Book Reviews: Yu, Williams

I’ve added two recent book reviews that I have recently had published in Review of Biblical Literature here. Interested in the Apostolic Fathers? I’ve reviewed Chun Ling Yu’s Bonds and Boundaries among the Early Churches: Community Maintenance in the Letter of James and the Didache. Interested in the early Christian apologists? I’ve reviewed D.H. Williams’ Defending and Defining the Faith: An Introduction to Early Christian Apologetic Literature. The temptation is always to sign up to do more book reviews (free books! learn new things!) but they are, surprisingly, a fair amount of work!

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Teaching for Spiritual Formation, Teaching Ascesis

It’s been about six months since the release of Teaching for Spiritual Formation, and I’ve been very pleased with initial interest in the book! As I anticipated, teachers and administrators in classical Christian schools have resonated the most with the book, but it’s been great to see other groups engage with the book’s ideas as well. The book hit “#1 New Release” status in “Adult Christian Ministry” on Amazon.com for a couple of days around its release, so many thanks to everyone who bought a copy.

This summer I had the privilege of (virtually) sitting down with David I. Smith, director of the Kuyers Institute at Calvin University and author of the book’s foreword, to discuss Teaching for Spiritual Formation on his “Faith in Teaching” podcast. You can check out the episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.

One theme of the book, the role of asceticism in Christian education, was in need of expanded treatment beyond what it received in Teaching for Spiritual Formation, and so I wrote an article for the International Journal of Christianity and Education titled “Teaching Ascesis: Recovering the Neglected Center of Early Christian Pedagogy.” You can download it here with institutional log-in; otherwise, the abstract gives a sense of what the article is about:

This article aims to recover the foundational importance of training in ascesis for Christian education. For early Christian pedagogues such as Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom, education was seen not so much as the transmission of information as it was an invitation to a life of virtue and faith; to this end they especially encouraged teaching that would promote an ascetical lifestyle and therefore greater communion with God. By examining two key patristic texts connecting pedagogy and asceticism, this article outlines an approach that can enable modern Christian teachers to engage their students with ascetical practices that will contribute to their spiritual formation and counter-cultural witness.

There will be some more media related to Teaching for Spiritual Formation coming out later this year; I will post again when it becomes available. In the meantime, if you haven’t picked up a copy yet, be sure to get one! And, if you have read it, know that a review and/or a rating on sites like Amazon can go a long way to helping with the book’s discoverability, so if you haven’t left one yet, please consider doing so. Many thanks!

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Teaching for Spiritual Formation Now Available!

Just wanted to drop a quick line to say that Teaching for Spiritual Formation is now available at Amazon and other retailers! I pray that this book blesses many Christian schools and teachers, with the wisdom of the church fathers leading us forward in our work. Enjoy the read!

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2021 Year in Review

“Two weeks to flatten the curve” has become “two years…to something,” but even amidst all the disruptions of yet another Covid-impacted year, I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to continue teaching, writing, researching, and catechizing.

This year’s major project was the completion of Teaching for Spiritual Formation, my new book on the intersection of Christian education and patristic teaching that will be published next month by Cascade. While I was able to complete the manuscript in the spring, some completely understandable delays pushed editorial work on the manuscript from summer to fall, with the final indexing work being completed just before Christmas. Having now published two books with Cascade, I can confidently say that their team is a delight to work with, and would highly recommend them to friends looking for a publisher. I’m particularly grateful to David I. Smith for kindly providing a foreword to the book, and to Dan Beerens, Brett Edwards, and Bruce Lockerbie for their gracious endorsements. I pray that the book resonates with Christian educators across a wide range of schools, stimulating new ways of thinking about what it means to teach in such a way that we are forming our students more into Christ’s likeness. The pre-order page should be live within the next week or two, and the book will be broadly available for order from retailers such as Amazon by the end of January.

Related to this book, I was invited to submit an article to a special edition of the International Journal of Christianity and Education, which is scheduled for publication in the spring 2022. This article, “Teaching Ascesis: Recovering the Neglected Center of Early Christian Pedagogy,” aims to recover the foundational importance of training in ascesis for Christian education. For early Christian pedagogues such as Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom, education was not seen so much as the transmission of information as it was an invitation to a life of virtue and faith; to this end they especially encouraged teaching that would promote an ascetical lifestyle and therefore greater communion with God. By examining two key patristic texts connecting pedagogy and asceticism, the article outlines an approach that can enable modern Christian teachers to engage their students with ascetical practices that will contribute to their spiritual formation and counter-cultural witness.

