Bridge Explains Transitions

Bridge_review_20200708

William Bridge.  2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Early in my government career I noticed that new political appointees did not immediately affect the course of my work.  Rather, their views typically took a year or more to filter down through the bureaucracy into my job description.  During this period, objective research could be published without reference to the positions they expressed on Capitol Hill. After that, the freedom of response disappeared.

Introduction

William Bridges (www.WMBridges.com) would describe my observation on research in government service as a type of transition.  Bridges describes a transition as a 3-stage, psychological process in an organizational setting.  These stages are:

  1. Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had;
  2. Going through an in-between time when the old is gone, but the new isn’t fully operational; and
  3. Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning (3-5)

He calls the first stage an “ending”, the second “the neutral zone”, and the last a “new beginning” (5).  While Bridges focuses on organizational behavior, like my story about government research, the idea of a transition nicely describes individual experiences, like a hospital visit, going to college, and a host of other stressful experiences in life.

Bridge’s first stage—an ending—is unexpected.  We expect the first stage to be a discussion of how leadership lays out new objectives.  Bridge’s observes:  Before can begin something new, you have to end what used to be (23).   Endings involve losses which need to be recognized, assessed, and celebrated before we can move on (25-27).  All losses need to be grieved and grieving takes time (28).

At one point, I remember a manager informing me that a very successful project that I had been doing for about 7 years was over and I needed to start something new—it would have been easier to have been run over by a truck.  The sense of loss was real; the pain was immediate; the project had defined my identity for so long that I could not imagine not doing it.

Bridges suggests both making a list of losses and compensating the losers so that they have less incentive to sabotage the proposed change (30-31).  In one office where I worked, for example, displaced managers were given dream assignments in Europe as compensation for trading a staff for a desk.

Bridge’s second stage—the neutral zone—is both a stressful period and a time of innovation.  Supervisors become impatient; staff develops anxiety attacks; signals are mixed and confusing; new lines of communication open up (40-42).  At one point, my career was dead in the water as we entered a period of reorganization; after I volunteered to help out the reorganization team, things turned around.  Later, I was offered a better position in other unit and ended up with a promotion.

Bridges observed that it was during the 40 years in the desert that the Nation of Israel was born—it took Moses maybe 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but it took him 40 years to get Egypt out of the people (43).

The neutral zone is not a highly productive period, but it is a created time.  It is a time to build infrastructure—new roles, new policies and procedures, new teams (45-46).  After being admitted to college, you have to take an awful lot of classes before you complete your degree and graduate.  College classes are a great symbol of the neutral zone.

Bridge’s third stage—the new beginning—is also a new identity.  This is when the new organizational charts go up on the wall (57).  Bridges talks about the marathon effect where thousands of runners are involved.  Front runners take off like rabbits; middle runners run more slowly behind; and the weekend runners bring up the rear so far behind that they cannot even hear the starting gun (65).  The point is that not everyone in an organization transitions at the same speed.

Bridges offers 4 rules for transitioning:

  1. Offer a consistent message;
  2. Celebrate milestones marking small successes;
  3. Develop symbols of the new identity; and
  4. Take time to celebrate arriving at the new destination (69-72).

Following Skakespeare, Bridges describes organizational life in 7 stages:

  1. Dreaming the dream;
  2. Launching the venture;
  3. Getting organized;
  4. Making it;
  5. Institutionalizing;
  6. Ossifying; and
  7. Dying (77-82).

The hope, of course, is that leadership can anticipate these stages and reinvent the organization repeatedly to avoid the later stages.

Assessment

Bridge’s idea of a transition has been enormously helpful throughout my career both as an economist and a pastor.  Understanding where an organization is during a transition guides how to navigate in one’s career and how not to be sidelined.  The same can be side for individuals caught up in the important transitions of life—growing up, going to school, marriage, growing older, and so on.  Managing Transitions is a book to read and apply—over and over.

Bridge Explains Transitions

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Gabriel Models a Father’s Virtue

Gabriel_review_20200706

Stephen Gabriel.  2011.  Speaking to the Heart:  A Father’s Guide to Growth in Virtue.  Falls Church:  Moorings Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Virtue.  That to which we hold ourselves accountable to.  Or not.  If your forehead were a billboard, what objectives would be written there?  Stephen Gabriel’s book, Speaking to the Heart, is a book that I wish that I might have written at a younger age.

