Archive for the ‘Christian’ Category

Review of The Spirit of Saint Francis, inspiring words from Pope Francis

Friday, September 25th, 2015

spirit_of_saint_francis_largeThe Spirit of Saint Francis

Inspiring Words from Pope Francis

edited by Alicia von Stamwitz

Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2015. 178 pages.

It seemed fitting that I finished reading this book during the Pope’s visit to Washington, D. C. I’d been reading it for a long time, reading a couple of inspirational quotations each morning.

I posted a few quotations on Sonderquotes. Here’s one example:

This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.

Here’s another:

The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution: wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope! It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep.

The headings the editor put the quotes under are “We Are Infinitely Loved,” “God Never Tires of Forgiving Us,” “Entrust Yourself to God’s Mercy,” “Dive into Prayer,” “Discover True Joy,” “Choose Simplicity and Humility,” “Do Not Forget the Poor!” “Preach the Gospel at All Times,” “Be Instruments of Peace and Pardon,” “Respect and Protect Creation.”

There’s something here for all Christians, not just Catholics. I recommend this book for a daily dose of encouragement and challenge.

FranciscanMedia.org

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/spirit_of_saint_francis.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of At the End of the Ages……The Abolition of Hell, by Bob Evely

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

at_the_end_of_the_ages_largeAt the End of the Ages…

The Abolition of Hell

by Bob Evely

1stBooks, 2003. 171 pages.
Starred Review

This is another book about Universalism. And Bob Evely summarizes the case beautifully that, at the end of the ages, God will save everyone.

This book is for those who believe the Bible is the Word of God, for people who don’t believe all will be saved because they don’t believe the Bible teaches this. Never mind what’s logical — they think universalism is contrary to Scriptures.

Bob Evely looks closely at the original Greek text of the Bible. He introduced me, in fact, to the Concordant Literal Version of the Bible. (I just interrupted writing this review to order my own copy.) Here’s how the Concordant Translation was developed:

Every single Greek word was closely examined. Each word was studied in every occurrence within the New Testament to determine the best English equivalent to be used. As much as was possible the meaning for each word was determined from the way the word was used within the New Testament, and not how other human authors may have used the word.

To preserve distinctions made by God, each individual Greek word was matched with a unique English equivalent. The same English word was not used for different Greek words, and differing English words were not used when a single Greek word was used.

I’d read in other books that the Greek word aion, which is often translated “eternal,” is more accurately translated as “eon” or “age” — often very long, but not, in fact, “eternal” or endless. The author’s reference to the Concordant Literal Version makes this very clear. We can see when aion and aionian is used in many places where “eternal” wouldn’t even make sense. (Most translators pick and choose where to use “eternal” when translating it.)

Here are a few examples from the Concordant Literal New Testament, which the author quotes:

Ephesians 2:7: “that, in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches…”
Colossians 1:26: “the secret which has been concealed from the eons and from the generations, yet now was made manifest to His saints…”
Matthew 13:22: “…the worry of this eon and the seduction of riches are stifling the word…”
I Timothy 6:17: “Those who are rich in the current eon…”
John 14:16: “…and He will be giving you another consoler, that it, indeed, may be with you for the eon…”
Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of this world became our Lord’s and his Christ’s, and He shall be reigning for the eons of the eons!”
Matthew 13:39: “the conclusion of the eon”
I Corinthians 10:11: “the consummations of the eons”

Now, the author adds plenty of commentary to these quotations. To me, he clearly points out that it’s inconsistent to translate aion as “eternal.”

He sums up:

While I have not attempted to show how many specific eons are mentioned in Scripture, I have desired to show that there are distinct, separate eons (or ages) that are mentioned in God’s Word. These “eons” are periods of time with a beginning and an end.

There was a time before these eons began. There will be a time when all of the eons will come to an end. We have seen at least three distinct eons referred to in God’s Word.

And he goes on to look at words translated “hell.” This section is also eye-opening. The author looks closely and in great detail to the words used in Scripture. At the end of this chapter, he concludes:

If an earthly ruler condemned even the vilest criminal to be kept alive just to be tortured forever, we would shudder at his cruelty. But we have inherited the current orthodox teachings about God that calmly attribute such activities to Him, while also teaching that He is a God of love.

I have come to see that the Bible does not teach this at all. Man has intervened and has placed his philosophies and pagan ideas within the Word of God. The modern English translations now perpetuate these man-made ideas, primarily because of a few words mistranslated and misinterpreted. We see a God of love, but a God who is also very harsh. Some say this is necessary because of God’s holiness and justice, but is God not able to use His love and power to bring about justice without losing a single sheep from the fold?

