A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony

edited by Leanne Van Dyke. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.  ISBN 0-8028-2854-X. Pb., 155 pp.  $15. 


Leanne Van Dyke, at the end of her contribution to this book of essays on theology and worship reminds us that if one pulls on a single thread of worship practices, "theological implications begin to spill out," and if one pulls on a single thread of theology, "worship practices begin to spill out." Accordingly, the "thoughtful pastor, church leader, and lay person will wish to think through these mutual integrations so that worship and theology can fit together and be a fragrant offering to God." (p.78)

Van Dyke's own effort to trace the mutual relations between what we believe and how we worship centers on the church's task of proclamation, pairing our understanding of the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ with the word that engages us in Scripture, sacrament, preaching, and other liturgical moments. She is joined in this integrative effort by five other contributors: John Witvliet, whose initial essay deals with the opening of worship and its Trinitarian shape; William Dryness, who traces the mutual connections between the church's act of confession and the doctrines of sin and grace; Ron Byars, whose essay shows how the church's practice of confessing the faith in creedal form (and in the prayers of the liturgy) implies a certain doctrine of the church that in turn sheds light on the meaning of our confessing; Martha Moore-Keish, who writes on the deep connections between the church's practice of celebrating the Eucharist and its eschatological hope; and David Stubbs, who helps us see the end of worship as the calling to live in such a way that our lives do not mock our worship but rather reflect its truth and reality.

Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion

by Bruce Feiler. New York: William Morrow, 2005. ISBN 0-06-057487-9. Hb., 416 pp., $26.95.

For many of us the settings of the stories of Scripture never leave the black and white page; or they are confined to the imagination of our minds re-creating biblical scenes, or recalling the interpretation of countless Christmas pageants, Sunday School dramas, and Vacation Bible School reenactments. The sand of the desert never sifts into our shoes, because we've never been there. Even for those who have journeyed to the Middle East, the sites of many stories remain unidentified by imprecise texts, undetected due to the shifting sands of time, or inaccessible due to modern conflicts. In Where God Was Born Bruce Feiler chronicles his travels to Israel, Iraq, and Iran to seek out some of those places, and to explore the way faith was shaped there among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Journeys of Courage: Remarkable Stories of the Healing Power of Community

Journeys of Courage:  Remarkable Stories of the Healing Power of Community, by Joy Carol.  Notre Dame:  Sorin Books, 2004.  ISBN 1-893732-79-7.  Pb., 256 pp.  $14.95.

If you have ever put the newspaper down after reading an account of some recent horror, and said aloud or to yourself, "How will these people carry on after this?  What will they do with all the anger and pain from this atrocity?" then here is a book for you.

If you ever despair for this sin-saturated world and wonder if, in fact, evil does not often have the last word, then here is a book for you.

Or, more practically speaking, you face the weekly task of mounting the steps to the pulpit and you need some fresh material to illustrate your sermon, then here is book for you.

Joy Carol, spiritual director, author and counselor, gathers story after story from world communities that have endured the traumatic impact of "man's inhumanity to man."  These communities "responded to their dilemmas by courageously facing them or changing their reactions to them." Through these "journeys of courage" the communities "underwent some kind of transformation, some kind of healing power."

This is storytelling, pure and simple. Carol does not reach for extended theological reflection; she does not seek to offer biblical connections. In fact, she does not profess that this is a Christian book, per se, though many of the stories come from Christian communities of faith.

Carol gathers these stories because she knows that "telling and hearing stories can be powerful medicine." The stories of moral, spiritual, emotional courage are mined and shared to en-courage others. And they do.

The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Revelation to John

by Barbara R. Rossing. Basic Books, 2004. ISBN 0-8133-4314-3. Pb, 222 pp. $15.00

When the Left Behind series (by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins) began to come out in 1995, many of us wondered "Who would read such stuff?" Now after twelve volumes and a thirteenth, The Rising, which serves as a prequel, we know the answer. A lot more people read them than we would have guessed--enough to keep the books on the best-seller list year after year. They include a sizable percentage of every congregation I know of. The disturbing thing is that while those reading the books know they are fiction, many are nevertheless convinced that what they present is indeed the "biblical view" of God's plan and purpose for the world. We who read Scripture quite differently cannot allow such an assumption to go unchallenged. The use of the Bible and the underlying theology found in the Left Behind series is in many ways antithetical to what many of us are convinced is a more faithful reading of Scripture.

