Starting this book on the heels of What's Best Next (review here), as another three-word-titled productivity-ish book, I have to admit I was a little curious as to the direction it would go. (I mean, that title almost sounds like it flows with Your Best Life Now? ;)) Thankfully, the book and its content are fairly straightforward.
Lysa Terkeurst'sThe Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands connected well with my recents readings of What's Best Next and Essentialism, but definitely had a unique approach and is geared toward the specific audience of women (and moms), though still providing material that applicable for anyone. This was also my first time to read a book by Terkeurst.
Saying "no" is hard. Especially, saying "no" to good people, good opportunities, and even good ministries. We live in an age of endless opportunities, 24/7 accessibility, and lots of pressure to not only "have it all," but to "do it all" and "be it all." And in this type of culture, it is especially important to consider, reconsider, and pursue wisdom as we make decisions.
For most of us, we need to hear the message that we need to do less in order to do and be our best. Many of us who grew up in Christian subcultures often saw busyness as a measure of spirituality, and involvement in any and every ministry opportunity was encouraged. If this was you, this book is for you. (Even for those on the opposite spectrum, who feel like they really need to stop being lazy or take on a little more challenge, this book will be an incredibly helpful resource.)
For those of us who have been reading material countering these demands to stay crazy busy, many of us are familiar with the saying that a "yes" to one opportunity is a "no" to other opportunities. The Best Yes follows along this stream, but casts it further by encouraging readers to consider how saying "yes" to too much or the wrong opportunities causes us to miss out on the best opportunities. Hence, the title.
Terkeurst uses the helpful analogy of bankruptcy to more fully describe the importance of guarding our time and physical and emotional (and spiritual and financial) resources. It is not mine to give what I do not have to give. (Hard to hear for me!) Most of us know that to be true with our finances, but sometimes it's a bit harder to see this with our other resources: our time, our emotions, or our physical strength.
Yes, sometimes, we must push ourselves (really, rely on God for our strength) when life circumstances fully out of our control overload us. Sometimes we need to bear burdens for others that are hard. (We also need to ask if our own unwise choices and lack of boundaries have brought about such circumstances in the first place.) But we cannot voluntarily hand out time and energy that we don't have to give. We grow in debt and become bankrupt when we do so. When we hand out tokens of our time and energy beyond what we have, we end up coming back empty handed on those who are consistently dependent on us.
This is an area that I've done some reading on over the last few years, yet this book helped me see things from a fresh angle and was a reminder that I desperately needed to recalibrate yet again. And as a young mother of young children, this read highlighted the need to constantly reevaluate what are my "best yeses," as my abilities, resources, and time are constantly changing over different seasons of parenting and life. I also need to realize this is going to look different for everyone, even for those who I consider to be in the same season of life with many similarities. Personal reflection on this theme also had me realize that when I refuse to set appropriate boundaries, it can cause others to also make poor decisions in that area; and vice versa, when I surround myself with people who have poor boundaries, it's much easier for me to feel I must live the same. And the emotional effort of having to set boundaries for myself and for those who struggle to do so can often itself require additional boundaries.
Terkeurst helpfully weaves together her life stories, Scripture, and other sources of wisdom together to present the message of this book. Saying "yes to the best" requires a long-term vision, rather than a vision for the present - for instant gratification results. It requires saying "no" to a lot of good things, and a willingness to look beyond temporary reactions to our decisions. It requires seeking wisdom preemptively, rather than as a reactionary response. And quite importantly, it requires seeking God's face, and trusting in Him through faith, trusting that He has given us the resources we need to find and exercise wisdom. Where other books on a similar note often focus on the "no" of boundaries, the focus here is more positive, on aligning our saying no and our decisions under being able to give our best yes, whether now or later on down the line.
My concerns or negative reflections? I've seen this being marketed as a women's Bible study. It's not. It refers to Scripture, and draws the message of the book from the Bible. But it's not a Bible study! (This is one I'd count as such, though more specifically this would be a true Bible study.) Otherwise, parts of this grow verbose and flowery. But many of the audience this is written for prefer that style, and might not as apt to pick up differently-styled books on the subject. And those flowery stories to accompany the counsel offered are sometimes the way that the book's message sticks with me, too. Table of Contents
2014 is proving to be a good year for newly published Christian women's books, a genre whose weaknesses and shallowness I and many others have oft lam2014 is proving to be a good year for newly published Christian women's books, a genre whose weaknesses and shallowness I and many others have oft lamented.
Without even using the word hermeneutics, this book is a guide to exactly that. (But no worries, lovers of and trained students in hermeneutics, the author still pulls out and articulately teaches words and concepts such as metanarrative, exegesis, and Bible literacy.)
Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds is a clarion call to today's Christian women to lay aside poor Bible study habits and to dig deeply into patient, purposeful intake of the full scope of Scripture, examining God's Word word-by-word, and within context of The Big Story. Just like our culture is currently learning that this the case with food, the more processed your Bible study is, the less healthy it is for you.
Jen Wilkin encourages women to "put the ruffles in the back," (you'll have to read the book to learn the specific meaning of this one :)), to put away flaky bible study, and to realize that simply "doing devotions" or a "spending time in the Word" are often merely buzzwords that have not been further elaborated or adequately demonstrated.
