Book Review: Seeking Spiritual Direction

Book Review: Seeking Spiritual Direction

Author: Thomas Dubay, S.M.

Publisher: Servant Books ISBN: 9780892838103

Seeking Spiritual Direction: How to Grow the Divine Life Within

I’ve appreciated the writing of Fr Thomas Dubay since the first works that were recommended to me. It seems odd to me in the context that his books were recommended, I was studying for certification in the field of spiritual direction, that this very book wasn’t one of the required readings. I was fortunate to have stumbled upon it in the library of a monastery that I frequent and I am so very, very glad I found it.

What sets this book apart from others I have read on the subject of spiritual direction is the straight-forwardness of the conversation. Fr Dubay is very clarifying in setting foundations, establishing definitions, and clearing up blurred lines and misinformation with regard to this neglected and needful gift to the Church.

All of Part One addresses various aspects of spiritual direction and clarifies definitions. It is appropriately called A Foundation for Spiritual Direction. A couple of the more pertinent topics dealt with in this first section are “What is Spiritual Direction?” and “Do I Need Spiritual Direction.” I like that Fr Dubay is very direct, yet his answers and points made seem very thorough.

Part Two of the book is a unique departure from the format of the first section. The questions presented, “Practical Questions and Problems,” are considered and responded to in an interview format. This worked very well for me as I felt myself drawn into a conversation; it was almost as if I were in the room with Fr Dubay and some anonymous interviewer. My attention was rapt and I learned much while topics such as Key Concerns in Spiritual Direction, Self Direction, and Problem that Come up in Spiritual Direction were discussed. Again, the content of the answers was very direct, but no lacking in detail and thoroughness.

Part Three, Making Progress, returned to the same format of section one; instead of questions, there were bulleted discussion points, which Fr Dubay shared insights. This section spoke to measuring spiritual growth and discernment in the process of spiritual maturity.

A very detailed notes section and an index are included helping the reader to have additional resources for follow up study and/or finding particular topics of interest in this book. It should be noted that the book and accompanying paradigm with which it is written is decidedly Roman Catholic. Let me state unequivocally that this fact alone should not deter reading if your background is that of another Christian tradition. There is a wealth, a cornucopia of spiritual wisdom in this book, Seeking Spiritual Wisdom. My background comes from the Protestant Evangelical stream of Christianity and I will continue to recommend this book with highest regard as one of the best books to clarify what spiritual direction is and the importance of its place and practice in the life of the Christian.

Book Review: Wisdom of the Sadhu

Book Review: Wisdom of the Sadhu

Author: Compiled/Edited by Kim Comer

Publisher: Plough Publishing House ISBN: 9780874869989

Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh

I was first introduced to Sadhu Sundar Singh through the Devotional Classics (Richard Foster) around ten years ago. Reviewing my notes and highlights in my copy of Devotional Classics reminds me of how impacted and awed I was by the deep wisdom of Sundar Singh.

“Sadhu Sundar Singh’s dramatic encounter with the living Christ, his refusal to clothe his faith with western trappings, and his absolute devotion to the way of Jesus make for compelling reading. I highly recommend this book.” (Richard Foster—from the back cover)

I’m a big fan of devotional writing, so I’m left with a big question mark to the reason I’ve never added other works from the Sadhu to my personal library. Regardless, that omission will no longer be the source of questions for me as I’ve added this latest compilation, Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh to my library. Not only has this volume inspired me since coming into my possession, but it has encouraged me to purchase more works produced by this profoundly spiritual and incredibly wise man.

Wisdom of the Sadhu is a beautiful and delightful collection of sayings, parables, interviews, articles, and teachings from Sundar Singh. These collections are organized into themes and edited by Kim Comer. I feel Comer has done an excellent job with the collection and editing process; as I’ve said already, this is a remarkable book and it will give the reader a fabulous introduction to the breadth and depth of the Sadhu’s teaching.

