Friday, August 31, 2012

The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes


This exposition of Isaiah 42:3 ("A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench . . .") is, I believe, Sibbes' best known work. It has been consistently praised by theologians and preachers I respect and seems to be very highly regarded by all who've read it.

Except me, apparently.

Honestly, I found it rather underwhelming. Maybe I've just heard it talked up too much; maybe my expectations were unreasonably high. Whatever the reason, this book was kind of a letdown for me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Duplicate Death, by Georgette Heyer


Murder! At a bridge party, no less! The cast of characters includes a barrister, a Lady, a secretary, a spoiled debutante, a Communist, a businessman, a ballet aficionado, a wealthy widow/parvenu, and a charming gentleman with no visible means of support. When one of them winds up strangled at during an evening of duplicate bridge, it's up to the brusque-but-intelligent Inspector Hemingway (with an assist from his Scottish assistant Grant) to figure out who done it!

Man, I forgot how fun Georgette Heyer books are!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke


An excerpt of a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
First of all, fiction is uniquely creative in a way that non-fiction simply is not. A good fiction writer does not just tell a story; he (or she) creates a world. When we engage in this activity of world-building, we reflect the image of God, who created our world. He made it up out of his own head (so to speak) and brought it into existence. [...] Even though they can never be ‘real’, these imagined worlds can sometimes have a greater effect on individuals than the ‘real’ world because they work from the inside out. They are directly implanted from the mind of the writer into the mind of the reader or viewer, and it is from there that any real-world effects emanate. Thus, by writing fiction we have an opportunity to share—albeit in a very small way—in the creative work of our Creator God. By writing fiction, we can (dimly) reflect the image of our imaginative God, and by reading fiction, we can appreciate this God-like quality in others.
Full review available here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, by Ruth Reichl


Food critic and chef Ruth Reichl traces her lifelong love affair with food, beginning with her mother's atrocious culinary creations during her childhood, through to her very first restaurant reviews out in California. The entertaining anecdotes are interspersed with recipes that have been particularly important to her over the years.

Reichl, a highly respected food writer, doesn't seem to have had any formal culinary education. Instead, her expertise is the result of varied experiences cobbled together over the years. She learns about apple dumplings and potato salad from her grandmother's maid. Her mother's housekeeper teaches her the secrets of Beef Wellington and wiener schnitzel. A school friend's father introduces her to souffle and fine cuisine, and a college roommate introduced her to several South American delicacies.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Anxious for Nothing: God's Cure for the Cares of Your Soul, by John MacArthur, Jr.


John MacArthur, Jr. (of Grace to You fame) offers biblical counsel for those struggling with anxiety, worry, and stress. The first few chapters are by far the strongest, but there's good counsel throughout.

In the opening chapter (by far my favorite in the book), MacArthur admonishes his readers to observe God's care for them. Using the Sermon on the Mount, points us to three reasons why believers should not worry: "It is unnecessary because of our Father" (He feeds His creatures and clothes the meadows in splendor, and besides, worry doesn't actually help), "it is uncharacteristic because of our faith" (by worrying we disbelieve Scripture and distrust God), and "it is unwise because of our future" (we need to live one day at a time and entrust the future to God). I found this theology of worry extremely helpful, particularly as MacArthur sums it up:
[W]orry is needless because of God's bounty, senseless because of God's promise, useless because of its impotence to do anything productive, and faithless because it is characteristic of unbelievers.

Friday, August 24, 2012

All Creatures Great and Small (Series 1)


A perfectly serviceable adaptation of James Herriot's beloved semi-autobiographical books.  The books themselves are highly episodic in nature, and so lend themselves to adaptation for television.  This first series of 13 hour long episodes starts off with young James, a recent veterinary school graduate, interviewing for a position with Siegfried Farnon, the local vet in the tiny Yorkshire town of Darrowby.  The show tracks his various escapades dealing with the local farmers and citizenry, as well as the challenges of working for Siegfried and dealing with Farnon the Younger, a young veterinary student by the name of Tristan (their mother was a big Wagner fan) with a penchant for late nights, good ale, and female company.  Mid-1930s Yorkshire style, as portrayed by the BBC, though, so no seedy stuff.  Just enough to cause the occasional comic hangover or to justify coaxing James to cover for him when romance (or a good pub visit) calls.

