Come Away My Beloved

Author: Pastor Bob  //  Category: Christian Life & Ministry, New Reviews, Theology & Faith

Come Away My Beloved

By Frances J. Roberts
Ojai, California: The King’s Press, (1973). Paperback, 192 pages.
ISBN: 0932814026

This is by far, with no exaggeration, one of the most helpful devotional books I have ever read. Frances J. Roberts was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, and served Christ as a poet, songwriter of 88 published hymns, and authour of nine books that have sold over 1.5 million copies. There comes a time in the Christian life where our spiritual growth daily requires the kind of increasingly deep nourishment that can come only by way of engaging with the scriptures as if starved for food. Frances Roberts serves that food with a prophetic edge; faithful to the scriptures, passage after passage is arranged with a prophet’s spirit, a pastor’s heart, and a poet’s art. If ever you’ve felt devotional reading dry, or scripture detached from your experience, Robert’s work can model for you a means of engaging with the scriptures in a satiating way. If you’ve been feeling distant from God, or burdened, Robert’s work is filled with comfort and grace. Indeed, this book is a gift to the church, and should be celebrated in the course of our praise to God.
Star J 5

A Short History Of Progress

Author: Pastor Bob  //  Category: New Reviews, Politics & Economics

A Short History Of Time

By Ronald Wright
House Of Anansi Press, Inc., (2004). Paperback, 212 pages.
ISBN: 0887847066

If people had listened to thinking this, we’d living in a civilization ravaged by polio and small pox.

This book aches with shallow thinking, and features the same old Rousseauian pseudo-historical fantasy of the noble savage being more free, and that a better humankind would be possible if we could just stop the people (read those who disagree) who ‘mess it up’. For Rousseau, the problem lay in the social orders of the family, the church, and the local community. For Wright, the problem is found among those who advance the economic strategies or technologies he doesn’t like. Like Rousseau and the socialists of the 19th century who drank down Rousseau’s ideas, Wright looks to the state, regulations, and the use of even international power to advance his agenda. We have a name for people who believe that the state should enforce their vision of society on others with global regulations and power. We call them tyrants.

Wright envisions a world where every possible development or invention has to meet his standards of forethought (and political bias) or else presumably be shut down. His uncritical and trendy defacement of the west and our technological advances will win over some undergraduates and the leftist zealots that run the CBC, but the thinking is based on shallow assumptions that come out of the whining of the 60’s and have no basis in fact.

Western culture and progress have lifted millions and generations out of desperate poverty, need and sickness. There’s more to do. There’s risks in going forward. But there are risks in standing still. Wright pretends he has a big perspective that allows him to see “the whole game” and that he is not distracted merely by “watching the ball.” He seems to think that those who’ve advanced technology have been short sighted or unaware in a way that he has avoided. But his pretension is false. His gross generalizations have the appearance of breadth of thought, but they’re actually means of avoiding the details. History runs like a greased pig through his book. His historical trivia is conjectural at best and smacks of a post-structuralist reading of ancient civilizations. His idea that America receives notions of liberty from the North American native community, for example, is just patently false – those ideas originate in Christian thought among Anabaptists in England and on the Continent in the 16th century. And Wright’s suggestion that their communities once had greater degrees of social order sounds quite like Rousseau and other statists who romanticize the noble savage and look in their innocence for some justification of the power structures they want to bring into being.

Indeed, Wright is driven not by history, not by facts, not by evidence, but by fantasy and fear: he’s been suckered by the utopian imaginations of statists; his quivering belly about the future in fact robs him of the future. He’s not thinking deeply and honestly about ‘what will happen next,’ he’s projecting his fears of success and political bias on the future and so comes up with the only answer he can – stop it all and roll us backwards. If Eden is lost, Wright would take us back there by force of government power. What else could possibly constitute “the tools and means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, set economic limits in line with natural ones”? Only international government power. Wright is a fascist, and probably has such romantic fantasies he doesn’t even recognize it in himself.

