Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review on "The Liturgical Year" by Joan Chittister

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices Series

I made a decision when I started this blog that I would not write any negative reviews. However, since I am writing reviews in exchange for complimentary copies of books from BookSneeze I find myself in a position of making an exception.

I requested the “The Liturgical Year” by Joan Chittester because I have a great interest in Church history and traditions and thought that this book would be an informative and enjoyable way to learn more about all the Holy Days, feasts and festivals that form “higher church” worship.

While Chittister does inform, I must confess there is much more fat than meat. By that I mean that there is bits and pieces of information regarding the origins of the church year, but it is inundated with flowery rhetoric of how all this beautiful mystery should increase our intimacy with Christ over and over again.

Now that in itself is a good thing. Anything that increases my intimacy with my Savior is something worth exploring. It's just that she never specifies how exactly it happens.  She never really describes each part of the church year or how it increases my intimacy with Christ. Furthermore, my intimacy with Jesus Christ is developed through the study of Scripture as well as worshipping with Christ's Bride, His church, something that is never brought up in the book, which leads me to my second complaint.

My second complaint is much more serious and why I won't recommend this book to anyone. According to the author, the purpose of so much focus, meditation and worship of the death and resurrection of Christ is so we can follow His example and be better people.

On page 7 Chittister states:
This an excursion into life from the Christian perspective, from the viewpoint of those who set out not only to follow Jesus but to live as Jesus lived, to think as Jesus thought, to become what Jesus had become by the end of His life.  (Emphasis mine)

Is she implying that Jesus wasn't complete when He came to earth?

On page 47:

To know our place in the universe is to recognize that God is God. We are not masters of the world. We can make no demands on it. All we can do is to try to live our place in it well.”

I'm not interested in knowing my place in the universe. I'm interested in knowing my place with God. This smacks of universalism.

And frankly, that is exactly what is asserted and reasserted throughout the book. According to Chittester, the point of observing the liturgical year is not to celebrate our salvation but to try to be better people. That sounds good but it's a very subtle heresy that says, "I can produce my own salvation."   That philosophy is no different from any other religion.  Buddhists try to be better people as do Hindus and Muslims.  As Christians we don't try to be better people.  We throw ourselves at the mercy of God and with the publican say, "Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)

Then through Christ's transforming grace we are refined as he completes a good work in us.  (Phillipians 1:6)

In chapter 9, about Advent, page 62, Chittister declares, It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent that we come to realize that its coming depends on us. More self-salvation.

In the very first chapter of the book:
The seasons and feasts, the fasts and solemnities...lead us deeper and deeper in to the self, beyond the pull of the present, higher and higher into the One who beckons us on through time to that moment when we will dissolve into God, set free from time to become one with the universe.

What? Are we talking about Christianity or some quasi Christian/Buddhism?

One thing that the book is void of is any mention of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 10 page 65 Chittister claims three Advents: The Lord's birth, the coming of the presence of God recognized among us now in the Scripture, in the Eucharist, in the community itself. This coming makes Jesus present in our own lives, eternally enlivening, eternally with us.

She states the third coming as the second coming of Christ but she completely skips over the coming of the Holy Spirit. The closest she comes to is referring to the time of Pentecost as an “outpouring of the Advocate, and call to mind again the Second Coming at the end of time.”

In scripture Jesus is called our advocate and the Holy Spirit is the intercessor so here she's misnaming the Trinity. (12John 2:1-6; Romans 8:26)

In her chapter on joy (chapter 11), her emphasis is once again on self-based salvation. Page 71 states:

Joy, the deep-down awareness of what it means to live well, to live productively, to live righteously, is made out of self-giving, simplicity, and other-centeredness

No, joy comes from knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, not works, “lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) My joy transcends my sinful, selfish human nature that I'm helpless to overcome. It comes from my salvation through Jesus Christ. When I accepted His punishment for my sin, the Holy Spirit came to indwell in me and transformed me into the likeness of Christ. Yes, now I can follow Christ and do His will, but only through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Only after we have become new creatures through Christ can we  claim with James  that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17)

In other words, salvation produces works; works do not produce salvation.

Frankly, salvation doesn't even seem to be a goal of Chittister, just some vague notion of being 'a good person here on earth'.
Sin separates us from God, our goal is to be rid of sin and be reconciled with God.

 Chittister never once credits God, Holy Spirit or otherwise, for enabling her to forsake her own selfish nature and to do the work of Christ. This is the main issue I have with this book and I cannot, consequently, recommend it.

For more information on Joan Chittister and liberal Catholicism there is an excellent 2 part series at:


Anonymous said...

Lovely review, the honesty is much appreciated. Don't stifle your writing to produce a positive review. :)

A good book should prove itself to you, not the other way around.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Thanks for your feedback! Your comment is encouraging. I hadn't thought about it before but you're right. A good book will prove itself.

Phyllis Winn said...

"ye must be born again"
we should pray for the author.

Sharon Wilfong said...

And for all of those who are influenced by the book.

laughwithusblog said...

I have wondered if people write a review if they didn't like the book...

Sharon Wilfong said...

I don't like to because I don't like giving a book any kind of publicity if I would want people to read it. However it's part of the agreement with BookSneeze.
I'd far rather focus on all the wonderful literature out there that I want to share with others.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a well written review. I also do book reviews, and yes, have gone back and forth on negative reviews. But, indeed it has to be done. I try to find some positives, and share that this is my opinion. I was on Book Sneeze, considering reading the book, and decided not to. Thank you for your honesty.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it. I'll have to visit your site and read your reviews as well. Take care.