The show started filming in the late seventies, and it looks it.  Not the set design, mind you--that's pretty consistently 1930s.  But the film quality screams 1970s.  Lots of stationary cameras and rooms that feel like sets--that sort of thing.  On the other hand, near as I can figure, Christopher Timothy (who plays James) really does stick his arm up a cow on more than one occasion.  I would be very interested to know just how much of the veterinary work he performed was staged, and how much was, well, real (or real-ish).  It certainly looked real, and it's not like they had the technology (or the budget) to fake it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Masterpieces of Medieval Literature, by Timothy B. Shutt


A series of fourteen lectures covering, well, the literature of the Middle Ages. Starting with the 'Germanic North', then moving west to the Icelandic family sagas, then back to the more familiar land of the Anglo Saxons and the Celtic West and on to France, Shutt covers a broad range of literary genres and, obviously, geographic locations.  He's a solid lecturer, and his enthusiasm about the subject matter is contagious.

Literary heavyweights Chaucer and Dante get short shrift here; Shutt notes that they are significant enough to their own separate courses. And indeed, the Modern Scholar offers a course on each--Dante and His Divine Comedy (by Shutt) and Bard of the Middle Ages: The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (by Michael D.C. Drout, whose courses on science fiction literature and fantasy literature are definitely worth checking out).

Instead, Shutt focuses primarily on lesser-known works (to me anyway), many of which, as with the Icelandic sagas (vikings!) and epic poems of the Anglo Saxons, were written anonymously.  Not that it's all obscure stuff--there is an entire lecture devoted to Beowulf, and a thorough discussion of such important works as The Song of Roland, the tales that formed the basis for Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and, one of my personal favorites, the deeply weird and yet thoroughly awesome Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Aviary, by Kathleen O'Dell


An excerpt from a new review posted on Children's Books and Reviews:
Any story centered around an aviary should absolutely preserve the stately-yet-unsettling sensation that characterizes the best Gothic literature, and this book is no exception. The year is 1905, and the Dooleys (and Glendoveers) live in a gloriously decrepit mansion near Lockhaven Bay on the coast of Maine. There are rose gardens, and an aviary (obviously), and a cellar, and an attic, and a secret passageway (of sorts), and an opinionated cook, and a historical society, and a serious heart condition, and a family secret, and rumors, and a diary . . . the whole thing is chock full of Gothic mystery and period goodness. Even the pace of the book itself hearkens back to the calmer, slower stories of days gone by. Not that the story drags—not by a long shot. It sucks you in from the get-go and constantly pulls you forward, but at a more sedate pace that allows you to relish the journey in a way that modern heart-pounding, high-octane reads simply do not permit. 
The publishers compare this book to Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and they are right to do so—the feel here is very similar. The Aviary lacks the wild backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, but the Glendoveer Manor is very nearly vast enough (and mysterious enough) to make up the difference. [...] Throw in a pinch of the supernatural (Mrs. Glendoveer’s husband was a famous magician, don’t you know) and a healthy slug of long-forgotten—but never solved—mystery, and you’ve got the recipe for a pretty delicious little book. [...]
Full review available here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guidance and the Voice of God, by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne


The title of this book is both self-explanatory and slightly misleading.

Authors Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne do talk about the means God uses to guide His people.  However, this discussion does not take place until a good 75 pages into the book.  Before delving into the nuts and bolts of guidance, the authors take pains to convince their readers that God does in fact guide His people, that our ultimate destination is heaven, and that we have a responsibility to respond to God's 'will' (in this case, what God says about right and wrong) with genuine godly repentance and active faith.  If instead we ignore God's power over our lives, deny His goodness to us, or reject His ways, we sin.  So far, so good, but also so not an answer to the average reader who picks up a book with a title like Guidance and the Voice of God.

But eventually Part 2 rolls around, and the authors are ready to engage the question of how God guides His people.  To their way of thinking (and I agree with them), God's 'guidance' really refers to two different things:  God's work behind the scenes to bring about His sovereign will (which He doesn't necessarily reveal in advance) and God's call for our conscious cooperation in His will.  It is this second type of 'guidance' that so preoccupies modern Christians.  This is the crux of the matter.  What will Jensen and Payne say about the 'guidance' of the Holy Spirit?  Simply this:  God has spoken to us by His Son through His Spirit in the Bible.  The authors do not outright reject the possibility of extra-biblical guidance, but they note that such guidance is not promised, nor should we expect it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Orphan King (Merlin's Immortals #1), by Sigmund Brouwer


Thomas has had it up to here with the servant's life.  As low man on the abbey totem pole, he is little more than a slave to the corrupt monks.  And yet, until now, he has been content to bid his time, studying the secret books him mother left him and preparing for the destiny that awaits him.  And now, finally, it is time.  With the assistance of a lone knight, an impish young pickpocket, and a pretty deaf mute who is more than she seems, Thomas sets out to find and reclaim the mysterious and impregnable castle Magnus from the cruel Lord Mewburn.  But there are forces at work behind the scenes, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering Thomas's plans.  Who can he trust?  What is he to make of the dark tales his mother told him--tales of shadowy Druids and powerful Immortals?  And what of Thomas himself?  Is he on the side of right, or merely a tool in the hands of another?

