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Entries in Book Notes (28)


The protection of liturgy

I confess to having absolutely no aversion to liturgy. Every church has a liturgy, of course. Some use a prescribed liturgy such as the kind found in the Book of Common Prayer, and some churches have a less structured liturgy, but if we have an order of service, we have liturgy. 

I started reading Fred Sanders' book The Deep Things of God. Wow. What an excellent writer! I love it so far. In this book, Sanders explores how the Trinity is part of the fabric of our faith, even though we may not realize it (something he refers to as tacit Trinitarianism). Once we realize the foundatioin of our Trinitarian faith, we can probe its depths.

One way our Trinitarianism can become foundational is through things such as liturgy. Sanders aims to show how Trinitarianism is foundational to evangelical faith, but it is also foundational to churches which use liturgy. The majority of the book focuses on how Trinitarianism is evident in more evangelical elements such as the gospel itself, prayer, Bible Study, and conversion. But he includes the reality that liturgy builts Trinitarianism into the church. He does not suggest that every non-liturgical church suddenly become liturgical, but neither does he dismiss liturgy, which I found refreshing. I remember the days, early in my faith, when I stuck my nose in the air after attending a Baptist church with a liturgical form. There was no way I was going to attend that church. I've softened.

Sanders quotes Gerald Bray on the topic of liturgy, and I found his comments interesting:

If the service is good and the spirit of the congregation is right, a fixed liturgy may appear to be an irrelevance, even a constraint on the freedom of the Spirit . . . But when the times of dryness come, when we reach a plateau in our spiritual growth, then the structure of a liturgy that keeps both the biblical depth and the biblical balance can provide us with fresh inspiration and keep us from falling into the many different errors caused by our natural proclivity toward omission and distortion. A person who is well trained in biblical liturgy will have a feel for what is orthodox because it will be embedded into his consciousness.

A few years ago, I took the time to actually look at the Book of Common Prayer. I was interested in the guides for daily prayer. I wanted to incorporate more Scripture into my prayer, and I looked at it online before buying one myself. It was a great way to introduce a rhythm into my prayer time which included regular, daily Psalm reading as well as following a set Scripture reading plan. I am a person who does well with order and rhythm, so it was very helpful to me at a time when I felt a little dry. When you look closely at it, the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer has a lot of Scripture; sometimes, more Scripture is covered in the morning prayer time than is covered in a church service at my own church. You may think I'm falling of the deep end, but consider what other women do when they have times of spiritual dryness. Sometimes, they look for "new" and "better" ways to connect with God, like through books such as Jesus Calling.

When women feel spiritually dry, they look for ways to be closer to him. Perhaps their daily devotion time is falling flat, and they don't know what to pray. They want something to liven things up; so they are drawn to books that promise them a deeper relationship with God, all the while forgetting that the best way to draw close to God is to listen to him speaking to them and dwelling on the truth of who he is. I believe what Bray says may be helpful for avoiding this need to stray toward books like Jesus Calling. I know that when I am spiritually dry, falling back on a better rhythm helps me from looking in areas that won't ultimately have a lasting effect. Even if it's my personal prayer time, a little liturgy helps.


Book thoughts: God's Battle Plan for the Mind

I just finished reading God's Battle Plan For the Mind, by David Saxton. Here on this last day of 2015, I finished one of my favourite reads of 2015.

Drawing from the rich resources of Puritan writing on mediation, Saxton presents an argument for the necessity of meditation in the Christian's life. Naturally, he does not mean what the stereotypical view of meditation is, i.e. emptying one's mind. Rather, one fills the mind with Biblical truth. Saxton presents a case for the necessity of meditation, both deliberate and occasional, and then reviews important occasions and topics for meditation. He evaluates both the benefits of meditation and the enemies to meditation.

Overall, the message was clear: a Christian needs to be a thinking individual. A Christian's sanctification requires concentrated thought on Biblical truth. I think this message is even more needed more than ever because we live in a world where nothing is ever "turned off." Because there is always continual noise, both visual and audible, we have to make a concerted effort to withdraw and ponder seriously Biblical truth. I have been very convicted as I read, as I think about how often I waste valuable time just noodling around the internet when I could be thinking upon better things.

At the conclusion of the book, Saxton shares some very good words:

The believer's ultlimate purpose is to glorify God through becoming more like Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 3:18). Of course, conformity to the image of Christ occurs gradually rather than instantaneously. This process of progressive sanctification is all of the Lord's grrace, yet it is a duty in which God's people are responsible to participate. Paul describes this process of ever-growing change in Ephesians 4:23-24: "And be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holinesss." This passage reminds us that a believer grows into the likeness of God by replacing sinful attitudes with a renewed perspective "in the spirit of [our] mind." The battle against sin starts in the mind -- the thoughts or what one dwells upon. This is why meditation is so important. It is God's ordained plan for biblical thinking, renewing the mind, overcoming sin, and thus growing in greater Christlikeness.

I also found convicting Saxton's discussion of how our love of entertainment can draw us away from Christ. I won't go into it here, but suffice it to say, meditation is much more work than being entertained, and perhaps that is why we don't engage in it as much as we ought.

This book is not a long read, and the bonus is that he uses footnotes instead of endnotes. There is a very nice bibliography at the end which will introduce the reader to some of the best Puritan writing on the subject. One of the books, by Nathaneal Ranew is quoted often, and I happen to have that on my shelf. It will be one of the "as yet unread" books I tackle this year.

