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Fr. Charles Erlandson (Tyler, Texas United States)
258 of 267 people found the following review helpful
A Useful Manual for How to Excel in Life
, June 6, 2012
Let me offer an executive summary of "Turning Pro," before I give my detailed response. I consider "Turning Pro" to be a simple to read yet powerful self-help book. It contains a lot of practical wisdom that applies to almost every area of life. In particular, "Turning Pro" diagnoses the problem many of us have of being an amateur who settles for the lower things in life, out of fear and distraction. Pressfield then provides a remedy by defining what it means to Turn Pro and get serious about life and offers some wisdom on how to Turn Pro.
What made "Turning Pro" most useful for me was that it provided the motivation for an extended self-examination. When you understand what Pressfield means by "Turning Pro" you'll be compelled to examine the beliefs, attitudes, and habits of your life to see if they're leading you where you want to go and be.
Pressfield presents his wisdom in easy to read, small chunks. He whets your appetite for becoming a pro and clearly diagnoses the problem. However, even though the final section deals with how to become a pro, I left the book feeling as if there must be more. Maybe I'll need to go back and study the many brief points Pressfield makes: it may be all there, but somehow I felt like something is missing, so I'm giving the book 4 stars. Also, I feel like Pressfield beats a dead horse some times and begins repeating himself.
The book needs a Table of Contents, especially since there are so many small sections. It didn't work on my Kindle version of the book.
Now for the longer review.
For a few years now, I've profited from the works of Stephen Pressfield (as well as Seth Godin, with whom he has now partnered). But this book has a particular appeal to me. Ever since I've been in 2nd grade, I wanted to be a writer. For years, starting high school, I wrote poetry and novels, but never had success in getting my works published. I'm sure, after reading this book that one of the reasons I didn't find "success" as a writer was because I wasn't sufficiently professional in my approach but instead always remained an amateur.
Right off the bat, I appreciated the wisdom of "Turning Pro" because of what Pressfield presented as 3 Models of Transformation. His points that the therapeutic model of our problems (we're sick) and the moralistic model (we've sinned) are very similar to those made by Kent Dunnington in his excellent book "Virtue and Addiction" Dunnington's view is that the key to understanding addictions lies in the concept of habit: I highly recommend "Addiction and Virtue"!
Pressfield even devotes some time later to the ideas of both addiction and habits. In other words, there's a synergy of ideas that's taking place in our culture that's related to the idea of addiction and habits. At its heart, that's what "Turning Pro" is really about. Pressfield believes that the real problem is that we remain amateurs and never become professionals.
Becoming a pro, basically, is about growing up. It's about becoming a man or woman in a world filled with adult children. One of the most important quotes from the book is this: "The difference between an amateur and a professional is their habits." Re-read and memorize this quote, and put Pressfield's wisdom into effect, and you'll see a changed life. Throughout much of my life, I haven't appreciated the power of habits as much as I should have. This is true for me as a Christian, father, and teacher. But the older I get, the more I realize how much of our lives are shaped by our habits.
To be an amateur is to walk or run away from your true calling. This is the life of the addict or amateur: a life being distracted from your true calling. Once again, the application to my life, not just as a writer but also as father, teacher, and priest, is astounding! How much of the good life is about not being distracted from what's really important.
Here is a second powerful quote from the book which I recommend reading and re-reading: "The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a "life," a "character," a "personality." The artist and the professional, on the other hand, have turned a corner in their minds. They have succeeded in stepping back from themselves." This sounds a lot like Christian love, but regardless of your religious or philosophical stance, it's true.
Why do we choose distraction and addiction? Because it's easier in the short-term, and so much of what's wrong with our culture today is explained by what I call the bad trade of "short term gain for long term pain." Addicts and amateurs know that they're called to something great, but then they back away from the hard work and pain necessary to fulfill their calling. (Once again, spiritual analogies to this idea abound.) Addictions are the shadow form of our true calling and a metaphor for our best selves.
Pressfield catalogues our addictions and discusses: addictions to failure, sex, distraction (the cures for this are concentration and depth), money, and trouble (the payoff for prison is incapacity and safety). He philosophizes more on the meaning of addiction, saying that "The addict seeks to escape the pain of being human in one of two ways--by transcending it or by anesthetizing it." I believe there's truth in this but also that Pressfield could go deeper on many such points.
By the end of Book Two, I got the feeling that Pressfield was more or less repeating himself.
In Book Two, Pressfield states that "Fear is the primary color of the amateur's interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving." The professional is also fearful, but the difference between the two is how they handle this fear, something the book deals with in Book Three.
There are parts of the book throughout where Pressfield belabors his point, but here's another useful observation he's made: "The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others. The amateur craves third-party validation. The amateur is tyrannized by his imagined conception of what is expected of him. He is imprisoned by what he believes he ought to think, how he ought to look, what he ought to do, and who he ought to be."
He also says that the Pro "takes himself and the consequences of his actions so seriously that he paralyzes himself. The amateur fears, above all else, becoming (and being seen and judged as) himself." I went through a long period of being an "amateur," especially as a writer and teacher. But it wasn't because I was afraid of becoming myself: I just wasn't dedicated enough and didn't have enough good mentors.
I would agree, however, with his comment that "the amateur seeks instant gratification. In fact, I think this is one of the keys to understanding the amateur. Along with seeking instant gratification, the amateur and the addict "focus exclusively on the product and the payoff. Their concern is what's in it for them, and how soon and how cheaply they can get it." I see some of this in myself, and so in many ways "Turning Pro" has helped me conduct a useful self-examination.
The next important quote sent chills down my spine because I know it's true for me: "Because the amateur owns nothing of spirit in the present, she either looks forward to a hopeful future or backward to an idyllic past." I have a tendency to keep looking to the future, and I'm quite nostalgic for the times in my life when things looked so much better.
Another part I don't agree with is the idea that the Tribe doesn't care and that it's all up to us. One of the problems with a lot of us today is that we're too individualistic and don't realize our need for true community. In fact: I think a lot of postmodernism is being homeless and with no true community.
How does Turning Pro change your life? You face your fears, your activities, and your habits. You structure your days to achieve an aim. And it changes how you spend our time and with whom you spend it.
