Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Lord's Prayer...Transforming?

A Transforming Vision is a new book by William Edgar and published by Christian Focus, www.christianfocus.com. Edgar describes the Lord’s Prayer as a guide, a model, and a defense of our faith. Dr. Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, as well as a jazz pianist.

Both catechisms, Heidelberg and Westminster, describe the prayer as having an opening statement followed by six petitions and a concluding statement. The prayer can be used as a way of teaching aspects of the Christian life and it does have that important function. But Edgar says it is more than that. More than a guide, it can be and often is thought of as an apologetic. In other words, it is a way of explaining one’s biblical worldview. Edgar calls it "a unique prayer that offers us a remarkable statement of faith, even as it stands opposed to a confused world." He hopes that as we study the Lord's Prayer, "we will be able to hear it and see it afresh."

But "why pray at all?" he asks, and goes on to explain the setting of the Prayer where Jesus was teaching the disciples how to pray and why and when, in the culture and atmosphere of the first century, in which they lived. The next chapters describe the phrases of the Lord's Prayer and the meanings one can find in each of the six petitions.

Dr. Edgar closes this thought-provoking study of the Lord’s Prayer by reminding us of the concluding words of the prayer: "Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen." He reminds us that "throughout the Scripture we learn that our God reigns." The Bible is full of affirmations of God’s great power.

Edgar calls the Lord’s Prayer "a transforming vision." It is not just for a worldview that sees the world right side up, but it is a prayer, a way of life that brings transformation. "Prayer is hard," he says. "It does not come easily to fallen creatures. It is a discipline to be practiced." Dr. Edgar calls us to our task: "pray and practice holiness" and "follow God's commandments."

—Lois Sibley

Monday, September 15, 2014

Phrases as little compositions...

What's in a Phrase? Pausing where Scripture gives you a pause is a new book from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre and published by Eerdmans, available at www.eerdmans.com. McEntyre caught me with the first sentence in her Introduction: “Phrases have lives of their own.” Yes, they do. And it’s often fun or maybe a challenge to stop and think about those few words and what they mean in that space and time. McEntyre calls them “little compositions that suggest and evoke and invite.” And she has been looking through the Scriptures to find phrases and think about what they mean in their particular context.

Author McEntyre is a fellow of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts at Westmont College in California, and she teaches at UC Berkeley as well. She has other books and this one caught my eye and attention recently. She divides her book into three sections: Assurance; Invitation and Admonition; and Mystery and Surprise. There are 50 headline verses, each with pages of phrases to fathom.

McEntyre reminds us that the Benedictines called it lectio divina or holy reading, and when we stop and listen to a word or phrase, perhaps it is an act of faith, calling us to attention, and “we may assume,” she writes, that it is “a gift to be received.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit is about to teach us something that we need to know.

“Incline your ear, O Lord,” from Psalm 86 is the first phrase under the Assurance section.. She suggests that while we may be asking for answers to our prayer, we may have the answer in what we have been given already. And, “if we lift our gaze beyond anxieties, we may see that God has been listening.”

Under Invitation and Admonition, McEntyre reminds us of Micah 6:8 “...and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” She offers examples of doing each of these as we think of our own possibilities.

The final section, Mystery and Surprise begins with “in the fullness of time,” as in Galatians 4:4, and continues with “Praise him, you highest heavens,” Ps. 148 (NRSV). We are reminded that the highest heavens are moving, the universe expanding, stars exploding..... “What do the heavens have to do with us and our praises?” asks McEntyre. First, the visible heavenly bodies are daily evidence of the order and power of the Creator; second, the heavens have given helpful, practical navigational guidance “to wise men in the desert and sailors on the sea”; and third, the importance of statements in Scripture, such as “God is love,” and “God is light.” Could all of these, and more, be affirmations of  God’s own praises beside our praises? There is much to think about here.      

—Lois Sibley

Thursday, September 4, 2014

C. S. Lewis Again...

C. S. Lewis & Mere Christianity by Paul McCusker and published jointly by Tyndale and Focus on the Family continues the popularity of Lewis and his many books. But here we learn more about  how he became involved with providing scripts for radio talks, as well as sets of series on religious subjects that were very popular with BBC radio listeners during World War II.

There is much detail here, focusing on C. S. Lewis (called Jack by author McCusker) and his family situation; his friendships with and support from Eric Fenn and James Welch of the BBC; as well as his academic teaching at Oxford, Magdalen College and Cambridge; his long friendships with fellow authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and other members of The Inklings. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers were also friends and they appreciated each other’s writing.

The book is full of stories and incidents that tell us of Lewis’s care and concern for individuals as well as for his involvement in duty as a service person in both World Wars, I and II. At his home, the Kilns, they had evacuees from London staying with them during War II, as many families did. Usually three girls came together and stayed for a time. McCusker includes one of the girls’ appreciation for time she spent with Lewis and his family, when she was one of the “evacuees.”

Those familiar with Lewis’s history will recall that his mother died when he was nine years old, and he and his older brother Warnie were sent off to boarding school by their father. After their education years, both served in the military and both were authors during much of their adulthood. Among Jack’s many popular books are The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many others. Probably his most well-known book is Mere Christianity, most of which was first given as radio talks on BBC radio during WW II.

Lewis was a tutor and lecturer in English literature at Oxford. After his radio talks, he became quite well-known and was often invited to speak as an apologist for Christianity at meetings around the country. This was not appreciated by the Oxford dons, who thought he should stay in his own academic circle. Lewis described himself as a defender of the faith rather than “an apologist” and he encouraged his listeners to be the same.

McCusker includes so much of Lewis’s thoughts, decisions, actions, one wonders: how does he know this or that detail? Yet, it’s all there, in the vast amount of conversations, diaries, interviews, letters, speeches, books, referred to in the Notes section of this fascinating book.

—Lois Sibley