Worden Explains Grief

Worden reviewWilliam Worden.[1]2009. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner.New York: Springer.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The problem of unresolved grief could reasonably be described as posing a silent healthcare crisis. When I worked as a chaplain intern at Providence Hospital about half of the patients that I visited had presenting diagnoses brought about or complicated by resolved grief. This outcome is no doubt related to the unwillingness of American culture generally to respect the grieving process and of many people to participate in organized religion where they might better share their grief with a support group. Unresolved grief may lead to anxiety and depression or simply be confused with both.

Introduction

In his book, Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, William Worden writes:

“In this book I am using the term ‘mourning’ to indicate the process that occurs after a loss, while ‘grief’ refers to the personal experience of the loss.”(37)

He further explains:

“I make a distinction between grief counseling and grief therapy. Counseling involves helping people facilitate uncomplicated, or normal, grief to a healthy adaptation to the tasks of mourning within a reasonable time frame. I reserve the term, grief therapy, for those specialized techniques, described in chapter 6, that are used to help people with abnormal or complicated grief reactions.”(83)

Worden spends the first half of the book explaining the process of mourning and dealing with uncomplicated grief. The second half of the book focuses on complicated grief and special situations that arise.

The Mourning Process

Worden (39-50) divides the process of mourning into four tasks:

  • Accepting the reality of the loss,
  • Working through the pain,
  • Adjusting to a world without the deceased, and
  • Finding connection with the deceased while moving on.

The first task is to get beyond denial—a funeral with an open casket helps mourners get over the denial. The second task has to deal with the pain that may be accompanied by anxiety, anger, guilt, depression, and loneliness. The third task is to account for all the activities that the deceased shared with you and to find alternative arrangements. The fourth task is the re-evaluate your relationship with the deceased while moving on.

Challenging Grief Situations

Getting stuck in any one of these four tasks may flag a case of complicated grief. Generally, complicated grief is a consequence of having a complicated relationship with the deceased. Complications might include unfinished business, broken relationships, co-dependencies, or psychiatric issues. Factors inducing guilt or shame normally complicates the mourning process.

Special circumstances arise when the grieving person is prevented from participating the normal mourning process, such as suicide, physical absence, death from AIDS, or death of someone involved in an affair. Sudden death or multiple deaths pose other special circumstances.

Background and Organization

William Worden has most recently been a professor of Psychology, Rosemead Graduate School of Professional Psychology, California. He has taught and practiced psychiatrics at a number of institutions. His doctorate and final post-doctoral work were at Boston University. He also has a seminary degree.

Worden writes in ten chapters:

  1. Attachment, Loss, and the Experience of Grief
  2. Understanding the Mourning Process
  3. The Mourning Process: Mediators of Mourning
  4. Grief Counseling: Facilitating Uncomplicated Grief
  5. Abnormal Grief Reactions: Complicated Mourning
  6. Grief Therapy: Resolving Complicated Mourning
  7. Grieving Special Types of Losses
  8. Grief and Family Systems
  9. The Counselor’s Own Grief
  10. Training for Grief Counseling(ix-xi)

These chapters are proceeded by a preface and introduction and followed by an appendix, bibliography, and index. In view of the media handling of mass shootings and other disasters in recent years, I wish that Worden had also written a chapter on secondary trauma, a kind of vicarious loss.

Assessment

William Worden’s Grief Counseling and Grief Therapyoffers a thorough understanding of mourning and complicated grief. Since 2011, Worden’s advice and counsel has informed my pastoral approach to grieving people and I frequently go back to refer to the chapters. Although Worden writes to professional counselors in an academic context, his writing is accessible and understandable.

Footnotes

[1]http://media1.biola.edu/talbot/faculty/cvs/william_worden_1.pdf.

Worden Explains Grief

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Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 2

Holt reviewBradley P. Holt.[1] 2017. Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Christianity is boring from an Eastern perspective because God created us and, in Jesus Christ, provided the means of our salvation—we must simply accept God’s gifts of creation and salvation. The role of pilgrimages to holy places; special clothing or food; knowledge of the divine; and the spiritual disciplines are presumably incidental for Christians. We must merely follow Christ’s example and live it out in our relationships with others. These other activities have entered some Christian traditions, but they often differ radically between groups.

 Introduction

In his book, Thirsty for God, Bradley Holt surveys a wide range of Christian traditions with:

“…a conviction that Christianity is not only Western religion, that the old books are still worth reading, and that Christians are often unaware of the great resources available to them from sisters and brothers of distant times or places.”(xi)

This survey is helpful in distinguishing among more familiar traditions and adding others that are less familiar from years past or from non-Western sources. In this respect, Holt reviews these categories from the ancient church to offer a template—themes—for distinguishing traditions:

“We see in the first six centuries the beginning and development of certain themes in Christian spirituality that are significant to the present day: worship and sacraments, charisms, witness unto death, spiritual disciplines, monasticism, and mysticism.”(59)

If we take the sacraments as an example, the Protestant churches have fewer sacraments than the Catholics and sacraments play a more important role in Catholic services and pastoral care than in the Protestant tradition. Thus, focusing on the sacramental theme, it is easier to distinguish Protestant and Catholic spirituality.

