Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sacred Journey Review

Every so often, about twenty years or so, the church remembers her roots. She decides that maybe those so called “legalistic” practices performed in the medieval era had some merit. We waffle between legalism and liberation twisting back and forth from one emphasis to another. Naturally, these ideas are worth reiterating an new and unique ways. And so an industry of writing about spiritual disciplines is created.

When that pattern of waxing and waining on spiritual practices clashes with a cultural shift, we occasionally make decent progress in growing closer to God. That’s what the “Ancient Practices Series” is all about. It’s a series on the supposed 7 ancient disciplines, plus an introduction (the practices being those used by Christians, Jews, and Muslims). Utilizing mostly postmodern or emerging voices, Phyllis Tickle has organized an incredible but approachable library on things Christians do. Since it is written by postmoderns to postmoderns, this series emphasizes existential learning rather than systematic or doctrinal focus.

The last book on the series, “The Sacred Journey” by Charles Foster is much like the others. Difficult enough to contend with, it begins with the phrase “you won’t agree with everything in this book”. Unlike most reviewers, who think every book worth reading is one with which they will completely agree, I find his approach fascinating. It truly is a book with which the reader must wrestle. Sometimes you feel as though you have him pinned, only to find that Foster has already planned his counter move, obliterating your argument about his current point. I walk away from this book with a greater appreciation of the spiritual discipline called “pilgrimage”.

Another common complaint is that this book is not practicable enough. Reviewers tend to either say “I could never do that”, or “he’s talking about our day to day prayer lives. In fact, the book discusses a specific body approach to Christianity. The primary problem Foster has with modern Christianity is that we take the body out of it. We settle for Gnosticism (that is the belief that the body is evil). Practicing disciplines involves our body in spiritual matters. In this sense, Foster’s book stands firmly next to McKnight’s “Fasting” (also a part of the series, and my favorite of the group).

The best part of the book is that reading through it is a sort of journey on its own. As Christians, Foster writes, the difference in pilgrimage is that we focus on the journey rather than the destination. Certainly a contention for most of Evangelical Christianity. I agree wholeheartedly with this point.

While the biblical interpretation is somewhat dubious (Foster sees wandering in every episode of the Bible and argues it is the foundation of human nature and what makes us fundamentally different from animals), Foster’s use of personal experience, and exhortation to “just do it already” compel the reader to find ways to become a pilgrim. I know this reader will start this practice as soon as he can. Full of grace and truth, this book is not a treatise, not a journal, but somewhere in between (which makes it similar to the book in the series on fixed hour prayer “in constant prayer” by benson). By being an existential work rather than a purely theoretical or practical one, Foster blends the genres of devotional and academic literature.

Certainly I disagree with much in the book, but it definitely deserves to be read by many. Don’t read it if you want answers. Don’t read it if you expect to agree with everything. Don’t read it to figure out “how to do pilgrimage”. Like the rest of the books in this series, read it on its own merits. Anyone interested in spiritual disciplines can learn with this book.

I was often not a fan of his biblical explication, nor his inclusion of Buddhist and Hindu examples (which simply didn’t make sense to my western mind). I was a fan of his tone and humility. Consider this book, and when you open the cover, become a pilgrim, seeking to grow closer to God by sharing Foster’s story. Like a close friend, you will want to punch him in the face a time or two. Like a close friend, he will swing back.

5 of 5 stars for elegant prose, good arguments, conversational tone, and applicable challenge.

Full disclosure: i received this book as a part of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program. They tickle my literary nose with free books, I blow out a review within a month. it does not have to be a clean, clear review and can be as green and gunky as I like. Take that FTC

Monday, December 20, 2010

From Tyndale to you:

One of the publishing houses for whom i review books is currently doing an NLT giveaway. Here are the deets:

I wanted to fill you in on an exciting contest that is currently being run and sponsored by the New Living Translation. We’re highlighting three ministries,Wycliffe Bible Translators, Oasis International, and The Dream Center, (click on the link to learn more details about these ministries) and by voting for one of these ministries you’ll be entered to win one of many prizes.

To enter, visit the NLT Facebook page by clicking here.

There are several levels of prizes you can win, here are the details:

With the Give the Word Bible Contest and Giveaway:
Ministries win: Each time the NLT Facebook Page reaches a fan count milestone, votes will be tallied and the three ministries will receive cash donations from the New Living Translation and Tyndale House Publishers.
Everyone wins: Everyone who enters on the Bible Contest website wins a free download of Matthew West reading the Christmas story.
Daily NLT Study Bible winners: Vote on the NLT Facebook page and you will be entered to win two NLT Study Bibles—one to keep and one to give away. A new winner will be chosen every day.
Weekly Give the Word Locally winners: Tell us about a deserving local ministry on the NLT Bible Contest website and they could win five NLT Study Bibles and $250 worth of NLT products.
One Grand Prize winner will enjoy a unique trip customized just for them and their family (or three guests of their choice), to Wycliffe Bible Translators world headquarters and the WordSpring Discovery Center where they will experience firsthand the exciting world of Bible translation. The Grand Prize winner could also choose to donate the value of the trip--$2000--to Wycliffe instead.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Then Sings My Soul Review

My most recent review for the booksneeze program (I get a copy in exchange for an honest review, doesn’t have to be good), is regarding a little book I, and the author, like to call “Then Sings My Soul”. That author would be Robert Morgan.

This fairly brief book is a collection of brief bios of some of your favorite songs. Want to know more about “it is well”? It’s there. In fact, the book tells the story of 150 different hymns. As a vineyardian, many of the songs I knew nothing about. Thankfully, most of the biggies are found within the cover of the book. Knowing the background of the song makes the lyrics themselves so much deeper in most cases.

Definitely worth a read, and a great resource for worship pastors, fans of hymns, or a reasonable devotional for the cool cat who won’t stop scatting along with “Ein Fest Burg est Unser Gott” (a mighty fortress is our God). A bio of the author is included with the song, a good index in the back to search by song, bible verses, devotional prayers, and lyrics are also included with each song.

If the book sounds like you would like to read it, you will. If it sounds dreadfully boring, pick up a copy of the Hunger Games series.