Review: Aging Faithfully

Aging Faithfully, Alice Fryling. Colorado Springs, NavPress, 2021.

Summary: An exploration of the questions that come with the changes of growing older and the invitations of God in those changes.

It seems that the mantra among those of my age group is “growing old ain’t for sissies.” You might think that those of us who have been at this game of life for awhile might have it figured out. What some may not realize is this is a new game, and we are rank beginners at it. Our bodies are changing, we are retiring from work, and maybe other pursuits of earlier years, our relationships with family, church, and others may be changing, and even our relationship with God may be changing as we let go of old patterns and open up to new ones. There are fears: about finances, about our relationship with our children, about losses of mental and physical abilities, and what the process of dying will be like for us.

Alice Fryling has written a beautiful book that engages all of these matters, some of which may even be hard to talk about and yet they may not be far from our thoughts. She writes as one in the midst of this process, seeing changes in her life situation, her body, and even in the things she wants to do and believes are God’s invitations. She shares her own journey even as she helps us to explore the contours of ours.

She begins by acknowledging that we are on a journey into the unknown, but that like the ancient explorers, it may lead to new places we did not know were there. She discusses retirement, not only from work but also some of the former activities that came with our working lives. Successive images of blossoms blooming and fallen, sap running, fruitfulness, and the best wine and new wineskins offer hope for what is fermenting, growing anew in our lives. She explores aging as a time of new birth, shedding the lies of the false self, even good, spiritual lies that no longer have a hold on us as we embrace what Christ is forming in us.

She acknowledges the losses of past work, of body, the importance of listening to the body’s messages and not denying the losses, but bringing them to God and opening ourselves to how we might be renewed inwardly when our bodies begin failing us. She talks about how we may struggle with the loss of control that sleep represents, and observes that insomnia, an accompaniment of aging, is also a loss of control, and another opportunity to surrender to the care of God. She considers letting go and our resistance to it. She observes how letting go may be a gift, as we acknowledge the changing desires in our hearts. We give up on “shoulding” and give ourselves to the “discipline of irresponsibility” that may be the first steps to responding to the Spirit’s invitations.

She confronts our fears and where we find peace as God leads us a step at a time. She deals with feelings of uselessness, loneliness, brokenness, and the concerns of the last season of our lives. Then in the epilogue, there is a wonderful summary by the decades of the sixties, seventies, and eighties of the questions that we may ask ourselves, and the sound counsel at any age that what we need are people who listen, not to solve us, but to draw us out. Appendices offer help with relevant scripture passages, an interview with her husband Bob, and a discussion what different groups–parents and children–would have the others know.

Alice Fryling’s honesty about questions, losses, letting go, and how she has found hope and peace is helpful. If you’ve reached our age, you are asking the questions and it helps to know one isn’t alone. Reflection questions and spiritual practices concluding the chapters offer opportunities to begin to listen for the invitations of God of which she speaks. As she proposes, the coming years are undiscovered country for all of us. I long not so much to know what they hold as to be found faithful in Christ to the end. Fryling offers the encouragement that the Lord desires this for us even more than we do, and will guide us safe home.


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

Review: Identity in Action

Identity in Action, Perry L. Glanzer. Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2021.

Summary: Addresses the various different identities college students must negotiate and proposes a model of Christian excellence in these various identities.

College students must negotiate a variety of identities in their campus experience. Race, sexual orientation, and gender identity are the object of much public focus. But there are also a number of other identities one engages in everyday life that are no less real–academic work, friends and family, romantic relationships, one’s stewardship of time, talents and resources including one’s own body, and one’s civic identity. With all this, the question comes of how to juggle or prioritize these identities–all are important to who we are as persons.

One of the assertions the author makes is that colleges and universities offer little help in figuring this stuff out. For the author, Christ is central to this matter of identity, and this work assumes people who are Christ followers. He contends that Christ followers are new creations, restored from the sin and brokenness of human rebellion. He beautifully uses Fantine’s words to Cosette about her and her prostitute mother from Les Miserables: “She has the Lord. He is her Father….In his eyes you have never been anything but an innocent and beautiful woman.” But our identity is more than a “me and Jesus” thing. We are part of Christ’s body, and Glanzer considers this our most important human identity, and a place that forms us in loving virtue.

All of this lays the basis for what he advocates as “identity excellence” in our various roles. Subsequent chapters of the book work this out in our various identities with neighbors, our work as students, as friends, with enemies, as men or women, in romantic relationships, in stewarding our bodies and time, in the use of God’s gifts of money and possessions, in our race and ethnicity, and our loyalties to family and country. From work in collegiate ministry, I would agree that these are among the top student concerns.

