Review of ‘Revolutionary Summer’ by Joseph J. Ellis


Revolutionary Summer Joseph J. Ellis, Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence (New York: Alred A. Knopf, 2013). $26.95, 240 pages. Hardcover / Kindle

Although the American Revolution can be viewed from many perspectives, history books typically emphasize the political and military ones, and for good reason. The Revolution was a bid for political independence that needed to be secured by force of arms. Revolutionary Summer is the latest history book aimed at a popular readership that tells the story of how political and military concerns interacted from May through October 1776.

During those months, the American colonies—heretofore divided among patriot, moderate, and loyalist factions—coalesced toward independence, coalescence helped along by the British invasion of New York.  From a military perspective, the British missed several opportunities to destroy Washington’s Continental Army in New York, misses that were harshly criticized after the war. At the time, however, British military leaders were hesitant to take decisive moves lest they further politically alienate the American colonists.

The colonists faced the opposite problem. Politics were their strength, but the military was their weakness. The Continental Army was chronically underfunded, undersupplied, and made up of militias that were more committed to their states than to the newly declared United States. It would win the war by not losing it. And what kind of union did these states have anyway? A confederation? A union?

Joseph J. Ellis narrates the history of these crucial months, and the answers to these questions, with his typically graceful prose. I read Revolutionary Summer after reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s Bunker Hill, which focuses on the rise and progress of the revolution in Boston in 1775. Both books are excellent examples of how history can be written for a broad readership. And they are useful reminders that, far from a foregone conclusion, the success of the American Revolution was a close-run thing.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Review of ‘Ready, Set, Grow’ by Scott Wilson


Ready_Set_FRNTCVR Scott Wilson, Ready, Set, Grow: 3 Conversations That Will Bring Lasting Growth to Your Church (Springfield, MO: My Healthy Church, 2013). $14.95, 240 pages. Paperback / Kindle / MyHealthyChurch

Some books come too late, alas, to be of personal use. I say that because Ready, Set, Grow by Scott Wilson would’ve changed the way I pastored. During my three-year tenure at a turnaround church in southern California, I led the church to make some changes. Unfortunately, I failed to lead it to make the most important changes—changes to its culture.

In Ready, Set, Grow, Wilson tells the story of how, over three years, he led his staff to make lasting changes to the organizational culture of The Oaks Church. For years, the church had bounced around in attendance, never less than 650, but never more than 900. Finally, Wilson realized that the problem was the leadership capacity of him and his staff. At the point in time, they were capable of leading only a 650-member church. If they wanted the church to grow, they needed to grow themselves.

Over a three-year-period, Wilson walked with his staff through a three-stage development process: modeling (year 1), mentoring (year 2), and multiplying (year 3). First, he writes, leaders must develop their own leadership capacities and become someone worth following. Then, they must lead their direct reports (whether staff or volunteer) through a similar developmental process. Finally, they need to create an environment where their direct reports are developing the people in their domain of ministry.

What is unique about this book is its narrative form. Wilson tells you how he led his church staff through this process—which, at one point, included confronting and firing a key staff member. The transferable principles he offers to readers are drawn from his experience. This doesn’t mean that modeling-mentoring-multiplying is without biblical foundation, of course. Rather, Wilson sees his experience as fleshing out the meaning of passages such as  Ephesians 4:12 (“equip [Christ’s] people for works of service”) and 2 Timothy 2:2 (“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others”).

I encourage pastors and board members to read this book. A healthy church doesn’t have to be a huge church, but it does need to be a growing church. Ready, Set, Grow will help you understand how to lead your church/ministry through a process of personal and organizational growth.

Full disclosure: I am a personal friend of Scott Wilson, and I work for the Assemblies of God, which is the parent company of My Healthy Church. I do not, however work for My Healthy Church itself.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote yes on my Amazon.com review page.

Sic Transit: Interesting Posts That Caught My Eye This Morning (July 26, 2013)


Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett, “Religious Freedom Is About More Than Religion” (Wall Street Journal)

Religious faith by its nature must be free. A coerced “faith” is no faith at all. Compulsion can cause a person to manifest the outward signs of belief or unbelief. It cannot produce the interior acts of intellect and will that constitute genuine faith.