So many people are impressed by human ingenuity and our ability to tap the power of lightning, wind, light, and all the other myriad forces of nature. Yet, to overcome the passions and seductions of this world and to gain mastery over oneself is truly a much greater achievement. By leading a life of prayer, we receive from God the gift to dwell in the spiritual realm even while we remain in the material world. If we live in prayer, no force of evil or temptation can overcome us; we remain in safe communion with God without any fear. If we abandon the gift of prayer, we become like well-trained animals and no longer recognize our own imperfection, our relationship with God, or our responsibility for our neighbors. -Sundar Singh; oneness with God, pg. 100

As much as I enjoyed this book, I do have a small nit to pick. While there is a source listing at the end of the book, I prefer a more extensive citation and bibliography section. Perhaps this source list is enough, I haven’t researched it yet. Aside from this tiny peeve, I feel this is an excellent book and will enjoy dipping into the Wisdom of Sundar Singh again and again.

Book Review: To Be A Christian

Book Review: To Be A Christian

Author: Anglican Church in North America

Publisher: Anglican House Publishers ISBN: 9780986044120

To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism

As a pastor and a teacher in the ways of the Christian faith, I am always interested in the materials that can be helpful with my efforts to lead others in following Christ. This latest book from the Anglican Church in North America is a wonderful addition to my list of favorite resources.

About the Book itself:

Made of bonded black leather and embossed with gold lettering, the book is handsome with a clean aesthetic. It has dimensions of approximately 6″ X 8″ and weighs in with about 160 pages. It is not a thick book, but the weight of the paper and quality is such that it leaves me with no fears that I must handle the pages with a delicate touch to keep them from tearing. This book is meant to be used. There is also a single ribbon marker.

Content and Instruction Philosophy:

I love the premise for instruction and the flow of material presented. Truly, there is nothing new here and that is (in my opinion) part of the beauty. Likewise, I think there is an ecumenical bond when we hearken back to our most common denominators of the Christian faith. I believe this spirit is evident in the work produced in this Anglican Catechism.

The primary teaching tools included in this work follow: Part One begins with the Gospel and the primary teachings of Christ concerning salvation; Part Two proceeds with Believing in Christ and enlists the Apostle’s Creed as the center of focus for teaching “what we believe.” A format of questions and answers following each line of the Creed helps to detail and explain the essence of each belief statement. Part Three introduces what it means to belong to Christ, Being Christ’s, and teaches the basics of the Christian Life through the Lord’s Prayer. The same line-by-line format of Q&A used with the Apostle’s Creed is utilized in this section devoted to the Lord’s Prayer. Part Four, Behaving Christianly, ventures deeper into the lifestyle of the Christian and continues the very effective format of line-by-line question and answer, this time using the Decalogue or Ten Commandments.  While not novel, I think this “common denominator” approach is brilliant in simplicity and consists of the most basic foundations of our Christian faith. In a day of consumeristic zeal for newer, fresher, better, and improved… I think there is a beauty and a grace for this approach to making disciples of Jesus Christ. It has worked for two millennia; there is no reason to attempt to reinvent the wheel.

The Anglican Church has produced a beautiful and well-constructed catechism (discipleship tool). There are more exhaustive volumes available, but for the sake of simplicity and thoroughness as well as faithfulness to the core teaching of the Christian faith, I do not think you will find a better resource. You may find equals, but I am doubtful you will find better. This is a winner and I am blessed to add it to my favorite discipleship tools.

Book Review: Tables in the Wilderness

Book Review: Tables in the Wilderness

Author: Preston Yancey

Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310338826

I appreciated reading Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness. I also respect his articulation of his spiritual journey. There are certainly differences in interpretation and experience of encountering God…and I didn’t expect his journey to necessarily align with my own. It was with this openness and acceptance to listen that I “listened and heard” Yancey’s story.

Tables in the Wilderness is the story of a “package” unraveled and then reassembled. So many people who have a Christian belief system assume to have God figured out along with all the nuanced postures, rites, and religious doo-dahs in place to function as a member of their specific Jesus tribe. Yancey proceeds to share his systems, the worlds that formed them…and the worlds that were their undoing, and ultimately when they were deconstructed, how his understanding and experience of God started to be reconstructed.

I don’t understand some of the negative reviews of this book. Yancey seems to write from a very bare and vulnerable place. It is difficult for me to accept the harsh criticism of some of the more insensitive reviews concerning details of Yancey’s Christian views in his memoir, especially when the subject of this book is a “personal experience” and confession of sorts…and not a theological treatise. Every Christian’s journey is going to be a personal experience, often born out of corporate interactions, but personal nonetheless and this is what Yancey reveals in his memoir. Some of what is written is “heady” and perhaps comes across as being over-thought, but this is the personality of the writer being revealed. I very much appreciated the authenticity.