All advances come with risk, and that means that those who are risk adverse, if given given the totalitarian power implied in this book, will persecute individual dissenters from their dogma (“the hard men and women of big oil and the far right”), and thereby trap human civilization where it is, or in a worsened limited state. In doing so, they will condemn millions of future human beings to poverty, suffering, and political imprisonment. I say the latter, because people who think like Wright are the despots and villains who rationalize the mistreatment of dissenters, because they won’t let the facts get in the way of their thinking. In the film based on the book, for example, David Suzuki is shown actually calling economics ‘insanity’. Of course no one in the production actually talks to articulate economists openly in order to try and understand their discipline; instead, because economic common sense disables his political agenda, he just ridicules it and pushes it aside. So also Wright. Wright is another prophet of doom that has set himself up for a lucrative university speaking tour. But he is a false prophet, and offers only ideas that will ultimately ruin the lives of millions of people, and sacrifice their freedom, all based on the fears he’s projected, and now sown.
Star B 1

Loving Solutions: Overcoming Barriers in Your Marriage

Author: Pastor Bob  //  Category: Christian Life & Ministry, Family & Marriage, Older Reviews


By Gary Chapman
Northfield Publishing, (1998). Hardcover, 214 pages.
ISBN: 1881273253

Gary Chapman has a spectacular ability to bring together Christian ethics, pastoral heart, and practical advice. As a basic guide for people in difficult situations, Chapman advises what he calls ‘reality living’, where a person takes responsibility for their own thoughts, feelings, and actions and intentionally lets go of four myths that keep people trapped in unhealthy patterns and feeling hopeless while accepting six key realities about life in this world.

The book goes on to illustrate what reality living looks like in ten different situations: The Irresponsible Spouse, The Workaholic Spouse, The Controlling Spouse, The Uncommunicative Spouse, The Verbally Abusive Spouse, and so on including questions of addictions, violence, mental health questions and infidelity.

Refining Your Style: Learning from Respected Communicators

Author: Pastor Bob  //  Category: Christian Life & Ministry, Older Reviews, Theology & Faith

by Dave Stone
Group Publishing, (2004).  Paperback, 230 pages.
ISBN: 0764426826

Great and simple introduction to different approaches to the task and art of preaching and communicating the Gospel. The selection of communicators offers genuine variety (13 styles, to be exact), however, Stone’s categorization in that regard is not entirely academic. I suspect that academically trained communicators will receive this book as a lower brow / popular ‘top 13’ type collection.

In a sense, that evaluation is true. The categories used are indeed shaped by the personalities discussed, and not out of thoughtful reflection on the task of preaching itself. And yet that fact does not preclude thoughtful (and helpful) reflection on what is actually happening in preaching today.

To the point, Refining Your Style is aimed, rather, at the normal pastor who is attempting to self identify and so define what is actually happening in their preaching. The anecdotal and practical edge of this work, which includes an audio cd of examples, therefore cuts quickly past academic questions about communication and goes right for the ways of the pulpit. That makes it a very useful and enjoyable read, (and listen!), especially for a preacher who’s trying to grow in their art.

I’d recommend this without hesitation to preachers asking questions either of self-definition and the means and focus of effective expression, or questions of our current culture and functional and creative connections to it.

Flight to Heaven: A Plane Crash…A Lone Survivor…A Journey to Heaven–and Back…

Author: Pastor Bob  //  Category: Older Reviews, Theology & Faith

by Dale Black
Bethany House (2010). Paperback, 192 pages.
ISBN: 0764207946

I wasn’t sure where a book like this might go. I’ve read a few personal accounts of people’s spiritual experiences, and at times been concerned that the person had allowed their personal experience to redefine their theology – and their suggestions for other people’s theology. Subjective experiences are limited in what they can mean for everyone or anyone else.

Dale Black is aware of this risk. His first words express his long term concerns that he not misappropriate his experience as have some others who’ve used their experiences or stories as a means to attention or an attempt at fame. Black’s decision, instead, to try and live out his experience privately for forty years means that this book is interested more in the question of what to do now. While the book does describe his experience, it does so in the context of what was happening in his life and recovery outside of the spiritual experience itself. I think the book perhaps plays down Black’s long term commitment to missions and Christian service – though I would have liked to hear more about where God has taken him. The story which frames the book is wonderful, but I do wish there was a bit more depth of reflection around the questions of God’s sovereign hand.

Saying that, I mean to suggest that the book is simply written, and so has the flavour of many of the simple Christian biographies and autobiographies that I’ve read. This book does not really contain the reflections of a theologian or philosopher; rather this is a factual account of a person’s experiences and thoughts. The Christian thinking in the book is direct that way, and often the accounts of Black’s interactions about Jesus and the Christian faith have that air of radical simplicity about them.

This is the kind of book that a skeptical non-Christian may find a bit frustrating should they try to engage with it. You can hear them demanding: “All this wonderful spiritual experience and transformation and it turns into asking people if they know Jesus?!! That’s it?!!” In response some conservative Christians might just reiterate the evangelistic question, some reflective Christians may engage in conversations of depth from that point, and some mature Christians will just nod with a slight smile.

