Review of Love Is the Way, by Bishop Michael Curry

Love Is the Way

Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times

by Bishop Michael Curry
with Sara Grace

Avery (Penguin Random House), 2020. 259 pages.
Review written May 24, 2021, from my own copy.
Starred Review

My church small group has been going through this book, at the rate of a chapter per week (with a 6-week break in the middle for a Lent study), and we’re finishing up this week. It’s been a wonderful book for discussion.

The tone is devotional, with personal stories from the bishop in every chapter. It starts out a little bit general about loving others, but does continue to specifics like loving LGBTQ people and loving people of different races and different political views.

He frames the book with each chapter having a subtitle that’s a question about love, a question he’s actually been asked. He begins with “What is love?” and “How do I find God’s love?” and continues through things like “Do I have to love even my enemy?” “How can love overcome what divides us and move us forward together?” and “Does love mean avoiding politics?”

I expected something with less depth than what I got. His willingness to delve into practical issues means the book challenges the reader, because we can all get better at loving.

And he’s also inspirational. I enjoyed the chapter “It’s Not Easy,” which had the question “I’m just a regular person – can my love have an impact?” No surprise, the answer is Yes, and that answer is proved by stories in the chapter. Here’s how that chapter ends:

It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening – because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love. We can all plant seeds, though only some of us may be so lucky as to sit in their shade. Since we can’t start twenty years ago, the best time to start is today.

And here’s how the book ends. (It’s not a Spoiler with Nonfiction! Here’s where this book will take you.)

When God, who is love, becomes our spiritual center of gravity, and love our moral compass, we live differently, regardless of what the world around us does. The world changes for the better, one life at a time.

So don’t give up on love.
Listen to it.
Trust it.
Give into it.
Obey it.

Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate when nothing else will. May God love you and bless you. And may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

You can think of this book as a compelling call to love.

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Review of Intimate Conversations with the Divine, by Caroline Myss

Intimate Conversations with the Divine

Prayer, Guidance, and Grace

by Caroline Myss

Hay House, 2020. 271 pages.
Review written May 10, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

I wasn’t completely sure what to expect with this book. Knowing she’s a medical intuitive, I was expecting something New Age-y. But I’m going to list it in the “Christian” section of my review page, because these are prayers addressing God as “Lord,” and I’m completely comfortable with them as a Christian. She does have a note at the front that her current idea of God doesn’t look a lot like the God she was taught about in her Catholic upbringing. She believes that humans crave love and crave the sacred. Her note finishes this way:

If there is one thing I could communicate to you with this book, it’s that our holy channel of communication with the Divine has nothing to do with religion. Heaven is not the formal organization that religion is. Leave all the formalities in your rearview mirror. And don’t let the misdeeds human beings have perpetrated in the name of religion stand in the way of your nourishing yourself with the grace of the Divine. Choose an intimate way of addressing the Divine in your prayers, one that works for you, and pray. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that all prayers are heard and heaven always responds.

This is a book about prayer and a book of prayers. In the Introduction, she talks about the importance of prayer:

When we pray, we ask the Divine to show us how to see, how to speak, how to create. We ask God to reveal, to illuminate, the right path for us. God, show me how to see this. Reveal your wisdom to me, Lord. Show me the way. One word will do. One word is all I need. Then, suddenly, the word hope arises in you. Or patience. This word, this revelation, becomes the most holy word you have. You can hang on to it; you can use it to guide you. This is the true meaning of prayer: a request for help in how to see.

This is why I had to write this book, to urge you toward this new way to pray, one that is not about supplication and asking God to remove the consequences of your bad decisions. It’s not to explain why bad things happen to good people – that’s above my pay grade. It’s to share my way of prayer, which is a simple request for grace. “Help me out here, God. Don’t let me say something stupid. Give me the words. If I try to do this on my own, I’m going to do damage.

The bulk of the book consists of one hundred of the author’s prayers, written out, prayers asking for grace. Along with each prayer, she includes Guidance – teaching about the issues coming up in this prayer. She also includes a shorter petition asking for a certain kind of Grace.

