May: Addictions Need not Enslave

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Gerald G. May. 1988.  Addiction & Grace:  Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions.  New York:  HarperOne.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The goodbyes to beloved actor and director, Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014) place the specter of addiction and death in the public eye. This week it is heroin addiction but the drug of choice changes over time.  In a society that has trouble placing limits on personal freedom (boundaries) of any sort, the pain of addiction bites particularly hard because we all share a bit in the blame.

What is addiction anyway?

In his book, Addiction and Grace, Gerald May (June 12, 1940- April 12, 2005), a Christian psychiatrist specializing in addictions, defined addiction as:

Any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits the freedom of human desire.  It is caused by the attachment, or nailing, of desire to specific objects (24-25).

May notes that true addiction has 5 characteristics:

  1. Tolerance,
  2. Withdrawal symptoms,
  3. Self-deception,
  4. Loss of willpower, and
  5. Distortion of attention (26).

On reading May’s description in 2011, I became aware of my own addiction—stress.  I loved my work too much—it had become an obsession—evidence of tolerance.  Taking time off away from the office was harder on me than the pounding stress—evidence of withdrawal symptoms.  I told myself that I was advancing my career—this was a self-deception.  I could not help myself; I had to work hard—evidence of loss of willpower.  Was I aware of it?  No—I was convinced that other people were the problem in my career advancement.

When I became aware of this addiction, I took it to the Lord in prayer and committed myself to practicing Sabbath rest.  May advises—the only cure for an addiction is to stop the cycle (177).  Not working on Sunday (not even for God) has freed up time for family; other interests; and self-respect.  I continue to feel the urge to work, but with God’s help my stress addiction is over.

What are you addicted to?

Notice that May’s definition of addiction talks about freedom.  May writes:

Free will is given to us for a purpose: so that we may choose freely, without coercion or manipulation, to love God in return, and to love one another in a similarly perfect way…addiction uses up desire…sucking our life energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less and less energy available for other people and other pursuits.  Spiritually, addiction is a deep-seated form of idolatry [idolatry is anything that substitutes for God] (13).

Psychologists talk about addiction as an attachment disorder.  In order to be free in any sense of the word, we need to be detached from our desires enough to regulate them (14).  This is why the first of the Ten Commandments reads:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:2-3 ESV).

The other gods here are things that we become addicted to.  What the Bible is saying is that addiction is a form of slavery from which God can free us.  In my experience, freedom is harder than slavery for many people because they are enslaved to their passions—work, bad relationships, substances, expensive toys, compulsive sex, money, and so on.  My stress addiction is a typical case because our minds are rigged to facilitate habit formation—we all have addictions, albeit not all addictions are life-threatening (57).

Addiction and Grace is written in 8 chapters:

  1. Desire:  Addiction and Human Freedom.
  2. Experience: The Qualities of Addiction.
  3. Mind:  The Psychological Nature of Addiction.
  4. Body: The Neurological Nature of Addiction.
  5. Spirit: The Theological Nature of Addiction.
  6. Grace:  The Qualities of Mercy.
  7. Empowerment:  Grace and Will in Overcoming Addiction.

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by various notes.

Clearly, I have left out many of the details that May generously supplies.  Anyone struggling with addiction (or who cares about someone who does) will find this book a godsend.  I clearly did.

May: Addictions Need not Enslave

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Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality

 

Rice_review_20200606

Howard L. Rice.  1991.  Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers. Louisville:  Westminster/ John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a lifelong Calvinist and seminary graduate, Howard L. Rice’s Book, Reformed Spirituality: Introduction for Believers, came as a surprising find. The term, spirituality, has a New-Age ring to it. In reading about spiritual practices, I  accordingly assumed that I was straying from the reformed tradition. Thanks to Rice, I no longer feel that way.

