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The Way of Discernment | Elizabeth Liebert

The cover of Liebert's The Way of Discernment“What’s God’s will for my life?” might be the single most common question asked of any pastor. The question usually comes from a person at the crossroads of a major life-decision. Should I change career or stay safe? Should I commit to that mission trip or stay at home? Should I marry him or move on? Elizabeth Liebert provides a holistic way to bring the decisions of life to God.

Three elements set this book apart from the rest.

  1. Grounded. Liebert grounds her discernment practice in the writings of Ignatius of Loyola. From the initial prayer of examen to reflections on consolation and desolation, Ignatius’ fingerprints are all throughout this book. From those Ignatian roots, Liebert moves out to glean wisdom from a variety of other sources, from Jonathan Edwards to the practices of the Quakers.
  2. Practical. Liebert is not only interested in providing a theology of discernment. She invites readers to “begin [their] own discernment process, rather than just thinking about discernment” (xi). To facilitate discernment, Liebert has included a series of exercises throughout the text which will give the reader the practical tools necessary to develop their own discernment practice. The book is so practical, I suspect it will become one of my most lent-out volumes (and re-purchased when my book isn’t returned)!
  3. God-Oriented. While some of the discernment practices included would find a welcome reception in a corporate boardroom, the overall thrust of the book is to determine God’s will (or to use Liebert’s preferred word, “call”). To retain this focus she emphasizes spiritual freedom through indifference. By this, Liebert stresses indifference to anything other than God’s fundamental call.

The Way of Discernment is theologically rich yet easy to follow. I will be sharing it with anyone who is seriously concerned with determining God’s next steps for their life.


Liebert, Elizabeth. The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Borne | Jeff Vandermeer

The cover of Vandermeer's BorneRachel and Wick live in a nightmare. The world they can’t remember—except through drug-like memory beetles inserted into their ears—has been destroyed and abandoned by The Company. Their lives have been reduced to scavenging the debris and detritus of failed biotech experiments. Then Rachel found Borne on the flanks of Mord, a multi-story bear-human hybrid experiment. Did I mention that Mord can fly?

If you’re reading this second paragraph, you might enjoy the New Weird genre described by Rose O’Keefe as “cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant.” Vandermeer’s Borne is not meaningless fiction. Publisher’s Weekly elevates it beyond weird fiction. Borne is “weird literature.”

The ethical dilemmas that Rachel and Wick face resonate with those that humanity faces in real life. This is all wrapped in a mystery story that will keep you frantically turning pages until you reach the end.

Like his earlier Southern Reach Trilogy, Borne is a compelling work of New Weird literary fiction that challenges the reader to see the real world in a new light.

 


Vandermeer, Jeff. Borne. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.

The Apostle Paul | Stanley E. Porter

The cover of Porter's The Apostle PaulMy first exposure to Paul’s life, thought, and letters came in my second year of Bible College when I was assigned F. F. Bruce’s magisterial Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free for a Pauline Literature class. One could view Stanley E. Porter’s Apostle Paul as a necessary update to Bruce’s work (xi). Porter begins with Paul’s background and reconstructs a chronology of his life and writing before analyzing the thirteen Pauline letters.

Porter is a specialist in the Greek language—a strength that shines through on almost every page. His knowledge of Greek allows him to situate Paul’s writing within broader Greek cultural norms, shining light on various details of Paul’s letters.

Particularly interesting was Porter’s section on pseudonymity. It is frequently argued that some of Paul’s letters are pseudonymous (written by someone other than Paul). Porter forces the reader to confront the implications of this view. First, it is fundamentally deceitful. The church from the start viewed the thirteen letters as Pauline which led to their canonical status. To believe that someone other than Paul wrote in the apostle’s name means the other person wrote deceptively. Second, there is the issue of double-pseudonymity. If you believe someone other than Paul wrote the letter, then the recipient is also in question, adding another layer of confusion. Porter repeatedly emphasizes textual evidence (or the lack thereof) over speculation and questionable hypotheses. The problem of pseudonymity, “combined with the evidence available, points to the Pauline letters being actually authentic” (168).

