My therapist told me to ignore the first half of this book due to its technicality and just read the spiritual practices section in the latter half. IMy therapist told me to ignore the first half of this book due to its technicality and just read the spiritual practices section in the latter half. I wish I had followed his advice. I found my eyes glazing over, but I was stubborn and pushed through. Benner just was not very accessible, too heady. It wasn't without value, though. His distinction between spirit and soul was a useful model for understand different parts of the internal self, though they are not truly "spirit" and "soul" as the Bible sees them, I think. I also believe that Benner has a healthy and more truly Christian view of the body and its goodness and centrality to our humanness.
The practices section at the end had much more value for me. I desperately need to become more aware and present, less lost in my own head or unfocused in my attention. And a sense of wonder is desperately needed in our jaded society. Other practices he expounds on are valuing the other, accepting reality, and learning to surrender our illusions of control.
My last thought is best expressed by Goodreads reviewer Rod White:
"In his later years, [Benner] seems to have spent so much time in Asia and in working across religious boundaries, that he is coming up with his own syncretism, and promoting another version of the 'religion of no religion.'"
So much of this book felt like an interfaith meeting, where Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, and even atheist all affirm that they are all true and one. I can get on board with learning from other religions and even that they have a greater handle on different aspects of truth than many Christians have, but my commitment to Christianity is grounded in the belief that it is actually true, that Jesus really does offer fullness of life that no other source does. He actually did rise from the dead and offers the same hope for his disciples at the end of time, and in the meantime, he offers a new way of living that transforms relationships and societies at large.
This did not feel like a Christian book at all, except that general truths about living true to one's self and to life are espoused, but there's not much of Jesus here, no resurrection, no call to follow the Christian way, and certainly no claim that it is an exclusive way. I kept asking myself, "If I do what this book says and become a fulfilled soulful spiritualist, then what does Jesus have to offer me?" In the gospels, he offers life that is overflowing, and I think that Benner describes a lot of what this life looks like, but I also come away thinking that he doesn't believe in the uniqueness of the Christian vision.
Another Goodreads review, Brian Vineyard, summed my thoughts up well:
"I rate [the book] the way I have because I believe a true and healthy spirituality is driven by God's Spirit as it courses through us. To me, Benner's work seemed more about an individual realizing him/herself toward awareness and seemed, by the writing, to be possible without the Spirit or much needed involvement of God at all - as if God were out somewhere in space just waiting for us to realize ourselves toward him as our end-goal destination. "...more
One of the two best commentaries I have ever read. N. T. Wright's approach is to paint with broad strokes, not walk through John's gospel verse by verOne of the two best commentaries I have ever read. N. T. Wright's approach is to paint with broad strokes, not walk through John's gospel verse by verse, but in doing so, he really captures the spirit of the book. I left feeling like I knew what it was about, more so than I have in my own readings of the text. He uses his own translations, opens each section with a brief story that makes a connection to the events, and then simply and clearly shows how those particular verses fit into the grand message of the beloved disciple.
John is my favorite book of the Bible, and Wright made it even more so....more
I loved this! N. T. Wright, whose New Perspective on Paul makes many evangelicals wary of him, is nevertheless a brilliant scholar with a high regardI loved this! N. T. Wright, whose New Perspective on Paul makes many evangelicals wary of him, is nevertheless a brilliant scholar with a high regard for the scriptures. At first, I was disappointed by the small size of this first volume. (It's only 150 pages or so.) But even though Wright won't address meticulous and very particular issues, he nevertheless manages to illuminate the episodes of John in new and easy to understand ways, and he weaves them all together to point out the main message of this gospel. I feel like my understanding of my favorite biblical book is better. The title does not disappoint: this little volume is accessible to everyone....more
I have heard two sermon series on the Song of Songs, both of which used the book as a sort of guide or example for dating, marriage, and sex. Both ofI have heard two sermon series on the Song of Songs, both of which used the book as a sort of guide or example for dating, marriage, and sex. Both of them left me unsatisfied and thinking that the preachers were not doing justice to the poems. Likewise, many translations of the Bible seem to be hopelessly obscure to anyone without a commentary.