Introduction

Rice organizes his book into eight chapters, starting with an introduction and followed by seven topical chapters.  The topics addressed are informative:  The experience of God, problems and possibilities, prayer, study, consultation, the practice of discipleship, and discipline in the Christian life.  None of these topics come as a surprise.  The introduction starts with the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death?  (7).  At the time of publication, Rice was chaplain of the Seminary and a professor of ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Spirituality Defined

Rice defines spirituality as:  the pattern by which we shape our lives in response to our experience of God as a very real presence in and around us (45).  He notes that:  spirituality demands letting go of control, taking emotions seriously, and emphasizing being as of equal value with doing (49).

Rice highlights the Puritan experience in explaining the reformed tradition (12). For Puritans, the preferred term is piety, not spirituality, reflecting the reformed suspicion of private revelation and guarded attention to the more colorful spiritual gifts. In worship, Reformed spirituality focuses more on scripture and the sermon while, in individual practice, it focuses more on prayer and meditation.

Importance of Theology in Reformed Spirituality

Rice emphasizes the importance of theology in the reformed approach to spirituality. For example, Richard Baxtor (1615-1691; 37) sought renewal of his congregation through personal instruction in the catechisms.  While this terribly un-modern technique sounds dated, I know of at least one pastor who successfully used it to energize a youth group.  The catechisms help church members to appreciate the doctrines of the church and to relate them to life.  Theology is not the only lens that Rice employs.  He observes that we encounter God in experiences of conversion, ecstasy, visions and spoken words, intuition, transcendence, and incarnation (30-35).  These observations normally qualify one as a charismatic in reformed circles!

Rice clarifies the role of small groups and church committees in the reformed spiritual life.  Reformed theology is systemic, complex, and complete–small groups and committees help maintain spiritual balance.  For the Calvinist, the spiritual life requires walking with a community of faith.  Rice writes:  that is why corporate worship, hearing the word preached, and sharing in common administration of the sacraments are so central for any Reformed understanding of the spiritual life (53).

Assessment

As a text on reformed spiritually, Rice’s book was unique in helping me understand my own faith practices.  Clearly, I might have benefited from Rice’s systemic presentation at a younger age.  Rice deserves to be studied more than once and is suitable for small group discussion.

Reference

Baxtor, Richard 2007. The Reformed Pastor.  Carlisle:  Banner of Truth Trust.

Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality

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Graham Shares his Journey

Graham_review_20200516

Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new book: The Reason for My Hope.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

Organization

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s Distinctive Style

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Observations on Culture

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

How to Evangelize

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

Graham as Innovator

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging. The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.

Graham Shares his Journey

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Lucado Calls Out Fear

 

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Max Lucado.  2009.  Fearless:  Imagine Your Life Without Fear.   Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you believe in divine intervention?  I do.  Let me give an example.

In 2010, I signed up for a small group discussion at church.  A couple days later the small group coordinator called to ask me:  because the group that I have signed up for was over-subscribed, would I be willing to join another group?  No problem, I said reluctantly thinking to myself–why would I want to join a group proposing to talk about fear?  So I bought the book.  As I started reading, I found my life jumping off the pages–not only had fear crept into my life; it was quietly dictating a lot of my decisions.  Through almost no effort on my part, God had directed me to a major stronghold in my life and helped me deal with it (Psalm 18:2).

What was the book? It was Max Lucado’s  Fearless:  Imagining Your Life Without Fear.

Introduction

Lucado observes that:  ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s (5).  He goes on to observe that fear displaces happiness; fear is unproductive; fear is self-defeating.  Jesus spoke out against fear, for example, after the storm on the Galilee saying:  why were you afraid? (Matthew 8:26; 6)  In suggesting the destructive potential of fear, Lucado (9) cites Martin Niemoeller’s observation in 1933 that the tyrant that Adolf Hilter became was born in fear.  Is it any wonder that Christ is famous for bringing peace:  Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me (John 14:1 NLT;  11)?

Organization

Lucado’s book is organized in 15 chapters.  The first chapter, partially summarized above, poses the question:  why are we afraid?  The next 13 chapters focus on case studies of fears that we commonly confront–fear of not mattering, of disappointing God, of running out, of not protecting our kids, of overwhelming challenges, of worst-case scenarios, of violence, of the coming winter, of life’s final moments, of what’s next, that God is not real, of global calamity, of God getting out of my box.  The final chapter concludes with stories reiterating the problems caused merely by fear and with people’s responses to tragedy.  The final of these is the story of a young missionary who, as he watched his home burned the ground, recited a psalm and found solace in God (178-180).  After the conclusions, Lucado provides a discussion guide with questions for small groups.  In my own small group, we also viewed a related DVD based video.