The prayers are from actual situations and problems, when she needed different graces, such as acceptance, determination, endurance, healing, or hope. There’s an index at the back of which grace is requested in which prayer.

She has this to say at the front of the prayers:

The pages that follow contain 100 of my own personal prayers. Many of my students use them as they are, reading and contemplating them. But truly, my intention is to inspire you to engage in a prayer practice of your own. Contemporary prayer is a dialogue with the Divine and is the conduit for grace to enter your life and our world. Each of these prayers illustrates a different type of grace that feeds the human soul. As such, I have included words of guidance as well as a petition for grace with each prayer.

I already had a prayer practice before reading this book – but reading a prayer from this book each day has become part of it. Now that I’ve gone through the whole book, I’m starting over again immediately. They are that encouraging. These prayers make me think, but even more than that, they make me feel heard. They remind me that God is paying attention to my life, and I want to pay attention to God.

This is a lovely set of prayers whatever your religious or non-religious background.

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Review of Dusk Night Dawn, by Anne Lamott

Dusk Night Dawn

On Revival and Courage

by Anne Lamott

Riverhead Books, 2021. 208 pages.
Review written March 30, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com
Starred Review

It’s impossible not to love Anne Lamott. This is because she tells us all her failings, instead of trying to impress us with how wonderful she is. It’s so easy to relate to those failings! Plus, she makes us laugh by looking at things in an unexpected way.

And now she’s married! So now we get her thoughts about this man she’s married and about living with a partner and about being real with each other.

If you’ve read Anne Lamott, you’ll understand it’s more of her funny, insightful, quirky goodness. Without fail, her chapters leave me smiling, though I can’t always pull out a paragraph for quotes, because it takes the whole story to fully appreciate it.

But here’s a nice paragraph I did pull out:

Trust me on this: We are loved out of all sense of proportion. Yikes and hallelujah. Love reveals the beauty of sketchy people like us to ourselves. Love holds up the sacred mirror. Love builds rickety greenhouses for our wilder seeds to grow. Love can be reckless (Jesus is good at this), or meek as my dog, or carry a briefcase. Love is the old man in the park teaching little kids to play the violin: much time spent tuning, the children hearing their way into the key he is playing. My parents heard the key as success, security, moving expeditiously, and living as expected. But love lumbers like an elephant, it naps on top of your chest like a cat. It gooses you, snickers, smooths your hair. Love is being with a person wherever they are, however they are acting. Ugh. (A lot of things seem to come more easily to God.)

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Review of Courage, by Tom Berlin

Courage

Jesus and the Call to Brave Faith

by Tom Berlin

Abingdon Press, 2021. 144 pages.
Review written March 29, 2021, from my own copy
Starred Review

This book is written by the pastor of my church. They gave a copy to all church members and regular attenders as part of a bag of goodies to help us observe Lent. All the small groups in the church have been working through this book during the six weeks of Lent. The pastor’s sermons have kept pace with the chapters of the book. And as an additional resource, he recorded a video for each chapter at a significant site in Washington, DC, and we watch those short videos during our small group discussion each week.

Honestly? I’d never thought much about courage. Is that a guy thing? I mean, I never wanted to be in the military or be a policeman or firefighter and never gave much thought to the need for courage.

But this book has made me think of courage in new ways. He covers six aspects of courage – clarity, conviction, candor, hope, fortitude, and love – and looks at six incidents in the life of Jesus that demonstrate these things. It makes me think about the ways I need to display courage to do the things God calls me to.

I think my favorite chapter is the final one. It talks about how it’s easier to be courageous when we know we are loved – and we are loved indeed.

When we believe that God loves us, we enter a place of courage. The knowledge of such love creates a foundation of confidence on which courage stands. It enables us to know that we can be vulnerable with others because their acceptance or rejection will neither increase nor diminish the love we offer others.

Although I wasn’t curious about courage before our church started studying the topic, it’s been an interesting and fruitful topic. The sermons and the small group discussions have been inspirational and encouraging.

