The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction

4560Most people (especially Americans) live incredibly busy lives. With so many demands on our time, is it really any surprise that our spiritual lives tend to suffer? This month’s book seeks to combat that. It is The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distration by Justin Whithel Earley from InterVarsity Press. This book was published in February of 2019, and I chose to take a look at it and practice during this past season of Lent. Earley is a lawyer by training, but has experience as a missionary in China. He leans heavily on his experience of living a busy lifestyle, and overcoming that with a concious decision of living his life so he did not miss the things that were most important to him. He writes this book very similiarly to how you may find a rule for a monastic lifestyle, such as The Rule of St Benedict. He takes this style and presents it with a contemporary setting so it can make sense to the average reader of how this applies to your life today. You do not have to move to a monastery or a convent to practice the rule that Earley suggests.

“Since we’re too tired to make any good decisions, we’re extremely susceptible to letting other people — from manipulative bosses to invisible smartphone programmers — make our decisions for us.”

The Common Rule is broken up into eight different habits: four daily and four weekly. All of these habits are designed to help you realize you are not God and cannot possible accomplish everything, while also focusing you on the things that matter in life. The habits are: kneeling prayer three times a day (daily), one meal with others (daily), on hour with phone off (daily), Scripture before phone (daily), conversaition with a friend (weekly), curate media (weekly), fast from something for 24 hours (weekly), and Sabbath (weekly). Earley writes chapters that explain each habit, why they are important, and how he practices it in his own busy life. However, the warning with adopting rules and habits, is that we not become legalistic. Humanity is to quick to make ideas into laws that we must live by. Earley suggests that we keep our focus on Christ and love for others, then the habits will naturally fit. He also includes and epilogue where he talks about what happens when you fail your practice.  Here he shows how easy it is to slip into a mentality of giving up, but it is important to keep that focus of Christ.

“Those are the kind of habits with cultivating — little habits of love, not carried out for success, not carried out to prove who you are, but cultivated because of a longing to love God and neighbor.”

I essentially have 2.5 full time jobs, while also trying to blog, raise three childen and love my wife. I know many people probably just exlaimed and the crazy person that is writing this review, but honestly I found this book so helpful. Like other rules, you find having a set liturgy and pace to your life makes everything feel much more managable. I enjoyed the way that Earley writes about these spiritual disciplines he has been cultivating within the lives of his family and his community. The thing that I found most helpful was the Resources section at the end of the book. This is designed to be a reference guide to remind yourself of the habits, while also helping you implement them into your life. I found myself often turning to it for help in trying to figure out how to put these habits into my day. I think that this is a good book for any busy person to spend a week with. I found the content easy to get through in a week, but it can lead to a lifetime of closeness with God. Pick it by clicking on this link, and learn how to break through your busyness and lean on God.

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Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt

This month’s book was one that I was truly happy to have read. This book came across my desk at a time when I was really down and had trouble keeping up with my faith. God seemed so far away that I felt that He truly did not care about me. Then I read this month’s book, Faith in the Shadows by Austin Fischer from InterVarsity Press. This book came out in 2018 and is designed with discussion questions in the back so you can have a small group discuss the content of this book. But what is the content?

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This month’s book was one that I was truly happy to have read. This book came across my desk at a time when I was really down and had trouble keeping up with my faith. God seemed so far away that I felt that He truly did not care about me. Then I read this month’s book, Faith in the Shadows by Austin Fischer from InterVarsity Press. This book came out in 2018 and is designed with discussion questions in the back so you can have a small group discuss the content of this book. But what is the content? Continue reading “Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt”

The First Testament: A New Translation

5199Today is the first day of Lent, a season where many Christians choose to fast from something and spend time in prayer to prepare for the celebration of Easter. As a part of this fast, many Christians also choose to spend focused time in the reading and studying of Scripture. The book I chose for this month will help fill that role. It is The First Testament: A New Translation by John Goldingay from InterVarsity Press. This book came out in September of last year, and I am fairly certain that is how long I have had it and been using it. Goldingay is an Old Testament scholar and current faculty member of Fuller Theological Seminary. He has several other writing credits to his name including An Introduction to the Old TestamentDo We Need the Old Testament?, and The Theology of the Book of Isaiah. However this book is different from the other books he has written as it is a translation of the Old Testament. In this translation, Goldingay seeks to catch the reader off balance by pointing towards the way the Hebrew language works. This is most notable in his translation of pronouns as they are transliterated and not made like an English reader would read it: יחזקאל become Yehezqe’l rather than Ezekiel.