Celtic Spirituality

One aspect of my personal journey of faith in seminary and beyond has been to understand my own history and spirituality better as I learn about other practices. My mother’s family, for example, is Scotch-Irish and rather less than observant in their religious affiliations while my father’s family is uniformly Dutch with strong commitments to the reformed tradition.

When I write:

Myself, when I am anxious at the end of the day, I retire with a good book to my front porch to enjoy a cool breeze, listen to the birds, and watch the sun set through the trees. Here God’s presence comforts me.

such observations seem a bit out of place in the highly rational reformed tradition, but the Celtic tradition is long known for its special fondness for God’s creation. Holt wrote an entire chapter on “Christian Spiritualty and Ecology,”which aptly described a part of my own spiritual experience that remained implicit, not explicit, in my thinking and writing.

One of the many fun facts that Holt offered was that private confession, now practiced by the entire Roman Catholic church, started in the Celtic tradition (79).

The Jesus Prayer

I found Holt’s discussion of the Jesus Prayer most interesting. In English, the most common form of the Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”(97) This breath prayer closely resembles the prayer of the Publican in Luke 18:13: God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”(ESV) The Jesus Prayer is attributed to various monks going back to the fifth century, especially Evagrius, who would repeat the prayer constantly throughout the day (98) following Paul’s admonition to pray without ceasing (1 Thes 5:17).

While I have been aware of the Jesus Prayer for many years, its use only became significant to me when I worked in a psyche ward at Providence Hospital. Psyche patients often obsess about traumatic and perceived traumatic events in the past, a problem known as rumination. Because such patients have trouble distinguishing fact from illusion, such ruminations about the past amply their perceived trauma and divert them from thinking more productively about their own present or future. Sister Maureen advised me to instruct such patients to substitute the Jesus Prayer for this negative self-talk and thereby to break the rumination cycle, a kind of cognitive therapy for these patients. It works for the rest of us as well.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview while part two will provide more detailed examples.

Bradley P. Holt’s Thirsty for God provides a thorough overview of Christian spirituality with a rich, annotated biography of significant authors in the field. Western and non-Western authors are discussed. Among the Western authors, Holt is balanced in his treatment of Protestant and Catholic influences. Although he writes for an academic audience, his writing is accessible and informative.

Footnotes

[1]https://www.augsburg.edu/faculty/holtb.

Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 2

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Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 1

Holt reviewBradley P. Holt.[1]2017. Thirsty for God: A Brief History of Christian Spirituality. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I began writing about Christian spirituality in 2013, I was deeply frustrated with the church’s superficiality and lack of interest in theology. My seminary professors strived to teach me the pastoral arts and how to read and interpret the Bible, but as my relationship with God deepened, I wanted to know still more. Ultimately, my writing helped to address some of these concerns and to share what I learned with others. Still, my soul doth pine for more.

In his book, Thirsty for God, Bradley Holt shares similar concerns:

“…a conviction that Christianity is not only Western religion, that the old books are still worth reading, and that Christians are often unaware of the great resources available to them from sisters and brothers of distant times or places.”(xi)

The depth of Christian spirituality is often lost when pastors focus almost exclusively on the double love command (love God; love others; Matt 22:36-40) reaching out primarily to “seekers” rather than addressing the deeper spiritual yearnings of the majority of their congregation. Holt describes this yearning as: “the living water of God fresh and sparkling and pure”, a thirst (5)

What is Christian Spirituality?

The word, spirituality, often conjures up the image of an exotic Eastern sect where adherents dress funny, chant strange phrases, live in communes, and find religious excuses to use drugs. While it has been years since we last observed such people hanging around airports handing out pamphlets, this backdrop has spoiled many people’s images of spirituality.

Holt reminds us that the root of spirituality is the biblical word, spirit, that in Hebrew (ruach) and Greek (pneuma) means breath or wind (6). Holt sees three uses—capacity, style, and academic discipline—but goes on to cite the Zondervan Dictionary of Christian Spirituality definition: “Christian spirituality is the domain of lived Christian experience.” (6-7)

Perhaps more interesting, Holt see biblical spirituality comprised of four basic relationships: “relationships to God, to self, to others, and to creation.” (31) In my own writing I have followed Nouwen (1975, 20) in focusing on the first three so the fourth attracted my attention. The relationship with creation is, of course, highlighted in Celtic spirituality’s attention to nature and the life and witness of Saint Francis of Assisi who was known to preach to birds and animals. Creation has more recently come up again in discussions of environmental concerns.

Background and Organization

Bradley P. Holt is a professor emeritus at Augsburg University, where he also studied as an undergraduate. He is a graduate of Luther Theological Seminary and received his doctorate at Yale University. Holt writes in ten chapters:

1.    What is Christian Spirituality?

2.    The Bible and the Four Relationships

3.    The Beginning of a Global Community

4.    The European Era

5.    Protestant and Catholic Reform

6.    The Modern Era

7.    The West Since 1900

8.    The Non-Western World Since 1900

9.    Interfaith Spirituality for Christians

10. Christian Spirituality and Ecology (ix)

The chapters are proceeded by acknowledgments and an introduction and followed by an afterword, appendix, and several indices.