Yet she writes without intimidation; her own words are neither lofty nor inaccessible. Instead, Jen writes as a skilled teacher, articulating with precision and simplicity, giving her readers a helpful framework for studying God's word. This guide gives the reader specific steps to follow while simultaneously allowing freedom for individual seasons of life, speeds of learning, and the relinquishing of poor study habits. Framework for Studying the Bible After addressing the need for Bible study, Jen dissects several common, yet ineffective, ways we tend approach Scripture within the American Christian subculture: the Xanax Approach, the Pinball Approach, the Magic Ball Approach, the Personal Shopper Approach, the Telephone Game Approach, and the Jack Sprat Approach. (Check out this article for a more in-depth examination of each of these approaches.)
In going through each of these mistaken ways to approach God's Word, Jen not only discusses how easy it is to treat Scripture carelessly, but how important it is that we take a careful, studious approach.
(While this is certainly not a diatribe-focused book, it is nonetheless important to address these errors. Because these approached have subtly become the standard and accepted methods, extra time and explanation must be given to evaluating each of them. Many of us have habitualized these methods to the point of needing extra effort to eliminate them from our Bible study methods.)
Jen builds a framework for good Bible study using her alliterated five-point outline. She urges her readers to study with:
Although alliteration is occasionally symbolic of shallow Bible study, in this case it's a well-crafted pneumonic device.
Under these five foci, Jen addresses the importance of understanding metanarrative (the big-picture story of the Bible) and understanding the Bible as literature (focusing on an understanding of specific authors, the time of writing, the intended audience, the style of writing, and the purpose of writing).
As she explains within the section on Study with Process, Jen then gives the reader specific steps for approaching a passage and studying it in detail, listing the three main stages as:
Comprehension - "What Does It Say?"
A Printed Copy of the Text
An English Dictionary
Other Translations of the Bible
Interpretation - "What Does It Mean?"
Application - "How Should It Change Me?"
What does this passages teach me about God?
How does this aspect of God's character change my view of self?
What should I do in response?
While she does give specific instructions, Jen nonetheless is teaching her readers to fish, rather than simply handing them pre-selected fishes. Or in the words of Jen's opening analogy, she gives her readers a spoon to move their "mountains of Biblical ignorance."
At the end of the book, Jen walks through James as an example of studying a smaller book of the Bible. (This is extremely beneficial, particularly for those who may not have had previous exposure to this type of Bible study.) For the Hungry Women of the Word is easy to read (can be read in just a few hours), but is also valuable as a Bible study companion — using it as a reference and tool as you learn to navigate exegesis of individual passages.
Christian women are hungry for God's Word. In the absence of being taught how to feed ourselves or where to find the healthy food, women are turning to the ineffective approaches listed above, to false teachers, or to anyone who will claim to feed them. Others have been told that "spiritual meat" isn't food for women, and some have become content with a diet of milk and watered-down Word. Yet we can't expect a quick-fix: studying God's Word takes discipline, persistence, and patience. And as we labor through the text, we soon realized we are being filled, we are growing, and our hunger is increasing.
Regardless of where you are in your spiritual journey or how much Bible study training you have under your belt (or your fluffy tights :)), I can guarantee that anyone who has a desire to study God's word will walk away from this book better equipped to do so. Does Every Passage Have Personal Application? One minimal concern with Jen's instructions for Bible study is found in the final step of making application.
(Specifically, my concern is grown out of the application she draws from Genesis 1-6. It would seem that her particular application from that specific text is a bit forced: "A person who applies the creation story can tell you that because God creates in an orderly fashion, we too should live well-ordered lives..." While we may indeed be called to live well-ordered lives, I do not believe this is something that can be drawn out as specific application from this text.)
Because her teaching is so specific and corrective elsewhere in the book, I think further clarification on this particular detail is warranted. Not every passage is going to contain specific personal application or even merit a specific, immediate response. Sometimes, the most specific application that can be wrestled out of certain texts will be to simply step back in awe of Who God is. Sometimes, and Jen does address this elsewhere (also listed in excerpts below), we are simply storing up a savings account of Biblical literacy for the Spirit to apply specifically at a later time.
Jen is careful to repeatedly point out that Scripture is not a book about finding ourselves, but about learning who God is. She is even careful to note that while, yes, we will learn more about ourselves the more we study God's Word, it is only under the umbrella of coming to know who God is. When I understand who He is, I can begin to understand who I am in light of that.
And so, teaching or believing that personal application can be made from every passage can potentially lead to forcing the Scripture into a mold it wasn't intended to be in, going back to the very error Wilkin is so concerned about in the first place.(The particular example that stands out as forced; I think Wilkin would agree with the previous sentence, but perhaps could do a better job in articulating this, especially in light of the ineffective approaches she lists.) The Truth Will Set Us Free This book is empowering for women who have been told that theology is the man's work, or who have been relegated to studying only the "pink passages." (Hannah Anderson's Made for More, review here, also has a great, in-depth examination on this subject.)
The truth is that God desires all people — male or female — know Him for who He is.
A proper understanding of Scripture (and how to study Scripture) is absolutely essential for Christian women. Why? Because our Biblical theology affects our practical theology — how we live out what we believe before God and humankind.
Our understanding of who God is directly affects our understanding of the world around us, of ourselves, and how we view and treat the countless other people created in God's image. And until we can dig deeper to understand who God is, we often leave ourselves with a very shallow interpretation of each of those areas.
If we've been taught that it's okay to cherry pick the Scriptures, we end up twisting the Bible to say whatever we want it to say. If we haven't understood the metanarrative of the Bible, we are unable to discern what is truth when we hear Bible teachers teach opposite positions.
It would behoove those in a position of teaching God's word to others or leading a Bible study to read this book. In fact, Jen devoted her last chapter to addressing the particulars of teaching Bible study.
