Spirit Body Mind Health: a book review.

We all want thrive at life. Certified nutritionist, co-pastor, poet and playwright, Laura Harris Smith wrote The Healthy Living Handbook to offer a holistic approach, helping us thrive in our spirits, minds and bodies. Building on her previous book, The 30-Day Faith Detox, Smith describes 30 healthy habits, to put and pray into practice over the course of  30 days. She organizes these habits into habits for the Spirit (i.e. the Christian life, and having a healthy spiritual life), habits for the mind, and habits for the body. Smith has some decent life advice to dole out, but I had issues with much of her approach.

9780800797881Smith begins her survey of life habits with a focus on the spiritual. Because her background is Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, this is where this section begins. The first three habits describe being open to miracles and the supernatural, praying in a prayer language (AKA tongues) and the experiencing the baptism of the Holy Spirit. She next focuses on cultivating habits such as: daily bible reading, respect for authority, weekly church attendance, guarding our personal salvation, trusting in Christ, choosing faith and ‘dodging doubt’, and having the assurance of salvation.

The charismatic emphasis (and the Arminian emphasis on working out your salvation) may be off-putting to some readers. But my issues begin with her ideas about honoring authority. For example, in describing how spiritual healthy people crave opportunities to show honor, she writes, “I would rather be physically ill than to dishonor a pastor or other spiritual mentor, and I trust I will continue to reap honor from my own congregants as a result” (59). This sort of sentiment is really common in the charismatic movement, and sometimes results in an unquestioning obedience and reverence of the senior pastor. In a #metoo/#churchtoo age, I think this message of honor and respect needs to be balanced with a message of holding leaders to account. There are rebels without a cause, but just as often, and far too often is there abusive structures that need to be called to account.

But another troubling side of the spiritual advice that Smith gives, is how me-centered it all is. I know, not a fair critique of self-help book, but following Jesus is a life on mission, announcing the Kingdom of God and transforming the culture. The charismatic signs and wonders side of the spiritual life, is framed by Smith, as entering fully into all God has for us. And she gives advice about practices that cultivate our spiritual lives (reading the Bible, praying, going to church, knowing we’re saved). The section on knowing we are saved, does briefly talk about sharing our salvation story in evangelism, and that would be the whole emphasis on mission in the whole ‘spirit’ section of the book. If I wasn’t reviewing this book, I probably would have quit reading this book at this point. It isn’t that I don’t value the spiritual aspect to life and faith in Jesus, it is that the message of the Kingdom of God is short-shrifted by Smith’s approach to Spiritual health.

But the other sections of the book did have some useful life advice to offer, however. The mind section focused on cultivating organizational habits, being kind and courteous, smiling and laughing, avoiding stress, ‘refusing’ discouragement, cultivating good boundaries, healthy relationships, and forgiving others. The ‘mind’ section didn’t have much to say about cultivating the intellectual life, but there was practical tips for navigating life and keeping a positive outlook. Yay.

The final section, draws more heavily on Smith’s expertise as a nutritionist. She describes the journey of improving personal nutrition (e.g. eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, limiting meat, sweets and wheat, avoiding fast food, getting a good night’s sleep, exercise and watching your weight, using essential oils, and drinking plenty of water. This is the section that is the most practical and helpful, and found myself far less disgruntled in this section than I was in other sections of the book.

I am totally on board with healthy living, and like that Smith takes a holistic approach. However there was too much in this book I found problematic for me to feel like recommending it to others. I gave it 2 stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Chosen books in exchange for my honest review.

 

Putty in Christ’s Hands: a book review

Putty Putman, AKA “Heart-throb” Rob Putman (okay, maybe just Rob Putman, I don’t know), was finishing up his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the University of Illinois when the reality of the Holy Spirit came rushing into his life. Today. he is the founding director of the School of Kingdom Ministry (SoKM) in Urbana, Illinois, as well as serving in leadership roles in preaching and executive teams for the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. He wrote Living Like Jesus: Discovering the Power & Impact of Your True Identity to help Christian’s experience more fully the presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst, and the experience of forgiveness, righteousness, and authority Christ offers as we share in his Divine Presence and are transformed into His likeness.

