Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Telling Yourself the Truth

Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian. Bethany House Publishers, 2000. 220 Pages. ISBN 978-0-7642-23259

Telling Yourself the Truth was first published in 1980. It has sold over 600,000 copies. The book applies the principles of misbelief therapy to depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and other problems. William Backus founded the Center for Christian Psychological Services, was a licensed consulting psychologist, and an ordained minister of the gospel. Dr. Backus did follow-up studies on his patients and found the treatment was highly successful. Marian Chapin, Ph.D., is a Christian counselor.

Backus defines Misbelief Therapy as "putting the truth into our value systems, philosophies, demands, expectations, moralistic and emotional assumptions, as well as the words we tell ourselves." Jesus tells us the truth will make us free. He shows how we can apply the truth to the misbeliefs we tell ourselves. In addition, he shows how what we think influence how we feel.

Telling Yourself the Truth consists of fourteen chapters. Chapters one through three describes the key concepts that will be applied to common human problems like depression, anxiety, lack of self-control, self-hate, and other problems. Chapter one describes the process of applying misbelief therapy to common problems. First, you have to "locate your misbeliefs." Second, you must argue against them. Third, replace the misbeliefs with the truth. Backus states that "the word misbelief is an important word. In fact, it's the most appropriate label we can think of for some of the ridiculous things we tell ourselves. The amount of suffering we experience due to sustained bouts of negative thinking and battered emotions is outrageous" (17). Chapter two looks at the origins of our misbeliefs and chapter three describes self-talk. Backus defines self-talk as the "words we tell ourselves in our thoughts. It means the words we tell ourselves about people, self, experiences, life in general, God, the future, the past, the present; it is specifically, all of the words you say to yourself all of the time" (28).

Telling Yourself the Truth does a good job in describing the principle of misbelief therapy and how it can help people to live happier lives. The authors are Christians and the principles they teach are compatible with Christian beliefs. The principles are also confirmed by the writings of cognitive therapists like Albert Ellis and A. T. Beck. This book is recommended for all those who want to learn how to apply the truth to their misbeliefs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Calling and Clarity

This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:

Catholic Library World V. 85, No. 4 June 2015: 272-273.

Calling and Clarity: Discovering What God Wants for Your Life
By Doug Koskela, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015, 120 pp., ISBN 978-0-8028-7159-6, $15.00 (paper).
A college student went to see her professor in her office one day. She asked her professor: “I want to serve God with my life, but I don’t know where to begin. It’s not clear to me what major would be best for me or in what career I can best serve God. How can I discern God’s calling for my life (xi)?” Many young adults experience both confusion and frustration in trying to discover God’s plan for their life. Doug Koskela, associate professor of theology and associate dean for undergraduate studies in the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University, in his book, Calling and Clarity: Discovering What God Wants for Your Life, seeks to provide clarity on the different kinds of callings: Missional Calling, Direct Calling, and General Calling. In addition, he wants to “relieve some of the frustration” (xv) that young adults experience in seeking God’s direction for their life.
Calling and Clarity includes five chapters which discuss three different kinds of calling, a chapter on discerning one’s vocation, and a chapter on the God who calls. Chapter one discusses “the concept of missional calling.” The term “missional calling refers to the main contribution that your life makes to God’s kingdom” (2). This calling can be expressed in various way throughout your life. It may overlap with your career, but it is distinct from it. This is the calling that aligns with your gifts, passions, and opportunities. The author believes that it “usually takes significant time, prayer, and communal involvement to discern” (5). Koskela emphasizes various times on the importance of the community in finding one’s calling.

Direct calling is discussed in chapter two. The author states that “instances of direct calling involve specific tasks that God directs the individual to do” (25). This call is usually very clear and the only question is how to know it is from God. Confirming this call with the help of other people is essential. The last type of call is general calling. This is what God expects of every believer.

