Archives For *Brief Reviews*

 

Looking to Christ

A Brief Review of

The Spirit of Simplicity
Jean Baptiste Chautard

 

Translated by Thomas Merton
Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Josh Morgan
 
 

The Spirit of Simplicity has a compelling backstory: a 70 year old hidden text written by a famed French Cistercian, Jean-Baptiste Chautard, translated with notes by Trappist (a Cistercian branch) monk, Thomas Merton. In a world of complexity and loudness, simplicity for our lives and souls is compelling and increasingly popular.

The text itself is short: 114 pages of content, including 14 illustrations of monasteries, and 23 pages of notes from Merton. It is broken into two parts: The first being the aforementioned translation of Chautard’s The Spirit of Simplicity and the second excerpts from writings and speeches of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a leader of the Cistercian order, on the topic of interior simplicity, with added commentary by Merton. From a readability standpoint, the reader must remember this text’s place in history: Part 1 was written in 1920s French, translated into 1940s English, both with a target audience of the theologically trained monastic community. Bernard died in 1153. For readers familiar with dense mystical and theological texts, this time will seem familiar and accessible. For those looking for a simplicity self-help book, it will be a grind.

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Humble Confessions
 
A Review of

Presence and Process:
A Path Toward Transformative Faith and Inclusive Community
Daniel P. Coleman

Paperback: Barclay Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Josina Guess
 
 
 

First Confession:  I did not know that Process Theology was a thing until I read this book. In an interview with Tripp York on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast, Daniel Coleman said that he was looking for “Process Theology for Dummies” when he set out to write this book. Presence and Process does a concise job of introducing and distilling thoughts and concepts that are usually confined to academic circles. Coleman’s thorough research and careful gleaning of a wide variety of quotes from monks, nuns and masters throughout the ages offer lay readers lots of helpful nuggets of truth and could whet a reader’s appetite for deeper exploration. I still got a bit bogged down by the jargon, but appreciated that there were practical suggestions rooted in Christian teaching.

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Contagious Joy and Contentedness
 
A Brief Review of

The Round of a Country Year:
A Farmer’s Day Book
David Kline

 
Paperback: Counterpoint, 2017
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Reviewed by Bailey Shannon

 

When I first started reading The Round of a Country Year by David Kline I thought, “This is just an Amish man’s diary…”. Kline writes a short entry almost every day for a full year about life on his farm in Holmes County Ohio. I thought I would become bored after the first few pages.  However, I was quickly absorbed into this farmer’s poetic and meditative observations.

I never realized know how many birds visited rural northeast Ohio. Now, I know that there are at least the following species: towhees, cardinals, sparrows, rough-legged hawks, horned owls, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, blue jays, Cooper’s hawks, mocking birds, and cliff swallows. And as far as firewood goes, I learned a helpful poem that informs you which firewood to burn in the wood stove. The list of firewood include: beech-wood, chestnut, birch, ash, oak, poplar, apple wood, pear wood, and, as the poem warns, never use elm.

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Stirring Our Imaginations

A Brief Review of

Divergent Church:
The Bright Promise of Alternative Faith Communities

Tim Shapiro and Kara Faris

Paperback: Abingdon, 2017
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
 
 

It is easy for churches to rest in the comfortable clutches of tradition, and many churches that do so for years, or even decades, may eventually find themselves teetering on the brink of death. Throughout the history of the Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit has rejuvenated the people of God through communities that embodied their faith in imaginative ways outside the prevailing tradition and convention of their day (e.g., the monasteries that took shape in the desert, the Benedictines, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Catholic Workers, etc.) The witness of these communities has echoed through the intervening centuries, well beyond the particular traditions that formed in their wake, reminding us of God’s continuing desire to renew and refine the people of God.

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Monastics, Mystics, and More

A Review of

A Course in Christian Mysticism
Thomas Merton

 
Paperback: Liturgical Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Alexander Steward
 
 
 

If you have never had the pleasure of visiting Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, I would recommend you take the time to do so. My visit to Gethsemani several years ago was one of my first true encounters with the work of Thomas Merton. Staying for a week at the Abbey allows one to hear Merton’s lectures during meal time. His voice coming through the speakers with an air of authority yet a playfulness that exudes an openness.

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Foundational Justice

A Review of

A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict
Naim Stifan Ateek

Paperback: Orbis Books, 2017

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Reviewed by Leroy Seat
 
 

Naim Stifan Ateek (b. 1937) is an ethnic Arab Palestinian, a citizen of Israel, and an Anglican priest. His slim but highly significant book is the fruit of decades of theological thought and praxis.

Nearly thirty years ago Ateek wrote a closely related book, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. In that same year, 1989, he founded Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. That organization has continued to grow in influence through the years with chapters in several countries. One such chapter is FOSNA (Friends of Sabeel North America).
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Driving into the Light from Deep Darkness

A Review of

Night Driving:
Notes from a Prodigal Soul

Chad Bird

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017

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Reviewed by James Dekker

 

In Night Driving , former pastor and seminary teacher Chad Bird has given us a short, intense book, one that is hard to put down. All told, this is a confessional memoir, but in that telling Bird regularly shifts genres like the gears on the Mack Truck he drove for some years after his affair and divorce.

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Walking Forward Into the Future
 
A Review of 

The Last Arrow:
Save Nothing for the Next Life

Erwin McManus

 
Hardback: WaterBrook, 2017
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Reviewed by Andy Johnson III
 
 
While Erwin McManus was finishing his writing of The Last Arrow, the message of the book took on deeper meaning when he was diagnosed with cancer. Although he did not write the book intending to describe it as his “last arrow” processing this life-threatening situation accentuated the insight that we are all living with a terminal condition. The question is not if but when we will die. McManus writes, “It’s only when when we realize we are terminal that we start treating time with the respect it deserves.” (96)
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A Call for Adventure
 
A Review of 
 

Stay in the City:
How Christian Faith is Flourishing in an Urban World

Mark Gornik / Maria Liu Wong

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017
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Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee
 
 
Stay in the City is one of the most fun, quick, and inspiring little texts on urban mission. Gornik and Wong bring forth small anecdotes to narrate a grand emerging adventure. We often think of adventure as journeying out, into the unknown, but in the city, with all its change, the familiar becomes unkown and recycles back to familiarity once again. This is the adventure of urban mission, the complex intertwining, changing dance with rehearsed steps to developing beats. Staying in the City inspires dance-lessons and improvisation to tell the journey of what God is doing in our cities across the globe.
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What is our Identity?

A Review of

The Zombie Gospel:
The Walking Dead and What it Means to Be Human

Danielle Strickland

Paperback: IVP Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Jeff Nelson

 

“We are the walking dead.” This line, uttered by main protagonist Rick Grimes in both the TV show and comic versions of The Walking Dead, sums up what the real focus of this popular series is. While the presenting conflict that frames the characters’ experiences and problems is the zombie apocalypse, the true focus is their reactions and sense of identity as a result of everything they know collapsing.

Early on in The Zombie Gospel, Danielle Strickland notes this as well. Recounting a conversation with a friend, she shares this thought: “’Think about it,’ he said to me, ‘everything that defines your life has been deconstructed. What then’” (9)? In other words, if we can no longer define our lives by our jobs, our creature comforts, our favorite places to hang out, or even our enemies, what is our identity to ourselves and to others?

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