Christian Books

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life
Joan Chittister
Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009
217 pages

Who might this book interest?  This book would interest those who want to know more about the liturgical year and to better live it out.  The book is a pretty simple read, although I do have several criticisms of it from both a writing and theological perspective.  Admittedly, it would not be the first book that I suggest on the topic.  

My first suggestion would be Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year.  Lord willing, my review of Webber's book will be forthcoming.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Quick Summary: Joan Chittister is both a Benedictine nun, lecture, and author.  She holds a PhD in speech communication from Penn State University and has written over 50 books and numerous articles.  In addition, she has received many awards for her publications and international social work on behalf of peace, human rights, and women’s issues.  As one who has practiced the liturgical year for practically all of her life, Joan Chittister is highly qualified to write this book.

Because it contains thirty chapters, it is hard to summarize this book.  So, instead of covering it chapter by chapter, I am going to make broad statements about the content.  As one would expect, Chittister covers the foundations of the liturgical year, the Advent cycle, the Lenten cycle, and Ordinary time. 

Generally, Chittister does three things throughout this work.  First, she explains the various feasts, festivals and seasons of the liturgical year.  She gives the historical development of them.  This is interesting because they sometimes developed different in the East and West.  Usually, she addresses why they developed differently. 

Second, Chittister connects them to the scriptural events that they flow from.  At its best, the liturgical year arises from the scriptural presentation of the life of Jesus Christ, so it makes sense that there should be an intimate connection with the text.  There are some Catholic feasts that do not rise from Scripture which she also discusses.

Third, Chittister highlights the spirituality of the liturgical year.  What spiritual meaning and use does the liturgical year hold for Christians?  Throughout the book, she points out how the liturgical year contributes to our maturing faith.  The liturgical year is spiritually beneficial to those who consistently practice it over a long period of time.

Evangelical Assessment: In terms of writing, there are a couple of criticisms.  First, the book needed sections to group the chapters.  This would have helped with cohesion and flow.  There are 33 chapters, and it feels overwhelming when you look at the number of chapters.  You wonder, “Where do I start?”  Sections would have provided a context for understanding some of the chapters.

Second, Chittister’s writing style is creatively repetitive and laborious at the same time.  Most of the paragraphs follow this pattern: say it, say it again differently, say it again differently, say it one more time.  There are exceptions such as when she is explaining why we celebrate certain feasts at a certain time.  Generally, I find that she seeks to be creative, but often uses too many words, and at times, unusual vocabulary to say what she wants to say.  I know that she is thoughtful and creative, but I found myself getting rather impatient reading her prose.

Third, she is a Catholic Christian, and I can appreciate that about her perspective.  There were Catholic emphases and feasts that she introduced me too, but as a Lutheran, we do not practice.  At times, I learned about another traditions practice of the liturgical year.  Unfortunately, the Protestant traditions that also practice the liturgical year are neglected.  She does give voice to the Eastern Orthodox Church at times, but neglects several feasts that Protestants do celebrate, such as Reformation Day for the Lutherans.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Clowning in Rome by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Clowning in Rome: Reflections on Solitude, Celibacy, Prayer, and Contemplation
Henri J. M. Nouwen
New York, NY: Image Books, 2000
109 pages

Who might this book interest?  I think that most Christians, who are serving Christ in some way, would benefit from reading Nouwen’s book, Clowning in Rome.  It will especially appeal to those who are not serving in the spotlight, and help them to bring greater depth and understanding to their service to God and people.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Quick Summary: Before his passing in 1996, Nouwen was a Catholic priest, pastoral theologian and psychologist as well as a spiritual writer.  In his teaching career, he taught at Norte Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School.  After serving as a university professor for many years, Nouwen went on to serve the L’Arche Daybreak community in Toronto, Canada until his death.  He had an immense literary output of over 40 books!  Thus, Nouwen’s influence has continued well after his death.

Initially, I equated Nouwen’s title, “Clowning in Rome,” with something like “Goofing Off in Rome.”  So, I did not really feel that it was a book that I wanted to read, but then, I read the Introduction, and I quickly became captivated by it.  The idea is that clowns are in the peripheral and not a part of the main show, but they serve in so many ways out of the spotlight.  Nouwen originally gave these as lectures to various religious communities in Rome.