The Spiritual Side of Creation

Creation formed perhaps the most interesting aspect of Holt’s treatment of spirituality, who writes:

“God intends humans to care for the earth, not destroy it, and that an exclusive other worldly focus on salvation in Jesus can distract us Christians from our responsibilities to the creation.” (264)

Although I have devoted the past six years to writing about Christian spirituality, this point escaped me, but not because I was unaware of his point. For me, it was an idea that simply occupied another room in mind, not labeled spirituality.

One of my earliest and most enduring influences was Henry David Thoreau’s Waldenwho begins:

“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner to civilized life again.”(Thoreau 1960, 1)

He goes on to explain:

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce to its lowest terms…”(Thoreau 1960, 62-63)

The idea of a Spartan existence, which he immediately related to reformed spirituality paraphrasing the Westminster Shorter Catechism,[2] always had a special appeal to me. Exposed to the Genesis account of the Garden of Eden and to Thoreau, I have always implicitly associated creation with spirituality.[3]⁠ However, it took a recent reading of Holt (31) to remind me of my own spiritual roots in this regard.

Assessment

Part one of this review gives an overview while part two will provide more detailed examples.

Bradley P. Holt’s Thirsty for Godprovides a thorough overview of Christian spirituality with a rich, annotated biography of significant authors in the field. Western and non-Western authors are discussed. Among the Western authors, Holt is balanced in his treatment of Protestant and Catholic influences. Although he writes for an academic audience, his writing is accessible and informative.

References

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confessions. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1960. Walden and Civil Disobedience (Orig pub 1854). Edited by Sherman Paul. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Footnotes

[1]https://www.augsburg.edu/faculty/holtb.

[2]Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. (PCUSA). 1999, 7.001)

[3]I went on to earn a doctorate in agricultural economics, possessed as it were of a strong desire to deal with the world food problem following the 1970s concern for limited resources and limits to growth (MMRB 1975). This background does not make me an environmentalist, but it gave a deep appreciation for our role as stewards of creation.

Holt Chronicles Christian Spirituality, Part 1

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Bridges Practices Godliness

GodlinessJerry Bridges.[1]1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

If you are like me, I always confused the words holiness and godliness, thinking that they were synonyms. Apparently, we are not alone. Bridges explains: “This book is a sequel to an earlier book, The Pursuit of Holiness. In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul urges us to put off our old self and to put on the new self. The Pursuit of Holiness dealt largely with putting off the old self—dealing with sin in our lives. The Practice of Godliness focuses on putting on the new self—growing in Christian character.”(7)

This explanation made perfect sense to me because I read one right after the other.

 What is Godliness?

Bridges describes the Bible as “a book on godliness.” (11) He highlights these verses:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”(Gal 5:22-23 ESV)

Other such lists can be found in Colossians 3:12-16, Ephesians 4:2-3,32, James 3:17, and 2 Peter 1:5-7 (7). I have always associated these lists as practical translations of Exodus 34:6, where God describes his character:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”(Exod 34:6)

Being created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), our utmost desire is to emulate God in all we see him doing, which leads us to godliness because of his own self-disclosure of characteristics.

Rejoice Always

A key aspect of godliness in life and in ministry is the gift of joy. Bridges writes:

“But we are not to sit around waiting for our circumstances to make us joyful. We are commended to be joyful always. (1 Thes 5:16)”

Sometimes we need to give ourselves and others permission to be joyful.

Bridges sees four stumbling blocks to joy: (1) sin, (2) misplaced confidence, (3) God’s disciplining, and (4) trials and tribulations (109-112). He advises another four practices in practicing joy: (1) confess and forsake sin, (2) trust in God, (3) take the long view in life, and (4) give thanks in all circumstances (115-117). If we practice joy, he sees two benefits: (1) God is pleased and (2) we will be strengthened physically, emotionally, and spiritually (117-118).

This is interesting advice because I have prayed for strength daily for several years.

Background and Organization

Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016) studied at the University of Oklahoma, served in the U.S. Navy, and worked on the staff of The Navigators, an evangelistic Christian group headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[2] He authored numerous books on the Christian life. Bridges writes in eighteen chapters, each centered on a particular passage of scripture. These chapters are preceded by a foreword and preface, and followed by a postscript.

This is almost the exact same format as Bridge’s other book and, as such, NavPress later issued the two books together with a Bible study as a compendium (2001).

Assessment

Like his earlier book, Jerry Bridges’s book, The Practice of Godliness, is destined to be a Christian classic. The wisdom found in this book has informed my walk with the Lord for almost twenty years. It is easy to read and well worth the effort.

References

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress. (Review)

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Bridges. [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Navigators_(organization).

Bridges Practices Godliness

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Bridges Breathes Life into Holiness

HolinessJerry Bridges.[1]1996. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

As an author, I sometimes find reading good books difficult because I catch myself comparing my own writing to that of the author. Some authors recall details of every book they ever read; others write with such flair that every sentence reads like poetry; still others peer into the soul and catch points so profound that nothing appears unexplored. In a world of such genius, I think to myself, why do I even continue to write? The answer is that the call of the Christian writer is specific to our own talents and audiences, much like our call as Christians more generally is to glorify God with the gifts and calling that he has given us.

