Category Archives: Ministry

(Review) Embodied Hope by Kelly Kapic

The problem of evil has been solved. Well, at least the logical problem of evil has been, which for the lived experience of most human beings is radically insufficient. Pain and suffering present a radically real problem for many people. People die, get sick, and deal with chronic pain. For some, these realities pose a major stumbling block to seeing God as good. Kelly Kapic, the author of Embodied Hope has experienced these realities first hand. His wife has dealt with the ravages and emotional toll of physical suffering. In light of this he has chosen to write a book which is both theological and pastoral, exploring the truths about God and ourselves which have bearing upon this problem of pain and 51a5lkxgr8l-_sx331_bo1204203200_suffering.

Naturally, the problem of evil is a really large topic, thus Kapic chooses to limit himself in two ways: First, he chooses to address Christians who suffer. Thus this book isn’t meant as a global defense against the existential problem of evil, or evil in general. It is aimed ad Christians who experience suffering. Second, he chooses to deal with suffering associated specifically with serious illness or physical pain.

The book is roughly divided into three parts. Part one deals with the limitations of easy answers often given to the problem of suffering and he deals with the nature of biblical lament. Here he also explores what it means to be embodied creatures. Part two turns to Christology in order to address some of these issues. Kapic believes that “Only by looking to this man [Christ] can we reorient our experience of suffering in a way that is truly Christian.” (15) In part three Kapic relates ecclesiology to the problem of suffering. He says that in the body of Christ we “discover a pattern for Christian discipleship that allows for genuine struggle, communal support, and transformative affection.” (15)

As someone who would consider myself to be a “pastor-theologian” I can really appreciate the nature of this work. Kapic works hard to make sure that our theological reflections are not separated from our pastoral practice. I found Kapic’s chapter on the Incarnation to be especially strong in maintaining this bond. Here he examines the theology of Athanasius and Warfield and concludes that,

The physicality of the Messiah takes us to the heart of the gospel and God’s promise, not just of sympathy but of rescue. God has come, come near, come to be God with us and God for us!” (75)

This is a powerful truth with major pastoral implications. Much incarnational theology has swung towards saying that the most important part of the incarnation is that Christ now has solidarity with us. This is certainly true, and pastorally significant, but solidarity without rescuing doesn’t offer much hope!

His chapter on confession was also enlightening. I have rarely seen a chapter on confession in a book addressing suffering. If I have, they are often very poorly written, wrongly teaching that our sickness/suffering is always tied to some hidden sin. So what does confession have to do with healing? Confession before others can help us disentangle our pain from the idea of personal punishment, it liberates us from shame and condemnation, it allows us to meet Christ in the other, and allows us to make ourselves truly vulnerable to the healing presence of God. This is truly powerful stuff!

So who should pick up this book? Undoubtedly, pastors! I mentioned above that this is a great example of pastoral theology. Kapic doesn’t present anything “new” here, or anything particularly interesting to academic theologians. However, he does an amazing job of making theology “real” for pastors and laypersons. I often hear that systematic theology is irrelevant or that it’s a nice intellectual pursuit, but here Kapic shows us that is simply untrue. The sort of historical theology  and systematic theology he is engaging in this book is supremely relevant to the life of anyone who calls themselves a Christian.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Same-Sex Attraction and the Church

Its actually a plausibility problem…

What the bible teaches about same sex relationships sounds implausible to most people 51mnsxoryhl-_sx331_bo1204203200_nowadays. It sounds totally implausible to ask people to turn their backs on same sex relationships and live a lonely life as a perpetually single person.  Not only does it sound implausible, it sounds unhealthy. Listen to what Melinda Selmys, a Roman Catholic who experiences same sex attraction says:

“Though shall not,” has consistently failed to persuade the postmodern world because it is madness.

She’s right, it in our world the idea that someone should say yes to the single life is absolute madness. And this is exactly where the problem lies, the church has unintentionally perpetuated the implausibility of a same-sex, single, celibate Christian life through a number of misteps. Ed Shaw, a pastor and the author of Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, seeks to address this plausibility problem by making what the Bible clearly commands seem plausible again.

Shaw’s thesis is that,

The reason that the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality sounds so unreasonable is because of a whole number of misteps that the church ahs taken over the years; a whole host of ways in which evangelicals have become too shaped by the world around us. (22)

What Shaw does throughout the book is highlight 9 misteps that the church has made, unwittingly making the same sex celibate life implausible. He begins the book with a very personal chapter, describing what life has been like pursuing a life of sexual holiness as a pastor who has same sex attractions. This is an important chapter because the plausibility problem is a deeply personal and emotional issue for him, not only as a pastor but as a same-sex attracted Christian. This chapter really sets the context.

