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9 years 2 months ago

A brief review of Lou Priolo’s book.

Are you an approval junkie? Are you a person who depends too heavily, in spirit, conscience or morale, on the approval of others? How would you even know? These are the questions Lou Priolo tackles in his book Pleasing People. This is a book I read weeks ago and, for some reason, decided not to review. Yet over the weeks I’ve seen the fruit of reading this book in my life and in my walk with the Lord. I’ve seen shadows of the desire to please people not only in my life but in the lives of others. I felt it would be best for me to share the book with others.

Priolo is the Director of the Center for Biblical Counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama and has been a counselor and instructor for almost twenty years. As such he has had ample opportunity to see the ramifications of depending too heavily on the approval of others. He has seen the negative consequences of attempting to find meaning and purpose in the approval of other people. His experience brings value to this book.

The book is divided into two sections: Our Problem and God’s Solution. In the first half Priolo takes on the difficult but loving task of attempting to convict the reader of sin by bringing to bear the testimony of Scripture. He is not unaware of the difficulty and responsibility this brings. “The though of my trying to convict you of your sin may seem like a rather severe (if not unsympathetic) approach to encourage you to change, but it is actually a very loving approach. The truth is, what we will be discussing in this book is not a sickness (or a psychological disorder) for which there is no cure; it is not a genetic predisposition that you as a Christian will be forced to live with for the rest of your life. It is simply a sin. And Jesus Christ came to do away with our sin.” And this is where the gospel comes in and where we come to the second half of the book. Having shown people pleasing to be what it is, Priolo allows the Word of God to show how we can please God instead of men.

Like all books that seek to bring a person into conformity to God’s requirements, there is a danger of legalism intruding, of trying to change apart from the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit. Priolo carefully guards against this and warns of its attraction. “In some places [in this book], the righteous requirement of the law is emphasized; in other places, the grace of God is clearly the predominant theme. In some places, faith apart from works is taught; elsewhere, faith is tied to one’s works. When you put it all together, you understand that we are saved by faith alone, but not the kind of faith that is alone.”

And so he wades into the discussion. Like I expect most readers to feel, I began reading quite convinced that, though interesting, the book had little to offer me. But I was wrong. As I began to read the descriptions of a person who depends too heavily on the approval of others, and as I began to inventory my heart through the criteria presented, I was soon pierced and began to see how this sin exists in my life. And best of all I was able to see how it can be made right through the power of the Spirit in my life. And, though it is always easier to see sin in the lives of other people, this book equipped me to see how other people I know can depend too much on the approval of others and ways I can gently reach out to them to see this sin.

Written in a very logical fashion (which reminds me a great deal of the Matthias Media books I have read), Priolo’s argument and biblical remedy are easy to follow and easy to understand. He is clear in the diagnosis, clear in the scope of the problem, and clear in the remedy. He relies on the Bible to point the way and simply relates the truth of Scripture. As we would expect based on the author’s source, the book is convicting to be sure, but it also brings hope. I’m glad to recommend it, especially to those who are sure it has nothing to offer them.

9 years 4 months ago
We live at a time when relationships are increasingly marked by the awful dictum of meet up, hook up, shack up, and break up. This describes too many relationships, too many hardened hearts and too many ruined lives. But as John Ensor says and as observation bears out, this pattern “bankrupts the rich treasure trove of love itself.” It does not work and it is time for young people to revolt against the times.

The antidote to the times is to rediscover the biblical formula for manhood and womanhood, to turn back to the Creator and to his manual to discover how He desires we live as men and women. In Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart Ensor does just this, sharing what he has learned about biblical manhood and womanhood. The book’s objective is “to provide a winsomely radical alternative to the prevailing ideas, almost absolute doctrines, that guide our current thinking about manhood and womanhood and define our actions and expectations when pursuing matters of the heart.” The book’s purpose (and I’m not sure how a purpose differs from an objective) “is to provide you stone with which you can fashion a strong, enduring, and satisfying plan for doing things right in this most tender and precious matter of the heart.”

In the first part, “Matters of the Heart,” Ensor defines biblical masculinity and femininity as they are presented to us in the Bible. He gets to the heart of manhood and womanhood asking what it means to be a man or a woman and what is distinctive about being one and not the other. He asks how men and women complement each other and fit together. Having answered these questions, he turns to “Doing Things Right,” showing the way the Bible outlines how men are to live as men and women are to live as women. He shows how men and women are to relate to each other and are to interact with each other on the basis of their equality and symmetry but also on the basis of their differences.

The chapter titles tell the story.

  • He Initiaties…She Responds”
  • He Leads…She Guides
  • He Works…She Waits
  • He Protects…She Welcomes Protection
  • He Abstains to Protect…She, to Test
  • His Unmet Desire Drives Him toward Marriage…Hers Is Rewarded with Marriage
  • He Displays Integrity…She, Inner Beauty
  • He Loves by Sacrificing…She, by Submitting
  • He Seeks His Happiness in Hers…She Seeks Hers in His
  • His Is the Primary Provider for the Family…She, the Primary Nurturer

The book is written from a personal perspective and in such a way that he encourages the reader to benefit from his learning curve. While he leans on the Bible as his authority, what he teaches is often punctuated by words like, “What follows is what I honest think is the right thing to do…” and “I take this to mean…” He gives examples from his life, allowing the reader to learn and to laugh with him.

