people ask me what I am reading.
Among the works currently in print, I would highly recommend
the following for anyone who is interested in successful Christian
-- John Dalles, Pastor, Wekiva Presbyterian
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This is a
BIG book, both in size and in information provided and a bargain
at the price. It offers the reader a sweeping view of how the
various eyewitnesses to Jesus of Nazareth took what they learned
from Him, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, grew the Christian
Church. Michael White, who holds the Ronald Nelson Smith Chair
in Classics and Christian Origins at the University of Texas at
Austin, has written what ought to be a standard reference on every
Christian's bookshelf. . Moreover, lots of people are reading
it; it is one of the best-received new Christian books for 2004.
presents the Biblical world at the time of Christ's birth, with
all of the social and religious factions that contributed to the
climate in which He healed, taught, called disciples and began
the movement that is Christian faith. For those who want a less
than one page, but scholarly, account of groups such as the Pharisees,
Saducees, Essenes and the Zealot party, White's book offers them
all, in one easy to use reference.
like the tables and outlines, both of familiar works such as Luke
and Acts but also of some of the books that did not make it into
the Bible, such as the so-called Gospels of Thomas and Peter.
In his review of such non-canonical works, White helps us better
understand some of the conflicts that shaped the Early Church.
Decisions made then have been normative for how the majority of
Christians understand our belief, down until today. If you want
to know why the Christian Church has emphasized what we have about
Jesus, for example, then the chapter called "Christology
and Conflict" is essential reading.
talks about the teachings of such Early Church leaders as Marcion.
No, we don't hear much about Marcion in the 21st century congregation,
but the four issues he brought to the discussion are still with
us: Emphasis on Paul's letters as the only true or normative Christian
theology; rejection of the Old Testament; insisting only on Luke's
Gospel to know the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth; emphasis on
the proper or "original manuscript" of scripture. Such
tendencies to narrow-down and obscure the impact of the Gospel,
although rejected by the Early Church, continues to influence
some misguided Christian thought today.
White gives a good overview of how we went from house-churches
to buildings that were specifically set aside for use as churches.
(I really enjoyed that part of the book, complete with photos
and floor plans of recent archeological discoveries).
is filled with outstanding footnotes and references for further
reading. It could be the start of much exploration into not only
what made the Early Church "tick" but also what makes
the present-day church what it is.
and a growing number of church scholars have noted that we live
in a time of transition--from the modern era to the postmodern.
Such information is no longer breaking news; it has been with
us for more than a generation. However, the Church is still in
the process of recognizing and responding (or reacting!) to the
paradigm shift. One instinct might be to try to react to the situation
by digging in one's heels and, like a dog with a bone, cling to
what worked in the dim recesses of the past. In some communities,
this is effective. Even so, in many other places, churches are
discovering that programs and approaches have a life of their
own (one might even call it a shelf life), and that, sometimes,
a fresh approach is not only warranted, but necessary, lest the
church become stale.
Hudson presents her book When Better Isn't Enough from this standpoint,
saying, "We must identify new criteria for success, and perhaps
even for faithfulness, and hold ourselves accountable to them."
Hudson's view is that the Church has a marvelous opportunity for
prayerful and careful response to current realities. She identifies
12 characteristics to help us measure effective ministry today.
Moreover, Hudson presents evaluation tools based upon those 12
characteristics. Real, practical ways that any congregation or
group of leaders therein might help the church they love focus
who are skittish about change, Hudson makes the point clear that
not changing is not an option. She also makes it clear that insisting
on all of the modes and methods of the past, without revisiting
their effectiveness, will get a church into dire straits. Instead,
why not aim for a church in which some of the past will be kept
and honored, some of the past will be reshaped and refreshed and
some will in fact be seen as unproductive and superfluous? A congregation
that truly wishes to see its members grow and reach others for
Christ can use Hudson's methods to select the right mix for their
unique opportunity for ministry and mission.
the church to ask questions, and indeed she has a wonderful list
of them at the end of the book. Questions a congregation's leaders
and members could ask themselves about how they are listening
to God's direction. For these questions, alone, the book is well
worth reading. But only if we give them a try, to bring about
God's vision for the church.