So what are the missteps? Here are the 9 incorrect beliefs that the church has adopted, thus perpetuating the implausibility of a single-celibate same-sex life:

  1. Your identity is your sexuality
  2. A family is Mom, Dad and 2.4 children
  3. If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
  4. If it makes you happy, it must be right
  5. Sex is where true intimacy is found
  6. Men and women are equal and interchangeable
  7. Godliness is heterosexuality
  8. Celibacy is bad for you
  9. Suffering is to be avoided

Although these 9 topics have certainly influenced how the church processes issues of same sex attraction in the church, they have wide ranging implications. Personally, I have an ax to grind against belief 4 and 9. Even apart from issues of sexuality, the beliefs that “if it makes you happy, it must be right” and “suffering is to be avoided” have done so much to harm the mission of the church. Because the church has imbibed these values (especially the American church) people are slow to sacrifice for the sake of God’s mission. And perhaps even worse, students tend to abandon their faith in college precisely because they have bought into “happiness” as the goal of life, and hence their faith as well. I’ve seen it time and time again, people following Jesus because of the “happiness” and “blessings”

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Ed Shaw is Pastor of Emmanuel City Centre in Bristol, England.

he has to offer them instead of simply following him because he is the Messiah. It’s a consumeristic view of faith. All this to say, the issues Shaw addresses have major implications even beyond the topic of same-sex attraction.

I highly recommend this book to those in ministry. I wish all my pastor friends would take the time to read it simply because I know that some of them unknowingly are perpetuating these harmful beliefs in their churches (2 and 5 seem to be especially common in the circles I find myself in.) This would also be a helpful book for all sorts of leaders in Christian ministry to read. We would really benefit from being more careful about how we address issues of family life and relationships, as elevating certain topics in sermons or bible studies can unwittingly alienate a large segment of our Christian brothers and sisters.

Even though you may not agree with the details of Shaw’s proposal, this is an invaluable resource for those seeking to disciple their flock in the areas of sexuality and beyond.

NOTE: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

Practicing Scripture, Christ, and the Church: John Calvin’s Agenda for the Eucharist

What is “practical” theology? Often, practical theology is thought to consist of the explicit practices of the church, such as church discipline, preaching, leadership, types of worship, etc. Is this the sort of practical theology Calvin is engaged with in his Eucharistic theology? Although a good portion of Calvin’s practical theology of the Eucharist surely is focused on explicit practices, such as those mentioned above, Calvin also concerns himself with at least three implicit practical consequences that emerge from Eucharistic theology. These three concerns revolve around: 1) faithfulness to scripture, 2) Christology, and 3) ecclesiology. Here we shall see how these three themes emerge in Calvin’s work and result in a theology of the Eucharist that is eminently practical. But first we shall begin by outlining some of the explicitly “practical” comments Calvin makes regarding this sacrament.

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The final twelve sections of 4.17 are Calvin’s theological reflections on how to practice the Eucharist. Here he emphasizes the necessity for communicating the communal implications of this sacrament. He points to Augustine’s work as a precedent for using this practice as a goad to arouse mutual love in a local church. (1415) Calvin also teaches that the sacrament must be offered together with the preaching of the word. To do otherwise is to promote superstition. He also addresses the topic of who ought to be able to take communion. He then devotes several pages on the proper celebration of the Eucharist, explaining how often it should ideally be taken (often) and in what manner (in both kinds). A cursory reading of this section reveals how concerned Calvin is with the actual practice of this sacrament. This sort of reading would prove instructive to those wanting to emulate Calvin’s practice; however, to simply read these twelve sections and ignore the thirty-seven sections that precede them would mean ignoring other important reasons why Calvin is so concerned with practicing the Eucharist properly, namely, his scriptural, Christological, and ecclesiological concerns.