It is possible the fond connections I have to Yancey’s story are the similarities I found with my own story. I understood precisely what he was trying to convey when he was confronted with his false self and judgmental views of other Christian pilgrims when I read the following words:

“It happens slowly, the way it becomes about us and not about God. It happens when we change our email signatures to include that we are pastors, when we sit a little straighter in our chairs when we talk about the Bible, when we look at people like they should defer to us because we are the ones who know. We aren’t a Family anymore. We are two people and those other people. We are us and they are them. It happens before you realize it has happened. It happens the moment you believe that your spirituality has surpassed that of someone else, that you can be their Holy Spirit.” (pg. 85).

Similarly, as Yancey begins opening himself to the undoing of the false self and allows God the Holy Spirit to transform his own mind and heart, his perspective of others begins to be a revelation of grace, compassion, patience, and love. I connected with this maturing grace and Christian love when I read the following:

“If we get tripped up by the words about God, we miss God in the process. It took me a long time, but I eventually gave up the need to always call the Eucharist the Eucharist and instead use the words Communion, Lord’s Supper, and Eucharist with an interchangeable grace. I let circumstance dictate my word choice, I let context determine my response. Because there was a time there where I and The Church of the Windowless Resurrection were essentially one and the same. We were both fighting, clawing, thrashing to prove who we were not.” (pg. 225).

This is a book about grace. This is a book about self-knowing. This is a book about seeking and searching. It is not systematic theology and it is not about articles of faith. It is the soul of one man baring a personal experience and inner conversations with the Triune Godhead. If Tables in the Wilderness is read from this perspective, it is likely you will find connections with your own journey and even more likely, you will enjoy the conversation as you get to know Preston Yancey.

Things that Go Plop (polyp) in the Night… Or silent, debilitating, cumulative scariness

Things that go plop (polyp) in the night… or silent, debilitating, cumulative scariness.

Anyone that follows my blog knows that my posting has been sporadic (at the very best) for the past year or so. I have had occasional bursts of regularity, especially posting around the high seasons of the Church Calendar during Advent and Lent in particular, but outside of those special times, my writing has been very sparse.

What’s been up?

I’ve been reluctant to write about myself these past months, mostly because I didn’t understand what was happening with me…and well, I just didn’t feel like it.

I first started to notice I was having some problems a little over three years ago. I think I really pinned it down to the time of my first visit to the Pecos Monastery in June of 2011. It was at that time I remember having a sinus infection that never really went away. Having a sinus infection is no new thing for me, I’ve been subject to sinus issues, infections, allergies, and the like for most of my life, but they’ve always cleared up and I’ve had seasons of respite. Like I said, this 2011 infection/allergy was a bit different. It never went away; of course, I didn’t and wouldn’t have known that at the time, but I digress.

So, 2011 turned to 2012 and I returned to the monastery again. This time I recognized that I could no longer sleep turned on my right side as my sinus passages would become completely blocked. My fix to this problem was learning to sleep on my left side, which was no small feat, but learn I did and my sleeping habits returned to a version of normal where I’d get a somewhat cumulative amount of nightly sleep, but interrupted over the course of the night with frequent wake ups.

2012 turned to 2013 and new health problems emerging in my life. Most of these I attributed to genetics and the aging process and a predominantly sedentary lifestyle. My sinus issues continued right alongside my new health headaches and my sleep patterns continued to worsen with time. At some point, I was asked by one of my physicians how my sleep was. I said with a nervous chuckle; “I don’t sleep, I nap throughout the night and during the day.” He asked me why that was and I responded, “I can’t breathe.” This was the first time I really opened a conversation about my sinus problems. I always thought it was just something one had to deal with… “Allergies were normal” and antihistamines never really did much for me, so I just learned to deal with it. My Doc took a scope of sorts and looked into my nose and said, “You have nasal polyps” very matter-of-factly. I asked what that meant and didn’t get much of an answer other than “it’s no big deal…”

