Thursday Review: Sam Allberry on the resurrection

A Review of Sam Allberry, Lifted: Experiencing the Resurrection Life, IVP, 2010. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

I want to commend a new book spelling out the practical implications of the resurrection. Evangelicals rightly emphasis the centrality of the cross. But one unhappy by-product of this focus can be a neglect of the resurrection which becomes merely an affirmation of the finished work of the cross. Allberry shows us the saving significance of the resurrection and its practical impact on our lives. (He does this, thankfully, without the crass attempt to associate different traditions with different moments in the Christ-event as if our soteriological focus was a matter of preference). The main chapters cover (1) Assurance; (2) Transformation; (3) Hope; and (4) Mission. The book is short, punchy, engaging – a great book to give to others. It’s popular theology without compromising the theology.

The Biblical Counselling Movement

Part three of a three-part review of David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, New Growth Press, 1996 by guest blogger, Jonny Woodrow, contributes a three-part review. Jonny is an NTI tutor and has a PhD in social psychology.

In the first two parts of this review Jonny outlined the strengths of Jay Adam’s nouthetic counselling before detailing the critique and refinements by Powlison and others. He continues by summarizing subsequent developments before concluding.

During the 80s the evangelical psychotherapists made ground on the nouthetic movement. An integrationist approach in conversation with psychology took off in seminaries and universities in the United States. The nouthetic movement never had appeal for people outside Reformed Protestantism. In contrast the Reformed evangelical psychotherapists found a wider appeal among broader evangelicals through their non-polemical stance on psychology and psychiatry.

In the 1990s CCEF saw a revival of interest. But Powlison, Paul Tripp, Timothy Lane and other CCEF writers have clearly departed from Adams in important ways and all to the good. They are more thoroughly biblical and, although there are moments of proof-texting, they develop practice from verses in context. This is evidenced in two ways. CCEF writers have developed a biblical understanding of sin, the motivations of the heart and methods of counselling from all over the Bible and form the Bible story. Powlison, for example, in Seeing with New Eyes shows how Paul brought the story of Scripture into interaction with his pastoral context.

Adams’ view, ironically, owed more to behavioural psychology than to biblical anthropology. CCEF authors are also keen to commended the full range of verbal behaviours for counselling (encouraging, warning, teaching) and to place counselling in the context of relationship (see for instance Paul Tripp’s Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands). Their emphasis on the heart and its inner dynamics has also meant the way is clear for meaningful interaction with psychology. CCEF is not integrationist, but does engage with psychology and has developed a counselling model that factors in motivation and social context. Powlison says psychology is useful at the descriptive level rather than the diagnostic level. It is interesting to note how these controversies and developments are summarized on the CCEF website.

As CCEF entered the 1980s and 90s, it was apparent that the second and third generation of leaders benefited from the strengths of their predecessors as well as learned from their weaknesses. They moved CCEF in a direction of increased sensitivity to human suffering, to the dynamics of motivation, to the centrality of the gospel in the daily life of the believer, the importance of the body of Christ and to a more articulate engagement with secular culture.

There are so many ingredients in Adams’ that are refreshing and that provide the foundations for CCEF as it now stands. He calls us to take responsibility for sin rather than wearing it like a psychological wound to be endlessly analysed, but never repented of. He redefines psychological disorders in biblical categories giving mental health back to pastoral care and pastoral care back to the church.

The temptation with biblical counselling is that we make church communities therapeutic and inward-looking rather than missional and outward-looking in focus. Adams’ shorter, no-nonsense approach seems like a solution. But it can end up undermining identity in Christ, grace, the coherence of the Bible, love and relationships. Competent to Counsel? is a reminder to me to love the people I pastor, be patient, listening for their hearts, understanding their context and calling them to repentance at the heart level.
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From Nouthetic Counselling to Biblical Counselling

Part two of a three-part review of David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, New Growth Press, 1996 by guest blogger, Jonny Woodrow, contributes a three-part review. Jonny is an NTI tutor and has a PhD in social psychology.

In the first part Jonny looked at the strengths of Jay Adam’s nouthetic counselling. Here he outlines the critique and refinements by Powlison and others within the biblical counselling movement.

Adams’ movement found traction among conservative evangelicals because it started out from a Protestant, Reformed creedal perceptive. It was therefore confined to a particular constituency. The battle with evangelical psychotherapists also happened within this constituency. Powlison details their critique. On each of Adam’s six points, the evangelical psychotherapists (EPs) agreed with him in part, but found his thinking narrow, superficial and underdeveloped.

