Review of “The Love of God: A Canonical Model” by John C. Peckham


After reading this book, I already want to read Peckham’s other book coming out in just about a month (Canonical Theology – published by Eerdmans). It looks like in his NEXT book, Peckham will explain the process of how he did what he did in THIS book (Perhaps working similarly to how G.K. Beale’s later handbook accompanied his earlier commentary?). For this potential alone I’ll buy Peckham’s next book because I was quite literally astonished by what he was able to do in this one.

I bought this book for mostly one reason: I am trying to figure out how to adequately summarize the nature of God’s love, in human language. This has turned out to be a bit more difficult for me than I had initially anticipated. (Perhaps I was over estimating myself just a tad? :) But seriously, specifically, I’ve been wondering if God’s love should be described as “unconditional love.” Notice, I’m not asking, “Is God’s love often described as unconditional?” because of course, it is. Virtually all Christians I know (and most Christian scholars as well) speak of God’s love as “unconditional”. Actually, we [Christians] don’t just describe God’s love as unconditional, we celebrate God’s love as unconditional. I want to know if that is proper, or not.

For reasons far too lengthy for this blog post, I’ve been a bit hesitant to speak of God’s love as an “unconditional love.” Unfortunately, “unconditional love” just doesn’t seem to adequately or even truly describe the love of God that I see in Scripture. Certainly, in Scripture we see some aspects of unconditionality as God relates to the world, but God’s love never seems to stop there. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that I rarely see anyone making any nuances or objections to our current vernacular. Which makes me feel like maybe I’m on to something, but most likely, makes me wonder if I’m just being crazy. So, I bought this book hoping to receive some more clarity on the issue. Or at the least, figure out how to even begin to briefly articulate my hesitation in a way that actually makes sense.

As it turns out, lots of people besides me have nuanced the terminology (gee, who woulda thunk it!), but I just hadn’t ever heard of these people before! Until now. This book was immensely helpful for me because Peckham not only delineates the two major “thought camps” within Christiandom on this issue (“transcendent-voluntarist model” & the “immanent-experientialist model”) but also offers a new model: the “fore-conditional-reciprocal model” since he also [like myself, as I found out] is not happy with either of the two previous options.

Peckham argues thoroughly, to say the least. One of the reasons I loved this book was for the simple fact that on a lot of the pages, the footnotes take up the most room! For someone as unknowingly un-initated as me, I needed every.single.footnote. On virtually every page, Peckham explains his explanations and he tirelessly shows his work. It isn’t surprising then that this was published by IVP Academic. I showed my wife one of the pages, and she almost puked! Needless to say: this book is not for everyone. But for those of us for whom it IS for, it’s like PURE GOLD! I must have said, “wow” to myself a few hundred times as I was reading this book. Is it so shameful to admit the information took my breathe away on numerous occasions? :)

While I didn’t agree with everything, this was the MOST intellectually stimulating book I’ve read in a long time. In a way I SO appreciated, this book was challenging to get through. Every 20 minutes I felt like I was in over my head, barely treading water, but I didn’t give up and the perseverance paid off. I now have in my hands what-to-me is the most comprehensively-true articulation of the nature of God’s love I’ve ever read. But maybe even more significantly than that, I was truly inspired by the carefulness of his process. I can’t wait to read more in his next book about how he does what he does.

I could really say so much about what I learned but I’ll stick to my favorite: Peckham introduced to me a new term for God’s love: Not conditional, or even unconditional, but FORE-CONDITIONAL! Reading it for the first time: I was like, WHAAAT???? You can do that?! And yes, yes you can. As Peckham puts it,

“Divine love is prior to all other love and offered to creatures prior to any conditions but not exclusive of conditions. Divine love in relation to the world is unconditional with respect to God’s volition, but conditional with respect to the ongoing God-world relationship” (66).

