book review

Developing Intimacy with God

Aronis, Alexander Basile. 2003. Developing intimacy with God : an eight-week prayer guide based on Ignatius’ “Spiritual exercises”. 1st ed. Makati City, Philippines: Union Church of Manila. (book review)

The book has developed out of the author’s dissertation about Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” as a model for spiritual direction 20 years before writing the book. During this time the author refined his understanding and teaching about ‘Devotional Prayer’ by serving as a spiritual director for many people.

The book includes prayer exercises for every day of the eight-week period, teaching and using different types of prayer and skills necessary to reach the goal:

“increase your love for Christ, broaden your self-understanding, connect you with vital spiritual principles, intensify your desire to become more like Jesus, and strengthen your commitment to serve him by serving others.” (1)

It can be used by individuals or by groups. Ideally an individual working through the book could have a mentor or spiritual director for feedback, but the book is written in a way that it can be used as the only spiritual guide.

The author defines ‘Devotional Prayer’ as the objective to develop “intimate knowledge of Christ that I might be with him, become like him, and live for him.” This theme of “with – like – for” him helps to keep the perspective. The threefold perspective is reflected in nearly every exercise.

The book is divided into five parts:

Part I – seeing yourself as God sees you (week 1)
Part II – the life and ministry of Christ (week 2-6)
Part III – the suffering of Christ (week 7)
Part IV – the resurrection of Christ (week 8 )

Every week starts with some introductory teaching about different prayer styles and related topics, which are then practiced during the exercises of the week. Each daily exercise focuses on a biblical passage using different ways of reflecting on it.

For example, in one week the author explains the different types of prayer, such as preparatory prayer, meditative reading, imaginative contemplation, heart prayer, prayer of petition, prayer of adoration, prayer of rest and infused prayer. In another week he introduces the reader to four types of insight – principle insight, attachment insight, interior insight and detachment insight. Another time the author expands on themes such as the “Four Degrees of Humility,” why we experience desolation, or how to rest in the Lord. Every week finishes with experiences from “Friends on the Journey” which can help answer certain questions or responds to problems many people have.

Listing these concepts may sound very theoretical and overwhelming, and it can be difficult to remember the different terms. However, since they are introduced gradually and practiced for one week before other new concepts are presented, one is able to grow into them and absorb them into one’s personal practice. Not every style is for everybody but practicing all the styles for a time helps to discover new approaches to prayer and find out which ones are most beneficial for oneself. The goal is not theoretical knowledge but real intimacy with God so as to reach the objective:

“be with him, become like him, and live for him.”

The book has been a real blessing to me and I recommend it highly. I believe that every individual working through it will grow in their relationship with Christ, even though the effects will be different for each person.

In closing, I want to mention and underline one aspect that I found especially interesting:

When reading the Bible or listening to a sermon most insights fall into four categories – principle insights (general principle, fundamental truth), attachment insights (something that inspires me to love God more), interior insights (increases self-understanding), and detachment insights (things that we need to let go of, that hinder our devotion to God). We need all of these types of insights, but it is the Attachment Insights that we need most because they motivate us to become more like Christ. Many of us, especially pastors and teachers tend to focus on Principle Insights but spiritual principles will not lead to increased delight in or intimacy with the Lord during prayer, and therefore not have the same transformational effect as an Attachment Insight. The reality of Christ’s love and presence shines best through people who know how to cherish Attachment Insights.

Does this surprise me? No, not really but until now I had not made this connection. It is nothing new that rules and principles rarely lead to transformation but relational modeling and healthy attachment can do that. Therefore we are more likely to grow in our relationship with God and be transformed into his image when we let our hearts be attracted to the person and work of Jesus than when we just focus on general principles.  In practical terms, this means if a text triggers different types of insights in us, and we sense no special guidance by the Spirit to focus on one of them, it is best to focus on an Attachment Insight if you want to become more like Christ.

Share Immanuel – Book Review

Share Immanuel – Book Review.

Wilder, E. James, and Coursey Chris M. 2010. Share Immanuel – The Healing Lifestyle. Pasadena, CA: Shepherd’s House.

“Share Immanuel” is the latest publication from Shepherd’s House in Pasadena, CA. It was written in collaboration by Jim Wilder (director of Shepherd’s House) and Chris Coursey (Thrive!)

Share Immanuel

The booklet has only 21 pages but is an excellent introduction to and summary of the Immanuel approach, which was developed by Dr. Karl & Charlotte Lehman and is part of the Life Model teaching at Thrive! conferences and Thriving recovery classes. It has already been used successfully in several different countries and cross-culturally situations.

The healing lifestyle of “Share Immanuel” includes only three simple steps:

  • Sitting with God
  • Sharing minds
  • Speaking

1. Sitting with God

means spending time in God’s presence, so to say “on the hill top.” This works much better as starting point for working through painful memories, than sitting in your pain, waiting for God to intervene and trying to “climb uphill.”

