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.

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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: Materiality as Resistance

materiality as existence

Materiality as ResistanceWalter Brueggemann (Foreword by Jim Wallis). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020.

Summary: Explores how the material aspects of life informed by Christian spiritual commitments may be lived as a form of resistance to a materialistic culture.

Through much of Christian history, there has been a divorce of the spiritual and material aspects of life. Yet the material aspects of life–money, food, the body, time, and place–pervade our lives. Neglected as a necessary part of Christian teaching and formation, we are vulnerable to the allures of a materialistic culture, one in which all that matters is matter, and spirituality is marginalized or jettisoned. Walter Brueggemann proposes the alternative is materiality. The idea is that our spiritually formed values shape our engagement with each of these five material aspects of our lives.

He explores our relationship to money, using Wesley’s “earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” He raises questions about how our commitments to earning might be skewed by a limitless accumulation of wealth, how spending all we can undermines the saving that enables one to deploy our resources within our community, and how giving all we can calls for disciplined planning for sustained giving.

Brueggemann contrasts a material world’s focus on the scarcity of food with the trust in God’s abundance that runs through the pages of scripture. He explores what this means in terms of our commercial/industrial food production, the inequities of food distribution, and how we might think of ourselves as citizens and creatures of God in how we consume food.

We often abuse or indulge our bodies. Brueggemann invites us to consider what it means of offer our bodies as spiritual sacrifices in both our self-care and covenantal expression of our sexuality. One question I had in this chapter was the de-emphasis on genital sexuality to focus on the more spiritual and covenantal aspects of human love. On one hand, our culture focuses almost exclusively on the genital expression of human sexuality. Yet this is a book about materiality. It seems necessary to address the meaning of the aspects of pleasure, the unitive character of sexuality, and the reproductive potential that is inherent in our reproductive anatomy.

We live within time, hours, days, weeks, months, and years, that reflect our physical existence on earth. Materialism only knows production and consumption. The scriptures teach us rhythms of work and sabbath, and particular seasons to tear down and build up, to weep and laugh, to silence and speech, to go slow and speed up and to be born and die.

In our virtual world, we become homeless and placeless. We are invited to think what it means to be attentive and loyal to place. He contrasts inhabiting a place as user, consumer, possessor, exploiter, and predator versus living as heirs, neighbors, partners, and citizens.

Brueggeman concludes by commending five biblical disciplines, captured in five words that defines a materiality that resists materialism. They are justice, righteousness, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness toward our neighbors in our materiality. What he does is bring together spiritual formation and material life.

This concisely written book is a distillation of Brueggemann’s thought. The study questions that conclude each chapter suggest it was written for an adult education class or other adult formation meeting. It combine’s the author’s biblical insights with practical insights for how we might live truth in our material existence–and resistance to a materialist culture.

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

Review: The ServiceMaster Story

the servicemaster story

The ServiceMaster Story, Albert M. Erisman. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020.

Summary: 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.

This book is fundamentally about four principles and five men, and the company that became known as ServiceMaster.

Four principles:

  1. To Honor God in All We Do
  2. To Help People Develop
  3. To Pursue Excellence
  4. To Grow Profitably

At one point, the last three principles were portrayed as arms balanced on the fulcrum of the first, to honor God in all we do. Erisman traces the development of the principles from early versions by founder Marion Wade, to this version, which existed for most of the company’s history and is still referenced by some franchisees. The first two were perceived as the ends, served by the other two, and this, in the author’s mind, was significant to the success of the company. Honoring God by acting with integrity, and valuing developing people as an end, rather than the means to profit led to highly motivated service employees, and management who valued them. It also led to the development of disciplined, highly ethical, and competent leadership.

This was done within a creative tension that valued excellence in products and services that made them an industry leader, and steady, profitable growth up until about the year 2000. The tension was not easy to maintain, and Erisman traces the questioning of investors of the religious commitment at the heart of the company, particularly as the company went public, and as it acquired diverse service lines.