On a more positive note, he then looks at the “all” passages in the New Testament, as well as looking at I Corinthians 15:21-28, which talks about the “consummation.”

This is the grand conclusion of the ages. God has taken what mankind (and Satan) have intended for evil, and He has used it to achieve good. He has operated all in accord with the counsel of His will to achieve His will… that ALL mankind be saved. Some have recognized the greatness of God, and the work of the Saviour, in this lifetime, by faith. Others have taken longer, but now find salvation also. Every knee is now bowing in subjection before Him. Every person has found salvation. Every lost sheep has been found. The purpose of the eons has been achieved, and God is now All in all.

Another section of the book looks at the testimony of church history — the ultimate reconciliation of all things is by no means a new view — in fact, history shows us that this was the dominant view of the early church until Augustine.

I like this book, because as Bob Evely describes how he came to believe God will save everyone, his process pretty much mirrors mine. I, too, thought I couldn’t believe it because the Bible didn’t teach it. I was amazed and delighted to take another look and learn that maybe I’d been misled as to what the Bible actually says. And I was also surprised to learn of the deep historical tradition behind this view.

Here is the author’s conclusion, which mirrors how I feel about it:

Having been exposed to the things I have presented in this work, at the very least you should be hoping and praying that these things are true.

Not wanting to be led astray, this is where I began. I had been taught my entire life that there was a place of eternal torment. When I first heard of the possibility that this was wrong, I was highly skeptical. I did not want to be led into falsehood.

But as I journeyed down the path, studying and thinking of these things I had never been taught by a teacher or a pastor, I came first to a place where I did not know if these things were true, but I certainly hoped and prayed that they were!

How can we not feel this way? To think that there really is hope for those of our loved ones who died outside of Christ! Can God’s grace really be that big? Can His love really go that far? Is He really that wise that He could figure out a way to save all of mankind, despite rebellion and sin and wickedness and rejection?

This is a good place to start. The things you have read in this book have been largely suppressed, at least since the 5th century. When Universalism was declared by “The Church” to be heresy, many of the writings in support of this doctrine were destroyed. “The Church” was wrong, and today we live with the results of that error.

At least begin by hoping and praying that these things are true. Read and study the Word of God with this new possibility; this new perspective. Test this theory, this theology. Don’t believe me, but study and think for yourself.

I think as you go forward you will see the wonderful grace of God at every turn. It is a grace that is greater than anything mankind could ever have hoped for!

And this book is a wonderful resource for that search.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/at_the_end_of_the_ages.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Did God Kill Jesus? by Tony Jones

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

did_god_kill_jesus_largeDid God Kill Jesus?

Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution

by Tony Jones

HarperOne, 2015. 295 pages.
Starred Review

This book has a provocative title – at least for Christians. Jesus’ death is central to Christianity. What, actually, does it mean?

Like the author, I was brought up with the “payment” explanation of Jesus’ death – essentially that we are sinners and God hates sin – and Jesus, the sinless sacrifice, had to save us from God’s wrath. I’ve heard it preached that this is essentially the gospel. But I’ve also heard stories, explanations, and analogies of this view that get a little bit horrible if you think about them too hard.

It turns out that the reason for Jesus’ death preached at that middle school retreat. . . is not the only way that Christians have understood the death of Jesus. Instead, it’s one of about half a dozen theories that preachers and theologians have used over the past two thousand years to explain why Jesus died. This fact wasn’t advertised to me when I was growing up. Instead, I was taught that there was one and only one reason that Jesus died: because of my sin and God’s anger and disappointment with me. Maybe you were told the same thing. But this sentiment would have been confounding to a second- or third-century Christian. They had entirely different ways of understanding Jesus’ death, ways that we will explore in later chapters.

And behind each explanation of the crucifixion is an implied view of God. God is either strong or weak, in control or abdicating control, engaged or absent, gracious or vindictive. In the pages that follow, we will walk through the various views of Jesus’ death, and we will look at the God who stands behind the cross in each.

For myself, my reading in George MacDonald’s writings is what got me first to even see there might be another way of looking at the cross. This book goes into detail and examines the many different ways Christians have, over the centuries, looked at the death of Jesus. It turns out that the “payment” model wasn’t taught in the church until hundreds of years after Jesus’ death. And now we’re told believing this is the only way to be saved?

