Nouwen Calls Leaders

Nouwen_cupHenri J. M. Nouwen.  2006.  Can You Drink the Cup?  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When a friend of mine in Christ recommended this book, I was surprised and happy to take the recommendation.  I thought that I had read all of Henri Nouwen’s books. The book’s dedication to the l’Arche Daybreak Community here in Northern Virginia added special meaning for me because a friend of mine worked and lived there.

Nouwen History

In this book, Nouwen talks at length about his personal history, particularly his ordination. From the age of six, Nouwen wanted to be a priest and he was ordained as Roman Catholic priest on July 21, 1957 in the Netherlands (16). As a gift for his ordination, his uncle gave him a chalice (20). “Can You Drink the Cup?” is a book structured around the metaphor of drinking wine.

The book starts with citing Matthew 20:20-23. In this passage, the mother of Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, comes to Jesus to request that her sons be given seats at the left and right of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus denies the request posing a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt 20:22 ESV).

Cup as Symbol

Nouwen sees the cup as a symbol of our life. He asks: “Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can be lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?” (24) Nouwen structures his book around these three themes: “holding, lifting, and drinking” (25).


Nouwen comments: “drinking wine is more than just drinking. You have to know what you are drinking and be able to talk about it” (29). (Now I know why I prefer beer!) In talking about this holding of the cup, Nouwen talks about the joys and sorrows of living and working with special needs people. Nouwen writes: “Joys are hidden in sorrows!” (56) In my own work with Alzheimer’s patients, I have come to know both the joy of walking with them and the deep sorrow, deep abandonment they feel.


Nouwen writes: “Lifting up the cup is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together” (61). The symbolism here is not only the toast and the word that are spoken, but the celebration, especially the celebration of communion. A toast is a blessing (68). In Spanish, a blessing is a good word (bendición) and a curse is a bad word (maldición). In the biblical world where worlds are created and destroyed by God’s word, one learns to choose one’s words carefully.


Nouwen reminds us that offering a drink to a visitor is a basic act of hospitality (86). Being willing to share is another way of saying that one accepts one’s status in life. At what point do we reach that point? A resident of L’Arche, Gordie, asked Nouwen: “Why are people leaving all the time?” (93). This question cuts to the core of pastoral ministry. As an intern, I was happy to work with Alzheimer’s patients but Gordie’s question cut to core–could I, as Nouwen did, give up the fast track and just simply work in a home with Alzheimer’s patients? What level of sacrifice are we willing to offer? What about our families? I found “Can You Drink the Cup?” very convicting. Perhaps, you will too.

Nouwen Calls Leaders

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Gumbel Answers Faith Questions

Nicky Gumbel.[1]2016. Questions of Life: Alpha. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Books about the fundamentals of the Christian faith fascinate me. No two of these books are remotely similar even though they presumably cover the same topics. The topics remain similar but the manner in which we approach them needs to ring true in different times and places. This makes the Alpha approach remarkable because it appeals to so many different people in different times and places. Nicky Gumbel’s book, Questions of Life, sets forth these objectives:

“This book attempts to answer some of the key questions at the heart of the Christian faith. It is based on Alpha, which is designed for non-churchgoers, those seeking to find out more about Christianity, and those who have recently come to faith in Jesus Christ.”(ix)

Audaciously, Gumbel starts citing his own objections to the Christian faith: it’s boring, untrue, and irrelevant (11-12).

Background and Organization

Nicky Gumbel is an author, founder of Alpha, and an Anglican priest serving in one of the UK’s largest congregations. He studied at Hill House and Eton College, read law at Trinity College, Cambridge, and studied theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Other books by Gumbel include: The Jesus LifestyleSearching Issues, and A Life Worth Living.

