Book Review: A Testament of Devotion — Thomas R. Kelly

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I didn’t know what to expect when I first opened Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion. I knew the book was listed among the best in Christian spirituality but I didn’t know anything about the book.

I didn’t know that Kelly was a Quaker and that the essays within the book were taken from talks that he gave. I didn’t know how much my favorite Christian writer, Dallas Willard, was influenced by Kelly.

I also didn’t know that I would need to read it more than once to fully appreciate it. The first time I read it, I was underwhelmed and slightly disappointed in the overtly Quaker teaching. I mean, I am a Baptist, and any talk of the light within makes me think of Shirley MacLaine and “woowoo” New Age stuff. But then I read it a second time and appreciated it so much more. I began to take in some of the rich passages that were inspiring and convicting. For example, he mentions that “complete obedience” is our goal not “amazing revelations.” I particularly liked his discussion of having the “simplicity of the trusting child.”  And Kelly’s explanation of the “Holy Now” was excellent.

Finally, I really appreciated his moment to moment approach to the spiritual life. Highly influenced by Brother Lawrence‘s The Practice of the Presence of God, Kelly detailed the experience of connection with God in the midst of everyday life. This is a very good point and one that gets completely ignored in Evangelical circles who never seem to take the spiritual life beyond morning BIble study and prayer.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book to a young believer but for a seasoned disciple looking for a challenge to live “the other half,” this book would be much better than 90 percent of what is coming out of Christian bookstores.

Re-Hacked: My Scripture Top 6-10

Yesterday, we looked at five scriptures passages that have not only been enriching to me but also key transition points to other passages. Today, I list the rest of my top 10.

6. 1 Samuel 16 – By the time I had become taken by the Sermon on the Mount and many of the other passages in my top 5 it was becoming clear to me that God is obsessed with the makeup of the heart. When he changes a person it is through a formation of the heart from the inside out. So when I re-discovered the story of Samuel anointing the future king, David, and here God tell Samuel that “man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart” I knew exactly what he was talking about.

7. Galatians 5:19-25 – Another well-known passage, this one discusses the Fruits of the Spirit. The best words of scripture are ones that inspire and convict. This one convicts me every time. I often ask myself, what am I doing to foster the development of the Fruits of the Spirit?

8. Psalm 1 – ‘Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.’

Before God broke me down and changed me, I would have read verse 2 with dread. How do you delight in law? And who would want to meditate on the law day and night? But I understood the law to be not a just set of rules but a God ordained way of nourishing my soul. Could I delight in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Ten Commandments? In 1 Corinthians 13? Yes. And I had already meditated on these “laws” and found meaning and strength for my life.

9. Galatians 2:20 – All that I had learned and processed through the previously mentioned verses kind of culminates with this verse. From a salvation stand point, I understood the new life found in Christ but this verse showed me the ultimate step in discipleship. “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

10. Philippians 3:10 – All of the New Testament falls into these few words. The life of Jesus, his crucifixion, the mystery of the resurrection, discipleship; it is all there and just bursting off the page. This verse will take a lifetime to comprehend and live out but through the process of my Top 10, I can think of no other worthy cause for my life.

So there it is, the 10 passages of scripture that have had the most impact on me and renewed, not only my interest in scripture reading and study, but also my life. Next time, I will demonstrate how you can develop your own Top 10 and what benefit you will gain from it.

What Has Technology Done To Bible Reading?

I have done it. Me, a harbinger for the book and critic of the misuse of technology, almost decided to bring my daughter’s iPod to church yesterday because the Bible app would be a simpler choice over the oversized Bibles I seem to have at the house. I have often scoffed at the people in our Bible Study class who followed along with the passage for that week on their smart phones. Now, I was about to become one of them.

Has technology been good for Bible reading? In some ways, yes. I can have a Bible passage and a devotional sent to my email box every day of the week. Web resources such as Bible Gateway make locating scripture a breeze. And those Bible apps mean that as long as I have the ubiquitous phone, I also have the Bible with me. Also, my wife has been pleasantly surprised by the impact that the scriptures she posts on Facebook have on her friends. Khloe Kardashian was even quoting scripture on Twitter a few weeks back.

But what are the downsides? In the July/August 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, writer Nicholas Carr, who later wrote a book on the topic, described the effect that the Web has had on his ability to concentrate and think:

When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

Carr then quotes technology and medicine blogger Bruce Friedman, “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print.”

At this point, pet peeves about the proper use of a smart phone and the loss of the printed word become less important when placed up against the reality of web use altering our brain’s ability to process information and handle what we are reading. Think about what this might do to our ability to read the Bible. Reading the Bible is best done in slow, meditative ways, not in the scan and click approach we take to our web reading. And since many of us are starting to do most of our Bible reading online, are we able shut off the scan approach and actually consider what the scripture is saying, not only to our heads but also to our hearts?

