Book Review

[Review] – A Loving Life

Just this past week I overheard a conversation about the book of Ruth–and was immediately reminded of A Loving Life, which I first read last October! Many are familiar with Miller’s A Praying Life; what A Praying Life does for your approach to prayer, A Loving Life will do for your approach to hesed love. While I expected this to be a book on love, I was completely unprepared for it to dramatically challenge the basic approach to covenantal love–and to do so through the story of Ruth from the Old Testament.

Aim of the book

Right away Miller opens with the lines, “…at the heart of love is incarnation that leads to death. Death is at the center of love.” The 20+ years of real-life lessons that Miller packs into the book will shift our American tendency from a modest discussion on the theories of love into the nitty-gritty applications of love–especially within the context of marriage.

Miller aims to address some of the commonly asked, but rarely answered satisfactorily, questions our culture has on love:

  1. What is love?
  2. How do we redefine love in light of the Gospel?
  3. What is the bond that keeps community together?
  4. What do we do in lamenting hard times–when it seems God himself has deserted us?
  5. How does love influence our approach to prayer?
  6. What does femininity and masculinity looks like in light of hesed love?

The power of this book is the close ties to the story of Ruth from the Bible. Without this structure, these answers might become dry, inapplicable to daily life. But because of the story–and the masterful approach Miller takes to unpack the story–this book deserves a spot on every bookshelf.

What I Wish

My only wish for this book is that someone would’ve handed it to me on, before, or just after the day I proposed to my wife. This would have helped me mature faster in how I loved her. Not to avoid pain and the lessons I learned, but to help me love her as she needed, not as I thought she needed.

What I Walked Away With

Whenever I read, I filter the text three 6 questions based off of the Swedish Method (below). Not only is this helpful in processing the information during consumption, but it’s also a helpful schema to share the information with others.

Any New Ideas?

  • While not a new idea to me at all, the idea of hesed love is powerful (and my wife had it engraved into my wedding ring). This is a powerful definition of love, one that he–and I–think is crucial to understand and work out in day-to-day life in marriage. Miller defines hesed as:
    • “Steadfast love. It combines commitment with sacrifice. Hesed is one-way love. Love without an exit strategy.”
    • I rarely process how to lament well–especially with those close to me. Since reading this book, we’ve walked with friends through divorce, loss of un-born children, health issues, and the consequences of sin. This book really helped give me language for this:
      • “What can we say to Naomi’s lament? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We just weep with her. That is good theology, to weep with those that weep.”

Any Questions it doesn’t answer?

This book is solid on love, but doesn’t address some of the questions I would have regarding singleness, or the playing-out of love within a community (such as small groups in church, or friend groups in general). Clearly not the primary aim of the book, but I did find myself yearning for some more diverse applications of his thoughts/experiences.

How can this be applied?

My first impulse was to go and buy multiple copies and distribute it to friends who were about to be married. The text helps reduce the learning curve of what “sacrificial love” in marriage is all about.

Sheepishly, my second impulse was to reflect on how I can better embrace the messiness of vulnerability and love with my wife, family, friends, and community. It was a slow and arduous process, but I believe all the relationships are for the better for it–but not without some significant times in prayer and surrender to my selfish desires on my end.

Notable Quotes:

>"Suffering is the crucible for love. We don't learn how to love anywhere else."

>"We deepen our love of God not by direct pursuit of God, but through the good work of love, where we enter the gospel and the pattern of Christ's life becomes our pattern. Of course, we always have to begin with God's love for us--that's faith. But once we have that faith foundation, we deepen faith by love. That's what the J-curve is al about. As we enter a life of love, we get to know God."

How does it make much of Jesus?

To read this book and miss how it makes much of Jesus would take a) great skill or b) never reading so much as a page. But the most Jesus-exalting action of the book is the call to look to the work of Jesus on the Cross for the impetus for pressing into the vulnerabilities of love. And pressing in not for love itself, but for a richer, fuller relationship with him.

Who Should Read This?

  • Everyone, but especially those you know who are newly engaged to be married, recently married, or struggle capturing the bigger picture of loving others well.

If this didn’t exist, what would be missing?

  • We would be missing a great chapter in the volume of Christian living literature equipping us to press into the biblical calls for loving others well.

Summary

I cannot recommend this book highly enough–a year later and I’m still sharing the insights gathered from this book with those I know, every single week.


I’m grateful for Crossway who gave me an early copy of A Loving Life through their program, Beyond the Page. I’ve partnered with Beyond the Page to review and provide feedback on the various books they publish. I encourage you to check out the program and see if it strikes your interest.

[Review] – How To Stay Christian in Seminary

About a year or so ago a great blog series came out from David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell from Desiring God, about how to stay Christian while in seminary. The posts were great, but at the time I wasn’t in graduate school yet and the words didn’t stick. Recently, Crossway partnered with Mathis and Parnell to expand this mini-series into a concise book, How To Stay Christian in Seminary (HSXS).