As Peckham notes in his 30-page chapter on this topic later on, both of the other models posit God’s love as “unconditional” although they speak of “unconditionality” in different terms (191). However, Peckham persuasively shows how God’s love relationship with the world is not dependent on God’s will alone, but it takes into account human disposition and action. After all, God’s love in Scripture is often portrayed as evaluative, and can even be forfeited (Hosea 9:15; Jer. 11:15; 12:8; 14:10; 16:5; Psalm 89:49; Romans 11:22, etc.). However, God’s love remains unmerited and is primarily initiative – it comes before we could or would “do” anything. Thus, Peckham believes there are both conditional and unconditional aspects within the nature of God’s love. He sees as most illustrative of this dynamic the passage from Psalm 103:17:

Divine love is “from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.” (Page 211)

While I think I still have some quibbles with how Peckham talks about God as God relates to Himself (as I found out by reading this book, I’m not in sync with Peckham who seems to subscribe to the the voluntarist camp who believes God wills His own life and attributes in absolute freedom), I nonetheless found most everything else he said concerning God’s relationship to the world to be pretty much convincing. So, at the least, I now have a (previously unknown) term for God’s love I can now use that feels mostly true: “FORE-CONDITIONAL“! YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Another score for the home team. For that nugget alone, this book was worth the money and way more. What a treasure!

Review of “Growing Young” by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin


This book is “good stuff!” I would recommend it to my friends who are trying to develop a balanced ministry – a ministry that meaningfully includes young people.

To be honest, My least favorite part of the book was the title. GROWING YOUNG. Really? The title felt all-too-generic, or, cliche. And thus, in my mind, the book was potentially dangerous – especially if the information inside was just more-of-the-same. I felt worse when I caught the sub-title, “6 essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church.” Of course, the thought of FINALLY discovering the 6 ESSENTIAL STRATEGIES(!!!!!) to draw in the youth of my church initially sends a thrill up my back. But as I know all-too-well, rarely do these dramatic and exciting “equations” work out for the best for most of us. Why? Well…

Most books with these kinds of titles are superficial-at-best (or superfluous – can’t figure out which descriptor to use); usually highly specific to a geographical region or type of ministry, and these kinds of books end up generalizing virtually everything. In my experience, most books in this genre read like, “HEY EVERYBODY, I DID SOMETHING THAT WORKS, AND SO YOU ALLLLLLLLL SHOULD DO THAT EXACT SAME THING. YAYYYYY!!!!! OH YEAH, I ALMOST FORGOT TO MENTION: YOUR FIRST STEP TOWARDS SUCCESS IS BUYING *MY* BOOK” Actually, I get angry that most of these books sell! (Like, seriously, who actually takes this stuff hook line and sinker?!) Even worse, I’ve seen friends (fellow youth pastors) get all excited about an idea or the newest “essential strategy” (after all, who has time to read books WITHOUT dramatic titles when you are a youth pastor, right?) only to, in-the-end, confuse a lot of people in the church, try that “new style” for a few months, then go back to the same-ol-same-ol because really, that “essential strategy” isn’t all that essential for everyone, and especially for the long-term growth of real human people. 

Thus, if not for having previously read the authors (who are the veritable and trusted experts in this area), I would not have been interested in the book. Thankfully, I’ve seen what these authors have done in the past, (and it was good), so I figured I’d go with them again. And, once again, they’ve produced a very helpful, balanced piece. The book is unlike almost everything like it. I liked this book for so many reasons, I’ll list just a few:

  • Chapter 1 is a concise-yet-packed summary of the most up-to-date demographic research on young people. About 6 months ago, I spent 6 months reading the source materials on all this. After reading this chapter, I kinda wish I would have just read this book, and saved myself those 6 months! The authors hit the most important stuff that we should know, showing us that “It might feel like the sky is falling, but there is hope” (20). Ah, the voice of reason, (comprehensive) research and balance!?! Amazing! It CAN be done! So refreshing to find all 3 components in a BOOK of this genre, let alone in just the first chapter!
  • Chapter 2 is filled-to-the-brim with very helpful analogies. While I’m still fairly new as a full-time pastor, I am learning how important analogies are. I could give my congregation a 10 minute lecture on why the most recent research backs up my methodology. Or, I could give them an analogy. Analogy works better 100% of the time. The thing is, it’s difficult to find and then articulate analogies that are not only representative, and clear, but also true. But somehow, this book is chock-full of good ones! To me, it is representative of deep reflection and knowledge of the subject. In fact, I’ve already discussed with my youth team the authors’ analogy of keychain leadership (57-58) as it concisely describes different leadership structures and allows the reader to discern which one is more preferable for their own context. Did you catch that? Their analogies force the reader to use discernment (Mirriam-Webster definition of discernment for any reader unfamiliar with the concept): Another feature rarely seen in similar books.
  • Chapter 5 was my favorite chapter. As far as I’m concerned, there are more great, practical ideas in these 33 pages than in any other chapter of any other book of this type. Their “warm vs. cool” is soooo good. You have to read it to see what I mean.
  • Lastly, scattered throughout the book are these little gray boxes that seem to clarify and add to what the authors are saying. So many of them are just really, really well done. Like, little snippets on a topic. They are short but somehow never redundant and always enlightening. A few of them are pictured below:


I’m so glad I read this book. You should too… You won’t be disappointed.

*Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied*

A Review of Thomas H. McCall’s Book, “An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology”


I was mostly disappointed in this book. While I liked the brevity (only 180 pages long), this book felt less like an invitation, more of a defense: An attempt at taking analytic theology out of the closet and arguing why it should be out in the public for all to see. Of course, I’m not opposed to that agenda. But I have my reservations, and McCall didn’t really address them. Nor did I see what at all was distinctive about his work. More than anything else, this book felt to me like a simple repeat of what is already out there on the subject.

I suppose if someone is just now barely getting into the field, this book would work fairly well. If someone is asking, “What in the world IS analytic theology?” then this book is probably the book to read. McCall does a very good job describing the uniquenesses of “analytic theology” as well as a defense against some of its’ main objections. This was probably the highlight for me. McCall does well in expanding Michael Rea’s original description in the book, Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology (2009), Fleshing out how exactly analytic theology is properly analytic, and how it is intended to be properly theology. Since in Rea’s book there was *only* 80 pages of of a “defense of analytic theology” it makes sense McCall would further clarify. Which he does. Over, and over, and over again.

But, I didn’t feel like McCall got much further than that. Reading Rea’s book was a much more substantive task than reading McCall’s book, to say the least. Rea’s book showed just how creative analytic theology can be, and challenging in all the right ways. Not so much here. Much of McCall’s book was dedicated to mini “case studies” which were fairly illuminating to how analytic theology can further the theological task, but essentially felt like simple, little, snapshots. Colorful, but not at all panoramic.

My reservations about the potential of this task for the sake of the church remains: How can/does this field of study truly serve the church? I’m still trying to be convinced. I’m looking for examples. I was prepared to finally believe(!) since Chapter 4 is titled, “Theology for the Church and for the World.” I thought, finally, someone will show how this can be the case! But I was sorely disappointed. All McCall does in this chapter is clarify a few key terms in the debates between Creationism vs. Evolutionism and the doctrine of original sin. Sure, that can be somewhat helpful tangentially, but if I’m interested in those subjects, or my church is, then, assuredly I’ve got better resources to go to than those few glosses on a subject.

With the few pages left in the chapter, McCall gives us a few general recommendations “toward broader horizons in analytic theology” and “toward a global analytic theology” but he never really talked about the church, per say. Again I ask: HOW IS ANALYTIC THEOLOGY ABLE TO SERVE THE CHURCH? (When I say “Church” I’m talking about actual churches! Not a standard, theoretical idea of grouped theological statements of which certain people might purposefully/accidentally “represent” – I’m thinking of those Holy-Spirit-inspired gatherings of the most unlikely people who are at the least, weekly focused on the Gospel). Can analytic theology serve real churches in real time? To me: this is a very basic question. McCall did say that further work within analytic theology needs to be done in the area of ecclesiology, but that is a far thing from showing how analytic theology actually serves the church.