Coercion in the cause of belief, whether religious or secular, produces not genuine conviction, but pretense and inauthenticity. It is therefore essential that religious freedom include the right to change one’s beliefs and religious affiliation. It also includes the right to witness to one’s beliefs in public as well as private, and to act—while respecting the equal right of others to do the same—on one’s religiously inspired convictions in carrying out the duties of citizenship. Religious liberty includes a heavy presumption against being coerced to act contrary to one’s sense of religious duty. This is a presumption that can be overridden only when necessary to achieve an essential public interest and when no less-restrictive alternative exists.

William Haun, “The ‘Mystery of Life’ Makes Law a Mystery” (Public Discourse)

Personal exploration is part and parcel of deriving the truth, but letting life’s “mystery” linger in socially essential areas where wisdom has already come mistakes delusion for discovery. The “mystery of life’s” limitless respect for “self-discovery” requires willful blindness toward discovered truths of human experience, unless one chooses to adopt them only as a “lifestyle choice.” This leads adherents to the “mystery of life” to lack any agreed-upon moral framework to defend the order needed for liberty’s survival. The result is a society that talks past itself when attempting to understand its codified standards—an ironic proof of Casey’s observation that “liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt.”

William T. Cavanaugh, “The Roots of Evil” (America Magazine)

The crucial point is this: people devote themselves to all sorts of things. People treat all sorts of things as their religion. With regard to the question of violence, people kill and die for all sorts of things; there is no good reason to suppose that people are more inclined to kill for a god than for a flag, for a nation, for freedom, for free markets, for the socialist revolution, for access to oil and so on. In certain contexts, ideologies of jihad or the sacrificial atonement of Christ can lend themselves to violence. In other contexts, belief in the free market or in Greater Russia or in the United States as worldwide liberator is what releases killing energies. If the biblical critique of idolatry is on the mark, there is no essential difference between the two, between religious and secular causes.

Walter Russell Mead, “US to Democrats: No, Really, We’re Okay with Some Abortion Restrictions (Via Meadia / The American Interest)

A recent WSJ/NBC news poll has some data that might shock Democrats: Wendy Davis and her sneakers aside, a plurality of Americans support 20 week abortion bans of the kind passed in Texas. Forty-four percent of respondents said they would support the ban, with 37 percent opposed. And the numbers get more interesting the further down you dig.

“The Carlos Danger Name Generator” (Slate)

Use our widget to get a name like Anthony Weiner’s alleged sexting pseudonym.

Heh. Mine’s Emilio Hazard. Speaking of Anthony Weiner…

Bethany Mandel, “Women Fed Up With Weinter–And His Wife (Commentary)

By continuing to stand by her husband, and asking voters to do the same, Abedin has lost any goodwill and sympathy she might once have garnered as the jilted pregnant wife. The saying goes “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” New Yorkers don’t appreciate being made fools of. While they may not care about the extramarital affairs Weiner conducts while his wife seemingly looks the other way, they don’t appreciate being lied to or manipulated. For their own sake and for the City of New York, it’s time for the Weiners to drop the redemption act and move on from the mayoral race.

 

Review of ‘Miracle Work’ by Jordan Seng [Updated]


Miracle Work Jordan Seng, Miracle Work: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Supernatural Ministries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013). $17.00, 224 pages.

Miracle Work by Jordan Seng is, as the subtitle explains, “a down-to-earth guide to supernatural ministries”: healing, deliverance, prophecy, intercession, and Spirit-baptism. Written in an engaging, folksy style, the book combines personal anecdote, biblical teaching, and practical, experience-based guidance. It is one of the most interesting books I have read this year, for several reasons:

First, Jordan Seng is not the guy you’d expect to write this kind of book. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a PhD in political theory from the University of Chicago who served for a time as a National Security Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In his infamous essay, “On Miracles,” David Hume argued that reports of miracles arose among chiefly “ignorant and barbarous nations,” or were received by “civilized people” from “ignorant and barbarous ancestors.” Clearly, Hume never imagined the possibility of a miracle-working PhD, which simply shows the limits of his imagination and the extent of his prejudices.

Second, Seng is neither a member of the word-of-faith movement nor an advocate of the prosperity gospel. By the same token, he is not a proponent of classical Pentecostalism, with its doctrines of healing in the Atonement and tongues as initial physical evidence. In other words, he doesn’t fit the public stereotype of a “faith healer,” nor can he be easily fitted into ready-made theological grooves. He is the pastor of Bluewater Mission in Honolulu, Hawaii, which is affiliated with Vineyard Churches, and thus shares some of that movement’s emphases. Nonetheless, he ministers across a wide variety of denominations. (His publisher, InterVarsity Press, is a mainstream evangelical book house.)