The five men who led the company between its beginnings in 1929 and 2003 served as “overlapping shingles” to each other, developed by and succeeding each earlier leaders who remained in the mix bringing wisdom, continuity, and complementary strengths. The five were:

  1. Marion Wade, the founder who started out in 1929 with a moth-proofing business that expanded into carpet-cleaning and disaster recovery. Wade not only was an innovator who found better products and processes but he laid down the ethical foundations that became the four principles.
  2. Ken Hansen was hired in 1946 after a stint in Christian ministry. He had strengths in finance, sales, and organization that brought discipline to the company while adhering to and refining the ethical foundations. The company incorporated shortly after he came, first adopted the ServiceMaster name under his leadership, moved into hospital services. He oversaw revenue growth from $1 million in his first year as CEO to $100 million the year after Ken Wessner succeeded him and Hansen became Chairman. He played a critical role in developing the “overlapping shingles” ideal of succession, serving under Wade and mentoring and collaborating with Wessner,
  3. Ken Wessner came to ServiceMaster in 1954, worked his way up through the company, leading ServiceMaster Industries, and its hospital services division. Wessner was responsible for finalizing the Four Principles, led the company into international expansion and research. His strength was processes and systems.
  4. Bill Pollard joined the company as an Executive Vice President, leaving a legal career, in 1977. Pollard became CEO in 1983 and led the company into the acquisition of other complementary service companies, beginning with Terminix and Merry Maids. A real focus of Pollard’s work was to ensure the training of service workers in these businesses in the company’s principles and their implementation, particularly the intrinsic value of the person.
  5. Carlos Cantu came into the company with the Terminix acquisition and became CEO in 1994. He continued the pattern of acquisitions developed by Pollard, but stomach cancer forced him to step out of the CEO position in 1999, at which time Pollard re-assumed the reins, as both Chairman and CEO

This began a transition as the company dealt with debt load from acquisitions, a changing marketplace, integrating acquisitions into the company’s culture, and dealing with pressures testing the company’s commitment to the four principles. Erisman deals more briefly with the post-2000 company that began to move away from the four principles under a revolving door of CEOs, spinoffs of parts of the company, including the powerhouse industrial services, acquisition by a private equity firm, and a move from the Chicago area to Memphis. It is a story of fluctuating revenues, transitions in personnel, and more importantly, the Four Principles, in which the first two were downgraded, with a greater focus on profitability.

This is a fascinating case study of whether religious principles could serve as an effective framework for a company, particularly work done to honor God and value the worker. The evidence of the narrative, summarized in a chart of revenue growth from 1957 to 2000 on page 203, argues for a strong “yes.”

This leaves a question. What happened after 2000? Erisman’s account made me wonder about earlier decisions. Until Bill Pollard, people were developed within the company with a vision of succession, the overlapping shingles. By the end of Pollard’s second term as CEO, there were no overlapping shingles, and the company went outside for its next CEO. One wonders if there needed to be an expansion of principle two to the personal development of top leadership. It also seemed that the company became less disciplined in its growth. After early acquisitions that were carefully integrated, the subsequent ones seemed less so, and the flurry of acquisitions incurred significant debt loads, along with the challenge of meshing competing organizational cultures.

All this suggests to me that both principle and people (as well as sound business practice) are crucial to developing and sustaining great companies–whether ServiceMaster or Starbucks. Erisman shows the dangers when profit becomes an end to itself divorced from God-shaped integrity and the intrinsic dignity and value of an organization’s people. Great businesses, such as ServiceMaster from 1957 to 2003, hold these in a creative tension. For those asking whether business may be done Christianly, Erisman offers an extensively researched case study of how this was done in one company at a high level for decades, and the challenges to be faced in sustaining that commitment over the life cycle of a company, and beyond one’s own leadership tenure.

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I received a copy of this book from the author. The views expressed in this review are my own.

Review: Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse

Maigret

Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse(Inspector Maigret #58), Georges Simenon, translated by Ros Schwartz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2019 (originally published 1962).

Summary: Maigret investigates a murder of a loved and respected retired businessman, with no hint of motive from family, neighbors or associates–all good people.