Fears Need to Be Named

When Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the Gerasenes, he started by asking: What is your name? (Mark 5:9 ESV).  Lucado approaches our fears in a similar matter.  By naming our fears, he deprives them of their power.  He then redirects us to God where the power of the Holy Spirit may be found.

Parental Fear

Perhaps one of the most insidious fears is the fear of parents that they will be powerless to protect their kids.  This is especially true of your first child because you feel totally unprepared for the job of parenting and terribly vulnerable.  Lucado (57) notes that: fear distilleries concoct a high-octane brew for parents–a primal gut-wrenching, pulse-stilling dose.  When our children have teachable moments, Lucado (60) observes that out of fear we often become both paranoid and permissive when we should be trusting God and modeling trust to our children.

He recommends that we pour our fears out to God, not to our children, and pray with them about the issues that they confront (61).  The principle here is that:  we cannot protect our children from every threat in life, but we can take them to the Source of Life (61).   Remember that young children often look at their parents before they decide to cry–even when badly injured–and, when they see we are afraid, they cry.  Throughout his discussion, Lucado looks to scripture for guidance.  In this chapter, he reviews stories of Abraham (Genesis 22), Jairus (Luke 8), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), and the father with the epileptic son (Matthew 17), but lingers longest on the story of Jairus.  He concludes that clearly: God has a heart for hurting parents (63).

Assessment

Max Lucado’s Fearless is a book to read and pass around.  His writing contains numerous stories which makes his writing both accessible and interesting.  After 9-11, after so many years of the Great Recession and war, Fearless is clearly a book for our times.

Lucado Calls Out Fear

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MacNutt Prays for Healing

MacNutt_review_20200515Francis MacNutt.  2009.  Healing (Orig Pub 1974).  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Chess. On the chessboard of life, what piece are you; what piece is Christ Jesus?

If you are Christian, our creator God is the crafter of the chess pieces; not one of them.  Still, when we pray, God is often assigned the role of a pawn in our lives.

For example, I have a neighbor who thinks of prayer as nothing more than happy thoughts that bounce off the ceiling.  In a world where people talk about prayer as nothing more than happy thoughts, what is authentic Christian prayer?

Francis MacNutt, in his book—Healing, observes that:  most traditional [Christians] have little difficulty in believing in divine healing.  What was difficult to believe that healing could be an ordinary, common activity of Christian life (10).  Citing Matthew 10: 7-8 [1] and a talk by Alfred Price in 1960, MacNutt observes:  if the church still claimed Christ’s commission to preach, what happened to the second commission to heal and cast out demons? (9)  In his own experience with healing prayer, about half of those he prayed for with physical ailments experienced healing or substantial improvements and three-quarters of those prayed for with emotional or spiritual problems experienced healing (11).

What is your experience with healing prayer?

Francis MacNutt is a Dominican priest, a leader in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and founder of Christian Healing Ministries[2].  He studied at Harvard University and Catholic University of America in Washington DC, and holds a doctor of philosophy degree in theology [3].  His book divides into four parts which are preceded by a preface and followed by appendices and an epilogue.  The four parts are entitled:

  1. The Healing Ministry—Its underlying Meaning and Importance;
  2. Faith, Hope, and Charity as They Touch Upon the Healing Ministry;
  3. The Four Basic Kinds of Healing and How to Pray for Each; and
  4. Special Considerations.

Although I often skip appendices and epilogues in my own reading, here it would be a mistake.

The epilogue includes the fascinating testimony of a Lakota (Sioux) Indian who attended a healing service in South Dakota and experienced miraculous healing of a mouth full of cavities (264-266).  As I read this story on a Saturday, I was experiencing an extreme toothache (I had trouble eating because of the pain); needed medication just to finish the reading; and I had already made a dentist appointment for Monday morning.  However, the story induced me to pray to God about my tooth—something that I had never done before.  Before Monday morning the pain was gone and my dentist found no evidence of an infection.  Meanwhile, the arthritis in my right foot that normally bothered me was mysteriously absent.