Gumbel’s Questions of Life is organized in fifteen chapters preceded by a preface and Foreword, and followed by endnotes. The chapter titles are:

  1. “Is there more to Life than This?
  2. Who is Jesus?
  3. Why Did Jesus Die?
  4. How Can I have Faith?
  5. Why and How Do I Pray?
  6. Why and How Should I Read the Bible?
  7. How Does God Guide Us?
  8. Who is the Holy Spirit?
  9. What Does the Holy Spirit Do?
  10. How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit?
  11. How Can I Resist Evil?
  12. Why and How Should I Tell Others?
  13. Does God Heal Today?
  14. What About the Church?
  15. How Can I Make the Most of the Rest of My Life?”(v)

The chapters follow the Alpha course outline and provide content for small group discussion and sermon presentation. Some chapters include cartoon illustrations.

Alpha Context

The Alpha focus on non-Christians and Christians who do not attend church regularly helps explain the plain-English language, the choice of topics chosen and the large number of stories suitable as sermon illustrations. This audience, sometimes described as seekers, stumble over “churchy” words and misconceptions of the Gospel story. Even among believers it is perhaps rare to participate actively in a small group. 

Every effort is made to avoid placing people in an awkward position. A non-believer may find prayer intimidating or even discussing personal questions about what they believe or do not believe. Small group leaders are accordingly encouraged to giving everyone an opportunity to participate in discussions without being pushy about it or putting people on the spot. The illustration of a circle game of passing a beach ball around is a template for group discussions.

The Anglican origins of Alpha show up in the choice of topics. Among Presbyterians discussions about the Holy Spirit are usually brief—Alpha devotes about four chapters to the Holy Spirit (chapters 7-10)—have generally been skeptical about spiritual healing (chapter 13) and avoid discussions of sin and evil (chapter 1). The Anglican willingness to broach these subjects came as a pleasant surprise.

How and Why Do I Pray?

Gumble’s chapter on prayer provides a good illustration of this book’s contribution. Personal prayer is a Christian distinctive in that many religions suggest prayer, but it is a transcendent God and, for that reason, prayer tends to be formulaic, not spontaneous. Think of Moslem lined up for Friday prayer and reciting Surahs from the Koran. 

Personal prayer is harder because it is a deeply theological activity. I have often said that my prayer book (Everyday Prayers for Everyday People) is my most theological book. Gumble notes that before he came to faith, he recited mostly child formula prayers and mostly prayed in times of crisis (62). Now he focuses on his relationship with his heavenly father (63). While some people find relationships easy, many people today find intimacy generally hard and especially hard in a. lonely, technological society that does not encourage development of social skills. What do you say to your heavenly father when conversation with your earthly friends and relationship is strained and infrequent? Gumbel walks his reader through the Lord’s prayer, petition by petition (63-73).


Nicky Gumbel’s book, Questions of Life, is an accessible and helpful book. Small groups may find this book useful even outside of a formal Alpha course. I used it to prepare as an Alpha group leader. I also appreciated the head’s up on sermon material, which helped drill the subject matter in more deeply. Nonbelievers may find this book an excellent way to become familiar with the Christian faith before walking into an unfamiliar church.


Gumbel Answers Faith Questions

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Blamires: Lost Art of Christian Thinking

Harry Blamires. 2005. The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Orig Pub 1963) Vancouver: Regent College Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Loneliness is not having anyone who speaks your language. Christian intellectuals (13-14) are probably lonelier than garden variety intellectuals because in addition to being considered eccentric, they may be accused of having a six-foot invisible rabbit for a friend.[1] What do you do when you see the world in technicolor and those around you see only black and white?


In his book, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? Harry Blamires writes:

To this Christianly is to accept all things with the mind as related, directly or indirectly, to man’s eternal destiny as the redeemed and chosen child of God… There is nothing in our experience, however trivial, worldly, or even evil, which cannot be thought about Christianly…The purpose of this book is not to judge [people], whatever their religious position, but to clarify a problem by defining states of mind.” (44-45, 144)

In my own writing, I describe this idea by saying that God is my denominator, the measure by which all things are measured. My own Christian frame of reference has been a source of complaint within my family so I have learned to translate my own thoughts into secular concepts. Blamires (70) observes:

“…the modern Christian, a schizophrenic type who hops in and out of his Christian mentality as the topic of conversation changes from the Bible to the day’s newspaper, or the field of action changes from Christian stewardship to commercial advertising, or the environment changes from the vestry to the office.”