This brings us up to the current year (2014) and my continued struggle with breathing, sleep, and a host of maladies that joined the party. I started doing some reading about my newly acquired health problems and found many (maybe most or all) were related to “Sleep deprivation, which has been shown to alter the balance of hormones such as leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite, leading to overeating, higher glucose levels and insulin resistance, all of which are risk factors for type II diabetes. It is thought that, without enough sleep, our bodies may get ‘stuck’ in a state of alertness, leading to an increase in the production of stress hormones, which increases blood pressure.” I was experiencing these very problems along with lack of energy, loss of focus, and generally feeling tired most of the time. This brings us up to present day. It was about four months ago that things started to get so bad that I was unable to sleep much more than an hour at a stretch during the night.  This progressed until a few weeks ago when my “sinus infection” hit new heights and my “nasal polyps” started commanding front stage attention. No longer was just my evening life affected, my daytime life was becoming intruded upon in a major way. My face and eyes were swelling with sinus congestion and infection, I couldn’t talk well at all, and my personal health seemed to be causing people to be noticeably uncomfortable when I would be in their presence. I had to do something.

In the span of two short weeks, I made the rounds from PCP to Specialist to Surgery. I’m still in recovery mode as my surgery was less than a week ago, but so far my outcome is nothing less than spectacular. The post-op discomfort is certainly present, but the ability to breathe again outweighs those irritations by far. I’m hoping for a big (if not full) comeback. I want to see my overall health rebound with the expectation that my sleep patterns will also return to something resembling normal. I don’t know if it’s just adrenaline or giddy hope, but I think I feel an increase in energy already…time will tell.

I’ve noticed something else during this frustrating chapter of life, this season of declining health and all that it has brought with it has been deceptive and patient in its attack on my physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual state of being. I think there is a deeper and much more sobering spiritual truth with this revelation and awareness. This temporal, physical, and broken existence we live in subjects each of us to the insidious onslaught of wave after wave of attacks upon our very being. Nothing that happens to us affects us in a void. Every action, every experience, every bite and breath of life contain inertia and energy that reverberates in us and through us, tickling and tumbling internal latches and locks that release doorways of life and/or windows of death. No one escapes, and everyone is subject. This is the nature of the world we inherited post-Adam. The scarier aspect of this reality is the stealthy and relentlessly cumulative nature of this attack upon us. Left unawares of how we are being affected, we wake up one day and realize something or many things are broken, some irreparably.

We are multi-faceted creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made…incredibly resilient, but dangerously fragile too. We are told to love our God with “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength.” This should be a clue to us that we are inextricably linked through all these aspects of our being. One doesn’t come under attack without the others becoming influenced or affected. Many times, because we are so wonderfully made, we don’t notice the auto compensating nature that our bodies function under. Something begins to fail or falter and another organ or aspect of our being jumps up to get “its back.” Amazing stuff we humans are. The wonderful nature I point to though, doesn’t come free, there is always a cumulative effect and left alone and unattended, it can be our demise. The spiritual truth here is rich and shouldn’t be glossed over. Paying attention to our souls is an important task and much more complex than what many of us might give deep thought to—there might be risks far greater than some of us are willing or capable of paying for this kind of neglect.

Jesus and the Church have left us a great legacy and means of taking good care of ourselves so we might be ready and “healthy” for the Bridal Feast of our Lord. None of us should be so foolish that a “sinus allergy” would be our eternal undoing.

Nominal Christians and the Zombie Apocalypse

Nominal Christians and the Zombie Apocalypse

Readings: Psalm 97, 99, 100  Judges 13:1-15  Acts 5:1-42  John 3:1-36

“Acknowledge that the LORD is God… LORD, your name is holy. The LORD is King!” Psalm 97:1; 99:1, 3; 100:3

My thoughts today are inspired primarily from readings in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Chapter five opens with a narrative about a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11 NLT). This recounting tells of this couple selling some property they owned and bringing part of the money to the apostles while claiming that they were bringing all of the money from the sale.

I’ve read this account from Scripture many times and I’ve heard teachings from it many times as well. In most cases, the main point has been stealing from God and attempting to deceive God. During my reading today, I think I was given a glimpse of a more encompassing application.

