Friday, February 8, 2013

Review of Brass Heavens by Paul Tautges

We all  experience times in our Christian journey where we pray and seemingly get no response from God. We encounter situations and needs in life and we, rightly, cry out to God for a remedy. We call on him because he tells us to do so and because we believe he will listen and respond. When we don't see a remedy, we begin to wonder if God is listening. Our prayers seem to reflect back to us. This is the phenomenon we refer to as brass heavens--the belief that God won't, or can't, hear us. During these times, we look for explanations as to why God isn't answering our prayer.

Brass Heavens: Reasons for Unanswered Prayer by Paul Tautges was written to help with those explanations and to give encouragement in those times.In an honest, straightforward, yet encouraging style, Tautges addresses reasons for a lack of apparent response to our prayers.

Tautges begins by showing the triune God loves us and desires to hear from us. He goes through the role of each member of the Godhead in response to prayer. Tautges makes a strong point that, though God knows what we are going to pray, he commands us to pray anyway because prayer is more about changing us than it is about informing him or moving him to action. Tautgest writes:
The main thing is that in the present, as we pray, our greatest need is already being met. That need is the transforming work of God in our hearts, with prayer itself as one of God's appointed means of meeting that need.
Tautges moves on in the introductory section to explain that God the Father disciplines Christians by his silence. While not all silence from God is necessarily disciplinary, it is often a good indication that God is displeased with us and awaits our repentance.

In the chapters following Tautges addresses areas of sin that the Bible identifies as reasons for God's silence. First are sins of commission: doing that which we ought not do. Next are sins of omission: not doing what we ought to do (such as resolving conflicts and allowing offenses to go unresolved). Tautges then addresses religious sin. In his words:
...[R]eligious sins are those that feed self-awareness of our spirituality. Instead of driving us to God in humble dependence upon his grace, they blind us, fuel self-righteousness, breed  spiritual apathy, and often neutralize the Holy Spirit's conviction.
This category is one which others who have written on the topic of unanswered prayer fail to include. Rather than point to our inability to religiously "pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps," by adhering to a "to-do" list or other law-like solutions, we must surrender ourselves to God's grace to become free from religious sin.

The next category of sin Tautes address is the sin of men failing to understand and honor their wives. I found this curious, though encouraging, that Tautges addressed men specifically, and solely--he does not have a corresponding chapter for women. With great tact and courage, Tautges calls men to godliness in their marriage:
The challenge facting every Christian husband who desires to be godly is to love his wife by both leading her confidently and loving her gently. 
Next, the author addresses what is probably the greatest struggle and reason for being disciplined by God's silence: pride. Tautges identifies Biblical evidences of pride "by which we can be forewarned and equipped to turn from our stubborn rebellion," among them being: slowness to admit wrong, a mule-like spirit, increasing disobedience to God, resistance to correction, and demanding our own way. As we examine ourselves and observe these traits, we do well to confess our pride and repent.

Finally, Tautges pinpoints one reason for God not responding to prayer that isn't due to sin: the testing of our faith.
[D]iscontentment is necessary for our sanctification. Got often leaves our prayers unanswered so that we might become increasingly conformed to the image of his Son. Unanswered prayer is a gift from God for our growth--in holiness and in every other good and godly way..."
Throughout the book, Tautges consistently refuses to offer "steps" to compel God to hear and answer our prayer. In the areas regarding sin, his answer (rightly) is simply: confess and repent of your sin. This, to many, sounds too simple. We are trained to want a to-do list guaranteeing God's restored attention and favor. This however, isn't biblical. Tautges repeatedly encourages the reader to apply the only biblical response to sin: repentance. And in response to God's using silence to stretch our faith, we simply persevere. The primary purpose of our trials is that we might change.
There are no short-cuts to spiritual maturity. Fully developed faith can only be brought about by a long, difficult process involving trials which produce perseverance, and perseverance has an eternal reward.
As far as critique, I can only offer one that I encountered in the introduction and which turned out to be only due to my perception. I am averse to language which makes it appear that we can coerce God or compel him to change in any way. One passage had that feel: "...we will also discover the biblical means by which we may open God's ears to our voice again." This was an early blip on my radar that caused me to be on guard against any theological views that would suggest God was anything less than absolutely sovereign. It became quickly apparent that my internal red flag had been raised unnecessarily. Tautges' views communicated through the book are consistently God-honoring.