A good starting point is either remembering a situation where we experienced an interactive time in God’s presence (called the “Interactive memories seat”) or remembering things that fill us with appreciation (called the “Appreciation memories seat”). The later can include thankfulness for God’s gifts, or just special moments like a sunset or the smile of a child.

2. Sharing minds

means synchronizing our perspective with God, understanding how he sees things, and thereby making sense of things that trouble us. This results in “God peace” – a peace that is so perfect that you can’t improve on it.

This step often includes a “question time” with God, where we can ask him, for example, where he was in the painful moments, what keeps us from seeing him in the painful memory, and what we need to know about a certain situation. Once we have received his perspective on things, we can share the joy with others.

3. Speaking

refers to telling the Immanuel story you just experienced to others. It helps us to consolidate the new perspective and it creates hope in others.

We can tell the story from two angles: the “Once I lived in thorns” version has the bottom of the hill perspective, elaborating on all the pain we experienced – this will trigger similar memories in our listeners and depress them; while the story “What I appreciate about Immanuel” is told from the hill top perspective and encourages both story teller and listener.

This is the basic idea of “Share Immanuel.” The booklet includes of course much more, such as more details on how to tell the story, explanations on how we process pain, a chapter on solutions when you get stuck in the process, frequently asked questions, and links to more resources. I found that the booklet explains the process very well and in a way that anybody can understand, even without knowing the Life Model.

It is exciting to hear how the booklet has already been used in workshops in different countries and caused a snowball effect – participants who learned the basic steps, then shared their Immanuel story with others, and through this helped others to start “sitting with God” and experiencing Immanuel.

The booklet is a great summary and tool to share the Immanuel process with others.

 I found one phrase in the booklet especially descriptive:

 God offers hospitality!

 Let’s accept the invitation – come and sit with Him!

 The booklet can be ordered here.

Practicing God’s presence

Practicing God’s presence

The term Practicing the Presence of God goes back to Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite brother, who was born as Nicolas Herman in French Lorrain in 1611 (or 1614?) and died in February 1691. Some call him the ‘kitchen saint’ because he worked in the monastery kitchen for most of his life. Despite his lowly status, many were attracted to him by his passionate relationship with God and came to him for advice. These conversations and letter exchanges with people of his community were later collected and published by Father Joseph de Beaufort. [The quotes and pages numbers in this post refer to the book ‘Practicing His Presence‘ by Br Lawrence and Frank Laubach]

Br. Lawrence defines Practicing the Presence of God as living consciously in God’s presence every moment of the day by continually talking with him, and “referring all that we do to Him” no matter which task is at hand. In the beginning this practice needs diligence but after a while

we shall find His love inwardly excites us to His presence without any difficulty. (46)

As a result Br. Lawrence admitted that

My set times of prayer are not different from other times of the day. Although I do retire to pray (because it is the direction of my superior) I do not need such retirement nor do I ask for it because my greatest business does not divert me from God. (47)

His interaction with God was marked by simplicity, a desire to please God in everything and never let himself be diverted by thinking “of trifles and foolish things.” (42) It resulted in a holy freedom and familiarity with God, and a deep assurance of God’s presence and goodness.

According to Br. Lawrence devotions are only the means to an end where being in God’s presence is the end, which makes devotions useless once you are living in God’s presence. He goes even so far as to say that

I have given up all forms of devotion and set prayers other than those to which my state obliges me. My only business now is to persevere in His holy presence. I do so by simple and loving attention to the Lord. Then I have the experience of the actual presence of God. To use another term I will call it a secret conversation between my soul and the Lord. (77)

Frank Charles Laubach (1884-1970) in his search for a more complete surrender to God developed a similar praxis 200 years after Br. Lawrence’s death. He was a missionary among Muslims in the Southern Philippines when he started at age 45 the practice of abiding in Christ’s presence. He chronicled his personal experience in letters to his father, which were later published as “Letters by a modern mystic.” Like Br. Lawrence he testifies that it is possible to continuously live in and experience God’s presence. Laubach’s efforts seem rather legalistic and forced at first when he tries to think of God every few seconds but fails for most of the day. However, eventually the effect made it all worthwhile:

This concentration upon God is strenuous, but everything else has ceased to be so. I think more clearly, I forget less frequently. Things which I did with a strain before, I now do easily and with no effort whatever. (15-6)

I remember how as I looked at people with a love God gave, they looked back and acted as though they wanted to go with me. I felt then that … I saw a little of that marvelous pull that Jesus had as He walked along the road day after day ‘God-intoxicated’ and radiant with the endless communion of His soul with God. (19)

Laubach recommends in the beginning to

try to call Christ to mind at least one second of each minute. You do not need to forget other things nor stop your work, but invite Him to share everything you do or say or think. (30)

Which is why he called his fresh approach to Br. Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence of God” also “Game with minutes” and gives very practical suggestions on how to go about it. He assures people that

the results of this effort begin to show clearly in a month. They grow rich after six months, and glorious after ten years. (30)

The Celtic Way of Evangelism – Book Review

The Celtic Way of Evangelism

Hunter, George G. 2000. The Celtic way of evangelism : how Christianity can reach the West — again. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

I have already quoted once from this book (here). As many people celebrated St. Patrick’s Day this week, it seems appropriate to write a book review.

