Spiritual Formation Books I Would Read Again

close up of a bible

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The idea of spiritual formation is that the spiritual life is not a static experience but a project of growth. Formation literally suggests the shaping of our lives, our characters, our affections to reflect who or what we consider the ultimate. As you know, I write as a Christian, so the books I share here reflect what it means to follow and be formed in Christ. They are books I have found helpful in my own spiritual progress, and would visit again (and have in some cases).

Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Retreat. A wonderful guide to answer the invitation of Jesus to “come with me.” I’ve appreciated a number of works by this author but this is one I pull out whenever I plan a retreat.

Carmen Butcher (tr.), The Cloud of Unknowing. Butcher’s translation of this classic work sings. The author is unknown but leads us into the richness of contemplative prayer.

Michael Card, Inexpressible. The whole book is a study and meditation on one rich Bible word, hesed, referring to the covenant-keeping, lovingkindness of God.

Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life. Ford follows the practice of praying the hours to help us discover what it means to pay attention to God’s work throughout our days and all around us.

Margaret Guenther, Holy Listening. This was the first book that drew me to rather than repelled me from spiritual direction. Guenther is so unpretentious about the whole thing.

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal. The parable of the prodigal is such a profound story, and Nouwen’s use of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal takes us deeply into this story and what it means for our lives.

Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles. The subtitle of this book is “The shape of pastoral integrity.” While I am not a church pastor, this book challenged me with suggesting that such integrity functions within a triangle of prayer, the reading of scripture, and the work of spiritual direction. He beckons away from the siren calls of charisma and technique.

Gordon T. Smith, Teach Us to Pray. A guide to prayer using our Lord’s prayer, taking us through three movements, of thanksgiving, confession, and discernment.

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary. Warren connects the extraordinary things we pray in our churches on Sunday with the ordinary events of our domestic daily lives.

Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Willard’s focus is less on the disciplines themselves that what is behind them, why we practice them. He contends:

“The disciplines for the spiritual life are available, concrete activities designed to render bodily beings such as we ever more sensitive and receptive to the Kingdom of Heaven brought to us in Christ, even while living in a world set against God” 

Nearly all of these writers have written other things, and I could have easily substituted other works. If you find one of these who is a good guide to you, keep reading their works. Above all, I think all of them would direct you to the ultimate formation book, perhaps obvious, but often neglected–The Bible.

Review: The Myth of the American Dream

The Myth of the American Dream

The Myth of the American DreamD. L. Mayfield. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A collection of Christian reflections chronicling the author’s awakening to the ways the American dream neither works for everyone nor reflects the values of the kingdom Jesus inaugurated.

D. L. Mayfield reminds me of Tara Westover, author of Educated. Both were homeschooled in strongly religious backgrounds, albeit far more healthy and functional in the case of Mayfield. What distinguishes them are their very different awakenings, Westover to a love of learning that led her to Harvard and Cambridge, and Mayfield to an awakening to how the structures of the American Dream neither reflected her Christian commitments nor worked well for many in the north Portland neighborhood where she and her husband lived.

Mayfield describes this “American Dream” in terms of four concrete values: affluence, autonomy, safety and power. She recognizes that the proclamation of Jubilee of Jesus in Luke 4 speaks to people whose lives are characterized by just the opposite: the poor, the captive, the blind, and and the oppressed.

Perhaps the most winsome aspect of these essays is that the author takes us through the deconstructing of these American Dream values in her own life. Teaching English to immigrant women, she learns by the annoying ringing of phones what it means to live from paycheck to paycheck in an affluent society. She watches the struggles of her neighbors to meet rising rents in gentrifying Portland. She finds her autonomy challenged by Maryan, whose “magic pot” gets shared around the community and is preferred by her and all to the Insta-pot Mayfield thought would make her life better and more self-sustaining. Instead of the free range educational experience of her youth, she understands the critical important of her neighborhood public school to her community.

Perhaps at no time in history has a concern for safety been greater. It has led us to close our borders and fear of the other. Yet we have a 1 in 6 chance of dying of heart disease, 1 in 7 of cancer, but 1 in 3.6 million of dying in a terrorist attack. Yet the reality of the refugee experience turned Mayfield’s perspective around as she came to understand the dangers these people had endured. She describes how she and her mother experienced the welcome of Muslim families, and found herself hoping for her children that they would so learn in these experiences the love of Christ: “that they are known and valued and love.”

