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Running on Empty by Fil Anderson

It’s an all too common trap: structuring our life in such a way that we are simply performing for God instead of abiding in God, and then wondering why we struggle.  In Running on Empty Fil Anderson give a very personal look at his own struggles with a life lived ostensibly for Christ but in reality devoid of Christ, and his path toward healing.

There are passages in this book that made me think and touched my heart.  Unfortunately, the book has some major shortcomings, and could have been much better.  The chapters often do not have a coherent flow: a passage will make a point and then the next passage will make a different point, and you’re not sure where he is going.  Illustrations sometimes seem forced or out of place.  There is a chapter that basically outlines the four ancient steps of lectio divinia, but he doesn’t actually label them as the four steps in the text.  He states that the biblical text “pray without ceasing” can be interpreted “come to rest”— which is just plain wrong.  I actually became frustrated with reading this book, which is rare for me.

I appreciated Mr. Anderson’s honesty, but this book contributes little to spirituality literature and has significant shortcomings.  Bottom line: not recommended reading.

Walking with God by John Eldredge

“It is our deepest need, as human beings, to learn to live intimately with God.”

John Eldredge has been writing about walking with God for over ten years, since the publication of The Sacred Romance in 1997.  His latest book, Walking with God, is his most deeply personal & may become his most controversial as well.

Walking with God is not structured as a typical book at all: instead, it is a written retelling and explanation of his own walk with God over the course of a year.  It has no specific goal or direction; it is simply his life day by day, and how he saw God guiding and teaching him.

Interspersed with these personal experiences are explanations of his own worldview and approach to walking with God.  Two core issues he spends a lot of time with are spiritual warfare and conversational intimacy with God.

Eldredge’s view of spiritual warfare is that demonic attacks, both in the form of physical ailments and mental and spiritual clouding, are very real and very common, almost an everyday occurrence, and that it takes concentrated, specific prayer to overcome them.  Eldredge’s view of “conversational intimacy” is that God really can speak to us, to enlighten and guide us, and that we can learn to listen to His voice.

These paradigms are very foreign and even antithetical to most evangelical Christians. Eldredge fully realizes this, but does not try to build an elaborate structured case for his theology.  After all, Eldredge is not a theologian at heart, but a storyteller.  Consequently, I think he realized that he could be most effective in teaching his way of walking with God by telling stories, and not by trying to write a theological tome.

I actually am both theologian and storyteller.  The theologian in me has always bristled at some aspects of Eldredge’s theology, and yet the storyteller in me sees much truth and much goodness in it as well.  Did I agree with all the theology in this book?  No, I did not.  Did I take page after page of detailed notes, being struck again and again by his honesty and insight?  Yes I did.

Walking with God is a profoundly challenging book, one that I will re-read, meditate and pray over.  I believe John wanted to create a book that would make people take a hard look at their definition of what it means to truly walk with God, and then show them a path to a richer and fuller life.

He succeeded.

 

More information about the book from Amazon.com is available here.

Pay Attention to Your Life

Frederich Buechner, a wise and gifted man who has walked with God for nearly 80 years, was recently interviewed and asked what was the most important truth he had learned.  He replied:

Pay attention to your life. It is so easy to live your life on the surface and not pay attention to what’s happened. Your life is speaking to you. Paying attention is to keep your eyes open, look at peoples’ faces, listen to their voices, smell the smells in the air.

 

 

 

hat tip to Best of the GodBlogs!

The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship

Twentysome years ago, one of the first Bible studies I ever authored was entitled “Cheap Grace.”  The study was inspired by an old old song by Steve Camp, who was, in turn, inspired by those same words penned in the book The Cost of Discipleship.

So after all those years, for the March “book by a dead guy” I finally got around to reading this classic, written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  There is much that can be said about Bonhoeffer the man and Bonhoeffer the theologian, but I will leave that to another time, and focus solely on this book which has challenged the lives of so many.

