Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review of The Collected Sermons of Bonhoeffer ed. by Isabel Best

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The Collected Sermons of Bonhoeffer
edited and Introduced by Isabel Best
ISBN 978-0-8006-9904-8
Fortress Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

In my first year after seminary, I served with a senior pastor and mentor who was well-read, intelligent, and thoughtful. One of the blessings of that brief moment of mentoring is that it was, in many ways, like a residency or an paid internship my first year in ministry. The time with Dave Hansen ended up being a fine transition from the seminary world to the world of full-time Christian service. Rather than being either dismissive or wistful about seminary study, Dave taught me how to use my education and intellectual skills for the work of the ministry.

One of the first challenges I had when I continued to read deeply of theological and biblical scholarship after seminary is to not make my learning theoretical, but to make it practical. As I met with a few other guys to read Calvin's Institutes in a diner before we would start our day in service to the church once a month, I was reminded that Calvin and Luther were pastors as well as academics. Their theology was tried and tested and lived in the world with other believers.

Perhaps this is one reason I love The Collected Sermons of Bonhoeffer. Bonheoffer's sermons show a first class mind and theological intellect wrestling with communicating Biblical truth to every day people. Each of the sermons gives us examples of the depth of Bonhoeffer's thinking, but that thoughtful interaction with Scripture is communicated to people in their stations in life, relating to what they are going through. It is simply brilliant.

Isabel Best has also done an excellent job in compiling the Collected Sermons of Bonhoeffer in such a way as to tell us the story of Bonhoeffer as well. We see, as she shares sermons chronologically and strategically, a development in Bonhoeffer's thinking, his personal mission, and his ministry as a whole. We read his sermons in Barcelona, Berlin, London, and Finkenwalde. We follow the life of Bonhoeffer through his sermons, and Best's skillful introductions to each one of them.

Since I have received this resource from Fortress Press to review, I have been patiently making my way through the text. Reading sermons as devotionals at times, I have personally been moved and challenged by Pastor Dietrich's preaching. And, on moments I need it, I will return once again to this fine book.

This is a resource needed on every pastor's bookshelf.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sabbath: A Poem from 2007

It's strange
gazing back
at
a full day
of
activity
and
feeling empty
and
enclosed
once again
as it
comes
to a
hasty
close

It's strange
staring away
an
empty day
of
deck chairs
and
soda pop
and
feeling full of
dreams and affection
as the sun
sets
in purples
and oranges

It's strange
how we
refuse
ourselves
the things
that fuel
us
and fuel
ourselves
with
the refuse
of a
life
frantically
lived.

Book Review of 10 Prayers You Can't Live Without by Rick Hamlin




10 Prayers You Can't Live Without: How to Talk to God about Anything
by Rick Hamlin
ISBN 978-0-8249-3218-3
Guideposts
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Have you ever felt like you needed to pray and did not know how? Or have you ever felt like there was more to a life of prayer than you have discovered yet? Many of us have, and we don't do anything about it. Instead we just stay spiritually stagnant, unwilling or unable to grow to be the person of prayer that we long to be.

It is into this community of people who want to pray more, or pray better, but do not quite know how that Rick Hamlin shares 10 Prayers You Can't Live Without. This book contains 10 relatively simple prayers that can change anyone's life. Each of these ways of praying is thoroughly Biblical, and will add depth to a persons spiritual journey.

As is typical of Guideposts, there are plenty of stories to illustrate each prayer the author presents. Some of the stories are fairly cheesy (rescuing a skunk from a yogurt container--really?). Others stories are very moving, such as the story of Robin Roberts' mother's Christmas prayer after her husband had died earlier in the year.

When I ordered this book to review from a media group, I neglected to notice that the book was written by Guideposts. What I knew about Guideposts was that it was the devotional that old ladies read, and that the folks with Guideposts talked a lot about angel visitation. So, the book kept moving to the back of my review cue. I was pleasantly surprised to find the depth and thoughtfulness that has went into this book, and may even have to give the Guideposts folks another shot at gaining my attention and support.

I plan on using this book either in a teaching series, or as a guide for a sermon series in the next year or two. I think anyone who reads this fine book will find something that they can grow from on their Christian journey.

Book Review of Landmarks by Bill Delvaux



Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God
by Bill Delvaux
ISBN 978-1-4336-7922-3
B & H Publishing Group
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Bill Devaux is a teacher, coach, and minister to men and boys. He is also the founder of Landmark Journey Ministries in Tennessee. As the author of Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God, Delvaux gives us a glimpse of his work, as well as some of the thinking and energy behind it.

