Posts Tagged ‘InterVarsity Press’

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: What Your Body Knows About God

Book Review: What Your Body Knows About God

Author: Rob Moll

Publisher: IVP ISBN: 9780830836772

What Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve and Thrive

This has been without doubt, one of the most fascinating and brilliant books I have read in years. I may be putting a lot of trust in research that I have no background or knowledge of, but it seems that the claims and data presented by Rob Moll in What Your Body Knows About God is sufficiently supported in the notes section of the book for fact checking. Why would I make a statement like that? I make a qualifying or disclaimer statement because the information shared is almost too fantastic to fathom. On the other side of fact checking, is intuition and experience, and this is where I have made the connection with What Your Body Knows.

Here are some salient details about my experience. I am a former addict. Although I was raised in the heart of the Bible belt and taught the Christian faith most of my life, for many years I was living my life very far from God. Quite a few years ago, I made my pilgrimage back to the Christian faith with hopes of finding a deep connection with God that I could never find in some of the earlier forays into Christian spirituality during my younger-self life. Somewhere around ten years ago, I was introduced to the ancient and classic methods of spiritual formation,  engaging in spiritual exercises and disciplines practiced by souls for centuries who were on the Way of Jesus who sought whole life transformation in the image and nature of the Christ they follow. Ultimately, these practices were supposed to help facilitate deep reconciliation, restoration, and union with Creator God and many, many of those practicing this lifestyle of devotion did report deep personal transformation…with equal affirming reports from witnesses and peers to the same. My testimony is similar. I have found peace with myself, peace with God, and realized a renewed mind and changed heart.  My spiritual life was not the only thing that changed with me through this process. In addition to my spiritual health, my emotional health, my intellect, and aspects of my physical self have changed… in some cases, these changes have rendered me unrecognizable as the man I was formerly known. I am, in every sense of the word, a new creation. I know others will attest to these changes in me as well, but the challenge has been quantifying and validating the process and methods. This is especially true of my Christian tradition, which remains highly skeptical of any efforts that might resemble “works” or self-effort on the way of spiritual recovery.

I have struggled with language to articulate my experience, but that struggle is ending due in large part to the work Rob Moll has done in this most excellent book. While I have known the changes in my life (and others’ lives) have been real, I have needed something more to help communicate the rationality of what has happened. The reality of living in the information age and the age of reason dictates a language the culture can understand. What the Body Knows About God is providing me this language. Moll produces deep science and medical studies to corroborate the experiences of those who have been spiritually transformed. Evidence that supports the “renewing of the mind” and rewiring of the emotions (think fruit of the Spirit) are all included in this magnificent study. Verifiable connections to the disciplines of spiritual formation and life transformation producing “abundant living” are all recorded and explained in terms non-science person like myself can understand.

I am beyond grateful for the work put into this book and know it will be a game changer for me as I continue to share my testimony, now in ways that might better communicate the miracle of God in a life transformed. We are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and made so that we might be in faithful fellowship with one another and with the God who created us. What Your Body Knows About God helps to make all of this clear. A must read!

Book Review: On the Way to the Cross

Book Review: On the Way to the Cross

Author: Thomas C. Oden & Joel C. Elowsky

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835676

On the Way to the Cross: 40 Days with the Church Fathers

I used this devotional for my part of my Lenten experience this year (2014). It is not necessary for it to be relegated only to this period, but should be considered for anytime through the year as a wonderful tool for re-centering one’s soul. I found it very much effective in this regard.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Thomas Oden and particularly the Ancient Christian Devotional Series of which this devotional book, On the Way to the Cross, patterns itself.

Each daily reading begins with a confessional statement from the Book of Common Prayer. Following the daily confession is a Scripture reading and reflections from the Church Fathers concluding with closing prayers also from the early church fathers and the prayer books of the early church.

For those unfamiliar with the writings of the early church, this can serve as a wonderful and very accessible introduction. The language is easy to understand and each day’s devotional reading requires a minimal time investment.

Book Review: Spiritual Direction

Book Review: Spiritual Direction

Author: Gordon T. Smith

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835799

Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Giving & Receiving Direction

When I first received information about this title being published this past winter, I was excited and eagerly looked forward to the day I would be able to read the book myself. Well, the day has come and I’ve read Spiritual Direction by Gordon Smith, and it was exactly what I had hoped for and then some.

A few things off the top that I really liked follow:

(1)    It is an “everyman’s” read. It’s not bogged down with academic or mysterious language. I think it is easily accessible to anyone who wants to take the time to read it.

