Book Review of SOUL KEEPING by Dr. John Ortberg

Soul Keeping (Zondervan 2014), 193 pages with 8 pages of source notes.

Soul Keeping is a book that offers hope.  Dr. Ortberg takes a look at the state of our souls.  He intelligently discusses some common problems in our society:  addiction, materialism, self-absorption and busyness.  He offers a new way to look at these problems.  Ortberg suggests we have lost our way because we have lost touch with our souls.  He offers hope by suggesting we consider the state of our souls, with God’s help, to improve our lives and our society.  He accomplishes this provision through an homage to Dallas Willard.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Soul Keeping.

  1. “I recall Jesus’ memorable words about the soul: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’ I have always thought this verse meant that in the long run it won’t do you any good to acquire a lot of money and have a lot of sex and other sensual pleasures if you end up going to hell. When I mentioned that to Dallas, he gently corrected me.   ‘That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is not talking here about people going to hell.’ He explained that Jesus is talking about a diagnosis, not a destination. If we think of hell as a torture chamber and heaven as a pleasure factory, we will never understand Jesus’ points. For the ruined soul—that is, where the will and the mind and the body are disintegrated, disconnected from God, and living at odds with the way God made life in the universe to run—acquiring the whole world could not even produce satisfaction, let alone meaning and goodness. To lose my soul means I no longer have a healthy center that organizes and guides my life—I am a car without a steering wheel. It doesn’t matter how fast I can go, because I am a crash waiting to happen.” Pp. 40-41.
  2. “Our world has replaced the word soul with the word self and they are not the same thing. The more that we focus on our selves, the more we neglect our souls….because we have replaced church, faith, and community with a tiny little unit that cannot bear the weight of meaning. That’s the self. We’re all about the self. We revolve our lives around ourselves. Ironically, the more obsessed we are with ourselves, the more we neglect our souls.” P. 42.
  3. [I condensed this excerpt for brevity and clarity.] “How does the world we live in keep us from attending to our souls? Jesus told a story about this…It’s a story about seeds, a sower and some soil. In a story like this one, it helps to notice what are the constants and what are the variables in order to understand Jesus’ point. The seed is a constant. This is not a good story about good seeds and bad seeds. The seed will take root given half a chance. The seed is a little picture of God’s desire and action to redeem souls. The sower is a constant. This isn’t a story about good sowers and bad sowers. The first thing we notice about him is how generous he is with the seed. He scatters it everywhere. It is the soil that gets interesting. The soil is the variable. And for ‘soil,’ we might replace it with the word ‘soul.’ The closed soul is death. The receptive soul is life. Some seeds fall on the path, Jesus said. In the Middle East, conditions are already dry. The path is the place where farmers walk, where sheep make their way to water and grass. The path is hard and dry, and the seeds don’t have a chance. Souls get that way. Often these seeds are people who have been hurt or disappointed. They form a protective shell. They become cynical or bitter or suspicious. The world diverts my soul-attention when it encourages me to think of myself more as a victim than as a human. I am so wrapped up in the hurt I have received that I do not notice the hurt I inflict.  Some of the seed fell on rocky soil. The idea here is not that there was a bunch of rocks, but that there was only a thin layer of topsoil with solid rock underneath. The seed had life until the sun came out. But the life withers quickly, Jesus says, because the soil is too shallow for roots….’Superficiality,’ says Richard Foster, ‘is the curse of our age.’ The desperate need of the soul is not for intelligence, nor talent, nor yet excitement; just depth….There is depth to your soul that is beyond words. For much of our lives, we live in the shallows. Then something happens—a crisis, a birth, a death—and we get this glimpse of tremendous depth. A soul becomes shallow when my interests and thoughts go no further than myself. A person should be deep because life itself is deep. A deep soul has the capacity to understand and empathize deeply with other people—not just himself. A deep soul notices and questions and doesn’t just go through the motions.  Some seeds fall among thorns, which grow up and choke the plants. Jesus said that is the condition where the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things come and choke the soul. We mistake our clutter for life. If we cease to be busy, do we matter? A person preoccupied with externals—success, reputation, ceaseless activity, lifestyle, office gossip—may be dead internally and not even recognize it. And our world has lots of ‘other things.’” Pp. 50-56.