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Review of Eager to Love, by Richard Rohr

Eager to Love

The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi

by Richard Rohr

Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014. 294 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Ever since I read Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ, I’ve also been reading the daily meditations he sends out from the Center for Action and Contemplation. This book explains the Franciscan tradition and Christian mysticism. He looks closely at Francis of Assissi’s life and teachings as well as those that followed him – and focuses on what that can mean for Christians today.

It’s hard for me to describe this book, except to say it’s lovely and uplifting. I’m not sure I fully grasped all the implications. I’ll write out the very beginning, to give you some of the flavor:

Francis of Assisi was a master of making room for the new and letting go off that which was tired or empty. As his first biographer said, “He was always new, always fresh, always beginning again.” Much of Francis’s genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. His God was not tired, and so he was never tired. His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young.

There are always new vocabularies, fresh symbols, new frames and styles, but Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. I would call this mystical insight “the mystery of incarnation,” or the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.”

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness – and holiness. The result is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty. What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis and his female companion, Clare, carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusions. Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by it. They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

In this book, I want to share with you one of the most attractive, appealing, and accessible of all frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified it, Francesco de Bernardone, who lived in Assisi, Italy, from 1182-1226.

This isn’t a book of history, though it does tell the reader much about the teachings of Saint Francis and his followers. But the approach is talking about how we can incorporate these ideas into our own lives. It’s ultimately a challenging and uplifting book, and at some point I want to read it again and see if I can absorb more of it.

At its heart, this is a book about getting better at loving. Here’s a paragraph from a chapter specifically on Francis that shows where the title came from:

If your only goal is to love, there is no such thing as failure. Francis succeeded in living in this single-hearted way and thus turned all failure on its head, and even made failure into success. This intense eagerness to love made his whole life an astonishing victory for the human and divine spirit, and showed how they can work so beautifully together.

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Review of The Art of Bible Translation, by Robert Alter

The Art of Bible Translation

by Robert Alter

Princeton University Press, 2019. 127 pages.
Review written February 9, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book will be fascinating to people who are interested in the Bible and people who are interested in language and literature. Written by a Hebrew scholar, this book tells me about aspects of the Old Testament in the original language that I had no idea were there, having only read English translations. It gave me a new appreciation for the artistry in the original and how the different types of texts – narrative, poetry, and prophecy, are different from one another.

In short, I didn’t realize how much of an art Bible translation is. This author gave me new appreciation for that.

In the introduction, he explains what brought him to Bible translation and finishes with this section:

Through all this, then, I have developed a sense that my translation, whatever its imperfections, has begun to serve a cultural need for English readers interested in the Bible. That in turn has given me confidence to seek to explain in these chapters why central aspects of literary style in the Hebrew Bible have to be addressed in English translation, within the limits imposed by the disparities between the two languages, and to attempt to make clear what is lost in the failure to address the enlivening and determinative role of style in the Bible. In the chapters that follow I will try to explain how syntax, word choice, rhythm, sound play, word play, and diction are artfully deployed in the Hebrew and why, whatever challenges all these aspects of style pose, they need somehow to be reflected in translation. All this may throw some light on what should be involved in translating the Bible, and perhaps it will also convey some sense of the literary artistry of the biblical writers. Although the impetus for this book was definitely an attempt to consider the challenges of translating the Bible and how they might be met, the topics discussed ended up involving both proposals about literary translation and a general overview of the principal features of style in the Bible. As I have noted, no such study really exists, and that in itself is a symptom of the problem that these chapters seek to address.

I have to admit – I had never before thought of the Bible as ancient literature. As he points out, modern translations work to make the meaning clear, but to do that, they work on sounding like something that could be written today. He points out literary devices used in the original language that make the Bible more beautiful as a piece of literary art written in ancient times.

For example, in the chapter on Dialogue, the author points out, “What is noteworthy is that the Bible provides a remarkable early precedent for novelistic dialogue.” Works of literature like the Iliad and the Odyssey had memorable speeches, but they aren’t about dialogue telling a story. Sometimes translators don’t even present the conversations as dialogue. He talks about aspects of the way language is used in dialogue that isn’t always reflected in translation.

