Thursday, November 19, 2015

Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life

J. Oswald Sanders, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life. Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 1992.

This post will interact with two works: Sander's book and Roger Olson's post on his blog a couple of years ago. They both deal with a topic that seems never to get old or fails to spark controversy. Of course, I am speaking of discovering God's will for one's life. First, I will start with a quote from Olson's post:

"There is probably no more important and confusing issue for Christian young people than 'finding God's will for life.' Many have heard that 'God has a wonderful plan for your life' and been urged to seek God for his will. Whether told or not, many have concluded that they should wait until God revealed his will or pray fervently for a revelation of his will before making any important life decisions. Many become all tied up in knots wondering what God's will is for their lives and attempting to find it. Some are paralyzed by uncertainty and miss opportunities; others rush into rash decisions because someone prophesied over them or they dropped their Bible open, pointing to a passage at random and interpreted that as God's will. Others have followed Gideon's example and put out 'fleeces,' tests to determine God's will. 'God, if you want me to marry Becky, make it rain tonight.' "

These words sound quite to familiar to me as I am sure it does to my reader. Why do so many people struggle to find God's will? Why does it seem to be hidden from us? Does God have it already all planned out before we do it? Is there a perfect blueprint for our life. J. Oswald Sanders' book, Every Life is a Plan of God: Discovering His Will for Your Life seems to imply by the title that God has a perfect plan for our life even before we seek it. We will need to examine the book to see this what the content of the book actually teaches. The question could be phrased this way, "Does God have an ideal and detailed will and plan for every life? What do you think?

This is not the first book I have read by Sanders and I have enjoyed his other books I have read. I have great respect for Sanders as a Christian leader, author, and teacher. He published such classics as Spiritual Leadership and Leading Like Paul. For many years he was the general director of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. He authored more than forty books on the Christian life. It is interesting that he wrote Every Life is a Plan of God near the end of his life. Sanders notes, "In the course of more than sixty-five years of Christian work in the homelands and overseas, I have had many opportunities to prove the Lord in the matter of guidance, I have not always been sensitive and obedient to the Lord's leading, I regret to say. But I can say with truth that there has never been a time when I have sought guidance from the Lord with total willingness to do what He revealed that I have not received clear and satisfying guidance from Him" (120-21). It is wise to listen to experienced saints who have followed God in obedience for many years.

There are many strengths to this book. It is quite balanced. It pays attention to the intellect in God's guidance. It warns again expecting miracles on a regular basis in seeking God's guidance. It emphasizes the importance of scripture in seeking God's will. Sanders shows practical wisdom in the principles he declares and he acknowledges that God's guidance might be different with different individuals. A helpful chapter is for those considering missionary work is chapter 6, "Guidance in Missions." In addition, it provides useful information on seeking God's will in vocation in many different areas. The author believes there is a "divine plan for our lives," but he does not think it is "like an architect's blueprint" (12). He believes we have free choice. Every day we make choices that will affect our life. In a sense, we are co-creators with God. I do not see our lives as a sheet of paper  already filled in. I see it more as empty space waiting to be filled in by us in partnership with God. It seems God gives us freedom in many of our choices. God is more concerned on who we are than where we live or who we marry. It does seem we often worry needless. Here are two quotes on how others see seeking God's will:

" Isn't the matter of God's will not so much about what God wants me to do (find a job, get married, which school to go--all of which have their importance) as it is about discovering God's overall, eternal will, that is what He wants from creation to the New Jerusalem?"

It seems God is more concerned about our relationship with Him and how we are growing in Him. Are we growing in our faith in and our love for Him?

The second quote is one I have been thinking about:

"Forget the blueprint. Toss it because the only reason we want it is we don't like taking risks and learning the 'will of God' through the school of hard knocks, failures, mistakes and miscalculations." This does seem true to me. We want absolute certainty. We want guarantees that this decision will work perfectly. Maybe, God wants us to learn from our mistakes. Isn't that how growth occurs.

