Stinnett and Beam Study Healthy Families

Fantastic Families

Nick and Nancy Stinnett and Joe and Alice Beam. 1999.  Fantastic Families:  6 Proven Steps to Building a Strong Family.  New York:  Howard Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One frustration in ministry and counseling is the constant focus on brokenness.  Every conversation seems to feature a page from the DSM-IV, a book that lists psychiatric illnessesin other words, all the ways people can be broken[1]. After a point, I became curious what healthy families look like.  Eventually, my curiosity led me to a book by Nick and Nancy Stinnett and Joe and Alice Beam called:  Fantastic Families.

Introduction

Stinnett and Beam define a family as: “two or more people who are committed to each other and who share intimacy, resources, decisions, and values” (9).  Obviously, the authors see the traditional family as important in this analysis, but the qualities they focus on are quite general and their comments about faith are minimal.  Strong families have problems just like everyone else, but they are better able to deal with them (8). This book promotes strong families by describing what they look like. Stinnett and Beam write:

“Experience has shown that if your family has problems—even major problems—the situation can be remedied and you can have a fantastic family life.  You can do it by applying in your family the six steps found in this book” (11).

Role of Learning in Health

Clearly, part of a healthy family life is the willingness to learn new things.  If your family spends a lot of time in crisis management mode, learning new things may be a hard requirement to meet.

Family Dynamics Institute

Stinnett and Beam are researchers with the Family Dynamics Institute of Franklin, Tennessee[1]Fantastic Families is a study based on a sample of 14,000 families from across all 50 states and 24 countries covering, at the time of writing, about 25 years of research (x-xii).  The book is written in 7 chapters introduced with a preface and introduction and followed by 4 appendices, notes, and bibliography.  The chapters focus on 6 qualities that strong families share in common:

  1. Commitment—these families promote each other’s welfare and happiness and value unity.
  2. Appreciation and Affection—strong families care about each other.
  3. Positive Communication—strong families communicate well and spend a lot of time doing it together.
  4. Time Together—Strong families spend a lot of quality time together.
  5. Spiritual Well-being—whether or not they attend religious services, strong families have a sense of a “greater good or power” in life.
  6. Ability to Cope with Stress and Crisis—strong families see crises as a growth opportunity (10).

Organization

Each chapter then consists primarily of a list of characteristics contributing to each of these qualities.  For example, a committed family has 6 characteristics:

  1. Commitment to marriage;
  2. Commitment to each other;
  3. Commitment to putting first things first;
  4. Commitment to honesty;
  5. Commitment to family traditions; and
  6. Commitment to the long haul (17-41).

Learning to Cope

The chapter on coping with stress was of particular interest to.  Stinnett and Beam offer 6 ideas for coping:

  1. Assess the stress in our life;
  2. Commit yourself to an exercise program;
  3. Cultivate your sense of humor;
  4. Select a hobby that refreshes and pleases you;
  5. Periodically review plans concerning death; and
  6. Use television and movies as a catalyst for family discussions (176-179).

Probably the most interesting item on this list was a table they provide that rates sources of stress by their required “social readjustment” from 1 to 100 (177-178). At the top of the list, for example, is the death of a spouse (100); …death of close family member (63); …child leaving home (29); …Vacation or Christmas (12).

Assessment

Stinnett and Beam’s Fantastic Families is a helpful book for families willing to learn new things. It would be an interesting book to use in promoting small group discussion.

Footnotes

[1] www.FamilyDynamics.net.

[1] American Psychiatric Association. 1994.  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Fourth Edition.  Washington, DC.

Stinnett and Beam Study Healthy Families

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Bullard Classifies Church Conflict Intensity

Bullard_review_03302015George W. Bullard, Jr.  2008.  Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict.  St Louis:  Chalice Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the last things that Jesus said to his disciples before being arrested was this: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)  In fact, one of my favorite songs growing up built on this theme:  “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”[1]Sadly, the doctrine of original sin often plays out in broken churches and unresolved conflict.

In his book, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, George Bullard states his objectives in these words:

“The purpose of this book is to help congregational, denominational, and parachurch leadership empower congregations throughout various intensities of conflict, and to use conflict in a healthy manner to deal with the issues confronting congregations” (3).

Bullard sees conflict on 7-level scale ranging from simple disagreements in normal group decision making to physical conflict requiring law enforcement intervention (17).  Knowing how to respond at different levels of conflict intensity empowers church leaders to craft effective responses and, at the lower levels of intensity, actually help churches to grow in their ministry effectiveness (1).

Bullard’s classifies his 7 levels of conflict intensity according to about a half-dozen different criteria which he summarizes in a table (17).  The criteria (from low intensity to high intensity) include:

  1. Is the conflict healthy or unhealthy or in-between?
  2. What is the objective of conflict resolution (agreement, no disagreement, and no harm)[2]?
  3. Is the conflict over a task, relationship, multiple tasks, between groups, congregational competition, congregational combat with causalities, congregational questioning motivates, or congregational intentional harm?
  4. Can both parties win or does someone lose or leave?
  5. What style of intervention is required: conflict resolution, conflict mediation, or conflict management?
  6. Who intervenes? Chaplain or coach, team coach, mediator, arbitrator, attorney, or law enforcement.
  7. What technique of intervention is most appropriate? Collaborate, persuade, accommodate, avoid, support, negotiate, or compel.

Denomination conflict over questions of sexuality, for example, appear as a level 4 or greater conflict in this framework. Clearly, a lot of experience with these different aspects of intervention is required to both recognize them and deal with them pastorally.