The point of Landmarks, as I read it, is that every life has certain crossroads that determine the direction one's life will go. They are "landmarks" as they are places in our journey that anticipate arriving at, and we can also point back to, and know that they made a huge difference in who we have become. Like the little historical markers along the freeway, they are places in our personal and spiritual journey where we can say, "Something important happened here!"

Each of these landmarks are fairly general. They are that way on purpose, because they are crossroads that everyone must come to on their journey of faith. Furthermore, how we navigate these landmarks makes all the difference in the rest of our journey through life.

Most of the items that Delvaux lists as landmarks are not necessarily single moments, but choices made, perhaps even imperceptibly, over a period of time. For instance, one chapter discusses idols, and how we choose what we truly worship, and how we take up other gods besides God, even if we don't know what we are doing. Another chapter discusses how we form bonds, and how we need to be bonded to Christ for a healthy faith. One chapter discusses the importance of a choice of a mate.

As I studies the ministry Delvaux leads, I began to ponder how these principles guide his work with men and boys on manhood,. Does he use these landmarks to guide a certain "rite of passage" journey from childhood to adulthood. This book might work as a guide for discussing such matters.

This is a thoughtful book, and an interesting read from this first time author. I look forward to what he will write and have to say next.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Self-instructed doctoral program 1.2



A couple of days ago, I said I was not going to be able to ever get a doctorate, and so if I wanted to learn what I wanted to learn, I needed to set up my own doctoral program and find ways to learn what I want to learn on my own.

So, one of the challenges in creating my own learning plan is narrowing my focus of what I want to learn. On my plate are several learning projects that have been waiting in the balance for a while. I was trying to bring them together under one focus. What I have decided to do is base my study on the importance of narrative in spiritual formation and congregational leadership. My "degree plan" looks something like this Tell me what you think of this as a learning plan:


INTRODUCTION
Narrative-Driven Models of Spiritual Formation
     Story of God, Story of Us Conference
   
     Study of the Following Texts

FOUNDATIONS
Biblical Foundations of Narrative-Driven Discipleship OT: Study of the work of Walter Bruggemann

Biblical Foundations of Narrative-Driven Discipleship NT: Study of the work of N.T. Wright

Theological Foundations of Narrative-Driven Discipleship: Study of the Work of Stanley Hauerwas and Kevin Van Hoozier

Historic Foundations of Narrative-Driven Discipleship: Spiritual Formation among the Communion of Saints

CONGREGATIONAL LEADERSHIP

Narrative-Driven Community Foundations--Understanding the community as story-formed

Narrative-Driven Leadership Development:  Spiritual Direction of Leadership Teams

Narrative-Driven Outreach: Forming a church's identity as a missional congregation

Narrative-Driven Preaching--Proclaiming the narrative of Christ to a story-formed community

The Practice of Remembering the Narrative--Worship as telling and entering into the Christ-narrative

Narrative-Driven Pastoral Care I --Spirituality of Place in the life of the believer

Narrative-Driven Pastoral Care II--Spiritual Direction of Individuals through Narrative integration

Narrative-Driven Educational Praxis--Teaching as Story Formation w/ the Aprentis Curriculum



Dissertation: TBA





Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rewriting my life goals

I have wanted to go on and get further education since I was about a year out of seminary. I never really felt like I wanted to leave the ministry to get the education, but I always thought I would like to get a D.Min, and perhaps teach a few Bible classes at a school somewhere. Or get a Ph.D. after about 20 years in the ministry and become a professor.



As I grew older and more experienced in ministry, my priorities for wanting to go back for more schooling changed. I wanted to learn more! I wanted to study things I had not gotten to study as much when I was younger. I wanted to get into an environment that challenged me to use my brain in the ways that only an education can challenge me. I wanted to gain expertise in some areas.

This month, I have turned 40. This was really my year to look at doctoral programs. We are out of school debt. The kids are getting a little older. The car will be paid off soon. I am losing weight, which will make travel easier. I thought, maybe if I can find something by the end of this year, then in the fall of 2014 I would begin my journey.

Then life happened. Baby bills were not completely covered. Jennifer has gotten breast cancer. Church attendance is down a little. More and more it becomes apparent that the dream of getting further education is really not in the cards for me. I can't afford it. I can't be away from my family that much. I have different priorities.

It has become equally clear to me, especially as I look back on pastors of old, that I can still pursue my education, and do a lot of in-depth learning that I want to do, I am just going to have to create my own learning environment. I am going to develop my own curriculum, write papers based on my studies, and make my own personal doctoral program. Might not get me in the door teaching anywhere, but it will allow me to gain the knowledge that I want. I am going to need to find mentors that will support me, and keep me accountable.

