John Taylor

About John Taylor

John's Blog
John Taylor believes our lives are like books; every one with a story to tell. He wants to know the stories, and desires to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ by wrestling as a writer, thinker and servant. Happily married for over three decades, John is a Michigan native, proud Muskegon resident, lover of Lake Michigan, writer and compulsive book hoarder. He is committed to serving Jesus Christ in an urban context. His heart seeks the flourishing of his city, as Divine love lived out in the midst of ordinary moments.



Soul Keeping Book Review

Soul Keeping Book Review

Soul Keeping

by John Ortberg
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (207 pages)
TCB Rating:
three-half-stars
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Book Overview

"The stream is your soul. And you are the keeper" (14), says John Ortberg in Soul Keeping. The human soul is a depraved, unruly stream, that needs tending. To demonstrate Ortberg shares testimony, his story under the influence of his mentor, the renowned Dallas Willard.

Who should read this?

Soul Keeping is a good read for anyone seeking to cultivate a deeper spiritual life, and an example for pastors who are called to lead others on the path of spiritual formation. While you will not agree with all of the conclusions set forth by Ortberg, or all of the thinking expressed by Willard, the story of their journey together stirs a hunger to to search the Scripture for yourself, and creates a longing to live an interior life based on eternal principles that impact the souls of those around us.

Soul Keeping Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The How:

John Ortberg uses his own life as an illustration of soul keeping, by sharing his journey and the stories of his encounters with Dallas Willard. He begins by defining the soul in the words of Willard, who says, “The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self. The soul is the life center of human beings” (38). This definition is then expanded on, again in the words of Willard, who says:

Your soul is what integrates your will (your intentions), your mind (your thoughts and feelings, your values and conscience), and your body (your face, body language, and actions) into a single life. A soul is healthy — well-ordered — when there is harmony between these three entities and God’s intent for all creation. When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.

English poet John Donne, in his oft quoted phrase, once said, “No man is an island.” This seems to be the focal point of how Ortberg and Willard define care for the soul. The soul in their view, is how you and I connect to God and in relationship with people around us. To care for our soul, is to first maintain relationship with God, then commit to relationship with others. None of us can stand alone, without experiencing the results of a self-centered disordered soul. “. . . And self carries a totally different connotation than soul. To focus on my soul means to look at my life under the care and connection of God. To focus on myself apart from God means losing awareness of what matters most” (45).

To care for our soul means that we must nurture our relationship with God. Out of that relationship, we come to understand, as Dallas states in his book Renovation of the Heart, that “our soul is like a stream of water, which gives strength, direction, and harmony to every other area of our life” (15). So, soul keeping must be recognized as vital to our very being. According to Willard, “Your soul is not just something that lives on after your body dies. It’s the most important thing about you. It is your life” (23).

The Why:

Ortberg rightly recognizes that, “It is the nature of the soul to need” (81), and he equates this need with desire. In Ortberg’s view, “There is only one area where human beings are unlimited. As Kent Dunnington puts it, ‘We are limited in every way but one: we have unlimited desire’” (81). Ortberg continues, “The truth is, the soul’s infinite capacity to desire is the mirror image of God’s infinite capacity to give” (81).

Throughout Soul Keeping, John Ortberg rightly recognizes the human capacity for idolatry, to replace our need for God with cheap things, temporary things, dangerous things to the well-being of our soul. And he is definitely correct that we need to tend to our soul, nurture our relationship with God, but in identifying the problem, I struggled with some of Ortberg’s thinking.

In my understanding of Scripture, even before Adam and Eve sinned in the garden so long ago, we have always been limited beings, with souls dependent on the life-giving grace of the infinite, glorious God of creation. To equate the human soul’s capacity for desire with God’s infinite capacity to give, to me is an erroneous understanding of our soul’s relationship with God. Perhaps, I am misunderstanding Ortberg’s meaning, but this thirsty soul would have liked him to define the relationship more clearly, or if my understanding is correct, to recognize that the problem is not that our desires are infinite, but rather that they are limited, and we must constantly draw strength for our soul from an infinite God who gives graciously and lavishly of the infinite life within Him.

The What:

Ortberg rightly argues that our souls need tending. He correctly addresses our responsibility to care for our souls by nurturing a relationship with God, but Ortberg builds this argument on shared experience with Dallas Willard, philosophical speculation and argumentation reflective of Willard’s background and profession in philosophy, and expertise on the work of Edmund Husserl who’s Phenomenology emphasized a focus on experience and consciousness. At times, some of Willard’s thinking, or Ortberg’s regurgitation of Willard’s thought caused me to think of the philosophy of Husserl’s famous student, Martin Heidegger, whose concept of Dasein in Being and Time, translated Husserl’s concept of ego with the concept of presence (being-there) in the world.

