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.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Calling & Vocation

The Theology of Work project produced an overview on calling & vocation.


What do Christians mean when they talk about calling and vocation? This article states that we usually mean, "Is God calling me to a particular job, profession or type of work?" This is an important question because all of our life belongs to God. I am rereading Leland Ryken's excellent book, Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure. In this book, Ryken states that our work, leisure, and play are all important to God. All of our life must be lived in his presence.

This article does an excellent job in giving an overview of calling and Vocation. It discusses the following topics

  • how to discern God's calling or guidance in the area of work
  • the community nature of calling
  • the calling to church vs. non-church work
  • callings to the creative and redemptive work of God beyond the paid workplace
  • the importance of how you work at whatever job you have, and
  • the ultimate freedom that Christians enjoy in their work

What does the Bible have to say about these topics? The authors note, "In the Bible, the word 'call' is used most often to refer to God's initiative to bring people to Christ and to participate in his redemptive work in the world." In other words, the primary call is to become a Christian. In our calling as a Christian, "our work must be an integral part of our participation in Christ himself." All of our lives belong to God and we are to live for his glory.

The authors believes that God created people to work. God is the supreme worker. He placed Adam in the garden to work. There are many passages in the Bible that commands us to work. For example, "six days you shall labor and do all your work."

God's calling is broader than our work. The authors state that work should not be "limited to paid work." The authors offer the following examples of unpaid work: "The work God leads us to may be unpaid work, such as raising children or caring for a disabled family member or tutoring students after school." Ryken states in his book that calls us even in our leisure. I like this point made by the authors: "God probably doesn't call many of us to jobs that would prevent us from also serving others through unpaid work." For example, I went into library work because I believed it would allow me time for study and family life.

The next point the authors make was outstanding. "Even if you have a paid job, the most important work God calls you to may be outside your job. Your job may meet your need for money--which itself fulfills part of God's command to work--but it may not fulfill all the other purposes God has for your work." For example, you might have a talent for writing, acting, music, or other kinds of work. It might not be your job, but God has gifted you in this area. 

Another point made by the authors is that we should not "let work dominate the other elements of life." WE should not let work crowd out family life, leisure, rest, and worship.

The authors addresses several other questions. Does God call us to a particular work? How does God call us? The article lists three ways to discern our calling: needs of the world, our skills and gifts, and our desires. I would add opportunity. These are excellent ways to discern our callings. It is important to seek to discern our callings in a community of faith. The authors believe that call us to both church work and non-church work. They do not see these as different callings.

The article asks an important question at the end of the article: "If God leads or guides people to their work, could it ever be legitimate to change jobs?" Martin Luther argued against changing jobs in the 16th century. Their world was vastly different from ours. John Calvin allowed for changing job, but he saw it as a temptation to the station God called us. The authors note, "Miroslav Volf has written that since the factors by which God guides people to work may change over the course of a working life, God may indeed guide people to change their work." It is legitimate to change jobs, but often people change jobs because they get itchy feet or experience difficulties in the job. So, I think we should think hard and long before changing jobs.

This article is an excellent overview of vocation and calling. On the website, there is a short video about calling and vocation. It is worth watching.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Encountering Ecclesiastes

James Limburg, Encountering Ecclesiastes: A Book for Our Time. Eerdmans, 2006. 141 pages ISBN 978-0-8028-3047-0

The book of Ecclesiastes does not appeal to all readers of the Bible. Some think it has a secularist mindset or is quite gloomy. For example, there is the theme that "all is vanity, a striving after wind." Limburg in his popular commentary, Encountering Ecclesiastes: A Book for Our Time, shows how the book can benefit the reader. Ecclesiastes addresses themes that are important to the modern reader: "the quest for the meaning of life, the incompleteness of our knowledge, the place of work in human lives, and the need to discover God amid life's uncertainties."

Limburg is professor emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. His Lutheran background shows in his secondary sources: Martin Luther's notes on Ecclesiastes and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The author introduces the book by reflecting on his grandfather's gravestone which contains the inscription Ecclesiastes 7:2 which was the funeral text. This verse reads; "It is better to go to the house of mourning than go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone." This book is the result of visiting this grave site and a conversation with Gerhard von Rad, professor of Old Testament in Heidelberg, Germany.

In chapter one he introduces the book. His first sentence is "Ecclesiastes is not for everyone." This because of the book's skeptical tone. Some think of it as showing very little faith. Walter Baumgarter says that it shows a lukewarm faith. H. Wheeler Robinson writes, "the book has indeed the smell of the tomb about it." Ellen Davis said it is appealing to young people because they are dealing with the disappointment of the real world. Luther says this about the book: "The summary and aim of this book, then, is as follows: Solomon wants to put us at peace and give us a quiet mind in the everyday affairs and business of this life, so that we live contentedly in the present without care and anxiety (Phil. 4:6). It is useless to plague oneself with anxiety about the future." Limburg streese that throughout life in the background is the theme that all is vanity or mere smoke. On the other hand, the author encourages enjoyment: "There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God." I like what Roland Murphy says about the book of Ecclesiastes: "The great doubter? No! Qoholeth was the great believer. He believed, when there was no evidence for believing!

Limburg's Encountering Ecclesiastes show how this neglected book of the Bible is as needed as it ever has been. He shows how we are to live in the presence, rejoicing in God's gifts. The book is flowered with quotes that will enhance our reflection. This is my third reading of this book since I enjoy it and the book of Ecclesiastes so much.

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.