Bullard describes himself as a ministry partner and strategic coach for congregational and denominational leaderships with the Columbia Partnership[3] of Hickory, NC and has written numerous books[4].  This book is written in 12 chapters introduced with a foreword and introduction and followed by an “afterword”. The 12 chapters are:

  1. The Necessity of Conflict in the Congregation;
  2. The First Intensity of Conflict: Typical Issues with Many Solutions;
  3. The Second Intensity of Conflict: Common Disagreements over Multiple Issues;
  4. The Third Intensity of Conflict: Competition that Develops Causes;
  5. The Fourth Intensity of Conflict: Now It’s Time to Vote or Else;
  6. The Fifth Intensity of Conflict: Dividing the Medes from the Persians;
  7. The Sixth Intensity of Conflict: Discrediting Our Enemies;
  8. The Seventh Intensity of Conflict: Destroying the Infidels;
  9. Leadership Styles for Engaging Conflict;
  10. Processes for Engaging Conflict;
  11. How to Never Experience Unhealthy Conflict in Your Congregation Again; and
  12. Implications for Denominational Service alongside Congregations (vii).

Each chapter is organized with an executive summary, main text, “coaching break”, “coaching insights”, and personal reflection (5).  Frequently, he illustrates his points through case studies of churches that have experienced particular types of conflict.

After his introduction, Bullard focuses the 7 chapters on describing his classification scheme for conflict.  Presuming that you have taken time to identify each of these levels of intensities, what can be done about it and who can do it?  These topics are the focus of the last 4 chapters.

In chapter 9, for example, Bullard identifies 7 conflict management leadership styles, including: support, avoid, accommodate, persuade, collaborate, negotiate, and compel (110).  He then proceeds to define them. In my 27 years in federal service, I witnessed most of these leadership styles in use, but not everyone is comfortable and practiced in using them.  This is why identifying the conflict intensity level is important—it helps one to know of when to ask for third-party help.

The adage goes—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In chapter 11, Bullard cites 20 things to do to prevent congregational conflict (138-141).  In follow up discussion, he cites 3 of these actions as most important:

  1. Develop a clear core ideology involving mission, purpose, and theological and cultural values, a magnetic God-given vision…
  2. Create a conflict-literate culture in your congregation by engaging in conflict ministry education… and
  3. Take intentional actions to insulate the congregation, but especially its clergy leaders, against legal, moral, and ethical failures…(138, 140, 142)

Number one is his top priority—a clear vision statement.  Hopefully, denomination staff are helping your congregation in proactively dealing with conflict by encouraging training in conflict awareness, resolution, and mediation (152).

George Bullard‘s Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict covers a topic—conflict—that few people want to spend time on and yet many people have to.  This book is a resource that church leaders need to familiar with just in case…

 

[1] This song was written by a Catholic priest, Peter R. Scholtes, in 1968. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/They’ll_Know_We_Are_Christians).

[2] Bullard calls these criteria:  “getting to yes”, “getting past no”, and “getting to neutral” (17).

[3] www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org

[4]The book cited on the back cover is: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential from Your Congregation by Chalice Press.  Amazon.com lists many more.

 

 

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Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

Robert Guelich The Sermon on the Mount

Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 2

Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount:  A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a sermon, the Sermon on the Mount is relatively self-contained and not tightly related to the rest of Matthew’s Gospel. If this were not so, one would question the authorship of the sermon.  However, one would hope to see common elements in Jesus’ teaching on different occasions.  Guelich does not pursue this angle; instead, he develops theological themes.

Three Interpretative Lenses

Guelich views the Sermon on the Mount through 3 interpretative lenses: Christology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. Under Christology, the Sermon sets forth Jesus as Messiah who fulfills not just a single prophecy, but all of scripture. With ecclesiology, we see a messianic gathering of Apostles and other disciples who are both reconciled and saved through the Jesus Messiah and distinguished from unattached crowds and critics, such as the scribes and Pharisees. Under eschatology, Jesus announces blessings for the poor and destitute which both congratulate them for their faith but also promise a new identity and relationship with God as they lean into these blessings (27-30).  The tension between the kingdom’s appearance already and not yet informs and complicates each of these interpretative dimensions.

Still, the problem of a tightly woven treatise is that the balance of themes is internal to the argument and the same balance is hard to maintain in commentaries on it.  How do you follow particular threads?  How do you understand them relative to other threads?  Complexity breeds complexity. Each of Guelich’s chapters follows a stylized format:

  • Translation;
  • Literary Analysis;
  • Notes; and
  • Comments (7-9).

The comment section is usually broken up into 3 or more sub-sections unique to that chapter. Guelich sees the Beatitudes as providing structure to the sermon by anticipating later admonitions and warnings.  In the remainder of my comments, let me follow the first Beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) through this framework.

Translation

Consistent with Guelich’s translation (62), for example, the first Beatitude reads:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)  He notes that the same basic beatitude is also found in Luke 6:20 (34) and appears in the second person, not the third person[1].

Literary Analysis

In his literary analysis, he observes that:  “The content [of a beatitude as a literary form] consists of the blessing and a description of the recipient, usually identified by an attitude or conduct befitting the blessing” (63).   He notes that a total of 44 beatitudes appear in the NT. For example, the Apostle Paul (63) writes:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Rom 4:7-8 ESV)

Paul’s beatitude is a direct quote from Psalm 32:1-2. The implication of Jesus’  use of the beatitude form is that he is building on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in his sermon.

Notes

In trying to establish a translation for the Greek word, makario, Guelich sees Luke’s Beatitudes more as eschatological blessings while Matthew’s form more of an entrance requirement for the kingdom (65).  In other words, is one blessed now (congratulations) or blessed in the future (as in heaven)?

And who exactly are the poor in spirit?  In a Greek sense, the poor are socioeconomically poor (68). In a Hebrew sense, poor means desperate.  Guelich  writes:

“…the poor in Judaism referred to those in desperate need (socioeconomic element) whose helpless ness drove them to a dependent relationships with God (religious element) for the supplying of their needs and vindication.” (69)

Are they voluntarily poor, spirituality poor, or humble? (72).

