English Lessons and The Seven Deadly Virtues

REVIEW ROUNDUP

Today’s books both deal in some way with stepping outside our familiar Christian contexts or viewpoints and learning to look at our faith in a new light.

English Lessons: The Crooked Path of Growing toward Faith” by Andrea Lucado (WaterBrook, 2017). Foreword by Donald Miller.

Andrea Lucado had never known any other life than that of a prominent pastor’s daughter, whose whole world — from her childhood games to her adolescent social schedule — orbited around the church. When she chose to attend graduate school at Oxford Brookes University in England (not “Oxford Oxford,” but a more recently established university), that world shifted. Suddenly this thoroughly churched young woman found herself among completely unchurched people in an unfamiliar land (and a much colder, more cramped land than her native Texas). Lucado describes it as being “surrounded by tiny islands off the coast of nowhere near the edge of the universe.”

The overwhelming nature of it all is still fresh in the author’s mind, particularly the way it reshaped her faith, causing her to question everything she believed and the very way she lived. Though at times her narrative gets a little lost in masses of detail, Lucado has a gift for mining unusual and striking insights from her experience. For instance, unlike many young adults who realize they’ve been formed by their parents’ and grandparents’ faith, and who let that realization take them away from faith altogether, Lucado comes to realize that the way these lessons are handed down from generation to generation is actually a unique and valuable strength of the church.

“English Lessons” would be an excellent book to give to a college student or recent graduate who is learning how to bring his or her childhood faith into the adult world, with all its complications and compromises. Lucado’s vivid recollections of being thrown into the deep end, and how it helped her to mature as a Christian and a person, make her an ideal writer to help such readers through the difficult transitions ahead of them.

The Seven Deadly Virtues: Temptations in Our Pursuit of Goodness” by Todd E. Outcalt (IVP Books, 2017).

Faith, love, family, power, success, goodness, generosity — they’re all good things. But, suggests Todd Outcalt, they’re also things that can lead us away from the highest good, if we’re not careful.

In this refreshing book, Outcalt, who has served as a Methodist pastor for 35 years, suggests that perhaps instead of being preoccupied with vice, the church needs to examine the temptations posed by virtue. Some of his examples, like power and success, are obvious ones. Others — like faith, love, and family — are so much less obvious as to be confusing. What could possibly be wrong or tempting about emphasizing these things?

Plenty, says Outcalt: “Self-righteousness doesn’t redeem us. Fear doesn’t lead to faith. We often fall into the snare of protecting our faith (or our turf) instead of standing on the grace and salvation of Jesus. . . . In the marketplace of ideas Christianity often falls into the winner and loser mindset when church leaders vie to crush other denominations, traditions, or voices.” We can talk about faith or love all we want, but unless we’re genuinely practicing them Christ’s way, we’re doing them wrong. (His chapter on family particularly resonated with me, as his call to think of the church in terms of one large family instead of a bunch of little family units echoes a similar call in my own book.)

Outcalt’s wisdom is a valuable and well-timed corrective to some damaging trends in Christian culture. I hope it will be widely read and applied.

Image courtesy of fstop123 at iStock by Getty Images. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums. Review copies obtained from the respective publishers.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, and the author of “One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church” (Baker, June 2017).


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