Chrysostom’s Devil: Demons, the Will, and Virtue in Patristic Soteriology

Ok. Of all the books that I’ve gotten and all the books I’ve read, I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as excited as I was to get this book. When I went back to school to finish my undergraduate education, on a whim I took Introduction to Spiritual Formation. The professor of that class was Dr Samantha L Miller. Over time I took more classes with her and she introduced me to “new” ways of thinking about my faith as I learned Church history and Patristic theology. Once I learned that she had a book coming out I knew I needed to get it for review. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good time to read it. So it sat on my shelf for a year until now, as it is the book I am reviewing this month. Chrysostom’s Devil was published by InterVarsity Press on March 17, 2020, and is part of the New Explorations in Theology series. Miller seeks to teach John Chrysostom’s theology, especially reguarding his demonology and soteriology and finishes by showing just how relevant this late 4th century theologian is to us today. I did my best to approach this book as I do others, but I quickly found myself feeling like I was back in the classroom.

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Shaped By Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home

I think we can all agree that 2020 was one heck of a year. Many of us had to deal with loss and suffering whether that be lifestyle changes, loss of job, or the death of family and/or friends. 2021 hasn’t started out any better with the capital riots, and the strained transition of power between Presidents. As I was looking over my bookshelf, trying to determine what books I wanted to read for this blog, one caught my eye that seemed to be a good resource for the year we just had. Shaped by Suffering: How Temporary Hardships Prepare Us for Our Eternal Home by Kenneth Boa with Jenny Abel was published, rather timely, in February of 2020 by InterVarsity Press, and completes a trilogy of books on cultivating an eternal perspective. Boa and Abel essentially take on the age-old-question, in this book, “How can a good God allow suffering?” By looking at the epistle 1 Peter, they suggest that God uses our suffering for our spiritual formation to make us more like Christ.

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The Bible Tells Me So…: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

The Bible Tells Me So (book cover)

A few month’s ago, my step father handed me a book and asked me to read it. I’m always super apprehensive about taking books from people because I never know what I’m getting myself into. For the most part, I prefer to know a little more about a book than simply someone suggesting it to me. So, I figured my step father couldn’t be too bad, plus I was curious about the kind of material he was reading. He was definitely curious about my opinion as well. I took it, partially reluctantly and partially out of curiousity. That book was The Bible Tells Me So…: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns, published by HarperOne on September 15, 2015. Enns is the Abram S Clemens Professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University and host of a podcast called The Bible for Normal People. While this book has been out for a few years, it certainly has many good thoughts and considerations that people need to take into account while reading the Bible.

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Approaching the Atonement: The Reconciling Work of Christ

Back in April, when I decided that it was time to return to blogging, I figured the best way to start was to reach for a book for review. My eyes traveled across my bookshelf and fell upon the word “atonement.” I’m sure this was due to the fact that we had just celebrated Easter. Even so, the minimalist cover and the theological nature of the book easily sucked me in, and I knew that this had to be the next book for the Heart Man Blog. This month’s book is Approaching the Atonement: The Reconciling Work of Christ by Oliver Crisp, published by InterVarsity Press in February 2020. Crisp seeks to give his reader an understanding of one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. For as long as people have had faith in Jesus, they have argued about how it is that Jesus’ death actually means salvation for humanity.

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Tending Soul, Mind, and Body: The Art and Science of Spiritual Formation

Something that I have been giving a lot of thought to has been spiritual formation. I’m sure some of that has to do with my education, but when, honestly, was the last time you considered your spiritual life? This month’s book, Tending Soul, Mind, and Body: The Art and Science of Spiritual Formation, published by InterVarsity Press in October 2019, seeks to open the eyes of pastors and laypeople to consider taking care of one’s spirit/soul. This book is a published version of reflections and presentations made during the 2018 Center for Pastor Theologians conference. Topics in this book reflect the fields of theological anthropology, spiritual formation, and psychology and how they can be used to look at the person as a whole; not merely physical, mental, and spiritual health.

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Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship

If you have been paying attention to the Heart Man Book Reviews, you will remember that I read a book on the use of modern technology and a book about fostering online education. Admittedly, this field has been of interest to me ever since I read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. So I couldn’t help myself when InterVarsity Press released Transhumanism and the Image of God: Today’s Technology and the Future of Christian Discipleship by Jacob Shatzer. Shatzer has a PhD from Marquette University and is an ordained Baptist pastor. This book was released in April of 2019 and is incredibly important in our world as we live with increasing usage of technology. Shatzer argues that digital technology trains us, little by little, in transhumanist philosophy, allowing us to one day accept it completely. He asks the simple question of whether this is an appropriate formation for Christians or if we should be cautious about trying to adopt new digital technologies.