René Josselin has been found dead in his apartment, seated in his favorite chair, two bullets to the heart, fired from his own pistol, missing from his apartment. His wife and daughter had been out at the theatre, witnessed by the people who sat behind them. His son-in-law, a devoted physician, had stopped by earlier in the evening for their favorite pastime, a game of chess. There had been no disaffection and the son had left on a call that ended up being a false call.

The men Josselin had sold his business to were faithfully meeting the terms, thriving, and appreciative of Josselin. Neighbors, if they knew the Josselins, spoke of them as good people, and from what Maigret can discover, they were good people themselves. As far as he can tell, everyone around René Josselin were good people, and yet Josselin had been murdered.

Then puzzling, stubborn facts emerge. Madame Josselin and her daughter Veronique do not seem entirely forthcoming. The motive obviously was not robbery but there was one other thing missing–a key to a room in the servant quarters, a room that had been empty but occupied the night of the murder. Another dead end. The fingerprints did not match any known criminal. Then there is the restaurateur who witnessed the same individual meeting both Monsieur or Madame Josselin right before the murder.

Maigret knows there is a killer out there. He struggles with caring for grieving people and the need to discover what they are hiding. Who could possibly had a motive to kill Monsieur Josselin?

I had watched several adaptations of Simenon’s novels on Mystery. I found that like many of the detectives I enjoyed the most, Inspector Maigret was both a gentleman and a thinker, careful not to jump to conclusions but willing to pursue his intuitions. Simenon unfolds a story of step by step investigation, deliberate without being plodding, that moves steadily toward a conclusion, one that we didn’t see coming until it arrived. A good story about good people–and a killer. Kudos to Penguin Classics for reissuing this series!

Review: The Sacred Chase

the sacred change

The Sacred ChaseHeath Adamson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020.

Summary: 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.

There are many things we chase after in our lives. All these may distract us from the pursuit it is most worthy to chase after–the pursuit of God. Heath Adamson contends that the sacred chase is unlike any other we may pursue:

There is a mind-blowing, never-ending connection with God available to everyone right now. I am not necessarily talking about meeting God so you can go to heaven after you die. That is of primary importance, don’t get me wrong, for eternity is long, and your eternal salvation cost God all: his Son.

What I am referring to is the audacious pursuit of God and God’s reckless love for you–what I call the sacred chase. Perhaps you think of salvation in Christ like a door. Once you walk through that door, you will discover how unsearchable the love and promises of God are for you….Pursuing this is worth all your efforts. When deep connection and friendship with God is someone’s desire, I have never seen that someone walk away disappointed (pp. 12-13).

The author contends that we might know an intimacy with God that surpasses comprehension, but that we must choose to pursue it without hindrance or distraction. He challenges us to give up pursuing Christianity to pursue Christ–to move beyond institutions and agendas to pursue a person. He encourages us that God will welcome us from wherever we are coming.

In the remaining chapters of the book, Adamson centers his focus on the demoniac whose name was Legion. One of the critical observations is that the many, with all his wounds and torments, runs toward Jesus. He hears Jesus say, “what is your name?” Jesus gives him total liberation, sending the demons into pigs rather than letting them wander, and possibly return. He leaves a man clothed and in his right man, one who encourages the people in his town to also engage in the sacred chase, which they do the next time Jesus visits Gadara.

In between discussions of the narrative of Legion, Adamson illustrates principles with life stories and other narratives in scripture.  He holds forth the question of will we pursue the intimacy with God that we long for and encourages us that we will be more than met in our chase.

Adamson writes well and compellingly. The only thing I found missing was the idea that as we pursue God, we will find that God has been pursuing us. Perhaps Adamson didn’t want to spoil the surprise, and he does encourage us that God will meet us. But the truth at least that I found was that the Lord was the “hound of heaven” pursuing me before I ever pursued him. I found myself thinking as I read this book, “who is chasing whom?”

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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: From Adam and Israel to the Church

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.

Summary: 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.

