Book Review: Recapturing the Wonder

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Is the faith you are passing down to your students one of only intellectual understanding, or a faith that truly tastes and sees the grace and goodness of God? The gap that exists in a believer’s life between fact and feeling (or knowledge and experience) is a problem many face. For those in ministry, however, that gap presents not just a problem to our own faith, but also to the faiths of those whom we serve.

Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder (InterVarsity Press) seeks to explain and bridge that common gap. To that aim, Cosper delivers a book that is encouraging and helpful to any believer.

For those working with students who face an increasingly secularized culture, Cosper’s work is a much needed tool that helps us better understand this modern culture and how we might more wisely benefit from familiar spiritual disciplines.

In the same vein as Charles Taylor and James K. A. Smith, Cosper sees our problem as one of disenchantment. We live in a culture where the scientific method is king. While we might not think in those terms, many of us fall prey to the common cynicism it emotes in response to anything claiming to be miraculous.

This is true both for unbelievers and, sadly, believers as well. While we uphold a belief in God’s infinite power, we simply don’t expect to truly see that power put on display.

The particularly tricky nature of this disenchanted state is that it doesn’t necessarily result in apostasy. We still believe the Gospel. And we still want to grow. We just don’t know how. When our attempts at growth fail, we assume the failure is due simply to our lack of effort. If you are like me, you might guess that your failure lies in the fact that you haven’t read your Bible enough or prayed enough. Following that logic, you assume that the key to your sanctification is to simply read more and pray harder.

At its core, this approach conflicts with the basic Gospel. It insists that we must continue to strive for God’s blessing and approval. As Cosper points out, this response to failure reduces spiritual disciplines to self-help techniques and entirely misuses them:

“We don’t need self-improvement; we need to come home.”

In considering this problematic tendency in my life as a pastor, it doesn’t take long before I see how my teaching and my strategy of ministry become equally disenchanted. I still preach the Bible and teach lessons on “how to pray” and “how to Study the Bible.” But if I personally misuse these disciplines in my own life, I am bound to similarly speak of them in a requisite, passionless manner that is contradictory to the Gospel I am called to proclaim.

Like us, our students don’t need more tips on self-improvement, and they certainly don’t need teaching that might cause confusion regarding the sufficiency of Christ. They need to understand that in Christ, they are already fully accepted. True spiritual disciplines are simply done out of a realization of that fact. There is an invisible kingdom at hand, and spiritual disciplines are ultimately a means of entering into that kingdom.

While Cosper does not give a particularly long list of disciplines, each chapter helps explore how these ancient disciplines continue to be extremely helpful and relatively easy to put into practice.

What is so particularly helpful is the manner in which Cosper speaks not only of the disciplines, but also of the underlying calling that each helps us hear. When speaking on the disciplines of feasting and fasting, for instance, Cosper explores God’s underlying desire for us to simply be present and pay attention to each passing moment. That constant attention is vital to practice because we know, “…the world isn’t cold and empty but filled with the presence of God. Every moment, every encounter, is meaningful and numinous. All ground is holy ground” (112).

Language like this is found throughout Recapturing the Wonder, but is so commonly missing in the way we speak of our daily practice of faith. Cosper writes of the Christian experience and spiritual disciplines in a way that is both inspiring as well as instructional in how I think of the way I ought to phrase my own teaching. He offers and suggests language that describes an experience we know to be true even if we have not felt it in some time.

Cosper discusses prayer, solitude, feasting, fasting, and other disciplines that are easily overlooked both in ministry as well as in our own personal lives. With each discipline, the author adds a Pathway section in which he offers specific practices and ways to try to reengage our sense of wonder and awe. These practical sections were particularly helpful in taking the lofty truths discussed in each chapter and bringing them down to earth in a practical manner.

Ultimately, Recapturing the Wonder provides a unique look at the spiritual disciplines that I found encouraging to my own faith and an extremely helpful tool for others who serve students.

“The kingdom is an enchanted place, and by God’s grace, we can experience the kingdom’s mystery and wonder throughout our lives” (page 24).

As pastors, parents, and teachers, may the Holy Spirit re-awaken the wonder in our own hearts so that we might be better prepared to help inspire it the hearts of those we serve.

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