9780800798529Putman aims at enlarging our vision of the gospel of Jesus (chapter 1). In chapter 2 he describes the gospel he thought he knew—Jesus the sin sacrifice for humanity. He acknowledges that this is part of the gospel, but he posits that this doesn’t give us a full picture of the life in the New Covenant which Jesus ushered in.  In chapter 3, he examines how the Fall (Genesis 3) turned humans into broken image bearers, caused our loss of dominion (because we handed it over to Satan), and broke our relationship with God (61-62).  Chapter 4 discusses how the problems present in the Fall were addressed in Jesus (our identity and authority restored, and we now live with Christ in us.

These first four chapters, provide kind of the theoretical framework for what follows. In chapters 5 through 7, Putnam describes how the gospel transforms us: makes us new, gives us a new nature,  and forgives us and frees us from the demands of ‘the law.’ In chapter 8, Putnam explores the reality of the Kingdom of God as a demonstration of God’s power, made evident primarily through signs, wonders and the driving out demons. In chapter 9 through 10, he encourages us to walk in the reality of Christ living in us, transforming us into his likeness, us living from this new center, and bringing God’s presence with us wherever we go.

There are a number of things about this book I want to commend. First off, one of the ways Charismatic Christians challenge me, in a good way, is to be expectant about seeing God’s supernatural activity in this world, now. Putnam, expects God to act in his life. He expects Christ’s presence to transform a believer’s life. This kind of expectancy is really good. Secondly, I think Putnam names the problem of a too narrow definition of the gospel (e.g., sin management and getting into heaven when you die), and posits a bigger, more expansive vision of what life in Christ is like—a lifestyle characterized by Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s authority, and Christ’s divine presence. There is something inspiring about that! Third, I think Putnam’s emphasis on our transformation into Christ’s likeness is profoundly right. Fourth, there is a missional awareness in Putnam’s writing of how we carry Christ’s presence to the world. This is all very good.

Nevertheless, I had some issues with the book. While I applaud Putnam’s widening of the gospel, from a Shekinah-Pie-in-the-Sky-when-you-die promise to something more expansive and transformative, he doesn’t interact with much biblical scholarship, some of which would have sharpened his case. For example, N.T. Wright, Matthew Bates, Scot McKnight, Dallas Willard have all wrote important books widening our understanding of what the gospel is. The only one of these guys referenced is Scot McKnight, briefly, in a Christianity Today article (not The King Jesus Gospel or a Fellowship of Differents). These scholars would sharpen his vision of the New Covenant we are called to live in. In fact, Putnam’s book is almost wholly lacking in any substantive references.  His biblical languages references are Thayer’s Lexicon, Strong’s, and The Blue Letter Bible, with no more recent or comprehensive scholarship in biblical languages, theology, or biblical studies. There are 5 good quotes from church fathers on page 168, though, sp I guess that’s something.

Also, I find it problematic that he prioritizes signs and wonders, and deliverance as ‘the Kingdom of God.’ Clearly these are meant as signs of the kingdom which demonstrate God’s authority, but by seeing them as the central, and fundamental demonstration of the Kingdom (in opposition to Satan), Putnam spiritualizes and depoliticizes the kingdom language of the Gospels (Gospel is also political language in the first century, but not covered here). He calls on Christians to pray for healing (which I do), but social concern seems to take a back seat to these more otherworldly, supernatural demonstrations of power. He does eventually get to social transformation:

The Kingdom is bigger than healing, deliverance, or prophecy. It  includes financial breakthrough and social equality. It involves people growing in the wisdom of God and finding innovative solutions to the problems of society. It includes people coming into relationship with Jesus and broken familes and relationships made whole. (154).