Pressfield closes Book Two by saying that Turning Pro involves a painful epiphany.
In Book Three, Pressfield finally gets to the payoff: how to Turn Pro. He lists 20 characteristics of a pro:
1. The professional shows up every day
2. The professional stays on the job all day
3. The professional is committed over the long haul
4. For the professional, the stakes are high and real
5. The professional is patient
6. The professional seeks order
7. The professional demystifies
8. The professional acts in the face of fear
9. The professional accepts no excuses
10. The professional plays it as it lays
11. The professional is prepared
12. The professional does not show off
13. The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique
14. The professional does not hesitate to ask for help
15. The professional does not take failure or success personally
16. The professional does not identify with his or her instrument
17. The professional endures adversity
18. The professional self-validates
19. The professional reinvents herself
20. The professional is recognized by other professionals
Here are a few bonus characteristics:
A pro is courageous; a pro doesn't get distracted; the pro is ruthless and yet compassionate with himself; lives in the present; delays instant gratification; does not wait for inspiration; and helps others.
Listen to this next part carefully: it's one of the secrets of life. "The physical leads to the spiritual. The humble produces the sublime. It seems counterintuitive, but it's true: in order to achieve "flow," magic, "the zone," we start by being common and ordinary and workmanlike." I've found this to be true in life, over and over again.
Finally, Pressfield gets to some of the "how to" that I was waiting for. The professional mindset is a practice. To "have a practice" in yoga, say, or tai chi, or calligraphy, is to follow a rigorous, prescribed regimen with the intention. This section reminds me of another favorite book of mine: "Talent is Overrated." Our habits, our practices, are what will make us pros.
What follows is a mixed bag of attitudes the Pro needs to have. Some were more useful than others. Out of all of these, the most useful was this: "I have a code of professionalism. I have virtues that I seek to strengthen and vices that I labor to eradicate."
Pressfield concludes by appealing to the Kabbalah, Platonic philosophy, and the worldview of the Masai to suggest that in life there is an upper and lower realm (guess which we're supposed to inhabit.
By the end of the book I was very clear on what Pressfield was saying about Turning Pro. But I was left wanting more practical insight into how to do it.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Persuasive on the Chinese Threat but Not on Obama's Role
, December 1, 2011
I found Decker and Triplett's "Bowing to Beijing" to be a very informative book on the growing dangers that China poses to the U.S. Unfortunately, the book shows an unnecessary bias at times. However, in spite of this, Decker and Triplett are ultimately persuasive in portraying the dangers of China. In fact, they succeeded in making me revise my understanding of China in an important way, which I'll describe below. They are much less successful in portraying how President Obama has helps hasten Chinese domination.
Decker and Triplett are at their best when they objectively chronicle the ways in which China is a threat to the U.S. On this most important issue, they are very persuasive as they catalog only a partial list of ways in which China threatens the U.S. One of the best sections of the book is the first one, which deals with the "New China" Myth. The "New China" Myth is that China is gradually emerging as a more modern and progressive society. According to this myth, if the U.S. keeps trading with China and making them rich, eventually we'll convince them of the virtues of a free capitalist society.
This is the one major area where the book made me revise my beliefs about China. I remember teaching high school economics and government years ago, and I taught that China was on a collision course with itself. The new freedom of Chinese capitalism couldn't co-exist forever with the old Chinese oppressive Communism. I cautiously predicted that the taste of capitalism would eventually cause the Chinese to gradually become capitalistic - either that or ruthlessly regress to a more purely Communist state. But after reading "Bowing to Beijing," I now believe that China can continue to do what it's currently doing: allow a crony capitalism which benefits a lot of people to some degree but mostly aggrandizes the power of a relatively few elite families.
The facts are that China still does not have a great deal of religious freedom or freedom of the press. Property rights exist primarily to enrich the elites, and the right to life is not valued much in Communist China. The key to understanding why capitalism as we know it in the U.S. will not be likely to transform China for the better is that the economy is tightly controlled by a hereditary oligarchy called "the Princelings." This group of 200-300 descendants of the original Communist Party members are the primary beneficiaries of economic wealth and political power.
Other useful information in "Bowing to Beijing" includes a discussion of the growing Chinese militarization. This includes not only a growing military expenditure but also a smuggling axis of arms of which China is a part. Just as unsettling is the way in which China is virtually declaring war on the U.S. through stealing and spying. In the last 3 years more than 60 Americans have been prosecuted for spying for China. Also, China has been attacking computer systems in the U.S., as well as stealing a lot of American technology.
The chapter on how the U.S. has become economically dependent on China is well known material, but I'm still glad they included it. A final chapter on how many American political leaders are unduly influenced by Chinese money and power was newer material to me and among some of the most disturbing in the entire book.
There are 2 things that keep the book from being a 5-star book. I would like to give it three and a half stars, but I'll round it up to four. First, there are some places where the authors unnecessarily seem biased against President Obama. I don't mind if they sharply criticize him, but some of the attitude towards him seems gratuitous in a book of this nature. More substantially, I find part of the major premise of the book - that Obama is hastening America's demise and Chinese domination - to be relatively lacking in substance. If the book were portrayed a book speaking generally of China's growing threat it would have been more satisfying. As it is, there are a few pages here and there where details are given about how Obama or his administration are either ignoring the Chinese threat or purposely obscuring it. But there is not nearly enough of this information, given that one of the premises of the book is precisely that Obama is actively facilitating the Chinese threat. If that's the claim of the book, then more evidence should be concluded.
In summary, the book is a good overview of the Chinese threat but fails to establish Obama's role in this as much as it should have.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Good Material but Too Episodic and Superficial
, November 22, 2011
Albert Moehler is a Christian phenomenon. His presence for the good of God's Kingdom seems to be everywhere, and finally he's written a book. While I agree with almost all that Moehler has to say in "Culture Shift" I still don't think it's a great book. This is primarily because the book is divided up into 25 episodic chapters that have no overall theme except the vague one of "Culture Shift." Since each chapter is only 6-7 pages or so, this doesn't leave a lot of room for Moehler to go into much detail.