The New Perspective on Paul (led chiefly in various forms by Sanders, Dunn, and Wright) is another major area of debate in Pauline theology. Porter holds the traditional view against the New Perspective. For Porter, the New Perspective is not supported by Jewish evidence. Furthermore, the New Perspective misunderstands Paul’s use of language, especially the way that Paul understands “law.”

A major strength of this book is Porter’s balanced handling of the evidence for every Pauline question and debate. While he is never shy about stating his preferred option, the reader has unprejudiced evidence at hand to pursue a different reading.

I suspect The Apostle Paul will inspire a new generation of Pauline students to dig deep into the thirteen letters that bear his name.


Porter, Stanley E. The Apostle Paul: His Life, Thought, and Letters. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

Pentecostalism | Walter J. Hollenweger

The cover of Hollenweger's PentecostalismWalter J. Hollenweger (1927-1916), an ordained minister with the Swiss Reformed Church, book-ended his academic career with large works on pentecostalism. His ten volume (!) doctoral dissertation, Handbuch der Pfingstbewegung, was condensed then translated into The Pentecostals—a highly readable and insightful book on the origins of the global Pentecostal movement.

Pentecostalism is more than an update to The Pentecostals. In his earlier work he privileged history over theology. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is “a thoroughly theological book” (92) in which he traces the diverse roots of global pentecostalism. Hollwenweger identifies five theological roots which have fed the movement we see today:

  1. The Black Oral Root. While in the West today, “Pentecostalism is fast developing into an evangelical middle class religion” (19), things were different in the beginning. Hollenweger shows how pentecostalism is thriving in Africa, even if sects like the Kimbanguists of Zaïre make Western theologians nervous!
  2. The Catholic Root. Pentecostalism was heavily influenced by the Wesley brothers, who were in turn influenced by Roman Catholicism. Hollenweger traces the uneasy but definable influence of Roman Catholic theology on the pentecostal movement.
  3. The Evangelical Root. In this slim section, Hollenweger follows “the traces of Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification through the American Holiness movement” (181). His discussion of the relationship between pentecostalism, fundamentalism, and evangelicalism (ch. 15) is particularly insightful.
  4. The Critical Root. In this disproportionately large section of Pentecostalism, Hollenweger reviews the numerous critical issues which pentecostals are beginning to face. Fortunately, pentecostals can no longer be described as “anti-intellectual, evangelical-fundamentalist and anti-ecumenical” (van der Laan in Hollenweger 201)! Pentecostal scholarship has started to rigorously address broader theological issues such as liberation theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and post-colonial missions. From my perspective studying at McMaster Divinity College, the two decades of pentecostal/charismatic scholarship that followed the publication of Pentecostalism have added immensely to all the areas which Hollenweger surveys.
  5. The Ecumenical Root. This is Hollenweger’s wheelhouse. In both of his books on pentecostalism he repeatedly laments pentecostal disengagement with the ecumenical movement. In Pentecostalism he is cautiously optimistic that pentecostals are now engaging with the universal body of Christ as expressed by the World Council of Churches.

In Pentecostalism, the “elder statesman of Penteecostal studies” (Cox), shows the astounding breadth of global pentecostalism. Though technically an outsider, Hollenweger handles the diverse issues of this massive movement with critical sensitivity. I only wish he had a chance to update his work one last time before his passing.


Hollenweger, Walter J. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

Spirit Hermeneutics | Craig S. Keener

The cover of Keener's Spirit HermeneuticsEveryone has a hermeneutic lens through which they view the world—whether they realize it or not. For every academic who examines their hermeneutics with rigor (i.e. Gadamer, Thiessen), there’s that sweet soul in the congregation ‘claiming’ Jeremiah 29:11 for herself.

In Spirit Hermeneutics, charismatic New Testament scholar Craig Keener examines what a healthy pentecostal hermeneutic might entail. His conclusion is encouraging. The sceptical cessationism of twentieth-century Western christianity has given way to a hermeneutic that values God’s current active role in interpretation.

Keener thoughtfully covers a number of key topics. He emphasizes the role of global pentecostalism in reading scripture. Majority world views are just as valuable as Western views. He values careful exegesis (as his four volume commentary on Acts amply demonstrates), yet emphasizes boldly emphasizes the value of lay devotional reading.