Calvin’s thought regarding the importance of reading Scripture faithfully emerges in the section where he deals with the basis of the doctrine of transubstantiation. Thus the battle over how to practice the Eucharist appropriately appears to be a battle over how best to read scripture. He cites his Roman Catholic opponent’s use of the Exodus story in which Moses’s rod is changed into a serpent as an example of reading scripture improperly. He also cites their reading of Jeremiah as evidence that they misread scripture. According to those who argue for transubstantiation, the fact that the prophet complains that wood is put in his bread signifies that Christ’s body was allegorically affixed to the wood of the cross. (1378) Calvin  disdains  this “disgraceful” sort of allegorical reading because it occludes the prophet’s true meaning. (1378) In fact, Calvin calls those who read these passages this way “enemies” of the prophet’s true meaning. Hermeneutical concerns are not reserved to his Catholic opponents alone, he also takes aim at Lutheran readings of Scripture. In a section dealing with the use of the word “is” in the words of institution he shows his hand again, revealing how he feels about those who accuse the reformed of reading scripture improperly. Here Calvin says,

 

Now I think I have made my point, that to sane and upright men, the slanders of our enemies are loathsome when they broadcast that we discredit Christ’s words, which we embrace no less obediently than they, and treat with greater reverence… our examination of the matter ought to be a witness of how much Christ’s authority means to us. (1387-8)

Later on he says that his opponents imbue the “simpleminded with the notion that we discredit Christ’s words, when we have actually proved that they madly pervert and confound them but that we faithfully and rightly expound them.” This passage reveals something important about Calvin’s Eucharistic theology, namely, that a faithful reading of scripture is at the forefront of his mind when doing Eucharistic theology. Knowing Calvin, this should come as no surprise. However, this observation has far-reaching practical implications beyond the Eucharist. In Calvin’s mind the authority of Christ comes to us through scripture, and to read scripture in a way other than it was intended to be read discredits Christ’s authority. To read allegorically or to add to scripture diminishes the authority of Christ, which is something Calvin is loathe to do.

Another one of Calvin’s concerns is also related to Christological features, not necessarily Christ’s authority, but the metaphysics of Christ’s presence. Concern with the metaphysics of the Eucharist would seem to be a theoretical concern rather than a lords-supper1practical one, but it is eminently practical, for the very gospel hinges upon it. The metaphysical issue Calvin is concerned with is the Lutheran doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ. The Lutherans, according to Calvin, want to enclose Christ under the bread, and “to meet this necessity they have introduced the monstrous notion of ubiquity.” (1401) Calvin counters this “monstrous notion of ubiquity” by showing from Scripture that Christ’s body is circumscribed by the measure of a human body, thus he is not in all places. (1401) We may read this as another battle over Scriptural authority, however it is much more than this.[1] According to Calvin, the doctrine of ubiquity (which is grounded in Eucharistic theology) is “plainly in conflict with a nature truly human.” This has profound soteriological implications. If Christ does not have the same sort of human nature that we have how can we say that Christ took on our “true flesh,” suffered in our “true flesh” and also took up that same “true flesh” in his resurrection and brought it up to heaven? (1399) To say that Christ has a different sort of flesh than our own undermines the vicarious work of Christ for us; it also undermines our eschatological hope. As Calvin says, “how weak and fragile that hope would be, if this very flesh of ours has not truly been raised in Christ, and had not entered into the kingdom of God.” (1400)

The final theoretical agenda (if we can call it that) in Calvin’s Eucharistic theology is ecclesiological. In a famous passage in which Calvin argues that participation in the Eucharist makes all who partake  participants in the one body of Christ, Calvin explains how the nature of bread shows us that this is so. He explains that just as bread is made of many grains so that one cannot be distinguished from the other, it is the case that the body of Christ (i.e. the church) is joined and bound together so that “no sort of disagreement or division may intrude.” (1415) This has profound implications for local congregations. In fact, Calvin highlights this, saying that we cannot injure, despise, reject, abuse or offend other believers and not do the same to Christ; we cannot love Christ without loving other believers, and we cannot give ourselves to Christ without give ourselves to one another. However, these ecclesiological implications go beyond the local congregation (though Calvin certainly had local concerns in mind), and the call to unity is a call for the universal church to live in a united manner. This is a matter that seems to be understood across the reformation as a whole. Most efforts that were made to encourage unity throughout the magisterial reformation revolved around the Eucharist. For instance, consider Wolfgang Musculus’s writings on the Eucharist. Craig Farmer argues that substance of Musculus’s Eucharistic theology (i.e. the notion of an exhibitive presence) remains relatively stable, but that he was willing to abandon certain controversial terms in making efforts towards finding a middle ground between Wittenberg and Zurich. (Farmer, 310). Similarly, throughout they years Calvin, makes adjustments to his Eucharistic theology in order to promote Eucharistic concord. According to Wim Janse one would not realize this simply by reading the 1559 Institutes. (Janse, 37) In his article “Calvin’s Eucharistic Theology: Three Dogma-Historical Observations” Janse argues that Calvn’s development of his Eucharistic theology goes through Zwinglian, Lutheran, and spiritualizing phases. The source of these changes came from his desire to find consensus. Thus in Calvin’s development of Eucharistic theology we see a series of compromises and conciliatory formulations. (Janse, 40) Not only do we see his goal of church unity through the Eucharist manifested in his theological development, we see in his actions, for instance the signing of the Augsburg Variata and the Consensus Tigurinus, as well as his cultivation of relationship with Melanchthon.