She speaks trenchantly of the deleterious effects of American power on the evangelical faith of her upbringing:

   Empire focuses on ideological sameness: make the narrative easy, make it clear. Pharaoh will save you. Caesar will put bread in your belly. The president will make our country great again. This leads to small, deformed imaginations–I see it in how White evangelical Christianity has been tangled up in the same pull toward greatness, toward power, toward viewing ourselves as specially anointed by God to rule the world, to hold and be in charge. This leads to a sense of scarcity, a hallmark of pharaohs throughout the centuries: the all consuming fear of losing power. I have seen it in the fights for religious liberty that excludes those who aren’t Christian, in the narrative that says we are losing the culture war and must fight with every tooth and nail to hold our ground…. But most important is the belief that exile is a reality to be ignored and feared at all costs, a strange ideological position for those who claim to follow the God of the Israelites (p. 147).

Mayfield challenges us in another essay in this section to learn from the exiles, including exiles from the American Dream like Ida B. Wells, black anti-lynching crusader who had to flee her business and home in Memphis because of threats on her life. She reminds us that Christians are aliens and exiles in the world enthralled with the vision of our coming King, who look for its coming, not in affluence, autonomy, safety and power, but through the cracks in the sidewalks, the neglected yet joyful schools, poor and yet interdependent neighbors, all anticipating the New City to come.

The phrase that characterizes Mayfield’s writing for me is “raw elegance.” It is raw with the realities of her city and elegant in the depth of reflectiveness that looks beyond failed myths, and the poverty of her community, to glimpse the dream of a greater kingdom. It is a time where the flaws and inadequacies of the American dream have been exposed in its dependence on excessive consumerism built on systemic inequities, and where our impregnable safety and power has been riddled by a microscopic virus.  Voices like Mayfield’s are needed to point us to a better dream–one large enough to encompass the poor, the captive, the blind, and the powerless–all of us really. Will we fight to cling to what we must ultimately lose, or listen to what will save us?


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Paul and the Language of Faith

Paul and the Language of faith

Paul and the Language of Faith, Nijay K, Gupta (Foreword by James D. G. Dunn). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2020.

Summary: A study of the word pistis, often translated as “faith” as used in the writings of Paul, the rest of scripture, as well as in literature contemporary to the time, showing the rich nuances of meaning that must be determined by context.

In recent Pauline scholarship, perhaps no matter has been discussed more than how pistis, the word most often translated as “faith” might be understood. Underlying this are concerns of faith versus works, our understand of the continuity and distinction between Old Covenant and New, the place of human agency, and divine providence in our salvation, and epitomizing all of this, how one translates the Pauline phrase pistis Christou. Traditionally this has been translated “faith in Christ” but equally, it could be translated “the faithfulness of Christ,” depending on one’s interpretation of the genitive form of Christou.

Nijay K. Gupta takes a different slant on this discussion. He focuses in closely on the usages of the word pistis in both biblical texts and literature roughly contemporary to it. In so doing, he helps us to see that it is a word rich in meaning, variously reflecting ideas of trust, faithfulness, doctrinal beliefs, loyalty, and more, and that its meaning must be understood contextually, keeping all these valences of meaning in mind.

After laying out the issues he will deal with and his approach, Gupta surveys the scholarly understanding of “faith” in Paul from early and medieval times, through the Reformation, and into the modern era. Then he looks back to Jewish and non-Jewish writings, and shows that these also used the word, and that Paul did not write in a vacuum. He considers the gospels, which were still in oral tradition or beginning to be written and not likely accessible to Paul. In these he finds usages that reflect seeking, believing, trusting, and obeying. While faith looks to the efficacy of Jesus’ acts, it is not passive, but often acts on what is believed to be true.

The remainder of the book (chapter 5 onward) is devoted primarily to the Pauline corpus. Here, likewise, Gupta shows that pistis manifests in a variety of closely related nuances. In 1 Thessalonians and Philippians, the emphasis is on a faith(fulness) in adversity, in persecution and in imprisonment. Gupta also parallels Paul’s teaching to that of the letters to the churches in Revelation. In 1 Corinthians, Gupta shows that “Faith is recognition of and a living into a poverty of self-generated, self-reliant knowledge and wisdom. It is a clinging to the ‘strange wisdom’ of God in Christ Jesus.” In 2 Corinthians, faith looks not at material forms or idols but believes and lives into unseen realities, in this case a believing faith.

In his treatment of Galatians, Gupta explores the question of agency. In dealing with the question of faith and works, Gupta moves beyond the New Perspective’s Covenantal Nomism, which involves faith and the obligations of faith under the covenant, to what he calls Covenantal Pistism, where the focus is on the covenantal relationship with Christ, and the centrality of his mediatorial work, where faith is living “in Christ.” He then turns to the faith language of Romans 1:16-17, and argues for this reflecting the idea of trusting faithfulness that commits one’s life and existence to God.