Overall, I think Sanders' book is well balanced. He provides different methods that God uses to guide us. Some of these are: Scripture, counselors, prayer, reason, circumstances, our desires, gifts, talents, and temperament. He warns us the danger of following impressions and seeking fleeces and forbidden practices like astrology. He provides excellent help on how to know if you are called to be a missionary. In the last two chapter he provides practical wisdom on how to choose wisely. He distinguishes between personal decisions that affect lifestyle or vocation, straightforward decisions, non-moral decisions,and indeterminate matters. In the last chapter he provides cautions about guidance. One is "paying more attention to the mechanics of guidance than to the leading of the Gide" (149). Understand that we are not infallible. We might discern God's guidance wrongly. I think he would say that when many methods point in the same direction, we can be confident with our decision.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?

Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? Eerdmans, 2002. 187 pages. ISBN: 0-8028-3974-6

Bruce Waltke begins his book by asking the question, Is finding God's will a biblical idea? This might sound like a crazy question. However, Waltke's point is that many people seek for God's will in a way condemned in Scripture. Early on in his book Waltke defines the term, the will of God. Waltke states, "The will of God can refer not only to His immutable decrees and His pleasures but also to His general providence" (9). It also refers to "His specific choices in perplexing situation" (10). This idea relates to the title to finding God's will. It is in perplexing situations that people seek God's guidance. One of the problems is that people fear of making a mistake. He shows how many Christians search for God's will is similar to practices of pagans described in the OLD Testament.

Finding the Will of God can be divided into two parts. In the first part the author discusses whether seeking God's will is a biblical idea. In the second part Waltke shows us how God guides us through His Word, godly desires, the counsel of others, circumstances, and good judgement. The chapter on good judjement provides five principles for discerning God's guidance. First, you are to make your decision "in the light of Scripture." Our decisions must not contradict the teachings of scripture. Second, we are to make our decision in "light of our giftedness." We are to pay attention to our gifts and abilities. I have seen this point in many books about God's will. Our decisions should not go against our giftedness. It is wise to make decisions in line with our "gifts and talents, our temperament and circumstances." Third, we are to make our decision in light of "according to our ability." We need to know who we are. Waltke believes "Christians must know who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and they must be content within those limitations." It is sad when Christians do not accept themselves and try to be something that they are not. Fourth, make your decision in light of your circumstances. Circumstances should not make our decision for us, but it is foolish to ignore them. God is often at work in our circumstances. Fifth, we are to make our decision "according to an overall strategy." We need to evaluate decisions according to our priorities and our long-range plan. How will this decision help us to accomplish our overall plan? Usually we have a sense where God is directing us and how He has directed us in the past.

These are excellent principles that will help us in making good decisions. We should not allow fear to hinder us from making decisions. We learn from our mistakes and failure. Even when we make bad choices God is able to work through them. We can trust that our lives are in God's hands. Overall, this book guides us to apply God's wisdom to make decisions.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Learning in War-Time

"Learning in War-time is one of my favorite short pieces by C. S. Lewis. It was originally delivered to Oxford students in England on verge of war. In it Lewis asks how can we pursue learning when war is going on? Lewis asks another question to bring the question in context: How can we pursue learning when people are dying and going to hell? This is an important question? It is a question I have asked myself.

I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was ten and before that time the home was not stable. In middle school I became involved with the wrong people and eventually dropped out of school in ninth grade. When I was eighteen I became a Christian. Soon after I went to college. During my first year at the college I began asking myself the question, How can I be pursuing learning when people are going to hell? I had not read Lewis yet. It would be several years before I would read "Learning in War-Time. After a few years in college I discovered that learning was an end itself. It is interesting that when I first read "Learning in War-Time, I discovered I had come to similar conclusions on my own. Lewis gives not only reasons for pursuing the intellectual life, but important truths about calling itself.

Lewis hits a home-run from the start: "A university is a society for the pursuit of learning. As students, you will be expected to make yourselves, into what the Middle Ages called clerks: or to start making yourselves, into philosophers, scientists, scholars, critics, or historians." He notes that this might seem an odd thing since they might not have time to finish before called to the war. So why begin something we cannot finish? Lewis tells them there is a even greater question, How can we pursue learning when people's lives hang in the balance.

