Book Review: O2: Breathing New Life Into Faith
By Bob Zurinsky, Assistant Director for the Center for Worship
O2: Breathing New Life Into Faith
By Richard Dahlstrom
Harvest House, July 2008, 270 pp.
“All this stuff about the ‘Christian story’ and the ‘Kingdom of God’ is great, but what I really need is some healing in my life.” Or how about this: “I’m so tired of this individualistic, self-centered version of Christianity. When are we going to start talking about something bigger than ourselves?” As a campus minister at a thoughtful and critical Christian university, I get these kinds of questions from students every day. And they’re the right questions, but taken in isolation from one another, they tell only half of the story of the Christian faith.
Richard Dahlstrom’s new book, O2: Breathing New Life Into Faith, has provided some much-needed fresh air for me last summer. Using the metaphor of breathing — inhaling and exhaling — Dahlstrom offers a compelling vision for a life of spiritual discipline that is rooted in the promise of God’s coming kingdom and in the transforming work of God’s Spirit in our lives and in the world. This is a gospel of the Kingdom of God that is also intensely personal.
‘Inhaling’ and ‘Exhaling’
The book is primarily designed to set the traditional disciplines of the Christian life into the context of our mission as God’s people to be a blessing to the world. Dahlstrom begins with a critique of Christian spiritualities that tend to emphasize only one side of the coin — either activism (exhaling) or contemplation/inner healing (inhaling). Instead, he thinks, what is needed is a healthy respiratory process that involves a constant movement between the two: breathing in and breathing out. In this way, God’s people are filled up with the life of the Spirit in a way that can sustain their mission of blessing in the world. In the following chapters, Dahlstrom examines the “exhaling” disciplines of service, hospitality, and generosity.
He then goes on to explore the “inhaling” disciplines of solitude, respect for nature, prayer, Sabbath, Scripture reading, silence, and celebration. These various habits that Christians have sought to develop throughout the millennia are, in fact, the very ways that our lives and communities can change the world with the gospel of Jesus. In this breathing process, says Dahlstrom, we discover the Spirit of God at work in our own lives. We also discover that we have been invited “to step into the story that God is writing in history, a story of blessing the whole world through people who are given over to God’s reign, so that the colors of hope begin to spread across the planet. That’s the gospel — very good news indeed” (76).
Other books I've read on the spiritual disciplines have offered helpful methods for living a balanced life, grounded in Christ. But sometimes they stop there, and leave us wondering if there's anything bigger — a purpose and a mission beyond our own individual healing and personal salvation. On the other hand, some of the great scholars of the Christian faith have recently pointed out that the kingdom message that Jesus and Paul preached was a revolutionary one, dealing with issues of power and justice and government. And sometimes we wonder how our own small lives fit into that global enterprise.
In an uncommon way, Dahlstrom holds these things together. “The fruit of peace — and not only peace, but justice, righteousness, reconciliation, healing, and hope — will flow from a transformation that begins not at the cosmic level, but at the level of each human heart” (70). And this is why the spiritual disciplines matter — because God is calling us to be a people marked by a new world order. Through us, God intends to make the Kingdom visible on earth, for the blessing of all. “Jesus’ kingdom won’t come because society changes or because laws change. It will come because we change — each of us in ways that are threatening to our precious status quo” (74). This kind of change involves a transformed lifestyle, and so we adopt a "rule of life" keyed to a new set of values.
Raising a New Generation of Leaders
Dahlstrom’s message resonates deeply with our work at Seattle Pacific University. Central to SPU’s mission is our commitment to graduate students of competence and character, people who understand the Christian story and our God-given mission to serve all people. We’re raising up a new generation of leaders with the skills necessary to bridge the age-old divides of race, culture, ideology, and so on — a generation inspired with God’s vision for a just and reconciled world.
With Dahlstrom, we believe that “history is headed toward the end of all evil, the wiping of every tear from every eye, the healing of every disease,” and that “those who are most helpful among us are those who have been baptized into optimism, but not a mushy romantic optimism that denies the realities of suffering in this present world” (229).
We want to be part of God’s story of redemption on earth. But we’re also learning that there is no way to sustain a mission of that magnitude unless we are being filled and transformed by the life of God on a daily basis. We choose a life of inhaling and exhaling through these spiritual disciplines precisely because we want to embody the love of Christ on earth. Dahlstrom’s work serves as a timely reminder about exactly what it will take to more fully realize our community’s aspiration to “engage the culture and change the world.”
About the book's author: Richard Dahlstrom is the senior pastor at Seattle’s Bethany Community Church. He has been a long-time friend and contributor to the SPU community. A 1979 SPU alumnus, Dahlstrom has often returned to campus in recent years, most notably for speaking engagements at the popular Wednesday night worship service known as “group.”
Bob Zurinsky, a 2002 SPU alumnus, is the assistant director of the Office of University Ministries and the Center for Worship at Seattle Pacific University.
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