Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book review: The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today

This book is a semi-autobiography of John Michael Talbot relating his spiritual experiences how the early church fathers deeply influenced his spiritual, professional and personal life.

Talbot was born into a Methodist family with a musical background and at age 15 he dropped out of school and was performing as a guitarist for Mason Proffit, a country folk-rock band formed with his older brother Terry. Talbot embarked on a spiritual journey that led him through Native American religion and Buddhism to Christianity. At this point he and his brother, Terry, joined the Jesus Movement. Reading the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, he was inspired to begin studying at a Franciscan center in Indianapolis. He became a Roman Catholic and joined the Secular Franciscan Order in 1978. He started a house of prayer, The Little Portion. This book basically describes some of his experiences.

However, I find this book to be quite difficult to read. Talbot started by emphasizing that the early church preferred nothing  - not even life itself - to Christ. If Christians were willing to die as martyrs, it was because they wished to imitate Christ and reach Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch in AD 107 for example said: "I am the wheat of God. Let me be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ." Or as St. Cyprian said: "Prefer nothing to Christ because he preferred nothing to us, and on our account preferred hard things to ease, poverty to riches, servitude to rule, death to immortality."

Theologically too as an evangelical Christian, I find certain segments of the book hard to accept. For example, in chapter 3, Talbot said that the Eastern Fathers spoke of the graced exchange in Greek terms that are startling to Western ears. They called it theopoiesis - literally "god-making". They called it theosis - which can be translated, roughly, as godding. In saving us, God has "godded" us by making us partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
......St. Athanasius of Alexandria, in the fourth century, said it most concisely: "He was made man that we might be made God." This does not mean we're given permission to walk around acting like we're God Almighty. No, it is a divine gift that makes us even more perfectly human." 

Although the qualifier is made, I still find this process of deification,  quite difficult for me to accept.

But the subsequent segment on prayers is great. As Talbot said:
The goal was to make Jesus the single focal point of life, and to make our prayer to him as constant as breath. Breathe in: Lord. Breathe out: Jesus.... It's not mechanical. It's not magical. It's love. 

The Eastern Fathers tell us to invoke the name and person of Jesus with every breath we take. Think about it: breathing is the only analogue we have as we become as we begin to consider the scriptural command. It is the one thing we do without ceasing. If we're living, we're breathing. When we stop breathing, we're dead.

In short, it might be a nice work, but still certain theological issues I find them hard to accept.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this e-book free from Blogger for books as part of their book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

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