Loving Jesus, by Mark Allan Powell

Loving JesusLoving Jesus by Mark Allan Powell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book very much. I couldn’t help comparing it to Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Mark Allan Powell has done a much better job of describing my spiritual journey as a “First and Second Naïvetè” than Rohr did with his “First and Second Half” of life model. The focus of Rohr’s book seems too much on the self, its “container” and “contents,” and its trajectory, “Falling Upward.” Powell’s focus, as its title indicates, is on what it means to be “loving Jesus” through all phases of life. His is an approach to Christian “piety” that grows with maturity and understanding. His tone is humble, balanced, and welcoming, where Rohr often seems arrogant, judgmental and off-putting. Each chapter describes an aspect of Christian faith and spirituality that takes a deeper account of one’s beliefs, faith and practice in the course of life without losing its passionate focus on the One with whom “all things are possible” and on whom all things depend. This is a very good guide book for renewing, and growing in one’s faith by loving Jesus.

View all my reviews

Posted in Books, Christianity, Spirituality | Leave a comment

The Skeptical Believer

The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner AtheistThe Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist by Daniel Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My name is Paul … and I am a Skeptical Believer.

I’ve been savoring this book. Its short chapters and conversational style make that a good way to read it. This isn’t a book about apologetics, except maybe where one’s own faith is concerned. It’s more about epistemology–how we know what we know–where it comes to the really important matters upon which our most important commitments rest. The author’s musings are interrupted occasionally by the snarky, sarcastic comments of his “Inner Atheist.” I’ve heard them all before and found them more annoying than anything else. My inner atheist is a bit more subtle.

I had been an intentional Christian for about 13 years when, in 1987, I read Daniel Taylor’s book, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and Risk of Commitment. I felt like the author had somehow gotten inside my head and knew very well the questions and doubts about my faith with which I had been wrestling for some time. I was rather awestruck by this. What I read in that book greatly helped make my faith intellectually and reflectively sustainable and growing through many years of wrestling and inquiry.

With this book, Daniel Taylor has done it to me again, discussing in much greater detail how faith and the doubts of a skeptical nature can reinforce and balance each other in crucial ways. Taylor understands the importance of doctrinal belief and propositional truth but sets them in the context of relational truths that are what support anyone’s most important beliefs; whether he or she be a “religious” person or not. We are all characters living out a life story. Reflection on the nature of that story and the meaning it gives to one’s life is a frequent concern for many people; even some Christians who may fit the Taylor’s description of himself as a “skeptical believer.” For most of my life, I’ve had a part in the most compelling story I know. Daniel Taylor has articulated the thinking behind the living of such a life for someone like me better than any one that I know of. It’s been quite a journey. I look forward to where it all leads.

View all my reviews

Posted in Books, Christianity, Personal, Religion | Leave a comment

The Gospel According to Job

The Gospel According to JobThe Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Mike Mason’s book, The Gospel According to Job, along with the biblical book of Job has been quite an experience for me. When the book of Job came up again recently in the devotional calendar that I use, my reaction was, “Not again?! Didn’t I read this during Lent?” But something told me that it was important to read it then. Mason’s book was already sitting unread on my shelf so I decided to read through Job a chapter a day along with this book. I’m glad I did. Continue reading

Posted in Books, Christianity | Leave a comment

Why I Am Voting for Gary Johnson for President

I have voted in every election since the 1980 presidential election. I’ve often been unhappy with the choices presented by the two major parties. This time both of those choices have fallen far below an acceptable level for me and for many others. I think this election presents a rare opportunity and so I have decided to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, even though I’m not a Libertarian or a strong adherent to any political party platform and even though I don’t think the Libertarians will win the election, at least not in the first round. If you find yourself in a similar position, you may want to read on…

Continue reading

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Prima Scriptura

Prima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament InterpretationPrima Scriptura: An Introduction to New Testament Interpretation by N. Clayton Croy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read a few introductions to New Testament study and interpretation. I can’t imagine one being better than this one. Written as a seminary text book, it should also be quite valuable to, and essential reading for, anyone who teaches or preaches from the Bible, or who wishes to seriously study it and apply its teaching in individual and community life. Certainly anyone in this position or with this intent should understand the things that this book explains about interpreting the New Testament. Continue reading

Posted in Books, Christianity | Leave a comment

Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance, By Ben Campbell Johnson

Speaking Of God: Evangelism As Initial Spiritual GuidanceSpeaking Of God: Evangelism As Initial Spiritual Guidance by Ben Campbell Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was published in 1991 but has much to say to the Church today. It saddens me that a book like this has apparently had so little impact on the Christian Church. The author’s main concern is for the way that mainline Protestant churches, particularly his own Presbyterian Church (USA), had been losing younger members to more conservative evangelical or charismatic churches. This trend has been well documented and is still very evident today. Some of these people grow disillusioned, in one way or another, with their experience and may seek to return to the mainline, but it’s a trickle that won’t sustain the churches. Many more just seem to abandon the Church altogether. Something is missing. The problem Johnson sees is the way mainline denominations have all but abandoned their emphasis on the need for a vibrant personal commitment to following Jesus as a disciple for the sake of the cultural relevance offered by social activism. “In an effort to be universally relevant, we have often forgotten about individuals both inside and outside the church who need to be introduced to a personal faith. … Without personal conversion, either of the nurtured or dramatic type, the church lacks the energy to fulfill it’s mission.” (pp. 169-70.) The problem is that most of these members and clergy feel very uncomfortable or inadequate in talking to people about their commitment to Christ.