But while the end result may be social change, “The first link in the chain is the miraculous, and the miraculous is meant to be woven through all facets of the Kindom of God, redefining our world” (154). Perhaps, but Jesus wasn’t crucified for healing the blind and the lame. He was crucified for chasing the money lenders out of the temple, for challenging the status quo, and unsettling the powerful from their thrones. There is a political dimension to the Gospel of the Kingdom that is under-represented here.

Thirdly,  I am occasionally troubled by the direction Putnam goes with his theology. For example, he argues that the Law (Torah) was not God’s original intent for Israel but was given to them as an afterthought when the Exodus community was too afraid to approach God (Ex 20):

The Israelites asked for a different relationship from what God intended. They basically told Moses, “We don’t want to be priests. We want you to be priests. we want you  to be the priest. We don’t want direct access to God. We want something between God and us to protect us because He’s scarey” (125).

So, according to Putnam, God gave Israel Torah as a concession and it was not part of his intent. The Law brought wrath and Israel now needed a redeemer because the Law introduced the notion of keeping score (128). If you follow the logic, Putnam makes it sound like the cross because of a necessity because of something God did, and not fundamentally because of God’s plan for human redemption. This is antinomian and it problematizes Jewish spirituality. Jesus came not to abolish the law but fulfill it (Matthew 5: 17). I can’t follow Putnam too far down the road.

Fourthly, I simply don’t buy every charismatic experience that Putnam describes in this book. It is not that I don’t think that God can’t or does not heal. But when Putnam describes how he felt his vertebrae come apart while he was playing with his daughter, and was healed at the moment he thought: Jesus lives in me, I call B.S. (Bible Study) on his whole anecdote (170). This sounds too Word of Faith-ish for my tastes.

So while I liked elements of this book, I still found enough that bothered me. In the end, I could only give this a middle of the road review, three stars. – ★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review

Listening to Jesus in the Upper Room: a book review

I don’t always agree with D.A. Carson. His brand of Reformed Evangelical with a Gospel Coalition, complementarian comb-over puts me at odds with some of his conclusions; however I always appreciate the thoroughness and attention he brings to the biblical text. His Exegetical Fallacies has kept me from some fuzzy hermeneutics, and when I am in the market for a new, new testament commentary, I always check his New Testament Commentary Survey (Baker Academic) which catalogues the strengths of the various commentaries for each book of the New Testament. Where I appreciate Carson most is as a Bible commentator. He has written (or edited) some incisive commentaries and studies. His John Commentary (in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, Eerdmans) is usually my first stop when I am studying or preaching from that gospel.

So when I got my 9780801075902hand on The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exegetical Exposition of John 14-17I was excited to see Carson’s trademark attentive exegesis, but I was also curious how he would handle Jesus’ so-called ‘high priestly’ prayer for Christian unity. I feel like Carson’s evangelical brad stresses truth over unity and I was curious as what he may say here and whether or not I would demur from it.

For the most part I found this, as expected, to be a pretty solid engagement with the biblical text. I puzzled a little bit with who Carson’s intended audience was. He notes in his preface, “A need exists for both academic and popular approaches [to scripture]: but this volume belongs to the latter camp” (9). And indeed this a non-academic, non-technical commentary in that there are no long strings of Koine Greek or technical djargon. But if it is a ‘non-academic’ text, it also seems to be an unpopular one. Carson, does lay aside the technical discussion, without quite descending to the level of popular. So, for example, in commenting on Jesus’ phrase in John 14:2, “I’m going there to prepare a place for you,” he writes:

The underlying Greek text precedes these words with a causal “for”: that is, “In my Father’s house are many rooms (the next words, “if not I would have told you” are parenthetical); for I am going to prepare a place for you. The “are” in the first line, as often the case in John’s Gospel, is proleptic (anticipatory) (26).

Carson’s comments here assume a working knowledge of Greek grammar and syntax. This is not exactly popular, even if it lacks some technical percision. However, it does give you the sense of how closely Carson reads the text, and tries to make inferences based on the words on the page. This is the sort of evangelical interpretation I applaud most, and found much that I resonated with and it gives a great deal of what Carson says a rootedness. He isn’t just spouting off opinions, he is engaging with scripture and trying to interpret it faithfully. This is good stuff.

