Bringing God’s Kingdom Through Worship: a book review

Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy and Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Church by Father Vassilios Papavassiliou

If you have ever attended a worship service in an Orthodox church, you have been captured by the beauty. Candles, incense, ornate iconography, reverence for sacred symbol, poetic words and acts all draw you into a deep appreciation for the Triune God.  But those new to Orthodox worship may also come away feeling lost, unable to understand the liturgy and symbols.  I remember once early in my marriage, my wife and I attended an Orthodox service during Holy Week. My wife grew up Catholic and neither of us were strangers to liturgy; however we must of looked befuddled because one dear woman sitting behind us, took it upon herself to guide us through the liturgy and help us follow along and take part more fully in the experience.

In Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy and Beliefs, Father Vassilios Papavassiliou does what that Orthodox woman did for my wife and I (albeit in a more magisterial fashion) and unlocks for outsiders the significance of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church.  Papavassiliou speaks of the Divine Liturgy as a journey to the Kingdom. The liturgy begins, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.” This announces the destination of Orthodox worship. As Papavassiliou says:

It is true, our destination is the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Trinity. But our journey really begins the moment we leave the house. Without the sacrificial act of leaving the comfort of our beds and homes and coming to church, there can be no liturgy, and whether we have to travel many miles or just walk a few yards down the street, a sacrificial act of worship has already begun. We come to church not simply to add a religious dimension to our secular lives, nor simply to meet fellow Christians and to socialize, but above all to become the Church, to become the Kingdom of God. (9-10)

And so the Orthodox liturgy leads congregants from the mundane into an encounter with the risen and ascended Christ. Papavassiliou walks us chronologically through the elements of the liturgy, from the Blessing and Litany of the Peace,  to the Great Thanksgiving and Dismissal, pausing to reflect on the various prayers, the veneration of the gospel, the Cherubic hymn, the presentation and litany of the Holy Gifts, the Creed and its meaning, The Holy oblation, the Our Father, Communion and Thanksgiving.  Little sidebars break up the chapters to explain Orthodox practices and theology.  One of the joys of this book is the way Papavassiliou is able to use the liturgy to explain the beliefs and distinctives of the Orthodox in ways which seek to assuage the objections of outsiders.  For example, he describes the Orthodox veneration of Mary (a doctirine which is often looked at critically from those outside the fold) as the outflow of the Orthodox affirmation of the incarnation of Christ (34). According to Papavassiliou, when we remember that the Word became flesh, it makes sense to honor the woman from whom he took flesh and honor her for it.  Likewise he gives brief explanations of the theology behind iconography. He also manages to present the Orthodox liturgy in a way which values it as the truest expression of the Kingdom on earth without being dismissive of other Ecclesial traditions.

My introduction to the Orthodox Liturgy first came from a similar book designed to explain the Orthodox liturgy to new converts  (Archbishop Paul of Finland, The Feast of Faith, trans. by Esther Williams, St. Vladymir’s Press, 1988).  What I really like about Papavassiliou’s volume is that he isn’t content to simply explain Orthodox practice. He also calls the Orthodox to inhabit their best theology.  He acknowledges the disconnect between the rich sacramental heritage of the Orthodox tradition and the fact that it has become common practice among many Orthodox to attend the liturgy without receiving communion (56). Papavassiliou invites his Orthodox readers to participate more fully in worship, being united with Christ in the Eucharist. He tries to remove any obstacles that stand in the way of their participation (79-85). Papavassiliou’s sacramental theology owe much to the work of Alaxender Schmemann and Vladymir Lossky and he delves into patristic sources when describing the doctrines of the faith from the Orthodox perspective

And so I recommend this book for two groups of people. Sympathetic outsiders like me who appreciate some of the beauty and poetry they find in Orthodox worship but want a deeper grasp of what is going on in the Liturgy. And insiders who  wish to grow in their own understanding and appreciation of what the liturgy offers and the theological reflection from which the liturgy springs. The journey to the Kingdom leads us to a fresh encounter with Christ, His Church as we await and enact the full coming of His Kingdom.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

With Christ in the Tent of Meeting: a book review

Christ and the Desert Tabernacle by J.V. Fesko

One of the most difficult passages for ordinary readers of the Bible is the last pages of Exodus which focus on the building of the Tabernacle.  Up until that point, the Bible has been mostly stories and while some of the laws given seem strange to modern ears, we can readily make adjustments as to how it applies to our lives. But of what import are lists of building materials? Or Priestly vestments? What does the building of the Tabernacle and the mode of worship in the desert have to teach us in our contemporary Western context?