Comments

Guelich sees poor in spirit having both Christological and ecclesiological components. The focus on the poor in spirit depicts Jesus Christologically as fulfilling God’s promise through Isaiah 61:1 (97).  In response to John the Baptist’s concern about his messianic ministry, for example, Jesus cites Isaiah 61:1 responding:

“And he answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 ESV)

Poor in spirit also shows his disciples turning to God ecclesiologically being “stripped of all self-sufficiency, self-security, and self-righteousness” (98).

Admonitions

Guelich sees the Beatitudes functioning as a unit together in anticipating the admonitions that follow rather than a one-to-one correspondence (92).  Poor in spirit as humble surely anticipates:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt 6:1-2 ESV)

The term, poor in spirit, does not appear overtly in this context so the linkage is subtle.

Warnings

Here again, we see in the warnings an echo of the first Beatitude, not an overt reference.  For example, Jesus says:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matt 7:3 ESV)

The problem here is the opposite of humility—pride.  Someone poor in spirit as humble probably would not be as quick to make this mistake.

Assessment

Robert Guelich has written a careful and engaging commentary on the Sermon on the Mount that is unlikely to be superseded quickly.  It is perhaps surprising to note that this commentary predated (1982) personal computers that have made scriptural study much easier.  This observation only makes his accomplishment all the more amazing.

[1]“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)

 

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Guelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

 

Robert Guelich The Sermon on the MountGuelich Carefully Exegetes the Sermon on the Mount, Part 1

Robert A. Guelich. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount:  A Foundation for Understanding.  Dallas:  Word Publishing. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Sermon on the Mount is a surprisingly oblique, but self-contained, section in Matthew’s Gospel spanning from chapter 5 through verse 8:1. In the sermon, Jesus presents a kind of ordination service for the Apostles with crowds in the background looking on. What does he tell them?  What are his priorities? How are we to interpret what is said?

Introduction

In his commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, Robert  Guelich starts by recognizing the enormity of the task, but lays out his reason for writing with these words:

Yet the absence of an extensive, critical, exegetical commentary in nearly four decades of biblical studies despite the vast literature on the Sermon provides both an opportunity and a need in New Testament (NT) studies (11).

Because NT scholarship is written both in German and English, Guelich’s studies in the U.S., Scotland, and Germany—his doctorate is from the University of Hamburg—suggests he has good preparation to write such a commentary[1].  At the time he wrote, Guelich was a professor of NT at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Literature Review

Guelich’s literature review (14-22) is relatively brief but includes some interesting points.  Citing Kissenger, Guelich notes that in early church (Ante-Nicene) writings chapters 5-7 of Matthew are cited more frequently than any other 3 chapters in the Bible (14).  Augustine was likely the first to use the term, Sermon on the Mount (15).  In his book, Summa, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between “counsels” and “commandments” (advice versus obligation) placing Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon under “counsels” (15).  Luther preached a series of sermons on the Sermon focused on “polemics against the papists” (16) while Calvin’s primary interest was on Jesus’ interpretation of law (17).  Guelich describes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship as one of the better known treatments of the Sermon which, of course, focused on what disciples should do rather than on theological interpretation [2].

Organization

Guelich’s commentary is written in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction (pages 13-40);
  2. The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 4:23-5:2; 41-60);
  3. The Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 5:3-12; 62-112);
  4. The Role of Discipleships (Matt 5:13-16; 119-131);
  5. Jesus and the Law (Matt 5:17-20; 134-170);
  6. The Greater Righteousness (Matt 5:21-48; 175-265);
  7. On Doing Righteousness (Matt 6:1-18; 272-316);
  8. The Life of Prayer (Matt 6:19-7:12; 321-379);
  9. The Narrow Gate (Matt 7:13-27; 382-411); and
  10. Epilogue (Matt 7:28-29; 414-419).

These chapters are preceded by a brief preface and followed by a bibliography and indices of authors and scriptural passages.  The Beatitudes, which appear in Matthew 5:3-11, are treated primarily in chapter 3.

Let me turn briefly to the questions mentioned above.

What does Jesus tell them?

Guelich (36-39) breaks the sermon into 3 parts:  the Beatitudes, admonitions, and warnings. He sees the Beatitudes serving as a theological introduction expanded on in the admonitions and warnings of Matthew 5:17-7:27. Guelich sees the admonitions ending with the Golden rule in Matthew 7:12.  The warnings then follow in 7:13-27.  Ironically, the Lord’s Prayer appears among the admonitions in Matthew 6 and he sees the prayer providing structure to the remainder of the chapter and the first 12 verses of Matthew 7.

What are Jesus’ priorities?

Jesus is addressing the Apostles to inaugurate his vision for discipleship in the new age of the Kingdom of Heaven, summarized especially in Isaiah 61 (37):

“…the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion…” (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)

These priorities are captured in the Beatitudes.  They are credible, in part, because they appear almost verbatim in Luke 4:17-20 where Jesus gives his “call” sermon.

How are we to interpret what Jesus said?

Guelich describes his interpretation method as “critical, historical” commentary. He writes:

“…this commentary offers a critical exegesis in that it makes use of the literary and historical critical tools include text, source, form, tradition, redaction, and structural criticism”. (23)

Guelich’s skill as an interpreter is reflected in the wide range of critical methods that he employs.  For example, he carefully distinguishes 3 sources in Matthew’s Gospel: Q materials appearing in Matthew and Luke; Matthew’s redaction (things attributable only to Matthew); and other NT sources, such as Mark.  This careful inventory of sources provides Guelich the ability to infer author intent and other things when discussing particular Gospel writers.  He sees the end of the Sermon (Matt 7:28) being borrowed from Mark 1:22 and the prelude to the Sermon (Matt 4:23-5:2) appearing at Mark 1:39 (414-415).  This insight places the Sermon early in Jesus’ ministry.