For devotion and for church edification, . . . exegesis occurs within the believing community. Acts 15:28 does suggest the value of truly Spirit-led community understandings. (277)

When I ordered Spirit Hermeneutics, I expected to read a scholarly approach to pentecostal hermeneutics. What surprised me was the personal elements of this work. Keener adds autobiographical details which do more than illustrate his approach—they inspire the reader to challenge their presuppositions and to engage scripture afresh.


Keener, Craig S. Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

First and Second Samuel | Walter Brueggemann

The cover of Brueggemann's First and Second SamuelThe books of Samuel describe a critical shift in the life of Israel.

When the book begins, Israel had suffered through a series of increasingly impotent judges. The loose confederation of tribes increasingly wandered from God and did what seemed right in their own eyes. Into this world Hannah struggled and conceived a child—Samuel. When the book ends, Israel is a monarchy under the rule of King David, the second of two Kings Samuel anointed.

Here is the critical shift: Israel has gone from being a nation under YHWH to a nation under human kings.

Brueggemann’s commentary is excellent. He presents a close reading of the story of Samuel, Saul, and David with an eye for detail. All the political nuances which might escape the casual reader of scripture are brought to the forefront for consideration.

In Brueggemann’s reading, the heroes and villains of scripture are no one-sided caricatures. They are complicated, as human beings always are. David is no mere Sunday School hero—he is at the same time politically shrewd and spiritually attuned. He is human, warts and all.

The Interpretation commentary series is not overly technical. I would encourage any thoughtful Christian with a love for scripture to pick up this gem and read it alongside the text.


Brueggemann, Walter.  First and Second Samuel. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990.

Perspectives on Paul | Ernst Käsemann

The cover of Kasemann's Perspectives on PaulErnst Käsemann (1906-1998) was a German theologian who earned his doctorate under the supervision of Rudolf Bultmann. Perspectives on Paul is a collection of seven essays which are based on four lectures he gave in America along with three additional articles. Each focus (as you might expect) on an element of Pauline theology.

As with any fifty year old theology book, it’s not enough to read the author’s argument—you have to understand what the author is reacting against. This is especially true here since, “[c]ontroversy is the breath of life to a German theologian, and mutual discussion is the duty of us all” (60). Käsemann’s sparing partners include Hans Conzelmann and Krister Stendahl. As if anticipating Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism (which was published a full decade later), Käsemann argues strongly for a view of justification which is fundamentally individual—over against Judaistic interpretation of the law. On the basis of Pauline thought, Käsemann argues that the justification of the sinner—not salvation history—is the centre of the Christian proclamation.

His words are eloquent.

Salvation never consists in our being given something, however wonderful. Salvation, always, is simply God himself in his presence for us. To be justified means that the creator remains faithful to the creature, as the father remained faithful to the prodigal son, in spite of guilt, error and ungodliness; it means that he changes the fallen and apostate into new creatures, that in the midst of the world of sin and death he once more raises up and fulfils the promises we have misused. (74-5)

Perspectives on Paul reminds the reader why Käsemann is one of the key Pauline interpreters of the twentieth century.


Käsemann, Ernst. Perspectives on Paul. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971.

Phenomenological Research Methods | Clark Moustakas

The cover of Moustakas' Phenomenological Research MethodsPhenomenology is a philosophical perspective which has been co-opted by diverse professionals to serve as a qualitative research method. Clark Moustakas details, in his concise book, how to develop and execute a phenomenological research project.

Following Cresswell and Poth‘s recommendation, I chose this book along with van Manen’s Phenomenology of Practice as two key texts to further my understanding of phenomenological research methods. Unlike van Manen, Moustakas focuses more on research methodology than the philosophy itself. In fact, the chapters which situate method in philosophy are dense and challenging to understand without deeper philosophical background. (I was fortunate to have read van Manen’s book first.)

The strength of Moustakas’ book is his detailed yet straight-forward description of the actual process of phenomenological research. Moustakas centres almost exclusively on the original transcendental phenomenological vision of Edmund Husserl and describes how to apply his vision to modern research questions. This involves the epoche and reduction along with imaginative variation which prepares the researcher to create a synthesis of textural and structural descriptions of the phenomenon.

This book, along with van Manen’s Phenomenology of Practice, should be in the toolbox of every phenomenological researcher.


Moustakas, Clark. Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1994.

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