Book Review: “Recapturing the Wonder” by Mike Cosper


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Photo by Greg Becker on Unsplash

If Charles Taylor is right and we live in a “disenchanted” age, and if James K.A. Smith is correct that “you are what you love,” then how does our approach to living the Christian life change? What is different about our day-to-day experience as followers of Jesus? How do we practice the spiritual disciplines in our modern, secular world?

wonderRecapturing the Wonder: Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World is Mike Cosper’s attempt to “lift the veil a little bit on how the world has shaped us, how we’ve learned to see things through the lenses of disenchantment” (162). Cosper’s main argument is that participation in our world and its “disciplines of disenchantment” (27) has a powerful and formative impact on who we are becoming and our relationship to the transcendent and the spiritual. We cannot expect that our intake of narratives and rituals from our culture will have zero effect on our spiritual lives. Furthermore, we would be foolish to think that a mere influx of spiritual information will be enough to counteract our embodied experiences. The solution to our disenchantment isn’t that we need to know more spiritual things, but rather that we need to put them into practice. “We need to orient our lives around a different set of stories” (ibid.). Enter the spiritual disciplines.

In each of the seven chapters, Cosper begins with specific ways our disenchanted world impacts us and then has a section called “Pathways” where he recommends spiritual practices that offer specific ways to counteract that effect on our lives. For instance, the third chapter focuses on our modern pursuit of spectacle and hype and its corresponding impact on our engagement with Scripture. The pathway section of the chapter discusses Ignatian prayer and praying the Psalms. Chapter Five, “Abundance and Scarcity,” tackles our consumer mindset and gift-giving practices, suggesting the pathways of fasting and feasting as ways to embody the economy of the kingdom rather than the materialism of Mammon.

Throughout the book Cosper maintains a conversational tone and peppers in anecdotes and stories. Cosper acknowledges that this short book is “just scratching the surface” and describes his approach as “almost like a walking tour of a city—a casual stroll where I’ll point some things out and tell an interesting story or two along the way” (5). The goal is “not to be comprehensive…but to provoke some different ways of seeing” (6).

I found the book to do just that: inspiring me to reexamine my daily practices and consider new ways to orient myself spiritually. I have especially been thankful for his discussion of “breath prayers” (which are exactly what they sound like: prayers you can say in a single breath). I’ve been using “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” from Luke 18:13 and the individual petitions from the Lord’s Prayer, but you can use any short prayer that fits in a breath.

Recapturing the Wonder accomplishes what Cosper sets out to do and will serve as a wake-up call for many. It is a solid practical application of ideas from Taylor, Smith, and others, and speaks to us right where we are in the midst of our modern secular environment. For anyone looking for new practices to help orient themselves towards the transcendent, Cosper is an able and helpful guide.


5 stars out of 5

Mike Cosper. Recapturing the Wonder Transcendent Faith in a Disenchanted World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017. 180 pp. Paperback. $17.

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The Fundamentals of Christian Leadership and Ministry


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“Fundamental to all Christian leadership and ministry is a humble personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, devotion to him expressed in daily prayer and love for him expressed in daily obedience. Without this, Christian ministry is impossible. In addition to this, being Christ’s subordinates, we are accountable to him for our service, for he is our Lord and our judge. This fact brings both comfort and challenge.”

—John Stott, Basic Christian Leadership, 101.

In his book Reordering the Trinity, theologian and church historian Rodrick Durst shares an observation about books that has stuck with me ever since I first read it. “I subscribe to the theory that good books have a few great pages. Great books have everyone else’s great pages on that subject” (25). These simple sentences have transformed the way I read books: I’m always on the lookout for a book’s great pages and evaluating whether a book is good or great by how many great pages it has (and how many great pages from other people’s books it has).

Page 101 is one of the great pages in John Stott’s Basic Christian Leadership. I love this discussion of the fundamentals of Christian leadership. If we attempt to lead in any capacity in the church without a humble personal relationship with Christ and if our devotion and obedience are sputtering or nonexistent, how can we expect to lead others and encourage them to do the very same things we ourselves neglect?