J. V. Fesko, the academic dean and professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, has written a book which explores this portion of scripture, revealing how this wilderness tent and the practices associated with it pointed forward to the person and work of Christ.  Each of the chapters focuses on an aspect of the Tabernacle (the building, utensils, significance of various elements) and brings it into conversation with key New Testament passages which draw out their significance:

  • The building materials for the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9; 35:4-9) were given by the people as a voluntary offering. Fesko uses this talk both about the quality of our giving and the foundation we use to build our final temple on (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-16).
  • The significance of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9) is seen in that it prefigures our final atonement (through Christ’s cross) and represents God’s presence with his people (points forward to the Incarnation).
  • The Table and the show bread (Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16) pointed to God’s provision for his people  and can be connected with Christ’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the Lord’s Prayer (our daily bread) and the Lord’s supper.
  • The Lampstand and Oil (Exodus 25:31-40; 27:20-21; 37:17-14) and the perpetual light it gave, points forward to Jesus the light of the world and the church.
  • The Tabernacle (Exodus 26: 1-37; 36:8-38) was the visble sign of God’s presence with Israel and the New Testament connects God’s indwelling presence with the incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and God’s abiding presence with His people.
  • The Altar and the courtyard (Exodus 27:1-9; 38:1-7, 9-20) represents the place where sacrifices were made on behalf of Israel and point forward to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
  • The Priests garments (Exodus 28:1-43; 39:1-31) were endued with symbolic significance and pointed forward to Christ, our high priest. Likewise the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29:1-46) also would point forward to Christ’s ultimate expiation of our sin.
  • The Census Tax (Exodus 30:11-16) reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt. Fesko reminds us that when we take ‘a census’ of our own life, we should think of our unworthiness and Christ’s redemption of us.
  • The Bronze Basin (Exodus 30:17-21; 38:8) points forward to baptism and the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Oholiab and Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-11) were craftsmen gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building of his tabernacle. Fesko uses  their example to speak of  the future outpouring of Spiritual gifts to the church for service of the church and world, and God’s continual indwelling presence.
  • Finally, Fesko ends his reflection on the temple with a chapter on Sabbath (Exodus: 31:12018) and he reflects on the way in which trusting in Jesus is our entry into the Sabbath rest of God.

Fesko uses the New Testament to shed light on the Old. He takes his cue from Augustine who once wrote, ‘what is hidden in the Old is revealed in the New, and what is revealed in the New is hidden in the Old (133).’  Fesko reads the section on the Tabernacle through a Christocentric theological grid.  I appreciate this perspective and it made me think of the first time I read Hebrews after a fresh reading of the Pentateuch.  All scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When Paul wrote those words, the New Testament was not canonized yet and the Bible of the early church was the Old Testament. Thus we need to learn to wrestle with passages like the building of the tabernacle (or genealogies) when we encounter them in our Bibles.

Unfortunately there are no footnotes and there is no bibliography in the book. Many readers will not miss them, but I like to know where an author has gleaned some of their ideas and who they are conversant with it. Fesko is not the first (or the last) to traverse this ground, and I want to know who he’s read. But these chapters first had life as sermons which Fesko preached at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Woodstock, Georgia)  when Fesko was pastor there.  So I am left guessing which commentators and scholars Fesko consulted in his pastor’s study.  I think Fesko has a lot of valuable things to say and makes sound theological judgments; however he offers few clues for those who would desire to dig deeper into the topic.

But Fesko wrote this book for those who find the treatment  of the Tabernacle  in Exodus boring and inaccessible. I think he does a great job and makes some good suggestions for how lay Christians can use this portion of scripture to deepen their appreciation for all that God in Christ has done on our behalf.   If  the tabernacle has always mystified you, Fesko will show you how to appropriate these texts in ways  that are worshipful and worthy of deeper reflection.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

What Matters Most is Not the Title (but I like the title): a book review

What Matters Most: How We Got the Point but Missed the Person by Leonard Sweet

This is not a new book. It is a new title for a book that is eight years old. Waterbrook Multnomah has latched onto a marketing strategy for giving older books a new lease on life by re-releasing them with a brand new title. Titles are often the privilege of the publisher anyway, so certainly re-titling is their prerogative. Of the five re-titled books I have read from Waterbrook Press  I have read, at least three of them benefited from the re-christening. So does this one. Previously released as Out of the Question. . .Into the Mystery in 2004, the old title doesn’t seem to get at the heart of all this book is about (though does allude to an important aspect); What Matters Most” How We Got the Point but Missed the Person does a good job of summing up the major message of this book.