“On the fifth of the month (it was the fifth year of King Yoyakin’s exile), Yahweh’s word came to Yehezqe’l be Buzi, the priest, in the country of the Kasdites by the River Kebar. Yahweh’s hand came on him there.”
— Ezekiel 1:2-3, Goldingay

Like many modern translations of the Bible, Goldingay provides introductions for each book, so the reader can fully understand what a particular section of Scripture is. However, unlike many modern translations, the language can become a clunky as Goldingay is doing as much as he can to keep the cadences and textures of the Hebrew language. This does not usually translate well to English. I will say that I have greatly appreciated this, though, as I have been studying the Hebrew language over the last year. I have found myself working through a passage in my Hebrew text, trying to compare my translation to an English translation, and checking Goldingay to see how we might get from Hebrew to English. However, occasionally something is a little different that might seem odd. For instance, Goldingay translates the traditional “valley of the shadow of death” found in Psalm 23 as “a deathly dark ravine.” I am not sure his translation packs the same punch, but it does still work to paint a picture.

“My shepherd being Yahweh, I don’t lack;
he enables me to lie down in grassy pastures.
He leads me to settled water;
he turns my life back.
He guides me in faithful tracks
for the sake of his name.
Even when I walk in a deathly dark ravine,
I’m not afraid of bad fortune,
Because you’re with me;
your club and your cane — they comfort me.”
— Psalm 23:1-4, Goldingay

If you have been following my study through Ezekiel, you will have noticed that I have been using this translation. I personally enjoy reading it and regularly use it when I am studying Hebrew texts. Goldingay has taken great care to provide something unique for the world. I still keep my trusty NASB at my side, but I have been finding it helpful to see how a well known Old Testament scholar would better understand the Hebrew Scriptures. I think this is a good resource for anyone to use when studying, but I would probably hesitate when it came to preaching and teaching.  The language and unfamiliar translation techniques can be hard for your average person in the pew to understand. I do highly recommend this resource and am happy it is on my shelf!

Confessions

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Just like this month, this book review is short and sweet. I am a firm believer that ready old books (especially theology) lends us to a better understanding of our world today. This month’s book is Confessions by Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hyppo translated by Henry Chadwick. Deep within the Donatist controversy, which fought for a “pure” Church, Augustine writes this prayer. He walks through his entire life, stopping on particular sins that have grieved his spirit. He reminisces on his thoughts at the time, and how terrible these sins are to him now. In my opinion, this book does two things very well: gives us an autobiography of one of the most influential Church leaders and shows us that no one is perfect, not even the clergy.

This book has been on my list for quite some time, but it was not until a class I recently took that I read it. I regret that I have not read it sooner. Please do not make the same mistake I did, and give this book a good read with a pen!

Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory

4147As we look to a new year, I thought it would be beneficial if this month’s book helped us to look towards the new without fear. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger does just that. Originally printed in 2015, the expanded edition (c2018) includes a study guide to help Church leadership discuss with each other, and the congregations they lead, the concepts and potentially scary moves they must make to survive. Bolsinger is currently a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, but uses his experience as a Presbyterian minister and church consultant to write most of this book. His thesis for this book is that Christendom is dead, and most Christian leaders have been trained to lead and work within the world of Christendom. He looks to Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery as a metaphor for how Christian leadership should behave in this brand new world.

For Christian leaders this means that ministry is not only the means to bring the gospel to the world, ministry together is how God makes a congregation into a corps that is ready to continually bring the gospel in new ways to a changing world.

Tod Bolsinger uses the research of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky to propose the use of adaptive leadership within the Church. This model of leadership would remove the pastor as the “authority” and main decision maker within the local church. Instead, the pastor would be a leader that encourages the congregation to join into the decision making process in order to create actual change. He recognizes that this is not an easy task. Many churches are still in the mindset of the Church being the most influential voice in society. Unfortunately, as Bolsinger argues, this is no longer the case. But like most change, resistance should be expected. However, the main the main advantage for this adaptive style of leadership is that it frees the congregation to reconcile unanticipated issues, and explore new ideas that lead towards innovation.

We are called to take the hill — with grandma.