While this book is addressed particularly for women, this would also be a valuable resource in any man's toolkit for studying Scripture. Given the dearth of Bible study teaching for women, my hope is that many pastors and other men would seriously consider reading this book, both to sharpen their own understanding of being people of The Word and for increasing their knowledge of available resources.
For those who are in a season of life that allows for only minimal (or, even no) interaction with the Bible, the author empathizes and is careful not to make rules that Scripture itself does not make. Rather, she writes with encouragement to endure and wait during such seasons. (A portion of such encouragement is included below, as the final excerpt.)
After reading this book, my hunger for further and deeper Bible study grew. This is a book I have long hoped would be written, and am thankful for this important resource in Women of the Word. Assorted Excerpts:
"It seemed obvious that if God had given us his revealed will in the Bible, I should be spending more time trying to know and understand it. But the task seemed overwhelming. Where was I supposed to start? And why weren't the things I was already doing making the problem discernibly better? How was I supposed to move my mountain of biblical ignorance?
The answer, of course, was gloriously simple. The answer was 'one spoonful at a time.' Thankfully, someone gave me a spoon...
On the other side of the mountain of my biblical ignorance was a vision of God high and lifted up, a vision stretching Genesis to Revelation that I desperately needed to see. I have by no means removed that whole mountain from my line of sight, but I intend to go to my grave with dirt beneath my nails and a spoon clutched in my fist. I am determined that no mountain of biblical ignorance will keep me from seeing him as clearly as my seventy or eighty years on this earth will allow."
"Within our Christian subculture we have adopted a catch-all phrase for our regular habit of interacting with Scripture: 'spending time in the Word.' Church leaders urge us to do so. Authors and bloggers exhort us to value it. But what should take place during our 'time in the Word' can remain a vague notion, the specific habit it represents varying widely from person to person.
The potential danger of this vagueness is that we may assume that our version of 'spending time in the Word' is moving us toward Bible literacy simply because we have been obedient to practice it. Not all contact with Scripture builds Bible literacy. Learning what the Bible says and subsequently working to interpret and apply it requires quite a different practice than many of those we commonly associate with 'spending time in the Word.' We cannot afford to assume that our good intentions are enough."
"For years I viewed my interaction with the Bible as a debit account: I had a need, so I went to the Bible to withdraw an answer. But we do so much better to view our interaction with the Bible as a savings account: I stretch my understanding daily, deposit what I glean, and patiently wait for it to accumulate in value, knowing that one day I will need to draw on it. Bible study is an investment with a long-term payoff. Rather than reading a specific text to try to meet an immediate need, give the benefits of your study permission to be stored away for future use. What if the passage you are fighting to understand today suddenly makes sense to you when you most need it, ten years from now? It has been said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in ten. Are you willing to invest ten years in waiting for understanding? Are you willing to wait a decade for an application point to emerge? Be encouraged that you are storing up treasure, eve if you don't see or feel it in the short term."
"For me, these seasons [of not being able to devote long periods of time to Bible study] have sometimes lasted for years — sermons and podcasts were a lifeline. Having a structured group study to go to helped keep me in contact with the Bible, but some months even that was too much to take on. Some months, just keeping body and soul together for myself and my family seemed to occupy almost every waking moment. I don't consider those months to have been lost time or setback to my growth. They were times to employ patience, not with active learning of the Scriptures, but with waiting on the Lord. They deepened my desire for study. Some of my most fruitful times of teaching and writing occurred immediately after just such a period of waiting."
Table of Contents
Disclaimer: I received an electronic advanced reader's copy of this book in exchange for my review. But all opinions are my own.
I'm afraid I may have gone into this book with a slight bias: I've read Hannah Anderson's writing (via blog and contributed articles elsewhere) over tI'm afraid I may have gone into this book with a slight bias: I've read Hannah Anderson's writing (via blog and contributed articles elsewhere) over the last few years, and have almost always profited from her writing and thinking. When I heard and read reviews for her upcoming book, my heart skipped a few beats with excitement, both at the topic and my knowledge of her gift for writing.
As I immersed myself into Hannah's forward, I again felt the same excitement.
Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God's Imageis an invitation for women to step back from our culture's myopic view of life (both inside and outside the Church), and to take in the full scope of our identity in Christ. In the front portion of the book, Getting Started, Hannah states her purpose in writing this book:
"This book is not a call to deny womanhoood in order to embrace being made in His image. But it is a call to understand that womanhood, and everything that comes with it, serves a greater purpose. It is not a call to abandon labels or categories, but it is a call to step back in order to lay a solid foundation before we build those categories. It is a call to wrestle with what it means to be made in His image and to believe that you are made for more than what you often settle for."
Ensconced within the final sentences of that paragraph, I believe, is what makes this book's message so crucial. So much of today's "Biblical womanhood" teaching has not been laid as a solid foundation, but instead upon bricks of flaky theology and a chronistic view of womanhood. Sadly, many of us with such a foundation under our feet have indeed settled for far less than what we were created to be and to do.
The scope of this book is primarily a one of providing a foundational overview of living imago dei, yet under that umbrella, Anderson also offers a robust and corrective theology of vocation and education (learning).
