[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0735291160″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/51GdHCdRFtL-1.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”215″]Drawing Near
A Feature Review of
The Eternal Current:
How a Practice-Based Faith Can Save Us from Drowning
Hardback: Waterbrook, 2018
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Reviewed by Janna Lynas
Growing up Christian, I believed and learned the lingo at a very young age. Subtly, and not so subtly, I learned other faith practices were not to be observed or even discussed. Eventually this thirty- something young woman wondering about a lot of things. Growing up Christian, believing and beginning to wonder if there were deeper things at hand, led me to an inductive study of the book John in the home of a woman who had a picture of the Virgin Mary on her wall and sometimes spoke of mystery and wondering as though they were acceptable and inseparable from the gospel. This once-a-week Bible study touched something that had been stirring within this “growing up Christian” woman who was just beginning to realize what was growing up within her was what would sweep her away. Aaron Niequist describes this as an universal ache for more in his first book, The Eternal Current.
Niequist’s journey of faith sounds strangely familiar as he describes growing up in a Christian home and then “losing his faith” in his mid-twenties. He speaks clearly of those dark days, but with people around him who gave him the space and time to sit down and let the Spirit minister to him. Stating, “…like every good evangelical, I was born again…again” (13) Niequist went on to lead worship in two influential mega-churches, but again, felt pulled into something which eventually led him to develop a team of people and a liturgical based service at the church where he is now pastoring.
Niequist goes on to lay out an intentional and readable description of his journey that became what is called “The Practice,” an opportunity to be discipled in the ancient practices of spiritual disciplines and the Eucharist.
Drawing from the lectionary, a practice of scripture reading that eyes and ears from around the world have seen and heard for centuries, Niequist describes a newfound freedom to explore faith, a newfound freedom held within these passages. As a young Christian I believed I should reject this as a prescribed and restrictive way to read and recite God’s word. In the past several years, I’ve discovered there is beauty to be found in the unity it calls to mind, that other Christians around the world are reading the same words within the same times of the year.
The second movement of this practice is a short teaching. I have long lamented the length of sermons, ones that sometimes move into a monologue or a very long story with details that leave me wondering what the point was or how it was connected to where the message began. Instead, Niequist describes a short teaching that must quickly come into focus. At the heart, it is meant to go beyond belief itself to the practice of it, challenging us ask how we can engage God in a particular way.
Finally, the Eucharist is presented. It is the centerpiece and chief concern of this time together. It is literally placed in the center of the room, with seats placed in the round. The focus is on Christ, his sacrifice, his gift of life through his body, his blood. This weekly communal practice of remembering Christ, “reminds us that a practice-based faith is not ultimately about practice. It is about Christ.” (88-89) And while the Eucharist ends worship at The Practice, it is only the beginning. Eucharist means thanksgiving and is “a feast of thanksgiving that launches us into our mission in the world.” (89)
A centerpiece of Niequist’s quest for more led him to draw from the wisdom of those outside the evangelical world. Niequist states, “Ecumenism is one of the most helpful practices for learning to include our smaller story in God’s larger story.” (114) How Niequist marries his evangelical upbringing and training with a learned ecumenical approach is respectful and reflective, recognizing there is much to be known and much we can learn from each other – God is not restricted to being “right” as we are sometimes taught to believe. There is scripture that reminds us God’s ways are not our ways, but he will need a soft and receptive heart to receive his glory and grander plan. I believe God found one in Niequist.
I appreciate the plain language Niequist uses to explain what drew him into creating a space that may feel ancient and foreign to mainstream Christians today. I wholly recommend this book to anyone. It is written from an obedient and humble heart. Niequist honestly speaks about his own life and how God has been changing him, drawing him into this “Eternal Current,” this Kingdom current, that runs with the pure and shameless love of our Creator for his creation. If for no other reason, read it to find one page about forgiveness, and a prayer Niequist was challenged to pray on the spot with his friend. You’ll find it on page 161. Even I was skeptical, but as I listened, I knew God was reminding me of his love for all people.
I’ve struggled with the how and why practices of my own community of faith for many years. Like Niequist, I’ve stuck around. Thankfully, I’ve come to value again the how and the why. We all have to start somewhere. And because it does not begin to reach the depths that cry for more, it has lead me to seek out the places that do. And that stirs gratitude in my heart for the people of God. In all our imperfection, we are still trying to draw near in the best ways we know how. And here, in The Eternal Current, I am thankful for the courage of a growing up Christian young man, that allowed the questions to come, that allowed the struggle to settle in, that allowed God to reveal these old and antiquated practices to endure yet today through him and a handful of friends that knew there was something more. And there is. And I believe we are still only scratching the surface of the vastness of the Creator of the universe and all things in it. But this is a good beginning.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com