Lewis explains that this is really no situation: "The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun." The war did not create any new situation. Should learning be pursued or not? If so for what reasons. I will now list some of the reasons Lewis gives.

First, there is a deep desire for knowledge and beauty inside us. God did not create this desire needlessly. It is part of who we are. Lewis shows how people in the past "wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable time that never comes."

Second, we will pursue lesser things if we do not pursue more excellent things like truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis states, "If you attempted. . . to suspend your whole intellectual and aesthetic activity, you would only succeed in substituting a worse cultural life for a better. You are not, in fact, going to read nothing, (he was not aware of our own time period)either in the church or in the line: if you don't go on thinking rationally, you will think irrationally. If you reject aesthetic satisfactions, you will fall into sensual satisfactions." How many hours to we spend before electronic media vegging out? How often do we read a book to improve our learning? What do we spend our money on?

Third, we can pursue learning to the glory of God. Lewis notes, "All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not." God calls us to different stations. God's will is for us to do our very best wherever He places us. Lewis describes how we can know and fulfill our own vocation. Lewis says, "We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man's upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God is the learned life." The intellectual life is not the call for everyone, but it is the call for some. God calls us to be obedient to our vocation.

Fourth, the intellectual life supports the church. The church needs learned people to defend it against attacks. In addition, it needs scholars to teach and preach. Lewis notes, "If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now--and not be able to meet the enemies on their own ground--would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have under God, no defense against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."

These are some of the reasons Lewis gives for pursuing the Intellectual life. When Lewis is speaking of learning he is speaking of the liberal arts. He believed that truth and beauty must be sought for their own sake, not that they are not sought for God's sake. He also thought that being faithful to the vocation of learning is not the idea of working things out to "edifying conclusions," or "to offer to the author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie." We are simply to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty and to follow where they lead.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-given Potential

Gordon T. Smith, Courage & Calling: Embracing your God-given Potential, IVP Books, 2011, Revised and expanded, 269 pages. ISBN 978-0-8308-3554-6

Gordon T. Smith mentions three types of calling in his book, Courage & Calling: Embracing your Potential. First, there is the general call to be a Christian. Second, there is a specific call--"a defining purpose or mission . . . . Every individual is called of God to respond through service in the world" (10). Third, is the call to respond to daily duties and responsibilities. Courage and Calling focuses on the second of these calls. What I like about this book is how it shows that our call(s) may change during different transitions in our life. Another focus that was helpful is the author asserting, "we are called to be stewards of the gifts and abilities and opportunities that God gives us" (28). A third point the author makes is the distinction between sacred and secular calling is false. All callings are "inherently and potentially sacred" (44). In addition, he distinguishes between vocation and career. He notes, "We may be called to a particular work that is reflected in a career," but they are not the same thing. "The language of vocation is a reminder that our work is given to us by another, by the God who is our creator" (47). The purpose of the book is to help the reader to achieve his potential in God's service. I have become convinced that our giftedness shows where our calling lies.

Gordon T. Smith has been an academic administrator and missionary in Canada and the Philippines. He is now the president of reSource Leadership International, an agency that fosters excellence in theological education in the developing world. He also teaches part time at Regent College in Canada.

The book includes twelve chapters that can be divided into two parts. The first part focuses on the characteristics of calling. The second focus on elements needed to fulfill our calling. Chapter two provides a theological understanding of work. The authors states that good work is work that agrees with God's purposes for our lives. He shows how work is a means of service which is a religious act. The author assumes that our work "is done in response to the calling of God. God calls us to the work we do, and thus our work becomes something that we do as an offering to God" (43). Chapter two shows how our call should match us with our personality, gifts, and opportunities. He shows how our calling could be either payed or volunteer work. In addition, he provides help to the reader to discover her calling. Our calling will have something to do with how God has made us. Smith believes that our calling is discerned and lived out in community.

I particularly enjoyed chapter four which discussed the different stages of adult life. He dives these stages: From adolescence into early adulthood, early to midadulthood, Midadulthood to our senior years. He shows how our calling might change in different stages. He believes as young adults the major challenge is to take responsibility for their lives. Midlife adults' task is to accept themselves. Senior adults need to let go and bless and offer wisdom.