So it's refreshing to read two translators who have taken the plunge and made a commitment to a particular interpretation. Even if they may get things wrong (the beloved or the brothers may not be speaking these particular lines, e.g.), at least the result is comprehensible and quite beautiful. I actually feel like I basically understand the Song of Songs.
The translators see the poems as a back and forth expression of sexual love between the Shulamite and a shepherd. It is full of fantastic, constantly merging imagery, creating a fragrant landscape in the full bloom of spring and abounding with wild animals, spices, fruits, and exotic locations. The Blochs see Solomon's presence in the poems as roll play between the lover and the beloved. The most controversial thing they say is that the lovers are not married.
A very nice work. There is an introduction and an epilogue, Hebrew script on the page opposite to the English, and a lengthy verse-by-verse commentary that is mostly comprehensible, though a little on the learned side. I was more interested in just what is going on in the episodes rather than the various meanings of a particular Hebrew word....more
Lewis finds a niche for himself in these essays on the Psalms. He is no Biblical expert, he says, but the commentaries of Biblical scholars often failLewis finds a niche for himself in these essays on the Psalms. He is no Biblical expert, he says, but the commentaries of Biblical scholars often fail to consider the questions of the average reader of the Psalms, questions that Lewis himself has. So Lewis writes his own thoughts in hopes of "comparing notes" with other students like himself. Of course, as one goodreads reviewer has already pointed out, there are hardly other students like the brilliant Lewis.
How can someone who is a sinner himself ask so confidently for God's judgment on others? What are we to make of the cringe-worthy psalms of cursing? Why does it seem that many of the psalms reflect no belief in the after-life? Why would God, unless he were vain, demand to be praised all the time? How can the psalms have a second meaning beyond that of its original intention? Lewis addresses these questions honestly and beautifully.
What I appreciate about Lewis's approach is that he brings us to the original singer of the particular psalm within its original context without immediately assuming a New Testament interpretation. Thus, mention of salvation almost invariably refers to rescue from danger or sickness, not salvation from sin. (Although, as he points out later, such an interpretation is legitimate for the Christian.) The psalmist's desire for judgment is a desire for a righteous judge to take up the cause of the oppressed; our own hesitancy to pray for such a thing is centered on our well-founded awareness that we are sinners and that we want mercy, not judgment. When a particular psalmist says that no one praises God from the grave, Lewis does not try to invent a convoluted explanation of why the psalmist did in fact expect to be in God's presence when he died; he did not have this hope, Lewis says, because God had not yet chosen to give a clear revelation of this reality, and Lewis goes into a discussion about how God wanted to teach his people to desire him, not an afterlife.
Lewis's take on the inspiration of scripture may find disagreement from those who believe in the infallibility of the Bible. His approach to the psalms and the scriptures as a whole allows for a much greater presence of humanity with all its proneness to errors, ignorance, and even sin. Thus, Lewis condemns the cursing psalms while still finding that God wanted them in the canon. After all, they teach us that injustice done to the individual not only wrongs him, but arouses hatred within him.
I will not go into Lewis's approach to second meanings in the psalms, except to say that he explains well and accepts the multiple layers of meaning within the psalms. The last essay is a beautiful description of the presence of Christ in the psalms. I also won't go into Lewis's explanation of why the psalms demand praise from us, except to say that it's a classic and a must-read....more
A collection of conversations and letters, this short work provides a good devotional stressing the practice of being aware of God's presence continuaA collection of conversations and letters, this short work provides a good devotional stressing the practice of being aware of God's presence continually throughout the day. The Practice of the Presence of God is available for free online....more
This book is primarily a comparison between the Enuma Elish and several fragmentary creation myths of the Babylonians with Genesis 1-2 and a few otherThis book is primarily a comparison between the Enuma Elish and several fragmentary creation myths of the Babylonians with Genesis 1-2 and a few other Old Testament passages.