In talking about healing ministry, MacNutt cites 5 basic arguments why prayer cannot lead to healing:

  1. We want nothing to do with faith healing—faith healers are religious quacks (32-33).
  2. My sickness is a cross sent from God—as if God wanted you to suffer (33-34).
  3. It takes a saint to work a miracle and I am no saint—asking for healing is a sign of excessive pride (34-35).
  4. We do not need signs and wonders anymore; we have faith—the apostolic era is over (35).
  5. Miracles do not take place; they only represent a primitive way of expressing reality—a pre-scientific explanation (36).

MacNutt’s review of these arguments against the possibility of healing is helpful in establishing a balanced conversation—especially if you have witnessed the healing power of prayer first hand.

Prayer for healing needs to be specific in MacNutt’s experience.  As such, he list 4 types of healing needs (130), including prayer for:

  1. Repentance of sin (spiritual healing).
  2. Emotional (or relational) healing.
  3. Physical healing. And
  4. Deliverance (healing from spiritual oppression).

Distinguishing the different types of healing needs is important because many charismatic writers lump all healing needs into deliverance prayer.

The Apostle Paul writes:  the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26 ESV).  The Holy Spirit is the conduit between us and the Triune God in prayer.  Healing prayer is accordingly the work of the Holy Spirit and an important sign of God’s sovereignty at work in our lives.

One of the signs of God’s answer to healing prayer is that more healing is offered than is asked for—this is God’s abundant grace overflowing into our lives [4].  My healed toothache is not unique.  Although I prayed about tooth pain, I experienced healing both in teeth and feet—a sign of God’s abundant grace.

Reading Francis MacNutt’s Healing helped expand my prayer life. Stepping out to pray for healing fully expecting God to intervene and heal is risky. Healing prayer assumes we truly believe that God exists, cares for us, and is powerful enough to intervene in our lives—things that I and most postmodern Christians struggle with.  MacNutt’s clinical writing style and systemic thinking makes him a credible writer and makes the book helpful in advising people about healing prayer.  I commend the book. I have gifted friends with this book for years.

Footnotes

[1]The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay (Matthew 10:5-8 ESV).

[2](www.christianhealingmin.org)

[3] After leaving the Dominicans, MacNutt received a special dispensation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_MacNutt.

[4] The Apostle John writes of recognizing the risen Christ through the miracles of abundance:  abundant wine (John 2), abundant loaves of bread (John 6), and abundant fish (John 21).

MacNutt Prays for Healin

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Thurman: Re-imagining Pain at the Cross

Thurman_review_20200601Howard Thurman.  1996. Jesus and the Disinherited (Orig Pub 1949).  Boston:  Beacon Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor who carried at least two books with him wherever he went.  One comes as no surprise:  a Bible.  The other was Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited (xii).  When I heard this, I was curious to read Thurman.

Who is Howard Thurman?

Howard Thurman (1899–1981) was one of the three most influential African American preachers of the 20th Century.  He was also an author, philosopher, theologian, educator, civil rights leader, and Dean of Chapel at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades[1].

Thurman is a powerful, yet humble writer.  In his preface, he wonders out loud:  Why is it that Christianity seems impotent to deal radically, and therefore effectively, with the issues of discrimination and injustice on the basis of race, religion, and national origin?  (8)  He goes on to write:  the striking similarity between the social position of Jesus in Palestine and that of the vast majority of American Negroes is obvious to anyone who tarries long over the facts (ix).

Social Position

Using social position to interpret the person and teaching of Jesus marks Thurman as an antecedent of liberation theology.  The basic idea is that starting from a position of affluence and privilege when Jesus was poor and marginalized makes it hard to interpret Jesus’ words and teaching correctly.  It is easier to interpret Jesus when your own social position (poor and marginalized) is roughly the same.  If you substitute the neutral word “context” for “social position” in this sentence, then virtually every hermaneutics instructor today would agree.