Courage & Calling is recommended for any reader who is interested in discerning God's will for his/her life. The author has a lot of experience and provides much wisdom on how to achieve our "God-given potential."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Called to Study

I am re-reading Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith. I am about half way through. In the first half Gordon describes general principles on knowing God's calling in our life and the need for courage to fulfill it. The chapter I am now reading takes these principles and apply them to four different occupations or vocations: business, the arts, teaching and scholarship, and the ministry. I was reading the section on the arts this morning. The author made some interesting comments. One point was the need for excellence in the arts. Christian artists should not accept mediocrity. A second point was the importance of beauty. Third, the need for dedication to the craft and not commercialization. This mean not producing just because it sells. The author does realize the artist must make a living. Of course, this can come from his art, but he lists two other ways. One was is having a patron that will support your craft. Another way is to have an occupation that would allow you to be your own patron. The author also states how many artists get barely by economically, so they can practice their craft. This brought to my memory to my own calling.

Early on in college I realized that learning was an end in itself. Learning was worthwhile even without any utilitarian end. Over the years I realized I had a calling to study. Reading, studying, and thinking brings me great joy. My desire to follow a calling to study motivated my future decisions. I wanted to choose a career and lifestyle that would be centered around study. I wanted my life to make study possible. I did not want to work 60-80 hours a week that would leave no time for study. Through different circumstances and a sense of calling I became a librarian. Librarianship is my career, but it is not necessarily my calling. My work is a calling and a ministry. It makes it possible to do many of the things I enjoy doing, like research, writing, reading, and teaching. However, my passion is study. I make it a practice to get up before 5 a.m. in the morning for the purpose of reading, studying, and thinking. Some people think it strange that I do this. All I can say is woe is me if I did not do this.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Catholic Authors

I must confess that I am an Evangelical Protestant and have been one for over thirty years. However, my favorite authors tend to be Roman Catholic. My favorite author is Thomas Aquinas and C. S. Lewis would probably be my second favorite author. As observed by Father Schall C. S. Lewis had a Catholic mind. Sometimes I wonder why Catholics tend to be my favorite authors. It is probably because intellectually and philosophically I am Catholic.

What do I mean when I say I am philosophically and Intellectually Catholic. I think what I mean is that I accept Catholic tradition and its historical position on the relationship of faith and reason. Once I was driving Peter Kreeft to the airport and I asked him why Catholics accept that Faith and reason are compatible but evangelicals still argue about this relationship. There are even those who argue the position of faith against reason. Kreeft told me that Catholics had been thinking of this relationship for two thousand years and the topic is still quite new for Evangelicals. I consider myself Catholic because I endorse the position that faith and reason are compatible. A statement made my Walker Percy which I like very much says: "it is no small thing, either, to turn your back on two thousand years of rational thinking and hard work and science and art and the Judean-Christian tradition." I have observed that Catholics see both faith and reason as sources of truth.

I would like to show two examples of the contrast between evangelicals and Catholics. The first one has to do with the relationship of Church and State. Our church has been doing a study on the relationship between Church and State using teaching by R. C. Sproul. Basically, the study looks at what the Bible tells us about politics. It tends to emphasize divine revelation. I think Catholics would look at reason. They would look at Aristotle and other important political theorists and discuss what reason can tell us about the relationship of church and state. There is a tendency among Protestants to look at topics from a Bible alone perspective. An example would be Wayne Grudem's Politics according to the Bible. A second example would be the emphasis on philosophy in Catholic colleges and university and the lack of it at evangelical colleges. For example, our school has many Bible courses and only a few philosophy courses which are under theology. I think the Catholic perspective would be that you could not understand theology without understanding philosophy.

A question I have had in my mind for a long time was why Catholic priests are educated in so many field besides theology. I have many priests who have graduate degrees in psychology, philosophy, political science and other disciplines. What is the reason for this? The few Catholic priests I have interacted with were very knowledge and widely educated. My question is regards to this situation is it because on the stress of reason in the Roman Catholic tradition?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Lear Thou Me On

One of my favorite poems is "Lead Kindly Light" by John Henry Newman. Is is in addition one of the best prose writers and thinkers of any age. Here is the first part of the poem:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,--
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene,--one step enough for me

The link above is audio to the complete poem.