The hardest translation in my experience is explaining why gave up a six-figure income working as an economist to go to seminary—instead of referring to my call from God I need to find some excuse like “I wanted to give back”or “I wanted to have more fixable work hours”or some other such silliness. Sadly, my sacrifice in attending seminary has often marked me as a kind of village idiot even with my ordination committee.

Background and Organization

Harry Blamires (1916−2017) graduated from Oxford University, where his tutor was C. S. Lewis, and he was an Anglican theologian, literary critic, and novelist.[2]He writes in eight chapters divided into two parts:

PART ONE: The Lack of a Christian Mind

  1. The Surrender to Secularism
  2. Thinking Christianly and Thinking Secularly

PART TWO: The Marks of the Christian Mind

  1. Its Supernatural Orientation
  2. Its Awareness of Evil
  3. Its Conception of Truth
  4. Its Acceptance of Authority
  5. Its Concern for the Person
  6. Its Sacramental Cast (v)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by a postscript.

Let me say a few words about each part.

The Lack of a Christian Mind

Blamires (3,15) believes that modern Christians have conceded the mind to secular thinking in what could be described as the triumph of romanticism. He writes:

“Christianity is emasculated of its intellectual relevance. It remains a vehicle of spirituality and morel guidance at the individual level perhaps; at the communal level it is little more than an expression of sentimentalized togetherness. The mental secularization of Christians means that nowadays (1963) we meet only as worshipping beings and as moral beings, not as thinking beings.” (16)

Writing as he does in the early 1963s, Blamires is commenting primarily on a modern problem of intellectual irrelevance because Billy Graham was still drawing crowds and hosting television interviews well into the 1970s. Still, one wonders whether the Christian intellectual suffers any worse than intellectuals more generally (19) as modernism started to give up the ghost already in the 1950s with severe criticism of the scientific method that started in the immediate aftermath of the World War II.

Blamires’ illustration of the Anglican church’s problem in selecting bishops highlights the problem that even within the church secular values dominated thinking. Unlike the Orthodox church that promotes bishops only from within the ranks of its monks, Anglican bishops are expected to be good administrators—thoroughly worldly individuals (54-59). It is hard to argue with his logic here as church administrators are often the most talented, but also the most cynical and manipulative of people. Blamires concludes:

“Since we refuse to think Christianly even about the office of bishop, it is scarcely surprising that we lose the habit of thinking Christianly about secular matters.” (59)

Blamires is even careful to distinguish Christian thinking from scholarly thinking (51).

The Marks of the Christian Mind

In this second part Blamires inventories areas where the Christian mind differs most dramatically from secular thinking, starting with metaphysics—the physical world is not all there is. 


Because God created heaven and earth, he must stand apart from them. He is eternal; we are not. It sounds quaint to talk about the supernatural only because so many people cannot think beyond the natural world (67).

Good and Evil

If God is good, then the antithesis of good is evil, another topic that moderns typically avoid. Denying evil or discounting it, however, gives it space to grow. Blamires goes on to show how it is considered sophisticated to discount sin in its portrayal in the media (96). He notes that “flowers grow best in manured soil” (97), as we have seen in recent years. He writes:

“Immoral literature is literature which recommends immoral behavior. If a play or a novel wins sympathy for adulterers, sodomites, dope addicts, or nymphomaniacs in the sense of making the audience or the reader feel that such people are right to indulge their vices and aberrations, then it is immoral.” (98-99)

His comments appear dated today as the film industry insists on checking all the boxes above in practically every film.