(2)    The book is concise without sacrificing content. Gordon Smith uses just the amount of words to make a point and then he moves on to the next point. This is sufficient to answer readers’ questions and hold their interest as he moves from chapter to chapter.

(3)    I appreciate that this book will create a common language or a baseline of sorts with people who are unfamiliar with the practice and ministry of spiritual direction. Smith has removed some of the mystery from the practice of spiritual direction and may open conversation to those who have previously been wary and/or close-minded to this ancient practice.

Technical Details—

As I stated previously, the book is concise and weighs in just under one-hundred pages including endnotes and recommended reading resources. Smith has used nine chapters to present his material. He uses the first five chapters to unpack what spiritual direction is. He discusses spiritual direction as ministry (chapter one), the theological perspectives (chapter two), the nature of the conversation in spiritual direction (chapter three), the inclusion of attentiveness toward the direction meeting in our prayers (chapter four), and a description (mock) of a spiritual direction session (chapter five).

The second half of the book (chapters six through nine), Smith addresses the personal aspects and relational nature of the spiritual direction meeting. Beginning in chapter six, he makes an important distinction that spiritual direction is not equivalent, nor is it a platform, for teaching, preaching, counseling, or pastoral care (pp 70-71). Chapters seven and eight respectively define the qualities and character of the spiritual director and the same for a directee. Smith finishes the book with chapter nine and an emphatic reminder that the real Spiritual Director in the meeting between a director and directee is the Holy Spirit.

There are some who might consider this book a bit remedial or lacking in details. If you’re looking for a textbook or a resource deep in the arcane works of spiritual direction, this is not that book. If you’re like me, and looking for a resource that can help you describe your ministry to those who look upon you with curiosity and doubt…this book might be your best friend. If you’ve heard of spiritual direction and wondered what it really is and what it really means??? Stop looking and buy this book now. I know I will be referring and recommending Gordon Smith’s Spiritual Direction to many, many of my friends and students.

I am grateful to IVP and Gordon Smith for a wonderful, needful, and sure-to-be-helpful resource!

Book Review: Making Spiritual Progress

Book Review: Making Spiritual Progress

Author: Allen Ratta

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830844050

Making Spiritual Progress: Building Your Life with Faith, Hope, and Love

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 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.

Book Review: The Jesus Prayer

Book Review: The Jesus Prayer

Author: John Michael Talbot

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835775

The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, a Path of Renewal

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Just twelve words and yet they are packed with the power to transform lives. In fact, the words contained in this Jesus Prayer have been instrumental in transforming hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of lives in the Christian tradition. I have been one of those lives and John Michael Talbot has been as well. Here, in this little book, Talbot shares the history behind the prayer and he also shares layers of understanding with the deep and gifted wisdom of a seasoned teacher.

He begins this book with an introduction explaining some of his own testimony to serve as a backdrop for his experience with the Jesus Prayer. I found a kindred soul and similarities with my own spiritual journey and awakening when reading the following words from his introduction:

“I encountered the Jesus Prayer early on in a book called The Way of the Pilgrim. I was also reading Thomas Merton’s books and others like the Imitation of Christ and The Cloud of Unknowing. I was reading monastic sources like ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’ and various Franciscan books. I was then led to the Philokalia, or ‘the study of the beautiful,’ which is a collection of sources from the Christian East.” (p.10)

I find it intriguing, in a divinely coincidental way, that I was introduced to all these same writings and sources as I was being drawn to a closer relationship with Christ Jesus…most of all, I found it encouraging and affirming.

Talbot also patiently explains in the introduction the holistic nature of the Jesus Prayer in which it is not relegated to words only, but encompasses engagement of the breathing, the intellect, the physical dimensions of the person praying, and a deeply spiritual connection. In essence, the Jesus Prayer connects the pray-er to loving, relating, communing with God in a way that is all the heart, all the soul, all the mind, and all the strength.

Through the course of the remaining Ten Chapters, John Michael Talbot unpacks the Jesus Prayer word by word and line by line. While some readers might find this subjective, and possibly repetitive, I found that it deepens my reflection while engaging the prayer. Taking the time to slow down and allow each of the words of the prayer to act as a steeping solution for my soul. I think I will never be able to rush through the prayer as I have gained beautiful insight helpful in gaining a fuller perspective of the prayer. And this brings me to another important point, in the conclusion Talbot points out the often over-looked aspect of community in the Christian journey. This is especially true in matters of deepening spiritual maturity where the follower of Christ can benefit greatly from a more mature follower. Talbot writes as follows:

“In the Christian East the role of the spiritual father and mother is seen as essential to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. In the West we call them spiritual directors, but they are different in character and tone…”

“In the East they say that it is really not enough to read books about spiritual life or the Jesus Prayer. You must also have a spiritual father or mother as a guide. But they also caution (as do the masters of the West) that a bad spiritual director is worse than no spiritual director.”  (p.133)

I think these points cannot be made strongly enough. I know my spiritual life floundered for years for lacking proper spiritual guidance and support.