Alec Motyer emphasizes the same critical reality, counseling that “the minister must never cease to be an ‘ordinary believer’ humbly walking with God in the light of his word” (Preaching?, 123). You never graduate from the school of prayer. There is no promotion from the necessity of regular communion with Christ.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” —John 15:5 (ESV)

Let’s abide in the Vine. This isn’t a choice between effective ministry and less effective ministry, or an abundance of fruit versus slightly less fruit. It’s fruit or nothing. Possibility or impossibility. Apart from daily abiding, there is nothing for us.

But let’s not forget that this opportunity to abide in Christ is not a checklist to complete, a law to fulfill, or a way to earn anything from our Lord. This is not a guilt trip, it is an invitation! It is not another burden to shoulder on our own, it is a burden to relinquish and lay at Christ’s feet. Ministry leadership and ministry success depend on our abiding in Christ not because our abiding earns success but because it’s our admission that we can have no lasting success without coming to Jesus. So abide in Christ and walk humbly with him, letting him produce the fruit. Follow close in his footsteps, and others will naturally come along too.

 

Quotable: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Who?


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Can we trust that the Gospels we have in the New Testament accurately represent the earliest of Christians’ beliefs about Jesus? What about claims that there were other Gospels or alternate views of Jesus that—if discovered—would change everything we thought we knew about the story of Christianity?

In a section on historical criticism of the Gospels, Craig Blomberg gives his take:

It is particularly misleading, therefore, to speak of lost Gospels or lost Christianities in ways that suggest that orthodoxy somehow suppressed viable Christian traditions or to claim that history is simply written by the winners….The apostolic tradition prevailed in large part because later, competing options never commanded widespread credibility.

—Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group), 108.

 

Agree or disagree?

Quoteworthy: Calvin on Righteousness by Faith


Writing in his commentary on Galatians on Galatians 3:6 , Calvin clearly and succinctly lays out the start to finish of how we as Christians obtain the righteousness of God. Having brought up the question of whether or not faith is the cause of our righteousness, Calvin argues that having faith does not somehow earn or merit righteousness: righteousness is “enjoyed by faith only; and not even as a reward justly due to faith, but because we receive by faith what God freely gives.” Faith is more the mechanism through which we receive the free gift of righteousness than the proper cause of righteousness. Calvin continues:

Christ is our righteousness. The mercy of God is the cause of our righteousness. By the death and resurrection of Christ, righteousness has been procured for us. Righteousness is bestowed on us through the gospel. We obtain righteousness by faith. (emphasis added)

Beautiful.

Book Review: “Four Views on Hell: Second Edition”


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Hell: it’s not a comfortable subject to broach with others. We probably don’t spend much time talking about it and as a result probably don’t spend too much time thinking about it either.

Recently the topic of hell has generated a considerable firestorm (pun intentional) of controversy with Rob Bell’s book Love Wins and the many responses, such as Francis Chan and Preston Sprinke’s Erasing Hell.

Into and partly because of this ongoing discussion, Zondervan has recently released the second edition of Four Views on Hell. This volume is edited by Preston Sprinkle (Chan’s cowriter on Erasing Hell) and features contributions from Denny Burk, John G. Stackhouse Jr., Robin A. Parry, and Jerry L. Walls.

All four contributors are Evangelical but each champions a different Protestant interpretation of what the Bible has to say about hell. Burk defends the view that has historically been dominant in the church: eternal conscious torment (think Dante’s Inferno). Stackhouse proposes instead the idea of terminal punishment, or annihilation. Parry suggests a universalist view that all eventually are redeemed (through Christ, distinguishing it from broader universalism). Lastly Walls argues for the existence of Purgatory and the tenability of Protestants believing in it.

So what exactly do they each have to say about hell?

Continue reading

Review: Ministry in the New Marriage Culture


mithmc“Same-sex marriage is here. So what do pastors and church leaders do now?”

So reads the first lines emblazoned on the back cover of this book, the latest offering from Jeff Iorg, the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (which, disclaimer, is also where I am studying to complete my MDiv). Dr. Iorg is the editor of this book and has assembled 15 of the leading minds either from or affiliated with the seminary in order to address both this large question and many of the other related questions that follow.