When analytic theologians say “analytic theology serves the church”, what they seem to be meaning is that analytic theology can help us to properly retrieve our history, analyze our traditions, enhance our doctrinal conversations, and clarify our terms. Sure, this is all well and good. But hardly any of the people in my church (maybe none: including me) could actually follow the analytic conversations as they are as the analytic theologians currently do just that. Let alone would most congregants I know be asking the same questions analytic theologians are asking – since most congregants aren’t theologians, nor are they analytic!

Further, I’m not quite convinced it’s even possible to faithfully exegete Scripture from the pulpit in an analytic mode. This makes me all the more skeptical of its usefulness for me, personally. If I did preach analytically (or even lead a Bible study in this way), I would lose people like crazy – even though I aced all my logic courses in college. But hear me out: I’m not saying I don’t ever analyze Scripture with and even for God’s people, but I’m saying I don’t do it in the way analytic theologians do it with each other. So far, this is on purpose. I mean, I know what it means to be analytic, but most people in the pew don’t like that sort of thing! I’ll let you guess how many people would fall asleep if in a sermon or Bible study I said, “let’s assume we have P1 (then explained), then P2 (then explained), then P3,” and so on. My hunch is that as people arrive on Sunday morning or Monday nights, they aren’t hoping to hear analytic theology which helps them to sort out all their analytic quandaries! They are trying to figure out life – which ends up seeming much more of a complicated and important thing.

So, yes, analytic theology can maybe help the church’s theologians, and maybe even the academic pastors as they think and write about their own Christian traditions. But the statement that analytic theology serves the church? That still needs to be shown. I haven’t even been able to tell if it can help the people I know (or even minimally, me) on either Sundays or throughout the week as we live our real lives in real time with each other.

On page 177, McCall tells us that analytic theology “must face up to its pastoral responsibility” which he means to say that this work should be done “with appropriate sensitivity to the depth of affective issues in theology.” I agree. I’m just disappointed that I’m still having to wait to see this happen. I’m not looking for analytic theologians to give me more good Biblical theology, or systematic theology, or even public theology here – I’m looking for some more good practical theology to be used by church people. Can analytic theology give some? If not, I remain unimpressed. Let’s get on with THAT task, instead of spilling another few hundred pages on analytic definitions and analytic defenses. Let’s do some good ol’ practical analytic doxology, shall we, if there is such a thing?!


Why I’ve always wanted to read a book like Luc Ferry’s “A Brief History of Thought”


One of my majors in college was “Philosophy.” However, it may as well have been called, “Religious Studies” or “Philosophy of Religion” because the overwhelming majority of courses I took for the major were in the “religious studies” category. Not like the title of my BA degree really matters for much, or as if anyone cares about the nuances, but I’m just saying. At the time, I wasn’t complaining. This is just the way I wanted it to be because I was more interested in how different religions relate to each other than do philosophers. At the time, religion just seemed a bit more pertinent.

But getting what I wanted back then meant I wouldn’t have enough time to do a thorough job of learning the overall “history of philosophy” as we know it. In fact, none of my undergrad philosophy courses ever provided me an overall trajectory of the tradition. The closest I got to this was an absolutely phenomenal upper-level literary theory course I took in my senior year (ironically, not required for my philosophy major, but for my english major). Dr. Lorri Nandrea rocked. my. world. My eyes were opened to how complex “language” and “interpreting” and the “history of reading” is. It was a truly monumental moment for me in my learning. Ever since, I’ve wanted a similar experience of learning as it relates to the history of philosophy. But I just never made it happen. I’ve been too intrigued by other subjects, until now.

I am now doing some readings on my own in the history of philosophy, and one of the books I recently picked up was Luc Ferry’s, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. I absolutely loved it, and I would highly recommend it to anyone vaguely interested in the topic. Why did I love it?