The chapter on being a good neighbor helps ground other chapters on dealing with friends and enemies and focuses on how one may be excellent, regardless of the behavior of others. I did find it surprising that he would take on the matter of enemies. Yet this seems important because there is an idealism that denies the possibility of having enemies and leaves one ill-prepared when this arises. The counsel on stewardship, beginning with one’s body and his words about alcohol abuse on campuses and its connection with sexual assault is worth heeding.

I was more mixed in reading the chapters about “ladies” and “gentleman” and about romantic relationships. While I would affirm the emphasis on character and Christ-likeness, and challenging campus hook-up culture with chaste behavior toward one another and old-fashioned “dating,” I was concerned about the focus I saw on lingering gender stereotypes, for example “the strength, ambition, and character of men” versus “feminine beauty and the splendor of God’s glory.” This was more evident in the chapter on romance:

A real man on campus must have the courage to be counter-cultural. He must use his strength wisely and pursue a woman with patience, self-control, and agape love. The true woman scandalously withholds her love for the man noble and faithful enough to win it. She must demonstrate confidence in God’s love to sustain her in the midst of the desire to be loved, and she must demonstrate patience and self-control as she develops a romantic friendship” (p. 140).

I’m thankful that the author calls for patience and self-control on the part of both. At the same time the man is described as one who “pursues” who has “strength” and “courage” while the woman “withholds” as she is being pursued, she needs to be sustained by God’s love in her “desire to be loved.” I think many women who have struggled with patriarchy in the church would be fearful that this counsel is setting them up for a patriarchal marriage.

I’m also surprised that these chapters seem to act as if LGBTQ+ students do not exist when approximately 20 percent of Harvard and Yale students identify as LGBTQ+ and 11 percent of students at Christian colleges identify as non-heterosexual. Needless to say, for the Christian student who does not identify as heterosexual or cisgender, the silence of this book speaks loudly. Granted, almost anything that might be said may be contentious, but some word for these students seems necessary in a book on identity.

There are a number of good things in the chapter on race. In particular, the author traces his own growing racial awareness, the way both the country and the church are implicated in race. He cites his own institution of Baylor as an example of systemic racism in its historic discrimination against black students. However in moving so quickly to the avoidance of bitterness, the practice of forgiveness, and holding up the example of a black man who joins and serves in a white church, I suspect many students of color will be put off. Where is there room for godly anger at four hundred years of oppression, where is the unqualified repentance by the white church for the ways we are implicated in that oppression, and where is the counter example of whites submitting to black leadership?

The work concludes with the question of how we deal with conflicting priorities between our identities. I appreciate that the author didn’t offer a formula but urged the pursuit of faithfulness to Christ, attention to his words, and being yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit, in community with other Christians. While we would like a GPS or a formula, what Glanzer describes rings true with experience. There is much wisdom like this throughout this work, my critique of several chapters notwithstanding. It may save the student who wants to follow Christ much grief and position that student for great growth and delight in the person he or she is discovering themselves to be through the critical years of college.


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

Review: It’s Not Your Turn

It’s Not Your Turn, Heather Thompson Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.

Summary: When everyone seems to be moving ahead while we are standing still, chosen for jobs while we are runners up, the question is how we should live while we wait our turn.

In our success-oriented culture, it can be very hard when it seems our lives are going nowhere while our friends are conquering the world. Heather Thompson Day contends that the turning point in our lives may center around what we do while we wait our turn. We can be jealous of others or sink into depression. Much of this arises from comparing ourselves to social media success stories. Day came to the realization in her own struggles that the issue wasn’t how she rated against others but against the person Jesus was inviting her to be. What she did to live toward him, succeed or not, was worth more than anything.

Day explores the rich life we may pursue as we wait our turn. Actually, the work begins with learning to wait. Day asks us to imagine the benefits that could come of something we really want being delayed. The hardest part is trusting that God will keep his promises. Then we need to reckon with the things we are saying to ourselves and to allow a life saturated in God’s word to reframe them. We need to move beyond what we feel to what we see, and then, like Elisha’s servant, have our eyes opened to seeing where God is at work. Often it means beginning to see the small things, to pursue faithfulness in the ordinariness of life. How we treat the seemingly insignificant–whether tasks or people–will crucially shape us.

The time when it is not our turn is the time to set our goals and devote ourselves to the deliberate practices necessary to reach them. It’s the time to build our network and one practice she commends is the asking of help. At the same time she challenges the social media practices of many of us, trying to build big platforms and tout our work. Instead, are we using it to stay in touch and care for others? Times of waiting can be times where God challenges our selfishness, where God humbles us so we are not a danger to others and our own souls when we are in a position of power. Waiting our turn can take us into dependence on community and challenge us to re-envision God, not as the angry, demanding deity of so many angry, demanding people, but as the loving and forgiving Father.

