Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 3

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 3

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto part 1; Goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the signs of brokenness in the church today is the near total absence of application in pastoral sermons. In seminary, no sermon is complete without a sermon application. Today’s sermons are delivered more with an attitude of nice-to-know, not critical for salvation or the practice of our faith. In our buddy culture, the idea of a pastor actually offering advice is not-politically correct. The same holds for books about faith.

The Monastic Connection

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation starts with the application up front: Benedict is short for Benedict’s rule which is a structured approach to daily life. He writes:

‘A Rule works that way, to channel your spiritual energy, your work, your activity, so that you’re able to accomplish something,’ Father Cassian said.

‘Monastic life is very plain,’ he continued. ‘People from the outside perhaps have a romantic vision, perhaps what they see on television, of monks sort of floating around the cloister. There is that, and that’s attractive, but basically, monks get up in the morning, they pray, they do their work, they pray some more. They eat, they pray, they do some more work, they pray some more, and then they go to bed. It’s rather plain, just like most people. The genius of Saint Benedict is to find the presence of God in everyday life.’ (52)

Making Room for God

What Dreher is proposing for postmodern Christians is to focus on “finding the presence of God in everyday life.” While this objective is simple enough, it is hard to apply. Consider his advice:

Here’s how to get started with the antipolitical politics of the Benedict Option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good. (98)

If you think these prescriptions are easy, try turning off the television set. I attended a funeral about two years ago where the man was buried with a television remote in his hand. Or how about the smartphone suggestion? My wife, who teaches in the public schools, cannot get through to her students because they are distracted by cellphones constantly and refuse to study. These seemingly simple suggestions represent radical departures from American culture today.

Order in Disorder

Dreher writes: “If a defining characteristic of the modern world is disorder, then the most fundamental act of resistance is to establish order.” (54) Monks establish order, in part, by praying liturgy of the hours, which is seven times daily (58-59). By regularly returning to prayer, they are better able to reflect on God presence at each point in the daily routine. Dreher notes that “ascetical practices train body and soul to put God above self” (63) and provide an antidote to the spiritual sloth of our time (64). He notes:

A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist. A church that does not emphasize asceticism and discipleship is as pointless as a football coaching staff that doesn’t care if its players show up for practice. (121)

One of the things that I enjoyed most about interning as a chaplain in Providence Hospital’s Alzheimer’s unit was that I got to take the Catholic residents to mass every morning.

Monastery as School

Dreher places a special emphasis in his writing on education as a spiritual practice and cites Benedict’s rule which refers to the monastery as “school for the service of the Lord.” (148). He notes that “The classical Christian does not ask, ‘What can I do with this learning?’ but ‘What will this learning do to me?’” (160) Christian formation is the objective, not learning facts and figures that can easily be forgotten. He is particularly a fan of a classical Christian education which he prefers, because students learn to appreciate the history of the faith.

Reiteration of Argument

Dreher reminds the reader that:

If we don’t take on everyday practices that keep sacred order present to ourselves, our families, and our communities, we are going to lose it. And if we lose it, we are at great risk of losing sight of the One to whom everything in that sacred order, like a divine treasure map, points. (236)

While I know people who have ordered their lives by Dreher’s objectives, I know precious few and most have paid a hefty cost.

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church and culture. He then offers the development of new schools and community as necessary components to maintaining a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I outlined Dreher’s book. In part two, I looked at his definition of the problems facing the church and, in part three, I looked at his recommendation for dealing with those problems.

[1] @RodDreher, TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

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Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 2

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 2

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto part 1; Goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those of us active in church leadership, the hollowing out of the Christian faith is nothing new. Biblical illiteracy has reached the point that seminaries routinely test their new students on their biblical competency and about 90 percent of incoming students are required to take remedial work in biblical studies. Because it is hard to apply biblical knowledge to solving life’s daily challenges if the Bible is largely unknown even by the clergy, it is small wonder that the church has not prevailed in influencing postmodern culture.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

In The Benedict Option Rod Dreher makes the point about biblical illiteracy citing sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton who define the religion of American teenagers as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD).  MTD has five basic tenets:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to solve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die. (10).

  MTD is especially prevalent among Catholic and mainline Protestant young people, according to Dreher. The problem is that it has little to do with the God of the Bible and focuses on the worship of the self and material comforts (10-11).

If the church has lost the culture wars, the lost emanated from inside the church outwards. Therefore, the hollowing of the church is the problem, not barbarians at the gates. Still, Dreher sees barbarians anxiously taking advantage of the church’s lost vision (16-17).

How Did We Get To This Point?

