Archives For Narrative

 

A Call to Life

 
A review of 

Nobody Cries When We Die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood
Patrick Reyes

Paperback: Chalice Press, 2016
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
 
Reviewed by Ryan Johnson
 
 
Racism, violence, hatred, shootings.  Headlines are filled with these injustices and most believe there is little hope to enact lasting change.  For many this is the narrative of American society.  This is the day-to-day life for millions of individuals.  We are left asking the question what do we do?  More than that:  What are we called to do?  This question leaves many of us without an answer, or with still more questions.  It is a question that cannot live solely in the theoretical realm but must be lived out through practical action.  Thus, Patrick Reyes’s book Nobody Cries When We Die serves as a step toward answering that question with the urgency it deserves.

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Hope for a New Creation

A review of

Journey Toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South
Nicholas Wolterstorff

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2013
Buy now: [ Amazon ]   [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Marilyn Matevia
 
Some of the clearest contemporary thinking and writing about the theory and practice of justice has come from Nicholas Wolterstorff.  A philosopher and Christian theologian, Wolterstorff’s standout previous books on the subject include Until Justice and Peace Embrace (1983), Justice: Rights and Wrongs (2010), and Justice in Love (2011).  In each of these, Wolterstorff combines careful theory-building with real-world applications and examples, and always with an undertone conveying the urgency and imperativeness of working for justice.
 
Journey Toward Justice displays these same characteristics, but weaves in an autobiographical thread.  The book was invited to launch a new series published by Baker Academic, “Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity,” in which North American Christian scholars reflect on how encounters in the global south have shaped or changed their thinking.  Wolterstorff acknowledges in the preface that he is uncomfortable with this format; he considers himself a philosopher who “deals in abstractions,” not a story-teller who deals in narratives.  But Nicholas Wolterstorff has always been very skilled at (and insistent about) connecting his so-called abstractions to concrete situations – that is, at uniting theory and praxis.  Indeed, he urges that other scholars develop this capacity as well (see the final chapter of Until Justice and Peace Embrace).
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Eleonore Stump - Wandering in DarknessAll Manner of Things Shall Be Well

A Review Essay of

Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering

Eleonore Stump

Hardback: Oxford University Press, 2010. 668 pages.
Buy now from:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Stephen Lawson

How can the classical Christian affirmation of God’s goodness be reconciled with the undeniable and pervasive presence of suffering within the creation over which God is supposedly sovereign? This is a difficult question, but one that cannot be ignored, especially by those who claim to be doing Christian theology or proclaiming Christian truth. Indeed, the theologian Johann Baptist Metz once said that the problem of suffering, “is the question for theology.”[1] Unfortunately many Christians (and not a few of them theologians) are uncomfortable considering this question. Many ignore it, thinking that silence is the best defense against this embarrassing Achilles’ heel of faith. Others answer the question with theological platitudes that sound oddly reminiscent of responses the friends of Job have to his unwarranted and seemingly indefensible suffering. Those posing the question, like Job himself, remain unappeased by these answers. The truth of the matter is if Christians are unable or ill-equipped to respond to this, the greatest of all faith questions, then the Christian has little to offer to a world rife with suffering. It is for this reason that we should be so grateful to Eleanor Stump for her help in equipping us to respond to this question with her remarkable book, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering.

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Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? J. R. Daniel KirkThe Straight Story on Jesus and Paul

Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul?:
A Narrative Approach to
the Problem of Pauline Christianity

J. R. Daniel Kirk

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2011.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Christian Amondson.

Someone gave Daniel Kirk a difficult task. It is no small feat to trace the lines of continuity between Jesus and Paul, let alone do so in such a manner that re-kindles interest in Paul for contemporary Christians who, though largely inspired by the compassion and inclusion of Jesus, struggle to appreciate the fiery Apostle to the Gentiles. To that end, Kirk largely succeeds. Readers of Kirk’s book will find ample evidence that the Paul of the New Testament bears more resemblance to Jesus than the hard-hearted rule monger with which many of us grew up. In fact, on several fronts Kirk demonstrates how, upon closer inspection, Paul turns out to be as radical as Jesus: Paul the champion of individual salvation turns out to be Paul the Christian communitarian; Paul the articulator of a salvation by faith without works turns out to be Paul the radical disciple on the way of the cross; Paul the exclusive judge turns out to be Paul the universalizing ecumenist; Paul the patriarchal misogynist turns out be Paul the co-laborer with many women of his day; and Paul the homophobic guardian of the sanctity of marriage turns out to be Paul the good Samaritan who places all sex under the need of redemption.

