Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

Akinyemi: Realize God’s Will Through Prayer

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Besetting Weights and Sins

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

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

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

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

Mount Pisgah

When Moses complained about this punishment to God, God said:

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

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

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

Assessment

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

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

 

Also see:

Prayer for Healing, Comfort, and Deliverance 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

Augustine's ConfessionsAugustine’s Confessions, Part 4—Creation Theology

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

Why a four-part review?

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

Books X to XIII

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

Augustine and His Present State

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

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

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

Augustine and Creation

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

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

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

Allegorical Interpretation

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

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

Creation

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

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

Reformation Interpretation

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

Assessment

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

References

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

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

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

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 3—Coming to Faith

Augustine's ConfessionsAugustine’s Confessions, Part 3—Coming to Faith

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

Overview

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

Conviction of Sin

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

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

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

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

Confession

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer

He later prays:

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

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

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 2—Sin

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

Memoir and Augustine’s Focus on God

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

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

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

Augustine’s Style

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

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

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

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

Early Sin and Intercessory Prayer

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

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

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

Augustine’s Youth

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

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

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

Immorality

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

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

Stolen Peers

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

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

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

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

Assessment

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

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Augustine’s Confessions, Part 1—Overview

Augustine's Confessions

Augustine’s Confessions, Part 1—Overview

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the late seventies as I worked on a master’s degree in agricultural economics, my best friend, who had just entered seminary, encouraged me to undertake study of classics in the faith and early on I read Augustine’s (1978) Confessions. The Confessions proved to be a challenging read both because of my lack of seminary training and because of the old English translation. When I undertook this year to write my own memoir, my friend encouraged me to return to the Confessions both because the Confessions provided a template for all memoirs to follow and because this time I also had seminary training.

Introduction

Convinced of the wisdom to return to the Confessions, I sought a more modern translation that would be easier to read and, to my delight, found a translation by E.J. Sheed with an introduction by Augustinian biographer, Peter Brown. Brown (2000) is revered as one of the leading Augustinian biographers of our time and I had used his biography during my days in seminary.

I break this review up into four parts. First, I give an overview of the Confessions and why we are interested. Second, I review the life of Augustine and sin, as he describes it. Third, I will focus on Augustine’s coming to faith. Lastly, I will review his theological writings, which focus on the creation accounts in Genesis.

Background on Augustine

For those unfamiliar with church history, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD)[1], which was in modern-day Algeria, lived right after the time of Emperor Constantine the Great (272-337 AD)[2] who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine who had such contemporaries as Jerome, who translated the Bible in Latin. The fourth century posed a heady time for the Christian church and Augustine’s theology influenced much of what followed. For example, Martin Luther (1483-1546), a leader in the reformation more than a thousand years later, was an Augustinian monk (Bainton 1995, 25).

Of contemporary significance is the point that Augustine hailed from Africa where some of the best theology and early Bible manuscripts were copied.[3] African scholarship dominated the early church and this dominance continued until the Islamic invasion in the sixth century, following the life and work of Mohammad (570-632 AD).[4] The statement that Christianity is a “white man’s religion” (widely touted in developing countries) is not historically accurate and denigrates the significant contribution of African scholarship to the early church.

What Are the Confessions?

Augustine came to Christ as an adult. In his introduction, Peter Brown writes:

“On Easter day, April 24th, 387, he [Augustine] had ‘put on Christ’ by receiving baptism at the hands of Ambrose.” (xv)

Shortly before the death of his mother, Monica, who was a devout Catholic, later that year. Augustine supported himself teaching rhetoric, was heavily influenced by the writings of Plato, and wrote the Confessions to be read aloud. Each of the thirteen books could be read in about an hour’s time (xvi-xviii). Brown writes:

“For, as Catholic bishop, Augustine did not simply know ‘about’ the Bible, or preach ‘on’ the Bible. He prayed out of it every day, using especially the book of Psalms, which he believed to be the direct, personal prayers of King David, and so the model of all Christan, as they had been of all Jewish, prayer.” (xvii-xviii)

Biblical Influence

The influence of the Bible on the confessions is obvious to any reader because Augustine frequently begins a particular section in prayer and cites scripture throughout, allusions to which the editor has conveniently footnoted.