Dreher sees five landmark events over seven centuries rocking Western civilization and stripping its ancestral faith:

  1. In the fourteenth century, the loss of belief in the integral connection between God and Creation—or in philosophic terms, transcendent reality and material reality.
  2. The collapse of religious unity and religious authority in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.
  3. The eighteenth century Enlightenment, which displaces the Christian religion with the cult of Reason, privatized religious life, and inaugurated the age of democracy.
  4. The Industrial Revolution (ca 1760—1840) and the growth of capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
  5. The Sexual Revolution (1960—present) (22-23).

It is interesting that Dreher reverse-engineers the antecedents of the postmodern era. The enchanted world that he sees prior to William of Ockhams (1285-1347) development of nominalism or metaphysical realism. This world distinguishes God from his creation (not realism which keeps them united, according to Dreher) can actually be traced to the first verse of the Bible. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (23-27). In order to create the universe, God had to have been separated from it.

Commentary on Worldview

As a conservative Catholic, Dreher begins his march towards postmodernism with a Middle Ages world view, not a biblical world view, as might be more typical of a Protestant writer. Dreher’s starting point is important because it colors his view of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. In my own thinking, for example, I have often referred to scientific discoveries as “God’s Easter Eggs” which he hides from us in such a way to assure that we would find them. If all of knowledge is God’s knowledge, our faithfulness is not necessarily undermined by what we know so much as our attitude about it.

The more corrosive problem that arose in the nineteenth century was not so much the Industrial Revolution or the Enlightenment, but emergence of the Romantic movement. Dreher writes:

The Romantics, as they were called, found many aspects of the new rationalist, mechanized society distasteful but had no interest in returning to the Christian world. They prized emotion, individuality, nature, and personal freedom. (38)

Here attitudes about God and his relationship with human beings and the created order clearly changed. If Christians came to believe that God primarily worked through our feelings, not our minds, then it was a small step to insert the self in place of God. This is because no one outside the self can mediate our feelings, which ultimately undermines the authority of the church and scripture.

The Sexual Revolution

Sexuality might easily remain the domain of family life within the community. However, if the self mediates feelings, sexuality takes on a completely new role. Dreher writes:

‘Eros must be raised to the level of a religious cult in modern society, not because we really are that obsessed with it, but because the myth of freedom demands it.” Says political philosopher Stephen L. Gardner. ‘It is in carnal desire that the modern individual believes he affirms his individuality.’ The body must be the true subject of desire because the individual must be the author of his own desire. (43)

If this comment appears oblique, think of it as a creation story for the individual. Much like Marx banned Bibles because his communism lacked a valid creation story, postmoderns deny God’s sovereignty through the worship of desire and must have their own creation story, which however unlikely places the individual at the center of the universe [of desire].[2]

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church. He then offers the development of new schools and community as necessary components to maintaining a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I outlined Dreher’s book. Part two looks at his definition of the problems facing the church. In part three, I will look at his solution to those problems.

References

Gardner, Stephen L. 1998. Myths of Freedom: Equality, Modern Thought, and Philosophical Radicalism. Greenwood.

Smith, Christian and Melinda Lundquist Denton. 2005. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. New York: Oxford University Press.

[1] @RodDreher, TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

[2] This is why gender advocates express no interest in hearing about the problems—disease, drug abuse, suicide, depression—created by the risky behavior that they advocate. To recognize these problems, they must admit that they have no credible creation story and that God is sovereign.

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Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 1

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

Dreher Sees Flood, Offers Ark, Part 1

Rod Dreher.[1] 2017. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York: Sentinel. (Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Benedict of Nursia, Italy (480 –547 AD) is a Christian saint established a rule for daily life and a new monastic order.[2] The rule stipulated seven prayers each day (the hours) and ordered every aspect of life in the monastery. Benedict’s rule helped the Christian church survive the fall the Roman empire. It later served as a model for universities in the Middle Ages and the corporation in modern times.

Introduction

In his book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Rod Dreher sees the church today facing a challenge similar to the fall of the Roman empire and Saint Benedict’s response, establishing a monastic order, as providing a template for the church’s dilemma today. He writes:

“The idea is that serious Christian conservatives [can] no longer live business-as-usual lives in America, that we have to develop creative communal solutions to help us hold on to our faith and our values in a world growing ever more hostile to them.” (2)

Why the Apocalyptic Response?

Dreher sees the 2015 defeat of a conservative initiative in Indiana, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at the hands of Gay rights activists and major U.S. corporations as a watershed event. It was quickly followed by the U.S. Supreme Court declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell decision). In this new environment, he writes:

Dreher sees the 2015 defeat of a conservative initiative in Indiana, The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, at the hands of Gay rights activists and major U.S. corporations as a watershed event. It was quickly followed by the U.S. Supreme Court declaration of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage (the Obergefell decision). In this new environment, he writes:

“Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.” (3)

Dreher declares that the culture war is over and Christian conservatives lost. The election of Donald Trump as president has given the church more time to prepare, but little hope of a revival. Dreher paints a grim picture of a hollowed out church that needs to build an ark for the coming flood (238).