Koskela does an excellent job of describing the three different types of call. Calling and Clarity l provides helpful assistance to the young adult or older adult seeking to discern God’s will for their life. This reviewer wishes this book was around when he was a young college student. This book is recommended for all libraries.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to Think Theologically

Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke, How to Think Theologically. Fortress Press, 2006. 2nd edition. 142 pages.

Stone and Duke do an excellent job on teaching us how to think theologically. You might ask the questions, What is thinking theologically and why should we do it? Isn't theological thinking what theologians do. I am glad you ask. The Bible teaches us that we are to apply its teachings to every area of our life. James tells us that we are do be doers of the Word and not hearers only. Thinking theologically is required of all Christians. The authors note, To be Christian at all is to be a theologian. There are no exceptions. Basically, theological thinking is the art of thinking about the Christian faith and how it applies to life.

Howard W. Stone is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Pastoral Counseling at Brite Divinity School. He has written multiple books including Depression and Hope. James O. Duke is Professor of History of Christianity and Historical Theology at Brite Divinity School. He has written Makers of Christian Theology in America.

How to Think Theologically is divided into nine chapters plus an introduction. Chapter one provides a general groundwork for the book. It presents three main ideas: faith, understanding, and reflection. The authors distinguish embedded theology from deliberative theology. Embedded theology is our daily encounters with our Christian faith, "formal and informal, planned and unplanned." Deliberative theology is our reflecting on our embedded theology. The authors state, "Deliberative reflection questions what had been taken for granted. It inspects a range of alternative understandings in search of that which is most satisfactory and seeks to formulate the meaning of faith as clearly and coherently as possible" (17).

Chapter two define theology. The authors think theological thinking is a craft. It includes interpreting "the meaning of the Christian faith;" correlating interpretations; and assessing the interpretations and and correlations. All of these characteristics are part of reflection. The next chapter provides information on the resources of theological thinking: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. The authors present the method of theological thinking in chapter four. The method is covered in the rest of the book: the Gospel, the Human Condition, vocation, theological thinking within community, and the Holy Spirit.

The authors do a great job in explaining theological thinking for the church members of Christian churches. In other words, the reader does not need seminary training to understand the book. The authors provide illustrations and examples throughout the book. They include additional readings at the end of each chapter. I recommend this book for all Christians who are serious about the Christian faith.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Connecting Your Work to God's Work

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work by Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, New York: Riverhead Books, 2012. 288 pp.

Every Good Endeavor is an excellent presentation on what the Bible says about work and how to apply its teaching to our job. Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church in New York City. He has written many books on the Christian faith including Reason for God. Alsdorf worked for twenty-five years in the high-tech industry before being hired by Redeemer Presbyterian church to lead its Center for Faith & Work. She writes about her experience in the foreword of the book. She notes, After struggling with her own "call to serve God in business," she was give the opportunity to help others to live out their vocational calling.

In the introduction, Keller quotes from Robert Bellah's Habits of the Heart: "To make a real difference . . . [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one's own advancement" (1-2). Keller in this book seeks to recover the idea of work as a calling or vocation. Keller illustrates his point by commenting on J.R.R. Tolkien's short story "leaf by Niggle." He suggests this story shows how we can connect our work to God's work. Every Good Endeavor  seeks to answer three questions: What is your motivation for working? Why is work so difficult? "How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel?"

The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Keller presents "God's Plan for Work." The topics covered are work's design, work's dignity, work as cultivation and service. The second part discusses the problems of work. Two of these problems of work can be selfishness and making work an idol. The third part applies the Gospel to our work. One of the ways he accomplishes this is by connecting work to a Christian world-view. He makes three points: The whole world is good. The whole world is fallen. The whole world is going to be redeemed. One can see several conclusions from these points. God created the world. He meant for us to cultivate and develop it. Though it is fallen, we are called to work with God in redeeming it.

