Friday, November 30, 2012

Walking Away from the Faith Pt. 4

In part three of Walking Away from the Faith Tucker explains the story of those who walked away from the faith and never returned and those who left the faith and later returned to it. Tucker notes, “Many people who have lost faith would not necessarily describe their new life in terms of happiness or contentment. They would insist that one cannot pretend to continue believing something or continue living a lie for the sake of contentment” (170). Some, however, relate a sense of freedom after leaving the faith. These were people who had been in a legalistic or fundamentalist church. Others turned away because of anti-humanist or anti-intellectual emphasis in the church. There were a lack of appreciation for the arts and sciences. Wendy Murray Zoba in her review of this book noted, “The testimony of some who have walked away raises questions about the nature of the faith they embraced in the first place. One gets the sense that they hadn’t plumbed the depths and mysteries of authentic faith.” This is a good point. One must ask what a person’s perception of the faith is before they turn away. Many people in this book turned away from the faith because of the problem of evil, or theological difficulties or intellectual difficulties or moral issues. What is faith and what is its relationship to evil? Is faith a form of knowing? What should we do when we encounter doubts? How should we respond to them? What role does worship and spiritual formation play in dealing with doubt? It is important to understand the incarnational aspect of Christianity. We should continue spiritual practices like prayer and corporate worship while dealing with doubt. We should also draw richly from the Christian tradition, both theology and imaginative literature.
            The last two chapters Tucker seeks to answer doubt and unbelief. She draws from the lives and writings of Flannery O’ Connor, Kathleen Norris, Madeleine L’Engle, and Anne Dillard. These writers struggled with doubt and some of them returned to the faith after walking away from it. Flannery O’Connor wrote a letter to a college student, Alfred Corn, who was struggling with doubts. O’Connor writes: “I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith. . . . As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas. . . . After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe. About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do. . . . One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. . . . The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. . . . If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture” (203). These are wise words that all Christians should take to heart.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Walking Away from the Faith Pt.3

Part two of Walking Away from the Faith by Ruth Tucker “explores major challenges to the Christian Faith” (80). Chapter six analyzes doubt and unbelief in the history of Christianity. It looks at doubt and unbelief in the Bible. Some of the individuals discussed are Judas, John the Baptist, Peter, and Thomas. Tucker notes, “From a cursory glance at New Testament figures we [have] seen an embodiment of faith that is not always unwavering and tidy. There is tension, uncertainty and messiness” (88). The chapter concludes that there has always been doubt and unbelief among Christians. It is not a new thing. Tucker, however, asserts “never before have Christians who live in Christian cultures have been faced with belief systems suffused with philosophical and practical atheism” (96). Chapter seven presents the challenge from science and philosophy. Some of the people discussed in this chapter are Nietzche, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, and Charles Darwin. Once again she shows how Emily Dickinson can help one who struggles with doubt and unbelief. Tucker writes notes, “Dickinson was a doubter. Yet despite her struggles with Darwin’s theories and other scientific discoveries, her doubts never progressed to the point of unbelief” (110). This was not true of everyone. The author states that Darwin’s theories did pave the way of unbelief for others. Chapter seven describes the challenges from theology and Biblical studies in the academy. The author thinks that doubting supernatural events, “apparent textual contradictions and the problem of evil” are the things that lead once-professing Christians to abandon their faith. She observes that two responses to skepticism of the scriptures are “lowering the truth standards” or “to dig in one’s heels and prove the truth of Christianity” (119).  She also notes how some walk away from the ministry because of doubt; while others “honestly and openly acknowledge doubt and unbelief while at the same time affirming faith” and continues in the ministry. Chapter nine discusses the challenges of psychology and social issues. Some of the people discussed in this chapter are Dostoyevsky, Freud, William James, and Jung. Tuckers note how James thought “unbelief is a shallow and unimaginative perspective that is overly dependent on science” (142). James is important because he shows how religious experience is a form of knowing. Chapter ten discussed how disappointment with God and Christians can lead to unbelief. One of the individuals she writes about in this chapter is Martin Marty. He lost his wife to a terminal illness. Marty spoke of the sense of God’s absence in the ordeal. Marty claims there are two types of spirituality: a wintery sort and a summery one. Tucker summarizes Marty’s words:
            The best answer Marty can offer is for people to come to terms with God and
themselves. Those who are troubled by a sense of abandonment and silence need not struggle for a summery spirituality—nor need they contemplate the option of walking away from the faith.
There is a place for them on the barren wintery landscape, where the January thaw may provide A welcome respite (164).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Walking Away from the Faith Pt. 2