This is, at its heart, a perfectly serviceable young adult novel.  At just over 200 pages, it's not too intimidating, and it's got plenty to draw in young readers:  Knights! Castles! Science masquerading as magic! Bandits!  Chivalry!  Disguises!  Dungeons!  Secret societies!  Hidden knowledge! And no fewer than two damsels in distress!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, by Rob Bell


An excerpt of a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Allow me to start by saying that I have a low tolerance for vaguely deep-sounding statements that don’t actually mean anything. The word ‘journey’ gives me hives. I get queasy when I read sentences like ‘Somewhere in you is the you whom you were meant to be.’ (And not just because I can’t help feeling like it should be ‘who’, not ‘whom.’) 
I suspect this means I am not Rob Bell’s ideal audience. 
Other indications that this book was perhaps not intended for people like me include the following: 
I don’t think that my direction in life should be determined by a quest for self-actualization. I most definitely think that ‘being true to oneself’ is a terrible reason to plant a church. I don’t think God chose me because He believed in me, or because He knew I ‘had it in me’. I do not believe God saw my unrealized potential and drafted me to His team. Nor do I believe that my sins are the result of my failure to believe in myself.
So yeah, I’m not really Bell’s kind of reader.
Full review available here.

[The original review appeared here in its entirety, and is now available at the above blog.]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Sword (Chiveis Trilogy #1), by Bryan M. Litfin


The unthinkable has finally happened.  The world as we know it has been destroyed by the one-two punch of a worldwide pandemic and nuclear war.  Much of the earth is uninhabitable, and the population has been decimated.  Yet hundreds of years after this 'apocalypse', there are still pockets of survivors attempting to rebuild their lives out of the rubble, albeit without the benefit of modern technology.  One such community is a pseudo-medieval kingdom known as Chiveis.  Nestled in the safety of an alpine valley, Chiveis is fairly prosperous--a state of affairs the people attribute to the power of their gods, Elzebul (god of dung), Vulcane (god of fire), Pon (god of the forest), and the almighty Astrebril (god of the sky).  The Chiveisians know nothing of the gods of the 'ancients', and the high priestess of Astrebril is determined to keep it that way.  After all, the gods of Chiveis are jealous and must not be upstaged by other gods--particularly the unknown 'God of the Cross'.  Such religious matters are of little interest to Captain Teofil of the royal guard (and part-time history professor/linguist), but when he crosses paths with the lovely and spirited farmer's daughter (and poet) Anastasia, the two of them are swept up in a quest that could cost them their lives . . . and just might change the kingdom forever.

While people disagree about who Jesus was (and is), it is my understanding that the influence of the Christian faith on what is known as the medieval period is unanimously acknowledged.  The Middle Ages were positively steeped in religion, and that religion was Christianity (or some variation thereof).  But what would the Middle Ages look like if the influence of Christianity were removed?  And how would the people react to the introduction of the 'God of the Cross'?  These are the questions that Wheaton professor Bryan Litfin, an expert in church history and the ancient and medieval periods, sets out to answer in the Chiveis Trilogy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sea of Grass, by Conrad Richter


In the late 1800s, the Southwestern United States was the domain of the cattle baron.  Herds of cattle roamed vast stretches of prairie; plump, like plump, four-legged fish in a sea of grass. That is, until farmers, or 'nesters', from the east swarm the plains, eager to carve up the expanse and try their hands at coaxing crops from the dry soil.  With rancher Jim Brewton on one side and ambitious blonde attorney Brice Chamberlain on the other, conflict seems inevitable. When Brewton marries a city girl from back east, the conflict between the two men takes on a new dimension, and future generations will feel the repercussions.

