Posts Categorized as: celtic christianity
Howdy good reader. Another quick post on the top fives. This one is about ancient books. I thought about just how ancient I wanted to get on this and decided that I would put nothing on here later than the mid-to-late 1200s. So, the way I wanted to arrange them was not in my favorite order, but rather chronological order. Note that reading ancient works requires some real honest-to-goodness work in understanding style, context, genre etc. for these works. Taking the first book on the list out of context would make it seem awkward in many ways… But, it’s ok that these are somewhat complicated… they are still fantastic. Beyond these, there are many other books that are fantastic but, again, these are the ones that really helped me.
- The Dicache (author unknown) - This is considered by many to be one of the very earliest non-apostolic teachings that was accepted by a wide group of churches. The title just means “The Teaching.” It is a straightforward statement about how to do church. It has some weird stuff in it but also has some great evidence that the early church was not rigid in their forms of worship but were very sincere about the nature that the acts of worship conveyed. For example, there’s a great section about baptism. In modern English it might sound like this: You must baptize people in running water—it’s the best for immersion. However, if you can’t find any running water, immerse them in still water. That’s better. If you can’t find enough water to immerse them, cover them with water as much as possible and if you live in the desert and there simply is no water… pour a cup of water over them.” In any case, what you see is church leaders dealing with the same basic phenomenae that church leaders worldwide have to deal with: people, sin, culture, the nature of the Gospel and how to act all of that out…
- The Confessions of Saint Patrick and Letter To the Soldiers of Coroticus by St. Patrick - As I mentioned in my post on St. Patrick, this gem is a stunning work from a man whose life and work just amaze me. My favorite part about this is the syntax of Patrick. See how many Bible references you can count. Plus, it’s free on the internet! The Letter to the Soldiers is a great prophetic word…
- The Confessions by John Cassian - Cassian was one of the first monastics to try to think systematically about the nature of the simple, ascetic, communal and devoted way of life. When he was writing there was a wide spectrum of practice and belief and extremes weren’t just accepted, people were diving in the deep end of wacko-ville’s pool. Cassian brought thought and order and explanation to what a disciplined and focused life for Christ could do. Careful, his time frame makes some of what he has to say a bit hard to follow. But, if you have the willingness to slog through, it can be worth it.
- The Rule by St. Benedict - Benedict is (in my opinion) an even greater force than Cassian. Whereas Cassian examined a lot of issues, Benedict had that Roman genius for administration. His “rule” (think “rhythm” instead of “law”) was designed to allow for the normal elements of being a human. There were times for work, for rest, for memorization (esp for the illiterate), for farming, for building, for singing for preaching etc. What was significant about this book was that it helped normal people find a pathway to devote themselves to the monastic life without having to be some kind of super-saint. He gave them a format to live a devoted life. When his rule was copied and sent to other monasteries, the Benedictine movement was born and they were the forefront of those who Christianized Europe! Wow.
- The Rule of St. Ignatius by Ignatius of Loyola - I like Ignatius for two main reasons. The first is that he was a soldier before he was a priest. He understood the nature of battle and tactics. He also deeply understood the value and process of training. The second thing I like about him has to do with his issue of surrendering both consolations and desolations. A more modern way to understand this is to allow God to carry the burden for the things that provoke, wound, worry and hurt you. Those things that desolate us can take our entire focus in life and Ignatius shows people how to surrender those. BUT, wisely he also shows how to surrender our consolations. In my own terminology, it’s the way that we surrender any kind of sensual idol that gets in the way of fully following Jesus. Loyola’s legacy of founding the greatest single missionary force (in my opinion) for Christianity until the 19th C. also indicates that much of what he said is productive and not just provocative.
This is enough for now but keep reading. Shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you need to talk.
Some of the personal response to my posts on reading have generated a new series: Top Five. In this I’ll do some short posts on my favorite top five books in several categories. The first one is about my personal favorite biographies. A note: biographies are always given from a slant (good or bad) and are just one facet of the person… choose wisely!