Here’s a section from the introductory chapter:

Even without the Bible, what kind of sense does it make to believe that God would create you and me, only to be disgusted by us and wrathful at our inevitable shortcomings? But add in the Bible, and you can really see how misaligned this interpretation of the crucifixion is. If we look in the Bible for evidence of this overwhelming disgust God has for us, it’s hard to come by. Sure, there’s the occasional verse that talks of God’s anger at particular sins or human behavior that God considers an abomination, but the overarching message of scripture is clear: God created us, God loves us, and God wants the best for us. In fact, the Bible is rife with stories of God going out of his way to set people on the right path – despite our failures, despite our sins. Indeed, the Apostle Paul assures us that God loved us “while we were still sinners.”

Before we study the Bible and even before we formulate and wrestle with all the doctrines from church history, we intuitively know something fundamental: the message of Jesus, God’s primary emissary, is that God loves us. That’s what Jesus came to preach and to enact in his miracles. He referred to God as his “Father” and his “Abba” – intimate terms based in relationship. Theirs was a close and loving connection. Jesus came to open that loving relationship between himself and the Father to all of us. This event, the crucifixion, on which all of cosmic history pivots, forever changed both us and God.

This also means there can be no separation between God and Jesus; we cannot set a wrathful and vengeful God in opposition to a loving and gracious Jesus. Jesus repeatedly taught that he and the Father are one, that the best way to know and understand the Father is by knowing and understanding the Son. And the main message of both Father and Son is that they love us and want to be united with us. Even before we come to understand what happened on the cross, we know that whatever explanation we discover cannot contradict the eternal relationship of love that binds the Father and the Son, that binds God and us.

This is a book on theology. The author does what he suggests here – looks at all the doctrines about the cross from church history.

I suspect that as we journey through the history of thought about Jesus’ crucifixion and look at the biblical accounts of that event, we will find a God who is not wrathful or disgusted. We won’t find a God who killed his son, nor demanded that his son be executed to pay a penalty. Instead, I suspect that we will find a God of love who goes even to the most extreme lengths to identify with the human experience and to build a bridge between the human and the divine. We’ll find a God who wants nothing more than to communicate his love to us.

I like his “smell test”:

Research shows that those who believe in a wrathful God are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders than those who believe in a loving, merciful God. Our beliefs really do have consequences, for they structure how we live.

I tend to be a pretty logical person. I like debates, reasoned arguments, and rigorous thinking. But after many years of searching and studying the ways of God, theology, and the Bible, I’ve concluded the following:

Bad theology begets ugly Christianity.

Good theology begets beautiful Christianity.

I call it the smell test. It’s an aesthetic argument. Like me, you’ve probably pulled that half-gallon of milk out of the back of the refrigerator, seen that the “best by” date is long past, and cautiously waved the open bottle under your nose. The result is either, “Smells fine to me!” or a sour stench strong enough to strip the bark off a tree.

That may seem an odd way to measure a faith system. We are used to matters being true or false, right or wrong, not beautiful or ugly, sweet or sour. Most prefer a more forensic approach: she who has the most logical doctrine wins. But, as we will see in the pages to come, many religious systems that are perfectly logical are nevertheless downright ugly. They’re bad for the world and bad for people. In other words, you can devise a system of doctrine that makes perfect sense within its own little self-inscribed world, but when you take it out into the broader marketplace of ideas, it spoils, like dropping a teaspoon of vinegar into a gallon of milk.

In the main section of the book, the author looks at historic interpretations of Jesus’ death within the church (and there are many). And he asks six questions of the various models:

What does this model say about God?

What does it say about Jesus?

What does this model say about the relationship between God and Jesus?

How does it make sense of violence?

What does it mean for us spiritually?

Where’s the love?

It turns out, these are some good questions to ask. This is a book that explores, and a book that thinks deeply.

I recommend this book for Christians who want to think about their faith. For those who think there is only one way to think about the crucifixion, perhaps it will open your eyes. And whether you end up agreeing with the author or not, it offers many perspectives and many things to consider. If nothing else, it will get you thinking about God’s love and grace.

If you’re not a Christian, but you feel you’ve been burned by Christianity or Christians who have taught you that God is angry with you – I also recommend this book. Perhaps you’ll be able to more clearly see God’s great love for you and God’s identification with humanity in Jesus. If nothing else, perhaps this more loving communication of Christianity will be healing.

