Do You Mind? a book review

My own interest in mindfulness is spiritual. Sure, it has its roots in Buddhism and I am very much on the Jesus-y Christian end of the world religious spectrum, but as my spiritual director observed, “All prayer begins with something like mindfulness”— paying attention to yourself, your world, and God. So, I picked up Mind Your Life: How Mindfulness Can Build Resilience and Reveal Your Extraordinary in the hopes that it could help me move past my own anxious feelings and my Spiritual ADHD.

mindyourlifecoverMeg Salter is a mindfulness coach and Integral Master Coach™ who explores how mindfulness can help each of us experience life more fully, be more present and have greater resilience. She tells the story of her own mindfulness journey, and shares stories of how others journeyed toward greater mindfulness, discusses its benefits. She also offers a “Unified Mindfulness System” composed of three attentive skills, three types of practices and a variety of practices, related to the three types (83). The three skills are (1) concentration, (2) sensory clarity and (3) equanimity (allowing experiences to come and go without a push and pull or trying to manipulate them). The three types of practices involve appreciating ourselves and our world, transcending our self and world and nurturing our positive selves and our world (95). Three chapters (chapters 7 to 9) describe a variety of practices as they relate to each of the practice types.

There are some super-duper benefits to mindfulness. When you begin to practice it, you are more alert, more resilient, less anxious, less stressed and you get a good night’s sleep because you have no insomnia. You even smell better. Okay, I made up that last one. People who practice mindfulness may still smell bad, but because of their non-judgmental stance toward themselves, they feel a lot better about it.

I appreciated this book. Mindfulness practices (e.g. cultivating awareness of our breath and body in sitting practice, or taking note on our internal experience throughout the day) easily maps upon a variety of Christian practices, even if this is not an explicitly Christian book (it isn’t explicitly anything, except integral spirituality™). I made several notes in the margins and flags some of these practices to try to press into later. Her sitting practice aims at about 10 minutes of intentional practice (which is more doable than the 20-25 other mindful authors tell you to aim for).  I also appreciate that Salter pulls out of her coaching arsenal an exercise of creating a ‘mindfulness topic statement’ to help clarify both our future hopes for mindfulness and our present discomfort (there is a worksheet in the book, to create one, three different times). I give this book three-and-a-half-stars ★★★½

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my fair and honest review.



Rediscover and Recover Paul: a book review

I previously reviewed David Capes, Rodney Reeves, and E. Randolph Richards’ Rediscovering Jesus  (IVP Academic, 2015) That book was an evocative and whimsical look at both biblical images of Jesus in the New Testament and later cultural portrayals of Jesus (e.g. Gnostic Jesus, Jesus in Islam, Mormon Jesus, the cinematic Jesus, and American Jesus, etc).

5191However, that book was not Capes, Reeves and Richard’s first collaboration. Way back in 2007 they published Rediscovering Paul: an Introduction to His World, Letters, and Theology I did not have the privilege of reading the first edition, but there is now a second edition (Nov 2017), which has been expanded to include recent Pauline research, and new material for the “So What?” and “What’s More?” sections (I’ll explain what these are below). This is a non-technical, introductory textbook which examines the life and thought of the Apostle Paul.

Capes is the associate dean of biblical and theological studies and professor of New Testament at Wheaton, Reeves is the dean and biblical studies professor at the Court Redford College of Theology and Ministry, and Randolph is provost and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University.  In addition to their collaboration, each has penned monographs on Paul (Capes’s The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel, forthcoming from Baker Academic; Reeves’s Spirituality According to Paul, IVP Academic, 2011; and Randolph’s Paul Behaving Badly, IVP 2015). 

Each of the book’s twelve chapters includes two types of text boxes. The “So What?” discusses why the topic being discussed (e.g. an aspect of Paul’s life, theology or interpretation of his letters) should matter to us. The “What’s More” sections provide supplementary information to aid our rediscovery of Paul. Additionally, each chapter (except for the last one), closes with suggestions for further reading, and there is a Pauline studies glossary and bibliography at the back of the book.

Chapter 1 describes Paul’s thought world—his Jewish Diaspora, Mediterranean Greco-Roman context and his understanding and his use of Greek Rhetoric. Chapter 2 delves deeper into Paul’s biography and his ‘Christophany’ as described in Acts and Galatians. Chapter 3 discusses Paul’s letter writing (i.e. his format, literary devices and writing process). Chapters 4 through 9 provide brief overviews of each of Paul’s letters. Chapter 10 describes the influences on, and influence of Paul’s theology and spirituality. Chapter 11 explores Paul’s literary legacy and the journey his writings took toward canonization. Chapter 12, concludes the book with reflections on how Paul has been read through church history and what contemporary issues he peculiarly speaks to.