Gupta engages, rather briefly, in a discussion of pistis Christou in light of his prior development of the idea of pistis. So often, this discussion runs along either-or categories of human faith, almost as a work, or the initiative of the faithfulness of Christ. He opts for a third way of understanding pistis Christou as participation in the faithfulness of Christ by a relationship of utter trust in Christ’s saving work. The translation shorthand for this, somewhat awkward, is “Christ-relation(ship).”

His final chapter then is one of synthesis, weaving together his ideas of faith as trust, belief, and faithfulness and his ideas of Christ-relation. This statement about human agency near the end seemed to me to capture the various strands of this study:

   I don’t want to belabor the point, but this retrospective discussion of the divine-human agency question, with special interest in faith language, can help to reconceive of the matter as more than a formula (what amount of divine or human contribution equals salvation?) This is a non-starter for Paul. Christ is all in all!, he would say. But we cannot discount the way πιστις functions for Paul anthropologically, epistemologically, and socially as the way believers relate to God through the Christ-relation, which is necessarily thoughtful and participatory (socially, volitionally, existentially, etc).

Gupta offers us a valuable work that moves us beyond the either-or discussions of faith and faithfulness, of sovereign grace and human agency in Paul to one that both magnifies the faithfulness of Christ and the all-embracing life of faith in relation to Christ who has acted efficaciously on our behalf on the cross. He points the way to the richness of faith in Christ, not merely affirming doctrines, or praying prayers but a life of devoted loyalty and trust in all things, because of the surpassing great work of the Faithful One.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Erie Terminal

I wrote recently about student safety patrols.  One of the fun “perks” of being a patrol boy was the annual trip to Cleveland to see an Indians game. We took the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad out of the Erie Terminal in downtown Youngstown, located at 112 Commerce Street, where Phelps intersects with it. After those trips as a boy, I never gave the building a thought, even though its six stories were a dominant feature in the Youngstown skyline seen from Youngstown State. I’m sure I passed by it when I was working at McKelvey’s. Passenger rail service continued until January 14, 1977, though it had been dwindling to a few passengers a day for some time.

At one point, it was a very different story. The Erie Railroad had passenger service between New York and Chicago.  Youngstown was exploding, growing from 133,000 in 1920 to just over 170,000 in 1930. Until after World War 2, the quickest way one traveled between these cities was rail. Four major railroad trunk lines converged in Youngstown. So in 1922, the Erie Railroad commissioned Youngstown architect Paul Boucherle as architect for a six story building that would serve as terminal for the Erie Railroad’s passenger traffic and offices for the railroad. After completing this rectangular Classical Revival building in 1923, Boucherle moved his own architectural offices into the building.

The building sat vacant after rail traffic ended and the Erie Lackawana consolidated into Conrail. In 1986, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Downtown Youngstown Multiple Resource Area. There are a number of historical buildings that are included in this listing for downtown Youngstown and the significance of listing is to deem the building worth historic preservation, which may qualify those preserving the building for tax breaks.

In the early 2010’s Dominic Marchionda, a native Youngstowner joined with a New York property group to form NYO Property Group. The renovation of the Erie Terminal (now Erie Terminal Place) was one of his first projects, which also include the Wick Tower and the conversion of the Stambaugh Building to a DoubleTree Hotel. In 2012 the renovated building was opened with a cookie shop, brew pub and art gallery on the ground floor and 40 modern apartments on the upper floors. The original wood doors were refurbished, windows were replaced to match the originals, and masonry cleaned and re-pointed. The picture above was taken before work began, and the before and after are stunning.

The property is a popular off-campus alternative for Youngstown State students, located near the Business College and just down the hill from campus. In 2017, the university actually leased five rooms to provide residences for seventeen international students. The building is managed by LY Property Management, which handles rentals. You can get a great glimpse of the apartments and other amenities at the website.

There are questions about the future of the property. In July of 2019 it, along with The Flats at Wick, by YSU, were listed for sale with Platz Realty. The university is in negotiation for The Flats at Wick. No buyer is mentioned for Erie Terminal Place, which is listed at $6.35 million. There are financial issues with the Flats, which is in foreclosure proceedings for default on a $5.5 million loan. Also, Dominic Marchionda, along with former Mayor Sammarone, and Finance Director Bozanich are facing 101 corruption charges for which they were scheduled to go on trial in June of 2020. All three had entered not guilty pleas to the charges. Recently, Judge Maureen Sweeney ruled to separate Dominic Marchionda’s trial from the others and subsequently former Mayor Sammarone plead guilty to two charges. Due to the pandemic, trial dates have not been set.

With college enrollments up in the air as is the nation’s economy, it’s hard to say what will happen next with this almost 100 year old building. It’s a survivor, and one hopes for many good years ahead as the university and downtown continue to grow together.

