Category Archives: Story

ON THE ROAD WITH SAINT AUGUSTINE

In lieu of a typical book review, as is my habit from time to time, allow me to mention half a dozen things I greatly appreciated about this book.  It will definitely make the list for my “Favorite Books of the Year.”

This is the seventh book I’ve read by Smith.  All of them made me think in fresh and provocative ways.  How (Not) to be Secular was my favorite. It now comes in a close second to Smith’s latest.  On the Road with Saint Augustine is now my favorite.  

So here are a half dozen things I appreciated about this book:

*There is elegant writing combined with keen insights.  It is no surprise that On the Road with Saint Augustine received a coveted starred review by Publishers Weekly.

*It makes a compelling case for why Augustine is the ideal travel partner as we make our way through life.  For me, both Augustine and Bunyan (there are others) have been indispenable to have as my vagabond friends.

*There is a thick realism in this book (take note Joel Osteen), but Smith always keeps this tethered to a compelling hope.

*Smith has a good nose for the telling quote or captivating illustration.  HIs wide-reading across various disciplines showcases the brilliance of Augustine.

*In my own teaching, and especially in my ministry of discipleship with men, this is the kind of book that I can use as a gateway of sorts to the riches of Christian history.

*I’ve always found that great books help me clarify important issues.  My marginalia reflects this reality in On the Road with Saint Augustine.  For example, in the chapter on friendship, Smith’s interaction with Heidegger resulted in my marginal comment of “Molds are everywhere, so it is impossible to break out of every single mold.”  In other words, autonomous individuals don’t exist because they can’t exist.

Whenever the time comes that sales begin to dwindle for this book, I would recommend Brazos making booklets out of some chapters.  For example, the chapter on freedom is one I would love to give to any thoughtful person, irrespective of whether they are a Christian. 

 

SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS RELIGION

https://www.amazon.com/Seriously-Dangerous-Religion-Testament-Matters/dp/1481300237

There are many things to like about Provan’s book.

The writing is lucid and engaging. Provan is an author who wants his readers to understand his arguments. You don’t scratch your head wondering what he really means. This seems rather basic, but if you read a lot you learn it is not something you can always assume.

Provan is certainly tethered to Scripture, but I appreciated his integrative approach. Provan uses a wonderful array of sources from history, philosophy, and popular culture.

One of my favorite things about the book are the contrasts Provan teases out between Christianity and other world religions. These insights are worded in a way that I have not seen in any other book. They provide compelling testimony to the uniqueness of Christianity.

I don’t agree with the author on some matters, such as the extent of the Fall’s effects. However, even when I did disagree with Provan, it got me thinking in new ways that were beneficial.

Last, I read this book because I thought it would show how the more difficult claims of/about God, especially in the Old Testament, were compatible with His grace. There is some of this for sure, but I would have liked to see more interaction with the thornier issues in the Old Testament.

All in all, an extremely worthwhile read.

TELL A STORY, TELL IT WELL!

I am writing some smaller “commentaries” on the Bible.  I recently finished one on Habakkuk titled, God, What on Earth are You Doing?  The following is from my introduction to Genesis:

Telling a story well is powerful.  Telling a powerful story can be life altering.  Even best selling books for the business community[1] know that data alone can be lifeless and so not terribly motivating.  Tell a story worth telling and people’s curiosity is piqued.  Their imaginations are engaged.  They ready for action.  The Bible tells a great story so seek to know and communicate it well.[2]



[1] You see this throughout Kouzes James M. and Barry Z. Posner, The Leadership Challenge 4th Ed. (San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2007).  Also see Tom Morris, The Art of Achievement: Success in Business and in Life (New York, NY: MJF Books, 2002), 19-21.

[2] By the way, too many Christians think they know the story of the Bible well.  They have sat in church for many years and heard “all about Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mary, and Paul.”  Actually, most only have superficial familiarity with the Bible. 

THE BIBLE IS BORING

When pastor Todd Putney convened an enthusiastic community discussion of The Shack, it didn’t go as he had hoped. “I thought that book would be a bridge to the God of the Scriptures, but it wasn’t. No one wanted to go there. They preferred the story and the god of The Shack over the God of the Scriptures.”

Elegant writing coupled with crucial insights in this article:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/july-august/the-gospel-is-more-than-a-story.html?paging=off

THE BEST STORY TO TELL

All seven billion of us on planet earth are on a level playing field.

We all seek to make sense of life.

The Bible’s story is realistic, comprehensive, and hopeful. 

The Big Story by Justin Buzzard is a good resource to give seekers and young Christians.  Through wonderful illustrations it does a nice job of showcasing the drama of Scripture’s story.

Buzzard quotes Marianne’s Williamson about the “glory of God within us,” but it would have been better to either not quote her or clarify her New Age convictions.  She is talking about something very different than Buzzard!

TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE WORLD

“Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step . . . If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.”

(Ivan Illich, HT: Justin Buzzard)

Both Augustine in City of God and Aquinas in Summa Contra Gentiles showed how the Christian story was the best and most compelling.  I plan to write on it in the near future.