Monday, July 23, 2012

The Prayer Project

Dear blog readers

I have started a new project. 

For some time I have been endeavouring to write out prayers.  I find it helps me to turn scripture into prayer, to think about what I have read more and to how to apply it.
I now have a collection of prayers from the bible, from other sources and from my own thoughts. 

I have decided to put them into a blog, in the hope they might also be helpful for others.

I would love you all to have a look around the site and tell me what you think


Friday, July 20, 2012

Kate Quinn

I have found another historical fiction author to follow, along with Diana Gabaldon and Jean Auel. Plucked off a library shelf on a whim, Mistress of Rome, the debut novel by Kate Quinn was a great read.

Ancient Rome has always interested me, having been ‘tricked’ into studying Latin for 3 extra years at high school after 1 year of fantastic facts and interesting details about Emperors, gladiators, Pompeii, Mt Vesuvius etc. The reality of studying the language was painful (although slightly eased the way into NT Greek), but my interest in the time remains.

Set in the grim and bloody time of Emperor Domitian, a slave girl Thea knows only a life of servitude and pain until she meets Arius, a gladiator who becomes the conqueror of the Colosseum. Chance brings them together, scheming enemies tear them apart and yet their lives remain entwined when Thea becomes a favourite of the Emperor. As Domitian’s grip on the world becomes ever tighter, those around him start to wonder – can anyone dare to stop the Emperor, known to all as lord and god?

A number of the figures are people of history and it was great to read how she wove history and fiction together. At the end of the book she explains which is the fact and which is the fiction.

A quick search revealed she has since published 2 more novels. I quickly got my hand on the second: Daughters of Rome. Written as a prequel to Mistress of Rome, and set 12 years earlier in 69AD, known as the Year of the Four Emperors. As it suggests, Rome spend a year teetering between men who claimed the title of Emperor. Throughout each change the four women of the Cornelii family find themselves drawn into the instability of the city. One wants to be the Empress, another wants to record history, one finds herself married and divorced regularly according to whatever match brings most advantage to her family and the youngest would prefer to spend time with the racing horses. I also enjoyed finding a few characters from the first book and piecing some background details together.

Quinn has a real talent for taking an exciting period of time and then adding some extra characters to give it a personal touch.

I have eagerly reserved the third at the library – Empress of the Seven Hills.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gilead and Home

I finished the wonderfully touching and evocative Gilead by Marilynne Robinson the other week.

The Reverend John Ames is a minister in Gilead, Iowa in the 1950s. He is an elderly man surprised by the joy brought by falling in love later in life and the child that it has produced, and so he sits down to write a letter to his young son. It is a farewell as Ames knows he is nearing the end of his life, and so he sets out to record his life and the current events around him.

It is clear that Robinson has a deep and abiding understanding of and respect for the Christian faith, the bible and many theologians of the past. It could easily be read by anyone and appreciated for the quality work of fiction that it is.   But for those with faith and a familiarity with the bible, the references abound and add a deeper level of appreciation for the book Robinson has produced.

For those who are in ministry, there are also some wonderful gems:
That’s the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. (p9)

Since supper was three kinds of casserole with two kinds of fruit salad, with cake and pie for dessert, I gathered that my flock, who lambaste life’s problems with food items of just this kind, had heard an alarm. There was even a bean salad, which looked to me distinctly Presbyterian, so anxiety had overspilled its denominational vessel. You’d have thought I died. We saved it for lunch. (p144-5)
It was a treat to savour, slowly.

After enjoying this one so much, a week later I moved onto Home, the companion novel which tells the story of Ames’ close friends and neighbours, the Boughtons. This was much sadder, almost too gentle and it alluded to some things so carefully and understatedly that I think I missed some of the meaning along the way. It does not contain as many Christian truths or biblical references as Gilead, but it is a moving, emotional story that is wonderfully written.

If you are going to try them, I’d start with Gilead.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Trials of Theology

The Trials of Theology, ed. Andrew Cameron and Brian Rosner

Here is a book to give the theological student in your life.

When you head off to theological college, your heart and mind is full of excitement – what treasures of God’s word will I learn today?  Now I will learn how to deal with that tough pastoral situation.  I will now have answers to all my theological, ethical and other questions. Now I will spend my days surrounded by like-minded fellow believers with whom I will become close friends and share the joys of ministry together forever!

Very quickly however reality and disillusionment can set in: Why do I struggle to read God’s word for personal growth when I study it all day? How much new Greek vocab must I master this week?   I did not realise there were so many ways of interpreting this doctrine, how can I know the truth?  How is it that so many Christians can have so many different opinions and personalities, and why do I find them so hard to get along with?

Ah yes, there are trials in theological study, and Andrew Cameron and Brian Rosner have created an excellent book, almost a handbook, for theological students. Filled with wisdom from great theological minds of the past and present, it gives a clear warning of the dangers of theological study, yet continues to raise our hopes to the great gain, joy and benefit that such study brings.

I will not go into each chapter in detail but suffice to say there were nuggets of wisdom in each. I especially loved the voices of the past: Augustine’s encouragement to take time out from study to read, pray and weep; the treasures of Spurgeon’s wisdom to study the books you have in detail, rather than accumulate books for the sake of it (something I need to hear!); and B.B. Warfield’s sobering reminder that our spiritual fitness is much more important than our intellectual fitness:
A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly. (p51)

And the warning that studying God makes him become common to us:
Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the great things of religion may become common to you! Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life… find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such things as God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God! (p57)

The current voices were also wise and helpful, with chapters by Woodhouse, Carson, Trumann, Bray and Hollinger, all commenting on various disciplines in study – doctrine, ethics, church history and biblical studies.

I leave you with Rosner’s closing words:
Students do well to remember that the goal of our theological study is not to figure out God, but rather, to arrive at awestruck incredulity and joyful confidence in God. It is to be blown away in wide-eyed, transfixed adoration. To miss that is to miss everything and to fail to glorify God in our studies. The aim is not finally an accurate eloquence, but to become lost for words, in the praise and wonder of God. (p191)

Well worth reading for any bible college student or anyone supporting them. 

(also posted today at in tandem)