The Weekly Hit List: April 24, 2015

Eve Tushnet wrote about Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship for The American Conservative.

Hill explores how our cultural expectations affect people who, for whatever reason, don’t expect to marry or have kids. How do we give and receive love? How do we lead lives which are fruitful and not just lonely expanses of time-before-death?

So often gay people in the “traditional” (for lack of a better word) churches receive no hint that we, too, have vocations—that we, too, are called to love specific other people. So Hill is trying to restore “spiritual friendship”—intimate, lasting friendship which draws the friends closer to God—as a vocation for gay or same-sex attracted Christians.

Read the rest of “No Marriage Is an Island” here.

 

Other Spiritual Friendship Media:

Stephen Shaffer reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

Patrick Schreiner reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

Adam Shields reviewed Spiritual Friendship.

 

 

The Drama of Living by David F. Ford was recommended and reviewed by D. Brent Laytham for The Christian Century:

This rich, relevant volume, a sequel to Ford’s stunning The Shape of Living, is an author’s report on his past books, a participant’s report on Scriptural Reasoning meetings, an annotated anthology of the poetry of Micheal O’Siadhail, and a dramatic reading of the Gospel of John.

The surprising thing about the book is its wholeness, as Ford seeks to draw readers (and rereaders) to wiser living.

 

Quick Hits:

Traces of the Trinity by Peter J. Leithart was reviewed by James Matichuk.

Evangelicals for Social Action shared an excerpt from Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider.

Nonviolent Action by Ronald J. Sider was reviewed by Bob Trube.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory by Jerry L. Walls was reviewed by David Baggett.

Scot McKnight discussed Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.

 

Ebook Specials:

A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis by Devin Brown is on sale for $2.99 (82% off) from participating retailers through April  26.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with David F. Ford – Part 3

We recently had the chance to talk with David F. Ford about his book The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit.

David F. Ford (PhD, University of Cambridge) is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught for more than twenty years, and director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Program. He is also a Fellow of Selwyn College and the author or editor of more than fifteen books, including The Shape of Living. Ford is one of the founders of Scriptural Reasoning and has been extensively involved in generating new modes of engagement for inter-faith relations in the post-9/11 world.

Part 1 of this interview is available here.

Part 2 of this interview is available here.

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In your book you write about L’Arche communities. What is L’Arche, and how has it affected your life?

The L’Arche communities began about fifty years ago when the French Canadian Jean Vanier invited two men from an institution for those with severe learning disabilities to live in community with him in the village of Trosly-Breuil, near Compiegne in France. The central idea is of a family-like community of those with and without learning disabilities. There is now an international federation of around 150 communities in all continents. I have been involved with L’Arche for twenty-five years, and recently my wife, Deborah (an Anglican priest and a psychotherapist, who figures at various points in The Drama of Living), has led an initiative to found a small residential community in Cambridge inspired by L’Arche. “Lyn’s House,” as it is called, is not part of the L’Arche Federation because it is not a residential community for those with disabilities, but, with encouragement from Jean Vanier and L’Arche UK, it is a place where four young people are living and creating a place of hospitality and friendship for people with learning disabilities.

The Drama of Living has a good deal to say about L’Arche, and also quotes from Vanier’s remarkable meditative commentary on the Gospel of John, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, in which he distills decades of experience of L’Arche and a lifetime of reading the Gospel. For me, L’Arche is an important sign of a deep truth: that it is only by putting those who are disabled, elderly, poor, or otherwise marginalized at the center of our communities that we can have truly healthy social life. Usually, our communities center on the powerful, successful, wealthy, healthy, well-educated, and beautiful. We need to be in communities of the weaker and stronger in which what matters most is not whether a particular person is weak or strong, abled or disabled, but whether it is a community of love and service—face-to-face and (referring to the ritual of footwashing that is practiced in L’Arche, following the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in John chapter 13) face-to-feet.

The appendix to The Drama of Living is an address I gave at the funeral of Micheal O’Siadhail’s wife, Bríd. She had Parkinson’s for over twenty years, and in writing the address I realized afresh how the “community of the weaker and stronger” can apply in marriage and also to society more widely.

