Want to Give Good Books for Christmas?

Unsplash / Sharon McCutcheono

Christmas isn’t about the gifts we give. It is about the gift, a singular gift, of God choosing to become what we are so that we might become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1.4). But, in thankfulness and imitation of God’s gift-giving, we share gifts with others. So, what better gift could we give than books that help people come to know this gift-giving God better? (Yes, yes, the sacraments are the first and the true Christ-koinonia gifts, but lighten up! ‘Tis the season, right?)

These are mostly books that straddle the fine line between devotional reading and academic reading, with some poetry and practical theology in there for good measure.

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An interview with Ellen Davis

A Conversation With Ellen Davis on Opening Israel’s Scriptures

Unsplash / Mick Haupt

Whenever a congregant or student asks me what to do with the Old Testament, I recommend Ellen Davis’s book Getting Involved With God. It exemplifies the kind of careful, creative, and genuine reading that the Old Testament—and New Testament—expect of any reader. That Ellen Davis wrote such a book is no surprise. Throughout her career, she has written with critical rigor for the sake of the church. 

In her most recent book, Opening Israel’s Scriptures, Davis offers us, in her words, “the grown up version” of Getting Involved With God. It is grown up in two ways. First, the writing requires a bit more from the reader; second, the book covers a much wider range of the Old Testament writings. Nonetheless, for professors and pastors, this book gives us a joyful taste of theological, canonical, literary, and ecclesial approaches to exegesis.

Ellen Davis is the Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School. She has graciously agreed to respond to some of my questions related to Opening Israel’s Scriptures. (Thanks to Oxford University Press for the review copy of this book.) Enjoy the conversation below. Join in by commenting!

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The gathered glories

Malcolm Guite’s collection of poems, Sounding the Seasons, includes short sonnets for the Christian year. As All Saints’ Day approaches, I am reading his poems for the day. “The gathered glories” is especially provocative. It reads:

Though Satan breaks our dark glass into shards,
Each shard still shines with Christ’s reflected light,
It glances from the eyes, kindles the words
Of all his unknown saints. The dark is bright
With quiet lives and steady lights undimmed,
The witness of the ones we shunned and shamed.
Plain in our sight and far beyond our seeing,
He weaves their threads into the web of being.
They stand beside us even as we grieve,
The lone and left behind whom no one claimed,
Unnumbered multitudes, he lifts above
The shadow of the gibbet and the grave,
To triumph where all saints are known and named;
The gathered glories of his wounded love.

“The gathered glories,” Sounding the Seasons, p. 58.

What I love is the tension Guite creates between my tradition’s custom of remembering the physically dead and the broader Christian concerns for those who are, in a number of ways, dead to the world. The “gibbet and the grave” conjures an image of one on the verge of death and one already dead. We remember not just those in the grave but those who, by Satan’s cruel hand and our shunning and shaming, stand at the edge of the grave.

Guite invites us, along with this week’s reading from Ephesians, to have the eyes of our heart widened, so that we may recall all the saints, in life and in death, not just those we’ve known.

Inspiration and Inebriation

A picture of Augustine.
St. Augustine, https://www.lwctt.org/

Have you ever thought about why there are six stone pots in the story of Christ turning water into wine? Or have you ever wondered about why two or three “measures” of water could fit into them? Me neither.

Thank God Augustine did. His interpretation of the story of Christ at the wedding in Cana is playful, imaginative exegesis. As he preaches on this story, he observes the six stone jars. He reads them as echoing the six dispensations of prophecy. Once we understand Christ in those prophecies, he says, “what you read [in the prophecies] not only has a taste, but even inebriates you, transporting the mind from the body, so that forgetting the things that are past, you reach forward to the things that are before you.” His interaction with the two to three measures of water that can fit in the pots leads to a deeply relational presentation of the Trinity. Sometimes we name the Trinity as Father, Son, and Spirit, he says. Thus, three measures. In other instances, like later in John’s gospel, we hear that the Father and the Son are one. When this is the case, the Spirit is assumed  to be present and is, perhaps, the charity or love which makes the two one. And, so, two measures by appearance are three in reality. There is nothing—no detail, no word—without meaning, without life in this story.

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GIVEAWAY: Romans Reading Collection

Tripp Fuller and Homebrewed Christianity are at it again. This time, they’re giving away $1,250 worth of books on Paul’s letter to the Romans. With scholars like Richard Hays, N.T. Wright, Lee Keck, and a litany of other major players, this bundle would enhance the bookshelves of any interested pastor, scholar, or person otherwise interested in Paul’s most formidable of letters. Enter to win by clicking here.

