Thinking Out Loud

May 23, 2013

Book Review: These are the Days of Elijah

Much as I hate to admit it, while I’ve been aware of him for many years, this week was the first time I finally got around to reading one of the more than fifty books by R. T. Kendall. The American born author and pastor is best known for being the pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel where he succeeded the likes of Glyn Owen, G. Campbell Morgan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

R. T. Kendall - These are the Days of ElijahThe book I asked to review is These Are The Days of Elijah: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things (2013, Chosen Books) which was compiled from a series of Sunday evening sermons given at Westminster in 2000-2001; and if those Sunday night sermons were this good, I can only imagine what his preaching was like on Sunday mornings.

The book is an exposition of the story of the prophet Elijah. That said, you would expect the book to rest firmly in a Old Testament setting, but it’s as though Dr. Kendall can’t complete a paragraph without reference to a New Testament character or narrative. There is a great satisfaction in reading something where the Old and New Testaments are so clearly and strongly linked; where the character of God is seen as consistent throughout the two very different eras of our spiritual history.

But in addition to making the connection across the Biblical timeline, Days of Elijah is filled with application to our 21st century situation. Elijah was a man like us; he had his weaknesses, his rants, his frustrations. Several times the book quotes the phrase, “The best of men are men at best.” The prophet who led the showdown on Mount Carmel had his days of despair. A few times, Kendall links the Elijah story to periods in his own ministry where he felt rejection and failure; his journey as a pastor in two countries making this good reading for those who find themselves in that vocation today.

This is a book with what I call ‘rich text.’ I certainly see why Dr. Kendall has the following of readers that he does. I’m thinking this will be the first of several books by him to fill my bookshelf.

Top Ten Books by R. T. Kendall according to Send the Light Distribution:

  1. Total Forgiveness
  2. Totally Forgiving God
  3. God Meant it for Good
  4. Word, Spirit, Power
  5. Jealousy: The Sin No One Talks About
  6. These are the Days of Elijah
  7. The Power of Humility
  8. How to Forgive Ourselves Totally
  9. Why Jesus Died
  10. The Sermon on the Mount

Top Ten Books by R. T. Kendall according to Spring Arbor Distributors:

  1. Total Forgiveness
  2. These are the Days of Elijah
  3. How to Forgive Ourselves Totally
  4. Totally Forgiving God
  5. Word, Spirit, Power
  6. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit
  7. The Power of Humility
  8. The Sermon on the Mount
  9. The Anointing: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
  10. Did You Think to Pray?

A copy of These are the Days of Elijah was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a literary marketing and promotion agency based in Elmira, Ontario, Canada.


January 21, 2012

Eugene Peterson: Can You ‘Experience’ Worship?

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party.  I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah.  The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application.  He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:

“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms.  While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline.  “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction.  You want religious feelings? I will give them to you.  You want your needs fulfilled?  I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.”  A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded.  Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper.  Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy.  The 450 priests put on quite a show.  But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah.  It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant.  Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply.  In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide.  Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life.  The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God?  When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer.  Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity.  Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies.  Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen.  But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God.  Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.”  It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.”  It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God.  In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it.  A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate.  Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting.  Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.”  What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.”  Which is true enough.  The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different.  It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people.  Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all.  The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around.  Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different.  Elijah prays briefly.  The fire falls.  The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees.  They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson

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