Here’s a section from the last chapter:

Of the mystics in the history of the church, many like Brother Lawrence spent a great deal of time meditating on the crucifixion. In the climax of the great twenty-eight-day retreat called the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, the person on retreat meditates on Jesus being crucified, even having an imaginary conversation with Jesus as he hangs on the cross. While this may strike our modern sensibilities as gruesome or strange, now that we’ve come to see the humility of God on display in Jesus and the solidarity that God showed to humankind, we can understand how the cross can become a peaceful meditation, the moment of God’s ultimate presence with us.

The English mystic Julian of Norwich also meditated on the crucifixion. She dared not look up from the cross, she said, “For I knew that whilst I looked at the cross I was secure and safe.” When she looked at Jesus on the cross, she experienced God’s presence. It is ironic: looking into the eyes of a man being executed and feeling peace, safety, security, even tranquility. But it is possible because the crucifixion is God’s ultimate act of love.

We have something to learn from these old mystics. The crucifixion is a source of peace. It’s a magnet that draws us into the all-encompassing love of God. It’s a mirror that shows us the result of all our violent tendencies. It’s a spark that relights the flame of divinity within us. It’s a symbol of God’s victory over the forces that oppress us.

We look into the eyes of the dying savior knowing that in him, God performed the ultimate act of humility. In the abandonment of Jesus’ cry, God experienced the godforsakenness that every human feels. And a new bond was formed between God and humanity – a bond that is now cemented by God’s Holy Spirit.

I like this book. The author does show some drawbacks with the Payment Model of Jesus’ death, but I don’t think this book is primarily about showing drawbacks. It’s about shining a light on the cross, about thinking deeply about the cross and what it means about God, what it means about Jesus, what it means for us spiritually, and how it’s all about love.

tonyj.net
harpercollins.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/did_god_kill_jesus.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Hearing Heart, by Hannah Hurnard

Saturday, August 15th, 2015

hearing_heart_largeHearing Heart

by Hannah Hurnard

Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 1986. First published in 1978. 139 pages.
Starred Review

I read and loved all Hannah Hurnard’s books when I was in high school, including this one. This little book was a lovely choice for bringing on my vacation. My usual quiet times include reading bits out of several books — for vacation, I read a chapter each day out of this book.

This book reminds the reader of the importance of walking with God. Long before John Eldredge’s book Walking with God, I read about listening to God’s voice, as God’s people in the Bible did.

The book is autobiographical, outlining Hannah Hurnard’s journey, including missionary work in Palestine before, during, and after World War I. This journey included some steps that looked crazy, but she walked in obedience, and God did amazing things.

Here are some things the author says in her concluding chapter:

It did seem perfectly natural to suppose from the teaching in the Bible and our Lord’s own sayings that all heard his voice in the same way, and that there were not some endowed with a special and mysterious faculty for hearing which was not granted to others. The least child of God can hear in the same way, and be sure that it is the voice of God speaking to him, as any holy man of old, provided he knows and practices the one principle by which the spirit of man can develop a hearing faculty.

Again, this does not mean that we shall ever become infallible or that all our thoughts at all times will be from God. Far from it, especially, of course, at the beginning of our Christian experience. In matters of Christian truth and understanding of the Scriptures, we learn slowly and by stages; a hearing heart, too, may in some cases develop more quickly than a seeing understanding. Every new obedience, however, leads to a fuller understanding, but is always accompanied by an ever-increasing realization that there is infinitely more beyond our present ability to comprehend, and that there is an ever-present danger of becoming self-confident and being dogmatic to others. Nothing deafens a hearing heart more quickly than unwillingness to keep open to further light.

The great principle of the hearing heart is that we become as little children, utterly dependent and always ready to obey. We have to learn to obey his guidance in small personal matters, before we can receive and understand more of his will and purposes.

I like the practicality of this paragraph:

The very fact that spiritual hearing can so easily be confused with imagination is a great safeguard against spiritual pride and ought to develop in us holy cautiousness and humble dependence. But to insist that unusual guidance is only imagination, and that real guidance is really using one’s common sense, did seem to me extraordinary. For most of the guidance which came to me in those early years did not make common sense at all, and generally involved me in the risk of appearing an absolute fool in the eyes of others. Of course, common sense and all one’s intellectual faculties, as well as the experience and wisdom of others, are all part of the wonderful equipment and means by which God does reveal to us his will.

