KB Categories Archives: Book Reviews

2016 AFFN Convocation: Webber Book Roundtable

Video-IconVideo Content: The Final Session of our 2016 AFFN Convocation was a regularly-recurring feature of our annual gatherings: a focused discussion of one of Robert Webber’s books or another author’s work related to ancient-future faith, or of some aspect of ancient-future orthopraxy. Again this year, Dr. Ellen Koehler chaired and commented on the panel discussion, this time on Webber’s Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community. In this second book in the Ancient-Future Faith series (published in 2003), Bob addressed the question: How can our evangelism produce not only converts, but disciples who grow in faith and become active members of the church? In other words, how does mission look and function when the goal is not just breadth of numbers, but depth of maturity? Looking to the ancient church, Bob notes that evangelism and discipleship were not seen as separate activities or callings, but rather were integrally related, expressed and realized in a long-term, holistic process – a life-long journey that involved the whole Christian community. And he argues passionately that a recovery of the ancient ways provides the answers to the longings and conditions of the post-modern world.

Panelists for this lively and intriguing roundtable included Dr. James Hart (DWS, President of the Institute for Worship Studies), Dr. Nancy Nethercott (DWS, Co-Director of the IWS GROW Center, and TEAM missionary in Japan since 1987), Dr. Jonathan Nelms (DWS, pastor of Covenant Church in Cookeville, TN), and Ellen Koehler (Ph. D. in history, Director of Music and Liturgy at Epiclesis, Sacramento, and AFFN Board Member). Each of the panelists spoke to these questions from their own, diverse experiences and views. Jim spoke to the connection between mission and the growth of each of us in Christ-likeness, in essence godliness, as members of His body in the world. Nancy shared the implications and similarities of these responsibilities within the context of international evangelism. Jonathan encouraged and challenged us with experiences of his own congregation engaging in the needs of the Cookeville community in an ongoing way. And Ellen shared from the discipleship process at Epiclesis as an intentional implementation of the ancient understanding of evangelism and discipleship, what Webber calls a “Journey to Jesus.” The following discussion and comment period continued the exploration of these and other issues raised in Ancient-Future Evangelism.

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Book Review: “Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of the Saint John’s Bible,” Michael Patella

WordAndImageDonald P. Richmond:

With a new millennium fast approaching, the monks at Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, asked themselves about what they could do to celebrate this event and honor God. In keeping with their monastic history, they decided that they needed to commission an illuminated Bible, written and illuminated entirely by hand on parchment. In doing so, they wanted to “find something that could draw upon the fifteen-hundred-year-old Benedictine tradition while simultaneously vivifying the Christian imagination in its service to the future” (p. xi). Their stated goals, among others, were “to glorify God’s word” and “to foster the arts” (p. xi).

Art for art’s sake is a dubious enterprise. Art in the service of Liturgy can be exceedingly dangerous. Utilizing the arts for liturgical purposes poses theological, aesthetic, historic and contemporary difficulties that cannot be superficially resolved. Upon deciding to commission an Illuminated Bible, the monks at Saint John’s Abbey determined to take the more dangerous path. And, in spite of some of my own hesitations, I am very glad they did.

Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of the Saint John’s Bible examines the principles used in preparing and providing a new Bible for a new millennium. Patella’s use of the word “hermeneutics,” as might be imagined, roots the Visio-Divina of The Saint John’s Bible to the ancient monastic model of Lectio-Divina. As such, and as clearly stated in the text, it embraces an ancient / future approach. Patella’s text is broadly divided into four, very capably presented (and beautifully illustrated), parts:


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Book Review: The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving the Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality

Donald Richmond:

The Story of MonasticismA book review: The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving the Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality
Greg Peters
Baker Academic, 2015
288 p.

What do pronounced scholarship, Evangelical Theology and historic monasticism share in common? Although significant headway has been made over the last number of years in this regard, the answer to this question is “not much.” Apart from a very few people, myself being one of the few, Evangelical Protestant Theology and monasticism have had little correspondence. With rare exceptions, to be an Evangelical Protestant AND a practicing monastic was almost unheard of.

Thankfully, and in large part due to the work and writings of Rev. Dr. Greg Peters, this has changed — and dramatically. The Story of Monasticism, Peter’s second book for Evangelicals on this topic, clearly, concisely and concretely articulates why Evangelicals should attend to monastic history, priorities, and practices. Beginning with a broad definition and several biblical examples, Peters outlines why Evangelicals must “care.”