The Cost of Discipleship can really be thought of as four short books; for its four main divisions, although all speaking of discipleship, are distinct enough to stand on their own thematically.

The first division of the book is both the most famous and the most challenging, being an extended essay on the true nature of grace contrasted with its widespread distorted definitions and the resulting abuse of its meaning and the God behind it.  The first sentence of the first chapter sums it up, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.”  There are sentences I have underlined all through these first five chapters:

To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self.

When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.

We have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence.

Jesus has to create (with the rich young ruler) a situation in which there can be no retreat, an irrevocable situation.

The man who disobeys cannot believe, for only he who obeys can believe.

Christ must make it clear from the start that his word is not an abstract doctrine, but the re-creation of the whole life from man.

Jesus summons men to follow Him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God.

The second division of the book is an extended devotion & exposition of the Sermon on the Mount.  There are some chapters which are very insightful, such as the chapter on Matthew 6:16-18.  A favorite quote: When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.  Other chapters I felt were uneven or even marginal.

The third divison, entitled “The Messengers,” explores Matthew 9:35-10:42, where the apostles are commissioned to minister to Israel.  It is short (20 pages) and honestly could have been shorter.

The last division is on the church—the nature of discipleship and the Christian life within the corporate body.  Like the first section, there is some profound stuff here:

The old man cannot will his own death or kill himself.  He can only die in, through and with Christ.

Baptism incorporates us into the unity of the body of Christ, and the Lord’s Supper fosters and sustains our fellowship and communion in that Body. 

Now through Word and Sacrament the body of Christ is no longer confined to a single place.

If the Church refuses to face the stern reality of sin, it will gain no credence when it talks of forgiveness.

The Cost of Discipleship, although uneven in places, shows more than enough genius of writing and profound insight into the truth of Christ to merit it on any follower’s bookshelf.  Highly recommended.

Conformed to His Image

Conformed to His Image

 

 

Yesterday I reviewed Kenneth Boa’s excellent website, so I thought it appropriate today to review his magnum opus book Conformed to His Image.  I had been frustrated for years with many books on spiritual growth & formation, because almost invariably they suffer from tunnel vision, seeing only one particular part of the whole spectrum of spiritual formation to the exclusion of the rest.  Another common shortcoming is that many are strong in “touchy feel-good stuff” and short on solid doctrine. 

I had searched for years in vain for a comprehensive evaluation of all the philosophies and methods used over the millenia of Christianity that had a solid doctrinal footing until…I found this 500 page hunk of theological goodness!!  In this seminary level textbook Boa masterfully summarizes and categorizes a broad spectrum of spiritual growth and development pathways into 12 major areas or facets:

  • Relational Spirituality: Loving God completely, Ourselves Correctly, and Others Compassionately
  • Paradigm Spirituality:  Cultivating an Eternal vs. a Temporal Perspective
  • Disciplined Spirituality:  Engaging in the Historic Disciplines
  • Exchanged Life Spirituality:  Grasping Our True Identity in Christ
  • Motivated Spirituality:  A Set of Biblical Incentives
  • Devotional Spirituality:  Falling in Love with God
  • Holistic Spirituality:  Every Component of Life under the Lordship of Christ
  • Process Spirituality:  Process vs. Product, Being vs. Doing
  • Spirit-Filled Spirituality:  Walking in the Power of the Spirit
  • Warfare Spirituality:  The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
  • Nurturing Spirituality:  A Lifestyle of Evangelism and Discipleship
  • Corporate Spirituality:  Encouragement, Accountability, and Worship

From the introductory chapter:

The spiritual life is an all-encompassing, lifelong response to God’s gracious initiatives in the lives of those whose trust is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Biblical spirituality is a Christ-centered orientation to every component of life through the mediating power of the Holy Spirit.

I have underlined and marked in almost every page of this tremedous book.  This volume is without equal; it has my highest recommendation.