First, the EPs agreed that the Bible needed to be the filter for all psychological knowledge and therapy. However, they critiqued Adams on two points. They argued that his own use of the Bible was biblicist rather than biblical. Adams’ approach to the Bible relied on proof-texting, concordances and word studies. He took verses out of context and pressed them into his agenda, pulling whole diagnoses and counselling methodologies from a collection of verses. They also suggested that he was inconsistent in his understanding of God’s common grace revelation through science and how it related to the Bible. Adams was happy to incorporate physiological insights from science, but not happy with the application of psychological theory and research. Continue reading

Thursday Review: David Powlison on Debates in Biblical Counselling

A review of David Powlison, The Biblical Counseling Movement: History and Context, New Growth Press, 2010 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

The Biblical Counseling Movement is a republication of David Powlison’s PhD thesis with subsequent articles appended. Powlison is a counsellor and faculty member of CCEF, editor of The Journal of Biblical Counseling and the author of Seeing with New Eyes purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Speaking Truth in Love purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Theses do not often make good reading, but The Biblical Counseling Movement is a great primer for anyone interested in biblical counselling and its controversies.

Guest blogger, Jonny Woodrow, contributes a three-part review. Jonny is an NTI tutor and has a PhD in social psychology. He begins by looking at the strengths of Jay Adam’s nouthetic counselling.

Powlison documents the history of the nouthetic counselling movement with special attention to the inter-professional conflict among evangelical psychotherapists. Evangelical psychotherapists interacted with psychology, taking on insights from research and therapeutic practice. They became established as mainstream through institutions, publishing and accreditation systems. In contrast, the nouthetic counselling movement founded by Jay Adams set itself apart from psychotherapeutic methodology, theory and institutions. ‘Nouthetic counselling’ takes its name from the Greek word noutheteō which means ‘to rebuke’ or ‘to admonish’. It appealed to a ready-made constituency of Reformed evangelicals and so flourished as a break away movement until the 1980s. From the early 1980s the evangelical psychotherapy movement took off leaving nouthetic counselling as a crank voice within a particular fundamentalist corner of Reformed evangelicalism. In the 1990s there was a revival of interest in nouthetic counselling. One of the nouthetic counselling movement’s key institutions, the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation (CCEF), now enjoys wider influence. But this is as a result of addressing many of the criticisms directed at Jay Adam’s movement. Powlison outlines the key tenants of Adams theology and then organises the criticisms made by the evangelical psychotherapy movement on each point.

First, Adam’s was committed to the Bible as God’s manual for counselling. The Bible provided the correct categories for understanding humanity and the world. Second, he redefined problems with living in terms of moral choices we make. Problems with life were seen as expressions of sin. This relocated mental health issues and life struggles away from the mental health profession to the pastor’s jurisdiction. Third, since sin was the problem, Adams saw physiological problems and social issues as the context rather than the cause of mental health problems. Fourth, grace through the gospel was his prescription because sin was the underlying problem. Fifth, the proper context for treatment was the Church under a pastor. Sixth, Adams did not try to win over secular and integrationist psychologists. Instead, he tried to debunk them, undermining their theoretical support base. He has become infamous for writing polemical and abrasive critiques of psychological therapy that is not rooted in the Bible. Adams waged a jurisdictional war, carving out a new set of categories rooted in the Bible through which to approach mental health. He set up a rival set of institutions, publishers, and training courses.

In his next post Jonny outlines the critique of Adams by evangelical psychotherapists.
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Thursday Review: The Prodigal DVD by Tim Keller

A review of Tim Keller, The Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Discussion Guide purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, Zondervan, 2009.

I can’t praise this resource too much – it’s magnificent. The presentation of the DVD is beautiful and the content is dynamite. Even though I was familiar with the material from sermon mp3s and the book, I cried as I watched – twice!

The heart of this resource is a 40-minute DVD presentation. In effect it’s the movie version of Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Keller stands on a stage with an empty auditorium. His only props are a table and two chairs. The layout of the table and the location of the chairs change as the talks unfolds. It’s all very simple, but beautifully done. The production values are superb. Imagine the best of a Keller sermon combined with a Nooma video and you’ll have a good idea what it’s like.