A final point about L’Arche is how celebration is central to it, not least in birthdays and the various festivals through the year. It is the joy (often alongside much suffering) at the heart of L’Arche communities, Lyn’s House, and a marriage such as that of Micheal and Bríd that is to me a key sign of the trust, hope, and love that our world most needs.

 

What place does repetition have in what you call “the sphere of meaning”? Why is rereading so fundamental for learning?

I am intrigued by how much of life is repetition—in bodily functions like breathing, waking, and sleeping; in nature’s patterns of light and dark, seasons and life-cycles; and in so many routines, regularities, and habits. The chapter of The Drama of Living on “Rereading and Rehearsing: Classic Surprises” was a lovely one to write, and all sorts of things came together for me for the first time. I now tell our first-year students in Cambridge that one of the most important things they can learn is to read slowly and to reread good texts time and time again. I love the preface to Paul Griffiths’ book, Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion, which I quote in the chapter. I deeply appreciate the way the Gospel of John is steeped in John’s Bible, the Septuagint, which is the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek (the language of most Jews in the Roman Empire) that happened in Alexandria a couple of centuries before Jesus and became the Bible of most of the authors of the New Testament. John’s way of reading his Bible teaches us how to read his Gospel, and clearly involves much rereading.

I am also intrigued by preparation and rehearsal, “repetition in advance.” A great deal of life is taken up by preparation—for events, projects, careers, interviews, meetings, performances, meals, sporting competitions, holidays, and so on. The Drama of Living asks about wise preparation, and connects it to religious habits of prayer, study, and worship.

Then there is the great Jewish contribution to the patterns of repetition in our culture: the week, with a Sabbath. That is meditated upon as one of the wisest institutions of all. The sabbath can be seen as a preparation for the week ahead, or the week can be seen as a preparation for the sabbath. Above all, it is a time when life can be enjoyed for its own sake, and God for God’s sake.

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For more information on Dr. Ford’s new book, The Drama of Living, click here.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with David F. Ford – Part 2

We recently had the chance to talk with David F. Ford about his book The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit.

David F. Ford (PhD, University of Cambridge) is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught for more than twenty years, and director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Program. He is also a Fellow of Selwyn College and the author or editor of more than fifteen books, including The Shape of Living. Ford is one of the founders of Scriptural Reasoning and has been extensively involved in generating new modes of engagement for inter-faith relations in the post-9/11 world.

Part 1 of this interview is available here.

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What is “Scriptural Reasoning,” and what is its potential impact on religion and society?

Scriptural Reasoning is a practice in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and now sometimes those from other traditions too) come together in study and conversation around their scriptures. It has been one of the best surprises of my life since I got involved in its beginnings about twenty years ago.

I had spent fifteen years living in multireligious Birmingham, Britain’s second city, but was never gripped by what I found there in interfaith relations, worthy though much of it was. It was only through Scriptural Reasoning that I realized what was missing: a practice that enables people from very different faiths to engage with each other long term in a way that lets them be fully people of faith in their own traditions. These scriptures are wonderfully rich and deep, have been interpreted for centuries, and now continue to be important around the world. You never come to the end of their meaning and implications. In The Drama of Living I tell the story of Scriptural Reasoning and some of the exciting developments that have been happening around the world in Europe, America, China, and elsewhere. I describe it as a wisdom-seeking practice that at its best (especially when done year after year) leads to a multiple deepening. It can draw us deeper into our own faith, deeper into understanding the faiths of others, deeper into commitment together to the common good of our world, deeper into community—and often friendship—with those of other faiths, and deeper into the disagreements as well as the agreements between us.

That last point is important: it is not likely that, for example, Jews or Muslims will be able to agree with the message of the Gospel of John on Jesus as the full self-expression and self-giving of God, but it is good to be able to explore what is meant by that and other disputed teachings. We speak in Scriptural Reasoning of “improving the quality of our disagreements”—which, when you think about it, is desirable in many other relationships too, including engagements with fellow Christians and with our spouses, children, friends, enemies, and colleagues.