Background on Dreher

Who is Rod Dreher? He describes himself as a senior editor at The American Conservative and an author of several books including: Crunchy Cons, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming [his sister], and How Dante Can Save Your Life. He and his wife have three children and live in Southern Louisiana, which may account for his interest in floods.

Organization

Dreher writes his book in ten chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion, acknowledgments, notes, and an index. The chapter titles are:

  1. The Great Flood,
  2. The Roots of the Crisis,
  3. A Rule for Living,
  4. A New Kind of Christian Politics,
  5. A Church for All Seasons,
  6. The Idea of a Christian Village,
  7. Education as Christian Formation,
  8. Preparing for Hard Labor,
  9. Eros and the New Christian Counterculture, and
  10. Man and the Machine (vii).

Dreher writes like a conservative Catholic. Still, he balances his examples between Evangelical and Orthodox Christian sources. He even throws in examples from Jewish communities (130) and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons; 135). The theme, decline of the American Christian church, led me to expect Dreher would take shrill tone, but Dreher studiously avoided this temptation through use of research and helpful case studies.

Monastery in Norcia

One case study that stands out was his visit to the Monastery in Norcia, Italy, where Saint Benedict was born. The Norcia monastery dates from the tenth century, but was closed in 1810 by Napoleon Bonaparte who worked hard to devastate the Catholic church throughout Europe. Dreher writes:

“Legend has it that in an argument with a cardinal, Napoleon pointed out that had the power to destroy the church. ‘Your majesty,’ the cardinal replied, ‘we, the clergy have done our best to destroy the church for the last eighteen hundred year. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.’” (49)

American monks helped recently to re-establish this monastery (48-49). Dreher’s visit inspired lessons that he enumerates throughout his book.

Summary

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation ties together numerous concerns about the church and culture, and offers the development of new schools to maintain a vibrant faith community in the face of the coming secular deluge.

In part one of this review, I will outlined Dreher’s book. Part two looks at his definition of the problems facing the church. In part three, I will look at his solution to those problems.

[1] , TheAmericanConservative.com/Dreher

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benedict_of_Nursia.

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1 

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Beechick Outlines Biblical Learning Method

Beechick Outlines Biblical Learning Method

Ruth Beechick. 1982. A Biblical Psychology of Learning. Denver: Accent Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most insidious assumptions of modern and postmodern people is that the current generation is the most intelligent, most perceptive. It is as if everything that came before was prologue to this fantastic new beginning. Not only is this assumption not true; it is idolatrous because, like original sin, this assumption presumes the role of God, who is the true source of all knowledge. This is why as we grow in our faith and learn about it, we find the Bible increasingly interesting. Books that help us understand the Bible in new ways are especially interesting.

Introduction

In her book, A Biblical Psychology of Learning, educator Dr. Ruth Beechick starts noting that: “we need a theory of learning based on the Bible.” (8) The reason for Beechick’s interest is that in studying learning theory more generally, she was frustrated that the behavioral theory explained primarily the behavior of rats (stimulus-response) and other theories likewise focused on only one dimension of learning. Surely, human complexity required a more complex understanding of learning, she thought (9).

Learning Starts with the Heart

In her attempt to develop a biblical understanding of learning, Beechick observes:

“When we look to the Bible one inescapable fact about man is his heart. The word is used more than 800 times.” (12)

Beechick goes into a long discussion of how modern people understand the biblical concept of heart, but I suspect that, because the heart has a much wider scope of meaning in Hebrew and Greek, heart would translate as a range of emotional and intellectual meanings, which Beechick argues do not all begin with cognition in the mind. She argues from biblical, historical, and scientific evidence that the heart has its own autonomous influence (39).

Biblical Learning Model Uses More Information

Beechick makes an interesting chart comparing sources of input into three learning theories—behaviorism, humanism, and biblical—with their view of man and basis of study. Behaviorism views man as a personless body; humanism views many as a biological organism; and the biblical view of man is that we are created in the image of God. Behaviorism studies laboratory animals; humanism studies mankind; and the biblical view considers animals, people, and the biblical experience (26). From her review, she concludes that the biblical view is better informed than behaviorism or humanism because it takes into account more information (33).

Beechick’s core learning model is built on a model from John A.R. Wilson, Mildred D. Robeck, and William B. Michael called Psychological Foundations of Learning (New York: McGraw Hill, 1969) and has five components:

  1. Wise self-direction (creativity),
  2. Concept Learning,
  3. Information learning,
  4. Heart-set (self-discipline), and
  5. Parental love and discipline (54).