Jill M. Hudson
is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and most recently
served as Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Whitewater
Valley in Indiana. Jill served for thirteen years as vocational
staff for the Synod of Lincoln Trails. A lecturer, trainer, and
consultant with special expertise in church systems, Jill is also
the author or co-author of: Beyond the Boundary: Meeting the Challenge
of the First Years of Ministry; Congregational Trauma: Caring,
Coping, and Learning; and Evaluating Ministry: Principles and
Processes for Clergy and Congregations.
One of the
great traditions of the Christian Church is to take time, during
Holy Week, to reflect upon the words that Jesus spoke from the
Cross. Sometimes, this happens in a three hour service on Good
Friday, in which the combination of the crucifixion accounts in
the four Gospels are read and interpreted in turn. Out of this
tradition, Fleming Rutledge has created a series of mediations
that are helpful for personal reading, reflection and devotional
use at any time of the year.
the Rev. Dr. Fleming Rutledge, is a widely acclaimed preacher,
who for many years served as the preaching pastor of Grace Episcopal
Church in New York City. She now devotes her vocational life to
a nationwide ministry of preaching, writing and teaching.
A friend in
ministry recommended her writings to me, and having begun reading
them, I must say that I am hooked and think you will be as well.
In this slim volume, she expounds upon each of the seven words,
to help the reader reflect upon what Jesus said as He died upon
the cross, from "Father, forgive them" to "Father,
into Thy hands I commend my spirit". Even the most familiar
of these passages receives fresh treatment under Rutledge's scrutiny.
Perhaps this is due to the fact that Rutledge seeks to acquaint
the reader with the deep pain and humiliation of crucifixion,
making the contrast of Jesus' words of hope, inspiration and promise
from the cross all the more gripping.
As those who
have read Dr. Rutledge's other collections of sermons know, she
is a gifted wordsmith, but her engaging words are surpassed by
her rock-solid theology. Dr. Rutledge might be called a traditionalist;
her Christology is high and Presbyterians will find much in it
to help elevate their own views of who Jesus is and what His saving
work means for us. Rutledge does not hesitate to show us the gritty
reality of the cross, nor does she eschew disclosing the coarse
realities of our own time. For instance, "Sin is not a misdeed
here and a misdeed there, but an autonomous, enslaving Power.
The Apostle Paul is very clear about this: `All human beings,'
he writes, `both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.'
(Rom. 3:9). In our own time, however, we have done our best to
get rid of this idea." (page 42). Contrasted with these are
the forceful messages and powerful accomplishments of Christ that
make salvation possible for us: "On the Cross, Jesus voluntarily
and willingly bowed His head to the power of sin..." (page
is small but mighty. Each of the meditations conclude with a hymn,
some familiar and some new, to assist the reader's reflection
upon each of the scripture passages. Not only a prized work in
itself, this volume could serve as an introduction to all of Rutledge's
books, perhaps the best known of which is The Bible and The New
Mom gave me this book for Easter, I tore through it in two days.
Not because it is an “easy read” but rather because it gave me
a chance to visit with a dear friend who has earned his eternal
rest. Fred Rogers was and is one of the most influential persons
of faith of our times; and, as we can all be proud to say, a fellow
Presbyterian. A Pittsburgh Theological Seminary graduate, Fred
Rogers found his calling to ministry in a different sort of pulpit,
one that took him from fledgling public television’s WQED Pittsburgh
into the homes and hearts of children and all who have a childlike
is a pastor’s wife and reporter and it was as a reporter that
she first interviewed television’s Mister Rogers in the early
1990s. The interview turned out to be the beginning of a friendship
between two prayer partners and Christians. Amy and Fred wrote
and spoke often, especially when they were facing life transitions.