Here’s how Robert Alter concludes his introductory chapter. It conveys his love for the topic and the way the task of translation is indeed an art form:

Hebrew prose narratives, as I hope these examples have suggested, manifest great subtlety and complexity in their literary shaping, and the same is abundantly true, in somewhat different ways, for biblical poetry. This artfulness, which cannot be separated from the religious meanings of the texts, sometimes can be conveyed effectively in English; sometimes an English solution can be found that to a degree intimates the stylistic strengths of the original, though imperfectly; and sometimes, alas, the translator must throw up his hands in despair because there seems no workable English equivalent for the stylistic effects of the Hebrew. In the chapters that follow; I will try to isolate five of the principal aspects of style in the Hebrew that I think a translator should aim somehow to reproduce in English. The aspiration may seem quixotic, but even a distant approximation of the literary art of the original is preferable to ignoring it altogether.

I consider myself a student of the Bible, but this whole book presented new ideas to me, and I thought it was fascinating. I immediately ordered myself a copy of Robert Alter’s translation of the book of Psalms, and will probably end up ordering the entire Old Testament. I’ll grant that there is a narrow audience for this book, but for those within that audience, like me, it’s completely fascinating.

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Review of Try Softer, by Aundi Kolber

Try Softer

A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode – and into a Life of Connection and Joy

by Aundi Kolber, MA, LPC

Tyndale Momentum, 2020. 245 pages.
Review written September 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Standout:
#5 Christian Nonfiction

I love the idea behind the title of this book. Here’s the author’s explanation from the Introduction, when her therapist supervisor John asked her if she could try softer instead of trying harder:

I’ve got to be honest: At first blush, John’s suggestion didn’t sound like an awesome option – because what did it even mean? All I had ever learned was how to try harder. If I didn’t push, everything would be terrible; everything would fall apart. The suggestion that there could be another way made my body feel tense with anger, a reflection of my twelve-year-old self – a girl riddled with the toxic stress of trying to keep everything together while her home life was constantly imploding. Sure, John, “trying softer” sounds nice, but trying harder is how you survive.

At the same time, I had to face the facts: Trying harder wasn’t really working for me anymore. The strategies I had been using my entire life – hustling, overworking, overthinking, and constantly shifting to accommodate the dysfunction that surrounded me – they had kept me alive, yes, but now they were taking their toll. I felt less in control, not more; worse, not better; weary, not wise. The danger from my past was gone, but the patterns remained – and they were keeping me from being able to be truly present and pay attention to what matters most.

The day that I sat with John in his office totally changed the trajectory of my life because John was right: Pushing isn’t always the answer.

Dear reader, there are truly times when the best, healthiest, most productive thing we can do is not to try harder, but rather to try softer; to compassionately listen to our needs so we can move through pain – and ultimately life – with more gentleness and resilience.

The author does speak as a Christian, but more than that, she speaks as a therapist, so I don’t think you have to be a Christian to appreciate the insights in this book. She tells us her own life story along the way, and weaves in concepts and techniques from therapy.

Toward the beginning, she talks about Big T Trauma and little t trauma and how the patterns we set from dealing with either one of those continue to affect us and are even held in our bodies. She talks about brain science and how both kinds of trauma affect our brains. She talks about attachment theory and how our attachment style affects our relationships. There are exercises to go with every chapter to help you grasp the ideas.

But after the background and the groundwork, the rest of the book is dedicated to practices to help us try softer, to help us be gentler with ourselves. She helps us to pay attention to and value our own bodies and our own emotions, to silence our inner critics, and to learn resilience.

She finishes the book with a prayer for the reader, and the last paragraph gives you an idea of what she’s trying to help you with in this book:

I pray you remember to be gentle with yourself as you grow, knowing condemnation never leads us onward but instead stunts the process. May you courageously continue on and move forward in your own story. And when you are weary, may you never – no, never – lose heart. May you know in an experiential, personal, and transformational way that the One who has called you is faithful.