I do enjoy the range of the topics Moehler covers, which is some (but not enough compensation) for the sort of shotgun approach of the book. The first chapter, Engaging the City of Man is good as far as it goes but is far too general to be of real help. Other examples of weak chapters are Chapter 19 on Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream and Chapter 20 on Islam (which needed to be dealt with at much greater length). Chapters that I found somewhat helpful include Chapters 2-4, where Moehler sustains an argument about Christian morality and law, and Chapter 14 on Who's Afraid of the Fetus (on the importance of using the ultrasound to educate and change minds.)
Overall, the book is sound in which Moehler teaches, but it's just not deep enough. Think of it as a sort of Christian primer on a number of cultural issues and the book has some, but limited, value.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
|DVD ~ Richard Burton|
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Powerful Historical and Religious Film
, November 22, 2011
In examining various lists of the greatest religious films ever made, "Beckett" is one film that inevitably appears - and with good reason. While it would be easy to think of "Beckett" as being a great film because it was nominated for 12 Oscars, I measure its greatness in terms of its acting, the writing, its historical element, and its themes of true religion and friendship.
First, the acting. Both Richard Burton (Beckett) and Peter O'Toole (King Henry II) received Oscar nominations for their roles, and both deserved it. Having either of these great actors in his prime would be a treat, but having both together is something special. While I detest the selfish and self-destructive Henry II that O'Toole portrays, O'Toole makes Henry an intriguing, comical, and tragic figure for the viewer. Burton's Beckett, on the other hand, ends up being someone who is not just crafty as at the beginning of the movie but also courageous and substantial in the end.
The writing is also excellent. The movie actually won the Oscar for Best Screenplay, and it's not surprising. "Becket" is based on the play by French playwright Jean Anouilh and was adapted for the screen by Edward Anhalt. "Beckett" was actually Anhalt's second Oscar for Best Screenplay. The film manages to hold the viewer's interest, despite the length of the film (148 minutes): my two teenaged children were engaged throughout. Anouilh and Anhalt manage to make Henry and Beckett walk out of the history pages and become living characters. "Beckett" is also filled with a lot of memorable dialogue. Not the noblest words ever spoken by a husband, but certainly some of the most memorable are those spoken by Henry to his wife: "Your body, madam, was a desert that duty forced me to wander in alone. But you have never been a wife to me!" While my son's favorite quote was Henry's "I haven't bathed for a long time and I stink," the most famous is `Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?"
Which brings me to the historical element. While "Beckett," naturally takes liberties with history, the essence of the story is true. My wife and oldest daughter both like historical fiction, and "Beckett" is fine historical fiction. The movie gives you a sense not only of the conflict between Saxons and Normans in 12th century England but also of the centuries-long struggle between church and state in Europe.
But what makes the historical element especially rich is the film's religious dimension. "Beckett" is not only a historical film but also a religious one. I don't mean that it merely deals "with" religion but that it also illuminates some of the features of true Christianity. Dramatically, it's good writing to have Beckett undergo a transformation from sinner to saint when he's consecrated archbishop. Historically, it's a fact. But religiously, it's true. "Beckett" is a powerful portrayal of the grace of God in a man's life, yet it accomplishes this without ever becoming "preachy." The same grace that Beckett received and which made him able to forsake all for the sake of God and His honor is the grace which Henry steadfastly refuses to accept. Beckett's religious courage is an inspiring example to me and my children.
Finally, Beckett is about friendship. While Beckett and Henry's friendship begins with drinking and whoring, it's a much deeper friendship than that. In fact, it appears that Beckett is the only friend Henry ever had. The fact that Beckett ultimately chose God over Henry is not only a threat to his kingship but, perhaps more importantly to the cinematic Henry, a threat to his friendship. For while Henry hates Beckett, he also loves him.
"Beckett" is a masterpiece on many levels. I highly recommend it!
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Some Good Ideas Mixed with Careless Claims and Not So Good Ideas
, November 12, 2011
Many Christians have recognized that the Church today seems to have a problem with men not coming to church. As a priest concerned about this trend, I decided to read David Murrow's "Why Men Hate Going to Church." While I found a lot of useful information in the book, I was disappointed in many places by Murrow's lack of discernment in evaluating some of the information he presents. Also, he seems to have taken a shotgun approach and has included almost any information related to the lack of men in church, without regard for a deeper discussion of the issues. In addition, some of his prescriptions are not, I believe, good ones.
As with much of the book, Chapter 2 contains some good statistics demonstrating the lack of men in church. But Murrow gives this away when he mentions elsewhere that this has been true historically and is true today for the Church throughout the world, and not just America. In other words, Murrow's thesis proves too much. If Christianity has always had more women than men in their churches, then not only is this not a new or specifically American phenomenon: it also may not be that bad of a thing. Such nuances never enter into Murrow's discussion.
In Chapter 3, Murrow lists some characteristics of men that may benefit the Church. While this list is somewhat useful, it also demonstrates a persistent, negative side of the book: Murrow portrays men in terms of particular stereotypes and seems to expect that all men will fit these stereotypes. Perhaps the most obnoxious of these is when Murrow claims that "highly masculine men are missing." Masculine defined how? Murrow slants his definition of masculine away from any men who are verbal, studious, and sensitive. To me, these characteristics seem to be the kind that will make a good pastor.
In Chapter 7, there's certainly some truth to Murrow's assertion that preaching, theology, and worship have gone "soft" and that there has been an explosion of female-oriented ministries. But as is usual, Murrow mostly asserts and doesn't prove his conclusions. Murrow also has a tendency to speak in such large generalizations that his book is less useful. For example, on page 9 Murrow writes that "Men don't hate God or Christ or the Bible or Christianity." Really? Many, many do.
He's also right in that so much of contemporary praise music are market driven and is about God being intimately at my side and even contain imagery that is overtly romantic and feminine. Chapter 12 is also useful when Murrow talks about the Church's use of feminine language and décor, hand-holding and emotion. These kinds of chapters help the reader form a larger picture of some of the many reasons churches may not attract men.
Chapter 10 on Twelve Things Men Fear About Church seems like a made up list of reasons not to go to church, and have very little to do with men specifically. It's another place where I find Murrow's analysis to be shallow.