Sometimes they sensed from afar that the other was in special
need of prayer, and then found out afterward that had indeed been
the case. So after Fred Rogers died, Joanne Rogers permitted Amy
the great honor of exploring some aspects of Fred’s Presbyterian
faith as it was expressed on the air and in his daily living.
uses the image of “toast strips” (a favorite after school childhood
treat of Fred’s) as the headings for many chapters that deal with
his concepts of neighborhood, the importance of time, the work
of the Holy Spirit, the power of forgiveness and what to do in
difficult times. Again and again, I found myself reminded of how
Mister Rogers’ ministry touched my life. As a small child, my
first “crush” was for Josie Carey, the hostess of the show on
which Mister Rogers’ famous puppets first debuted. It was broadcast
in the old manse of the Bellefield Presbyterian Church, which
had become the headquarters of WQED. After one of them, I named
my look-alike Steif tiger puppet “Daniel” Later, one afternoon
when I came home from school, I found my youngest brother smack
dab in front of the TV watching (to my amazement) the same puppets,
but now on his own show. Little did I know that my call to ministry
would eventually take me to Pittsburgh and a friendship with Fred
Rogers that led me to cherish him as an exemplar of what it is
to live a Christian life.
asked me “What was Fred Rogers like in real life?” and the answer
is, “Exactly the person you see on his show; even more so.” Simple
but always profound, caring to the utmost degree, Fred always
hand-wrote his letters to me, always talked about things that
mattered when we were together, always treated the people in his
life with thoughtfulness. Read more about this remarkable Presbyterian
and his life-ministry suffused with grace, by reading Amy Hollingsworth’s
that there is no other volume that has been read by more Christians,
today, than this book-including the Bible. Two of our congregation's
adult education classes have made it part of their reading and
discussion this past year. You may very well have it on your nightstand.
The author, Rick Warren, has struck a chord in the lives of men
and women everywhere, asking as the subtitle of the book says,
"What in the world am I here for?" Most every person
reflects upon that question. As the book unfolds, Warren points
the reader toward answers.
The most familiar
sentence in the book is the first sentence, "It's not about
you." I've seen it on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Too many
people don't remember the second sentence, "The purpose of
your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your
peace of mind, or even happiness." The majority of persons
who pick up this book are in search of all three of these. And
the book is helpful in finding them.
But how right
Warren-a 51-year-old ordained minister and founding pastor of
Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California-is to point the reader
toward a larger understanding. Which is made clear in the chapter
title on that same page, "It All Starts with God."
perfect theological sense...and practical sense. When we begin
to understand and appreciate the centrality of God in all of creation
and in our lives, then the rest of our realities fall into their
makes it clear that the book is intended to be a 40-day spiritual
journey. In the front matter there is a covenant that the reader
signs to apply him or herself to that 40-day journey. I hope everyone
who reads the book will do just that. Especially, paying attention
to Day (Chapter) 23: "How We Grow."
Day 23 is
concentrated upon Jesus molding and guiding the work of the Holy
Spirit upon the believer as one matures in Christian faith and
practice. As Warren says, "God wants you to grow up."
It is also one of my favorite themes. It cannot be said too often;
for just when we feel we have "graduated" from a particular
time of learning or "achieved" a goal, we fall into
the sloppy thinking that we are "there"-that we have
completed every bit of growth and understanding.
Not so. Warren
says, "You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort
to grow, and persist in growing." I firmly believe that anyone
who takes Day 23 seriously, open to what God can do, will find
their lives blessed beyond measure. Not to mention the lives of
those around them.
So, do I recommend
this book? Yes indeed. And if you read it when it was new in 2002
or `03 or `04, why not read it again, in 2005? It is like a spiritual
retreat that you can take whether at home or away. A vacation
better than the mountains or the seaside. If you will, read it.
And may every day be a Day 23 for you.
Here is a
one-volume commentary on the New Testament with up to date information
that is also very much in line with what contemporary Christians
believe. I am tempted to say, "This is the commentary for
you." Because I firmly believe that every household should
have one handy reference work that helps them understand Scripture,
and you would find this book to be exactly that.
Yes, I know
you will tell me that we live in the age of the Internet with
many commentaries available on line. But have you noticed? It
is not always easy to tell whether you are reading a blog by someone
with a theological axe to grind or some dusty old eighteenth century
"divine" who, scholarly as he may have been, is unquestionably
You need fear
none of that with these authors, Eugene Boring is anything but
boring. He is the Briscoe Professor Emeritus at the Bride Divinity
School of Texas Christian University. Fred Craddock is Distinguished
Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus at the Candler
School of Theology at Emory University. Dr. Craddock is undoubtedly
America's dean of contemporary preaching and Biblical interpretation.