Here’s the list:
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas - I like this book for a lot of reasons but it gets my number one rating because of two things: The first is that a great biography should (I think) read like a novel but the second is that it should also point out the causal elements in the development of a person’s life. Metaxas is a fantastic writer anyway but his analysis of Dietrich’s life, context and influence was great. I know some folks have pushed back on this. I’m sure no biographer gets an exact picture but this book both encouraged me to work harder, offer myself to God more fully and brought me joy. Outstanding.
- J. Hudson Taylor: A Man in Christ by Roger Steer - When I first started getting into missions I heard about JHT time after time. I didn’t know what all the fuss was about so I picked this up. J. Hudson’s life changed mine. I saw someone live out their trust in God in ways I had never imagined or dared. He prompted me to start living in dangerous generosity (something my friend Kevin Dooley called “ridiculous generosity”) and challenged me in prayer like few other books. I loved the maps, the stories and the triumph.
- Edmund Morris’ Three-Part Bio of Theodore Roosevelt - I didn’t list them all b/c each one is a massive, research-filled masterpiece. TR’s life had some great moments and some real bone-headed ones too. What came through most clearly from this trilogy was TR’s heart. His desire to achieve, to make America great (as he and he alone saw that) and his self-discipline. To be the single most famous man in the world of his day and still keep some level of humility was a great achievement in itself. What I learned was the radical self-denial he used in order to have productivity. He wasn’t an ascetic b/c he believed pleasure was bad, he simply focused and focused and focused. It made me think of the superfluous things in my life. It helped especially as I was in the last year of my doctoral studies—self discipline!
- Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Diebler Rose - My dear friend Amy Frizzell once gave this to me when she heard I was teaching a course on missions history. When I read this book about a missionary from WWII struggling through the initial process of moving to Indonesia and then being captured, tortured and widowed by her Japanese captors I was speechless. Both God’s provision and the truth of the power of the Gospel floored me. Later, after re-marrying, Darelene returned to the mission field and served most of the rest of her life as a missionary. This was especially poignant for me as we were just finding out about Shannon’s health problems. Thanks Amy.
- One Burning Heart: A Biography of Frank C. Laubach - by Melissa Buckingham - The reason this isn’t my number one biography isn’t because of my love and respect for FCL. He’s one of my heroes. The reason this is #5 is just because it’s so short. Buckingham capturing the overall story of FCL very well and I am so thankful to have such a clear time-line and a well-researched book. But two reasons make this a hard read to recommend: accessibility and the need to read ancillary things to help develop other things in his life. If you want to read this book you’ll probably have to work pretty hard to get it. When I did a research project on him at Wheaton, I had to special order these from his foundation (now merged with another) and I had to pay a great deal of money. Nonetheless, I was deeply moved and encouraged by this.
So, that’s it for now. The next Top Five list will be about the top five books that give an overview of Christian Spirituality. Blessings and peace!
Note: This was an article originally written for a Christian Leadership Journal. The editor told me that Patrick was too “Catholic” for use at the present time.
The Power of Godly Character: Patrick’s Leadership Practices
While many of us want to be heard regarding the way a good leader is formed, few would argue that leaders of wisdom and power are desperately needed in every arena of society. I think the Church has a felt urgency to both encourage existing leaders, and develop new leaders. While I was in graduate school I studied the life of Patrick of Ireland[i] as part of our preparation for missionary leadership. What came out of that research was a profound lesson for me on the development of Christian leadership. Patrick’s astonishing career was a result of his equally astonishing character. I would contend that the core elements of shaping a Christian leader’s character are found in three key practices used by him. First, a snapshot of his life.