Speaking to the Heart is a book for fathers written by a father (11).  Gabriel’s focus on virtues arises from the desire to be an intentional father who can assist his children in navigating the turbulence of life (12).  For those of us uncomfortable with the subject of virtues, Gabriel advises—pay attention to your discomfort because it points in the direction of wisdom (14).

The book is organized around 20 virtues starting with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity).  These 20 chapters are introduced with an introduction and followed with a conclusion.  Each of the 20 chapters begins with a scripture passage and a famous quote.  The virtue is then defined in a single page.  This definition is then followed by a two page discussion entitled:  “Considerations for Growth in the Virtue of XXX”.

Chapter 7, for example, focuses on temperance.  The scripture passage is 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 which begins:  “All the fighters at the games go into strict training…”  He then cites Robert Burton:  “Temperance is a bridle of gold.”  Gabriel writes:  “Temperance is evidenced by a sense of moderation and restraint in the exercise of our appetites.”  First among the considerations for growth cited is:  “I reflect on how I seek my happiness and fulfillment”.  Another gem is:  “I am more attentive to the people I am with than to the food and drink.”

Gabriel’s Speaking to the Heart oozes authenticity.  What gives the book authenticity is not the author’s professional background, expertise in ethics, or ability to turn a phrase. Gabriel is not an obvious candidate to take up the pen here. Gabriel’s authenticity arises because he promises publically to model virtue as a father and outlines what that looks like.  In a postmodern world devoid of adults, that takes guts.  You want to be a good parent?  Model virtue.

Gabriel Models a Father’s Virtue

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

 

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Dyrness: Beauty and Structure

Dyrness_review_20200706William A. Dyrness.  2001. Visual Faith:  Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly is beauty?

Last fall my kids took me to a film.  In the film, one of Hollywood’s most beautiful actresses portrayed a low-class, manipulative, rather loose woman.  The film’s plot seemed shallow and pornographic, designed more to offend than to enlighten.  I left the theater upset and annoyed, not entirely understanding why.

Introduction

In his book, Visual Faith, William Dyrness writes:

Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character.  Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste (81).

As the old adage goes, beauty is more than skin deep.

Beauty More than Skin Deep

In clinical pastoral education we were taught to look for dissidence between words and the body language of patients that we visited.  This disharmony between words and body language is, of course, a measure of truth.  In like manner, the Bible paradigm of beauty is that the truth of an object matches its appearance.

Dyrness writes:  the biblical language for beauty reveals that beauty is connected both to God’s presence and activity and to the order that God has given to creation (80).  The human spirit, although undefinable, is obvious by its absence:  a beautiful, living human body emptied of its spirit is no more than a repulsive corpse.  Morality works much the same way:  Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion (Proverbs 11:22 ESV).

Art as Cultural Window

While Dyrness does not dwell on social criticism, he sees a lack of artistic imagination as an impediment to renewal of faith—especially in a society that is constantly stimulated by visual images (155-156).  He cites the Prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions (Joel 2:28 ESV).

As barriers between high class and popular art are lowered, we see the democratization (all flesh) of art that Joel prophesied.

Background

William A. Dyrness (www.fuller.edu/faculty/wdyrness) is a Professor of Theology and Culture at the School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  Visual Faith is written in 7 chapters:

  1. Development of the Visual Arts from the Early Church to the Middle Ages;
  2. Development of the Visual Arts from the Reformation to the Twenty-First Century;
  3. Art and the Biblical Drama;
  4. Reflecting Theologically on the Visual Arts;
  5. Contemporary Challenges for Christians and the Arts;
  6. A New Opportunity for Christian Involvement in the Arts; and
  7. Making and Looking at Art.

These chapters are preceded by a list of illustrations, a preface, and an introduction.  They are followed by a conclusion, notes, bibliography, and indices.

Need to Explore Christian Art

Dyrness describes his objectives as to—extend and enrich a Christian conversation on the visual arts—and he immediately relates this conversation to the dialog on worship (9).  Following Simone Weil, Dyrness observes that people are drawn to God through affliction, religious practices, and the experience of beauty.  He then goes on to argue that because modern life has banished these first two draws, the church is limited to the third draw—beauty—in attracting people to God (22).  Dyrness concludes arguing for renewal in three areas: a new vision for the arts, renewal in worship, and a restoration of the Christian art tradition (155).