Published by the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Westminster-John
Knox Press, it is rooted firmly in the Reformed tradition, and
designed to serve a broad range of Christians well. It was also
one of the top selling religious books of 2004.
each New Testament book is treated in this way, first with background
information about the author, sources, readership, date and place
and structure and outline. There are a few choice suggestions
"for further reading". Then the outline of each book
is fleshed out with up to date information. There are sidebar
articles about such things as "Interpreting the Miracle Stories"
and "Testing Prophesy." As one further inducement, there
is a fine article called "Interpreting Revelation's Violent
Imagery". All well worth your time and attention. Also, the
authors include "Figures" that show summaries of The
Sermon on the Mount, Apostles Listed in Scripture, Comparative
Chronology of the Passion and Form of Greeting in Letters. These
are all tremendously helpful study tools.
The meat of
the book offers insights on the verses of Scripture. The Introduction
does an outstanding job of setting the tone, describing terms
such as "Testament" "New" and the realities
of the formation of the cannon. There is a good summary of that
time period, called "The Church's Book" in which the
authors remind us that the New Testament was written by, selected
by, edited by transmitted by and translated by "the Church."
As the authors state in the Preface, "...This commentary
is an expression of the fundamental conviction that the New Testament
is the people's book The book and the community of faith belong
together, and out of the conversation between the text and the
people come the preaching, teaching, believing and behaving of
The book is
handy in size (about the size of a hardback novel) and convenient
to use. The print, while on the small side, is crystal clear and
easy to read. Long after pseudo pundits of the faith have been
forgotten, this work will still be a sure and steady reference.
I encourage you to buy it.
This is a
good book to spur your Biblical curiosity and to satisfy your
longing for something new, yet trustworthy, in the way of a devotional
resource. The subtitle only hints at the richness of this collection
of prayers, poems, meditations on Biblical passages, sermons and
what might better be called essays on Biblical themes. It provides
the careful reader with concepts that will be helpful as devotions
and for deeper reflective study.
Brueggemann talks about the preacher’s role as scribe-which may
seem a startling notion for those who recall Jesus’ warnings about
the Scribes and Pharisees-however, the role of “truth speaking
to power” is what he has in mind. In other words, offering those
who can make a difference a view of God’s truth, so that it can
become a motivating factor in the church ’s work and witness.
It seems like a good approach for all Christians, by the way.
appreciated the sermon “Missing by Nine Miles” about the visit
of the Magi. Dr. Brueggemann contrasts the halls of power in Jerusalem
with the simple profundity of the stable in Bethlehem. Reminding
me of the old saying “a miss is as good as a mile”, the prophet
Brueggemann provides a Biblical argument for the efficacy of such
overlooked character traits as vulnerability, neighborliness and
generosity, in contrast to what “wise guys from the East” might
have, at first, thought.
The way that
the words are set onto the page, the reader can almost hear Dr.
Bruegemann speaking-and those who have been fortunate enough to
hear him in person will indeed sense the tone of his voice in
the ink on the paper.
is a towering presence of our time, for the Presbyterian Church
at large, having served as a professor in several leading seminaries
and as a preacher and writer whose words are consistently inspirational.
He is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological
Seminary PC(USA) in Decatur, Georgia. If you ever have a chance
to hear him speak, take it. And if not, this book is a good alternative.
was one of the top selling religious books in 2004.
Why is it
called "Answered Prayer"? Let us say that you are dealing
with any of a number of personal challenges, and in the middle
of them, you are hoping to hear some word from the Lord. Perhaps
you are worried about diminished income, or you are wondering
if you are a loveable person. You may have concerns about life
being dull and humorless. You are weary. You are afraid to reach
out to someone in friendship. You are afraid to take the risk
of trusting another. Cameron addresses these and many more concerns,
in her book.