And here’s her final offering to the reader:

So in loving sympathy and understanding with all who long to find a deeper reality in their spiritual life and to know what it is to be drawn into intimate, daily communion and fellowship with the Lord and Savior himself, I would joyfully and humbly share these experiences, praying that he who is so real and so full of understanding love will use them to help others into the radiant happiness of those who can say.

This book offers lovely encouragement to Christians who want to learn to listen to and hear God’s voice.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/hearing_heart.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Being Christian, by Rowan Williams

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

being_christian_largeBeing Christian

Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer

William B. Eerdman’s, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014. 84 pages.

Here’s how this little book begins:

What are the essential elements of the Christian life? I am not thinking in terms of individuals leading wonderful lives, but just in terms of those simple and recognizable things that make you realize that you are part of a Christian community. This little book is designed to help you think about four of the most obvious of these things: baptism, Bible, Eucharist and prayer.

Christians are received into full membership of the Church by having water poured or sprinkled over them (or, in some traditions, being fully immersed); Christians read the Bible; Christians gather to share bread and wine in memory of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; and Christians pray. There is a huge and bewildering variety in Christian thinking and practice about all kinds of things, but these four basic activities have remained constant and indispensable for the majority of those who call themselves Christians.

In this book we shall be looking at what those activities tell us about the essence of Christian life, and what kind of people we might hope to become in a community where these things are done.

As I said, this is a short book. I read small parts of it each morning for a couple weeks. The author did get me thinking, and got me looking at these essentials of the Christian faith in a new way.

Here’s something he says about baptism:

So baptism restores a human identity that has been forgotten or overlaid. Baptism takes us to where Jesus is. It takes us therefore into closer neighbourhood with a dark and fallen world, and it takes us into closer neighbourhood with others invited there. The baptized life is characterized by solidarity with those in need, and sharing with all others who believe. And it is characterized by a prayerfulness that courageously keeps going, even when things are difficult and unpromising and unrewarding, simply because you cannot stop the urge to pray. Something keeps coming alive in you; never mind the results.

And here’s something about the Bible:

One of the things that Christian people characteristically do is read the Bible – or rather, in quite a lot of circumstances, they have the Bible read to them. It is worth remembering, especially for us who are inheritors of the Reformation and part of a literate culture, that for the huge majority of Christians throughout the centuries, as well as for many today, the bible is a book heard more than read. And that is quite a significant fact about it. For when you see a group of baptized people listening to the Bible in public worship, you realize that Bible-reading is an essential part of the Christian life because Christian life is a listening life. Christians are people who expect to be spoken to by God.

This is the first paragraph about Eucharist:

For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are always guests — that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is, perhaps, the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company.

And finally, here’s something from the chapter on Prayer:

That, in a nutshell, is prayer – letting Jesus pray in you, and beginning that lengthy and often very tough process by which our selfish thoughts and ideals and hopes are gradually aligned with his eternal action; just as, in his own earthly life, his human fears and hopes and desires and emotions are put into the context of his love for the Father, woven into his eternal relation with the Father – even in that moment of supreme pain and mental agony that he endures the night before his death.

There’s more in this book, but this will give you an idea of what to expect. I found surprisingly many new insights about these fundamental practices.

eerdmans.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/being_christian.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Wearing God, by Lauren F. Winner

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

wearing_god_largeWearing God

Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God

by Lauren F. Winner

HarperOne, 2015. 284 pages.
Starred Review

This is a lovely book that challenged my thinking and opened my mind. I read it a little bit at a time, then finished the last few chapters during the 2015 48-Hour Book Challenge. In a way it was a shame to finish off the end quickly, since I liked the daily dose of thinking about God in new ways.

In this book, Lauren Winner looks at metaphors found in the Bible about God — but which the church doesn’t talk a lot about. Or at least the modern church. She did find writings from years past about each of the figures of speech.

She looks at God as clothing, God as scent, God as bread and vine, God as a laboring woman, God as one who laughs, and God as flame. All of these metaphors are found in Scripture, and all have something to offer us today.

I’ve been a church-goer all my life, and I enjoyed hearing things I hadn’t heard before. I enjoyed having a different light cast on my thinking about God.

Here are some of the author’s words in the introductory chapter:

The Bible has a great deal to say about this. Your church might primarily describe God as king, or light of the world, or ruler of all. In my church, we tend to call God Father, or speak of God as shepherd or great physician. When we are really going out on a limb, we pick up Matthew and Luke’s avian image and pray to God the mother hen tending her brood. Most churches do this — hew closely to two or three favored images of God, turning to them in prayer and song and sermons. Through repetition and association, these few images can become ever richer: there was once a time when I didn’t have many thoughts or feelings about God as great physician, but now I have prayed to that God with Carolanne, whose husband is pinned down by Parkinson’s, and Belle, who so much wants to keep this pregnancy, and Albert, who is dogged by depression, and because of those prayers, and the fears and hopes and miracles and disappointments they carry, God-as-physician seems a richer image than I first understood.