Introduction

In his book, The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges writes about a similar dilemma when it comes to holiness:

“We Christian greatly enjoy talking about the provision of God, how Christ defeated sin on the cross and gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to victory over sin. But we do not as readily talk about our own our own responsibility to walk in holiness.”(10)

Pursuing holiness is a lifelong task for which diligence and effort are required (Heb 12:14), much like the effort required to a develop a talent like writing. Bridges writes: “…the holiness of Jesus was more than simply the absence of actual sin. It was also a perfect conformity to the will of the father.”(43) He refers to holiness as the throwing off of sin, while the putting on of Christ he calls godliness.

Background and Organization

Jerry Bridges (1929 – 2016) studied at the University of Oklahoma, served in the U.S. Navy, and worked on the staff of The Navigators, an evangelistic Christian group headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[2] He authored numerous books on the Christian life.

Bridges writes in eighteen chapters, each centered on a particular passage of scripture. These chapters are preceded by a foreword and preface, and followed by a postscript.

Why Worry About Sin?

Bridges poses an important question:

“If holiness, then, is so basic to the Christian life, why do we not experience it more in daily living? Why do so many Christians feel constantly defeated in their struggle with sin?”(16)

He cites three reasons.

First, “our first problem is that our attitude toward sin is more self-centered than God-centered.”(16) Obedience, not victory, is God’s will (17).

Our second problem is that we have misunderstood ‘living by faith’ (Gal 2:20) to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part.”(17)  

“Our third problem is that we do not take some sin seriously.”(18)

All sin is rebellion against God’s will for lives, which is why it is somethings compared to yeast that acts like an infection that spreads fast with devastating consequences.

Bridges makes an important point: “God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.”(36) We need to cling to Christ’s mantle, like the woman who suffered from bleeding (Matt 9:20-22)

The Journey

This is a book that I read in 2002, almost a decade before I attended seminary. As I reviewed my notes for this review, I was struck by how many insights that I have found myself repeating since then. One that my wife and kids even remember is this: “How do we view those who do not show love for us? Do we see them as persons for whom Christ died for or as persons who make our lives difficult?”(46) I cited this idea in a sermon only two weeks ago (link), not remembering where I got it.

Assessment

Jerry Bridges’s book, The Pursuit of Holiness, is destined to be a Christian classic. The wisdom found in this book has informed my walk with the Lord for almost twenty years. It is easy to read and well worth the effort.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Navigators_(organization). [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Bridges.

Bridges Breathes Life into Holiness

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Buechner Paraphrases Jesus’ Life Deeply

Buechner reviewFrederick Buechner.[1] 2014. The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story.Brewster: Paraclete Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

At one point several years back, I received a mailing from an offset printer in Michigan, Thomson-Shore. Traditionally, publishers ordered a batch of several thousand books where type was set and each page printed a set number of times. Then, another page had the type set and was similarly printed. This is a cheapest way to print books when you know how many books are needed and you need thousands of books.[2]  In this mailing, Thomson-Shore included a sample of their work, a short book by Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus.

Introduction

Buechner invites us to reflect on the face of Jesus. He writes:

“See it for what it is and, to see it whole, see it too for what it is just possible that it will become: the face of Jesus as the face of our own secret and innermost destiny: The face of Jesus as our face.”(xv)

For those theologically inclined, Buechner is using the imago dei(the image of God) as a mirror into our souls. He does this by paraphrasing the life of Jesus as revealed in scripture and other writings.

Background and Organization

Frederick Buechner is a graduate of Princeton University, an ordained Presbyterian pastor, and a prolific author. He writes in six chapters:

  1. Annunciation (3-12 pp)
  2. Nativity (15-39)
  3. Ministry (43-81)
  4. Last Supper (85-108)
  5. Crucifixion (111-134)
  6. Resurrection (137-161; v-vi)

The longest chapter is on Jesus’ ministry. These chapters are preceded by an introduction. The book is 4 by 6 inches, double-spaced, and making liberal use of white space, which publishers will recognize as a format typical of poetry and devotionals because it is easy on the eyes.

Voice

Buechner’s voice is important in interpreting Jesus and the reading experience, something not typically commented on in reviews.

Consider the opening paragraph in the chapter on the annunciation:

“Before Abraham was, Jesus said, I am. [John 8:58] Who can say what he meant? Perhaps that just as his death was not the end of him, so his birth was not the beginning of him.”(3)

We do not expect this cite to begin a discussion of Mary’s encounter with an angel informing her of Jesus’ coming. Yet, Buechner speaks here with a deeply theological interpretation of divine sovereignty: as creator, God stand’s outside of created time and space speaking in a divine present encompassing our past, present, and future (4). This cite arises late in Jesus’ ministry and presents a divinity claim—I amis the name of God revealed to Moses in the burning bush—for which Jesus was almost stoned.

A more typical paraphrase of the life of Jesus might be found in the Apostle’s Creed:

“I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”

In the Creed, we are given basic facts of Jesus as revealed in scripture; in Buechner, we are introduced to deeper reading and interpretation of the scripture itself.