The book is
like a journal of prayer, but most prayer journals record the
voice of the one who prays. Not this book. Instead of prayers
that are addressed to God, these prayers are presented as responses
to the one who prays, in other words, as if one is hearing back,
from God. It sounds like this: "I am the peace that passes
understanding." Or, "Open the door just a foothold.
I can work with you as you are. You are not the first disillusioned
one I have encountered." (Page 149).
is a prayer. Every prayer is deeply steeped in Scripture. You
will find these prayers to be in accord with God's many promises
we find there. These "love letters from the Divine"
allow us to hear what God longs to say to us, when we find ourselves
in deep and troubled waters.
Thomas Long is well known as a major representative of Christian
faith. He has served on the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary
and is currently the Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School
of Theology, Emery University. Ever since the first time I heard
him speak in 1987, his witness has blessed me. So too in this
book, in which Dr. Long addresses the importance of talking about
what we believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Church.
the book with a wry observation made by a New Yorker, "At
fashionable dinner parties in this town you can talk about anything...
But if you mention God more than once, you probably won't be invited
back." (Page 3). I have been to parties like that and perhaps
you have as well.
Where, when people find out that you are a follower of Jesus,
they glaze over, say something like "How nice for you..."
and then drift away.
from the fact that we might want to avoid such fashionable dinner
parties in madcap Manhattan, what Dr. Long is also saying to us:
"Christians of the world, speak up and be heard!" And
then he goes on to say how and why and what we might want to be
talking about, in matters of faith, in everyday conversation.
I like that. Saying what we believe is a gift, even an art-the
well chosen word can attract, peek the interest, engage, encourage
and convince the listener. You have that ability as you go about
your day to day routine. Your faith can lead others to Christ
and help them along life's narrow way. But only if you will speak
book (one of the top ten best selling religious books of 2004)
is not a book about personal witness or evangelism so much as
it is on telling the truth about who God is, for us. He says that
how God has engaged our life is a story that just has to be told:
to our children, in the midst of meetings, when a friend has a
bad medical diagnosis, when people are disagreeing about school
policies, our the fence I the yard and yes, even at a dinner party.
He also address the difference between a time to speak and a time
to keep silence-as we honor both God and the person God has put
us with, in the situation in which God has placed us.
favorite portion of this book is on page 46, when he says this,
"It has been said that if we really knew how to see with
the eyes of our souls, we would see angels going before every
person we meet, saying, `Make way for the image of God! Make way
for the image of God!'" We know from John 3:16 that God loves
us that much... would that we would love one another as God loves
us all. So we could equally look at each person we meet and reminder
ourselves, "Jesus died for him. Jesus died for her."
Dr. Long ends
the book with a story that is the point of the entire book. Contained
in it is the vital question: If someone were to hear you speaking,
could they tell who you are? Could they tell that you are a child
of God and a follower of Jesus?
- who is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Louisville
Seminary - gives us a guidebook to the John Calvin the man and
his message. Elwood traces Calvin's youth and education in the
simplest of terms, and along the way, gives a broad overview of
the other Protestant movement in Calvin's day.
the book shows the way that God led Calvin to Geneva, to a friendship
with Guillaime Farel and the effect of that association upon the
faith life of the city. Giving plenty of information in a clear
narrative, Elwood help the reader see the inner workings of the
renewal of the Church as guided by Calvin.
We are shown
the leadership structure of the church and its' basis in Scripture.
Then, Elwood provides us with a summary of the main topics in
Calvin's great work "Institutes of the Christian Religion".
I found the book particularly helpful, here, as Elwood showed
that Calvin's approach toward theology stemmed from the view of
Anselm: Theology is faith seeking understanding. So, Calvin's
approach is to begin with belief; since it is the groundwork of
a trusting relationship with God. Then, building upon that belief,
we seek to know more and more about God and His will for humankind,
including our own lives. If this sounds self-evident, it is because
Calvin's view has become the prevalent view in the Presbyterian
One of the
best features of the book is the chapter called "Calvin's
Children". It looks at those movements and ideas between
the time of Calvin and our own time, which may or may not claim
Calvin as their forebear. The book is generously illustrated with
drawings that catch the spirit of the text, conveying information
in a way that is lively and often humorous. It is part of "The
Armchair Series" published by Westminster - John Knox Press
that has grown to include titles about Augustine, Wesley, Luther,
Aquinas and The Reformation.