Each of these components interacts with the others and combines influences from both the head and the heart. The remainder of the book focuses on explaining each of these five components.

Example of Psalm 78

Beechick walks through this learning model that she finds illustrated in several verses in Psalm 78 through wisdom and foolishness applications of the model (example and counter-example). The wisdom application is found in verses one, six, and seven (70):

  1. Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
  2. that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,
  3. so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; (Ps 78:1, 6-7 ESV)

The foolish-learner application is found in the verses that follow (72). Proverbs 10 provides another application of the model through example and counter-example. In walking through these illustrations, Beechick notes that learning starts with the orientation of the heart (heart-setting) and that God disciplines his people with both anger and love (69). Because our hearts are not always naturally set on learning, discipline plays a key role in biblical learning, which the Psalmist likens to the growth of a palm or cedar tree (Ps 92:12).

Who is Ruth Beechick?

Her Amazon author page reports the following biography:

“Dr. Ruth Beechick spent a lifetime teaching and studying how people learn. She taught in Washington state, Alaska, Arizona and in several colleges and seminaries in other states. She also spent thirteen years at a publishing company writing curriculum for churches. In ‘retirement’ she continues to write for the burgeoning homeschool movement. Her degrees are A.B. from Seattle Pacific University, M.A.Ed. and Ed.D. from Arizona State University.”

Ruth has written numerous books and curriculum materials for homeschooling, but she passed away in 2013 and does not have her own website.

Summary

Ruth Beechick’s A Biblical Psychology of Learning is an interesting for anyone interested in biblical teaching methods, which explains why she has been so influential in the homeschooling movement. Her learning model is complex which seems appropriate because we are complex people, but it also suggests that rigorous study is required to apply it.

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Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation

Cover Bauckham's Theology of Revelation

Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation

Richard Bauckham.[1] 2017. The Theology of the Book of Revelation (Orig pub 1993).  UK: Cambridge University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Revelation captures the imagination like no other book in the Bible. Its popularity among Christians is almost a striking as the reluctance of pastors to teach it. Who wants to initiate a discussion that is likely to grow heated as participants defend their own favorite interpretations? Yet, what other biblical text elicits such passion on a regular basis? This is both the attraction and the risk of Revelation.

Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation with this overview:

“Revelation is seen to offer not an esoteric and encoded forecast of historical events but rather a theocentric vision of the coming of God’s universal kingdom, contextualized in the late first-century world dominated by Roman power and ideology. It calls on Christians to confront the political idolatries of the time and to participate in God’s purpose of gathering all the nations into his kingdom.” (i)

The series that this text embodies strives to offer a theological commentary rising above the usual focus on exegesis of individual verses, which is limited to historical, textual, grammatical, and literary commentary according to the series editor, James D. G. Dunn at University of Durham (xi). As someone who has spent a lot of time reading commentaries, I find this series highly attractive—one goes to seminary to study God, not just to analyze an ancient text with the modern scientific tools of a skeptical mind, as is the usual fare in commentaries.

In his introduction, Bauckham asks a fundamental question: what kind of book is Revelation? He writes: “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia” (2). In other words, we see three genre (or classes of literature): apocalypse, prophecy, and letter. I will borrow these three genre to structure the remainder of this review.

Apocalpse

Bauckham follows J.I. Collins in using this definition of apocalypse as a literary genre:

“Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in  which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial, insofar as it involves another supernatural world.” (6)

Bauckham sees John’s revelation as both highly contextualized to the first century church’s situation and a visionary disclosure of God’s perspective more generally on the human condition (7). Bauckham writes: “It is John’s readers’ concrete, day-to-day world seen in heavenly and eschatological perspective.” (8) What makes John unique among apocalyptic writers is that he writes in his own name and timeframe—more typically apocalyptic writing takes the name of an historical prophet and is set in an historical period (11).

Prophecy

Bauckham sees John’s prophecy arising out of a vision that he has written down with great care and intense study within the tradition of Old Testament (OT) prophecy (2-3).

For those unfamiliar with OT prophets, the OT prophet worked, not so much as a visionary, but as someone who called his audience back to faithful commitment to the Mosaic covenant. Frequently this involved reminding the community of faith of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy 28. Because covenant non-fidelity remained a theme in the OT, the curses tend to get the most show time and they represent, not so much a prediction in time and place, but a verdict rendered in the heavenly court.