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Review of Grace Saves All, by David Artman

Grace Saves All

The Necessity of Christian Universalism

by David Artman

Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, 2020. 147 pages.
Review written January 5, 2021, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 in Christian Nonfiction

I am amassing quite a collection of books about why Christian Universalism is biblical and why it makes sense and why it paints a picture more worthy of God. This is another wonderful addition to that set.

One thing I liked about this one was that I read it in the year it was published, and the author has read almost all the same books I have read – they are even listed in the back as “Recommended Reading” and are cited in many different places. (And I got a few ideas for additional reading.) He even listed all the ones I’d read in the last year, so he’s as up-to-date as I am.

And each book takes its own approach. This book takes the approach of looking at Grace, and I found that lovely. Here’s how the Introduction begins:

Grace is amazing. About this all Christians agree. Yet nearly all forms of Christianity put significant limits on grace. Those forms of Christianity which proclaim that grace alone actually saves typically don’t believe God gives grace to everyone, while those forms of Christianity which proclaim God gives grace to everyone typically don’t believe grace alone actually saves. Is the Christian understanding of grace necessarily divided between these two grace-limiting options? Must grace either be that which saves alone but doesn’t go to all, or that which goes to all but doesn’t save alone? Or, is there another way? Can one be a Christian and understand grace to save alone and go to all? Can one be a Christian and believe salvation by grace alone is for everyone?

I will argue here that being Christian does not require one to limit either grace’s power or scope. It’s quite possible, I will contend, to be Christian and to believe grace is God’s way of finally saving everyone. Grace can be understood to be God’s remedy for all human sin, not just part of it. Grace can mean God perseveres with us until we’ve all seen the light and freely responded in faith. Grace can mean God is with us not just if we get things right, but until we get things right. How long it takes for us to get things right is not the primary issue for God. Whether it happens in this lifetime, or in the age to come, or in the ages to come after that, is not what really matters. The primary issue for God isn’t how hard it will be for us, or how long it will take us. The primary issue for God is our final return home. And, like the father of the prodigal son, God will be vigilant until we all make our way home from the far country.

Even though I will be arguing here that everyone will finally be saved by grace alone, what we do still matters very much. We each still have our part to play. And neither will I be downplaying the consequences of sin. We are granted terrifying freedom to bring tremendous misery upon ourselves and others. What we do matters greatly. But no matter what we do, God’s grace can be understood to include God’s commitment to be with us, even in the form of judgment and hell, until we eventually see the light. I will argue that God’s perfecting love is continually with all of us, through whatever hell may be necessary, until all of us are finally healed and home. What makes grace truly amazing is God never giving up and never failing – God being able to save even those for whom there is apparently no hope. I maintain that it’s possible to be a Christian and to have this understanding of grace.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know it’s possible to be a Christian and to believe grace is God’s way of ultimately saving everyone. They don’t know where to find biblical evidence for this understanding of grace. They don’t know this way of understanding grace was common in early Christianity. They wrongly assume they can only be Christian if they also believe God will not, or might not, save everyone. Through this book I hope to help correct these false impressions and assumptions.

As with all the other books I’ve reviewed on Universalism (see the list on the side of this review page), this author fills the book with biblical references supporting what he says. Universalism is biblical! He also spends a whole chapter talking about how the early church supported Universalism. Universalism is authentic Christianity!

The author calls this kind of belief about grace the Inclusive approach. At the start of the main text, he lays out a five-point biblical framework for this approach:

1. God is a loving parent to all.

2. God sincerely wants to save all.

3. God, in Christ, covers the sin of all.

4. God is sovereign over all.

5. God will be all in all.

This book sums up Christian Universalism simply and clearly in a way that’s easy to understand. Plenty of biblical support is cited, and the author finishes up with his own story of how he came to this view, so it’s got a personal touch as well.

I liked reading this book to have one more clear argument in favor of Christian Universalism. But above all, I was happy to read it because it glories in the amazing inescapable grace of God that indeed saves all. Praise God!

