I received Brian McLaren's book Finding Our Way Again for free from Booksneeze.com and in return, I am writing an unbiased review.
Brian McLaren's book Finding Our Way Again is a book about returning to what he calls ancient practices. These are also called spiritual disciplines by others. In chapter 1, McLaren talks about finding sacredness in everyday, mundane things and connects this awareness to spiritual disciplines. McLaren addresses why these practices matter, why so many people choose to practice them, and how these practices can be helpful.
The book is divided into three sections: Way, Practices, and Ancient. In Way, McLaren writes about the usefulness of spiritual disciplines and the way they can lead to closeness with God. In Practices, he gives brief descriptions about the different sorts of practices and even divides them into contemplative, missional, and communal practices. Finally, the third section is Ancient. This focuses on practices that have been done for so long that they have become embedded into tradition and deserve to be discussed.
Overall, for those interested in spiritual disciplines, this is a good place to start. Designed to be the first book in a series of ancient practices, this gives a good introduction into the various ways some people choose to practice beliefs. Perhaps there are better, more in depth books written about spiritual disciplines, but this is a good starting point for those looking for some sort of direction.
This book promises much. It seeks to outline seven ancient spiritual practices as an introduction to a further series of books focusing on each practice.
Having been seriously looking at spiritual disciplines and practices lately I was rather hoping that this book would enlighten me further, however I found it something of a mish-mash.
I really couldn't get past two striking issues for me. Firstly the author seems to be confused as to who the audience of the book should be, very loosely holding to a Christian position in the midst of the other 'two Abrahamic faiths' of Islam and Judaism.
Furthermore it comes from a position that this kind of spirituality can not be found in the established churches, rather the author gets a little vague on faith communities.
In short, after reading this introduction I am not at all interested in the rest of the series.
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In the book, Finding Our Way Again, Brian McLaren points out seven ancient practices of spiritual formation that have been shaping the community of faith from the very beginning of its inception. The point he tries to make in this book is that, "we have lost the path and are seeking to rediscover our faith as a way of life, shaped and strengthened by ancient practices (Pg. 6)."
For those of us we are searching for a new and refreshing way to go about spiritual formation, this book is a good starting place. Nearly each chapter of the book is broken down into practices and exercise. The part dealing with practices describe what they are, what they mean, and what they look like. For instance Confession and Assurance are described as listening practices because they involve dimensions of listening to your conscience. The practice would be sharing this section with a faith leader and dialoguing about how it has affected the person reading it. Over all the book is worth a read.
There are several things that seem to be happening in mainstream Christianity these days. Leaders are becoming less political, churches are moving further away from strict dogmatic denominational structures, and believers are creating their own amalgamation of practices, worship styles and traditions. That's where Brian McLaren's new book, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices comes in. The editor touches on a cord running throughout the book in her foreward, saying "Young men and women of faith, especially, are crying everywhere, "Give us a faith that costs something. We want to feel the passion of those who knew and know Christianity is worth dying for! Teach us the things that will mark us as children of God! Make of us a holy nation before God!"
When we are able to see the greater story in God's plan of redemption, we can learn from our counterparts from the Catholic to the Charismatic. Some may be perceived as "Social Activists," relating their faith to fighting injustices and bringing about God's Kingdom on earth. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we might see "Internalists/Individualists" who would abandon this world for Heaven, preparing themselves for Christ's return, and dwelling on the lofty theological ideologies of faith. McLaren argues that this is a fals dichotomy, that these aspects of faith are simply two sides of the same coin. "Heaven (the afterlife) and earth (this life) stop being perceived as two separate things. They are two dimensions of the experience of God, two venues of the presence of God, two facets of one gift."
McLaren's goal in this book is to setup a defense for why some of the ancient practices such as fasting, fixed hour prayer, pilgrimage and a sacred meal, can bring us closer to God, and closer in community. Theses traditions should be seen for their character building and unifying properties, not for their tendencies to draw lines, and create traditionalism. I felt like some of the connections were a little loose, and I'm not sure how finding common ground amongst denominations or dogmatic practices necessarily lends itself to practicing ancient rituals, but I am excited to see what the other authors in this series bring to the table.
I was provided a free copy of this book by booksneeze.com.
Finding Our Way Again: the Return of the Ancient Practices by Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle is the first book i am reviewing for a website that specializes in reviews of new Christian literature. I was very excited about the idea, and chose a book to review that i thought would compliment my current interests well. The cover is reminicent of stained-glass windows, and echos the title well in it's medieval cathedral feel. The summary that caught my interest begged the question, "Why have certain spiritual disciplines been in use for centuries, and why are they so important?" It went on to claim, "Brian McLaren guides us on this quest for an explanation of these spiritual practices, many of which go all the way back to Abraham and the establishment of Israel. In the midst of contemporary Christianity, we discover the beauty of these disciplines and the transformation through Christ that each can provide." Since this book is the first in a series of eight books, i thought it would be a good place to start my study of these ancient Biblical practices.
When the book arrived i was excited, taking in the cover, the notes on the back and even reading the forward before starting in on the text... something i am usually too impatient to do. I wanted to prepare myself for the book, be open to it. It started out with an antidote... and that style continued throughout: stories from the author's life or imagination and metaphors made up much of the text. The chapter was very short- as the author's style seems to be- and at the end were some "spiritual excercises." I found these increasingly annoying as i read the book, and at some point started skipping them altogether.
As far as the content is concerned, i would warn readers that at many points i wondered if the author is indeed christian? his biography says he is a "former pastor." The book seems to point to a more unitarian view of religion.
In the end i do not feel that the book taught me more about the ancient practices i was hoping to read about. Instead i am left with a jumble of images and the same curiosity about the ancient practices of fixed-hour prayer, fasting, sacred meals, Sabbath, and pilgrimages that i expected him to discuss more.