Thurman argues that taking Jesus out of context, particularly social context, allows interpreters to insert their own social context and read Jesus’ words in ways not intended.  In effect, he is arguing that Christianity’s impotence in dealing with discrimination and injustices has at its core a misunderstanding of the Biblical accounts themselves.

Still, “social position” does not substitute easily for “context” as an upper-middle class hermaneutic.  In my work at Providence Hospital in northeast Washington DC, I was shocked to learn that how common the scars of violence were among African American patients.  While it is rare among white Americans to know someone who has been shot or murdered, it is common among African Americans—such trauma is part of their daily lives.  How can someone correctly read an account in the Bible subtly referring to indignities committed when those same indignities are outside one’s personal experience?  “Social position” does not substitute easily for “context” as an upper-middle class hermaneutic.

Thurman describes Jesus’ social position as a poor Jew from a minority group—a Galilean (16-18).  Worse, Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth was within a couple miles of Sepphoris—a Roman garrison burned to the ground just before Jesus’ birth in response to a Galilean rebellion.  Thurman speculates that, as a young carpenter, Jesus probably helped rebuild Sepphoris and was no doubt painfully aware of his own social position (18).  For example, do you think someone from Centreville, Virginia might be totally ignorant of the Battle of Manassas, Virginia (5 miles away) twenty years after the Civil War?  Thurman has clearly tarried over the facts here.

Sepphoris

Evidence that Jesus was personally affected by his context shows up in his use of the word, hypocrite (e.g. ὑποκριτά; Luke 6:42 BNT).  In the Greek before Jesus, hypocrite meant primarily ‘play-actor, role-player’ (BDAG 7615).  In the Old Testament, by contrast, hypocrite appears only twice in the Book of Job in the Septuagint (Greek translation) and the Hebrew word used denotes profane (וְֽחַנְפֵי Job 36:13 WTT; also Job 34:30), not two-faced as in a role-player.  Why would Jesus be aware of this Greek word?  Sepphoris had a Greek amphitheatre.  Jesus no doubt knew first-hand what an actor was and he re-defined the word in his own usage.  Thurman (72-73) makes the point that Christians on the margin of society need to be especially vigilant in avoiding hypocrisy.

Clearly, even in Nazareth Jesus was not isolated from the tensions of his day—and he was not a Roman or even a privileged Jew.  Writing as an African-American man in the 1940s, Thurman observes:  If a Roman soldier pushed Jesus into a ditch, he could not appeal to Caesar; he would be just another Jew in a ditch (33).  Do you think that Thurman wrote from personal experience?  The answer is clearly yes (78-79).

Outline of Thurman’s Disinherited

Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited is a short book with only 5 chapters and an epilogue.  The chapter titles speak to his concerns:

  1. Jesus–An Interpretation.
  2. Fear.
  3. Deception.
  4. Hate.
  5. Love.

He writes a brief preface.  The forward is written by Vincent Harding.  Thurman’s audience is not primarily white Americans, although he recognizes that they are probably listening.  No, he writes a cautionary note to African American Christians about how to remain faithful in a context of persecution.

Reading Thurman changed the way that I read scripture.  In quiet moments, I use a mind experiment to highlight the importance of context.  Imagine Jesus sitting on a stool in the middle of a room with four walls.  Each wall has a different landscape picture—say, a beach scene, a workroom, a kitchen, a barnyard.  Now, imagine walking around Jesus with a video camera so that you picture him against each of these landscapes.  How does the change in context color your perception of Jesus?  Having finished this exercise, repeat this experiment with different social groups; different social situations. If context is fluid and carelessly employed, we get whatever view of Jesus that is most congenial to our own social position.

Assessment

Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited is an important, but hard, book to read—especially if you do not agree with everything that is said.  His critique is particularly convicting for me knowing that he taught at Howard University—only a few miles from where I grew up and within walking distance of the hospital where I interned as chaplain.  Thurman observed and experienced racism, but he also rejected hatred, fear, and bitterness.  Out of great pain, Thurman speaks with an authentic, Christian voice.  We should too.