Dallas Willard’s view of the soul, especially as shown in a diagram in Soul Keeping, which draws the soul as the outward circle, knitting all the inward circles of body, mind, and will together, and leaving the soul as the outward manifestation of engagement with the world, seemed to me to convey the idea of Dasein (being-there, being in the world), more than a Biblical understanding of the human soul, which in my opinion contains much more depth of being, that which was breathed into us by God, than what is presented in Soul Keeping.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Ortberg certainly does recognize the indwardness of the human soul, that it is our interior life, but it was difficult to determine if, through the thought of Willard, he is also carrying forth the idea of the soul as our means of being in the world. At times, I found myself agreeing with statements, based on my understanding of Scripture, but as I moved forward in the book, wondering if the definitions of Ortberg and Willard meant what I really thought they meant. I certainly benefited from reading this book, and engaging in some heavy thinking about the practice of Soul Keeping.

However, at times I was lost in philosophical obfuscation, ideas that seemed modified to represent Christian concepts. Some seemed far too simplified to have any value, others far too complex to really give me insight into Ortberg’s thought (or Willard’s for that matter). The problem is not so much due to the use of philosophical methodology, but rather that at times Scripture seemed to be torn from its contextual understanding to reflect the current spiritual thought of Willard and Ortberg. I enjoyed the story of their shared experience, I was awed by the faithfulness and humility of Willard, but that didn’t stop me from asking the question of some of their thought: Is it Biblical?

Strengths:

This book is strengthened by the power of Dallas Willard’s testimony as shared by John Ortberg. Willard was truly a remarkable man of conviction, faith, and humility. I have no doubt that Dallas Willard was a brother in Christ, both through this story, as well as a reading of Willard’s own books, and the testimony of others who have been impacted by his life. I love the study of philosophy, so it is a blessing to see how Willard capably blended the study of philosophy with his faith.

And, I appreciated Ortberg’s humility as he shared his journey alongside one of his precious mentors and friends until they were parted by the ravages of death and disease. Both men definitely share a hope eternal, and Soul Keeping was a tremendous tribute to the impact of Dallas Willard on the life of John Ortberg. More stories like this need to be told.

Weaknesses:

For me, the weaknesses of this book are reflected in the foundations. While philosophy certainly has its role in Biblical thought, even Paul quoted the philosophers at various points in Scripture, laying that philosophical thought as the foundation of Biblical understanding is a dangerous path. In my opinion, Soul Keeping focused far more on small, paltry, human efforts, and less on the glorious, grace-giving, God that Christians serve. Soul Keeping seemed to be a mixture of philosophical and psychological thinking with a pinch of Bible thrown on top. It left some of the thought obscure and shallow, while elevating human capacity in a way that seems to me to be less than Biblical.

Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You
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CONCLUSION

Soul Keeping is valuable tool for demonstrating the importance of cultivating a healthy interior life, as well as for recognizing the disrepair found in the human soul. It is a well-developed picture of growth in John Ortberg’s life, and the example set by Dallas Willard. It is an encouraging journey of faith, but should be read with caution. Some of the definitions and understanding expressed by Ortberg and Willard need to be examined closely.

Not everything appears to me to reflect Biblical understanding. However, with a spirit of grace, I must acknowledge that tales of the heart are never easy to express clearly. Perhaps, that is the real limitation of this book, and its essential call. Soul keeping is an individual work, under Divine direction, that can lead to earth-shaking impact. Yet at its core, it is still a very personal journey. And this journey was a testament of love from John Ortberg to the life of his mentor Dallas Willard. It excels at expressing that devotion.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “. . . We all have issues in life that emanate from our souls, from parts of the soul that have been ignored. It is the human condition; we ignore our internal life, and as a result, we do not have the outside ‘life’ that we desire, relationally or functionally”  (10).

  • “The stream is your soul. And you are the keeper” (14).

  • “You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe” (21).

  • “Arrange your days so that you experience total contentment, joy, and confidence in your everyday life with God” (97).
three-half-stars
By | 2018-04-04T08:52:08+00:00 April 5th, 2018|

Habits of Grace Book Review

Habits of Grace Book Review

Habits of Grace

by David Mathis
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (227 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
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Book Overview

Through Habits of Grace, David Mathis approaches readers with a pastoral heart. He longs for the Church to experience the lavishness of God's grace. To do this, we need to continually practice the fundamental habits of the Christian. These are the means God uses to dispense his grace.

Who should read this?