In What Matter Most, Len Sweet makes the claim that the truth of the gospel is not primarily propositional. Nor is Christian truth fundamentally addressed at moral behavior. What stands at the center of the gospel is the relationship we have with God through Jesus Christ. Certainly this is a claim common to evangelicals (with our ‘personal relationship’ language) but we have been prone to mess it up. Sweet puts our relationship with God, one another, people outside the faith, and creation in perspective as he challenges our tendency to run from relationships and want ‘faith’ on our own overly intellectualized and individualized terms.

Sweet organizes the book into eight parts. In part one, he talks about how our faith is relationship (versus intellectual assent). In part 2 he addresses our relationship with God by exploring the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Issac and what ‘God’s test’ in that context meant. He argues that when Abraham lays Isaac on the altar he passed the obedience test, but he failed the relational test (failing to ‘wrestle with God’ as Jacob later would). For this section, Sweet leans on Jewish Midrash for his exegesis and gives a fresh and interesting read to this troublesome passage. In part 3 he looks closer at God’s story recorded in scripture and how we ought to read scripture relationally. In parts 4-6, Sweet talks about our relationship with one another, those outside the faith and creation and he addresses how human sinfulness has caused us to mess up our relationship with each. In part 7 he discusses art and symbols in our relationship with God (and the church). And in his last section Sweet discusses our relationship with the ‘spiritual world’ entails our willingness to be open to mystery (remember the original title?).

This is my favorite Sweet book I’ve read. There is so much here that provokes a whole life response. I am certainly on board with the centrality o Jesus and found that this book made me hunger for a deeper relationship with Him. As always Sweet has questions for ‘further contemplation’ and discussion (as well as ‘bonus online content’ which I have not looked at).  In other books, I feel like Sweet tries too hard to be culturally relevant, but I didn’t feel that with this book. This is Sweet at this best: engaging, historically astute, challenging and winsome in his presentation of Christian truth and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Jesus at the Watering Hole: A Book Review

Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Home Brewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith by Michael Camp

Michael Camp has waded his way through the entire evangelical subculture. He converted in the seventies, after previously been apart of evangelistic youth rallies and meeting CCM music legend Phil Keaggy (his conversion is not directly related to either of these). He then went to L’Abri, did missions, got a degrees from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions and Eastern College, he attended Baptist churches, Che Ahn’s church in Pasadena (Charismatic Evangelical), Calvary Chapels, Non-Denominational Churches and Vineyards, as well as more Emergent Churches. He is well versed in Christian politics, dispensationalist End-Times theology, biblical literalism, creationism, evangelism and world missions, homophobia and Hell and a whole host of evangelical peculiarities.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper  tells the tale of Camp’s conversion to Christ and his gradual drift away from conservative evangelicalism.  The format is reminiscent of Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christian trilogy, but  whereas those were fiction, this is Camp’s own story. Camp explores various topics while telling  the story of his  journey through evangelicalism. Each chapter closes with pieces of a  discussion between Camp and his  friends in a bar, discussing his journey, his book, and his current theological stance. Today he is still a Christian and concerned about listening to the scriptures, but politically, socially, and theologically he has come to critique the evangelical culture which first formed him in the faith. He has moved away from the legalism, an acculturated form of church and the Christian life,   from He also has moved towards Christian Universalism and the full affirmation of homosexuality and a hermeneutic of the Christian life which is based on love.  But lest this sound like he’s just another liberal, he also is passionate about proper interpretation of the Bible and  affirms intelligent design.

I enjoyed this book.  I have wrestled with many of the same parts of my evangelical heritage, though I haven’t come to all the same conclusions. I think he raises good questions and  I generally found reading this book made me think.  I don’t agree with everything Camp says, but he does seem fair in his reading of scripture and evangelical culture. One aspect I really appreciated was the attention he paid to biblical hermeneutics. He has a chapter on Bible Abuse where he offers sound advice on how to interpret scripture sensitive to its context.

