Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review

Henri Nouwen doesn’t see the spiritual journey as a ladder, with continual movement up toward greater maturity.  Rather he describes it as movement from the mind to the heart through prayer.  The movements he discusses in this book are:

  • From opaqueness to transparency
  • From illusion to prayer
  • From sorrow to joy
  • From resentment to gratitude
  • From fear to love
  • From exclusion to inclusion
  • From denying to befriending death

Spiritual formation takes time, it’s personal and inward, and it is best done with the support of others.  It involves moving inward and moving outward.

Each chapter begins with one of Henri’s favorite stories, or parables and also an image.  There are suggestions for both lection divina (meditative reading of Scripture) and visio divina (meditating on a sacred image).  Reflection questions at the end of each chapter are good for journaling and applying the material to your own spiritual life.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  As usual, Henri Nouwen does not disappoint.  His work resonates deeply with me, and I enjoyed doing some of the exercises provided.

For more about Henri Nouwen see:

Henri Nouwen on the Blessing of Poverty

Learning from Henri Nouwen & Vincent van Gogh by Carol A. Berry–Book Review

Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

 

An Introduction to John Owen by Crawford Gribben–Book Review

John Owen(1616-1683) is considered one of the leading English Protestant theologians.  He lived through Civil War, regicide, the change from republic to restoration, the Great Fire of London and the plague.  He was prodigious in output writing eighty titles over the course of forty years.  His works spanned a variety of genres including poetry, political commentary, New Testament exegesis and theology.  He endured personal tragedy, losing his first wife and all ten of his children.  Over the course of a tumultuous life, his opinions on issues such as baptism and the nature of church/state relationships evolved and changed considerably.

The author of this book on Owen describes it as a work of “biographical theology.”  Rather than focusing on Owen’s responses to major debates in the Reformed tradition, it highlights the kind of Christian life Owen sought to promote.  Owen was greatly influenced by Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk (1627) one of the best selling Puritan devotionals of the day.  He believed that an emotional and volitional response to the gospel was extremely important and the greatest threat to true faith was a scholastic Calvinism that engaged the mind but not the heart and will.

The book includes a time line, maps, and an introduction about Owen’s life and work.  There are sections on childhood, youth, middle age and death in which Owen’s views of the spiritual formation of each life stage are examined. There is also an appendix with Owen’s Prayers For Children, The Primer (1652). He saw the Christian life as growth in grace.  Every Christian needed to know God, walk with God and understand themselves.

I selected this book because my husband (a pastor) has developed an interest in the Puritans, and frankly I found it tough going.  Although it isn’t long, it is fairly academic and assumes a good bit of knowledge about English history of the time as well as Reformed theology.  It wouldn’t be a good choice for the average layperson.

VERDICT:  3 STARS

For more information or to purchase this book follow the link below:

https://www.crossway.org/books/an-introduction-to-john-owen-tpb/

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-book in exchange for a fair and honest review. . Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR part 255

For more on the Puritans, go to this post:

Beyond Stateliest Marble by Douglas Wilson — Book Review

 

Holy Curiosity by Winn Collier–Book Review

If you read the gospels carefully, you will notice that Jesus didn’t just preach to people, he often asked questions.  According to Winn Collier,

“Jesus’ questions probed the soul, and they were not easily ignored.”

The questions Jesus asked usually required a person to examine themselves and get to the root of the issue being raised.  It was a teaching technique which served to lead someone to the right conclusion by their own reasoning.  Sometimes it revealed the true sin or faulty thinking that wasn’t immediately obvious.

Collier uses some of these questions as a jumping off point to discuss our darkest feelings:  shame, fear, hunger, denial, doubt, anger and more.  He draws heavily on his own life experiences as he encourages readers to unearth and confront their own emotions.  The book includes a few study questions for each chapter, and it could easily be used in a small group setting. CAUTION:   It would not be suitable for a newly formed group as some of the questions are deeply personal.

One thing I didn’t like was the failure of the author to cite specific Scriptural references.  That, along with the fact that the questions were sometimes paraphrased, would make it difficult, especially for those who are less biblically literate to locate the story or event being discussed. (I personally, think before jumping into discussion of the Scripture, it’s useful to read it for yourself.)