Calvin’s practical theology of the Eucharist extends far beyond typical “practical” concerns. His Eucharistic theology has far reaching implications for how scripture is read, how the gospel is understood, and how the church expresses its unity. Given that these are not the typical concerns of many practical theologians today, those doing practical theology would do well to pay attention to how Calvin’s “theoretical” theology does not lend itself to the tidy separation between theoretical and practical theology.


[1] For instance, see where Calvin says “They cannot show a syllable from Scripture by which to prove that Christ is invisible.” (1398)

 

Books Read in 2016

At the end of each the year I put out the list of books I have read that year. Usually they consist of a lot of theology books, followed up by a good chunk of philosophy books, and a few fiction books thrown in. In 2013 I read 106 books. In 2014 I read 87 books. In 2015 I read  88 books. This year, my numbers went down drastically. However, that was mainly because I was in school again, reading lots of journals and book chapters, and writing a whole bunch. The numbers also dropped because I stopped reading at the gym. My workouts sort of changed (became more intense) so I no longer read while doing cardio. Anyway, this year’s total is 52 book. That’s one per week!

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Books Read in 2016 = 52!

January

  1. Systematic Theology Volume 1 – Wolfhart Pannenberg
  2. Experiences in Theology – Jurgen Moltmann
  3. The Nature of Doctrine – George Lindbeck
  4. The Nature of Confession – Phillips & Okholm

February

  1. Beyond Foundationalism – Grenz & Francke
  2. The Drama of Doctrine – Kevin Vanhoozer
  3. Black Theology of Liberation – James Cone
  4. Models of God – Sally McFague
  5. Introducing Radical Orthodoxy – James K.A. Smith

March

  1. Analytic Theology – Crisp & Rae
  2. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology – Thomas McCall
  3. Four Views on Hell – Preston Sprinkle
  4. Strong and Weak – Andy Crouch
  5. The Problem of Hell – Jonathan Kvanvig
  6. Hell: The Logic of Damnation – Jerry Walls

April

  1. Gaining by Losing – J.D. Greear
  2. The Unfolding Mystery – Edmund Clowney
  3. Jonathan Edwards Among the Theologians – Oliver Crisp
  4. Sacrifice and Atonement – Stephen Finlan

May

  1. Knowledge and Christian Belief – Alvin Plantinga
  2. Living on the Devil’s Doorstep – Floyd McClung
  3. How I Changed My Mind About Evolution – Stump and Applegate
  4. The Trinity Among the Nations: The Doctrine of God in the Majority World – Gene Green, Stephen Pardue, K.K. Yeo

June

  1. Prodigal God – Tim Keller
  2. The Father Heart of God – Floyd McClung
  3. Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous – W. Jay Wood
  4. The Pastor Theologian – Gerald Heistand & Todd Wilson
  5. Reading Romans in Context – Ben Blackwell, John Goodrich, and Jason Matson
  6. You are What You Love – James K.A. Smith

July

  1. The Claim of Humanity in Christ – Alexandra Radcliff
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum – Bruce Longenecker

Lost Track of Dates

  1. Writings on Pastoral Piety – John Calvin (ed. McKee)
  2. Calvin and the Consolidation of the Genevan Reformation – William Naphy
  3. Infant Baptism in Reformation Genega – Karen Spierling
  4. Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension – Julie Canlis
  5. America at the Crossroads – George Barna
  6. The Uncontrolling Love of God – Thomas Oord
  7. Pentecostal Outpourings – ed. Robert Smart, Michael Haykin, and Ian Clary
  8. Crossing Cultures in Scripture – Marvin Newell
  9. Rational Faith – Stephen Evans
  10. What is Reformed Theology – R.C. Sproul
  11. Judaism Before Jesus – Anthony Tomasino
  12. Reordering the Trinity – Rodrick Durst
  13. Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves

November

  1. A Little Handbook for Preachers – Mary Hulst
  2. Love Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life – Henri Nouwen
  3. Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective – Marc Cortez

December

  1. The Vulnerable Pastor – Mandy Smith
  2. Serving a Movement – Timothy Keller
  3. Saving Calvinism – Oliver Crisp
  4. Paul’s New Perspective – Garwood Anderson
  5. Soul Keeping – John Ortberg

The Vulnerable Pastor

Vulnerable. Not the first word that comes to mind when you think about strong leaders. Yet, this word, “Vulnerable,” is what Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, suggests should characterize strong Christian leaders.