However, despite my generally positive experience reading this book, I did find several aspects to critique:

  1. I found the format of the book a little preachy. This isn’t just a story about Mike Camp’s journey. It also records his discussion with friends over dinner and beer reflecting on that journey. Those conversations shift the narrative for me, from an exploration of one man’s journey, to an apologetic for why I should come to the  same conclusions as Mike Camp.   Camp comes off as the grand guru of his own book (the one with all the answers).  His friends sometimes vehemently disagree with him (especially his staunchly evangelical pal, Steve), but it is obvious that they haven’t spent as much time thinking through the issues and are as well read as he is.  Thus I found the dialogue with his friends less engaging than the story parts of the book. This discussion comes off as a device which clarifies Camp’s own position rather than  being a robust debate. Occasionaly his friends seem like strawmen.
  2. Camp occasionally describes people as conservative, moderate, liberal or progressive evangelicals owing to their position on particular hot button issues.  What bugs me about this is that based on his criteria, he likely would peg me as a moderate evangelical. I loathe the word moderate and there is nothing I would hate being called more.  I think it is like calling someone tepid. Yuck.
  3. Camp repudiates most of what he has been taught in evangelicalism but he seems to buy in (at least in some form) to Christian primitivism (the idea that we should get back to the church of the New Testament) and he has rather low ecclesiology.  This leads he and his friends to be rather dismissive of the institutional church (in favor of just being a couple Christian friends hanging out at a bar).  In a couple of places I wanted more connection to church history and theology.
  4. The discussion in the bar and over dinner happens while Mike and his friends are drinking Fat Woody, Ridgetop Red, Pumpkin Ale, Panther Lake Porter and Belgium Blonde.  This discussion happens west of the Rockies and there was not a single person drinking IPA.  It doesn’t seem right.

These critiques aside (which may say more about me than Camp’s book). I think this book would be an interesting read for any of us who have lived through the past thirty odd years and have seen the various trends in the evangelical world.  I also appreciate the way Camp catalogues his thinking and points his readers to various resources and authors.  Do not read this book if you are uncomfortable being challenged and do not like to think for yourself.  My seminary friends will be cognizant of many of the issues Camp raises here, but others will find his story format engaging, challenging and informative.  Maybe one day I’ll catch up to Mike and the two of us can sit down over a cold one and discuss theology. I’ll be drinking the IPA.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Take up and Breath: a Book Review

When I picked up Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit For an Inspired Life and saw endorsments from N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, Walter Brueggemann, Scot McKnight, William Willimon and Phillyis Tickle I got excited. I am always on the hunt for a good book on the Holy Spirit so seeing this one endorsed by some of my favorite authors made me want to take up and read.  Much of what is written on the Holy Spirit has an ‘anything goes’ feel to it with low-level discernment, but these people don’t endorse those books. So I had high hopes that this book would thoughtfully present the reality of the Spirit in a way that was fresh, insightful, inspiring and eye-opening. I was not disappointed.

Jack Levison is professor of New Testament at Seattle Pacific University. He’s written an engaging book with each of the chapters profiling  people from the Bible and illuminating aspects of the spirit’s activity. Through out the book he speaks of the   ‘holy spirit’ rather than “Holy Spirit” because he is trying to be attentive to the way the biblical language functions (he is not denying the Trinity). The Greek word pnuema and the Hebrew ruach both mean wind, breath or spirit (ruach means wind fifty times in the Hebrew Bible, but the rest of its nearly four hundred occurrences refer to the spirit from God). Levison wants to preserve the way a single word in the Hebrew or Greek ‘could encompass stormy winds and settled souls, the rush of the divine and the hush of human holiness(17).’ And so he attends to where he hears the spirit in the text and shows us the way God’s spirit is powerful and unsettling,  life-giving and good.