The sum is this: God has given us each gifts but, with our own reasoning and assumptions we’ve wasted them by doing things in the way we thought was best. This book is a call to go back to using those gifts, to go back to the guide that teaches us how to use those gifts, that we might do things right and do them in the way God intends.

In this book (and this quote is the blurb I provided for the book’s cover) “John Ensor provides a radically biblical alternative to the supposed wisdom of our age. Though sometimes raw, frank, and frustrated, Ensor is always sanctified and often poetic. He celebrates differences, bringing into clear focus the oft-disputed fact that God created men and women to be equal and symmetrical but not identical. For all who are weary of our culture’s assault on biblical manhood and womanhood, this book is a refreshing reminder of the Bible’s simple wisdom governing love, relationships, marriage, and matters of the heart.”

This is a good and important little book that serves as a strong introduction for teens and young adults to the Bible’s teaching on manhood and womanhood. What is taught here can largely be found elsewhere but not in so accessible and so practical a form. It has the paternal feel of an older, wiser man writing a concerned letter to those who are younger and in need of counsel. Ensor’s advice is good and those who heed it will be pleased that he wrote this book and that they took the time to read it. I recommend this book to teens, to young adults, to parents and to anyone who is concerned with doing things right in matters of the heart.

9 years 6 months ago
This book is deja vu times two (or three). It took some doing, but here is how I understand the history of this book. In 2000, Crossway published When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own and then, in 2002 they published a hardcover abridgment of this book and titled it The Prayer of Our Lord. Both books subsequently fell out of print. Last year P&R Publishing Company republished When You Pray and now, in 2007, Crossway has reissued The Prayer of Our Lord, though this time in softcover. So this means the book has been published two times in each of two formats. Are you still with me?

Like the book’s full version, this title is “a practical exposition of the Lord’s Prayer from Scripture.” “The more we pray,” says Ryken, “the more deeply we are drawn into communion with God. And the more we study the Lord’s Prayer, the better we are able to pray. So perhaps an exposition such as this one can help us draw closer to our heavenly Father.”

The book begins with a chapter dealing with how we are to pray (shortened from three chapters in the original). Ten chapters follow, each of which discusses one of the phrases or petitions of the Prayer, beginning of course with “Our Father in Heaven and closing with “The Power and the Glory.” Ryken shows how this prayer can be prayed as-is, but also how it ought to model our other prayers. It is easy to read and simple to digest and with short chapters of only six or seven pages it is well suited for use with personal devotions or quick reading. Unlike the original, it does not have an index or Scripture index at the end.

If you already own one of this book’s several predecessors there is no compelling reason to purchase this one. In fact, if you are looking for a book on prayer there are better options available, including the full version which I’ve reviewed here and which can be had for only a few dollars more. Still, I would recommend this one for those who read only occasionally and can see it making a good gift for friends or family. The teaching is sound and the book is not without value.

9 years 7 months ago
I was going to post this review on the weekend, but then John Piper messed everything up. He posted an article at the Desiring God web site that fit very well with it, so I thought I’d link to his article and then post the review. This is, without a doubt, one of the best things I’ve ever read from the pen of Dr. Piper (and I’ve read a lot). Read that and then, if you care to, read this review.
If I had to guess, I’d say that I probably have more books on prayer than on any other single topic. I do not tend to buy these books, and yet they continue to show up in the mail. The shelves of Christian bookstores are bowing under the weight of such books. My bookshelves are beginning to do the same. This tells me a few things. First, Christians are eager to learn about prayer. They know they need to pray and yet are frustrated by their attempts to do so. Second, Christians do not understand prayer as they would like to. Third, many of the books provided to questions are not providing the answers people are looking for. Though I do not read many of the books on prayer that are made available to me, because of my respect for its authors, I was still eager to read Prayer and the Voice of God.

Prayer and the Voice of God is written by Matthias Media’s Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne who earlier collaborated on Guidance and the Voice of God (my review) and Pure Sex and each of whom have written books individually. Matthias Media is a ministry based in Australia, but one that is beginning to have an impact on this side of the world (and a ministry that will, in fact, be collaborating with 9Marks to hold their first American conference later this year). I have enjoyed this ministry’s books in the past and was eager to read this new title that was published only last year. I was intrigued by the book’s title as evangelicals are prone to equate prayer and the voice of God, believing that God speaks to us as we pray. Yet these authors believe, as do I, that we do not listen to God’s voice in prayer, but listen to God’s voice in Scripture so we might learn about prayer.

The book follows a consistent and easy-to-grasp format where each of a chapter’s main points are numbered 1, 2, 3 and each of the sub-points is labeled a, b, c. This makes the flow of the book very simple to understand and allows the reader to follow along easily.

