Monday, October 5, 2015

Live Your Calling

Kevin and Marie Brennfleck, Live Your Calling: A Practical Guide to Finding and Fulfilling Your Mission in Life. Jossey-Bass, 2005. 277 pages. ISBN 0-7879-6895-1.

Kevin and Marie Brennfleck's Live Your Calling is a practical handbook on discovering your interests, goals, values, passions, gifts and talents and living out your mission in life. Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck are specialists in helping people identify their giftedness and find their purpose in life. They are National Certified Counselors and National Certified Career Counselors. This book was helpful to me in better understanding my own calling in life. The authors lead the reader through some different exercises to fill out their own Life Calling Map.

Live Your Calling is divided into six parts. The first two chapters provide an overview of the book. In chapter one the authors discuss God's general calling and individual calling. Our primary calling is to follow Christ. Our work, or vocational calling, is one of our secondary callings. The authors note, "Your vocational calling is a summons from God to use your gifts in the world, whether it be within paid employment, the home, or volunteer activities" (7). Chapter two describes "Life Calling Compass" principles. The first principle is to "keep our primary calling primary." The primary calling is our relationship with God. The second principle is to "use our gifts to meet needs in the world" (15). The last principle is "God calls us to proactive stewardship of our gifts" (17).  To be faithful stewards of our gifts we must cultivate and exercise our gifts. Another point made in the chapter is that vocational calling is a "lifelong journey."

Part two begins the process of completing six inventories to identify the important parts of how God created you: "your most-enjoyed skills, core values, preferred roles, personality traits, compelling interests, and spiritual gifts" (xiii). When you finish these inventories you will transfer the results to your Life Calling Map. The authors include examples of other Life Calling Maps and provides hints in filling out your map. The last part discusses obstacles to living your mission. Some of these are fear, money, business, negative thinking, hurts from the past. Each chapter includes methods or strategies for overcoming these obstacles.

Living Your Calling is an excellent handbook for discovering your own calling. It is practical and easy to understand. This book is recommended to anyone who desires to discover their own mission in life.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education

What is the purpose of education? What is the difference between liberal and vocational education? What is leisure? What is the difference between leisure and work? What is the difference between living and living well? What does leisure have to do with living well? Mortimer Adler in his lecture, "Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education" addresses these issues. I have read this lecture multiple times over the years. Recently I read it again and was reminded about the importance of liberal education. It is the education that not only prepares us for our career, but how to make the best use of our time our whole life. It teaches us how to live well.

The lecture's main theme is the "distinction between labor and leisure." Though this is the main theme he addresses liberal education in both the beginning and the end of this lecture. The reason he focuses on the distinction between labor and leisure is because without recognizing this distinction, the hearer cannot understand the purpose of a liberal education. Adler believes we can only understand liberal education by understanding its end. And the end of liberal education "lies in the use we make of our leisure, in the activities with which we occupy our leisure time."

To support this thesis Adler proceeds in the following way. First he provides a definition of "liberal education in terms of leisure;" second, he explains the distinctions between work and leisure; third, he draws out implications "for the place of liberal education in an industrial democracy like our."

Now, I would like to describe some of the points he makes that seems significant to me. He tells us that education is a "practical activity" which seeks to improve men and women. There are two ways they can be improved. First, the focus can be improving their specific talents and abilities; or second, it can seek to improve the functions that common to all people. Adler associates a general education with liberal education. What I believe is really significant is that Adler describes the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic ends. Leisure activities are activities that are associated with intrinsic ends. These are "private excellences by which a man perfects his own nature, and those public excellences which can be translated into the performance of his moral or political duty." In other words, the ends are in the activity itself. Extrinsic ends would be work that we do to get a living from. One way to look at work is that it is something we do to earn money to get the things we need or want. Work is compulsory and leisure is voluntary. Work can be leisure if it is done for intrinsic ends, like perfecting ourselves in its pursuit.