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A Brief Review of

Teaching Through Storytelling:
Creating Fictional Stories
that Illuminate the Message of Jesus
.
Jon Huckins.
Paperback: Zondervan, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Buy a Signed Copy from the Author ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

In their new book, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean argue that the youth group in churches can be a place for significant theological reflection and engagement with God’s mission in the world (Watch for our review of this book in our next print issue). One of the key pieces of this task however, is introducing students to, and immersing them in, the biblical story.  In this vein, comes Jon Huckins’s new book Teaching Through the Art of Story Telling: Creating Fictional Stories that Illuminate the Message of Jesus.  For a number of years now, Huckins has been engaging the youth of his church by telling modern day parables that spur reflection and invite students into the way of Jesus.  In this new book, Huckins explains why he has been drawn to storytelling, as a compelling way of engaging the hearts and minds of the youth in his church, and he also explains how he creates and tells such stories.  In the final section of the book, he provides several sample stories that he has used.  Huckins’s work here is refreshing in that he shows a deep understanding that humankind lives by stories and forms his practice around the ways that he has seen stories work in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in contemporary culture.  He says: “There’s something about stories that engage not only the mind, but also the heart.  We become part of the story.  We picture ourselves living out this life that’s being revealed to us, and subconsciously we relate it to our own.” Continue Reading…

 

“What Tigers and Tales Can Teach”

A review of

The Tiger’s Wife:
A Novel
.
By Téa Obreht.

Review by Alex Joyner.

The Tigers' Wife - Tea ObrehtThe Tiger’s Wife: A Novel.
Téa Obreht.
Hardback: Random House, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon – Hardback ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

On bright moonlit nights I sometimes catch myself looking out the window for a headless dog running through the fields.  My father is responsible for this behavior.  Traveling through the tidewater plains of Virginia to visit my grandparents, he would tell me stories about his life growing up in these loamy lands.  Tales of Saturday matinees shown in tents during the Depression, of his father slowly dying from tuberculosis, and of a mysterious, headless dog who ran through peanut fields under a full moon to warn of an impending death.

To this day the county where he grew up remains the most fully-realized place I have ever been.  It has history, texture, memory, and wonder all woven together in equal measure.  These family stories delivered this land to me.  They also gave birth to my sense of self and my place in the world.

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“Returning to Our Senses

A review of
Becoming Animal:
An Earthly Cosmology.

by David Abram.


Reviewed by Marilyn Matevia.


Becoming Animal:
An Earthly Cosmology.

David Abram.

Hardback: Random House, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

BECOMING ANIMAL - David AbramIn his thought-provoking 1996 book, The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram argued that the emergence of phonetic writing fundamentally changed the nature of human perception and human interaction with other beings and the earth.  In Western hands, written words were combined to    abstract, symbolize and ultimately sever contact and engagement with the rest of nature, leaving us disenchanted, disembodied and disconnected.  In his new book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, Abram combines words in rich, wild, sometimes surprising ways in an attempt to help us return to our senses.  Abram aims for “a new way of speaking, one that enacts our interbeing with the earth rather than blinding us to it. … A style of speech that opens our senses to the sensuous in all its multiform strangeness.”

Abram is an environmental philosopher, but Becoming Animal is an unconventional philosophy book.  If there is a thesis, it is a continuation of what he proposed in The Spell of the Sensuous: we deepen our alienation from the rest of the natural world when we mediate experience through the printed word, electronic/digital gadgets and other technological barriers and filters.  “Re-minding” (to borrow a particularly fitting phrase from Amory Lovins’ jacket blurb) ourselves of our connections to and dependence on other beings cannot help but have healing ramifications for the way we live on the planet.  But Abram spends very little time making that case, and much more on what he calls “a necessary work of recuperation:” enticing the reader back into touch with their animal capacities for sensation and perception through his lush descriptions of various settings and encounters.  For this book, the journey is indeed the destination.