The DVD works very well as a stand alone resource. But there’s also six-session discussion guide that accompanies the DVD and book. Session one is the 40-minute DVD with a few response questions. After that the discussion guide is based on the book supplemented by short extracts for the DVD. There are 6-10 questions in each session, many inviting people to comment on a quote from the book.

It’s a resource for everyone. The 40-minute presentation is as good a one-off evangelical presentation as any I know. I’m salivating at the prospect of using it with unbelievers. But the material is also of vital importance for Christians, especially those with a legalistic bent (and I suspect that’s all of us). And it is so powerfully presented. I would also recommend pastors to watch it. We shouldn’t try to copy Keller – we must be ourselves – but we can learn a huge amount from him for our preaching, both in terms of content and style.

I know many pastors who’ve been hugely impacted by Keller’s ministry. This is your chance to share Keller with the non-reading members of your congregation!

It’s my top resource from 2009.

Click on the appropriate flag to purchase the DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, book purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US or discussion guide purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Here’s a sample …

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Thursday Review: almost everyone on The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching

Today and tomorrow I’m reviewing two books on preaching. Tomorrow I’ll look at Preaching Re-Imagined by Doug Pagitt purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Today it’s …

A review of Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson (eds.), The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching: A Comprehensive Resource for Today’s Communicators, Zondervan, 2005. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

I was going to call this book a ‘treasure trove’ on preaching and then I noticed that’s exactly how it’s described in the opening line of blurb. Ah well. It is a treasure trove.

The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching is a collection of over 200 articles from Leadership journal and supplemented by articles written specially for the book. I was a bit sceptical that this might mean some ephemeral content, but not so. Instead it means that, despite the book’s 700 plus pages, all the content is tightly written and to the point. It also means we’re treated to a veritable who’s who of evangelical preaching including Jay Adams, Alistair Begg, Rob Bell, Stuart Briscoe, Don Carson, Tim Keller, Gordon MacDonald, John Ortberg, Ben Patterson, John Piper, Haddon Robinson, Rick Warren, Warren Wiersbe and Dallas Willard. The authors are mostly north American, but there are contributions from John Stott, Dick Lucas and David Jackman. There’s also a CD with sermon extracts linked to specific articles in the book so you can hear examples of principles taught in the text.

I started listing chapters I particularly wanted to highlight, but after listing the first four chapters in a row I gave up

So instead here are some things I love about this Continue reading

The Limits of Incarnational Models Part 3: The Need for a Whole Gospel Approach

Here is final guest post from Dr Jonny Woodrow suggesting the need for a robust trinitarian theology to supplement an incarnational model of cultural engagement. This argument draws on reflections on Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. The first two posts in this series are here and here. Jonny  is a tutor with the Northern Training Institute and a church planter with The Crowded House.

I have benefited from the incarnational approach. I love the emphasis on contextualisation and cross-cultural mission. We practice this in our context with teams devoted to being part of the communities they seek to reach. It helps to bring culture to the fore in our strategising. But the more we seek to mobilise people for this kind of mission or try to pastor people through the inevitable personal and social battles this incarnational lifestyle forces to the surface, the more I find the concept of incarnation as a principle powerless to help. This is because it fails to address the real problem with humanity.

The Fall brought about relational brokenness between mankind, God and creation through man’s attempt to put a non-Trinitarian being (i.e. self) at the centre of the universe and crush difference. Post-Fall Adam wanted the death penalty to fall on Eve, removing the different one from the Garden, blaming God for creating her. The construction of the tower of Babel around the exaltation of man threatened to exchange God’s plan to fill the world with fruitful people for a monocultural existence. The key problem the gospel must over-come is not transcendence but every attempt mankind makes to define himself and the world by something other than relationship with the Trinitarian God. An incarnational approach does not address this problem. It simply wants to bring God down to earth. Having read Gunton, a truly relational approach to creation and redemption means we need the whole gospel to mobilise us and remake us as truly human and not just incarnational.

The incarnational approach has helped us to critique the mission of the church where we stay in our own cosy subculture. But it simply operates at the level of example. The Son of God became one of us so we become one of ‘them’. At this point we strategise our way into culture. Examples, devoid of life changing truth and grace in the end become sticks to beat people with. The incarnational approach alone fails to help people to missionally live out their identity in Christ.

