Thursday, October 20, 2011

from the book pile, 2011: Todd D. Hunter, Tim Chester

I've been working my way through the tower of books teetering off the antique writing desk that serves as my nightstand.  Working my way through reading and working my way through the thoughts and learnings each title provokes.

When I first started this blog in 2006 one of my goals was to nurture a forum that kept me accountable for the cultural goods I consume.  Of course, I didn't really know then to articulate the goal in those terms.  The truth dawns gradually: as in in worship so as in culture -- I did not make it, but it is making me.

Having also gotten quite clear with the truth that I will never be a professional book reviewer, I've let myself off the hook and changed up the way I document my reading.

Ironically, these books were the next I had lying around waiting for me to journal them here and they're both intricately connected to our move to Christ Church.  Perfect timing, yes?

  Hope you enjoy!


24. The Accidental Anglican: The Surprising Appeal of the Liturgical Church

Author:  Todd D. Hunter 

Genre: non-fiction, personal narrative

Published: IVP Books, 2010

General Impression:  The title of this book intrigued me because I have a feeling it's a handle Brian and I might borrow to describe ourselves someday.  I'd hoped for a little bit deeper unpacking of the title's tagline "the surprising appeal of the liturgical church."  Still, I was reading the book at the same time Brian was interviewing for a pastoral position in an Anglican church.  The timing was kind of perfect.

Hunter, now an Anglican bishop, started his years of ministry leadership in the Vineyard movement, a  fresh-faced member of the Jesus movement.  It's not a turn you'd normally expect, but I'm discovering that the Vineyard movement and the Anglican tradition to be connected in some key ways.  Among other distinctives, both groups have a profound appreciation for the work of the Holy Spirit and both celebrate the mysteries of God.  

Hunter wrote in a simple, very accessible manner his experience of ministry and movement toward the Anglican Mission.  My disappointment with the substance of the book was soon lifted when I realized that his story was comforting because he was addressing many of my unspoken fears.  With every story he told of embarrassing moments trying to figure out some of the more formal traditions of the church (i.e., going to the bathroom before putting on his vestments, being mistaken as a costumed priest when he wore his collar in public on Halloween) I felt more relieved.  Brian and I were moving from 40 years of non-denominational, low-church liturgies and had no experience worshiping in, let alone working in, an Anglican liturgy.  (next time you see him, ask my son Andrew to tell you his funny story of sipping the communion wine our first Sunday at Christ Church!)  I figured if one of the church's Bishops could be so unfamiliar and self-described, bumbling, into the liturgy then we ought to be fine.

I don't mean to infer that there is no depth to the liturgical descriptions in Hunter's writing.  The book is actually written in two parts and the second part ("What I Like About Anglicanism") does give some outline to the teachings and traditions held dear in the Anglican Mission.  Certainly, anyone wanting to read an enjoyable primer on the denomination would do well to start here.

An excerpt from Part 2, chapter 14, "The Spirit of Anglicanism: A Sweet Reasonableness":

"There is a 'sweet reasonableness' about most [Anglican evangelicals]. Historically, Anglicanism does not bully but simply sets itself forth. It invites participation, contemplation and conversation. This is a great gift to the poster-modern, post-Christendom situation.
This spirit is important to me because I have become weary of the increasingly dogmatic, angry, unkind, un-Christlike, argumentative and dishonest spirit in much of the religious debate in America. Rationalized by a concern for the truth, this harmful spirit flows like a devastating oil spill from certain media outlets, churches and conferences. I can hardly stomach it. I have great empathy and patience with the growing number of people who are leaving churches marked by this spirit."  [he goes on to explain he realizes not all churches are marked by this spirit and that, certainly, truth is worth fighting for.  Also that Anglican churches are not perfect.]  

"Some representative commentary regarding the on purpose results within the congregation of the accidental bishop." (the book's conclusion):
  • "I find [the Anglican church] to be a safe place.
  • "The liturgy is vital."
  • "I've never knelt before in church."
  • "I find myself recalling words from the liturgy during the week."
  • "I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit."
  • "Confession is powerful."
  • "The Creed puts words to my core beliefs."