The title of this book might give the impression that when you read this book you will finally know how to evangelize successfully. I am always a little bit hesitant if somebody thinks he has “found it.” However, the content of the book does not fall in this trap. It is an interesting analysis of what might have made St. Patrick’s mission to Ireland so successful and which of these factors might be useful for today.

The aspects that the author underlines are in itself nothing new, and there are certainly many other books on the market who say the same thing. Nevertheless, I found it interesting, especially the comparison between the Celtic and Roman Christianity and their approach to evangelism. Hunter, similar to J. Philip Newell (whom I have quoted recently), are not claiming that one is better than the other, but that both are poorer without the other. In this sense it is unfortunate that the Roman church fought and suppressed Celtic spirituality.

So, what can we learn from St. Patrick?

The basis of his mission was laid during a time of enslavement. He was a Briton from NE England, coming from an “aristocratic family [that] had gone “Roman” during the Roman occupation of England.” During his enslavement by Celtic pirates as a teenager, several changes happened:

  • a personal experience of God’s presence when he was herding cattle in the wilderness, a growing faith;
  • a deeper understanding of the Irish Celtic people, their language and culture, as you can only learn it from the ‘underside’;
  • a love for and an identification with his captors to the point of feeling they are his people.

Through divine intervention he was able to board a ship and regain freedom after six years of enslavement. He trained for the priesthood and served as a parish priest in England until his “Macedonian call’ to become a missionary to the Celtic people in Ireland at age 48. This calling went totally against the general opinion of the Roman church of his time, because the Celts were regarded as ‘barbarians’ and as not enough ‘civilized’ to receive the Gospel. It was considered impossible to evangelize them.

St. Patrick’s approach to evangelism was made possible by his earlier experience:

The fact that Patrick understood the people and their language, their issues, and their ways, serves as the most strategically significant single insight that was to drive the wider expansion of Celtic Christianity, and stands as perhaps our greatest single learning from this move­ment. There is no shortcut to understanding the people. When you understand the people, you will often know what to say and do, and how. When the people know that the Christians understand them, they infer that maybe the High God understands them too.

He worked with a team of people who would set up a temporary camp near a tribal settlement. They would contact the king or leader of this settlement, ask for their permission, and then stay for several weeks or even months, engaging people in conversations, pray for sick and possessed people, counsel and mediate conflicts, ministering to all who appeared receptive. The social dimension of their ministry included crusading against slavery – successfully!

Hunter underlines five aspects of the Celtic way of ‘being and doing church’ that contributed to the evangelization of Europe, a kind of “missionary ecclesiology” of the ancient Celtic Christian movement from which we could learn today:

  • Team approach – in contrast to the contemporary approaches of “Lone Ranger” one-to-one evangelism, or confrontational evangelism, or the public preaching crusade, the Celtic mission worked as a team, including oldtimers and newbies.
  • Modeling – this community provided a setting that prepared people to “live with depth, compassion, and power in mission.”  This included the discipline of solitude, spending time with a ‘soul friend’, being part of a fellowship group, participate and contribute to communal life, experiencing and learning ministry by observing and doing.
  • Imaginative prayer – St. Patrick’s team would use parable, story, poetry, song, visual symbols, visual arts and drama to engage the Celtic people’s imaginations. They took people’s ‘right brains’ seriously and made the gospel’s meaning vivid.
  • Hospitality – the monastic community was open for everybody and their highest com­mitment was hospitality to strangers, seekers, pilgrims, and refugees. It was seen as a ministry to seekers, without any strings attached.
  • Process conversion – they saw conversion as a process.

I found the comparison between the Irish and the Roman model of evangelization conversion very enlightening.

The Roman model for reaching people (who are “civilized” enough) was:

  • Present the Christian message;
  • Invite them to decide to believe in Christ and become Christians; and
  • If they decide positively, welcome them into the church and its fellowship.

The Celtic model in contrast starts where the Roman model ends – with fellowship:

  • You first establish community with people, or bring them into the fellowship of your community of faith.
  • Within fellowship, you engage in conversation, ministry, prayer, and worship.
  • In time, as they discover that they now believe, you invite them to commit.

