Canadian Church History

Over the weekend, I spotted a review of Prof. Phyllis Airhart’s recent book on the United Church of Canada written by Mark Noll, an American church historian who has a keen eye for things Canadian. Here’s a link to the review, and if you find that intriguing, click on the cover image for information on getting the book from Crux.



Sweetly Surrendering?


A Review of Sweet Surrender by Dennis Hiebert (Cascade, 2013)

by Carolyn J. Mackie


A swift, cursory glance at the cover of Canadian sociologist Dennis Hiebert’s book about Christian marriage could have been enough to make me blanche and turn away. To a single, 30-something, feminist Christian like myself, a patriarchal title like Sweet Surrender, coupled with a saccharine image of a white picket fence, would normally indicate that, for me, the book in question qualifies only as a hate-read. In fact, it may have been just this sort of raging impulse which led me to pick up the book and take a closer look – and discover to my surprise and delight that, rather than advocating feminine surrender to male dominance, Hiebert’s title is a hugely ironic jab at the ways in which Christians have surrendered to cultural norms in our conceptions of marriage.

It seems like the book couldn’t come at a better time. The question of what marriage really is has come to the fore in the last few years, as state, church, and society alike have been forced to reconsider their respective answers to this question. Whether the response is retrenchment to established ideals or movement toward a change in the essentials of marriage’s definition, the question itself, and the difficulties we have had in answering it, point to an ambiguity in our collective understanding of an institution that many would still consider to be a vital constituent of our social fabric.

When we make the question more particular – what is Christian marriage? – our task is not necessarily any easier. And Hiebert’s contribution is, blessedly, to complicate the task, rather than simplify it. Hiebert walks his reader through ten “cultural mandates” related to marriage, asking questions such as, “Should marital parners select each other?’, “Should marriage be a separate social unit?”, and “Should the goal of marriage be intimacy?” In response to each question, Hiebert makes explicit those cultural mandates which have shaped and continue to shape Western conceptions of marriage and relationships, yet which are so ingrained in our collective consciousness that they often remain unnoticed and unchallenged. He then considers responses that Christians offer to these same questions, and finally, considers what Scripture might have to say. In most cases, Hiebert discovers that, while Christians may claim to have a biblical understanding of Christian marriage, we are most often merely conforming – surrendering – to the narrative of the culture we find ourselves in.

Hiebert is careful and incisive in his investigation, not shying away from challenging either the claims of secular romantic culture or those of contemporary Western Christendom’s love gurus. Hiebert is a sociologist, not a theologian or a Biblical scholar, and readers should not expect a constructive theology of marriage or a depiction of what Christian marriage should look like. However, he does offer a much-needed contribution to the marriage debates, as well as to individuals who are interested in the meaning of marriage for personal, relational reasons. Hiebert’s gift is that of asking the right questions and challenging us to think about what we are saying and doing. We are not so counter-cultural as we think we are – or as we should be.

Books We are Thankful For

October brings with it Thanksgiving, so our staff picks for October are books we are thankful for, or that remind us to be thankful.

To start with, we are all thankful that the fences are down, and the PanAm disruption to the business at the store is over. Then we are thankful for these books.

Cindy’s pick: 7 Women And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxis

seven women

Cindy says: “I am thankful for the women who have come before me, those who stood firm in their Christian faith in the face of adversity, those who gave voice to the injustices they saw, those who taught the next generation to have faith in God, and those who cared for the bodies, minds, and souls of those that society would rather forget.  The stories of these seven women will inspire and encourage both women and men.”

Carolyn’s Pick: Daily Prayer for All Seasons


Carolyn Says: “Prayer is hard for me. Written prayers can sometimes help with this. Occasionally I’ll grab the prayerbook sitting on my bedside table and make my way (usually skipping some parts, I’ll confess) through morning or evening prayer or compline. But to be honest, I’m just not disciplined enough to consistently pray through the services on my own (which is probably why they are designed for communal use).

However, I very recently discovered a prayer book put out by the US Episcopal church that seems ideally suited to my poor attention span. Daily Prayer for All Seasons takes the pray-er through the Hours (eight per day, if you wish to pray them all), with a unique set of prayers for each season of the church year. Each prayer service is thoughtful and beautifully written, yet blessedly short (1 or 2 pages). Additionally, the book itself is slim enough to make it easy to carry around throughout your day. If, like me, you have a faltering prayer life and could use some help in making your intercessions, thanksgivings, and confessions, and in receiving assurance of God’s love and grace throughout the day, I highly recommend this book!”

Dr. Heather’s Pick: Space for God: The Study and Practice of Spirituality and Prayer by Don Postema


Dr. Heather says: “This book was a text in an introductory course on Christian spirituality. While I knew about the ideas of giving thanks and gratitude before I took the course and read the book,  Space for God helped me recognize the importance of gratitude as a daily practice. When I see the book it reminds me that thanksgiving is important all the time not just at some seasons of the year.”

Sheila’s Pick: A blank journal


Sheila says: “Earlier this month, I began a journal of thankfulness.  My prayer partner and I were giving thanks for the many blessings which we have received and to which have have been witnesses over the past twenty years.  We decided to keep a journal to record so that we may remember the many, many reasons God has given us to give thanks.  So my pick for the month is a blank journal and a quotation from Father Alexander Schmemann: ‘All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God…God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation.’ (From For the Life of the World p. 14.)”

Connor’s Pick: Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis


Connor says: “I chose this as my pick for October, on the theme of things for which I am thankful, because I am taking a course on climate ethics, and Laudato Si breaks from the narrow, consequentialist bent of the readings for that course. Pope Francis articulates how our actions not only change the environment, but also our attitude toward others and towards other things around us. To be thankful for what we have and where we are requires us to think not only in terms of cause and effect.”

Andrew’s Pick: A Secular Age by Charles Taylor


Andrew says: “Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is without a doubt one of the most profound books written by a Canadian ever. I am particularly thankful for A Secular Age because of the impact it had on my own life. What does it mean to live in a secular age? Has God in fact died? (hint: Taylor is a practicing Catholic). Open up this massive book and simply read a chapter that grabs your attention. You will not be disappointed!”