Finally, some of Murrow's prescriptions are market driven - one of the things he correctly criticizes. In Chapter 18 he says that sermons should use visuals, be short, use humor and laughter, and do something unexpected. Murrow seems to advocate dumbing down worship for men. Similarly, his prescriptions for how to make Sunday school relevant are destined to make it meaningless. Rather than returning to a richer biblical or catechetical approach, Murrow would have us hold Sunday school in a large, open room and use a style that gives boys "an equal chance to win." His church has renamed Sunday school "Adventureland." As children arrive, they're allowed to run around in a large room with lots of things to play with. One room even has a climbing wall. There's a competition and a video, a brief lesson, and then more free play. This sounds more like daycare than a time to instruct children in the things of God! Likewise, he advocates churches building cool spaces for youth to gather so they can play foosball and air hockey.
In summary, there are some good ideas in this book, but also some bogus ones, and not a lot of depth behind the ideas as presented.
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own and were influenced only by the quality of the book itself.
177 of 183 people found the following review helpful
Wise and Wonderful, Profound and Practical
, November 10, 2011
Marriage is clearly a troubled institution in American culture, and that includes even among American Christians. The problem is that so often Christians have accepted the world's definitions of marriage. While many Christian books have been written on marriage, Tim Keller's "The Meaning of Marriage" is one of the best.
What makes "The Meaning of Marriage" so excellent? At least four things. First, Keller gives a vision for marriage. His main reason for writing the book, in fact, was to give both Christians and non-Christians a vision for marriage. What is Keller's vision for marriage? Keller writes, concerning the meaning of marriage, that "It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us." More than this, Keller (in Chapter 6) relates marriage not only to "the dance of the Trinity" but also to Christ's love of the stranger (Chapter 5).
The second reason "The Meaning of Marriage" is so excellent is that Keller bases his views on the Bible. Time and again, instead of turning to what the world teaches about marriage, Keller returns to the Bible, especially Ephesians 5. While Keller begins with the Bible, he does more than just quote Scripture: he unlocks its meaning and applies it to our lives. This is what makes his teaching on writing so profound and powerful. While he doesn't cover every possible topic, he does give a theological vision for marriage that will change your marriage for the better or better prepare you for marriage in the future.
Third, in presenting a biblical view of marriage, Keller directly challenges the worldly views of marriage, including many that have infected the Church. Among the most popular of these myths is that we should be looking for our "soul mate," in the sense of finding someone we're presently in love with. This view minimizes the importance of the hard work that goes into marital love. Keller also rightly rebukes the idea that we should not go into marriage expecting to change the other person. To the contrary, marriage is precisely for the purpose of sanctifying one another, and Keller demonstrates some of the many reasons why marriage is such a powerful means of sanctification for Christian spouses. Keller takes on many other myths as well, for example, the idea that marriage is primarily for self-fulfillment, instead of mutual sanctification and becoming one with another.
Fourth, "The Meaning of Marriage" is both readable and practical. Keller's ideas are rooted in theology but are written in a very readable prose. Most importantly, his book is eminently practical. While it's not a "How To" manual and doesn't give you every detail, he does amply illustrate and explain his major ideas on marriage. So practical is "The Meaning of Marriage" that it's applicable not only to Christian spouses but also non-Christian spouses and Christian singles. He has, for example, a chapter on a theology of singleness (Chapter 7).
There are many profound insights in the book. There was little that was new to me as a priest and as a husband who has worked every day on his marriage for 18 years. But there were still many revelations and "Aha!" moments that reminded me of what it was all about and encouraged me to love my wife to an even greater degree. As I'm writing this, she's out of town on a business trip (which she never takes). I can't wait for her to return so that I can begin immediately putting into practice some of the things Keller has taught me.
Here are some of his best insights:
1. You never marry the right person. No 2 people are compatible. For this reason, marriage takes a lot of love and work. Also, marriage profoundly changes us!
2. Two-thirds of unhappy marriages will become happy within five years if people stay married. Keller uses this to demonstrate the power of making and keeping a vow. Promising is the key to identity and is the very essence of marital love.
3. Actions of love lead to feelings of love.
4. Marriage is a friendship, and friendship must have constancy, transparency, and a common passion, which, for Christians, should especially be Christ.
5. Each spouse should see the great thing that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word. And each spouse should then give himself of herself to be a vehicle for this work of God.
6. Your spouse IS the "someone better" you're looking for! This is true if you see him or her in terms of the glory God intends for them, a work to which you are called.
There's much, much, more, and each chapter holds its delights and wisdom for the reader. I highly recommend both "The Meaning of Marriage," as well as "The Mystery of Marriage" by Mike Mason!
Keller presents his teaching on marriage, based on a sermon series of his, in the following chapters:
1. The Secret of Marriage - how marriage and the gospel relate
2. The Power for Marriage - submitting to one another out of love
3. The Essence of Marriage - covenantal commitment
4. The Mission of Marriage - marriage and mutual sanctification
5. Loving the Stranger - the power of love (all 4 kinds)
6. Embracing the Other - man and wife as one flesh; the Trinity as a model for marriage
7. Singleness and Marriage
8. Sex and Marriage
Epilogue and Appendix (Decision Making and Gender Roles)
96 of 137 people found the following review helpful
Fresh, Helpful Translation - Marred by Inclusive Language
, October 27, 2011
I'm a huge fan of N.T. Wright. He's a fellow Anglican, but more importantly I've enjoyed numerous works of his, especially his nuanced insights into St. Paul's language and theology. He's not only a first-rate theologian but also an excellent popularizer. For these reasons I had the highest hopes for his new translation of the New Testament: "The Kingdom New Testament."
While there's a lot to appreciate in Wright's effort, there are also a number of negative elements, the most negative of which is his insistence on inclusive language that distorts the meaning of various texts.
Wright's translation was written as part of his "Bible for Everyone" series. I've read and reviewed several of these popular commentaries on the New Testament, and they're excellent. Wright helpfully lays out his philosophy of translation in his Preface. He draws attention to the fact that his work is a translation and not a paraphrase, like, for example, Peterson's "The Message." I greatly appreciate this fact. He's opted for conveying an informality and sense of excitement and energy over a more formal or stately prose, an approach which ends up having both pros and cons, although in theory I like the attempt.
