Review: In Constant Prayer

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A Review of In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

2008, Thomas Nelson, Inc.

ISBN 978-0-8499-0113-3

It is not surprising that the book under review is about prayer. But it is not simply about prayer in general. I have a lot of those books on my shelf. None of them has intrigued me as much as this one. As the author says on the first page of his first chapter, “This is a book about the most ancient practice of Christian prayer, a way of prayer known as the daily office.”  On page 9 he writes:

“In the simplest terms, the daily office is a regular pattern and order for formal worship and prayer that is offered to God at specific times throughout the course of the day. Each set of the prayers, known as an office, is made up of psalms, scriptures, and prayers. It is the sort of prayer that is most often associated with monastic communities and the more liturgical and sacramental parts of the church.”

No wonder I haven’t been familiarized with this kind of praying. For those of us who grew up in the tradition of the Restoration movement, anything regarded as formalized was disdained. Certainly anything perceived as Catholic was abandoned. Free expression in prayer along with encouragements to pray daily is what I learned. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

But the author makes a point that is of great interest to me. These prayers have been offered up for thousands of years by God’s people, but sometime during the past 500 years Protestants have abandoned the practice. The idea of praying certain prayers at certain times of the day is still practiced by some religions, but on the whole Christianity has moved beyond the prayer that sustained it for millennia. Benson writes, “The tradition of saying the daily office has languished for so long that many of us have barely heard of it, if at all, and not many of us know what these hours of prayer involve” (p. 29).

Psalm 119:164 says, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” And it appears this was taken literally.  Benson leaves room for our modern lifestyles, pleading for some regimentation in our prayer lives.

I want to write more in this review, perhaps tomorrow. I would be interested in hearing from those of you who pray the daily office. What prayer book do you use? What rhythm do you practice? What characterizes your prayer space? And if you are totally opposed to the daily office, let us know why.

More soon.

Thanks for reading,

John

Review: The Unlikely Disciple

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-QXHjm997k[/youtube]

Book Trailer for The Unlikely Disciple

If you watch the video book trailer above, then I think you have a very good flavor of The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose.

I don’t know what you expect from this book. If you think you’ll get some genuine questions about what Christians believe and why, then you’re right. If you think that you will gain some insight as to the inner workings of Liberty University, then you’re right about that as well. If you think you are going to read a one-sided rant against Christianity, specifically the brand of Christianity taught at LU, then you’re wrong.

I appreciate Kevin Roose’s book on so many levels. I think the one quality of the book that stands out  is the honest self disclosure that comes along with the story. I suppose that’s ironic, given that he had to be incognito during his semester at the University. The Unlikely Disciple is written with a disarming genuineness, almost like a long talk with an old friend. But this friend has quite a story to tell!

Christians have a lot to learn from this book. We have a lot to learn about how others view us, and how some of our answers are received by seekers. I think we learn that there are some really neat non-Christians out there who might show some interest if we do not pounce upon them at every opportunity. I think that the church enclosed and focused on itself learns how little it has in common with the rest of the world. Finally I think we learn that the “God Divide” isn’t beyond our reach, if we can extend the hand of acceptance and friendship with those who have yet to believe.

Mr. Roose had several hurdles to overcome if he was going to pass himself off as just another evangelical student at LU. Having virtually no familiarity with Christianity, he had to learn some of the lingo (and then re-learn more current lingo once on campus). He had to come up with a salvation story that was generic enough to satisfy, but not to raise questions. And for it to be an honest accounting of life on campus, he had to dive headlong into the various activities. It appears that is exactly what he did.

the-unlikely-disciple-coverEveryone who attended a Christian college knows that you can find whatever element you want to find there. It would have been easy for Mr. Roose to find the most hypocritical students and present them as typical Liberty students – but he does not do this. I believe that he did an outstanding job of presenting the good and the bad, in both the students and leadership of the University.

Toward the end of the book (end of his semester at Liberty), I was entranced by his description of the effect of the death of Jerry Falwell on the student body. Excellent writing is characteristic of the book, but especially in that section.

As you might guess, Mr. Roose has become the center of much criticism for his undercover operation. Liberty University book store is selling the book, but with a faulty disclaimer inserted into the book. You can read about that ongoing situation as well as other critiques and reactions at the author’s blog located here – (Kevin’s Blog).

A few things I’d like to note before concluding this review.

– This book hooks you fast. When you sit down to read, you’ll find it hard to put down!

– This book contains some discussions that relate to the life and struggles of single college students. There is some sexual discussion (though not crude) and some profanity (though not strong).

If you do a search, there are several reivews of this book currently to be found on the internet. I’m glad I read it. I hope to have opportunity to read more of Mr. Roose’s writings in the future.

So, was Kevin so overcome by all the Christian influence around him that he became a Christiain during the semester? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Follow Kevin on Twitter HERE.

Become a fan on FaceBook.

Thanks for reading,

John

Facing Our Failure – A Review

failureFacing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ by Todd Deaver.

When I first met Todd Deaver several years ago, the first thought through my mind was to wonder if he was one of those Deavers. I mean, the Deavers that have retained a place of importance and influence in Churches of Christ over the past decades. The answer was yes. Coming from the same religiously conservative bloodline as Roy Deaver and Mac Deaver, I expected Todd to be of a similar ideology. He was. He was also very kind, quiet, humble and possessed a gentle spirit. When I heard him preach, he was articulate, precise, and left the hearers with no questions about his convictions. Those are all good things.