Magonus Sucatus Patricius was born in 385CE in western Britain, the son of early British aristocracy. According to his own account, Patrick was educated (as any boy would have been of that era) with a basic knowledge of Latin and early Christian teachings. At age sixteen Irish raiders captured him and in his captivity his nominal beliefs transformed into a radical dependence on God. After six years of brutal slavery, working as a shepherd, he miraculously escaped his captors. He spent some time studying in Gaul and later returned to Britain where he reunited with his family and then served as a parish priest. At age 42 he had a dream which he believed to be a calling to go back to Ireland. He obeyed the vision and had a long and fruitful ministry in which he baptized “. . . so many thousands” (Confessions 50). Enduring multiple difficulties, he traveled widely and preached all over the island. His ministry was vast—almost beyond belief! In his later years he managed major crises, wrote two key letters, and established numerous Christian communities and discipled many young leaders (Confessions 50). He died in relative obscurity, but as Christianity in Ireland grew in power and scope, Patrick’s life became honored, revered and eventually, legend.
Patrick was a powerful man of God. By the time he died, Christianity had been planted firmly enough into Irish soil to last for the next 350 years. On top of that, the Celtic Christians were the dominant force of missions for the next 300+ years as well! His life and powerful leadership offers any era a powerful example of character as the foundation of leadership. His influence is still felt today! My interest was in learning what kinds of intentional practices Patrick used as part of his growth that I could start to use in my own leadership development. I found three practices of Patrick that any Christian leader can use in their journey.
The first of these was that Patrick was permeated by Scripture. This was the first and foundational practice that shaped Patrick. What I found fascinating was that his writing and thought were directly patterned from the Bible. Patrick’s major work (The Confessions of St. Patrick) was a defense of his ministry to his Church superiors. In that letter there are more than two-hundred references to the scriptures [ii]. He quotes from Acts, Proverbs, Romans (extensively), and the gospels. He says “I know well the testimony of my Lord,” (Confessions 7). Patrick’s Confessions or Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus (his other existing work), present an overwhelming number of Biblical phrases. Instead of traditional Latin syntax and polemical structure, Patrick used the Scriptures for his basis of syntax and thought. While he wrote he could weave multiple Bible verses into a tapestry of phrases in order to prove a point. In paragraph eight of the Letter to the Soldiers, he brought six different scriptures together in an unbroken statement of how it will someday be for “those who covet.” Although he sometimes quoted the Bible out of context and perhaps stretched the intention of the text, the Bible was just so deep in his mind that it was the matrix through which he interpreted his life, and the source of his entire ministry.
Patrick also rigorously practiced self-denial. It was extraordinarily difficult to live and travel in the violent world of ancient Ireland. Fear and pain were constant companions for him. His escape from Irish slavery was dramatic and his reunion with his family gave him a new lease on life. Yet while safely in his own environment he felt called to return to Ireland to preach. He had to deny his restored life at home and had to exchange it for the unstable pilgrim-life as he traveled throughout Ireland working as an evangelist. His first mission journey was so difficult that “. . . I nearly perished.” (Confessions 28). He was often subject to the violence and wrath of both Irish kings and pagan druids. He says of this constant state, “Daily I expect murder, fraud, or captivity, or whatever it may be” (Confessions 55). While he worked, he lived frugally and willingly paid his expenses for the privilege to preach (Confessions 50). Patrick denied using wealth on his own behalf and used it only for the preaching of the gospel. His self-denial gave him access to his audience and avenues of leadership that were unknown to others.
The last practice of Patrick mentioned here is his constant communion with God. For Patrick, the starting point for being with God was prayer. He described that during his enslavement he not only turned to God in repentance but prayed earnestly. For example, he said, “I prayed as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night … I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain” (Confessions 16). To him prayer was life, strength to work, and the source of direction from God. His survival and effective work in Ireland came out of his constant turning to God for the will and strength to obey.After he escaped slavery he relied utterly on prayer and God’s response to find the means to get home in a completely miraculous way (Confessions 19)! In his constant communion he often experienced God’s direction. “He used to forewarn even me, poor wretch that I am, of many things by a divine message.” (Confessions 35). He relied on this constant communion with God as his primal interface with God and the world.