Chapter 1: Solitude and Community seems even more relevant today than when it was originally written in 1978.  We live in an “emergency-oriented society” where “fear and anger” are prominent features.  Fear and anger may produce togetherness but not love for your neighbor.  Solitude show us that community grows us with others.  It teaches us dependence on God, which enables us to love others in spite of themselves.  In solitude, we find our true identity and calling as part of our community and common call.  If we do not structure time for solitude, we live in and of the emergency-oriented world, where we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.  Solitude allows us to connect with our Creator and Redeemer.  It strips away all of our false self-identity, and exposes our true self before the One who loves and guides us into community.  In our day of false unity through fear and anger, we need true solitude and community more than ever.

Chapter 2: Celibacy and the Holy originally made me wonder if this chapter really had anything to say to me as a married person.  We each have an inner sacred space which witnesses to God.  Celibacy is a visible witness to that sacred space in all of us.  Interpersonal relationships are important, but may overrun our sacred space in our desperation for intimacy.  The meaning of celibacy is important for all states of life: marriage, friendship, etc.  Celibacy witnesses that God is the source of love for all of us.  The two pillars of celibacy are contemplative prayer and poverty.  God comes to meet us in this prayer, and voluntary poverty is an outer expression of one’s inner poverty, which hopes and depends on God to fulfill.  Sexual abstinence, contemplative prayer, and voluntary poverty witness to the inner vacancy “where we encounter Love, listen to the voice of Love, and celebrate the presence of Love in our midst.”  Celibacy is a reminder not to attempt to fill one’s need for love completely in others, but in the true Source, God.  Then, our interpersonal relationships can be energized with His love.

Chapter 3: Prayer and Thought challenges us in our prayer and thoughts.  Many time, people want to make prayer a “part” of their life, but St. Paul makes prayer his whole life and encourages us to do the same.  Pray is like breathing or our heart beating; ceaseless until physical death.  What does it mean “to pray without ceasing”?  The Jesus Prayer is one example.  Nouwen continues to explore, “How can thinking become praying?”  First, we need to stop thinking.  Second, unceasing prayer is not unceasingly thinking about God, but thinking all of our thoughts in God’s presence.  This is not introspection, but conversation and communion.  This is a slow process.  Surrendering all of our thoughts to God is difficult, especially when our thoughts feel inappropriate or embarrassing.  Discipline provides support for constant communion.  Attempt to be open to God in all circumstances.  Nouwen suggests contemplative prayer as a means of waiting on God.

Finally, Chapter 4: Contemplation and Caring shows us the connection between these.  Nouwen says, “To contemplate is to see, and to minister is to make visible, the contemplative life is a life with a vision, and the life of caring for others a life revealing the vision to others.”  According to Nouwen, the contemplative life is moving from opaqueness to transparency in three areas: nature, time, and people.  The contemplative life allows us to see beneath the outward and makes the world a sacrament which reveals God’s love.  Nouwen comments, “The practice of the contemplative prayer is the discipline by which we begin to ‘see’ the living God dwelling in our own hearts.”  God within us reveals God in nature, time, and people. 

Evangelical Assessment: Nouwen seamlessly integrates psychology, theology and spirituality.  There is a depth in his approach that is so often lacking in the evangelical perspective.  His approach to solitude as a basis for true community.  The discussion of celibacy in a context which highlights the centrality of God, while affirming marriage, gives a unique and needed perspective.  The encouragement and challenge to make prayer your life, instead of a part of your life.  The interconnection of contemplation to care in our relationship with God.

Nouwen was a Catholic priest and draws on the history of Christian spirituality, but he is also broad in his thinking.  While there is occasional Catholic speak, it is not prominent, nor a distraction for the evangelically-minded reader.  Once again, there is great depth in Nouwen’s writing.

He interacts with some current religious-based psychology, quotes philosophy, refers to Scripture as well as draws from the history of Christian spirituality.  It is obvious that he has meditated and internalized much of what he teaches in this book.  He is a thoughtful academic, who knows these writings, but he is also a contemplative, who has meditated upon them.  If there is any draw back, it is the implicit use of Scripture when an explicit use could be helpful.

Inevitably, I end up reading the chapters multiple times before I feel like I understand what he is saying.  On a purely surface level, Nouwen is accessible, but it really takes multiple readings to plunge the depth of his thought.  Generally, I find myself reading the chapters three times each before I feel that I have a sufficient grasp on the content.