Christian Art More than a Hobby

Dyrness speaks against the perception that interest in the arts is a Christian hobby practiced particularly by Catholics and mostly avoided by serious protestants.  He argues persuasively that both Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin saw God’s artwork in creation as infinitely more interesting than human artifacts (59).  In fact, Calvin’s outward focus in ministry—the whole of creation belongs to God, not just the sacred images of Jesus and the communion table in the church (the inward focus in the Middle Ages)—profoundly influenced art from the reformation period forward.

Assessment

Visual Faith is a fascinating book.  This review does not and cannot capture the subtly and freshness of Dyrness’ writing.  My own interest in the visual arts and Dyrness’ work arises out of my need to understand how to appreciate and incorporate visual art in online ministry.  In a visually sophisticated world, we need to understand images and how they shape our own thoughts.

What exactly is beauty?  Dyrness’ Visual Faith is a good place to start the conversation in searching for an answer.

Dyrness: Beauty is Structure and Character, not Surface and Finish

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

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Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin

Rosenau_review_20200703b

Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson. 2006. Soul Virgins: Redefining Single Sexuality. Atlanta: Sexual Wholeness Resources.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I feel out of place in church–a single friend at seminary shared with me about a year back [1].  Married couples, especially older people, are uncomfortable having me around because I am 20-something and not married.  It’s like I have some kind of disease.  If that were not bad enough, he continued, I am not sure how to relate with the single women that I meet.

Introduction

I remember experiencing those same feelings when I was single. So when my friend recommended Doug Rosenau and Michael Todd Wilson’s book: I was curious and looked up a copy.

Not surprisingly, the book starts by defining terms.  For example, a soul virgin is: one who continuously seeks to value, celebrate, and protect God’s design for sexuality—body, soul, and spirit—in oneself and others (7).  Clearly, the book assumes that you want to live within the will of God in singleness and that marriage is a goal.  Furthermore, the authors seek to:  help Christian single adults sort through and find better answers about their sexuality—to not just repress or tolerate their sexuality but to redefine and celebrate it (15).  In other words, because God created us as sexual beings, our sexuality has a purpose that extends beyond physically obvious reasons.

Organization

Soul Virgins is thorough book with lots of details about how to deal with sticky situations and topics that one probably has not discussed with one’s parents.  The book divides into 3 parts:

  1. Intimacy with God (6 chapters),
  2. Intimacy with God’s people (5 chapters), and
  3. Intimacy with God’s possible soul mate (4 chapters).

These 3 parts are further divided into 15 chapters.  Before these parts are definitions, acknowledgments, and an introduction.  After these parts are an appendix, notes, and brief statements of where to go for more information.

Word Pictures

The word-pictures provided are worth the ticket of admission.

For example, the authors picture balanced intimacy and sexual wholeness as a wheel with 5 spokes representing the 5 aspects of our intimacy:

  1. Spiritual intimacy
  2. Emotional intimacy
  3. Mental intimacy
  4. Social intimacy and
  5. Physical intimacy (188).

Healthy relationships have boundaries on each aspect of intimacy that, if offended, result in future problems.  For example, I can remember in high school sharing my dreams about having a family someday with a friend on a date—this would be an example of mental intimacy (190-191).  What would have happened if stead of sharing our dreams we had escalated right into physical intimacy and eventually married but disagreed on the question of having a family?  Clearly, the authors’ thoroughness in going through 5 spokes is very helpful in facilitating productive dialog.

Relationship Continuum Bridge

The authors describe another helpful picture as the relationship continuum bridge.  This bridge breaks relationships into three stages:

  1. connecting (friendship and early considering),
  2. coupling (late considering, confirming, and committing), and
  3. covenanting (marriage).

These stages can be pictured as a suspension bridge with two spans (8, 32).  The authors reserve true sex (anything involving body parts hidden by a bikini) for marriage.  Intimacy during the other two stages (connecting and coupling) necessarily involves establishing and respecting boundaries for the 5 spokes of intimacy.  For example, the authors cite a case of a client who wanted to bring his girl-friend to a counseling session after they went out for only 3 weeks—an event too intimate for their relationship at this point (social intimacy spoke).  This invitation was compared to inviting his friend to meet his parents after going out only three weeks (191).