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Becoming an Ordinary Mystic: Spirituality for the Rest of Us

Just like last year, we will start this year with a book that helps us to fulfill our New Year’s resolutions. Many people say that they want to pursue having a closer relationship with God in the New Year. However, many people also have no clue how to do that. They often resolve to goals of praying more or reading their Bibles more. While these can push us in the right direction, do these practices truly push us to have a deeper relationship with God? Enter Becoming an Ordinary Mystic: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Albert Haase. Haase is an experienced Fransican friar with experience as a missionary in mainland China and as a spiritual director. This month’s book was released by IVP in August of 2019, and it shows us that spirituality is not something attained by the spiritual elite, but is accessible for all of us.

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Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal

Ever since the discovery of fire, technology has had some impact upon our society. Sometime it can be good, like the wheel, or bad, like the nuclear bomb. Technology has been made to make incredible advancements in our world, like life saving treatments for disease, while also being produced to end even more lives than it saves. The first book for this month is called Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal by Craig M Gay, published by InterVarsity Press in December of 2018. In this book, Gay looks at the current environment of mondern technology and asks, “Is this good for us?” By looking at the worldview that comes with modern technology, Gay argues that it is incompatiable with orthodox Christian theology.

“it has been observed that for every additional hour of television beyond the recommended limit a child watches at age twenty-nine months, the odds increase the the child will be more detached and unengaged as a fourth-grade student”

Like other critics of technology, Gay is concerned that the modern advancement of technology is actually diminishing humanity as persons. One of the most significant places he points to is our ability to “outsource” our thinking to machines. Machines are not trained to look at every nuance like the human mind does, they are simply meant to find the most logical and efficient solution. Because of this, humanity checks itself out of the process of thinking altogether. Our modern workplaces have even changed to show this happening. When at first computers were used to help us at our jobs, there are now entire workforces who’s job it is to input data into a computer so it can work with the data. This leads towards having a more unskilled workforce, as most people are merely inputting data or relying on machines to do the work for them. Referenceing Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage, Gay points to it being “determined that human pilots, having become so used to computer control, [have] basically forgotten how to fly their aircraft.”

“We’re going to need to begin to imagine what the implications of biblical religion are for the development and use of modern technology and then to begin to live out of these implications.”

The crux of the argument, for Gay, is that technology is asking us to live more and more outside of ourselves. We no longer think for ourselves and we no longer have face-to-face interactions with our social circles. Our lives are being transformed to be lived in “cyberspace.” Gay says that this does not work for orthodox Christian theology. He argues that we must recognize that God made us to be material beings, living in a material plane of existence, and interacting with other material beings. He says that God makes this point obvious in that He became human flesh, but even beyond that, Jesus’ physical body was resurrected. Our material being has importance in the plan of God.

“Apparently people can live quite happily on bread alone, so it has turned out, as long as they are comfortable, healthy, suitably entertained, and distracted from asking troublesome religious questions.”

As someone who works in a technological field professionally, and adds to the over abundance of content by writing a blog, I am honestly unsure how I feel about Gay’s commentary. He makes a strong argument that, at the very leasts, Christians ought to be careful about what technology they choose to employ. We must continue to recognize that people are created human beings and not representations of data. We can track statistics, web traffic, and behavior patterns as much as we like, but this never tells us a thing about our neighbor down the street. God created us to be people in community, not connected over social media. Personally, there are aspects of modern technology that I still really love. I am able to maintain a 22 year old relationship with a friend that has lived across the country for 10 years. I am employable based on my skills, that would not exist if it were not for modern technology. But there needs to be some level of discipline involved in our use of technology. We are not made to “feed the server,” but are made to be in communion with people and with God.

I recommend this book for no other reason than that it makes you think. It exposes potential idolatry in our lives by asking if modern technology is good for us. I enjoyed the read and have already passed it on to others. Pick yourself up a copy today and join the conversation about our use of technology.

New Testament Christological Hymns: Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance

I was recently having a conversation with someone over how much place academics have within the realm of Christianity. Personally, I believe that in order for us to be disciples of Jesus Christ, today, there has to be a level of constant academic work in order for us to connect with our roots. Then I realized, it has been a while since the Heart Man Blog Book Reviews took on an academic work. So for this month the book is New Testament Christological Hymns: Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance by Matthew E Gordley published by InterVarsity Press in August of last year. Gordley seeks to look at several passages that have been recognized as possible hymns and helps us to re-connect with our faith’s past and beginnings.

“The prophets promised an outpouring of joy when God began to fulfill his promises of restoration (Joel 2:26-27; Zeph 3:14-15; Zech 9:9-10; Is 66:7-11). Mary’s praise thus begins the joyous symphony that follows. In this respect Mary may be considered a model for early Christian worship.”

