Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’
Book Review: Bernard of Clairvaux
Author: Bernard of Clairvaux
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco ISBN: 9780060750677
It is hard to quantify the enormous value I have gleaned from studying from the classic spiritual writings. The Christian community has such a wealth of wisdom in her history and I am so very grateful and fortunate to draw from this wonderfully rich and deep well .
The HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series is edited by Emilie Griffin and includes a number of writings from the Christian tradition. Some of the titles in the series follow: John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, John and Charles Wesley, William Law, and the subject of this review, Bernard of Clairvaux.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) was a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and founding abbot of Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy. He was a very distinguished and influential leader during the course of his life and left a vast collection of writings that have significant impact upon the shaping of Western monasticism and Christian mystical traditions. It is said that his writings had a profound effect on the likes of Martin Luther and John Calvin. This volume in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics series, bearing his name, is an accessible introduction to some of Bernard’s foundational writings that shaped Western religious thought and culture.
This small book introduces the reader to four primary works of Bernard; they are On Conversion, On Loving God, Sermons on the Song of Songs, and Selections from His Letters.
It is hard for me to choose a favorite chapter as each of these writings has influenced me in uniquely specific ways at different points of my spiritual journey. If I were pressed to choose one writing however, it would be On Loving God as it is a teaching that continues to circulate in my memory and affect my daily living more than some of the others. In describing the journey of loving God, Bernard details four stages or degrees of love. He identifies the stages as follows: First degree—love of self for self’s sake, Second degree—love of God for self’s sake, Third degree—love of God for God’s sake, and Fourth degree—love of self for God’s sake.
“What are the four degrees of love? First, we love ourselves for our own sake; since we are unspiritual and of the flesh, we cannot have an interest in anything that does not relate to ourselves. When we begin to see that we cannot subsist by ourselves, we begin to seek God for our own sakes. This is the second degree of love; we love God, but only for our own interests. But if we begin to worship and come to God again and again by meditating, by reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little God becomes known to us through experience. We enter into a sweet familiarity with God, and by tasting how sweet the Lord is we pass into the third degree of love so that now we love God, not for our own sake, but for himself. It should be noted that in this third degree we will stand still for a very long time.” -Bernard of Clairvaux; The Love of God
It is my opinion there is no substitute for learning from these spiritual classics. I am reminded of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews who said, “Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith” (Hebrews 13:7 NLT). There is much we can learn from those who have traveled the journey that is the Christian life. Some of the original writings from these great spiritual masters can be hard to obtain and very difficult to read. I am thankful for those who have brought these ancient writings to us in a package that is accessible and affordable.
Book Review: Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul
Author: Lars Kierspel
Publisher: Kregel Academic ISBN: 9780825429361
This is the first experience I have had with one of Kregel Academic’s Charts books. My cursory description, in a word is phenomenal. Perhaps there are other academic resources that are more comprehensive and/or exhaustive, or at the least, equally comprehensive…but I am unaware of them. This is an indispensable resource when studying the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul or any of his epistles.
There are one hundred eleven charts in the collection arranged in four primary categories: Paul’s Background and Context (9 charts), Paul’s Life and Ministry (25 charts), Paul’s Letters (43 charts), and Paul’s Theological Concepts (34 charts). Kierspel also includes a commentary section, which provides a summary of the information in each chart. I found this commentary very helpful, and in some cases, almost as helpful as the chart itself. The final section of the book is very thorough (thirty pages) bibliography.
As I mentioned earlier, this is my first experience with information of this nature arranged in charts, but it will not be my last. While I have worked with other academic resources and used computer software for study, I found this arrangement of information one of the most intuitive and easy to work with of any method I’ve used to date. This Kregel Chart Book will not be the last I use.
