Pieces of Eternity

Michael P. Jensen

$24.95

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Does God have a sense of humour? Can Christianity make sense of our 21st-century world? What does it mean to be happy? Is it possible to survive in the jungle of office politics, or in the warzone that is social media?

In this provocative and stimulating collection of pieces from Eternity magazine, Michael Jensen presents an authentically Christian take on the way we live, work and think. With insight, humanity, and a humorous touch, Jensen takes us on a tour of the contemporary soulscape, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the music of Cold Chisel. He even argues that the atheists are right. Pieces of Eternity will surprise, delight and engage its readers.

Michael Jensen is a theologian, pastor and author from Sydney who is currently rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point. He enjoys popular culture, running, cricket and conversation. Together with his wife Catherine, he has four children.

Reviews

You can read this review by downloading a pdf copy of it here.

Craig Benno, in his blog ‘Trinitarian Dance’, 20 November 2013:

‘I was recently given an E Book review copy of this book written by Michael Jensen who was a lecturer at Moore Theological College and who is now the full-time rector at St Marks Anglican Church at Darling Point in Sydney Australia.

The author introduces us to an illiterate homeless man called Arthur Stace. Arthur had wandered into a Sydney church in the 1940s and heard a sermon on where will you spend eternity. This sermon had a powerful impact on him and he became soundly converted. God worked a miracle in this small unassuming man who could barely read or write and gave him the ability to write the word “eternity” in an exquisite style on the pavements around Sydney for the next twenty odd years. It’s estimated that he wrote this around 500,000 times. As part of the year 2000 celebrations the enlarged replica of his graffiti was lit up in bright lights on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s from this story of a humble man’s urging to remind his community about eternity, the author builds a case that engaging with society today about eternal issues is still an important part of modern society.

His message is more towards Christians then it is an evangelical treatise to win converts. Within these pages he reminds us of the reliability and accuracy of the Scriptures and the history of our faith. He shows the Christian faithful how we too can engage the world  with grace, truth honesty and humility. Michael doesn’t pull his punches. His chapter on the church and child abuse is an honest stinging critique, in which he reminds us that we are not above public scrutiny.

Yet he also fairly critiques the supposedly non-religious politically correct society in which we live. He reminds us that the Christian message is one of positive eternal values when talking about God and that an appeal to Jesus’ teaching to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ would be an entirely acceptable discussion point in a society that pretends it’s not interested in God talk.

I found his engagement with Mark Zuckerberg of Face Book fame fascinating. It’s no secret to those who know me that I am a social media addict. I become housebound through a serious illness where Face Book and other social media became a source of life-giving interaction with the outside world. Michael notes that the success of Zuckerberg is in his recognising the deep need we have for connecting with others. But the author also rightly concludes that any hope for harmonious and peaceful human living lies elsewhere.

The book is written in a fairly conversational  tone which makes for easy reading. This is something  you could easily do in a day or two. But I think this would do this book a disservice if you were to do this. It’s a book that has much meat in it and as such to excuse the metaphor, one needs to take the time to chew its fat.

My only critique is that some of the language is technical and his references to some philosophers may go over some heads. However, this is also the strength of the book in that no matter your background, there is much in it which has appeal.

I am under no compulsion to give a positive review of this book. I believe Michael has written a book that has something to seriously offer every Christian and to society at large and I would like to commend this book to you.’

One of the advantages of semi-retirement is that when an interesting book sent by a publisher or author for review arrives in the mail I can sometimes put everything else aside and read it in one sitting (or reclining, in bed).

That happened with this one.

I don’t know Michael personally but I think we’ve corresponded once or twice via Facebook; and of course the surname is fairly (!) well known in Anglican circles.

Michael Jensen was born in 1970: by then our family had attended St Thomas’ Kingsgrove during the halcyon years of  Rev. (now Bishop) Dudley Foord, and his curate Alan Nicholls, I’d preached and ‘seminared’ at a couple of dozen Sydney Anglican Clergy and Church conferences, youth groups and house parties, and encountered many Anglicans in University and College Christian groups.

This Baptist has found it fascinating listening to members of their various tribes talking – often heatedly – with one another. I can mostly/quickly spot a recent Moore College graduate, for example, via their idioms/’lingo’ – and of course their theological emphases.

But something interesting happens to these people when they serve in dioceses which are not almost exclusively ‘conservative Evangelical’. Or they read more widely, say, for a higher degree. Rough edges are smoothed; biases give way to more ‘perhapses’. I love it!

Michael’s done a lot of reading, though his heroes – St Augustine, Alvin Plantinga, C S Lewis, Miroslav Volf et. al. – tend to be theologically conservative. He affirms ‘the great teachings of the Reformation – justification by faith alone, the sole authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers’ (p. 80). But in the last of these 36 short essays, Michael eschews both religious fundamentalism and theological liberalism (see below). He unapologetically uses masculine pronouns for Deity, and prefers the NIV (‘Let your light shine before men…’ p. 90). (To be fair that version may have been chosen for other reasons, given that most of his 36 essays originally appeared in the Bible Society’s Eternity magazine, and the NRSV is a bit expensive if you use it too much).

Michael’s writings – at least in these essays – have, in my judgment, a more irenic flavour than the less nuanced utterings of many of his conservative, especially ‘Reformed’ Anglican colleagues.

