Eros, Anxiety, Narcissism, and Sensus Plenior...
March 25, 2020
I have been doing a lot of reading over here and very little posting. I’m currently enjoying a lot of research on a new project I am working on, which has taken me from writing much on the blog. But I wanted to share some quick blurbs on some notable books I’ve been reading on the side. After all, with most of us social distancing, reading may be making a comeback! I wish I was smart enough to figure out how to add the cover designs in a way that's pleasing to the eye on this new webpage system, but I did provide the links.
Our Bodies Tell God’s Story, by Christopher West
Christopher West has done an excellent job presenting a succinct, popular-level presentation of Pope John Paul II’s massive work, Theology of the Body, in this book that is only a little over 150 pages. While the sexual revolution is spiraling out of control, the church’s responses have often failed as being reactive rather than getting ahead and revealing the true beauty in God’s design of man and woman. West opens explaining, “Sex is not just about sex. The way we understand and express our sexuality points to our deepest-held convictions about who we are, who God is, who Jesus is, what the church is (or should be), the meaning of love, the ordering of society, and the mystery of the universe” (5). Sounds important---and it is! And so West explains the spousal meaning of God’s love, an eros that is also totally agape, sexual difference as gift, the fall and redemption of sex, true satisfaction of our desires, the Song our bodies were meant to sing, and the wedding feast that never ends. He does! Read this book. It is truly rapturous to get this right. And what a breath of fresh air to not have any of the baggage we’ve been saturated with in teaching on so-called biblical manhood and womanhood within protestant evangelical works. West is Roman Catholic, and dodges all that. But the reader will notice his own Roman Catholic flavors in the book as well, particularly the sacramental language with marriage and the ending chapter on birth control. Even here, the reader is challenged and stretched to sharpen our own positions.
Running for Judge, by Tim Fall
Tim has been an internet friend of mine from when I first began writing and sharing on social media. He’s written in different genres and this book is a memoir recounting the time his seat as superior court judge in California was challenged during re-election by another running mate. This challenge was a catalyst for Tim’s anxiety disorder to unwelcomely invite itself in and disrupt his health, family, job, and faith. I love a good memoir, and it was even more pleasurable to read one written by a friend. I had the honor of endorsing it:
I love how Tim Fall weaves together life as a judge, husband, father, and community-man of faith with a stressful event that triggered his anxiety disorder. Many of us can identify with trying to balance our lives and passions when uninvited chaos threatens them. Tim gets personal and practical about his suffering, while keeping his sense of humor. In this delightful memoir, Tim addresses anxiety head on, along with the stigmas attached to it, and shares valuable lessons learned along the way.
When Narcissism Comes to Church, by Chuck DeGroat
MoS recently aired a couple podcasts on spiritual abuse. We are continuing to see stories in the news with destructive, abusive leaders exposed in big churches, in both egalitarian and complementarian camps. But it doesn’t only happen in big churches. And let me tell you, the emails have been pouring in, with heart-breaking trauma and pain from congregants in these circumstances. This is a recent release that I picked up to learn more about the narcissistic personality disorder so prominent in spiritual abuse, why narcissists thrive in some churches, and what churches can do to identify, handle, and heal from it. I learned a lot in those areas, particularly how shame is the other side of the narcissist coin, how narcissists often thrive in of an infected system of leadership, the dynamics of trauma, and the psychological grip that often remains even after removing the narcissist leader. This was definitely a helpful book that evidences DeGroat’s over twenty years of experience in counseling pastors with narcissistic personality disorder and the people and churches harmed by it. He also shows compassion for getting behind the disorder and the individuals who have it. I couldn’t get into the chapter on using the Enneagram tool to look at the different personas of the “nine faces of narcissism.” Maybe that’s helpful for some, and it does show the complexities, nuances, and diversity of people in general and particularly when we are fast to label a narcissist. I could have done without the Enneagram part though.
Canon, Covenant, and Christology, by Matthew Barrett
We are about to interview Matthew Barrett on this excellent book on reading the Scriptures in their canonical and covenantal context. I am grateful for his contribution to a theological reading of Scripture. In it he unpacks the progressive nature of revelation, divine and human authorial intention, the covenantal medium of revelation and redemption, God as interpreter of his own word, and its Christological focus. I really benefitted from his discussion on typology, sensus plenior, and the eschatological intent that often goes beyond the human author’s immediate understanding to an even fuller meaning fulfilled in Christ and his love for the church. “To read Scripture as Christian Scripture---with the gospel at its center---means approaching the text knowing the triune God has spoken in every epoch whether by providence or miracle to bring to fruition his redemptive plan communicated since the beginning…Though always preserving the integrity of the many human authors, privileging the trinity of the divine author is essential because apart from such a privilege the canon’s unity is driven by pragmatics. Instead, it should stem from a unity of substance…There are few places where a unity of substance is seen with such vivid clarity as the Gospels, where Jesus reads the Scriptures as divinely inspired texts that, in some fashion, speak of him. To borrow the vocabulary of Hays, Jesus reads backwards; following his example, and having seen the resurrected Lord for themselves, the disciples are taught to read backwards as well” (24, 25). Barrett spends the rest of the book showing us this. He ends challenging the reader that the church needs a doctrine of inerrancy that is theological in nature, at its heart oriented by Christology, ultimately having a dogmatic location of Scripture in our doctrine of God.