I believe that this book would be good reading for any Christian who is serving Him.  It will especially be helpful for those who are not in the limelight.  They serve in a way that is not noticed by others.  They are the normal people that give us hope in our service to Christ.  This book will nurture their inner life with God and outward service to Him.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Invitation to a Journey by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation
M. Robert Mulholland Jr.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993
173 pages

Who might this book interest? Mulholland’s Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation is intended for a broad Christian audience, and apparently, it has met that goal.  While it has not been revised, it is still in print and has been integrated into InterVarsity’s “Formatio” series.  My copy is from 1993, and my daughter’s copy is a more recent printing with a different cover.  We use it as one of our freshman spiritual formation textbooks at the college level, but it is a very accessible book for most audiences.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: After teaching there for many years, Dr. M. Robert Mulholland Jr. became professor emeritus of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Asbury is usually described as an interdenominational evangelical seminary in the Wesleyan-Methodist tradition.  He earned his MDiv from Wesley Theological Seminary and his ThD from Harvard Divinity School.  In addition to having published New Testament commentaries, Mulholland has produced several of the “must-read” books on spiritual formation such as: Invitation, Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, and more recently, The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self.

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation is developed in four parts: The Road Map, The Vehicle, The Journey, and Companions on the Inner Way.  He develops spiritual formation in a relational way, instead of the sometimes mechanistic way that some teachers use. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Spiritual Wholeness for Clergy by Donald R. Hands and Wayne L. Fehr

Who might this book interest? This book would definitely interest clergy and those who counsel clergy.  Yet, I think that the application of this work may extend beyond its intended audience.  It may also interest those who are involved in any type of Christian-based counseling or Christian-based recovery work.  Overall, it would be a useful book for several audiences.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary: The authors, Donald Hands and Wayne Fehr, represent two disciplines: psychology/clinician and theologian/spiritual director (xix).  This can readily be seen in reading this work, although it does seem that psychological theory and clinical work dominate the monograph.  Still, the book is an easy read with some very helpful ideas for the integration of psychology and Christian spirituality.  I easily read it in a single day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Counseling and Confession by Walter J. Koehler

Who might this book interest? Since this book is from a conservative Lutheran perspective, I believe that this book would interest many Evangelicals, especially pastors and Christian counselors, of various denominations. It is a concise, well-written overview of pastoral counseling's relationship to individual confession and absolution.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: The late Walter J. Koehler was a Lutheran Church pastor as well as a professor of theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Canada (back cover). I generally like to give more biography of the author, but it was difficult to find substantial information on Koehler.
This new edition of the book contains several Forewords as well as Prefaces. Dr. Harold L. Senkbeil begins by discussing individual confession and absolution (ICA), and its resurgence in recent times (8-9). Dr. Rick W. Marrs continues with a new introduction to the work (10-13). He concisely identifies the loss and resurgence of ICA as well, but in addition, he addresses soul care from before the 1930s and after 1982. He mentions many of the recent psychological developments such as: physiological-pharmacological, CBT, attachment, and systems approaches.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner

Who might this book interest? This book would interest a reflective person, who desires to listen to their own life as they find themselves reflected in Buechner’s book. Buechner says, “My assumption is that the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all” (6). While the details of our personal stories diverge greatly, our existential questions are often very similar. In Buechner’s story, we find an, at times, embarrassingly honest account of ourselves.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: Frederick Buechner is a well-known author and preacher. One of his most well-known works, Godric, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Sacred Journey tells the story of Frederick Buechner’s younger years as he becomes slowly, subtly acquainted with God over more than two decades of his life. He says, “Something in me recoils from using such language, but here at the end I am left with no other way of saying it than that what I found finally was Christ. Or was found. It hardly seems to matter which” (110). I appreciate this expression because I’ve come to believe that the Christ of my own finding, actually found me first.