The book begins exactly where a book on prayer should—with the character of God. The authors describe five important aspects of God that stand as the foundation of Christian prayer. They are: the able God, the fatherly God, the speaking and listening God, the holy God and the merciful God. From here they answer the simple question of “Why pray?” They answer that we should pray because God allows us to, because we must, because we are commanded to and because of God’s promise that He will hear and answer them. The next chapter looks at reasons we do not pray, despite God’s commands and promises. The fifth chapter tells us how to pray, and the authors ensure the reader understands that prayer is not, as many evangelicals believe, a time to hear God’s voice, but a time to respond to His voice. They speak to the essence of prayer and do not present a step-by-step technique, emphasizing the importance of both novelty and regularity in this task. They say rightly that prayer is not a matter of technique but of relationship.

Two chapters discuss what we are to pray for and the authors identify two broad categories: the desires of God and the anxieties of life. Final chapters answer “What happens when we pray?,” discuss the fellowship of prayer and answer frequently asked questions. The book concludes with two appendices, one of which provides a summary of the book’s 1, 2, 3 a, b, c structure and the second includes a study guide for each of the chapters.

I enjoyed reading this book and learned from it. The structure was very compatible with the way my mind works and I found it a joy to read. While this book really teaches nothing knew, this is exactly its greatest strength. Rather than presenting some new or great technique for prayer, or rather than turning to strange mystical practices from deep in the church’s past, this book turns to Scripture and allows the reader to hear God’s voice there so that he might then respond to this voice with his own. Having turned to the true authority for prayer, the authors are properly able to guide the reader to the relationship and principles that will foster a strong and vibrant life of prayer. There is no trick to it. We simply need to think rightly about God, about how He communicates with us and how we communicate with Him, so that we might then act in a way that pleases and glorifies Him.

This is a good little book and one that I think would prove very useful for personal reading or for group study for the format and study guide would lend themselves well to discussion in a group setting. I am pleased to recommend it for either purpose and trust others will benefit from it as I have.

9 years 10 months ago
When I was a child my parents explained to me how important it is to make time every day for reading the Bible and praying. Wanting to please them, and knowing it was the right thing to do, I began to have a brief period of devotions each day before bed. I do not remember a whole lot about how I conducted these devotions, but I do remember struggling with whether or not it was acceptable to pray the Lord’s Prayer instead of praying a personal prayer. Though it is given by Jesus as a model of prayer, for some reason it seemed to me to be a lazy option. When I was tired and worn out after a long day of saving the world or teasing my sisters, I’d often collapse into bed, pray the Lord’s Prayer, and fall asleep. In so doing I treated the Lord’s Prayer as a magic prayer that contains power simply because it comes directly from Scripture. I put little of my heart and little of my mind into the prayer.

Of course there is nothing wrong with praying the Lord’s Prayer. While it may serve primarily as a model of prayer, it is a wonderfully profound, yet simple prayer and one we would all do well to study and meditate upon. When You Pray by Philip Ryken is a helpful tool for doing just this (Note: the book was published in 2000 by Crossway under the same title. It has been reissued in 2006 by P&R Publishing Company). It is “a practical exposition of the Lord’s Prayer from Scripture. The more we pray, the more deeply we are drawn into communion with God. And the more we study the Lord’s Prayer, the better we are able to pray. So perhaps an exposition such as this one can help us draw closer to our heavenly Father.”

The book begins with three chapters dealing with how we are to pray. Ryken teaches first how to pray like a hypocrite, then how to preach like an orphan, and finally how to pray like God’s own dear child. Ten chapters follow, each of which discusses one of the phrases or petitions of the Prayer, beginning of course with “Our Father in Heaven and closing with “The Power and the Glory.” Ryken shows how this prayer can be prayed as-is, but also how it ought to model our other prayers. It is easy to read and simple to digest and with fairly short chapters it is ideally suited for use with personal devotions or for group study (and, in fact, there are useful study questions at the end of each of the chapters).

When You Pray is the kind of book that may slip by almost unnoticed, and this is a shame, for it is an excellent resource. It is one that is well worth reading and will doubtless prove a valuable addition to any library. I enjoyed it a great deal and am glad to recommend it to you.

10 years 5 days ago
Two of the first books I ever reviewed dealt with the topic of sexual purity. One of these books, Every Man’s Battle by Steve Arterburn, stands out in my mind and the review I wrote continues to generate emails even several years later. The main teaching of his book is the concept of “bouncing” the eyes. What this means is that when a man sees something that is sexually tempting he is to immediately divert his eyes. The authors state that most men, after six weeks of doing this, will make it a habit and will no longer struggle with lust the way they once did. Their eyes will naturally bounce away from objects they once found alluring. When men stop filling their minds with lustful images, they can then learn to control their thoughts and stop the cycle of sexual fantasy. This is exactly the kind of solution people love to find in a book of this nature. It is a simple plan and one that depends largely on the willpower of the individual. Sadly, though, it is a plan that has little to do with the centrality of the gospel in the life of the believer. I recently heard that Arterburn has been divorced twice and is now married to a woman he met at one his purity seminars. As I think back to the book he wrote, and as I ponder the news of his own struggles, I can see the tragedy of attempting to conquer lust through focusing on what a person can do through his own power. Guilt for sins committed and a desire to change are not enough to create lasting change.

I have read relatively little on the topic since Every Man’s Battle. Truthfully, much of what has been written follows the same pattern as Arterburn’s book, pointing to dependency on oneself in waging the war against lust. But, having received a copy of Josh Harris’ Sex is not the Problem (Lust Is) (previously released as Not Even a Hint), I decided I would dive into the topic once more. And this time I was rewarded.

