Get Passionate about God Fast

Has the passion gone out of your relationship with God? Don’t let the fire fizzle, but Awaken to all God has for you (cue the infomercial).

Stovall Weems, the Lead Pastor at Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida has written Awakening in hopes of igniting in you a passion for God. Along the way he offers helpful advice on starting your day by focusing on God’s greatness, goodness and glory. He advocates the practice of giving to charity, prayer and fasting as means of ‘making space for God’ in your life. And then he uses the rest of the book to unpack this, particularly in regard to fasting. Along the way, each chapter is punctuated by ‘awakening stories’ of those who have a fresh experience of God, because of their fast. The last section of this book, is Weems’s 21 day fast plan, daily devotionals and practical advice on fasting.

I admire and share Weems’s enthusiasm for getting people excited about God. Certainly I want my pastor to be so passionately motivated. Having read his book, I likely will refer back to it the next time I fast. However I am not sure that I would recommend it. Below I would like to signal two notes of caution and two criticisms of Weems book:

The first area that gives me pause, is this book seems to be tainted by a prosperity gospel. Weems is generally focused on our relationship with God and stoking the flames there. However sometimes, Weems does act like the evidence of that is ‘financial miracles’ and healing. Certainly God does provide and care for his children, but miracles and prosperity are not the only way God draws near to his people. I am not sure that Weems ever says that it is, but the general feel of some passages, and the little testimonials kind of leave this impression.

The second area of caution is related. I am kind of bothered by a relationship with God being reduced to a formula. The idea that intimacy with God is achieved by a three-week-fast is to apply a technique to gain relational intimacy. Techniques, disciplines and practices are important. Yet I think intimacy with God is not something you get in a few easy steps. It is much more dynamic and exciting than that. Now that is it for caution, let the firestorm of criticism begin.

While reading this book, I kept wondering where the footnotes were. The fact that there were none is problematic. I say this not because I love more academic books (okay, not just that), but there is almost no evidence of any dialogue with anyone else. At all. As part of his fasting guide, he does reference Wayne Cordeiro’s devotional reading plan(SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer). But he doesn’t reference anyone else despite dispensing a lot of spiritual insights. Where this seems the most suspect for me, is when Weems describes the health benefits of fasting. He admits that he is not a doctor and shares anecdotally about how fasting cleanses his system and helps him lose weight. huh? Claims for health benefits of fasting are controversial at best and spurious at worst. I at least want to know that Weems talked to someone before spotting off medical advice (why is this chapter even here if fasting is about your relationship with God?).

Furthermore, the lack of dialogue with the Christian tradition of fasting, does mean that what is presented here is somewhat shallow. Christians have practiced and mis-practiced fasting for centuries, would like to know if Stovall is aware of any of it.

Which leads me to my last point of critique. What exactly is Weems theological understanding of fasting? Some fasting is dualistic, hating the body and exalting the spirit. This is not Christian fasting. Weems seems to hold some dualistic notions. He is also dismissive of the example of fasting in the Old Testament as pre-christian and unrelated to our current practice. For Weems, you fast to recieve, rather than as a response. I find all this as theologically problematic and would direct people to Scot McKnight’s accessible treatment on the theme.

This book was given to me by Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging For Books Program in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Mercy is the Name of an Old Lady?

Arterburn encounterI wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did. A book about a middle-aged man on a self-destructive path having to face past wounds and in the process being met by God, sounded just a tad ‘Shack-y’ for my tastes. When the synopsis of the book online said:

The Encounter, the unique new book from best-selling author and counselor Stephen Arterburn, is a moving parable involving Jonathan Rush, a wealthy and famous entrepreneur, who is tortured by bitterness toward his mother who abandoned him when he was four. He travels to Alaska to find her but instead meets an enigmatic old woman known only as Mercy…

I just figured that this was a new twist on the same theme (meet God in your place of wounding and be healed). And that kind of was it, but not exactly. Actually the story doesn’t just follow Jonathan as he searches; it also tells the story of Ada, the woman who gave him up for adoption when he was four. It tells of how she made the choice, the regret she had afterwards and the ways she still tried to love him even after giving him up for adoption and forfeiting her legal rights to be in her life.

This then is a story of forgiveness. Jonathan learns how to extend grace to his mother (SPOILER ALERT: The woman he meets named Mercy, is in fact his mother Ada). Ada also has been walking around in guilt and shame since abandoning her son 31 years later. She has to forgive herself.

This story while fictional, is based on two true stories. One of these stories is reenacted in the climactic scene of this book. That is the best part of the book and is a vivid picture of what it means to extend grace to others, and the ways in which God extends grace to us.

I appreciated this book and it certainly caused me to reflect on where I harbor unforgiveness in my heart and what it does to me. I think on that level, this story illustrates well the dangers of letting bitterness to take root, and the experience of grace.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson via Book Sneeze in exchange for my honest review.