John A. Dalles
This is an
anthology of sermons designed to assist thoughtful Christians
as they consider how God is present in their lives. The title
fits the collection well, for each message sheds uncommon light
upon our common lives.
Avram is a preacher who has served as a college chaplain and as
the pastor of a large suburban Chicago congregation. He is the
pastor-elect of the 3500-member Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church,
on Philadelphia’s Main Line, one of the denominations’ twenty
largest. Avram will be leaving the academic world (he is currently
Clement-Muehl Assistant Professor of Communications at Yale Divinity
School) but taking with him to the parish an approach to the faith
that is deep-rooted in Scripture and full-leafed in articulation.
"don’t worry - be happy" style of preachers, Avram does
not subscribe to quick, easy and pat answers to life’s imponderables.
Indeed, he expresses the rich ambiguities of Christian faithfulness
in ways that are so articulate one might be tempted to call them
poetic. They certainly are gracefully sensitive and allow the
listener to think along with Avram as he thinks out loud. For
example, in speaking of the providence of God he writes, "So
let there never be preached a theology so glib as to imply that
as long as Air Jesus has got the ball, it’s okay if we’re down
in the fourth period. For the waters of God’s providential care
are much deeper, choppier, and more life-giving. For rather than
simply winning at the buzzer, God’s sovereignty sometimes changes
the game." (Page 29). When one is struggling with a difficult
personal situation, this kind of a message offers a large measure
of integrity as well as hope.
some of the hard realities of life, with engaging titles, such
as "9/12 Living in a 9/11 World". He responds to them
with wisdom, notably this: "We are called to a kind of living
that is attentive to the world around us in ways we just can’t
sustain without God." (Page 42). He honors his listeners'
intelligence and engages his listeners’ feelings.
his sermons, Avram recounts personal stories that are accessible
to the reader, from the circus, to the annual nativity pageant,
to the world of advertising. One can picture the congregations
who first heard these sermons being uplifted and supported by
their lyrical messages, whether on the campuses of Bates College
and Yale Divinity School, or in the sanctuary at First Presbyterian
Church, Wilmette. Indeed, the messages are finely tuned to reach
a wide-ranging, attentive audience.
Here is a
people’s preacher with a pastor’s heart. Throughout this volume,
one gets a strong sense of what a joy it would be to hear Dr.
Avram’s sermons week by week, and an equally strong sense that
the congregation at Bryn Mawr will be in very good hands indeed.
It used to
be, not so very long ago, that ordinary people read sermons the
way they now read novels-in their spare time, for both edification
and enjoyment. If this idea seems strange to you, then chances
are you have not read anything written by Barbara Brown Taylor.
Taylor is an Episcopal Priest and the rector of Grace-Calvary
Church in Clarksville, Georgia. Baylor University has also named
her one of the ten top preachers in the English language. That
having been said, you will also want to know that she is in such
demand as a speaker that she is taking the year 2002 off to decide
whether she wants to continue to travel. (How do I know this?
Because we invited her to be our 2002 speaker at Central Florida
Presbytery’ s Fall meeting; the post filled by Sam Calian last
year and Marva Dawn the year before).
It might be
enough for us to say that Dr. Taylor is a preacher of uncommon
skill. That she is, but we must not stop there. Her fresh images
and stimulating ideas are so engaging that this book really can
work as a personal devotional tool. It would serve equally well
as a neighborhood or small group study, or something to read with
one dear friend or family member and then talk about in detail
over a pot of tea or by a crackling fire. For, just as you “think
between the lines” during the course of a sermon, so too, in Taylor’s
book, you have the perfect chance to allow your own Christian
experience to engage with the truths Taylor presents.