Before I discuss this book, it bears mention that it is rated PG. This is a book that any adult or teenager should be able to read. Unlike some other books in this genre, it does not contain the graphic descriptions that tend to fuel lust rather than combat it. It will not, as Harris says, drag the reader’s imagination through the gutter. I should also mention that this is a book intended for both men and women. Harris does not allow women off the hook, assuming that they do not deal with issues of lust. While he affirms that men and women experience lust differently, he teaches that both men and women are susceptible to this and both genders need to deal with it.

So what is lust? Simply enough, “Lust is craving sexually what God has forbidden.” While sexual desire is good and natural, and given by God, lust is a perversion of what is good and right. “Lust goes beyond attraction, and appreciation of beauty, or even a healthy desire for sex—it makes these desires more important than God. Lust wants to go outside God’s guidelines to find satisfaction.” While lust is a problem that is as old as the human race, we live in a time when it is funnelled to us in ever-increasing measure. It is increasingly difficult to live pure and undefiled in our sex-saturated culture. And yet God’s standard remains the same: He demands perfection. “God calls us to the daunting standard of not even a hint.” The fact that this standard seems impossible is merely proof that man-centered solutions must fail. “Only the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection can provide the right power and the right motive needed to change me.” We must be motivated by God’s grace and empowered by the Spirit if we are to defeat lust.

Harris goes on to discuss the gospel. And this is what I love most about this book. Rather than moving from identifying the problem to planning out the solution, Harris pauses at the gospel—he pauses at the source of the solution. In a couple of chapters that seem they could as easily have been written by C.J. Mahaney or Jerry Bridges, he celebrates the gospel and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “We can’t save ourselves and we can’t change ourselves. Only faith in Christ can rescue us from the prison of our sin. And only the Spirit can transform us. Our job is to invite His work, participate with it, and submit more and more of our thoughts, actions, and desires to Him.”

Harris then wades into the thick of the battle, discussing the issues and offering strategies for long-term change. He discusses the types of issues we would expect him to tackle: masturbation, media, accountability and so on. The best and clearest solution offered, though surely the one that seems least attractive to the carnal mind, is memorizing Scripture passages most relevant to our particular temptations. A chapter at the end briefly discusses the Internet and tips for fighting against succumbing to the temptations of Internet pornography. Through it all, Harris speaks honestly and candidly, even holding out events and experiences from his life that must cause him a good bit of embarrassment. He is willing to admit his own weaknesses and failures in order to help others tackle theirs.

Ultimately, this book leads to the biblical (but still surprising) conclusion that, despite the allure of lust and the pleasures it seems to offer, there is far greater pleasure to be found in holiness. The pleasure and freedom of holiness is so much greater, so much truer, than carnal delights. “Remember,” Harris says, “God doesn’t call you to sacrifice as an end in itself. He calls you through it. On the other side of sacrifice is unspeakable beauty and indescribable joy. It’s not easy, but it’s worth every minute.” He holds out no easy, magical solution to defeat lust. Rather, lust’s power will decrease as we relentlessly pursue holiness.

Unlike so many books that share a shelf with this one at the local Christian bookstore, Harris holds out lust as a problem, but provides the gospel as a solution. And that isn’t even a fair fight. An excellent little book that is easy to read, easy to digest, and suitable for all audiences, I recommend Sex is not the Problem (Lust Is) without hesitation.

10 years 6 days ago
In the Introduction to her book Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey discusses the burgeoning Christian interest in the topic of worldview. “Just a few years ago, when I began work on that earlier volume [How Now Shall We Live?], using the term worldview was not on anyone’s list of good conversation openers. To tell people that you were writing a book on worldview was to risk glazes stares and a quick change in subject. But today as I travel around the country, I sense an eagerness among evangelicals to move beyond a purely privatized faith, applying biblical principles to areas like work, business, and politics. Flip open any number of Christian publications and you’re likely to find half a dozen advertisements for worldview conferences, worldviewinstitutes, and worldviewprograms. Clearly the term itself has strong marketing cachet these days, which signals a deep hunger among Christians for an overarching framework to bring unity to their lives.”

It seems clear that what Pearcey says is true—the topic of worldview is gaining interest among Christians. I consider this a positive development, for when we understand worldview, we are better equipped to understand both ourselves and the culture we inhabit. Bayard Taylor’s Blah Blah Blah is a book dedicated to worldview, and one aimed squarely at the teen and college crowd.

And what is worldview? It is a word derived from the German word weltanschauung which means “look onto the world.” It describes, quite simply, a way of looking at the world. Every person has a worldview, which acts, according to Pearcey “like a mental map that tells us how to navigate the world effectively.” A worldview can be derived from any kind of ideology or influence. It can be Marxist, Darwinian, postmodern, biblical, or just about anything else. Taylor says, “Your worldview is your frame of reference, the spectacles through which you see the world. Worldview is the biggest determiner of human behavior. You might say you believe on way, but your real worldview is revealed by what you do.” Later he writes, “I’ll be using the word worldview to speak of people’s understanding of what is ultimately true and real about (1) the spiritual world, and (2) what it means to be human in this real world.” He lists five points that are true of all people: 1) Not everybody has a religion, but everybody has a worldview. 2) A worldview begins with a set of assumptions that can only be taken “by faith.” 3) Worldview assumptions are rarely acknowledged openly, questioned or challenged by those who hold them. 4) No worldview is totally open-minded; every worldview forces some narrowing of the mind. 5) Every worldview has strict and inflexible rules, or Absolutes, that must never be broken.