Because this is an introductory textbook, Capes, Randolph and Richards do not break a lot of new ground. However, they give you an overview of Pauline studies from a scholarly, confessional perspective. That doesn’t mean they don’t engage critical scholarship though they tend to favor a more traditional and New Perspective sympathetic approach to Pauline research (though they will critique both traditional and New Perspective approaches gently along the way)

One of the places where it may matter is in terms of Pauline authorship. They begin their survey of Paul’s letters with the uncontested books: Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Romans before turning to more contested Prison letters (Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians) and pastorals (Timothy and Titus). (Philemon is also clearly Pauline, but discussed with the later Prison letters because of its relationship to Colossians). However, Capes, Reeves, and Randolph argue, along traditional lines, that Paul is indeed the author of all the books in the New Testament which bear his name. They account for the stylistic and grammatical differences between the various books by the occasional nature of each letter, the communal process of ancient letter writing and Paul’s use of secretaries for preparing each of his letters (103-105). They note:

Apollonarius’s secretaries clearly accounted for the considerable stylistic differences in his letters. Scholars of Cicero indicate that Cicero’s letters varied considerably in vocabulary and style. In fact, some letters are stylistically more similar to the letters of others than to his own. Since secretaries often caused minor differences in the letters of other writers, we should allow this for Paul’s letters. Letters may vary because the secreatries varied. (106).

They review some of the arguments against Pauline authorship in their discussion of the Prison and pastoral letters, as it relates to each of the letters, but they maintain Pauline authorship in each case.

Critics of Paul malign him as chauvinist, sexist, homophobic and judgmental. Capes, Reeves and Randolph note that “Caricaturing Jesus as loving and Paul as judgmental is incredibly misleading because they are so distorted: for example, more than anyone else, Jesus is the one who preached about hell. Paul never mentions it” (402). They note Paul’s opposition to homosexuality but note the differences between Ancient Rome’s sexual practices and our own (and that Paul doesn’t signal same-sex practice out in particular but lists it alongside other sins, like gossiping). They contextualize Paul’s comments about women. This book doesn’t answer any of these questions to my satisfaction, but the authors take care to read Paul well and point at some of the inherent issues in interpreting the text.

In general, this is a pretty solid introduction to the writing and thought of Paul, appropriate for college undergrads. It leaves off the more technical discussions and summarizes the contours of debates. The surveys of the letters may also be useful for those who are preaching or teaching through one of Paul’s epistles and would like a birds-eye-view of the letter and its theology. Unfortunately, at 462 pages, this book is likely to scare off the general reader, though it is certainly accessible enough.

It is unsurprising that I liked Rediscovering Jesus more than Rediscovering Paul. After all, if I had to choose between those two, it would be Jesus every time. Still, while this book lacks some of the whimsy of their Jesus volume, this book does a great job of describing Paul’s thought and impact. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from IVP Academic 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.


Sacred Dying: a journal review

Once upon a time, Christians had a good deal to say about dying well. Saints of old (e.g. Augustine, Polycarp, Thomas More, Thomas Aquinas, etc.) had a good deal to about death, as did Anglican Divine, Jeremy Taylor, in his classic, Holy Dying. But our age is an era characterized more by the denial of death than any thoughtful preparation for it. We spend our days distracting ourselves from our own mortality. I’m now past forty, and statistically as close to death as I am to my birth, but I still think of myself as on my journey to self-actualization, not on my way to the grave. I’m more likely to contemplate the death of a character on my current Netflix binge-watch then I am to prepare for my own demise.

Sacred-Dying-JournalMegory Anderson, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco. She is a theologian, scholar in comparative religion, an author and educator. She has created the Sacred Dying Journal: Reflections on Embracing the End of Life, a journal that includes inspirational quotes, and question prompts, designed to help us reflect on aging, sickness, time, our legacy, and making arrangements to be laid to rest (e.g. our funeral and burial plans).   

The book is divided into four sections: Caring for the Body and the Soul, Sacred Dying in Time and Space, Legacies, and Honoring the Body/Commending the Soul. Because this is a journal and not a book. Anderson doesn’t prescribe a particular response from us. Instead, her questions, probe and are designed to help us clarify our own beliefs about life, death, the afterlife, and what we leave behind.