This is the inaugural volume of a new series looking at essential themes in the story line of scripture. This work is written by series editor Benjamin L. Gladd and traces the idea of the people of God through scripture. For many, particularly in the dispensationalist stream, this is defined by covenant with a sharp demarcation between Israel and the church.

Gladd uses a different lens, focusing on the people of God as created in the image of God, expressed in terms of the functions of king, priest, and prophet. Kings control the environment, keeping it holy. Priests both worship holy God and discern between holy and unclean. Prophets speak truth on behalf of God. Gladd also develops a three level understanding of the world that mirrors the heavenly temple with the Holy of Holies (Eden), the Holy Place (the Garden) and the outer courts (the outer world).

Gladd traces this from Eden, where Adam and Eve allow the unholy serpent into the Holy of Holies, yielding control of the environment, and shade and then disobey rather than speak the truth. He then shows how this image of God as king, priest, and prophet was reflected in the creation and fall of Israel, at Sinai, in the Tabernacle and Temple, and the nation’s decline into idolatry with unfaithful kings, apostasy with unfaithful priests, and prophets bringing the word of God competing with those who were false. Ultimately, in Nebuchadnezzar they experience what they’ve embraced in the anti-king, anti-priest, and anti-prophet. The prophets point to Israel’s restoration, centered in a person who would embody king, priest and prophet.

Jesus embodies restored Israel in his person as the ideal king who succeeds where Adam and Israel fail, and gives himself for his people as great high priest, who is also the temple, the Holy of Holies, and speaks with authority the word of God that constitutes the people of God. These people, the church are the Israel of God, displaying the image of God who rule by standing and suffering with the king, to be vindicated by God, who are priests built as a temple for God to dwell on earth and who bear prophetic witness to the world and the cosmos and stand guard against the evil one’s wiles.

Perhaps most bracing is the author’s thoughts about how kingship, priesthood, and prophets works out in the new creation:

   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.

The author speaks of the wedge between Israel and the church and the church as the true Israel, the people of God who image God, in continuity with ethnic Israel. I wish the author might have said more specifically about the Jews, and about how Romans 11 might be fulfilled in this people of God. The author allows for a “remnant of Christian Jews” saved through history (p. 128-129), which seems far from explaining how “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). He contends that the church does not replace Israel, yet he calls the church the true Israel of God. Granted that how these things shall be is unclear for any of us, this presentation seems to be murky at best.

That said, Gladd paints a picture of the people of God throughout history, a people who images God in the world, and in our own day is called to be kings who rule without exploiting, who worship God alone and commend his excellence over all worldly idols, and who prize the truth in our lives and words. We pursue these in faithfulness to the great high king, high priest and ultimate prophet, Jesus. This is not insipid pablum but strong and substantive food for the follower of Jesus. I look forward to seeing what successive volumes in this series do to enlarge on the biblical story line.

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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 Jesus Creed

The Jesus Creed

The Jesus CreedScot McKnight. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2019.

Summary: Explores how reciting, reflecting upon, and living the Greatest Command can transform the lives of disciples.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind and with all your strength.”
The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
There is no commandment greater than these.

Scot McKnight proposes that this response by Jesus to a teacher of the law regarding what was the greatest commandment was not merely a response of Jesus, but reflected the creed Jesus recited. Certainly the first part, drawn from the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), was a creed every devout Jew recited and professed. Jesus response did something revolutionary. He added Leviticus 19:18 concerning love of neighbor. Jesus sums up the spiritual life, and all the teaching of the law as love of God and neighbor.

McKnight, who came from a non-credal background, made  this a personal creed, reciting it morning and evening. In this work, McKnight offers a series of reflections on a life lived around the Jesus Creed, a life lived around loving God and others. After encouraging the use of this creed in prayer, McKnight explores the God we are to love and the powerful truth that we address Abba, the Father who first loves us, even when we were prodigals. The table he invites us to is an open table, a place where a new society is created. This sacred love, exemplified by John Woolman, manifests in transformed worship and transformed relationships.