The Authors

The authors know their subject matter.  Doug Rosenau (www.SexualWholenss.com) is a licensed psychologist and Christian sex therapist.  Michael Todd Wilson (www.MichaelToddWilson.com) is a licensed professional counselor and life coach who had never married at the time this book was written.  Both hail from Suwanee, GA.  The primary authors are assisted with particular chapters by Vickie George (marriage and sex counselor) and three never-married singles:  Erica Tan, Anna Maya, and David Hall.

Assessment

Soul Virgins is a helpful book.  I wish that this book had been available when I was single and when I led high school/college groups in graduate school.  Rosenau and Wilson not only discuss the touchy subjects that young people want to know about, they review the Biblical basis for their views. Soul Virgins focuses on providing guidance on relationships.  Singles, parents, and leaders can all benefit from this book.  I know that I did.

Footnotes

[1] I am paraphrasing his comments.

Single but not Alone: Soul Virgin

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

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Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer

Henry and Richard Blackaby.  2002. Hearing God’s Voice. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Does God answer prayer?

In October 2014, I was invited to offer comments on my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, at the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia on the day of Eid. This invitation made me very nervous–what would I say about my faith to a group of Muslims? Consequently, during the three days before Eid, I began a period of prayer and fasting and asked God what I should say. God responded to my prayer, but he said nothing about my invitation. Instead and much better, God gave me the inspiration to write a new book, Life in Tension, which I hope to publish later this summer.

In their book, Hearing God’s Voice, Henry and Richard Blackaby of Blackaby Ministries International[1] write:

“We contend that God does speak to his people. However, people must be prepared to hear what his is saying…The question, then, is not whether God speaks to his people, but how he does so…When God speaks, he does not give new revelation about himself that contradicts what he has already revealed in Scripture. Rather, God speaks to give application of his Word to the specific circumstances in your life.” (17-18)

To make this point about “specific circumstances”, the Blackabys inventory the ways that God spoke to his people in the Old and New Testaments. In just the Old Testament: “creation, angels, prophets, dreams, visions, casting lots, Urim and Thummim, gentle voice, fire, burning bush, preaching, judgments, symbolic actions, signs, miracles, writing on the wall, a talking donkey, trumpets, thunder and lightning, smoke and storms, fleece, the sound of marching on treetops, face-to-face, personal guidance, and various unspecified ways” (31-32). Obviously, God does not always wait for us to seek him out—it is hard to ignore those talking donkeys, especially the ones we see in the mirror!

The Blackabys note, however, an important problem:

“Our problem so often is not that we don’t know what God is saying to us. The problem is that we do know, but we don’t always want to hear what he is telling us.” (44)

For example, we do not need to ask if God wants us to display the fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).

The Blackabys give countless examples of God intervening in response to prayer. Perhaps none is as dramatic as that of George Muller who lived in nineteenth century Britain and who worked to support homeless children. They note three points about Mueller’s experience of God:

  1. Mueller sensed a personal burden for a need,
  2. He sought advice from a Christian friend, and
  3. God spoke to him through scripture (105).[2]

The Blackabys observe that: “The best way to hear God speak to you is to spend regular time reading, studying, and meditating on his Word.” (110) They see God’s answers to prayer as: yes, no, not yet, and silence—prospective evidence of sin (122-129). What is perhaps more interesting is the idea that God invites us to into prayer—a positive answer to prayer is never more certain than when God invites us to do something or ask for something (136).[3]

The Blackabys write in 12 chapters:

  1. The Question: Does God Speak to People Today?
  2. For the Record: God Speaks
  3. God Speaks: His Way
  4. The Holy Spirit: God’s Presence in Our Lives
  5. The Bible: God’s Word
  6. Prayer: What it is and What it Isn’t
  7. Circumstances: A Time for God to Speak
  8. God Speaks to People through People
  9. Lies and Half-Truths
  10. A Historical View
  11. Learning to Respond to God’s Voice
  12. Questions Often Asked

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes, a scriptural index, and an introduction to the authors.