An important point of this lecture is that we need a liberal education to be able to pursue leisurely activities. These are "intrinsically good activities which are both self-rewarding and meaningful beyond themselves." Adler states that leisurely activities are "such things as thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity." Vocational education has its place. It prepares you for work or a career. It cannot, prepare you or equip you to use leisurely activities well. It does not prepare you to keep learning your whole life. It helps you meet your subsistence needs, but not to live well. It is liberal education that prepares you and equips you to continue to learn and use leisurely activities well.

Adler makes an interesting observation about the difference between children and adults in regards to schooling:
"Liberal education can involve work simply because we find it necessary to compel children to begin, and for some years to continue, their educations. Whenever you find an adult, a chronological adult, who thinks that learning or study is work, let me say that you have met a child. One sign that you are grown up, that you are no longer a child, is that you never regard any part of study or learning as work. As long as learning or study has anything compulsory about it, you are still in the condition of childhood. The mark of truly adult learning is that it is done with thought of labor or work at all, with no sense of compulsory. It is entirely voluntary."

Let me leave you with one other quote that sums it all up:
"It is clear, I think, that liberal education is absolutely necessary for human happiness, for living a good human life. The most prevalent human ills are two: a man's discontent with the work he does and the necessity of having to kill time. Both these ills can be, in part, cured by liberal education. Liberal schooling prepares for a life of learning and for the leisure activities of a whole lifetime. Adult liberal education is an indispensable part of the life of leisure, which is a life of learning."

Thank you Mortimer for these excellent thoughts. Adler is kind of a hero for me. He devoted his life to this type of learning. I yearn to follow in his footsteps.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Engaging God's World

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. Eerdmans, 2002. 150 pages. ISBN 0-8028-3981-9

God wants to not only convert our heart, but our mind also. God calls us to love Him with our mind. As Mark Noll observed years ago, there was a need for evangelicals to develop the Christian mind. So often Christians might have been converted to Christ, but their thoughts and actions are determined by secularism. As Psalms one says, we are not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly. How can we develop a Christian mind? I am glad you asked. Plantinga shows us how in his book, Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. This book is especially written for college students to show them the main themes of Christian faith and how they apply to higher education. The big themes discussed in this book are creation, fall, redemption, vocation, the kingdom of God, and shalom. The author hopes these themes will provide the student with the ability to "recognize a world and life view" and be able to communicate it to others. The author quotes from three major sources as he addresses these themes in this book: the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Cathechism (1563), or the Canons of Dort (1618-19). The author is reformed, but he addresses these themes in a broad way that applies to all Christians.

Engaging God's World is divided into the five major themes: Hope, creation, fall, redemption, and vocation. In chapter one he describes the hope for shalom. Shalom can be defined as human flourishing. It is through following Christ that human flourish. The author begins with his first major theme in chapter one-creation. This is important. My early years as a Christian believer creation was not emphasized in the christian circles I participated in. They emphasized redemption. They also emphasized that the only reason God left us on earth after we were converted was to win souls. It was not till I begin reading Thomas Aquinas was I taught the importance of creation. The author emphasizes that the biblical view of creation implies certain points: "First, the original goodness of creation implies that all of it, including any human being we meet is potentially redeemable. . . . Second, created things - and their parts and processes - are unique and sometimes mysterious, but because they have come from the wisdom of God they are also purposive and, in principle, intelligible" (35). This means that we are co-partners with God in redeeming the earth, and we can use our minds to understand and improve it. Another implication from the doctrine of creation: the earth was created out of "god's goodness, power, and love." God did not have to create the heavens and the earth and everything was created out of nothing. Fourth God calls us to love his world without worshipping it. In other words, the material, physical creation is good. All that leads to human flourishing is good. The author notes, "It follows that the things of the mind and spirit are no better, and are sometimes much worse, than the things of the body. Christianity rejects those 'boutique spiritualities," ancient and modern, that scorn the messy, organic nature of physical life" (37).