Less obvious to the reader is the definition that Augustine used for confession. As noted by the editor’s glossary, for Augustine confession could be:

  1. a profession of faith,
  2. praise of God, or
  3. an act of penance (self-accusation).

Today, we primarily assume the last definition (329).

Augustine’s Conversion

In his book, Confessions, Augustine of Hippo describes his life before and after converting to Christianity as an adult. Augustine shamelessly lays out the sins of his life, saying:

“Let the mind of my brethren love that in me which You teach to be worthy of love, and grieve for that in me which You teach to be worthy of grief.” (191)

I take this statement to mean that Augustine proposes to be frankly forthright in confession so that he can be an example to others. Is it any wonder that people trusted him and followed him into the monastic life? Having read the Confessions as a young man, I truly believe that they helped lead me to live an ascetic lifestyle, even after it was no longer a financial necessity. I commend the Confessions to anyone who wishes to deepen their faith in Jesus Christ.

References

Augustine. 1978. Confessions (Orig Pub 397 AD). Translated by R.S. Pine-Coffin. New York: Penguin Books.

Bainton, Roland H. 1995. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. New York: Meridan Book.

Brown, Peter. 2000. Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Orig pub 1967). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Metzger, Bruce M. and Bart D. Ehrman. 2005. The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration. New York: Oxford University Press.

Footnotes

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

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

[3] Before mechanical printing, manuscripts had to be copied by hand and copyist sometimes “corrected” texts as they reproduced them. African scholars, centered in Alexandria, were much more careful in copying manuscripts than others, including their European rivals (Metzer and Ehrman 2005, 278).

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad.

 

Also see:

The Christian Memoir 

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2slSaTM

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Jonathan Edwards’ Most Famous Publication

Jonathan Edwards. 20016. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (Orig Pub 1749). Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In February 2008, I read a biography by John Piper which focused on the lives of three saints whose affliction bore fruit for the Lord. Having known affliction in my family life—my wife had two rounds of breast cancer, my son is a kidney transplant, and so on—this book sparked my interest. Of particular interest was the story of David Brainerd, who suffered greatly in life—losing both parents at a young age, chronically despondent, and infected with tuberculosis most of his adult life—yet persisted in ministering to the Indians of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware until his untimely death at the age of 29.

Writing about Brainerd’s diary, Piper (2001, 131-132) writes:

“why has this book never been out of print [since 1749]? Why did John Wesley say, ‘Let every preacher read carefully over the Life of David Brainerd’? Why was it written of Henry Martyn (missionary to India and Persia) that ‘perusing the life of David Brainerd, his soul was filled with a holy emulation of that extraordinary man; and after deep consideration and fervent prayer, he was at length fixed in a resolution to imitate his example? Why did William Carey regard Edward’s Life of Brainerd as precious and holy? Why did Robert Morrison and Robert McCheyne of Scotland and John Mills of American and Fredrick Schwartz of Germany and David Livingstone of England and Andrew Murray of South Africa and Jim Elliot of twentieth-century America look upon Brainerd with a kind of awe and draw power from him as countless others?”

This biography proved irresistible to me and I ordered a copy of Edward’s The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, which became the core of my personal devotions as I entered seminary in August 2008.

It is easy to get caught up in Brainerd’s life story. As a third-year ministry student at Yale, Brainerd made an uncomplimentary statement about one of his tutors, a Mr. Whittelsey, saying: “He has no more grace than this chair” (28) in a private conversation, which was overheard and reported to the faculty. The faculty expelled him; the presbytery appealed his expulsion, but Yale did not back down. Concern about Brainerd’s case led the presbytery to establish a new school, which became Princeton University which later spun off Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812.[1]

But Brainerd’s influence did not depend on Princeton, which was founded after his death. Because of his expulsion from Yale University, Brainerd could not be ordained as a pastor and he was commissioned as a missionary to the Indians, in spite of suffering from tuberculosis. His illness left him chronically weak, depressed, and frequently spitting up blood. Yet, he ministered from horseback preaching multiple times a day and even lived among the Indians enjoying a fruitful ministry to within months of his death.

What is most striking about his diary is the depth of his personal piety—he constantly praises God, contemplates scripture, fasts, and prays. For example, on Saturday February 19, 1743, he writes:

“Was exceeding infirm today, greatly troubled with pain in my head and dizziness, scarce able to sit up. However, enjoyed something of God in prayer, and performed some necessary studies. I exceedingly long to die; and yet, through divine goodness, have felt very willing to live, for two or three days past.” (72)

Brainerd actually lived another four years (1718-1747).