So what of the high priestly prayer and what it says about unity? How does Carson handle that passage? Well, he eschews both those who are ecumenical at the expense of Christian truth and those who think ecumenism is evil (and thus ignore Jesus’ prayer all together). He posits that in our current era, not everything in modern Christendom is really Christian (232), or at the very least, there are competing definitions of what qualifies as Christian. Therefore, he posits the unity envisioned is a unity centered on the person Jesus Christ and our connection to him. He writes:

Whoever cites John 17 to justify a unity that embraces believers and apostate, disciple and renegade, regenerate and unregenerate, abuses this passage. Such ecumenism has its roots not in Scripture but in a misguided (if well-intentioned) notions of what New Testament Christianity is all about.

On the other hand, the things that tie together true believers are far more significant than the things that divide them. The divisive things are not necessarily unimportant: sometimes they are points of faith or practice that have long-range effects on the church for good or ill, reflecting perhaps some major inconsistency or misapprehension concerning the truth. Nevertheless the things that tie us together are of even more fundamental importance. Regardless of denominational affiliation, there ought to be among Christ’s people a sincere kinship, mutual love, a common commitment, a deep desire to learn from one another and to come, if at all possible , to a shared understanding of the truth on any point . Such unity ought to be so transparent and compelling that others are attracted t it. To such biblical ecumenism (if I may so label it ) there is no proper objection. Indeed, it is mandated by the Final Prayer of the Lord Jesus himself (233).

I really appreciate this vision of Christ-centered unity, centered around Jesus Christ and regard Carson and his Gospel Coalition friends as sisters and brothers and Christ and am grateful for some of the ways they bear witness to God’s work in the world. Nevertheless, I’m also conscious of ways they draw lines and fail to recognize the legitimacy of faith of some of my Christian friends because of different doctrinal or social concerns. But I appreciate Carson’s words and desire to lean into Christ’s words.

In the end, this is a pretty solid exegetical exposition. Not too technical, but technical enough that the reader that has done at least a little ground work will find it more fruitful. I give this four stars (really 3 and change, but I’m going to round-up because I appreciate a lot about this). –

Notice of material connection: Baker Books sent me a copy of this in exchange for my honest review. They didn’t tell me what to say or ask for a positive review, but an honest one.

 

Jesus Did Us a Solid: a book review

Are you in God’s favor? Often we think about favor as the purview of the super saint. We cast ourselves at the mercy of God, but it is the prayers of ‘a righteous man’ that ‘avails much.’ Or we think of the favor of God as some health and wealth, prosperity gospel promise. If we seek first the kingdom, all these things will be added to our bank account. 

9780801093210Greg Gilbert is senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, author (or co-author) of several resources for Crossway’s 9marks series ( resources for one of those manly men church movements). He explores the concept of favor in the aptly titled: Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection.

Gilbert places the concept of God’s favor back in a theological frame. If you are in Christ, you exist, and subsist, in God’s favor. You didn’t earn it. God gave you his favor through Jesus, whose perfect life and sacrificial death earned us God’s favor the moment we trust in him, and live in growing intimacy with Him.

The book divides into two sections. In part 1, Gilbert explores what the favor of God is and how to get it? In chapter 1, he describes God’s favor as being pleasing to Him (25), having an intimate, personal relationship with God (26), being a recipient of God’s blessing (30-32) and being acceptable to Him (33-35).  Chapter 2 and 3 probe our inability to win God’s favor because of our sinfulness. Chapter 4 describes how Jesus won for us God’s favor through his life, death and resurrection, and chapter 5 how we enter into God’s favor by our union with Jesus:

Have you realized that God’s favor is not some cherry on top of the Christian life that only the really good Christians get? I hope so. I also hope you’ve discovered that the favor of God is not something you will ever be able to win for yourself, that your only hope of getting it—of being well pleasing to God—is to be united to the One of whom God said, “This is my beloved Son , with whom I am well pleased.” Rest in Jesus, dear Christian. Your salvation is secure in his strong hand. God is pleased with you, and he will cease to be pleased with you only when he ceases to be pleased with his own Son. (96).