Matthew Gordley

Gordley seeks to argue that there is a significant usage of hymns within the New Testament. Though it is impossible to know if the hymnic passages are original to author or assimilated from hymns being used, the study of these hymns is important for understanding the worship practices of the Early Church. After chapters that set the reasoning for this type of study, and an overview of hymns that are used elsewhere during the same period (Greek hymns, Jewish psalms, and others), he turns to engage with particular passages. The major passages under his lense are Phillipians 2:6-11, Collosians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-18. The sixth chapter of this book is a survey of several other passages found within the New Testament, but he does not spend as much time with these has he does with the previous three passages. His final chapter is the summation of this entire study where he declares that “worship is, in its broadest scope, an intentional practice of affirming, proclaiming, and confessing an allegiance to God that, among other things, enables the worshiper to see himself or herself as part of a reality that is larger than the visible reality on offer within the world in which the worshiper lives.” Meaning that worship is a truly cosmic event where the worshiper must be able to recognize their place and glorifying God in their submission to Him.

“For who is ignorant of the books of Irenaeus, Melito, and the rest who proclaim Christ as God and man, and how many psalms and odes, written from the beginning by brothers in the faith, hymn Christ, the word of God, proclaiming his as a god?”

Eusebius of Caesarea, Histoire Ecclésiastique

Personally, I found this book very interesting. I’m fairly certain it is because I am an academic that also serves as a worship leader within my church. I find it interesting to look to the Christians that have come before us to see how it is they worshiped God in “spirit and truth.” Gordley does a fantastic job to setting the stage of the thought world of Paul, John, and the early Christians as they are writing these passages. It shows that the Church worked really hard to insure that Jesus was lifted up as the name above every other name and to which every knee will bow. However, I’m finding it hard to figure out who to recommend this book to. I think it has tremendous academic value for someone looking to study these types of passages, yet I am not convinced there are many non-academics that would find this book appealing. Yet, I personally find it extremely helpful in my worship ministry as I seek to understand worship practices and convey them to the congregation I serve. At times this book gets very scholarly, but I do not feel that this is a detrement to the work. Maybe if you are in one of the schools that have a worship ministry program, this might be a great supplimental book to add to your reading. I can also see where this book works well as a text book for a course. Either way, pick yourself up a copy by clicking the link below and learn about these special passages of Scripture this month.

The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction

4560Most people (especially Americans) live incredibly busy lives. With so many demands on our time, is it really any surprise that our spiritual lives tend to suffer? This month’s book seeks to combat that. It is The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distration by Justin Whithel Earley from InterVarsity Press. This book was published in February of 2019, and I chose to take a look at it and practice during this past season of Lent. Earley is a lawyer by training, but has experience as a missionary in China. He leans heavily on his experience of living a busy lifestyle, and overcoming that with a concious decision of living his life so he did not miss the things that were most important to him. He writes this book very similiarly to how you may find a rule for a monastic lifestyle, such as The Rule of St Benedict. He takes this style and presents it with a contemporary setting so it can make sense to the average reader of how this applies to your life today. You do not have to move to a monastery or a convent to practice the rule that Earley suggests.

“Since we’re too tired to make any good decisions, we’re extremely susceptible to letting other people — from manipulative bosses to invisible smartphone programmers — make our decisions for us.”

The Common Rule is broken up into eight different habits: four daily and four weekly. All of these habits are designed to help you realize you are not God and cannot possible accomplish everything, while also focusing you on the things that matter in life. The habits are: kneeling prayer three times a day (daily), one meal with others (daily), on hour with phone off (daily), Scripture before phone (daily), conversaition with a friend (weekly), curate media (weekly), fast from something for 24 hours (weekly), and Sabbath (weekly). Earley writes chapters that explain each habit, why they are important, and how he practices it in his own busy life. However, the warning with adopting rules and habits, is that we not become legalistic. Humanity is to quick to make ideas into laws that we must live by. Earley suggests that we keep our focus on Christ and love for others, then the habits will naturally fit. He also includes and epilogue where he talks about what happens when you fail your practice.  Here he shows how easy it is to slip into a mentality of giving up, but it is important to keep that focus of Christ.

“Those are the kind of habits with cultivating — little habits of love, not carried out for success, not carried out to prove who you are, but cultivated because of a longing to love God and neighbor.”

I essentially have 2.5 full time jobs, while also trying to blog, raise three childen and love my wife. I know many people probably just exlaimed and the crazy person that is writing this review, but honestly I found this book so helpful. Like other rules, you find having a set liturgy and pace to your life makes everything feel much more managable. I enjoyed the way that Earley writes about these spiritual disciplines he has been cultivating within the lives of his family and his community. The thing that I found most helpful was the Resources section at the end of the book. This is designed to be a reference guide to remind yourself of the habits, while also helping you implement them into your life. I found myself often turning to it for help in trying to figure out how to put these habits into my day. I think that this is a good book for any busy person to spend a week with. I found the content easy to get through in a week, but it can lead to a lifetime of closeness with God. Pick it by clicking on this link, and learn how to break through your busyness and lean on God.