I could share a little more detail about the nature of the charts, but a link on the Amazon.com site provides a look inside the book itself, which will speak much more than what I could here. This will allow you to see for yourself the beautiful functionality of the chart system. I think one of the highlights of this study tool is the objectivity of the presentation. It seems to me that the collection of information is simply “just the facts.” There does not appear to be any bias coloring the presentation of data at all. The great consolation about this detail is that I can enter my studies with a more relaxed attitude, knowing that I do not have to be on my guard filtering opinions or denominational perspective from my research. This alone is a priceless feature in my view.
I am beyond impressed with the book and a little disappointed this is my first exposure to the Kregel Charts Series. I do not know if every book in the genre is as good as this one, but I will be finding out and posting future reviews. If you have never seen or worked with one of these magnificent resources, don’t wait any longer… you won’t regret the investment.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications 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: One Bible, Many Versions
Author: Dave Brunn
Publisher: Inter-Varsity Press ISBN: 9780830827152
Bible translations and various English translated versions fascinate me. Although I am not a translator myself, every aspect of the process interests me, such that I have been studying and reviewing Bible translations for over twenty-five years. Consequently, I am drawn to scholarly works such as Dave Brunn’s One Bible, Many Translations. This is especially true considering that Dave has been personally involved in the work of Bible translation for many years, which I believe uniquely qualifies him to write on the subject.
I really enjoyed this explanation and exploration into the translation process. Rather than deal with technical specifics underlying the translation process, Brunn chooses to use real world examples and real experience to walk the reader through the stages of Bible translation. Each chapter focuses on specific challenges encountered in the process of translation. The earlier chapters and portion of the book address some of the more technical aspects such as form of the message and meaning of the message, translation ideals and practices, and formal (word for word/literal) versus dynamic (thought for thought) equivalence in the translation process. Later chapters deal with some of the challenges such as the doctrine of inspiration and translation as well as other more nuanced issues such as cross-cultural translation. As I mentioned in my opening comments, it is truly fascinating stuff.
The work includes copious charts, tables, diagrams, and other assorted illustrations. While these seemed to get a little tedious for me, I admit that I found myself going back to them multiple occasions to get a better understanding of the idea(s) they represented. In the end, I am thankful that Brunn included the great many examples that he did to illustrate his various points. The book is also well annotated with footnotes and resource credits and it also includes a very useful subject index.
I think academic works of this nature fill a narrow niche, but narrow niche or not, I think the material and the experience shared in this book will be helpful for anyone who is serious about their study and understanding of the Bible. I appreciate the work shared in this book by David Brunn and I am thankful to add it as one of my more valuable resources for understanding Bible translations.
Book Review: The Great Divorce
Author: C. S. Lewis
Publisher: Harper One ISBN: 9780060652921
Every single time I read C. S. Lewis, I am captured by his timeless brilliance. I often wonder what it would have been like to have casual conversation with him. I really enjoy his wit and use of irony in his writing; I think they especially show through in works like The Screwtape Letters and this allegorical piece, The Great Divorce.
I thought the preface was a fitting introduction to the story, but even more, it was thought-provoking material for meditation in itself.
“You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those two into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a river, but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”— C.S. Lewis; from the preface of the Great Divorce
This story is full of profound imagery, invoking thought with every depiction, every twist, and every turn. Lewis states that his tale is not meant to be a theological treatise, he writes in his preface; “I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy.” Still, there is much to ponder with regard to the Christian journey, fantasy or not.
The basics of the story follow a busload of people journeying from hell or purgatory to the foothills of heaven. The cast of characters is vast and portrays a broad-spectrum of human failings, selfishness, self-righteousness, and much more.
The plotline centers upon the opportunity that each of the persons from the bus has to release themselves from what keeps them in bondage to hell. Each person is confronted with their brokenness or their false identity and given the chance to surrender it for entry to heaven. Each of these encounters can serve as an adventure into our own self-examination. The details surrounding each of these encounters is the brilliance of Lewis; that is all I will say, so no more of the story is spoiled on my account.