The Sacred Journey is a short, well-written account that highlights certain moments in Frederick Buechner’s life from birth till his later twenties. From his non-religious upbringing, it tells of his spiritual journey, and the people and circumstances, often not seeming important at the time, which rose to the surface in reflecting upon that journey. Using chapter titles inspired by Dylan Thomas’ poem, Fern Hill, The Sacred Journey contains three chapters: Once Below a Time, Once Upon a Time, and Beyond Time (9).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Freud and the Post-Freudians by J. A. C. Brown

Who might this book interest? Generally, this book would interest the educated layperson, Christian or not, who desires to know more about Freud and the psychological developments after Freud beginning with Adler, Jung, Ferenczi, and Rank, and working up to Horney, Fromm, and Sullivan. Specifically, Christians who are interested in the relationship of psychology and religion would benefit from this work. The author does discuss or mention the various theorists’ view of religion in addition to their views of humanity and psychological issues.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Quick Summary: While I normally like to include some information about the author, finding information on J. A. C. Brown has proven a difficult endeavor. From what I could find, Brown was born in Scotland in 1911 and earned a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh. Also, he specialized in psychiatry and worked with the military, and later, with mental hospitals, and prisons. While initially holding that mental illness was a biological and individual issue, he came to view them as social problems. He died in 1964 (

Succinctly, J. A. C. Brown provides a solid, critical examination of Freud and the Post-Freudians up until the 1950s. While this book is older (it was last revised in 1964), it still continues to give valuable insight into Freud and those who followed after him. While it provides a very useful explanation and examination of its time period, this work does not address many of the important theorists since that time such as: Carl Rogers, Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, etc. Yet, I would suggest that this book is a very good introductory work on modern psychology.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Doing Time in the Pulpit by Eugene L. Lowry

Who might this book interest? This book would most likely interest the preacher who already has a basic knowledge of Narrative Preaching and desires to deepen their understanding of it. In addition, it may interest those who are skeptical of Narrative Preaching by providing the philosophical rationale to consider it.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Quick Summary: Doing Time in the Pulpit is the fourth book by Eugene L. Lowry that I have reviewed. My other reviews can be found here on the Christian Book Revue.

In my previous reviews (The Homiletical Plot, How to Preach a Parable, and Living with the Lectionary), I mentioned that Dr. Eugene Lowry is an ordained United Methodist minister and retired professor of preaching. Having taught at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City for over thirty years, his vita includes many scholarly books and articles on preaching, as well as various honors and lectureships.

This work is about time in the pulpit: preaching. It is a verb, not a noun; an action. From the Introduction, Lowry says, “The phrase ‘Doing TIME in the Pulpit’ refers not to a jail sentence, although preachers may wonder from time to time! The phrase refers to the connection between time and the sermon” (7). What is a sermon? He states, “A sermon is an ordered form of moving time” (8).

Monday, August 1, 2011

Books that I've been reading, but not revueing...

While I have not been taking reading, taking notes, and writing about it, I have been reading some interesting books in July.

First, I have been reading two books on contemplative or centering prayer as well as attempting to practice it! Both of these books are by Trappist monks and provide interesting history, insight, and instruction in silent prayer (another name for it). I have been reading Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form by Basil Pennington and Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton. I am purposely reading both of them slowly (sometimes a few pages; sometimes a chapter) before praying. Often, they provide a valuable insight that I need for that time as I approach God in prayer.

Second, I have been re-reading Eugene Lowry's books on narrative preaching, The Homiletical Plot, Expanded Edition: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form and How to Preach a Parable: Designs for Narrative Sermons (Abingdon Preacher's Library Series). Yes, I have already revued these books here, but now, using texts from my daily quite time, I am working on writing my own narrative sermons based upon my imperfect use of his method. It has been both fun and trying. Hopefully, I will have an opportunity to preach them in the near future!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science by George Tsakiridis

Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts
George Tsakiridis
Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010
124 pages

Who might this book interest? While the author desires to address a broad audience of devout believers with doubts about the Christian life, this work is most applicable to psychologists and spiritual directors as well as those interested in a specialized study of Evagrius Ponticus’, a fourth century Patristic Father, work in relation to current cognitive science.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Quick Summary: Dr. George Tsakiridis wrote this work as his doctoral dissertation at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.  He is currently an Assistant Professor of Religion at South Dakota State University and a faculty member of the Christ School of Theology at the Institute of Lutheran Theology.  His work is a creative assemblage of the Patristic spirituality of Evagrius Ponticus and cognitive science with a hint of Ricoeurian philosophy for additional seasoning.  For the most part, it reads in a fairly simple, straightforward way, especially for having been a dissertation.