Ruth Tucker, Walking Away From the Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief, Intervarsity Press, 2002.
Walking Away from the Faith includes three parts and fourteen chapters. In part one, Tucker “fleshes out the human side of the mystery by examining her own life and questions of faith, and the case studies of others.” In chapter one, the author shares her own faith story and her struggle with doubt. She notes, “Like the people discussed in this book, I have a story—a story interwoven with belief and unbelief” (17). She became a Christian at a young age at an Evangelical church. She later would accept a call to missions. Then tragedy struck on September 23, 1969. On that horrible day her mother was killed in an automobile accident. Tucker says her whole world caved in. She was already struggling with doubts. The author writes, “Already struggling with abstract doubts, I now had very personal doubts about the God I worshiped and how this incident, this accident, fit into my faith” (21). She thought about the Scripture that says that all things work together for good to those who love God. Tucker, however, did not feel that way. She responded: “But no, no, no! I screamed, all things don’t work together for good. And in this case, if there is truly a God out there who is all powerful, why, O God, why, I asked, did you not prevent this terrible accident? (21)” The problem of evil and suffering usually pops up when discussing doubting and unbelief. Tucker states that the poetry of Emily Dickinson helped her to make sense of pain and suffering and belief in God. Dickinson in her poem, “I Know He exists” writes, I know that He exists./Somewhere—in Silence—He has hid his rare life/ From our gross eyes.” The concept of the silence and absence of God is discussed throughout the book.
            Tucker disagrees with some authors who emphasize the sunnier side of doubt. She thinks they do not take the negative side of doubt as seriously as they should. She notes, “So much of the writing on doubt is to assure us doubters, that bottom line, doubt is good, that our faith is strengthened through doubt, that to be a good thinking Christian one must experience doubt” (25). Walking Away from Faith looks at the “dark, fierce, hoary side of doubt and the next logical step—unbelief” (25). The author tells the stories of “once-professing Christians—many of them involved in long-time Christian ministry—who have abandoned the faith” (25). Why did these Christians abandon the faith? Some of these reasons are discussed in part two of the book.

Walking Away from the Faith Pt. 1

Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief  
By Ruth Tucker, Intervarsity Press, 2002, 240 pages
Can a Christian abandon the faith? Do true Christians doubt? Is it a sin to doubt? Is doubt a slippery slope that leads to unbelief or abandoning the faith? These are some of the questions addressed by Ruth Tucker in her book, Walking Away from the Faith. Most Christians are familiar with the scripture from Mark 9:24: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” What does this scripture mean? Can both faith and unbelief exist in the same person? Ruth Tucker believes it can. She has actually struggled with doubt and unbelief most of her Christian life. This is a personal look at struggling with doubt and unbelief from someone who has struggled with it. The author notes, “All of us in our faith fall somewhere on the vast, subjective spectrum that ranges from absolute certainty to unrestrained skepticism. Some profess a confident belief in God that is never questioned; others cling to belief riddled with doubts, only a millimeter shy of unbelief”(7). Why is this true? Why do some Christians struggle with doubt and others do not? Are there Christians that do not struggle with doubt? Tucker is able to sympathize with those who struggle with doubt because of her own doubts. The author is from the Reformed faith that believes in eternal security. In this book she does not analyze if people can lose the faith based on scriptural passages. Instead, she seeks to “grapple with belief and unbelief from a human perspective, operating on the premise that there is surely the appearance of losing faith” (8). She says she cannot judge those who are sincere or insincere. We must “listen to their stories to better understand them and to more faithfully reach out to them in dialogue and love” (8-9).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman

Walker Percy, The Last Gentleman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999. Originally published in 1966. 409 pages.

Walker Percy's The Lat Gentleman is a modern day Odyssey or Huckleberry Finn. It tells the story of Will Barrett, a twenty-five-year-old Southerner who has been transplanted to New York. He is a Princeton University dropout who works as an air-conditioner maintenance and refers to himself as the engineer. Will purchases an expensive telescope with inheritance money so he can study a Peregrine Falcon, but instead he spies on a young woman, Kitty Vaught, and falls for her. As a result of becoming involved with Kitty, he changes from spectator to active participant in the Vaught family. Will is commissioned to be a travel companion to Kitty's brother, Jamie, whose Leukemia is in remission. The young men are given a motor home to travel. This vehicle operates like Huckleberry's raft. There is always another adventure around the corner.

Not everything in the novel is on the surface. Will has these dizzy spells where he loses his memory. These spells seems to be connected to something that happened between him and his father. In some sense, Will is on a quest to find an answer to his problems. He begins to think Jamie's older brother can provide answers to his search. However, Dr. Vaught tells Will that he is not an answer man. He must find his own answers.

The book ends with an "epiphanal" moment. Jamie is on his deathbed. Will has been commissioned to make sure Jamie is baptized. Will, however, is not a believer. The moment is very low key, but it seems to be a transformative experience for everyone involved. The priest asks Jamie if he believes. James asks him, is it true? The priest tells Jamie, "If it were not true, then I would not be here. That is why I am here, to tell you" (404). Jamie took the sacrament.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Classics in Christian Perspective

Leland Ryken, Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspective. Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2003. 230 pages. ISBN: 1-59244-340-0.