I believe this, as most of Lewis’ works, should be on every Christian’s “must read” list. I think it is a great book for personal reading, but could be well served and enjoyed even more when read and discussed within a group.
Book Review: Breath of Life
Author: Rabbi Rachel Timoner
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557257048
This is the third book I’ve read of the six that have been published by Paraclete Press in a series on the subject of the Holy Spirit in various faith traditions (see here and here for reviews on other titles I have read). I have intentions of reading and reviewing all of them eventually, but at this juncture, I can report that I am greatly impressed with the series thus far. Each of the three titles I have read are very scholarly, but not difficult to read and respectfully objective with regard to viewpoints outside the particular tradition they are written.
As the subtitle reads, Breath of Life is written from the Jewish perspective. My history and tradition is of the Christian persuasion, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began Breath of Life. What I did find, was not only refreshing, but in many ways revolutionary, even to the point that some of my theology concerning the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) has been changed. Perhaps it might be better stated instead of revolutionary, I rephrase my new awareness as evolutionary.
Why the change?
What was it that brought me new awareness that would change my thinking about the Holy Spirit? I think a general understanding of what is meant by “spirit” from the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) was very influential. Rabbi Timoner shares much in the introduction that helps to shed light on some of the translation issues we encounter; this was enlightening to me. Another influential point was the Rabbi’s writing in Part One – Creation: Breath of Life; specifically the chapters two through four were very poetic and extremely moving to me. My intellect, my emotion, and my spirit were all equally moved as I read and learned things I had not considered before about the movement and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Chapter Two, Spirit In Us, was a very moving essay uniting the creation of humankind with the Spirit of God. I think there was nothing revelatory here for me, but the way that Timoner expressed this “union with God” was especially moving for me and helped establish a foundation from which to build upon for the rest of the book.
“God creates our spirit within us, a spirit that sustains us with vigor and that can turn us toward God in steadfastness. When we pay attention to our spirit within us, we find ourselves yearning to be in God’s presence.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 37)
As I continued to enter into deeper trust with this writing, I realized that I was paying attention to the spirit within me…as I was attentive to this spirit, I noticed God the Spirit speaking wisdom to me through Rabbi Rachel’s words. I was enchanted by the aspects of community and relationship that she highlighted again and again as one of the trademarks of the movement of God’s Spirit.
“Jewish tradition claims that God is speaking to us all the time. According to Midrash, the moment at Sinai has never ended. God’s voice continues to echo through the world, and it is up to us to listen for how we should live.” -Rabbi Rachel Timoner; Breath of Life (p. 65)
Chapter Seven, Finding Purpose through the Spirit, was another very meaningful chapter to me. I think I would summarize it to say that Timoner teaches that we are all imbued with God’s Spirit. How we respond and interact with God’s Spirit determines the destiny we will live into. She closes the chapter with these words; “Our task is to use the measure of ruach we’ve been given to reach for understanding, to look for miracle, to listen for God, to discern beneath the surface of life our portion of God’s purpose. Some people have been given an extra measure of ruach, enabling them to do extraordinary things. All of us have been given enough to be able to understand God’s revelation—to align ourselves with God’s greater purpose, making ourselves instruments to do good.” (p. 93)
This is not a very long book, but it is one that has taken me a long time to read. I have wanted to savor it, not rushing through it, so I could start my next project. I’m glad that I have taken my time; being deliberate and allowing plenty of time for reflection has been rewarded (in my opinion) with a more robust and enriched understanding of how God’s Holy Spirit works in and among humankind. This is certainly a book that I highly recommend for those who are looking to deepen their relationship with God. In fact, I recommend the entire Holy Spirit series from Paraclete Press.
Book Review: Show Me the Way
Author: Henri Nouwen
Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Co. ISBN: 9780824513535
Show Me the Way: Daily Lenten Readings
Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite spiritual writers; I have no less than nine of his works in my personal library, so I was looking forward to spending time with this collection of writings during Lent. I was not disappointed as my expectations were met in abundance.