In part 2, Gilbert explores the benefits of God’s favor: contentment (chapter 6), peace with God (chapter 7), the blessings of new life (chapter 8) and our adoption as sons and daughters of the King (chapter 9).

In a lot of ways, Gilbert is giving us old-school evangelicalism here. God’s favor is God’s grace and the ensuing blessing. Like grace, we can’t earn God’s favor. We experience it as we live in relationship to God through Christ.  As I read through the latter part of this book, I thought especially of Paul Little’s Know Why You Believe (IVP, 1966)which apart from being an ‘apologetics book,’ extolled the benefits available to us in Christ. The language of favor, may be a different way of talking about it, but the message remains unchanged.

I give this book three and a half stars. ★★★½

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

Don of the Planet of the White Evangelicals: a book review

Since November 8, 2016, one question has dominated media ad nauseam: how did this happen? How did Donald J. Trump—a man full of narcissistic bravado, who publicly mocked a disabled reporter, failed to unequivocally denounce white nationalism and the KKK, insulted political opponents and women with unparalleled crassness,  bragged about sexual assault, passing it off as locker room talk, and also bragged about his sexual exploits in public forms—become president? Why did 81% of evangelicals support him, a higher percentage of support than either George W. Bush or Mitt Romney received? In one night, white evangelicals swung from the demographic most likely to say that personal character matters in assessing a leader’s public ethics, to the group that said it mattered the least.

9780801007330A lot of ink has been spilled, attempting to answer the question of why Donald Trump. Stephen Mansfield tackles this question directly in  Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope and Why Christian Conservatives Supported HimMansfield is a historian, conservative Christian and cultural critic. He boasts strong evangelical credentials and of all the people who have endeavored to tackle the Trump phenomenon, he may be the whitest (I can’t actually back that up). His previous books include a Christian book about manly men doing manly things, The Mansfield Book of Manly Men (Thomas Nelson, 2013), as well as books about the faiths of presidents and world leaders: The Faith of George W. Bush (Tarcher, 2003), The Faith of Barak Obama (Thomas Nelson, 2008), Lincoln’s Battle with God (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and The Character and Greatness of Winston Churchill (Cumberland House, 2004).

Notably, Mansfield does not attempt to write a book on the faith of Donald Trump, as he did with Bush and Obama.  He attempts instead to answer how Donald Trump became evangelicals’ champion, though he does address the the possible religious content of Trump’s faith. He repeatedly points out the incongruities between Trump’s Christian claims and the evidence from Trump’s life and writing:

[F]or at least the first five decades of [his] life, there was little evidence  of a defining Christian Faith. Instead, his religion was power, vengeance, and, notably himself. He seemed not to know that the ideal of revenge to which he devoted so much time and an entire chapter of a book was contrary to the teaching of the religion he served. He did not know or did not care that truth mattered in his faith, that his preference for “truthful hyperbole”—an”innocent form of exaggeration . . . and a very effective form of promotion”—was little more than lying and forbidden by his religion. It was the same with his sexual mores, with his language, and business ethics, and with his lack of evident concern for the will of an all-knowing God. (70).

Mansfield explains the Trump phenomena in the four sections of his book. Part one names the incongruity between evangelicalism and their “unlikely champion.” Part 2, provides the backstory, and the voices that shaped Trump: his emotionally distant and cut-throat real estate tycoon father, military school, the positive thinking gospel of Norman Vincent Peale, and his decade-long friendship with prosperity preacher, Paula White, the pastor that translated Trump’s faith to his would-be evangelical allies.