Leland Ryken's Realms of Gold: The Classics in Christian Perspectives attempts to explain his love of the classics and why Christians should read them. In the introduction Ryken provides good advice on reading the classics. The rest of the chapters cover a particular classic work. The major works discussed are Homer's Odyssey, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's MacBeth, Milton's Paradise Lost, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Dickens' Great Expectations, Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, and Camus' The Stranger. Ryken even has a chapter on "Poetry and the Christian Life." In each chapter Ryken does a good job of both discussing the classic and how to read in its particular genre.

Ryken wrote this book particularly because so many of them do not read the classics. He seeks to refute myths that many Christians have about reading Literature. A few of these fallacies are: We should read only non-fiction since fiction is not true; we should only read literature that shares our viewpoint; works by non-Christians cannot tell the truth. In addition Ryken instructs how we can misread the classics. For example, reading the classics for their ideas or discounting the pleasure we can get from reading the classics. The author also includes good information on reading and the imaginative life.

One could not find a better tour guide to the classics and why one should read them than Leland Ryken. The book is entertaining in itself. One thing Ryken emphasizes is that the classics can delight and teach and that is what he accomplishes in this book. The reader will want to go read these classics after reading this book or while reading this book. One recommendation that Ryken makes in the concluding chapter "is that everyone would benefit from claiming an author as his or her own specialty." This is something I have practiced most of my life. When I become interested in an author I go on to read widely in his works and read even what others have said about him. It is a way to enter into a conversation with a community of readers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Gregor the Overlander

Suzanne Collins, Gregor the Overlander, Book one of the Underland Chronicles. new York: Scholastic, 2003. 311 pages. ISBN: 978-0-439-678131.

Before publishing the Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins published a popular series, The Underland Chronicles. Gregor the Overlander is the first volume in this five book series. Gregor and his sister Boots live in New York City. One unsuspecting day they fall through a grate in the laundry room. They fall into an underland world of humans, spiders, rats, spiders, and other creatures. It turns out that there is a prophecy that a overlander would one day come to the underland and take a quest that will save the underland world.

This reviewer enjoyed the Hunger Games, but he did not know if he would enjoy the earlier series published by Collins. He was happily surprised. Gregor the Overlander is an exciting adventure story that will bring much enjoyment to the reader. It reminds one of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. It seems that it would have been the kind of book that C. S. Lewis would enjoy reading.

Gregor the Overlander would make a good read-aloud. I read it to my family and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It is the type of book that will grab your attention from the beginning and keep it to the end. We are now reading Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, the second volume in the series.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

Diane Lee Wilson, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade. Naperville, IL : Sourcebooks, 2010. 257 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4022-4027-0.

Diane Lee Wilson in her book, I Rode a Horse of White Jade has written a wonderful tale of how a Mongolian girl overcomes earlier setbacks in her life. The setting is thirteenth century Mongolia. Oyuna when she was a young girl a horse's hoof crushes her foot. She is crippled from then on. Oyuna's family and klan thinks she is cursed because of this accident. The girl, however, later thinks she has been marked by the horse. She thinks her vocation is to be with horses. I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade is a story of a girl's love for her horses and how this love changes her life.

The reader would not have to be a horse lover to love this story. The book is about a love for animals, but it is also about being wounded by life. It is about achieving wholeness against great odds. It is about being optimistic in life's tragedies. I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade would be an excellent read-aloud for kids. I read it to my kids and the whole family enjoyed it.

I thought about Jacob in the Bible while reading the book. He was marked by the angel when he wrestled with him. He had a limp for the rest of his life. All people have some kind of handicap they must bear. We all face a choice. Will we work to overcome our weaknesses looking to God for strength or will we give in despair? Remember Jesus asked the man at the well, "Do you want to get well?"

Birmingham Sunday

Birmingham Sunday
By Larry Dane Brimner, Calkins Creek, 2010, 48 pp., ISBN 978-1-59078-613-0, $17.95.
Reviewed by John E. Shaffett

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

Catholic Library World, Jun2011, vol.81 Issue 4, p329.
September 15, 1963, was a horrible day in our nation’s history. On that day, four children were killed when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed. Bombings happened so often in Birmingham that it was called “Bombingham.” Not till September 15, 1963, had these bombings been deadly. Why did it happen? Why was this particular church singled out? These are some of the questions Larry Dane Brimner tries to answer in his children’s book, Birmingham Sunday.

The author noted that the writing of this book was motivated by a “librarians’ call for biographies of the four children” (47) who were killed in this church bombing. Brimner was struck out often Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole, and Denise were referred to as “the four little children,” or “the four little girls.” The author later found out that two other girls were killed that day. The author did extensive research by reading Birmingham newspapers; one of these newspapers was an African-American owned newspaper. He also reviewed FBI files, police reports and other primary sources. 

Birmingham Sunday includes “stirring” photo-essays that illuminate this event. He does a good job of describing these children’s personalities and the events that led to this horrendous crime. The text is easy to follow and there are side-bars throughout the text that give additional information on Brown v. The Board of Education, Rosa Parks, outlawed racial segregation, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other leaders and events. This book is intended for children ages 10 and up. It is the type of book that makes history come alive.