Assessment

Robert Guelich’s commentary, The Sermon on the Mount, is one of the most carefully written and interesting commentaries that I have ever read.  In part 2, I will focus in more depth on particular issues that he raises.

 

[1] Guelich’s BS is from Wheaton College, his MS from the University of Illinois, and S.T.B. is from Fuller Theological Seminary.  He has done post-graduate studies at University of Aberdeen (UK) and the University of Tübingen.

[2] See my review of the Cost of Discipleship at:   Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge:  Following After Christ (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-y9).

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Brackey: Look for Moments of Joy

JMoments_of_joy_03172015olene Brackey.  2007.  Creating Moments of Joy for the Person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia:  A Journal for Caregivers.  West Lafayette:  Purdue University Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What brings you joy?

One morning I met a woman who had been in a horrible car accident.  The accident broke pretty much every bone in her body and the trauma triggered a psychiatric disorder.  She approached me in the ward rapping a song featuring me—what she knew of me personally—in real time.  As we talked, the stories told were exceedingly dark with tales of abuse, neglect, and sorrow—none of which intersected much with reality. After about 30 minutes of dark tales, I asked her a question—what brings you joy?  She brightened up and became sugar and spice and everything nice.  It was as if she needed permission to enter that room in her mind.

In her book, Creating Moments of Joy, Jolene Brackey writes:

I have a vision…that we will soon look beyond the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and focus more of our energy on creating moments of joy.  When a person has short-term memory loss, his life is made up of moments.  We are not able to create a perfectly wonderful day with those who have dementia, but it is absolutely attainable to create perfectly wonderful moments (13).

Brackey (9-12) writes her journal in 5 parts:

  1. Understanding the Person with Alzheimer’s, (pages 16-28)
  2. Powerful Tools That Create Positive Outcomes, (36-76)
  3. Let’s Talk Communication, (82-126)
  4. Memory Enhanced Environments, (130-204) and
  5. Enhanced Moments, (212-318).

The book begins with acknowledgments, advice on using the book, and an introduction.  It ends with a conclusion, bibliography, and author introduction.

Alzheimer’s disease is distinguished from other forms of dementia by the fact that the patient’s cognitive ability gradually deteriorates. This deterioration occurs in stages. This deterioration can be slowed, but not stopped by medication. This deterioration can be accelerated by trauma, surgery, and mistakes in medication.  Other forms of dementia arise from physical damage to the brain through head trauma, cardiovascular problems, and things like prolonged oxygen deprivation.

We all come to Alzheimer’s disease wanting explanations and wanting to find a cure. Part of this quest is ignorance; part is guilt. Alzheimer’s disease is mostly not understood and research dollars are generally allocated to other diseases. Brackey is accordingly short on explanations and long on making the most of the journey.

Brackey notes, for example, that as the disease progresses, the patient’s apparent age regresses (18-19).  They do not recognize their grown children, in part, because they remember their kids as young as when they  themselves were younger. Alzheimer’s patients are time travelers.  They have good and bad days as their cognitive function comes and goes with energy levels.  Physical exhaustion generally leads to a bad day.  Patients whose energy levels deteriorate late in the day are sometimes referred to as having “sunset dementia.”

Brackey (22) mentions that Alzheimer’s patients lose their inhibitions. In the ward where I worked, on Fridays  they had happy hour when musicians were invited to come and play for the group.  The Alzheimer’s residents would sing and dance to the music while other elderly residents were too embarrassed to do either.  Lost of inhibitions can be a source of embarrassment, but it can also be a source of joy.  Alzheimer’s patients are like children masquerading as adults.

Brackey (162-164) has a chapter on music which deserves more attention.  Because Alzheimer’s patients are time travelers,  familiar songs–particularly religious music–helps them center on the here and now.  Religious music is special because, having been repeated over many years, it is buried very deeply in our memories.  It is often the music of our youth and a source of joy.  Patients, who  could not speak in complete sentences, will sing and clap and suddenly be able to engage in conversation after music sessions.  If you are skeptical, try singing the doxology to an Alzheimer’s patient or, if they are African American, sing a Gospel song like “Amen” and observe the response.

In a 1993 film called Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a weatherman forced to relive groundhog day over and over.  He is in love with a co-worker at the station, played by Andie MacDowell, but has trouble attracting her attention.  After a point, he realizes that the groundhog day phenomena allows him to try different ways to woo her heart and he remembers her response from the previous days.  After many failed attempts, he finally wins her heart and groundhog day comes to an end.

With Alzheimer’s patients, every day is groundhog day.

Groundhog day is both a curse and a blessing. The curse arises when patients are reminded of past pains and relive them—griefs lived over and over with no resolution. The blessing comes in that as caregivers our mistakes are quickly forgotten and we can try something different.

Brackey reminds us that we can bring sunshine to our patients.  We can remember their accomplishments; share in their greatness; and share in their reality (41).  We can be the loving family that hopefully they have or maybe they had or maybe never had (36-37).  Facility staff must sometimes step in where family members are unable or unwilling to journey.

Brackey’s Creating Moments of Joy is truly best used as a journal.  She offers tons of useful advice whose usefulness will not be immediately obvious on reading it the first time.  It is best to make a mental note of what was read and come back to it when daily experiences prod your memory.  This is a helpful book for anyone caring for an Alzheimer’s patient or trying to relate to one.