This little book is a fabulous resource and helpful in developing a better understanding and practice of this wonderful Prayer. Talbot also includes a great bibliography and suggested reading list pointing any eager reader to deeper study. I’m ranking the Jesus Prayer with 5-stars and will recommend it heartily to friends and students.

For video of John Michael Talbot teaching the Jesus Prayer:

Book Review: A Guidebook to Prayer

Book Review: A Guidebook to Prayer

Author: MaryKate Morse

Publisher: InterVarsity Press

ISBN: 9780830835782

A Guidebook to Prayer: Twenty-Four Ways to Walk With God

I haven’t stopped smiling since I received this book. Every time I open its pages, my face breaks into smiles and my heart begins to warm.

I am an ordained minister in the Christian Church; while I might not be as well traveled as some, I do know that many Christians struggle with prayer. It’s not just the act of praying itself that is difficult for people, but the concept alone of prayer can be a mind-bender. This is why my heart warms as I engage MaryKate Morse’s Guidebook to Prayer. I believe one of the foundational principles for the book can be found in a statement she quotes from Richard Foster defining prayer; “Prayer is nothing more than an ongoing and growing love relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” How simple and how beautiful is that? A second founding principle is framed in a handful of questions found in her introduction. Morse presents the following questions to assist the reader with consideration of the relational aspects of their prayer life. She writes; “Rather than asking ourselves, ‘Am I praying each day?’ we should ask ourselves, ‘Am I in a love relationship with God today? Am I living like Jesus today? Do I smell the sweet breath of the Spirit today?'” What a wonderful framework for helping one another to walk with and relate to God!

Rather than simply list a bunch of prayer exercises, Morse has chosen to arrange these prayer encounters in a way that expresses deference to the Triune nature of God. There are three parts or sections to the book with prayer exercises modeled to explore and encounter God in the persons of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Examples of these “approaches to prayer” in their respective sections follow: Part One-God the Father, (1) Community Prayer (2) Creative Prayer (3) Work Prayer (4) Contemplative-Rest Prayer (5) Prayer of Confession (6) Blessing Prayer (7) Worship Prayer. Part Two-God the Son, (8) Daily Reflection Prayer—The Examen (9) The Lord’s Prayer (10) The Servant Prayer (11) Simplicity Prayer (12) Prayer in Play (13) Scripture Prayer—Lectio Divina (14) Relinquishment Prayer (15) Forgiveness Prayer (16) Sacrament Prayer. Part Three-God the Holy Spirit (17) Prayer Language—Tongues (18) Conversational Prayer (19) Breath Prayer (20) Healing Prayer (21) Meditative Prayer (22) Discernment Prayer (23) Watch Prayer (24) Rejoice Prayer. This list clearly expresses a very diverse pathway to meeting with God, but the list is not definitive. As MaryKate Morse writes in her introduction, “This guidebook introduces many ways for Christians to pray. It is not a definitive guidebook. There are still other ways to pray.” This Guidebook to Prayer is a starting point…and what a wonderful starting point it is!

Another very helpful structure Morse has included in her book is practical examples for approaching these individual encounters. Each chapter (prayer exercise) features guided suggestions for engaging the style of prayer in the context of an individual approach, partner, or group experience. Morse has thoughtfully included personal testimonials she has collected from people she has met and instructed during her years of retreat guiding and spiritual direction. Also, at the end of each chapter is a brief list of suggested reading for more in depth study in the particular prayer discipline that has been shared.

This really is a great little book. I have already recommended it for our prayer ministry in the church that I serve and attend. We will be using this guidebook as a resource tool for introducing our church family to a broader understanding of prayer and relating with the Godhead. As shared on the back cover, this guidebook is, “A treasure trove of both resources and encouragement, you will find this book to be an indispensable guide to your life of prayer.”  I say, “Absolutely!” Thank you, MaryKate Morse and thank you InterVarsity Press for helping to make prayer “less hard.”


