Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out by James Choung

51+-r9vJYtL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

I’ll admit that I was not sure whether I would like this book. This is a book on discipleship which is written as a story. There has been a number of such books written like this, most notably The Five Dysfunctions of A Team and Leadership – Self Deception. I have always thought how brave such authors are – not only have you to get across your ‘thesis’ but you have the added pressure of creativity which fictional writers wrestle with.

Of course, this is not designed to be a page turning novel, but Choung does a great job of using the genre of story telling to frame his view of discipleship. The story revolves around Stephen, a guy who trying to make it at work, which means he stays late and works longs hours, even when his boss goes home. And yet he is a christians. And one day, a young guy on Stephens team at work (Jared) realizes Stephen is a Christian and gets very excited and asks Stephen to disciple him. The novel is the out working of that request. Stephen has no idea HOW to do this and it is soon apparent that after the first couple of lunch meetings with Jared that Stephen is WAY out of his depth. So he seeks out one of his friends to help him.

The story unpacks the process and varying degrees of what discipleship is how the how it unfolds in someones life. Yet there were a number of things that really spoke to me. The first thing was that Stephen, despite being out of his depth, knew that he should be willing to disciple someone and so, even though he was out of his depth, and had no idea what to do, he said YES I WILL, and, sought out help. In other words, we should not be afraid to disciple others despite our own inadequacies. In fact, and this is the second thing that spoke to me, although Stephen was the ‘older’ ‘mature’ christian, he too was growing and learning as he meet with Jared. Being a mentor does not mean you have it all together. Mentors should, and indeed NEED to grow in the process. And thirdly, Choung very cleverly shows us that the process of being a mentor, or discipling someone, does not just change the one being discipled, but it changes the one doing the discipling. Through the process Stephen beings to see clearly some of the issues in his own life and this leads to Stephen making a radical decision.

As I said, I was not sure I would like this book, but by the end, I had enjoyed it. No, this is not the typical book on how to disciple, with the logical, linear arguments and points, backed up with many biblical passages. Yes, this will appeal to those who function more in the creativity aspect of their brain. But that said, anyone who picks this up will benefit from it, and enjoy in the process.

Advertisements

Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative Experience by Brian Howell

This is not a ‘normal’ kind of book. This is a presentation of research which Brian Howell has done on the topic of Short Term Mission trips. At the center of his research is a mission trip which he went on to the Dominican Republic, and his observations, interviews with the team and the process of of what happens AFTER such a mission. Howell’s  goal is to examine the role, experiences and effects  of ‘STM’s’. One of the fascinating insights and areas which Howell examines is how regularized the language used to describe the experiences of people on STM’s. Were students responding to what they encountered or were the ‘narratives’ shaping their memories?

I read this with great interest. I have done MANY STM’s, both as a participant and as a leader. Over the years through my own experience I have come to regard STM’s as something far less than mission. Often the impact of a team is very minimal to an area. In fact, in my own reading and research of the effects of such mission trips, the impact can be negative upon the community being visited. One example was a team sent to build a house. The job was done so badly that when the team left the community had to re-build the entire house!

STM’s largely serve as an experience for those who go ON them rather than those who on the receiving end. This is because, as Howell rightly observes, STM’s tend to be a hybrid of mission, tourism and pilgrimage. It’s a ‘kill three birds with one stone’ or a ‘vacation with some meaning’.

What is evident is that they have become a phenomenon in their own right, with millions of people spending their own money and time to go on a STM.

Howell is not in any way attacking Short term missions, but he is asking the question of how they should be used to better serve and engage with both the team members and those whom the team serves, so that they achieve what they are able to achieve, and not to pretend to be more than they are.

I think this is a very important book for pastors and church leaders to wrestle with if they are planning or indeed, actively involved with STM’s. Howell’s suggestions towards restricting STM’s narrative towards the end of the book is a must read if you have such trips in your church!

Meditation and Communion With God: Contemplating Scripture by JJ Davisd

This review was written by Tia Gray – the Music Director of the Church I serve at.

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

John Jefferson Davis is a professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has published in both theological and scientific journals.  This book may be on meditation, but it is written for the theological scholar, not the lay person; the first three fourths of the book are spent in theological discussion of a highly scholarly type, and his footnoted, erudite writing style is not readily accessible to the lay person. I could only chuckle when, on page 94, he states, “…this  is a book on meditation, not a treatise on epistemology directed to academic philosophers…”.

That said, if you can persevere through the professorial apologetics, and you are armed with a working knowledge of words like hermeneutics, logopneumatic, teleology, and soteriology, there are many fascinating concepts to be gleaned. And Davis states that a deep knowledge of the bible and Christian theology is essential ‘background information’ for true understanding of the nature of the Trinitarian God, which will lead us to a richer communion with God when we meditate on Scripture.

