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.