Third, whereas faith healers emphasize the importance of faith in the person seeking healing, Seng emphasizes the importance of power in the person performing the healing. Indeed, the heart of the book is a chapter entitled, “The Power Equation,” where Seng lays out his understanding of how supernatural power flows through a person and results in supernatural ministry: Authority + Gifting + Faith + Consecration = Power. “[T]he amount of authority [determined by obedience to Jesus], gifting, faith and consecration you develop will combine to determine, in large part, the amount of supernatural power you have for ministry.” This shift of emphasis has important pastoral consequences: A person who does not experience healing should not be faulted for lack of faith, which is the implication of word-of-faith theology.

Fourth, whereas prosperity evangelists are often captive to the American dream, which emphasizes a life of health, wealth, and peace, Seng argues that supernatural ministry “radicalizes” Christians. “If you accept that you can do even the supernatural things that Jesus and his followers did in the Gospel stories, then you’ve pulled a linchpin: If you can do Jesus’ miracles, then you can live Jesus’ lifestyle across the board. In this way, supernatural ministry reinforces kingdom living. The supernatural begets the radical.” A major theme of the book is that “supernatural ministry will do a lot to make you a supernatural person” [emphasis in the original], and—I would add—vice versa. Rather than seeking health, wealth, and peace, supernatural people should do hard things: “Believers should be attracted to impossible situations like frat boys to beer. We should be drawn to every warzone, disaster area, cancer ward, violent ghetto, impoverished people or unreached group. Wherever the world has no solution, the believers should rush in. Why? Because God makes all things possible.”

Fifth, at the end of the day, the point of supernatural ministry is to draw us closer to Jesus. In the book’s final chapter, Seng shares his personal story. It includes the instability of his birth family, his wife’s seven miscarriages, long stretches of depression, academic frustration, and feelings of personal unworthiness. At a critical juncture, he has a vision of Jesus who comes to him and says, “Good job. I love you.” Reflecting on this, Seng writes: “I have lots of provocative stories about supernatural ministry, but the supernatural experiences that have shaped me most are the simple, intimate ones—the personal interactions in which I’ve gotten to feel, for a short while, the manifest presence of God there for me.”

Despite my interest in this book, even enthusiasm about it, I would like to note three reservations. The first is from the perspective of a classical Pentecostal. Whereas we believe that tongues is the initial physical evidence of Spirit-baptism, Seng argues that it is an evidence—the most common, perhaps, but not “necessary” evidence. The second is from the perspective of an evangelical. I worry that Seng overemphasizes the necessity of prophetic utterance. I don’t deny that such utterances happen, but I’m not sure small groups need to put members in the “mushpot” and prophesy over them on a regular basis. I’m worried, in other words, that giving prophetic advice might crowd out seeking guidance from biblical teaching. Does God have a unique word for everyone in every situation? That’s the impression Seng gives me, but I’m not sure that’s true. The third is from the perspective of an unhealed person. Seng writes, “in the kingdom of God, healing is the default position.” As a classical Pentecostal, who believes that healing is provided for in the atonement, I resonate with this statement. But as a sufferer, I also recognize that there are elements of timing (healing in this age or the age to come?), divine purpose (“my grace is sufficient”), and mystery that complicate expectations of healing here and now. (UPDATE: It might be helpful to read Miracle Work and Dying Out Loud in tandem, for they capture the two sides of the coin. Miracle Work talks about divine power to heal, while Dying Out Loud limns the divine purposes of sickness and death. See my review of Dying Out Loud here.)

Despite my reservations, I recommend reading Miracle Work. It is an interesting, faith-building book. If Jesus and his followers did supernatural ministry, why can’t we?

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘The Evangelicals You Don’t Know’ by Tom Krattenmaker


The-Evangelicals-You-Don-t-Know-Introducing-the-N Tom Krattenmaker, The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013). $34.00, 232 pages.

In 1991, James Davison Hunter introduced the term culture war into American public discourse. His book, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, described “competing moral visions”—Progressivism and Orthodoxy—that generated heated conflict on a number of hot-button issues: family, education, media and the arts, law, and electoral politics. Many people interpreted these conflicts in geographical (Blue State vs. Red State), partisan (Democrat vs. Republican), or ideological/religious terms (secular Left vs. religious Right), although such interpretations were overbroad and simplistic. Two decades later, these conflicts still roil the waters of American society.

