Category Archives: Books and Articles

More Ready Than You Realize by Brian McLaren

Brian McLaren seems to stir up controversy in conservative evangelical circles.  I have never thought of myself as being particularly “liberal” in my theology.  However, since my teens, I have never felt comfortable holding strong and inflexible opinions on matters theological; at least those that fall outside of the group of truths that I considered essential to my faith in Jesus Christ.  Among these was the essential belief that Jesus was the Son of God and because of his sacrificial love for me, my only hope for restoration of a relationship with God. 

I am not a trained theologian so I guess that might account for some of my reticence to hold strong opinions on theological issues too.

When I come across criticism of McLaren’s books, I realize that I am probably not half as conservative as I thought.  Most of what I have read of them rings true in my experience and is consistent with what I have come to believe. 

I have just finished reading More Ready Than You Realize and I like what he says in this book about evangelism.  Spiritual friendships are the ways God will use us to introduce others to Christ and help them along the way.  McLaren also believes that it is in the context of a Christian community that people we have befriended will come to experience the fullness of a relationship with Jesus.  And so we need to make room for new comers, new seekers, for those part way along the road to faith.  What they see us modeling should be the motivation for them desiring to belong to Christ and to the community of faith.

 Sometimes belonging must precede believing…
Motivation by exclusion says something like this: We’re on the inside but you’re on the outside.  We’re right, and you’re wrong.  If you want to come inside, then you need to be right.  So, just believe right, think right, speak right, and act right, and we’ll let you in.. 

we need to move beyond motivation by exclusion.  Our motivation by acceptance will say something like this: We are a community bound together and energized by faith, love, and commitment to Jesus Christ Even though you don’t yet share that faith, love, and commitment, you are most welcome to be with us, to belong here, to experience what we are about.  Then, if you are attracted and persuaded by what you see, you’ll want to set down roots here long term.  And even if you don’t, you’ll always be a friend.

     This approach is more in sync with Jesus’ own example.  He was criticized for being a “friend of sinner” – in other words he welcomed and accepted people who did not yet “believe right, think right, speak right, and act right.”  But he knew something we need to know:  if people can belong long enough to observe how God is alive among us, if they can belong long enough to see whatever good exists in our lives as individuals and as a community, they can come to believe.”(p84, 85)

It used to worry me that there had to be some definite point of conversion or it wasn’t genuine somehow.  Experience has taught me otherwise.  I think there are both gradual and sudden forms of recognition that Christ is real, is alive and is God.  Both are valid.  It is pretty rare to meet someone who has had a conversion experience outside of the nurturing of a Christian friend or community.  And I think that is what this book is all about – opening our eyes to the fact that we need to cultivate these spiritual friendships that will bring others into Christ’s kingdom and encouraging us to get out there and start doing it.





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More from Yancey

Christians best influence the world by sacrificial love, the most effective way truly to change the world.  Parents express love by staying up all night with their sick children, working two jobs to pay school expenses, sacrificing their own desires for the sake of their children’s.  And every person who follows Jesus learns a similar pattern.  God’s kingdom gives itself away, in love, for that is precisely what God did for us.
…No one can grasp how to be a parent by reading books before the birth of a child.  You learn the role by doing a thousand mundane acts: calling the doctor during illness, preparing for the first day of school, playing catch in the backyard, consoling hurts and defusing tantrums.  A spiritual parent goes through the same process.  In the end, Jesus’ prediction – “Whoever loses his life will preserve it” – proves true, for the downward surrender leads upward. (p 245,246 Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, Zondervan, 2000)


Somehow I know this is true.  But experience tells me this is also a good way to get hurt.  It seems as if in the process of learning to love you give parts of yourself away – maybe you could say that you make investments into the other person with pieces of yourself.  And there are no guarantees that the investment will pay off in your lifetime.  But the surrender of yourself to the child or the other person must be done.  It is the way we were shown by Jesus and really there is no other way.  That is just how love is.

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Reaching For The Invisible God

Maybe I just like Yancey’s style of writing but I think it is more than that.  He has written some books that have spoken profoundly to my situation.  This book is one that for me right now was just what I needed to read.  And now I have finished it.  I find myself flipping back to reread some pages where he said just what I needed to hear.

Sometimes I find myself yearning for the glorious self-indulgence of infancy, when the world revolved around me, when a whimper or a cry brought attention, when others met my needs with no effort on my part.  Sometimes I look back, too, on an early stage in my spiritual pilgrimage when God seemed close and faith seemed easy and irrefutable – a stage before testing and disappointment, a stage before weaning.  And then at church or in the supermarket I come across a  baby, helpless, immobile, with little comprehension, and I realize anew the wisdom of creation that presses us on toward maturity, our growth fueled by a diet of solid food, not milk.

While I still bear the scars of growing pains, I am learning to identify and avoid some seductions of childish faith:  unrealistic expectations, legalism, and unhealthy dependance.

Several times I have alluded to the danger of unrealistic expectations.  A child must, at some point, learn to accept the world as it is rather than as he or she wants it to be.  “It’s not fair!”  the foot-stamping lament of a child, mellows into “Life is not fair,”  the wisdom of adulthood.  People vary in beauty, family background, athletic skill, intelligence, health,and wealth, and anyone who expects perfect fairness in this world will end up bitterly disappointed.  Likewise, a Christian who expects God to solve all family problems, heal all diseases, and thwart baldness, graying, wrinkling, presbyopia, osteoporosis, senility and the other effects of aging is pursuing childish magic, not mature religion. (p 215)

The above quote is from Reaching For The Invisible God by Philip Yancey, Zondervan, 2000. 

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Can You Drink the Cup ?