In case you have not noticed – the Roman model is still pervasive today.

The Roman model seems very logical to us because most American evangelicals are scripted by it! We explain the gospel, they accept Christ, we welcome them into the church! Presentation, Decision, Assimilation.

I would add, not only American evangelicals, but also many European evangelicals follow the Roman approach. This comparison appears to be all the more relevant for today, as several researchers have pointed out that today’s postmodern people often need to first belong, before they can believe.

[John] Finney reports that most people experience the faith through relation­ships, that they encounter the gospel through a community of faith, that becoming a Christian involves a process that takes time. In his later book, Recovering the Past, Finney summarizes their chief finding in four words. For most people, “belonging comes before believing.”

In one of the chapters Hunter analyzes the missionary perspective of Celtic Christianity, which included among other things an optimism and affirmation of God’s presence in nature, a belief in the goodness of creation and human nature, even though both are infected, but not destroyed, by sin and evil.

This is in stark contrast to the emphasis of the Roman church who under the impact of St. Augustine’s teaching insisted on the absolute depravity of humans. The latter often contributed to the complete rejection of other people’s cultures, while the Celtic attitude provides “an outstanding example of a Christian mission moving into a culture and affirming, and building upon, what it can.”

This allowed them to evangelize ‘uncivilized barbarians’ and become a ‘religion- and culture-friendly’ movement. They used critical contextualization; on the one hand, integrating and ‘Christianizing’ places, symbols and festivals whenever possible, by dedicating them to the Triune God, but on the other hand, clearly challenging anything that was idolatry [cf. Boniface felling Thor’s Oak] and not shying away from power encounters.

Celtic Christianity preferred continuity rather than discontinuity, inclusion rather than exclusion.

In summary, I found this book well written and very thought provoking. It is balanced in its arguments and does not give the impression that the Celtic way is the only possible approach to evangelism today, but I believe that there is lots we could learn from them.

Boundaries Face to Face – Book Review

Boundaries Face to Face

Cloud, Henry, and John Sims Townsend. 2003. Boundaries face to face: how to have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

I found this book very helpful and wanted to share a little bit about it. The book is about how to handle confrontational talks but the goal is not to have a confrontation but to improve the relationship between two people. Since reading it, I have started to put several aspects into practice and saw how it makes a difference.

What are the aspects of a helpful ‘confrontation’? The table of contents provides a great overview over the important ingredients:

Part 1 – Why do you need to have that difficult conversation?

  • The talk can change your life
  • The benefits of a good conversation

Part 2 – The essentials of as good conversation

  • Be emotionally present
  • Be clear about “You” and “I”
  • Clarify the problem
  • Balance grace and truth
  • Stay on task
  • Use the formula, when you do “A,” I feel “B”
  • Affirm and validate
  • Apologize for your part in the problem
  • Avoid “shoulds”
  • Be an agent for change
  • Be specific
  • Differentiate between forgiving and trusting

Part 3 – Seeing how it is done

  • Telling people what you want
  • Making someone aware of a problem
  • Stopping a behavior
  • Dealing with blame, counterattack and other problems

Part 4 – Getting yourself ready to have the conversation

  • Why you need to be ready
  • How to get ready

Part 5 – Having the difficult conversation with people in your life

  • With your spouse
  • With someone you’re dating
  • With your child
  • With your parents
  • With adult children
  • At work
  • With people in authority

Let me underline some points that I found especially helpful:

–         The importance of preparing yourself for a difficult talk and not feeling embarrassed about it, but explaining that I easily lose the thread and might say things that I did not mean to say and forget things that I find important;

–         Name the problem and don’t let yourself be distracted, by neither yourself nor your dialogue partner. It happens so easily that you get on a tangent. I often fall into the trap of bring up other situations that are similar, but mentioning them all can get overwhelming.

–         Saying honestly what the behavior of the other person causes in you and be specific. Putting this in words can be quite difficult but if I work on this during the preparation, it is a first step towards a solution.

–         The same applies to concrete suggestion of what need to be changed. This can be a challenge but when I think through this during the preparation and try to be specific, I realize what can I expect realistically and what not. I need to be aware that nobody can change completely from one day to the other. Therefore it needs to become clear to myself what exactly I expect from the other person and what is feasible. Unrealistic expectations only cause frustrations on both sides.

–         Don’t expect the talk to solve your negative emotions. They have to be processed before attempting such a talk, with the help of God and friends. The talk has to be motivated by my love for the other person and out of interest to improve out relationship, not to let off steam.

–         We need to honestly express our wishes and needs but not turn them into demands. I give to leave the other person the freedom and not manipulate. I need to be aware that not all my wishes will be fulfilled. It is important not to expect all wishes to be fulfilled, but to share even those wishes and needs that I know cannot be fulfilled. As long as I leave enough freedom to the other person, that’s ok. “Freedom is the precondition for any good relationship.” To not manipulate is one of the biggest challenges for me. Not all forms of communicating my needs are appropriate.

