"Chaos and Grace" by Mark Galli

Mark Galli. Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit. Baker, 2011. 203 pgs.

In Chaos and Grace, Galli asserts that the church has forgotten the character of the God we serve. We have forgotten that He is beyond our control, unpredictable, untamable, and mysterious. In His place many churches have centered their life on idols of control, peace, and order. In the midst of this situation, Galli seeks to wake us up. He spends the first half of this book examining biblical passages in which we see how God works, how chaos and grace are defining factors of walking with God; the chaos of life beyond our control, and the grace that shines through in the midst of it. The second half of the book is an analysis of current church culture, decrying our loss of touch with God Almighty and calling us back. 

Galli acknowledges that the first half of his book, examining scripture with the themes of Chaos and Grace in mind, will seem odd to many as these are not often taken to be primary themes of scripture. And he was absolutely right; those chapters did feel odd; but they were also interesting. I did not agree with everything Galli had to say about them, nor all of the insights he drew from them, but he succeeding in making me consider and read those texts anew, which is already a good thing. In the second half of Chaos and Grace, Galli is particularly poignant as church culture critic. My own critique here is that he needed to speak more about where the church ought to be and less about where it is. Still, just as in the first half, you cannot read this second half without pausing at points and considering how you do church. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. This was a decent book, with good thoughts, and we certainly need to be reminded of the what our God is like.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".


"Sacrilege" by Hugh Halter

Sacrilege is a book out to answer one question: What does it mean to be like Jesus? The premise of the book is that Jesus was sacrilegious (that is, he de-sacralized, treated as not holy, things which had been treated as holy) and as his followers we ought to be as well. To explain what he means by this, Halter follows in the steps of the likes of Bonhoeffer and Dallas Willard in centering his answer to the books question on the beatitudes, with lots of practical advice and personal stories along the way. 

In a church which clearly needs to rethink what it means to be like Jesus, this book comes as a big step in the right direction. No book could say all that needs to be said on this topic, but what Halter does have to say is worth listening to and think about. Personally, there was not much new here; people such as Bonhoeffer and Dallas Willard have said it before, and I have read them. However, for many individuals in our digital age, who have never read a book 20 years old let alone 50, those books will be nigh inaccessible. Here, then, is a viable alternative. 

Conclusion: 4.5 out of 5 Stars. Recommended. Sacrilege is filled with good words, such as teachings about hospitality, humility, and Sabbath; most Christians will benefit from reading this book. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".


Dictionary of Christian Spirituality

Glen G. Scorgie, General Editor. Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Zondervan, 2011. 864 pgs. 

Christian Spirituality has been a topic exploding with publications for a few decades now. My own introduction to the topic came through Foster's A Celebration of Discipline. Now, newly published from Zondervan, we have a dictionary devoted to this topic. This dictionary is divided into two sections. To begin, there are 34 articles on various topics within Christian Spirituality. These cover a range of topics, including definitions, methodology, history, specific practices, and explorations of the interaction of Christian Spirituality with topics such as mission and grace. The second section of this book is what you would expect: a dictionary. It contains over 700 entries defining, rather extensively if taken in dictionary terms, words within the topic of Christian Spirituality. 

Generally speaking, the articles in this book are excellent. Meanwhile, the definitions offer the starting point you would expect from a dictionary as well as some well chosen further resources for each one. Not every entry or article is superb, but this is expected in a text such as this. I can tell you two things for sure: Firstly, I will be using this as a reference resource within pastoral ministry. Secondly, I wish it had an index. 

Conclusion: 4.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. This is certainly not a book for everyone. It is for those who enjoy having good reference books on hand and for those who will be teaching, preaching, or leading others in a place and/or fashion which intersects with the topic of Christian Spirituality. 

Thanks to http://www.koinoniablog.net/ for allowing me to take part in their blogtour. 


"Close Enough To Hear God Breathe" Greg Paul

Greg Paul.  Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy. Thomas Nelson, 2011. 224 pgs. 

Greg Paul believes that the 'heart of the matter', the important center as we consider our relationship to God, is that we are His beloved children and we need to be in a close, loving, relationship with Him. Paul also believes that the best way to do this is to listen to the story of God. In his own words: "Listening to the Story ought to be like lying on my Father's chest, a vulnerable, beloved infant, rich with potential, the focus of his dreams for a great and noble future." Close Enough to Hear God Breathe is Paul's attempt to draw the reader closer to God by retelling that great story in four acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. 

I find both the premise and method of this book to be extremely laudable. I agree with Paul on the 'heart of the matter.' I also agree that one of the best ways to grow closer and more in love with God is to hear that great story again and again, with fresh ears and renewed hearts, until our passion bursts from within us out to the world. I further greatly appreciate the fact that Paul does not begin his story, as so many do, with sin and the fall. He does so self-consciously, noting that he disagrees with said starting point. The love of God always comes first. In many ways this is an excellent book. I only wish that he had told the story better, and I am keenly aware in saying that that it is highly unlikely I could have either. Maybe there were too many other stories throughout the book, maybe they weren't focused enough, or maybe I was just not in the right frame of mind as I read, but something didn't click.

Conclusion: 4 Stars, Conditionally Recommended. Despite my own reaction to this book, I do think it is worth reading. It serves as a good introduction to the great story, with the right end forward so to speak.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".


To Whom Do You Compare Yourself?

"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else,Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." - Jesus

Have you ever wondered why Jesus praises the tax collector and disparages the pharisee? You haven't. I am confident you haven't. In fact, I bet that this parable has seemed so self-evident to you that when you read it you never even give it a second thought.  Well, right now I would like you to do just that. Give it a second thought. Go ahead. Why does Jesus praise the tax collector and disparage the pharisee?