Levison does not always go to the most common passages people use when speaking of the spirit. But each of the people he profiles and the passages he chooses reveal who this spirit is. Here is a taste of some of the things I learned as I read this book  and the biblical passages it alludes to:

  • With Job I reflected on how life is a gift and God’s spirit sustains us all (yes, all).  Job is confident that though he is on the verge of death, he still has life from the spirit-breath of God is in him.
  • From Daniel we learn that the gift of the spirit’s wisdom comes from a lifetime of decisions and habits (i.e. Daniel’s resistance to royal rations, his repudiation of royal ambition, his rejection of power, practice of prayer and simplicity, etc.).
  • Simeon‘s spirit-inspired-song was not just ejaculatory praise but bears the evidence of someone who has studied and searched the scriptures for a lifetime. Simeon unfolds for us Isaiah’s expansive and inclusive vision.
  • Joel‘s dream (the one that is  recounted by Peter at Pentecost) speaks of a day when the spirit is not poured into individuals only but is poured out on all flesh and all societies. It is a radically inclusive vision that is not fully realized in Acts.
  • Chloe‘s complaint to Paul (reported in 1 Cor. 3) was of the divisiveness in the Corinthian church.  Paul’s tells the Corinthians about the way that the spirit inhabits communities.
  • Levison takes us to Ezekiel‘s valley of dried bones and discusses the spirit’s promise of restoration for the exiled and broken community of Israel. He contrasts this with the Spirit’s work in the healthy thriving church of Antioch (who sent Paul and Barnabas out) where the Christians exhibited a love of learning, an ear for prophecy, were nurtured by the practices of worship and fasting, were extremely generous, had multicultural leadership and in all these things, were a source of grace. The spirit is at work in communities which feel dead and lifeless as well as in lively ones.
  • The spirit is not always gentle. The same spirit that descended like a dove on Jesus at his baptism, propelled him into the wilderness for a time of testing.  Levison also notes that in Mark’s gospel, the only time that Jesus promises the spirit to the disciples was so that they could testify when facing severe persecution (but not escape!). The spirit will lead us to the heart of our vocation (just like it did Jesus) but this doesn’t mean that what the spirit brings is always easy.
  • Levison talks about Peter‘s Pentecost sermon and Paul’s passages on spiritual gifts and tongues in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 (this is where many treatments on the Spirit begin). In this chapter he contrasts the craziness of revivalism and snake handlers with the somewhat subdued mainline perspective and the book of Common Prayer. He concludes that there is no evidence in the Bible that we should avoid spiritual experiences but that the thrust of these passages also compels us to engage the Biblical text so that we could see more clearly the ways the spirit is moving in us. Levison’s vision of the spirit makes room for both spontaneity and serious study.

I loved the solid exegesis and the many insightful gems I found in this book (I didn’t share all of them, Elihu plays the foil for the first three chapters). My one small complaint is that Levison never got around to treating my own ‘go to’ passages on the Holy Spirit (John 14-16, 20). But I do love that the passages he chose to focus on are often neglected ones (and he put a fresh spin on some old favorites).

I would recommend this book for anyone who want to understand more of the spirit (or Spirit). This is a popular level book and is accessible for most people (he has an earlier  scholarly volume  called Filled With the Spirit). Levison is an great teacher and opens up these passages in exciting ways (often sharing stories of his own family life to illustrate his points). In each chapter you read several passages of scripture so I read this devotionally and really found that it helped nourish my spirit during a busy week. This one gets a high recommendation from me.

I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for this review. This is my fair and honest review.

Let’s see who can be the Quietist: a book review

Fredrick Buechner once said, “All theology is biography.” By this he was referring to the ways in which a theologians life and experience impose upon their understanding of God and the world (and everything in between). Peter Gorday shows that the reverse may also be true: biography is theology.  By examining the life of François Fénelon, the seventeenth century Quietist, archbishop and theologian, he demonstrates how he synthesized various influences and negotiated political realities to arrive at his unique theological convictions. François Fénelon A Biography: The Apostle of True Love is well researched, drawing on broadly on the scholarly literature on Fénelon, commending his life and teaching to us for the real spiritual insight he offers.

Gorday unfolds the story of Françoi de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon chronologically. He begins by discussing his early classical education, the influence of Neo Platonism (as mediated through Augustine) and the influence of the ‘French School’–Francis de Sales,  Pierre de Berulle and Jacques Olier–on his mystical theology. From Francis de Sales he got the concept of ‘pure love’  and ‘holy indifference’ to all other things. From Berulle and Olier he got the idea of self annihilation and the need to fight against one’s own self-glorification at every turn.  Later, Fénelon’s synthesis of these three thinkers made him appreciative of Madame Guyon’s literary gifts and practical religious genius(though without doctrinal precision).