–         Accepting the No of the other person no matter what. If the point is especially important for me, it is better to bring it up again at another occasion. It is also important to express my understanding for the other position (and not assume that the other person knows that). Some solutions will only develop after we understand why the other person reacts a certain way, or says no, or …

–         Listening and asking back, and really try to understand what the other person wants to express. While at the same time avoiding getting side tracked. It is better to postpone side issues to another talk.

This is just a small selection of helpful points in this book. Since reading it several months ago, I noticed time and again how often confrontations are motivated by the desire to blow off steam and the expectation to feel better after doing so. This is basically the contrary of what Cloud and Townsend propose here.


Through Her Eyes – Book Review

Through Her Eyes

I read a very good book about two years ago. Some time last year I discovered the blog Telling Secrets and started reading it on and off before realizing that the blog author is the same person as the book author. I guess, this says something about my ability to remember names. Embarrassing. Anyway, here is a little book review.

Smith, Marti (ed.). 2005. Through her eyes : life and ministry of women in the Muslim world. Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media.

The author is a research project coordinator with Caleb project. She collected the material presented in this book while serving in Central Asia with a church planting team. It is a collection of life experiences from several women serving in a Muslim context, mostly Central and Southern Asia.

These stories are organized under 6 topics:

Adjustment and perseverance: being called, equipped and made effective
Relationships: how God is using women to touch people around them
Life under pressure: staying anchored during storms
How should we live: questions of culture, values and money
Singleness and marriage: living the life God gives you
Parenting: family issues, choices, and models

The women contributing to this book are identified by pseudonyms. Most of them have contributed more than one experience, so you meet them again under different topics. They come from different countries, including UK, USA, Australia. Most of them are married but there are also a few singles among them, and some who started out as singles and got married later. All this makes for an interesting mix of experiences.

I guess more than half of the chapters touched me in some personal way, either as an encouragement, or as a challenge, or as a reminder. Not once did it disturb me that they are all sharing about an Asian context. It was amazing how similar their issues and challenges are to life in Muslim Africa.

I can highly recommend this book. I think it could be used as part of an orientation program for new arrivals, but I believe it can be equally profitable for seasoned cross-cultural workers. Come to think, it might be of interest for anybody living among people of a different religion.

Does God still speak today?

In one of our last Bible studies we discussed another chapter of Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God.“ It was on the spoken word of God.

We read a whole series of verses about God’s word and suddenly I realized that we usually assume that these refer to the Bible, even though most of them do not necessarily say that. It’s so easy to hear “God’s word” and think of “God’s Word” as if it was the only word of God.

This reminded me of a book that I had read two years ago, and it motivated me to do a little summary of what I learned through it. The book is Hearing God, developing a conversational relationship with God, by Dallas Willard (1984)

Willard starts the introduction with a story of his wife’s grandmother: When somebody in her house group mentioned that God had spoken to him, she remarked “I wonder why God never speaks to me like that.” She is in good company. Maybe you have had the same question. Many believers like her have a rich interactive relationship with God but are unfamiliar with God’s voice and the possibility of having a conversational side of a relationship with God.

“Our failure to hear God has its deepest root in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational relationship with God, the sort of relationship suited to friends who are matures personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how different they may be in other respects” (29)

He defines this conversational relationship as telling God what is in our hearts and hearing and understanding the “still, small voice.”

In the following chapters, Willard treats different aspects of this question, misconceptions and arguments why God cannot, would not, and does not want to speak to people. These arguments are partly influenced by “naturalism,” leading people to believe it is unscientific to think that God speaks.

(If you don’t have time to read a long post, jump to the end of the post for the summary.)

Willard is very clear on the question that the Bible is the primary manner of communication. However, the second way as expressed in Ps 32:8 is guiding us with his eyes. This means an awareness of what the other person is thinking. This is what Willard calls the conversational relationship, an outworking of Jesus living in us and his presence in us (Col 1:27, Gal 2:19-20).

Jesus promised us that we can hear his voice (Jn 10:1-16). One aspect of hearing his voice is to receive guidance. He can use dreams, visions, voices, the Bible, extraordinary events, etc but the most important one is the “still small voice” or “gentle whispering” that Elijah heard. It is easily overlooked and disregarded. It can be audible, or a human voice, or through messengers including angels, but most often we will hear it inside our spirit.

Willard addresses some common misconceptions:

– “a message-a-minute view” – every movement needs to be ordained by God, and people are unable to act without clear guidance from God even for daily tasks.
– “it’s all in the Bible” view – leading to the assumption that we do not need to hear his voice today. He also call this “Bible deism” – similar to the Sadducees, there are those that believe that God stopped speaking, but this is a wrong way of honoring the Bible.