Under the realm of vocation, I particularly benefited from this aspect that Catherine also brought up in her review of the book, and appreciated Catherine's articulation of this:
"[P]erhaps the most profound section[s] of the book (and I hope the author writes more extensively on this topic in a future book, because I think she nailed it) is Anderson’s description of integrated identity. That is, rather than chasing the have-it-all thing, or attempting to compartmentalize different facets of our identity, Anderson advocates a convergence and flourishing that comes from seeing our different callings and roles–from personal to professional, expressing our giftedness to accomplishing mundane tasks–as a chance to be the hands and feet of Christ, and to reflect the unity and wholeness of the Trinity. And, she writes, when we love God with the fullness of our identities, and seek Him in every aspect of our lives, we will enjoy His peace and see those seemingly disparate parts of who we are “work together in beautiful coordination for our good and His glory.” I love the way she puts this:
The fact that I am a woman, that I am a mother, that I am a writer—even where I live—all work together to enable me to image God in a more complex, more brilliant way than if my identity were simply one-dimensional. So even as we strive for wholeness, we do not reach it by diminishing the multidimensional nature of our lives. We find it through the complexity of them. We find wholeness as each facet is cut to capture and reflect the radiance of Christ Himself."
As God has shifted my paradigms of theology of vocation and Biblical womanhood over recent years, I've come to accept and appreciate this sort of "integrated identity" in myself. Because of my many interests (not all of which can be explored during this particular season, or even during any one particular life season, really), I've come to terms with seeing myself as a "renaissance soul," a concept explored in the secular book by the same name (my review here). And in reality, we are all renaissance souls, as perhaps no one is gifted or called to simply one realm giftedness and ability over the course of a lifetime. But this exploration is particularly helpful to Christian women who have often been relegated to seeing their identity as a "one-dimensional caricature" of a rather superficial view of womanhood, at that. Written for More As Matthew L. Anderson shared in his back cover blurb, "Here is a book for women that has something to teach men. Made for More is wise and well-written, and I heartily commend it to everyone made in the image of God, male and female alike."
This is a book that I want my children, both sons and daughters, to read. This is a book that I want my husband to read. (Thankfully he already has a good grasp on imago dei, and has not been afraid to learn theology or otherwise from women, either! :))
This book was healing and hopeful, freeing and spiritually challenging, edifying and empowering, and bears an important message for all those who bear God's image, which is all of us. Anderson writes with theological precision and academic accessibility, and demonstrates her own giftedness for writing in a way that promotes the human flourishing she speaks of in the book. Assorted Excerpts
"Thankfully, He's the kind of God who welcomes our questions, who can wrestle with us through the confusion and still bless us in the process. He is the kind of God who desires true faith, even at its weakest points, and looks for mustard seeds instead of mountains. He is the kind of God who delights in the plea, "Help my unbelief" and then holds on to us because we can't hold on to Him anymore. He is the kind of God who can handle all our doubt, all our fear, all our questions if we will simply commit to letting Him." (27)
"Instead of being fully formed, multi-dimensional people who radiate the complexity of God's nature, we [mistakenly] become one-dimensional caricatures, as limited and superficial as the thing we have devoted ourselves to." (50)
"Our God doesn't bear grudges. He doesn't hold Himself back to punish us. He doesn't "teach us a thing or two." Instead, in the face of unbelievable rejection, even as we turn from Him again and again, He patiently, generously, abundantly extends Himself to us. And when we finally return to Him, and to each other, He faithfully, freely forgives and makes us whole once again." (91-92)
"And yet Scripture does not differentiate between sacred wisdom and secular knowledge. In Psalm 19:1, David sings that even "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork." Everything you could possibly learn -- from the physics that enable a suspension bridge to straddle San Francisco bay to the social habits of whales to the tenderness of a mother's touch -- everything reveals the majesty of God 'who established the world by His wisdom.'"
"Because of this, imago dei knowledge is by necessity more than a dry, crusty intellectualism; it is more than a 'worldview.' At its root, imago dei knowledge means searching for Him with childlike curiosity, wide-eyed and eager to discover who He is and the world He has made." (99-100)
"Too often as women, we have restricted ourselves to the 'pink' parts of the Bible. When we identify first and foremost as women, we can begin to believe that knowledge of ourselves will come primarily through passages that speak to women's issues or include heroines like Ruth or Esther. But when we do this, when we craft our learning and discipleship programs around being "women," we make womanhood the central focus of our pursuit of knowledge instead of Christ.
And we forget that these "pink passages" were never intended to be sufficient by themselves. We forget that we can never understand what it means to be women of good works until we first learn about the goodness of a God who works on our behalf. We forget that nothing about them will make any sense if they are not first grounded in the truth that we are destined to be conformed to His image through Christ.
Because you are an image bearer, you must allow the entirety of Scripture to shape your sense of self. You must begin to see every verse as a "pink" passage because every verse speaks to who God is and therefore who you are as His daughter. You must begin to believe that theology and doctrine are not men's issues but that they are imago dei issues because they reveal the God in whose image you are made." (103)
Campbell is a veteran homeschool mother of six children, and has now entered into the season of grandparenting. In The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling, she weaves together stories of her childhood, her experience of becoming a homeschool mom (long before it was a movement), and a deeper look at applying Scripture to our parenting and educating of our children. But Campbell's work is not merely anecdotal. She references a number of scientific and practical resources, and also dissects multiple Scripture passages in presenting parents with the need to apply the "one anothering" passages at home, and at our children, who are often overlooked in these applications.
Campbell speaks often of "organic" mothering, a concept that can also be considered holistic mothering. She emphasizes the importance of loving our children through all of their stages, and addresses many of the ways that recent (Christian and secular) parenting advice has created an adversarial view of the parent-child relationship.