As regards the potential impact of Scriptural Reasoning on religion and society, I think it is immense. Professor Peter Ochs, the Jewish professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia who has been central to Scriptural Reasoning since it began, speaks of “hearth-to-hearth” engagement. Scriptures are at the center of each of our communities, they are places of warmth (and dangerous fire!) where we gather to understand what is most important to us. In Scriptural Reasoning something of this warmth can be shared across traditions, while yet respecting the differences. Peter has been working to find ways of applying this in situations of tension and conflict, as have the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme and the new center of reconciliation near Carlyle in the North of England, Rose Castle. The director of Rose Castle, Sarah Snyder, has been at the forefront of introducing Scriptural Reasoning to the USA, the Middle East, and local communities around the UK. I have had fascinating times doing it not only in the UK but also in China, the USA, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, Jordan, Israel, and Oman, and have just received an invitation to do it in the leading Muslim University of Al Azhar in Egypt.

The most recent major initiative that partly owes its inspiration to Scriptural Reasoning is the Global Covenant of Religions, which seeks to bring together the religions at the international, regional, and local levels in order to resist religion-related violence and encourage peacemaking, better quality education, and respect for religious minorities. It is only a beginning, but watch this space!

 

What is the importance of “face-to-face” engagement, and how does it change how we interact with others? What does it mean for how we interpret texts?

The Drama of Living holds that the primary perspective on human life is the face-to-face. It is important to have broad frameworks, big concepts, and attempted overviews, and also to pay attention to each person’s interior life, but in the drama of living the central dynamics are face-to-face. This is, I think, common sense—you just have to note how the most popular television programs and films make this central. Likewise most of the Bible is stories about people engaging face-to-face. Even in apparently big impersonal organizations, corporations, and governments you usually find face-to-face relationships are vital at every level from the board or cabinet at the top to the local teams and offices. And of course it is the primary perspective of love.

I think there are two main implications for interpreting texts.

First, it is important to realize that most of them had their origins in face-to-face dramas of living, with conflicts, debates, special interests, and complex issues. Their context matters, even when we do not know much about it. So there can be no simple application today of, for instance, the Gospel of John, and John is very good at recognizing this—it is why he uses that important little word “as” so much, as discussed already. For example, when the risen Jesus says to the disciples as he breathes the Holy Spirit into them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (20:21), that encourages not only reflection on the drama of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in order to understand his mission from the Father, but also reflection on the ongoing drama in the past and today in order to improvise appropriately in the ongoing drama of the twenty-first century.

Second, the priority of the face-to-face applies to our process of interpretation. Central to our efforts to go deeper into the meaning of the Gospel should be intensive conversation with others about the text. One of the formative things for me in reading John was six months during which two New Testament scholars, Richard Hays and Richard Bauckham, met with me for twenty-one three-hour sessions, one on each chapter of John. I am also deeply grateful to other groups, in many academic settings, in various churches, and in Scriptural Reasoning, for fruitful explorations of this inexhaustibly rich text.

One conclusion that is constantly reinforced through such conversation and argument is that the text is endlessly generative of fresh meaning. A key text in John is the promise that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” (16:13), and I think that happens most reliably through the discipline of conversation with others and through attending to the wisdom gathered over many centuries in communities of worship, study, and practice. We need to remember that, through writings and traditions, we are always in the presence of the unseen faces of those in previous generations who have been part of this conversation.

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Next week Dr. Ford will discuss L’Arche communities, as well as why rereading is so fundamental for learning.

For more information on Dr. Ford’s new book, The Drama of Living, click here.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with David F. Ford – Part 1

We recently had the chance to talk with David F. Ford about his book The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit.

David F. Ford (PhD, University of Cambridge) is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught for more than twenty years, and director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Program. He is also a Fellow of Selwyn College and the author or editor of more than fifteen books, including The Shape of Living. Ford is one of the founders of Scriptural Reasoning and has been extensively involved in generating new modes of engagement for inter-faith relations in the post-9/11 world.