I would have liked a little more in terms of depth and reflectiveness, but knowing myself the experience of God’s hand day to day, I could feel the way that Black has experienced God’s hand guiding and providing as matter of practical daily reality. Sometimes I’m not sure I could actually say much more about it myself. I know what was, and what now is . . . and really that’s all we can say.

Dale Black says it faithfully. His vision was not about a bunch of secret spiritual insights, but was instead a powerful redirection to the God who gives insight. Dale is clearly a man more interested in walking with God than talking aimlessly about him, and that keeps this kind of account from wandering into the sort of speculations that can lead people astray, chasing experiences instead of the one who gives them.

I do think something that would have made the work significantly more compelling would have been numerous photos from over the years. Pictures of his physical state after the crash and through recovery, of newspaper headlines or articles from the time, or even of the monument or aircraft would nail down any questions of credibility and for the skeptic who does engage . . . perhaps that would be good?

Thanks Dale, for hearing God, for seeking his kingdom work first, and for being open to sharing your story. I was through it in two eager sittings, and was touched by it’s sincerity and simplicity. May you fly for him again and again.

Nine Ways God Always Speaks

Author: Pastor Bob  //  Category: Christian Life & Ministry, Older Reviews, Theology & Faith

by Mark Herringshaw & Jennifer Schuchman.
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (2009)
ISBN: 1414322267

This book is an ambitious attempt at retelling stories of God speaking in such a way that people will be moved beyond the expectation or lost hope of hearing a voice in the sky, and so begin to listen for God in the variety of other ways that he may choose to communicate.

The word ‘always’ in the title is relatively spurious. It put me off when I first skimmed through the book and I was relieved to see that the book was not some kind of how-to guide for getting a slot machine God to drop out messages on demand. The general message that God wants to speak to us is useful, and for some lay-people this book may offer some neat or inspirational stories.

Better to get the Bible stories from the Bible, though. The story-telling is a bit flat – more like narrative information listed quickly to get you to the point – and so the Bible stories do suffer from a kind of compression and perhaps even a bit of misinterpretation. The result is that I was suspicious of other the included stories. Between the lines one discovers a book with stories gathered only to make a point, rather than a book reflecting on stories or anecdotes to see what point they stories might actually be making.

The power of the stories is further lost because of the volume that seem to come back again and again to the same point – “see that, they heard God too!” A large volume of stories is no substitute for the quality of one that forces larger questions. A focused book of 1/3 the size might have more power for people who really doubt whether God’s speaks. Lacking an investigative tone, and a deeper exegesis of the stories included, the redundancy makes the book a bag of candy rather than a substantive meal. Like candy, as I read the book, I kept wondering if 344 pages of the diet would prove spiritually healthy.

This concern was exacerbated whenever the movement of the argument came from speculative illustrations. On pg 174, for example, the book wonders whether people’s attachment to their pets actually reflects “a misplaced desire to talk to God”. It then wonders if this is really God’s purpose for pets: that our response to animals would teach us something about ourselves so that we would become aware of our desire to relate to God.

I’m sure these are neat ideas for speculative and inconsequential conversations over a beer, but they are no grounds for theological argument or apologetics. If a book refers to the fanciful or quirky ideas of the author once or twice it can be charming. More than that and the whole book feels indulgent, and perhaps even just opinionated.

For a skeptic concerned about whether God does speak, or a person desperate for an answer from on high, the ground for the argument must be solid, and the stories must be potent, direct, and verifiable. As soon as you read authours defending their own stories and their means of collecting and verifying them – right in the book itself – veracity flags go off. If the story is neat and inspirational, but needs extra defense because sincere doubters won’t buy it otherwise, then you can only hope to be heard by the converted. Only when stories are compelling to the point that they cry out for the reader’s engagement can you expect to interact well with open-minded skeptics or people who are wracked with doubt or even have lost their faith.

A couple of further comments.

– An occasional rhetorical question is fine, but two or three on a page gets tired quick, especially when there is page after page of them. Worse still, it’s just pretentious if the author is clearly acting open minded to the possibilities of the universe. If you think something might be so, just say it. Don’t feign wonder, it makes you untrustworthy.

– Lastly, I might note too, that the format of breaking up sentences or listing occasional short sentences as though they were poetry just made the book plain hard to read. This isn’t Jean Vanier writing, it’s not poetry, and neither the profundity nor power was near significant enough to ask me to meditate on sentence fragments.