Meditation should not be onerous, but it is work. Saxton makes that clear. However, we should regard it as a privilege. To spend time in fellowship with Christ through meditation should make us aware of our union with Christ. And that can only be a positive thing.


One is the loneliest number

A while ago, my dear friend, Persis, sent me a book about women's issues. The book is called Women Caught in the Conflict: The Culture War Between Traditionalism and Feminism, by Rebecca Groothius. I knew who Groothius was before reading the book, and I knew that this book is written from a perspective with which I have disagreements. In reading this, I have not fallen of some sort of theology wagon. There is value in reading things which challenge or thoughts. There is my defense for all three of my readers.

The book, as the sub-title indicates, is about the tension between what is seen as tradition and what is seen as feministic. It's very enlightening. Groothius has done her homework. So far, one of the most compelling things I have read is her comment about the danger of individualism:

At the core of virtually all modern ideology is the creed of radical individualism. The individual -- his or her rights, needs, desires, and so forth -- is considered paramount and absolute. The individual's basic responsibility is see to be herself or himself, rather than to others. This consummate self-centeredness, in whatever sphere it is applied, inevitably results in the breakdown of friendship, marriage, family, community, and society. The problem inheres, then, not in the idea of women's rights per se, but in basing an understanding of women's rights on the humanistic world view of radical individualism.

Quite a few years ago, I took the one and only political science course of my university education. The author of the textbook echoed similar thoughts, pointing out that our political convictions will arise from whether we see the individual or the greater good as paramount. This is also applicable in our life of faith.

We come to Christ on our own. We do not come to Christ through church membership, or on the faith of our parents. That much is clear. But once we are born of the Spirit and members in the body of Christ, the principle of community and thinking outside ourselves becomes crucial, just as Paul says in Romans 12:3-8:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Yes, we are individuals, but we are members of one another as well. Individualism taken to an extreme is ultimately not good for the Body of Christ. And I don't think it's good for society, either. There are days when I look around, and the words of Judges echo in my head: "And everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

I'm not sure what else I will learn from this book, or how it will challenge my thinking, but this principle of the danger of extreme individualism is something we all have to be aware of, whether we're talking about serious issues in the church or just living our day to day lives in the privacy of our homes.


We have to have skills

I'm on a bit of an Ed Welch kick right now. Even though I am still in the middle of Running Scared, I bought his new book. I so appreciate how he distills theology into real life situations. This is practical theology at its best, in my opinion.

In his new book, Side by Side (look for a review at Out of the Ordinary next Wednesday), Welch establishes two truths: we are needy and we are needed. Before we can come alongside others, we have to recognize that we are needy. That truth goes a long way in keeping us humble.

He encourages the reader that we can and should grow in our trials. In fact, he considers it a skill:

One of the critial spiritual skills for every follower of Jesus is to bring order to the internal ruckus and grow in trouble rather than rage or wither in in (2 Cor. 4:16). Tribulatioin will not win in the end. In the midst of physical misery we can have hope, and hope is one of our most valued responses to the difficulties of life.

To rage or wither in tribulation; that is the question. When we rage against it, we struggle, worry, and fret. We resist God's dealings in our lives. It can lead to bitterness and hardness of heart. When we wither, we just give up and ignore that God is present and hears us. It is indeed a skill to bring order from the ruckus, and it's a skill that starts with theology; with knowing who God is.


Remember, we are pilgrims

Our identity as pilgrims is what Jeremy Walker focuses on in the second chapter of his book Passing Through. He opens the chapter with an illusion to Homer:

Homer's epic poem The Odyssey tells of the hero navigating his ship between two monters called Scylla and Charybdis, in which steering away from one usually meant falling prey to the other. The Christian in the world faces a similar challenge. A sense of our identity as pilgrims will help us to navigate between the Scylla of isolation and the Carybdis of emulation, as well as the aimless drift of inattention.

First, Walker points to the biblical principle that we are strangers and aliens, that this world is not our eternal home (Psalm 119:19; I Peter 2:11; Phil. 3:17-4:1; Heb. 11:10). Then, he give some examples from church history where this principle has been developed, referring to Augustine, Calvin, and Spurgeon. He spends a bit of time exploring Bunyan's pilgrim motif in The Pilgrim's Progress. He emphasizes that when Christian approaches Vanity Fair, he must go through it in order to get to the Celestial City. In other words, we must go through this world in order to get to our eternal home. We are not meant to cast off our identity as pilgrims as we go through this world, but we must pass through.

The church must be itself, i.e., a "celestial colony," as Walker puts it. We are present, but passing through:

We need to grasp that we are both present in but passing through this world, taking into account the various conceptions hidden in the word. We are to be properly separate from the world and yet sincerely engaged with it. We must not err on either side. Again, some professing and genuine Christians seem to have missed the principle of holy separation, while other appear to have missed the principle of holy engagement.

When I was converted, it was 1985, and I was 20 years old. As I watched my contemopraries, I observed that there were activities and attitudes that were not suitable for someone who called herself a Christian. I actively chose to separate myself from some of those things. When I look at young people in their 20's now, I can see that they feel no such need to separate themselves as I did. Things that my husband and I would have considered unholy practices are embraced by young people in the name of Christian freedom. Of course, we cannot be the Holy Spirit in another's life, and we are called on to be gracious while holding fast to biblical truth. It is a delicate balancing act to be a pilgrim, but one which I believe God has equipped us to do.