Well, the book stems from a chat Luc had over a supper on holiday, where some of Luc’s friends asked him to improvise a philosophy course for adults and children alike. He decided to accept the challenge, and came to relish it. As he says,

“The exercise forced me to stick to essentials – no complicated words, no learned quotations and no references to obscure theories. As I worked through my account of the history of ideas, without access to a library, it occurred to me that there is nothing comparable in print. There are many histories of philosophy, of course; some are excellent, but even the best ones are a little dry for someone who has left university behind, and certainly for those yet to enter a university. And the rest of us are not particularly concerned.”

In this book, Ferry has done a marvelous job preserving the impromptu style. It is addressed to the nonacademic, yet Ferry has somehow managed to avoid simplification. Dude, I wanna know how you do that?! Clarity was his main responsibility, and in my mind, he delivered! I find that inspiring, especially from a philosopher! I’m still trying to learn that trick myself. Not only was this an easy-to-understand history of philosophy summation, it was for me a shining example of exemplar pedagogy.

So, there’s lots I could say about this handy little piece. But, I’ll keep it simple: I liked this book because after reading it, I was able to chart the entire history of philosophy on a page! This is a picture of it which was scribbled on the back page of the book (all mistakes are assuredly mine!)

2016-08-31 15.44.18

Granted, it isn’t nuanced. It isn’t “thick.” But it is clear, simple, and easy for even me to understand! It’s a straightforward picture of the whole story. I love it. Ferry’s was a great resource for me as I begin to think about history in a whole new way. Philosophy, I’m comin-back-atcha!


How Craig G. Bartholomew’s “Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics” Can Affect Our Scriptural Reading/Preaching


I love Craig G. Bartholomew’s description of Scripture as that “field in which is hid the pearl of great price” (5). Scripture is a treasure-filled-trove since in its’ authority it “adequately renders Jesus Christ and thus God to us” (8).  If that is true, then WE (both academics and ordinary Christian readers) should learn how to plow the ground, together and even for one another. That is, our goal in reading Scripture is nothing less than cultivating a communal “obedient attention to God’s address through his Word” (12).  A proper hermeneutic will allow the reader to really catch God’s address, to facilitate true, real communion with God. This reading, its not a game. It’s a chance to encounter the God of the universe. So, how should we do it? Enter: The Task of Hermeneutics!

Chapter Two gives us a good start. Titled “Listening and Biblical Interpretation,” it was my favorite chapter of the entire book. Bartholomew believes our approach to Bible reading should be described more than anything else as fundamentally a kind of surrendera way of listening. Bartholomew’s “philosophy of listening” includes reminding us that before we can attempt to analyze this text-of-beauty, we must first “LISTEN!” as the imperative sema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 instructs. What is primary is our embrace of sustained humility. Our respectful listening. Our trembling, open receptivity. The vocative “Israel” in Deuteronomy 6:4 alerts us to the fact that God’s Word is addressed primarily not to individuals, but “to his gathered people” (33). This means listening doesn’t just include my own ear, it includes all of us hearing with our ears, together. Of course, analysis of the Bible has a vital place, but only after our acknowledgment of God’s presence. After all, “How can one answer without listening?” (31) We need  to slow down, we need to be in the presence of one another, and we need God’s Spirit BEFORE we can even BEGIN to think about properly understanding what God’s Word is saying to us.

This has implications for preaching. A preacher shouldn’t simply illumine (much less “analyze”) what a congregation doesn’t already know, although certainly this is part. Preaching is more: It is primarily to “enable us to encounter again and again the living God who has come to us in Christ” (35). Here we are looking for what Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones also looked for, “preaching that ushers us into the presence of God” or as John Stott asserted, “what we need in our pulpits is truth on fire.” Karl Barth notes that since this encounter can only be created by God himself, our hermeneutic must always be pneumatic and prayerful since it is the delight of the Spirit to use the Word to bring us to God. If we read and preach this way, then the hearing of God’s Word allows us to take possession and apply in our hearts that which God ALONE has for His people.