The idea of objective truth is grounded in faith in God (108). Measured against the eternal judgment of God, other truths lack appeal or pertinence. Blamires observes: “You cannot construct truth at all; you can only discover it.” (112) His anchoring in the modern era and rationality is clearly evident when he writes:

“Two opinions are rarely better than one. If A thinks rationally on a given matter and B thinks irrationally on the same matter, then neither A nor the world in general will benefit from having A’s view adulterated with B’s.” (113)

In this regard, Blamires seems to equate rationality with Christian thought.


If the Christian loves and respects God, God’s authority is obviously recognized. But what if the world around us rejects all forms of authority? Does God then become our buddy? Blamires obsevers that: “distaste for authority is unparalleled in history.” (132-133) The respect for the authority of God allows the Christian to in turn respect other authorities—parents, teachers, preachers, police, and government officials—in ways that are hard for secular people to emulate.

Blamires writes:

“For if the Christian faith is true, and the Christian church the authoritative vehicle of salvation in time, then it is the most urgent, inescapable need of the modern [and postmodern] world to adapt itself to the church [not the other way around]” (148) 

Obviously, it all forms of authority are questioned and ignored, then salvation is indeed an unlikely outcome of secular thinking.


Being created in the image of God confers a high regard for persons in Christian thinking that is only borrowed in secular discourse, which focuses more on material goods and mechanics (156-157). Blamires sees the secular notion of progress as imbedded in the acquisition of things (161) He writes that we are:

“… so engrossed in performing functions in contemporary society that they have neither the time nor the energy left for the business of merely being human.” (164)

He goes on to observe that: “The Christian will think in terms of persons and institutions; but modern secularism thinks in terms of units and mechanisms.” (166) Perhaps the worst of it is that no one actually forces us into this mold more than we ourselves when we get carried away with trying to provide for our families and achieving success.


Recognizing the sacredness of God and of life go hand in hand. The loss of the idea of these things is perhaps an example of the slippery slope that we have been on in recent years. Blamires writes: “There is no doubt that commercial interests actively stimulate youthful sexuality and self-indulgence” (173) making money by corrupting our youth.


Harry Blamires’ The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? is a thoughtful, assessible, and well-written book on the interface between Christian and modern culture before political correctness. Blamires documents that many of the problems of postmodern culture were already in view in the late modern period (1960s). While it is likely to be perceived by many as a period-piece, I found it helpful in identifying contemporary points where the Christian and secular mindsets deviate.


[1]This is an allusion to a movie called Harvey about a man who sees a six-foot, invisible rabbit and is committed to an insane asylum until others start seeing the rabbit for themselves. Harvey is a 1950 American comedy-drama film based on Mary Chase’s play of the same name, directed by Henry Koster, and starring James Stewart and Josephine Hull (


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Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

Kinnaman and L:yons, Good Faith

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.


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?


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).


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.


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], @BarnaGroup,, @DavidKinnaman,, @GabeLyons

Kinnaman and Lyon Research Faithful Living, Part 1

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Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God

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

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

A ministry friend once distinguished problems from polarities. He argued that problems, unlike polarities, have solutions while polarities can only be managed. For example,  an umbrella manages our response to rain, but does not solve the problem posed by rain;  having an umbrella simply makes rain more tolerable. Ministry would be more tolerable, my friend advised, if I learned to manage polarities rather than treating them as problems to be solved. Because unsolvable polarities are everywhere in life and ministry, I never forgot my friend’s advice.

Three Polarities

Three polarities lie at the heart of our spiritual life says Henri Nouwen. In his book, Reaching Out, he describes them as: an inner movement from loneliness to solitude, an outward movement from hostility to hospitality, and an upward movement from illusion to prayer (20). These movements each potentially involve progress—hence, the term, movement—but for Nouwen this progress is tentative and subject to lifelong tension (39). He writes: “the spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer.” (20) Tension suggests a struggle with polarity both in heart and mind.