When the Bible refers to the “word of God” without further qualification it usually means God’s speaking, communicating, his thoughts and his mind (Ps 119:89-91). God’s word is powerful and in speaking God created the universe (Gen 1) and through it he rules the kingdom. In the same way that the word of a king is powerful and can have big effects (including heads rolling), the same is even more true for God’s word. This is what the centurion recognized (Mt 8:10) – “just speak a word and it will happen.”

The reality in the kingdom responds to the spoken word! God also gives power and authority to people (e.g. Num 20:8-12). God handed over power to Jesus, and Jesus handed over power to us, “as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (Jn 20:21, Mt 10, Lk 9)

There are different degrees of power – sometimes we are called:

– to ask for God to speak a direct word (pray)
– to speak on his behalf (Acts 3:6; 14:10)
– to take action on his behalf (Acts 9:40)

We need to keep in mind that THE word of God is Jesus (Jn 1:10-11).
And the Bible is God’s Word, his written word, and one result of God’s speaking.

Willard makes it very clear that:

“the Bible is the written Word of God, but the word of God is not simply the Bible” (141)

When we examine Bible passages with this in mind, we will discover that

– the Bible is the Word of God in its unique written form
– but the Bible is not Jesus Christ who is the living word
– neither is the Bible the word of God mentioned in many Scriptures passages: e.g. Ps 119:89, Ps 19:1-4; Acts 12:24; Mt 13 – in comparison to 2 Tim 3:15-17 which refers specifically to the ‘sacred writings,’ or Scriptures or 1 Pt 1:23-24 where both are mentioned next to each other.

All of these are God’s word, including when we hear from him individually!

God’s word is portrayed in the Bible, and available to every person through the Bible, but it is not limited to it. God uses the Bible to renew our mind, but it is mainly through his speaking to us that we are transformed in a character for whom listening to God’s voice is natural. This is what our union with Christ looks like (Gal 2:20, Phil 1:21).

In chapter 8, Willard provides detailed answers on how to recognize God’s voice. It is a learning process. We need to learn to discern his voice, both while reading the Bible and when listening to the “still small voice” because even Satan can abuse the Bible. In this learning process it is good to have help from others, who have a close relationship with God. But first we need to accept that God does speak, and wants to speak to us, then we can grow in experience and ability to hear his voice.

On the question how to distinguish God’s voice from our subconscious voice, Willard cites E. Stanley Jones who points out that the subconscious voice argues with you, tries to convince you, but the inner voice of God does not argue, it just speaks (175).

When God speaks we can sense the weight of its authority. This is combined with a spirit of peacefulness and confidence, which is similar to the godly wisdom mentioned in James 3:17. We should test it because it has to be consistent with God’s character and the principles of his written word, e.g., fear motivation does not come from God.

It also helps to accept that there is no guarantee for perfection, or infallibility of discerning God’s mind. It is impossible to never be mistaken and nowhere promised, but maintaining a close relationship to the Bible helps. Willard warns us that this is not the same as scholarship.

“Scholarship does not replace experiencing the living voice of God.”

Concerning fear of not being able to discern God’s will: “God is not a mumbling trickster” (191) – when we are willing to listen, he can make himself understood and is able to communicate plainly.

God can direct us mechanically, without speaking, like driving a car or directing a robot, “but when he guides us with conscious cooperation, he speaks to us.” The necessary conditions are:

– our willingness to listen
– asking him to speak
– being still

We should not be anxious if we don’t hear from God, but trust that he gives us a lot of freedom to determine our life, and sometimes he wants us to make our own decisions.

Concerning the “perfect will of God”: when we follow God’s general counsel of his written word, we are right in the middle of God’s perfect will, and if there is any specific word, we should be obedient to it.
Beyond that we have a huge freedom, because God does not always have a specific plan for each moment – “no ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely for each believer.”

Two final thoughts:

– Hearing God does not exclude risks or suffering.
– The greater goal of listening to his voice is to move beyond it to living in the kingdom (211).

Willard summarizes the book with the following steps (213)

A) Foundational steps

– having entered into an additional life by the additional birth, including the commitment to find out more what is morally right and commanded by God
– seeking fullness of the new life in Christ at the impulse of the spirit of God, growing in faith, moving beyond living in our own strength

B) Steps to hearing God

– meditate on God’s principles of life in the Scriptures
– be alert and attentive to what is happening in our life, mind and heart
– pray and speak with God about all matters that concern us
– listen carefully and deliberately for God’s voice
– if God does not speak

o ask him about possible hindrances
o seek counsel from other believers who live in close relationship with God
o correct whatever comes up
o if nothing comes up, act on what seems best to you.