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231899: On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes

On This Day in Christian History:
365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories
About Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes
.

Robert J. Morgan.
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

Having a deep appreciation for Church History, I was eager to check out the new book On this Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Interesting Stories about Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes by Robert J. Morgan (Thomas Nelson 2010).  Although I appreciate history, I am not a big fan of daily devotional books.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by Morgan’s work here.  Each day contains a fully-formed (albeit brief) story focusing on a specific person or event.  Although Morgan is clearly working from a perspective that could be identified as “evangelical,” there are many surprises here that don’t fit the typical stereotype of evangelicalism.  Two stories deserve mention in this regard.  First, the story for September 15 is that of Antoinette Brown, the first regularly ordained woman minister in the United States, not a topic that I would expect most evangelicals to value.   Secondly, Morgan’s May 8th telling of the story of J. Frank Norris, “The Fighting Fundamentalist” who shot a man who took offense at a political statement he made in the pulpit, is the quirky sort of narrative that one does not usually hear from church history, and furthermore Morgan’s telling of it in a way that was open-ended and decidedly not moralistic – e.g., he ends with the quip “[Only] heaven knows whether he did more harm or good” – likewise does not seem to fit the typical mold of evangelicalism.

I sure if I was tasked with writing a book in the same format, most of the stories I would have included would have been different than those Morgan selected, but the fact that Morgan is a skilled storyteller and that he is not rigidly committed to any specific ideological perspective makes this an enjoyable read.  Additionally, the relatively brief format of the stories (one fairly text-heavy page each) would lend itself well to a daily oral reading in the home or possibly accompanying prayers in a church setting.

 

348346: The Mockingbird Parables

The Mockingbird Parables:
Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story
.

Matt Litton
Paperback: Tyndale House, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Josh Morgan.

[ This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog,
and is reprinted here with permission.  ]

In honor of the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, Matt Litton released The Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story.  While Mockingbird was not a particular favorite of mine as far as novels go, I was intrigued by Litton’s use of a novel to explore spiritual truths. Litton defines parables as “simply stories, and stories are not only a powerful way to deliver meaning–stories are the voice of humanity” (9).

This is a welcome and accurate definition of parable in a world where we hear so much theology and spirituality in terms of discrete “facts,” truths, and assertions. Litton’s work emphasizes how these truths become so much truer and powerful through the parable of story.

The reader does not need to be familiar with the original novel to benefit from the book. I read Mockingbird in high school and remember only pieces of it. Litton provides enough summary to make his points. And he elaborates on the text remarkably. This book truly is a devotional that not only helps the reader understand the original better, but also God and the Christian life.

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836321: The Story of God, the Story of Us: Getting Lost & Found in the Bible Review:

The Story of God, the Story of Us:
Getting Lost & Found in the Bible

By Sean Gladding.
Paperback: IVP Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

For ten years now, Sean Gladding has been orally telling the biblical story with groups around the United States.  What started as a Bible study for a group of people who had little familiarity with scripture, Gladding has refined his telling of the scriptural story over the last decade and has now been published by IVP Books as The Story of God, The Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible.   One of the big shifts that Gladding made early on in this narrative project was to move from talking about the biblical story to telling it as a story, and this change is one of the strengths of his work in book format.  The Old Testament story is told from the perspective of a group of Israelites suffering under the weight of the Babylonian exile.  A wise sage spins the tale of the history of Israel and all creation up to that time with the hope of encouraging younger Israelites who are struggles with the challenges of life in exile.  Gladding does a superb job of emphasizing the central theme of hope throughout the Old Testament story.  For instance, he concludes the telling of the Old Testament story: “The Old man takes the arm of the young musician and leaves with his people, who depart in near silence, nurturing the flame of hope that has been kindled in them, daring to believe that the story is not yet over.”

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