Rob Bell fights every impulse in our culture to domesticate Jesus, reminding
readers that Christians do not believe in Christianity; they believe in
the Christ who wants to "draw all people" to himself.
I talk a lot about prayer in my life, and you may talk a good deal about
prayer in yours. But let’s be honest: we’re pretty lousy at praying, at
least in the fullest sense of the term. I don’t mean this as an
indictment of some rich spirituality that is in us. Our prayer lives are
just so far from what they could be.
In one of the most famous sermons ever delivered, John Donne described the challenge of retaining concentration during prayer. The year was 1626. The occasion was the funeral sermon for Sir William Cockayne.
When a child is ignoring basic responsibilities, parents rely on a well-known parenting technique to make a point. Mom looks her ten-year-old in the eye while holding a toothpaste tube in one hand and the cap in the other. “This is called toothpaste,” she says, “and this is called a cap. They go together.” The Lord God is not beyond impatience and remedial instruction when people need a reminder about neglected responsibilities. God held a basket of ripened summer fruit beneath Amos’s nose and said, “Amos, what do you see here?” The prophet, sensing that God was serious, didn’t bother joking. “A basket of summer fruit,” he replied. With that brief exchange, strangely similar to a parent remedially instructing a child, the doors opened to a flood of divine wrath.
You can tell a lot about people by what they hang on their walls. If
it’s someone with an office, it gets even more interesting. In my office
at the church I serve, I do not have any diplomas hanging. No awards.
No trophies or medals either—not that I ever won any. Not even my
ordination certificate is on the wall.
Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, by Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans). Peterson remains the wisest person I know when it comes to understanding the pastoral life and gaining a pastoral heart.
The day after Christmas holds many possibilities for pastors, most of them involving the word rest. I do not typically book office hours on this day. Four years ago proved to be an exception. Bob and Linda called on Christmas Day, requesting an appointment.
What book would you recommend to someone eager to learn more about Christianity, someone who is just coming alive to the faith and to the power of the community of faith—the church—and who is full of questions about these matters?
Religion possesses unbelievable power. It can offer meaning, shape culture and transform lives in the best of ways. But when something possesses the power to perform good, it can also contain the power to do harm.
The absence of community surrounds us in a daily way—in our neighborhoods, our work lives and the anguish of our own souls. The scarcity of community wreaks havoc below the surface of outwardly busy lives. From the ethos of economic life to the chatter of talk radio, our society is busy promoting the appetites and fantasies of the individual more than it encourages investment in the larger aspirations of a community.
When I needed a childhood photograph for an upcoming staff retreat, I climbed up to the attic to forage among the boxes. There I found my earliest photo album, and in it a picture from my second year of life. Applesauce must have been on the menu that day. Whether it was the applesauce itself or the person feeding it to me one spoonful at a time, something led me to doze off. I fell asleep in the high chair and suddenly, “Click.” Instant photo-op. As a youngster, I used to think that was the funniest picture in the book.
Few things are more complicated than trying to erect a new monument in the heart of Washington, D.C., but on September 9, 1997, a gigantic crane cut through all of the red tape encircling Judiciary Square and lowered a four-ton sculpture to its permanent cement base. What made this particular installation remarkable was the biblical symbolism of the sculpture’s design. Titled “Guns into Plowshares,” this 16-foot-high steel plow blade consists of 3,000 handguns welded together to form the distinctive shape of the well-known farm implement. Artist Esther Augsburger and her son worked for two and a half years with the Metro Police Department. They molded handguns that had been surrendered by local residents.
When war or national crisis sets our hearts churning, people normally accustomed to taking their cues from the daily news suddenly discover that Pentagon briefings, op-ed pieces and Oval Office updates provide little consolation for their deep spiritual distress. They turn to the one source they believe might have a spiritually significant word to utter—the church. And well they should.
When George called to ask for help with his grandson’s funeral, I didn’t hesitate. I’d do anything for the man. George is a gentle soul, born with an impulse for counting others first. When he’s not helping his wife shuffle through her daily maze of Alzheimer’s, he’s at the hospital, sitting with hurting people for hours on end. I’ve seen his patience.
I am not a pastor, but a pilgrim, septic with doubt." With this disclaimer, Philip Yancey embarks on another quest to tell the truth about the Christian life "without overselling it." He succeeds brilliantly, in no small part because he interprets the intricacies of his own faith journey so well. The language of journey saturates these pages.
Most books on the parables of Jesus seem to slice away at the biblical text. They parse sentences until a parable's plot crumbles into fragments, or they so domesticate the narratives that they become little more than helpful hints for daily living. If a writer isn't careful, even the best biblical exegesis can render a parable lifeless.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.