Christians who are wary of incorporating Eastern meditation practices should be aware that there is a rich history of Protestant biblical meditation, especially by the Puritan fathers in the 1600s. Davis states that in the Puritan view, without meditation, “preaching won’t benefit us, our prayers won’t be effective, and we will be unable to defend the truth.”  He assures the reader that in Christian meditation, the goal is to be filled with the Holy Spirit during meditation on Scripture, as opposed to the Eastern practice of ‘emptying oneself’ during meditation.

I was fascinated by a snippet Davis includes from a study by the Center for Biblical Engagement in Lincoln, Nebraska: the study found that those who read the Bible at least four times a week were less likely to engage in behaviors such as gambling, pornography, alcohol abuse and extramarital affairs. “Time spent in the Word correlates with an individual’s spiritual growth.”

The basic point Davis strives to make is that we approach meditation on Scripture from a very real understanding of 3 foundational truths:

  • Trinitarian theology
  • Inaugurated eschatology
  • Union with Christ

Union with Christ: God’s plan from before creation, promised by Christ during his earthly ministry, and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. It is not achieved only by saints, but is accessible to every Christian, and it is accessible now, while we still live on earth, not only in heaven. This was Paul’s understanding when he spoke of being ‘in Christ’, or ‘seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.”

Davis is a strong believer in John’s doctrine of ‘realized escatology,’ which he calls inaugurated eschatology: (the doctrine that we are currently living in the’ end times’). We should be more fully alive to the fact that since Christ’s resurrection we have been living in the end times; Paul states in Ephesians 2:6 that we are already in heaven, that we have ‘experiential access to the new creation.’ He meant this literally 2000 years ago, and it is still true today: the new Jerusalem already exists and we have already arrived in it. As Davis quotes from N. T. Wright: It is not we who go to heaven; it is heaven that comes down to earth.

The Trinity: Davis feels that this vital aspect of Christianity had fallen into unimportance in previous years and is now experiencing a ‘renaissance’ in a broad spectrum of the church: Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. The Trinitarian God is inherently relational, and we were created to be inherently relational, not only with God but with each other. Our very salvation is a call, through Christ’s redemption and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, to be invited into the Trinitarian circle of love, joy and peace.

As Christians, we must approach the Scriptures as part of our personal identity: the stories of the bible are stories of our family: part of our genealogical narrative. The words of our ancestor, brother and savior, Jesus, inform us (give us knowledge of God), form us (change us into faithful disciples,) and transform us (open us up to the indwelling of the Spirit, which brings us into true communion with God).

Davis also points out that according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And if glorifying and enjoying God is the main purpose for which you were created, then worship and biblical meditation are high priorities, not something you might get to if you have a few spare moments.

In Chapter 7, when we finally begin to discuss actual meditation techniques and processes, Davis uses and adapts the meditation process of M. Basil Pennington, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This brief section gives a good outline for how to approach biblical meditation in a prayerful, open way, pointing out how important it is to be open to the insights that might come as you read and reread a portion of Scripture, and to be thankful and joyful for the time spent in communion with Christ. He also cautions that even if we might not feel as if God has been present during this time of meditation and study, he is there even when we do not feel his presence. Davis also suggests that we continue, throughout our day, to call to mind the insights received during our meditation, so that our lives may be suffused with spiritual growth.  In this way our spiritual journey can become part of our personal identity, and begin to affect how we perceive and react to the world and those around us–and how they perceive and react to us.

Davis briefly discusses three levels of meditation: beginning, intermediate (or whole brain), and worldview. In discussing beginning meditation, he mostly concentrates on keeping the mind focused through the use of centering prayer, since distraction and loss of focus is a universal problem with beginning meditators. In whole brain meditation, he discusses engaging both the right brain (visual) and the left brain (linguistic) by pairing bible passages that discuss concepts with passages that give us a visual reference for that concept, in much the same way Jesus used parables about seed, coins, and lamps as concrete, visual symbols of spiritual truths. Davis’ worldview meditation is probably the most enriching, as he suggests meditating on cycles of Scripture using five ‘practices of right comprehension’: our view of God, our view of reality, our view of ourselves, our view of the purpose of human life, and our view of worship.  Approaching scripture through the lens of these viewpoints keeps one focused on the ‘big picture’ of how we live a Christian life.

The chapter on actual meditation techniques is of course the most readily accessible to those truly interested in getting started on bible meditation, and the paired scriptural passages he uses as examples and suggestions are a wonderful introduction to the depth of insight that can be obtained using these thoughtful methods. A lay person might begin—and end– with this chapter. Anyone seeking a deeper knowledge of the foundation of our faith should struggle through the first 6 chapters, dictionary in hand; it will, ultimately, be worth the effort.

Ashamed No More: A Pastors Journey through Sex Addiction by T C Ryan

The problem with the title of this book is that there will be people who will read it and think that the book will not apply to them. Wrong! This is far more than just a moving, heartbreaking warning about sex addiction and pornography – it is about the struggles and frustrations pastors face in the midst of their sin, any sin.