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Schnabel: Treat Missions as a Hermeneutic

Schnabel_vol_1_03162015Eckhard J. Schnabel. 2004. Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve: Volume One.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. Review By Stephen W. Hiemstra Evangelism is one of the fault-lines in the postmodern church. Some critics see evangelism as cultural imperialism; most just neglect it. What was the role of evangelism and missions in the early church? In his book, Early Christian Mission, Eckhard Schnabel makes an audacious claim: the bible is a missionary document written by missionaries. He writes: “The fact that it is not possible to find a defined concept of ‘missions’ in the New Testament (NT) does not alter the fact that early Christianity was controlled by the missionary task in their entire existence and in all their activities…The body of literature on the early Christian mission is not large. This is true even for Paul’s missionary activity—a fact that may be traced back to the conviction that ‘Paul is important for us today as a theologian’ while being ‘primarily a missionary for the early church.’” (5-6) The NT focus on missions runs much deeper than a few obvious scriptural references, like the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20[1] or Acts 1:6-8[2].  Schnabel writes: “The first Christian missionary was not Paul, but Peter, and Peter would not have preached a ‘missionary’ sermon at Pentecost if he had not been a student of Jesus for three years” (3). If the Bible, particularly the NT, has a missional intent, then the interpretation rendered should simplify the text, much like the Copernican Revolution simplified the mathematics of planetary motion [3]. Schnabel defines missions as: “…the activity of a community of faith that distinguishes itself from its environment in terms of both religious belief (theology) and social behavior (ethics), that is convinced of the truth claims of its faith, and that actively works to win other people to the content of faith and to the way of life of whose true and necessity the members of that community of convinced.” (11)[4] The core missionary intent is evident, for example, in Jesus calling his followers to be “fishers of people” and are referred to as “Apostles” which means: “envoys sent by the risen Jesus Christ to proclaim the good news.” (10-12) Jesus describes his own mission when approached by Syrophoenician woman:[5]  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt 15:24 ESV)[6]  Jesus saw himself as a missionary primarily to Israel, but mandate for disciples was to:  “be my [Jesus’] witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8 ESV)  Still, because he was asked, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter (207). If evangelism is a core concept for Christ and his disciples, then clearly a Christological view of the Old Testament (OT) must also have a missional intent. The need arises out of sin—some turn to God and some do not—those that turn to God need to make others aware of their shortcoming when faced with judgment.  Schnabel sees God’s blessing of Abraham as a key to understanding missions in the OT: “Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV) Abraham is blessed to be blessing to others (61-62) [7]. Did the Nation of Israel lean into this idea of being a blessing to the nations around them? For the most part, no. The Prophet Jonah is instructive. God sends Jonah to preach to the Ninevites and he refuses; nevertheless, after being swallowed by whale, Jonah relents.  He  goes to Nineveh, prophesies their destruction, and the Ninevites turn to God (86-87). Jonah is neither surprised nor happy about this outcome (Jonah 4:1). Dr Schnabel was one of my New Testament professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He taught previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Phillippines, and Freien Theologischesn Akademice in Giessen, Germany.   He writes in 2 volumes designed as comprehensive references.  The subtitle for the first volume is—Jesus and the Twelve (pages 1 to 913)—while the subtitle for the second volume is—Paul and the Early Church (pages 920 to 1928).  Volume 1 divides into 4 parts:
  1. Promise—Israel’s Eschatological Expectations and Jewish Expansion in the Second Temple period.
  2. Fulfillment—The Mission of Jesus.
  3. Beginnings—The Mission of the Apostles in Jerusalem.
  4. Exodus—The Mission of the Twelve from Jerusalem to the Ends of the Earth.
These chapters are preceded by an introduction along with an outline, preface, abbreviations, and lists of maps and figures.  Subject, author, and ancient text indices are found at the end of volume 2 along with an exhaustive bibliography. The distinctiveness of Schnabel’s writing arises in the way that he systematically describes events, towns and regions, chronological issues, and persons (15).  In this way he teases out details that would not appear in a less comprehensive treatment.  He takes advantage of his intimate knowledge of extra-biblical writing, map making, archaeology, and business practices from the first century to provide a fresh look at NT evangelism.  As such, this book is more than a good literary or exegetical study. This could be described as a work in biblical theology, meaning that the entire counsel of scripture is consulted and expanded upon through extra-biblical research. It is hard to summarize a reference with the scope of Schnabel work.  Still, the merit of his work is beyond question—Scot McKnight aptly describes it as a masterpiece.  Schnabel’s  Early Christian Mission convinced me that missions is central to the work of the church and to interpreting scripture [7].  This work belongs in every seminary library and missions professionals will want to be aware of its contents. [1]“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV)  A parallel statement in John is much more comprehensive—“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21 ESV)—even though it is often ignored. [2]“So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8 ESV) [3]In like manner, if the Christian worldview is true, it should simplify a complex life; it is not a simpleton’s lifestyle. [4]This is an interesting definition. If X and Y, then Z. Conversely, if Z, then X and Y must be true. In plain English, missions is a test of: having a different theology and lifestyle, and really believing it. Ouch, if you don’t and/or if you won’t! [5] Also: Mark 7:26. [6] “but he said to them, I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose. And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:43-44 ESV) [7] When I sign copies of A Christian Guide to Spirituality (T2Pneuma.com), I normally paraphrase the blessing of Abraham—an echo and reminder of my study of Early Christian Mission.

Schnabel: Treat Missions as a Hermeneutic

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Gilbert Simplifies Family Systems Theory

Gilbert_review_03042015Roberta M. Gilbert. 2006. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory:  A New Way of Thinking about the Individual and the Group.  Front Royal (VA):  Leading Systems Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Families matter.  How much they matter to our health and well-being is sometimes shocking.  Frequently in patient visits in an emergency room, physical and psychiatric problems could be linked to problems elsewhere in the family, such as a death or trauma.  This might be obvious when a young mother comes in complaining of chronic headaches, but it might also be a significant factor explaining backache, heart attacks, stroke, ineffective medication, and drug addictions.  Of course, as a chaplain one needs to ask.