Yet the repetition of familiar images can have the opposite effect. The words become placeholders, and I can speak them so inattentively that I let them obscure the reality whose place they hold. I repeat them, I restrict my prayer to that small cupful of images, and I wind up insensible to them.

Unlike my church, with its four favored metaphors, the Bible offers hundreds of images of God — images the church has paid a great deal of attention to in earlier centuries, although many are largely overlooked now. Drunkard. Beekeeper. Homeless man. Tree. “Shepherd” and “light” are perfectly wonderful images, but in fixing on them — in fixing on any three or four primary metaphors for God — we have truncated our relationship with the divine, and we have cut ourselves off from the more voluble and variable witness of scriptures, which depict God as clothing. As fire. As comedian. Sleeper. Water. Dog.

Here is her invitation to the reader:

In this book, we will explore several overlooked biblical idioms for God. We will look at what the Bible itself suggests about these idioms, and what our daily lives have to say about them, and what various preachers and pray-ers and writers from earlier eras made of them. Your guide in this exploration is a bookworm who can happily get lost for a few days on a research trail, and I sometimes bring the words of anthropologists or historians or literary critics to bear on our ruminations. (Since the library of insights from those who have gone before us, and from contemporary scholars and preachers, is so rich, I have set additional gems at the bottoms of many pages. These quotations are there for stimulation and contemplation. Feel free to stop and linger over them, or skip them, or add your own musings.) Because I hope the book will help you sit down with God in a place the two of you have never visited before, each chapter concludes with a prayer. The final aim of this book is not to persuade you to stop thinking about God as your shepherd and start thinking about God as a cardigan sweater or One who weeps. The aim, rather, is to provoke your curiosity, and to inspire your imagination, and to invite you farther into your friendship with God.

If that invitation sounds even a tiny bit enticing, I highly recommend that you spend some time with this book.

laurenwinner.net
HarperCollins.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

waking_the_dead_largeWaking the Dead

The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive

by John Eldredge

Nelson Books, 2003. 244 pages.
Starred Review

My church Small Group has been going through this book since last Fall, so eight months. The accompanying workbook is longer than the original book – quoting most of the book along the way! But it has been a fruitful, deep-digging study. I highly recommend this for small groups.

This book gives us the message that our hearts are good, but we are at war.

John Eldredge leans heavily on the message of myth, and that resonates with me. This book is all about awakening our hearts. Working through these ideas with a group of fellow-travelers has been wonderfully inspiring and uplifting.

He talks about four streams: Walking with God, receiving God’s intimate counsel, deep restoration, and spiritual warfare. All of these are needed in helping our hearts come alive.

The overall message is one of life, true life.

To the weary, Jesus speaks of rest. To the lost, he speaks of finding your way. Again and again and again, Jesus takes people back to their desires: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7 NIV). These are outrageous words, provocative words. Ask, seek, knock – these words invite and arouse desire. What is it that you want? They fall on deaf ears if there is nothing you want, nothing you’re looking for, nothing you’re hungry enough to bang on a door over.

Jesus provokes desire; he awakens it; he heightens it. The religious watchdogs accuse him of heresy. He says, “Not at all. This is the invitation God has been sending all along.”

This is a provocative book, as it should be with that title! You’ll encounter some ideas that aren’t necessarily widely taught. It shook up the members of our group, in a very good way. We looked at our own hearts, and the ways we are being attacked, and had our eyes opened to many things.

Read this book and get woken up.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

gilead_largeGilead

by Marilynne Robinson

read by Tim Jerome

BBC Audiobooks America, 2004. 7 CDs.

My co-worker Lynne Imre recommended these books, and I’ve long been meaning to read Housekeeping, so I grabbed an audiobook, which is my way of reading books I’ve long been meaning to read.

This reminded me of the Marilynne Robinson nonfiction I’ve read, When I Was a Child, I Read Books. The fictional story is narrated by an old preacher in 1956, writing a letter to his young son. The preacher, John Ames, has a heart problem, and doesn’t think he will live to see his son reach adulthood.

The book is gentle and philosophical, and has some Scriptural insights thrown in throughout, since, after all, a preacher is narrating.