Finally, Day addresses how we move when we see that it may be our turn. We take risks, moving on maybe, trusting that God is in it with us. Whether it is our turn or not, we can step out in faith and act in integrity, living “our lives with a dignity we could only have given ourselves.”

Day shares her own struggles as a Ph.D struggling to make ends meet, aspiring to success as a communicator and teaching classes at a community college. She describes the risks to move across country to the positions she and her husband took, only to have a pandemic hit. Reading between the lines perhaps, one senses that the struggles have hardly come to an end and that this book is as much a “memo to myself” as it is a story of, “I made it and you can too and here is how.” Instead, what she shares is a tangible expression of what it means to live out in practical terms a life of faith grounded in the word of God. Each chapter ends with a promise from scripture to memorize as well as some searching questions.

The pandemic has been a time when many lives have been put on hold, and even as restrictions are lifted in many places, things are still in recovery. While it may not yet be our turn to move ahead, it may be our turn to lean into the transformative life of waiting on God and trusting and obeying in the little things and the formative practices that shape us for the day when it is our turn. In reading Heather Thompson Day, I feel I’m listening to someone is walking there with me and has figured out what really matters when it is not yet our turn.


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

Review: Live Not By Lies

Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher. New York: Sentinal, 2020.

Summary: Drawing on interviews with Christians in the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, Dreher warns of a rise of a similar, though “soft” totalitarianism in the U.S., and outlines what Christians must do to live in the truth.

In The Benedict Option (review), Rod Dreher outlines how he believes Christians, having lost the culture war, must live. Live Not By Lies offers an even grimmer future, the rise of a “soft” progressive totalitarianism functioning by rhetorical and social control, utilizing the capacities already in existence for digital surveillance.

He draws on interactions with survivors of Communism in the Czech Republic and the former Soviet Union. His title comes from a statement by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in what would be his final message to the Soviet Union. Dreher writes:

What did it mean to live by lies? It meant, Solzhenitsyn writes, accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state compelled its citizens to affirm–or at least not to oppose–to get along peaceably under totalitarianism. Everybody says that they have no choice but to conform, says Solzhenitsyn, and to accept powerlessness. But that is the lie that gives all other lies their malign force. The ordinary man may not be able to overturn the kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be its loyal subject.

Dreher and his eastern bloc interlocutors recognize the same troubling trends around the suppression of truth, the attractions of progressiveness to the discontented, the loss of faith in institutions, and a combination of destructiveness and transgressiveness. He points to the safety and cancel cultures of universities that foreclose open discussion of ideas.

The second part of his work addresses how Christians ought prepare for the rise of progressive totalitarianism. He argues for the importance of cultural memory, particularly the memory of totalitarian regimes. He believes that the family and networks of small groups are critical to resistance. He believes that the church is the critical bedrock of resistance, although it is also important to stand in solidarity with others who resist. It was heartening to not see him reprise the strategic withdrawal into monastic-type communities of The Benedict Option but rather listen and draw upon the testimony of those who resisted in the urban centers of Czechoslovakia and the former Soviet Union

Perhaps his greatest challenge to Christians is to accept the possibility of suffering as testimony to the truth–not sought, but not avoided. Talking with those who suffered, he stresses both the challenge to suffer without bitterness, and the gift of suffering.

I think the two most important lessons of this book are that “it can happen here” and that Christians are woefully unprepared as yet. What troubled me in reading this was that Dreher’s apprehension of threats from the far left seems to have blinded him to threats from the far right. In warning exclusively of a progressive, Communist-leaning totalitarianism, I found him more or less silent about the danger of a fascist totalitarianism. In the “survival of the extremes” character of our parties, it seems increasingly that they are moving toward one of these two polarities. The culture war no longer is Christians versus the secular culture but rather these two polarities against each other, each using parts of the Christian community to gain political leverage.

Where Dreher gets it right is that both of these extremes are built on the lie of ultimate allegiance that no Christian can accept, with a whole host of other lies paving the way to believing this big lie. I believe he is right in recognizing how we may be seduced by lies from one extreme or the other. What I wish he had addressed is how we might be people who turn neither to the Left nor the Right but who are shaped by the narrative of the Gospel of the Kingdom. But in a culture where lying is endemic, the call to not capitulate to the lies and the community that sustains a people of truth is no insignificant thing. A Czech emigre friend told the author that writing this book was a waste of time because, “People will have to live through it first to understand….Any time I try to explain current events and their meaning to my friends or acquaintances, I am met with blank stares or downright nonsense.” I hope he is wrong.


