Economy of Sin | Wendell Berry

Why God might particularly favor a nation whose economy is founded foursquare on the seven deadly sins is a mystery that has not been explained.

—Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community (New York: Pantheon, 1993), 85.

Ponder and Pray | Victor A. Shepherd

The cover of Shepherd's Ponder and PrayDevotional writing frustrates me. If I’m going to set aside time every day to read about scripture, I expect more than cute anecdotes and generalized applications. Much of what I’ve read makes me feel like I’ve spent ten minutes in the Hallmark aisle of a drugstore rather than seated before my Creator.

Ponder and Pray is different. Full disclosure: Victor Shepherd was one of my most influential professors during seminary. I started these readings with high expectations and I was not disappointed. Despite being written over 30 years ago (the original copyright date is 1984), the meditations were so rooted in scripture that they were thoroughly relevant.

The meditations are written in two parts. The first half unpacks a scriptural idea such as the cross, repentance, or joy. The second half is a prayer which is as lengthy and important as the prose that precedes it. Shepherd spent as much time preparing the prayers as he did the meditations—and it shows.

I think it would be fitting to close this review with the last lines of the last prayer in the book:

Eternal God, you have quickened our zeal for the day when we shall stand before you without spot or blemish. Then increase or faith, deepen our repentance, magnify our ardour, that our prayer may be the cry of our ancestors, “Come, Lord Jesus!” And unto you we ascribe all glory, honour, dominion and power, now and ever. Amen. (98)

—Victor A. Shepherd, Ponder and Pray: Seven Weeks of Meditations and Prayers for Personal Enrichment During Any Season of the Year (Mississagua, ON: Light and Life Press, 1993).

Quotesplosion! Victor Shepherd Edition

Every weekend I post a quote from a book I’ve read. These are culled from my pencil-scrawled marginalia: underlines, vertical lines, stars, and circles. Occasionally a book comes along that is so jam-packed with profound quotable material, it would overrun my Weekend Wisdom category for months! Victor Shepherd’s short devotional, Ponder and Pray is one of those books.

Instead of making you wait and read these over the months to come, I’ve decided to collect all the best below. Enjoy!

Meditations

Surely there are as many ways of encountering Jesus Christ as there are ways of falling in love (11).

Faith is neither wistfulness nor wishful thinking, nor hoping for the best. Faith is a peculiar knowing which arises from our Lord’s having met us and seized us and put his mark upon us (19).

Without the Spirit we merely “say prayers”; with the Spirit we pray. Without the Spirit we move mechanically through religious exercises; with the Spirit we worship. Without the Spirit a congregation knows only middle-class manners. With the Spirit it is bathed in love. Without the Spirit there is a weekly religious address; with the Spirit there is a witness manifestly inflamed and empowered (60).

Sin is telling God to “buzz off”. The telling may be explicit and fully conscious. But most often it is implicit and disguised. In any case the bottom line is the same. God is told to get lost (62).

Our grip on God, however weak in itself, will ever be strengthened. The one who wearies not seizes us so as never to let us go (73).

Speaking even the truth will edify only as we speak it in love. Our truth-telling must intend the well-being of another (80).

Temptation sticks and penetrates precisely when pleasure is waning and joy has not yet taken hold. Joy, life-contentment, sheds temptation (86).

Prayers

Free us from our possessions, lest we become possessed by them as surely as evil spirits possessed others (29).

Illuminate your kingdom so brightly for us, we ask, that repentance will appear the only sensible course for us to follow (69).

Just as your kingly nearness formed and informed the ministry of our Lord in his days upon earth, so may your kingdom loom so large before us, so attractive, so necessary that we shall gladly leave our lesser loves and loyalties to become citizens of a new city and dwellers in a promised land (72).

—Victor A. Shepherd, Ponder and Pray: Seven Weeks of Meditations and Prayers for Personal Enrichment During Any Season of the Year (Mississauga, ON: Light and Life Press, 1993).

Sabbath as Resistance | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's Sabbath as ResistanceI remember the uncertainty in my mind the first Sunday I went to work.

Raised in a Pentecostal church, I was well aware of the classical prohibition against Sunday shopping. Still, when our small-town IGA decided to open on Sundays, I was scheduled to bag groceries. Fortunately, my church (and family) was grace-filled enough to also recognize the value of making a bit of money to pay for college.

In Sabbath as Resistance, Brueggemann takes a huge step away from these cultural issues (which are now firmly in the rear-view mirror of most North American Christians). Instead, he interprets the fourth commandment in light of other Old Testament passages.

Unlike some of the shorter prohibitions against murder and theft, the Sabbath command is quite robust:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

The essence of this command, for Brueggemann, counteracts life in Egypt where the Israelite’s worth was determined by their around-the-clock brick making ability. Sabbath reminded Israel that they were more than producers and consumers.

This command is incredibly life-giving. In consecutive studies, we see how it has the potential to free us from anxiety, coercion, exclusivism, and even multitasking!

If you’ve ever felt overloaded with the simple task of living in our consumer-oriented society, this short study is gold. Mediate on these passages and learn the freedom that comes when we resist “the seductions of Pharaoh”.

—Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014).

Galatians for You | Timothy Keller

The cover of Keller's Galatians for YouGalatians is a powerful letter that has inspired many responses. Luther’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was one of his most important works. In it he fleshed out what it meant to be justified by Christ’s merits alone. Eugene Peterson was so driven to communicate the truth of Galatians to his church, he translated it into modern language—the birth of The Message. Now Timothy Keller launches a new study guide series: Galatians for You. (I wonder: is For You a comment on N. T. Wright’s For Everyone series?)

Having read this letter and many of its chief commentators in the past, I wanted a fresh take on it to inspire a weekly Bible Study and Prayer meeting at my church. Timothy Keller’s work fit the bill.

Keller is that unique person who is able to marry deep theological truth to practical reflection. On page after page, you are led to reflect on the meaning of the passage as well as how it can change your life. This is one of the few study guides where I’ve actually used many of the discussion questions at the end of each section.

I do have a few issues with Keller, largely resulting from the theological disconnect between my Wesleyan-Arminian roots and his Calvinism. I also was disappointed by his lack of interaction with the New Perspective on Paul (although he does offer a short appendix on his rationale).

That said, these issues are minor. Like the cover says, this is an excellent book for you to read, feed, and lead others with.

—Timothy Keller, Galatians for You (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2013).

Meek & Mild | Stanley Hauerwas

We cannot try to be meek or gentle in order to become a disciple of this gentle Jesus, but in learning to be his disciple some of us will discover that we have been gentled.

—Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 39.