Reverend Ames tells about his father and grandfather, both preachers before him. His grandfather was an abolitionist and a character.

In many ways, the book is a meditation on fathers and sons, and blessings handed down from one generation to the next. Besides John Ames’ own family, his dear friend and fellow preacher has a wayward son who was named after John Ames. Young Jack comes back to town and he and the preacher embark on a journey of understanding, forgiveness and blessing.

This is a slow moving novel, but a rich one. I didn’t always hurry to put in the next CD when one ran out, and it’s not the kind of book that it’s hard to stop the car and shut off the sound when you arrive at your destination. But sometimes that’s the best kind of audiobook — something to mull over on your commute, which will stick in your thoughts.

The reader has a deep, rich, friendly, thoughtful voice. He made it easy to imagine an old preacher speaking these words.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Small Victories, by Anne Lamott

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

small_victories_largeSmall Victories

Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace

by Anne Lamott

Riverhead Books, New York, 2014. 286 pages.
Starred Review

I so love Anne Lamott! This book has a notation on the front: “New and Selected Pieces.” I did, in fact, recognize some of the essays from her previous books – but they were so excellent, I didn’t mind at all being reminded of them.

Anne Lamott has such a disarming style. She reminds us that it’s completely okay to be human and that God thinks of us fondly in spite of that. Of course, I love that she’s a left-wing Christian. (There aren’t so many of them writing, but I am one, too.)

She tells true stories from her own life, and she doesn’t shy away from the ways she screws up. She doesn’t hide from us her crummy attitudes and uncharitable thoughts. When she draws lessons from these things, we’re blessed as well. And if she can get through these things, as fully human as she is – well, then maybe we can, too.

Of course, her writing also, unfailingly, makes me laugh. I love her way of looking at things. She always gives me a new, happier perspective.

The best way, though, to understand the awesomeness of Anne Lamott’s writing is to look at examples. Any time I read her books, she starts filling up my Sonderquotes pages. Now, I should mention that if you’re politically right wing, there may be a few of her comments that bother you (which is too bad, but there it is). Take a look at some examples, and then check out or buy this book!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Every Knee Shall Bow, by Thomas Allin and Mark T. Chamberlain

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

every_knee_shall_bow_largeEvery Knee Shall Bow

The Case for Christian Universalism

by Thomas Allin and Mark T. Chamberlain

Xulon Press, 2005. 123 pages.

In the Introduction to this book, Mark T. Chamberlain explains that it began as a revision of Thomas Allin’s earlier book, and ended up being more of a collaboration.

From my earlier reviews, anyone who’s been paying attention will realize that I have become an Evangelical Universalist, and I appreciate books that explain Evangelical Universalist beliefs and why they completely fit with the teaching of the Bible and the God we worship. Every Knee Shall Bow is one of the more enthusiastic and dogmatic of these texts, but I, already agreeing with them, found this refreshing.

I don’t think this would be the best place to start for traditional evangelicals who wonder about Universalism. However, people who have been repulsed by Christian teachings about hell may be delighted to find here a very different view, which is still Biblical, and held by more and more Christians.

As I said, this book is enthusiastic and dogmatic. I’ve kept in the exclamation marks in the text below:

Whenever I tell people that I don’t believe a loving God would allow His children to end up in eternal hell, they always answer, “Yes, God is a God of love. But He is also a God of justice.” I firmly believe in God’s justice, but by what stretch of the imagination can eternal hell be considered just? Especially when it is not only for murderers, rapists, child molesters, and torturers, but also for moral people, religious people, even kind and loving people whose “only” crime is that they didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer!

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in Romans 3:23 that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I believe that all of us deserve to be punished, but eternal torment?!! Can you honestly look at your unsaved relatives and say that they deserve to be tormented by demons forever? Some would say that teaching the ultimate salvation of all would either weaken or completely remove any belief in future punishment. The exact opposite is true. Most people will only believe us when we say that a just and loving God must punish sin when we teach a plan of punishment that is reasonable and credible. A penalty that seems unspeakably cruel, shocking, even monstrous loses all force as a threat! Only Universalists fully recognize both the guilt of sin and the need for a just punishment, one that fits the crime!

He soundly rejects several objections to Universalism:

Let me start out right here with a protest against the totally false view that Christian Universalists have lax views of sin or doctrine. No view so effectively proves God’s hatred of sin as this view that teaches that He cannot and will not tolerate its existence forever! …

Next I would like to say that any teaching that says even one soul will be eternally lost strikes a blow at both the incarnation and the atonement!