Book Review: Luke–The Gospel of Amazement

Book Review: Luke: The Gospel of Amazement

Author: Michael Card

Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830838356

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement

I’m not sure I would classify this book as a Bible commentary, at least not in my accustomed understanding and experience with commentaries. Michael Card’s work in Luke: The Gospel of Amazement shares certain attributes and characteristics with standard commentaries, but it is very different in tone and voice.

The InterVarsity Press website says this about the Biblical Imagination Series of commentaries:

In the Biblical Imagination Series, Card invites readers to enter into Scripture as he has learned to do, at the level of the informed imagination. These volumes will help you discover the biblical text for yourself, ask your own questions and uncover deeper truths. Taking seriously the individual life and voice of each biblical writer, the Biblical Imagination Series will help you reintegrate your mind with your heart to recapture your imagination with the beauty and power of Christ.

This is a very different approach to most academic work, and Bible studies in particular, although imaginative Scripture reading and imaginative prayer have been around for a while. Ignatius of Loyola incorporated imaginative reading and prayer as part of his spiritual exercises dating back to the sixteenth century. I find it refreshing to see this imaginative approach toward Scripture incorporated in this gospel interpretation and this is what makes this study-commentary a real delight.

Michael Card brings the gospel story, as written by Luke, alive. The story is not dusty history; instead, you smell and feel the dust of ancient Palestine as Card stimulates the senses and thinking of the reader to consider details of this gospel account they may have previously breezed over on other occasions.

As mentioned, the book is not intended to be an exercise in academia; consequently, there are not many additional resources (footnotes, bibliography, etc.). The book is organized in chapters paralleling the chapters of Luke’s Gospel. This makes for a great structure for reading in the context of a group study. I have enjoyed my study of Jesus through the eyes of Luke and the storytelling of Michael Card. I look forward to reading and reflecting on other works from this Biblical Imagination Series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from InterVarsity Press 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: Athanasius—The Life of Antony of Egypt

Book Review: Athanasius—The Life of Antony of Egypt

A Paraphrase by:  Albert Haase, O.F.M.

Publisher: Intervarsity Press ISBN: 9780830835928

Athanasius: The Life of Antony of Egypt

I love classic Christian writing. I especially love ancient classic Christian writing from the third and fourth centuries, it is among some of my personal favorite to read and glean. I have read much from and of the early church fathers. The early monastic movement and the desert fathers (and mothers) are especially interesting to me, so when I heard of this paraphrased translation of Athanasius: The Life of Antony of Egypt being released by InterVaristy Press, I was eager to see how it would read.

The work of translation is difficult, but very easy to criticize. Personally, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to take a written language and culture that is completely different from yours and translate it accurately into a context and language that is close to that of your own. If you add to that difficulty one thousand seven hundred plus years removed and the colloquialisms and euphemisms present in every language and culture, the task of translation might be close to impossible. It is with this qualifying understanding that I commend the task undertaken by Albert Haase to bring this book to the public.

I found the story of Antony by Athanasius very readable. I had no difficulty understanding what was presented by the translator and being very familiar with ancient spiritual writings, I must say that this is not always the case. It did not seem as though I was reading an ancient writing at all. I think this was the intent of the series by InterVarsity Press, but in a spirit of complete disclosure, I found some elements of the paraphrase bordering on too contemporary and earthy…but maybe that is what Athansius’ original intent was. Examples might be helpful to share what I mean.

In one of Antony’s spiritual battles with demons, he is struck and wounded. As Antony continues in battle against these dark forces he answers them…

He mocked the beasts and said, “If you really had guts and power, only one of you would have come. But sense the Lord has conquered you, you had to gang up on me like schoolyard bullies. In reality, your bark is worse than your bite!”

He boldly continued, “If you really have guts and power, then come on and have at me! But if you are a wuss, why disturb me? For faith in our Lord is the strongest of defenses and the best of weapons.” (p.33)

As I have considered my impressions, I wondered; “How am I to know that is not exactly what the intent of Athanasius had been at the time he wrote of Antony’s life.” What if the words Haase uses are an accurate reflection of the intent of Athanasius? I have a tendency to romanticize my ideas and expectations at times. I think the paraphrase of this work is excellent. There is the possibility that the language used by Haase could become a bit dated (using contemporary colloquialisms and euphemisms), but that is the risk of every translation. In the meantime, this is an excellent way to bring these classics to an audience that may never have been exposed to these wonderful teachings. It is also a delightful way to breathe new life into these stories for those of us who might be a little overly romantic for the ancient writings.

Book Review: One Bible, Many Versions

Book Review: One Bible, Many Versions

Author: Dave Brunn

Publisher: Inter-Varsity Press ISBN: 9780830827152

One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal?

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.

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