Taylor then introduces the “worldview zoo,” six categories of worldviews that quite adequately encompass the range of worldviews which is, in reality, as large as the number of people on the earth. He arrives at the haunted worldview, the biblical worldview, the WYSIWYG worldview, the dueling yodas worldview, the omnipresent supergalactic oneness worldview, and designer religion. The rest of the book is dedicated to explaining these worldviews and to interpreting them. The weaknesses of the worldviews are exposed and the biblical worldview is shown to be the only one that can be consistent with Scripture. Ultimately, this book is about “laying the foundation and spinning a web for the Biblical worldview.”

And, on the whole, I think Taylor does a good job. Worldview is not my area of expertise, but I do feel that he covered the topics well and did a good job of defending a biblical worldview. In fact, my only real critique would be that his understanding of “Christian” may be a good deal wider than mine. Thus his understanding of what can constitute a biblical worldview would also be wider. Still, this is seen in only a few short paragraphs and does not detract a great deal from the book.

Written and presented in a way that will appeal to teens and college students, but will not drive away adult readers, Blah Blah Blah covers an important topic. This book will equip Christians, and primarily young Christians, to deal with the culture around them. It will help prepare Christians both spiritually and mentally to face a world that is increasingly post-Christian.

10 years 1 month ago
John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart is a runaway bestseller. Though it debuted in 2001, it still remains near the top of the list of Christian bestsellers and has sold over three million copies, no small feat for a title marketed primarily to Christians. Unfortunately, sales figures do not indicate which books are most faithful to Scripture (indeed, one could probably make an argument that sales figures are inversely proportional to theological faithfulness) and a large number of reviewers, myself included, have pointed out some troubling flaws with the book. In Fools Gold, edited by John MacArthur, Daniel Gillespie examined the book and nicely summarized the foremost problems with the book, suggesting it has: an insufficient view of Scripture; an inadequate picture of God; an incomplete portrait of Christ; and an inaccurate portrait of man. In short, the book was deeply flawed.

Though John Eldredge has written other books since Wild at Heart, none has been a true sequel to the bestseller. Or none has been a sequel until now with the upcoming release of The Way of the Wild Heart (due for release in October of 2006). In this book Eldredge says many of the same things he said in Wild at Heart, but offers more detailed and specific guidance. “This is a sort of sequel, a continuation of the journey, offering much more specific guidance. Those of you familiar with Wild at Heart will find many of its themes repeated here, which makes sense, for the masculine heart does not change.”

The Way of the Wild Heart is subtitled “A Map for the Masculine Journey.” Eldredge attempts to show men how they can proceed through life and how they can teach other men and boys to do the same. Masculinity is not something that simply happens, he argues, but something that is bestowed. A boy learns who he is and what he is made of from a man or from a company of men. Masculinity is not intrinsic. Unfortunately, men have abdicated this responsibility, leaving many boys and men unsure of who they are and who they are supposed to be. “What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys, mostly, walking around in men’s bodies, with men’s jobs and families, finances, and responsibilities. The passing on of masculinity was never completed, if it was begun at all. The boy was never taken through the process of masculine initiation. That’s why most of us are Unfinished Men. And therefore unable to truly live as men in whatever life throws at us. And unable to pass on to our sons and daughters what they need to become whole and holy men and women themselves.” He later says, “We need initiation. And, we need a Guide.” So what does Eldredge propose? “What I am suggesting is that we reframe the way we look at our lives as men. And the way we look at our relationships with God. I also want to help you reframe the way you relate to other man, and especially you fathers who are wondering how to raise boys.” Eldredge teaches that a man’s life is a continual process of initiation as he progresses through the stages of life. He defines these stages as follows:

  • Boyhood - Boyhood is a time of wonder and exploration. It is a time of doing what boys do and learning what boys learn. Above all, though, it is a time of being the Beloved Son, the apple of your father’s eye.
  • Cowboy - The Cowboy stage comes around the age of thirteen and runs into the late teens or early twenties. “It is the time of learning the lessons of the field, a time of great adventures and testing, and also a time for hard work.” It is the time that a man answers the question Eldredge introduced as being the core Question to men: do I have what it takes?
  • Warrior - In the late teens emerges the Warrior. This stage may last well into the thirties. “He heads off to law school or the mission field. He encounters evil face-to-face, and learns to defeat it.” He learns the rigors of discipline and learns that he must live with courage.
  • Lover - At some time he also becomes a Lover. The Lover comes to offer his strength to a woman, not to get it from her. In this time he discovers the Way of the Heart—“that poetry and passion are far more closer to the Truth than are mere reason and proposition He awakens to beauty, to life. He discovers music and literature; like the young David, he becomes a romantic and it takes his spiritual life to a whole new level.”
  • King - When service for God is overshadowed by intimacy with God a man is ready to be a King and to rule a kingdom. He will be tested and must prove himself able to meet this challenge.
  • Sage - The Sage is the grey-haired father with a wealth of knowledge and experience, whose mission is to counsel others.