“How could you think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:9 NLT)

As I was reading this passage, I noticed several things that seemed to parallel the spirit of our contemporary society. As we have acknowledged earlier, Ananias had property that was solely his (and his wife Sapphira’s). Peter acknowledges and affirms that the property and the money was Ananias’ to do with as he willed (Acts 5:4). Therefore, the issue here was not about stealing from the Lord, at least not in the strictest sense. I can understand how stealing from God might be an interpretation in a collateral sense as Ananias had professed offering all the proceeds of the sale to the apostles, yet held back a portion for himself, but I think this misses a more important and comprehensive understanding of the text. Likewise, I’m curious about the nature of our focus on the deception of Ananias and Sapphira. Speaking only for myself, I believe I have missed the true deception until now.

I recognize part of the deception perpetrated by this ancient couple was prompted by vainglory. I think it is natural to assume they were motivated to deceive because they wanted the accolades of their peers and the apostles; they wanted the appearance of righteousness without the cost. It was this realization that made me aware of the similarities existing between Ananias and Sapphira and our contemporary world, especially the first-world west.

How might we be similar to these deceiving posers? Anytime we prop up our appearances to show forth a false righteousness, assuming honesty and lacking whole-hearted obedience to the teaching and the commands of Jesus, we are cut from the cloth of Ananias and Sapphira.

This was the primary transgression of this deceptive duo. It was not that they were “cheating the Church or God” of financial offering, and it was not that they were lying to their “pastor” or brothers and sisters in the Church. Their sin was the conspiracy of deceiving their own heart and in the process tempting the Spirit of God.

What is an example of this conspiracy and heart deception today?

I think there are many examples, but likely the most pervasive is the attitude of nominal Christianity. Before explaining what I mean, it might be helpful to clarify that there truly is no such thing as a nominal Christian. A Christian either is, or is not. This does not mean a Christian cannot be without fault or imperfect… quite the contrary. There are many imperfect Christians and Saints. A Christian is simply a person who has accepted in word and testimony that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. Their confession of this faith is their word. Their testimony is the outworking of faith that accompanies their word, which manifests itself in Holy Spirit empowered love and honest obedience to all the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ (whether through him directly or interpretations thereof through the apostolic writings of his disciples). Consequently, a nominal Christian is one who selectively chooses the commands and teachings of Jesus that they will follow. They will maintain an appearance of faith and righteousness vis-à-vis various works of the flesh with the intent to look holy before their peers, but resisting God’s transforming work in other areas of their life. This is not unlike the transgression of Ananias and Sapphira…not at all. The mediocrity of faith and unwillingness to surrender the throne of self to God is the sin unto death of our day. This sin renders the Church powerless and all but completely stops the spread of the Gospel. It is the sin that Jesus confesses, which makes him want to wretch.

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” (Rev. 3:15-16 NLT)

In our example from the Book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit strike both Ananias and Sapphira dead in their tracks for their sin. The question might be asked, “Why not the same sudden punishment for us today?” Perhaps the mercy of God is extended to us that we might correct our selfish error while there is still time. Those who fail to obey the Christ have already had judgment passed upon them; “Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment” (John 3:36 NLT).

If we fail to answer the call of Christ, to follow Him faithfully and obediently surrendered to his will and way (regardless of the fits, stutters, stumbles, and shortcomings, but still faithfully giving our whole-hearted effort), we are nothing but walking dead… Zombies, unaware that our self-righteous conspiracy to test the Spirit of the Lord has murdered our soul.

My Prayer Today:

O God, I look to you and call upon your name for the blessing of peace that surpasses human understanding. You alone, O LORD, know the state of my mind and the condition of my soul. I open and offer them both to you and humbly ask that you order them according to your will and purposes. Remove from me, all those distractions that would derail my attention. Attune all of my senses to your frequency that I might resonate in perfect harmony with you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms

Book Review: A Commentary on the Psalms

Author: Allen P. Ross

Publisher: Kregel Exegetical Library

ISBN: 9780825425639

A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 2 (42—89)

I continue to be impressed with Kregel’s Exegetical Library and Commentary series. I have obtained and reviewed several offerings from this set and the excellence and consistency remain steadfast. This second volume in Alan P. Ross’ Commentary on the Psalms keeps the “high bar” standard alive in the series.

This is actually the first volume of the Psalms series I have had the opportunity to work in. Volume one was released in February of 2012 and volume three is slated for release later this year (November 2014). I can say that I will be going back for volume one and I’ll be waiting in line for volume three, as I’ve enjoyed this copy immensely and count it as an indispensible resource for my Psalm studies and personal devotions.

