[re]Understading Prayer

February 25, 2006

I would like to think that I have some diversity in my reading.  Whether it is the fiction of John Grisham, the liberal theology of Marcus Borg, the conservatism of John Piper, or the milky [RELEVANTBOOKS] that I work through.  This brief synopsis concerns the latter of these categories.  I enjoy Relevant Books and appreciate the work they are doing in the kingdom; however, I would not describe their volumes as “meaty.”  Their books are not void of theological content, but it is typically not too challenging.

[re]Understanding Prayer was written by the late Kyle Lake.  This book was refreshing.  I did not change my philosophy of prayer much through reading it, because I think Kyle and I started on the same page.  To me, prayer is the all-day conversation you have with God by your awareness of Him.  I would also agree that it is beneficial to have times designated to spend more focused moments in prayer; but we should not use that to measure our spirituality.  If you are discouraged in your prayer life, then this book could be refreshing.  It is not a theology of prayer and no how-tos are provided.  I leave you with his closing statement:

This seems to always be the danger with prayer and perhaps the essence of what Jesus communicated to the Pharisees in Matthew 6.  “Religions leaders, your prayers have taken on a life of their own.  Maybe at one time, there was s imple love for God.  And your communication with God fascilitated that.  But somewhere along the way, prayer became the point, not God.  That is praying became the point of prayer.  Rather than God being the point of prayer.”

Following in the way of Jesus, praying has never been the point of prayer.  God has always been the point.


Who Moved My Cheese?

February 25, 2006

Another great find at Half Price Books was Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.  About 6 years ago, I had a friend who spoke of the relevance this book has to church life.  The young lady who said that was a new Christian herself, but she could see the wisdom of this book applied.

I recommend this book to anyone who has had unpleasant experiences with change.  To pastors who are confronted with inevitable change and anticipate resistance, this can be a helpful resource.

The bulk of the story has to do with an analogy of 4 characters and their response when their cheese is moved.  Two of these characters are mice, and two of them are little humans (such that they were the size of the mice).  They all live in a maze.  There is insight to be gained from the responses of each.  The hardback copy that I picked up (for $1, which is $19 off its retail) is 94 pages in length.  The margins are more than generous, and there are at least 15 full-page illustrations with one line of content.  The book could easily be compacted to 25 pages or less.  However, in spite of its brevity, the truth could have been portrayed with half the words.

Depending on your reading speed, I would guess most could digest this book in a one-hour sitting.  If you think the content might be relevant to you, I highly recommend it as a valuable resource.  I am sure you can find a copy at your local library instead of paying the inflated cover price at the local bookstore.

Precritical naivete

February 25, 2006

I learned a new term today, precritical naivete. Marcus Borg uses this in the first chapter of his foundational book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. [Before proceeding, I want to mention to any who might be reading this from googling somehow, that I do not agree with Dr. Borg’s theology; however, I am interested in the journey he has taken to arrive to his conclusions.] Borg borrows this from Paul Ricoeur, and defines it as “that childhood state in which we take for granted that whatever the significant authority figures in our lives tell us to be true is indeed true.”

This is my first introduction to any of Borg’s writings. I am fascinated by the journey that has taken him from holding to the basic tenets of the evangelical faith to a “closet agnostic” (pg. 8) to a “closet atheist” (pg. 13) to [what he describes as] “Beyond Belief to Relationship” (pg. 17).

My own journey has led beyond belief (and beyond doubt and disbelief) to an understanding of the Christian life as a relationship to the Spirit of God — a relationship that involves one in a journey of transformation (pg. 17).

I am fascinated, already, by Borg’s theology [again, not in agreement]. Take this statement as an indicator of what is to come:

John’s gospel is a powerful testimony to the reality and significance of the post-Easter Jesus, the living Christ of Christian experience. John’s gospel is “true,” even though its account of Jesus’ life story and sayings is not, by and large, historically factual. My journey for the childhood state of precritical naivete through the critical thinking of adolescence and adulthood now led to hearing John (and the Bible as a whole) in a state of postcritical naivete — a state in which one can hear these stories as “true stories,” even while knowing that they are not literally true (pg. 17).

A wish list

February 25, 2006

My wish list:
Systematic Theology, by Wayne Grudem
The Unity of the Bible, by Daniel Fuller
The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, by Wayne Grudem
Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist, by Sam Storms
Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, by J.P. Moreland
Paul: In a Fresh Perspective by N. T. Wright
or any other books by N.T. Wright (except The Challenge of Jesus)

There are certainly other volumes that I would like to add to this list.  But this is a good starter kit.  After I started this post (as a draft) I visited yet another Half Price Books to find Love Your God with All Your Mind in paperback for $3.50.  It is very gently used and has no markings in it.  I also picked up Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg.  I certainly don’t agree with Borg’s theology, but this is one of his most known works, and I wanted to become familiar with it.