So, in the next few weeks I am going to create my own "working pastor's ph.d.' for myself, and then seek to achieve what I have set out to do. Wish me luck. Wish me strength. And pray that I have the courage to follow through..

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Book Review of The Intentional Christian Community Handbook by Dan Janzen




The Intentional Christian Community Handbook
by David Janzen
ISBN 978-1-61261-237-9
Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

When I was in college, I had romantic dreams about living in intentional community. I had visited Jesus People USA for worship my freshman year, and was impressed with both the intentionality and the diversity of that community. I was also impressed with their impact-filled ministries that they owned and operated. This fantasy continued until I felt called to get theological education, and also felt the need to pay off my debt before entering into some sort of Christian communal venture.

That was twenty years ago. I am now invested in leading a traditional congregation, raising a family, and providing for those I love. However, there is still some small part of me that is drawn to the hope and possibility of sharing life and resources together with others as we unite in ministry and seek to live more simply.

In the last ten years, different models of sharing life in intentional Christian community have begun to arise, and the idea of communal living has began to make a comeback. It is with the history of the Christian communities founded in the 60s and 70s, as well as the knowledge of more contemporary models that are being formed that David Janzen shares his research and wisdom.

The book begins by allowing the reader to see the big picture of what is going on with different ways of living in intentional Christian community. Models of Christian community and cultural concerns are considered. Then, a process of discernment in engaging intentional Christian community is described. This process is both a flexible and a helpful guide to navigating such a big decision.

The book spends some time sharing how to create an intentional Christian community, and helping participants in these communities navigate through some important challenges and developmental stages in the venture. This part of the book will be invaluable in guiding people who are starting communities as they walk through the process together.


Finally, Janzen writes about how more mature Christian communities need to serve as resources, guides, and community planters for other communities. I think this is essential if the movement is going to continue and grow.

I think this book, a book about organizing a movement that at times can seem disconnected and disorganized, will be essential for the future. What a great resource, for those of us that are interested in the concept more theoretically, and for others who are living in intentional Christian community on a daily basis.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Book Review of the Easy Burden of Pleasing God

The Easy Burden of Pleasing God by Patty Kirk

The Easy Burden of Pleasing God
By Patty Kirk
ISBN 978-0-8308-4303-9
IVP Crescendo
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Sometimes we make things more complicated than they should be, or than they need to be. Patty Kirk says that there are some people who are making the Christian faith a spiritual equivalent of a Rube Goldberg design. So she has written The Easy Burden of Pleasing God as a counterargument against complex systems of spiritual ascent or demanding paths of discipleship.

Kirk argues that we need to live our faith as a life, not a job description. Too often, we have a to-do list of what we need to do to be a good Christian. We organize our lives to just enough of this, or do give this much, it an attempt to please (I would say appease) God. She goes on to say what God really wants is for us to live with him, walk with him, trust him, and accept his love.

If one truly walks in grace, and lives one's life as God's beloved, immersed in God's love, than good works naturally spring from that. Our devotion will lead us to love our neighbor, serve in missions, and the like. But the beginning has to be about being willing to allow God to make us his. Everything else flows out from that. At least, this is the lesson I get from the book.

This book is one of several books to come out in recent months that is a part of IVP's Crescendo line of books. This line of books is a set of books that has a target audience of Christian women. Look for several other high quality books to come from this line from IVP in the coming years.

In the meanwhile, grab this treasure with a cup of coffee, and read it slowly, bathing in the grace of God.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review of Ministry in the Digital Age by David Bourgeois



Ministry in the Digital Age: Strategies and Best Practices for a Post-Digital World
by David Bourgeois
ISBN 978-0-8308-5661-9
IVP Praxis
Reviewed by Clint Walker

A few years ago, a group of pastors and I decided to create a workshop for pastors and church leaders regarding internet tools for pastor's and teachers. We shared about social networking, blogging, some denominational opportunities, and much more. People wondered, how do I get my church online? How do we find an internet presence?

That was a few years back. Today, even more has changed. And things will continue to morph as we go forward in the church and in ministry. To this conversation comes Ministry in the Digital Age, a timely and thoughtful book written by David T. Bourgeois. David contends that we live in a post-website world, and we need to adjust with ideas and strategies to fit our changing digital landscape and our goals and objectives.