This struggle with both head and mind components distinguishes writing in spirituality from theology where the logic of the mind is more narrowly the focus. Nouwen focuses immediately on the question—“What does it mean to live a life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ?”—and links this question to one Jesus himself poses: “Some say. . .others say. . .but what do you say?” (16-17) What we say is immediately pertinent. Nouwen sees spirituality discussions as intensely personal. In this setting or any other, “we have to face and explore directly our inner restlessness, our mixed feelings towards others, and our deep-seated suspicions about the absence of God.” (17). In these three movements, Nouwen is clearly inviting us into his spiritual struggles and the tone of the book is captured in its title.

Outline of Book

The title, Reaching Out, captures Nouwen’s sense of the three movements, around which he structures the book (17) into 9 chapters, preceded by a foreword and introduction, and followed by a conclusion and notes:



 REACHING OUT TO OUR INNERMOST SELF—The First Movement From Loneliness To Solitude

  1. A Suffocating Loneliness
  2. A Receptive Solitude
  3. A Creative Response

 REACH OUT TO OUR FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS—The Second Movement From Hostility To Hospitality

  1. Creating Space for Strangers
  2. Forms of Hospitality
  3. Hospitality and the Host

 REACHING OUT TO OUR GOD—The Third Movement From Illusion To Prayer

  1. Prayer and Mortality
  2. The Prayer of the Heart
  3. Community and Prayer


Notes (15)

Who is Nouwen?

In addition to being a prodigious author, Nouwen was a Catholic priest and longtime academic who went to live and work in the L’Arche-Daybreak Community[1] (of special needs individuals) in Toronto, Canada, laying down the academic life much like Jesus laid his clothes aside to wash the disciple’s feet (John 13:4-5).

Three Movements

Let me turn aside now to focus on the three movements.

Movement from Loneliness to Solitude

As an observant priest who suffered from same-sex attractions,[2] Nouwen felt loneliness deeply, describing it as: “one of the most universal sources of human suffering today.” (25) Even in his suffering, Nouwen goes on to write:

“The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” (34-35)

The key words here are a restful spirit (Sabbath), inward-reaching search (an attentive heart and mind), and play—play! Play usually distinguishes adults from children—a child of God must learn to play. For Nouwen, this play makes space in our life for others (40) because we are more rested, “alert and aware of the world around us” (50). Nouwen’s vision of solitude develops the inner resources that make hospitality to others possible (61-62).

Movement from Hostility to Hospitality

Much like solitude provides the inner space for admitting others, hospitality provides outward space for others. This is where “the stranger can enter and become a friend, instead of an enemy” (71). Nouwen (66-67) gives three biblical examples. These include Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers (Gen 18:1-15), the widow of Zarephath hospitality to Elijah in spite of her own poverty (1 Kgs 17:9-24), and the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who unknowingly offered hospitality to Jesus (Luke 24:13-35). In each case, Nouwen writes:

“When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them.” (67).

For Nouwen, hospitality accordingly offers the possibility of transforming strangers into friends who respond with their own gift, promise, and new life (67). This new life is instrumental in the case of parents offering space to children (81-84), teachers offering space to students (84-90), and healers offering space to patients (91-97). Hospitality is for Nouwen a primal concern.  Lonely people cannot offer much space, solitude is a key prerequisite for hospitality (101), which necessarily brings us to God.

Movement from Illusion to Prayer

No paths up the mountain lead to God; God must come down, as Nouwen relates:

“. . . the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only be received as a gift. We cannot plan, organize, or manipulate God; but without a careful discipline, we cannot receive him either.” (126)

Nouwen notes the problem of finding a spiritual guide. He finds wisdom in praying the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” (141) I was taught the Jesus prayer working in a Catholic hospital as a substitute for the negative self-talk often practiced by psychiatric patients.[3] Because we all practice negative self-talk, the motivation to engage in continuous prayer (or to pray the Jesus prayer) is much the same. It makes space in our hearts for God, who grants us a capacity for both solitude and hospitality.


Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out has been a significant influence on my spiritual life since I first read in 2007 and it continues to influence my professional writing. Like all of Nouwen’s writing, this book reads well but requires reflection, like any classic in Christian spirituality. Christians serious about deepening their faith will want to spend some time with this book.



[2] Wil Hernandez, Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, (New York: Paulist Press, 2006),page 126.

[3] A somewhat longer breathe prayer was prayed by Nehemiah just before speaking to the king: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”  (Neh 1:11 ESV)

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God

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Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad ya está disponible!

Una Guia Cristian a la EspiritualidadSpanish Edition of A Christian Guide to Spirituality is Now Available!

Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad is now available on in paperback and Kindle EBook.

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Prayer Day 4: A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Eternal and Compassionate Father. Help us to accept You into all aspects of our lives. Thank you for creating us in your image. Bless our families. Forgive our sin and rebellion. In the power of your Holy Spirit, restore to us the joy of your salvation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Eterno y compasivo Padre. Ayudan nos a aceptar tú en todos los aspectos de nuestras vidas. Gracias por crean nos en tu imagen. Bendicen nuestras familias. Perdonan nuestros pecados y rebelión. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, restauran a nosotros el gozo de tu salvación. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.


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Prayer Day 3: A Christian’s Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Almighty Father, beloved son, ever-present Spirit. We praise you for creating us in your image, for walking with us even as we sin, and for patiently restoring us into your favor. Strengthen our sense of your identity. In the power of your Holy Spirit, unstop our ears; uncover our eyes; soften our hearts; illumine our minds. Shape us more and more in your image that we also might grow. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, amado Hijo, siempre presente Espíritu. Te alabamos por crea nos en tu imagen, por caminar con nosotros incluso cuando nos pecamos, y por restaurar nos patentemente en tu favor. Fortalece nos en tu identidad. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, destapa nuestro oídos; descubre nuestros ojos; suaviza nuestras corazones; ilumina nuestros mentes. Forma nos mas y mas en tu imagen que podemos también crecer. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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Prayer Day 2, A Christian Guide to Spirituality By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Heavenly Father:  We praise you for creating heaven and earth; for creating all that is, that was, and that is to come; for creating things seen and unseen.  We praise you for sharing yourself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; our role model in life, redeemer in death, and hope for the future.  We praise you for the Holy Spirit, who is ever present with us; who sustains all things; who showers us with spiritual gifts.  Open our hearts; illumine our minds; strengthen our hands in your service.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, te alabamos para creación de los cielos y de la tierra; para creación de todo que es, que fue, y que sera; para creación de las cosas visibles e invisibles. Te alabamos por compartir ti mismo en la persona de Jesús de Nazaret; nuestro modelo en la vida, redentor en el muerto, y la esperanza para el futuro. Te alabamos por el Espíritu Santo, quien está presente con nosotros que duchar nos con dones espirituales y sustentar todo las cosas. Abierta nuestras corazones, iluminar nuestros mentes, fortalecer nuestros manos en su servicio. En el nombre de Jesús, Amen.

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JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Photograph of Boxing Gloves
Stephen W. Hiemstra 1983

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Whom do you seek?  They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus said to them, I am he… they drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:4-6 ESV).

Jesus is full of surprises.

If a crowd of angry, armed men came up to you on a dark night and asked for you by name, then the expected answer is something like:  sorry, I have no idea who you are looking for!!!  What does Jesus do?  Jesus asks who they are looking for and volunteers—that’s me.  Actually, Jesus says–I am—which is the same expression in Greek that God uses to respond to Moses in the burning bush (ἐγώ εἰμι (Exodus 3:14).