I love Half Priced books

February 22, 2006

My wife doesn’t understand it, but I have a slight obsession with Half Price Books.  The difference between this bookstore and others is that the stock is always changing.  The stock changes as someone comes in and parts with their old books for a price.

This is a great place for kids books, because it is that type of book that people would realistically want to part with after their child reaches a certain age.  Kids are going to abuse books anyway (no matter how hard we teach them); so why not get the “gently used” versions at a cut-rate price?

My favorite section is theology.  This is not always the greatest section, because who would want to give up good books.  However, inevitably, people part with these.  My most recent find was a copy of Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart.  This was amazing, because I had just looked for this book at the local Christian bookstore with intent to buy.  Barnes and Noble had a copy, but they wanted cover price.  At HPB, I got it for $7.  That was a steal.

I have seen many other worthwhile options at my local HPB, but many of these options include books I already own.  I highly recommend checking this store out whenever you are in the neighborhood.  You neve know what you might find.

WhenPeople.gifI picked this book up about 6 years ago.  I came across a few top # lists this year in which this book was featured.  I decided I would pull it out of the box (I have no current shelves) and give it a read.  I had previously knocked out about half of it, and I spent an hour refreshing myself on what I had previously read (I had also marked it up considerably), and then set out to finish it.

When People are Big and God is Small is a good book.  It is not a social argument, but it is very scripturally based.  Our culture turns to often to pop-psychology, when God has “given us everything we need for life and godliness.”  The author, Edward T. Welch, calls us to find our self-worth in God.  God loves us and that can be all that matters.  If we do what is right, we do not need to fear what man can do to us.  We can find our security in solely the opinion of God.  He demonstrates many symptoms of fearing man and gives practical steps to overcoming this sin.

This is a useful book, and a wonderful resource to anyone involved with counseling.  I will certainly keep it close as I am faced with different life challenges or encounter others who are.  It is not the most entertaining and dynamic book, but it has tremendous content.  I recommend this book to anyone who may struggle with Peer Pressure, Codependency, or self-esteem.

The Barbarian Way

February 11, 2006

the barbarian way.jpgErwin Raphael McManus (what a cool name) serves as lead pastor and cultural architect at Mosiac (what a cool church name). He has written a few books, but I just finished one of his most recent, The Barbarian Way.

I was not sure what to expect when I started this book. Its size is somewhere between a “gift” book and a “real” book. I thought it was going to be a glorified version of the former, but it ended up being closer to the latter in content.

The Barbarian Way is a challenge to live differently. Why is it that the lives of Christians is often indistinguishable from the life of the heathen. He calls us to dream big and follow our dreams (in a Christian realm). Sacrifice is necessary; love is imperative. There is little in the book that I did not know, but it was written to make me realize that what I know with my head can be known in my life.

This was an excellent read and I recommend it to all (whether in leadership or not). You will just wish that you could live the life that he writes about. In the end, I hope you are changed, and are at least one step closer to the life God wants you to live.

searching_for_god_cover.jpgToday I finished Don Miller’s Searching for God Knows What.  I had read one of Don’s previous books, Blue Like Jazz, and was rather looking forward to this new volume.  I have to admit that I like Blue better than Searching; however, do not assume that I did not like the latter.

Don has a unique writing style.  He has been compared to Anne LaMott and Frederick Bueschner, which may be helpful for those familiar with their writings.  Don is extremely honest.  His honesty about his own short-comings and sinfulness humbles me as I read.  It is not that Don is more of a reprobate than the rest of us, it is just that he is willing to admit it.  It brings me to the point of confessing that I am like he is, only probably much worse.  You cannot mistake Don for the hypocritical one who prayed, “Thank God I am not like….”

Searching is a collection of stories and analogies.  Many of them are from Don’s life and others are historical.   Don may be a theologian, but this is not a systematic theology.  In the afterwards, he admits that he was not heavy on the theology, and that lightness was not for lack of concern; rather, he hits you more where it hurts…everyday life.

What Don has taught me through these two volumes is to…
…not be afraid to ask questions.
…don’t assume I am always right.
…question the why as much as the what .
…as well as many other lessons.

Some highlights for me include chapter 10, “The Gospel of Jesus: It Never Was a Formula.”  Within this chapter he tells a story of a presentation made to a group of seminary students.  He went through multiple aspects of the gospel with the class, only to come to the end and say “Have I missed anything?”  The students could not think of anything he had overlooked.  “None of the forty-five students in the class realized I had presented a gospel without once mentioning the name of Jesus.”  Why is it that He is so often left out?