25. A Meal With Jesus: Discovering Grace, Community & Mission around the Table

Author:  Tim Chester

Genre: non-fiction

Published: Crossway, 2011

General Impression:  In preparation for our move to Christ Church, we were listening to the weekly sermons.  We'd heard that we'd be arriving right at the beginning of a sermon series inspired by this book and so I ordered a copy and read it all along the cross-country road trip from New York to Austin.  What a beautiful introduction to our new church family, to the hopes for this community.  

Most of us are aware of the spiritual meaning to the discipline of fasting, but how often do we consider the spiritual meaning to feasting? Chester reminds us of the Jesus who came to seek and save, yes, and also to eat and drink.  He posits that this endless feasting of the Messiah is not random, but full of meaning for us as His followers.  With only a quick reading of Chester's chapter titles, you'd get a pretty clear idea of his hopes for the book:

  • Meals as Enacted Grace: Luke 5
  • Meals as Enacted Community: Luke 7
  • Meals as Enacted Hope: Luke 9
  • Meals as Enacted Mission: Luke 14
  • Meals as Enacted Salvation: Luke 22
  • Meals as Enacted Promise: Luke 24
Sometimes I feel nervous reading Christian books with as specific subject matter as eating meals; I'm nervous about formulas or extra-biblical theorizing.  This does not happen in Chester's book.  He manages to write a beautiful blend of biblical narrative, enlarging our imagination for the life and ministry of Christ, while giving us some practical ideas with the vehicle of story and anecdotes.  

In short, this is one of those books that will become part of my life and understanding from here forward.  

If you'd like to listen to the sermons preached at Christ Church, following the chapter outline listed above, click here (five sermons, 7/31/11 - 09/04/11).

(p.s., sometime I'll write about one of Christ Church's regular events called "Come to the Table"; a meal and conversation about food, justice and grace.)

An extended excerpt:

"Eating is an expression of our dependence. God made us in such a way that we need to eat. We’re embedded in creation; this means that every time we eat, we’re reminded of our dependence on others. Few of us eat food we ourselves have grown and cooked. Even the more self-sufficient among us still rely on other people. Food forces us to live in community, to share, to cooperate, and to trade. In all societies there’s a division of labor, which means we work together to provide the food we need. The division of labor frees us from constant hunting and gathering to develop science and art. A humble loaf of bread expresses the mandate God gave humanity to develop agriculture, technology, society, commerce, and culture.
Above all, food expresses our dependence on God. Only God is self-sufficient. We are creatures, and every moment we’re sustained by him. Even our rebellion against him is only possible because he holds the fabric of our universe together by his powerful word. Our shouts of defiance against God are only possible with the breath he gives.
Every time we eat, we celebrate again our dependence on God and his faithfulness to his creation. Every time. Food is to be received with gratitude. “Taking the five loves … he gave thanks” (Luke 9:16 NIV).
Nobody in the ancient world ever took their food for granted.” Today it’s different. Today we have Walmart. Walmart receives one of every five dollars customers spend on food. If it were a nation, Walmart’s economy would be larger than Argentina’s. In the UK the equivalent is Tesco. According to Andrew Simms, “there is little, now, that Tesco does not promise in terms of meeting your daily needs.” Notice the godlike language. “Not only does Tesco aspire to become the commercial equivalent of the nanny state, providing every product and service imaginable—something that is unhealthy for many reasons—it also aspires to have a store format for every location.” Tesco is omnipresent and omnipotent. Walmart is Walmart Jireh, Walmart the Provider. We may direct our prayers to God, but it’s Walmart to whom we go for daily bread.
Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:2-3). That is how Jesus teaches us to pray. We need to pray for our daily bread not because we’re worried about where our next meal might come from, but because we’re not.
We not only express our dependence on God by feasting, but also by fasting. Just as food points to the goodness of God, so the hunger of fasting reminds us of our need for God. Most of us rarely get hungry before the next intake of food comes along. When we perceive no need, then our self-sovereignty is undisturbed. But fasting brings our need to the fore. Fasting reminds us that we’re creatures. We’re not self-existent. As the hunger pain bites, we recognize with gratitude and prayer our dependence on creation, on community, and on God.
Fasting reminds us that we depend on God for physical satisfaction, but also for spiritual satisfaction. Our hunger for food heightens our hunger for God. We typically become grumpy when we’re hungry. Some of us medicate through food. Our habit when in need is to turn first to food for escape or refuge. Fasting retrains us to turn to God."

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