Introduction

Family systems theory helps to make sense of these connections by focusing on “the family as an emotional unit”, rather than on particular individuals (3). This focus runs counter to most counseling approaches which assume the clinical model where the individual is treated as autonomous. Problems with their origin outside the individual obviously cannot be solved by treating the individual alone but that is the common practice.  The systems approach often yields counter-intuitive results[1].  Family systems theory is often applied to other “emotional units”, like offices, churches, and groups, where relationships are intense and span many years.

Organization

In her book, The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory, Roberta Gilbert outlines 8 principles of family systems theory which outlines her chapters. These chapters include:

  1. Nuclear Family Emotional System;
  2. The Differentiation of Self Scale;
  3. Triangles; Cutoff;
  4. Family Projection Process;
  5. Multi-generational Transmission Process;
  6. Sibling Position; and
  7. Societal Emotional Process (4).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue.  Murray Bowen developed family systems theory in the 1950s working as a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Health in Washington DC; he elaborated this theory as a faculty member at Georgetown University[2].  Roberta Gilbert was one of his students.

In her explanation of emotional units, Gilbert write:

“My grandfather’s herd of cattle…Say the cattle are peacefully grazing…but…one cow gets too close to the electric fence, sustaining a shock, she may jump, vocalize and even jump or run, showing that she is in a very anxious state.  How long does it take for the other cows in the pasture to ‘catch’ the anxiety?  Of course, it happens almost immediately. Their behavior soon becomes agitated, showing they have taken on the anxiety of the initial individual.  The cattle are showing, by the movement of anxiety through the herd, that they are an emotional system.” (6)

Anxiety is Contagious

Anxiety transmission is a flag for the limits of an emotional system.  Gilbert classifies anxiety as acute—in response to stress—and chronic—the background anxiety in a group (7-8). Relational responses to anxiety come in 4 patterns:

  1. Triangling;
  2. Conflict;
  3. Distancing; and
  4. Overfunctioning/underfunctioning (11-12).

Anxiety is infectious (7).  Anxiety transmission is more rapid and intense in tightly “fused” groups where individual are relatively close and unprocessed emotions run wild, so to speak (21). Anxiety transmission is less rapid and intense in groups with individuals who are “differentiated” where individuals are able to separate feelings from thinking and emotions are less readily shared (33). Gilbert’s grandfather attempts to be a “calming presence” when he is working with his cattle (22).

Family Systems Concepts

Family systems theory focuses on how a particular group resolves anxiety.

Triangling

An important therapeutic result from family systems theory arises in how anxiety is resolved.  If a parent is anxious, then the other parent picks it up. If a child is nearby, they too will become anxious—the child becomes the third corner in a “triangle”.  If this situation is repeated, then the child may develop a symptom (48).  This symptom could be simple things, like sleep problems or bed wetting, or it could develop in social problems, like acting out, fighting, etc.  If the child’s symptom developed in response to parental conflict (think about divorce or separation), then sending the child out for counseling will not resolving the problem.  However, the child’s problem could be resolved by dealing with the parental conflict.

Conflict

Gilbert defines conflict as: “when…neither [party] gives in to the other on major issues.” (15) Obviously, conflict has the potential to generate a lot of chronic anxiety.

Distancing and Cutoff

When people resolve conflict or anxiety through leaving—either temporarily or permanently—nothing is resolved—only deferred.  Gilbert writes:

“Distanced persons think about each other, the relationship and the conflict that led to it, a great deal.  By distancing, they are far from free of the problem.  They are still emotionally bound and defined by it” (16).

To see this effect, think about a reunion that you have attended—what did people talk about?

Gilbert speculates that because grief is, in part, the result of emotional cutoff (distancing), remaining in contact with the deceased persons extended family can help mitigate at least some of the grieving process (62).  This is part and parcel of a traditional funeral.

Overfunctioning/underfunctioning

Gilbert writes:  “the overfunctioning/underfunctioning reciprocity describes partners trying to make one self out of two.” (17)

The overfunctioner:

·       Knows the answer,

·       Does well in life,

·       Tells the other what to do, how to think, how to feel,

·       Tries to help too much…

The underfunctioner:

·       Relies on the other to know what to do,

·       Asks for advice unnecessarily,

·       Takes all offered help, needed or not, becoming passive,

·       Asks the other to do what he or she can do for self… (18)

Gilbert notes that in the workplace, leaders can be overfunctioners (19).

An important outcome of family systems theory is that differentiation-of-self functions as a shock absorber on the emotional system.  High functioning leaders lead through principles (not emotion), stay grounded in facts and thinking, and remain in good contact with appropriate individuals in the system (43).

Assessment

Gilbert’s The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory is a helpful book.  In my case, I was already aware of the principles of Bowen theory, but had not fully absorbed their significance.  Gilbert’s presentation simplified my learning process.

Footnotes

[1] My last two published papers working as a financial engineer applied the systems approach in risk management (Responding to Systemic Risk (http://bit.ly/18lrV5f); Putting the System Back in Systemic Risk (http://bit.ly/1Gnfll2)).

[2] Murray Bowen (1913-1990; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Bowen).

Gilbert Simplifies Family Systems Theory

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Longfield Surveys Interface of Presbyterians and Culture, Part 2

Bradley_Longfield_02252015Bradley J. Longfield.  2013.  Presbyterians and American Culture: A History.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Having grown up during the period 1950s-1970s when the influence of the church in society was at a recent high point and watching a lifelong decline in that influence, Longfield’s observations about the church before the Civil War appear remarkable. Longfield (71) writes:

“The combined budgets of the voluntary associations in the early nineteenth century rivaled the federal government’s expenditures on internal improvements over the same years. This was an age, Nathan Hatch has claimed, when people expected almost everything from religion (and churches) and almost nothing from politics (and the state).”

Many of these voluntary societies were in the northern church which perhaps anticipated changes brought about later by the Civil War.