This is not a plot book.  I mean, some stuff happens, and there's, like, shootings and hangings and trials and (maybe) infidelity and plenty of shady behavior.  But that's not really the point.  Really, all that is just an excuse to meditate on the nature of the west and what it is and what it isn't.  Oh, and to point out that apparently being a selfish jerk is genetic.

When we first meet attorney Brice Chamberlain, he seems--for a moment--to be a man of the people, a man out for justice and on the side of right.  After all, he just wants to see that these farmers have a place to live and raise crops and pursue the American dream.  A real hero-type, you know?  Except, oh wait--they're in New Mexico, which means there's a legitimate question as to how much crop-raising the land will bear.  There's a reason it's a sea of grass and not a sea of shrubs and trees and lush undergrowth.  And sure enough, after [SPOILER] the farmers get their way, they get a few unusually wet seasons, produce some actual crops, and then promptly lose it all when the land resumes its normal arid state.  They went and plowed up the range for nothing, and, in the process, killed the one thing that actually did well there (the grass), so that essentially all that's left is dust and sand.  Way to go, farmers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jesus: The Only Way to God: Must You Hear the Gospel to Be Saved?, by John Piper


Baptist preacher and self-proclaimed Christian hedonist John Piper addresses the question of whether it is possible to be saved apart from Jesus.  (Hint: His answer is No.  Which, in an increasingly pluralistic society, is a deeply unpopular answer.)

In explaining his conclusion, Piper breaks the issue down into three separate-but-related questions:
  1. Will anyone experience eternal, conscious torment under God's wrath? 
  2. Is the work of Jesus necessary for salvation?
  3. Is conscious faith in Jesus necessary for salvation?  
The first section, as you might expect, is a defense of the doctrine of hell--a doctrine that's made people uneasy for centuries, but which was recently brought to the forefront of the public consciousness by Rob Bell's recent (and controversial) book, Love Wins.  This was, in my opinion, the strongest section in the book.  Piper does an excellent job of identifying the abundance of scriptural support for the orthodox view of hell.  In Piper's view, a clear understanding of this doctrine is a necessary and foundational catalyst for missions.

The second section addresses the pluralistic claim that there are many ways to God.  Piper emphatically insists that the atoning work of Christ is "the one and only way for anyone to get right with God." There is, as you can imagine, a substantial amount of scriptural support for this position as well.  Again, Piper uses his conclusion as a springboard for passionate commitment to missions and the spread of the gospel.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Disciplines of the Christian Life, by Eric Liddell


A book(let) on developing the devotional life, by well-known runner and missionary Eric Liddell.  Yes, the Chariots of Fire guy.

Liddell is best known for two things:  refusing to run on a Sunday in the 1924 Paris Olympics, and for moving to China to be a missionary.  His willingness to obey his conscience at great cost to himself is admirable, and should be noted (and emulated) by modern Christians, myself included, who are far too willing to compromise conscience for the save of preserving or attaining comfort.  Not that I myself think it's sinful to run a race on Sunday, but I applaud his willingness to comply with the mandates of his own conscience and hope I would be willing to do the same.

It's not all that surprising, then, that this book concentrates so vigorously on the importance of obedience, almost to the exclusion of the gospel.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, a brief summary of the book.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Discovering God's Will, by Sinclair Ferguson


Reformed theologian (and Scot!) Sinclair Ferguson addresses the perpetually au-courant obsession with, well, discovering God's will.  Published in 1982, this little volume (125 pages) pre-dates most of the popular books on the subject (you can tell by the refreshingly nonexistent subtitle).  Or at least it pre-dates most of the ones I've heard of.  Ferguson's position is somewhere between Phillip Cary's Good News for Anxious Christians and Dallas Willard's Hearing God, and in the vicinity of DeYoung's Just Do Something.  Which is to say he focuses primarily on the Word of God and is an advocate of Christian liberty and responsible decision-making, but doesn't seem to be quite so dismissive of the idea of being 'guided by the Spirit.'

The book is loosely based around the 23rd Psalm--'he leadeth me beside the still waters' and through the valley and all that.  The structure is a bit haphazard; the chapters read more like stand-alone articles than chapters in a single, unified work.  Fortunately, Ferguson is a better writer than many of the preacher/authors in the Reformed scene, so the piecemeal nature of the work doesn't detract overmuch from the substance.

