Tag Archives: Tracy Balzer

Favorite Faith-Based Nonfiction

(“…if she were not possessed of a fury.”)*

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep Ten Year Celebration series!

I have been, as Dan Koch** would say, on a complicated faith journey, and whenever something significant (or truly miniscule) is happening in my life, I have to read all about it. This list contains titles that have been among the most impactful for me, although there were plenty of them that I read before this blog began, and others that I read when I was in a place of fear and kept to myself (see Pete Enns, below). There are also faith-based titles in the “Anti-Racist Reads” section, already posted. Bear in mind that I read many of these when I was deeply searching, somewhat depressed, or furious.

Click on the title for the full review.

Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey. Number one, no doubt about it. I read this and Bessey’s Jesus Feminist around the time of my mother’s passing and other global disasters, and it was exactly the right timing. This is sort of a long and complicated review.
Tell It Slant, by Eugene Peterson. I saw this one in a photo of Jon Foreman’s piano and brought the book with me on a family vacation to Virginia. Since it was a relaxed vacation, it got passed around to rave reviews.
Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning. A deeply contemplative volume for those of us who need assurance of God’s love.
The New Copernicans, by David Seel, Jr. A different and more positive understanding of the faith of Millennials, those of us who think like Millennials, and why. To use a hackneyed phrase, a true paradigm shift.
Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. She writes with a flaming sword. Since I reviewed this book, I have heard it mentioned all over the place, and for good reason. Essential.
Thin Places, by Tracey Balzer. A foray into the Celtic understanding of spirituality for this old Celt. I want to go on one of her trips to Iona!
The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. A classic on discipleship and kingdom living now.
Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, and also pretty much everything else he wrote. He is my go-to guy for solid teaching.
Running Scared, by Ed Welch. I read it myself one year, and then David and I taught it a few years later. If you are anxious or worried, I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.
Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue. Science Mike threw out everything about faith, and then, spurred on by a divine vision, re-examined each little element and decided what he could truly believe. Tearing it down to bare bones.
What If Jesus Was Serious? By Skye Jethani. A radical little devotional for adults and families with teens. Cuts away religious trappings to get down to what Jesus really said (although I am confident that Jesus understood the subjunctive mood).
The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. Not that I agreed with him on everything, but we had a little book group on my back porch to discuss this one, and I have such fond memories of that group of ladies that the book warms my heart.
I blogged about Peter Enns’s book The Sin of Certainty, but this Bible professor’s book that really impacted me was How the Bible Actually Works, which I was probably afraid to write about at the time. A definite must-read.

Disclaimer: I own all of these books, which is not typical for this librarian, so you can see where I’m putting my book money. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not express those of my employer or anyone else.

* Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing. Benedict is speaking of Beatrice, whom he despises, and with whom, therefore, he falls madly in love.

**Dan Koch is the host of the You Have Permission podcast and is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, focusing on spiritual abuse. One of my favorite podcasts.

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Thin Places, by Tracy Balzer

Thin PlacesMany centuries ago, Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, and the faith thrived on this isolated green island with little outside influence. As Europe fell to the barbarians and entered the Dark Ages, monks from Celtic lands preserved manuscripts and spread learning back across the continent. How did such a small population have such a great impact on history? What were the spiritual practices they followed that kept the flame of faith alive?

The subtitle of this slender volume is An Evangelical Journey into Celtic Christianity. Ms. Balzer is an evangelical American who researches and teaches at John Brown University about this early age of Christianity in a country just emerging from paganism. Balzer leads groups to the island of Iona, where Columba founded a monastery just out of sight of his beloved Ireland so that his heart would not long for returning. Iona is considered a “thin place,” where the veil is thin between the physical world that we see and the spiritual world that is just beyond our vision and perception. Spiritual experiences are more frequent in thin places than in our usual workaday world, and Balzer wanted to find out why. She has made the pilgrimage to Iona and similar Celtic sites many times and has kept a journal of her observations and conclusions.

The book is divided into chapters by the several spiritual practices Balzer considers essential to Celtic spirituality, with appropriate passages from her journal, followed by historical research and ways to fold these practices into our own lives in the twenty-first century. She ends each chapter with a Celtic prayer and questions for reflection. In one chapter, she discusses how Celtic monks had spiritual mentors or anamchara who were transformational in their lives. Balzer describes the way that the monks’ prayers differed from ours and the paramount importance of silence for hearing from God. Celts went on pilgrimages that were not as goal-oriented as those of continental Europeans, and, as we know from their educational institutions all over the world, they were not afraid to love the Lord their God with all of their minds. These are some of the issues she explores winsomely and intimately in these pages.

As American evangelicals, we sometimes feel the accretion of centuries of manmade traditions and practices weighing down our understanding of transcendent reality, and we look for ways to scrape off the layers and find the living faith again. The New Testament tells us of the very first churches planted by the apostles, but I wanted to see how a group of gentiles, freshly introduced to the gospel, carried on the faith before Rome took hold of them firmly. The ancient Celts were much more aware of God’s omnipresence and his activity in every moment of life. I was surprised by the monks’ emphasis on the Trinity, and their prayers are poetic praises to the Three in One. And, as always, I was reminded of the importance of intentional silence in our noisy lives.

Readers who wish to step outside of time for a while will find some wisdom here. Balzer’s layout is organized and clear, and her discussions are a good introduction to Celtic thought, particularly for non-Catholic Christians. Her notes and bibliography are rich with material for further exploration.

Recommended.

Disclaimer: I own of copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Christian Life