Monday, March 10, 2014

Expositional Preaching on Ruth

My faith has increasingly focused on the centrality of love in the Gospel. My professional perspective is oriented toward love in relationships (not always framed in those terms, but with that concept). So Paul Miller's book, A Loving Life In a World of Broken Relationships, sounded intriguing. It was better than a pop-theology/pop-psychology book in that Miller grounds most of his assertions in the Bible. But in reality, it was essentially a series of expositional preaching lessons on the Book of Ruth.

While the topic of expositional preaching can be controversial in itself (some say it's the only way to preach, others think it's horrid and unhelpful), I think it can be useful, but if done right. While I found it interesting doing a sort of in-depth study on Ruth, the re-connection Miller attempted to make to the contemporary world was not terribly smooth. Some of the major problems were with his misrepresentations of psychological processes and groups of people with whom he disagrees.

For instance, a central punching bag in the book is what Miller terms a "feeling culture." This refers to putting feelings as primary and paying attention to them as an element of authenticity. Miller claims some parts of prioritizing feelings that are just simply not true. He asserts that people from this perspective believe that in order to be authentic, you have to do what you feel. Not true. As a psychologist, I definitely put a priority on both feelings and authenticity, but feelings are only one part of who we are. Ignoring them is as inauthentic as letting them bulldoze over our rationality and other priorities. He also claims that the Christian value is to just not let our feelings affect us. This is a major myth in conservative Christianity, and it's just not possible. The reality is that emotions (what he really means by feelings) are always occurring within us and always affecting us. That's part of being human. But that does not necessarily mean that we choose to behave based on what our emotions are moving us toward.

He also makes big claims about other groups/movements/perspectives, like mysticism and meditation. Having studied both academically, I can say that Miller clearly does not understand these concepts, instead going for oversimplistic stereotypes created by people who have had little to no exposure to what these ideas are really about. Unfortunately, Miller uses these various constructs to differentiate his claim of what love is. If he truly understood these other cultures, he would know that they are not necessarily as different from his approach as he thinks they are. They're definitely not as threatening.

Arthur Morey narrated the audiobook, and I've listened to many of his books. He has a great voice, but this book just fell flat. It sounded almost monotone. I'm not sure it was Morey's fault, but perhaps the unengaging content that felt like a dry sermon. I had trouble listening to the whole book and regularly found myself having to rewind because I tuned out. It's really unfortunate because there was potential for a lot of good in Miller's text. It just needs a major revision for accuracy.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. 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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