Every Good Endeavor is a good presentation of a Christian view of work. It shows how work can be calling and through our work we can serve others. It helps to restore the reformation view of work as a calling. It also helps us to see that there is no divide between sacred and secular. What we do in the world is God's calling as much as what ministers do in the church.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Christianity and Scholarship in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church

For the Whole Creation: Christianity and Scholarship in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church, John Stevens Paul and James old, editors. Valparaiso University, 2010.

What does the Gospel have to do with the intellectual life? What role should Christianity play in the Public Square, academic disciplines, and the Church? How should the Gospel shape the work and life of scholars? These and many others questions concerning how Christian scholars do their work are addressed by scholars from different disciplines and faith traditions. These papers are the result of a conference for the Postdoctoral Fellows Program at Valparaiso University. The four main topics addressed by these papers were: The Christian Academic and the Public Square, The Christian Academic at Home: Finding the Balance, The Christian Academic and the Professional Guild, and the Christian Academic and the Church. All of the papers are thoughtful expressions of their topic that will stimulate Christian reflection on how to pursue Christian scholarship in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church.

The essays are followed by Mark R. Schwehn's Keynote Address which title is "Embracing Wisdom." Scwehn's major text is Sirach 6:25-28:

My child, from your youth chose discipline, and when you have gray hair/You will find wisdom./ Come to her with all your soul, and keep her ways with all your might./ Search out and seek, and she will become known to you; and when you get/Hold of her, do not let her go./ For at last you will find the rest she gives, and she will be changed into joy for you.

The author thinks that most academics today would object to the idea "that the quest for wisdom is the proper business of the college or university" (118). Most would think that the objective of the university is the "pursuit of specialized knowledge, or the advancement of science, or service to society through scholarship, teaching, and professional formation." Many will think that is the job of religion or that it is an unreachable goal. The author provides three reasons he thinks that Christian academics should see their work as a quest for wisdom. First the Ph.D should mean that we are lovers of wisdom. The second reason "comes to us by virtue of our spiritual/geographical location at the intersection of the ways to and from Athens and Jerusalem" (120). We are inheritors to two different wisdom traditions: Athens and Jerusalem. Both of these traditions are opposed "to the comparatively narrow tradition of scientific rationality that governs and informs so much of higher learning today" (121). The third reason for the quest of wisdom is our "sense of vocation." Dietrich Bonhoeffer "insisted that we Christians have but one call, and that is the call to follow Jesus unconditionally" (122). We are to serve our neighbor through our work. We must pursue our work at a calling. Schwehn notes, "We will and we should spend most of our time working within the narrower domains of our specialties and sub-specialties. But we must, especially in these times, be ready to stand up for the good of our disciplines, and of the larger field of higher learning of which these disciplines are parts, for, in other words, the continuing search for wisdom" (123). Despite the idolization of specialization,  the need for asking the big questions remain. Christian Academics have a role to play in the Public Square, the Guild, and the Church.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Decision Making and the Will of God

Gary Friesen with J. Robin Maxon, Decision Making and the Will of God. Multonomah Books, 2004. Revised and updated edition. Originally published in 1980. 526 pages. ISBN: 9781590522059

Decision Making and the Will of God was originally Friesen's dissertation for his Ph.D in Biblical Studies which he turned into a controversial book in 1980. It was controversial because it examined the traditional view (Bull's Eye theory) and found it biblically deficient. This edition published in 2004 is a revised and updated edition. It is a stronger book. I liked the first book, but the second book strengthens or at least makes clearer many concepts of the wisdom view. In addition, the second book uses fewer pages to describe the traditional view and more space on presenting the wisdom view. It is a much improved book.

Part one presents a brief outline of the traditional view. It includes two chapters. The first chapter presents a fictional story of seeking guidance and the second chapter describes the traditional view. The traditional view teaches that God has three wills: sovereign, moral, and individual. God's individual will includes four elements: 1. A detailed plan for all decisions in a believer's life. 2. The believer is able to find and know it. 3. Believers are expected to find it as part of the Christian life. Believers can miss it by failure to discover and obey it. The individual will of God is discovered through the Bible, circumstances, inner impressions, counsel, desires, common sense, and supernatural guidance. Often it is taught that God leads through inner impressions or experience of inner peace.