Brainerd’s work among the Indians did not go unnoticed by local businessmen. On Monday, February 3, 1746, he writes about being accused of a “popish plot” for:

“[vindicating] the rights of the Indians, and complaining of the horrid practice of making the Indians drunk, and then cheating them out of their lands and other properties” (184)

He personally raised funds to hire a teacher to help the Indians learn English, which would allow them also to read the Bible for themselves. Absent this skill, they could be cheated by local businessmen and depended wholly on preaching and the teaching of catechisms (328) to learn about the Gospel.

Another technique for teaching, which is mentioned mostly in passing, is the use of what Brainerd refers to as “ejaculatory prayer” (74), which is a short prayer, like the Jesus Prayer, designed to be repeated as a form of meditation.[2] He later cites a prayer of one of his Indian converts:

“I hearkened to know what she [an Indian woman] said, and perceived the burden of her prayer to be, Guttummaukalummeh wechaumeh kmeleh Ndah, i.e. ‘Have mercy on me, and help me to give you my heart.’” (284)

In my own ministry, I was introduced to ejaculatory prayer by a Roman Catholic Sister who encouraged psychiatric patients engaging in negative self-talk to substitute the Jesus prayer to break the despondency created by their own rumination. In Brainerd’s ministry, he used such prayers to focus his converts on Christ and to bring them to faith in spite not having access to scripture in their own language.

One of the more fascinating stories that Brainerd recounts is his visit with a local shaman among the Indians. Brainerd describes him as a devout and zealous reformer who tried to help his community resist the temptation of alcohol through a frightful costume and prodigious dancing (300-301).

Jonathan Edwards edited David Brainerd’s diary and published it two years after Brainerd died under the care of Edwards’ daughter, who later also died of tuberculosis. The diary was Edwards’ most popular publication, which seems odd because Edwards is often described as America’s most influential theologian and was better known himself for his role in the Great Awakening.

If you liked this review, you will love the diary of David Brainerd.

References

Piper, John. 2001. The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

[1] http://www.ptsem.edu/about/history.

[2] “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Prayer).

 

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Sedniev Teaches Improv to Speakers

Andreii Sedniew.[1] 2013. Magic of Impromptu Speaking: Create a Speech that Will Be Remembered for Years in Under 30 Seconds. Santa Clara: Andreii Sedniev.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Confession time. Analysis paralysis is my default setting. I write out my sermons and generally over-prepare for presentations. As I tell my colleagues, I don’t do spontaneous. When I notice Andrii Sedniev’s book, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, I knew that I needed a copy.

In his book, Sedniev presents a how-to guide on extemporaneous (or improvisational) speaking. He writes:

“During the last 10 years, I collected tips, techniques, and strategies that can dramatically raise the level of any speaker in impromptu speaking. My goal was to create the most comprehensive system, which will make anyone a world class impromptu speaker within a very short time. The Magic of Impromptu Speaking system was based on the analysis of thousands of impromptu speaking contests, interviews, debates, and Q&A sessions.” (3)

The book is deceptively short (100 pages) and Sedniev writes in a breezy, conversational style organized into 28 chapters. Sedniev is a speaking coach from the Ukraine trained as an MBA.

For Sedniev, an impromptu speech is a talk one to three minutes long (64; and no more than five minutes long) that one cannot prepare for in advance. A job interview question or a party invitation to speak are examples of impromptu speeches (7).

A key starting point in successful impromptu speaking for Sedniev comes from his training in karate: “Think about the impromptu speech as a game.” (10). Attitude matters because time is short. There is no time to think analytically about the talk. He describes impromptu speaking as drawing primarily on right brain (subconscious mind) not left brain (conscious mind) processing (16)—this is the magic part of his system. Therefore, Sedniev advises the speaker to hold two beliefs: “I will definitely answer the question and I will not always have a stellar answer” (17).

