There is an important sense in which this small book—at only 105 pages with larger than average print—is a kind of summary of what Balthasar has written at length and in great detail elsewhere. In my personal opinion this book is a near-perfect representation of good theology. It blends technical precision with strong rhetorical expression while bringing these two together in an uncommon simplicity of expression. Anyone can read this book. But above all this book moves seamlessly between theological exposition and spiritual and even mystical communication. Balthasar holds all these vital pieces together, allowing the Apostles’ Creed to frame what Christianity and the Christian life means for him.
The more I pray the more difficult I find it to pray. I was taught to pray spontaneously, as if this were the only kind of prayer that was authentic. Written and rote prayers were almost automatically condemned as mere ritual without heartfelt meaning. I admire the concern for authenticity, but I must admit that I lack the imagination, the vocabulary, often the enthusiasm and desire to conjure up new words for God every time I want to pray or am called to pray.
As I’ve suggested in some earlier book sketches, I think Protestants like myself have a lot to gain by learning from the Eastern Orthodox Church. One of the ways I’ve grown the most by listening to the Orthodox voice is the way I think about salvation. The way I typically heard the story growing up made salvation a matter of alignment, like applying for membership in the right club, and then a lifetime’s work trying not to get kicked out. And salvation was taught this way because of our underlying theological assumptions. Now, I’m not saying this is completely wrong, but I do think there’s some serious gaps and even errors in that way of thinking.
Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code vividly depicts the Council of Nicaea as a chaotic shouting match in which several ‘Gospels’ were rejected. This may have been the first time many ever realized other ‘gospels’ were produced at all. What do we make of this? If not through some inane conspiracy, how did the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament get to its present form? What of these other ‘gospels’? These are questions about which Christians should have a basic understanding, and Lee McDonald’s book aims to help.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Presence and Thought: An Essay on the Religious Philosophy of Gregory of Nyssa San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988. Hans Urs von Balthasar, besides being in contention for most magisterial name ever, was a Swiss Catholic theologian in the 20th century. He is important for a lot of reasons, but primarily…
I first read a book on monastic spirituality almost by accident. I resonated with the sincerity in their search for God and the thirst for authenticity I saw in their words. Yet I was repelled by a way of life, an intensity of practice that seemed impossible in my own world. Sure, I could drop everything and go live in a monastery, but I had a gut feeling my then-fiancé would not appreciate that very much. I also wasn’t sure how I was going to afford my student-loan payments while living under a vow of poverty.
Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007. I have in my head a list of books that I know I should have read. My list is probably different from actual cultured people, but in my own nerdy, idiosyncratic way I’m happy with it. Instead of great works…