Friesen critiques the traditional view in part two of the book. He does not believe three wills are taught in the Scripture. He argues that the will of God is what is revealed in the Bible. He does not believe the Bible teaches the "dot" theory. The idea that there is only one spouse, one job, one place picked out to live. In addition, he critiques the idea that God leads us through impressions. He says, impressions are impressions, influence by many factors. He argues that "impressions are not direct revelation and thus cannot give certainty" (97).

Friesen describes the wisdom view in part three. He describes four principles: 1. Where God commands, we must obey. 2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose. 3. Where there is no command. God gives us wisdom to choose. 4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good. In part four he applies the general principles to specific decisions: Should I get married? Who should I marry? Should I go into the ministry? What vocation should I choose and others. In appendix one he provides reviews of books on knowing God's will by Henry Blacaby, Jack Deere, Tim Lahaye, Elisabeth Elliot, Charles Swindoll, Dallas Williard, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, M. Blaine Smith, Bruce Waltke, James Montgomery Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, Os Guinness, James Petty, and  Haddon Robinson. This edition includes a study guide for studying the book in a group.

Decision Making and the Will of God"s length might cause some people to avoid it since it is over 400 pages. I think it is well worth the effort if someone is willing to tackle it. A similar smaller book is Haddon Robinson's Decision making by the book. This revised and updated version has made a good book even better.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Finding God's Will, Part 5

Here I Am: Now What Should I Be Doing? by Quentin J. Schultze. Baker Books, 2005. 109 pages. ISBN 0801065453 $12.50

Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I be Doing? by Quentin Schultze is both similar and different from the three other books I earlier reviewed on knowing the will of God for one's life. It is similar because it addresses similar questions of the earlier books: What is God's will for my life? What does he want me to do with my life. It is different because it has a different slant on the subject. It distinguishes vocation (calling) from station, the places we live out our callings. Your stations include "jobs, situations, and relationships." These stations may change every day. Schultze, a professor at Calvin college for over thirty years draws on both his experience of teaching and mentoring college students at Calvin and his own personal experience of following God's call.

Schultze asserts that our primary call is to follow Jesus Christ. We do this through serving others in all of our life's stations. A big part of our call is being care-takers. We are to care for others faithfully wherever God stations us. We are also part of God's plan to renew all things. The author notes, "The Bible says that each of us is called to care for God's world. The Old Testament defines this caring as 'being a blessing to others.' The New Testament focuses on 'loving God and neighbor.' God calls his people of all ages to be sacrificial care-takers, not to selfish career-seekers" (9). Schultze's emphasis on doing the will of God in our current situation is helpful. Too often we focus on the future when God's will lies clearly at hand.

The author believes that "our calling is a life-long process of connecting our shared vocation with our individual stations" (10). In other words, we are to work out our salvation in all of our stations. Our stations will change throughout our life, but our call to follow Christ in all our stations will not.

The book includes eight brief chapters. Chapter one discusses identifying our vocation and stations. The author states that God's call is "more like an unfolding relationship than a carefully planned trip" (13). As declared in the title, we make ourselves available to God. Chapter two tells us how to join God in the renewing of all things. We are to apply our faith to the world. We must live in the world and make a difference. The author notes, "whether we work in education, business, medicine, counseling, or recreation, we can by grace participate in God's renewal of a broken world" (26). Other chapters discuss monitoring our heart, caring for others and our stations, celebrating leisure, "flourishing in communities," friendship, hospitality, being a good neighbor, and leaving a legacy.

This brief book of 108 pages can be read quickly, but will provide much benefit to the reader. Any person seeking to know God's will for her life would not want to overlook this book. The author's emphasis on being faithful to our current situations is a good corrective to overemphasis on future-oriented thinking. In addition, he provides examples and insight on how to make the important decisions that all college students must make.