Chapters three and four discusses the fall and redemption. We live in a fallen world. This does not mean that the world is completely corrupted. The author notes, "If you put together the doctrines of common grace and total depravity, you'll be in a position to explain the remarkable fact: worldly people are often better than we expect, and church people are often worse" (60). The author declares that sin is as old as the human race, but so is the grace of God that brings redemption. Redemption comes from the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot save ourselves. It is all of God's grace. The author pictures the Christian life as a dying and rising with Christ. This is not a one time event, but a continual even. Plantinga states that the Christian's life needs "continual reformation."

The last chapter addresses vocation in the service of the Kingdom of God. We are redeemed by God to serve others in this world. The author sees the Christian as having a calling. The author illustrates this by the mission statement of his college. It says that the college "seeks to engage in vigorous liberal arts education that promotes lives of Christian service" (110). Even Christ said I have not come to be served, but to serve. A major part of our calling is to work for shalom, or human flourishing. A college education can equip the student to serve in God's kingdom. A college education should provide knowledge, skills, and virtues.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What's Good about Feeling Bad?

John C. Thomas and Gary Habermas, What's Good about Feeling Bad? : Finding Purpose and a Path through Your Pain. Tyndale House Publishers, 2008. 267 pages. ISBN 978-1-4143-1689-5

I recently finished re-reading What's Good about Suffering by John C. Thomas and Gary Habermas. This is one of the best books that I have read on pain and suffering. Many of the books on pain and suffering deal with the issue of the problem of evil and belief in God. How can the two be reconcile. This book is not that kind of book. The title describes what kind of book it is. The title, What's Good about Feeling Bad seems to imply that there are some positive things that come from feeling bad. God might be wanting to teach us something. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers in our job, but yells in our pain. In other words, in pain he gets our attention. The subtitle adds clarification to this purpose: Finding Purpose and a Path through your Pain. This seems to point to the idea that the authors are here to help us to work through our pain.

John C. Thomas has been a professional counselor for over twenty-five years, serving in private practice and is the director of the counseling program at Liberty university. Gary Habermas is Research professor and chair in the philosophy and theology department at Liberty university. Both authors have experienced suffering in their life and share these experiences with the reader. In addition, they share the experience of those they have counseled for over twenty-five years.

The purpose of the book is to show "why God allows his children to suffer" (xiv). They show that there are all types of suffering and "God's responses and the type of relief that comes our way can also be quite varied" (xiv). Sometimes, God might deliver us from our suffering. Other times "He might hold our hands and walk with us through the hurtful situation" (xiv-xv). Though we might prefer the pain or the situation to go away, sometimes "the only way to gain blessing, insight or growth is to face adversity" (xv). We must trust God in these difficult circumstances.

What's Good about Pain is divided into three parts. In the first part they cover "the pain of suffering" and provide a theology of pain of suffering. They describe six truths about suffering. It is universal, painful, personal, unnerving, mysterious, and biblical. Chapter two was quite insightful. It described three beliefs that influence our response to suffering: "I deserve ease and comfort in life; I deserve a predictable world; I deserve a fair world." A big part of suffering is how we respond to it. Our beliefs have a major influence on this response. I found this chapter quite helpful. The author notes, "As Americans, we are told we have been endowed with certain inalienable rights, among which is the pursuit of happiness. Homes, jobs, money, family, friends, sex, health, and social status are supposed to provide us with the fulfillment and happiness. When any of these things are threatened or taken away, we typically react with fear and discomfort" (18). It seems we become quite use to comfort and expect it as a right. God, however, might have other purposes in mind.

In section two the authors describe 15 purposes in suffering:

  1. Purified Faith
  2. Humble Heart
  3. Test our Faithfulness
  4. Obedience
  5. Personalized Faith
  6. Christ-likeness
  7. Christian Maturity
  8. Minister through us
and others.

The last section provides "A Pathway through our suffering." Chapter 19 deals with some myths of suffering: "Spiritual people don't experience suffering; reading the Bible solves every problem; You can handle it alone; God owes us; pain and suffering are of no value; the God of Love would not allow us to suffer. Chapter twenty provides strategies for dealing with our suffering. One is to express your feelings about your sufferings to God. Be honest with God about your suffering. Another strategy is to try to determine the cause of our suffering if possible. The cause could influence how we should respond to it. A third strategy is to "recognize the ways God works to accomplish his plan." In addition the authors list five ways we can trust God: grow in your knowledge of God; "accept what happens as God's way of helping you grow; focus on your response to the problem rather than the cause of it; focus on God's presence; and make a willful decision to trust the Lord."