Understanding the above paragraph is important in processing Sedniev’s method. Think of the basketball player’s mindset. If you are standing under the basket and your teammate throws the ball, there is not time to thinking about what to do—you reflexively take the shot. That reflex becomes automatic, but only after many hours of practice and training with your team. This is what Sedniev is saying when he talks about right brain thinking. Later in the book, Sedniev talks about the need to practice and mentions, for example, that he joined seven toastmaster’s clubs and offers visualization (a Zen Buddhist technique) as a technique to enhance speaking performance (75, 82).

In my own experience, for years I advised young professionals to practice taking job interviews, even when the job is not a perfect fit, so that when the dream job comes along you will understand the process and can interview well. Sedniev’s method provides a more focused way to get this practice without the stress and need to dress up.

Once you understand Sedniev’s basic approach, he provides advice on structuring your talk and handling the particular problems that come up in extemporaneous speaking.

Several elements are critical in structuring an impromptu talk, which Sedniev outlines as rules of thumb in speaking:

  • Going back the right brain, reflexive response idea, he writes: “Once you hear a question, begin answering it based on the first idea that pops up in your head.” (21)
  • “The best time for thinking is while you are talking because it is not limited.” (23) By limited, Sedniev means that it is not limited like the problem of remaining silent until an idea pops up and makes analytical sense.
  • When someone asks a question, you have several choices to make in responding. You can answer the question directly, answer in part, transition to another topic, refuse comment, or answer later (28). You can also pick a word from the question to focus on, seek clarification, or redefine the question (30-31).
  • In an impromptu speech, you talk about one idea for a couple minutes, transition to a second idea, then transition to a series of other ideas. Transitions are hugely important to bringing your audience along with you. One way to transition is a synthesis (this idea is a part of a larger class of ideas, as in cups to dishes) or an analysis (this idea can be broken into subclasses of ideas, as in cups to tea cups), which Sedniev calls linguistic pyramids (32-33). Another way to transition is to use associations, as in a table and a donkey are similar in that they both have four legs (34-35).
  • An impromptu speech is still a speech, having three parts: an opening, a body, and a closing (36-38).
  • Impromptu speeches generally have three basic frameworks. You can tell a story, a PEEP (point, explanation, example, and reiteration of point), and a PAB (position, action, and benefit) (40-45).

 The PAB is an approach often used in a business context to propose a solution to a problem, an action that needs to be taken, and a benefit likely to result.

Sedniev sees four levels of proficiency in impromptu speaking. At the first level, you acquire the ability to talk for two minutes about an random topic without discomfort. At the second level, you add an introduction, body, and conclusion to your two minute talk. At the third level, you begin to pay attention the audience, gesturing, using dramatic pauses, establishing eye contact, and vary your voice. At the fourth level, you mix things up—using slant—a bit to make your talk more interesting (69-71).

Andreii Sedniew’s book, Magic of Impromptu Speaking, is a helpful and interesting book focused on extemporaneous presentations. For people unaccustomed to speaking on short notice on random topics, like myself, this book fills a unique void in the speaking literature. In my case, I must have twenty books on preaching and speaking, but none address the question of improvisational speaking. Seminary students, pastors, business leaders, and politicians may all find this book beneficial.

 

Other ways to engage with me online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Read my April newsletter at: http://mailchi.mp/t2pneuma/monthly-postings-on-t2pneumanet.

 

[1] @AndriiSedniev, http://www.MagicOfPublicSpeaking.com

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 3

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 3

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divided their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section. Part two of this review, focused on this second section. In part three of this review, I will address this third section.

The Church and Our Future.

In section three, Kinnaman and Lyons remind us that atheists, agnostics, and religiously unaffiliated only account for about a quarter of the U.S. population (222), which means:

“the vast majority of Americans are informed by faith in some way and Christianity is far and away the dominant player on the U.S. religious scene.” (221)

Statistical Realities

Don’t take comfort in this summary. Kinnaman and Lyons see underlying challenges behind these statistics.

Legacy Christians Declining

First, the number of Christians is declining, especially among “legacy” or cultural Christians. The good news is that the number of practicing Christians seems reasonably stable (45% of boomers, 42% of Gen-Xers, and 36% of Millennials; 224). Kinnaman and Lyons treat this subject gingerly, but the numbers suggest that “Christianity lite” is not a good strategy for long-term church vitality or growth.