Bauckham sees Christian prophecy having three elements. First, the prophet discerns the contemporary situation in lieu of God’s nature and purpose. Second, the prophet predicts how the current situation must change if God’s kingdom is to come. Third, the hearer of this prophecy is then expected to respond in faith, which leaves room for the individual or community to participate freely in God’s purpose for the world. This why, for example, Nineveh was spared after Jonah prophesied its destruction. The destruction of Nineveh was contingent on its citizen’s rejecting God’s purpose for them (148-149). God is slow to anger precisely because he truly wants us to repent and accept salvation (Exodus 34:6).

Letter

Bauckham writes:

“The whole book of Revelations is a circular letter addressed to seven specific churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea (1:11; cf. 1:4; 22:16). They are probably named in the order in which they would be visited by a messenger starting from Patmos and travelling on a circular route around the province of Asia.” (12)

Each church is called to be conquer as their part of a general eschatological battle. Bauckham sees these specific letters being both tailored to the particular problems of those church, which John clearly understands in great detail, and representative of wider problems in the church. This wider application becomes obvious when you ask—why only these seven churches (there were many more) mentioned?

Bauckham’s answer is that these seven messages are used by John as seven different introductions to Revelation, reflecting seven different ways that the book can be read (14).  While I have personally always seen the letter to Laodicea being especially pertinent to the modern church, I would be curious how to read Revelation in view of the others—Bauckham does not offer these tantalizing details. However, we recognize that the number seven is the biblical number reflecting completeness (16).

Richard Bauckham’s The Theology of the Book of Revelation is a fascinating read and of interest to anyone having an interest in understanding the Book of Revelation. I bought my copy during a visit to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s bookstore in Charlotte, NC knowing that I would find it useful in teaching. Still, Bauckham writes with surprising clarity about this complex subject.

[1] http://RichardBauckham.co.uk.

 

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Tutt: Imprisoned Cop Thrives

Joseph Tuttolomondo and Rosemarie Fitzsimmons. 2015. Caged Sparrow. Virginia: The Portrait Writer LLC.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2011 I worked as a chaplain intern in a psychiatric ward where I found it helpful to observe patients in their groups before visiting with them individually. One morning as an art group assembled to begin their work, attendance was especially heavy and I offered my chair to a latecomer. For some reason he began escalating, but as the staff gathered putting on their blue latex gloves, the other patients came to my defense saying—“leave the pastor alone”—and threatening the patient who was now shouting at full throttle. While I was stunned for having been called out by the patient, but I was truly humbled by support given me by the other patients.

In Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons we “Tutt” unlikely prison inmate: a narcotics chief from “Little Italy”, who helped clean up Buffalo, New York’s MAFIA and was later framed for a crime that he did not commit. How likely is a former narc to survive a prison sentence surrounded by criminals that he had arrested and sent to prison? In his own words, Tutt writes about November 1977:

“People like me don’t survive prison. I knew that going in. I accepted that one day, may in a week, maybe in six months, someone would probably find me lying face-down in an exercise yard with a shank sticking out of my gut…I’m on their turf, living on their terms—a sparrow in a cage with two thousand cats.” (1, 3)

In the telling of his story, we learn a bit of MAFIA lore:

“during the late 1800s, a young Sicilian couple’s wedding plans were shattered when an officer from the occupying French army raped the bride-to-be and she committed suicide from the shame. After the funeral, the grieving young groom stood on the church steps and shouted ‘Morte ala Francia Italia Anella!’ (Death to the French, Italy Cries!) From these words came the acronym, MAFIA, and their battle cry.” (5)

Tutt grew up knowing the Omertià code: “You saw nothing.You heard nothing.You said nothing.” (5) Young and street smart, Tutt proved to be a good cop—maybe too good. After he and his partner survived an ambush, he thought that he was invincible (62-64).

He should have known: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov 16:18 ESV)

The set up that snagged Tutt was an informant who turned on him, as he pieced it together:

“Carlone must have gone to his District Attorney and said I was a bad cop, and that he was going to offer me a bribe. The DA probably gave him money and put it in an envelop, but Carlone [who was a drug user himself] must have had second thoughts, so he took the money out and replaced it with folded paper [which was supposed to be a list of drug users].”(75-76)

The set up should have failed in court, but no one seemed interested in the truth and Tutt was convicted and sent to prison. But along the way something unexpected happened …

Joesph Tuttolomondo’s memoir, Caged Sparrow, written by Rosemario Fitzsimmons is true story, even though the names have been changed to protect the innocent. After his release from prison, Tutt worked for the city in another occupation, qualified for his retirement, and left Buffalo to live in Florida. Rosemario Fitzsimmons is an author living in Northern Virginia who specializes in inspirational memoir writing. Caged Sparrow is a page turner interesting to anyone who likes a good detective story.