Chapter 1: Enuma Elish. My primary reason for purchasing this book was to read this myth, and I wasn't disappointed. Heidel precedes it with a helpful summary to orient the reader. The story itself celebrates the ascension of Marduk to the position of king of all the gods, a title awarded to him for his victory over the mother of all the gods Tiamat, who represents the primordial salt water whence everything else came into being. From her carcass, he creates the sky and the earth. He then creates the moon, the stars, and the planets. Finally, from the blood of Kingu (Tiamat's consort/general of her armies), Marduk creates man. The myth concludes with the celebration of Marduk's victory and the recital of his fifty names.
Chapter 2: Related Babylonian Creation Stories. These are framgentary but interesting stories that add details to the Enuma Elish or give alternate accounts.
Chapter 3: Old Testament Parallels. Heidel considers the similarities of the Babylonian stories with Genesis 1-2 primarily, but includes other Old Testament passages. His conclusion is that the similarities are definitely there but that they are overblown, and the differences between the two accounts are more striking....more
What I love about Richard Foster is that he is steeped in the story of the church. He is not bound within the narrow constraints of a particular straiWhat I love about Richard Foster is that he is steeped in the story of the church. He is not bound within the narrow constraints of a particular strain of Christianity but seeks to know what the Spirit of God has been doing since Pentecost. What results is a rich book on prayer, exploring a variety of kinds of prayer that I would not expect. Some of the chapters I have my doubts on (the prayer of contemplation, the prayer of authority), but they challenged me to stretch....more
A thorough, scholarly work. From early republic to Christianity, the authors trace out the history of Roman religion. An excellent job of maintainingA thorough, scholarly work. From early republic to Christianity, the authors trace out the history of Roman religion. An excellent job of maintaining the complexity and the Roman-ness of Roman religion and of resisting the urge to make unfounded statements based on theories of how all religions develop. Almost all of my preconceptions of Roman religion (many based on short summaries of Roman religion) were refuted.
My only problem with the work was that the authors take a lot of knowledge for granted. They do not go through the Roman gods and tell who they were, nor do they describe the worship of Lares or define what a genius was. A good work but most suitable for graduate students. Look elsewhere for an introduction....more
Simplicity, says Foster, is far more than getting rid of household clutter. It starts with inner simplicity, a state of awareness of and communion witSimplicity, says Foster, is far more than getting rid of household clutter. It starts with inner simplicity, a state of awareness of and communion with God. It means learning to have a single focus--hearing his voice and obeying. It entails simplicity and truthfulness of speech. It has as its goal the ability to serve others, to give more of one's money, time, and talents. Foster moves on from individual simplicity to simplicity in the church and then from there to its impact on the world. He recognizes the complexity (oddly enough) of applying simplicity to society and helpfully gives concrete examples to get one's creativity flowing. An excellent, extremely convicting book, and much-needed in a culture of affluence, waste, and unhappiness....more
A beautiful, skillfully composed autobiography of Merton's journey into Christianity and then into a Trappist monastary. The author's insights into ChA beautiful, skillfully composed autobiography of Merton's journey into Christianity and then into a Trappist monastary. The author's insights into Christianity, Communism, World War II, and the world in general are often stunning and cutting. Good Christian writing. Some interesting comments that come to mind: Merton sees World War II as the natural result of his own sin; he says that we are all called to be saints, and that just one can change the course of this world, that Communism would utterly fail if Catholics just followed their calling to love the poor, and he writes that the highest calling of all Christians is to contemplate God and to share the overflow of his love with the world....more
The way we often view time in our culture, says Webber, is that it is always running out, always linear, never enough, but for the Christian, it can bThe way we often view time in our culture, says Webber, is that it is always running out, always linear, never enough, but for the Christian, it can be a rhythm of remembrance of the great events of salvation. Even more than that, we can live these events, become joined with the Christ of these events, and so have our spirituality formed by his Spirit.
For a Protestant who had never really celebrated anything besides Christmas and Easter, this was enlightening and even devotional. I have become excited by it and am looking forward to celebrating the Christian calendar this year.
A good summary, from Webber himself:
"Advent is a time to wait. Christmas is a time to rejoice. Epiphany is a time to witness. Lent is a time for repentance and renewal. The Great Triduum is a time to enter death. Easter is a time to express the resurrected life. After Pentecost is a time to study and evangelize."...more