[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”0830844120″ locale=”US” src=”https://englewoodreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/41wIiXdBM5L.jpg” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]Opening Ourselves to Surprise
A Feature Review of
The Listening Life:
Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction
Paperback: IVP Books, 2015.
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Reviewed by Andrew Camp
The American life will never be remembered as a life that listened well, especially in the second millennium. More talking and less listening is our default when it comes to our ideas of leadership and being taken seriously. The technological advances of the past 15 years have also produced a culture that has moved passed being polyphonic to being harshly cacophonic.
Sadly, this disease has infiltrated the American evangelical church to a large degree. We firmly believe it is our duty to tell people what to do, and as the church’s influence wans in America, our solution seems not to listen more, but to pound the pulpit louder and harder. We are a people anxious of what might happen if we shut up long enough to truly hear, not only the voice of God (which is of utmost importance), but also the cries of people both inside and outside the church.
In situations like these, God seems to raise up men and women to call the church back to its task to embody kingdom politics, part of which is learning to listen well. This is exactly what Adam McHugh calls the church to in his new book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. This is not a book outlining seven easy steps to becoming a better listener; this book is an invitation into a spiritual life marked by deep listening in all components of the Christian life. Listening is foundational to what it means to be a human, both physically and spiritually.
The Listening Life is a book not to be rushed through, but a book to be savored, prayed through, and discussed in community. In some ways, writing a quick review of this book goes against the very nature of how Adam McHugh invites us to live. My hope in writing this review is that I can pique your interest to begin to be a little more intentional in how all of us listen.
In Scripture, God summons his people to listen to him, whether he is thundering from Mount Sinai, whispering on Mount Horeb, transfigured in glory, or simply walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. McHugh reminds us, “Listening is never passive, a stall or placeholder until doing steps in and saves the day. Biblical listening is a whole-hearted, full-bodied listening that not only vibrates our eardrums but echoes in our souls and resonates out into our limbs” (18). Christian discipleship is marked not simply by passive hearing, but by allowing the words to penetrate to the depths of our soul and move us to obedience and appropriate response.
Listening is foundational to who we are because our Triune God is a God who actively listens to his people. Our King is not a king who dismisses the pleas of his people, but rather he is a king who subverts the fallen human order and bows his ear to us, as the King James Bible translates Psalms 31:2 and 86:1. Without a God who bends his ear towards us, there would be no redemption: “The exodus began when God heard…. An act of listening started the wheels of redemptive history turning” (37-38 [emphasis original], see Exodus 2:23-24). Our God who listens is most profoundly witnessed when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). McHugh notes three aspect of Jesus’ listening that shapes our listening. Jesus listened widely, meaning Jesus listened to people whom everyone else ignored. Jesus listened deeply; he had ears attuned not just to the audible words, but to the longings beneath the words. And finally Jesus listened in close proximity in a profound act of hospitality.
How then do we begin to live a life of listening as Jesus did? What I appreciate about McHugh’s invitation is that listening involves far more than just listening to people.
First we must learn to listen to the true voice of God, the God revealed to us in Scriptures. We must become intimately familiar with his voice, learning to discern between the true voice of God and the voice we project on to God: “Too often we hear his voice as a cosmic dictator, a disapproving parent or the prickly voice on our shoulder that says ‘No!’” (70). Our God’s voice is a voice that sings over us and a voice that woos us into his loving embrace.
Second if we come to know our God who listens through Scripture, we must learn how to listen to Scripture. Scripture needs to become more than just a book full of propositional truths for right living, but a book whereby we encounter the living, relational Word, Jesus Christ himself. This has been my challenge. Because of my life’s experiences and my education, the Bible was unintentionally reduced to a textbook to be outlined and picked apart, instead of a love letter from the Lover of my soul. If you relate to my situation, the same situation McHugh struggled with as well, the author offers three disciplines which might help you and I recover the living encounter with Scripture: praying the Psalms, prayer of the senses (an exercise in imagination) and lectio divina.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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