The Slavery Question

Many of the arguments within the Presbyterian church in the nineteenth century were over slavery. The North and South differed in the 1820s in the rate of urbanization and growth of foreign immigrants (97). Because northern slave-holding was largely a thing of the past, the abolition movement grew in northern churches where slavery was not an economic issue as in the South.  Southern efforts to reform slavery (100-102) from within were eclipsed when the North abolished Southern slavery following the Civil War. While many people will laugh off these reform efforts, owning one’s issues is an important Christian distinctive.  In fact, economic historians with no pony in this race have long questioned whether the conflict between North and South over slavery was even necessary because of changes already underway in the cotton industry where most slaves were employed [1].

How did success in abolishing slavery affect the Presbyterian attitude about political action?  Two effects on Presbyterians may have had lasting influence:

  • Political success in abolishing slavery bolstered the idea that political reform is more important within the church than personal transformation through faith.
  • Placing the focus on reforming other people’s social problems (north reforming south) took pressure off reforming their own social problems (north reforming north) [2].

This preference for political change rather than personal transformation within the church, taken to its logical conclusion, may explain why Presbyterians (unlike members of other reformed denominations, such as the Reformed Church in America) identify more with polity (governance of the church by elders) and less with confessional faith in the 20th century [3].

Fundamentals of the Faith

An important step in the direction of “policy ascendance” (202) was taken already in 1925 when a special commission of the General Assembly declared the 5 fundamentals of the faith nonbinding (158).  The 5 fundamentals adopted in 1910 were:

  1. The inerrancy of scripture;
  2. The virgin birth of Jesus;
  3. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Christ died for our sins);
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ; and
  5. The miracle-working power of Christ (142).

During the period from 1910 until 1925 candidates for ministry were require to adhere to these 5 fundamentals as an  ordination requirement.  The “Auburn Affirmation”, also drafted in 1925, questioned each of these fundamentals saying that they were not the only “theories” consistent with scripture and confessions (153).  The scopes trial in July 1925 turned polite disagreement into public ridicule (156).  From that point forward, pastors need not affirm the Apostle’s Creed in order to be ordained.  Adhering to the 5 fundamentals today marks one as a “fundamentalist” which has in recent years become a pejorative term.

Assessment

In Presbyterians and American Culture Longfield openly discusses many issues that remain provocative even today.  Longfield’s contribution consists of offering fair and open conversation about the history of the church and how we arrived where we are.  This makes next steps easier.

Footnotes

[1] Economic pressure was already on the cotton industry to mechanize production which happened not very many years later.  Philips reports, for example, a table showing the price of field hands rising rapidly and the price of cotton falling in the ante-bellum period.  Ulrich B. Phillips.  1972. “The Economic Cost of Slaveholding in the Cotton Belt”  page 227-239 of Gerald D. Nash [Editor] Issues in American Economic History. Lexington, MA:  D.C. Heath and Company.  The negative consequences of the war included unprecedented casualties, the acceleration of development of weapons of mass destruction, centralization of power in Washington, regional hegemony of the North over the South, and economic concentration in monopolizing firms.  These consequences shaped many of the problems that followed in the Twentieth Century.

[2] Economists often comment that the American abolition movement, which unlike that in Great Britain did not compensate slaveholders or provide former slaves with transition assistance, actually led to many of the social problems that were experienced after the Civil War.  Among those problems were discrimination, poverty, and a century of southern economic depression relative to other regions.

[3] The Reformed Church in America has used essentially the same polity documents over the past 100 years while the PCUSA amends their polity statement (the Book of Order) all the time.

Longfield Surveys Interface of Presbyterians and Culture, Part 2

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Longfield Surveys Interface of Presbyterians and Culture, Part 1

Bradley Longfield, Presbyterians and American CultureBradley J. Longfield.  2013.  Presbyterians and American Culture: A History.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My first history class in college did not start out well.  Not only did my bright, young professor from Yale not like my papers. He also threatened to fail me if I signed up for the next class in the sequence. My constant questions in class clearly annoyed him. But I took his threat as a challenge and basically sat on his desk until he explained to me why my papers were not up to snuff, so to speak. The problem? I viewed history as chronology (A happened, then B happened, then C happened…) while he saw historical observations providing support for hypothesis testing (A and B happened causing C).  We employed different historical methods in our thinking [1].

Introduction

In his book, Presbyterians and American Culture, Bradley Longfield surveys the history of churches in America from the early 1700s through the present decade.  By Presbyterians, Longfield means the denominations that today make up the Presbyterian Church (USA).  By culture, Longfield follows Clifford Geertz seeing culture as “an historically transmitted patterning of meaning embodied in symbols” including “values, attitudes, perspectives, beliefs, and ideas”. This survey is motivated by a perceived identity crisis among Presbyterians brought about at least in part by how they have attempted to influence culture (xi-xiii).

Who is Bradley Longfield?

Longfield is dean and a professor of church history at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary (PCUSA) in Dubuque, Iowa.  He writes in 7 chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by an Epilogue.  The 7 chapters (vii) are:

  1. Growing Together, Falling Apart: The Birth of American Presbyterianism (1-24);
  2. New Church, New Nation (25-52);
  3. A Christian America: Awakenings and Reform (53-90);
  4. Divided Church, Divided Nation (91-116);
  5. Crusading American, Crusading Church (117-148);
  6. War at Home, War Abroad (149-174); and
  7. Contested Boundaries: The Disestablishment of American Presbyterianism (175-200).

The appendix includes a helpful chart showing the relationships and dates of many Presbyterian denominations. Included is the most recent one—the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO)—which was organized in 2012.  There is also a subject matter index.

Method

One challenge with surveys arises in drawing inferences about general trends and causality. Are the observations presented symptomatic of the times or simply the things that are most easily described?  This question cannot be easily answered, but it points to the usefulness of the survey method. It also identifies interesting hypotheses worthy of further inquiry.