I found What 's Good about pain as an excellent support during the times of suffering. It contains much practical advice on how to deal with our pain. In addition, it provides much biblical support on dealing with pain and suffering. It also helps us correct misbeliefs about suffering and to create true beliefs about pain and suffering.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian

Gregory S. Cootsona, C.S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 169 pages. ISBN: 978-0-664-23940-4

There are some authors that you read once and there are other authors that you read over and over and read everything they ever published. You even read books that others write about this author. C. S. Lewis is that type of author for me. I read him for the first time my first year at Southeastern Louisiana University. During the Christmas break I read the Chronicles and Narnia and I was caught. At different periods of my life I have re-read many of Lewis' works and continue to do so. Lewis has been a spiritual mentor to me for much of my christian life.

It seems to be the same for the author of C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian. The author writes, "I rarely found Lewis simplistic or pat. In fact, in him I found a kindred spirit-- one for whom faith was by no means self-evident or devoid of serious reflection, a person who struggled with Jesus as a unique revelation of God, who took religious faith seriously with all his powers of thought. I found in his writings a fluidity of style and of mind that slowly engaged and even entranced me as a fellow lover of books and soon-to-be undergraduate in comparative literature. And I also found in him a fellow seeker who spent his life in a secular, world-class university, a place where Christianity, if treated at all, was passe, a vestige of Western civilization that had long ago thrown off such infantile beliefs" (14). It was through his reading of Lewis at the university that the author became a Christian and it was through Lewis' writings he has been able to resolve the crises of Christian life.

The purpose of this book is neither biography, or a critique of some or all of Lewis' books. Rather it is to look at the writings of Lewis from crisis situations, as Lewis and the author experienced them. The book is divided into three parts and an introduction. The opening chapters looks at Lewis' life and why he remains so popular since Lewis died over fifty years ago. The first part deals with the crisis of atheism. It includes chapters on materialism, meaningless, and anomie, a term the author does not define. It means social disorder. It is in this chapter he talks of Lewis writings on moral law. The second part addresses the "Crises of Christian faith" with chapters on Jesus and myths, and the "crisis of the Bible." The author's discussion of Lewis' views on scriptures was excellent. The last part of the book deals with "crises of human life." It includes chapters on feeling, suffering, and death. These were my favorite chapters. Lewis was a rationalist and he believed feelings were unreliable. Obedience, not feeling is the important thing. Many times feelings will follow our obedience. Our obedience should not depend on our feelings. It depends on the will, not emotions.

C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of Faith is both an easy and enjoyable read. The author explains crises that most, if not all, Christians go thorough. It shows how Lewis and the author resolved these crises in their own life. After reading the book, the reader should be motivated to read Lewis for the first time or all over again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Existentialism: The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope

C. Stephen Evans, Existentialism: The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope. Probe Books, 1989. Third Edition. Originally published by IVP in 1971 by a slightly different title. 124 pages.

C. Stephen Evans is a professor of Philosophy of Baylor University at Waco, Texas.  I have read several of his books the past year because of my studies on Kierkegaard which I continue. My motivation for studying Kierkegaard is his influence on Walker Percy who I have been doing research on for the last few years. Evans is a noted authority on Kierkegaard. It was interesting reading this early book of Evans to see that many of its themes continue in the writings of Evans.

Existentialism is divided into five chapters. The chapters discusses the following themes: death, despair, morality, meaning, and alienation. The major authors covered in this work are Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean Paul Sartre. The author says that this book is a revision of his first book: Despair: A Moment or a Way of Life. The title means is despair a place we stop at or is it only temporal, like it was for Kierkegaard.