Assessment

Frederick Buechner’s The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story is simply written, but is far from simple minded. Paraphrasing the life of Jesus, Buechner reveals a complex Jesus not well understood by his peers and even less well understood by ours.

Footnotes

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Buechner. [2]Today, most books are printed individually in a machine resembling a huge photocopy machine, a process known as print on demand. Print on demand is more expensive, but allows books to be published in relatively small numbers. Offset printing normally presumes that you are willing to print large numbers of books and maintain an inventory.

Buechner Paraphrases Jesus’ Life Deeply

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Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

Tietjen reviewTietjen, Mark A. 2016. Kierkegaard: A Christian Missionary to Christians. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An important motive for devoting the last six years to writing about Christian spirituality has been the premise that many Christians have lost touch with their spiritual heritage. In more than one denomination, the basic teachings that launched the denomination are no longer given even cursory attention from the pulpit and synchronistic practices are widely believed to be Christian. Faced with a church that has lost its way and offers little help in dealing with life’s challenges, many young people who grew up in the church understandably see no reason to continue attending. In reading about the such issues, one name gets repeated a lot: Kierkegaard.

Introduction

In his book, Kierkegaard, Mark Tietjen writes:

“My goal is to convince Christians as I have been convinced that Soren Kierkegaard [1813-1855] is a voice that should be sought and heard for the edification of the church.”(25)

Merold Westphal, who wrote the foreword, describes Kierkegaard as a prophet who rails against cheap grace and encourages Christians to think of faith as harder to deal with than it is commonly sold in three ways: (1) it is a lifelong pursuit (2) focused on beliefs and actions (3) that takes sin seriously (12-14). A fourth ways arises in that pastors need both to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, where most focus exclusively on the former (17).

Cheap Grace

Railing against cheap grace is today more normally associated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who may have picked up the idea from Kierkegaard. Bonhoeffer (1995, 44-45) wrote:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate.”

The Apostle Paul put it this way: we were bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20).

If this critique of the church seems harsh, I remember attending an inquirers weekend at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2003. At a closing dinner, the dean asked each inquirer to talk about why they had come. All but about 2 of the sixty inquirers were fresh out of college and typically answered something like this: I enjoyed my youth group in high school and just want to continue that experience by working for the church.

Cheap grace? Yes, because many churches seek out such young candidates for ministry hoping to attract their kids back into the church. Ironically, the church requiring the most devotion from their members often have the highest retention rates among their kids.[1]

Background and Organization

Mark A. Tietjen received his doctorate from Baylor University and is a director at Stony Brook School in New York. He is the former secretary of the Soren Kierkegaard Society and has written another book: Kierkegaard, Communication, and Virtue: Authorship as Edification (2013). Tietjen writes in five chapters:

  1. Kierkegaard: Friend to Christians?
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. The Human Self
  4. Christian Witness
  5. The Life of Christian Love.

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and introduction and followed by conclusions, suggestions for the further reading, and indices.

Missionary to Christians?

In his conclusions Tietjen offers a number of reasons why Christians may need a missionary. The most controversial one might be that some Christians may “have inherited a perverted form of Christianity.”(161) He offers three views of such perverted forms:

  1. The liberal theology view. Traditional Christian views on sin and the divinity of Christ are unnecessary even though Jesus can help us live a more moral life.
  2. The Pelagian view. Grace is overstated and unnecessary because we can help contribute to our own salvation.
  3. The grace-abuse view. Because of God’s grace, we need not practice God’s law or pursue holiness. (56-57)

While one can argue the need for missionaries to the church, the modern and postmodern church appears to have inoculated many to traditional Christian faith. Tietjen refers to them as Christian admirers who fail to take the life of Christ as something to be imitated. Admirers look on the imitator as a: “religious fanatic, Jesus freak, fundamentalist, and so on.” (74) Thus, the Holy Spirit’s intervention, not better apologetics, seems to be required.

Assessment

Mark Tietjen’s book, Kierkegaard, provides a basic understanding of Kierkegaard’s writing and times. Tietjen is well versed in Kierkegaard’s work and offers many interesting anecdotes.

References

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich 1995.The Cost of Discipleship(Orig Pub 1937). Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth. New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book.

Footnotes

[1]A similar phenomenon has occasionally been observed by marketers when the highest priced good is perceived by consumers to be the highest quality—discounting in such cases may actually lower sales revenue. The classic example of this phenomenon is Lite Beer which has frequently sold at a premium to regular beer even though it is essentially made by adding water to that same beer. Part of the mystique is the higher price.

Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

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Top 10 Book Reviews Over the Past 12 Months

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Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

Marilynne Robinson. 2004. Gilead: A Novel. New York: Picador.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My clearest memory of November of 1974 when I returned to finish out the last two years of college at Iowa State University involved the need to learn the fine art of conversation. When offered a bar or cookie and a cup of coffee, one had to respond with a lengthy discourse on topics roughly summarized as small talk. This would not be gossip, nor items fit to appear in the Oskaloosa Herald, but mostly glimpses of life to acquaint those present with family matters missed due to the passage of time and travesty of distance. No one out East tutored me in coffee time etiquette 1.0 so for this class, required for graduation, I proved a slow learner.