[1] www.RoseTheStoryTeller.com. @pJoy93

 

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Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Abayomi Akinyemi. 2008. Avoid the Path to Pisgah. Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, A Strang Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Have you ever wondered why you fail to achieve your potential in your faith walk and in life? You are not alone. Many talented people do not realize their potential, frequently falling short in dramatic ways. Think of all the young celebrities—sports and film stars—who in spite of fame and fortune end up living desperate lives in poverty later in life.

Underachievers share much in common in Moses who led the Nation of Israel out of Egypt only to be later forbidden by God to enter the Promised Land. God only allowed Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land from atop Mount Pisgah (Deut 3:26-27). Are you ready to avoid the trip up Mount Pisgah and enter the Promised Land?

 In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi examines the story of Moses and how he achieved so much, but failed to achieve his dream of entering the Promised Land. In his introduction, Akinyemi (18) sees “seemingly minor distractions, weaknesses, and temptations” forming a pathway to Pisgah. Furthermore, he observes:

“Moses was a great vessel in the hand of God. He was called, anointed, and given a mandate by God to lead the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land, yet he did not fulfill his destiny.” (26)

How could this happen? Akinyemi (77) sees the answer in a single verse:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Heb 12:1 KJV)

The key words in this verse are besetting weights and sins. A besetting sin is one that we know about and struggle with our entire lives, like an obsession that we cannot control, but a weight is a hindrance or character flaw. Moses had at least three weights: an anger management problem, a tendency to complain, and he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure.

Moses’ first weight was an anger-management problem (91). Early in life, it led him to murder an Egyptian who was abusing a fellow Hebrew (Exod 2:11-12). Later in life, when he saw the Nation of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf, he threw down the tables of stone that God had given him with the Ten Commandments (Exod 32:19).

Moses’ second weight was problem with complaining. Moses (91) did not want to go back to Egypt when God commissioned him and he did everything he could to get out of it (Exod 3:11—4:17). When the people of Israel began complaining in the desert, Moses (93) followed suit and began a rant against God (Num 11:10-13).

Moses’ third weight was that he failed to honor God by following his instructions carefully under pressure. At Meribah, when the people had no water, God told Moses to speak the rock to yield water (Exod 20:8), but, when the time came, Moses struck the rock twice with his rod (Exod 20:11). Why was the instruction important? Moses did not give the honor to God for delivering the water, but took it for himself in front of all the people by striking the rock. Consequently, God did not allow him to lead the people into the Promised Land (Exod 20:12). When Moses complained about this punishment to God, God said:

“Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” (Deut 3:27 ESV)

Thus, Moses died on Mount Pisgah and never entered the Promised Land.

How do we avoid the path to Pisgah? Akinyemi (110-112) advises us to control our anger, yield totally to the Holy Spirit to cultivate the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and avoid pressure from people. But most of all we should pray aggressively, especially at night (112-117).

In his book, Avoid the Path to Pisgah, Abayomi Akinyemi[1] examines the problem that many talented Christian leaders fail to achieve their God-given potential by examining the life and ministry of Moses. Moses, in spite of obvious gifts of leadership, never entered the Promised Land which was a key objective of his call to ministry (Exod 3:7-10). Akinyemi writes with energy and recounts many interesting examples from scripture and from evangelism in his home country of Nigeria. Anyone interested in realizing their potential in ministry would do well to read and study this book.

[1] http://www.zion-cityofgod.org.

 

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 2; Goto Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I broke this review up into four parts—my first four-part review of any book. In the first part, I give an overview of the Confessions and why we are interested. In the second part, I review the life of Augustine and sin, as he describes it. In the third part, I will focus on Augustine’s coming to faith. Here in the fourth part, I review his theological writings, which focus on the creation accounts in Genesis.

Why a four-part review? Augustine offers the reader a lot to think about. Dissertations have been written on this book probably in every generation since Augustine wrote it, but this is neither a dissertation nor an academic review, which would review its historical context, its contributions, and previous interpretations. Here I only attempt to understand a few important points about what Augustine is trying to say for my own benefit and, hopefully, yours. Obviously, much more could be written.

Books X to XIII

The final third of Augustine’s Confessions are qualitatively different than the first two, which is immediately obvious from the titles. Books 1 to IX have chronological titles, (e.g. Book One: The First Fifteen Years) while Book X summarizes his present condition and Books XI to XIII have theological titles referencing verses in the Book of Genesis. While it may seem odd to modern eyes that a memoir contain lengthy theological discourses on scripture, in Augustine’s Confessions the transition is from short discourses to long ones. In other words, only a matter of degree and emphasis—the entire book debates theology alongside of personal experience.

