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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Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success

Henry Cloud, One Life Solution

Henry Cloud.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaiming Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  HarperCollins.

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I cannot ignore any book by Henry Cloud. Back in 2003, my pastor preached a sermon based on Cloud’s earlier book called: Boundaries. The sermon interested me enough that I bought and read the book. Applying prescriptions from the book to my life led me to perceive my call into pastoral ministry.


The One-Life Solution is a book focused on constructing and developing better boundaries at work (19). Cloud observes that most people get caught up trying to control the things outside their control. Things like other people, circumstances, or outcomes. Meanwhile, they lose control of themselves (22). In this context, Cloud defines a boundary as a property which defines where you end and someone (or something) else begins (25).

Six Key Areas

In a work environment, Cloud sees boundaries bringing order to six key areas: 1. Ownership, 2. Control, 3. Freedom, 4. Responsibility, accountability, and consequences, 5. Limits, and 6. Protection (25-30). Interestingly, these six areas do not lend structure to the discussion that follows. Rather, the book mostly focuses on applying boundaries to establish structure and reduce anxiety.

A Henry Cloud Audit

Cloud suggests that a good place to start is with an audit. The purpose of this audit is to measure where you spend your time, disconnects between time spent and personal values, and what personal issues contribute to the problem (69).  This method of analysis is reminiscent of what Miller and Rollnick (2002, 38) referred to as gap analysis–highlighting the discrepancy between present behavior and …broader goals and values.


An important point in assessing books with the character of movie sequels is: does the sequel add value to the initial book? Here the answer is yes. Henry Cloud’s The One-Life Solution contributed real value to my understanding of boundaries. For Cloud the key was seeing examples of how to manage difficult office situation with tact and grace. My favorite example recalls an obnoxious CEO who laid into him everyday at his desk at 4 p.m., which ruined his evening as well as his day. Cloud (152) simply made a rule not to talk to him after 4 p.m. I had a supervisor very much like that.


Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Miller, William R. and Stephen Rollnick. 2002. Motivational Interviews: Preparing People for Change. New York: Guilford Press.

Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success

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Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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


In his book, Kierkegaard, Mark Tietjen writes:

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

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

Cheap Grace

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

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

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

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

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

Background and Organization

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

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

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

Missionary to Christians?

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

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

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


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


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


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

Tietjen Introduces Kierkegaard

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Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace

Max Lucado, Fearless

Max Lucado.  2009.  Fearless:  Imagine Your Life Without Fear.   Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you believe in divine intervention?  I do.  Let me give an example.

In 2010, I signed up for a small group discussion at church.  A couple days later the small group coordinator called to ask me:  because the group that I have signed up for was over-subscribed, would I be willing to join another group?  No problem, I said reluctantly thinking to myself–why would I want to join a group proposing to talk about fear?  So I bought the book.  As I started reading, I found my life jumping off the pages–not only had fear crept into my life; it was quietly dictating a lot of my decisions.  Through almost no effort on my part, God had directed me to a major stronghold in my life and helped me deal with it (Psalm 18:2).

What was the book? It was Max Lucado’s  Fearless:  Imagining Your Life Without Fear.


Lucado observes that:  ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s (5).  He goes on to observe that fear displaces happiness; fear is unproductive; fear is self-defeating.  Jesus spoke out against fear, for example, after the storm on the Galilee saying:  why were you afraid? (Matthew 8:26; 6)  In suggesting the destructive potential of fear, Lucado (9) cites Martin Niemoeller’s observation in 1933 that the tyrant that Adolf Hilter became was born in fear.  Is it any wonder that Christ is famous for bringing peace:  Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me (John 14:1 NLT;  11)?


Lucado’s book is organized in 15 chapters.  The first chapter, partially summarized above, poses the question:  why are we afraid?  The next 13 chapters focus on case studies of fears that we commonly confront–fear of not mattering, of disappointing God, of running out, of not protecting our kids, of overwhelming challenges, of worst-case scenarios, of violence, of the coming winter, of life’s final moments, of what’s next, that God is not real, of global calamity, of God getting out of my box.  The final chapter concludes with stories reiterating the problems caused merely by fear and with people’s responses to tragedy.  The final of these is the story of a young missionary who, as he watched his home burned the ground, recited a psalm and found solace in God (178-180).  After the conclusions, Lucado provides a discussion guide with questions for small groups.  In my own small group, we also viewed a related DVD based video.

Fears Need to Be Named

When Jesus cast the unclean spirit out of the man in the Gerasenes, he started by asking: What is your name? (Mark 5:9 ESV).  Lucado approaches our fears in a similar matter.  By naming our fears, he deprives them of their power.  He then redirects us to God where the power of the Holy Spirit may be found.

Parental Fear

Perhaps one of the most insidious fears is the fear of parents that they will be powerless to protect their kids.  This is especially true of your first child because you feel totally unprepared for the job of parenting and terribly vulnerable.  Lucado (57) notes that: fear distilleries concoct a high-octane brew for parents–a primal gut-wrenching, pulse-stilling dose.  When our children have teachable moments, Lucado (60) observes that out of fear we often become both paranoid and permissive when we should be trusting God and modeling trust to our children.

He recommends that we pour our fears out to God, not to our children, and pray with them about the issues that they confront (61).  The principle here is that:  we cannot protect our children from every threat in life, but we can take them to the Source of Life (61).   Remember that young children often look at their parents before they decide to cry–even when badly injured–and, when they see we are afraid, they cry.  Throughout his discussion, Lucado looks to scripture for guidance.  In this chapter, he reviews stories of Abraham (Genesis 22), Jairus (Luke 8), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), and the father with the epileptic son (Matthew 17), but lingers longest on the story of Jairus.  He concludes that clearly: God has a heart for hurting parents (63).


Max Lucado’s Fearless is a book to read and pass around.  His writing contains numerous stories which makes his writing both accessible and interesting.  After 9-11, after so many years of the Great Recession and war, Fearless is clearly a book for our times.

Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace

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Graham Shares Gospel; Speaks about Judgment

BillyGraham_10212013Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new campaign called:  My Hope with Billy Graham (  Graham’s new book, The Reason for My Hope, was released on October 15th in anticipation of this campaign.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

I have read Graham since I learned to read ( so I was anxious to see his latest book.

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging–The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.  I look forward to hearing more about it on November 7.

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Gabriel Models Virtue; Speaks Worlds

Stephen Gabriel.  2011.  Speaking to the Heart:  A Father’s Guide to Growth in Gabriel_10012013Virtue.  Falls Church:  Moorings Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

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

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

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

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

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