An illustration: This hermeneutic process, this attentive, contemplative stance with Scripture is much like taking a hard candy into one’s mouth and slowly letting it circulate as one’s tongue explores its surface (41). This is a distinctive clarification. Bartholomew notes that “In my library, as I glance through major books on theological interpretation and biblical hermeneutics, it is rare even to find a reference to prayer in their indexes” (43). How sad!

Bartholomew returns to the subject of preaching in part 5, in pages 487-585. Chapter 14 (pages 487-522) includes an example of what this can look like if the book of Hebrews were the focus, and chapter 15 (pages 523-585) highlights the primacy of preaching – as well as its’ main challenge today: application. His question is one I ask myself in particular ways almost every week: “How does one preach a biblical text for all it’s worth so as to allow its full force to address a contemporary congregation?” (535) How can a sermon amount to “Christ walking amid his people and addressing them“? (537) If we want Scripture to act as a “spectacle” of reality (Calvin), then Bartholomew reminds us to seek wisdom, to utilize prayer, practice lectio divina, and to rejoice in the wounds of our work so we can be formed more like Christ as we ingest the words of Christ in our hearts. This allows us in our reading and preaching of God’s word – to bless the whole world! To joyfully and boldly proclaim God’s whole truth, to the whole of God’s creation! As Psalm 19 reminds us, this world is “drenched with God’s speech” (33) – so why not join the choir? We should and can gift to others through our reading and preaching not just a “church-view” but a truly comprehensive, Trinitarian “world-view.”

Granted, this proposed contemplative stance, this pneumatic hermeneutic, this comprehensive world-view… it is meant to be a learned, informed one. In-between chapters 2 & chapters 14-15 lie some 400 encyclopedic pages of “history of hermeneutics” as it relates to philosophy, history, literature, theology, and even the university. All of it was helpful for me. We become better readers of Scripture when we learn how other giants have read it before us. But more than anything else, what will stick with me from this book is the importance of surrenderlisteningpraying. slowing down. meditating. trusting. gazing… after all, what I’m looking at in Scripture is “The field in which is hid the pearl of great price.” I may-as-well slow down and stay awhile.


Why Would You (or Anyone) Read a Hermeneutics Textbook?

AT Hermeneutics Pic

If you were a normal person and you heard I was currently reading Anthony C. Thiselton’s Hermeneutics: An Introduction, you would ask, “Why?” You might wonder “Is Mike’s life so sad?” “Is Mike’s life THAT boring?” “Doesn’t he have ANYTHING better to do with his time?” “Is Mike trying to be dull on purpose, or is this just an unfortunate accident – a sort of early mid-life crisis?” These would all be good questions. I ask them to myself. But of course, I’m not bored, I’m not sad, and I’m happy to spend a few hours here and there in these pages. But, “Why?” I like the way Thiselton answers on pages 5-7 of his book:

  1. Reading hermeneutics teaches us the importance of listening to a text on its own terms, rather than rushing in with premature assumptions or making the text fit in with prior concepts and expectations they may have.
  2. Many find that hermeneutics, by virtue of its multidisciplinary nature, provides an integrating dimension to their theological and religious studies. If previously there had seemed to be little connection between biblical studies and fundamental philosophical problems, or between New Testament studies and the history of Christian thought, all these different areas and methods of approach came together in hermeneutics as coherent, joined up, interrelated factors in the process of understanding texts.
  3. Reading hermeneutics produces habits of respect for, and more sympathetic understanding of views and arguments that at first seem alien or unacceptable. Hermeneutics seeks to establish bridges between opposing viewpoints. This does NOT necessitate GIVING GROUND to the other view, but sympathetically to understand the diverse motivations and journeys that have led in the first place to each respective view or argument.
  4. Hermeneutics helps to explain two types of phenomena. On one side hermeneutics shows that “understanding” can be a slow process in which disclosure of the truth can take many years. Understanding is not an on/off event in which we expect belief always to happen suddenly. Some take many years fully to come to faith. Yet it is equally otherwise with others. Some experience understanding dramatically and suddenly, as if scales fell from their eyes. Both means, however, are equally in accord with what it is to understand. To understand understanding helps people to see that both ways of belief are to be expected. 