In the second of four parts, McKnight leads us in reflecting on stories of people in the New Testament transformed by their embrace of Jesus and his creed: John the Baptist, Joseph, Mary, Peter, John, and the women around Jesus. I was particularly taken by his treatment of Joseph as a righteous man, who in taking Mary as his wife when she was pregnant with Jesus, lost his righteous reputation with a woman perceived as adulterous, and with an illegitimate child. McKnight observes that in his decision to love God and Mary and the baby, he loses his reputation and gains an identity as the husband of Mary and the Father of Jesus.

The third part explores a vision of the society of the Jesus Creed, It is a society that transforms life in the now. It is a mustard seed society in which small beginnings have far-reaching results. It is a society for justice, one devoted to setting things to rights. It is a society of restoration, that tears down walls of protection to spread the infectious purity of Jesus. It is a society of joy, where yearnings met by glimpses of joy become the full-blown joy of feasting with God and each other. It is a society of perspective, where we discover that “the end is the beginning,” where our communion now with God in scripture and in prayer in Christian community is shaped by what we expect to be our eternal destiny.

Finally, McKnight considers what it means for us to live the Jesus Creed. He summarizes this as:

  • Believing in Jesus
  • Abiding in Jesus
  • Surrendering in Jesus
  • Restoring in Jesus
  • Forgiving in Jesus
  • Reaching Out in Jesus

All of these were challenging chapters, and certainly the challenge to forgive is one many of us wrestle with. Another, that I do not hear much of these days, is that of surrender. McKnight speaks of surrendering both mind and body and gets very specific about each. Here is part of what he says about physical surrender:

   A disciple of Jesus recognizes the significance of what is physical. As Dallas Willard makes clear in several of his books, “the body lies right at the center of the spiritual life.” The challenge for spiritual formation is for our bodies to love God and others so that they “honor God.” While some people need to discipline the body more than others, the extravagances of some forms of monasticism, however well intended, express a fundamental misconception of the proper place of the body in spiritual formation. Having said that, however, the disciplines of the Christian life are “body acts of love” and cannot be set aside if we are being spiritually formed. In fact, the body cries for the opportunity to surrender itself to the Jesus Creed (p. 207).

No gnosticism here. McKnight explores how our bodily love for God and others works out in everything from our use of power to our quest for agelessness to our acceptance of the gift of our sexuality, while guarding from the misuse of this gift.

McKnight’s book is so valuable in calling us back to the heart of following Jesus. When asked about what we believe, at best we often stumble to offer theological, explanations, or at our worst, declare all the things we are against. McKnight invites us to reflect, and by saying this creed morning and evening, to center our lives on what Jesus thought most important. I suspect that we often get distracted from loving God and neighbor because it is simply hard. On the one hand, this is uncompromisingly simple–love God with all you are, and when you find a neighbor–love that person as you would be loved. On the other hand, it is hard, and that, I think is why we turn to other things. It is scary to give ourselves wholeheartedly to God. And we worry what will become of us if we give ourselves wholeheartedly to the neighbor. But does this not take us into the place of surrender, of trusting the love of Abba-Father, as we day by day pray the Jesus Creed?

Review: The Learning Cycle

learning cycle

The Learning CycleMuriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer. Downers Grove: IVP Academiv, 2020.

Summary: 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.

Most all of us remember cramming for an exam where we learned the information we needed just long enough to take the test. A week, maybe even a day later, it was gone. Part of the problem, according to the authors is that we often consider learning only a cognitive process, engaging our minds. Drawing on recent findings in neuroscience, the authors propose a learning process that engages the mind, the emotions, and our actions.

They propose a five step or level process, all build around the idea of recall, the remembering the information, and building on that:

Level 1: Recall–I Remember the Information. They look at how learning involves short, working, and long-term memory. Critical is getting to long term through rehearsal. One of the tools they talk about is the “memo to self,” a short note on one meaningful idea from a presentation. In this section, they also discuss lectures that transform. A key point is realizing that attention peaks at 10-12 minutes and then declines (a good time a change of pace, such as discussion or an exercise) and then rises again (a good time for summation). They offer a number of ideas for vibrant, memorable lectures and dealing with cognitive overload (like being the last speaker of the day).