Footnotes

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Thurman

Thurman: Re-imagining Pain at the Cross

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Honor Losses with Grief

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Kenneth R. Mitchell and Herbert Anderson. 1983. All Our Losses; All Our Griefs: Resources for Pastoral Care. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Anniversaries can be painful. I remember one patient in the emergency department. He was loud; he was obnoxious; he was threatening. When I spoke to him, I was startled to learn he was also grieving—his brother had died at age 40 from alcohol abuse. He was now 40 and also abused alcohol. In remembering his brother, he also feared his own death. In All Our Losses: All Our Griefs, Kenneth Mitchell and Herbert Anderson remind us that grief can accompany losses other than death and is often mixed with other emotions.

Mitchell and Anderson start by observing that grief—the normal response to loss—is much more common than most people believe (9).  Their book is organized around three questions:  (1) Why do people grieve? (2) What are the dynamics of grief? And (3) how can we help those who grieve? (10-11). At the time of writing, both authors were professors of pastoral care.  Mitchell served at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis; Anderson served at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Mitchell and Anderson observe that grief is both natural and unavoidable.  They write:  Just as there can be no life without attachments, there can be no attachments without eventual separation and loss.  Grief has its beginnings in the twin necessities of attachment and separation (21). One example of this principle of attachment and separation is the child before and after birth (20).  Another example is the child’s distinction between me and not me, and later—not me but mine and not mine (23).  All losses and separations are painful, in part, because they remind us of our limitations and eventual death (31).

Mitchell and Anderson identify six major types of loss, including:  1. Material loss, 2. Relationship loss, 3. Intra-psychic loss—loss of a dream, 4. Functional loss—including loss of autonomy, 5. Role loss—like retirement, and 6. Systemic loss—like departure from your family of origin (36-45).  They then go on to identify 5 attributes of those losses:  1. Avoidable or unavoidable, 2. Temporary or permanent, 3. Actual or imagined, 4. Anticipated or unanticipated, and 5. Leaving or being left (46-50).  Surprisingly, they observe that:  Growing up and leaving home involves…every form of loss but functional (51).  It is surprising because we often take the process of growing up for granted—consequently when problems arise as in the case of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) we are caught unaware and unprepared.

The complexity of grieve arises because it is more than just a single emotion and it includes physical responses as well.  Mitchell and Anderson cite 7 elements of grief: 1. Numbness, 2. Emptiness, loneliness, and isolation, 3. Fear and anxiety, 4. Guilt and shame, 5. Anger, 6. Sadness and despair, and 7. Somatization—physical reactions (61-81).

In my experience as a chaplain intern, I was struck by the pervasive nature of grief among the patients that I visited and by the number of physical ailments triggered by intense or unresolved grief.  Grief was a part of more hospital visits—especially in the psyche ward and the retirement facility—than any other factor.   Mitchell and Anderson suggest that care givers be sensitive to 4 elements.  Give people:  1. Permission and space to grieve, 2. Recognition of importance of and support for grief, 3. Encouragement to share, and 4. Help in reintegrating in life (111).  They remind us as caregivers of Jesus’ statement on the Sermon on the Mount:   Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 ESV; 165).

Among pastoral care professionals, Mitchell and Anderson’s book is a classic.  Grief and loss ministry remains underappreciated, in part, because death is an embarrassing subject in our youth-oriented, post-Christian society.  Because our culture denies death, the pain of death and other losses is amplified by ignorance and uncertainty.  Mitchell and Anderson shine a light into this dark corner of life.  As such, this book makes a helpful gift from time to time.

Honor Losses with Grief

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Dive Deep into the Atonement

Atonement_review_20200511

James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy [Editors]. 2006. The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Renewed interest in the atonement of Christ arises today partly because it has become so common to meet “atonement deniers” in the church today. Atonement deniers refuse to talk about sin believing that we are basically good and have no need for Christ’s death on the cross to mitigate that sin. Already in 1937, Richard Niebuhr observed this problem:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross.” 