Ferguson starts out by centering the discussion:  God's ultimate purpose is His own glory.  Thus, any quest for His will turns on the question 'Will this glorify God?' Ferguson doesn't pretend that this question will provide the answer for all of life's dilemmas, but it's absolutely foundational to the issue of 'God's will.'  From there, Ferguson reminds us that God is also working to make us like His son, and that, as in the life of Christ, this will likely involve a path through suffering to glory.  I found this section both convicting and instructive.  When I 'obsess' over God's will, how often am I genuinely seeking His glory and embracing His plan to bring me to glory through suffering?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, by Paul David Tripp


Counselor and pastor Paul David Tripp provides gospel-focused counsel for married couples and encourages them to adjust their expectations of marriage based on the reality of sin and the glorious message of the gospel, which marriage was designed to represent.

This is quite possibly the best marriage book I have read to date (though I have not yet read Tim Keller's much-lauded The Meaning of Marriage).  Where other books bog themselves down in chummy language and depressing exhortations to physical intimacy, Tripp zeroes in on the heart of the matter:  we are sinful, selfish people, and our relationships are profoundly affected by our sin.  Certainly this selfishness can work itself out in a number of contexts--laziness, a refusal to do chores, hurtful words, poor communication, lack of encouragement, nagging, decreased sexual intimacy, packed schedules, impatience, and even infidelity, just to name a few--but the root issues are remarkably similar.  Tripp walks the reader through a series of commitments that will help protect your marriage and will better image Christ's union with His church.  And these are not "have date night once a week" commitments--they go a lot deeper.  Here's the list:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jackson: The Iron-Willed Commander, by Paul Vickery (The Generals)


A biography of the controversial Andrew Jackson.  As you might expect from a book in a series called The Generals, the author focuses primarily on Jackson's military adventures, particularly his encounters with the Creeks, the Seminoles, and the British.

Allow me to start off by saying that I know nothing about Andrew Jackson beyond what I read about him in a Cracked article (here's another one, though for those new to Cracked, a heads up: much profanity is contained therein).  Now, having read this book, I know more--why Jackson is called 'Old Hickory', that he really for real loved his wife, that apparently you can bully illness into submission using the power of the will, and that if you were fighting against Jackson, you were pretty much hosed.  This goes for his opponents in military engagements and the ones he dueled.  Apparently, he dueled a lot.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

From the Corner of His Eye, by Dean Koontz


On one momentous day, a woman loses her husband and gains a child. Another woman loses a sister and gains a daughter.  A man murders his wife and is almost immediately--and inexplicably--haunted by a name without a face: Bartholomew.  But just who is Bartholomew?  And what is his connection to the other families?  How are all these disparate lives connected to one another?  Could there be some purpose behind the tragedy and violence and injustice and pain that has plagued them?

This is an incredibly difficult book to describe.  There is no single story arc that can be summed up in a few words ("A man is unjustly accused of his wife's murder and must clear his name before it's too late"; "The prince must rescue the princess from the dragon before the witch's spell turns them both to frogs"; etc.)  Instead of a single plot arc, it is a story about people--about families, whether bound by blood or merely shared experience and love.

There are bushels of interesting theological and philosophical concepts lurking in the background of this story: life born of death, love growing in the shadow of violence, the possibility of alternate realities and parallel dimensions, the power of fate, sowing and reaping, life after death, and even some vague understanding of a benevolent and sovereign being working through all life's twists and turns.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Church Discipline: How the Church Protects the Name of Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman


A straightforward and practical defense of and guidebook for church discipline.  Leeman sets out the scriptural basis for church discipline, as viewed through the lens of the gospel.  Church discipline, according to Leeman, has nothing to do with vindictiveness, revenge, or even punishment.  It is, rather, action taken from a position of genuine love and affection, in the hope that it will be a catalyst for repentance in the life of a loved one--and it is action taken to protect the name of Christ from those who would, by their unrepentant sin, drag that name in the mud and by their actions speak lies about a holy God.

Once he has established the importance of church discipline, he offers guidance for church leaders and pastors who wish to implement church discipline but aren't really sure how.  He includes a collection of case studies--sanitized examples of disciplinary issues that have come up in his church or others, as well as a discussion of how the leaders proceeded in each case and how they reached that decision.  These examples range from the straightforward (adultery and abandonment of spouse) to complex (divisiveness by a faithfully attending non-member), and Leeman offers excellent insights into each situation. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Total Recall (2012)