It is interesting to me that the most-viewed pages on this site continue to be those about prosopological exegesis, which was the subject of my doctoral dissertation and featured in much of my early research. Looking ahead to 2022, I think it might be time to go back to this subject and do some more work, especially with respect to how prosopological exegesis contributed to the development of early Christology. I hope to have more news on this front soon. Happy New Year!

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SBL 2021: See You in San Antonio!

It will be wonderful to re-connect with friends at this year’s Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Antonio. For readers who will also be in attendance, be sure to drop by my session on Sunday!


S21-315 Contextualizing North African Christianity
11/21/2021
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 304C (Ballroom Level) – San Antonio Convention Center
Theme: Prophets and Prophecy in North African Christianity
Alden Bass, Oklahoma Christian University, Presiding (5 min)

Kyle R. Hughes, Whitefield Academy
The Spirit of Truth: Revisiting the Prophetic Work of Tertullian’s Paraclete (25 min)
Tag(s): Early Christian Literature (Early Christian Literature – Other), History of Christianity (History & Culture), Religious Traditions and Scriptures (History of Interpretation / Reception History / Reception Criticism)
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Updates: “Teaching for Spiritual Formation”

We’re getting closer to the late fall publication date of my forthcoming Teaching for Spiritual Formation: A Patristic Approach to Christian Education in a Convulsed Age, and am excited to be able to share some more details about the project.

First, I can now announce that David I. Smith has graciously written the foreword for the book. Dr. Smith is the author of many, many books on Christian education, including On Christian Teaching, which was in many ways an inspiration for many of the themes traced in my work. He is director of the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning and professor of education at Calvin University, and is also a very brilliant and yet humble man. I am honored to have him provide the book’s forward, and hope it will encourage more Christian educators to take a look at his work.

Second, I can also now share the finalized synopsis and chapter outline. In Teaching for Spiritual Formation, I advance a fresh vision of Christian teaching and learning by drawing upon the riches of the Christian tradition, synthesizing the wisdom of the church fathers with
contemporary efforts to cultivate a distinctively Christian approach to education. Of interest to a wide range of Christian educators, this book examines the writings of five significant church fathers whose writings have the potential to stimulate our ability to reimagine five different aspects of Christian education and to consider what kinds of habits and practices can help bring this new vision to life. Chapters include:

1. Introduction: Christian Education in a Convulsed Age

2. Who Are We as Teachers? Gregory the Great and Contemplative Spirituality

3. Who Are Our Students? John Chrysostom and Embodied Learning

4. What Are We Teaching? Basil of Caesarea and Training in Virtue

5. How Are We Teaching? Benedict of Nursia and Formative Practices

6. How Do We Plan for Growth? Cyril of Jerusalem and Catechesis by Design

7. Conclusion: A Teacher’s Rule of Life

One of the major themes that runs throughout the book is the importance of ascetical spirituality and the practices associated with this approach to the faith that is, sadly, much neglected in much of the Western church today. An invited journal article, “Teaching Ascesis: Recovering the Neglected Center of Early Christian Pedagogy,” is in the works to supplement the book; more information on both to come!

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“How the Spirit Became God” on The Intersection Podcast

The Telos Collective, which aims at “forming leaders at the intersection of gospel and culture,” has a great podcast that features pastors, scholars, ministry leaders–and, now, me–on a variety of topics relevant to the church today. I was privileged to record a conversation with Bishop Todd Hunter and Erik Willits on “The Unfolding Work and Witness of the Holy Spirit” as part of their season on “Life in the Spirit.” You can find more info about the episode and listen to it here.

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“How the Spirit Became God” on The Stone Chapel Podcast

I had the pleasure of recording an episode of The Stone Chapel Podcast with Dr. David Capes of Lanier Theological Library on my new book How the Spirit Became God. In this short conversation, I give a brief overview of my book, discuss the various ways to pronounce “pneumatology,” and introduce my current writing project. Take a listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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2020 Year in Review

2020 was obviously such a difficult and painful year for so many that I recognize that having the health, resources, and time to devote to my various writing projects is itself a significant blessing. At the end of this most unusual and challenging year, then, I think it is all the more important to pause and take stock of the good things that the Lord has brought over the last 12 months.