As such, this journal (or workbook) is appropriate for anyone, regardless of religious tradition or stage of life. We are all going to die. I appreciated looking through this and reflecting on where I want my life to end up.  Nevertheless, those who more readily sense death within his bending sickle compass come, either from age or because of some terminal diagnosis, will find this journal a helpful resource for preparing for death.  I give this four stars.

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

Praying on the Hill: a book review.

The Reverend Barry C. Black has served as the 62nd Chaplain of the U.S. Senate since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 27 years in the Navy, achieving the rank of Rear Admiral (OF-7). In February 2017, he provided the address for the National Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump’s inaugural prayer breakfast as president. His message was inspiring. Go ahead, google it. It is about 27 minutes long and worth your time. It is an inspiring message, powerfully delivered.

978-1-4964-2949-0Make Your Voice Heard in Heaven: How to Pray in Power is an expansion of the themes he explored in his 2017 National Prayer Breakfast address. Black commends a lifestyle of prayer—trusting in God and praying through every circumstance. He asserts that prayer changes things and as we pray, ‘we make our voice heard in heaven.’

Black opens his book with an appeal to pray with assistance, that is, noting that as we gather to pray, Jesus is in our midst (Matthew 18:18-20) and the Spirit of God intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). Next, Black points to the Lord’s prayer as our model prayer we should pray. In the remaining chapters of the book, Black exhorts us pray with the right spiritual posture and to pray in every circumstance (e.g. Pray with purity, and fearlessly, pray with effectiveness, pray to escape temptation, pray even when God is silent, when we don’t feel like being good, when we need patience, in times of celebration, pray with intimacy, fervency, perseverance, submission, and pray with a partner).

Black occasionally illustrates his chapters with his experiences praying on Capitol Hill, and sometimes from his daily life Occasionally he throws in a pop cultural reference or something from history. However, for the most part, this pretty straight teaching from the Bible. Black has helpful and encouraging words for us as we each seek to develop our own private prayer practice. Despite the self help-y, title (“Make Your Voice Heard!) and the exhortation to pray effectively, and with power, what Black says is solid, God-honoring and down to earth. He is no prosperity preacher but is confident that prayers do have an impact on our life and nation.

Black speaks against the partisan divide in Washington, and he holds regular bipartisan prayer and Bible study meetings with members from both sides of the political aisle. However, his privileged place in the Senate puts limits on the sort of prophetic witness he is allowed to have.  Chaplains are the custodians of civil religion and as a career naval officer, Black does not challenge the status quo. So, for example, when he recommends the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Galilean hill country—a region full of would-be-revolutionaries—Black depoliticizes the prayer. Praying for God’s coming kingdom by necessity challenges the established order. But Black writes:

Because I’m a member of God’s family, his promises become mine. I want my life to advance his Kingdom—not mine—and his Kingdom is not of this world. When my behavior  doesn’t adequately represent his Kingdom, I should desire to change what I’m doing. I make my decisions based on which choices better advances the priorities of my heavenly Father’s Kingdom (22-23, emphasis mine).

So while the Kingdom represents God’s priorities in the world, for Black, praying this prayer is fundamentally about challenging our own personal behavior and self-centeredness. For the first-century disciple praying this prayer, it meant the emperor was not the true king and that the political order was called into question. But Black is surrounded by powerful men and women. So Jesus’ most political prayer becomes primarily a tool for private devotion. Of course, because he exhorts political leaders to pray this prayer in this way, there are political implications. But this offers no systemic challenge.

On that score, this book is similar to a lot of other books on prayer. I am grateful for Black’s presence in the Senate, and the way he mediates God’s presence to our leaders, but I wish this book was more storied and offered a more prophetic challenge. I give this two stars. ★★

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

Nurturing the Faith to Sustain: a ★★★★★ book review

Sophfronia Scott came to Christian faith as a child, having read a religious tract and praying the prayer at the end. Her family wasn’t regular churchgoers, though her father listened to eight-track tapes of Reverend C. L. Franklin and movies like The Ten Commandments, King of Kings and the Greatest Story Ever Told.  When she was in college, at Harvard University, she reacted to a Christian friend’s harsh judgmentalism towards athiests and this increased her wariness of church. She  had thought about getting baptized, even spoke to Rev. Peter Gomes about it, but Gomes’s requirement for baptism was being committed to a Christian community, and she wasn’t about to join a church.



she came to church and a more significant faith as an adult. Her young son, Tain Gregory,  heard Where is Your Hairbrush? on satellite radio in the car. This led to the discovery of other Veggie Tale Silly Songs and the Veggie Tale cartoon. As Tain learned about the Bible from vegetables, he began to show an interest in faith, God and spiritual things. One day he


said he wanted to go to church. So Sophfronia, her husband Darryl and Tain decided to start attending church together. They settled on Trinity Episcopal Church, the church that Tain’s preschool had been in.