In part 3, Mansfield describes Trump’s appeal for evangelicals, namely, his commitment to overturning the Johnson Act, his opposition to Obama’s legacy, Hillary Clinton and the way Trump gave voice to their anger. Obama was adept at speaking Christian language, but evangelicals disagreed vehemently with his Pro-Choice platform, the ways in which the Affordable Care Act was biased against pro-life positions and Obama’s evolving stance on Marriage Equality. Clinton, a lifelong Methodist, was also more adept at speaking about faith matters than Trump, but her progressive politics, pro-abortion stances and her failure to even engage with evangelicals during her campaign hurt her standing with them. Mansfield focuses his assessment of Clinton’s lack of appeal among evangelicals on her policy, not on scandals like her private email server or Benghazi.

In part 4, Mansfield makes the case for prophetic distance between evangelicals and their would-be champion. He begins by assessing Billy Graham’s legacy as ‘pastor to the presidency,’ and how Graham came to see how he was used by presidents (he felt particularly seduced by his friendship with Nixon). Mansfield quotes Graham as saying in 1981, “The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it” (137). This strikes me as words his son Franklin ought to heed.

Surveying our cultural landscape, and the story of  Jesus driving the money changers out of the Court of the Gentiles (the part of the temple where the nations came to seek Yahweh), Mansfield observes that Jesus was objecting to a racist policy that hurt the Gentiles. He concludes:

In an America battling new waves of racial tension, what might come from a bold, unapologetic declaration of the meaning of this episdode in the life of Christ—that racism is sin, that it is un-Christian and that any president who claims to be a follower of Christ must fight this evil with every weapon possible?

That is what is required of ministers who step into the lives of presidents. They are not there merely to affirm. They are not there simply to sanction. They are there to confront and speak truth that brings change. They are there to maintain prophetic distance and to be guardians of a moral vision for life and government. (141).

Mansfield’s concluding chapter gives several examples of Christian leaders who maintained this sort of prophetic distance and were, therefore, able to speak prophetically into the life of leaders.

Mansfield is evenhanded. He gives a strong critique of Trump and Trumpism without demonizing the man or the movement. I don’t know from reading this book how he voted last November. I am sure I wouldn’t always be on the same page as him politically or theologically but I appreciate his conviction, fairness and the thrust of his argument

In the interest of disclosure, I am one of the 19% of white evangelicals who did not vote for Trump. I have a lot of friends who have disavowed the term evangelical in the wake of the last election because they want to dissociate from the evangelical support of a president who winks at injustice, sexism, racial bigotry, and xenophobia. I still call myself an evangelical because I believe in the reality of new birth in Christ, salvation through the cross, a Bible-centered spirituality and a commitment to mission, but I am sensitive to the way evangelicalism and evangelical language has been co-opted.  I appreciate Mansfield’s argument for prophetic distance, though as he notes throughout, the evangelical movement, for better or for worse, has hitched their cart to the Trump train. Whether or not prophetic distance is now possible remains to be seen, though certainly there are examples of evangelicals who have dared to speak truth-to-power. I certainly want to see an evangelicalism guided more by conviction than political pragmatism, but it is 2017 and I’m cynical.

Still, if you want a white, evangelical assessment of why Trump and where we go from here, this is a good place to start. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review

 

For When You are Bleeding Like a Stuck Church: a book review

9780801092480Churches, like all institutions, go through stages when they feel stuck. Leaders try everything—programs, strategies, worship styles, staffing changes, new haircuts, but when you’re stuck, you’re stuck. Chris Sonksen is a personal coach for more than two hundred churches, impacting thousands of leaders. In When Your Church Feels Stuck, he helps church leaders get unstuck by facing seven critical questions every leader must answer.  The questions are:

  1. What do we do? (What is our mission as a church? Why are we here?)
  2. How do we get it done? (What is our strategy?)
  3. What are the guiding principles we live by? (What are our values
  4. How do we measure a win?  (What are our metrics?)
  5. Do we have the right people in the right seats moving in the right direction? (Do we have team alignment?)
  6. How do we match what we say is important with what we really do? (what services do we actively provide?)