Since my time in that class these three practices have proven to be foundational to developing both my own leadership and training other Christian leaders. When we finished our work in Mexico, my family and I moved back to the United States to begin leading in new ways. In every stage of our ministry these three practices have shown up again and again. Perhaps it is a season to call us to look back at Patrick’s life as we look forward to the challenges that our churches face today.
Scripture that permeates us is an essential part of Godly leadership. I Timothy 3:16, Philippians 4:8, Ephesians 4:23, and Romans 12:2, all remind us that our minds are to be renewed by the Word of God. The words of God are the bread of life that feeds our soul yet we often neglect it. Patrick was so immersed in Scripture that it saturated the entirety of his life and work. Without being reductionist, failures in leadership can be minimized when the Word is deep within us. The call of so many other books, technologies, diversions, administrative duties and teaching responsibilities can get in the way of practicing this. If we let Scripture permeate our every thought, even to the level of how we put our syntax together, we would definitely be more fruitful—according to God’s way and timing.
Our goal in such knowledge of the Word is not simply for doctrine or pleasure. The Pharisees worked diligently to know the Scriptures yet Christ called them “blind fools” and “whitewashed tombs” (Mt 27:17, 27). Instead, we seek to be fully God’s in our heart; surrendered and available for his use. Yet our own weaknesses and sinful habits fight against us in this regard. Like Patrick, we must learn self-denial in conjunction with knowing the Bible. I don’t want to come across as espousing an unhealthy hatred of self. This has been strongly criticized and often, rightly so. However, Jesus says that the principal act in following him is self denial (cf Luke 9:23). Our fleshly desires are often deceptive, destructive and sinful (cf Eph 4:22). Galatians, Colossians and many other references re-emphasize this. In other words, denying oneself is the beginning of renouncing allegiance to self and obeying what we learn from the Word. Yet it is not enough to simply abstain from all the good gifts of God. Living a Godly life requires the two-fold rhythm of denying our sinful desires, and then filling our lives with Godliness (cf. Titus 2:12). Therefore, we also need Patrick’s practice of constant communion with God [iii]. We first transform our minds with the thoughts, precepts and stories of God, deny our worldly desires, and then fill up the void that is left with God’s presence as our source of light, life and service. In that rhythm, joy will begin to mark both our lives and work.
We must do this during good times and hardship.Patrick’s character was such that he did not run away from God when he suffered loss or conflict. Rather, he leaned into God and pressed ahead despite his pain and fear. This kind of courage has always been a necessary component of Godly leadership. Enduring hardship can often force us to go to God. Much of the good leadership literature reiterates how suffering forges our strength for leadership. God uses hardship as a discipline to develop our perseverance in Him (James 1:19). It is our “remaining” in Christ that gives us the needed strength to lead.
Leadership poses so many challenges and requires so much of us. The foundation for good leading has always been good character. These three practices grant us access to be close to God who will then give us the character, strength and direction we need. He will keep us from being ineffective and fruitless in our work. Patrick’s life is still preaching powerfully—I hope we have the wisdom to listen and then follow his example.
[i] For a look at Patrick’s life you can read his two existing works at www.ccel.org for free.There are many fictitious books about the legend of Patrick but for a wise overview see Hanson, R. P. C.1983.The Life and Writings of the Historical Saint Patrick.New York: The Seabury Press.Dana L. Robert has also written several helpful chapters and articles on Patrick.Robert L. Gallagher’s upcoming book also has a good chapter on Celtic Missions as do many “History of Mission” textbooks.
[ii] Hanson, 36
[iii] This practice is often repeated in Christian history as well:Brother Lawrence and Frank C. Laubach are good examples of this (they called it “Practicing The Presence”).