Henry and Richard Blackaby’s Hearing God’s Voice changed my attitude about prayer and reading this book marked an important milestone in my preparation for later entry into seminary. I commend it to you.

Reference

Carothers, Merlin. 1970. Prison to Praise. Escondido, California.

Müller, George. 2000. Release the Power of Prayer. New Kensington: Whitaker House.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.Blackaby.net.

[2] Mueller (2000, 91-93) offers 5 conditions for prevailing prayer:  1. “entire dependence upon the merits and mediation of the Lord Jesus”, 2. “separation from all known sin”, 3. “exercise faith in God’s word of promise”, 4. “ask in accordance with His will”, and 5. “preserver in prayer”.

[3] If God already knows what is in our hearts, we need only praise him!  (Carothers) Also: consider the example of Abimelech: “Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” (Gen 20:7 ESV)

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

 

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Sabbath Rest as Cultural Firewall by Brueggemann

Brueggemann_review_20200702

Walter Brueggemann.  2014.  Sabbath as Resistance:  Saying NO to the Culture of Now.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the characteristics of the period since the demise of the Bretton Woods System in 1971 and reduction in barriers to international trade has been the increasing importance of the law of one price.  From economic trade theory, the law of one prices says that only one price for a commodity can exist in an open market economy, adjusting for shipping, storage, and policy interventions.

The law of one price hypothesizes that the price of a Big Mac should be the same worldwide.  The same is true for wages and salaries.  Because everyone competes with everyone else, no one relaxes (enjoys healthcare, summer vacations, a clean environment, a spouse at home with the kids, and so on) without losing competitive advantage.  The market is the formidable taskmaster.

Introduction

In his discussion of Sabbath rest in the Pentateuch, Walter Brueggemann offers a fairly sophisticated understanding of Moses’ response to the market’s devaluation of human life.  Under penalty of death (Numbers 15:32-35), nobody, no way, works on the Sabbath provided a cultural alternative (xiv) to Pharaoh’s relentless pursuit of wealth.   Bruggemann writes:  YHWH governs as an alternative to Pharoah, there the restfulness of YHWH effectively counters the restless anxiety of Pharaoh (xiii).  Sabbath rest appears in the creation accounts because God balances work and rest.  The Egyptian gods, by contrast, never rested (5).

Pharaoh Versus Moses

Today we would call Moses’ Sabbath rest prescription a government-sanctioned monopoly.  Brueggemann (3) observes that:  the God of Sinai…is never simply a “religious figure” but is always preoccupied with…socioeconomic practice and policy.  Because no one works on the Sabbath, no one can chisel—cheat and make more money by quietly disobeying the law.  Sabbath rest defines the ultimate human right—the right to live a humane life.  Because exhausted people only think about themselves—they neither love God nor their neighbor (contra Matthew 22:36-40), Sabbath rest is a cultural firewall against market intrusion into family, community, and religious life.  For this reason, Sabbath rest is the only creation mandate also found among the Ten Commandments and, as the fourth commandment, it is also the longest (27).  This means that the Bible treats it as an emphatic commandment!

In contrasting the YHWH economy with Pharaoh’s economy, Brueggemann provides an interesting insight into the Ten Commandments.  Those who keep the Sabbath need not:

  • Dishonor mother and father,
  • Kill,
  • Commit adultery,
  • Steal,
  • Bear false witness, or
  • Covet (31).

In other words, do detestable things for the sake of money.  The unending race to pursue wealth (or defend one’s lifestyle) normally pushes us individually and collectively to neglect or break these commandments—the law of one price has led us to chisel on each one of these commandments in recent years.

Organization

Brueggemann’s short book (89 pages) breaks into six chapters, including:

  1. Sabbath and the First Commandment;
  2. Resistance to Anxiety (Exodus 20:12-17);
  3. Resistance to Coercion (Deuteronomy 5:12-14);
  4. Resistance to Exclusivism (Isaiah 56:3-8);
  5. Resistance to Multitasking (Amos 8:4-8); and
  6. Sabbath and the Tenth Commandment (vii).

These chapters are preceded by a detailed preface which serves as a helpful introduction.

