Here are short reviews of a couple of books I have read recently, as well as some links to online blogs or articles I thought were interesting.
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A Plain Account of Christian Perfection by John Wesley
I grew up in a church that emphasized the theology of John Wesley. As I grew older, I came to disagree with some aspects of that theology, and subsequently paid little heed to anything related to Wesley. Over the last decade or so, my faith journey as brought me to the place where I am reexamining some of these doctrines that I abandoned years ago, especially with respect to sanctification and holiness. It was with in mind that I read a copy of Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. He wrote it to explain and defend his doctrine of Christian Perfection, which was at the time (and still today) very controversial. In the first part of the book Wesley recounts some of his personal faith journey that led him embrace the doctrine of Christian Perfection. Later he explains what he means by Christian Perfection: “The loving of God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love.” What was especially controversial was his belief that those who so sought God would have all inward sin taken away.
My personal struggle with this doctrine are two fold: the first is the admission by Wesley that “The generality of believers, whom we have known, were not so sanctified til near death; that few of those to whom St. Paul wrote in his Epistles were so at that time;”. In other words even a proponent of this doctrine admit very few people, if anyone, actually achieves this state. I found this to be a frustrating doctrine as a kid, as I felt I was striving for something unattainable. The other issue I have is the way people start to be measured against each other. A comment such as “And a thousand such instances there may be, even those who are in the highest state of grace.” While I do not believe Wesley intended it to be taken as such, discussions over who was in what level of sanctification were common in my church. They were not always bad conversations, but anything that leads us to be comparing our spiritual state to others is dangerous ground; after all how often do we find ourselves comparing unfavorably? We tend to minimize our own spiritual defects while focusing with laser precision on those in others.
If those are the weaknesses, there are also certainly strengths to Wesley’s teachings. His refusal to accept sin as normal has always been an inspiration for me (I have always struggled with the doctrine of ‘sin in word, thought, and deed every day’- it seems to trivialize and normalize sin). If Wesley had a somewhat unrealistic view of perfection, many people are prone to excuse making and endless self justifications rather than facing the sin in their lives. Wesley’s doctrine certainly challenges me in that area. Wesley’s “Rule” for Christian living is one that I think Christians of all creeds can embrace.
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever…you can.-John Wesley
A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, Hendrickson Christian Classics
By John Wesley / Hendrickson Publishers
Wesley’s impact on the eighteenth century church in England and, indeed, on the worldwide church, is incalculable. Through his long missionary journeys and preaching, his open air meetings, small group Bible studies, and accountability groups, he hoped to help the church of his day rediscover and claim the sanctifying, life-transforming power of God. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection is a short handbook that provides the theological and historical basis for his convictions and offers insights and instruction on what Christian perfection means for each believer.
The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkein
The Fall of Gondolin is the first story of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world that would later include stories such as the Simillarion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Set in the First Age of Middle Earth, The Fall of Gondolin recounts the tragic destruction of the hidden city of the Noldorin Elves by the forces of Morgoth (who was the ‘mentor’ of Sauron who would later become the primary evil entity after the later overthrow of Morgoth). At this time the Elves were living in fear of Morgoth, who had defeated the combined forces of the Elves in Men at The Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The city of Gondolin, hidden by encircling mountain chains, attained an almost mythical status as a refuge of freedom among the remaining Elves were who living in subjugation to Morgoth. Ulmo, the second most powerful of the Valar, sends a man, Tuor (cousin of Turin Turambar), as a messeger to King Turgon of Gondolin with a message that Ulmo hopes the Noldor will heed if they wish to survive against the power of Morgoth. As the title of the book hints at, Turgon does not heed Ulmo’s advice, and eventually Gondolin, like the Elvish strongholds of Nargothrond and Doriath, was destroyed by Morgoth.
Christopher Tolkien compiled and edited this book, which shows the development of this story over the years by his father, J.R.R Tolkein. Christopher presents several versions of the story, as well as some discussion of the differences in the differing versions along with some historical background of the time when each version was written. This book is definitely for the passionate Middle-Earth lover.
The Fall of Gondolin was a new story to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was never really completed, which was very sad to me as the final version was excellent up to the point when it suddenly stopped. I would recommend this book to anyone who is familiar with and enjoys the world of Middle-Earth.
Interesting Articles or Blog Posts
A Christianity Today article on the health impacts of Church attendance. Makes the cases that spiritual community is good for the body as well as the soul. “Medical workers who said they attended religious services frequently (given America’s religious composition, these were largely in Christian churches of one stripe or another) were 29 percent less likely to become depressed, about 50 percent less likely to divorce, and five times less likely to commit suicide than those who never attended.”
Russell Moore discusses why young people are leaving the faith in this insightful article. “The problem now is not that people think the church’s way of life is too demanding, too morally rigorous, but that they have come to think the church doesn’t believe its own moral teachings. The problem is not that they reject the idea that God could send anyone to hell but that, when they see the church covering up predatory behavior in its institutions, they have evidence that the church believes God would not send “our kind of people” to hell. If people reject the church because they reject Jesus and the gospel, we should be saddened but not surprised. “
Timothy Keller’s excellent article on the lack of interest in forgiveness. “Our culture is losing the resources for forgiveness and reconciliation. Many would say this a good thing, that forgiveness is a form of psychologically unhealthy self-loathing, and that it is also a way that oppressors maintain their power over victims.”
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