I just finished reading Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen.  It took reading it all the way through before I understood just what he was writing about right from the very beginning – drinking the cup of life.  We can choose to drink deeply, drink all that life gives us right to the bottom of our cups, living to the full the joys and sorrows that we find in it, savouring the taste of this life given to us by God, or we can struggle to drink it, never appreciating it’s taste; wishing we had some other drink.  Maybe it was for me one of those epiphanies where the light bulb finally switches on. Maybe I, at last, was able to hear God teaching me this in the silence. 

In one of the final chapters,To The Bottom, Nouwen talks about three disciplines that help us to drink our cup of life; our cup of salvation “all the way to the bottom.”  He says,”Living a complete life is drinking our cup until it is empty, trusting that God will fill it with everlasting life.”  The disciplines he speaks about will help us to “fully appropriate and internalize our joys and sorrows and find in them our unique way to spiritual freedom.”

The discipline of silence is where we face who we really are and “claim ourselves as a gift from God.”  Nouwen says that at first in the silence we may hear dark noisy voices that accuse us and make us want to run back to the things that distract us – our busyness.  But if we stay in the silence, those noisy voices will fade and we will begin to hear the “softer, gentler voices of the light.”

The second discipline he speaks about is the “discipline of the word”.  He says, “As long as we live our deepest truth in secret, isolated from a community of love, its burden is too heavy to carry.”  He goes on to say, “When we dare to speak from the depths of our heart to the friends God gives us, we will gradually find new freedom within us and new courage to live our own sorrows and joys to the full.  When we truly believe that we have nothing to hide from God, we need to have people around us who represent God for us and to whom we can reveal ourselves with complete trust… Nothing will give us so much strength as being fully known and fully loved by fellow human beings in the Name of God.”

This is a truth I am beginning to learn.  I am learning to trust the friends God has given me and as we share our struggles in life they become more bearable.  And as we share our joys, we are all blessed.  I don’t think God ever intended for us to live the Christian spiritual life alone.

The third discipline is action.  The world around us urges us to do things.  Being busy can distract us.  Nouwen says that we have things we want to do that may distract us from doing what we are called to do.   Being “committed to God’s will and not our own” will help us to discover that we don’t have to do everything that we see needing to be done.

This really seemed to help me understand some of the struggles I’ve had lately.   “In a world that encourages us to avoid the real life issues, these disciplines ask for concentrated effort. But if we keep choosing silence, a circle of trusting friends to speak with, and actions that flow from our call, we are in fact drinking our cup, bit by bit, to the bottom.  The sorrows of our lives will no longer paralyze us, nor will our joys make us lose perspective.” 

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Well I am not very often one to recommend a movie, but…

Leo and I just finished watching Wit.  Thanks to Becky’s recommentdation.  And many thanks too.  It was a great movie.  Not the kind that leaves you feeling all happy and euphoric but great in a seriously good sort of way.  There is a lot to learn from watching it.  It ought to be recommended to all medical students for sure.

Very heavy on Donne’s poetry.  That is good in my opinion too but some I’m sure would find it pretty heavy;  both the poetry and the silences. 

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I do not have this version of the Bible but with all the controversy, I am thinking that it may be the version to get this year.  I actually linked to this page via Bob Smietana.  Even more interesting – I found a site; a journal of sorts I guess, called the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  My, oh my! 

I remember the old days – the days when the King James Version was the correct version.  In fact when I was growing up it was about the only version.  Oh, yeah, there was the RSV – but it was sort of suspect.  Then the floodgates were opened and before you knew it there were all sorts of translations.  Some of them actually were understandable and still kept enough of the poetry to be nice sounding as well.  I don’t know if nice sounding is the highest criteria for a book that is meant to change our lives.  But if it helps it to be readable that is good. 

But all this gender stuff!  I don’t get too bent out of shape about being called part of mankind.  But I don’t get all bent out of shape about mankind being called people or the human race or whatever term is used.  If worries me a lot more to find that people will pigeonhole men and women into certain gender roles as if those are the only ones that God intended.  Using gender explicit terms in any version of the Bible should not be justification for imposing certain roles as being the “Christian” way to behave. 

Well, that’s my opinion anyway.  But I am not some big name Christian so it is unlikely that anyone cares. 

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I am slowly reading through Yancey’s book Reaching for the Invisible God.  In a section from chapter 5 on trust he quotes C.S.Lewis.  Lewis is speaking of trust and using examples of a child or of an animal that we ask to trust us in order to help them overcome an obstacle or painful or dangerous situation.

We are asking them to believe that what is painful will relieve their pain and that what looks dangerous is their only safety.  We ask them to accept apparent impossibilities: that moving the paw farther back into the trap is the way to get out – that hurting the finger very much more will stop the finger hurting – that water which is obviously permeable will resist and support the body – that holding onto the only support within reach is not the way to avoid sinking – that to go higher and onto a more exposed ledge is the way not to fall.  (p. 68)

I guess we should expect that God will take us to places like that too.  He sees the whole picture and knows what is best for us to do.  It all looks so scary from our perspective. That kind of trust is so hard to learn. 

I guess if we don’t trust God then we only have ourselves.  I know that I put all sorts of defense mechanisms into place that are not very good for me or the people around me – like sarcasm or cutting others down to size when I am feeling threatened.  Ignoring problems in the hopes that they will go away on their own is one of my favorite solutions.  None of these are very healthy.  I think God wants us to face issues in ways that are healthy, even if not easy; ways that may seem painful or dangerous.  He has never said that we have to do this all on our own, however.  I guess our doing life on our own is just a childish idea of self sufficiency that we would be better off giving up.

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