Brooding Russian Novelist for the Lighthearted (or Leitharted)?

Leithart-Dostoevsky

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for the review copy of Peter Leithart’s Fyodor Dostoevsky. Below is my fair and honest review:

I was interested in this book for three reasons:

1. Dostoevsky is one of the best and most profound novelists whoever lived. Crime and Punishment is incisive in its critique of 19th century European philosophy and insightful on the complexity of the human heart, illuminating both its darkness and its goodness. <The Brother's Karamazov is a classic of Western literature. But what about the man? Before reading this book, my only exploration of what sort of man Dostoevsky was, was Wikipedia and a chapter from a Yancey Book. So I was eager to read more.

2. Peter Leithart is an excellent author and has published books in several genres (theology, historical theology, sermons, literary criticism, cultural criticsm, commentaries and other books about the Bible). He also blogs, A LOT at http://www.Leithart.com and has published numerous articles. To use the adjective prolific, may be an understatement. And while I haven’t read everything he’s written and know it can’t all be good, generally he has keen insight and is worth listening to.

3. I fancy myself a history buff and Russian history is incredibly interesting. Dostoevsky lived in 19th Century Russia, a period fraught with growing political unrest and conservative entrenchment. Anything focusing on Dostoevsky and needs to explore these dimensions.

In this thin volume, Leithart gives us an intimate portrait of Dostoevsky, the lover of Russian and lover of Christ. This is not a work of hagiography, Dostoevsky is too real to allow himself be sainted. He drinks to much, he is arrogant and full of rage, he is a gambler and a poor money manager, he is a scoundrel who has a mistress while his first wife is on her deathbed. But he is also somebody who sees with clarity the bankruptcy of European philosophy on Russian soil and that the only hope for his beloved country is Christ.

Leithart’s book is copiously researched as his end notes attest. Though his biography is written in narrative form, many of Dostoevsky’s words come from various of his correspondence and writings.
Having not read another biography on Dostoevsky, this sufficed for my purposes; however I imagine that a better book than this could have been written. This is relatively a brief treatment and while Leithart is fair, this is not him at his most creative or insightful.

But I do recommend it as a short, engaging treatment of a great novelist.

Traveling through the Text-Part 1: Mile High Bible Society

Genreally, Biblical hermeneutics is about how you read the Bible. Here I want to talk about how fast you read the Bible. Metaphorically, the mode of transportation you take determines what you see. This is the first series of posts on traveling through the text. The metaphor I am exploring here is flying. Please fasten your seat belts and put your trays and seat backs in the upright position:

A Bird’s Eye View

Recently I took a flight to see my grandfather in Alberta. My wife and kids weren’t with me, which meant I had the rare privilege of a window seat. I watched as our plane lifted off the runway and ascended, eyeing landmarks and favorite hangouts. Before long the plane was high in the sky and the sights become harder to distinguish. I no longer saw people walking their dogs and the morning traffic. Instead I saw a grid of roadways and farmland, the topography as we passed mountains and valleys. I noted significant changes in the environment. On an overcast day, all you can see out a plane window is a blanket of white; however on my plane ride I had a clear bird’s-eye view of the entire landscape below. And over everything, the vast expanse. The horizon stretching out far beyond my view in all directions.

When we were making our final descent into Calgary, I noticed the change in the land from Canadian Rockies, to the rolling foothills of Prairie Alberta. I also saw the trees. I had left behind the tall green cedars and Douglas fir of the Pacific Northwest and saw bellow me sparse patches of Aspen and Spruce. Autumn had not come to my part of the world (this was late September), but here the yellowing trees checkered the landscape bellow had already greeted her arrival.

The thing about air travel is it’s fast. A distance that would be a twelve-hour drive was traversed inside of a couple of hours. A few magnificent views aside, you don’t really get in a jet plane to go see the sights, you get in a plane to get somewhere fast. And that is the gift of that mode of travel. As someone whose family is spread across the continent, I know that I would not see them much if I lived in a world without planes. But because of it, I get to connect with the people and places I love, traversing distance and time with relative ease.

How to Fly Through the Bible

So what does it mean to fly through the Bible? How is reading quickly, like looking out the airplane window?

The quickest I ever read the Bible cover to cover was two weeks. I read in every spare moment, obsessed with getting through the entire Bible, all 66 books as quickly as possible. Nobody told me I should do this, but I am glad that I did. Here are some of the things I experienced on my Biblical flight:

1. While flying, you don’t get tangled in the brush.

    When you fly to a different city, you fly over the buildings, trees, railroad tracks. Other than waiting for other planes and a place to land, all impediments are far bellow. Similarly, when I was flying through the text, I didn’t get caught up in thorny theological matters, controversies, or dead ends. I just kept reading without stopping Genealogies, details about the sacrificial system, lists didn’t entangle me. Basically I just flew over them as fast as I could (anyone who has decided to read the Bible cover to cover and got stuck and got mired down in Leviticus can see the value of pressing through!),

    Flying high and not getting caught in the brush means you keep reading no matter what. Mile High flyers don’t linger places. When I saw something interesting or questions came up, I noted them and planned to circle back to them later, but I kept reading. Of course flying above the fray meant I wasn’t reading with an eye for details. How can you see details at 23,000 feet? Yet what you do see is worth seeing. Some of what you see out the window of a plane, you won’t see any other way.

