Monday, March 31, 2014

‘The Age of the Spirit’ (Book Review)

Disputes over ecclesiastical authority and dissimilar political and doctrinal threats, along with cultural and language barriers (e.g., Latins who misunderstood Greek), drove the “western” Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches apart. Geographical isolation helped keep them apart. But globalization has torn down that barrier, and the West is now confronting eastern perspectives on all things religious, including the Holy Spirit. As Orthodox, Pentecostal, and Emergence Christianities continually challenge Catholic and Protestant norms, Episcopal author Phyllis Tickle suggests that Joachim of Fiore’s “Age of the Spirit” may now be upon us. Western Christians cannot continue to conveniently ignore the “Third Person” of the Trinity.

What? Isn’t the Holy Spirit is a staple of Christian conversation? Being honest we’d have to admit otherwise. The average Christian doesn’t want to think about the Holy Spirit. Speaking of “discernment” or “being led by the spirit” will draw dirty looks from other church members, who dismiss such talk as only befitting a Pentecostal…you know, those weird people. Add in Jesus’ terrifying warning about blasphemy against the Spirit (Mark 3:28-29), and no one dares question the far-fetched extra-biblical diagrams our teachers present in attempt to illustrate the Trinitarian “mystery” for fear of putting their souls on the line.

We don’t necessarily intend to ignore the Holy Spirit. We just don’t know how to talk about “it”…or “him.” Even the most passionate Trinitarians recognize that their views require a lot more biblical support than we are given. Being unable to “own” their opponents in debate is greatly unsettling to Christians, so it’s easier to dismiss questions with a quick “This is the way it is” and cease further discussion.

It should be of no surprise then that many people are converted to some form of Christianity without ever being introduced to the “Third Person.” Its absent from many tracks, Bible correspondence courses, and after-sermon invitations (i.e., alter calls) is deafening. Individuals “raised in the church” rarely fair better, lacking a definite understanding of what the Holy Spirit is and the role it plays in their lives. Unless one belongs to a religious movement that is all about the influence and work of the Spirit, then the whole of pneumatology is unofficially declared off-limits.

Some of us, however, would like to have a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit and thoroughly investigate what is usually considered a major pillar of the Christian faith. However, balanced and easy-to-read resources are often difficult to find for us lay-Christians. (By “balanced” I mean only in the sense that the author analyzes the history and arguments for variety of views, allowing a well-informed reader to draw his own conclusions.)

What is clearly needed is a way of opening up the discussion and allow for questions, especially if Christians are ever going to be expected to distinguish between orthodoxy and heresy. That’s what’s provided by Phyllis Tickle, founding editor of Publishers Weekly’s Religion Department, with Jon M. Sweeney in The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church (Baker Books, 2014). Part history and part theology, this book examines how the Holy Spirit has been defined and redefined over the millennia and what effects those definitions have had on Christian doctrine, worship, and living.

As you might have guessed, The Age of the Spirit is not an apologetic for any particular view. However, Tickle does present an argument that the filioque addition to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed and the Lutheran doctrine of sola scriptura effectively limited the power of the “Third Person” in the minds of western Christians. In the wake of what she says might be a major turning point in Christian history, Tickle challenges her readers to find new ways of engaging the Holy Spirit. Whether that might mean accepting an ancient “heresy,” mysticism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, or Emergence Christianity, or something else remains unsaid.

What I appreciated most about The Age of the Spirit was its easy read (which I suspect was Sweeney’s contribution). Although Tickle made some unconvincing claims and odd speculations at times, I came away with a clearer understanding the ecumenical creeds, the Great Schism, and the infamous ancient heresies. The book didn’t validate my beliefs, but that wasn’t why I picked it up. It gave me a different perspective and made me rethink some of my own assumptions about the Spirit.

As for the more technical details: Phyllis Tickle has a well-known presence within the “emerging church” movement, and the book, lightly peppered with their lingo, seems written for an audience more familiar with it than I. In addition, she makes reference to biblical content without necessarily including a citation, preferring a more fluid style of writing. While this is should be a minute problem for Christians well-read in Scriptures and having at their disposal every means of looking up these passages, it would likely annoy a number of readers who rely on chapter and verse. For that same reason, an index of Bible references would’ve also been nice.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Influenster Report: J’adore VoxBox

A couple of months ago, Ruth of Captain America and His English Rose and Shecki of Greatly Blessed encouraged their fellow West Coast Christian Bloggers to sign up for Influenster, an online community that features a gaggle of consumer product reviews. I decided to check it out, and recently received a pink J’adore VoxBox filled with Valentine’s Day goodies – a tad bit late – to critique. Below you’ll find my initial thoughts, uninfluenced by the fact that I received the products for free. Note: The pictures are from and linked to

Boots Botanics Shine Away Ionic Clay Mask
On a “girl’s night in,” one of my sisters and I covered our faces in this suspiciously-colored face mask. I dried my face after cleansing it, so the mask hardened while I was still spreading it on. My sister, the more experienced face mask user, left hers wet, so the mask spread on easily. Liked the results: Both of us felt that our faces seemed tighter (in a good way) immediately and also the next morning! Planning on using again soon.
Check it out: Influenster, Boots, Target

Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolates
Can you believe it? A free bag of one of my favorite childhood candies! Tasted pretty much the same as I remembered. The red, pink, and silver wrappers were all emptied within 48 hours. Wonder if the next box contains a diet supplement…
Check it out: Amazon, Influenster, Hershey’s

Frizz Ease 3-Day Straight Flat Iron Spray
Had to time a couple of test runs with my hair maintenance schedule. I’m not used to spraying anything on my hair, so my aim was off, and I got a bit in my eyes a few times. (Probably ruined my contacts!) I was pleasantly surprised, however, when my flat-ironed hair withstood getting caught in some light rain the next day, and no sign of frizz later on despite the high humidity. Unfortunately, another test run failed a week later during a Spring Break stay at a beach-side Monterey resort. On the fence.
Check it out: Influenster, John Frieda, Target

Kiss Looks So Natural Lashes
Fake eyelashes? You’ve got to be kidding me. Influenster made me complete at least three beauty survey questions about my preferences on this, and I thought I made it clear that I don’t wear them and won’t wear them. So much for tailoring the boxes to the consumer. At least Google search results suggest that this is a quality brand. The box says that it’s the “tapered end lash” gives the pair a softer, more natural look. So if Bambi eyes is something you’re after, consider giving Looks So Natural a try.
Check it out: Amazon, Influenster, Kiss, (25% off discount code KISSLSN until 3/31/14)

Red Rose Simply Indulgent Teas
For a warmer winter experience, Influenster packed up four bags of Red Rose Simply Indulgent Teas in Crème Caramel and Lemon Chiffon. Red Rose also offers Cinnamon Streusel and Peach Cobbler. I’m not a fan of these dessert-flavored teas because my taste buds expect them to taste just like they smell: like dessert. However, my tea-loving husband and sister really liked them, so I’ll put the six coupons included to good use.
Check it out: Amazon (Crème Caramel, Lemon Chiffon, Cinnamon Streusel), Influenster, Red Rose

Vaseline Men Spray Lotion Fast Absorbing
Influenster sent me a “for men only” product, which my husband and brother-in-law graciously tried out and gave me their opinions on. The product has a nice masculine smell reminiscent of Axe deodorant. Surprise: The spray can made a cool – “laser” was the word used – sound when activated. Downsides: The spray-on is supposed to be more convenient, but it still has to be rubbed in. Also the labeling was generic (i.e., boring). Worth the tryout for guys who prefer to use lotion, but probably won’t convert those who don’t care to lather it on.
Check it out: Amazon, Influenster, Vaseline, Target

Want an Influenster box of your own? Join here. Disclaimer: I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

‘Beyond the Masquerade’ (Book Review)

“Authenticity” is a buzzword within Christiandom. We know that non-believers are attracted to honesty and genuineness, and repelled by phoniness, pretense, and hypocrisy, traits that, unfortunately, are too often associated with those identifying publicly as Christian. To combat this, we can find a number of devotional studies, books, and the like designed to encourage Christians (generally women and teens) to live a more open and honest life. One such book is Nancy Eichman’s Beyond the Masquerade: Being Genuine in an Artificial World (Gospel Advocate, 2013), apparently of no relation to the similarly-focused and similarly-titled Beyond the Masquerade: Unveiling the Authentic You by Juli Slattery (Focus on the Family, 2007). An excerpt of Eichman’s book was recently included Christian Woman magazine (Jan./Feb. 2014), so I bought a copy to see what she had to add to the conversation.

Overall I’d give Beyond the Masquerade a low passing grade. Eichman’s strengths lie in her ability to point out some key problems that plague Christianity: snobbery, people-pleasing behavior, deceitfulness, and keeping secrets. She also offers practical, albeit somewhat unoriginal, advice on how to become more Christ-like, pursuing authenticity in speech, prayer, charitable giving habits, and hospitality. The chapters are short and conclude with questions to facilitate discussion in a Bible class, study, or small group. I got a strong sense that it would be best used for teaching young women and new believers.

Beyond the Masquerade has some downsides though. It has a rough beginning that might cause readers to give up on it too early. I almost did. In addition, Eichman’s eagerness to include biblical examples at times gets the best of her. She had plenty of examples of deceit at her disposal, but resorted to an unfair treatment of Tamar (Genesis 38) to make her point. Ignoring Judah’s admission that his daughter-in-law was “more righteous than I,” Eichman reinterprets the story, not in Tamar’s favor, and commits a puzzling anachronism by applying Mosaic Law (Leviticus 22:13, Deuteronomy 25:5-10) to a significantly earlier Canaanite society without proving that those customs were practiced in the same way God expected of the post-exodus Israelite tribes. This sort of carelessness when drawing examples from biblical stories is highly contagious. I foresee disastrous results if Eichman’s biblical interpretation skills are used as a model for those new in the faith. So, yes, please consider Beyond the Masquerade for an upcoming Bible study, but proceed with caution.