Someone committed to incarnational theology might reply at this point that the incarnation enabled us to become truly human since God became man. Or they might say that the church is the body of Christ, therefore incarnation is a principle that directs our mission. But I want to suggest that this is category confusion. It is not the incarnation that makes us the body of Christ or that makes us truly human. Incarnation is the miracle of God taking on human flesh. What makes us truly human is putting on Christ and being remade in his image through baptism into his death and resurrection. Putting on Christ, being found in him at the right hand of the Father, and being remade in his image are not summarised by incarnation. Incarnation is not the correct term for this. Regeneration is the correct term.

Genesis 1 and 2 show that being in the image of God means being a community in fruitful, cultural engagement with creation. This, as we have seen, leads to a relational and Trinitarian view of being which the gospel affirms and enables. Therefore the basis for mobilising a culturally engaged church that takes particularity, diversity and creativity seriously is the call to become image bearers. This means we need to be reconciled to God through the whole Jesus story as he takes up humanity, kills us, resurrects us and brings us into the presence of the Father to receive the gift of the Spirit.  We don’t become image bearers through our own incarnational efforts. This is category confusion.  We become image bearers by being remade through death and resurrection into the image of God (e.g. Colossians 3:9).

Pastorally, I find it much more empowering to encourage Christians to live missionally by calling them to the death and resurrection of Jesus for them and to live in light of their new identity in Christ. It is helpful for a student entering the home of an alcoholic where many drug addicted and dangerous people hang out, to know that Jesus entered these kinds of places as well. But what really enables him to do it is the knowledge that he has died with Christ and now his life is hidden with the ascended Christ. Now his life is not found in the comfort and safety of socially acceptable company, he has died to these idols and he has been given new life in Christ.

It seems to me that relationship with the incarnate, resurrected and ascended Christ for our renewal in his image is the correct and most fruitful basis for missional contextualised theology. This relational approach reflects the mobilising categories of Scripture: in him, reconciled to God, adopted etc. It requires all moments of the gospel story to shape practice.

Without the incarnation there would be no true human to take humanity into the presence of God. Without the death of the true human, creation and humanity could not be brought through death to be renewed. Without the resurrection a new humanity would not be possible. Without the ascension renewed humanity would not be represented in the presence of God. We were made to live in the world in the presence of the Father. That was the Genesis 1 and 2 foundation for cultural engagement and now, through the Son, the new humanity again lives in the presence of the Father through Jesus’ ascension. If the ascension had not happened, the Spirit would not have been sent to begin the work of recalibrating the creation around the throne of Jesus. In other words, creation and culture are affirmed and renewed by every moment of the gospel story which brings us back into relationship with the Father, each other and creation.

We need the whole gospel to mobilise us for mission and to inform our missional practice. I want to suggest that to truly engage with culture, the missional church needs to become increasingly relational rather than incarnational. This will mean that the missional church needs to recover a robust Trinitarian and Biblical theology. For some, much of what they have packed into the incarnational category can be kept but it needs to be recategorized if we are to be able to let the biblical categories inform practice. We need to live in the whole Jesus story and not just one aspect of it if we truly want to engage culture for Christ and avoid worldly engagement with a Christian veneer.
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The Limits of Incarnational Models Part 2: Embodiment and Incarnation

Here is the second of three guest blogs from Dr Jonny Woodrow highlighting the limits of an incarnational model of mission by reflecting on Colin Gunton’s, The One, the Three and the Many purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Jonny  is a tutor with the Northern Training Institute and a church planter with The Crowded House. The first post explored the question of the triumph of the many (embodied local realities) over the one (transcendental reality) in modern culture.

In his book, The One, The Three and the Many, Colin Gunton argues that the culture of modernity has failed to manage the tension between the one and the many. This tension operates on a number of levels. It can be seen wherever the concept of diversity threatens unity or vice versa. For instance; the state versus local government; the rights of the individual verses society; the objective truth verses the variety of many subjective opinions. Gunton shows how modernity has ostensibly wanted to champion the many over forms of the transcendent one. It has tried to do this by overcoming the transcendent God in order to find meaning in the particular and embodied.

While embodiment is central to Gunton’s theology he shows that it is the wrong solution to the tension between the one and the many. This is because transcendence is not the enemy of the local and the particular. Gunton argues that the problem is a non-Trinitarian and non-relational conception of the ‘oneness’ of the transcendent God. This non-relational view of God and his will presents God as anti-diversity.

Following on from the first blog, I want to unpack the idea that the Christian doctrine of the transcendent becoming embodied – the incarnation – can not help us critique and engage with modern and post-modern culture on its own. Too often, the incarnation becomes our key principle without setting it within a framework of the Trinitarian story of redemption. When this happens we are in danger of simply attempting modernist embodiment with a Christian veneer to overcome a misdiagnosed problem with culture.

