom. Libertarian free will says genuine freedom is irreconcilable with being fully determined to act in a particular way. Libertarian-free-will supporters are incompatiblists because they believe we cannot be simultaneously free and entirely determined by other forces. In other words, free will and complete determinism are incompatible. We choose among alternatives, and other agents and factors do not completely control us. (p. 59)

I think, one of the big takeaways for me from this chapter, is the affirmation of my own conclusion regarding my conversion from Calvinism (many years ago). In my opinion, as echoed in the above quote, theistic determinism is incompatible with free will. Now, granted this statement leaves much unanswered, but those unanswered questions are much of what Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, explores (and a great reason to purchase and read it).

As I have alluded previously, I appreciate the approach of Oord to not bifurcate the discussion of theodicy with “either/or” statements about God and instead embrace more of a “both/and” approach to understanding this complex conversation. Again, this is my interpretation and I hope I am not oversimplifying or misrepresenting the nature and discussion in this book. You’ll need to read it and judge for yourself. A great case for my observation can be found in the presentation of Models of God’s Providence (beginning pg. 83, chapter four). Once more, in my opinion, this might be one of the more important chapters in the book. I think it can serve for some very deep and healthy discussion (albeit possibly fired with much passion), and would be an excellent reason for introducing this book in a study group. The ways we think about God and His actions among us have serious repercussions and ramifications. A conversation concerning the models of God’s providence is a great introduction to explore ways we think about God.

Tom Oord has written and lectured extensively on the open and relational view of God. It is in chapter five that he begins to fully engage this position deeply with relation to tragedy, free will, determination, and love within the scope of the God and humanity relationship. For the sake of ease and the benefit of my friends who will read this review and likely be unfamiliar with the open view of God, I will include Oord’s major defining points for this position. He writes in the opening statements of chapter five.

Open and relational theology embraces the reality of randomness and regularity, freedom and necessity, good and evil. It asserts that God exists and that God acts objectively and responsively in the world. This theology usually embraces at least these three ideas:

  1. God and creatures relate to one another. God makes a real difference to creation, and creation makes a real difference to God. God is relational.
  2. The future is not set because it has not yet been determined. Neither God nor creatures know with certainty all that will actually occur. The future is open.
  3. Love is God’s chief attribute. Love is the primary lens through which we best understand God’s relation with creatures and the relations creatures should have with God and others. Love matters most.

Advocates of open and relational theology may describe their views a little differently from the way I have here. Some add other beliefs. Among the open and relational theology books of importance and in addition to those cited, but most advocates embrace at least these three statements. (pg. 107)

Please note as quoted above that Oord describes this as his defining points of the Open and Relational View of God, while others will add other defining points to the position.

While this chapter represents a big-picture view of the open and relational dynamic of God, it is not just a high-level fly by. There is much depth to the presentation and Oord has done a remarkable job of annotating sources from a diverse group of thinkers and theologians. Additionally, with such depth of thinking, one can often get lost in the academic structure of the discussion; this is not so with Oord’s presentation. He has also performed admirably to bring the conversation to an every-day-man level of understanding. I believe this chapter could easily be a standalone work expressing this particular view of God.

Chapter six is a chapter I will have to return to and read more closely. I admit that it is a portion of the book that I skimmed more than I digested, unlike the slower more deliberate approach I took with previous chapters. In it, Oord dialogues quite extensively with John Sanford’s work in his book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Oord expresses the importance of this chapter as a preface to his summary conclusion.

Similar to my statements from chapter six, I extend my thoughts to the concluding chapters of seven and eight where Oord offers the brunt of reason behind his position and his concluding statements. It is with complete transparency that I offer my inconclusiveness. The jury is still out for me with regard to theodicy and the working of God within the parameters of His sovereignty and humanity’s unrestricted free will. I admit I don’t understand all the myriad ways of God’s working within the scope of humanity and free will. At this juncture, I’m willing to live in the divine tension of God’s mystery. I say this while fully engaged in asking questions of God and pondering with deepest contemplation (love) all the knowledge that God will impart regarding these deep and soulful questions about our existence and the ways of life in the midst of brokenness and people still separated from God by the distorted image of God within them. Even while I make these admissions about myself, there are several points that Oord makes in his Kenosis chapter (seven) that put me on edge…and for the very reasons that he gives his voice under his subheading Essential Kenosis and Evil, also found in chapter seven. I have learned that this type of discomfort I describe is when I need to pay attention very closely; I need to proceed slowly and allow God the Holy Spirit to guide my understanding. That is not to say that I will eventually be swayed to another view, but that I will remain objective in my search for truth and be wary of my personal biases as well as positions anchored in personal conviction. I think I’ll end my review on that note.