On many levels, I applaud Wright's attempt to make the New Testament fresh again by using less formal language. For example, in Matthew 1, Wright chooses to use "family tree" instead of "genealogy," which I think is a nice replacement word: it makes the language more familiar and easier to understand, without sacrificing meaning. There are numerous other examples of such happy word choices. As a whole, Wright's text reads very nicely and accomplishes its purpose of making the text less formal and more energetic. I also like the fact that at times Wright replaces the title "Christ" with either "Messiah" or "King." Even though it may sound unorthodox, I appreciate Wright's instinct to get away from the old language of "Christ" which for many seems more like a last name than a title.
Sometimes, however, Wright's language is jarring or seems inappropriate. For example, in Matthew 4:9 when Satan is tempting Jesus, he says, "I'll give the whole lot to you" (speaking of the kingdoms of the world.) Another example of an attempt to modernize that is not especially helpful occurs in Matthew 6:7 when Jesus proclaims "When you pray, don't pile up a jumbled heap of words!" An even less helpful translation occurs in Matthew 7:5 when Wright chooses to replace the word "hypocrite" with "play-acting." This substantially weakens the language, without any positive gain in the choice of words. There are many other cases of such unfortunate substitutions, even as there are many beneficial ones as well.
An example of where Wright's language is both helpful and less than helpful occurs in John 21, where Jesus and Peter have an encounter in which Jesus restores Peter. The less formal language is a good thing here: "I'm going fishing" instead of the more stilted "I am going fishing" and "We'll go" instead of "We will go" are good changes. However, for some unknown reason Wright has seen fit to take it upon himself to change Peter's words to Jesus from "You know that I love you" to "you know that I'm your friend." This produces no positive effect, while it lessens the force of what Peter is saying and has the downside of changing what God clearly intended (through St. John) to communicate.
While Wright's insights into Paul's words and theology have had a powerful influence on contemporary theology (I believe for the better) his great learning sometimes leads to confusing choices. This is especially true for his replacements for the word "righteousness" which occur throughout his translation of Romans. In Romans 1:18, Wright replaces "unrighteousness" with "injustice." This not only narrows Paul's intention here but also unnecessarily slants it toward one particular aspect of unrighteousness. It also makes less sense in the context of the larger passage. While Wright is aware as a scholar of the shades of meaning of the word "righteousness" it's just plain confusing to interpret the same Greek word 3 different ways in one passage. In Romans 4:3 "righteousness" becomes "putting him in the right;" in Romans 4:11 it's rendered "status of covenant membership;" and in Romans 4:13 it's translated "covenant justice." This creates more confusion than clarity, something Wright was clearly aiming at with this contemporary translation.
Wright's most unfortunate changes involve his mission to render the New Testament in inclusive language. As a proponent of women's ordination, he clearly has an ax to grind here, and it sometimes leads to unfaithful translations of the Bible. Not only has he changed the language to be less faithful to the original but when he's done so he makes it more difficult for the readers of his text to know what the original text actually says. There are many examples of this, some worse than others. The most numerous and least offensive examples are where Wright substitutes, for example, the word "brothers" with "brothers and sisters" or "family." A more substantial example is in Romans 5:15 and following when Wright substitutes "one man's trespasses" with "one person's trespasses." But the fact that Adam as a male was the covenant head of mankind is now obscured by Wright, and this covenant headship of both Adam and Christ is essential to St. Paul's thought. Worst of all, however, is 1 Timothy 2:11-15. While verse 11 should read "Let a woman learn quietly with submissiveness," Wright translates it as "They must study undisturbed, in full submission to God." "Study undisturbed" sounds like a woman studying on her own without distraction. But from the rest of the passage it's clear that Paul is talking about women in general when they are being taught by men. Wright's worst translation in the entire translation, as far as I could tell, is 1 Timothy 2:12. This verse should read "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." Wright doesn't even attempt to paraphrase here but radically alters the meaning. This is not a translation at this point but a deliberate attempt to re-write what St. Paul clearly wrote. Wright's version is: I'm not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather they should be left undisturbed." Whether you're in favor of women's ordination or not, we should all agree to let the text speak for itself.
It's a shame that Wright made some of the translation choices he made. "The Kingdom New Testament" has so much to commend it, with the theological background of Wright, the often pleasing and informal language, and some fresh word choices. Unfortunately, I believe the translation's flaws will prevent it from becoming, as Wright hoped, one of the 2 or 3 translations that modern Christians would most rely on.
133 of 136 people found the following review helpful
Striking New Insights Into the Rise and Growth of Christianity
, October 26, 2011
I'm a big fan of Rodney Stark because his works are both scholarly and readable, as well as being well-argued, well-researched, and positively revelatory. His new book, "The Triumph of Christianity," is similar to his earlier work, "The Rise of Christianity." However he not only extends the time of his discussion to cover all of church history but has also incorporated what he calls "new perspectives" on some old questions.
I highly recommend "The Triumph of Christianity" for the following reasons. First, Stark presents a lot of intriguing and important information that is hard to find anywhere else. Second, his work is very well-researched and based on this solid research he provides provocative insights into Christianity that are bound to deepen one's understanding. Third, Stark packs an amazing amount of information into one book. Fourth, while being academically sound his writing is also very readable.
Stark's startling insights often overturn a lot of mischievous nonsense about Christianity and common misperceptions. He does it with amazing clarity and authority, and what he says matches up with all I've observed about human behavior and what I've read about sociology. The book would be well worth its price for only a fraction of the revelations Stark communicates. I just finished the Kindle version but am thinking about also ordering a hard copy so I can properly mark it up as I like to do with an important work.
In Part 1, Stark presents a succinct and useful summary of other religions at time of Christ, as well as why Oriental religions (besides Judaism) appealed to the Roman world and paved the way for Christianity. These reasons include emotion, joy, music, the importance of congregations, a religious identity that competed with and could be more important than political or familial identity, and the fact that it offered more opportunities for women. Much of this is information you don't usually see in books on early Christian background, which usually focus on Roman politics or Jewish religion.
Chapter 2 shows the diversity of 1st century Judaism and also contains a wealth of information. I especially like the way Stark applies his model of the religious economy from previous works to the Jewish religious situation of the 1st century.