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Review of Jesus Undefeated, by Keith Giles

Jesus Undefeated

Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment

by Keith Giles

Quoir, Orange, California, 2019. 193 pages.
Review written September 30, 2020, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Christian Nonfiction

I’ve been a Universalist since 1998. I believe that God is going to save everyone. I do believe there is a hell, but that it doesn’t last forever, and is for correction. Just as terrible experiences in this life sometimes are what it takes to set us right. At the time, I came to that view from reading George MacDonald and the New Testament, but at first I didn’t know of any living Christian who agreed with me, which was a lonely feeling.

But over the years, I’ve found more and more writers who agree with me, including many alive today! I’ve studied the Scriptures and feel more and more confident that this is the most consistent way to interpret the New Testament, and the most in line with the meaning of the original language. I even learned that this is what the early church of native Greek-speaking people believed, and that it wasn’t until Augustine, who didn’t speak Greek, that the majority view changed and eternal punishment was popularized.

So I am now firm in my beliefs about this, but I still enjoy reading new books about universalism as they are published, because they simply make me happy. This is truly Good News! God the Father truly loves everyone, and reading about that makes me happy.

Each book also brings something new to the discussion. People interested in learning more about universalism can start with any of the books I list on the side of this review. This one would make a great starting place, presenting the alternatives and why universal reconciliation fits with Scripture. I like the way he also quotes many of the church fathers to make his case.

There are basically three views of hell you can get from the New Testament – Eternal Suffering, Annihilation (Conditional Immortality), and Universal Reconciliation (Patristic Universalism).

But what if all three views were “Biblical”? What if all three views based their doctrine on the “clear teachings of Scripture”? What if they were only affirming certain verses in the Bible that conformed to their view and had developed elaborate explanations for why those other verses didn’t teach what they appear to teach?

Well, I’m here to tell you, I think that all of those statements above are essentially true. Because, after looking at all three views, I can tell you that all three are certainly Biblical, (meaning they base their teaching on the Bible), and all three views assume to take a “clear teaching” approach when it comes to the verses that support their view (while arguing that opposing verses require more discernment to understand).

Obviously, either one of them is the correct view, or they are all wrong. But, they cannot all three be right. Hopefully we can all agree on these points.

So, I will fully admit that – whatever view you embrace – you must make a decision to accept a certain set of verses as authoritative and to dismiss another set. Neither of these three Christian views of Hell are iron-clad. Someone can always say, “But what about this verse?” and you will either have to explain why that verse isn’t saying what it appears to say or admit that you don’t know what it means, while you still hold tightly to the view you’ve decided to embrace.

To be fair, the Christian church took over 500 years to even attempt to divide over this teaching.

That’s from Chapter 2 of this book, “Always Three Views.” Keith Giles goes on to show us the main verses supporting each of the three views, but then why he thinks the strongest case is made for universal reconciliation.

I think my favorite chapter is “The Fruit of Universalism,” because it reflects the joy that’s come into my life since I adopted this view. Here’s a bit from that chapter:

The more I’ve studied the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation, the more I’ve started to notice something about those who embrace the view: they tend to be more loving and accepting of those who are unlike them.

Maybe it’s because when you realize that everyone is equally loved by God, and that God is really intending to bring everyone to repentance, and that, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will gladly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, well, you kind of relax and enjoy being alive.

See, instead of seeing people as “saved” or “lost,” and grouping everyone you meet into the “Christian” or “non-Christian” category, you may start to see people as simply people.

Not only that, but you also begin to see them as God sees them. You slowly recognize that everyone you meet – regardless of their beliefs or spiritual condition – is someone who is dearly loved by God. You also start to understand that everyone you meet is indeed your brother or sister, and you realize that we all have the same Heavenly Father.

This really starts to change the way you treat other people. It starts to bear good fruit in your life. It even makes it easier to love others as Christ has loved you, without conditions or strings attached.