The poem is special to me since for the last few years I have been seeking God's direction for my life. I have wrestled with the idea of doing a Ph.D for twenty years. I started a program a few years ago but did not have the funds to complete it. Recently I tried again and all the doors seemed closed to me. I told myself instead of putting it on the shelf I will bury it this time. I told my daughter and wife that I buried my desire for a Ph.D. They laughed at me. I was sincere in my statements, but before I knew it by resolution collapsed once again. I received a letter in a mail telling me I had received a scholarship that would cover part of the cost. Having the letter in hand made me reconsidered it. Then other doors opened up. It is ironical that a few days ago I was thinking about the parable of talents. I thought about the response of the third servant who said to the Master: "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground." I found it ironical that I did not think about the irony of this parable and my action until a few days ago. I buried my desire for the Ph.D or the opportunity to pursue the degree. I have prayed, studied, inquired, sought the counsel of others for over a year. I have looked at it from every possible position. All I know is that it seems like a call to ministry. I felt all I could do is surrender. It is like I must do this. Please pray for me as I seek to follow God's guidance.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Finding God's Will, Part 4

I love Kevin DeYoung's title for his book on finding God's Will, Just Do Something. This title explains a major thrust of his book. He wants to prevent people from being passive waiting for some sign from heaven on what they need to do. The author states, "You'll find in this book some of the typical will-of-God fare--how to make wise decisions, how to choose a job, whom to marry, etc. But answering these questions is really not the aim of this book. My goal is not so much to tell you how to hear God's voice in making decisions as it is to help you hear God telling you to get off the long road to nowhere and finally make a decision, get a job, and, perhaps get married" (14).

An alternative title on the cover of the book is interesting too: "How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, random bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc." DeYoung presents an alternative way on finding God's will. It is similar to Gary Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God. DeYoung divides the will of God into three parts: God's will of decree which is God's sovereign will, what He has ordained to happen. The second part is God's will of desire. This is the revealed will of God in the Bible. It includes all the commands He has given us to obey. The third part is the "will of direction." This is God's individual will for our life. Does God have a specific plan for our life the author asks. He answers in the affirmative. We can often see this will as we look back on the path we have taken. I often comment I see God's will in the past as I see how he has led me. The author cautions us, "But while we are free to ask God for wisdom, He does not burden us with the task of divining His will of direction for our lives ahead of time" (24). In other words, we are not called to figure out God's secret plan before we make a decision.

The author provides good insight on his chapter are challenges to God's direction. He states that we want to know God's will for us because we want to please God. This is good. He lists some other reasons we seek God's will of direction. One reason is that we are "timid." He means that we are fearful of making a decision because of the consequences. We want to know perfectly before we make a decision. However, that is not how it works in the real world. We walk by faith, and not by sight.

Another reason we seek God's will of direction is because "we are searching for perfect fulfillment in this life" (29). If we are not finding perfect fulfillment in our job, relationships, then we must not be in God's perfect will. The Bible does not teach that our pilgrimage in this world will be a place of paradise. Instead, it teaches that we will experience, struggles, disappointment, and persecution. The author think this way of thinking is caused by the current culture. Another challenge is that we have so many opportunities and choices. Having so many choices paralyze us from acting because we do not know what is the perfect choice. He also thinks another reason is that we are cowardly. We are unwilling to take a risk.

Another problem the author points out is that we do not distinguish between moral and nonmoral decisions. We tend to focus on nonmoral decisions in our search for God's will. Most of our decisions are made about nonmoral matters. For example, what color socks should I wear today? Which college should I attend? Who should I marry? What job should I choose? I think you get the picture.