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,takes the form of a lengthy letter from John Ames, a third-generation congregational pastor, to his son. Ames is dying of a heart condition at the age of sixty-seven while his son, the only child of a younger second wife, Lila, is still a preteen.

Gilead, Iowa

Gilead is an unincorporated town in southwest Iowa just south of Fontanelle along route 92 in Adair County. I last drove through this region in 1982 on a trip from Oskaloosa, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska while I was researching beef packing plants for my dissertation. This area left two distinct impressions on me. First, between Indianola and Omaha along route 92 one could find no McDonald’s restaurants, my measure of an area’s poverty. Second, along the way, I had to stop to round up some pigs that got loose from a local farm—I never did see the farmer—and had wandered into the road.

For purposes of the novel, Gilead’s location put it close to the Missouri state line where Ames’ grandfather had participated in partisan fighting leading up to the Civil War. West of Gilead is Nebraska, but west of Missouri is Kansas Ames’ grandfather later absconded and died. Ames’ father also left Gilead to retire in the South. The fact that John Ames faithfully remained in Gilead and retired as one of its pastors speaks to his grit and the strength of his faith.

Poverty

My father’s hometown of Oskaloosa, population 10,000, has not grown in a generation and occasionally appears on television as a location kids grow up and leave. Oskaloosa, with its McDonalds, high school, hospital, and indoor mall, is a big city compared to Gilead. Abject poverty is a theme in the book and Gilead remains a metaphor for poverty.

Robinson makes many references to this poverty. One that sticks in my mind is: “I am old enough to remember when we used to go out in the brush, a lot of us, and spread out in a circle, and then close in, scaring the rabbits along in front of us, till they were trapped there in the center and then we would kill them with sticks and clubs. That was during the Depression and people were hungry.”(198)

Robinson’s gift as a writer arises in her ability to paint one word picture after another.

John Ames Boughton

Another important theme in Robinson’s writing is the relationship between John Ames and his best friend’s son, John Ames Boughton. The best friend, a local Presbyterian pastor who grew up with John Ames, is normally just referred to a Boughton, but the son is also called Jack. As suggested by his name, John Ames Boughton has a father-son relationship with John Ames and is estranged from his biological father.

He plays out the rebellious pastor’s kid (PK) role virtually his whole life. For example, we read:

“His transgressions were sly and lonely, and this became truer as he grew up. I believe I said earlier that he did not teal in any convectional sense, but by that I meant he stole things of no value except to the people he stole them from. There was no sense in what he, unless his purpose was to cause a maximum of embarrassment and risk a minimum of retribution.”(182)

As a teen, this kid impregnated a local girl and later in life he took a black woman as his wife. Perhaps his worst sin was not being available when his mother and father died.

Ironically, this rebellious PK is so polite that strangers, including his future wife, assume he is a pastor. John Ames refers to him as a son and the boy refers to Ames as Papa. This odd relationship seems like a counterpoint to Ames himself, who never played out the PK role and remained a faithful pastor in the face of much adversity.

Assessment

Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Gilead,is an engaging read that won the Pulitzer Prize. I picked up the book as a summer read because I have spent a lot of time in Iowa and heard that Robinson taught at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop.[2]The conversational style of Robinson’s writing reminds me of that of my own grandparents and their siblings in Iowa. Some may not catch all her biblical and theological allusions, but for me they added a depth seldom seen in Christian literature.

Foonotes

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilead_(novel) [2]https://writersworkshop.uiowa.edu.

Robinson Captures Iowa Psyche

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Meredith: Robots Gone Wild

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy 

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Benchmarks in Public Sector ERM

Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton. 2019. Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management: Advancing Beyond the Basics.New York: Routledge.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra[1]

My interest in Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) dates back to late 1990s when I worked for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and reported on national bank risk taking. Frustrated with the focus on risk components and a slew of financial ratios, we started to examine indicators of “whole bank risk,”which we defined as the risk that a bank would fail. Later, I started using the term ERM (Hiemstra 2007). More recently government agencies have started employing ERM to assess threats to their missional objectives (e.g. Campbell 2006).

Introduction

In their 2019 book entitled, Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management, editors Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton define ERM as:

“the process of coordinated risk management that places a greater emphasis on cooperation among departments in order to understand and manage the organization’s full range of risks as a portfolio rather than trying to deal with individual concerns within organizational silos.”(4)

They see the audience for this book as “heads of risk functions, risk managers, and risk professional in the public sector”(5), which includes federal, state, and local governments. While public sector firms seldom fail the way that private sector firms do, their ability to succeed in pursuing their missional objectives is nevertheless of critical importance to their stakeholders.