The soldiers and officials of the chief priests (v 3) sense the presence of God—a theophany—and they draw back falling to the ground (v 6).  They are so confused that Jesus has to repeat the question—who are you looking for? (v 7)  Having focused their attention on himself, he asks them to let his disciples go and they comply. This response fulfills Jesus’ own prophecy in John 10:28 (vv 8-9).

Jesus is taken away and undergoes three interrogations:  before Annas (vv 13-23), Caiaphas (vv 24-28), and Pontius Pilate (vv 29-38).  In these three interrogations, Jesus is clearly in control in conversations with powerful leaders;  by contrast, the Apostle Peter is shaken by conversations with mere no bodies and denies his relationship with Jesus three times.

Annas is the previous high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the presiding high priest.  Annas asked Jesus about his disciples and his teaching (v 19) to which Jesus replied:  why are you asking me? (v 21)  Because Jesus is being tried for sedition (being king of the Jews), Annas has to prove that a conspiracy exists–one man’s confession does not suggest a conspiracy.  As a capital case, Jewish law requires at least two witnesses(Deuteronomy 17:6).  Annas has none!

So Jesus is sent to Caiaphas.  John’s Gospel records no discussion from this interrogation, but a lengthy proceeding is recorded in Matthew.  Caiaphas asks Jesus if he is the Son of God (Matthew 26:63).  Jesus answers the question and Caiaphas accuses him of blasphemy—a charge punishable by stoning (Leviticus 24:16).  Pushing the Romans to crucify Jesus (hung on a tree) implies that they wanted him cursed by God—discredited as well as killed (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

Jesus is then sent to Pilate who asks:  are you the king of the Jews (v 33).  Jesus’ question—did someone ask you to pose this question—begs clarification because the Jewish and Roman interests in the question differ (v 34).  A Jew would ask—are you the Messiah?  But the Romans only wanted to know if Jesus were a revival king—a political threat.  Jesus responds to Pilate’s concern about political opposition by reminding Pilate that his disciples did not put up a fight when he was arrested (v 36).  At this point, Jesus’ innocence is obvious.  Pilate then concludes that Jesus is no threat (v 38).

In some sense, each of us put Jesus on trial in our own hearts and minds.  Do we scorn the truth just to get what we want?  Do we prefer the Son of God or Barabbas?

Jesus is full of surprises.


  1. Where was Jesus and the disciples at the beginning of this chapter? (vv 1-2).Where did Jesus not pray in chapter 17? (Matthew 26:30, 36; Mark 14:26, 32; Luke 22:39)  How do you resolve the discrepancy?
  2. What role does Judas play in Jesus’ arrest here? (vv 2-3).  What role does he play in Matthew 26:47-48 (also Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48)?  Who takes the initiative in John?
  3. What happens when Jesus asks the crowd, who do you seek? Why? (vv 4-8) Why did he ask twice? (v 9)
  4. Why are Jesus’ instructions to Peter about sword-play important? (vv 10-12, also 36)
  5. Who interrogates Jesus? (vv 13-23, 24-28, and 29-38)  Who is really in charge of the case against Jesus?
  6. What is the charge? (v 33; Matthew 26:63-65)
  7. What is the penalty for blasphemy under Jewish law? (Leviticus 24:16).  Why do they want Jesus crucified?  (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
  8. Why does Jesus ask Pilate to clarify his question? (v 33)  How might Jesus answer the question differently to a Jew as opposed to a Roman?
  9. How does Peter’s denial three times (vv 15-18, 25-27) compare with Jesus’ response to his accusers? (vv 4-8, 11, 20-23, 34-37) Who questions Jesus?  Who questions Peter?  Is Jesus portrayed as a victim?
  10. What is Pilate’s relationship with the Jewish leaders? (vv 28-31)
  11. What kind of king is Jesus? (vv 33-39)
  12. What does the crowd ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus? (v 40)


JOHN 18: The Arrest and Trials of Jesus

Also see:

JOHN 19: Suffered, Crucified, Died, Buried

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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