This book is self-published, and well done overall; at times ( my small complaint on this book), I felt some of the thoughts disjointed and perhaps could have been more streamlined. This may also be due the fact that I read this book on my Kindle app, which sometimes creates spacing and page organization issues that leave me feeling scatter-brained. (But this book was valuable enough to me that I also purchased a paper copy!)
If you are a Christian mother or father, but don't feel that your family is currently in a good place to homeschool, I would still recommend this book as an encouraging read about building deep, spiritual relationships with your children. (While the author does indeed rather strongly recommend homeschooling, I feel that someone already convinced in their family's path would still benefit from the book.)
Reading this book was a huge encouragement to me as a mother of younger children, and also an affirmation of some of the ways we've intentionally chosen to choose alternative-to-mainstream options in our parenting. The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling is also a refreshing, burden-lifting book, in that it points to Scripture and allows younger and older parents alike to see that many of the "commandments of men" are often actually antithetical to true Biblical teaching. Assorted Excerpts
"If we look on the pages of the Bible, on the surface we see very little direct instruction for raising children. We see even less that tells us what sorts of subjects to include in daily lesson plans. There are no how-to lists, and yet, how often Christian parents readily welcome any and every teaching on raising children that labels itself as “biblical” while ignoring the very real commands for relationship building that are found in the passages of Scripture called the “one another” verses.
Love one another. Encourage one another. Pray for one another. Submit to one another. Serve one another. Scripture is filled with dozens of these lovely one another passages that teach us how to be successful. When we apply these verses appropriately in individual ways with our own children and within the context of the homeschooling family, we begin to enjoy the fruits of our labors in amazing and unexpected ways!" (Introduction)
"Jesus set the tone for all of us regarding the importance of children in His kingdom, in His order of life. They are not the ones to be set aside and out of the way in our churches, placed somewhere so they don’t disturb the “real worshippers.” Children are not the ones who should be taught to always go to the end of the line or to sit at the “children’s tables.” Children are not the ones to be treated with disrespect and told ”children are to be seen and not heard.” They are not to be trained as dogs or frightened into compliance with “disciplinary” weaponry. Instead, Jesus “took them in His arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them” (Mark 10:16)."
"[T]hankfulness is a heart response, one that comes by knowing who God is and one that comes by His grace alone, not by punitive measures. As we disciple our children and demonstrate by our own example what genuine thankfulness looks like, we can trust that God will impress on their hearts a desire to worship Him with a thankful heart."
"In our parenting zeal, we often forget what it was like to be a child. They are shorter than adults and closer to the ground so they see things we miss. Everything is new to them and they want to examine and explore. Their concept of time is measured by events rather than a schedule. When they have teething pain they have no idea why. When they wake up alone in a dark quiet room, they are scared and just want to be with somebody else. Their little bodies do not comprehend a menu plan, they just know they are uncomfortable and eating makes them feel better. Bearing the burdens of our children is no mystery, it is meeting needs they have simply because they are children; it is seeing each one as someone in need of an advocate rather than as an adversary."
"We, ourselves, are further down the path than our little ones. We know the dangers and trials associated with sin as well as life's struggles; we, too, have wallowed in the Slough of Despond. So when our precious children fall and are tempted to despair, we can come alongside them and are able to give them steps to returning back to the path! What a privilege it is to be called to such a glorious ministry of encouragement in their lives."
"If we are harsh in our approach to others, we are demonstrating that we are not qualified to admonish anyone because it shows our lack of spiritual maturity. The opposite of harshness is the spirit of gentleness, which in the Greek means “with humility,” lest we also be tempted. If we look at this verse in terms of relating to our children, we have to ask how we can be tempted. I think it could be when we forget that we are sinners, too, and that we, ourselves, are overtaken daily in trespasses. When we reject a humble, gentle attitude toward our children, we are tempted to mistreat them, physically and verbally. We can either build up and restore a child by our words and actions or we can tear down and lord it over them, showing no spirit of humility whatsoever. We, too, are sinners in need of a Savior, and are still a work in progress ourselves. How we respond to sin in the lives of our children will have lasting consequences and if we are harsh might even cause them to give up altogether. "
"Little ones often need help, most of the day, as a matter of fact. We have the choice of either helping them or frustrating them further by not taking their needs into consideration and, instead, going straight into chastisement because we think they aren't doing what we think they should do. A kind mother recognizes that a child is sometimes frustrated and begins by coming alongside to assist."
For Elizabeth A. Johnson, working through a Biblical response to physical affliction was not merely an abstract theological question to be dealt with
For Elizabeth A. Johnson, working through a Biblical response to physical affliction was not merely an abstract theological question to be dealt with at random. For her, the questions presented themselves in the form of chronic illness that interrupted the life she thought she would have, years before many feel forced to search for such deep answers. In Touching the Hem: A Biblical Response to Physical Suffering, Elizabeth works through a theology of a Biblical response to physical suffering by working through five main related studies: God's character, God's works, our circumstances, our response, and God's response.
Elizabeth is a gifted writer, and her study and personal devotion to this topic shine through the book. While this is definitely not a fluffy women's book, it is an easy, well-organized read. It is both academic and accessible while blending in Elizabeth's personal experience with the subject matter.
Although I am not currently enduring a time of chronic physical affliction (and the book certainly deals with far more than chronic health issues), I still found the book devotionally and spiritually valuable. I have suffered from minor health issues in the past, and know that, unless I die suddenly and soon, I will face them again, though the severity and longevity of such remain presently unknown. At the same time, I think that if I read this book while in the midst of intense physical affliction, it would lend even greater value.