2. A bird’s-eye view reveals topographical changes

    In my flight over the Canadian Rockies I saw changes in the topography. The bare high rocks were different from where I had come from, and different from the rolling prairies where I landed. Similarly, when I flew through the Bible, I encountered various genres. The historical books, gave way to the poetry of the Psalms; The oracles of the prophets were a different terrain from gospel stories and Pauline epistles. Noticing this switch in the landscape gave me clues on what sort of place I found myself in (in the text) and what grew there. It is with a bird’s-eye view, you see the lay of the land.

3. Flying connects distant places together

    Air travel allow you to visit distant friends and relatives, return home, go to weddings and funerals or go on exotic vacations that you otherwise would not be able to go. Because of this modern technology, our world feels more connected. Closer, somehow.

    On my own flights through the Bible I have noticed the connections between different passages I wouldn’t have otherwise. Hebrews came alive to me when I just read through the Pentateuch and the prophets the week before. Flying through the Bible showed me the connections between different passages. If I hadn’t flown there, I might not have made the journey; yet having made the flight, the connections between the testaments, the covenants and distant relatives are much clearer to me. Closer, somehow.

4. Flying gives us a look at the big picture

    Just like the view from the plane reviews the vast expanse, so a flight through the text reveals the big picture. By starting at creation and making the journey with God’s people from there to new creation, I got a sense of the whole story. The horizon extends far beyond our view in every direction; I only saw this when I flew through the Bible without getting lost in the details.

So I commend flying through the text as one way of reading the Bible. Care to join the Mile High Bible Club? Tell me your thoughts.

Walter Wink’s Hermeneutic

I picked up this slim volume at a used bookstore in Bellingham only to discover the book in its entirety is available for free online at religion-online.org. Here is the link: http://www.religion-online.org/showbook&#8230;.
Wink-Bible

I have appreciated Wink’s critique of the institution and powers over the years and since I have an interest in hermeneutics and what the Bible means I happily scooped this up to see what Wink would contribute to this discussion. Bearing in mind that this book is almost 40 years old, I expected it to be someone dated and not up to speed on the various directions the discussion has gone. This is true, but in a lot of ways Wink was a shaper of the dialogue.

Wink begins this book with an assertion that the Historical Critical Method is bankrupt. By this he doesn’t mean that is of no value, but he proposes new management, allowing it to serve a different end. he sees as problematic the fact that Biblical criticism ignored the intention of texts,retreated to the false consciousness of objectivism, only asks questions which its discipline (and disciples) can answer, has been cut off from the wider community, and harkens back to polemical context which no longer exists.

On each of these points, Wink’s critique seems to be incisive, though he does seems to speak of “biblical criticism” in absolute terms which goes beyond warrant with particular practitioners (a face he will circle back to in conclusion when he addresses the academic guild as ‘a power’ that scholars have to oppose).

Wink proposes an alternative paradigm, which owes something to Ricouer’s naivety, suspicion, second-naivety. Wink’s schema is as follows:

1. Fusion
N(1) negation of the fusion through suspicion of the object
2. Distance
N(2) Negation of the negation through suspicion of the subject
3. Communion (p.19-20)

Phase 1 involves moving beyond the unity of western culture and traditions and the Bible to the objectification of the text. It is here that Biblical criticism does its work of getting us behind creedal statements and dogma, so that we can examine the text dispassionately and discover what it really meant.

Phase 2 involves applying our critical lens to ourselves where we confront ‘our own emotional predisposition not to be unsettled, our easy acquiescence to contemporary questions, languages and perspectives.(34)”

Phase 3 involves bringing these two phases into critical dialectic to discover what the biblical world in its particularity has to say to our human condition. The end result which Wink envisions is a sort of post-critical reading of scripture which transforms individuals and their communities.

In order to accomplish this Wink draws on the insights of psychotherapy and a sociological and ideological lens to help us identify the places in which the Bible confronts us and our world.

What I appreciated most about this book was Wink’s critique of where Biblical criticism has brought us. As mentioned above, he does cast this critique in absolute terms. This means his claims are exaggerated in some quarters, but he names issues that every Biblical scholar of faith must wrestle with.