If the names
of each chapter, such as, “The Trickle Up Effect,” “How Not to
Hinder God” and “Why the Boss Said No” begin to peak your interest-well,
they should! Taylor has a style that is accessible without being
pedestrian; she speaks to the modern mind and heart. Consider
this passage, from the book’s title sermon: “Jesus is God’s manna
in the wilderness, the one who reminds us day by day that we live
because God provides not what we want, necessarily, but exactly
what we need: some bread, some love, some breath, some wine, a
relationship with this ordinary looking man, who comes from heaven
to bring life to the world.” (Page 11).
If you read
this book, and I hope you will, I would suggest reading one chapter
a week-reading that chapter several times in the week, and living
with the insights presented there-as a spiritual discipline. Taylor’s
bread of angels will prove to be an excellent guide in your devotional
Here is a
book to sink your theological teeth into. Robin Griffith-Jones
takes the reader on a journey of discovery as he compares and
contrasts the four chief sources of our understanding of Jesus
Christ. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all answer Jesus’ question,
“Who do you say I am?” And they present us with Jesus in such
a way that it demands a response from us. Even so, each of the
Gospel writers answers with a distinct voice. We are so used to
hearing bits and pieces of all the Gospels; we often merge their
messages. Griffith-Jones invites us, instead, to see Jesus in
the distinct ways he is presented in each.
of the book tells us we will look at Jesus as: the Rebel, the
Rabbi, the Chronicler, and the Mystic. If these are attributes
of Jesus you have not yet considered, you will want to read more
about each. The author is a former chaplain and professor of New
Testament at Lincoln College, Oxford, now serves as Master of
the Temple Church in London, one of the most influential positions
in the Church of England. He gives us the state of the world and
the state of the fledgling Christian community, so we may better
understand the concerns each Gospel writer addresses in their
individual portraits of Christ.
Just as artists
have cast light on particular aspects of Jesus ministry and message,
so too, says Griffith-Jones, those inspired witnesses. The Rebel
who turned the world upside down, the Rabbi who taught in the
tradition of Judaism yet with an authority unlike any other, the
Chronicler who told the wonders of God’s kingdom, and the Mystic
who helped us the eternal realities behind everyday living. If
you want to delve into these aspects of our Lord, you will find
Griffith-Jones the perfect guide. The book is not quick read;
and you will want to keep your New Testament open as you study
the contributions of the Gospel writers.
Men are notorious
for not asking directions in life; yet, beyond that truism may
lie a truth: People expect men to know where they are going. It
is just that simple. Life, on the other hand, is complex in the
extreme. So it is not a surprise that men often find themselves,
psychologically and spiritual in the back of beyond without a
clue how the got there or how to get out of there. At such times
(and daily living presents too many of them!) how good it would
be to have a helpful guide.
premise in mind, and with the wealth of Christian experience at
his fingertips, Kent Groff has created for men (and for women
who want to understand them) this book, as a spiritual guide.
Topics addressed in the book are topics that keep men awake at
night. If you have ever felt stuck, if you have wondered if you
are making a real difference in life, if you feel as if you have
too many expectations put upon you, if you are grieving an absent
father-this book has many ideas that can provide direction, hope
and encouragement. And if your life is just great, there are still
many resources here for rejuvenating your inner life of prayer
and thought. For example, this cross-shaped prayer for daily living
(from page 33):
Live as if you had a thousand years to live
Live as if you were to die tomorrow
Kent Ira Groff
is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the founder of Oasis
Ministries for Spiritual Development. He has served as pastor,
chaplain and retreat leader, as well as adjunct professor at Lancaster
Theological Seminary. His book is already in use among the men
of our congregation who meet for prayer time each Wednesday morning
at the church. They will tell you what a positive difference it
is making in their lives. They would also invite you to consider
joining them each week, or joining the unfolding of your own spiritual
journey, by reading this book.
some books that are so good, you almost want to keep their existence
a secret-somewhat like finding a hidden treasure in a field, a
needle in a haystack or a pearl of great price at a rummage sale.
Julia Cameron’s Transitions strikes me as one of those books.
Cameron is better known for her popular and sensitive book called
The Artist’s Way, which is a combination of creative and devotional
insights and incentives for all who have the urge to paint, sculpt,
build, compose and design from a faith-center. That book has been
a much-thumbed companion for many artist friends of mine.
is perhaps a more intimate version of that better known work.