I liked this book.  I recommend it.  It gave me plenty of things to think about.  It took me a few weeks to read because I kept stopping to think about the ideas Ortberg presents.  Soul Keeping made me want to spend some time contemplating the condition of my soul.  And this book has inspired me to read books written by Dallas Willard.  John Ortberg is on Twitter and Facebook.  You can find out more about him at www.johnortberg.com. His books include:

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a free advance copy of Soul Keeping from Icon Media Group.  However, neither Icon Media Group nor any other entity paid me for my book review.  This book review of Soul Keeping originally appeared in jaynechaseloseke.com on June 17, 2014.

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Book Review of WHO IS THIS MAN? by John Ortberg

 (Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, MI) 2012.  202 pages of text.  17 pages of references.  Forward by Condoleeza Rice.

 

I enjoyed Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus
It is an overview of the areas of life today affected by the life of Jesus Christ.  The areas Pastor Ortberg considers are the value of children, women’s rights, slavery, education, leadership, forgiveness, health care, separation of church and state, marriage and art.  The undergirding concept is that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in a small town in Israel.  He worked for three years in the region of Galilee as an itinerant rabbi who travelled from town to town, teaching and performing miraculous healings and displaying signs and wonders.  He was revolutionary in his time.  He caused people to think about God, themselves, their religion and others in new ways.  Two thousand years later we are still trying to understand his teachings.

John Ortberg includes quite a few quotes from Aristotle, Winston Churchill, St Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, William Shakespeare, Origen, Pliney the Younger, the bible, Plato, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, G.K. Chesterton, ancient Roman laws, Dallas Willard, Tertullian, Tacitus, Plutarch, Caesar Augustus, Thomas Cahill, and many others.  I enjoyed the quotes from famous people.  The author compares quotes of famous people, which were popular concepts in their day, to Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus’ teachings are still relevant and challenging to us today.

The author also includes interesting statistics.  I had not heard before that so many girl babies were abandoned at birth, that the biblical population was affected.  Pastor Ortberg claims that during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were 1.4 million men and 1 million women alive.  Why were there 400,000 more men?  Because baby boys were preferred over girl babies at that time, too often new parents would leave girl babies outside to die of exposure.  Eventually the population ratio reflected that value of the time.

Forgiveness is another topic Pastor Ortberg discusses.  He quotes Aristotle’s “great-souled man,” among other contemporary Greek and Roman sources, to point out that forgiveness was not valued in the Greco-Roman world.  Forgiveness was seen as a sign of weakness.  People in those days valued strength, military might, power, wealth and beauty.  John the Baptist taught the ministry of repentence.  Jesus taught the ministry of reconciliation and the necessity of forgiveness.  These were radical concepts in their day.

My favorite quotes from this book are:

1)      “Aristotle’s ‘”great-souled man” is extremely proud.  He despises honors offered by the common people…He indulges in conspicuous consumption, for “he likes to own beautiful and useless things, since they are better marks of his independence.”  Incidentally, he walks, slowly, has a deep voice, and a deliberate mode of utterance.’”  (page 74)

2)      “In Bath, England, at the hot springs that formed a combination spa/Roman worship center 2000 years ago, scores of prayers have been excavated that ancients paid to have written down and offered there.  They are called “curse tablets” because by far the most common kind of prayer was a curse.  People would give the name of someone who hurt them, tell what their crime was, then specify how they wanted the gods to harm them.  ‘Docimedus has lost 2 gloves.  He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple at the place where the goddess appoints.’  No matter how much you love your gloves, this seems a tad harsh.”  (page 87)

None of the 2000 prayer tablets asked Zeus or Bacchus to bless their enemies and forgive them.  People didn’t pray for forgiveness for enemies to Zeus.

3)       “Leadership, says Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.”  (page 102)

4)        “To that world, the movement of these followers of Jesus was ‘like Churchill’s description of Russia:  ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’  Christians were actually called atheists by Romans because of their neglect of the gods.”  (page 130)

5)       “Luther in turn deeply influenced composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who would begin each work by writing “J.J.”—Jesu, Jusa, “Jesus help me” –on his manuscript.  (It is a universal prayer for all writers, but often they wait until they are desperate.  I’m praying it right now.) at the end of a piece, he would write three letters—S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)—that meant “To the glory of God” on all his music.  (page 158)

I recommend this book.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  It took me about a total of 5 hours to read. 

I would like to read more of John Ortberg’s books.  His books include:

Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

Know Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

Teaching the Heart of the Old Testament: Communicating Life-Changing Truths from Genesis to Malachi (Truth for Today: From the Old Testament)

When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box

The book review of Who Is this Man? originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 11, 2013.