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In this book, your sequel to The Shape of Living, why did you choose to concentrate on the Gospel of John and on the poetry of Micheal O’Siadhail?

The Shape of Living combined my experience of life with the earlier poetry of Micheal O’Siadhail and a variety of biblical themes. Since then, O’Siadhail has written several very fine volumes, including Love Life on thirty years of marriage and Globe on the contemporary world, and his publishers have also just brought out all he has written in his Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books). I myself am now deep into a ten-year project writing a commentary on the Gospel of John and will be delivering the 2015 Bampton Lectures for Oxford University on the theme “Daring Spirit: The Gospel of John Today.” In addition, a good many things have happened in my own life since writing The Shape of Living fifteen years ago, including time in Rwanda, a great deal of interfaith engagement (especially with Jews and Muslims), and the extraordinary last six months in the life of my father-in-law, Dan Hardy.

The Drama of Living feels like a more intense fusion of those three elements than before. Perhaps it is the effect of being older, but the interplay between the poetry, the Gospel, and life today seems freer—there is more of the drama of my own life in this book, and I felt free to explore the big questions of meaning, truth, life and death in ways I had not before. I tend to think best while writing, and it was an exciting process, with all sorts of fresh insights and discoveries.

Why O’Siadhail’s poetry? I find him the best poet writing in English today (and it is good to see so many more people discovering him through his Collected Poems). He gets heart, head, and imagination together; his poetry is wonderfully musical, and he’s not afraid to use classic forms as well as inventing his own; and he is accessible. Above all, he takes on the great themes of life, love, meaning, and death. I see poetry at its best as the supreme form of meaning through language, and I find myself returning to O’Siadhail’s poems again and again.

Why John’s Gospel? I love all four of the Gospels, and at different times in my life have concentrated on each of them, but John’s is distinctive, mysterious, and both the deepest and the most dramatic. This Gospel is the result of many years of following Jesus and entering more and more into the depths of who he is and what it means to live “in the Spirit.” I also have come to see it as particularly well suited to the twenty-first century, and The Drama of Living tries to work out what that means. One of the things that fascinates me most about John is the sheer superabundance of meaning. There always seems to be more on every rereading, and he symbolizes that by images of abundance and overflow—large quantities of water turned into wine, water gushing up, wind blowing unpredictably, baskets of food left over after Jesus feeds the crowd, and so on—all summed up in the Spirit being given “without measure.”

 

What can the Gospel of John teach us about love? How is love central to the Gospel?

The first mention of the word love in John is God’s love for the world in chapter 3, but I see the key truth about love coming at the climax of the prologue in 1:18, where Jesus the Son is pictured, in the NRSV translation, “close to the Father’s heart”—literally “into the bosom of the Father.” This for John is the deepest secret of reality, the dynamic of love at the heart of the universe, and the whole Gospel can be seen as an invitation to readers to trust that this is so and be part of the reality of this love. At the Last Supper the beloved disciple (who I think is left unnamed so that everyone can identify with him, just as the mother of Jesus is not named at his crucifixion; and the term “beloved” gives the core identity of any disciple) is seen reclining “on the breast of Jesus,” and we are reminded of this again at the very end of the Gospel. So there is, as it were, a chain of love pictured through this image of intimacy: the Son close to the Father’s heart, the beloved disciple close to Jesus’s heart, and all the rest of us invited to be there with him.

The climactic act of Jesus is to lay down his life for his friends—only in this Gospel is discipleship described as friendship. And it is clear that this love, the embodiment of God’s love for the world, is for all: Jesus says, “I when I am lifted up will draw all people.” The crucifixion is the revelation of the love at the heart of the universe and is also utterly realistic about all that opposes that love: the drama of loving and hating, light and darkness, continues. The crucifixion is also the place where we get the deepest insight into the community Jesus desires to form. Only in John does Jesus bring those two unnamed people, the beloved disciple and his mother (who might, as I suggested, be seen as representing all of us), into a new community that includes family but transcends it. He says to his mother: “Woman, here is your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Here is your mother”; and John adds, “And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home” (19:26–27). We are asked to imagine that this hidden life in a family-like community of friendship is where, in the coming years, the testimony and reflection took place that went into shaping this extraordinary Gospel.