And there’s more:

Some think that to believe in the ultimate salvation of all implies the escape of the wicked from all punishment and places the sinner on the same level as the saint. Let me reply once and for all that nothing could be farther from the truth. For the Christian Universalist or the believer in the wider hope, as it has been called, we believe that the very method God uses to bring those who die unsaved into a saving relationship with Christ is the severity of the divine judgment, the consuming fire, that burns up all iniquity. The wider hope teaches the certainty of punishment for the obstinate sinner, because it sees God’s judgment as the mode of cure. Unrepented sin leads to an awful future penalty, a penalty that is in proportion to the guilt of the sinner, and is continued until he repents. Christian Universalists not only accept but also emphasize the terrible warning of punishment to come, because they see punishment not as needless cruelty with no purpose, but as both justice and discipline that brings the sinner to repentance.

The main question of the debate is this: Can evil ever be stronger than God? Can a Father allow the endless, hopeless sin and misery of even one of His children, and calmly look on forever and ever, unmoved and unsympathizing? The Bible speaks in Acts 3:21 of a “time for restoring all things” and in 1 Corinthians 15:28 of a time when “God will be ALL IN ALL.” And in Colossians 1:20, it speaks of God reconciling ALL things to Himself through Christ! If these verses don’t teach the salvation of all, words have no meaning!

People always tell me that all chances for salvation end at a person’s death. But where is this taught? The only passage of scripture I have ever read or heard anyone try to use to prove this is Hebrews 9:27. Let’s look at it: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” How does this verse teach that there are no further chances for salvation after death? Where does it say in this verse that after the judgment comes eternal hell? Nowhere! If God wants to hand down a different sentence to each individual according to the light he or she had and the sins that have been committed, why can’t He?

The author goes on to look at many Biblical arguments for Universalism, as well as the history of this view back with the Church Fathers. I like this paragraph in particular:

I protest against teaching that “all” means “all” when it is talking about sin and death, but that “all” means only “some” when spoken of final salvation. The restoration of all things means, we are told, that only some beings are to be restored, while the rest are tortured forever or annihilated. That God will be “all in all” means that millions will be cast into hell forever to hate God and blaspheme Him forever and only a few will be saved. That His tender mercies are over all His works means, in the traditional creed, that His tender mercies expire at the gates of hell. It is ludicrous that those who believe in everlasting hell charge us with evading the words of Scripture.

You can tell that the author does not go easy on the traditional view. As such, this might not be the best book to convince someone who has long and conscientiously felt that it is the only Biblical view. They may not like the way he characterizes their cherished beliefs.

Now, he does look at the original Greek of many Biblical texts. He says, “I believe that not one passage found anywhere in the Bible teaches endless suffering when fairly translated and understood.”

At the very least, you can feel the author’s passion for his subject. Here’s a section from the summing up chapter at the end:

The question of Universalism is usually argued as if the main point is man’s endless suffering. As odious and repulsive as the idea of endless suffering is, it is not the main point. The vital question is who will win the battle for men’s souls, God or the devil? Which is more powerful, righteousness or sin?

The popular creed makes sin eternal, although God’s Word says that Jesus came to put away sin. It makes God’s wrath eternal, although Scripture says that it is only for a moment. It denies the Scripture in 2 Peter 3:13, which says that we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness (and by implication, only righteousness) dwells. It never explains how the saints can enjoy heaven while their mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and husbands and wives are suffering unspeakable agony in hell. It never explains how God can be all in all when there exists a place for all eternity where men and women will join their shrieks of agony with curses and blasphemy toward the God, who claimed to be their Father, but has abandoned them.

What would we think of a woman or a man who took pride in keeping an immaculate house who swept all of the dirt into a room away from the rest of the house? Not only that, but what if she or he cleansed the things in the house that least needed cleaning and reserved only the filthiest things for sweeping into the room? That is what the God of eternal hell does. He cleanses some of the filth in His house, but the worst of it He sweeps into a “room” called hell, where it’s out of sight, out of mind. And worst of all, the dirt He sweeps into this dreadful “room” called hell is not inanimate objects but people – people who for all their faults still have feelings, who have other people who are dear to them and people they are dear to. Worst of all, God, their Creator, once said that He loved them so much that He sent His Son to die for them. Some of them didn’t even know about Him and His professed love for them! But now it’s too late. They are lost forever!

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.