No cross, no resurrection. Jesus cannot have been divine and his claim on our lives is merely nice to know. Christmas morphs from the birth of Christ into winter solstice; Lent morphs from a season of reflection on sin into a season of self-help followed by spring break. So exactly what was the work of Christ if not to die for our sins, as reported throughout the New Testament? (e.g. 1 Cor 15:3) Was the atonement “cosmic child abuse,” as some feminists have alleged? (10)

Introduction

The authors of The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views work to explain the atonement rather than to justify it. The four views are:

Christus Victor view (Gregory A Boyd)

Penal Substitution view (Thomas R. Scheiner)

Healing view (Bruce R. Reichenbach) and

Kaleidoscopic view (Joel B. Green).

Each of the views has its champion who describes the view and rebuts alternative views in the style of statement and response drawn from philosophy. The first three of these views argue that they have priority over the others, while the fourth argues against any such priority (21).

The editors, James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, teach theology at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota and write the introduction. They define atonement as a uniquely English theological term meaning: “a reconciled state of ‘at-one-ness’ between parties formerly alienated in some manner.” (9)

Christus Victor View

The Christus Victor view asserts that spiritual warfare is the common thread running through scripture. In Jesus Christ, God broke into history to destroy the power of Satan that has kept us in bondage to sin and restored humanity into their rightful position of guardians of the earth (27-29). In this context, sin is both an individual behavior and a communal problem, which suggests why the power of sin cannot be broken without divine intervention. If evil is embedded in folkways and cultural institutions, then individual choices cannot bring full forgiveness, restauration, and healing.

This view has priority over the others because it ties together all strands of scripture and the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. All aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry work together to break the powers of the destructive systems and evil forces of Satan. Once Satan is defeated, the kingdom of God is established once again on earth (39-40). This is why the Christus Victor view has been the dominant view throughout the history of the church (46).

While some ask how a loving God could not just forgive us all. The response is that God could, but Satan, the accuser, would not allow it. This is why Satan must first be overthrown in order for God to allow forgiveness through Jesus Christ (103).

 Penal Substitution View

Penal Substitution view starts with an observation:

 “Our fundamental problem as human beings is not that outside powers victimize us. The root problem is that we ourselves are radically evil and we are wrongly related to God himself.” (68)

This view has priority among evangelicals today because the root cause of the problem is not that Satan has enslaved us, but the we ourselves are flawed—bad seed. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23 ESV). This view is accordingly easier for modern people to accept, in part, because they want to be in control, as with original sin. Still, you do not need to believe in God to understand that even Mayberry[1] has a problem.

Healing View

The Healing view begins with the idea that salvation is effectively the healing of the sickness brought about by sin—the wages of sin are death (Rom 6:23). We read:

“Both Isaiah 53 and Romans 8:3 make a symbolic connection of Christ’s atonement with Israel’s national atonement ritual (Lev 16). The sacrifice had two steps. One was the slaughter of animals for the sin offering; the other was the release of the sin-laden goat into the wilderness. The first brings atonement through suffering and death; the blood symbolically purifies the community, consecrating it from its state of uncleanness. The second symbolically bears the sins of the community away from the community.” (136)

Of course, Jesus in his healing ministry often started by telling those being healed that their sins had been forgiven. We read:

 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Rise, take up your bed and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the paralytic—I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” (Mark. 2:9-11 ESV)

The priority of healing is hinted at by the etymology of the word, salvation, which in the Greek is associated with medicine (152).

Kaleidoscopic View

The Kaleidoscopic view begins by asking why we assume that Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection should have only a single meaning. If his life touched on many social, political, and religious currents, then the meaning of his death must also have a more nuanced meaning (163). This is perhaps why the confessions of the church do not highlight only one meaning of the atonement.

Assessment

The authors of The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views parse four views of the atonement: the Christus Victor view, the Penal Substitution view, the Healing, and the Kaleidoscopic view. Each view is presented and contrasted with the other views. I learned a great deal from this discussion; perhaps, you will too.

References

Richard Niebuhr. 1937.The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayberry.