Evans in this book relates some of the themes of the existentialist writers. He compares the writers who saw despair as continual versus those who saw it was temporal. As the title states it, The Philosophy of Despair and the Quest for Hope. The author discusses the despair in the writings of the French Existentialists and asks is there an alternative response to these writers. These French writers emphasized the "despair of morality and the despair of meaning." The authors shows how Dostoevsky concluded that without God, morality is not possible. Camus tries to discover a morality without God. He does not think he is successful. Probably, Camus does not think he is successful. The other French Existentialist, Sartre, thinks the world is meaningless.

Evans thinks that to hope "is precisely to regard despair as only a moment in human existence" (65). This is the message presented by Gabriel Marcel and Soren Kierkegaard. Marcel finds meaning in life. The author notes, "An individual who chooses to hope is rescued from the moment of despair by the call of life. She is alive, and her life comes, as Thomas Howard has said,charged with the evidence of meaning" (66). The author believes that "the call of life" is greater than "the call of death." The author sees this in, for example, the refusal to commit suicide. The author concludes in the last chapter by responding to his question: "Despair: A Moment or a Way of Life?" The author believes that "each person must choose himself and , in choosing himself, choose a framework for existence. . . a way of life. He must find reasons for this framework that is satisfying to himself. He believes that we must "choose a framework and way of life that will enable me to see my life as meaningful. Which will we choose: despair or hope?

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure

Leland Ryken, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure. Baker Books, 1995. 301 pages. ISBN 080105169x

Leland Ryken is professor emeritus of English at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author or editor of over forty books, including The Christian Imagination (editor), Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective, Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. Ryken is one of my favorite modern authors and I have read many of his books over the years. I have never been disappointed in reading a book authored by Ryken. Redeeming the Time is one of my favorites. Few books seek to apply biblical principles to both work and leisure in the same work. This is the only book I have read that gives the same attention to both work and leisure in the same work. It is beneficial to seeing the relationship between work and leisure in the same work.

Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure is separated into five parts. The first part is "understanding work and leisure." In chapter one Ryken describes different ways people look at work. Some of these are work as a means to provide for our needs, work as toil or a curse, "work as a means of production," and work as service. Chapter two looks at different view-points about leisure. Ryken notes, "Leisure is not ethically neutral. It flourishes only when people believe in the goodness of pleasure and human fulfillment" (33). People usually favor one over the other, work over leisure, or leisure over work.

In part two Ryken discusses problems with work and leisure. One of the problems is the affect of technology. In chapter three he discusses some of the negative results of the technological revolution on work and leisure. The author thinks that it is not true that we have more time with the advances of technology. In chapter four he discusses how secular attempts at getting meaning out of work has failed. It has tried to get too much out of work and not enough. It is either a panacea or a curse. One of the problems that Ryken recognizes is the loss of the concept of work as a vocation or a calling.

Part three provides a historical view of work and leisure. The view of work in the classical age was that it was beneath you. In the Middles Ages there were the secular/sacred divide. Calling was only for those called to the service of the church. In chapter eight Ryken debunks certain myths about the Puritans and the Protestant Work Ethic. Some of these fallacies are: Work should absorb nearly all your time; self-interest is the motivation for work; getting rich is the goal of life; people can be successful through their own efforts; and others. In the second part of the chapter he discusses what the Protest view of work as vocation was really about. He notes, that the Protests "advocated work . . . because it was God's appointed means of providing for human needs" (101).

Part four looks at "inadequate solutions" to the modern problem of work and leisure. The last part presents the author's Christian view of work in leisure. In chapter 13 the author looks at work and leisure in the "created order." Since i have emphasized work, so far, I will discuss leisure in this part. The author believes leisure to be a "creation ordinance." In the first few chapters of Genesis, we have "rest as a commandment." The author notes that we have a "nonutilitarian creation." The Christian view of beauty is discussed by the author in this section. He says, that beauty is even "an attribute of God."

There are many other points I could mention about this book. He has an important chapter about time. He argues that we do not have time to do everything. We must make choices. In addition, the author speaks of higher leisure, for example the development of our mind. Ryken does a good job in presenting a Christian view of work and leisure. I highly recommend it to others.