Following the Introduction (chapter 1), the book is divided into three sections: Biblical Foundations for Ministry (chapters 2 & 3), Theological Foundations for Ministry (chapters 4-6), and Models and Methods for Ministry (chapters 7-15).

The first section, Biblical Foundations, is a brief overview of some of the biblical teachings and principles from the Old and New Testaments on marriage and sexual ethics. The book’s point of view on the issues is the historic (or non-affirming) teaching of the church on sexual ethics in general and homosexuality in particular. These two chapters are valuable for anyone who has not done an extensive study of the subject themselves but are also not the point of the book. Those looking for exhaustive treatments will want to look elsewhere, though these chapters serve as an appropriate starting point.

The Theological Foundations section covers Gospel Confidence, Ecclesiology, and Sexual Ethics. Of the three, the chapter on Ecclesiology by Rodrick Durst is a standout: it does an excellent job of bringing historical situations in the history of the church to bear on the current circumstances, is filled with encouragements to the reader, offers case studies of potential church issues, suggests practices that will be of benefit in resolving these issues, AND goes further than most of the other chapters by addressing trans* issues (a step not all of the authors take).

The Models and Methods section is the bread and butter of the book and will most likely be the most helpful of all the sections to pastors and other church leaders. In particular, the Preaching chapter by Tony Merida and the Legal Challenges chapter by Jim Wilson are incredibly valuable resources. I feel the chapter on legal challenges, while not for everyone, would be worth the price of the book all by itself to church leaders for its practical advice and suggestions on ways to preemptively protect churches from possible litigation and liability.

Answering Objections:

But wait, some might ask: why do we need another book by fifteen cisgender, evangelical, conservative authors (who are almost all white to boot)? What could they add that is possibly worth listening to? Don’t we need more voices who don’t represent this point of view?

The first part of the answer to that question is YES! We need more diversity in the conversation. I will not argue on that point. However, this book is diverse in its own way.

This is a book that is not directly arguing the abstract and/or theological question of same-sex marriage. It is instead focused on the practicals–what to do–in light of the legal realities that the churches maintaining the historic teaching are faced with and is mainly addressed to those who already agree with its theological perspective. For the book’s audience, this is a necessary book. There are few resources out there (to my admittedly limited knowledge!) that perform the function this book sets out to accomplish.

Is it a perfect book? No. Some chapters fall flat or come across as tone-deaf. Few will agree with every suggestion that every author makes (at least I don’t). And the book falls far short of answering every possible answer to the problems and opportunities churches will face in this arena. But while it doesn’t provide all the answers, it at least is beginning to ask the right questions and inviting the reader to answer them for themselves.

5 stars out of 5


Jeff Iorg, ed. Ministry in the New Marriage Culture. Nashville, B&H Publishing, 2015. 264 pp. Paperback. $14.99.

Fellow-Workers in The Great Harvest: Baxter on Matthew 9:37-38


Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest
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—Matthew 9:37-38 (ESV)

The harvest is great, the labourers are few; the loiterers and hinderers are many, the souls of men are precious, the misery of sinners is great, and the everlasting misery to which they are near is greater, the joys of heaven are inconceivable, the comfort of a faithful minister is not small, the joy of extensive success will be a full reward. To be fellow-workers with God and his Spirit is no little honour; to subserve the blood-shedding of Christ for men’s salvation is not a light thing.

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—Richard Baxter, in The Reformed Pastor, p. 202.

Do we really believe this? And would we live differently, prioritize different things, and see different outcomes in our lives if so? Hard questions and much-needed exhortation from Baxter to us today.

Can Faith and Reason Truly Disagree?


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There can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, since it is the same God who both reveals mysteries and infuses faith, and who has endowed the human mind with the light of reason. God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever be opposed to truth. The appearance of this kind of inane contradiction is chiefly due to the fact that either the dogmas of faith are not understood and explained…or that mere opinions are mistaken for the conclusions of reason.

-The First Vatican Council on Faith and Reason, The Christian Theology Reader, 31.

 

In your experience, have you encountered (both personally and with others) more misunderstanding of dogma or more opinions taken for reason?