In The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Smith attempts to debunk current leadership wisdom as not only being harmful, but impossible. The image51s4het-oll-_sy344_bo1204203200_ of somebody who is always strong, always has their stuff together, is never wrong, never wavers, and is extremely self-confident is the exact opposite of what Smith suggest Christian leaders should be like. Instead a Christian leader should be marked by vulnerability. Specifically, this vulnerability should recognize and understand our human constraints. Recognizing these constraints makes our ministry more sustainable “and guards us against disillusionment and burnout.”

As the former director of a college ministry in a large church in the LA area I knew I could benefit from reading Smith’s book. I sort of live in the “mega-church” world, which is mostly characterized by the leadership images Smith decries. I constantly struggled, despite pressing on in ministry, with the notion that I didn’t fit the “pastor-mold.” I still struggle with it! Even though its never expressed, it is implicitly there. I’m just not one of those pastors. I’m shy, introverted, intellectual, liturgical. Again, not your typical mega-church type leader. Throughout the book Smith shares her struggles with not fitting the mold. Told mostly in story form, she expresses how difficult it was to be herself as leader, when the world (i.e. CHURCH WORLD) told her that wasn’t enough. It was only when she was bold enough to admit that she didn’t have what the world asked of her, and she didn’t need to have it, that she began to find joy in her ministry.

Here are some helpful quotes from her book:

When we’re at our desks preparing our sermons and something snags our hearts, can we set aside our work long enough to be worked upon? Can we trust that the teaching of our congregations is not primarily our work but God’s work, which he wants to being with us? (92)

What if we began with our human limitations and shaped a ministry from that? Like a child pouring pennies on a candy store counter, asking, “How much candy can I get with that?” we can look at the time, gifts, energy, and ideas we have and ask, “How much church can we get with that?” (105)

If it’s right for me to be here (and I beliee it its) and it’s alright for me to be limited (and I believe it its), I have to trust that there’s a way to do this job without it destroying me. If he gave the church to humans, he must have a way for humans to do church. (105) 

One way I equip my leaders is to remind them it’s their job to equip others. We’re not soloists; we’re choirmasters. Its not our job to do the work but to give the direction: to pick the note, choose when to start and wait for the community to shape the fullness of the song. (108)

All in all, I found this book quite helpful. There were so many positive messages in it that I needed to hear once again. Being a pastor, or any kind of Christian leader, is not about being enough…. Its about being willing to revel in our own weakness and in God’s strength.


Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday

Preaching books are a dime a dozen. Its really hard to find a preaching book that either says something unique or says something important in a unique way. So I don’t have much confidence in preaching books – especially books that give you X number of ways to be a better preacher or books that promise to make you a better preacher. Such books are often filled with superficial pieces of advice or don’t really work. So when I saw Mary Hulst’s 841288book: A Little Handbook for Preachers: Ten Practical Ways to a Better Sermon by Sunday I couldn’t help but be super skeptical. Nevertheless, I picked it up, thinking, what the heck, if I get one helpful idea from this book it will be worth reading it. In all honesty – I didn’t get one helpful idea from this book – I got so much more. In fact, as I’ve said before on my twitter account, this is officially one of my new favorite books about preaching.

Why am I so enamored with this book? It probably has to do with the fact that its not like your typical 10 Ways to do X or 7 Simple Steps to Y or 4.8 Habits of people Who Z. This book is filled with substance, it is at the same time theologically informed and practical. You know its not like your typical X number of ways to do Q kind of preaching books when the author says the best way to make your preaching better is to make it biblical! So many of the “simple ways” books are so consumeristic and seeker-pleasing, but this book begins by saying the most compelling thing our preaching can do is to be Biblical! What a surprise!