The Month in Reviews: May 2020

5282This month’s reviews began with a graphic non-fiction work on the Kent State shootings on the fiftieth anniversary of the event. I ended the month with a sixty year retrospective on the Christian Study Center movement. Both were great accounts to understand different pieces of history in the turbulent 60’s and 70’s (as well as a chance to revisit some memories.). In between was the discovery of the mysteries of Georges Simenon, and the concluding volume of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell. I reviewed a history of the ServiceMaster company, which in reality focused around the character and values of five men who led the company during its first 75 years and an excellent study of how people learn. The rest? A good selection of biblical studies, theology, a faith and science book, and writing about different aspects of Christian living.

Kent State Four Dead in Ohio

Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, Derf Backderf. New York: Abrams Comicarts, 2020. A graphic non-fiction account of the shooting of four students at Kent State University, focusing on the students who died, and the sequence of events leading up to the shooting, and the dynamics within the National Guard Troops sent to suppress the student demonstrations. Review

A Multitude

A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global IdentityVince L. Bantu. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A well-documented study of the global spread of ancient Christianity, controverting the argument of Christianity as White and western, and contending for the contextualizing and de-colonizing of contemporary global Christianity. Review

shaped by suffering

Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal  HomeKenneth Boa, with Jenny Abel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020. A study of how suffering may shape a person for eternity with God, based on 1 Peter. Review

learning cycle

The Learning CycleMuriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer. Downers Grove: IVP Academiv, 2020. The Elmer’s propose a five level process for learning that is not a transfer of information from the teacher to the student but the transformation of the life of the learner. Review

The Jesus Creed

The Jesus CreedScot McKnight. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2019. Explores how reciting, reflecting upon, and living the Greatest Command can transform the lives of disciples. Review

From Adam and Israel

From Adam and Israel to the Church (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology [ESBT], Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019. A study of the theme of the people of God, tracing this theme throughout scripture in Eden, in Israel, in Christ, and in the church. Review

the sacred change

The Sacred ChaseHeath Adamson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020. Using Jesus’ encounter with the demoniac who ran toward him, the author encourages us that as we pursue God, we may have the intimate relationship with God we desire. Review


Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse , (Inspector Maigret #58), Georges Simenon, translated by Ros Schwartz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2019 (originally published 1962). Maigret investigates a murder of a loved and respected retired businessman, with no hint of motive from family, neighbors or associates–all good people. Review

the servicemaster story

The ServiceMaster StoryAlbert M. Erisman. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. A history of ServiceMaster, attributing its success to its ability to hold four ethical principles in tension and to the five leaders, who like overlapping shingles, led the company for over 70 years, including 29 consecutive years of revenue growth. Review

materiality as existence

Materiality as ResistanceWalter Brueggemann (Foreword by Jim Wallis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020. Explores how the material aspects of life informed by Christian spiritual commitments may be lived as a form of resistance to a materialistic culture. Review

A worldview approach to science and scripture

A Worldview Approach to Science and ScriptureCarol Hill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019. This book proposes that a worldview approach offers the best prospect of reconciling scripture and science, taking both seriously. Review

the mirror and the light

The Mirror & the LightHilary Mantel. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2020. The third and final installment of Mantel’s historical fiction account of the life of Thomas Cromwell from the pinnacle of his own career under Henry VIII following the execution of Anne Boleyn, to his own downfall. Review

to think Christianly

To Think ChristianlyCharles E. Cotherman (Foreword by Kenneth G. Elzinga).  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. A history of the Christian study center movement, beginning with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri, and James Houston’s Regent College. Review

Best Book of the Month. Charles Cotherman’s To Think Christianly is a highly readable, well-researched narrative of Christian Study Centers, tracing the influence of Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri and James Houston’s Regent College on present day study centers.

Best Quote of the Month. In From Adam and Israel to the Church, I came across this statement on the new creation that was worth some wonderful reflection:

Perhaps another dimension of imaging God in the new creation will be the development of technology and science. Will we invent the wheel again? Will we learn how to start a fire once more? What about basic human knowledge such as math, language, music, and so on? I suspect that we will not start from scratch. One could possibly argue that we, being perfected in God’s image, will develop what we have learned in the past. The knowledge that humanity has acquired and is acquiring through observing the world around us may not only inform us about God’s creative power, but it may also prepare us for life in the new creation.