The traditional approach to seeking God's will seem to imply that God is hiding his will from us. DeYoung argues that it accuses God of being "sneaky." He answers that God does not hide things from His people. another problem is that the traditional approach "encourages a preoccupation with the future" (46). DeYoung notes, "We don't just want His word that He will be with us; we want Him to show us the end from the beginning and prove to us that He can be trusted. We want to know what tomorrow will bring instead of being content with simple obedience on the journey" (47). This focus on the future causes anxiety, discomfort, and frustration. Maybe, we are not getting a sign from heaven because God has already shown us how He wants us to live and has given us freedom to make decisions based on wisdom.

The author lists two other problems with the traditional approach to guidance. First, it "undermines personal responsibility, accountability, and initiative"; second, it "enslaves us in the chains of hopeless subjectivism." Too often we blame God for our poor decision and do not take personal responsibility for them. We can learn from our mistakes. It also prevents taking personal initiative. It makes us passive waiting for some sign. People are actively doing something when God calls them to a specific task. "How can I know God's will" seems to the wrong question. The better question is how can I make wise decision. He quotes from Haddon Robinson: "If we ask, 'How can I know the will of God?' we may be asking the wrong question. The Scriptures do not command us to find God's will for most of life's choices nor do we have any passage instructing on how it can be determined. Equally significant, the Christian community has never agreed on how God provides us with special revelation. Yet we persist in searching for God's will because decisions require thought and sap energy. We seek relief from the responsibility of decision-making and we feel less threatened by being passive rather than active in making choices" (51). This does not mean that God's word has nothing to say on how we live our life. DeYoung notes, "But when it comes to most of our daily decisions, and even a lot of life's 'big' decisions, God expects and encourages us to make choices, confident that He's already determined how to fit our choices into His sovereign will" (51). It is a call to be active, not passive in our decision making.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Finding God's Will Part 3

We are faced with decisions everyday. As committed Christians we want to honor God in our decisions. Some of us fear missing God's will. We struggle with discerning God's will for our life. Does God have an individual will for us? How do we make good decisions that honor God? This struggle to know God's will seems to have started in the nineteenth century. Before that time people had little choice in many of the decisions we now have the freedom to decide for ourselves. J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom seeks to answer the questions we have about finding God's will in their book, God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions. This book was previously published under the title Guard Us, Guide Us. It seems to be the same book published under a different title.

The authors note the current situation: "During the past century and a half, the topic of guidance from God has become a focus of just such fear in many Christian hearts" (10). The authors believe that individuals basically believed that God in his sovereignty was working out His perfect plans for their life. They think that in the aftermath to the birth of pietism two things went wrong: "First, the notion spread that getting and following direct guidance from God, as something above and beyond making commonsense decisions in Christian terms, was a matter of great importance in the Christian life. Second, God's plan for the Christian individual's life came to be thought of like a travel itinerary in which making planned connections is crucial and missing a connection wrecks the plan and spoils the rest of the journey" (10). One can see how these two things could cause fear and anxiety for the Christian seeking God's guidance. They could expect divine guidance for every little decision they make. It would lead to depending on subjective feelings or putting out fleeces or some special sign on what God wants them to do. One problem we would never mature in our decision making. God does not want us to be robots.

 Packer notes the consequences of this type of thinking: "In consequence, fearful (fear-full) and perplexed anxiety with regard to decision making became widespread among evangelical people. Believers felt unable to make far-reaching decisions until they had received some special personal indication from God as to what they should do. Fear of making what from God's standpoint would be wrong commitments vocationally, professionally, socially, relationally, and matrimonially induced a kind of inner paralysis that resulted in good and desirable commitments not being made, because people could not bring themselves to make any commitments at all" (10) which turns out to be a decision. Does God really want to paralyze our decision-making capability? Something seems to be wrong. It would seem that unless God tells us otherwise he expects us to make wise decisions based on His moral will and in submission to His sovereign will.