Allen P. Ross (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School and has also taught at Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry and Dallas Theological Seminary. Having chaired the Old Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary and served as Hebrew Scholar assisting in the translations of the New Living Bible and the New King James Bible, Dr. Ross is imminently qualified to offer exegesis and insight from the Psalms.

The treatment of each Psalm begins with an introduction of the text and textual variants. Here Ross shares the English translation and information relative to the original Hebrew, Greek translation variants, and other relevant manuscript and/or translation information. Next, is composition and context indicating the nature and purpose of the Psalm (lament, praise, hymn, confession of repentance, etc.). Following these introductory sections, Ross begins his exegetical analysis and expository commentary. This section is where Ross’ expertise truly shines. His extensive knowledge of the Old Testament and understanding of the Hebrew language combined with the temperament of an educator make this presentation very readable and interesting. I have used many commentaries that tend to gravitate toward one or the other spectrum of too academic or too narrative (almost paraphrasing the text with personal opinion). This commentary series seems to rest in the sweet spot of that spectrum with a comforting push toward the academic side. Ross completes his treatment of each Psalm with a homiletical application or “what does this mean to me” and “what should I do with it” consideration.

As I said at the beginning of my review, this is another fine addition to the Kregel Exegetical Library and should be near the top of anyone’s list for Commentary sets working with the Psalms. You can check out an example chapter here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publishing to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine

Book Review: Exploring Christian Doctrine

Author: Tony Lane

Publisher: InterVarsity Press

ISBN: 9780830825462

Exploring Christian Doctrine: A Guide to What Christians Believe

I am always on the lookout for teaching tools that will help me to share What Christians Believe. InterVarsity Press and Tony Lane have worked together to produce what is, in my opinion, an extraordinary systematic study in basic Christian doctrine.

Tony Lane (DD, University of Oxford) is professor of historical theology at the London School of Theology. One might suspect that systematic studies of Christian doctrine can be rather dry and academic, but Tony Lane has broken that stuffy stereotype and written a work that is interesting, edifying, and understandable across a broad range of learning styles and levels of Christian maturity.

One of the many things I appreciated about this compelling study was the theological stance of Tony Lane. He is self-described as “‘eclectic’ rather than ‘confessional,’ writing as an Evangelical Christian, but drawing upon a wide range of Christian traditions—Reformed, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, etc.—without being tied to any specific one.” This attitude is pervasive throughout the study, from cover to cover; Lane shares insight and knowledge without bias and presents information as objectively and evenly represented between the Christian traditions as any resource I’ve ever come across.

The introduction sets stage for the purpose and format of the book. Lane writes; “This book originated as a series of Lectures for a first-year undergraduate Christian Doctrine Survey module. It is designed to be used by students at that level, either on their own or as a textbook for a whole cohort. It is also written to be accessible to the educated lay person who has no formal theological training.”

The format follows this basic pattern: (1) Chapter—the basic belief found in the doctrinal subject; brief historical account of the doctrine; important texts supporting the doctrine and any  creedal support; differences over doctrine between groups and interconnections of doctrine between groups; relationship of doctrine to the contemporary scene in both Church and culture (2) Interactive questions are sprinkled throughout each chapter with “What do you think?” invitations. Lane provides resources for the reader-student to engage and also includes his personal opinion on the subject. (3) Skeptic’s objections are discussed (4) Creedal and Confessional statements related to the doctrine (5) Errors to avoid regarding the doctrine (6) Issues creating tension and speculation are presented (7) Inclusion of aspects of participation in or with worship (hymn, liturgy, ritual) and prayer.

At the end of each chapter study, Lane includes a notes section and resources section that contains bibliographies for further study. Likewise, he provides a “question to answer” and suggests answers be limited to 100-words or less. He makes this recommendation to prepare the student to have a ready answer for man-on-the-street type questions where the listener may not be prepared or willing to listen to an essay styled response.

I have really enjoyed my reading through this presentation of Christian Doctrine. I do not exaggerate when I state it might be one of the finest I have come across in all my studies…especially, when I consider the range, depth, and diversity of presentation that it encompasses. I will likely be using this as a primary textbook for catechism with new disciples and likely engaging “old” disciples as well. As always, I continue to praise the work of InterVarsity Press with their tireless efforts to the ministry and education of God’s people.