What I’m Reading. Having finished one Cromwell, I’ve moved on to another. I’ve had Antonia Fraser’s Lord Protector on my to read stack for a long time, her biography of Oliver Cromwell, the grandson of Thomas Cromwell’s sister. Unlike Thomas Cromwell, Oliver was executed after his death. I am also reading D.L. Mayfields essays titled, The Myth of the American Dream, how the American dream of some is the nightmare of others. Nijay Gupta’s Paul and the Language of Faith takes the novel approach of studying the language of faith throughout Paul’s writing (as well as in other parts of scripture and contemporary literature). Steven Waldman’s Sacred Liberty studies the history of religious liberty in the United States, one in which religious liberty was often a privilege of a religious majority, more respected in the absence of equal enjoyment by others, sadly accompanied by violence and death in some cases.

Hope you are able to relax with a good book this summer even if vacation is staycation this summer.

Musings on “Thinking Christianly”

woman looking at sunset

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Yesterday I reviewed a bookTo Think Christianly. In some ways, it is a peculiar phrase, and someone asked about the origins of this language. The question prompted me to muse on the phrase, and the significance it has had for me. At the outset, I need to offer the caveat that I write these reflections as a committed follower of Christ, which you probably already guessed.

  1. The phrase seems most associated with Harry Blamires, author of The Christian Mind: How Should A Christian Think? Blamires was a mentee of C. S. Lewis, once headed an English department, and wrote literary criticism (including a book on James Joyce’s Ulysses), theology, and novels.
  2. When I hear the phrase “thinking Christianly,” it suggests to me the bringing of Christian belief and practice to bear on whatever I am thinking about.
  3. The idea that undergirds “thinking Christianly” was probably best articulated by Abraham Kuyper when he said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
  4. Christ is central both as sovereign and servant. Christian thinking both strives to think and act in all things as Christ would, and yet does so humbly, conscious from whom we learn, and how much we’ve yet to learn.
  5. Thinking Christianly is done in light of the great story we find ourselves a part of–the story of creation and what it means to be human as part of a larger world entrusted to our care, how human rebellion has changed everything and explains “what’s wrong with the world?,” how Christ’s incarnate saving work addresses the human dilemma, and toward what end history is moving.
  6. Thinking Christianly recognizes no difference between sacred and secular, and touches every human endeavor from food production to waste management systems, from microbiology to cosmology.
  7. Thinking Christianly is dynamic rather than static. It is not “Christian thought” etched in stone. It moves forward with ever new questions rather than once and for answers.
  8. Contrary to the popular image of the solitary scholar, thinking Christianly is both individual and communal. Great ideas may emerge in the wilderness but are tested and refined in diverse communities.
  9. Thinking Christianly is thinking. “Thinking” is probably a topic unto itself. At very least, can we agree that thinking is a process of reasoning, moving from premises to conclusions, assessing the arguments that support a proposal, using logic and intuition to understand our world and our place in it? It is not just turning a feeling into an assertion that cannot be questioned, but must be accepted.
  10. It takes work to think Christianly. From ongoing reading of the scriptures, our sourcebook for the great story, to building up a base of understanding about the questions we are considering, to wrestling through the relation between the two, this is not either instant nor easy.

Why does it matter? Thinking Christianly will not lead to a utopian society. We can frame elegant and eloquent ways of thinking about everything from gardening to politics and fail to love God or neighbor. But we will love neither God nor neighbor well without thinking Christianly. If we do not think Christianly, either we will substitute reactions and emotions for thought, or we will allow ways of thinking alien to our deepest commitments to shape our lives. Frankly, it seems that there are a lot of examples of this kind of thing. What saddens me is that none of it honors God or seeks the flourishing of others that is neighbor love. It saddens me that we miss the joy of pursuing the love of God in every human endeavor and settle for so much less. But the flip side is that to think Christianly means that everything we do, and how and why we do it, matters.

Review: To Think Christianly

to think Christianly

To Think ChristianlyCharles E. Cotherman (Foreword by Kenneth G. Elzinga).  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A history of the Christian study center movement, beginning with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri, and James Houston’s Regent College.

A Presbyterian pastor goes through a personal renewal, embarks with his family on a mission in Europe and ends up establishing creating a hospitable place for the deep questions students and drifters are asking. And so L’Abri in Huemoz, Switzerland was born, and the very public ministry of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. And through them, according to Charles E. Cotherman, the Christian Study Center movement may trace its origins.

L’Abri was distinguished by four marks that have been evident in the study centers that followed. Foundational to L’Abri was its spirituality, grounded in the prayer life of the Schaeffers for daily provision of both people and means, and the awareness of the Gospel’s implications for all of life, from eating to art to deep intellectual questions. Second was the intellectual community, that supported honest questions, and devoted four hours a day to study, as well as talks with the Schaeffers and weekly discussions. Third was the practice of hospitality, from clothing for the ill prepared, to feeding, and housing, as well as an ethos hospitable to ideas and art and music, and the dress of those arriving at their doors. Finally, L’Abri cast a vision for all of life under Christ’s Lordship that was rich and multi-faceted, from thought and the arts, and the meaning of work, and a vision of Christian presence in society, and the wonders of the artistry and in the life of a community.