Elizabeth's audience will be primarily those who hold to a (classical) Cessationist theology, as is evidenced by her chapter dealing with faith healing. This is also evidenced in the following statement: "When people find themselves healed today, while it may feel like a miracle to one who has suffered so intently for so long, it generally can be explained by God's working through natural means to heal them. The healing is still of God, when it comes, but it is not usually an actual miracle. True healing occurs on God's terms alone: according to His perfect will and timing. It is never solely by the hands or words of a man." With room for beliefs between Cessationism and charismaticism, I appreciate her open ended statement that leaves room for the possibility for God to heal through miracles, though such occurrences be rare or unseen to many.
Elizabeth does an excellent job of connecting physical health and spiritual health and showing Scriptural support of how these are linked together. Seeing this link highlighted in the book was a helpful reminder to me in many ways, but particularly in demonstrating compassion as I love my neighbors/fellow believers and also in being able to better understand some of my own seeming spiritual struggles during times of physical weakness. In relation to that, Elizabeth included this helpful excerpt from Tasker's commentary on James:
"...when the body may be racked with pain and the mind considerably disturbed, it is not easy for the sufferer unaided to turn his thoughts in any articulate or concentrated manner to prayer, and he needs the consolation of other Christians in what may be for him a period of much spiritual distress."
One minor weakness of the book, particularly in potential audience scope, is the use of the King James Version as the Scripture text of choice. Having grown up using this version, I did not find it difficult to use; but at the same time, because of the frequency of Scriptural quotations and excerpts, it may be confusing to some. Additionally, I found weakness in some of the arguments and logic used to demonstrate that the use of doctors and medicines would be Biblically commendable. (I do agree with the author's conclusions, but wonder if perhaps the same logic and argumentation could be used to prove any number of things that many Christians would also think unbiblical.)
Regardless of current health status, this would be a helpful study for any believer. In addition to the main text of the book, there are also several valuable appendices at the end of the book.
Table of Contents:
Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book to review, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
(Mostly) helpful information on essentials to good, prolonged health; horrible use and manipulation of Scripture. I appreciate what the book says and(Mostly) helpful information on essentials to good, prolonged health; horrible use and manipulation of Scripture. I appreciate what the book says and the importance placed on health, but the author could probably use a few pillars of hermeneutics in his life. ...more
"Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating."
In many ways, the lack of margin is like being in debt. If you've ever read (or, listened to) Dave Ramsey, just take the same concepts and apply it to our use of time.
The first portion of the book deals with the evolution of marginless living, moving alongside the growth of "progress." Swenson states it well by saying, "Because most of us do not yet know what margin is, we also do not know what marginless is. We feel distressed, but in ill-defined ways. We can tell life isn't quite what it used to be or perhaps not quite what we expected it should be. Then we look at our cars, homes and big screen TVs and conclude that our distress must be in our imaginations." My Encounter with Margin I first encountered the concept of margin long before I knew there was a term for it. But there was a definite need for it. Daniel and I were on the brink of facing burn-out from being too involved in too many areas of life with too little time. At least, the problem I thought we had was too little time. In reality, we had just as much as everyone else: 24 hours in our days, and 168 hour each week.
We had moved into a lower-income neighborhood for the specific purpose of trying to get to know our neighbors and having a ministry with them (that was linked with our church at that time). Our problem of not enough margin came to our attention both gradually, but also through some very vivid instances. We began to realize that we had no time to actually get to know our neighbors--there was always a church activity, school activity, or work scheduled into every hour. We were working with the youth group of our church, and though we often did yardwork as a youth group activity, our own yard was becoming overgrown because we never had time to be at home much more than to head to bed or make and eat a quick meal. My husband was in seminary during that time, and several times a semester he would get so sick that he would just stay in bed and sleep for a 24-hour period. We couldn't hear the "you need margin" alarms elsewhere, and so his body was forcing him to slow down.
Gradually, we began to. I was pregnant, and stopped working outside the home several months prior to the baby's birth. My husband, too, began to slow down, and eventually the problem became much clearer. We heard whisperings of margin as a friend advised, "You don't have to be back in church the Sunday after having your baby--it does not make you more or less spiritual. In fact, it might be the opposite." I heeded her advice, and my first months of motherhood were better for it. Although she intended her advice for a specific season, I began to see that I needed margin in many other areas of life, as well. Busyness was not synonymous with godliness, contrary to my previous belief that more busy equaled greater spirituality.
I was excited to learn that there was also a book by this title, and of course, a much more in depth look at the concept of and need for margin. I came across the book in attempt to do further study on the subject, and am definitely the better for reading this book. Convicting and Encouraging Although I felt we have moved forward in this area, I was reminded of the importance of continual reevaluation in this area, particularly as members of a society that prizes and honors busyness. As Swenson remarks, "Often we do not feel overload sneaking up on us. We instead feel energized by the rapidity of events and the challenge of our full days. Then one day we find it difficult to get out of bed. Not all threshold limits are appreciated as we near them, and it is only in exceeding them that we suddenly feel the breakdown."
Swenson touches on margin far more than it relates to margin in our use of time. He addresses the need for margin in financial matters, simplicity, and many other areas of life. The book is written from a Christian perspective, and I found the latter portion both convicting and encouraging. In the final portion, Swenson broaches on the issue of contentment, taking on a devotional tone.
