Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Turns out that a friend of mine is reading the same book I’m reading: Harvey Cox’s The Future of Faith. We thought we do a little “fishing” for other folks who have read or are reading this book, to see if we could get an online book study going.

So here’s the first stab at this: I’m four chapters into the book, and so far I’m finding it to be a book that is stimulating a lot of thought. It’s a little early to say, but I’m feeling some tinges of hope as well.

His opening paragraph gets right to the point: “What does the future hold for religion, and for Christianity in particular?” He then describes three qualities that “mark the world’s spiritual profile” — the unanticipated resurgence of religion, the decline of fundamentalism (really?), and, he says, the most important: “a profound change in the elemental nature of religiousness.” After drawing a distinction between faith and belief, he goes on to describe three major ages of Christianity: (more…)


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When our churches are schools of [spiritual] practice, they make—and change—history. Otherwise, they simply write history and argue about it, and of course, in so doing they tend to repeat it. (145)

It is probably an understatement to say that Brian McLaren is one of the most influential thinkers in the emergent/emerging church. With many books in circulation, he is certainly one of the more prolific. Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices is the introductory offering in “The Ancient Practice Series” by Thomas Nelson Publishers. As such, it doesn’t deal in depth with any one practice, but it paves the way for rest of the series by presenting the big-picture rationale for spiritual disciplines. In the words of one reviewer on Amazon.com, “If you want people to build a boat, don’t give them the plans, give them a love of the sea.” Finding Our Way Again succeeds in providing a foretaste of what it might be like to live in a faith community that is immersed in the spiritual practices.

In setting up the title’s use of the word ‘way,’ McLaren addresses the question about why bookstores sell more books on Buddhism than Christianity. (more…)

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I need some help. I’m having an intriguingly hard time wrapping my mind around the many themes and predictions that Phyllis Tickle unveils in The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. If you’ve read the book skim or skip the next three paragraphs, which are provided for those who have not yet read this small book of big ideas.

Tickle’s metaphor is that every 500 years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. She briefly traces this pattern in Judaism, but she is most concerned with the pattern in the Christian Church. The first Great Transformation was marked, of course, by the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, when even the calendar was reset. The next change happened with Gregory the Great in the sixth century, with the founding of monasticism. The Great Schism occurred around 1000 AD, dividing the Eastern Church from the Roman Catholic Church. The Great Reformation took place five hundred years later, and now, she concludes, we’re due for another rummage sale, which she labels the Great Emergence.

It is significant, she contends, that every 500 years “the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity…become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered (more…)

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Part four in a four-part series

“Most of us have let go of our childhood images of God, but we have not replaced them.”

With that opening, chapter four of A Praying Congregation undertakes the exploration of our foundational beliefs about God, since such beliefs greatly affect our understanding and expectations of prayer.

We will find it difficult to explore new ways to pray that deepen our relationship with God if we do not hold some image of God that calls us to intimacy. It is important to think through our understanding of God, drawing on Scripture, tradition, and modern theologians. However, thinking, reading and studying alone will not help us discover an image of God that is our own, if we do not trust the experience of God we discover through our prayer.

Reading this chapter, I was reminded of something Douglas John Hall says in The Cross in Our Context: “Is our foundational assumption [about God] that of power or of love? In homely terms, when we think ‘God,’ do we think the last word in sheer might, authority, supremacy, potency? Or do we think compassion, mercy, identification, grace, benevolence—agape?” (more…)

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Part three in a four-part series

Having lifted up the necessity of a safe place for people to ask questions and explore new ways of praying, and having considered who taught us to pray and what we were taught about prayer, chapter three turns to the need to articulate our beliefs about prayer.

Our early experiences of prayer and subsequent teachings about prayer have created in us a set of beliefs about prayer. A praying congregation helps people examine their beliefs about prayer and encourages them to hold on to the ones that are true for them and to discard the ones that no longer fit.

After a very brief introduction to the topic, Jane Vennard uses the rest of chapter three to model how to articulate one’s beliefs about prayer. Included in her list of things that she believes about prayer are: (more…)

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Part two in a four-part series

It was one of those naive attempts that happen during a person’s youth; it was an indication of growing faith, but it was, nevertheless, a request that was bound to disappoint.

I don’t remember the particular request, but I remember I wanted something, and I wanted it desperately. I was in my early teens, and I was acting on the Bible’s promise, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” As I lay on my bed, I prayed with all my heart, and I asked God, not for an indication of whether I would receive my request, I simply asked for a sign that my request had been heard.

One of those folded paper ornaments was hanging in the center of my room. “God, if you’re listening, just turn that ball a little. (pause) (more…)

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Part one in a four-part series

A number of years ago, I participated in an series of events designed to teach a wide variety of sacred practices. Central in those practices were new and different kinds of prayer.

I have not confessed this to many people—so it’s odd (and a little risky) to do it in such a public way—but I felt an odd sense of resistance throughout that series. I was there because I wanted to learn and grow; but I couldn’t shake this sense of “this isn’t for me.”

To be fair, as well as fully revealing, I was exposed to a wide variety of types of prayer, and I was encouraged to ‘try them on for size.’ In the end I wound up with a style of prayer that was my own—a style that I have found helpful. But I still find myself restless at times, wondering if my prayer life is all that it should be.

Just recently, as part of the Sacred Practice Leadership Series, I read Jane Vennard’s book, A Praying Congregation: The Art of Teaching Spiritual Practice. Beginning with the pages numbered with Roman numerals I felt like fireworks were exploding in my mind. Wow. Ooh. Ah! Suddenly I began to understand (more…)

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