The timing couldn’t be better–this book fills a needed void in equipping students–of any discipline and level–on the disciplines (especially spiritual) that effectively puts education in its proper place: secondary to glorifying God and the health of personal faith. Coming in under 100-pages, HSXS is a quick read; I was able to read HSXS in two sittings, totaling about 2 hours.

Aim of the book

As the title suggests, Mathis and Parnell aim to: “help you be aware of the danger and appropriately sobered by [seminary]. We want you to face the challenge in earnest and see your faith strengthened, deepened, enlivened, and enriched by seminary, not shipwrecked.” The book certainly accomplishes this aim and more; I was particularly challenged with my leadership assumptions on top of walking a daily Christian walk.

What I Wish

Two things about the text. First, I wish Mathis and Parnell would have expanded their audience to all students rather than just complimentarian seminarians. Second, much of what HSXS admonishes the reader to do has hints of an air of perfection, as if the authors were able to master the concepts they present during their seminary experiences. Make no mistake, both Mathis and Parnell are solid men of God, active in the Church, love and lead their families well, but I know them well enough (via Bethlehem Baptist Church) to know they write from these struggles and admonish us to learn from their mistakes before we make them ourselves.

What I Walked Away With

Whenever I read, I filter the text through 6 questions based off of the Swedish Method (below). Not only is this helpful in processing the information during consumption, but it’s also a helpful schema to share the information with others.

Any New Ideas?

  • Approach academics devotionally
  • The goal of seminary [and all education] isn’t to be unweak, it’s to learn and steward your gifts.
  • Make Jesus the explicit center of all our learning
  • Tie everything back to glorifying God.
  • Home is the first ministry. There is no “just a season” for school & study to replace our calling in the home.

Any Questions it doesn’t answer?

  • I know it’s written for seminarians, I would love to see this expanded to include all education, not just seminary. Seminary is particularly hard, especially when Scriptures are studied academically and not devotionally, so I understand the urgency of the authors to reach this specific population.

How can this be applied?

  • HSXS is rich with applications. A few things of note:
    • I have the immediate application of a biblical liturgy to daily pray over my wife.
    • To constantly connect the learning to the glory of God.
    • The radical need to not partition my devotional life from my academic pursuits.
    • Parnell suggests in the first chapter to write a life mission statement. Best part of the book I’ve been emphasizing this for a couple years, and Parnell does a great job to equip the readers to start this important, nay vital pursuit of intentional living:

    “That mission is articulated in a memorable line that becomes the point of gravity around which everything operates.”

How does it make much of Jesus?

  • HSXS is laced with glorifying God, making much of Jesus, and treasuring the gospel. The best quote implies the breadth of God’s glory and our inability to completely understand him. “You go to seminary to grow, yes. You go to seminary to learn and steward your gifts, absolutely. But here’s the thing: the goal of seminary is not to become unweak…Therefore, determine to be known less for your strengths in academic rigor and more for how that rigor helps you grasp what it means that the God-man was crucified to save the world. Embrace your weakness. Bring it all back to grace.”
  • And they end, so beautifully, with this:

    Finally, and most of all, we thank Jesus— our matchless Savior, peerless Lord, and priceless Treasure— who took our place on the cross, defeated death for our sake, ever lives to be our Life and Joy, and keeps us Christian by his Spirit.

  • The church needs this book to be read, because at the end of the day our churches are at stake: seminarians plant churches, lead churches, shepherd churches, and this book is a field guide for seminary students to live devotionally before, during, and after seminary.

Who Should Read This?

  • Not just seminarians, but everyone. The point isn’t that it’s harder to stay Christian in Seminary; the point is it’s hard to be Christian as a learner. I’m convinced life is a continual exposure to learn, some enjoy it, and some avoid it. Everyone needs to learn how to make glorifying God primary, not learning.

If this didn’t exist, what would be missing?

  • As I said before, there’s been a void in the literature for a practical guide to root oneself in the faith while attending seminary (explicitly), but (implicitly) attending any educational institution. This hits the spot, even the length makes it easy for already overloaded students to read it, apply it, and share it.

In sum, to refresh your mindset with seminary, graduate school, undergraduate studies, high school, and even daily living. Pick the book up, your mind and heart will be refreshed and challenged. Your church will benefit from it; your family will benefit from it; your spiritual walk will benefit from it; and God will be glorified by all these things.

I’m grateful for Crossway who gave me an early copy of How To Stay Christian in Seminary through their program, Beyond the Page. I’ve partnered with Beyond the Page to review and provide feedback on the various books they publish. I encourage you to check out the program and see if it strikes your interest.

HSXS