Augustine and His Present State

Augustine’s exploration of sin includes an inventory of temptations, based on the sense that yields pleasure, writing:

“Pleasure goes after objects that are beautiful to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, but curiosity for the sake of experiment can go after quite contrary things not in order to experience their unpleasantness, but through a mere itch to experience and find out.” (220)

How many pastors would admit to being people pleasers? Augustine calls it a temptation (222).

Augustine and Creation

Augustine turns to the creation accounts in Confessions for a very interesting reason, writing:

“For You, O Lord, are my judge, because through no man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of a man that is in him, yet there is something of man that the very spiritual of that is in him does not know. But You, Lord, know all of him, for You made him.” (192)

In a sense, Augustine views the creation accounts as a kind of divine blue-print (the divine image) for humanity. In other words, he is saying, in so many words, here is what I know about me; now, let’s see what the blue-print says. For Augustine, the inner journey and the faith journey are hand in glove.

Augustine and Allegorical Interpretation

Augustine makes liberal use of allegory in his interpretation of Genesis. Allegory imputed a symbolic meaning to a physical object. For example, Augustine writes:

“In the beginning God made heaven and earth, that is in His Word co-eternal with Himself God made the intelligible and sensible or, to put it another way, the spiritual and corporeal creation.” (276)

Here Augustine associates heaven with the spiritual creation and the earth with corporeal creation, a kind of mind-body dichotomy commonly associated with Plato’s dualistic philosophy. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul uses allegory to talk about the new covenant in Christ when he writes:

“Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” (Gal 4:24-26 ESV)

Allegorical interpretation fell into disrepute in the Reformation, in part, because of its association with Plato and disregard for the Hebrew tradition, which treated mind and body as indivisible. The reformation principle of “solo scriptura” implied that scripture itself provided the sole guide to salvation. John Calvin (1539) focused on four interpretative principles, including understand the author’s intent, communicate effectively, consult the original texts (Greek and Hebrew), and consider the text and its application in the context of the canon of scripture. What is striking about this list is that the four principles used in medieval exegesis about which Luther reminisced (historical, allegory, tropology, and anagogy interpretation) are nowhere found (Thompson, 58-62, 67, 71).

Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions remain a Christian classic and has sometimes described as the beginning of Western civilization, which focuses on the role of the individual. In demonstrating through his memoir that God works out his will actively through the lives of ordinary people, male and female, Augustine laid the groundwork for doctrines, such as human rights, which remain in the forefront of political dialogue between the West and other parts of our world even today. Needless to say, Augustine’s Confessions are a book worthy of being read by every practicing Christian.

References

Calvin, John. 1539. Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans.

Translated and Edited by Reverend John Owen. Strasbourg. No pages. Cited 6 June 2009. Online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.iii.html.

Thompson, John L. 2004. “Calvin as Biblical Interpreter.” Pages 58-73 in The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin. Edited by Donald A. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 3—Coming to Faith

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 2; Goto Part 4)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In part one of this review, I gave an overview of Augustine’s life and Confessions. In part two, I focused on his attitude about sin. Here in part three, I will look at Augustine’s journey of faith.

Augustine comes to faith at the age of thirty-two having struggled with sin, as discussed earlier, and giving up his career as a teacher of rhetoric and his betrothal to a younger woman to be ordained as priest. His conversion to Christianity is remarkable, not only because of the things that he gave up, but also because he actively considered the Manichean philosophy and because of the active influence of his Catholic mother, Monica. The timing of his conversion also coincided with a mystical experience.

Conviction of Sin

Augustine’s struggle with sexual passions caused him great anguish before his conversion and the story of the conversion of Victorinus, a fellow professor of rhetoric in Rome (142) weighed heavily on him. Augustine writes:

“Now when this man of Yours, Simplicianus had told me the story of Victorinus, I was on fire to imitate him: which indeed was why he had told me. He added that in the time of the Emperor Julian, when a law was made prohibiting Christians from teaching Literature and Rhetoric, Victorinus had obeyed the law, preferring to give up his own school of words rather than Your word, by which You make eloquent the tongues of babes.” (147)

These are not the words of a stoic philosopher. Augustine writes like a man in chains to his sin saying:

“Thus I was sick at heart and in torment, accusing myself with new intensity of bitterness, twisting and turning in my chain in the hope that it might be utterly broken, for what held me was so small a thing.” (167).

As Augustine then confessed his sin to God in private, he writes:

“Such things I said, weeping in the most bitter sorrow of my heart. And suddenly I hear a voice from some nearby house, a boy’s voice or a girl’s voice, I do not know, but it was a sort of sing-song, repeated again and again, ‘Take and read, take and read.’” (169)

Augustine borrowed a book of scriptures from his friend, Alypius, and opened it randomly coming to this verse:

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (Rom 13:13 ESV)

Convicted immediately of his sexual sin, he took this passage as a word from God to him personally and went to his mother to announce that he was a Christian (160).