Foundations for Particularity: Unitary or Relational Will

Gunton’s argument is complex and nuanced. It is presented here in outline only. Gunton contrasts two models or paradigms of the relationship between creation and the will of God. These contrasting models shape a different view of God’s will and the nature of will in general. These differing views of God’s will, in turn, lead to differing understandings of the place of the particular. Continue reading

The Limits of Incarnational Models Part 1: The Triumph of the Many over the One?

Here is the first of three guest blogs from Dr Jonny Woodrow. Jonny  is a tutor with the Northern Training Institute and a church planter with The Crowded House. His blog posts reflect on the lessons for missional and incarnational church from Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. They question whether incarnational mission provides an adequate model for an engagement with cultural pluralism.

To recalibrate its activities around mission, the church has had to come to terms with cultural pluralism; the idea that here are many varied local cultures for the gospel to engage with. In the missional church literature there has been helpful analysis and enthusiasm for understanding the local and the particular in mission. Writers like Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost have helped us to find ways to enter cultures, listen for local stories, affirm local cultural difference, and avoid imposing models of church. They have challenged us to look for organic models of church that give the gospel expression through local culture.  The incarnation has been the mediating principle for much of this helpful insight. In the incarnation we see God affirming locality and difference by entering a culture. The gospel emerges in the world through a local culture and spreads as God’s people enter other cultures.

In his book, The One, The Three and the Many, Colin Gunton brings a robust Trinitarian theology to bear on the culture of modernity. Modernity has tried to take the local and particular seriously. It has opted for radical embodiment as its organising principle. This is the idea that meaning in the universe comes from the stuff of everyday life; bodies, language and culture, rather than transcendent universal principles. To some degree, modernity has its own ‘incarnational’ approach to local culture.

Gunton argues, however,  that modernity is built on paradox. Far from celebrating cultural diversity or providing a foundation for difference and particularity, modernity has in fact created new forms of homogeneous culture, often more oppressive than the ideologies it tried to throw off.

In this series of three blogs I want to suggest that Gunton’s critique of modernity’s approach to local culture might reveal some correctives for our incarnational approach.

Gunton argues that the worldview of antiquity was seen by modernists and postmodernists as privileging the ‘one’ above the ‘many.’ From Plato’s universal forms to Augustine’s God as a divine rational will, antiquity squashed cultural diversity under the weight of single unifying principles. Particularity, difference and materiality were not seen as fundamental to the nature of creation. Instead they were seen as departures from the purity of the unity of the divine one or universal forms. In such a worldview difference is bad. Modernity attempted to distinguish itself from antiquity by attempting to privilege the ‘many’, the local and diverse, above a transcendent ‘one’.

Modernity achieved this by emphasising the particular through displacing the divine ‘one’. Embodiment is essential to this displacement. This happened through William of Ockham and modernity’s obsession with materiality. William of Ockham, the champion of the particular, rejected the idea of a unifying will of God or transcendent universal principles as the foundation for meaning and coherence. Instead he made the rational will of humans the starting point of coherence and meaning-making. This paved the way for modernity’s move to embodiment because it made human experience the organising principle of the universe. Modernity’s emphasis on materiality supplied a number of theories for the mechanisms of human experience. Marxism, socio-biology and early psychology made economics, evolution, biology and neurology the basis of human experience. The concepts of mind and will, which were once considered transcendent and non-bodily entities, were now cemented to economics, biology and neurology.

So the transcendent one or divine will was replaced by many embodied wills as the organising principle of creation. This move to locate the organising principles of the universe in human embodied experience could be described as a modernist, secular incarnational move. It promised to make cultural diversity and the particular the starting place for accounts of being. Along with this shift, the idea that the cosmos held meaning was replaced by a view that time, space and materiality are meaningless. Truth and meaning are locally generated by the activities and sense-making of people as embodied wills. In order to enter truth one has to enter a local culture or worldview.

