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.
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.
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
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!”
This month’s staff pick theme is Spiritual Heroes. Staff picked a book either by or about their spiritual heroes. This is what happened when we thought about our heroes:
The Spirit of the Disciplines and Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard
Cindy says: “The writings of Dallas Willard have greatly impacted my view of the spiritual life and opened my eyes to seeing that every moment of each day is a spiritual moment. How I live each moment–how I respond to people, how I respond to God’s calling–indelibly marks my life as a Christian. To live each of those moments for God requires the inclusion of the various spiritual disciplines into my daily routine–moments that allow me to draw closer to my Creator and Redeemer. I had the opportunity a few years ago to meet Dallas Willard when he was speaking at Wycliffe College. He did a book signing at Crux Books and we had the opportunity to have a quiet conversation. In that conversation I truly felt I was in the presence of a “man after God’s own heart.” He lived what he wrote about. I would recommend starting with his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, followed by Renovation of the Heart. Both books need to be read slowly and reflectively, taking time to journal thoughts, insights, and responses to questions raised by your reading.”
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Sheila says: “To narrow down the choice to one book for this month’s theme, a spiritual hero, was more of a struggle than usual. This past weekend, I picked up Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place to remember again the courage of Corrie, her sister Betsie, and their father, Casper who ran a watchmaker and repair shop in the Netherlands. All their lives, the Boom family had made a home for foster children and gave generously of what they had. Then the Nazis invaded Holland. And the family had to decide how to respond in the face a growing atrocity.
The March theme for our staff picks is “Books We Find Challenging.”
Sheila’s challenge: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
“I find Bonhoeffer’s choice challenging. As I am reading through this biography, I’m finding the issues Bonhoeffer faced similar to issues we face today. How do I live as a Christian in the world? How should Christians be involved in politics? The book has also challenged me to think about what I remember about the history of the first half of the twentieth century. I’m not always sure Metaxas’s presentation of the zeitgeist and timeline is accurate, but I need to do more reading to see if my impression is correct.”
Connor’s challenge: Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant
Connor might have said:
“I’m a philosopher, but Kant is challenging no matter who you are.”
On seeing Connor’s Staff Pick, Everyone’s Favourite Campus Chaplain said: “That Connor is a weird guy.” On hearing that this month’s theme was challenging books, EFCC changed his comment to: “Oh, OK, yeah, Kant is challenging.”
The Academics’ Challenge: Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics
Dr. Heather: Volume I.1, The Word of God
Dr. Heather says:
“This is the only volume of Church Dogmatics I’ve dipped into so far. It was pretty challenging.”
Ryan: Volume IV.1, The Doctrine of Reconciliation
“Karl Barth is easily the most important Protestant theologian of the 20th century. Perhaps more than anything else, Barth is challenging because of his rigorous Christocentrism. He wants all theological doctrines to be refracted through the lens of Christ, God’s personal disclosure of Godself to humanity. Readers will find this feature fully on display in this volume of the Church Dogmatics. Let Barth challenge you to see if you really think about humanity in light of Christ.”
Why do we try? Because it is is THE major work of 20th Century Theology. Plus most of our theological friends tend to be Barth scholars.
Here we are in March, a month of time adjustments, the start of spring, and almost the end of term for students at the seminaries we serve. March can be a difficult month — Lent plus Term Papers equals Stress. In recognition of those stressful aspects of March, our monthly staff pick theme is “Books We Find Challenging to Read.”
You can see from what staff members say about their picks for the month that we define “challenging to read” differently. Have you read any of our challenging books? Will you challenge yourself to read them?
Cindy’s Pick: To The Heart of the Mystery of Redemption by Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr
“Our staff pick “theme” this month was books that we find difficult but well worth the struggle to read, hence my selection of this book. I find that von Balthasar’s writings stretch my brain to the point of snapping, but after a long period of thought and reflection my brain begins to slowly absorb his theological insights. This book is particularly suited to the current liturgical season of Lent. Although it is a small book (only 135 pages) it is a long read. Like eating an elephant, it is best to digest this book one small bite at a time.”
Ed’s Pick: Generation to Generation by Edwin H. Friedman
“This book is dense with great information. It is challenging to read because you have to unpack every sentence. I found it a real tough slog, but worth it.”
Carolyn’s Pick: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
“This month’s staff pick assignment is to pick a book that we find challenging in some way. On author I find challenging to read is J.R.R. Tolkien. I know, everybody loves this guy. And everyone should read him, right? Well, I picked up Lord of the Rings about 5 years ago, and I think I got Frodo and his pals as far as Rivendell, where they are waiting still. Sorry, Tolkienheads, I just can’t get into it. Too much geographical detail, I think. And Tom Bombadil is just too weird.
My mom read The Hobbit to me when I was a child, and there were parts of it I enjoyed, most notably Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum. But picking it up and re-reading it would certainly be a challenge for me.”
Rev. Heather’s Pick: For Self-Examination & Judge for Yourself! by Soren Kierkegaard
Rev. Heather Says:
“I picked a hard-looking book by Kierkegaard because Carolyn picked a Tolkien book. Tolkien is one of my favourite authors and Lord of the Rings is one of the best books EVER. Carolyn loves Kierkegaard (she keeps picking his stuff for books you love months). She thinks Tolkien is challenging; I think Kierkegaard is obscure. But we are still friends.”
Sheila loves: For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann
Rev. Heather loves: Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Connor loves: Tales Worth Telling: Views from an Ivory Tower by Harry St. Clair Hilchey
Unfortunately we’ve only got a used copy of this book, available in-store only! Come in and pick up this collection of anecdotes from the history of Wycliffe College.
Ryan loves: The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
Ryan says: “The Silver Chair is my favourite book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a great entry point into the Narnia series or, for others, a great re-entry point.”