Book Review: Midrash-Reading the Bible with Question Marks

Book Review: Midrash

Author: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Publisher: Paraclete Press

ISBN: 9781612614168

Midrash: Reading the Bible with Question Marks

I read this book several months ago and I’m just getting around to reviewing it. Since it has been in my “to be reviewed stack” of books, I’ve gone back to it time and again re-reading snippets here and there. I’m certain it will make my list of favorite books read in the year 2014.

I’m sure that I’m not alone when I confess that the world of Jewish religious literature was a bit of a mystery to me. I still do not understand it all (Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud, Tanakh), but I’m trying to learn since I believe that these ancient religious writings have bearing on my own Christian faith. I realize there are many Christians who do not agree with my thoughts, but believe that is to their loss.

The literature known as Midrash is an interpretative dialogue seeking the answers to religious questions (both practical and theological) by searching the meaning of the words of the Torah. Midrash attempts to “fill in the gaps” of stories where we do not have the information provided for us. There is much more to defining what Midrash is than the brief explanation I’ve provided, but we needed a working definition.

The very idea of filling in the gaps of Scripture might be terrifying, especially for evangelicals and fundamentalists who might hold a literal view of Scripture. It should not be terrifying. Midrash invites us to the wonder and possibility that God’s Word has for the believer. We don’t know everything about Scripture and we don’t know everything about what was intended for and about the people Scripture was originally spoken or written. Midrash suggests possibility and asks questions about what, if, and how. These questions and possible scenarios and outcomes engage our minds and the questions of our own souls. We wrestle with the living wonder that is God’s Word to humanity. This is my paraphrase of what Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso teaches in the first section of Midrash: Reading the Bible with Question Marks.

In part two of Midrash, Sasso introduces and shares a collection of translations and interpretations of twenty essential, classic midrashic texts. I can truthfully share with no exaggeration that I did not leave a single writing that my mind was not set into action pondering the original texts of the Scripture the midrash was referencing. This, I believe, is good.

There are discussion questions at the end of each midrash that are equally helpful in individual reading and study or with a group. Personally, I think this book would be best enjoyed in the context of a group. Additional resources of a bibliography, suggested reading lists, glossary and a brief notes section complete the book.

Examine a sample from Paraclete Press here

Book Review: Know the Creeds and Councils

Book Review: Know the Creeds and Councils

Author: Justin S. Holcomb

Publisher: Zondervan

ISBN: 9780310515098

Know the Creeds and Councils

When it comes to the Christianity and the Bible, it can seem there are as many different “beliefs” and interpretations as there are people.  According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world.[1] This can present considerable challenges when comes to trying to understand “What we believe…” with regard to the Christian faith.

It is precisely for this reason that a book like Know the Creeds and Councils is such a valuable resource for members of and people who are curious about the Christian Church. The creeds, confessions, catechisms, and councils are the declarations of faith and unifying statements of the people to make up the Christian Church. These defining words are the “things we believe.”

Justin Holcomb has done a commendable job articulating these belief statements in a way that most anyone with the ability to read at a sixth grade level can understand. While some of these creedal statements and confessions can be a bit cumbersome, Holcomb has summarized them in such a way that there has not been any compromise to the integrity of the original statement.

One of the things I liked most is the linear development of theology and doctrine observed through these creeds and confessions. Most, if not all, of the succeeding statements build on the preceding teaching lending to a more robust and deeper understanding of the things the Church believes. Personally, this is important to me with respect to Ecumenicism; where my choices and considerations may differ from another Christian brother or sister, I can reach back to a confession or creed where we have common ground and stand in that place to build unity.

Each chapter provides a brief summary of each creed, confession, catechism, or council. Holcomb provides the historical background, content, and some contemporary relevance. The book is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to be. It does not cover every creedal document in detail, but provides an overview of the major statements of faith. It is a perfect introduction and gives the pertinent points necessary for beginning conversations that might lead to deeper study. Each chapter includes discussion questions helpful for the individual reader or group reading. There are also recommended resources for further reading about each creed, council, catechism, and confession at the end of each chapter. Additionally, there is a thoroughly annotated notes section at the end of the book that can provide even richer studies, should the reader decided to venture there.

Know the Creeds and Councils by Justin Holcomb is a great place to start with understanding the what and the why of our Christian beliefs.



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