One of the most interesting facts that Bourgeois shares is that the number of smartphones people have, and how the smartphones are revolutionizing people's internet habits. It is expected that by 2014 (next year) the number of smartphone subscriptions will match the number of people on the planet (p. 20). It is also very possible that this year, more people will access the internet through their phone more often than they do through PCs (p. 21). There are currently more mobile phone subscriptions in the United States than there are people (p. 40). What does all of this mean? That perhaps your best portal for reaching the online community is not to design an internet presence that clunks around with a slow processor, and is not wireless enabled. Because if you are still thinking that most of your potential church members are sitting down to a laptop and clicking around for a church like yours, you are mistaken.

The next wonderful point that Bourgeois makes is that internet use is now more RELATIONSHIP driven than INFORMATION driven. People go online to connect. They want to find a romantic relationship outside of the people they run into everyday, they find a way to access a digital dating forum. They want to shop, they go to Amazon or Craigslist. Shopping is a business relationship. Facebook has more time spent on it than any other website in the world.

All this doesn't mean that websites are bad, and that everyone should just have a Facebook page. Far from it. What it does mean is that ministries, churches, and organizations need to orient their entire digital presence toward answering the question: how do we build relationships with people through the web. One's internet presence should not be thought of like an advertisement in the paper. Instead, it should be thought of as a place to connect, interact, and partner with people to share the good news and do the work of the gospel.

The rest of the book does a great jobs with nuts and bolts ideas of building an internet presence that fits any one organizations goals and objectives. Pitfalls are identified, and some creative ways of looking at one's digital strategy are shared. This is a great resource for a church and its leadership board, as well as a myriad of other Christian organizations or ministry groups. Ministry in the Digital Age should be a textbook in seminaries and a guidebook for church leadership boards.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gastric Sleeve Week 9 Video Blog:

I am discouraged I only lost one pound, but considering the eating out, the family, the birthday party, and Jen being diagnosed with breast cancer, one pound is not all that bad of a result, at least so I am told....


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Book Review of Formed for the Glory of God by Kyle Strobel



Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards
by Kyle Strobel
ISBN 978-0-8308-5653-4
Intervarsity Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I remember in my seminary class on Christian Education, our professor made an effort to have us read a book on on Spiritual Formation in Congregational Life. Coming from a more evangelical background, I shared with my professor my struggles with the book. "This is such a different way of talking about church," I told him, "I have to slow down, filter, and then reinterpret this book through my current vocabulary to understand what the author is getting at."

My professor told me that this was his goal. He wanted us to be conversant with work done on Christian Education that used Spiritual Formation language. His vision was very prescient. This is because I believe that the "Christian Education" model of church is dying, and is quickly being replaced by a "spiritual formation" model of explaining how we do the work of discipleship.

Reading and studying Formed for the Glory of God will create similar challenges for those readers who are a part of the spiritual formation conversation, but are not used to the language and approach of the Puritans to spiritual practices. Strobel does his best to be our guide into the world of Puritan spiritual formation through its most articulate spokesman, Jonathan Edwards. He teaches us a new vocabulary as we journey with him. We learn of the practice of soliloquy in spiritual formation. Then we ponder the centrality of the concepts of beauty and grace in understanding how souls are truly transformed.

Much of the first three chapters of Formed for the Glory of God, the reader is given an overview of Edwards' theology that is relevant to his understanding of how persons grow close to God. It is a deep, thoughtful survey of Edwards' beliefs, which are deeply rooted in Calvinism. Strobel does an excellent job of both explaining this theology, and talking about why it is relevant to a conversation on spiritual formation.

The next section of the book talks more generally about how God changes people. What I thought was most interesting was the conversation about replacing the language of spiritual disciplines with Edwards' language about "means of grace". For Strobel, the language of spiritual disciplines tends to lean toward works righteousness and/or a therapeutic model of self-salvation. While Strobel has some good points, I tend to disagree.

I have always thought of the model of practicing spiritual disciplines as a relational journey. The practice of these disciplines helps me to listen and attend to what God is doing, and connect with him in a meaningful way. It is not me changing my life when I practice spiritual disciplines. When I practice spiritual disciplines I am just using time honored practices of making myself available to God to speak to and transform.

I think Strobel gets his aversion to the language of spiritual disciplines because it has its historical roots firmly planted in the ground of Catholicism. And, in Catholic writings on spiritual formation, there is a lot that lends itself toward works righteousness in the more historic works, and there is a lot of fluffy self-help stuff in contemporary thought. Nevertheless, I do not see the need to throw out perfectly good language because some have abused it. The same could be done with the phrase "means of grace" with enough effort and research.

As Formed for the Glory of God continues, there is some really good work that Strobel does in sharing some of Edwards' spiritual practices. The discussion of the difference between meditation and contemplation in Edwards' thought was instructional and helpful for me personally. Also, hearing about some of the spiritual practices of Puritan New England will be useful and I continue to understand how God is working on me, and how I can find ways to yield my heart to him more faithfully.