The Most Valuable People in Your Church

Who are the most valuable people in your church?

The senior pastor? The elders? The biggest givers? The talented worship leader? The worship band? The hip youth pastor? The youth? The coordinator for all your volunteers? The volunteers? The visitors?

How about the weak?Living Gently in a Violent World

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities (the worldwide network of communities for people with disabilities), picks up on Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 12 and answers the question this way:

Jesus came to change a world in which those at the top have privilege, power, prestige and money while those at the bottom are seen as useless. Jesus came to create a body. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, compares the human body to the body of Christ, and he says that those parts of the body that are the weakest and the least presentable are indispensable to the body. In other words, people who are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the church. I have never seen this as the first line of a book on [the church]. Who really believes it? But this is the heart of faith, of what it means to be the church. Do we really believe that the weakest, the least presentable, those we hide away—that they are indispensable? If that was our vision of the church, it would change many things (Living Gently in a Violent World, 74).


We are terrified of our weakness. So we hide it, and are thus incapable of moving toward God and others as we actually are: weak and ultimately dependent creatures who flourish in relationship with God and others. We’d rather pretend we’re strong. We’d rather avoid facing our weakness.

But as we live among those whose weaknesses are more apparent, more public than our own—particularly those with disabilities but also the poor—then we are confronted not just with their reality but with our reality. 

We would rather avoid all that. We’d rather present ourselves as strong, capable, in control, thank you very much. Don’t get me—or Vanier—wrong, for we certainly are amazing beings, all of us, even those whose weaknesses are most apparent. As Gilbert Meilaender says, we are beautiful juxtapositions of freedom and finitude. It’s our finitude we fear, so we hide it. But when the finitude (weakness) of another confronts us, we are reminded of our own. We are reminded who we really are.

That’s why those whose weaknesses are most apparent are in fact the most valuable in the church. Those who are least presentable. Those we hide away. From Vanier’s standpoint, their weakness helps us face our own weakness and to move toward God and others as we really are.

It makes you think about your church, doesn’t it? Who are the ones hidden away? Who are the least presentable? Who are those whose weakness makes the rest of us uncomfortable? Who are those who confront us with ourselves?


Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram

I turn 44 this year, and, despite my best efforts, in many ways I’m still a mystery to myself.  A younger Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagramversion of me imagined that I’d hit some milestone of adulthood and be settled about all that. False.

The longer I live, the farther into my marriage I reach, the deeper into myself I’m taken by my role as father, the more intently I pursue a truer relationship with God—through all of this I keep discovering that I don’t know myself as well as I’d like. Frustrating.

Cue the Enneagram. Over the last several years it’s been immensely helpful to me as a tool for naming the persistent motivations and default reactions that I experience but struggle to quantify, much less do anything redemptive about. (If you feel lost in the Enneagram conversation, read Allie Brown’s  brilliantly clear introduction here). For instance: why do I wake at 4am worrying about a book manuscript that isn’t due for years – why the tight stomach now of all times? Why do I buy 10 books about any new thing I’d like to engage – why is intellectual understanding my default for the unknown? Why do I always migrate to the perimeter of social gatherings – not at all unhappy, but content and comfortable along the edge? And why do I retreat to my “mind castle” when things go wonky in relationships? On and on I could go. My mysterious self.

Before my introduction to the Enneagram, I never had a useful personality tool for processing these questions, much less move toward wholeness in Christ. I found other personality tools entirely unsatisfying. They closed me down rather than opened me up; making me feel like a smaller, shrunk, oversimplified version of me. The Enneagram, however, helped me see how my deep motivations and default reactions come together within a particular kind of complex person. Me.

But where do I go from here? Even after reading several books about it (yes, my approach) and using it in relationships with close friends, my nagging question concerned life with Christ. How do I apply Enneagram wisdom for life with God? How could knowing my number (5 with a 4 wing) help me partner with the Holy Spirit as I seek to live into my true, Christ-like self? More specifically still, what spiritual practices are best suited for my unique wiring as a 5? How can I live toward integration as a whole, complex, often mysterious self with the help of Enneagram wisdom? Where do I go from here?

So I was thrilled to discover IVP’s most recent book on the Enneagram, Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram: A Handbook for Harmony and Transformation, coauthored by Adele and Dough Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige.

The book is structured around an approach to the Enneagram called the “Harmony Enneagram.” In this model, the authors link Enneagram numbers together in a novel, triangular way  to show how a person draws upon their gut, head, and heart intelligences. Continue reading