In some areas, I felt the style of the book to be weak, but overall, the message of the book comes across loud and clear. It is also clear that Swenson practices what he preaches, and is quite passionate about the dire need for lifestyle changes among American people, Christians in particular. The first few anecdotes that open the book are like far too many sermons I have memories of--you get the idea that the speaker has a really good story that he really wants to tell, but then it has nothing to do with his sermon. I felt like this was what happened in the first two chapters; after that, I either noticed it less or the anecdotes actually connected to the theme a little better. :)
I definitely recommend this book for anyone living in our busy culture, and doubt that there anyone who would not profit from it in some way.
Have you read Margin? Do you see the need for margin in your life?
If ever there was a case in which you should not judge a book by its cover, Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to "The Passion of the Christ," would be a classic example. Though the cover art leaves you thinking it's going to be a pop-theology book or Jon Acuff-style book (although there is definitely a place for Jon Acuff's books), this book is quite academic in its examination of American church history and theology. Overview Nichols purports that the American Jesus is a by-product of the cultural ideologies flowing from various eras, some of it good, but much of it deceptively harmful. As indicated in the title, the book begins by examining the origins of an American Jesus during the era and teachings of the Puritans. He traces the trajectory of this Jesus through American church history, from the times of the founding fathers (e.g., Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, and Paine), the concurrent Victorian and rugged-frontier eras, the emergence of liberalism and fundamentalism, the CCM and Christian filmmaking industries, Christianized consumerism, and finally the hijacking of Jesus in support of political movements and agendas. Each chapter looks at multiple facets of how each epoch shaped the identity of the American Jesus, both negatively and positively.
This is one of those books that, even while I disagreed with some of the author's conclusions, has nonetheless made a significant impact on my thinking for the year. Unless Tim Keller writes some more books fast (he did just release another), I'm guessing this book is going to go on my list of ten best reads for the year. :) Value Paradigm-Shifting and Perspective-Tilting
This book provides an excellent lens through which to view our current culture, both secular and Christian, both the culture at large and our smaller subcultures. I found myself doing this with clearer perspective after reading this book. Particularly with the increase of social media use this presidential election year, Facebook statuses and tweets laced with founding father quotes, spiritualized materialism, and religious elitism were an excellent reminder of how we all fail to see how much we've allowed culture to override our religion.
Sadly, American Christianity is far more influenced by culture than we would like to believe. So ensconced are we in our own culture that we accept spiritualized untruth and allow it to seamlessly flow into our once pure streams of pure doctrine, and it happens so gradually that we never notice the waters are tainted.
While Nichols exercise keen insight and awareness into the way our Christian subculture is a reflection of the cultural sensibilities at large, he is not aloof or misinformed of his surrounding culture. On the contrary, he seems very well-versed, a sometimes participant, in much of secular and Christianized entertainment, yet without appearing to indulge in it. This is a rare combination, but one that lends credibility to his cultural critique.
Highlighted the Importance of Robust Doctrine and Right Living
Both indirectly and directly, this book highlighted to me the importance of both robust doctrine and right living (and right community), and how they are united. Nichols seems to bifurcate the two throughout the book, giving the Puritans a pass on their glaring approval of human mistreatment, simply because their doctrine was correctly aligned. (To clarify, I realize that every era of theologians will have their own blind spots that will eventually be glaringly obvious when given the hindsight of time and distance.)
Robust doctrine is essential. We cannot have mere pendulum-swing theology and teaching that focuses on reacting to what the religious community perceives to be the cultural errors. Yet, this is what happened during various American eras, and we have allowed those cultural emphases to shape "our Jesus," both in conservative and liberal divisions of American Christianity.
As John R. W. Stott wrote (183), "every heresy is due to an overemphasis upon some truth, without allowing other truths to qualify and balance it." In the first portion of the book, Nichols highlights the dangers of reactions to the Puritans preaching, yet the reactionary back-swing of the pendulum can be equally dangerous when not taught along with all doctrine and the truths to qualify and balance.
For instance, we must study and teach diligently both Jesus' humanity and His divinity. If the culture or doctrinally weak religious institutions of the time overemphasize Jesus' humanity, it can be tempting to attempt to try to correct this by overemphasizing His divinity (or, vice versa--heresies exist in both overemphases). The Church must teach both aspects of Jesus' identity, though a heavier, still balanced, emphasis on one or the other may be appropriate in varying contexts. Concerns and Criticisms: Nichols seems to suggest, at times, that doctrine is more important than lifestyle. While one cannot have right living apart from right theology, it seems il-advised to elevate one above the other, or even to attempt to separate the two.
I'm not against strong writing, but there is a problem with overstatement. And, sometimes, Nichols tends to overstate his point. In demonstrating the Jesus Made in America of today or bygone eras, he seems to focus on otherwise innocuous expressions of contextualized biblical lifestyle or teaching as a sign of the Jesus made in their own image. When you're hunting coyotes in the woods, every moving branch appears to be a coyote.
Drawing major conclusions from historical instances is dicey work. For one, there are probably plenty of examples to counter the argument you're trying to make. Second, you may never know how many examples to muster in order to prove your point. Nichols is an admirable historian, yet there are points at which the point he is making seems dubious at best, based on the historical exhibits. (For example, he discusses the theology of Puritans Edward Taylor and Jonathan Edwards to make a broad conclusion regarding the Puritans as a whole. Choosing two out of the many American Puritans may be the case for an observation, but perhaps not an airtight conclusion.) In essence, Nichols runs the risk of historical cherry-picking — selecting one or two examples, then purporting such examples to be representative of an era, and thus the linchpin of a major point.