Habits of Grace is for anyone who has a desire to follow the scriptural command to “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). It is must reading for every committed local church member, and a great tool of discipleship to help the new believer understand why a Christian must study God’s Word, spend time in prayer, and commit to fellowship with a local body of believers

It is also a great resource for pastors as they reflect on God’s vision and mission for their local church body, and their calling to train the body of believers to do the work of ministry.

Habits of Grace Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The How:

David Mathis graciously coaches us to continually practice the fundamental disciplines of the Christian faith. Like a coach, who understands that no matter how great an athlete’s talent, Mathis understands that the fundamentals build the foundation of success. Regardless of career, whether musician, chef, artist or tradesperson, one must continue to practice and master the fundamental elements of the trade. This same understanding holds true for Christians. If Christians are going to succeed, then they must hear God’s voice, have his ear, and belong to his body.

The Why:

David Mathis wants the Christian to understand what it means to “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). He wants us to understand that Christian believers must discipline themselves for growth. As he says, you must, “Take regular action to get more of God in your mind and your heart, and echo his ways in your life . . .” (27). However, Mathis also challenges us to heed the warning of his good friend John Piper who says, “The essence of the Christian life is learning to fight for joy in a way that does not replace grace” (25).

Mathis challenges us to recognize the simplicity, stability, power and joy of God’s grace, as he reminds us that spiritual practices “. . . need not be fancy or highfalutin. They are the stuff of everyday, basic Christianity–unimpressively mundane, but spectacularly potent by the Spirit” (25-26). In an age where there is a renewed focus on spiritual disciplines, Mathis reminds us that spiritual formation is an activity of God’s grace, empowered by our actions as we apply God’s means of grace.

He notes, “The way to receive the gift of God’s empowering our actions is to do the actions” (28). Yet, Mathis also helps us recognize that, “. . . All our exertions of effort toward that goal are gifts of grace” (27).

The What:

Quoting J. I. Packer, Mathis helps us return to thinking about the fundamental means God uses to dispense his grace. Packer says, “The doctrine of the disciplines is really a restatement and extension of classical Protestant teaching on the means of grace” (26). Mathis expounds, “God has revealed certain channels through which he regularly pours out his favor.

And we’re foolish not to take his word on them and build habits of spiritual life around them” (26). The means God uses to lavishly pour out his favor are “. . . simply: word, prayer, and fellowship” (26).

Habits of Grace is written from the perspective of a master teacher, communicator and pastor, who understands that the simplicity of the gospel message and its seemingly mundane practices, often causes individuals to exert effort in the wrong direction. Instead of being faithful recipients of God’s grace, which allows a life that “. . . progressively produces holy desires in us (‘sanctification’)” (27); we often rely on our own skills and techniques–failing miserably. God is not going to give us opportunity to boast in our own abilities. Such activity will not produce the Spirit-filled, abundant life God is calling us to enjoy in and through Jesus Christ.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I must leave a warning to mature Christian readers. Please don’t assume that this is a simple book for infant believers. Mathis writes winsomely, in an easy to read format, yet he showers the reader with deep truths. Mature believers as well as new believers,  will benefit from reading these pages. Dear readers, you will walk away with a better understanding of the means God uses to dispense his grace.

You will be challenged to cultivate a deeper understanding of these habits, and gain a renewed commitment to deepen your personal habits as you read Scripture, spend time in prayer, and fellowship with a local body of believers. These habits will be a healing balm for wounded souls, a joyful practice for struggling Christians, and produce renewed hope in the hearts of seasoned believers. Each one will learn to enjoy Jesus more.

Mathis offers readers six deep lessons on each habit of study, so we gain an extensive understanding of the means of grace God uses to shape and transform his Church daily into his holy likeness and image. Finally, Mathis wraps up Habits of Grace by challenging individuals to apply God’s means in three important areas: our role in God’s mission, our stewardship of money, and our use of time. Habits of Grace extend to all areas of Christian living, inward and outward, to the world around us, into the eternal purposes and plans of God.

Strengths:

The strength of Habits of Grace are three-fold. This book helps one understand how to enjoy Jesus more, how God’s means bring purpose to our Christian life, and why God dispenses his grace so lavishly. I gained an increased understanding of how God’s grace sanctifies, how God’s grace liberates, and how God’s grace brings glory to Him alone. Mathis structures his book in three sections around the three habits: word, prayer and fellowship, and takes us on a deeper journey into the truths and effectiveness of each habit.

