So What? Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World [Review]

As October sneaks in the back door, I’m finding myself already in the third month of pastoral ministry. I’m preparing my eighth consecutive sermon; I’ve done several visits to homes and hospitals. The sum of people I’ve prayed with, laughed with, hugged or shaken hands with is well into the hundreds. What’s more, being in a small town means Jessie and I have even had dinner with the mayor!

One thing I’ve learned, quickly and sharply, is that things that impressed me in seminary don’t have the same dramatic effect on my congregants. People aren’t impressed when I offer some variation of a Stanley Hauerwas quip, such as: “the first work of the church is not to make the world more just but to make the world more the world.” It’s not gone over any more impressively when I attempt to do some Childs-ean canonical hermeneutical maneuver. No one has complimented my sermon’s works cited page.

But, my oh my, do they get riled up by a good answer to the question “So what?” It’s not at all the case that my beloved congregation doesn’t care about reading Scripture faithfully or theological interpreting culture. If I’ve made sense of the comments I’ve received, the reason they love a good answer to “so what?” is because, oftentimes, the line from sermon to discipleship is not always clear. Preaching on God’s “absolute difference” (to borrow a phrase from Rev. Warren Smith) does not directly translate into any meaningful action, whether an action of heart or soul or mind or body. They want to draw nearer to Jesus somehow and delight when the way is made known to them. Continue reading

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Incarnational Ministry: A Review

In the seasonally-awkward month of September, it is difficult to know what to wear on any given morning. Fellow midwesterners know the trouble. Will what you’ve put on keep you sufficiently warm for the morning commute? Will it become excessive insulation by midafternoon? The question lingers: has the time come to swap out summer for fall? Seasonal transitions can be full of uncertainty.

It so happens that Samuel Wells’ new book Incarnational Ministry (kindly sent for review by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) arrived in my hands during a season-of-life transition. With a month of pastoral care to challenge everything I thought I knew, this lyrically-written book provided a theological reflection on ministry that, like choosing just the right sweater on a fall day, helped me to feel a little more comfortable in the life of ministry.  Continue reading

King James is Alive and Well

This morning Christian Century published my review of The Bible in American Life (ed. Goff, Farnsley, and Thuesen), an impressive historical, sociological, and analytical review of the Bible in America. Here’s the introduction to the review:

King James is alive and well. The King James Version of the Bible, that is. In fact, it’s the most widely read translation in America. Although Zon­der­van’s NIV far surpassed the KJV in sales some time ago, 55 percent of people who’ve read the Bible outside of a worship service in the past year still prefer to read from the KJV, according to the studies analyzed in the introduction to a new book coedited by Philip Goff, Arthur E. Farnsley II, and Peter J. Thuesen.

In this impressive collection, 30 scholars contribute to an immense sociological review of who reads the Bible, how they read it, and how their reading has shaped American culture. The book begins with a summary of two national surveys (the 2012 General Social Survey and the National Congregation Study III), a thread that is referred to throughout the subsequent essays. The second section, “Past,” consists of 15 essays that explore the Bible’s use throughout American history, from the first Bible published in America (“the Indian Bible of 1663”) to the Bible’s influence on soul and pop music to the “commercial concerns” of the Bible industry. The reflections in these essays on how Americans have used the Bible serve as a stepping- stone to understanding why Americans use the Bible the way they do today…


Read more at the Christian Century website or, if you’re a subscriber, in the September 13 print edition!

The Lord’s Prayer: A Review

When I think of the phrase “pastor theologian,” I think of Warren Smith. You could chalk it up to his habit of wearing a clerical collar while teaching in the classroom. But it is more than just his collar. He is a pastor theologian because he delivers lectures and writes books like sermons. And this is true of the book reviewed here.

In The Lord’s Prayer (Wipf & Stock, 2015: kindly provided by Wipf & Stock for review), Smith reflects upon the unique prayer Jesus taught his disciples. Smith begins with two brief chapters that situate the prayer in its narrative context. These introductory chapters are followed by ten magnificent chapters that address either the particular phrases of the prayer or elements directly related to the prayer. He concludes with an epilogue in which he calls the reader to a life of doxology. “However ecstatic our love for God may be in times of worship,” Smith writes, “the doxology at the end of the Lord’s Prayer is never so otherworldly as to be separate from our life in the here and now” (p. 130).

The sentence I’ve just quoted is indicative of the book as a whole, throughout which Smith masterfully weaves interpretation and exhortation into delightful prose. There is no clear separation between Smith’s explanation of a word or phrase apart from how it meets the church community. Interpretation and exhortation hang together, as they should. My assumption is that Smith learned this from his long and abiding friendship with the church mothers and fathers. Though quoted conservatively, the medieval theologians’ influence on Smith is pervasive. Continue reading

Weekender: July 29, 2017

This is a vacation edition of Weekender. I’ve got a lot going on this week — some of it is a whole lot of nothing! — so this one is short and sweet. Take a load off and read someone from a different era over on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. I recommend Gregory Nazianzen, but you can take your pick.

Do you have something to share? Why not tell us about it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Enter to Win: Another Giveaway!

I’m not complaining about these giveaways, but when did this become a thing!?

If you weren’t lucky enough to win Theology Curator’s mega-giveaway of Greg Boyd and N.T. Wright’s books, then you get a second chance. Homebrewed Christianity is having (another) giveaway. Click here and enter to win a copy of Greg Boyd’s two-volume Crucifixion of the Warrior God and ten copies of the condensed version, which is supposed to be a nice small group book.

Best of luck!
Zen

 

Weekender: July 22, 2017

Weekender: 07/22/2017

Welcome to the weekend! Each week, we like to offer a few quick highlights from our week that we think will give you something worthwhile to think about over the weekend. Enjoy this week’s Weekender and add to it in the comments below!

Quote Worth Repeating: “God is not some great basket we can fill with any warm, fuzzy thought we choose; some amorphous something that is the mystery left over after we have explained everything else in life by other means. God has a face, a name, a way of action: the Trinity.” By Will Willimon and Stan Hauerwas in Lord, Teach Us: The Lord’s Prayer & the Christian Life.

Blog Post to Read: From our friends at Faith and Theology, here is a beautifully written (and short) reflection on the theological significance of bare feet. “In scripture,” Steve Wright suggests, “the highest theological idea is revealed in the lowest human extremity.”


New Books to Read:
There’s some fantastic books being released in the next few months. Here is my (Zen) list of upcoming reads. Tell us about your reading list in the comments!

  1. Practices of Love by Kyle David Bennet (Baker)
  2. Incarnational Ministry by Sam Wells (Eerdmans)
  3. Jesus and the Last Supper by Brant Pitre (Eerdmans)
  4. A Palestinian Theology of Liberation by Naim Stifan Ateek (Orbis)

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!