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: Uncommon Ground

uncommon ground

Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, edited Timothy Keller & John Inazu. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

Summary: Twelve individuals from different walks of life discuss what Christian faithfulness and the pursuit of the common good looks like in a deeply divided culture.

How are Christians to live in this time where we seem deeply divided about everything from wearing masks to the status of an embryo in the womb to the seriousness of the changes we are witnessing in the world’s climate? Not only are divisions around these and a host of issues deep, but engagement between those who differ seems nearly impossible. So what is a Christian to do? Many have decided that the only options are to “go to ground” and talk about vacations and share cute cat memes. Others have concluded that you must side up on one side of the divide and “unfriend” all those one disagrees with. How is a Christian to live if one cares about the common good and about faithfulness to a kingdom-of-God-shaped life that anticipates the peaceable kingdom and beloved community of the world to come.

These are the questions addressed by the twelve people who contributed to this book edited by Tim Keller, whose Redeemer Church has had a redemptive influence in New York City, and John Inazu, a law professor from St. Louis engaged in a program called the Carver Project whose stated mission is framed in these terms:

We empower Christian faculty and students to serve and connect university, church, and society. We work toward uncommon community, focused engagement, and creative dialogue.

Joining them are theologian Kristen Deede Johnson, InterVarsity/USA president Tom Lin, social entrepreneur Rudy Carrasco, writer and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren, songwriter Sara Groves, rap artist Lecrae, Christian college network leader Shirley V. Hoogstra, psychiatrist Warren Kinghorn, African American community engagement leader in the Southern Baptist Convention Trillia Newbell, and Pastor Claude Richard Alexander, Jr. a peacemaker in Charlotte, North Carolina, leading a multi-site, socially engaged church, The Park Church.

Some essays are more inward looking as is Tish Harrison Warren’s describing her discovery of a calling as a writer, that of naming reality through words. Tim Keller traces his calling from a rural pastorate to New York City and his sense that the gospel critiqued both rural conservatism and urban secular culture, and the sense that in planting a church, Redeemer was called to be salt and light in the city, citizens both of an earthly and heavenly city with the latter taking priority.

Others think more about the terms of engagement of Christians with a divided and pluralistic society. John Inazu advances the virtues of humility, tolerance, and patience as he seeks to translate between the church and the university. Warren Kinghorn talks about walking with the psychologically wounded. Both Trillia Newbell and Claude Richard Alexander, Jr. explore what it means to be reconcilers, peacemakers in a racist society.

Keller and Inazu tie up the strands of the different essays by calling attention to one of the most significant works on Christian engagement written in the last thirty years, James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World. They single out Hunter’s idea of faithful presence and articulate four themes from the essay of what it takes to find “uncommon ground” in our culture while living faithfully to Christ:

  1. Christians should not overidentify with any particular political party or platform.
  2. Christians should approach the community around them through a posture of love and service.
  3. Christians should recognize that the gospel subverts rival stories and accounts of reality.
  4. Christians should reach out to others with humility, patience, and tolerance.

My one hesitance with the language of faithful presence is that it needs more definition to avoid being reduced to a life of service, integrity and niceness. Particularly considering the issues of justice roiling our culture with women, people of color, immigrants and more, is there something more to be said about Christians stance with those on the margins? Perhaps that is implicit in the idea of a subversive gospel. Several do touch on this. Lecrae talks about the narratives that color our perceptions around race and the necessity of telling different stories. Claude Richard Alexander, Jr. gets closest to “edgy” in stating that “[m]aking peace and striving for justice are intimately intertwined.”

I’ve always wanted to be in the place of reconciling differences, of finding the common ground, even if it is a third way shaped by the gospel. What I wrestle with is knowing when it is not possible to find common or uncommon ground. Are there things with which we cannot reconcile–for example white supremacy? Are there “brightline offenses” that must be called out and resisted without equivocation? What does it mean to love across these kinds of differences? How does one do this without becoming a partisan?

At the same time, the writers cast a vision for being very different Christians from what the world expects, and what is often portrayed in the media. The use of personal narratives helps us identify different examples of what it looks like. Yet this is not engagement “lite.” Most of the writers couple theological frameworks with personal stories, offering us rich fare for thought and community and life. Keller and Inazu not only contribute substantive essays but set up the collection and tie it together well. Even more, they created a conversation among the contributors, who often play off each other, giving the work a coherence not often found in a collection of essays. This was an “uncommon” conversation on “uncommon ground.”


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