The book is arranged for daily readings beginning on Ash Wednesday and running through Easter Sunday. The days are arranged in themed weeks; for instance, Week One is titled Only in God and features the topics of hospitality, prayer, forgiveness, and love as the subjects of the meditation. The following weeks have similar themes leading up to Passion Week, Holy Week, and Easter Day.
I particularly enjoyed the structure of this devotional guide. Each day’s reading begins with a Scripture verse followed with a thoughtfully probing devotional from Henri Nouwen and concludes with a prayer. I do not recall any day that exceeded four pages in length, so I feel confident in saying the time commitment for these readings is minimal. This is not to say more time cannot be devoted to them, but for those persons whose schedules are busy, this might be a worthy consideration.
Perhaps another reader might see something different, but I noticed a recurring theme or maybe it was THE theme for the devotional. I think that that theme was attentiveness to God. One particular day seemed to capture this idea very well for me. (Other samples can be found here)
Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.
Jesus’ life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was “all ear.” That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.
A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of god to pray in us. (pp. 94-95)
I make no apologies for my bias and favor toward Henri Nouwen, but bias and favor aside, this was one of my favorite devotional books for this season. If you have never experienced the gentle and pastoral writing of Henri Nouwen, I recommend this book for a first experience. I don’t think it necessary to wait for Lent to pick it up for reading. I know that I will be returning to it again regardless of the season, I was and will be inspired by it over and over again… of this, I am sure.
Book Review: Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers
Compiled by: Peter Celano
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256928
As much as I wanted to enjoy Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers, it just did not stand up to the other devotional resources I had collected for this Lenten season. I feel disappointed making this admission as I had higher expectations for this book when I ordered it, but it was not what I expected. In fairness, there were very good excerpts included in this collection of writings, but the consistency of quality was lacking in my [subjective] opinion.
About the Book
The Holy Fathers in this compendium are popes from the past to the present. Some of the writings are from St. Peter, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Gregory I, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and several others. Again, with such a list of revered papal voices, my expectations were high. The title of this devotional, Lent and Easter with the Holy Fathers, led me to believe that the devotional writings would carry me through the entire season. There are writings arranged for every point of the Lenten calendar beginning with Shrove Tuesday even, but the actual weeks of Lent only include 5-6 short writings. Holy Week provided reflective excerpts that helped spur good meditations throughout the week beginning with Palm Sunday, but with such a deep and rich supply of writing to draw from I just expected more.
The book is just over 100 pages long and is sectioned into six chapters grouped by the points of the season: Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent: Forty Days of Preparation, Holy Week, Easter, and Eastertide.
I do not want to be misunderstood; there are some great meditations in this small devotional and several were very inspiring for me. If this collection were the only devotional book I had in my possession, my impressions may have been different; however, with the luxury of abundance in resources I had, I can definitively say there are better options available.
Book Review: Bread and Wine
Author: Collected Writings
Publisher: Orbis Books ISBN: 9781570755729
I have been fortunate this Lenten season to have a very deep and very broad selection of writings and devotional materials to inspire my meditations. Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter has been one of the very rich pools that I have been dipping into.
There are several things that I like about this collection of readings. First, out of all the devotional reading I have been involved with this season, Bread and Wine is by far the most intellectually stimulating. The second thing that has been very enjoyable to me is the great diversity of authors included in this collection. The diversity is not limited in any way; there are both men and women writers spanning the entire two millennia of the Church and from every tradition of the Christian faith, truly a spiritual cornucopia of devotional writing. Despite these things being a couple of my favorite features of this book, these points also produced the most uncomfortable tension for me.