Assessment

While some might chide Brueggemann for offering a political analysis of the Pentateuch, it is more correct to say that wherever two or more are gathered together politics will be present!  By contrast, if the Pentateuch is spiritualized, it can easily be recast to suit one’s own prejudices.  For example, Brueggemann notes that the Pentateuch attends vigorously to the triad of vulnerability—widows, orphans, and immigrants (44).  How do we treat them today?  Today we might refer to them with labels—welfare queens, the unwanted unborn, and the undocumented—inviting scorn rather than assistance.  Judged by the Law of Moses, we fail.  Grace always allows us to be forgiven, but the Gospel in Jesus Christ fulfills the law—it does not repeal it!

Brueggemann’s book is probably the most important book on Sabbath rest since Abraham Heschel’s The Sabbath (New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005).  I hope that Christians will read and act on it.

Sabbath Rest as Cultural Firewall by Brueggemann

Also see:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Norm2020

 

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Keller Explains Galatians

Keller_review_20200629

Timothy Keller. 2013. Galatians for You. USA: The Goodbook Company.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Commentaries are books about books and they come in handy when we read a culturally distant book like the Bible.  Biblical culture has at least three attributes that line up poorly with American culture.  The Bible is highly relational, reflective, and laconic (carefully chosen words) while American culture is transactional, superficial, and wordy—we are inundated daily with verbal and visual messages.  Consequently, one of the most difficult challenges in leading an adult Bible study today is finding a commentary that is both accessible and informative.  Timothy Keller’s, Galatians for You, meets both criteria.

Background

Keller is the founding pastor (church planter) of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (www.redeemer.com) in New York City which is famous for successfully evangelizing young professionals. He received his masters of divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (GCTS) and doctorate from Westminster Theological Seminary.  He has written a number of books, including: The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) and The Meaning of Marriage (with Kathy Keller; New York: Dutton, 2011).  When GCTS set out a box full of Galatians for You in the library at for free distribution last spring, I snapped up a copy.

Series Description

Galatians for You is the first in a series of “for You” study guides. Why start a series with the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Galatians?  In an online video introduction (http://bit.ly/19XgT4B), Keller gives three reasons:  1. it provides a good summary of the Gospel, 2. it explains the uniqueness of salvation by grace and how it differs from the law, and 3. it helps explain how the Gospel transforms us through grace and fosters the fruits of the spirit.

Organization

Galatians for You is organized in 13 chapters.  In the book, 2 to 3 chapters are devoted to each of the 6 chapters in Galatians. These chapters each divide into two parts focusing on:  1. explaining the Biblical text and 2. applying the issues raised.  Both parts have study questions. A brief introduction precedes and a glossary, appendix, and bibliography follow these chapters.  The introduction summaries the theological issues presented in the letter and provides historical context.  The glossary defines technical terms appearing the text.  The appendix provides a brief explanation of the new perspective on Paul raging in theological circles.

Keller’s art begins with simple communication.  In his introduction, for example, he uses simple words to describe:  the gospel [as] the A to Z of the Christian life (9).  And his personal touch stands out as he identifies with Paul as a fellow: church-planting missionary (10).   Keller writes using lists and bullet points and shares both both information and emotion.  For example, his historical review consists of just three bullet points and his introduction observes Paul is both surprised and angry (13).  These characteristics identify him as a post modern writer and make his writing read like a blog.

Writer’s Craft

Keller’s craft runs through the entire commentary.  For example, salvation by grace differs from (presumed) salvation by law because grace depends on a promise while law depends on performance (78).  He writes:  For a promise to bring a result, it needs only to be believed, but for a law to bring a result, it has to be obeyed (11).  He classifies Christians (Paul’s audience) falling into four categories depending on whether they obey the law and/or rely on the law (versus grace) for their salvation.  These categories emerge: 1. law-obeying, law-relying (modern Pharisees), 2. Law-disobeying (libertines), law-relying (cultural Christians), 3. Law-disobeying, not law-relying (secular or relativistic), and 4. Law-obeying, not law-relying.  Keller observes that most Christians struggle to live out group 4 (obey the law out of gratitude), but often slip into one of the other three categories (117-118).  Keller’s willingness to struggle with these issues gives his writing depth. En un español se diría que es profundo.

Assessment

Keller’s Galatians for You is a joy to read.  Many commentaries and study guides written for a lay audience fail to engage the text and completely ignore the struggles that a post-modern audience faces.  Keller is strong on both points.  I look forward to teaching this text.