Problem of Biblical Illiteracy

Second, biblical literacy has declined making it harder for people to apply the Christian message to their lives. Remove the foundation; watch the building crumble (226). Kinnaman and Lyons observe:

“secularism shouldn’t be our greatest concern. In other words, secularism’s advance is downstream from anemic Bible engagement and thin theological thinking.” (227)

The storyline here seems to be simple—give people thin soup and they start checking out other restaurants. People want an adult faith to believe in and provide a lens for interpreting a crazy world.

Narcissism

Third, we have become increasingly individualistic, to the point of narcissism. Kinnaman and Lyons report:

  • “Eight-four percent of U.S. adults and 66 percent of practicing Christians agree that the highest goal for life is to enjoy it much as possible.”
  • “Ninety-one percent of adults and 76 percent of practicing Christians believe that the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.” (228)

These trends suggest that a large portion of U.S. Christians have bought into “New Age” dogma, which reveals a pervasion influence of pagan ideas. That is, the substitution of self for God in our worship, a consequence as old as original sin.

Three Lessons from Daniel

Rather than go away cynical, Kinnaman and Lyons offer three familiar lessons for good faith drawn from the book of Daniel: love well, maintain an orthodox faith, and act consistent your beliefs (256-260).  Daniel took a chance to interpret the king’s dreams, arguing to save the lives of those who did not (257). Daniel cites scripture in advising his peers to:

“… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer 29:7 ESV)

Daniel applies the advice of Jeremiah in continuing his government service, in spite of the pagan nature of that government. We, as Christians, face this very same problem today living and working in a secular society, the new Babylon.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore why Christian faith is considered irrelevant and extreme. They employ empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 2

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The notion that Christianity is irrelevant and extreme feels odd, having grown up at a time when things were different. In the course of one generation, the consensus about how the world worked and our place in it changed dramatically, not only on the street but in the church. Snap, one morning you wake up and, after the coffee kicks in, you realize that the “invasion of the body snatchers”[2] occurred while you slept and pod people now control everything. What do you do now?

In their book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons divide their argument into three sections:

  1. Understanding Our Times.
  2. Living Good Faith.
  3. The Church and Our Future (7-8).

Part one of this review focused on the first section (the invasion of the space aliens above). In the next review (part three), I will address the third section. In this review (part two), I will focus on this second section.

Living Good Faith.

Kinnaman and Lyons offer an interesting contrast involving six principles, which illustrates why Christian faith feels so out of sync today.

Cultural principle 1:

“To find yourself, look within yourself.” (57)

Christian principle 1:

“To find yourself, discover the truth outside yourself in Jesus.” (60)

Cultural principle 2:

“People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.” (57)

Christian principle 2:   “Loving others does not always mean staying silent.” (60)

Cultural principle 3:

“To be fulfilled in life, pursue the things that you desire most.” (57)

Christian principle 3: “Joy is found not in pursuing our own desires but in giving of ourselves to bless others” (60)

Cultural principle 4:

“Enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life.” (57)

Christian principle 4: “The highest goal of life is giving glory to God.” (60)

Cultural principle 5:  

 “People can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” (57)

Christian principle 5: “God gives people the freedom to believe whatever they want, but those beliefs always affect society.” (60)

Cultural principle 6:   

“Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is fine.” (57)

Christian principle 6: “God designed boundaries for sex and sexuality in order for humans to flourish.” (60)

The scariest part of this observation is that many Christians have bought into the cultural principles, first articulated by Roman philosopher Lucretius one hundred years before Christ, and abandoned the Christian ones (59, 62). People forget that the church has been struggling with pagan philosophies from the very beginning.

How do we live the good faith?

Kinnaman and Lyons write:

 “The secret recipe for good faith boils down to this: how well you love, what you believe, and how you live.” (72)

Double Love Command

This is an old recipe for dealing with an old problem and should come as no surprise to those who spend time with their Bible. The authors point to Matthew 22:37-39, which cites the double love command: Love God; love your neighbor. But most people ignore (or misinterpret) the next verse:

“On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40 ESV)

“The Law” is a rabbinic reference to the Books of the Law (of Moses), which are the first five books of the Bible. “The Prophets” is a rabbinic reference to all the other books of the Old Testament. If you understand what Jesus is saying, then what you believe is not up for grabs—you cannot just interpret love anyway you want. The Old Testament context for love is found in Exodus 34:6 where God provides an interpretative key to the giving of the Ten Commandments:

Interpretative Key to Ten Commandments

“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 ESV)

In this context, love (וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד; rav hesed) is better translated as “covenantal love”—keeping your promises. Keeping your promises is another way of saying living them out, as Jesus’ younger brother James famously says:  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17 ESV)

Consequently, Kinnaman and Lyons’ secret recipe for good faith is no secret to practicing Christians, who naturally spend a lot of time with their Bible.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

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

 

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2016. Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme.[1] Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During periods of philosophical transition, old verities no longer work and the new ones have yet to be discovered. In the early stage of a transition, the focus remains on the past. The middle stage begins once the obsession with the past subsides, but the future still remains murky. This middle stage holds the most uncertainty, but it also offers the most potential for innovation; that is, until the final stage comes into focus. Because the church currently finds itself in this middle stage, statistically-based research adds great value to the conversation.

Introduction

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ new book, Good Faith, starts by posing this question:

“What does the future hold for people of faith when people perceive Christians as irrelevant and extreme?” (12)

The purpose of their book is “to make a case for good faith” (15) which they described as having “three essential ingredients”, which are: “how well you love, what you believe, and how you live” (72).  Kinnaman and Lyons explain these three ingredients in terms of loving God and loving others, remaining biblically orthodox, and living a lifestyle consistent with the two (72-74).

Irrelevant and Extreme

So why do people perceive faith to be irrelevant and extreme?

Irrelevant.

Kinnaman and Lyons see the perception of irrelevance as a combination of apathy and ignorance (21-22).

Apathy jumps out of some basic statistics. Three out of four Americans have some Christian background, but only two in five Christians actively practice their faith (27). The good news is that the share of Christians who practice their faith has remained relatively stable over the generations (224).The decline in the share of nominal Christians, however, normally dominates the headlines.

Role of the Church in Charity

With little or no social pressure to maintain ties to the church, many American remain ignorant of the role of the church in our culture. For example, many people do not realize that religious groups “make up the largest single share of national charitable giving” (30). When the Obama administration wanted to make progress on prison reform, hunger relief, combating sex-trafficking, and fighting poverty, they called on Christian-led organizations who did the most work in these areas (21). The Christian influence is not understood, in part, because people do not know that many American institutions, including school and universities, hospitals, labor unions, public libraries, voting rights for women and minorities, and endowments for the arts and sciences, began as Christian initiatives (33).

Halo Effect

If you still believe that faith does not matter, consider a secular study done by economists at the University of Pennsylvania which looked at the economic benefit (or “halo effect”) of a dozen houses of worship (ten Protestant churches, one Catholic, and one Jewish) in Philadelphia. The study estimated the economic benefit to be $50 million per year (238). Another study, sponsored by World Vision in 2014, found that people generally believed churches should be involved in public issues like child protection and human rights, but were less tolerant of church involvement in their own spiritual lives (239).

Extreme.

Christian faith appears extreme, not because it is dangerous, but because it is different (22). Pluralistic culture presumably preaches love and individualism, but endless corporate advertising homogenizes perceptions around consumerism and conformity, debasing real love and making a mockery of individual gifts, differences, and preferences.

Kinnaman and Lyons ask a pointed question: “Is it extremism when people live according to what they believe to be true about the world?” (40) Many Americans apparently would answer yes. Kinnaman and Lyons observe:

“While not majority opinions, millions of adults contend that behaviors such as donating money to religious causes, reading the Bible silently in public, and even attending church or volunteering are examples of religious extremism.” (41)

Conversation Difficult

Because many Americans believe that Christian faith is extremist, conversation across the faith divide has become more difficult. A majority of Americans, for example, find it is more difficult to speak with an evangelical (55%) than someone in the LGBT community (52%) (45).

In part 1 of this review, I have provided an overview of the author’s problem statement. In parts  2 and 3 I will look at their suggestions for how to deal with the problem.

Assessment

In their new book, Good Faith, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons explore the perceptions that Christian faith is both irrelevant and extreme, employing empirical studies and data to make their case. Their analysis bears examination and discussion by practicing Christians, seminary students, pastors, and researchers.

[1] https://www.barna.com, @BarnaGroup, www.GoodFaithBook.org, @DavidKinnaman, http://QIdeas.org, @GabeLyons

 

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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