This is what I call in The Drama of Living the ordinary, daily, and largely hidden drama of loving that all of us are part of. I see John as deeply concerned for this. Compared to the other Gospels there is little specific ethical teaching by Jesus (no Sermon on the Mount, for example), but the “new commandment” is summed up by Jesus as “Love one another as I have loved you.” That “as” challenges his followers to pray, think, and imagine in the Spirit what is genuinely in line with how Jesus loved. We are invited to read and reread the dramatic stories of the encounters of Jesus throughout the Gospel of John, and the extended farewell discourses in chapters 13–17, and then improvise on them in our situations. The Gospel can be read as an introduction to who Jesus is—the one who loves like this—and an invitation to take part in the ongoing drama of loving in which he continues to be the main character. We are given a script on which we improvise in the Spirit every day, and the main aim of my book is to try to help people do this wisely.

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Next week Dr. Ford will explain “Scriptural Reasoning” (and its impact on religion and society) and the importance of “face-to-face” engagement (and what it means for how we interpret texts).

For more information on Dr. Ford’s new book, The Drama of Living, click here.

This Just In: The Drama of Living by David F. Ford

The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit
by David F. Ford

 

“A sequel to Ford’s The Shape of Living, The Drama of Living could be characterized as sapiential theology–reflection on theology that draws out its wisdom for daily living. Ford weaves together a mélange of sources, especially the Gospel of John and the poetry of his friend Micheal O’Siadhail. . . . A familiar theme for Ford is sounded in this book: the urgent need and opportunities for interreligious understanding and cooperation. Religious traditions at their best are about the pursuit and application of wisdom.”
Christian Century

 

How can we live wisely in the twenty-first century, alert to God and to other people amid the ups and downs of modern life? We find ourselves in the middle of complex situations, relationships, responsibilities, ongoing dramas, and challenges. Our response to these circumstances requires us to draw on many sources and to constantly exercise imagination, discernment, and judgment.

In this sequel to his well-received book The Shape of Living, renowned theologian David Ford offers insights into living wisely in the Spirit in a culture of distraction. Ford provides a reflective contemporary Christian spirituality that is drawn from the Gospel of John, the work of internationally respected poet Micheal O’Siadhail, and his own life experiences. He explores themes such as the ordinary and public dramas of living, the centrality of face-to-face relationships, the habits that shape our lives, friendship and love, aging and dying, and jazz. Discussion questions for individual or group use are included.


David F. Ford
(PhD, University of Cambridge) is Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, where he has taught for more than twenty years, and director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Program. He is also a Fellow of Selwyn College and the author or editor of more than fifteen books, including The Shape of Living.

Ford is one of the founders of Scriptural Reasoning and has been extensively involved in generating new modes of engagement for inter-faith relations in the post-9/11 world.

 

Praise for The Drama of Living:

“This is a tour de force. We all take part in the drama of living, and Ford’s wisdom shapes our engagement with its depths and fullness. This extraordinary book draws on the riches of his own experience, contemporary poetry, and the mysterious Gospel of John. It both explores the complexities of daily life and inspires wise and creative responses.”
Micheal O’Siadhail, award-winning poet

“David Ford here combines a treatise in individual and social anthropology with a reading of the Fourth Gospel in order to assist us while we join him in the ‘search for wisdom in the drama of living.’ The interweavings among the themes are further strengthened by frequent citations in verse from the Irish poet Micheal O’Siadhail. Altogether this is a book that may properly engage the attention of theological and humanistic readers alike.”
Geoffrey Wainwright, professor emeritus of Christian theology, Duke University

“By tearing down the wall of hostility between autobiography and theology, David Ford draws theology into dailiness, discarding the modern division of ‘head’ from ‘heart.’ This memoir unself-consciously blends personal experience, poetry, fiction, drama, jazz, Scripture, and the suffering of the disabled, those of the Shoah, and the dying, inviting us to read our own interiority through the great minds and tragic moments that have nourished us on the paths we have trod.”
Ellen Charry, Margaret W. Harmon Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

 

Who Is Jesus? (an Excerpt from The Drama of Living by David F. Ford)

The following is an excerpt from chapter one of The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit by David F. Ford.