Unlike Peters’ first book, Reforming the Monastery, whose intention was to succinctly provide a Protestant apologetic for Evangelical monasticism, The Story of Monasticism provides a detailed history that spans the ages. From the “pre-monastic impulse” through what he calls “Protestant monasticism” and into the 21st century, Dr. Peters takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of monastic history through the ages. All the “greats,” in my opinion, are represented.

Although there are many reasons to commend this particular work, let me cite only a few by way of contrast.

Contrary to many of the histories of monasticism, and there are quite a few, Dr. Peters is sensitive to Evangelicals. As an Evangelical Anglican priest who is a Professor at a conservative Evangelical University, Peters knows his audience and crafts his work accordingly.

Contrary to the New Monasticism, which, while commendable has its problems (as Dr. Peters and I have separately and collaboratively published upon), The Story of Monasticism is unapologetically rooted in history. His work does not try to reshape the history, as much as it seeks to report the history — albeit shaped around Evangelical considerations and concerns.

Contrary to a work of scholarship, such as with Dom Jean LeClercq, Peters’ work is accessible. While certainly a work of a scholar – which is why Father Peter’s writings are to be preferred above my devotional reflections – it is not scholarly, egg-headed, disconnected or irrelevant. Peters’ history is readable and reliable.

Contrary to works that entirely focus on Catholic and Orthodox forms of monasticism, and these ARE important, Peters’ book not only provides a compelling apologetic regarding Greek AND Latin monasticism, but includes the significant Protestant contributions as well. Although some people might now be able to cite examples of Protestant monasticism, Dr. Peters cites example after example — and dating back hundreds of years. Peters’ narrative is enlightening, enlivening, and convincing. He will, I hope, make YOU a convert to monasticism.

With Richard Fosters Celebration of Discipline (and not to overlook A. W. Tozer’s earlier awareness of the broader catholic tradition), Evangelicals began to reconsider and reclaim the classic Christian disciplines of our shared patrimony. Following Fosters’ lead, over the past thirty years other books, journals and papers on Christian Spirituality within Evangelical Protestantism began to emerge. Bible Colleges and Evangelical Seminaries began to develop schools focusing upon Christian Spirituality, formation and direction. With Peters’ two books, Reforming the Monastery and The Story of Monasticism, Evangelical Christians can now continue to broaden and deepen this knowledge-base for transformational purposes. I highly commend Father Greg’s writings.

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Book Review: An Inner Step Toward God: Writing and Teachings on Prayer


Donald Richmond:

an-inner-step-toward-god-writings-and-teachings-on-prayer-by-father-alexander-men-14An Inner Step Toward God: Writing and Teachings on Prayer

Father Alexander Men

Paraclete Press, 2014

Father Alexander Men was a priest, martyr, and master of prayer. Lacking time, and under a great deal of pressure, Men provided perceptive insights into both the philosophy (in the best sense of the word) and practices of prayer. Knowing its primacy in Christian formation, Men articulated an accessible appreciation for prayer — apprehended and applied.

Part One, An Inner Step, discusses the personal and parish applications of prayer. The priority is established in Chapter One, and its applications from “sacramental encounter” are discussed in Chapter Two — with emphasis given to the “Lord’s Prayer.”

Part Two, A Practical Guide to Prayer, provides poignantly practical tools for prayer. Included are his thoughts on preparation, place, posture and helpful practices. Spirit, structures and struggles are also discussed, with important attention given to the “Jesus Prayer.”

Part Three, Prayer and Great Lent, is my favorite section in this book. I was most pleased that I received the text during this Season of the Church Year. Beginning with a meditation on the Prayer of Saint Ephrem of Syria, so very central to Orthodoxy, Men then gives guidelines for the “Observance of the Great Lent.” Most useful, in this regard, were Men’s words on the focus for each of these weeks — providing an excellent framework for spiritual focus and formation.

Part Four, Prayer and the Communion of the Saints, centers upon selections from Men’s sermons (or Homilies) on Prayer that capitalize upon certain Saints, Public Prayers and Personal Guidance. As well, in the Appendix (A – D), Men discusses certain exercises, catechetical considerations, and provides a “collection” of prayers referenced in the text itself.

More than a manual on prayer, An Inner Step Toward God provides sound and structured spiritual direction for those who want to convert liturgy into life.

DONALDPRICHMONDThe Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond, a widely-published author, is Priest-Oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Order of Saint Benedict, and is connected to St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

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