On a surface reading, modernity looks like the triumph of the many over the one in which the local and particular are celebrated. Gunton stresses that of all cultures modernity has achieved the most for the cause of cultural diversity. But modernity has also created the herding culture of consumerism, communism and fascism along with the attendant bloodshed, addiction and misery. Paradoxically, in each case, the many have been forced into forms of identity that are shaped by a new, all powerful one. Consumerism transforms us into the image of the market. Identity is worked out through the consumption of mass-produced products and logos, creating as much homogeneity as individuality. Communism erected the state as the transcendent one in the name of giving ownership of life and work back to the masses. Fascism similarly attempts to serve the many, but does so by making the many conform to the will and image of the head of state. Gunton’s point is that modernity has not escaped antiquity. It has repeated the same mistake; erecting a new one over the many. The only difference is that modernity has replaced transcendent oneness with more immanent and earthly forms: market, self, state, race.

These ‘false transcendentals’ are demonic, says Gunton. They are idols or God replacements. Like all idols they undermine our humanity and identity by drafting us into the service of their image, crushing God’s design for community and individuality. Modernity thought that the enemy of diversity was a transcendent one. But, by bringing the transcendent down to earth and making it immanent and human, modernity has not served the many. It has created new forms of homogeneity that undermine identity and that compete with each other (e.g. consumerism verses socialism). The move to embodiment and the down-playing of transcendence has failed to create both diversity and unity. Embodiment is not a mediating category that can successfully manage the relationship between the one and the many. If this is true, then maybe also ‘embodiment’ in a Christian guise as ‘incarnation’ cannot on its own be the basis for a theology of cultural diversity and engagement. In the next two blog reflections on Gunton I want to unpack this argument.
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Thursday Review: A Year of Living Like Jesus

A review of Ed Dobson, A Year of living Like Jesus, Zondervan, 2009
purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

A few years ago British comedian Tony Hawks hitch-hiked around Ireland with a small fridge in response to a bet. The book he wrote of his adventure, Round Ireland with a Fridge [purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US], became a best-seller.

When I first picked up A Year of Living Like Jesus I took against it. The heavily bearded cover picture didn’t help. What a gimmicky idea, I thought. But then I wondered if I had positioned it in wrong category. Maybe I shouldn’t view this as a serious book on discipleship, but a Christian equivalent of Round Ireland with a Fridge. A quirky, semi-humorous book that also raised important issues for an audience that would never read The Ordinary Hero. purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

So I gave it to my administrator Cari to read. Here’s her review …

How to summarise and review this book? I have found this book exciting to read and to use the cliché, ‘hard to put down’. Ed Dobson is a very engaging writer who seems to self consciously interweave an eye for the humorous in the mundane with a theological sobriety. Heralding from a deeply conservative Christian background (he is the pastor emeritus of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids and his family were recent immigrants from Ireland where they were part of the Plymouth Brethren group), I sense that Dobson enjoyed the adventure of pushing the boundaries of where a biblical faith could take him. In the course of the year, his journey takes him to the ‘expected places’, for example he significantly increases his commitment to prayer and scripture, he fasts, he seeks to honour the Shabbat and he draws alongside Jews to experience their festivals and rites. His journey also takes him to bars, to rosary beads, to wearing tassels on his clothes (‘one of the major problems in wearing the T-shirt with the tassels occurs when you go to the bathroom … there’s nothing like having wet tassels in your pants!’ 56) and to a kosher diet.

Dobson was inspired to begin this journey by a book he read called ‘The Year of Living Biblically’. This is a book authored by a nonreligious Jew who spent a year seeking to strictly adhere to the Biblical (Old Testament) commands. Dobson is saddened that although he may have started a journey towards God in this year, he certainly didn’t seem to ‘find’ God. He reflects that ‘as I read the book, I was deeply convicted by the fact that someone had taken the Bible seriously enough to attempt to live it out.’ After reading this book, he says that he wondered ‘what if I were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously?’ (12)

The concept of the book (and the front cover, with a picture of Dobson in his full beard) is clearly gimmicky. Dobson delves into risky waters by commenting on the American presidential election and by flirting with certain Catholic and Orthodox ideas. I am sure that much of the selling power of this book will have come from this gimmicky and controversial façade. However, I personally (and surprisingly!) found this book a stimulant to seeking to follow Jesus with a more open mind and a greater zeal.

Let me (Tim) add a closing comment. Much of the time it feels more like an attempt to live like a first century Jew than to live like Jesus. There’s remarkably little reflection on the ethical teaching of Jesus which is surely what you expect to be central to an attempt to live like him. So, for example, rather than living a cross-shaped life, Dobson describes how he feels wearing a wooden cross around his neck – something Jesus didn’t do! So I wouldn’t read it as a serious book on discipleship. But you might give it to an unbelieving friend and see what conversations it provokes.

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