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Thursday, June 23, 2016

"It's Complicated" (Jack Haberer)

TITLE: It's Complicated: A Guide to Faithful Decision Making
AUTHOR: Jack Haberer
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (180 pages).

Seeking God's will is not as simple as saying, "It's all in the Bible." The more sweeping or simplistic a person says, the less satisfying it becomes, especially for earnest seekers. If we are honest with ourselves, we are sometimes guilty of some or all of the following. We give simplistic answers to issues that are inherently complex due to the many different factors and scenarios. Our answers in turn become reductionistic as we cut the real problem down to our size, just because we are unable to appreciate the extent of the real problem. In turn, we betray the trust that others have placed on us. Better to say we don't know or to put down some disclaimers first. In a nutshell, life's issues are often more complex than we think, more ambiguous than our own past experiences, more intricate and impossible to predict. If theory is a pretty portrait, practice will take potshots at it. In this book, pastor and author Jack Haberer aims to do three things. First, he lists the varioius popular questions asked and puts them in a single framework while pointing out the many ambiguities that come with it. He then leads us through a biblical journey of how the various biblical characters hear from God. Finally, he brings us back to our modern era and gives us an interpretive framework for discerning God's will for our times. The two basic questions that face us are:

  1. What is the right thing to do?
  2. How can I know for sure?
Despite the technological advancements and the powerful digital gadgets in our hands, these two questions continue to baffle many people. Haberer gives us several guidelines with regard to faithful decision making. We must first avoid the "bulls-eye model" that claims with certainty that there is one particular way to do God's will. Discernment is not a strategy to an answer but a process to know what is God's will. Reading the Bible should not be about mining answers for our questions but to know God's Truth. He addresses the simplistic ways we apply absolutes by looking at the Ten Commandments, something which many Bible teachers claim an absolute one way to obey, and showing us the way of "intentionality exegesis" to understand the meaning of the original texts and to compare the texts in the Bible to make sense of the big picture. We need to avoid getting stuck in absolutes and to learn how the Bible interprets itself. In doing so, we learn of the seven aspirations of loving God and another seven aspirations for loving our neighbours. While the Word of God is absolute, the way we apply can be adapted and approximated according to contexts we live in. For example, the practice of the Sabbath can be adapted through timeless principles rather than rigid numbers. It is also more important to be conformed to the image of Christ rather than to be stuck rigidly on following archaic laws inappropriately. There is always room for approximations of absolutes as long as our aspirations is toward obeying Christ's teachings. Other guidelines include thoughts regarding the adapting of the rule of law and adopting the rule of love.

The 14 guidelines are applied in various degrees to several situations to give us an idea on how it can be used. On matters of life and death, we see the complications arising from overly simplistic pro-life, pro-choice, and pro-ethic perspectives. In each situation, we learn to state our aspirational responses; list the extraordinary circumstances; and to look at ethical alternatives, of which some may be terrible. On love and marriage, faithfulness is a key virtue and from it, Haberer lists seven expressions of it.

So What?

There is no simple answer when it comes to seeking God's will. This is not because God is not speaking. More often than not, we are not listening as well. For that matter, the difficulty of hearing God also stems from our desire to listen only to what we WANT to hear instead of being open to hearing what we need to hear. In this book, what most of us want to hear is a simple statement of what God's will is for us and we will then simply follow it. The truth is, we may be listening for God's will out of curiosity to know rather than a capacity to obey. If we merely want to listen to our own inner preferences, we are basically on the seeking self-will endeavour. We choose only the things of God that we like and skip over the things that we do not like. If that is the case, why ask to seek God's will in the first place?

Haberer shows us that while the Bible is clear in some of the commandments and laws, the Bible is equally clear about the need for us to go beyond mere laws toward practices of love. This is especially when the call to love God and love neighbour must be expressed in our abiding in Christ. In a way, this book is an indictment on those of us who try to see God's will as some kind of a magic life compass. That is not the way to long after God. If life is so simple, a simple answer should be able to unlock our big questions. Fortunately, this is not the case. The complications arise due to the many different factors and permutations of events, timing, and personality differences. The same law may be listed but the person reading it are different. If there is one single word to capture this book's message, it would be contextualization. God's Word has to be understood in its original contexts and subsequently applied and adapted to our modern contexts. Learn the absolutes but when it comes to applications, adapt and approximate as best as we can. The single biggest benefit this book can give us is to cause a paradigm shift, that seeking God's will is not some reductionistic and simplistic project. It is a journey of revelation made by faithful people on the way to loving God and loving neighbour.

Pastor and author Jack Haberer is Pastor of Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples, Florida. He has previously served as Editor and Publisher of the Presbyterian Outlook.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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