Review of The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. By Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press, 2015)


On the first page of the introduction Jonathan makes a striking claim:

“I am convinced that the most important thing most of us can do to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.”

As we know all too well, “as participants in a mobile culture, our default is to move” (5). This is especially true in America where we are “grasping for something to anchor our lives in a sea of constant change…like children stumbling off a merry-go-round” (10). I’ll admit the picture of a merry-go-round is a good description of what some of my own years of life have felt like. But Jonathan believes there is a better way. Instead of constant movement, he wants us to see stability as a gift (14) and as a divine invitation from God (21). Jonathan believes we should not only yearn for stability. We should practice it so that “God’s house becomes our home” (17). If we don’t, then we remain restlessness. This is problematic because our restlessness causes us to not only always search for new community, but we also aren’t ever able to settle down wherever we end up.

The author knows we will be skeptical. We’ll ask,

“What difference does it make for me to try to stay somewhere and find community? Commit yourself to a place and you will watch it change before your eyes. Promise yourself to a church or a neighborhood and its people will move on. Stability will begin to sound like wishful thinking, especially when we feel burned by people who decide to move on.” (22)

I admit. I’ve felt this way at times, and I’ve only just recently committed to stability in a particular place (Central Massachusetts), and a specific church (Holden Chapel). Sometimes the commitment to yearning; searching for; loving, and creating stability can feel overwhelming. And sometimes, I wonder if it is worth it. Sometimes I become skeptical. And my first instinct is to run. leave. get out. After all, that’s what SO MANY PEOPLE AROUND ME DO. But maybe, just maybe, what I am running from is not all those other broken people or that broken community or that “insufficient church.” Perhaps what I am actually running from, is myself.

“Someone asked Abba Antony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ After encouraging the pilgrim to keep God before his eyes and pattern his life after the Scriptures, Antony added, ‘In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.’ Another of the desert fathers advised similarly, ‘If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you‘” (35).

I needed to read this book. As a typical (idealistic) millennial, I am eager to follow Jesus anywhere, “so long as I don’t have to stay put” (39). But perhaps I need to reorient my appointment book. After all, “The same power that healed you can sustain a life of faithfulness right where you are” (39). I need to learn to “unlearn the habits of a culture that tells us the answer to our problems is always somewhere else” (40). I needed to hear the stories of real people practicing real stability:

Don lived for years in the Chicago area…He told me, ‘I’ve given up my spiritual journey.’ I could tell from his smile that he had a point to make, so I asked what he meant. ‘Well, you know, we Christians talk a lot about our spiritual journeys. We get excited about experiences and go places looking for the next spiritual high. We say God called us here, then God calls us there. But it’s all so individualistic. It’s all so focused on little ‘lessons’ or ‘insights’ that we’re supposed to take with us to the next place.

Don paused and looked around…I think I’m learning…that God can change us if we’ll settle down in one place. So I’ve given up my spiritual journey. I’m going to just stay with God here and see how I can grow” (47).

I think this lesson is one of the most difficult ones for my generation to learn. But we must. I must. After all,

“Without roots of love, we easily become slaves to our own desires, using the place where we happen to be as a staging ground for our ambitions and manipulating the people around us so they might serve our objectives” (83).

The practice of stability, then is an exercise in putting down roots. God help us. God, help me!

The house was built in ’98,

prior to my arrival.

And a big maple tree at the corner of the porch

was run over and buried lots of times by wagons

moving in materials to build the house.

And the other maples what Daddy had planted,

they had no trouble at all.

But they all died and this one lived that had such rough treatment.

And there’s a saying

“Rough weather makes good timber.”

It may be

that the trouble with folks today

is that they’re raised like hothouse flowers,

and they don’t have much to go on

at the end.

(From page 106)