No doubt you have an answer, and it has something to do with self-righteousness versus humility. Here is a pharisee, self-righteous and vain, exulting in his own splendor, thankful he is 'not like other men.' How dare he! We might imagine that here is a man who never lets a conversation go by without allowing his excellence to shine. On the other hand, here is a tax collector, touchingly humble and begging for mercy. How can our hearts not go out to this man?

Ahh, but here is the problem. For neither of these men actually fit the image that our minds have so fancifully conjured up. Were you to run into these two men, outside of this parable of course, your opinions of them would be radically different.

The pharisee is no inflated coxcomb, but a respected man. He is a man who takes his service to God seriously. He fasts and tithes exactingly, he studies the word fervently, prays regularly, and visits the temple often. He is a pillar of the community, wise and intelligent, a man from whom you might seek advice.

Meanwhile, the tax collector is no paragon of virtue, humility or otherwise. Here is a tough man who has taken service with the oppressors. Here is a collaborater, and while that word may not immediately conjure up images of horror for you, think about how you would feel towards someone who helped the Nazis. Here is a man who steals from his own people in order to line his own pockets.

Beyond these initial differences, there are many parallels between these two men. Both of these men are capable of pride and humility; both are sinners as surely as are you and I. Both of them desire to be in the presence of God; they are, after all, both visiting the temple. Both of them, in approaching God, do so in a prayer of thanks. It is not obvious in the prayer of the tax collector; but he is implicitly thankful that there is such a thing as the mercy of God upon which he can throw himself. As for the Pharisee, his prayer is more devout than you have likely thought it to be. For he does not stand before God and praise himself. No, he thanks God for the way that God has made him. He knows himself to be a transformed man and he is rightly thankful to God for being the agent of transformation in his life.

To get at the heart of Jesus lesson there is only one difference between these two men worth noting.

Before I share that detail, however, let me ask you this: have you, upon reading this story, ever felt grateful that you are not as prideful as you thought the pharisee to be? Think on that for a moment, and then read on.

Pretension Demotivator

The one difference that makes all the difference is this, the one question upon which this entire parable turns, is this: To whom do you compare yourself?

As the Pharisee comes before God in thanksgiving, he compares himself to other men. This is his downfall, and this is a ringing condemnation for those of us who have made of our Christianity a badge of privilege and a sign of virtue, for those of us who, without realizing it, allow pharisaic pride to sneak into any part of our Christian life, but especially those most devout and pious moments in the very presence of our Lord and Savior.

The truth is that when a man truly turns to God with a heavy conscience, or otherwise, he does so without thinking of other people at all. He is alone before God. Imagine the tax collector standing before God and praying about how the pharisee, good as he is, must also have sin in his life. This would be a true thing to say but it would also utterly destroy the genuine earnestness of the tax collector's prayer. No, what sets the tax collector forth as our example is that he compares himself upward; God is his only standard, and by that standard he is very far indeed.

The beautiful, glorious, mercy and grace of God is that it is at just such moments, when we compare ourselves to God and know how far we are fallen, it is precisely then when God is nearest.

(Inspired by "The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican," A sermon by Helmut Thielicke. Found in The Waiting Father chapter 11.)


"Everything the Bible Says About Heaven" by Linda Washington

Compiled by Linda Washington. Everything the Bible Says About Heaven. Bethany House Publishers, 2011. 105 pgs. 

This is a book which claims, in the title, to be a collection of everything the bible says about heaven. In terms of format, it is divided 6 chapters exploring Old Testament visions of heaven, New Testament visions of heaven, heaven in Revelation, the time between death and resurrection, hearing from heaven, and who will go to heaven. Each chapter begins with a brief introduction and is then entirely made of bible verses (quoted from whatever translation the 'compiler' chose) and sometimes a brief explanatory word after the verse. 

To be frank, there are so many things wrong with this book I don't even know where to start. First of all, it is plainly not "everything the bible says about heaven." This collection of verses has been sifted and selected to avoid some more difficult issues. An obvious example is how the compiler seems utterly oblivious to the fact that "Kingdom of God" and "Kingdom of Heaven" are used synonymously in the gospels. The next problem is the fact that all of the verses, with or without explanatory notes, are ripped from their context. Scripture was not meant to be read this way. Coming to the explanatory notes, the persistent interpretive bias within is towards a very modern western view of heaven; the resurrection hardly appears at all. Lastly, or at least the last thing I will mention, I have always had problems with books that pick and choose translations in order to find the verses which sound the best for the interpretation presented. Obviously, there are good reasons to switch translations at times. Some handle certain texts better. But when the switching is going on in every second verse it quickly becomes obvious that what is happening is not an attempt to find the best translation of the original language but to find the best translation to make ones predetermined point. 

Conclusion: 0 Stars. Not Recommended. Just don't read this book. Please. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group."

September Reflections

Bam! September is over, and my reflections are 5 days late....

Top 3 Posts of September:

1. Heaven and Hell - For the 3rd month in a row this post is on top. It is now the number one visited post on my blog by quite a ways. 

2. TC: Awakening on a Mountaintop - This is one of a series of reflections which I posted following our yearly youth camp. 

3. TC 2011: What Would You Do? - Another in the same series. 

Yes, September was as busy as I knew it would be. It was also a lot of fun. I got to go white water rafting twice for leadership retreats, kickoff our ministries for the fall (which is why September is so busy), and I am in the middle of helping 19 students get ready to be baptized! Praise the Lord!

How was your September?