If you read leadership books, which I do occasionally, none of these questions are terribly surprising (some cribbed directly from leadership literature). Sonksen helps pastors and leadership teams clarify their purpose, strategy, and impact on a community.  I certainly see how a book like this may be helpful and certainly clarifying the answers to each of these questions would help churches and other organizations do what they want to do. As a pastor, I can readily see how asking these questions of our church leadership at key moments would have been helpful.

Unfortunately, I find the questions more helpful than the content. A lot of it is rehashed leadership you can get anywhere and Sonsken’s definition of unstuck is simply numeric church growth. He uses a fictionalized example of Pastor Jeremy throughout the book. Pastor Jeremy has tried everything but his church is stuck and he can’t get it to grow higher than 250 members. The questions and conversation Sonsken has, helps Jeremy and his team move past their stuckness into growth.

I don’t have anything against church growth per se, but it seems like Sonksen’s expertise is growing multi-staff churches. For example, when I read his chapter on metrics, I knew going in that churches often measure success by the three B’s (bucks, bricks & butts). I saw the value in asking how do we measure a win? because I know a church that is involved in community partnerships to impact the neighborhood and cultivates deep fellowship may not have the same kind of tangibles. Unfortunately, Sonksen’s metrics don’t look appreciably different than any denominational spreadsheet (123).

I do appreciate what Sonksen is trying to do, and I think he probably would be fine with me taking his questions in a different direction if it helps clarify my leadership vision of church, though I kind of bristle at the content. I give this book 2.5 stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

You Don’t Have to Close Your Eyes: a book review.

Prayer is like kissing, you don’t have to do it with your eyes closed.  Joking aside, part of prayer is cultivating an open, and attentive posture before God. This is in essence what Sherry Harney’s Praying With Eyes Wide Open is about: learning to attend to your environment, circumstances, and the voice of God. On a practical level, the biblical injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess. 5:17), means you have to learn to pray with eyes wide open, especially while operating an automobile or heavy machinery, but Harney has more to say. She describes how purposefully opening our eyes, ears and selves to God in prayer, brings new dimensions to our prayer lives.

9780801014703Sherry, with her husband Kevin,  lead Shoreline Community Church in Monterey California and cofounded Organic Outreach International (a network which resources churches and families for outreach). Sherry has coauthored books with her husband and written study guides for authors like Dallas Willard, Gary Thomas, John Ortberg, Ann Voskamp, Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Christina Caine, and Mark Batterson.  She is a sought after speaker on prayer, spiritual formation, outreach, and leadership.

Praying with Eyes Wide Open isn’t just about open eyes. Harney advocates praying with eyes wide open, ears wide open, hearts wide open and lives wide open. These four open postures provide the framework for the book.

In section one, praying with eyes wide open, Harney commends open-eyed prayer, that allows us to attend to and see our environment (e.g. people, relationships, pain, beauty, and joy). Section two, praying with ears wide open, discusses cultivating our ability to hear the voice of God and the Spirit’s gentle leadings as we enter into conversation with Him. Section three, praying with hearts wide open, describes how trusting in God’s love for us frees us up, to be honest, and vulnerable in prayer. Harney also discusses in this section, how to engage in spiritual warfare and give your worries to God. Finally, section four, praying with lives wide open explores the rhythms of praying for and with others, for big things and small, and trusting that when we pray, stuff happens.

Each of the sixteen chapters ends with a suggested prayer practice to try for a week, meaning that the book is designed for those on a sixteen-week prayer journey (with a small group or personally). However the practices are simple enough to double up on if you would like to read through this in less time (I don’t have the attention span for reading a short book in sixteen weeks).

I am pretty bad at keeping my eyes closed in prayer anyway but Harney makes a good case for using open-eyed (or ear, heart, life) prayers to cultivate an attentiveness to what is really going on around us. I particularly appreciated her suggestions on praying with ears wide open, asking God good questions, and listening for answers (79-80).  But certainly, I can learn to cultivate openness and attention in each of four realms that Harney names. This book makes me hunger for more intimacy in my own prayer life (as any good prayer book should do).  I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review