Confessional Hypothesis

One such hypothesis concerns the role of confessions in the Presbyterian response to culture. For example, throughout most of the period covered by this study the Westminster Confession united Presbyterians in the Americas.  It was written in 1640—just before period studied (3), was adopted early on as the primarily confessional document among Presbyterians (15), was the focus of proposed revisions (126), and remains in the Book of Confessions still in use today. Yet, the attitude about the confession changed dramatically in the 20th century. Serving first as a bulwark against liberalism in the early part of the century (142) and later serving merely as another confessional document, one of many, by the 1970s (196).  Freed of its confessional moorings by the end of the century, the current Presbyterian identity crisis might easily be explained as a consequence of “confessional wanderlust”.

Native American Outreach

Longfield’s survey technique clearly goes beyond describing events easily documented.  Of special interest are several sections that he devotes to Presbyterian outreach efforts in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to native Americans.  David Brainard’s evangelism to the Crossweeksung Indians in New Jersey in 1746 focused on instruction in the Westminister Shorter Catechism, preaching, and children’s education (29).  Presbyterian efforts to evangelize the Cherokee Indians included unsuccessful efforts to encourage their leaders to pass laws restricting polygamy, abortion, and divorce. They also encouraged Sabbath observance and patrilineal inheritance (82).   Later in 1831 missionaries in Georgia suffered arrest. The mood of the nation during the Jackson presidency was to relocate the Cherokees to western lands, not to convert and educate them (85).

Assessment

Longfield’s Presbyterians and American Culture is useful for seminary students and pastors curious about historical controversies of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  In part 2 of this review (on Wednesday March 11), I will look in more depth at a couple of these controversies.

[1] Once I understood my error, my next paper proved more acceptable and I ended up with an A in his class.

Longfield Surveys Interface of Presbyterians and Culture, Part 1

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Longfield Chronicles the Fundamentalist/Liberal Divide in the PCUSA, Part 1 

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Keller Argues the Case for God

Tiimothy Keller, Reason for GodKeller Argues the Case for God

Timothy Keller. 2008.  The Reason for God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism.  New York:  Dutton.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

An old saw goes:  “you can’t argue someone out of something that they weren’t argued into”.  Many people adopt illogical positions that suit their needs.  A common argument goes: I want to control my own life, therefore God must not exist.  The banality of such arguments helps explain my attraction to apologetics—the use of logic to the defense of the faith.

Introduction

In his book, The Reason for God, Keller notes an interesting statistic:

“10-25 percent of all the teachers and professors of philosophy in the country [U.S.] are orthodox Christians, up from less than 1 percent just thirty years ago.” (x)

Perhaps I am not the only one tired of incoherent arguments.  In his efforts to organize Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan New York, Keller observed that while many people are leaving the church today, many inner-city young professionals are attracted to orthodox believing churches that offer strong arguments for faith (xiv).  These are people who base their faith not on where their parents attended church but on carefully considering the alternatives.  Keller notes:  “You cannot doubt Belief A except from a position of faith in Belief B.” (xvii) Jesus himself respected those who honestly admit and struggle with their doubts to come to faith (Mark 9:24; xxiii)

Orthodox Believing Church Defined

What does an orthodox believing church look like?  Keller writes:

“The new, fast-spreading multiethnic orthodox Christianity in the cities is much more concerned about the poor and social justice than Republicans have been, and at the same time much more concerned about upholding classic Christian moral and sexual ethics than Democrats have been.” (xx)

Who is Timothy Keller?

The jacket on his book says that he was raised in Pennsylvania.  His seminary education took him to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA) and later to Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS; Philadelphia).  WTS is the flagship seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Keller lays out his book in 14 chapters divided into 2 parts (Leap of Doubt/The Reasons for Faith).  The chapters are:

Part 1: Leap of Doubt

  1. There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. Christianity is a Straitjacket
  4. The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice
  5. How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  6. Science has Disproved Christianity
  7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally

Part 2: The Reasons for Faith

  1. The Clues of God
  2. The Knowledge of God
  3. The Problem of Sin
  4. Religion and the Gospel
  5. The (True) Story of the Cross
  6. The Reality of the Resurrection
  7. The Dance of God (vii-viii)

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue, acknowledgments, notes, and an index.

Apologetics

Keller’s approach in apologetics is to provide a detailed list of arguments and counterarguments consistent with traditional apologetics.  This approach makes sense because frequently people struggling with their faith get hung up on particular stumbling blocks which, once removed, allows them a more normal journey of faith to proceed.

An important stumbling block for many people is the question of human suffering.  The classic argument offered by atheists is:  how could an all-powerful, loving God allow suffering?  Either God is not all-powerful or God is not loving.  Keller notes the story of Joseph whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt, but ends up prime minister of Egypt.  Keller asks:  what was the role of suffering in Joseph’s life? (24).  He also notes that atheists have a curious agenda in posing this question about God’s attributes because natural selection, taken in the process of evolution, depends directly on death, destruction, and suffering of weaker individuals.  Holding such a detestable theory so close to heart, how then can the atheist suddenly have standing to question God’s fairness and goodness? (26)

Perichoresis

For me, The Dance of God proved. most memorable.   Keller asks:  “What does it mean…that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit glorify each other?”  He goes on to write:  “The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance…The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this—perichoresis.” (214-215)[1] Perichoresis is the Trinity modeling life in community for the church.

Assessment

Keller’s book ends with an invitation to faith.  Citing Flannery O’Connor, he writes:  “To Know oneself, is above all, to know what one lacks.” (227)  The hope of our age is that we will individually and collectively wake up—like the drunk who wakes up in an alley—and recognize that we desperately need God.  Keller advises—take a spiritual inventory—identify your own stumbling blocks (231).  Then, repent, believe in Christ, and find a community of faith (232-235).

[1] See my earlier review:  Fairbairn:  The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-RT) and Part 2 (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-S0).

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