But before he met  Guyon he was already a rising intellectual star publishing works on the education of daughters, on the training of ministries and philosophical treatises and engaging in mission to the Huguenots (French Protestants). He established friendships with important people, including Jacques-Benigne Bossuet who later would become his chief theological opponent. Fénelon also became the tutor of Lois XIV’s son and spiritual director to Madame de Maintenon, the King’s mistress and second wife and through that relationship an archbishop.

Gorday illustrates how the complicated relationship between Fénelon, Maintenton, and Louis XIV, and his defense of Madame Guyon would eventually lead to the condemnation of his Maxims of the Saints.  Maintenon’s relationship with Fénelon soured in part because of the stringent self annihilation he called her to (too much for her to bear) and partly because of the insubordination of some Guyon devotees at Saint-Cyr (a religious boarding school which Maintenon had invited Guyon and Fénelon to help with). The latter led to  Madame Guyon’s works being condemned by the bishops at Issy, after which Bossuet wrote a book attacking Guyon and her teaching. Fénelon responded by writing a book (Maxim of the Saints) defending her mysticism as being in line with Catholic mystical theology( quoting orthodox, accepted mystical sources extensively). The battle between Bossuet ( with Louis XIV’s support) and Fénelon raged on leading to a  negative assessment on his theology by Pope Innocent XII (again with some pressure from the french crown). Much of the theological argument stemmed from Fénelon’s understanding of passivity in prayer (and Bossuet’s failure to understand what he was talking about) and his relationship with Quietist teaching.

In later years Fénelon was confined to his diocese of Cambrai and his relationship with Louis and Maintenon was severed. Despite this papal condemnation, Fénelon remained in his bishopric and in later years was active in parish ministry in his diocese, spiritual director to many and published anti-Jansenist works (in part because they were prevelant, and part because they had opposed his mysticism).

This is a dense, thoughtful book and Gorday delievers what you want to read from a religious biography. He is sympathetic to his subject but cognizant of critical scholarship and able to make judicious conclusions. He paints a portrait of Fénelon which is warmly appreciative of his theological contribution while acknowledging that in places, Fénelon appears prideful and  less than altruistic in his motives (i.e. his opposition to the Jansenists). Gorday also illuminates the contradictions between Fénelon’s alleged quietism and his submission to the church hierarchy and his active pastoral ministry at Cambrai (where his bishopric was).

Gorday argues that  Fénelon’s voice is needed now in our age because

his spirituality of pure love speaks to the disllusionment that so many people feel with regard to conventional religiousity. Religion often seems like a consumer product–something packaged and marketed for quick gratification at the cheapest price. . . .Self love corrupts everything, as idealistic people always come to realize. On the other hand, his call to pure love puts Fénelon on the heights. He sets a high standard by challenging us to make God seriously, and by making spirituality a matter not of blissful contentment or contrived ecstaty, but of patient, steady, grueling discipleship. (208)

I certainly agree that François Fénelon’s life and teaching call us to deeper commitment and faithfulness even if I remain skeptical of some of his mystical theology (I am no expert on it, and am willing to admit that I might not get it). I wonder about the reality of ‘disinterested love’ as a spiritual state and whether this is possible or desirable (totally), but I think that Fénelon has some keen insights on fighting our egocentricity and striving towards greater holiness.  So I recommend the book  with one qualification. This is a meaty book and requires an attentive reading. It is a book of academic history and historical theology which relates discussions about the nature of mysticism. I found I had to read this book slowly to get the nuances that Gorday was communicating and probably still need to go back over some of the descriptions of mystical theology.  If you are looking for a light summer read, this is probably not the book for you. But if you love history and are interested in knowing more about Fénelon, mysticism or 17th century France, then this is the right choice. Personally, I am utterly fascinated by the religious landscape in Europe in the 17th century so I really liked it.

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this  honest review.

How Do ‘You’ Pray?: A Book Review

How does your personality affect your prayer life? Do certain temperament types find different types of prayer easier than others? What about your past history?  What are the therapeutic benefits of prayer?  Is prayer just auto-suggestion, conditioned response or childish illusion?  Are all prayers the same? What about Eastern meditation?