The book is framed around these stages, with each of them receiving a couple of chapters. In general the first chapter for each topic describes Eldredge’s personal experiences, while the second tends towards the practical. As with Wild at Heart, the book is deeply personal, though this time Eldredge relays many experiences he has shared with his three sons. And also like Wild at Heart, there is much in this book that is both original and mighty strange. For example, Eldredge details the “vision quests” he has prepared for his sons—a year-long time of testing as they proceed from Boyhood to Cowboy. This is a time where the boys are apparently seeking the answer to the ultimate masculine Question (do I have what it takes?) and are still seeking to be the Beloved Son. And so, over the course of a year, he provides them with manly experiences and challenges them to seek after experiences with God. The year culminates with the presentation of a sword (a real, sharp sword) and a celebration of the boy.

Many reviewers commented on the mystical bent Eldredge displayed in Wild at Heart. This mysticism continues in The Way of the Wild Heart and may well be even more prominent. Coupled with some explicit affirmations of anti-intellectualism (rare is the mystic who can also embrace a logical, intellectual relationship with God) one begins to wonder he is almost losing touch with reality. Passages like the following are all too typical. “How has God been wooing you? What has stirred your heart over the years? God has been bringing hearts to me for a long, long time. It’s one of our intimacies. He gave me a rock in the shape of a heart again yesterday, as a reminder. And as I was praying early this morning, I looked out my window and the cloud before me was in the shape of a heart. God has many such gifts for you, particular to you, and now that you have this stage of the Lover to watch for, eyes to look for the Romance, you’ll begin to see them, too.”

Another common concern with Wild at Heart was the fact that Eldredge often criticized fathers for their inadequacies. He goes further along that path in this book writing such blanket statements as “Most of our fathers are gone, or checked out, or uninitiated men themselves. There are a few men, a very few, who have fathers initiating them in substantive ways. Would that we all were so lucky.” He continues to a discussion of “father wounds.” “Whether through violence, or rejection, or passivity, or abandonment, most men did not receive the love and validation they needed as boys from their fathers.” Most men, he says, carry do not feel that they have what it takes, and most men bear this wound because their fathers did not provide what was needed to answer it. This book continually criticizes and even belittles fathers with sweeping generalizations. While I will grant that Eldredge does this in an attempt to convince men to become better fathers, such statements are rash and often disrespectful.

I could go on, but I think it will suffice to say that almost every concern levelled at Wild at Heart and Eldredge’s other books could also be made at The Way of the Wild Heart. It has the same inadequate view of Scripture, the same inadequate view of sin and the same emphasis on worldly therapy. It still argues from experience over Scripture, still twists Scripture to lead down all sorts of strange rabbit trails, and still draws as much (possibly even more) from film than from Scripture. I lost track of the number of movies quoted, but reached at least thirty-five, several of which were mentioned repeatedly, and one of which (The Kingdom of Heaven) was quoted in almost every chapter.

The Way of the Wild Heart really is more of the same. Those who were troubled by Wild at Heart will be equally troubled by this book. As for the millions who loved Wild at Heart, well, I can’t help but think that the sheer weirdness of this book will drive many of them away. This book is a complete mess and it was a trial to read. At three hundred pages Eldredge says a lot, and yet it seems like he doesn’t say much of anything. It is puff; it is filler; it is a near-complete waste of time. Avoid it.

10 years 1 month ago
I don’t envy the man who writes a book on prayer, for I can’t think of too many topics that have been written about more extensively than this. There are many spiritual classics dealing with the topic and surely an author must wonder if anything he writes can contribute to the discussion. New to the fray is Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey. A guaranteed bestseller, this book, by virtue of the topic and the author, is sure to sell tens or hundreds of thousands of copies. And so it was with some interest that I read this book, interested in learning what so many people would learn from Yancey.

This book arose from Yancey’s determination that many Christians know prayer to be theoretically important but yet practice it very little. “Everywhere, I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice. In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe. In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration. My publisher conducted a website poll, and of the 678 respondents only 23 felt satisfied with the time they were spending in prayer. That very discrepancy made me want to write this book.” This book is not a how-to guide. “I have not attempted a guide book that details techniques such as fasting, prayer retreats, and spiritual direction. I investigate the topic or prayer as a pilgrim, strolling about, staring at the monuments, asking questions, mulling things over, testing the waters. I admit to an imbalance, an overreaction to time spent among Christians who promised too much and pondered to little, and as a result I try to err on the side of honesty and not pretense.” He goes on to say, “If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.”