The purpose of Tom Krattenmaker’s The Evangelicals You Don’t Know is to introduce progressive readers to “the next generation of Christians” and urge them to work together on issues of common concern. In the process, he reframes America’s culture wars. “At the level that matters, the quarrels that vex American society are not between Christians and non-Christians, between religionists and atheists, between evangelicals and everyone else.” In other words, Hunter’s Progressivism/Orthodoxy dichotomy is inadequate. “The line that matters now is the one separating the ‘we’re always right/you’re always wrong’ arguers from unity-seeking, goodwill-mongering action takers of whatever religious persuasion, or none, ready to go to work to address a society’s aching needs.” What actually divides America, he seems to be saying, is not what you believe but how you behave—how you put your beliefs into practice. For Hunter, Progressivism and Orthodoxy are polar opposites; for Krattenmaker, mirror images.

This focus on behavior instead of belief explains why Krattenmaker profiles whom he does. Mostly, he profiles community organizers (e.g., Kevin Palau), activists (e.g., Stephanie and Shoshon Tama-Sweet), artists (e.g., Tony Kriz, Dan Merchant), and writers (e.g., Gabe Lyons, David Kinnaman, Jonathan Merritt), though he does profile an ex-evangelist (Jim Henderson) and cites theologians (e.g., N. T. Wright, Paul Louis Metzger). What is missing from his presentation of next-generation Christians are church leaders, whose work includes matters of belief: conversion, spiritual formation, and all things related to building up Christian community, the Church.

On the one hand, this is understandable. The vast majority of evangelicals live the vast majority of their lives outside the church’s walls, and it is important to see how they do so. Specifically, it is important to see how their faith helps them to navigate in the sea of an increasingly secular culture, and do so with integrity.

On the other hand, Krattenmaker’s description of “the next generation of Christians” is tendentious precisely because he ignores the processes by which people become and remain evangelical. An almost-exclusive focus on what happens outside the church walls is as lopsided as an almost-exclusive focus on what happens inside them. Surely, one cannot describe the new breed of evangelicals without some attention to both!

Further, I am somewhat surprised that in a book that explicitly eschews a “we’re always right/you’re always wrong” mentality, Krattenmaker nevertheless can’t seem to find anything right with the religious Right. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: Krattenmaker has many good things to say about evangelicals, at least certain evangelicals, and at least to the extent that they’re cooperating with progressives on community issues or moderating their tone. By the same token, while he takes his fellow progressives to task for their tone, he never seriously questions their ideas.

Even with this criticisms in mind, however, I think reading The Evangelicals You Don’t Know is a valuable exercise, especially for evangelicals.

First, it is a useful reminder that orthodox theology and political conservatism are not necessarily identical. (I would add, of course, that they are not necessarily contradictory either.) If you believe that the GOP is “God’s Own Party” (or that Jesus would’ve registered as a Democrat), you’re engaging in anachronistic, self-serving, partisanship, not honest inquiry.

Second, and consequently, the book helps readers engage in self-criticism. Evangelicals have a bad reputation with non-Christians and need to understand why. Sometimes, the reputation arises from the unavoidable conflict of moral visions that James Davison Hunter described in Culture Wars. Other times, it arises from evangelicals being wrong about an issue, or from being self-righteous, hypocritical, uncaring jerks. Progressives also need to engage in self-criticism, as Krattenmaker points out, for they sometimes have the same “totalitarian” (his word) mentality that they critique in the religious Right. (And I would add that some of their ideas and policies are wrong or less than helpful.)

Third, the book points out that there are issues pertaining to the common good on which people of competing moral visions can nevertheless cooperate. For example, Kevin Palau (evangelical) and Sam Adams (former gay mayor of Portland, Oregon) were able to agree to cooperate in addressing the city’s homelessness problem. And even where evangelicals may not be able to cooperate, they may find that there is a better way to talk about the divisive issues. Here, the best example in the book is Jim Daly of Focus on the Family. While he and Krattenmaker don’t see eye to eye on issues relating to homosexuality, both realize that a kinder, gentler tone in the discussion is helpful.