While this book looks at the cost paid by a pastor who struggled with sex addiction for decades and the unhealthy elevation of ‘sexual’ sin above all other ‘sin’, the book will challenge and remind you that all pastors, indeed all christians, struggle with something and T Ryan’s story of his struggle while married and pastoring a large and growing church, should resonate with all who read it.

A sub-theme of this book examines what the church is to do with pastors who need healing. He writes that the church needs to expect failure in her leaders and lovingly go to every length possible to help them deal with their own brokenness. All pastors are broken to some extent – pastors are not perfect people. And with regards to sex addictions one survey has said that 60% of clergy struggle with some form of compulsive sexual behavior.

The hope of this book is that God’s grace is always available. It is the great lesson that, in the midst of his struggles and pain, Ryan recognizes and grasps onto. God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, His presence can be found even in the darkest of times.

It would indeed be a mistake to pass by this book because you feel it does not relate to you. It does.

Highly Recommended.

Delighting In The Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

While almost every Christian knows the word ‘Trinity’ few Christians can articulate what the Trinity is and WHY it is a vital aspect of the Christian faith.

In the midst of the lofty erudite works which few Christians wrestle through on the trinity Michael Reeves has produced a great little book which provides a down to earth introduction to not only what the trinity is but it’s importance in the Christian life.

For Reeves, understanding the Trinity relates to the type of God we know and worship; which God we will proclaim and serve.

This is going to be a very good resource for pastors to give away for people who are interested in starting to explore the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Highly Recommended!

Gregory of Nyssa: Sermons On The Beatitudes: A Paraphrase by Michael Glerup

 

I am a firm believer that Christians should engage with the early church fathers. However, both the size of their writings and the language can be be a barrier to many. And while the purists will probably not like Michael Glerup’s paraphrase, I think this is a great idea.

 

Whether we like it or not we are living in a culture whereby language, reading habits, reading levels have changed. That does not mean we should not attempt to raise those standards, but giving people access to the essence of Gregory of Nyssa’s teaching, when in all probability they would never seek it out or have the patience to wrestle through it, is in my opinion a very good thing.

 

Glerup’s paraphrase is easy to read and easy to understand. He does a very good job of taking the essence of these sermons on the Beatitudes and transporting them into the 21st century. And the sermons themselves are just wonderful.

 

This book is so accessible that you could give this to a senior high Youth Group as a discussion book and have an amazing time talking through the meaning and application of the Beatitudes.

 

Highly Recommended.

Some Books Recently Read

Of course vacation means a little more reading – although with three children (and three boys at that – 2,5 & 9 years of age) the ‘peace and quiet’ aspect is somewhat lacking! However some of the books I managed to get to read are:

A really interesting read. When Gordon McDonald was taken aback at the mood at the yearly church meeting (and especially a comment from a parishioner whoa sked Who Stole My Church), McDonald began a Monday night meeting with some of those who were opposed to change in the church. The meetings were meant to be discussions based on scripture on why the changes were proposed as well as a forum for McDonald to hear from parishioners who were upset. The book is an account of those meetings. It shows some of the dynamics of confronting those who are opposed to change – even good change, as well as a lesson in awareness for leaders to be aware of those with opposing views and the need to listen. A good book.

This is Hillary Mantels follow up novel to Wolf Hall.This is a fascinating look at a man who has been largely neglected by biographers – Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Secretary of State. Mantel has a very distinctive way of writing but the story was fun. She puts a face to Cromwell, as he navigates the dangerous course of Tudor England and Henry VIII’s court.

This was a fascinating insight into the world of the President of the United States. Living in Washington DC I have become more aware of US politics. This book looks at the role of the former Presidents and their input / influence into their successors policies. Really enjoyed this one.

I was late to this party. Hunger Games has been out for a while but I thought I would read it. Nothing special. Somewhat dark and brutal view of post-apocalyptic America. Bog standard fair!

Knowing we were going to spend 6 days in the mountains of North Carolina I decided to read this book which was set in North Carolina. A true story, this depicts the brutal and longstanding feud in the 1800’s between the Hatfields and McCoys. Apparently The History Channel has done a film with Kevin Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield. I have not seen this but the book is a fabulous read.

I have been reading ALOT of Jewish Roots material and it has been wonderful. This is a great book. Bivin leads the reader through the process of understanding Jesus’ words from a Jewish perspective – something we have neglected in out interpretative process in the west.

Another Jewish roots book. This is a good introduction to the issue of Jewish Roots Christianity. The insights and understanding that Juster opens up when one looks at the NT through the prism of Hebrew thought is so refreshing and exciting!

This is probably the most shocking book I have read this year. I read it on Tim Challies’ recommendation. This is a true story, written by the daughter, of a pastor who is confronted by insane opposition from the man who sits in pew number seven. When I say insane opposition, I am not exaggerating. The fact that this pastor remained in his church as long as he did is remarkable (or maybe some would see it as stupid). There is a massive lesson in this book.