In it, Cameron offers prayers and what she calls “declarations”
for a changing world. These are presented in a form much like
a daily devotional. There is a quotation from a source familiar
or obscure, followed by reflections by Cameron herself. Throughout
the book, Cameron seeks to remind both herself and the reader
that accepting change is the key to thriving through it. She is
a tender and thoughtful traveler through the various life events
that some would call surprise, others would term crisis, yet all
will experience at one time or another. For those who are convinced
that change is always “bad”, there are some outstanding sections
on these aspects of change: abundance, clarity, compassion, courage,
curiosity, expansion, happiness, love, protection, service, satisfaction
and strength. What-you say that you had never considered these
things as “change”? All the more reason to explore what Cameron
has to say about them.
are sections having to do with relationships-I particularly like
what Cameron has to say about genuine friendship. She begins by
quoting our first President George Washington on that subject:
“True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and
withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the
appellation.” Cameron goes on to encourage us to see those relationships
we call friendships in the atmosphere of values that help us determine
their verity: “Friendships require honesty and honesty requires
courage. In all friendships there are moments when we must choose
to be courageous. …Honesty is healing and nutritious to my heart
and its friendships.” (pages 63-64). Cameron invites you to respond
to your yearning for those genuine friendships, which surpass
the superficial, the way a solid cherry table surpasses particleboard.
You sense the kinds of support Cameron offers the adventurous
traveler through life.
may be surprised that Cameron quotes both well-known Christians
and those of other faiths; moreover, that she brings gleams of
light from cultures other than our own. The timid reader may keep
such insights at arm's length. But to do so would miss the wonder
and beauty to be had in these pages, as well as our Lord’s pithy
observation, “The Spirit blows where it will.”
Our understanding of Scripture is built upon the inspired texts
themselves. They are the bedrock of our faith. Over the past 2000
years, a significant body of scholarship, commentary and proclamation
has been constructed above holy writ, forming what we generally
think of when we consider a story or saying from God’s written
word. We may not know whether it was Augustine, Calvin or Barclay
who elucidated a passage in such a way as to help us “own” it;
nonetheless, we all depend on the faithful, dedicated witnesses
who have preceded us to understand what we read between Genesis
1 and Revelation 22. Great literature has depended upon these
insights; as has many of the social advances of the Christian
is most likely that when, in our mind’s ear, we “hear” Scripture,
we do so in the language of the English renaissance-the beautiful
cadences of the Authorized (or King James) Version. However, remarkable
discoveries have occurred since that beloved translation of the
1600s; discoveries that shed new light upon our edifice of faith.
From time to time, older, more reliable copies of this or that
book or collection of books from the Bible have been found-in
out of the way monasteries and ancient libraries. Yet none of
these have been as amazing as that day in 1947 when a Bedouin
shepherd boy uncovered an entire cache of ancient scrolls that
had remained in a desert cave near the Dead Sea for nearly 2000
years. What his toss of a rock revealed was one of the greatest
treasures of all time. In this book, Kenneth Hanson recounts the
discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, relates the adventure of tracking
many down (and losing some forevermore!), and offers the reader
a first-hand account of the people who wrote and hid them.
Why do we care about a bunch of dusty old scrolls, and their fragments
that are too fragile to touch? Because they add their even-older
corroboration of many of the Bible passages we have come to know
and love. They show how the community of faith treasured and used
the texts we revere and read. And they give us a source of greater
understanding of the meaning of difficult-to-translate passages
that have puzzled Christians for centuries. It is a fascinating,
lively account of the importance of God’s written word and the
people and faith it shapes. And it points us toward the newer
revisions of the King James Version (the best of which is the
New Revised Standard Version)-translations that take into account
the discoveries revealed in 1947.
If you have made up your mind that the scholar-archeology of the
Indiana Jones type is a myth, then you might want to read this
book-getting to know its author will be an eye-opening adventure.
If you want to know more about the religious and political forces
that shaped the society into which Our Lord came, they you will
surely want to read this book.
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