Twenty-two years after the publication of Culture Wars, America is still riven by competing moral visions. Some of these conflicts are irresolvable, because they touch on core principles, on moral absolutes. But as The Evangelicals You Don’t Know suggests, there are situations where both sides can cooperate, and even when they disagree, they can always speak and act with civility and respect toward one another. Despite my criticisms of Krattenmaker’s book, I resonate with those suggestions.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘Dying Out Loud’ by Shawn Smucker


dyingoutloud Shawn Smucker, Dying Out Loud: The Story of a Silk Road Nomad (Springfield, MO: Influence Resources, 2013). $14.99, 256 pages.

In the fall of 2012, during the worship service at our church, my wife and I listened to a Christian young woman talk about her Turkish Muslim friends. “In Turkey,” she said, “I live among the people you call terrorists: anti-American, anti Christian, Muslim. I call them family.” Three weeks previously, her father had been diagnosed with stage-4 colon cancer. In response, this young woman said, “People all across the country [i.e., Turkey] have been taking to their mosques to pray for us, and this past Friday the imam of our local mosque led his entire congregation for my father.” Poignantly, she asked, “These are your terrorists?” No, she concluded; “These are God’s beloved, His chosen, His children…and my family.”

The young woman’s name is Elle. Dying Out Loud is the story of her parents, Stan and Ann, their call to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to people in Turkey, and how they make sense of that call when cancer puts a death sentence on Stan. It is engrossing reading, not only because of the human drama of living with (and dying from) cancer, but also because of the evident love and affection that the family has for the Turkish people.

What animates the entire story, however, is Stan and Ann’s desire to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Muslim people. This desire leads them to abandon a normal, middle class life for missionary work in Turkey. It motivates them to travel the ancient Silk Road through parts of Turkey that are dangerous for Turks, let alone for Westerners. And it allows them to interpret Stan’s illness as an open door for the gospel, an opportunity to show people who fear death how they can face it with peace and an assurance of salvation. As Stan puts it, “Sometimes works of sorrow, loss, and sacrifice speak louder than works of signs, wonders, and miracles.”

In our pluralistic age, many consider missionary work a provocation, especially in Muslim countries. The family shows both how to be true to your own Christian faith, even as you give and receive hospitality from people of another faith. Without compromising their Christian convictions and mission, the family makes friends of Muslims, receive their hospitality and prayers for health, and participate in the life of their community in Instanbul. When a local imam invites Stan to Friday prayers at the mosque, and suggests he can even pray to Jesus there, Stan takes him up on the opportunity, joining the men of his neighborhood weekly for prayer. Admittedly, this is not standard missiological practice, and I expect it will be the most controversial element of the book. As the Muslims all around him confess their faith in Allah and the prophet Muhammad, Stan prays to Jesus that he will open his neighbor’s hearts to the gospel.

The love of Jesus Christ for all people, especially Muslim people, pervades this book. In contrast to some American evangelicals, who demonize Muslims as inveterate jihadists, Dying Out Loud personalizes them. It shows that Muslims have the same hopes and fears as other people, and that they can be generous, hospitable friends. Most importantly, it shows that if Christians want to reach Muslims with the gospel, they must set aside negative stereotypes, embrace them, and live—and die—in plain view among them.

As of this writing, Stan is approaching death. When he dies, he will be prepared for burial by his Muslim friends and laid to rest along the Silk Road. May God use his life and death to spread the gospel of peace that only Jesus Christ can bring: peace with God, and peace with one another!

Full Disclosure: My wife and I are friends with the Stewards, especially their daughter Elle. I also work for the Assemblies of God, which is the parent company of Influence Resources. I do not work for Influence Resources, however.

Review of ‘Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics’ by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel


3997 Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel, eds., Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013). $24.00, 336 pages.

In contemporary America, many people describe themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” They are interested in God, prayer, and spiritual disciplines, but not in dogma or denomination. They are critical of religious people who, to them, seem concerned only with the finer points of doctrine and weekly attendance at a specific type of Christian church.

Evangelical Christians—including Pentecostals—need to listen to this critique, even as they disagree with it. The disagreement part is easy: Spirituality and religion cannot be separated so easily because what we believe and how we live are inseparable. The listening part is harder, however, because it involves recognition that many American churches—including, too often, our own—are spiritually dead. This deadness, which often manifests as persnickety dogmatism and denominational pride, in turn feeds the desire for a spirituality decoupled from organized religion.