Overall, interesting, but not what I expected.  This is a book that focuses on personal spiritual formation rather than in-depth discussion of the biblical text.  It that’s what you’re looking for, you will probably enjoy it.

VERDICT:  3 stars

your first two years in youth ministry by Doug Fields — Book Review

I don’t have a passion for youth ministry, but I do have a passion for research, reading and  encouraging others to find their ministry niche.  Since we’ve recently started a youth group at St. Paul’s, I’ve been searching for helpful material, and this book is one of the resources I’ve come across.

The author, Doug Fields, has been a paid youth leader with more than two decades of experience.  He writes primarily from the perspective of a large church with a staff–a far cry from our situation.  However, much of what he has to say is still pertinent, not only to youth ministry but leadership development and spiritual formation in general.  I was especially interested in the chapters on how to identify and encourage new leaders and conflict resolution.

Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry: A Personal and Practical Guide to Starting Right

Each chapter has discussion questions, and this book could easily be used as a resource for youth ministry volunteers and workers in a small group setting. Information is interspersed  with Doug’s personal experiences, and quotations from other youth workers, making for a style that engages and is highly readable.  The appendix includes frequently asked questions and a youth ministry volunteer commitment form example. There is also a website you can go to http://www.dougfields.com for further information.

VERDICT:  4 stars. Definitely worth checking out if you have or are starting a youth ministry.

 

Joan’s Journey continued

My husband and I met while I was in college. By this time I had stopped calling myself an atheist but I wasn’t going to church and had no real interest in God. After several years of marriage we went through a rough patch in our relationship. Terry wanted to go to graduate school, while I was anxious to buy a home and start a family.  Our short term goals were different and this caused a big conflict. We finally decided that Terry would continue in school, and we moved to Montgomery County, midway between my job and his college. At this point, Terry suggested we join a church.  I guess we both felt this might put our relationship on firmer ground. Terry’s family church was large and I felt disconnected from the service. All we did was sit in the pew and listen to others speaking or singing.  The way I had learned to “do” church was Lutheran, so I told Terry that’s what I wanted to be. After some research he settled on the Missouri Synod because they believed in Biblical inerrancy.  Any Lutheran church was fine with me –I didn’t know there were different kinds of Lutherans.  We joined a church nearby and I was happy to be back in worshipping in a familiar service.  We attended church regularly, but weren’t active in other activities.

A year later we moved back to Frederick because we found we weren’t close to anything or anyone important to us.  We bought a house. Terry had a long commute but at least we were close to friends, family and my workplace.  The only Missouri Synod church in Frederick was a small mission congregation meeting in a Community building, so we went there.  I wasn’t too thrilled.  I preferred the big Lutheran Church downtown with it’s beautiful facility.  But God knew what I needed.  I was quiet and shy.  Had we joined that large, established church, I would have become a pew sitter.  In a mission congregation, you can’t do that.  Everyone is needed, everybody knows you and you can’t hide.  If Nancy was my soul friend, and Terry was my soul mate, Peace In Christ became my school of spiritual formation.

I was elected church council secretary at my first voter’s meeting.  How terrifying!  For months I hardly opened my mouth, and I tried not to miss a single word in my minutes! Finally, I relaxed, realizing that nobody was out to judge my job performance.  In fact, a friend there once told me that “church is the best place to try something new.  If you fail, they’ll still love you.”

Our pastor became a friend.  He knew his parishioners well, and encouraged me to use my gifts and stretch my comfort zone.  After we had children and they started Sunday School, we went too.  For the first time, as an adult, I studied the Bible regularly and found that knowing Sunday School stories from childhood, and bible history from college courses, did NOT mean I knew it all.  I met Christians who applied the Bible to their lives and I started to do that too. I can’t begin list the activities that helped me grow spiritually, so I’ll mention a few “high spots.”

Terry and I read the entire Bible in a 2 year program called Crossways.

We went on Marriage Encounter weekend and a Via De Cristo Christian retreat weekend.  Both had follow up small group meetings in which we participated.

.We taught Sunday School, I worked on the church newsletter and wrote VBS programs, and Terry was an elder. We were busy with church and our friends there constantly.  I began to see myself as a mature Christian and a congregational leader.

to be continued further …..