I found myself particularly excited to read this book, and I think that anyone in a leadership position within their church should read it. I wanted to go out and make wide sweeping changes and attempt to get others excited within my own congregation. However I became frustrated with the content of this book because it still feels like my local congregation will not change. This could be due to the fact that I am not the pastor of my church. However, to overcome this, I purchased a copy for my pastor as a Christmas gift! I am convinced by Bolsinger’s argument that the Church now finds itself in a world that it has been unprepared for. Yet he offers hope in the last chapter by saying, “God is taking us into uncharted territory to transform us.” We do not have to look to the changing landscape with fear. We need to merely trust in God, and take a good strong look at the way we do things. That is what this book does.

An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich

8737.jpgAn Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich is the second Explorer’s Guide release from InterVarsity Press (the first being for Karl Barth. It is written by Veronica Mary Rolf, who is a self claimed academic of Julian of Norwich for several decades. According to her biography at the end of the books, after a long career as a Broadway actress, she is now a lecturer on “history and theology of Christian mysticism and leads contemplative retreats throughout the San Francisco Bay area.” She is also affiliated with the [World Community for Christian Meditation](https://www.wccm.org), manages a Facebook group for Julian of Norwich, and writes on her own websites: www.juliansvoice.com and www.veronicamaryrolf.com.

“People of all ages and cultural backgrounds feel encouraged to look to Julian for guidance in their daily struggles, consult Julian’s Revelations with their questions and doubts, and seek guidance from Julian in their spiritual crises.”

Rolf chooses to separate her text into two parts. The first part is called Getting to Know Julian of Norwich. In this segment Rolf does the work of putting Julian into her context. Julian is from a world that we do not fully understand today. Julian lived from 1342 till 1430. Her world was before the Reformation, ravaged by plagues, and in a time where women could be no more than wives and mothers. So Rolf seeks to gives us a firm understanding of what this looks like, while also providing some peculiarities to the life and writing of Julian of Norwich.

“all Julian’s references are to common, ordinary things that a merchant-class working woman would be more likely to notice than an aristocratic noblewoman”

The second part of this book focuses solely on Julian of Norwich’s /The Revelations of Divine Love/, with chapter 6 being an overview of the entire text. In this chapter Rolf discusses each of Julian’s revelations and what she learned from them. Rolf also points to ways that Julian’s work is different from others of her time. The reason for this is that Julian was a member of the common laity, not an academic or a cloistered nun. She then finishes the book by discussing the major themes of the text and providing guidelines for how to lead a retreat with Julian’s Revelations.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that I needed, answered by this word and said: ‘Sinne is behovely, but alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and alle manner of thing shalle be wele.'”
— Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

The thing that I believe is evident from this book is the amount of knowledge Rolf has of Julian of Norwich’s /The Revelations of Divine Love/. To be a person that is not classically trained in this subject, and yet can still hold her own in writing with people who are, is a testament to her. The way she writes bout Julian makes her very approachable and alive, despite having died almost 600 years ago. Because of this knowledge, she is also able to provide a good understanding of Christian mysticism. This topic seems to be a practice that the Church wants to forget, as I had not heard of it until I started my academic career. Anytime I mention it to others, Christian mysticism is looked upon as something to be skeptical of. I find the mystics interesting and Rolf does a good job explaining Julian’s mystical theology. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn about Christian mysticism or any professor seeking to teach spiritual formation.

Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education

5205.jpgThis month’s book is called Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education by Stephen and Mary Lowe. Both authors are involved in furthering online education at Liberty University. The main focus of this book is how the study of ecology can help us to understand spiritual growth, and that this means growth does not only happen within the four walls of an institution. Their goal is not to justify online or residential education as the better alternative, but rather to combat the idea of “students cannot receive the same spiritual development online that they can receive at [our] institution” that seems to be prevalent in many Christian institutions. Continue reading “Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age: Spiritual Growth Through Online Education”

Righteous by Promise: A Biblical Theology of Circumcision

2646As promised, I am going to start doing book reviews. These book reviews are meant to be an introduction to a resource. I cannot guarantee that they are all going to be particularly great, but I will try to provide my honest assessment of these materials.

This month’s book review is Righteous by Promise: A Biblical Theology of Circumcision by Karl Deenick. This book is the 45th volume in addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series from InterVarsity Press. This series of books seeks to interact with the contemporary scholarship to help evangelicals to better understand their Bibles. It focuses on a wide variety of topics ranging from examples of preaching in the New Testament to understanding the concept of original sin. Continue reading “Righteous by Promise: A Biblical Theology of Circumcision”