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.

 

What Would Dawkins Do?: a book review

Charles Sheldon’s book In His Steps inspired many Christians to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?” if Jesus were in your situation. Author Robbie Dawkins turns that question on its head in his book, Do What Jesus DidWhile Sheldon’s classic novel focused on living out your faith with integrity and modeling your character on the life of Christ, Dawkins has a somewhat different tack. Dawkins urges Christians to actually do what Jesus did–things like healing the sick, speaking prophetic words, casting out demons or raising the dead.  It isn’t that Dawkins doesn’t appreciate how Christ models moral perfection for us to imitate, but he challenges Christians to experience the supernatural character of the Kingdom of God.

Dawkins is the pastor of a Vineyard church in Aurora, Illinois which ministers among the urban poor. In his capacity as pastor (and police chaplain for the city of Aurora) he has witnessed God change the lives of  all kinds of people (including leaders of the notorious Latin Kings gang).  God’s supernatural healing has broken into people’s lives as Dawkins (and other members of his church have prayed). He has seen people delivered from demonic oppression and God has blessed people through prophetic words. In this book, he offers practical advise for entering into supernatural ministry (in the tradition of John Wimber’s Power Evangelism).

Whenever I read a book like this that is chocked full of stories of healing and deliverance,  my first reaction is to be a little skeptical. I didn’t  know of Robbie Dawkins before reading this book and some of his stories are outlandish (as all miracle stories are). However Dawkins doesn’t just include success stories. There are stories of heartbreak and failure as well. In Dawkins’s chapter on raising the dead, he tells a succession of stories about praying for people to be raised from the dead, but none of the people he prays for are raised.  Dawkins talks about this as ‘pushing to failure,’ borrowing a term from the weightlifting world. In other words he says we should train ourselves by praying risky prayers for big things (like raising the dead), and we will grow in our capacity to see God move miraculously. There is a certain amount of practical wisdom in this: if you want to see God move miraculously in the lives of your community, then you should habitually pray for it.

I liked this book and hearing how God is working in Aurora was inspiring.  There are areas of this book I would critique (for example, I am suspicious of the reliance on techniques to effect miracles); yet I appreciated the tenor of this book. I am a quiet charismatic and affirm the reality of healing, deliverance, and prophecy for today. I appreciated Dawkins balanced presentation, though I felt the character/moral aspects of Jesus’ life were under-emphasized.  Dawkins comments several times how ‘if God can use him, he can use anyone.’ This is a humble and true statement about God, but can easily become an excuse for not developing one’s own character.  I think we should pursue holiness with the same tenacity that Dawkins pursues the supernatural.  These  criticisms aside, I give this book 4 stars.

I received this book from Chosen Books in exchange for my honest review.

Spirit Baptist: a book review

Chad Norris was a preacher. He went to seminary at Beeson Divinity school and studied under Calvin Miller and Robert Smith, jr.  He was passionate about following God and living for him. But he struggled with depression and panic-attacks. He hungered for  a ‘New Testament’ experience of God. A fresh reading of the gospels (especially John) and  an attentive heart to where he felt God was leading, led Norris to a greater openness to the Spirit.  Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher is his story.

Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher by Chad Norris

Written with grace and good humor, Norris describes his journey into supernatural ministry. As pastor of Spiritual Formation at City Church in Simpsonville, SC, Norris has led mission trips and healing services.  His story tells of his own experience of healing and deliverance and his attempts to follow where the voice of God led him.  He is a bit of a goofball but this is a fairly even-handed account.

What I liked  about Norris’s story is that he doesn’t argue that being open to the Holy Spirit means you have to be as weird as you possibly can. His description of his  healing services is of a quiet grace filled moment where he and others pray for people. He acknowledges that some people still have to take medication and don’t get healed, and looks for the grace of God in the lives of those who suffer (he calls them the real ‘heroes’).  Ultimately though, Norris’s point is not just for people to experience the supernatural gifts. He wants people to know intimacy with God. This is his emphasis throughout.

I also appreciated that Norris is comfortable talking about pain and hard experiences. He doesn’t paint the Spirit filled life with Pollyanna brush strokes and he’s had his share of painful experiences.  He does commend Spiritual experiences because God is a supernatural God. What he presents here is not a formula.

Norris tells us that it was his reading of scripture which led him to a richer experience of the Spirit; yet this book doesn’t present a fresh reading of the Bible. It is more of a memoir of one man’s spiritual meanderings and the events that have shaped his life and ministry. Taken for what it is, I really enjoyed the book and I think Norris hopes that people will hear his story and be inspired to re-read the gospels for themselves and hear the voice of God calling them into a deeper experience of Him.  The book closes with a prayer that you can pray but there is no ‘how to’ in the text.  If you are to experience

I liked this book because I like Norris’s storytelling and his story. He is funny and the book is a quick read.  I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.