Transforming Worldviews – Book Review

Transforming Worldviews

I wrote the following book review for the The Cultural Mandate blog:

Paul G. Hiebert (1933-2007) was a pastor and missionary in India, and later professor of missiology and anthropology at Fuller and Trinity, authored many articles and books, of which Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008 was the last one, which he just finished before his death. The book’s thesis is that if the gospel aims at a transformation that is both individual and corporate, it needs to touch all levels, including the deepest level of worldview in order to be radical and total.

In the conclusion of the first chapter, Hiebert explains the model on which the rest of the book is based and presents as preliminary definition of worldview in anthropological terms as “the foundational, cognitive, affective, and evaluative assumptions and frameworks a group of people makes about the nature of reality which they use to order their lives” (p 25-6). They can also be called “people’s images or maps of reality” (p 26). The building blocks of his model include among others Opler’s themes and counter themes but significantly modified, and Redfield’s seven themes not as imposed etic categories but as suggestive themes to be explored.

Hiebert’s book is an excellent summary and clarification of the model of worldview at a time when main stream anthropology seems to move away from it. He makes it clear that it includes the cognitive, affective and evaluative assumptions and frameworks or maps of reality to organize our lives (p 25). It needs to combine synchronic and diachronic approaches without reverting to reductionism or compartmentalization. The often used term “deep structure” is misleading and Hiebert makes it clear that the causality goes both ways (p 32). In chapter four (p 89ff) it also becomes clear that “worldview” is not a method in itself but that other methods are needed and that any result will only lead to an approximation of a culture (p 90).

Interestingly, Hiebert contradicts the often heard claim that there are several worldviews in the Bible. Despite the diversity of contexts in the Bible, Hiebert points out the underlying unity of the biblical story (p 265) and suggests a tentative list of underlying worldview themes that are cognitive, affective, evaluative, and diachronic. His argument is that Abraham’s understanding was only a starting point of biblical revelation and others built on it until it came to its climax in Christ and to understand biblical worldview, we need to start with him.

I found this book to be a great treatment of a missiological theme from an anthropological view point, including and integrating many topics Hiebert has written about over the years. It therefore gives an excellent overview over many anthropological concepts related to worldview. It does seem to respond to some major critics of the worldview concept. Hiebert proves again to have excellent insights into the dynamics of conversion and spiritual transformation and what we need to understand about other people’s maps of reality if we want to see their lives transformed through the gospel.

Doing or being

This week’s topic on Coffeegirl confessions was on “Being vs. doing.” Coffeegirl quoted Thomas Merton saying:

We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.
As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have – for their usefulness.

Every single comment pointed to the difficult balance between doing and being.

ASBO Jesus also posted a cartoon on this topic:

Several years ago I read the book “The Power of Being: for people who do too much” by Christian R. Komor. One of the principles I still remember was: “If you are not ready to do nothing, you are not ready to something.” This forced me to examine myself how often I was doing things, just to avoid doing nothing. I realized how true this is, that if I am not comfortable sitting still and doing nothing, than my doing comes out of the wrong motivation. Only when my doing comes out of an inner serenity, can it be a healthy kind of doing. I am not sure where I heard this quote first: We are called to be human beings, not “human doings,” but I am sure that it was also mentioned in this book. Since then I have started my journey to be more of a human being. I am thankful to report that I have become much more comfortable over the years to not always do something. Probably this has a lot to do with learning to rest in Jesus’ acceptance that does not depend on my accomplishments.

Last week I had to reexamine myself again. As my regular readers might have noticed, there were about three weeks where I posted little else than a quote on Sunday (Quote for the week) and a picture on Wednesdays (Wednesday without words). It was a reflection of my general state. I had just finished a two-week intensive course, during which I was also ill and had several doctor’s appointments. Despite all of it and to my own surprise I managed to finish all my book reviews. It was evidently God’s grace. I was just regaining strength and happy to get going on the next project. I had lots of ideas and took out the first pile of books from the library. But then something changed and I didn’t know what. I still have not read them. The next three weeks were filled with lots of this and that. Things that had to be done: reports to write, newsletter to send, thank-you notes, answering e-mails, meetings with friends, cleaning the house, doing laundry, attending a women’s retreat, researching and testing software, getting the car repaired, …. I was not bored or inactive. In fact, I was very busy and I got lots of little things done, but nothing on my main project. This is why I felt frustrated nevertheless. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what. This something was also reflected in the lack of blog writing. I did not have the energy, the serenity and creativity to write.