Level 2: Recall with Appreciation. The aim here is for the learner to value the information. This introduces the affective aspect of learning, how one feels about the content of the learning. This happens in a setting that is safe, with a teacher that is credible, and where the learning experience is positive and self-affirming.

Level 3: Recall with Speculation. A learner who retains and appreciates the information then takes the step to consider how they will use the information. It involves visualizing how one might use the information in one’s life. This involves connecting new information with past content and thinking about how it may be incorporated in one’s life. It might mean adding, modifying, eliminating or strengthening a behavior.

Barriers to Change. Before moving to changed behavior, it is important to identify barriers and how to overcome them. They discuss the Reasoned Action Approach, which identifies the specific beliefs that control why and when we change our behavior and how convinced we are that the change will be beneficial. They then propose several learning tasks to overcoming barriers: the memo to myself again, role playing, accountability relationships, avoiding dangerous contexts, managing negative thoughts, and depending on Scripture and prayer.

Level 4: Recall with Practice. This is where one begins to change one’s behavior. It is important to recognize that practicing new behaviors may be uncomfortable at first and learning that at worst, we can’t do a new behavior yet. It takes time and repetition, dialogue and discussion in a community. This may be done through simulations, skill-training with practice, and the alternation of practice and debriefing, consolidating what is learned.

Level 5: Recall with Habit. This is moving beyond learning to act out a new behavior well to do that behavior consistently, where learning becomes habit. Habits involve a feedback loop of cues, routines, and rewards that we continue to practice long enough that we don’t give them conscious though. The authors discuss replacing bad habits with good ones and the importance of “keystone habit,” a small change that leads to other habitual changes. The author illustrated this with using the sound of a gecko to cue prayer.

While this learning cycle is useful in many learning settings, the authors, both committed Christians apply this to learning Christlikeness as habit becomes or forms character. They argue that no part of the learning cycle should be neglected if this is to happen:

  • Overemphasis on recall or remembering can incline people toward hypocrisy.
  • Overemphasis on valuing or emotion can incline people toward instability.
  • Overemphasis on barriers or obstacles can incline people toward paralysis.
  • Overemphasis on speculation or transfer can incline people toward inaction.
  • Overemphasis on practice or changing can incline people toward activism.
  • Overemphasis on habit or consistency can incline people toward empty routine.

The authors give us a biblically informed, and scientifically grounded approach to learning that transforms. I appreciate this, because the true aim of all education is the formation and transformation of learners in some way. Even more, the form of education that is Christian discipleship is far more than acquiring biblical knowledge, or even emotional dispositions toward the Christian faith and life. Unless truth transforms our thoughts, affections, and habitual actions toward Christlikeness, discipleship is just a bookshelf full of books, a notebook full of notes and a head full of ideas. The Elmers argue that so much more is possible, and shows the way for those who teach, and those who learn.

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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: Shaped by Suffering

shaped by suffering

Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home, Kenneth Boa, with Jenny Abel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2020.

Summary: A study of how suffering may shape a person for eternity with God, based on 1 Peter.

There’s a lot of suffering in the world. Even in ordinary times. Illness. Injury. Chronic pain. Broken relationships. Depression. Death. That’s just a sample. We want to know why this happened. We want to know how this can be reconciled with the goodness of God. That’s not what this book is about.

The authors have a more focused purpose. They are writing for those who believe, and particularly those whose trust in Christ includes a hope beyond this earthly life, in the words of the creed, a belief in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” They believe suffering forms us in this life, and prepares us for that eternity. They write:

   The qualities we most admire in people are seldom forged in times of ease but in times of adversity. All the heroes of the faith suffered in some way, whether in an internal or external, chronically or as a result of a single crisis. Some suffered even to the point of death. While no sane person eagerly runs into the arms of suffering, believers in Jesus today often avoid it at all costs. Our most earnest prayers are too often, “Take this painful thing away” instead of “Use this for your glory” or “Keep me safe” instead of “Embolden my faith in this danger or threat.” This book takes a hard look at our perspective on suffering and challenges us as believers (myself included) to see it more as God would have us see it: from an eternal perspective. (p. 2)

The book follows 1 Peter, a book written to Christians facing imminent persecution under Nero, making this “the Job of the New Testament.’ They begin with Peter’s assumption of the inevitability of suffering and the hope of restoration (1 Peter 5:10). They consider how suffering purifies as fire does gold in a crucible. They explore the meaning of hope beyond death and the present joy amid suffering in the anticipation of that hope.