This is an excellent and very thought-worthy book. I think it will make a fabulous group study. In my opinion, there’s no way a person can read The Uncontrolling Love of God and not find subjects worthy of engagement. There’s a lot here and some deep thinking, but not too difficult to approach even for high school students. I think it also serves as a compilation and expository summary of many of Oord’s earlier works, which can be helpful if you’ve read much of his writing or if you’ve read none. The book is well annotated with extensive footnotes. I’m reading a proof copy, so I’m not sure if this is the final version of the book or not. I do not know if there will be additional appendices or if there will be a bibliography included, but in either event, this is a very worthy read. Thanks Tom for stretching my theology and giving me pause to evaluate my positions.

The book is currently available for preorder at Amazon and is scheduled for release Dec. 06, 2015

Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

Book Review: A Commentary on Exodus

Author: Duane A. Garrett

Publisher: Kregel ISBN: 9780825425516

A Commentary on Exodus

The commentaries published by the Kregel Exegetical Library continue to impress me. The Commentary on Exodus by Duane A. Garrett is another strong volume in the Old Testament Series.

One of the many things that I particularly like about this series is there are no compromises where scholastic excellence is involved. The volumes in this commentary series are the pinnacle of academic excellence in my opinion. This can be an intimidating attribute for some, but I would say there is no reason for intimidation. In addition to academic excellence, the commentary is among the most readable that I have experienced. I am not a language or textual criticism expert and I still find the writing conversational and understandable. The marriage of readability and scholasticism is what moves me to rank this series so highly.

Duane Garrett has done an exceptional job with research and exposition of the Exodus narrative. Beginning with an incredibly comprehensive introduction addressing geography, archeology, Egyptian dynasties, socio-political circumstance, textual criticism and so much more, Garrett lays a solid foundation from which he works the major themes in his Commentary on Exodus.

No matter what commentary or commentaries you may have in your  library for this key book from the Old Testament Scriptures, Kregel’s Commentary on Exodus by Duane Garrett is a worthy addition and compliment to your collection.

Book Review: Enemies of the Heart

Book Review: Enemies of the Heart

Author: Andy Stanley

Publisher: Multnomah ISBN: 9781601421456

I have appreciated the communication skills of Andy Stanley for years. Personally, I think he is one of the great communicators and teachers of our day. I have often marveled at his ability to repackage timeless teaching and contemporize it for the present audience. Enemies of the Heart is another sterling example of this gift that Stanley has.

While Enemies of the heart touts “Four Emotions That Control You,” the primary teachings that it draws from seems to come from Evagrius’ and Pope Gregory’s teaching on the Eight/Seven deadly sins. Stanley addresses four major challenges to the Christian life (five if you count lust from the final chapters in part four), guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy. The original “Deadly Sins” codified by Evagrius and Gregory the Great follows: Lust, Gluttony or waste and over indulgence, Avarice or Greed, Sloth or Apathy, Wrath or Anger, Envy or Jealousy, and Pride or vanity and narcissism. The teachings of the ancient fathers of the church stated that “guilt” was the result of culpability to these major sins. I think you can see the parallel of Stanley’s premise from Enemies of the Heart and this ancient treatise on the sins of man.

In part three, Stanley addresses the sins by offering counter disciplines and attitudes to change the behavior of the persons plagued by guilt, anger, greed, jealousy, …and lust.  This is not unlike the disciplines introduced by the church fathers to similarly deal with the issues of these core sins. They offered the following pursuits to eradicate the deadly sins: chastity to overcome lust, moderation to control gluttony, charity to counter greed, diligence to abate sloth, patience to smother anger, kindness to temper envy, and humility to sate pride.

I am thankful for people like Andy Stanley who can repackage classic teaching and help to expand the audience of such. This is a great introduction to the issues of sin and classic spiritual formation. Those who would like to delve deeper might consider the writings of the Philokalia.

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