An excerpt of a review posted on Schaeffer's Ghost:
Let’s start with the basics: This is a fun movie.  Yes, Colin Farrell spends the bulk of the movie blundering about with a bewildered look on his face.  Fortunately, Farrell does bewildered extremely well, and his wide-eyed innocence and natural charisma endear him to the audience from the get-go.  Kate Beckinsdale has apparently not aged a day since Underworld, and it turns out she makes a far better villainness than a rom-com queen.  The screening audience reacted audibly every time she burst into a scene, hot on the trail of our leading man and ready to beat him to a bloody pulp.  Which she did quite believably on more than one occasion (take notes, Angelina Jolie in Salt).  Jessica Biel was sweet enough, but was ultimately a rather uninspired choice as the mysterious ‘dream woman’.  Bryan Cranston appears to have a gift for villainy, and Bill Nighy is utterly wasted on an unfortunate bit of speechifying.
 Full review available here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

As Silver Refined: Answers to Life's Disappointments, by Kay Arthur


Well known author and speaker Kay Arthur addresses the role of hardship, suffering, and disappointment in the life of the Christian.  The book is centered around what Arthur calls the "Deadly D's": distraction, deception, disappointment, discouragement, dejection, despair, and demoralization.  These Deadly D's are used by the enemy and experienced by Christians on a daily basis.  Arthur encourages her readers to engage the enemy in the battleground of the mind, taking every thought captive and using the inspired Word of God to defend against attacks, whatever their source.  She reminds us that all things work together for the Christian's benefit--even hard things.  Hence the image of refined silver--a precious substance that has been purified by fire, time and time again.

Allow me to start of by saying that I'm not the best person to judge a book like this.  Just as an unmarried person may not know which books on marriage are the best, or those without kids aren't in the best position to judge the many parenting manuals, I am not all that qualified to evaluate this book.  I have not experienced much in the way of true hardship, and what little I have experienced has been largely the result of my own sin.  So there hasn't been a lot of opportunity for the "Why, God? Why?" internal struggle which is so painful to those living through horrific circumstances and facing heartbreaking (or life-threatening) difficulties.  Not that I don't complain (I do) or yell at God (I do) or struggle to understand His ways in the midst of setbacks (I sooo do).  It's just that while others are dealing with cancer-level disappointments, I'm whining about a papercut.  You get the idea.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, by Richard Foster


Richard Foster, best known for his largely excellent Celebration of Discipline, walks the reader through 21 different types of prayer, including biblical examples and practical guidance.  Each section closes with a written prayer that allows the reader to apply the lessons of the preceding chapter.

I have to say, I was pretty disappointed in this book.  With 21 chapters, covering 21 different types of prayer, Foster was unable to address any one 'category' of prayer at length.  And it's tough to read 21 short chapters on different kinds of prayer and emerge with an in-depth understanding of any of them.  Plus I have to admit, I'm not sure I buy that there are 21 different kinds of prayer.  That's . . . a lot.

Foster himself is a bit of a funny animal, theologically speaking.  Not that he doesn't believe the gospel--it appears from this book (and others) that he does.  He does not dwell on it as extensible or as repeatedly as I would like, but he does mention it at least.  My theological questions about Foster stem more from his sources.

As always, he makes liberal use of quotes by various well-known (and more obscure) thinkers and writers--this book boasts quotes by C.H. Spurgeon, Thomas a Kempis, Martin Luther, Saint Teresa of Avila, John Calvin, Bonaventure, Saint Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, A.W. Tozer, Saint Benedict, Madame Guyon, Saint Jerome, John Chrysostom, Soren Kierkegaard, Juliana of Norwich, Richard Baxter, C.S. Lewis, Sue Monk Kidd, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and John Woolman, as well as a number of Roman Catholic saints and monks.  With a source list like that, I'm not really sure what Foster's specific beliefs are, other than a notable affection for Christian mysticism.  Honestly, by the time I got to quotes by Spurgeon and Calvin, I felt like Foster was just pandering--quoting someone for everyone in an attempt to make his points more persuasive.  Which I admit may be a bit unfair.  I just didn't get the impression that Foster necessarily agrees with the bulk of Calvin or Spurgeon or Luther's theology, so his use of their quotes felt a bit . . . off.  Then again, it may be that he was simply trying to establish that across time and space, Christians have largely agreed about prayer.

Aside from the varied sources, I was simply not impressed by the content.  YMMV, of course, but I don't think there's much here.

(Full disclosure:  Normally, this is the part of the review where I suggest an alternative--another, better book on prayer.  Sadly, I've yet to find such a book.  I've read a bevy of them lately and have yet to be impressed or really aided by any of them.  If and when I do find one (there has to be one, right?), I will let you know.)