Keller Explains Galatians

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Barnes Reclaims Heidelberg

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M. Craig Barnes. 2012. Body & Soul: Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism. Co-published: Grand Rapids: Faith Alive and Louisville: Congregational Ministries Publishing.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

November 15, 2013 was the 450th anniversary of the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC).  The HC famously begins with this question:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?  The answer is:  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ (165).  The HC consists of a 129 questions with answers structured in much the same manner.

The HC is straightforward, yet a bit intimating.  Many protestant communicants continue to study it, yet the prospect of being tested on its contents is intimating—and not only for teens.  The appeal of a short book which talks about the theology and origins of the HC is obvious.

Author Craig Barnes (biography at: http://bit.ly/1bUJLgy) is an intriguing candidate to write an introduction to the HC.  Dr. Barnes has a doctor of philosophy in church history and began 2013 as the new president of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He was previously on the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of a church.  Perhaps most interesting is that he also serves as a professor of pastoral ministry.  Being a professor of pastoral ministry implies that his primary job is to teach aspiring pastors the art of pastoring.   It is interesting that this pastor to pastors has placed a high priority on communicating the details of the HC—I like his priorities.

Body and Soul is organized in six chapters around the structure of the HC itself.  Before the HC discussion is an introduction.  After the discussion is a reproduction of the HC itself and a brief set of notes on the history.  The HC reproduced is the new 1988 translation from the German and Latin complete with the scriptural references that were previously not readily available.  This translation represents collaboration between the Christian Reformed Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America (163).

Chapter 1 is entitled:  The Only Comfort—question 1 (abstracted above).  The chapter starts with three vignettes of people lost in pain—a pastor coming home from a funeral; a firefighter having trouble making ends meet; and a new widower visiting his wife’s grave.  The chapter then proceeds through a number of contemporary problems.  The headings are descriptive:  contemporary anxiety; is religion the answer; an inheritance of faith; help from the sixteenth century; a holy conversation; my only comfort; I belong; to my faithful savior.  Barnes makes a compelling case that the HC is 450 years old but still very applicable to the problems we face today.

Body and Soul is a neat little book. Barnes is an artful story teller who is able to bring amazing historical and theological insights into his presentation of the HC. Barnes’ stories make his written accessible to a wide audience, much like the Q&A format of the HC itself.

Barnes Reclaims Heidelberg

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Reynolds: Man up; Get Healthy

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Steve Reynolds and MG Ellis.  2012.  Get Off the Couch:  6 Motivators to Help You Lose Weight and Start Living.  Ventura:  Regal.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Death is personal. At one point as a chaplain intern I ministered to a 400-pound man in the emergency room.  His arms were covered with Band-Aids. The best nurses in the department took turns trying to insert a catheter, but could not find a vein—he was just too fat.  Obesity kills, but before it does, it robs one of all dignity.  There are old people and there are fat people, but there are no old, fat people (71).

Pastor Steve Reynolds is an interesting guy [1].  At one point in his 40s he weighed 340 pounds and was diagnosed with diabetes (15).  It scared him into action.  As a pastor, he turned to his bible for answers and looked up passages dealing with the body.  For example, the Apostle Paul writes:

do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20; 40)

Likewise, the Apostle John writes:

Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul. (3 John 1:2; 39)

Pastor Steve also noted that the very first sin in the bible had to do with Satan tempting Eve with food (Gen 3:1-6).  If our forbearers were first tempted with food and over-eating pollutes the body—trashing the temple of God—raising the prospects for an early death, then is it any wonder that Saint Thomas Aquinas referred to gluttony as a mortal sin? [2]

Pastor Steve ended up losing more than 100 pounds.

People noticed.  His congregation asked him to preach on his biblical approach to weight-loss.  A woman in his congregation wrote an article for the Washington Post [3]  and he became an instant media celebrity as the anti-fat pastor (@AntiFatPastor).  Books followed.

Pastor Steve’s most recent book, Get Off the Couch:  6 Motivators to Help You Lose Weight and Start Living, focuses on men.  Because men generally do not read (especially not self-help books), this is curiously what you call a pass-through book—a book purchased by one person for another.  In other words, wives seriously concerned about their couch-potato husbands are an important target audience because, like football, healthy living is a team effort.