In Part 2, Chapter 3, I like the way that Stark emphasizes that Christ was a rabbi or teacher (stated many times in the Gospels) over the idea that he was a carpenter (mentioned once in a passage that may actually mean something else). "The Triumph of Christianity" is stuffed with such intriguing and helpful new ways of seeing Christianity. In this chapter, Stark also rehearses an incredibly important theme from some of his other works: the idea that "people tend to convert to a religious group when their social ties to members outweigh their ties to outsiders who might oppose the conversion."
While Stark had already convinced me in some of his earlier works, it will be astonishing news to some that Christianity appealed especially in the beginning to those of privilege (see Chapter 5). Chapter 6 is also a chapter of revelation as Stark argues persuasively that Christianity created a better (including longer and healthier) life for people, even here on earth. The idea that Christianity exalted women (and also marriage and children) more than other religions or philosophies of the ancient world (Chapter 7) may be old news to some, but it's a crucial idea that needs to be repeated. Stark's Chapter 9 on assessing Christian growth is also a re-statement of his earlier works, but it's a fascinating explanation of how and why Christianity grew so rapidly in the early centuries.
In Part 3 Stark switches gears somewhat as Christianity became established. Stark finds both good and bad in Constantine, which is generally a fair assessment. He explains that while Constantine's conversion ended persecution it also encouraged intolerance toward dissent within the church and greatly reduced the piety and dedication of the clergy. I have a slight disagreement with Stark here: a more positive and more detailed assessment of Constantine is given by Peter Leithart in "Defending Constantine." Stark presents an interesting and informative flow of Christian history as he describes the triumph of Christianity over paganism, which was not the result of Christian persecution but which was also not as complete as usually assumed. He continues with a discussion of Christianity's engagement and retreat from Islam and then re-orients the Crusades in a more positive light, as he does at greater length in "God's Battalions."
In Part 4 Stark rebukes the received wisdom that the rise of Christianity ushered in many centuries of ignorance subsequent to the fall of Rome. In fact, the so-called "Dark Ages" never existed. Lest the reader think Stark is simply slanting everything to make Christianity look nearly perfect, he's also quick to point out that medieval Christians weren't nearly as pious as we imagine they were. Perhaps most importantly, Stark correctly establishes the fact that far from impeding the rise of science, the West was the birthplace of science because of Christianity.
In Part 5 Stark argues that the new religious movements that arose in Europe prior to the fifteenth century are identified as heresies because they failed, while Luther's "heresy" is called the Reformation because it survived. While this is one area where I have to disagree with Stark, he does provide some good information for why the Reformation succeeded. Perhaps the most startling revelation in the book to me is that new research indicates that the Spanish Inquisition was much more a force of moderation than of torture and death than we've been told. I'll have to go and verify that one, but leave it to Stark to reveal it!
Finally, in Part 6 Stark revisits his research on how religions fare when there is religious pluralism, such as established in the United States. Stark's model explains, for example, why the fact that churches have to compete in a religious marketplace is actually a good thing for religion. If you want to read the definitive work on this, then read Stark and Finke's "Acts of Faith." Stark also contends with now disproved theories of secularization that naively assumed religion was on the demise. This, too, is an important truth that will be a startling reversal of the common myths we usually hear. Chapter 22 makes a fitting conclusion to Stark's meaty work because it chronicles the globalization of Christianity and explains some of the reasons why Christianity continues to grow, not the least of which is its cultural flexibility.
I strongly recommend "The Triumph of Christianity" to any serious student of Christianity, from educated laymen to Christian leaders to students and teachers. It explains a great deal about Christianity, all in one place, that you won't hear many other places.
The book is organized according to the following plan:
PART I - Christmas Eve
Chapter One - The Religious Context
Chapter Two - Many Judaisms
PART II - Christianizing the Empire
Chapter Three - Jesus and the Jesus Movement
Chapter Four - Missions to the Jews and the Gentiles
Chapter Five - Christianity and Privilege
Chapter Six - Misery and Mercy
Chapter Seven - Appeals to Women
Chapter Eight - Persecution and Commitment
Chapter Nine - Assessing Christian Growth
PART III - Consolidating Christian Europe
Chapter Ten - Constantine's Very Mixed Blessings
Chapter Eleven - The Demise of Paganism
Chapter Twelve - Islam and the Destruction of Eastern and North African Christianity
Chapter Thirteen - Europe Responds
PART IV - Medieval Currents Chapter Fourteen - The "Dark Ages" and Other Mythical Eras
Chapter Fifteen - The People's Religion
Chapter Sixteen - Faith and the Scientific "Revolution"
PART V - Christianity Divided
Chapter Seventeen - Two "Churches" and the Challenge of Heresy
Chapter Eighteen - Luther's Reformation
Chapter Nineteen - The Shocking Truth About the Spanish Inquisition
PART VI - New Worlds and Christian Growth
Chapter Twenty - Pluralism and American Piety
Chapter Twenty-One - Secularization
Chapter Twenty-Two - Globalization
243 of 266 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant and Provocative Book on Jesus and His Kingdom
, October 25, 2011
N.T. Wright's latest book, "Simply Jesus," claims to be a new vision of who Jesus is and what He did. Ultimately, the book is what it claims. It's a sometimes brilliant and inspiring re-presentation of who Jesus is and what He came to do. But unfortunately, Wright doesn't make this clear until the end of Chapter 11. A good summary of Wright's major theme is this sentence from Chapter 11: "The gospels are not about `how Jesus turned out to be God.' They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven." Put another way: the Good News of Jesus Christ has to do with much more than people simply escaping earth for heaven.
Wright develops this theme throughout and does, indeed, offer a fresh and invigorating vision of Jesus Christ. But the book is marred by the fact that Wright's best and most important ideas aren't clear until so late in the book that they would be easy to miss. In fact, I would highly recommend reading Chapters 11, 13, 14, and 15 first so that the rest of the book may be more profitable! Because of the wonderful, challenging insights in the final few chapters, I give the book 4 stars, despite a very slow and not particularly refreshing beginning.
Chapter 1 is very slow going and doesn't do much to present Jesus in a new light or help us to see Him any better. In Chapter 2, Wright presents 3 puzzles understanding Jesus represents: Jesus' world is foreign to us; Jesus' God is strange to us; and Jesus spoke and acted as if he was in charge. Chapter 2 wasn't particularly insightful.
