Saturday, February 27, 2016

Consider Your Calling - Gordon T. Smith

Usually, at least for me, when I think of God 'calling' someone to some type of work it is always in the context of some type of 'official' evangelistic type of work, such as one being a missionary overseas, starting a 'prison' ministry, working at a rescue mission, teaching a class at Church on Sundays…etc.    Normally it is always outside of 'everyday life', outside of one's secular profession and outside of one's life at home, it is something recognizably 'spiritual'.  The author of this book has a different perspective(one that I basically agree with).  The premise of this book, Consider Your Calling by Gordon T. Smith,  is  that the work that God  calls Christians to do is not just missionary work, or heading church ministries, but it is also the seemingly 'secular' callings.

 I LOVE the premise of the book, I just have some problems with how Mr. Smith tries to teach it.  First,  he talks about discovering ourselves, discovering what matters to us (after first asking what matters to God which is good), and I sort of get what he means but something seemed 'off' to me.  He says things like,"…It can be so difficult to peel back the layers of pretense and get to the heart of our identity, to the deep sense of who we are.  But we must, because wisdom is found here.  The wise are always those who know God and know the ways of God.  But the wise are also those who come to the gracious and liberating truth of their own self-identity. "  and "Saying yes to our lives will mean saying no to that which is not us. …we stop living with living with illusions about who we are or wish we were - and accept the life that has been given to us.  We embrace it, we choose it, and we walk with it." Yes, God will often work with our desires and interests, but what if He chooses to put us in a vocation which we have no interest?  Mr. Smith does say that, "…God's calling on our lives will consistently be in light of our actual circumstances."  And I completely agree with that and appreciate his bringing that up, I just wish he would have dealt more with submission to God when we end up in a vocation that we would not have chosen for ourselves, that we should try to develop an interest in it and do our work to the best of our ability to God's glory.  One really may end up in a profession in which one has no interest but doesn't have a plausible way of getting out of it.  For instance, in Biblical times I am sure that many (if not all) servants would not have an innate interest in their vocation if they had an unjust master, and perhaps they would rather have  done something else, but Paul tells them, "Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully."(1Pe 2:18-19 ASV)  Perhaps they were slaves or bondservants and didn't have a choice as to their profession, but if they were a Christian they already had their true identity given to them by Christ (they didn't have to analyze their own interests, their interests were given to them by God in His Word) and thus they knew how they were to act in their profession. 

The above brings me to another point that I think Mr. Smith should have dealt with, our identity in Christ - that type of 'self-discovery' is more important to discover first than the self-discovery Mr. Smith was talking about.  That is something that I do not remember him dealing with, the new people we are in Christ (defined by God's Word),though he does talk about us aspiring to deeper fellowship and  identification with Christ, I just don't remember him focusing on the fact that as Christians we are new creations/people in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), that that is something that we need to come to grips with first of all by reading God's Word which tells us who we are and what attributes we are to be pursuing, humility (and counting others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2)) ,self-control, patience, love, joy, submitting to authorities/bosses that God has placed over us (Romans 13, Titus 2:5..etc.), giving thanks in every circumstance, renewing our minds, dying to self…and on so on. The Bible is the best place to start for discovering our identity, if we realize who we are in Christ and how we are best pleasing to our true Master, then we are ready for any profession God assigns to us. 

Another thing that I didn't like was that Smith seems to think that the 'religious orders' of various monks (Benedictines, Franciscans…and so on) were legitimate works for God, but from what I understand, most monks were imposing sacrificial works upon themselves to earn some type of favor with God (for salvation or grace) rather than working from salvation/grace that God had already given, they worked for it, and that type of work is heretical as the salvation/grace of God is not of human works, it is not earned by us at all.

And lastly, he is a bit too open to liturgy for my taste, he encourages signing oneself with the sign of the cross before going about our work, and there is also a prayer at the end of the book that one can use in corporate worship.  He defines worship as "the liturgy of the gathered people of God" - But isn't true worship obedience?  Serving God and submitting to His will in everything?  I think he missed another great starting point there, instead of talking about how we are to participate in God's work by being like Him in being creative and working along with God's plan to redeem people, he could have, instead, defined worship and obedience/our work for the Lord/submission to Him and thus have come from the standpoint of "we don't only worship on Sundays, or at official church gatherings, we can worship every single day, every hour by our submission to His will and by our obedience to His Word".  And thus we can work at secular occupations and be worshiping God.  Yes we want to participate in the work of God (though I might have some trouble with how Smith described I in the book), but our participation is not just a privilege, it is 'worship'.  I must say though that I heartily agree with this statement the author makes:  "We are participants in the grand narrative, the work of the Creator and Redeemer.  It is not, in the end, all about what we are up to, but rather what God is up to."