Psychiatrist and Bible teacher Pablo Martinez brings his professional insight to bear on the topic of prayer.  In Praying with the Grain: How Your Personality Affects the Way You Pray, he offers biblically sound direction to developing your prayer with keen psychological insight from an evangelical perspective. The late John Stott wrote the foreword for this book (I think the foreword is a carry-over from the book’s previous incarnation entitled Prayer Life, 2001). I certainly appreciated that this book delved  beyond your typical pop-psychology pap with good biblical grounding from an evangelical perspective. Really, I think this is a rare combination in the Christian book market!

This is a short book, composed of five chapters. Chapter 1-3 compose part 1 of this book which address the psychology of prayer. Chapter one focuses on how our personal temperament affects the way we pray. Martinez argues that different temperament types have natural strengths and weaknesses in their approach to prayer. Using Carl Jung’s temperament types he explores how the various types (thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition)  and the proclivity toward introversion or extroversion has real affect on our prayer life. For example, introverts are introspective and turn inward while extroverts are activists who focus on other people and things. Thinking types tend to be rational and methodical in their approach to prayer making them effective intercessors and good at confession  but they aren’t so good at expressing adoration and worship. Feeling types are more relational in their approach to prayer and are more likely to ‘feel’ God’s presence and show concern about concrete situations of social injustice; yet they can tend toward excessive subjectivism.   Intuitive types are the natural mystics and contemplatives and prize freedom in prayer (which means sometimes they aren’t particularly grounded).  The Sensation type addresses God through the senses and tend to relate to God in a childlike way but are sometimes too reliant on external circumstances and never pray for very long. Martinez’s goal is both to help us affirm and appreciate the different ways people experience God but also shore up and develop in areas where we are naturally weak (it is healthier to be nearer the center in each of the temperament types or in terms of extroversion/introversion).

Chapter 2 addresses emotional problems and prayer and difficulties people have when they come to prayer. These include difficulties in the course of prayer such as getting started, not feeling God’s presence, not wanting to be hypocritical, difficulty in concentrating (i.e. anxiety or nervousness, bad thoughts)  and the  inability to pray in public. He also addresses the different content of prayer (adoration and praise, confession, request and intercession) and asserts that a healthy pray life needs to include each element regardless of your natural proclivities.  In chapter 3 Martinez describes the ‘therapeutic benefits of prayer,’  both existentially and in terms of  a ‘psychotherapeutic process” of  a growing  intimate relationship, a cathartic unburdening, providing guidance and discernement, and personal growth.  In both of these chapters Martinez’s psychological insight is helpful for entering more fully into prayer.

In part 2 Martinez provides an apologetic for Christian prayer.  Chapter 4 addresses secularist/modernist criticisms of prayer (i.e.  prayer as self-suggestion,  prayer as conditioned response, or childish illusion. In chapter 5 he examines the differences between Christian prayer and meditation and Eastern style meditation and Platonic mysticism.  I think he does a good job of dismantling psychologically shallow caricatures of prayer and demonstrating that there is real substance to prayer beyond a placebo effect.  He also demonstrates how Christian meditation has a different purpose, method and content than either Eastern meditation or Platonism.  What I really liked about his final chapter is the way he eschews method and technique  (which is the Eastern approach) and proclaims that the Christian understanding of prayer is an intimate relationship.

While I found part 2 interesting and think that Martinez is able to articulate important points succinctly and with insight, I think the real value of this book is helping people develop as pray-ers.  The insight that our  temperament type and personal history provides us with a natural style of relating to God. For a short book, Martinez gives significant space to exploring the difficulties we have in prayer and the strengths and weaknesses we have as a result to our unique shape, temperament and history.  There is a lot here that is of real help to those of us who want to grow at prayer and foster our relationship with God.

Martinez’s evangelical perspective makes him suspicious of some of the excesses of the contemplative and mystical tradition.  He does affirm a lot in the Christian mystical tradition but is suspicious of the ways that Platonism has robbed much of it of its Christian content and thus urges that our approach to meditation should be focused on scripture.  Certainly I can see how people get mystical and strange and become unhinged, but I wonder if there is more merit to some of the approaches to prayer that he criticizes. But this is more of a wondering, his approach to Christian meditation as centered on the word and our experience of the word is in keeping with my own practice, experience and conviction.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.