I have been familiar with John Ortberg's work through talks he has given at the American Association for Christian Counselors and his book The Life You Always Wanted, which surprisingly is not a book of prosperity theology. Because I have been favorably impressed with his work in the past, I was eager to read Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (2014).
Ortberg is a pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, though he also trained as a clinical psychologist. Each of those facts are important background in this book about caring for the soul. Additionally, Ortberg was profoundly influenced by the work of Dallas Willard who in May last year. In many regards, this book is a festschrift to Willard. Not only are Willard's influences deeply felt, Ortberg went out of his way to weave many stories about the man, a welcome addition.
Essentially, this short book is a study in how we care for the most important part of us our souls. At the outset, Ortberg seeks to define the soul so that the reader is able to proceed from a place of common understanding. Once he establishes what the soul is, he moves on to reviewing what the soul needs and eventually how the soul is restored.
There were a few things that I particularly appreciated about this book. First, Ortberg does a commendable job of differentiating between the soul and the self. So often in modern thinking about mental health, we think only about the self, which Ortberg suggests is misguided. Rather, we should focus on the soul, which defines who we are in relation to God. In the world of Christian psychology where I do some reading and writing, this is an important distinction.
Second, Ortberg effectively weaves in his understanding of the importance of spiritual disciplines. As one deeply influenced by Willard and involved in the Renovare conferences, he views disciplines as important. He discusses these in more depth in his book The Life You Always Wanted, though here they find an organic place.
Finally, I really liked the last two chapters. Essentially, these deal with his final interactions with Dallas Willard. He discusses suffering and what he thinks it looks like to die well, looking at Willard as a model.
On the whole, I would strongly recommend this book. I wish more "Christian psychology" and soul care would look like this book. It is deeply relational, hopeful, and grounded in the truth of the gospel.
I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”