Chapter 3 discusses what Wright terms the distortions of skepticism and conservatism. He's wrong, however, to put the two on the same level; one proceeds from faith and is an honest attempt to accept the Christ of the Gospels - the other isn't. He presents the "conservative" view in such a way that it's hard to find much fault with it, except that it does leave some important things out and has some misunderstandings. But this doesn't, at least from the discussion in Chapter 3, merit the approbation Wright uses. Why, for example, is he so upset with the fact that both skepticism and conservatism ask the question: "Did it happen?" Wright himself has already spoken of how Christianity is a historical religion. He clearly has an axe to grind against "conservative" Christians, who believe things very close to what Wright believes. This unfortunately mars this work by Wright. Why would he, for example, call it "would be `Christian" conservatism" when discussing a view that takes the Bible seriously and Jesus as the historical God made flesh? Chapter 3 also deals with historical complexity; unfortunately, Wright raises the issue here but doesn't shed much light on how to understand Jesus better until later in the book. I came to the book for a better picture of Jesus, not 3 chapters stating how our current views are inadequate.
Finally, in Chapter 4, Wright gets down to giving us some useful historical background to better understand the meaning of Jesus. He discusses, for example, the religious significance of Augustus Caesar and Jesus' threat to the traditional religion of Rome. I do like the way that Wright contrasts the Roman "retrospective" eschatology that looked to the past to the Jewish "prospective" eschatology that looked to the future. It's useful, as well, to see the 1st century Jewish situation as being set against an evil empire and a coming deliverer.
Chapter 5 is a chapter on God as King. There's nothing remarkable, but it does set the tone for the rest of the book which develops the major theme of the Gospels that God has now come as King. Chapter 6 explores the key theme that God's in charge now and is King. The chapter contains a useful, brief outline of Jewish history and a good treatment of the Exodus and 7 themes of the Exodus. Chapter 7 is generally useful as Wright presents God's rule as manifested by forgiveness and healing. But, again, nothing particularly new or exciting.
Chapter 8 is a little more interesting as Wright discusses the importance of the stories that Jesus told. "They were stories designed to tease, to clothe the shocking and revolutionary message of God's kingdom in garb that left the hearers wondering, trying to think it out, never quite able (until near the end) to pin Jesus down." It's useful to think of the parables as Wright does, that "They are saying: `Don't be surprised, but this is what it looks like when God's in charge.'"
Chapter 9 contrasts Christ as King with 2 failed Jewish kings - one before and one after Christ. It's useful as history and to make a point about Jewish expectations, but it didn't discuss Christ as King very much and therefore was not as helpful as it might have been. Chapter 10 is about battle the King will fight and how it's not so easy to see who's on which side of the battle.
By this point in the book I had resigned myself to having bought a book that wasn't particularly worthwhile. It would have been tempting to give up and go on to something else. Am I glad I kept reading!
Chapter 11, on Space, Time, and Matter, struck me as particularly illuminating and represents the kind of fresh look I'd hoped to see all throughout the book. Here, Wright portrays the Temple as the nexus of Heaven and Earth. He continues by exploring the themes of how where God dwells was redefined by Jesus, how Time was fulfilled by Him, and how God has instituted a New Creation. These are especially rich and fruitful themes that should help many Christians see what the true meaning of Christ is in a new and deeper way.
Perhaps the most important paragraph of the whole book is tucked away at the end of Chapter 11: "First, it will not do to suppose that Jesus came to teach people `how to get to heaven.' That view has been immensely popular in Western Christianity for many generations, but it simply won't do. The whole point of Jesus's public career was not to tell people that God was in heaven and that, at death, they could leave "earth" behind and go to be with him there. It was to tell them that God was now taking charge, right here on `earth.'" This thought lies behind Wright's earlier objections to "conservatism." It won't do to think of the Gospels as being traditional proofs of God, Wright says, but instead we should see them as ones that would have made sense to 1st century Jews. We should see Jesus "as the reality to which Temple, sabbath, and creation itself were pointing. That is, or ought to be, a clear indication that, in terms of the `God' of first-century Jews, Jesus understood himself to be embodying this God, doing things whose best explanation was that this was what God was doing, and so on."
In other words (and this is the very essence of what Wright is teaching): "The gospels are not about `how Jesus turned out to be God.' They are about how God became king on earth as in heaven." This is so important that I think Wright made a serious strategic mistake by not leading with these thoughts at the beginning. They are easily lost in much more mundane material.
Once again, I found Chapter 12 not all too illuminating. But Wright recovers his provocative and enlightening form in Chapter 13, where he frames Christ in terms of his uniting of the offices of prophet, priest, and king and his fulfillment of the Exodus story. Again, I wish there had been more of the material like Chapter 13. It's in such writing that he's at his best weaving together the complex imagery and narratives that culminate in Jesus Christ.
While Wright doesn't dismiss other ways of viewing the meaning of Jesus' death, such as an example of love, a representation of His people, and a penal understanding, Wright transcends these limited understandings. Ultimately, Wright thinks these other meanings are all united in the greater meaning that "Jesus's death was seen by Jesus himself, and then by those who told and ultimately wrote his story, as the ultimate means by which God's kingdom is established."
I love the way that Wright, in Chapter 14, speaks of Easter as being the New Creation that demonstrates that "God's kingdom is now launched, and launched in power and glory, on earth as in heaven." He ties the Resurrection, as well, to Ascension and Enthronement, two aspects that are often tragically left out of traditional conservative theology.
Wright concludes in Chapter 15 with where I wish he had begun: by a brilliant presentation of how Jesus is already the Ruler of the World.
In the end, "Simply Jesus" lives up to its large claim to be a new look at Jesus and what He did. I heartily recommend it with the very important qualification that the best material is all in the last 5 chapters. You may want to read them first!
Wright presents his ideas in the following chapters:
Chapter 1 - A Very Odd Sort of King
Chapter 2 - The Three Puzzles
Chapter 3 - The Perfect Storm
Chapter 4 - The Making of a First-Century Storm
Chapter 5 - The Hurricane
Chapter 6 - God's in Charge Now
Chapter 7 - The Campaign Starts Here
Chapter 8 - Stories That Explain and a Message That Transforms
Chapter 9 - The Kingdom Present and Future
Chapter 10 - Battle and Temple
Chapter 11 - Space, Time, and Matter
Chapter 12 - At the Heart of the Storm
Chapter 13 - Why Did the Messiah Have to Die?