I can’t deny that I was pleasantly surprised by much of the content of Prayer. Yancey is a deep thinker and one who excels at asking difficult but still useful and interesting questions. He has clearly invested a great deal of time and effort in prayer and in wrestling with the deep questions. He says much that is worth thinking about; worth pondering. “In prayer I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness.” “Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.” “The main purpose of prayer is not to make life easier, nor to gain magical powers, but to know God. I need God more than anything I might get from God.” “God is a Person too, and though a person unlike ourselves, One who surely fulfills more of what that word means, not less.” When discussing unanswered prayer he writes, “By answering every possible prayer, God would in effect abdicate, turning the world over to us to run. History shows how we have handled the limited power granted us: we have fought wars, committed genocide, fouled the air and water…” and so on. There is much in this book that will prove valuable, both that which comes from Yancey’s pen and that which he quotes from other authors and theologians. Yet there were several themes found in the book that I found troubling.

Yancey has, in the past, hinted that he adheres to the doctrine of Open Theism and believes in a somewhat less than omnipotent or omniscient God. His clearest affirmations of this were in his book Disappointment with God, a title that is often referred to and quoted in Prayer. While this new book does not contain an explicit affirmation of that doctrine, Yancey again drops hints that he does believe it. Only a few pages into the book he says, “A hundred times a second lightning strikes somewhere on earth, and I for one do not believe that God personally programs each course.” Much later, in the closing chapters, he writes, “I know a missionary whose wife and seven-month-old daughter were killed by a single bullet when the air force in a South American country mistook their plane for that of a drug runner and opened fire. ‘God guided the bullet,’ the surviving husband and father said to the press. We have held long discussions about that quote, because I do not believe the ‘Father of compassion’ guides bullets into the bodies of babies. Jesus himself refuted those who blamed human tragedies on God.” Did this tragedy occur outside of God’s control or knowledge? Yancey seems to take almost a middle position, but certainly does not affirm the truths of Scripture regarding God’s fore-ordaining of all events, no matter how tragic. Somewhere between these two quotes comes a similar one which comes from the mouth of an acquaintance of his. “I was trained as a Calvinist. What do I do with all that has happened to me? I don’t lay the accident at God’s feet—I don’t believe God micromanages the planet. I believe God is present in the midst of our brokenness. I just wish I could feel that presence.” Yancey presents a God that is simply far too human.

This emphasis is consistent with another theme that crops up several times. Yancey often speaks of human freedom and God’s overwhelming desire to protect the free will of the people He has made. But the free will proposed by Yancey is not the “bound freedom” of Luther and Edwards, but the libertarian freedom that is foreign to Scripture—the freedom that says a choice is free only when a person could also have chosen the exact opposite. In this area, as with several others, Yancey’s theology is sloppy. For example, in a couple of places he writes about miracles, but many of the so-called miracles would be better-termed providence. There is a thread of theological imprecision throughout this work that is troubling.

A further disturbing theme in the book is Yancey’s respect for all manner of perceived spiritual authorities. He affirms Mother Teresa and Martin Luther as equal authorities on prayer, even in the same sentence (and I don’t think he quotes anyone with greater respect or frequency than Mother Teresa). He often quotes Jewish rabbis as if their theology of prayer should be taken as equal to those who love Jesus Christ and who have submitted their lives and their beliefs to the New Testament. A vast quantity of the answers Yancey provides are based on the writing of people whose beliefs would not align with historic Protestantism and hence with Scripture. And, while this book is not a “how-to” guide, it does include an appendix that lists a wide variety of recommended resources. Among these are a great number of books that promote mysticism, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, Roman Catholic prayer guides and the like. There is a recommendation to a book that “gives guidance to different personalities, following the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test” (something Jesus surely overlooked when teaching us to pray). In fact, the good resources are by far outweighed by the dubious or those that are just plain bad. For example, a section dealing with collections of prayers points readers to the Roman Catholic collection Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours (which, as we might expect includes prayers to Mary) while overlooking classics like The Valley of Vision.

In the end, I admire Yancey’s willingness to ask difficult questions and to really wrestle with the difficult questions surrounding prayer. I felt he did a particularly good job of being sensitive to discussing the issue of physical healing and why God so often chooses not to answer prayer. But in the end, while Yancey asks many good and fair questions, his questions are far better than his answers. He is unafraid to ask difficult questions but is far more hesitant to answer them from Scripture or from within the well-established stream of Protestant theology.

At almost 350 pages, Prayer is not a quick read. Still, Yancey is a gifted author and he makes those 350 pages easy and even enjoyable to read. Sadly, much of what he writes is false; dangerous even. The questions he asks are questions any Christian may have asked before him and will continue to ask long after him. Unfortunately, the answers he provides are often less than scriptural. Those who read this book and follow it by investigating the sources he recommends, could find themselves confused indeed. At the very least they will find themselves led further from the objective reality of Scripture and towards experiential and mystical subjectivity. While this book is meant to be an honest account of Yancey’s struggles with prayer, I couldn’t help but feel he was far more honest with his misgivings and his questions than he was with what he feels are the answers and solutions. When it comes to answers, he seems deliberately vague.

With books on prayer crowding the shelves at the bookstores I see no reason to recommend this one above the many alternatives that may not be as interested in asking the tough questions, but are surely far more honest in directing the reader to the Bible where the answers may be found.

