Murky Coffee

This book was read as part of the NavPress blogger review programme:

Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life
by Ed Czyewski
NavPress, 2008, 231pp
ISBN-13   9781600062773

Ed Cycewski is concerned that in doing theology we admit to our own cultural conditioning. We each have a perspective that we bring to the table. That much I agree with. However, I am going to be pretty critical of this book.

At best this book argues that we need other Christians from other perspectives to help us realise our own blinkers. At worst this book suggests that though there may be truth intended by God in inspired Scripture, it is essentially unknowable, and we are merely bobbing around at the mercy of the swift-moving current of culture.

In the end I felt like I was reading the recipe of a liberal on how to “just get along”. It reminded me of these awful Lent study groups that I have participated in where people are more interested in their own opinions than in what God the Spirit has given us in the text of Scripture. But “it’s lovely that we’re meeting together”. There is much practical advice about accessing resources in this book but little discernment about what is good.

And there is the rub. The issue is not really that everyone has their own perspective. It is whether we really believe that when God spoke in Scripture he really meant what he was saying and that he meant us to understand it. There may be many perspectives, but we must believe that God was single minded in authoring Scripture. I have met too many Christians in study groups where they seem incapable of examining the text before them. I understand from missionaries that this is a common problem amongst Christians in other cultures. There is much talk of the Lord speaking and leading, but little interaction with the text before them.

Unfortunately, this book does not help. It is muddled in its fundamental premise. Hence it is of extremely limited value to the believer eager to know God.

Murky Coffee

12 thoughts on “Murky Coffee

  1. Hi Stephen,

    I got that book too fortunately I don’t have to review it. I have the same thoughts as you, he is trying to reestablish his link with Roman Catholism, persuades himself that in spite of what the Bible says women can be ministers etc. I think with a lot of emergent types I agree with their understanding of post-modernim but wouldn’t reach the same conclusions as they do. Navpress have one foot in the emergent camp and the other in conservative Evangelism. Anything by Jerry Bridges is worth reading, Don Miller and his emergent friends, not so much..

  2. It was really because of Jerry Bridges that I thought this might be a good idea. However, I am rapidly going off the whole “review blogger” idea as a waste of my time. Life is too short to read bad books!

  3. i am keeping my options open thomas nelson published A New Systematic theology for the church by Reymond and Navpress have Jerry Bridges. I agree “too many books so little time” to misquote three men and a baby. I got a free book last week, why we are not emergent, sadly I also had it for Christmas 🙂

  4. Greetings Stephen. Just ran across your review of my book. I’d like to chat a bit about some of your comments on the book.

    I suppose it would be a real help if you could match your analysis with actual quotes from the book. I went to extreme pains to not say what you accuse me of saying, “At worst this book suggests that though there may be truth intended by God in inspired Scripture, it is essentially unknowable, and we are merely bobbing around at the mercy of the swift-moving current of culture. ” I said that our knowledge is limited, that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, that we see in a glass darkly. I even said that we can know a lot about God because of the Spirit and Scripture. I made a point of not saying the very thing you accuse me of saying, and I have yet to run into a review out of roughly 100 bloggers that makes your same point. So I welcome you to quote from the book.

    I’m not afraid of criticism and I do welcome your input. I share many of your same concerns, but I think you have misrepresented my ideas here.

    I think you’ve labeled me as a liberal because I’m trying to learn from other perspectives. Contrary to what reformed Christian says here, the last thing I’m doing is trying to reconnect as a Catholic. I’m trying to learn from a perspective that I once criticized. In the same Spirit, I’m willing to talk and converse here.

    However, for dialogue to happen, I need to know you’re really interacting with the ideas I have presented. Based on your review, I feel you have taken a few points out of proportion and out of context, turning them into something I never intended to say.


  5. Robert Tyson says:

    Wow… not only have I read the book, but I have suggested it to many people… are you sure that we read the same book? I think that Cyzewski’s look at theology in context of dialogue and personal relationship are important while you’re comparing it to those terrible Lenten get togethers? My guess is that you knew you wouldn’t like this book before you were finished reading the back cover.

  6. joseph myers says:

    “but we must believe that God was single minded in authoring Scripture.”

    Really? Which single minded/view would you want all of us to follow?

    The fact that the text has a history of changing in this “single minded authoring” seem to escape you. Ed’s discourse is helpful to those who are journeying through the tectonic shifts that are effecting the Scripture, the interpretation of the text, and the way it is finally lived out in the community at large.

    Just wanted to voice another view.


  7. Ed, I am honoured. You could have ignored my blog and only my two readers would have seen it. I am impressed!

    I admit that the review was not in-depth and simply gives an executive summary style of response. To put it in context, I was responding to the NavPress requirement for a short review as my side of the bargain. If I had bought the book off the shelf I would probably not have commented at all.

    I was genuinely looking forward to reading it. In fact my wife was eager too – she said as I started, “That looks good, I think I’ll read that after you”.

    I guess it was not what I expected. I think there is a need for the idea for communicating theology in the coffeehouse, especially in my circles. But what your book seemed to be doing was undermining any notion of truth one has, rendering it in some sense provisional, pending the insights of other cultures, times, traditions. I am afraid that can’t work. The apostles and the early church simply declared in a do-or-die fashion what they knew.

    Ed, I would like to give quotes and a more detailed response, but that would mean going through the book again and I simply don’t think I will get to it. Life moves on.

    Thanks for dropping by. I appreciate it.

  8. joseph,
    Thanks for your comment. I really do believe that God was and is single minded. He has the only objective point of view and that what he speaks is true. That truth is found in the Bible.

    Note, I am separating this statement off from the question of our interpretation.

    But, my question to you, which is pretty foundational, is, do you believe that God speaks truth and expects us to believe it and obey it without delay? You really must have that question settled before we can even begin a discussion about interpretation.

  9. Robert,
    No, I did not know I would not like it. However, let me be up-front – I believe in confessional Christianity and am bound by my promises of office to uphold the Westminster Standards. That simply means that a number of theological questions have been settled and are not up for debate. In contrast, the post-modern conversational approach to theology simply wants to throw these up in the air when ever it feels like it.

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    I understand that you don’t have time to do lots of in-depth research. However, as an author who spent four years on this book, ran it past five Christian theology professors, had it read by over 30 friends/relatives, sought contributions from theologians from a variety of orthodox Christian backgrounds, and worked for hours on end with several dedicated Christian editors at NavPress, your review quite frankly is insulting. Your comment to my reply is something I can live with, but your accusations in the review insinuate that I wrote things I never ever penned in the book.

    There was so much care and time put into this book from so many committed Christians that I can’t believe someone would offer an executive summary that misrepresents the book with accusations that are not backed up. I hear your critique on one hand, and I can live with the fact that you think my paradigm for theology doesn’t work. That’s all well and good with me. However, I specifically asked very conservative theologians to read the book, folks who have a high view of truth and knowledge, and they didn’t see anything in my book pointing toward all-out relativism. I repeatedly say that’s not an option.

    So I suppose there’s not much else to say here. I hope you can understand my perspective as an author here who has invested tremendous energy in this project–I simply want the material to be represented accurately.

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