Category Archives: Spiritual Life

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. 

 

REMEMBER DEATH!

There is much I could say about this book, but I will keep my comments brief.

I typically read about sixty books each year.  These are close reads with underlining and marginalia.  I peruse hundreds of other books, but that is not reading.  There is no doubt that this will easily make my Favorite Reads of 2019.

Remember Death is one of those books that I will use in my teaching, discipleship with men, and gladly recommend far and wide.  It is beautifully written, consistently insightful, and thoroughly biblical.

I know it sounds strange to say that this is a book to savor, but it is.  We must face our mortality with ruthless honesty, all the utter horror and ugliness.  By doing so, we will find, as the author says so well, the incredible promises found in a relationship with Jesus.

Crossway is to be commended for publishing such a terrific piece of work!

PASTOR PAUL

This is the fourth book of Scot’s I’ve read.  In particular, his Kingdom Conspiracy, made a big impact on me.  Pastor Paul was just as impactful.

From time to time instead of a regular review, I like to list a half dozen things I appreciated about a book.  Here they are for Pastor Paul:

*Scot’s expertise in handling both the biblical material and ancient history is on wonderful display.  The historical material illumines the biblical points in ways that give more color and texture to Paul’s ministry.

*The writing is elegant and accessible.

*Pastor Paul is written in what I would call a “gentle prophetic” spirit.  Scot does not pull his punches in telling us the truth about touchy subjects like money and friendship, but one does not feel “beat up” over his candor.  

*There are many good expositions on a whole range of subjects.  My favorites are probably the ones on friendship and the honor culture of Paul’s time.

*The title is apt, but don’t be mistaken.  Pastor Paul is a book that all Christians, even non pastors, can benefit greatly from.

*I greatly enjoy books that show the incredible relevance of knowing the past.  Pastor Paul showcases how a growing historical sense gives wisdom for how we live today.

Since this “review” is also on my Amazon account, let me mention that it was easy to give five stars.

 

REALLY, NOT JUST FOR PREACHERS!

I have read several books on preaching. None have been duds, but this one may now be my favorite. I don’t know of any other book on preaching that accomplishes so much in so little space (under 150 pages).

Bruce Waltke and others are gushing about it and I add my name to the gushers.  Short, but full of powerful and wonderful insights.  Beautifully written. Integrative approach.  Careful biblical studies of memory along with things from neuroscience, psychology, etc.

And of course, you will learn how remembering is very different than recall.

Highly recommended!

JOSH HARRIS…A WARNING TO ALL OF US

Many things could and should be said about Josh Harris’s announcement that he has left both his wife and Christian faith. I offer here a few things that strike me as underappreciated by many Christians. More seriously, I also think the case can be made that these areas completely pass under the spiritual radar for far too many of us.

Be Sad, but not Surprised

The Bible makes it clear that you can cast out demons and not be a Christian (Mt. 7:21-23). Since that is true, it means that you can be a pastor, missionary, memorize lots of Scripture, lead people to faith in Jesus, and a whole bunch more, yet not be a Christian.

We American Christians are impressed with behavior. Our models for Christian growth tend to focus on what people do, not who they are. Don’t misunderstand. I am a big believer in sharing my faith, memorizing Scripture, and reading the Bible. However, Scripture warns me that these important practices for Christian growth can also be done for less than honorable reasons. Though terribly misguided, it is impressive to see someone who pours gas on his own body and then lights himself ablaze as a human torch. We’ve seen this occur from time to time in various protest movements. Such a stunning sacrifice, yet the Bible makes clear that this incredible act can be done completely devoid of love (I Cor. 13:3, NASB).

I’ve done open-air preaching on the campuses of Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. I’ve also done open-air preaching on the streets of Boulder, Colorado and Dallas, Texas. Impressive, eh? I can tell you, however, that these were much easier to do than gladly serving my family when I am tired physically. People may be wowed by the public preaching, but I can attest that it was much easier to do than serving my family in obscurity.

