Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Reviews (Page 3 of 7)

Book review: Stars Beneath Us by Paul Wallace

StarsToday I have the privilege of reviewing Stars Beneath Us: Finding God in the Evolving Cosmos by Paul Wallace.

Stars Beneath Us is a book about science and faith. Its author, Paul Wallace, is uniquely positioned to write such a book: as well as being a lecturer in physics and astronomy and the holder of a PhD in experimental nuclear physics, he has an MDiv and is an ordained Baptist minister. (For me, the opportunity to read a book about faith by an astrophysicist was just too good to pass up!)

Depending on what else you’ve read about science and faith, you might jump to the conclusion that Stars Beneath Us will, at the very least, seek to squeeze faith into a science-shaped mould or vice versa. Such a conclusion could not be more mistaken. At a time when battle lines are still being drawn by those at either end of the debate, the need for wise, balanced voices is greater than ever. Wallace is one such voice.

Drawing on his own experience of falling away from a form a form of religion that held too rigidly to essentially mediaeval theological categories, only to later return to a more mature and nuanced faith, Wallace does not attempt to explain either science or faith or to reconcile their apparent differences. Rather, he endeavours to create a space in which science and faith can coexist and be held in tension without either one having to be compromised or sacrificed for the sake of the other.

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Author interview: Alan Molineaux, Sea and Islands

Sea & IslandsA little while ago, an online acquaintance named Alan Molineaux announced that he was publishing his first book, titled Sea and Islands: A Search for Evangelical Morphodoxy. I thought it sounded interesting so I approached Alan and he kindly sent me a review copy. As I have occasionally done before, rather than writing a straight review I thought it would be interesting to interview Alan to find out a bit more about the motivation behind the book and its message.

Alan lives in West Yorkshire, where he leads a church as well as running a management training business. He previously worked in the electronics industry and has an M.A. in Pastoral Theology.

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Alan, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions about yourself and your book. First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your spiritual journey?

I became a Christian in a Pentecostal church in Manchester, England at the age of fifteen. Having originally trained in electronics, my wife and I planted a church in Norfolk in 1993. Shortly afterwards I began studying for an M.A. in Pastoral Theology. Following something of a personal crisis, we moved to Yorkshire and I returned to business management. It wasn’t long before the urge to plant a church gripped us again and we started a small congregation in Bingley, West Yorkshire in 2008.

During all of this, we have travelled from some of the certainties of Pentecostalism to a wider appreciation of church history and practice.

What would you say is the single most valuable lesson you’ve learnt in all your years in church leadership?

Don’t be so consumed with a vision that you lose your essential self. Many of the leadership events we went to during our early time of ministry massaged our need to “succeed”. Larger churches were presented as the gold standard and we were encouraged to “enlarge our tents” without being fully aware of the cost that might be paid by ourselves and others.

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Book review: Coming Clean by Seth Haines

Coming CleanThe best way I can introduce Coming Clean: A Story of Faith to you is to share the opening paragraph from its foreword:

This is a book about alcohol; you can practically smell the gin coming off the pages, the lime, hear the ice clinking, the crack of the new bottle opening. But it’s not a book about alcohol. It’s about whatever thing you use to cover over the pain—sex, food, shopping, perfectionism, cleaning, drugs—whatever you hold out like an armor to protect yourself instead of allowing yourself and your broken heart to be fully seen and fully tended to by God.

If you don’t consider yourself an addict, you might find these opening lines something of a turn-off. Given the cultural baggage that tends to be associated with the idea of addiction, most of us work hard to keep such labels at a safe distance. But the truth is that we’re all addicts at some level. As psychologist and spiritual counsellor Gerald May put it, “To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” (in Addiction and Grace, New York: HarperOne, 1988). Seth Haines, the author of Coming Clean, goes on to explain:

Read this less as a book about alcoholism and more as one about the pains and salves common to every life. My alcoholism is not the thing, see. Neither is your eating disorder, your greed disorder, or your sex addiction. Your sin is not the thing. The thing is under the sin. The thing is the pain. Sin management without redemption of life’s pain is a losing proposition.

Coming Clean is essentially the very personal story of Haines’s journey from denial and self-medication towards healing and wholeness. It is a story of childhood faith and grown-up questions; it is a story of doubt and faith, of darkness and light, of fear and hope. It is not, at bottom, a book about alcohol or substance abuse; rather, it is about how we deal with (or fail to deal with) the trials and struggles life often sends our way. And it is, above all, about how freedom and healing is found in forgiveness – of ourselves, of others, and maybe even of God.

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Book review – Water to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd

51YtM9q6qqL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I don’t mind saying that Brian Zahnd has been an important voice in my journey over the past few years. I listened to pretty much every one of his sermons over a period of around two years, as well as reading his previous books A Farewell To Mars (review here) and Beauty Will Save The World, both of which are highly recommended.