The early part of this year was devoted to the completion and publication of my second book, How the Spirit Became God: The Mosaic of Early Christian Pneumatology. Launching a book in the midst of a pandemic was hardly an ideal way to get the word out, but I have nevertheless been deeply encouraged by the warm reception it has received from those who have read it. The first published review, from Brandon Smith in the Southwestern Journal of Theology, noted that “The strengths of this book are legion—from its succinctness to its clarity to its theological precision—but its greatest contribution is its avoidance of generalizing early pneumatological development. […] This book is recommended for anyone seeking to understand how and why Christians confess the Holy Spirit’s full divinity.” If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, get it now!

The second half of the year, then, has been consumed with writing the bulk of my forthcoming book, also with Cascade, on the intersection of patristic theology and modern Christian teaching and learning. While there has of course been much written on the integration of faith and learning, I’m not sure anyone has approached these questions from this particular angle of gleaning from the wisdom of the church Fathers on spiritual formation and pedagogy. I am particularly grateful for the large group of outside readers who have been working through the manuscript as I complete each chapter, providing constructive criticism and additional illustrations that really flesh out my points in practical ways. It has been wonderful to spend the year in the company, so to speak, of men like Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Benedict of Nursia, and St. Cyril of Jerusalem. If nothing else, my time in the Fathers has enriched my own soul. I’ve completed about 150 pages, putting me at roughly 75% of the estimated total length, and am aiming to have it submitted to Cascade by the end of February. If everything stays on track, you can expect to see Teaching for Spiritual Formation: Patristic Insights for Christian Education in a Convulsed Age (working title) from Cascade in fall 2021. Much more on this to come in the new year!

Thank you as always for your interest in support of my work. May God richly bless you in 2021!

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Book Review: Wallace and Thornborrow, Stories of the Saints

“Read us another saint story!” is a common refrain heard around our home. And who am I to resist my older children (ages 6 and 4) wanting to learn more about church history?

This, ultimately, is the triumph of Stories of the Saints (Workman Publishing, 2020), which bills itself as a collection of “bold and inspiring tales of adventure, grace, and courage.” For not only does the volume serve as an introduction to some of the most famous Christians of all time, but it promotes, across all of its stories, the power of prayer and faith, the rejection of materialism and self-comfort, and a call to live for something greater than oneself. What’s more, it introduces topics such as monasticism, martyrdom, and mendicancy (topics that won’t come up in your average Sunday School class!) in an accessible way for children.

Both contributors to the volume excel in their respective tasks: Carey Wallace does a great job of rendering the lives of the saints in a brief and accessible manner (no small feat!), Just as impressive are the illustrations of Nick Thornborrow (I especially like his renderings of Jerome, Benedict, and Francis), which remind me of a cross between a graphic novel and the work of the Israeli artist Bracha Lavee. Workman Publishing brings it all together through high-quality pages and make good use of shiny gold detailing. The volume itself, then, feels like a piece of art and a “special” book for our family that we keep safe between readings.

Supernatural events abound in the stories of these saints. Some might prefer a more purely “historical” introduction rather than one that feels more “legendary” or “mythical,” but Wallace nails the book’s perspective in the introduction:

“Are these stories true? That depends on what we mean by true stories. […] But just because we can’t be sure a story didn’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t true in another way. These stories have been told for generations, some for thousands of years. In this book, they’ve been dramatized, but always based on tradition and history. They come from many sources, but they are among the best-loved and most enduring stories in the world because of the deep truths they contain.” (ix)

The breadth of saints selected is impressive, extending chronologically from Polycarp (d. 156) to Mother Teresa (d. 1997), covering both the Western and Eastern Churches, and providing a great balance of male and female, well-known and more obscure saints. The perspective and selection, especially of the modern saints, is decidedly Roman Catholic, as would be expected, and therefore leaves something to be desired from an Anglican perspective: even if it would be unreasonable to expect John Wycliffe or the Oxford Martyrs in a volume like this, I would have loved to see Augustine of Canterbury or Edward the Confessor. On a related note, it would have been nice to see St. Michael the Archangel included somehow; I’m sure Thornborrow could have done something really impressive with him and it would have been a nice story to read for Michaelmas.

One other minor criticism: the scholar in me would love to have a little more idea of which resources Wallace consulted for constructing her account of each saint’s life; the “further reading” at the back of the book is a nice start, but more specific references would be useful to at least some adult readers working through this book with their children.

These minor critiques aside, this outstanding book will be well-loved by parents looking to form in their children (and in themselves!) an appetite for what is good, beautiful, and true.

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