Authentic renewal requires us to recouple religion and spirituality, faith and life, and doctrine, ecclesial communion, and vibrant experience. The 1978 publication of Richard J. Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline signaled the desire of many evangelicals to do precisely that. But given how Foster drew on spiritual classics from across Christian history, it also signaled the need for evangelicals to pay ecumenical attention to the best of what Christians have said and written about spirituality across the ages.

This poses a dilemma for evangelicals, however. As a movement, we are part of the “Great Tradition” of Christianity, which affirms the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, among a host of doctrines held in common. Within that tradition, however, we are critical of some of the doctrinal emphases and spiritual practices of our fellow traditioners. As Western Christians, aspects of our doctrine and spirituality are distinct from and stand in tension with those of Eastern, i.e., Orthodox, Christians. As Protestants, we are critical of aspects of Catholicism: e.g., papal authority, soteriology, Mariology, sacramentalism. As evangelical Protestants, we have our own disagreements with mainline Protestants. And within evangelicalism, we have running disagreements too: Arminianism vs. Calvinism, credobaptism vs. paedobaptism, Pentecostalism vs. cessationism.

How, then, can evangelical Christians appropriate the riches of the Christian tradition without compromising our own contributions to and critique of it?

Answering that question is the agenda of Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals, edited by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel. As the editors note in their Introduction, they have organized authors’ contributions around four themes: “why should spiritual classics be read, how should spiritual classics be read, what are these spiritual classics and who are the people behind them” (p. 11).

I will not review each of the chapters in the book, lest I simply recapitulate the book’s contents and make this review too long to be useful. However, by way of evaluation, I will say that I learned something from each chapter, found the book as a whole to be quite excellent, and was motivated—by reading it—not merely to read further in the spiritual classics but also to love God more, which is the ultimate and unifying point of all Christian spiritual classics.

Having said that, however, I will focus on Fred Sanders’s contribution, “Reading Spiritual Classics as Evangelical Protestants” (pp. 149–166), which directly addresses the dilemma I raised above. Sanders counsels evangelicals to read Christian spiritual classics with an “open but cautious” attitude (p. 149), what he later terms “principled eclecticism” (p. 160). This is nothing new, for as Sanders notes, “The evangelical book-recommending network is as old as evangelicalism itself; the evangelical movement seems to have been born in a flurry of literary recommendations” (pp. 151–152). This included not only Protestant, Puritan, and Pietist spiritual classics, but also classics from other Christian communions, such as the Puritans’ recommendation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s works on the Song of Songs, or John Wesley’s recommendation of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.

Sanders summarizes a specifically evangelical reading of Christian spiritual classics as being “for the gospel” (p. 150). Here’s his longer description:

We read widely in the classics, presupposing the gospel in the sense that we know what it is before we start reading, and we will recognize it when we come across it in a spiritual classic. We are guided by the gospel, so that we will immediately know when it is missing from what we are reading. We seek out the gospel, meaning that we read in such a way that can find the good news even when it is present in a fragmentary, disguised or distorted way. And we are jealous for the gospel, meaning that we cannot be satisfied by any disguised, distorted or otherwise deficient presentation of the gospel. If we are to go shopping in the spiritual classics with this kind of attitude of freedom and potential criticism, we had better be appropriately humble about how much we have to learn, but also appropriately bold about confessing that we know what an evangelical reading of the classics would look like (p. 160).

This humble-and-bold approach should characterize an evangelical reading not merely of Christian spiritual classics, but also our life as Christians more generally. We know what we know, but there is much that we don’t know and need to learn. Therefore we engage the Christian tradition—an the world more generally—in conversation, both listening and speaking, learning and teaching, so that the gospel may be experienced and lived out in ever-increasing measure.

Given the anti-historical stance of many of my fellow Pentecostals, who sometimes give the impression that the Spirit jumped over the centuries from the Day of Pentecost directly to Azusa Street, this humble boldness is a necessary lesson, even if hard to admit. But it must be learned if we are to affirm the truth of Scripture itself: “[the Father] will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth (John 14:16–17). As Pentecostals, to deny that we can learn from Christian spiritual classics is tantamount to denying that God kept his promise.

I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend Reading the Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals. In addition to 14 topical essays, it includes an extensive list of suggested readings, both primary readings of spiritual classics and secondary readings about them. My only complaint is that the two-page subject and author index is too short and woefully incomplete.

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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