This little paperback packs more of a punch than it lets on. It is deep, thoughtful, and well-researched. I think it needs to be on the bookshelf of every pastor interested in Reformed Spirituality, and this work needs to be considered within discussions on how spiritual formation works across traditions.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Unexpected Journey Ahead


This picture was taken two months ago, when we had a party for Karis' third birthday, and Mattea's first birthday. Jennifer had just completed her surgery. My surgery was at the end of the following week. We worried about juggling kids, eating right, losing weight, and what was going to happen with the church following VBS.

This day was a happy day. We had fun with friends from church, my mom was in town, I got to barbeque and wear a beach shirt for most of the day. What could be better?

Now, two months later, the world looks a lot different. As of yesterday our suspicions were confirmed, Jennifer has breast cancer. It is a disease that her mother and grandmother have survived, and she plans to beat it as well.

As of today, we are unsure of what is ahead. We can't get in to see the surgeon until next week. They have not told us what kind of cancer we are looking at. The have not told us what "stage" we are at either. We are waiting for news, and eager to get an aggressive game plan established. But, for right now we are waiting. We are, so to speak, in "cancer limbo land".

Our plans are to be as aggressive as possible in fighting the cancer that is trying to kill Jennifer.

Many of you are asking how Jennifer is. The answer is, it depends. She has her good moments and her bad moments. Sometimes she is on the brink of tears, then she is angry and screaming, and then she just wants to hold those she loves as close as she can. And, this is all to be expected. Especially at this stage in the process of living with cancer. She is working on staying positive, and doing pretty well at it. There are also sometimes she is afraid she will die and her children will not remember her.

The truth is, people do die from breast cancer, but a majority do survive. Mortality rates are higher for people Jennifer's age, but that is because early detection is much more common among older women. And the breast tissue among younger women more is more dense, which makes discovery of lumps and bumps more challenging.

Interestingly, we may have gastric sleeve surgery to thank for detecting Jennifer's breast cancer when she did. Perhaps over 50 lbs of weight loss made the cancerous mass more easily detectable, and easier to discover.

Here are a few of the articles I have discovered about breast cancer with younger women.

http://www.youngsurvival.org/breast-cancer-in-young-women/learn/statistics-and-disparities/

http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/features/who-gets-breast-cancer-who-survives


Thursday, August 01, 2013

Book Review of One Bible, Many Versions by David Brunn

One Bible Many Versions

One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal?
by Dave Brunn
ISBN 978-0-8308-2715-2
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church. In this congregation, it was taught that the King James Version of the Bible was the only acceptable version of Scripture to read, study or accept as true. As a matter of fact, a member of a different church that I attended for part of my high school years wrote a book with this thesis entitled Valiant for Truth.

I have since come to a more reasonable, and a more intellectually grounded understanding of this issue, and have copies of most English versions in my personal library. There are some versions which I prefer, and others which I do not think do as good of a job in translating the original text, and there are other versions that I think read very poorly. Some translations I consider "devotional" and others I prefer for more in-depth study. My preferences on how the issue of gendered language also influence which text I prefer.

So, I brought some baggage with me as I began to read One Bible, Many Versions by Dave Brunn. As I ordered this book I began to wonder how the author was going to come down on the translation issue. Would the book be an apologetic for a particular type of translation? Would it rank the translations based on the author's preferences and standards? Thankfully Dave Brunn does none of these things.

Instead, what Mr. Brunn does is show that different translations, with their different goals and purposes in translation, are interdependent on one another. Some translations serve better in one context than another. And, despite the way that certain versions market themselves, nobody anywhere does a literal word for word translation. It would be to difficult to understand. One Bible, Many Versions goes deep into the translation process to show exactly how difficult the translation task is, sometimes pulling out specific passages, identifying the differences between translations, explaining the rationale for some of the differences, which are sometimes equally reasonable and biblical between sides of the debate.

What I thought was most fascinating was when Brunn identified that when Biblical writers were quoting Old Testament passages, they were not always interested in a word for word translation from Greek or Hebrew. Nor did they always stick to the Hebrew translation or the Greek translation. Perhaps, it is implied, we are a little more legalistic about matters of translation than the authors of Scripture were.

All in all, for a student of Scripture, particularly one who has had some academic training and interest, this is a really interesting and fascinating read. It is detailed, smart, understandable, and well-reasoned. While the author has his particular perspectives, he does not keep that from offering grace to other translators and other versions even when he disagrees with them on a particular manner.This book is a breathe of fresh air, and I hope it finds its way into the hands of many.