Where does contextualization end and misappropriation begin? Christianity must be contextualized for every age and culture, just as it was in its 1st century ancient Roman setting. The fine line between contextualization and compromise has vexed the church for centuries. In some areas, Nichols may simply be looking at appropriate contextualization, and vilifying it as an American fabrication of Jesus; yet in others, he very clearly and helpfully points out the dangers of subtle misappropriation dressed up in contextualization and spiritualization.
When reading an erudite author, it can be easy to think that whatsoever the author saying is truth. Nichols is both a brilliant scholar and a skilled writer, that it can be easy to let everything he says pass uncontested. There are some areas, as in any book, where we may view his conclusions with some degree of thoughtful hesitancy.
Some of these statements of the book are particularly insightful, and worth reflecting on.
"Once Jesus is liberated from the confines of revelation, he ends up looking a lot like the ideals of his reinterpreters." (55)
"The first step in retooling Christ means freeing Christ from the abstractions of creeds and instead looking to the simpler Jesus who graces the pages of the New Testament. The second step entails an emphasis on personally experiencing Jesus over merely learning of him. More often then not, this second step means looking beyond the pages of the New Testament." (77)
"Commodifying evangelism turns persons who relate into customers who buy, a rather alien approach to that of Christ's." (187)
"Listening to the critics of evangelicalism, both sympathetic and not, may go a long way to helping see blind spots. Perhaps evangelicals especially have such blind spots because of putting Jesus, whether its on the [political] left or the right, in the wrong place." (212)
"Co-opting Christianity for the cause of politics does not serve to elevate, but reduce Christianity, to relegate it to a place it does not deserve." (215)
"American evangelicals have sterling proficiency in the realm of the subjective and experiential. But not all of the answers to life's questions come from within or come from our own time." (224)
Back to Those Puritans As to Nichols's seeming eagerness to gloss over the faults of the Puritans, I believe that theologian-pastor Thabiti Anyabwile does an excellent job addressing this common-to-more-than-just-Nichols issue in his somewhat recent article, "The Puritans Are Not That Precious," particularly from points five and onward. I believe this paragraph addresses the Puritans as presented in this book, in particular:
"[G]ood theology does not mechanically lead to good living. We need to understand this. It’s a commonplace Christian assertion that if we believe the right things we ought to do the right things. Then we’re perplexed when either people who believe the right things actually do vile things, or people with supposedly faulty theology actually live better than the orthodox. We’re left groping for explanations and defenses. How did the Puritans “miss it”? Why did “liberals” seem to “get it”? Well, “it” doesn’t follow mechanically, ipso facto, ex opere operato from some set of solid beliefs. There’s a whole lot of effort, application, resistance to the world, self-examination, and mortification that’s gotta accompany the doctrine in order for the duty to follow. As Flav put it, “They’re blind, baby, because they can’t see.” That’s why they missed it; they couldn’t see it. Their theology wasn’t a corrective lense; it didn’t fix the cataracts. It didn’t fix the degenerative sight of Southern Presbyterians who also missed it, or the Dutch Reformed of South Africa who not only missed it but supported Apartheid, or some of the German Reformed who missed it in Nazi Germany, and so on. And this is why I’m made slightly nervous by the tendency of some Reformed types to advocate “pure” doctrine and demur at “pure” social action. The Puritan movement was a movement in church reform and revival, and some of their heirs (I count myself one) can be too purely concerned about the purity of the church without a commensurate concern about the purity of social witness. We can stack our chips on theology, as though theology inexorably produces the social results we want with little to no attending effort. Mistake, I think. The Puritans prove that."
Thomas Kidd also offers helpful, related thoughts and reactions here.
I am sometimes wary when I hear the phrase "intentional parenting," because of it's occasional exercised meaning ofobsessive parenting, narrate-every
I am sometimes wary when I hear the phrase "intentional parenting," because of it's occasional exercised meaning of obsessive parenting, narrate-every-move-parenting, helicopter parenting, or the like. However, the focus of intentional parenting in Intentional Parenting: Family Discipleship by Design is what parenting looks like in the context of intentional family discipleship.
Author Tad Thompson uses the metaphor of various rooms of the house to examine what the framework of intentional discipleship should look like within the Christian family. In the metaphorical room of the kitchen, he looks at 7 components that he considers to be must-have ingredients for Christian family discipleship: The Gospel, The Big Story (Biblical Theology), The Big Truths (Systematic Theology), The Great Commission, Spiritual Disciplines, Christian Living, and Worldview. Under the section on "The Gospel," he also examines the common false gospels of "Personal Improvement," of "Prosperity," and “Pray the Prayer gospel"-- false Gospels which are all too common ways the Gospel is presented to children in som evangelical ministries.
The book is divided into six chapters, and reads like a lengthy sermon on the subject:
1) The Need: Look
2) The Mirror: See
3) The Kitchen: The Ingredients of Family Discipleship
4) The Living Room: Contexts for Teaching and Learning
5) The Bedroom: Speaking to Our Children’s Hearts
6) Time to Engage
I found this book to be both encouraging and convicting as we seek to intentionally disciple our now three children. The author strongly emphasizes that the family/home is the primary realm in which the discipleship of children (of believers) is to take place, viewing parents as the primary agents of discipleship. In the current season of our family's life, we've chosen not to outsource the discipleship of our children (e.g., no preschool, Sunday school, Christian daycare, etc..., and so it is an extremely daunting consideration to think that what our children know of God they have either learned from us or by our side (e.g., sitting in a church service mostly geared toward adults). While it is certainly not a formula for a family's spiritual success, I found the emphasis on the components that should be involved as parents seek to disciple their family to be helpful. Instead of a method, the book does more to lay out a matrix through which to view family discipleship.