One unique feature of this book is that the first chapter emphasizes that we are God's covenant people. We are the sheep and He is the Shepherd. This chapter includes a detailed exposition of Psalms 23. The authors emphasize that "He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake (v.3)." Chapter two quotes a favorite poem of mine by JOhn Henry Newman: "Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on!/ The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead Thou me on!/Guide thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene; one step enough for me." I think this poem suggest that the future is in God's hand. We can trust Him to guide us. He will provide what we need to make each day's decision. He wants us to use what He has provided for our guidance: reason, the Bible, counsel from other Christians, wisdom and common sense. We expect our children to grow in wisdom in making good decisions. We are co-workers with God. The authors give us the way for wise decision making: "But the wise Christian seeking God's guidance doesn't start with impressions and subjective fantasies. Wise Christians start with the written Word of God, which they receive as their guidebook, as from the hand of Jesus Christ himself. We make our decisions in the light of what Scripture actually says and then, following on from that, in the light of wisdom that comes to us as we soak ourselves in God's word" (59). Other resources for following God's will for your life are being in good spiritual health, counsel from mature Christians, following good role models. and guidance from the Holy Spirit. God is our Good Shepherd. He will guide us and he will correct us when we get off track.

Packer lists some tips for following God's Guidance:

  1. What is the best I can do for God?
  2. Submit to the teachings of scripture. Some of these are to love God and our neighbor.
  3. Follow examples of godly Christians in the Bible.
  4. Use wisdom in making decisions. Draw on the counsel of others.
  5. Listen to what God may be speaking to you in your heart.
  6. Experience God's peace that He provides
  7. Observe the circumstances
  8. Do not expect guidance before the decision needs to be made.
  9. Be open to God guiding you to something you would not choose.
  10. If you make a bad decision, it is not the end of the world. We learn from our mistakes. We grow in skill as we apply scripture to our daily lives.
In the appendix, the authors include words from John Newton on the subject of "Divine Guidance." 
God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions is a good guide to understanding how to follow God's direction from life. It is both biblical and helpful. The writing is good and easy to understand. The authors provide examples to illustrate their point. One thing was not quite sure about. The authors note we are not to trust impressions or subjective feelings. But they state that God's peace confirms his guidance. Packer notes, "The gift of God-centered pace of heart as we contemplate and embrace the best, wisest, and most God-honoring option open to us is God's ordinary way of confirming to us that we have attained the wisdom that we sought by observing circumstances, praying for a clear head and discerning heart, searching the Scriptures, consulting experienced friends, and thinking hard before the Lord" (236). I do believe that if we do these things God will guide us. Much of how people seek guidance seems more like paganism than Christianity.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Finding, Discovering, or Discerning God's Will Part 2

In the second part of finding God's will, we will analyze four recent books on knowing God's Will: God's Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions by J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom, Here I Am: Now What on Earth Should I Be Doing by Quentin Schultze, Decision Making by the Book: How to Choose Wisely in an Age of Options by Haddon W. Robinson, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God's Will by Kevin DeYoung.

Decision Making by the Book by Haddon Robinson emphasizes making wise decisions guided by the Bible. The author distinguishes between three wills of God: Sovereign will, moral will, and individual will. Robinson defines God's sovereign will as "God's purpose from eternity past to eternity future whereby He determines all that shall take place" (21). Some refer to this as God's secret will. The Bible teaches us that the secret things belong to God, but His revealed will is to be obeyed. The author thinks that God might reveal parts of it to us.

God's moral will is what is given to us in the Bible. Robinson writes, "The Scriptures tell us what God wants us to believe and how God wants us to behave. This is the moral will of God, and it is clear" (22). I think it was Mark Twain who said it is not God's secret will that bothers him, but His revealed will. In other words, what bothers Him is that he knows what God wants him to believe and do, but he would prefer not knowing these things. It seems God is more interested in our character than where we live or work.

The third level of God's will is His individual will. This is what people are referring to when they say, "How can I know God's will"? The author states his view on God's individual will: God works out His sovereign will through all men and women. He has revealed to us His moral will. But He doesn't necessarily reveal His specific, individual will to us. It's possible that He does this at special times for some Christians, but we have no solid biblical testimony on that point" (23). The author believes God's guidance is through the Bible. That the Bible will equip us to do every good work as 2Timothy 3:16 says. The author thinks "How do I know God's will" is an inappropriate question. He states, "In God's sovereignty, according to His moral will, we have the freedom and responsibility to choose" (50). The key question is "How do I make good decisions"?