This short book is one that needs to be read every few years in a Christian's life, if not more often. Just as we need to daily remind ourselves of the Gospel, we must be reminded that sin affects our communion with God and can cause him to go silent in furtherance of our sanctification. I would commend this book to all Christians, regardless of the stage of their sanctification.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Cruciform Press blogger review 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.”

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review of A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, by Kelly M.Kapic

You are a theologian. The term "theology" means a word (logos) about God (theos). If you speak about God, you are engaged in theology; you are a theologian.

In the first chapter of A Little Book for New Theologians, Kapic makes the case that theology isn't just for the seminary student, pastor, or professor. According to Kelly Kapic, "Theology is not reserved for those in the academy; it is an aspect of thought and conversation for all who live and breathe, who wrestle and fear, who hope and pray." This includes most people, and most certainly should include all Christians because all Christians should desire to know and talk of God.

Having established that Christians ought to be concerned about theology, Kapic then goes on in the second chapter, to unpack the connection between knowledge of God, knowledge of self, and worship. Kapic, in summary of the second chapter, states, "Although our understanding is never final, and although we can expect that we will misunderstand or misapply aspects of what we learn, he still invites us to begin. And thus, with eyes lifted toward him we live, speak and praise. This is the beginning of the fear of the Lord; this is the beginning of wisdom; this is the beginning of worship."

Next, Kapic sets up the remainder of the book through the analogy of a pilgrimage. God  knows himself perfectly. We, however, have an imperfect knowledge of God. Although we are able to have a true knowledge of God (revealed to us in Scripture), our knowledge is incomplete. "Because our knowledge of God must grow over time as we walk with him, it should not be surprising that some of the best imagery used to depict the theological enterprise is that of pilgrimage." Kapic encourages the reader to persevere in knowing and worshiping God through theology, not giving up because of our limitations because our confidence ultimately rests on God, not ourselves.
Our call is to come, to gaze at Christ, to hear his word and to respond in faith and love. Here theology and worship come together: we are answering the call of our heavenly Father to speak words from the basis of an intimate knowledge of the Word, which is possible only by the gift of the Spirit. Theology is wrapped up in this response to God's call. Hence, it is to be faith-full: faith is always required for genuine theology. We rightly respond to God's revelation when our words about God, whether many or few, are placed into the matrix of worship.When we see the relationship between theology and worship we are moved beyond intellectual curiosity to an engaged encounter with the living God.
Kapic moves on to the second movement of the book with seven chapters, each identifying a characteristic of faithful theology and theologians:

  • The inseparability of life and theology--True theology is inevitably lived theology
  • Faithful reason--Acknowledging that our reason works properly only when it is full of faith
  • Prayer and study--To avoid depersonalizing our theology, we must be in constant communion with God
  • Humility and repentance--We can not rightly respond to God's revelation and worship him in any other posture
  • Suffering, Justice, and Knowing God--We must consistently resist the either-or choice of the Lord's justice and mercy
  • Tradition and Community--While the Bible is our only rulse of faith and practice, God's Spirit has guided the church through the ages as it rightly sought to understand that Word
  • Love of Scripture--To study the words but never encounter the life-sustaining Word is to miss everything
Kapic concludes with a working definition of theology: "an active response to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, whereby the believer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, subordinate to the testimonies of the prophets and apostles as recorded in the Scriptures and in communion with the saints, wrestles with and rests in the mysteries of God, his work and his world." This, indeed, is the path of living to God.

The author does a wonderful job of stirring the coals of desire for God and his word. I highly recommend this short book (around 120 pages) for those, as the title suggests, just beginning the pilgrimage of theological inquiry; those who have, after years of study, allowed the engagement with holy Scripture to become depersonalized; and every other Christian who wishes to, through deeper knowledge, worship God more fully.