Friday, January 22, 2010

How to Become a Saint: A Beginner's Guide

By Jack Bernard, 159 pages paperback, Brazos Press.

The late Jack Bernard doesn't waste his reader's time with a version of Christian political-correctness: He is theologically demanding yet refers to many heart-felt Catholic saints, recent and medieval. He criticizes some of these much-loved saints' stories for their excessive idealization, yet develops the essence of these stories.

Most of all, he doesn't want to hear a bunch of excuses: “Holiness is as available to a single working parent as to a monk, missionary, or pastor.” Bernard calls readers to do their duty and become a saint as God is calling them to be.

One strength of How to Become a Saint is Bernard's avoidance of romantic notions of sainthood, as he looks to the everyday and the banal for the perfect places to become a saint, starting with the church. Christians cannot think of great, romantic mission work or other sorts of achievements. Christians must take that basic step of commitment to the church, with all its imperfect people.

In addition to well-explained theology and a tough-love attitude (so welcome after heaps of wimpy politically-correct Christian books), Bernard's entertaining, comical writing helps get his demanding point across:

“Trying to live as saints without the Holy Spirit would be like jumping out of an airplane and trying to fly by flapping your arms. On the other hand, not trying to become a saint with the Holy Spirit as the effective means would be like refusing to travel to Hawaii because you know you can't swim that far.”

Bernard belongs to that school of thought that says that while sainthood is not easy, it is simple. You simply need to believe, and he offers terribly difficult standards:

“Believing that God is going to deliver you and me from the snare of the human condition and make us true saints can't be any harder than it was for the Israelites to believe that God was actually going to defeat the Medianite army with Gideon and his three hundred men.”

Bernard adds to the stock of evangelical spiritual practices by focusing on old-fashioned virtues - humility, rigor, and obedience. He discusses these in terms of grace, and all with excellent biblical exegesis, thus giving them solid theological foundations.

Although How to Become a Saint is aimed at every curious, book-loving Christian, its appreciation of the wider, even Roman Catholic, spiritual tradition gives it the potential to enlarge the boundaries of academic evangelical theology, and to provide ecumenical bridges to Catholics.

No comments:

Post a Comment