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.
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)
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes I think will become my new recommendation for the place to start when thinking about how we read and understand scripture.
I have made a pretty concerted effort as a lay person to understand hermeneutics (the science and art of reading and understanding scripture) over the past half dozen years. Much of what I have read is oriented toward the academic, the theologian or the pastor. And I am glad I have read it. But books like that are not easy to recommend to an average reader that wants an overview, and doesn’t have a good background in theology, biblical languages or history or linguistics.
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes is an introduction to cultural anthropology as much as it is an introduction to scripture. And this is really important. Some conservative Christians in their reaction against liberal cultural values also react against understanding different cultures and perspectives as ‘post-modern’. This often occurs not only in an attempt to uphold Christian values, but because some conservatives are also somewhat insular and have only been exposed to US American Culture.
Because of that lack of exposure, we have fights about bible translations but most of us don’t actually know another language or the basics of what it means to translate from one language to another. We have disagreements about what constitutes as sin, but we do not understand how activities within recent memory have shifted (within the church) from a status of ‘sinful’ to ‘personal freedom’ (think card playing, going to movies and drinking.)
The authors of Misreading Scripture have written an easy to read introduction to how we as Western Christians look at scripture (and culture more broadly) differently from those that are different from us (Eastern Christians today, Biblical era Christians, etc.)
There are nine different areas (each a chapter) divided into three sections. This is really just an introduction, but this would make a very good book to work through in a small group or a high school or college group.
Part one looks at the biggies of money, sex and food as illustrations of ways that we look differently at Mores. The second chapter looks at race and ethnicity (with a bit of geography). The third chapter looks very briefly at language and translation issues.
Part two explores collectivist and individualistic cultures, honor/shame and right/wrong cultures and time.
Part three focuses on rules and relationships, then virtue and vice and finally God’s will.
This is a fairly light book. I read all of it in two days. But it is not a light weight book. The subject matter is serious and handled well. But the tone is light, full of stories and illustrations, practical and rooted in the bible. It is also clear that Western is not wrong and Eastern is not inherently right. The issue instead is that we need to understand our own culture so we can see how scripture can speak to it. The authors quote the famous CS Lewis line about reading old books. But too often when we hear that line quoted, the point is missed. We don’t read old books because old books are better. We read old books because the authors of those old books had different cultures and assumptions from our own. The different ways those old books look at the world or at scripture or at culture help us to better understand our own time, culture and theology.
The problem with books like this is that we can become lost in the enormity of the task of reading scripture. We will never fully understand all of the nuances and cultural and linguistic issues. And so some people will simply say, there is no reason to read the bible for ourselves. But that is not the point of this book. The point is that scripture is important and should be read both individually and communally with our church. But we should not just read the surface, we should seek out the deeper meanings of scripture and see where we have become blind to the meaning of the text because we are reading the bible with underlying assumptions.
We all have those assumptions and this book makes a good start at showing the reader where some of those cultural reading have actually inverted the meaning of scripture. As a person that wants to take seriously scripture, not just read the surface words, I think books like this are essential.
If you are interested in learning more, I think this is the book to start with. Then NT Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God, then Peter Enns’ The Bible Tells Me So, then John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One (links are to earlier Bookwi.se Reviews). From there there are lots of directions to go. But the four books together will illustrate:
-how we need cultural and historic awareness,
-how we need to place scriptural authority not in the words on the page and our understanding of those words, but in God,
-how we need to rely on biblical scholarship
-how scripture is a big, diverse story of God working through people, events and time to accomplish his purposes
-and how we need to see the interpretation of scripture as tentative and not fixed.
For some this list will show that I am no longer Evangelical, but I believe at this point, with tools that I have been given by a variety of authors, and by reading scripture in communication with historic tradition and a community of faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I think I am investing much more weight in the power of scripture to change and guide than I ever have before.