Dive Deep into the Atonement

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Sande Resolves Conflicts; Makes Peace

Sande_review_20200504Ken Sande. 2005. Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The word, peace, carries baggage for those of us who grew up during the Vietnam War. Those opposed to the war, called peaceniks, were known for folk music, long hair, promiscuity, smoking dope, holding demonstrations, and questioning the legitimacy of established authorities. Boomers basically bought the message and the postmodern era went prime time.  Before the war in Vietnam ended, however, college campuses became battlefields and many boomers burned their bridges with those who came before and everything that they stood for.  So when a favorite professor of mine assigned a book on peacemaking, I started having unpleasant flashbacks.

My Vietnam era flashbacks were unwarranted.

Introduction

Ken Sande’s Peacemaker:  A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflicts is not about politics or social justice or war.  It is about how we, as Christians, model Christ in our personal relations [1].

Sande (11) writes:  Peacemakers are people who breathe grace.  He outlines four broad principles of peacemaking:

  1. Glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31),
  2. Get the log out of your eye (Matthew 7:5),
  3. Gently restore (Galatians 6:1),
  4. Go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:24) (12-13).

These four principles structure Sande’s book.  Each part breaks into three chapters.  The main body of the text is sandwiched between a preface and a conclusion.  Following the conclusion are six appendices, notes, bibliography, and three sets of indices—subjects, persons, and scriptural references (7-8).

Responses to Conflict

Sande (22-23) sees three basic responses to conflict:  escape, attack and make peace.  We can escape through suicide, running away, or denial.  We can attack through through assault, litigation, or murder.  Neither response normally honors God.  We can make peace by overlooking the offense, reconciling, negotiating, mediating, arbitrating, or holding people accountable.  Sande (22) sees peace making as: an opportunity to solve common problems in a way that honors God and offers benefits to those involved.

Sande sees eye logs as a big problem.  He (78) observes that: people usually treat us as we treat them.  He (80) divides issues as either material (property, money, rights, or responsibilities) or personal (what goes on inside or between persons).  He (84-89) cites 5 attitudes recommended by the Apostle Paul:

  1. Rejoice in the Lord always,
  2. Let your gentleness be evident to all,
  3. Replace anxiety with prayer,
  4. See things as they really are, and
  5. Practice what you have learned.

Like Jesus, Sande sees conflict beginning in the heart (James 4.1).

Restoring brothers and sisters in Christ requires sensitivity.  The biblical principle in restoration is:  to keep the circle of people involved in a conflict as small as possible (186).  Sande (186-193) lays out the 5-step process in Matthew 18:15-17:

  1. Overlook minor offenses,
  2. Talk in private,
  3. Take one or two others along,
  4. Tell it to the church, and
  5. Treat him [her] as a nonbeliever.

Sande oulines an 8-step process for a church to become intentional about peace-making (198-199).

Peace not Optional

Sande makes the point that peace-making is less an option than a requirement for the Christian.  The reason is simple—out relationship with God is affected directly by our relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Sande starts by citing a story of Jesus:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV).

The allusion here is to Cain murdering his brother, Abel, in Genesis 4:1-16.  The point is that when we, as Christians, turn our backs on resolving interpersonal conflict, the culture develops a blind spot that opens the door to wider conflict.  Hence, Sande does have something to say about Vietnam, albeit indirectly.`

Assessment

Ken Sande’s Peacemaker addresses an important blind spot in the life of the church–applying biblical principles to conflict resolution.  Interpersonal conflict tears at the fabric of our society and secular efforts to deal with it are ad hoc and neglect the spiritual problem at the heart of it.  Peacemaker fills this need.  Still, Peacemaker is more of a manual to apply than a book to read.  Pastors may want to train leaders (www.peacemaker.net) before launching into a sermon series or small group study on conflict resolution.

Footnotes

1/ Sande states his purpose in writing as:  how God can help you as an individual Christian throw off worldly ideas about resolving conflict and become true peacemakers (15)

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

Stott_review_20200427John Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Introduction

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

Background

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Apologistics

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Children Expected to Grow

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

Assessment

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

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