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Who is Jesus? John’s Gospel has perhaps been the single most influential book in the history of Christian theology, especially in Christology, the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ. John’s Prologue (1:1–18) alone has been one of the most discussed texts century after century.

For now, the key point is that, for all the importance of the Prologue, the main way John tells us who Jesus is, is through the rest of the Gospel, and this is in the form of one dramatic encounter with Jesus after another.

It is carefully written to answer the question, who is Jesus? in multiple ways and at many levels, so the reader is constantly led to reread; to make new connections with the rest of the Gospel, the Synoptics, and the Tanakh/Old Testament; and to explore what the meaning might be of capacious, symbolic statements such as “I am the bread of life” (6:35), “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6), and many others.

Such open, dense descriptions cry out to be meditated on again and again, and no one ever comes to the end of this process. The theological reason for this is simple: Jesus, who is identified through this drama and these statements, is alive and is present as God is present, so the Gospel is actually a means of relating to him in person, and no one ever comes to the end of that.

One of John’s favorite phrases, “eternal life,” is not so much about “life after death” as “life after the death and resurrection of Jesus”—life, with others, abiding in him, loved by him, and loving him (this approach to love and to death will be explored further in chapters 5 and 6). It is, as the title of O’Siadhail’s book says, Love Life.

The way Jesus is portrayed in the Gospel story is the main inspiration for our ideas and images of who Jesus is. It both disciplines our tendency to fantasize and to create self-serving or distorted images, and it frees us to go deeper and further, using our minds and imaginations in prayer, conversation, theology, the arts, relating to creation and other people, and acting in the world.

In other words, it is central in shaping our participation in the ongoing drama initiated by “Follow me!”

 

©2014 by David F. Ford. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

The Weekly Hit List: September 26, 2014

Kingdom Conspiracy by Scot McKnight (October 2014) was summarized and reviewed by Trevin Wax for The Gospel Coalition.

Kingdom Conspiracy is a book that challenges some commonly held beliefs and assumptions among evangelicals. Scot McKnight will rile up people on both the left and the right, as brilliant Anabaptists always do. I’m a Baptist with a strong affinity for the Kuyperian vision, and so there were aspects of this book that resonated with me and aspects that frustrated me.

“Overall, however, Kingdom Conspiracy‘s primary goal is one that I appreciate. It offers an ecclesio-centric view of the kingdom that refocuses our attention back on the church as the centerpoint of God’s plan in our world today.”

Read the entire review here.

Read the entire summary here.

 

 

The Drama of Living by David F. Ford (October 2014) was reviewed on The Christian Century.

“A sequel to Ford’s The Shape of Living, The Drama of Living could be characterized as sapiential theology—reflection on theology that draws out its wisdom for daily living.

“Ford weaves together a mélange of sources, especially the Gospel of John and the poetry of his friend Michael O’Siadhail. A corollary to the theme of Jesus coming into the world is John’s theology of the Spirit who comes and invites us into the ongoing, improvisational drama of following Jesus and living out the love of Jesus in our lives.”

Read the entire review here.

 

Quick Hits:

Scot McKnight was interviewed about Kingdom Conspiracy on the Newsworthy with Norsworthy podcast.

Kingdom Conspiracy was recommended by Jason Micheli.

Presence and Encounter by David G. Benner was recommended by Byron Bolger on Hearts & Minds Books.

A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves was reviewed by Dr. Conrade Yap

Educating All God’s Children by Nicole Baker Fulgham was reviewed by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson for Urban Faith.