He later prays:

“O LORD, I am Thy servant: I am Thy servant and the son of Thy handmaid. Thou hast broken my bonds. I will sacrifice to Thee the sacrifice of praise.” (163)

Having prayed for his conversion his entire life, Augustine’s mother died later that year.

 

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

Foley, Michael P. [editor] 2006. Augustine Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). 2nd Edition. Translated by F. J. Sheed (1942). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (Goto Part 1; Goto Part 3; Goto Part 4)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Augustine writes the Confessions in thirteen books where the first nine book talk about his life, book ten talks about his motivations for writing, and the final three chapters reflect on the book of Genesis. In part two of this review, I focus on Augustine’s view of sin.

Memoir and Augustine’s Focus on God

 Memoir is an autobiography with a theme. Augustine’s theme is his call to faith and he begins his memoir with a profession of faith:

“GREAT ART THOU, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is Thy power, and of Thy wisdom there is no number. And man desires to praise Thee. He is but a tiny part of all that Though has created. He bears about him his mortality, the evidence of his sinfulness, and the evidence that Thou does resist the proud, yet this tiny part of all that Thou has created desires to praise Thee.” (3)

Augustine is writing in Latin, which is obvious from the translation because of the use of Thou, Thy, and Thee in the English translation, borrowing from the archaic English forms found in Elizabethan English. Sheed comments on the decision to use these forms in translation arguing that they add beauty, express intimacy, and reflect the liturgical character of the Confessions (xi-xii).

Augustine’s theology appears in this introductory paragraph which starts with divine praise, intimacy, power, and immensity, relates death to sin, and references Jesus’ emphasis on humility (e.g. Matt 5:3). The first sentence is also an allusion to the psalms which in a modern translation reads: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods” (Ps 96:4 ESV)

Unlike a modern memoir, Augustine does not turn to his own life story until after laying out a significant treatise on his understanding of God. In his seventh section (about six pages later), he finally starts his own story:

“Thus, Lord, I do not remember living this age of my infancy; I must take the word of others about it and can only conjecture how I spent it—even if with a fair amount of certainty—from watching others now in the same stage.” (9)

In this context, we witness a very pious Augustine and get a sense of the liturgical character of this memoir.

Early Sin and Intercessory Prayer

Augustine is frequently associated with the doctrine of original sin, which is obvious when he writes:

“Thus the innocence of children is in the helplessness of their bodies rather than any quality in their minds, I have myself seen a small baby jealous; it was too young to speak, but it was livid with anger as it watched another infant at the breast.” (9)

We used to joke that original sin was two infants given one toy! Still, Augustine does not exempt himself from the influences of sin as he writes about his own infancy.

Augustine pictures later himself as an initially lazy student who received frequent beatings (10), but we are quickly introduced to a pious Monica, his mother, who seeing her son engaging in self-destructive and sinful behavior resorted to unceasing prayer:

“The mother of my flesh was in heavy anxiety, since with a heart chaste in Your faith she was ever in deep travail for my eternal salvation, and would have proceeded without delay to have me consecrated and wash clean by the Sacrament of salvation…” (12)

Still, it is paradoxical to observe one of the great philosophers of the church saying: “I disliked learning and hated to be forced to it.”(13)

Pictures of Sin as Immorality and Stolen Peers

At age sixteen, Augustine found himself beset with sin. A besetting sin is one that you are aware of and pray for relief from, but find yourself addicted to. For Augustine, lust for women posed a besetting sin, as he famously wrote: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” (152)

Augustine writes that his pagan father, Patricius, and his Christian mother, Monica, reacted differently to his interest in women. Patricius looked forward to having grandchildren (irrespective of their manner of conception), while Monica wanted him to remain chaste until such time as he could establish his career (27-28).

In the midst of his discussion of lust, Augustine tells the story of how some of his friends lured him into steeling some peers, writing:

“The peers were beautiful but it was not peers that my empty soul desired. For I had any number of better peers of my own and plucked those only that I might steal.” (31)

The stolen peers became a symbol for his relationship with women and later taking of a mistress, who is never named but gives him a son (56). Fifteen years later he dismisses his mistress so that he might be formally married and finds himself so distressed in her absence while he waits for marriage that he takes another mistress. If this seems odd to modern ears, the editor notes:

“Marriage in the Roman Empire was viewed more as an institution of social promotion, political alliance, and financial stability than an act of love.” (327)

While this may be true, Augustine viewed his immorality as a besetting sin and clearly motivated his later guidance for monks to remain celibate. In some sense, his weakness came to our benefit as the church worked to cleanse itself of pagan attitudes about immorality, which still dog the church today.

 

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