Organization

This book is organized into four parts; an introduction, four case studies, three special topics, and a conclusion. The editors wrote the introduction together and each wrote their own chapter. The nine chapters are:

  1. Challenges in Implementing ERM in the Public Sector (Fletcher and Stanton)
  2. Change Management and Developing Organization Risk Culture: Transportation Security Administration Case Study (Fletcher)
  3. Using Data and Analysis to Add Value from ERM (Vetrano and Stayanovich)
  4. Laying the Groundwork for ERM: The Evolution of ERM at the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Phelan and Weber)
  5. ERM and Local Government: King County, Washington (Hills and Catanese)
  6. Enhancing Capabilities and Culture through Effective Coordination of Enterprise Risk Management and Internal Control (Vineyard and Kaizer)
  7. Working with the IG and GAO: Creating a Win-Win Relationship (Westbrooks)
  8. Cultivating and Measuring Risk Culture to Achieve Forward Momentum on ERM (Vitters, Oven and Gelles)
  9. Enterprise Risk Management: A Powerful Management Tool (Stanton) (vii-viii).

Having worked at six different federal agencies[2] during my career, I might have enjoyed case studies focused on other federal regulators and, from a strictly dollar perspective, at least one military agency.

Private and Public Sector ERM

ERM developed in the 1990s as an intensive management philosophy to aid in the development of interstate banks following the Riegle–Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994. Consolidation of regional banks into conglomerates with a national and international presence was a subject much debated in the Reagan Administration (e.g. Hiemstra 1990; Scott and Lodge 1985) because of fears that the U.S. could not compete with vertically integrated financial conglomerates in Germany and Japan.

Sophisticated financial modeling and ERM were believed to make these new U.S. financial conglomerates manageable and efficient. The chief risks identified as part of private sector ERM were credit, interest-rate, financial, and operations risk. Of these, operations risk proved to be the most enigmatic and theoretically difficult because markets typically would not price it into traded contracts and financial engineers did not know how to model it. A good actuary could estimate an expected value for operations risk, but few line officers would price their financial products in view of such estimates.

While this study does not try to estimate a value for operations risk, public sector ERM focuses almost exclusively on topics that fit into the category of operations risk, which makes it potentially interesting to ERM practitioners outside the public sector.

Culture Risk

One aspect of operations risk that challenges any assessment of ERM is evaluating the organization’s culture. In my own retrospective on the Great Recession, I wrote a series of articles entitled: “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” (e.g. Hiemstra 2009) The main culprit in private sector ERM might be characterized as taking ERM as a compliance activity—a kind of symbolic action—that did not fundamentally affect the risks taken or how they are mitigated. One flag of a compliance attitude might, for example, be finding template language in annual reporting of risk events. Far from being a theoretical nicety, culture risk can make or break a firm during financial crises.

Authors Cynthia Vitters, Carey Oven, and Michael Gelles write in their chapter, “Cultivating and Measuring Risk Culture to Achieve Forward Momentum on ERM” defining culture risk as: “…the misalignments that can occur between the values and beliefs and what is actually happening within and around the organization…” (113) They advocate “closing the gap how people actually behave and what’s acknowledged on paper.” (117) Measures cited include noting patterns of at-risk behavior, keeping track of significant incidents and response to them, and numbers of cases received (121).

Interestingly, in my own research of public regulation in the early 1990s I noted a correlation between stakeholder complaints and poor management in other dimensions—gaps in one dimension of performance that is measurable suggest gaps in other dimensions not so easily observed. Keeping good records of risk events—information security, brand and reputation, reporting and performance incentives, and compliance—is an important first step in developing effective cultural oversight (116).

Assessment

Kenneth C. Fletcher and Thomas H. Stanton’s Public Sector Enterprise Risk Management provides an overview of the theory and application of ERM in government agencies. The case studies given cover a variety of subject areas in federal service and local government. Risk managers both inside and outside government may want to be familiar with this work.

References

Campbell, Alexander. 2006. The Real Rocket Scientists [in NASA]. Risk. June. Pp. 50-51.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 1990. Prospective Rural Effects of Bank Deregulation. USDA, ERS, Rural Development Research Report No. 76. March.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2007.An Enterprise Risk Management View of Financial Supervision. Enterprise Risk Management Institute. International Institute of Enterprise Risk Management. October.

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2009. Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?Society of Actuaries. Pp. 51-54 of Risk Management. June.

Scott, Bruce R. and George C. Lodge [ed]. 1985. U.S. Competitiveness in the World Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Footnotes

[1] I received a review copy of this book directly from the publisher.

[2] Economic Research Service, USDA, Farm Credit Administration, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Benchmarks in Public Sector ERM

Also See:

Stanton: Creating Constructive Dialogue is the Key Management Skill 

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Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

James E. Beitler III.[1]2019. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. (goto Part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the most intimidating aspects of being a Christian for many people is talking about their faith and practicing evangelism. One of the joys of attending seminary came in learning the meaning of the many “churchy” words that I had heard all my life.[2] Learning new words helps express ideas that may previously have gone unexpressed. Rhetoric is even more helpful by making it possible to use words, even common words, more persuasively.

Seasoned Speech

In his book, Seasoned Speech, James Beitler organizes his presentation and case studies around the liturgical calendar and worship because he sees rhetoric necessary for the ordinary practice of Christian witness. He writes:

“My use of Paul’s metaphor of seasoned speech should not be taken to mean that I think rhetoric’s scope ought to be limited to matters of presentation … Practicing rhetoric is not simply about flavoring the truth with a dash of eloquence; it involves discovery, invention, analysis, interpretation, construction, recollection, arrangement, and presentation of information, knowledge, and wisdom.” (19)

Worship and the liturgical calendar assist in focusing on the seasons of witness which we find ourselves in. It is hard, for example, not to think of resurrection in the spring as trees gain their foliage and flowers are blooming.