In his positive program, he correctly addresses the two horizons of interpretation: text and reader (here given the names of object and subject, respectively). Where I am uneasy with Wink’s program is that he seems to critique the tradition, more than his own starting point. Wink is a theologically liberal New Testament scholar who taught at Union. He expects human transformation in the text. He does not necessarily expect to encounter God. Traditional beliefs about God are redefined in psychological and sociological terms (Wink buys in to Bultmann’s demythologizing program after all). In one fascinating account of a group bible study session, the Holy Spirit is redefined as ‘life-transformative process’ (59).

This antithesis to the tradition and traditional theology is exasperated by the fact that Wink fails to recapture a theology of church. It is true that he wants to bring his training in Biblical criticism back into the service of the church, but he doesn’t advocate reading the Bible by the rule of faith. He wants to get behind doctrinal and creedal statements and not impose them on the Biblical account. In a sense, this is a guild concern. Biblical studies exists to study the Bible not theologize, but the theological tradition does frame our understanding of texts and shouldn’t be so easily cast aside.

Still Wink is insightful about how the Biblical text can challenge individuals, social and political institutions. I would be pleased if more Biblical scholars of whatever theological bent were as committed to listening to the personal and structural implications when we allow ourselves to be encountered by the Biblical text.

Absolute meh.

I chose this book on Booksneeze.com to review because: a) I like the topic and b) it had received a couple of bad reviews by people who thought it was too academic for them. I figured I would try my hand at reviewing it, and give the book a fair shake.

I didn’t like it much either. But I really tried.

I commend the author for writing a book on love where he attempts to engage a wide range of worldviews, and present a compelling vision of who Jesus is. Willroth engages Christians, Jews and Muslims, and welcomes agnostics and atheists to the table to consider his theme. As such he makes use of Christian and Jewish scripture, the Koran, as well as scientific and psychological knowledge. I think this does give this book worth for attempting dialogue, joint inquiry in apologetics a mission.

Jesus is love absolute and the way we meet him is by humbling ourselves. Willroth runs through many great theological truths from the creation account in Genesis, to the consummation in revelation. While I may quibble with him in places, in the main, he is accurate in his depiction of Jesus

However, Willroth’s prose lacks a certain winsomeness. To make his case he sometimes resorts to a barrage of quotations, some of them quite lengthy, A number of the chapters end with greek and hebrew words listed with long lists of Bible verses for those wanting to conduct their own word studies. At some points I felt like I was reading raw research for a book; other points I felt I was reading a text that had not been adequately edited. Perhaps this is the pitfall of the self-published. It is hard to read.

How to handle a heart attack?

Enemies
In Enemies or the Heart, Andy Stanley argues that the problems that bubble up in life (i.e. job loss, divorce, broken relationships) are result of our failure to address the destructive forces in our heart. These forces poison our lives and set us up for crisis. It is failure to deal with the enemies of the heart that cause some people to lose there faith. So what are these enemies of the heart?

Ostensibly, Stanley suggests four attitudes are experienced as deep debts in the heart: Guilt, Anger, Greed, Jealousy. Guilt is the belief that “I owe you;” we’ve done something wrong for which we feel we need to atone for.

Anger on the other hand say, “you owe me.” You did something wrong and I hold it against you.

Greed says, “I owe me.” I am going to store up what I can for myself.

Jealousy says “God owes me” as we reflect upon the inequity between our life and someone else (who is better than us).

Stanley says every wound we carry can be traced back to one of these four. So what are the remedies for these ailments?

Guilt is overcome by confession. Stanley stresses public confession as necessary to break the cycle of shame guilt puts us in. Anger is overcome as we learn forgiveness. This involves knowing who wronged us, what they did, what they deserve and our choosing to let go of it. Greed is overcome as we stop hoarding and develop the habit of generosity. Jealousy is beaten when we learn to celebrate those around us.

Andy Stanley has written a good book. It is accessible, warm, humorous and insightful. What I didn’t like about this book wasn’t what it said, but how it was framed. Stanley offers his advice to us so that we could avoid wounding, be whole and have the best life, including best spiritual life we can. Not that this is wrong, but I wonder about the wisdom of commending holy living (a phrase which doesn’t appear in his book) for what it does for you. Why should we avoid guilt, anger, greed, jealousy? So that we are happier and healthier? Why should we confess, forgive, give generously and celebrate others? So that we have better lives? Yes but more.

What happens when holiness doesn’t make your life better? You confess and people judge you. You forgive and get hurt again. You give generously and are taken advantage of. You celebrate others and they use you. Well, there is something more to a holy life besides what it does for you. Sometimes all you get out of it, is that you know you are pleasing God. Holiness is not always instrumental and shouldn’t be treated that way.

But this demurral aside, I thought this book was worth reading and certainly touches on some pretty big issues that every Christian (and non-Christian) needs to wrestle with if they are to grow in their walk with God.

I received a copy for review from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for this fair and incredibly honest review.