Continue reading

Posted in Books, Christianity | Leave a comment

Trading A Car for A Bicycle

In 20130117_172116the fall of 2009, I bought a bicycle that I could use instead of my car and started riding it to work. I live only a few miles from my work place and the bike route takes me through some much more pleasant scenery than the car ride. The bike ride takes only about 15 minutes. Riding by car can sometimes take that long because of the traffic. The bike came complete with fenders, head and tail lights powered by a dynamo in the front wheel hub, a rear rack, an 8 speed internal rear hub and a warning bell; a complete city commuter bike that I could ride comfortably in street clothes. There were a couple summers back in the 1990s that I rode my Schwinn road bike to work at AT&T. That was 12 miles each way over some difficult roads. I had to use the showers at work and bring a change of clothes. That was a nice workout, but I couldn’t do it regularly. Now I work closer to home and regular bike commuting seemed like a real possibility.

Continue reading

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment

Every Other Monday, by John Kasich

Every Other MondayEvery Other Monday by John Kasich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found the audio book edition at the public library when one of the books I had reserved for a car trip did not come in time. I had never heard of this book but decided to give it a listen since Kasich is now governor of Ohio, where I’ve lived most of my life, and since I have also been part of a men’s Bible study group of the same size (call ours, “Almost Every Friday”). I was interested in how Kasich’s experience compared with mine. I’m a little leery of politicians. I didn’t want to read a self promoting propaganda piece. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. This is not a showcase for John Kasich’s political views. It’s a story of what it’s like to have real group of honest friends centered around the study of Scripture. Kasich’s group has lasted over twenty years. The book helped me to reflect on, and appreciate much more, my own experience with the seven guys that I’ve met with over the last nine years. It also gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the man, John Kasich, and his friends. I was very impressed with the depth and substance of the personal issues explored in this book in the context of the group. These men are not shallow thinkers, nor are they a group of mutually affirming sycophants. With all their differences, they genuinely care for one another.

You have to get past the first chapter, which is no gripper, to really appreciate the book. Then it gets better as it goes. Kasich talks about the influence that religion had on him in his growing up years, how he departed from his spiritual roots as a young man, and the effect that his parents’ untimely death had on his return to “basics”, a struggle with the “big questions” of life and how this finally led him to gather together a group of men of different backgrounds and points of view for serious and candid discussions about how the teachings of the Bible apply to life. Over the twenty years, different men joined, and left, for various reasons but their lunch time meetings became a very important part of all their lives and these very different men became very close friends. This group meeting offered them things that the typical church Sunday school meeting does not: A chance to ask challenging questions, express serious doubts and to call one another to account for the way they’ve been living; all within the bonds of strong friendship. The stories about how these guys supported one another through some very difficult times, including the tragic death of one or their members, are well worth the time spent with the book.

I recommend the audio edition. It’s unabridged and well read by John Pruden in the conversational style in which it is written.

View all my reviews

Posted in Books, Politics, Religion | Leave a comment

When the Soul Listens, by Jan Johnson

When the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative PrayerWhen the Soul Listens: Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer by Jan Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best book on contemplative prayer I’ve read. It’s hard to imagine a better one to recommend to other Christians. It offers a clear, biblical justification for the listening, transformative kind of prayer that ought to be at the heart of every Christian’s relationship with God. It’s a very encouraging book, but it doesn’t make exaggerated claims. It carefully distinguishes a Christ centered form of prayer from other similar forms of meditation and contemplation practiced in other religions. It offers very practical help to those who desire to pray in this way. It helps the reader know what to expect, and what not to expect, and gives personal examples of the kinds of things that might happen in praying this way without being formulaic.

I have lead and participated in Christian prayer meetings for many years and have gotten the impression that, for many Christians, prayer consists mainly of asking God to do things. Petitionary prayer certainly has its place (see Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petitionary Prayer for an excellent biblical exposition), but if it becomes the center of our prayer life we easily fall into the attitude that God serves our own agenda. Contemplative prayer is a powerful check on this and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for greater intimacy with God. It focuses more on finding God’s own heart and desires and aligning ours with them. This is how we get closer to God. I recommend this book very highly.

View all my reviews

Posted in Books, Christianity, Prayer, Spirituality | 2 Comments

Coming Home To Your True Self, by Albert Hasse, O.F.M.

Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False AttractionsComing Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions by Albert Haase

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a great choice for Christian spiritual directors for a directee who would like to work through a book with them. It has a good chapter near the end on spiritual direction (which directees might want to read first). The book as a whole serves as a good outline for a spiritual journey that is focused on becoming your “true self” (the person God made you to be) and leaving the “false self”, with its attachments to things that separate us from God and stunt our spiritual growth, behind.

I particularly liked the chapter 5 introduction to contemplative prayer (“how prayer makes us prayerful”) which redirects the activity of prayer from something we must do, accomplish, get done to a means of holding ourselves more consciously in God’s presence throughout our day. The chapters on penance (as a means of preserving relationships) and discernment are very helpful also.

The last chapter on the “ongoing work of the Spirit” presents the traditional pattern of human development and spiritual growth (awakening, purgation, illumination, dark night, and union) in a very practical and helpful way. He points out that each person’s journey is unique, God isn’t bound by and particular road map, God will not trump his gift of free will to us, and that spiritual growth is more cyclical (or spiraled) than a linear progression.

Each chapter ends with several good reflection questions. The book also has some appendices with helpful information on designing a “rule of life” and finding a spiritual director. There is also an appendix which collects most of the charts and lists that are placed through out the book as a helpful aid to memory for the author’s most important points.

One thought that seems to run through the whole book is that there is really “nothing more to get” in life other than what our experience of God’s life provides. That life does not consist in the regrets and losses of our past or in our hopes and fears for the future. It it most profoundly experienced in the “here and now”. Without that there is no healing for our past or confidence for our future.

View all my reviews

Posted in Books | 1 Comment