“The hijacking of the concept of morality began, of course, when we reduced Scripture to a formula, and a love story to theology, and finally morality to rules.” (pg. 184)

“I realize there are people reading this who will automatically dismiss me as a theological liberal, but I do not believe a person can take two issues from Scripture, those being abortion and gay marriage, and adhere to them as sins, then neglect much of the rest and call himself a fundamentalist of even a conservative.  The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, and neglects health care and world trade and the environment and loving his neighbor and feeding the poor is, by definition, a theological liberal, because he takes what he wants from Scripture and ignores the rest.” (pgs. 193-4)

Finally, the final chapter, “The Gospel of Jesus: Why William Shakespeare Was a Prophet,” was a tremendous conclusion.  He took many of the pieces presented and brought them together as a whole to create a beautiful mosaic.  Furthermore, he brought historical context and a theological eye to the story of Romeo and Juliet in such a way that you would consider Shakespeare a prophet.

This was a good read.  I recommend it.  It would never make one of my top ten lists, but it was certainly not time wasted.  If you are looking for something more challenging than traditional fiction, or a break from thick theology, you will find relief in the pages of a Don Miller book.

Ancient-Future Evangelism

January 28, 2006

ancient-future ev.jpgThis book was a worthwhile read.  It is not so much about evangelism (as the title would indicate) as it is about “Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community” (subtitle).  It is more aboud discipleship (as if evangelism does not include discipleship.  This is not my first Robert Webber book, and it will not be my last.  Dr. Webber is probably around 72 now and he is still using his mind for the glory of God and the betterment of the kingdom.  You will find the “Ancient-Future” theme throughout much of his thought and writing.  Specifically, take a moment to drop by Ancient Future Worship.  There is certainly many articles on the web that are a better introduction to what ancient-future really means (such as the aforementioned site).  I will deliberately be brief in my description.

In this current volume, Dr. Webber responds to the International Consultation on Discipleship and a statement published by them in 1999.  He uses the premise of what evangelism is and what it should be as a means to point us to the past.  The future of discipleship should be a gleaning of the ancient practices.  What is laid out is a possible structure to be used in a church in the process of spiritual formation.  The actual curriculum is not presented as much as recommendations.  The structure can be adapted to each church’s unique situation.

I do not believe that I would be ready to convert entirely to his methodology, but I would consider incorporating many of the ancient traditions as far as they were useful in the context I found myself.  I do not see myself adopting the liturgy of the church calendar; however, I would on occasion use it as a guide.

I would recommend this book to anyone involved in planning a church’s worship or discpleship.  There are many good ideas and tools within this resource.  Furthermore, Dr. Webber (or his editors and research assistants) does a fantastic job in adding charts and conclusions.  One can tell that the author is an experienced teacher and that he wishes to maximize your learning.

Burning Desire

January 22, 2006

burning desire.jpgI just finished Burning Desire by S.J. Hill. I was really looking forward to reading this, because I enjoyed one of Hill’s previous books, Enjoying God. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with this volume. It was not a deep read, and it wasn’t that lengthy of a book. The problem I had with it is that the book assumes a bridal hermeneutic and applies it out of context to numerous Scriptures. To the average, unscholarly Christian (not to make an opposing claim of myself), it would probably make a lot of sense and would be an inspiring read. However, his argument is very poor, and he really doesn’t take the time to argue, but simply assumes.

I will concede that the Bible in places speaks of Israel as having a marital relationship with Yahweh, but I would only apply that understanding to the Scriptures in context. I would not take the bridal hermeneutic and apply it to the Ten Commandments (Hill does).

Furthermore, and on a more personal soapbox, I am not in favor of reading the New Testament with an understanding that “the church” is “the bride of Christ.” There is a very weak argument here. The theology that supports this takes 2 texts and inaccurately links them together. The first of these texts is Ephesians 5, which describes the relationship between a husband and wife with that of Christ and the church. This is not an argument that Christ’s relationship to the church is like that of a husband to a wife; but Paul wants the husband and wife to learn from Christ in His relationship to the church. This is taken in a backward understanding. Furthermore, it assumes an existing marriage relationship if anything, not a future “wedding supper” concept.

The second set of Scriptures come from Revelation and speak of the “Bride of Christ.” However, the only place in Revelation where the bride is identified is in Revelation 21:2, where John clarifies that the Bride of Christ is “the holy city Jerusalem.” I am not ready to discount the possibility of the church being associated as the bride of Christ, but I will need to study and be persuaded further for that clarity to be achieved. However, “the truth as I currently understand it” is that the bridal hermeneutic should not be applied out of contexts to passages in both the Old and New Testament.

I did not buy the book outright, it arrived in my last Relevant Network Kit (and a new one should be here any day now). There were a few notable quotes, but nothing I would likely use in the future. He even quoted John Shelby Spong in a positive light, and I would not be in favor of Spong’s teachings. If you must read Hill, read Enjoying God, but I would recommend Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life over Hill’s book (slightly similar themes).

As one final disclaimer, I will point out that there is some insight in this book, and certainly where the bridal themes fit the context, Hill makes excellent points. It is interesting the parallels that he does infer in passages and circumstances that are not specifically bridal; however in most of those cases the text does not imply the bridal picture, nor do I think it can be supported (except by mere speculation). Really, if you are that curious, read it for yourself.