Half a world away, a group of Plymouth Brethren in Vancouver, influenced by L’Abri took the idea of a learning community in a different direction, launching the graduate school for Christian lay education that would become Regent College under the leadership of James Houston. Beginning with summer courses, students many others enrolled in the year long program, and the question quickly became one of finding a location, and developing additional academic programs.

From here, Cotherman traces the replication of the idea of study centers in various forms throughout the United States. Again and again, Francis Schaeffer and Jim Houston played significant roles in the beginning of these centers. Cotherman profiles four of earliest centers. The C.S. Lewis Institute, began at the University of Maryland, moving to Washington, DC, and then propagating around the country. The Ligonier Valley Study Center in Stahlstown, Pennsylvania began as a residential study center in the mountains east of Pittsburgh, closely connected with the Coalition for Christian Outreach Ministry as well as drawing many other interested lay people before morphing into the media ministry of R. C. Sproul based in Orlando, Florida.

New College Berkeley grew out of the Jesus Movement and the street paper Right On, edited by David Gill and Sharon Gallagher. Cotherman traces the financial struggles of this effort to form a Berkeley version of Regent. Finally, the first of the student-oriented study centers near a university campus is profiled with the beginnings of The Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville, near the University of Virginia. From the work of Beat Steiner and Daryl Richman with economics faculty Kenneth Elzinga, we see the growth of the Center under the leadership of Drew Trotter as a gathering place for ministry leaders and students, and a hospitable host for thoughtful students.

The concluding chapter chronicles the multiplication of these centers to a number of other campuses, featuring Chesterton House at Cornell University and Upper House at the University of Wisconsin. The development of these centers and the movement they represent has been facilitated by Drew Trotter, through the formation of the Consortium of Christian Study Centers.

Cotherman’s account captures the pivotal role of Francis Schaeffer during the L’Abri years. Many of us were captured by the vision of L’Abri even if we never visited and Schaeffer’s books led us to think about engaging our culture with the mind of Christ. The decades of creative literature coming from Regent faculty have enriched us for that work. David Gill’s work helped so many of us make the transition from the communal experiences of the Jesus movement to a thoughtful Christianity. I first heard Bill Lane speak about discipleship in Mark in R. C. Sproul’s living room and tapes from Ligonier helped lay a theological foundation for a young campus minister.

He also traces the changing cultural landscape and how each of these efforts shifted and adapted the focus of these centers, particularly as programs shifted from educational efforts for lay people to student ministry and engagement with the people and ideas of university campuses. He chronicles the development of study centers from “houses” near a university campus to the innovative Upper House, more like a campus student center with meeting facilities, kitchen, study areas, and classrooms, an effort of the Steve and Laurel Brown Foundation.


Kitchen and meeting area just off the Main Room of Upper House, Madison, Wisconsin. July 2016.  © Bob Trube, all rights reserved.

More than a walk down memory lane, this book reminds me of why I have so loved work in the world of collegiate ministry: providing hospitable places to explore life’s most important questions, and bridging the divide of Christ and culture. It also reminds me of the great debt of gratitude I owe to the places and people Cotherman chronicles–from Francis Schaeffer and how he first helped me think Christianly, to Jim Houston and the influence he and Regent had on a close ministry colleague, to the vision of the doctrine and life that I acquired through Ligonier, and the vision of campus engagement Ken Elzinga and the Center for Christian Study have given so many of us. Because of these, To Think Christianly is not merely a book title, but a way of life for so many of us.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Mirror & The Light

the mirror and the lightThe Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2020.

Summary: The third and final installment of Mantel’s historical fiction account of the life of Thomas Cromwell from the pinnacle of his own career under Henry VIII following the execution of Anne Boleyn, to his own downfall.

It has been eleven years since Hilary Mantel introduced us to the character of Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and eight years since Bring Up the Bodies. The lasting impression this book leaves with me is the mix of knowing and unknowing that made up Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s “fixer” who both seems to grasp and be oddly oblivious to the danger of flying like a moth too close to Henry’s flame.

The book opens with Anne Boleyn’s death by the swordsman, after Cromwell had managed her trial and that of her adulterers to the conclusion Henry desired. He witnesses her death, and then goes to his breakfast and the pinnacle of his career. As Henry takes Jane Seymour to be his wife, he is elevated to Lord Privy Seal and Baron, and Vicegerent, along with retaining his role as Secretary.