I knew before reading This Child of Faith, that Sophfronia had a son who was a third grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School when a gunman entered the school. The events of that day entered the national consciousness. It was the fourth largest, single shooter massacre in U.S. history.  I figured, given the significance and severity of that event, this would be a difficult read, knowing that any Sandy Hook story would be intense.

And it was. Tain lost a close friend (a godbrother) and other people he cared about. Sophfronia struggled with the best way to help Tain process the trauma. But despite the way that day impacted their family and community, this memoir is not really the story of the Sandy Hook shooting. Rather, this is a story of a mother and son, each growing in their Christian faith and the resource their faith was to them.

Sophfronia tells us of Tain’s faith and childlike wonder, the way he saw God everywhere, his gregarious and generous spirit, and the things this called up in her. She also describes what she did to help nurture Tain in the faith, her lesson planning for children’s worship (which she was conscripted to occasionally lead), and the day she and Tain were baptized together. She talks about how their pastor walked with them through difficult stuff, such as the death of a friend’s husband and Sophfronia’s sister.  The school shooting happens near the end of the book. It is Sophfronia and Tain’s faith journey that would give each the resources to process that painful event. Their family worshipped together at Trinity church, they were fed by sacraments, oriented by liturgy and the liturgical calendar, and bolstered by devotional practice and prayer, surrounded by the community of faith.

Sophfronia lists Tain as her co-author. She wrote the book but includes occasional memories and reflections from Tain. With an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College, this is a well-written memoir. And despite its graphic and heart-rending conclusion, this signals hope. Their faith carries them through trauma and loss.  I highly recommend this. Five stars! – ★★★★★

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

I Just Wanna Be A Sheep: a study-guide review.

A couple of years ago I reviewed a book on Followership, called  Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (Kirkdale, 2016) by Allen Hamlin. There are lots of books on leadership, but few that describe what it means to follow (though some business team resources get at some of this). Leaders cast vision and give direction but good followership is essential if an organization is going to enact the vision and get the job done. Followers follow through, providing a supportive network, help provide guidance and contribute to the leader’s development. Organizations cannot succeed without good followership. Hamlin discusses how to develop our followership, our relationship with other followers and leaders and a leaders relationship to followers.

contentHamlin’s book is a worthwhile read. He has just released an accompanying Discussion Guide for Teams and Small Groups. The book is designed to help facilitate discussion of the principles that Hamlin laid out in Embracing Followership, through a series of 12 Bible Studies and 4 Biblical character studies. Each chapter consists of:

  • Background from the book (plus additional thoughts from the author) on various topics related to followership.
  • Opportunities for personal reflection (questions and  a brief look at a relevant Bible passage.
  • A group discussion on the same passage and (related passages) exploring the theme.

Hamlin follows an inductive Bible Study approach, looking at ‘observations’ in the passage, offering ‘interpretation’ and then moving on to ‘application’ (O.I.A.) For the ‘personal reflections portion of these studies’, He simply leaves Observation, Interpretation, Application as headings for us to make personal notes. The Group guide has questions designed to elicit discussion in each of the areas. I have followed a similar method in leading Bible study since my student days in InterVarsity, so I appreciate this approach.

The ‘Bible Character Studies’ profile 4 Bible people: Aaron, Esther, Joshua, Peter. Hamlin highlights their character, significant life events, and invites us to reflect on aspects of their character that exhibit good followership, as well as negative aspects of their followership. The guide includes a suggested reading guide (pairing chapters to studies), additional resources/activities for reflection on stewardship, and a bibliography for Christian followership.

The original book has tons of examples, mostly from Hamlin’s experience working in the Christian non-profit world; however, it was broadly applicable to any organization—Christian or Non-Christian. Because the discussion guide is formatted around Bible Studies, this book will appeal most readily to Christian, religious contexts, such as church small groups and leadership teams. Following God is the central message in these studies. Hamlin connects this to various vocations.

These are pretty solid studies. I happily recommend them, along with the original book. Everybody wants to be the shepherd but we are all like sheep. We can learn to follow a whole lot better. I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I was given an electronic copy of this study guide by the author and publisher in exchange for my honest review.