Unlike most book focused on weight-loss, Get Off the Couch provides a strategy for achieving the goal that goes beyond changes in diet.  Pastor Steve focuses on an acronym:  ACTION.  “A” is for Aware; “C” is for Commit; “T” is for Transform; “I” is for Incorporate; “O” is for Organize; and “N” is for Navigate.  ACTION is not only a strategy; the 12-chapters of the book are organized around ACTION as well:

Aware (1. Get in the Game; 2.Your Body Matters to God;)

Commit (3. You Gotta Play by the Playbook; 4.  Winning Over Temptation; )

Transform (5. Get Your Head in the Game; 6. Progress, Not Perfection;)

Incorporate (7. Get Buff, not Buffeted; 8. No Pain, No Gain!)

Organize (9. Stronger Together; 10. Drafting Your Team;) and

Navigate (11. Make Your Dash Count; 12. Your Game Plan for Health).

These 12 chapters are preceded by multiple forwards and followed by multiple appendices.  Pastor Steve is as serious about your succeeding in improving your health in a Godly manner as he is about football.

Get Off the Couch is full of testimonials of men who have succeeded in turning their lives around and living healthy.  The book has numerous before and after photographs of these men.  Two-thirds of us, Americans, need to lose weight (26).  We are addicted to inactivity and food.  We need to exercise more and eat less (49). Pastor Steve provides a great playbook for getting started.

Footnotes

[1] www.capitalbaptist.org/pastorsteve.html.

[2] Thomas Aquina’s 7 deadly sin are often described using their Latin names. Those are superbia (pride), invidia (envy), ira (anger), gula (gluttony), luxuria (lust), avarita (greed), and accidia (sloth).  Henry Henry. 2006. The Seven Deadly Sins Today (Orig Pub 1978). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. page iv.

[3] Jacqueline L. Salmon. “Calling the Flock to God, Away From the Fridge” Washington Post, January 22, 2007 (http://wapo.st/SkJ4V9).

Reynolds: Man up; Get Healthy

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Penn Reveals Audio Secrets

Penn_review_20200518

Joanna Penn. 2020. Audio for Authors: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies. Bath, UK: Curl Up Press.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2018 I listened to several podcasts by Joanna Penn, purchased a MacBook Pro and Yeti microphone, and began recording a weekly podcast. It was very basic. I simply created am MP3 file on my Mac with Garageband and uploaded the file to my blog. In early 2020, I ran out of space on the blog host and started using PodBean to host my podcast. My blog traffic has basically doubled each year since being my podcast. When I learned that Joanna published a book, Audio for Authors, I was all ears.

Introduction

Joanna Penn’s book, Audio for Authors, begins with a call to action:

“This book is intended to push you out of your comfort zone, because the world is changing, and there are more ways to reach readers through audio than ever before. The time is now for embracing audio, so I hope you will in me on the journey.” (6)

While I am more of a monk than an audiophile, audio is a way to reach more readers, especially young readers, which has to be attractive to any author. As a Christian author, however, I am leery of both audio and video both because of their addictive qualities and because unstructured time to reflect is fundamental to the Christian faith. The Koran makes this point mostly clearly when it describes Christians as the people of the book. Still, audio is a tool that can have both holy and profane uses.

Background

For those of you that do not know Joanna, she is a former technology expert who decided to change careers to become author, writing both fiction and nonfiction. She has more than a decade of podcasting experience and has written more books than you can shake a stick at. What makes her interesting to self-publishers is that she is one of the rare few who has a way to make money doing these things. Check out her website (www.TheCreativePenn.com) for more details.’

Organization

Penn divides this how-to book into three parts: Audiobooks, Podcasting, and Voice Technologies. If you want details and recommendations, she’s got details and recommendations. I was pleasantly surprised that she also uses a MacBook and a Yeti microphone, but I wondered why she skipped over mention of Garageband, because it is built into the Mac.

Assessment

Joanna Penn’s Audio for Authors is a timely resource for writers thinking about starting a podcast or recording an audio book, but do not know where to begin.

Footnotes

[1] https://CurlUpPress.com.

Penn Reveals Audio Secrets

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