He’s quite in touch with popular culture – citing YouTube videos, popular TV programs, social media stuff, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Monty Python, etc. And he has a charmingly relaxed way of employing idioms which are probably outside his parents’ vocabulary (‘popping off down to Ikea’, ‘a giraffe is like a giraffe is like a giraffe’, people in the Bible bursting into music ‘at the drop of a hat’, the idea that an organ is a more sacred instrument than the electric guitar ‘is just silliness in spades’ etc).

Oh, he can be judgmental. Eg. ‘One of the silliest things I have ever heard is that because God is a God of order this must mean that human babies ought to be fed on a four-hour routine’ (p. 48).

He includes a very interesting chapter on music. Tentative thesis: “‘folk’ music is the best way to describe the form of music that ought to be found in churches…’ (I’d have liked to know more about how he might differentiate ‘folk’ from Hillsong music for example… I guess he’s got to be circumspect here, in deference to the many Hillsong readers of Eternity Magazine).

This got me thinking: ‘We are so used to living in the world of un-grace that we cannot bring ourselves to really understand what a world of grace might actually look like’ (p. 31)

And in the ‘Did you know?’ category: ‘When the King James version was first published William Shakespeare was 46 years old. If you go to Psalm 46 in that translation you will discover that the 46th word from the beginning of the Psalm is “shake”; and that the 46th word from the end is… “spear”.’ (p. 66). (There’s a theory – Michael doesn’t mention this – that Shakespeare used this trick to secretly sign his name on the KJV translation).

Here are three short cheeky/brilliant/revealing/inspirational paragraphs to close the book:

‘Fundamentalism tries to make Christianity an alternative to materialistic atheism. It tries to make it an answer for everything. But it has to read the Bible as badly as the atheists do to get there. It is no mistake that both fundamentalism and atheism have grown as parallel movements – they have an almost symbiotic relationship. Both exhibit (to use the American scholar R. Scott Clark’s term) a QIRC – a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty.

‘Christian liberalism, for its part, pretends to be a kind of believing unbelief, but it is really just a failure of nerve. It sits somewhere in the middle, neither believing nor sufficiently doubting. There is a kind of craven unbelief, or a persistent doubt-for-no-purpose, which revels in its own posture of superior not-knowingness. It characterizes much of English Anglicanism, in fact. It is smug, but without reason to be.

Rather, truly biblical and orthodox Christianity keeps nagging away at us, challenging our human pride and upsetting our self-made securities. It turns us always to the twin wonders of a crucified Messiah and an empty tomb. It speaks to us of the majesty and the steadfast love of the God of Jesus Christ… and it offers us confidence, just enough, to live in the turbulence of this difficulty world.’ [pp. 161-2].

A good read, thanks Michael.

Michael Jensen is rector of St Mark’s Darling Point and is also the author of My God, My God: Is it Possible to Believe Anymore?

Rowland Croucher

Thursday, 3 April 2014
Anne Hamilton
Australian Christian Writers blog
http://australasianchristianwriters.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/book-review-pieces-of-eternity-by.html

It’s often hard to convince successful speakers that what works in front of a microphone doesn’t work in print. As an editor I often struggle to convince preachers and teachers that the rhythms and sentence structures that deliver a great punchline to a live audience simply fall flat on the page.
It’s vitally important we choose our words thoughtfully for the medium we’re using. I make this point to make a confession: I have read some of the pieces in Michael Jensen’s Pieces of Eternity when they were originally published in the Eternity newspaper and I was bored witless by them. The majority were too long and intense to hold my interest and, before long, I was glancing at the length on the page and deciding not to even read the first sentence.Now I read long and intense (and even boring) books all the time, so I wondered why these articles failed to appeal to me. There’s a lot of research been done as to how the internet and blogs, in particular, have changed the way we read. Having looked at that research, I now understand why one quick glance was enough to cause me to ignore the articles.They did not take account of the fact that we come to newspapers with different reading habits and expectations. Like the successful speaker who can’t transition to the printed page, the mistake was to think that what are essentially book chapters suit a magazine format.All this to say that Pieces of Eternity is a great book and, if you felt like me about the articles in the newspaper, it’s time to rethink.There are some great thoughts here encapsulated in short, punchy articles. (Yes, what’s short in a book is not short in a newspaper!) Amongst my favourites were Organised Chaos with its contention that Scripture suggests the opposite of disorder is not order but peace; Scientists Playing God? with its passing comment poesis (yes, poetry!) means ‘human construction’; the delightfully trivial observation in The Birthday of the Book: The King James Bible turns 400 that it was published when Shakespeare was 46 years old and in Psalm 46, the 46th word from the beginning is ‘shake’ and the 46th word from the end is ‘spear’; The Churches and Child Abuse in which Jensen suggests that ‘ministry’ has become a cause for idolatry when the rights of a person to remain in ministry trump protection of innocent victims; The Music of Love in which it’s pointed out how often people in Scripture burst into song at the drop of a hat.My favourite however has to be Surviving the Office Jungle for its practical depth and for its no-nonsense claim that anyone who does not think they use dissembling and pretence in the workplace is deceiving themselves. This article alone is, in my view, worth the price of the book.