Book Review: Making Spiritual Progress
Author: Allen Ratta
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830844050
This is a “big” book. The “big” I mean is not to be interpreted by physical size or length of pages, but it tackles a “big” subject, introduces some “big” ideas, and covers some “big” ground. Overall, I think Allen Ratta has done a commendable job engaging such a “big” idea as Making Spiritual Progress. Seriously, consider for just a moment… How does a person quantify making spiritual progress? My mind begins to melt as soon as I start to process the question. This, in my opinion, is one of the inspired strokes of genius with Ratta’s work in Making Spiritual Progress. He begins with a paradigm or framework building a life (spiritual progress) with faith, hope, and love and immediately starts to build out from this framework in the first pages of chapter one, The Five Rules of Personal Motivation.
While presenting his five rules, Ratta explains that faith, hope, and love are the fountainhead that all good and positive behaviors flow (p.19). Out of this fountainhead also spews forth a seemingly endless stream of lists. While the information and insight is great, the list form of presenting the information got somewhat tedious for me. There were lists of three great forces of positive motivation, seven unique effects of FHL, three great isms, four early warning signs, the three temptations and the three lusts, five factors that determine behaviors, three religious extremes, lists of fifteen spiritual disciplines, two resources and three principles, and several groups of five spiritual practices …and the lists do not stop there, but I think a sufficient picture has been painted. This is just a minor criticism and a personal peeve at that; as I said, the information and the insight is stellar. I mentioned earlier that Ratta covers much ground with a very broad subject; perhaps the best way of presenting such a great amount of information is to do it with lists… I don’t know, the listed information just got a bit tiring to keep up with for my learning style.
A Few of My Favorite Highlights and a Lowlight:
I greatly enjoyed the treatment of misconceptions about spiritual disciplines and the basic instruction regarding spiritual exercises in general (pp. 94-118). Because of clutter and false perceptions in my Christian journey past, I especially respected the wisdom shared in chapter eight, The Distortions of Faith. There is also some really good information and treatment on the subject of love, especially the concept of “God-love” (agape) found in chapters eleven and twelve, but there remains one gargantuan generalization about love and passion that is still hanging in my mind that causes me to clench my teeth. In his final thoughts on love (p.224), Ratta writes the following words:
“Over three subsequent decades as a pastor, I have observed an unmistakable pattern. People who are the most passionately spiritual often have problems with dark passions. Individuals with this type of character malformation live in a land of feelings. That’s why they are so easily deceived.”
Seriously? He’s not done… Ratta continues:
“We have all witnessed the public and terrible tragedies of some televangelists and high-profile pastors in recent years. It seems that many of those who preached the hardest against sin were the greatest participants and victims of it. Were they all hypocrites? I think not. Is there something deeper afoot? I suspect so. I believe the culprit is a character flaw that was not addressed in a timely fashion.”
Passionate people exhibit character/spiritual “imbalances that eventually develop into to toxic personas” (p. 224). Yeah, I’m not buying it. This is far too general of an observation and irresponsible to categorize (passionate) people as having problems with “dark passions,” character malformations, and spiritually imbalanced.
Overall, the book is good (I’ll rank it a solid 3.5 / 5.0). I wouldn’t recommend it as a standalone, but used in conjunction with a couple of other resources it would be very helpful in forming a well-rounded curriculum. I recently finished another book that I feel would balance and complement Making Spiritual Progress very well. The title of this book is Catching Fire, Becoming Flame by Albert Haase. I have a full review of that book on my blog and on Amazon.com as well. Other helpful resources for the spiritual journey and discipleship I would recommend to complement Spiritual Progress are books from Bill Hull (Choose the Life), The Good and Beautiful series from James Bryan Smith, and The Kingdom Life edited by Alan Andrews.