Chapter 14 - Under New Management: Easter and Beyond
Chapter 15 - Jesus: The Ruler of the World
529 of 601 people found the following review helpful
Provocative Prophesy of America's Future
, October 18, 2011
I have to say at the beginning of my review that while I don't always agree with Pat Buchanan's prescriptions, his descriptions of what's going on in America tend to be highly accurate and significant. Even if you disagree with Pat's assessment of the trends he chronicles in "Suicide of a Superpower," his passionate portrayal of these trends should be provocative and enlightening for both his critics and his allies.
What Pat presents are undeniable trends that are in the process of radically transforming America. It's up to us to debate whether these radical changes are good or bad, but we should thank Pat Buchanan for bringing so many of them together all in one place, and for helping to connect the dots to see how they all relate. We all know that these dramatic changes are provoking a series of crises: we'll all be better prepared to deal with these crises if we know what we're up against. What we'll all have to decide is if we want a Christian nation with the moral, economic, and social fruit of such a culture, or whether we want a more relativistic, socialistic, and atheistic nation.
Pat begins in his Introduction with a warning from Soviet Russia: that America is no longer truly a nation, which he defines as "a people of a common ancestry, culture, and language who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays, [and] share the same music, poetry, art, literature." Pat's thesis is clear throughout the book: America is disintegrating before our eyes. "What happened to the country we grew up in?" It's a question that I, as someone born in 1960 and someone who shares Pat's Christian beliefs, can identify with.
Pat begins his argument in Chapter 1 with an economic argument. I heartily agree with his assessment that our debt is a huge problem and that we have, unfortunately, become a "food stamp nation." I also share his misgivings about the role of The Fed in leading to a weakening of the American economy. However, while I agree that China is an economic threat, I don't completely buy Pat's negative assessment of globalization. In "Suicide of a Superpower," because Pat covers so many topics, he doesn't have to make an extended argument, for example, for his view of globalization. The most important statement Pat makes in Chapter 1 is that "the failure of our system is rooted in a societal failure."
Pat turns to "The Death of Christian America" in Chapter 2. Like it or not, this is the root of all of the momentous changes in America in the past several decades. Whether you hate or love the loss of the Christian identity of America, this transformation is the cause of all the others: to a large degree religion creates culture. It's clear from what Pat writes here and what others have written elsewhere that America saw herself as a distinctly Christian nation until recent decades. In Chapter 2, Pat gives but some of the many measures of how we are now much less a Christian nation, from the prayers at Obama's inauguration to the relative collapse of evangelical Christianity to the disintegration of The Episcopal Church. Pat then gives some measure of how the "death of God has blown up our decent and civil society." The loss of a Christian American identity has not only created many social ills but has also precipitated what have been called the "culture wars." I teach a class on Worldviews, in which I try to help my students see precisely the kinds of connections Pat makes for us. Most Americans only deal with individual issues about which they have feelings and are unable to articulate the theology and philosophy that are the foundations of their beliefs. Once again, Pat leaves us with a powerful and succinct summary of the point he's making: "the cycle is inescapable: when the faith dies, the culture dies, the civilization dies, and the people die."
Chapter 3 gives us a close up of the Crisis in Catholicism, as one particular measure of the increasing impotence of Christianity in America. This includes not only the disbelief of American Catholics and the decline in the numbers of priests, nuns, etc. but also the cultural bias so many have against Catholics. My sense is that this is because Roman Catholics are the biggest, most prominent church - and because abortion is such a high-order issue for many atheists and nominal Christians.
In Chapter 4, Pat deals with The End of White America. He presents some attention-getting statistics from the New York Times: "whites would become a minority in 2042 and would fall to 46 percent of the population by 2050, comprising only 38 percent of U.S. population under 18." I can see the growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. as a potentially positive thing. After all, as Philip Jenkins points out in "The Next Christendom," Hispanics are often devout Roman Catholics. But some of the facts that Pat presents has made me have to reconsider what the growth of illegitimacy, the allegiance of many Hispanics to Mexico, and other factors means for America's future.
Read Chapters 5-10 for yourself: they are necessary ingredients for understanding why Pat Buchanan and others fear the ultimate disintegration of America as we've known it. The push for equality of outcome, the cult of diversity, a nation that doesn't replenish its population and other disintegrating forces all lend strong support to Pat's overall thesis.
I'm fast running out of room in my review, so let skip to a discussion of Chapter 11, in which Pat discusses our "Last Chance." While I think Pat wastes too much time at the beginning rehashing some of the problems we face, he finally gets down to a potential solution. He starts with putting the nation's finances back in order, and I agree. This is an issue that has broad-based support, and if we don't solve this problem soon we may not survive long enough to deal with some of the cultural issues. Next, Pat recommends dismantling the American empire. For most of my adult life, I've been in favor of most of America's wars, but more recently I've had to re-think my position. While it's scary to contemplate a world without American intervention, it may, in the end, make us stronger and not weaker. I heartily agree with his proposal to downsize the state, and I think others are starting to agree. But, unfortunately, I think we're all so addicted to government handouts that we'll never have representatives who will vote for smaller government. Instead, I'm afraid that an economic catastrophe will force our hand.
Pat's final note is a weak one. I agree with him that we should reclaim a Christian culture and traditional religion and morality. However, Pat offers no real advice on how we can do this! If he's right (and I think he is) that culture follows religion, then he should have offered more advice on precisely this point.
In spite of a number of limitations I've mentioned, "Suicide of a Superpower" is a provocative, important, and well-written prophesy of where America seems to be headed.
Buchanan presents his argument in the following 11 chapters:
1. The Passing of a Superpower
2. The Death of Christian America
3. The Crisis of Catholicism
4. The End of White America
5. Demographic Winter
6. Equality or Freedom?
7. The Diversity Cult
8. The Triumph of Tribalism
9. "The White Party"
10. The Long Retreat
11. The Last Chance