The book traces Cromwell’s efforts to support an aging Henry VIII, suffering from an unhealed leg wound and growing waistline, as he desperately seeks to conceive a son with Jane. All the while, Cromwell is trying to fill the treasury through the dismantling of the monastic houses, implement reforms to decisively move the Church of England away from Rome, keep Henry’s European enemies at war with each other, and put down a rebellion in the north directed as much at his reforms as Henry, while also keeping Scotland at bay.

Cromwell the widower seems to have a soft spot for women. There is Bess, Jane Seymour’s sister, toward whom Cromwell is drawn, yet marries off to his son in a Freudian engagement process (to whom is she being engaged?). He protects the princess Mary, daughter of Katherine, persuading her to renounce the Church and declare loyalty to Henry. Again, Cromwell is suspect of wanting to marry her, interfering with her role as a pawn in diplomacy.

The unraveling begins with the death of Jane shortly after she gave birth to Edward. Once again Cromwell is tasked with finding a mate for the aging king hoping for additional heirs to ensure the succession. This is one of his greatest failure in the king’s eyes, due to the unattractive woman he found in Anne of Cleves, with whom he was unable to consummate the marriage. Increasingly as well, the reforms in the church brought growing resistance from traditionalists who gained Henry’s ear. The Bishop’s Book was countered by the Six Articles restoring traditional views of the mass, eucharist, and priesthood.

Mantel observes that Cromwell’s greatest danger was at his own table. Incautious statements are remembered. French ambassadors and trusted associates join with Bishop Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk in his arrest and interrogation in the Tower where he had interrogated others, with the techniques he had himself used. Indicted under a list of charges on which he was never tried, his last act was to draft the annulment papers for the King to end his marriage to Anne of Cleves and marry Katherine Parr. The fixer to the end, expendable after have completed his final act of service.

Throughout, it seems he was aware of his vulnerability, remembering how his father had beaten him and the image of his fathers unlaced shoes as he lay on the ground. Yet his gifts brought him closer and closer to Henry, until perhaps he believed in his own indispensability. Yet there are flashbacks throughout to the “indispensable” Cardinal Wolsey, whose fall he had witnessed as a young man. Did he believe his own gifts would deliver him? Or was he caught in the bind of his powers and his loyalties from which he could not step away?

As in her other novels, all this unfolds through dialogue, the most challenging aspect of reading Mantel. Other than the “he” which always denotes Cromwell, one has to keep careful track of who is speaking as well as when Cromwell as speaking, or merely thinking. We see the deftness of Cromwell, an iron fist in a velvet glove, in all the maneuvering in the court of Henry, the tension of a devotion both to Henry and to England. If one is willing to work through the inner monologues and outer dialogues, what emerges is Mantel’s portrait of Cromwell as a complicated man: internally motivated to competence and yet loyal, tender and ruthless, pious and a pragmatist, ambitious yet at least partially aware of the dangers of ambition, powerful and yet conscious of the ephemeral nature of his standing, seemingly knowing that Anne Boleyn’s end could easily be his own.

Review: A Worldview Approach to Science and Scripture

A worldview approach to science and scripture

A Worldview Approach to Science and ScriptureCarol Hill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2019.

Summary: This book proposes that a worldview approach offers the best prospect of reconciling scripture and science, taking both seriously.

I’ve reviewed a number of books on scripture and science on this blog. This stands apart in many respects, one of which is the size of the book, the quality of the paper, and the lavish artwork, photography, charts, and graphs with which it is illustrated in full color on fine paper. It may equally serve as a coffee table book, or a supplemental text in an apologetics, biology or geology course in a Christian college setting. The author, a geologist teaching at the University of New Mexico has both the scientific background and familiarity with biblical scholarship to assemble this text.

Hill’s approach is one that has a high commitment both to the biblical text and the findings of science. She describes this as a “worldview approach,” following John Walton and other biblical scholars. She contends that we must read Genesis through the eyes of the pre-scientific worldview that informed the text of Genesis. By doing so, we rightly handle the text, rather than importing modern scientific concerns into that text.

A good example is the cosmology of the Ancient Near East and how it informs both our reading of Genesis 1 and the flood accounts of Genesis 6-9, allowing what is described as a “global” flood to be just that–a flood that covered everything in the known world of the observers, but yet was local. Likewise the six day sequence of creation consisting of three days of forming, and three days of filling with its numerous repetitions reflects a literary structure, not uncommon in the Ancient Near East, and memorable for readers and hearers.