That may explain why I was so suprised to read of a new book authored by Todd Deaver that was titled Facing Our Failure: The Fellowship Dilemma in Conservative Churches of Christ. In the introduction Deaver writes:

“We don’t tolerate inconsistency among denominationalists or brethren we regard as ‘liberal.’ We highlight it and expose it. We advertise it far and wide as indisputable proof of their error. What then should we do with our own? … a theology that can’t be consistently applied is one that is fundamentally flawed. Some things must change.”

Deaver’s charge is that we often choose which issues affect fellowship, and which do not. The use of instrumental music in worship seems to be the one that all conservative brothers unite against. However, while united in their opposition to the instrument, they accept many diverse convictions on other matters. How does one decide which matters are essential for fellowship, and which can be tolerated? This is the question that haunts Deaver.

In the first chapter, using a series of articles in The Christian Chronicle as a backdrop, Deaver pursues tenaciously the task of demonstrating the ‘fellowship dilemma’ which lures him into writing this book. Heavily footnoted (almost every page), this 135 page book sets about to do one thing: expose the problem. There are no big solutions to the struggles presented within these pages, and  this is on purpose. It can be regarded as an expose. It is a bit scandalous, making clear statements that are followed by specific annotations from such recognizable names as Rubel Shelly, Monroe Hawley, Larry James, Alan E. Highers, Gregoray Alan Tidwell, Wendell Winkler, F. Furman Kearley, David Miller, Jimmy Jividen, Wayne Jackson, Cecil May Jr., and many others. I am grateful that it is free from exaggeration, sarcasm, and emotional argumentation. It is not free, however, from provocative statements that fairly demonstrate his claims.

The author admits from the beginning that this book is not for everyone. Most evangelicals would be surprised at the kind of arguments and divisions that exist when one follows the teachings of some on the subject of fellowship. Churches have divided over issues that are not declared as important by the Bible. On page 101 Deaver writes, “If we were truly consistent, every practice over which we disagree – and there are scores of them – would be a salvation / fellowship issue, because in every case those in error would either be ‘liberals’ or ‘antis’ …”

In his conclusion are listed nineteen points at which current fellowship ideals are inconsistent. He says on pages 107-108, “We, who are in fellowship with each other, don’t even agree among ourselves about who should and should not be fellowshipped, even though we claim agreement on this point is essential for our unity.” With that staggering statement, Deaver leaves us to consider our own conclusions about fellowship, unity, and acceptance of those who differ from us in significant ways. In an appendix there is an application of his thoughts on the subject of Diversity and Divorce.

I hope that means that there will be another volume coming. Facing our Failure is important, but so is finding our way to a new paradigm for understanding these important issues.  For now, Deaver is content to wipe off the glass of our theology and let us have a good clear look in the mirror. That can be uncomfortable. It should be convicting.

Todd Deaver surprised me. I’m sure he surprised some others. He has documented his points well, stated them clearly, considered potential objections, and has presented his case.

If you grew up among Churches of Christ, I have no doubt that this book would be of interest to you. I encourage you to buy it HERE. Thanks for reading!

JD

Review: The Wind That Destroys and Heals

On my desk, between two bookends, are several books on the subject of grief. I would guess that there are volumes and volumes written on this most severe storm that has plagued humanity since we were shown the exit door to the Garden of Eden. I have a feeling that as I read through them that they are going to come to some fairly similar thoughts … since there are no answers. I’m not sure if it’s good to read them, or would be better to read something else. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, not sure there’s anything to find.

Except perspective. What happened to us has happened. There is no turning the earth backwards and rewinding time. If that could happen, I would have already done it. Short of that, our heart must come to grips with the reality facing us and gain some perspective that gives us reason and meaning in our ongoing lives.

I think THE WIND THAT DESTROYS AND HEALS by Stephen E. Broyles was helpful in this regard. In the introduction the reader is told, “I offer no quick-fix theology or easy answers. In fact, I offer no help at all in avoiding or lessening life’s pain. … What I offer is a voice crying in the night, the sense of human community in suffering, and the knowledge that healing and wholeness can be born of pain and sorrow.”

Part of the book reveals the long slow struggle with cancer endured by Broyles’ wife Elizabeth. Her eventual passing and his ongoing recovery are the context of the book. On page 12 is a statment that I think casts light upon the rest of his book: “Somehow we must find a way to accept human suffering and mortality without losing our faith in all that is beautiful and strong and good. Or to put it another way, to trust God even when he seems untrustworthy.”

Broyles turns first to the Psalms and the expressions of both suffering and faith. The next chapters look at Job’s plight. In regard to Job, Broyles says, “…When the dust of debate has settled, and the voices of Job and his friends have been brought to silence, we will have progressed no further than this: The pious servant trusts even the seemingly untrustworthy God, and God trusts the servant to remain loyal to him even when there is no longer reason to.”

Finally, Broyles turns to Jesus and points to his suffering. “He prayed to be spared the whole series of miseries: the arrest, the trials, the mocking, the beatings, the crucifixion, the last despairing breath, the burial in the tomb. Three times Jesus prayed , and three times God did nothing.Here is the crux of the cross: Jesus trusted God even when God was silent and unseen.”

As he said, he did not intend in this book to answer all the questions of suffering. He does, however, offer perspective. And that is most needed in times of grief. The last chapter is an excellent list of things you can do when suffering strikes.

The questions for discussion at the end make this a great group resource as well.

Does anyone know how to get in touch with Stephen E. Broyles? My internet search did not turn up anything. I recommend his book to you … it was helpful to me.

Beverly Choate Dowdy’s review of The Wind That Destroys and Heals

Thanks for reading,

John