As well as the fact that he is simply a great communicator, able to present eternal truths in a most accessible manner, what makes Brian such an important voice – and a voice with which so many resonate – is his journey. A pastor and church founder since his early twenties and at one time the leader of one of America’s twenty fastest growing churches, in the early 2000s he experienced a crisis when it became clear to him that so much of the culturally conditioned Word of Faith stream of Christianity in which he had previously swum was, in his words, “a paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude”. He embarked on an audacious journey of rediscovering the deep and ancient roots of his faith – a journey that would bring him much heartache as many longstanding members abandoned the church, but one that would ultimately lead him into deep and satisfying waters and utterly reinvigorate his faith. Water to Wine is the story of that journey.

At just over a hundred pages, Water to Wine is not a difficult read, and Brian’s easy and engaging style ensures that no one should find it hard going. The structure is simple: starting from the spiritual crisis he experienced in 2003, Brian walks us through the key steps that led him to a broader, deeper and richer faith. Being a personal story, this is a book in which the author makes himself vulnerable, exposing the various doubts and fears encountered along the way. But the great strength of Water to Wine is that Brian uses various points along his journey as teaching opportunities. These are presented not as dry and dogmatic pieces of dogma, but rather as oases where we can stop, breathe, reflect and drink deeply as Brian shares the unfolding understanding into which his journey led him.

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Book review: Stanley Hauerwas, The Work of Theology

Work of TheologyI’m not honestly sure how well known Stanley Hauerwas is here in the UK. He has been referred to as America’s most celebrated living theologian, and has also been described as “one of the world’s most influential living theologians”. Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke University, and during his illustrious career has penned well over 40 books.

I am mainly aware of Hauerwas because I have a good number of theologically minded American friends. I have The Hauerwas Reader on my shelf and dip into it from time to time, but up to now had not read any substantive work of his from cover to cover. (I had read his Cross-Shattered Christ, but that is a devotional rather than a scholarly work of theology.) Being something of an armchair theologian, when I saw that he had a new book coming out titled The Work of Theology, I was keen to read it to see what useful lessons I could learn from Hauerwas’s long and esteemed career as a theologian and public intellectual.

I suppose I expected this book – just from its title – to be some kind of treatise or gathered reflection on what theology is. On one level, I was disappointed, because the book is a lot more complex than that. But on another level, I was very satisfied: it does indeed act as a kind of survey or primer of theology – what it is, why it matters, and what the theological state of affairs is in the world today – just not in the format I expected.

To structure the rest of this brief review, I’ll describe The Work of Theology using three adjectives: academic, referential and practical.

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Book review: Eve by Wm. Paul Young

EveToday I’m delighted to be reviewing the latest offering from Wm. Paul Young, titled Eve.

Young shot to fame in 2007 after a book he wrote for his children was picked up by a publisher and became a multi-million-dollar bestseller. That book, of course, was The Shack, now in production as a motion picture. He also published a second book, Crossroads, in 2013, which I have not read.

The Shack is a book that has both enjoyed success and stoked controversy. Many have hailed it a transformative masterpiece for its creative reworking of common misconceptions about the nature and character of God, while others have condemned it as at the very least playing fast and loose with scripture, and at worst embracing outright heresy. (For myself, I found it very helpful in my own journey towards a deeper, richer understanding of God and my faith.) I suspect Eve may meet a similar response.

Eve is a novel, but beyond that it is difficult to categorise. In it, fiction meets both science fantasy and biblical (re-)interpretation. The surface-level story begins with main character Lilly Fields washed up in a shipping container on the shores of a mysterious island somewhere between our world and the next. There are strong hints at a background as a victim of abuse and trafficking – a highly topical subject that is guaranteed to resonate with many readers. While on the island, as well as encountering a number of strange and quirky characters, Lilly will undergo a physical and emotional healing process that will see her witness the Bible’s creation narratives brought to life before her very eyes. Indeed, her own eventual psychological and emotional healing is rooted in the fresh understanding of God and his relationship to his children that she gains from these experiences.

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Book review: Questions Are The Answer by David Hayward

Hayward questionsToday I’m delighted to be reviewing the brand new offering by David Hayward, Questions Are The Answer: Nakedpastor and the Search for Understanding.

[Apologies for the lack of recent posts: I’ve been on holiday. (North Americans, that means vacation.)]

Anyone who’s been around the “Christian internet” for any length of time will know David Hayward as the (in)famous Naked Pastor, who styles himself a “graffiti artist on the walls of religion” and has been posting irreverent but piercingly insightful cartoons on a near-daily basis since 2006. While Questions Are The Answer is not his first book, it is surely his most personal and widely accessible writing to date.

In short, the book recounts Hayward’s story from childhood dreams of pastoral ministry through to his current status as unofficial agent provocateur and commentator on all things related to western religion and its shortcomings.

At the core of this book, as its title indicates, is the idea of paradox: Hayward sets out to show that, while much of the Western evangelical church is unrelentingly engaged in hot pursuit of dogmatic certainty, the real satisfaction is, in fact, to be found in the very questions that stimulate uncertainty and prevent crystallised certainty. The genius of the book is that Hayward accomplishes his task not by setting out an apologetic or series of arguments, but by simply and honestly telling his own story. As we read about his childhood and teenage passions, his on-off love affair with more than one church community, his theological studies, and his processing of all this with wife and close friends, we feel not threatened but rather privileged to have a disarmingly real and vulnerable insight into one person’s spiritual development.

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