Book blogger at Bookwi.se
Finding God’s will is a common desire. Often people can be paralized because they are afraid of not finding God’s will. Hearing God is a classic. This is the third copy of the book I have owned (one given and two purchased) over the years but the first time I am actually reading it.
I like that Willard starts by moving the pressure down a notch. He has a good illustration of the fact that no parent wants to tell their children everything that they should do. Parents want to teach their children how to do something, and expect that they will do it. If they are supposed to make their bed in the morning, they should make it every morning. Children complaining that the parent did not tell them this morning to make their bed will only incur the parent’s wrath. So Willard starts telling us we should listen to what scripture says and do that.
Another good point that I have never really thought of, is that we should always read scripture assuming that the people of scripture were much like us. They were not particularly special people, they were sinful, afraid, made bad decisions, etc. If we see them as much like us, then we can assume that we to should be hearing from God and seeking to follow God’s will in relatively similar ways as the biblical characters. Since reading that section, I have been more aware of the large number of Christians that actively resist thinking of biblical characters as ‘like us’. I think it shows one area that we have far to go to move Evangelicals into historical Christian Orthodoxy.
Overall what I am most impressed by, is the biblical balance that Willard attempts to strike. When you discuss hearing from God there are lots of places to veer into shaky ground. And I know that some are of the opinion that even discussing hearing from God goes too far. But Willard attempts to keep the desire to hear from God, the ways we hear from God, the reality of the power of God, and the limitations of our own understanding.
Over the last couple months I have come to the conclusion that Evangelicals (of whom I am one) are good at sharing the gospel and keeping the importance of conversion squarely in their sights.
But I have also come to see that groups that assume the large scale Christianity of their communities (those that have been state churches) have done much more thinking about how to live as a Christian.
It is cliche (and I think at least partially true) that Evangelicals are interested in you up until your conversion. After that I think we fall into the Paul problem of continuing to feed one another spiritual milk. We are still trying to save one another. But I think those that theologically are more oriented toward infant baptism and Christendom have thought more about living as a Christian. (The negative for them is that they also now need to evangelize their own as Christendom has broken down.)
There is nothing wrong with keeping the gospel at the forefront of our Christianity. But that does not mean that we need to keep the basic gospel message as the main content of our Christian teaching.
So I have been seriously thinking about finding a Roman Catholic spiritual director particularly because I want to learn more about spiritual growth from a different perspective. (On the other hand I have had a couple Evangelicals recommended to me, if you think of it, this is something I am still praying through and I would welcome your prayer for me.)
Richard Rohr has been interesting to me since I first read his book Falling Foward. Later I listened to his lectures that were turned into a book Why Be Catholic. And I want to read more about his work in male initiation rites and spiritual development.
But as I was looking around for an audiobook the other day I picked up The Art of Letting Go. It is not a book that is narrated, but rather six talks that are packaged together as an audiobook. They sound like they were prepared for those that want to go on a spiritual retreat with Rohr, but can only listen to an audiobook or lecture instead.
Many Evangelicals will probably find multiple places strange and questionable. But on the whole these are much more like Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. These sound more like a personal conversation with a spiritual mentor about how to grow spiritually.
There are six different sections, each about an hour about an area that Rohr thinks we need to let go of in order to grow spiritually. There is so much content here (in just 6 hours) that I will not attempt to recount it but only give a few thoughts. St Francis is a reoccurring character, but not really the subject of the book. The main subject of the book is the paradox of Christianity that God often uses what we perceive as loss to help us grow.
So we experience pain and through that pain we realize that we are not in charge of our lives and we give up trying to control a particular area of life and then God is able to draw us in to a deeper spiritual connection with him.
One thing I thought is useful is that Rohr is careful to say that people that are not growing spiritually are still Christian. And I think that is part of the problem with Evangelical theology (mine included) that we mix up redemption and sanctification. From the point of Salvation we are saved. But that is just the start of our spiritual growth as a Christian. God desires more for us, but does not force it on us. There is a paradox of the reality that we cannot growth spiritually under our own power, but God gives us the power (through the Holy Spirit) to move forward spiritually. But it seems that not being obedient and not following God allows us to miss out on spiritual growth.
Spiritual growth is not a knowledge problem, it is an obedience problem. This has been a reoccurring theme of my reading lately. And it is one that is hard to get around.
This is a series of lectures that needs more than one sitting. I think I will put it on my calendar to listen to again in another year.
My wife and I have led two newly married small groups in the last two years. And given my proclivity to over reading, and reading as one of my primary ways of processing, I have read a number of marriage books in our 15 years of marriage, especially in the last two years. Given that introduction, I think this is the most balanced, most thorough explanation of the purpose and meaning of marriage I have read.
The number one thing I like about this book is that Timothy and Kathy Keller discussion is well reasoned, biblically based, and culturally aware. The Kellers are not advocating for a throwback to some never existed culture or a blind acceptance of current cultural norms around marriage. Instead every time I felt that they started to lean one way or another, almost immediately there was a caveat that brought the discussion back in line.
I also really appreciate that Keller starts the book with a realistic portrayal of the state of marriage without being apocalyptic about the impending doom that will come on the world if we do not radically change.
Toward the end of the book there is also a very good chapter on singleness and dating, which is not often done well in marriage book. This is a book that can and should be read by singles, which is rare. The main advice that I think should be taken by singles and married is that there needs to be more intentional community between singles and married in order that singles get a realistic and open portrayal of what marriage is actually like, that marrieds can speak into the lives of singles about their dating choices (because before marriage is the time to put a stop to bad relationships) and that singles can help remind marrieds that marriage is not the only viable way for Christians to be. There is a lot more practical advice on singleness and dating, but that is primarily for those that are actually single, which I am not.
Personally there were two insights, that while not completely new, I think I heard in a different way. Both were are part of the discussion of gender roles and Ephesians 5. The first is that both husband and wife are to model Jesus to the other and both are to model after Jesus for their role. So based on Eph 5, men are supposed to look to Jesus to learn how to love their wives. And women are supposed to look to Jesus to learn how he submitted to the Father to understand what submission means in the context of the marriage. The second thought follows right after. That if the wife feels oppressed in her submission, then she is not be loved as Christ loves. And if the husband is feels like he is constantly fighting his wife, then one or both are also not acting as Jesus either. Essentially the Keller’s point isn’t that there will not be any conflict if we really are looking toward Jesus as the model in our marriage, but that a marriage that striving after following Christ will not be either avoid conflict inappropriately, nor embrace conflict inappropriately.
I am going to read this again, and I am going to seriously consider how to try and incorporate this into our newly married small group. But this is not a book only for newly marrieds. Highly recommended.
(originally published on my blog bookwi.se)