The second thing Hulst says we can do to make our preaching better is to stop telling people what do to – and to start telling them what God has already done, i.e. make your preaching full of grace. Don’t say stuff like:

  • If your relationship with God really is important to you, you will make a commitment to talk to him every day.
  • If you want to take discipleship to the next level, you will join a service team.
  • Isn’t it time you start investing your money into eternity?

Instead your preaching ought to change from “this is what you need to do” to “this is what we get to do” language. Our callings are a grace given to us, “so preach grace. Preach it often and preach it well, and watch how God gets to work.” (65)

One of the most helpful practical chapter is her chapter on “Compelling Preaching.” In this chapter she addresses the preachers problems of having too much information and lacking a well defined (oral) structure in our sermon. She suggests (reminding me of Andy Stanley) that we should be able to articulate our entire sermon in one sentence. Or as I like to say – the main idea of your sermon should be tweetable. To do that we need to get clear on what the bid idea of our sermon is. Once we do that the points in the sermon should illimuate the one big idea. She suggest that “to give our sermons clarity we need to do that hard work of picking one idea and letting the rest, for now, stay in our study.” Easier said than done! Nevertheless this is crucial to good preaching.

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Here’s a sermon I preached right after reading this book. You can hear it here or on iTunes (Soma Sunday Nights)

There is plenty of other great things which I could say about this book, but I don’t want to rob you of the opportunity of discovering these things on your own. So I will just stop here….Let me just say one more thing.

I rarely tell people – you need to go out and buy this book. However, this is one of those books that I feel like all preachers need to buy. I haven’t really found a preaching book that is so practical and at the same time so theologically informed. Because it is theological and practical, A Little Handbook for Preachers is my new go to book for handing to new preachers.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

Over the years I’ve read a lot of Henri Nouwen books. The reading of nearly everyone of these books is associated, in my mind, with some really important even or series of events in my life. To say that Henri Nouwen was there for some of these life changing/ministry changing moments of my life is something of an understatement. However, most of what I have read from Nouwen hasn’t been especially personal. Yes I know he has several “journals” or “memoirs” of certain seasons in his life and ministry, but reallove-henrily, who is Henri Nouwen? And is he really like the person that we meet when we read his published books? Well, if you want the answer to that question, you are in luck because a collection of his letters to friends, disciples, and just generally interested people has been published by Gabrielle Earnshaw.

Earnshaw has provided those who are interested in the works of Nouwen a fine window into a previously unseen part of Nouwen’s interior life. In this collection, we see Nouwen, not pontificating and giving abstract advice, but rather we see him giving wisdom to ordinary people about how to live an authentic spiritual life.

Earnshaw notes that prior to his death Nouwen had received more than 16,000 letters. “He kept every postcard, piece of paper, fax and greeting card that arrived in his mail. And he responded to each of them. His response to these letters was an often overlooked part of his ministry. In these letters we see him dealing with such pastoral issues like:

  • Loss
  • Sickness
  • Injustice
  • Finding and losing Love
  • Discerning a career path
  • Handling conflict
  • Managing one’s emotions
  • Coping with self-doubt

If you can identify with any of these issues, this book might be for you.

Personally, I was encouraged by his insistence to “be very faithful to a regular prayer life” and his encouragement to “spend silent time in your prayer room… and allow yourself to taste already now the peace that comes from this [Christ’s] victory.” I was encouraged by his advice to those in ministry. For instance,

It is so important for the people around you to see that peace of Christ reflected in your eyes, your hands and your words. There is more power in that than in all your teaching and organizing. That is the truth we need to keep telling eachother. (88)

Your special task as superior is to keep Jesus, the crucified and rise Lord, in the heart of your people and in the center of your community. Keep speaking about him and keep his words calling you and your sisters to faithfulness. (151)

And another piece of advice to a young minister,

One thing I would like to ask you is to keep faithful to a life of prayer. Without prayer, confession, anger and frustrations may become unbearable for you, but when in prayer you connect them with the struggle of Jesus himself, I trust that your vocation will deeper…I would also like you to stay faithful to the church, even when you see its tendency to be self indulgent…In the long run, living in Christ without being connected with the church is impossible. I have seen this over and over again.

These pieces of advice stick out to me, given that I am working in ministry. However there is plenty throughout the book that will speak loudly to anyone who is pursuing a deeper relationship with Christ.

If you are looking for a seasoned, deeply spiritual, voice of wisdom to point you to Jesus, I would recommend that you find someone in your church and go through this book with them, because in Nouwen’s writings you will find the voice of someone who is seasoned, deeply spiritual, and will point you to Jesus.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.