Habits of Grace is well-written, scripturally and theologically sound, and perfectly designed for a multitude of purposes. It can be effectively used in a Sunday School or weekly classroom setting, with a home group, as a discipleship tool, or as a regular devotional tool. This is a book that definitely belongs in homes and church libraries, with its Biblical truths rooted in the hearts of believers.

Weaknesses:

Mathis has succeeded where many Christian authors fail. This is a book with minimal weakness. He definitively points us toward the practices he is expounding upon. Drawing us to a deeper engagement with God’s word, a renewed understanding of prayer, and a renewed commitment to the local church body, Mathis has successfully avoided pointing us toward practices that are not centered in the truths of Scripture. Mathis has built on a solid foundation.

CONCLUSION

Habits of Grace stirred excitement in the heart of this mature believer. Through his writing, David Mathis was used as a tool of God’s grace to deepen my longing for relationship with Jesus Christ, as well as a renewed longing to be a blessing within my local church body as well as my community. This is one of those rare books that I will read frequently, allowing the wisdom it dispenses to root deep into my heart.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “You don’t need seminary to feast regularly in the Scriptures” (50).

  • “Christian meditation begins with our eyes in the Book, or ears open to the word, or a mind stocked with memorized Scripture” (59).

  • “. . . We must see his listening to us in prayer in relation to our listening to him in his word” (93).

  • “Even godly human laws are not supreme. God’s heart and his justice are to guide our thoughts and actions, and we as Christians should not be so quick to defend a system we do not completely understand. We need to recognize that God calls for justice, and justice is above rules and laws” (114).

  • “While the corporate worship of Jesus by the church universal is an essential element in our great destiny, it is the corporate worship of Jesus by the church local that is a vital means of God’s grace in getting us there” (156).

  • “The wise recognize rebuke as a gift of gold (Prov. 25:12). It is kindness, and a token of love” (186).
five-stars
By | 2018-03-14T20:48:38+00:00 March 15th, 2018|

The Power of Proximity Book Review

The Power of Proximity Book Review

The Power of Proximity

by Michelle Ferigno Warren
Length: Approximately 6 hours. To read (178 pages)
TCB Rating:
four-half-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Where we live and invest our lives shapes our relationship to God and with our neighbors. Michelle Warren challenges readers to be transformed by living in proximity to neighbors who can teach us about hope, resilience and perseverance.

Who should read this?

Any Christian wrestling with the idea of living an authentic faith will benefit from Michelle’s perspective. The Power of Proximity is especially helpful for young ministry families concerned about poverty, injustice and inequality. Michelle offers herself as a mentor, sharing her experiences as she challenges others to choose the narrow road from awareness to action.

The Power of Proximity Book Review 1

SUMMARY

The How:

Michelle writes to those who want to advocate for justice, especially young people. Her writing is conversational, it feels like taking a walk with an old friend, who is sharing her journey along the same path. Her thoughts are deeply rooted in biblical truth, as well as over two decades of experience as she has sought to live these truths out in poor, marginalized communities. The Power of Proximity is an introductory primer to living close to the poor, a personal memoir, and an honest devotional.

The Why:

Michelle is issuing a challenge to Christians to take up their cross and follow Jesus. Christians are called to view success differently from the world around us. We are called to set aside cultural norms, engage the broken, and acknowledge that we are broken ourselves.

Michelle takes us on a journey into a broken world that few are willing to see, by expounding on the story of the Good Samaritan, who while traveling down the Jericho Road went against cultural convention to assist the wounded traveler. And like the lesson of old, once again we are challenged to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

The Power of Proximity challenges us to reconsider how our faith intersects with some of our key cultural challenges, reexamine our narrow perspectives, and heed the prophetic call to advocate and act alongside marginalized neighbors by placing justice above law as we seek to love as Christ as loved. Michelle is not seeking to diminish the rule of law, but to challenge us as Christians to recognize the supremacy of God’s justice and the inadequacy of human law. She comments:

“… Human law does not always imply justice but … justice is defined by God’s Word.”

The What:

The Power of Proximity,described through the lens of a journey, focuses on what proximity does in the life of the practitioner. Proximity powerfully transforms us, calls us to action, and carries us forward on a marathon of faithful living (the long haul). Proximity allows us to share in the brokenness of others, as we acknowledge that we are broken as well.

This book is written from the perspective of a seasoned evangelical, who is embarrassed by the lack of evangelical witness in addressing systemic challenges, individual circumstances, and issues of injustice prevalent in our society. It is a challenge for evangelicalism to rise up and be a prophetic witness by sharing in the brokenness of others. It is a call to recognize the Imago Dei of our neighbors, to love them as God loves them, to follow the example of Jesus who humbled himself to dwell among us.