Eventually, I took time with the Lord and asked him “Lord, what is going on? What is wrong with me?” I did not exactly get an answer to the questions I asked. Jesus answered me in a different way. I realized anew that I am loved and accepted even when I do nothing. When I have nothing to show. When I have not accomplished what I was supposed to do and because of it feel worthless. When I am unhappy about my progress, the results of whatever. HE still rejoices over me. This brought my heart to rest. And I realized that I had forgotten that I am a human being, not a human doing. After this realization I was able to let go of the frustration of the last three weeks, stop brooding over what had happened and why, and be content in what I had been able to do. And be even more content in who I am – God’s beloved, the daughter of a King. Without ever doing a thing (or writing a blog). 😉

Eyes to See

Eyes to See

An African proverb says: “The eyes of the foreigner are big but he does not see a thing.” It’s so true – you have to learn to see things in another culture. Otherwise you can look straight at things and you don’t have a clue what you are seeing.

The following paragraphs are the introduction to an interesting book review but I was even more fascinated by the personal examples in the introduction:

In college, I took a class with Toni Morrison based upon a collection of her essays called Playing in the Dark. The premise of the essays, and of the class itself, was that American literature has been shaped from the beginning by the unsettling presence of “American Africanism.” There is no need to get into the nuances of her argument here. I mention it only because after I took Morrison’s class, I read books differently. I was attuned to marginal figures. I noticed how black people were portrayed, or how their presence was avoided. I noticed motifs of darkness and light. I watched movies differently too, attending to the way certain racial groups were used as props instead of being presented as real characters. That class taught me to see differently.

Having a child with Down syndrome is also teaching me to see differently.

I think, for example, of the time when I attended a conference at a monastery in South Carolina. Our first night at the conference, we gathered for a short Bible reading and blessing before supper. An elderly man, one of the brothers in the monastery, held the responsibility of reading and praying for us. He walked unevenly to the podium, with his head tilted to the side. He stood behind the Bible, flipping through the pages, back and forth, with a puzzled expression. Finally, he looked to another brother and said, “I can’t find Genesis 1.” The other brother gently turned to the beginning of the Bible, and the first brother began to read. His speech was imperfect. He stumbled through the words and they came out somewhat garbled.

A few years earlier, before our daughter Penny was born, I would have been filled with impatience and cynicism. I would have been thinking, why can’t they find someone who can read, who at least knows where the first book in the Bible is located? But that night, I stood with rapt attention, grateful that I could receive the Word of God from this man. I was able to see him as a fellow Christian, offering a blessing on my behalf. I was able to see him as a messenger of hope, a vision of a community in Christ that might one day include my daughter, and even include her as one who could read God’s Word publicly, who could offer a collective prayer. Read the whole book review here.

I was touched by her examples of how we can learn to see things differently and then notice things that we did not see before, come to conclusions that we would not have thought possible before. Living in another culture challenges me to do this. My interest in anthropology certainly helps me, too. It is amazing how we can interpret things differently when when see them through another person’s eyes.

I experienced a similar eye opener through reading one of the conversations between Mack and Sarayu in “The Shack“: (pp 134-136)

“When something happens to you, how do you determine whether it is good or evil?”
Mack thought about it for a moment before answering. “Well, I have not really thought about that. I guess I would say something is good when I like it – when it makes me feel good or gives me a sense of security. Conversely, I’d call something evil that causes me pain or costs me something I want.”
“So it is pretty subjective then?”
“I guess it is.”
“And how confident are you in your ability to discern what indeed is good for you, and what is evil?”
“To be honest,” said Mack, “I tend to sound justifiably angry when somebody is threatening my ‘good,’ you know, what I think I deserve. But I’m not really sure I have any logical ground for deciding what is actually good and evil, except how something or someone affects me.” […] “All seems quite self-serving and self-centered, I suppose. […]”

He hesitated before finishing the thought, but Sarayu interrupted, “Then it is you who determines good and evil. You become the judge. And to make things more confusing, that which you determine to be good will change over time and circumstances. And then beyond that and even worse, there are billions of you each determining what is good and what is evil. So your good and evil clashes with your neighbor’s fights and arguments ensue and even wars break out.”
“I can see now,” confessed Mack, “that I spend most of my time and energy trying to acquire what I have determined to be good, whether it’s financial security or health or retirement or whatever. And I spend a huge amount of energy and worry fearing what I’ve determined to be evil.”
“Wow,” Mack exclaimed, […] “It could mean that …”
Sarayu interrupted his sentence again, “… that in one instance, the good may be the presence of cancer or the loss of income – or even a life.”

Ever since reading this conversation some time ago, I started to look at things differently. What is good and what is bad for me? How often do I judge things from a very subjective perspective? Actually, I can think of a few things in my own life, that I judged to be bad but now start to see that they really might have been part of God’s perfect and loving plan for me. As painful as the situation was, there was good in it. This is not always easy to admit.

[There are other interesting aspects in this conversion that I left out for the moment but hope to address in a future post.]

Have you experienced this kind of learning to see things with new eyes?