In The Rapture Exposed, Barbara Rossing offers a clear, engaging, and theologically insightful critique of the use of Scripture in the Left Behind series and the dispensationalist theology that lies behind the story line. Rossing, who teaches at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, has written extensively on the Revelation to John and Christian eschatology. She skillfully exposes the theological fiction on which the whole concept of the Rapture is based, the ethic of despair and escapism it fosters, and the extreme political agenda espoused by its main proponents.

Ending Hunger Now: A Challenge to Persons of Faith

by George McGovern, Bob Dole, and Donald Messer, with a forward by Bill Clinton. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8006-3782-8.  Pb.,114 pp. $12.00


These are the facts: More than enough food is produced to feed every man, woman and child on the planet. We have technology sufficient to deliver that food to all those people. Given some tweaking of priorities, there is global capital available to pay for this food and its delivery. Alleviating hunger will contribute toward inhibiting the spread of AIDS, reducing poverty, and diminishing the discontent that creates an environment conducive to war and terrorism. Every major world religion places a significant emphasis on feeding the hungry. More than 850 million people worldwide are malnourished, among them approximately 300 million school-aged children, another 100 million young mothers, infants, and pre-school children, and 7 million citizens in the United States of America; 210,000 persons die each week of starvation and malnutrition. 

These empirically verifiable pieces of data lead to a set of profoundly disturbing questions: How can we allow this to be? Why are there so many hungry people today? How can there be so much apathy in the lives of the well fed? Why aren't people of faith obsessed with ending hunger? 

These questions, once asked, demand our attention and a response. This book is a response.

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology

by Eugene Peterson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005. ISBN 0-8028-2875-2, 368 pp., $ 25.


Eugene Peterson's writings are well known to many if not most Outlook readers. No doubt there are dog-eared copies of Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Under the Unpredictable Plant, and now The Message on many a Presbyterian pastor's bookshelf. I am confident that Peterson's latest book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, will also find its place among these rich resources. Just make sure to leave room: Christ Plays is the foundational book in a planned five-volume series on spiritual theology. This means we have much to look forward to from this vigorous writer who is both pastor and professor.

One might begin by asking just what spiritual theology is. According to Peterson, the words belong together. "Theology" is the attention we give to God, to knowing God as revealed in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. "Spiritual" is the insistence that everything that God reveals is capable of being lived by ordinary people. "Spiritual" keeps theology from degenerating into thinking and talking about God from a distance. "Theology" keeps spiritual from being just about our own thoughts and feelings about God. These two words should be yoked if our study of God is to have anything to do with how we live and if the way we live is to have anything to do with the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ. For Peterson, spiritual theology is the attention we give to the details of living life in the way of Christ.

Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation


edited by William C. Placher. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.  ISBN 0802829279.  Pb., 452 pp.  $24. 


Lilly Endowment Inc. has given another gift to the Church. Lilly's "Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation," which have prompted students and scholars at 88 colleges and universities to consider the concept of vocation, has likewise prompted Dr. Placher to edit Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation. This book will be a valuable resource in both academic and congregational settings for years to come.

William C. Placher is the Charles D. and Elizabeth S. LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College. He has gathered fifty-seven readings from fifty different authors and has placed them chronologically in this reader. As the book title indicates, these readings span twenty centuries of the Christian tradition. Placher acknowledges in his introduction that his collection stops fifty years short of the present. His rationale is that to include the important diversity within the last five decades would have added significantly to this already substantive volume (452 pages). While some will miss these modern voices, Placher's choices give plenty of food for thought for those considering the concept of calling.

Church History 101: An Introduction for Presbyterians

by William M. Ramsay. Louisville: Geneva Press, 2005. ISBN 0-664-50277-6. Pb., 144 pp. $14.95.


History--that enigmatic subject. Everyone living seems to have had at least one unutterably boring history teacher. And yet, new members in our congregations and older ones need something to help ground them in the history of the church as they learn about current worship, education, and polity practices, and begin to tackle the foundational theological questions of our faith. A classic description of what such education should be in our Reformed tradition calls for materials and programs that are "Biblically grounded, historically informed, ecumenically involved, socially engaged and communally nurtured."

Retired minister and teacher William Ramsay has given us a wonderful tool to help our congregations become "historically informed." As Ramsay puts it in his foreword, the story begins in Eden, continues with Abraham and Jacob and Isaac, with Moses and the Exodus, and climaxes in the life of Jesus. But the story of the church does not end there. From the church in Acts to the present day, we are witness to the ways God continues to act in our history.