The fact of the matters is, Bible reading has to be handled differently from other types of reading. This will take proper teaching and direction and will force Christians to seriously consider their use of technology and how it affects their spiritual life.  Thousands of years of effective use of the scriptures now may be changing. Perhaps we should put down our technology and consider what the future of Bible reading should look like.

The Christian Must Reads

Cover of "Revelations of Divine Love"

Cover of Revelations of Divine Love

The good people over at Renovare have recently released a book entitled 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. I thought it would be interesting to compare their list of classic books for the Christian life with the most recent Christian book stores best sellers lists.

You don’t have to look too hard into culture to see that the most popular pieces of art, music, or writing are not always the most lasting. Still, what is it about the top list that feels more substantial and filled with nourishment while the bottom list feels safe and sterile and superficial. And that is just from reading the titles.

I have read several of the books and authors on the bottom list and have been helped by their insight and inspiration but I have also read several of the books and authors on the top list and have not only been inspired but also challenged in my intellect and my heart. The top list is like a wrestling match that no matter the outcome you will come away a better wrestler. No matter how you finish the books on the top list, you will be changed. I have read some of them and didn’t understand what I was reading and I have read some of them and never finished but my mind goes back and wrestles with some of the ideas every time the book gets mentioned. In the bottom list, I got the main idea in the first chapter and find no real need to wrestle with the rest.

What are your thoughts?

Here is Renovare’s list:

1.  On the Incarnation  by St. Athanasius
2.  Confessions  by St. Augustine
3.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
4.  The Rule of St. Benedict  by St. Benedict
5.  The Divine Comedy  by Dante Alighieri
6.  The Cloud of Unknowing  by Anonymous
7.  Revelations of Divine Love (Showings)  by Julian of Norwich
8.  The Imitation of Christ  by Thomas à Kempis
9.  The Philokalia
10.  Institutes of the Christian Religion  by John Calvin
11.  The Interior Castle  by St. Teresa of Avila
12.  Dark Night of the Soul  by St. John of the Cross
13.  Pensées  by Blaise Pascal
14.  The Pilgrim’s Progress  by John Bunyan
15.  The Practice of the Presence of God  by Brother Lawrence
16.  A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life  by William Law
17.  The Way of a Pilgrim  by Unknown Author
18.  The Brothers Karamazov  by Fyodor Dostoevsky
19.  Orthodoxy  by G. K. Chesterton
20.  The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins
21.  The Cost of Discipleship  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
22.  A Testament of Devotion  by Thomas R. Kelly
23.  The Seven Storey Mountain  by Thomas Merton
24.  Mere Christianity  by C. S. Lewis
25.  The Return of the Prodigal Son  by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Here is the Best Seller’s List from the Association For Christian Retail

 1 (4) Radical David Platt, Multnomah (WaterBrook), p, 9781601422217
  2 (5) Crazy Love Francis Chan & Danae Yankoski, David C Cook, p,
     9781434768513
  3 (6) erasing Hell Francis Chan & Preston Sprinkle, David C Cook, p,
     9780781407250
  4 (9) Radical Together David Platt, Multnomah (WaterBrook), p, 9781601423726
  5 (10) Not a Fan Kyle Idleman, Zondervan, p, 9780310331933
  6 (12) The 5 Love Languages Gary Chapman, Moody, p, 9780802473158
  7 (14) Made to Crave Lysa TerKeurst, Zondervan, p, 9780310293262
  8 (19) Forgotten God Francis Chan & Danae Yankoski, David C Cook, p,
     9781434767950
  9 (23) So Long, Insecurity Beth Moore, Tyndale, c, 9781414334721
 10 (24) One Thousand Gifts Ann Voskamp, Zondervan, c, 9780310321910
 11 (26) The Power of a Praying Wife Devotional Stormie Omartian, Harvest House, p, 9780736926928
 12 (28) The Resolution for Men Stephen Kendrick & Alex Kendrick, B&H Publishing Group, p,
     9781433671227
 13 (30) Love and Respect emerson eggerichs, Thomas Nelson, c, 9781591451877
 14 (31) 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son Vicki Courtney, B&H Publishing Group, p, 9780805449860
 15 (32) The Resolution for Women Priscilla Shirer, B&H Publishing Group, p, 9781433674013
 16 (36) Weird Craig Groeschel, Zondervan, c, 9780310327905
 17 (41) Facing Your Giants Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson, p, 9780849921025
 18 (45) The Power of a Praying Wife Stormie Omartian, Harvest House, p, 9780736919241
 19 (49) Boundaries Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan, p,
     9780310247456
 20   5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter Vicki Courtney, B&H Publishing Group, p, 9780805446661
 21   Heaven Randy Alcorn, Tyndale, c, 9780842379427
 22   Life Interrupted Priscilla Shirer, B&H Publishing Group, p, 9781433670459
 23   5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace Gary Chapman & Paul White, Moody, c, 9780802461988
 24   The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren, Zondervan, p, 9780310276999
 25   Prayers That Activate Blessings John eckhardt, Charisma (Strang), p, 9781616383701