Contrary to our inclination to avoid or wish to escape suffering, the authors explore how we might prepare for suffering. The invitation to suffer is a call to imitate Christ, learning submission both to God and earthly authorities. Perhaps for me some of the most challenging words were in a chapter on ministering to others, and the call to intercession that “prays through.” Ultimately we live for eternal glory and as called people.

The discussion, closely following the text of 1 Peter, is mixed with stories both from Christians in history, and from the authors’ own lives. This is what enables the writing to transcend the nostrums that are singularly unsatisfying to those who suffer. Boa and Abel help us listen to an apostle intimately acquainted with suffering, one who knew he was destined for more. At present we face a pandemic and economic collapse. We all want life to go back to the way it was. What if it doesn’t? What does it mean to lean into Christian hope when the way to it is through suffering? This book, and perhaps the study of 1 Peter, may be for such a time as this.

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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: A Multitude of All Peoples

A Multitude

A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global IdentityVince L. Bantu. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: 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.

Often in Christian witness with people from Western countries, the challenge is whether someone can believe intellectually or volitionally, or dealing with ways they may have been put off by the church. In other parts of the world, or with people from those parts of the world or from minority cultures, the issue is that Christianity is thought of white and Western, and it would be an abandonment of one’s culture to believe. In significant part, this arises from mission efforts that have been both culturally captive to the West, and often been the Trojan horse for colonizing efforts.

This book addresses this challenge in several ways. One is that it traces how the early church in the West diverged from other believers in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The fusion of church and state that began with Constantine marked the beginning of the separation from churches in the East. The framing of orthodox Christian belief at Chalcedon in Hellenistic language distanced believers who spoke of Christian faith in different heart languages.

Then in successive chapters Bantu traces the indigenous Christian movements in Africa, in the Middle East, and along the Silk Road. The exclusion of Miaphysites, those who would say that Christ exists as one person and one human-divine nature, separated the Africans and others from the West. What Bantu shows is the vibrant indigenous churches that developed in each of these parts of the world–the Copts in Egypt, the Ethiopian Church, the Maronites in Lebanon, and the Armenian Church, the early church in India tracing its origins to St. Thomas, and churches along the Silk Road.

The book summarizes the history of each of these indigenous movements that at one time, or even down to the present have been a vibrant Christian presence (consider the 21 Coptic martyrs brutally killed in a videotaped Isis message). The history is accompanied by images of church buildings and artifacts from these churches. The history and archaeological evidence make a strong case for the trans-cultural, global character of early Christianity that existed from the earliest centuries through the first millennium, long before western mission movements.

Likewise, the history of the interaction between the early churches of the West, and sister churches in Africa, the Middle East and Asia offer lessons for today. Chalcedon, from the perspective of these churches, rejected their understanding of Christ and the Christian faith, insisting on a Hellenistic framework for this belief. Bantu shows how indigenous churches responded to the rise of Islam, and sometimes were able to frame Christian faith in ways that were doctrinally sound and yet sidestepped the controversies surrounding God and his Son.

At the beginning of the third millennium of Christianity and the unprecedented global spread of Christianity, the message of this book more important than ever. At times, churches outside the West still struggle under Western theological and cultural domination. In other places, indigenous leadership is framing culturally contextualized yet theologically faithful approaches that advance the gospel. Will Western churches relinquish control in the former instance and affirm and learn from the latter? This book both offers historical evidence that indigenous churches may thrive, and that Christianity from its very beginnings was not exclusively white and Western.

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