All in all, though I loved the point of the book, I think that Mr. Smith missed some key starting points for the basis Christian service.  I'll end with my favorite quote from the book where the author is encouraging people to recognize God's sovereignty in their lives/in their occupations:

Our vocations are always for 'such a time as this ' (Esther 4:14). Our vocations are always for this time and this place.  Always.  We always embrace the good work to which we are called in response to actual circumstances, challenges and opportunities.  No one is ahead of their time, no one missed their time.  Further, this means that vocation is not generic, by which I mean that we do not fill out a form about ourselves and our interests and strengths and then turn to the back of the book to see if we are to be an engineer, artist or preachers.  Rather, our vocations are always received and responded to in light of the actual situations in which we find ourselves.  And typically these are circumstances over which we may have very little control.  We have been placed here, in this time and place, and now we need to navigate our way through what lies before us.   What must be stressed is that wise women and men refuse to think of themselves as victims of their circumstances, but rather as those who have been providentially situated - before God and in the grace of God - and will respond with courage, creativity and patience to what is at hand."

Many thanks to the folks at InterVarsity Press for sending me a complimentary review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable).

You may purchase this book at and at other websites/bookstores

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles Quarles is, as the title demonstrates, an account of the life of Paul with illustrations (mainly photographs) of the places he is associated with, maps to give one a picture of where he went, and photographs of archaeological finds from Paul's era.  For the most part, Quarles does a good job of sticking to the Biblical account, and I do not remember him questioning, or even hinting at doubting or questioning the Bible's accuracy in the least.

But I have a few issues with this book.  First, Quarles takes some liberties in imagining Paul's thoughts and feelings.  Here is an example of his imaginative pictures:  "Paul was happy to be back in Jerusalem.  He had lived in Jerusalem longer than any other place.  It still felt more like home to him than anywhere else.  His sister's family lived there (Acts 23:15).  He was thrilled to see her, her husband, and her children.  His nephew was practically a grown man now.  Where did the years go?  Paul wondered.  Paul had no regrets over the years he had invested in sharing the gospel around the world, but he did sometimes miss the joys of hearth and home, of watching his nieces and nephews grow, and of reminiscing with his sister about their childhood….when Paul looked into his sister's face, he still saw his father's eyes, and her smile was just like his mother's.  Looking into her face always brought back a flood of memories." He doesn't give these imaginative scenes a lot, normally he just gives a straightforward account along with historical details, he includes a bit of speculation, but doesn't paint imaginative scenes like the one above, but that just makes his ventures into imaginative 'pictures' of Paul even more out of place and embarrassing.

Second, and related to the above, the author makes statements in various places throughout the book that bothered me, speculating on why the Apostle's may have gone to such and such a city, or why they did such and such.  When he was speaking of Paul in Athens he was commenting on the strategic advantage of getting people in that city to see the credibility of the Gospel,  "If the gospel won acceptance in this intellectual center, it could no longer be dismissed as the fantasy of madmen.  Instead, Christianity would be recognized as a reasonable faith accepted by some of the world's most brilliant thinkers."  I really don't think that Paul's goal was to have the Gospel recognized as 'intellectually credible' by the brilliant thinkers of the day, rather I would assume, based on his writings that he would have expected the opposite,  "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."  (1Co 1:19-25)

And third, among the illustrations of the book is at least one nude statue of a man (the 'god' Hermes).  I don't need to know what the 'gods' of the day looked like, nor do I think that such illustrations are appropriate in a Christian book.  

Overall, I simply didn't 'love' the book, and I'm not exactly sure why.  Perhaps because one could simply pick up the Bible and read Acts and Paul's epistles to learn about his life?  I mean, technically speaking, it was Luke's biographical account of Paul that made it into the Bible, so who could really write a  better biographical account? I have absolutely no problem with people writing biographical accounts of Biblical characters as long as they make sure to have the Bible as the primary and most authoritative source of their information, and Quarles does a pretty good job.  it was okay and others may like it better. It does give interesting historical background information of the time.

 I really liked how Quarles ended the book, by encouraging a proper perspective of Paul as God's slave/servant, and that people should not admire the Apostle too much:, "Although those who study the life of the apostle cannot help but be moved by his faithfulness, inspired by his passion, and awed by his commitment they must not forget that Paul would blush, not with embarrassment but anger at such accolades.  To those who would deify him, he would retort, 'Men! Why are you doing these things?  We are men also, with the same nature as you' (Acts 14:15).  To those who would sing his praises, he would quickly reply, 'Was it Paul who was crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in Paul's name?" (1 Cor 1:13)….Although this book has attempted to help readers better know the mind and heart of the apostle Paul, Paul himself would insist that this was not the point….'For I didn't think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)  Know him, Paul would say.  Know him….If knowing Paul stirs a yearning ot know the One for whom he suffered, the One whose name he proclaimed, the One for whom he died, then Paul lived and died well. (then he quotes Phil 1:20)."

Many thanks to B&H/Lifeway blog review program for sending me a complimentary review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)!