Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: christianly book review

Christianly Book Review #3: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

Puritan writings are an acquired taste. I loved them while I was a Believer, and was growing an impressive library of Puritan Paperbacks. As my faith began to deconstruct, I went through a misguided minimalistic phase and purged nearly all my books. I regretted it almost immediately. Then I found Richard Sibbes’ The Bruised Reed in a thrift shop last year.

richard_sibbesPuritan spirituality is rigorous, promising great reward for those who walk the path and predicting serious trouble for those who won’t. The Bruised Reed is full of beautiful, comforting words. But there’s a lot I can’t resonate with anymore. Reading it was a bitter and beautiful reminder of the complex and rigorous spirituality I loved, devoted to “the constant progress of Christ’s gracious power, until he has set up an absolute government in us which shall prevail over all corruptions” (77).

If you’re a Believer, consider the Puritans. They had many of blind spots, and sometimes great ignorance. But nuggets of wisdom are almost everywhere you look, and the Puritans were keen on growing wisdom. Despite some serious problems (you’ll see them if you read them) the Puritans plowed a fertile field for spiritual gleanings.

This book speaks to me from the strangest place; in a form I love, Sibbes presents a path I cannot follow. I read it with a pen in hand (because that’s how you have to read the Puritans), so I’ll share a few lines that struck me, without comment or context.

Truth fears nothing so much as concealment, and desires nothing so much as clearly to be laid open to the view of all. (27)

Let men take heed of taking up Satan’s office, in misrepresenting the good actions of others. (32)

Men must not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. …The strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak. … The Holy Ghost is content to dwell in smoky, offensive souls. (33)

What is the gospel itself but a merciful moderation, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, wherein God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? (36)

Under this gracious covenant, sincerity is perfection. (37)

It is better that the water should run somewhat muddily than not run at all. (42)

It is better to enjoy the benefit of light, though with smoke, than to be altogether in the dark. (49)

Sin against conscience is as a thief in the candle, which spoils our joy, and thereby weakens our strength. (61)

Again, remember this, that Christ rules us by a spirit of love, from a sense of his love, whereby his commandments are easy to us. He leads us by his free Spirit, a Spirit of liberty. His subjects are voluntaries. (81)

Those, therefore, that are enemies of knowledge help Satan and antichrist, whose kingdom, like Satan’s, is a kingdom of darkness. (85)

No wicked man can be a wise man. (90)

Love once kindled is strong as death. (97)

What the heart likes best, the mind studies most. (103)

It has been a successful way of corrupting the judgment, to begin by withdrawing love. (103)

See a flame in a spark, a tree in a seed. See great things in little beginnings. (124)


Christianly Book Review #1: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up” is not a Christian book. It has nothing to do with Christianity. I didn’t even finish it. Nevertheless, it seems an ideal first book for the year of living christianly because it’s the first book I read this year. If I dig hard enough I can find parallels, I bet.

First, Marie Kondo promises big stuff. She claims if you do it her way, your house will never get cluttered again. Crazy, right? In a completely different way, Christianity offers to change your life forever.

Second, the KonMari is really simple. “Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.” That’s on page one. You could stop reading and just do it now.

Third, the KonMari is surprisingly difficult. You have to go through every single possession, category by category, physically handling each, and keep only the things that spark joy. Seems risky. This is where most people stop. Just like rigorous Christianity!

Fourth, something about the KonMari seems to really work. We KonMari’ed our house during Christmas break and there hasn’t been any return to clutter since. In the same way, we’ve all heard stories of people whose faith overcome real-life problems.

Fifth, I only had to read half the book to get benefit. I read the whole thing and learned the KonMari fold (it looks really cool) I’d have even more KonMari magic. Even so, the amount of KonMari I was able to put into my life was enough to make positive change.

Sixth, the KonMari changes how you look at things. We had twenty garbage bags and three van-loads of clothing, toys, electronics, books, gear, trinkets, utensils, dishes, furniture, and et ceteras that we are better off without. It’s not that we don’t need it—we don’t even want it!

Seventh, the KonMari makes it so you are only surrounded by the things you love. This parallel is a little reachy, so I’ll unpack it. While the KonMari offers freedom by removing unloved things, Christianity teaches indiscriminate love. In both cases, everywhere you look you see the Beloved.

Eighth, the KonMari can seem unpalatable, scary, against common sense, and is rarely seen through to its core. Similarly, the really powerful and difficult things at Christianity’s root tend to be left undone. G.K. Chesterton had a point when he said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

All in all, I recommend the KonMari because it worked for me. It was a great way to clean house in preparation for my year of living christianly. If you have the time and will-power, get a copy, read half of it, and lay siege to your fortress.

The next christianly book review will be significantly more christianly.