Eventually, you begin to recognize that God loves everyone much more than you could ever love them; even your own family members who may be far from faith in Christ at the moment. You start to realize that God has a grand design in motion to draw everyone to Himself, eventually. We get to take part in that, if we can learn to abide in Christ and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in this process. But, we can also enjoy a newfound sense of ease with this process. Because now we’re not fighting the clock or worried about closing the sale. Instead, we’re trusting in God’s ultimate victory which is inevitable and unstoppable.

I hope that some find this excerpt intriguing. When I first realize what George MacDonald was saying, I didn’t think I could believe universalism because the Bible didn’t teach it – but MacDonald clearly thought it did, and he had studied the original Greek text. So I do appreciate that Keith Giles shows the reader that there is strong evidence that indeed one day in Christ all will be made alive.

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Review of The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart

The New Testament

A Translation

by David Bentley Hart

Yale University Press, 2017. 577 pages.
Review written October 18, 2020, from my own copy.
Starred Review

It seems so presumptuous to write a review of The New Testament! Rest assured this is a review of this particular translation in order to recommend it to other students of the Bible.

I was interested in this translation because of reading the author’s book on universalism, That All Shall Be Saved. The translation came first, and I’ve found that many proponents of universalism have an in-depth knowledge of biblical Greek. This author is no exception.

He does claim to have approached the text without theological bias, admitting that there will always be some, but trying to be faithful to what is written. Here’s a segment from his Introduction:

I should note that this is not a literary translation of the New Testament, much less a rendering for liturgical use. If it conforms in any degree to any current school of translation theory, it is certainly that of “formal,” rather than “dynamic,” equivalence – though, in fact, I believe that no translator should entrust his or her choices to the authority of any “theory” whatsoever. Again and again, I have elected to produce an almost pitilessly literal translation; many of my departures from received practices are simply my efforts to make the original text as visible as possible through the palimpsest of its translation…. Where the Greek of the original is maladroit, broken, or impenetrable (as it is with some consistency in Paul’s letters), so is the English of my translation; where an author has written bad Greek (such as one finds throughout the book of Revelation), I have written bad English.

I’m writing this review after finishing the entire book – for many months, I’ve read one two-page spread per day as part of my devotions. I may start up again on this, but I will also keep the book on hand for times when I’m curious about how this author renders the original Greek, to get another perspective on a biblical passage and, I think, a clearer idea of how it was written in the original text.

I have to say that in all my reading of this book, there was one verse that made me cry out in delight at his clear rendering. It was Philippians 2:10-11 –

So that at the name of Jesus every knee – of beings heavenly and earthly and subterranean – should bend, And every tongue gladly confess that Jesus the Anointed is Lord, for the glory of God the Father.

The insertion of the word “gladly” means you can’t pretend this verse means that one day God’s going to force knees to bow.

But I also enjoyed the many footnotes (Really!) with explanations for why he translated things a certain way. And I especially enjoyed the section at the back titled, “Concluding Scientific Postscript.” It includes some particular notes on the Prologue of John’s Gospel and some details in the Greek that can’t really be expressed in English. Then he includes notes on translating nineteen specific words, beginning with aionios, “which in most traditional translations is rendered as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting,’ except in the many instances where such a reading would be nonsensical.” He goes on for several pages about why this is not an appropriate translation, referencing extra-biblical Greek sources as well as the Greek-speaking church fathers, besides giving other reasons for his choices. Of course this is a crucial point for universalists, and he makes a strong case. The second word he looks at in depth is gehenna, and he explains why “hell” is not an appropriate translation for that. The rest of the words do not apply so particularly to universalism, but it’s all tremendously interesting and enlightening, and gives insight into what the Bible says.

David Bentley Hart finishes up this volume with these words:

I do hope this translation will, for many readers, help to cast new light on his or her understanding of the origins and contents of Christian faith. And I repeat my assertion, which may seem slightly incredible, that I have tried not to advance my theological or ideological agenda, but rather to capture in English as much of the suggestiveness and uncertainty and mystery of the original Greek as possible, precisely in order to prevent any prior set of commitments from determining for the reader in advance what it is that the text must say (even when it does not).

Why review this book? To let other students of Scripture know about this amazing resource. I hope some of you will seek out a copy to aid in your own study.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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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