In part one of this review, I give an overview of Beitler’s book. In part two, I look at each of the five leaders that he focuses on. The five leaders chosen are: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Desmond Tutu, and Marilynne Robinson.

C.S. Lewis

Although I have read a number of Lewis’ books, I never thought of him as focused on rhetoric even though he is widely thought of as deeply philosophical. Beitler’s observation therefore surprises me writing:

“I contend that a primary way that Lewis establish ethos is by demonstrating what Aristotle referred to as eunoia, goodwill towards one’s audience. Lewis’ rhetoric of goodwill—which involves addressing audiences on their own terms, adopting a forthright yet humble stance, and cultivating communities of goodwill, helps him achieve one of his chief aims as a writer: ‘preparing the way’ for the coming of the Lord into people’s lives.” (30-31)

Thus, Beitler sees Lewis embodying a spirit of advent. He does this by keeping ‘his own Christian persona off-stage”, by practicing “self-abnegation”, by peppering his comments about Christianity with “expressions of the delight”, and, in general, by adopting a humble spirit in writing (30-34). During advent, like Mary, we long for the coming Christ and, like John the Baptist, we engage in self-examination and repentance (49).

 Dorothy Sayers

Sayers is known as a Christian playwright with an interest in the energy of Christmas and a passion for teaching Christian dogma.

In response to the widely held view that the creeds are irrelevant, Sayers blamed the clergy who failed to share it with their congregations, explain it poorly, and neglect to translate them into the vernacular (60-61). In our day the idea that having a personal relationship with Jesus is a substitute for the creeds and biblical literacy seems ridiculous because it is hard to have a relationship with someone that you know little or nothing about. Sayers work to marry calling and creed through her dramatic presentations (64).

Beitler highlights Sayer’s focus on energy relating her work to that of Quintilian. She writes:

 “Enargeia involves depicting an event so vividly that the one who speaks and, thus, one’s audience feel as they would if they were really there, experiencing the moment. Such vivid depiction is clearly connected to the emotional appeals of pathos, but it also is related to ethos.” (66)

Quintilian wrote about the need for attorneys to seize the attention of the judge (67). In my own homiletics class, one of the most effective speakers was a prosecuting attorney. In the Christian narrative, no story grabs one’s attention quite like the birthing stories of the baby Jesus at Christmas.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In part one of this review, I shared Beitler’s assessment of the rhetorical conflict between Bonhoeffer and Adolf Hitler. Beitler’s writes:

“Finkenwalde [Bonhoeffer’s underground seminary] is a fitting ecclesiastical manifestation of the message of Epiphany: there the gospel was preached not with the backing of worldly power [in this case the Third Reich] but in the humiliation and hiddenness of the crucified Christ—‘A stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (I Cor 1:23)”. (97)

In this context, the incognito of Christ arises because in his humiliation, the godhead is veiled only to be revealed in the resurrection. This is not the absence of Christ’s revelation or the unwillingness to share the gospel, but the willingness to let people come to God on their own terms, not through a prostration to obvious power.

Desmond Tutu

Beitler sees Desmond Tutu’s prophetic witness during Apartheid in South Africa as a call for sinners to repent, the theme of Lent Preaching during Lent in 1988,

Tutu says:

“Your cause is unjust. You are defending what is fundamentally indefensible because it is evil. It is evil without question. It is immoral. It is immoral without question. It is unchristian.” (129).

The congregation got up and started dancing. They danced out of the cathedral past the police and military forces waiting to arrest them. Can you image such a sight?

Rhetorically, Tutu preached a radical form of interdependence captured in the African word, ubuntu. I am who I am and my identity is wrapped up in relationship with you, with the community, and with God (139; 205). Apartheid hurts me and by tolerating it you also are hurt and diminished.

Marilynne Robinson

Beitler describes Marilynne Robinson’s writing as inviting “readers to dwell with characters for whom the Christian faith matters deeply.” (162). Citing Jennifer Holberg who describes Robinson’s writing as a “resurrection of the ordinary”, Beitler sees Robinson exemplifying the Easter season (163) where particular times and particular places have special beauty and theological significance. He describes her work as a liturgy of praise for creation (175).

Assessment

James E. Beitler III’s Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church is an unusual book on rhetoric because it does not focus on how to write a persuasive speech. Rather he focuses on speech as a righteous, political act in the Christian tradition through five case studies of Christians in the twentieth century who redefined what it means to live in community as Christians. A Pentecostal awakening where diverse voices speak the gospel together (212).

What is perhaps surprising is that Beitler is a postmodern evangelical writing to an evangelical audience about social ministry, a topic frequently reserved for progressive authors. While this statement may set you to head scratching, you may want to put this book on your reading list.

[1]https://www.Wheaton.edu/academics/faculty/James-Beitler.

[2] If you don’t believe me, what does it mean to ‘raise my ebenezer?”Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Sam 7:12 ESV)

Beitler Takes Words Seriously, Part 2

Also See:

RPC Sharpens Shorts; Gets Buy

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