Some of the writings really pushed my thinking. The level of writing and degree of intelligence of the original author was at the very limit of my ability to comprehend. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, but there were days that I left the reading more exasperated and frustrated than inspired. I realize this point is entirely subjective and the experience of other people might be completely different with these same writings to which I refer, but I think it is a point worth mentioning nonetheless. Also worth mentioning is the other side of the diversity point. Some of the ideas presented in these writings are very different from what I have been exposed to; consequently, my thinking and my theology has been challenged. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but there were many days that my doctrinal precepts were drawn into wrestling matches. I believe the point here is that Bread and Wine is not for the passive reader, it is a challenging and engaging read no matter your background and no matter intellectual level.
The format of the book is thematic, following the Lenten movement from Ash Wednesday and into Eastertide. There are approximately two weeks’ worth of writing for each of the movements which follow: Section One – Invitation, Section Two – Temptation, Section Three – Passion, Section Four – Crucifixion, Section Five – Resurrection, and Section Six – New Life.
Bread and Wine also includes a very detailed list of sources and a very brief biographical index of authors found at the end of the book. Personally, I find this an important inclusion and very helpful to me should I desire to dig deeper with my own studies.
Publishers Weekly writes about Bread and Wine saying, “Hardhitting and beautifully written [featuring] Christendom’s most celebrated masters.” I absolutely agree with this assessment. While I might not consider this my favorite reading for this season, I’m sure it will grow on me as one that will become one of my favorites and will likely become a resource I go to repeatedly for inspiration and challenge. There is much to like about this collection of writings, but as I have mentioned, it is not for the faint of heart. Prepare to be challenged and prepare to grow spiritually; that is… if you engage the challenge.
Book Review: Small Surrenders
Author: Emilie Griffin
Publisher: Paraclete Press ISBN: 9781557256423
I have involved myself with several devotional materials during this season of Lent and ranking at the top of my list as “most enjoyed” is this work by Emilie Griffin, Small Surrenders. I have enjoyed many writings and books by Emilie over the years and was equally inspired by this Lenten devotional piece. Griffin sets the tone for the overall reflection of this devotion in the first paragraph of the introduction page; she writes:
Lent is a time when we deepen our faith in a journey not of grand gestures but of small surrenders. (p.vii)
The journey begins, as one might expect, with a reflection on Ash Wednesday and continues through Easter Sunday. Griffin interacts with the writings of spiritual masters, both ancient and contemporary, as well as all points in between to help illuminate her reflections. The content is deep, but the material and presentation thereof is not too difficult to grasp regardless of who the reader might be.
The format is straightforward, simply following the successive weeks of Lent. Each writing is a brief 3-5 pages in length and takes almost no time to read. The substance of the writing, on the other hand, can be something that is meditated on throughout the day…or longer. I found my heart and my intellect stirred repeatedly as I navigated my Lent with Emilie Griffin’s Small Surrenders.
It is hard for me to point to a “favorite” section of the book; as I said, I have enjoyed it from start to finish, but I did mark several pages with quotes that follow:
On Silence and Solitude: “Christians believe the voice of God permeates the universe and can be heard if only we slow down and tune into the place where silence reigns. (p.49)
On Willingness to Surrender: “God leads us in the way of salvation if we are willing to listen for the instructions God gives.” (p.63)
On Attentiveness to God: “One of the principal disciplines of the spiritual life is attentiveness: being alert to the simple, often subtle ways that God’s grace enters our lives. Often, we have to set aside our anxious preoccupations in order to see that our days are filled with mercies.” (p.79)
On Reconciliation: “The reconciliation we look for in Lent is not only with God but with others. The Gospel says clearly that, if we want t relationship with God, we should make peace with each other.” (p.140)
As I have pointed out, I am a fan of Emilie Griffin and have several of her books in my personal library. There is a reason for this; she writes with a gentle and tender spirit, drawing from a deep well of spiritual wisdom. Her words are seasoned with humility and genuine concern for others—this attitude shines forth in everything I have read.
Personally, if I have any recommendation about reading this beautiful little devotional book, it would be not to wait until Lent. It is worth reading anytime…again and again. I know I will be dipping into its goodness again.