10 years 1 month ago
It was an interesting experience reading Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor), for only a year before its release I had been present at the Desiring God National Conference where the contents of the book were first presented as keynote addresses. With only a couple of exceptions, each chapter of this book is drawn from one of those speeches (those exceptions being Dustin Shramek’s chapter and an appendix entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” which was initially written by John Piper when he learned of his prostate cancer and was subsequently added to by David Powlison when he was diagnosed with the same disease). I had, then, some familiarity with the material before I began to read it. I knew which authors would provide a theological framework for suffering and which would focus instead on their first-hand experiences of suffering. I even knew what most of the authors would say. Still, I enjoyed reading the chapters as much as I enjoyed hearing the speeches one year ago. I am sure I learned as much from them the second time around.

This is not a book that deals with suffering as an abstract principle. In the introduction Justin Taylor writes, “The authors do not write as mere theoreticians, waxing eloquent about abstract themes. No, this is a book of applied theology. Its theology has been forged in the furnace of affliction.” Of the contributors, two are paralyzed, two lost parents when they were only young, two have recently suffered the death of a child and two are even now battling prostate cancer. “The point of mentioning this is not to portray them as victims or to elicit your sympathy, but rather to reiterate that they are fellow soldiers in the battle, fellow pilgrims on the journey.” They are equipped to speak about suffering because they have suffered.

While it is by no means a requirement that the book’s chapters be read in order, those who do so will first find theology and then the practical outworking of that theology. The first part of the book looks primarily at God’s sovereignty in suffering. John Piper writes the first chapter, expounding “Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand in it.” The impetus for this book and this chapter, he writes, “comes from the ultimate reality of God as the supreme value in and above the universe.” Over against a breed of evangelicalism that is increasingly shallow and inequipped to deal with difficult subjects such as suffering, Piper presents the absolute sovereignty of God, even in this. Following Piper is Mark Talbot who seeks out the gracious hand of God in the hurts others do to us. He answers the claims of Open Theists and others who seek to diminish God’s sovereignty, showing that, while God never does evil, He does ordain evil. He is sure not to let God off the hook for His role in suffering, for God does not want to be let off the hook.

To begin the second part of the book, which focuses on God’s purposes in suffering, John Piper writes two chapters, asking why God allows suffering. He looks first at the greatest act of suffering that can or will ever occur—the death of Jesus Christ. “The death of Christ in supreme suffering is the highest, clearest, surest display of the glory of the grace of God. … Suffering is an essential part of the tapestry of the universe so that the weaving of grace can be seen for what it really is.” Or, put most plainly and simply, “the ultimate reason that suffering exists in the universe is so that Christ might display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God by suffering in himself to overcome our suffering. The suffering of the utterly innocent and infinitely holy Son of God in the place of utterly undeserving sinners to bring us to everlasting joy is the great display of the glory of God’s grace that ever was, or ever could be.” In the following chapter he asks why God appoints suffering for His people and gives the following six reasons drawn from Scripture: suffering deepens faith and holiness; suffering makes your cup increase; suffering is the price of making others bold; suffering fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions; suffering enforces the missionary command to go; and the supremacy of Christ is manifest in suffering.

The fifth chapter is written by Steve Saint, a man whose story has been told in venues around the world. He frames his speech around two events that caused him great suffering: the death of his father and the death of his daughter. Reflecting on these events he writes, “I don’t advocate that we look for suffering; life brings enough of it on its own. But what I do advocate is that suffering is an important prerequisite to ministering to hurting people. Christ took on our likeness and subjected himself to the suffering that plagues us.” In Christ’s willingness to suffer we see the value of suffering ourselves, for in our pain we can sympathize with others. Carl Ellis Jr. then writes about the sovereignty of God in ethnic-based suffering, encouraging Christians to demonstrate “the true meaning of ethnicity rather than imitating the world with ethnic power struggles, marginalization, and oppression. We need to glorify God by being on the vanguard of spiritual unity with ethnic diversity.”

The book’s final section focuses on God’s grace in times of suffering. David Powlison looks at how the grace of God meets us in our suffering. He structures this tender, pastoral chapter around the six stanzas of the hymn, “How Firm A Foundation.” Dustin Shramek’s contribution, entitled “Waiting for the Morning during the Long Night of Weeping” affirms the sovereignty of God even in the death of his infant son. He examines Psalm 88 which he considers the most discouraging chapter of the Bible for it is filled with pain and searching but ends without a move from pain and grief to joyful triumph. “He [the Psalmist] had not experienced the deliverance he cried out for. He was still just as discouraged then as he was when he began writing.” Shramek shows how this man’s experience was not unique and draws principles from it. The final chapter is written by Joni Eareckson Tada. She discusses a line from the film The Shawshank Redemption which says, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” While admitting that hope can be difficult to find in tragedy, she affirms the importance of hope and shows how her life is marked with hope for the life to come.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God continues the tradition of fine books based on keynote addresses at the Desiring God National Conference. Along with Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (my review), it is a compassionately biblical and pastoral examination of a difficult subject. Suffering is an experience common to all human beings and is an issue we all wrestle with at one time or another. This book provides encouragement that God is sovereign, that His purposes are being worked out in suffering, and that even through the darkest trials there is hope. I am confident that this book will be used by God to encourage many of His people, both those who have already suffered greatly and those who have not, but are seeking to equip themselves for the trials that are sure to come in this fallen world.