Michelle deftly weaves Scripture, personal narrative, and cultural experiences, while summarizing the body of literature focused on ministering to the marginalized, working in an urban context, and living a Christ-centered life. She uses her ministry experience serving in poor communities in Dallas and Denver, as well as her rising awareness of poverty, immigration, injustice, incarceration, mental illness, racism and other social concerns to challenge Christ-followers to recognize the power and the pain of proximity.

The Power of Proximity adds to the body of literature by challenging us to consider the transformative power available to us as we choose to engage in meaningful relationship and share life with the wounded.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

As a practitioner of the power of proximity I found myself agreeing with the majority of Michelle’s perspectives, as well as the discomfort she feels between her native evangelicalism and other perspectives as she seeks to build bridges with other “tribes” in order to address issues impacting the marginalized.

While some of Michelle’s perspectives will be uncomfortable for readers, as a committed evangelical, Michelle addresses many of these concerns, while also addressing issues that white evangelicals in particular often refuse to acknowledge. She challenges our perceptions of privilege, and provides extensive scriptural support for us to move beyond support for cultural Christianity toward a commitment to follow Jesus wherever he leads.

Michelle demonstrates a practical faith that moves from theological foundation to active participation with her neighbors as she becomes an advocate alongside them in order to address systemic and individual barriers to a flourishing life.

Practicing the power of proximity will deepen our theology, expand our ideology, challenge our evangelical idolatry, enable us to love with justice, and empower us to embrace brokenness. However, Michelle doesn’t romanticize this journey of hope. As she notes:

“… My choice to hope is not because I see the world through rose-colored glasses. In my proximate place with the poor, bearing witness to injustice, I actually have a very clear picture of what is going on” (173).

The road of discipleship is a call to proximate living, a choice to follow Jesus as he ministers to a marginalized community, which includes our witness, and a walk of obedience as we see others through the compassionate eyes of our heavenly Father, who sent his only Son not “. . . to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17, ESV).

However, traversing this road is costly, filled with unexpected challenges, hidden dangers, wounded people. It is a journey that will require transformation if we are to succeed, a hard road that will challenge everything we believe we know. As Michelle stresses, those on this journey:

“… Have left their places of comfort and privilege and followed this vision so that they no longer look the same, act the same, or are able to be the same person they once were. They are wandering around this world, seeing the truth of its sadness but believing in God’s redemption and restorative power in such a way that they keep moving forward, establishing God’s kingdom here on earth, like it is in heaven” (170).

Strengths:

The strength of The Power of Proximity lies in the books Scriptural and theological rootedness. Michelle’s personal strengths as a teacher and practitioner of these transformative principles provide tremendous insight, as well as her commitment to ensure that her ideology is built upon the firm foundation of the Gospel. Her book is decidedly evangelical, while challenge evangelicals look past their own cultural ideologies in order to understand and learn from the perspectives of others.

Weaknesses:

While successfully sharing her personal experience, as well as providing a primer to some of the theological underpinnings of Michelle’s thought, I would have liked to see Michelle present some further reading at the end of each section of the Power of Proximity, for those who don’t have a lot of insight into the principles and practices that Michelle is fostering, so that they can gain insight into some of the core principles guiding her thinking.

As I practitioner of proximate living, I was refreshed by Michelle’s presentation, but recognized that there are some who won’t understand the deep foundations undergirding her thought.

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CONCLUSION

Michelle adds to the growing corpus of literature from those who have sought to cultivate a holistic ministry among the marginalized, especially among the urban poor. Her work adds to the personal narratives, and reflects the influence of many others who have walked similar paths, but her recognition of the power of proximity, and her perspectives as a woman, a teacher and a student, add depth to this body of testimonies.

FAVORITE QUOTES

  • “It turns out that proximity to the poor was not a philosophy; it was a movement of the Spirit, who continues to reconcile the world to himself and people to one another” (6).

  • “Justice was about the restoration of people, not solely about punishment of wrongdoing” (28).

  • “We cannot pretend that insufficient, broken roads alongside amazing highways do not share a bridge to the heart of Christ and his love for justice” (39).

  • “Even godly human laws are not supreme. God’s heart and his justice are to guide our thoughts and actions, and we as Christians should not be so quick to defend a system we do not completely understand. We need to recognize that God calls for justice, and justice is above rules and laws” (114).

  • “In our humanity we begin to think superheroes will emerge to help us for a time to overcome or right injustice. We may even try to be a superhero ourselves along the way. But I believe this will ultimately burn us out or burn our bridges in destructive ways” (167).
four-half-stars
By | 2018-02-24T20:34:08+00:00 February 25th, 2018|

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