Biblical Illiteracy is Causing Much Damage

I’m sixty-one years old. I’ve been in various ministries for over forty years. In many places where Christians congregate, I’ve seen a precipitous drop in biblical literacy. A few months ago, I asked a group of ten college students, all from evangelical backgrounds, whether they had heard at least one sermon on the book of Lamentations. Not one of them had. Here you have a book of the Bible that has much to say in our current cultural moment and yet many are unaware of its riches. I should add that the book of Lamentations is not difficult to understand. The message of Lamentations is certainly difficult to accept which maybe offers some reason why so many preachers steer clear from preaching through it. Sadly, many miss this life-giving book of the Bible that offers unvarnished language for grieving when the unthinkable happens in our life.

Taking Every Thought Captive

In II Corinthians 10, we read that we are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The battle always begins with our thoughts. All of us marinate on things that are ungodly. More than a few of these would be embarrassing to admit to anyone, but a loyal friend. Even then, it is risky. But what happens when you don’t know anyone who will provide a godly and safe environment to give voice to your darker thoughts? Answer: you are left to your own devices, and Scripture makes clear that going it alone is deadly.

I’ve seen this scenario play out before. A person has certain gifts that many are unwisely enamored with. The gifts cause the person to be elevated far past their maturity in Christ. In too many cases, the “indispensable” person is promoted to a position of Christian leadership when their own faith in Christ is uncertain. This, in most cases, only becomes evident later on when the damage is done.

During my various interviews for pastoral positions at four evangelical churches I was never asked about my own walk with the Lord. Everyone seemed quite happy that my two seminary degrees came from the right schools. One evangelical pastor, also with the right pedigree, only asked me about my ministry strategies for motivating church-attending men who are apathetic. In all the interviews, only one asked me about my relationship with my wife, but rather predictably, he is a professional counselor!

Where to Go from Here?

Instead of offering a grocery list of suggestions, and there are several things to consider, allow me to give one. When you think of your own life and the lives of the Christians in your orbit, focus on one thing: Who/what is loved most and why? If our communities are getting healthier, we should be free to say, “I love ministry more than God. I get more excited about shopping or golf more than anything else. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Please help me with this.” May this be the kind of Christian communities that we build to His glory and our good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MYTH OF CERTAINTY

The Myth of Certainty greatly ministered to me.  It was my companion on a recent trip. 

I often jest that I am a serial, not cereal (!) doubter.  Dan does a terrific job of showing how the struggle to believe can (and should) be incorporated into our Christian lives. 

Dan is a wonderful writer and brings into this conversation some insightful people like Ellul, Kierkegaard, Flannery O’Connor, and Pascal.

Highly recommended!

Image result for The myth of certainty amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Certainty-Reflective-Christian-Commitment/dp/B00CSGGVUW

 

WISE AND WINSOME BOOK

I am a Protestant of catholic (small c) and evangelical sensibilities.  Even with potential disagreements in reading a book by Roman Catholic authors, I found myself in wide agreement.

A Mind at Peace is a short, thoughtful, accessible, and winsome book.  The authors wear their learning lightly, but the reader is well aware that they have done their homework.

As the title suggests, this book is about helping us have a posture of peace.  The authors do a good job of showing that technology is lethal to this kind of peace.  Neither of the authors are Luddites, but they are keenly aware of the disastrous effects that constant access to computers and smart phones has wrought.

My only slight disagreement may reside with Blum and Hochschild’s more favorable take on Stoicism.  They don’t say much about it, but my perception is that we may disagree some on whether some aspects of Stoicism can be of use to the Christian.

Four out of five stars

BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL IGNORANCE

Alan Jacobs And Marilynne Robinson’s Faith

My own reflection on this important piece by Alan Jacobs:

For many years, I’ve tried to address the problem through teaching the Bible and theology. I still do so, but I am now convinced that though biblical/theological illiteracy is still a big problem with so-called evangelicals, historical ignorance is equally eating our lunch.