At the same time, the author takes the existence of a real Adam and Eve in a real Garden of Eden seriously and explores the possible geographic location of that Garden, which she proposes might be about 100 miles northwest of Basra in present day Iraq. Later in the book, in coming back to the real existence of Adam and Eve, she discusses the possibility of pre-Adamite homo sapiens, with whom the offspring of Adam and Eve mated after expulsion from the garden, evidence of which we find in Genesis. She explores the numbers in the chronologies, noting the numerological interpretation of these numbers and the gaps in genealogies that make these both significant theological accounts, and totally irrelevant to the date of Adam and Eve or the age of the earth. The author argues for the flood as a historical, but extensive local event, probably around 2900 BC in Mesopotamia, looking at other records, and using studies of weather patterns to show how such a flood may have been possible. She discusses how the ark could have flowed up-gradient to Ararat from, counter to the prevailing flow of water into the Persian Gulf. Using her geological training, and familiarity with the American southwest, she demonstrates how it is just not possible to explain the Grand Canyon by “flood geology” that would contend that it was carved out, with all its layers of rock, in a year.

The upshot is a book that acknowledges the historic and literary elements of Genesis 1-11, and yet does not rule out the scientific accounts of the origins of the earth 4.58 billion years ago, the formation of the earth’s surfaces through geologic process over long time spans, and the rise of life along an evolutionary creationist model that does not try to force fit science into the Genesis 1 narrative. Her argument is that the worldview of the biblical writers as it shapes the writing of these scriptures does not require of us the gymnastics of trying to fit our scientific knowledge into either young earth or day-age approaches, but upholds what scripture affirms, read through Ancient Near Eastern eyes, as well as what science has revealed, finding no inherent conflict between them.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Daniel L. Coit and Coitsville


US Census, Ruhrfisch, Map of Mahoning County with Municipal and Township Labels, licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0) The file has been converted to .jpg form. Coitsville is in the northeast corner of the county.

Coitsville Township is a small township in the northeast corner of Mahoning County. The township website includes photographs of cornfields, sheep, wildlife preserves and woodlands. In 2010, the population of the township was 1,392 people. It’s most famous resident was educator William Holmes McGuffey and was also the home of long time Vindicator political reporter Clingan Jackson. The existing township is only about half of the original township, parts of it going to Youngstown, Struthers, and Campbell. Amos Loveland was the first to settle in Coitsville in 1798. The History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties lists these residents by 1801: James Bradford, David Cooper, Andrew Fitch, John Gwin, Amos Loveland, James Muns, William Martin, Samuel McBride, Alexander McGreffey, John Potter, Rodger Shehy, James Shields, James Smith, John Thornton, William Wicks, James White, Francis White.

No one by the name of Coit. Similar to Boardman, Coitsville is named after the land investor from the Connecticut Land Company, Daniel Lathrop Coit. Coit, along with Moses Cleaveland (after whom Cleveland is named–they dropped the first “a”) and Joseph Perkins were among the earliest involved in the company. As was the case with many members of the company, including Elijah Boardman, Daniel Coit purchased lots 1 through 28 in township 2 in the First Range, giving the township his name, but never moved there.

So who was Daniel Lathrop Coit? His family traces Glamorganshire, Wales, and John Coit came to Salem, Massachusetts in 1638. Daniel was born in 1754 to Joseph and Lydia (Lathrop) Coit in New London, Connecticut. He moved to Norwich with his family in 1775 and apprenticed with his uncles Doctors Daniel and Joshua Lathrop, apprenticing in their mercantile and pharmacy business. In 1782, when Daniel had passed he and Joshua became partners in Lathrop and Coit in a growing business. He represented the business in dealings in England and traveled throughout Europe. While in France, he dined with Benjamin Franklin. When Joshua retired, he entered a partnership with Thomas Lathrop, and met a girl in Lathrop’s house, Elizabeth Bill, who in 1785 moved into his new home as his wife.

With increasing trade difficuties with England, he eventually sold out his mercantile business and joined the Connecticut Land Company in 1796. In addition to purchasing the land that became Coitsville and selling its lots after they were surveyed, he had, through inheritance, interests in the “Firelands,” a large tract of land west of the Western Reserve given to indemnify Connecticut residents for losses from fires started by Benedict Arnold and British General Tryon during the Revolutionary War. While never residing in Ohio, he visited five times, including a trip on horseback through Pittsburgh up to Cleveland, no doubt stopping at Coitsville. While he pursued other ventures, his land ventures in Ohio were the most profitable. His son Henry married and moved to Ohio where he also was successful with land ventures. Daniel Coit died in Norwich in 1833 at the age of 79.

In addition to his involvement with the Connecticut Land Company’s critical work of surveying and settling the Western Reserve, Coit’s family produced at least one famous descendent. His daughter, Eliza Coit married William Charles Gilman. One of their sons was Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, the first university in the United States to combine teaching and research at the graduate level along the lines of European universities. He also established the hospital at Johns Hopkins, one of the premier medical facilities in the country.

And that’s the story of Daniel Lathrop Coit and his family, and how Coitsville got its name.