A book on spiritual formation written from a UK perspective
A retired doctor with experience in counselling, Pamela Evans is involved in writing, teaching and spiritual direction. Her other books are Driven Beyond the Call of God (1999) and Building the Body (2002), both published by BRF.
A previous book by Pamela Evans which I read some years ago, "Driven beyond the call of God," positively exploded my thinking patterns, so I opened her latest book with some trepidation. I soon discovered it was also "spiritual dynamite." I loved it from cover to cover! Because Pamela Evans is an experienced counsellor she is able to pass on to us many wonderful new insights into how we can become strong, fruitful and mature followers of Christ. This is definitely not a book for anyone who is content to be a mediocre Christian. Her chapter on how our parent's attitudes, beliefs and ways of relating to us - and others is masterly. We can so easily grow up with faulty ideas about God built on the way our parents behaved towards us or felt about us. She not only helps us to look back and correct faulty thinking which stemmed from past experiences but she explores issues of trust, adversity, worship, and learning the difference between obedience and compliance. In her chapter on Trust she shows us how our carefully constructed self-protective strategies can actually block out the grace of God (P. 58). I love the way she doesn't 'preach' at us, but makes us think out for ourselves everything which she is teaching by the use of skilful, mind-stretching questions. She also illustrates abstract concepts with ordinary things such as TV aerials, bread-making and a Clematis climbing a trellis! Because each chapter ends with Bible reflections and imaginative, thought-provoking questions this book would also be an excellent resource for small group discussions. Reviewed by Jennifer Rees Larcombe My copy of this is folded, marked, annotated, and has had tears wiped away from it... this is the highest compliment! This title far exceeds five-star quality in its robust, gracious and challenging pathway toward Christian growth. Simply put:- I've been raving about this book to everyone! There is a deconstruct around practical atheism, a pathway through adversity, worship and prayer, with the greatest yet gentlest of challenges posed in the chapter concerning 'trusting obedience.' If you like Dallas Willard or Eugene Peterson and care for your life and soul to be more formed in the pattern of Jesus, then as Pamela Evans prescribes your heart will be warmed wonderfully through this new title. Resistance, stubbornness and heart-coldness will be powerfully affected through this most refreshing of books for people of faith and searching. Discipleship, depth and Christian beauty radiate from these pages. It's the kind if book that is a curiosity arousing, truth crunching and grace saturated work. Simply top class stuff. Reviewed by Rev'd Dr Johnny Douglas, Christ Church Spitalfields, London From The Good Bookstall - November 2011 Subtitled Reflections on spiritual formation and fruitfulness, this book is aimed at helping us to be shaped by the scriptures, rather than the insidious influences of the world. It is 'for brothers and sisters in Christ who are seeking a more fruitful discipleship, rather than a better informed discipleship', because, whether we like it or not, the next generation of Christians are learning how to walk with Christ by observing our examples. To this end Pamela Evans covers the basic foundations of faith emphasising the importance of trust in adversity, worship and prayer, obedience and lasting fruit. Each chapter is followed by expositions of one or more of the Fruits of the Spirit and a trio of Bible reflections to meditate upon. It is, as the author points out, a tool, and of no use unless it is used, which can happen individually or in small groups. Encouraging and practical, Shaping the Heart contains some valuable insights and could be a useful way of keeping scripture at the forefront of the mind. Reviewed by Diane Morrison From The Church Times - May 2012 'This book is just a tool. To be of any benefit, it must be used.' With these words, Pamela Evans urges us to read Shaping the Heart differently from the way in which we usually read books. Her work is an interesting exercise in learning to think, feel, listen, and wonder a little more as we read. Too many of us read as an entirely linear experience, cantering through a narrative from beginning to end. Evans, by contrast, calls us to slow down and pause, to pray and reflect, as we make our way through her book. It is described by the subtitle as Reflections on spiritual formation and fruitfulness. Evans shows how frequently modern life is subtly inimical to growth in virtue and holiness. We can repeatedly change the provider of almost any service we buy, at the click of a mouse, and endlessly shop around for the best price or the quickest result. In that context, it is a significant challenge to rediscover the value of concepts such as long-term fidelity, endurance through difficult times, or patience when we do not get our way. Evans begins by pointing to some of the conflicts that lie at the heart of being a Christian in a post-modern world. She shows how, in a culture that exalts the temporary and the disposable, we often struggle to form loyal relationships that are capable of reflecting the love of God. It can also be counter-cultural, she argues, to place ourselves at the service of others when the principal religious commitment our society most often displays is the cult of the ego. In response to this situation, each chapter in Shaping the Heart explores an area of the spiritual life crucial to our growth as mature, sensitive Christians. Each ends with biblical texts suggested for reflection. Throughout the chapters themselves, however, Evans sprinkles a series of 'lay-bys', in which she calls us to stop, pray, and reflect on the topic that she has been discussing. It has to be said that these occasionally verge on the whimsically sentimental, such as the occasion when we are urged to think over one point while kneading bread. The lay-bys contribute, however, to what is probably the book's greatest strength, namely, its flexibility and adaptability. We start with basics such as learning to know that we are loved by God, and to see ourselves in the light of that love. Evans also correctly points out that we need to change and grow constantly in order to experience God's grace afresh, in each day of our Christian discipleship, and to live it out. The author presents Christian faith less as intellectual assent to theological propositions than as a deep trust in God's faithfulness, out of which emerges the creative space to grow into Christ's likeness. The book also explores the notion of life as a school of adversity, in which we need to challenge the modern world's inability to cope with delayed gratification, or with the way in which God sometimes seems silent in the face of human trouble. Waiting, listening, and persistence draw us to the places where we experience the fruits of trust in God's faithfulness. Shaping the Heart is also insistent that worship is one of the most important things that form us: it reminds us of the basic vocation that the whole of humanity shares in offering praise and prayer to God. The author offers helpful tips about how growth in prayerfulness is often a much simpler and more practical experience than we might imagine. Evans writes from an Evangelical perspective, and in many ways she seems to presuppose an affinity of theological outlook with her intended audience. I suspect that a reader coming from a more Catholic background might find some of its more significant theological gaps a little frustrating. There is, for example, a surprising absence of almost any mention of the sacramental life of the Church. I felt this gap most acutely in the chapter on prayer and the liturgy, which did not once mention the Eucharist. That said, I could imagine using this book in a wide range of contexts. It lends itself to being the focus of a reading circle or discussion group, but is equally suited to individual reading, or to being taken away on retreat. In the pages of Shaping the Heart, Evans invites us to embark on a sensitive and thoughtful process of reading, thinking, praying, and reflecting, which many will find refreshing. It is a book that has the capacity to bring us to new knowledge and insight, as we encounter afresh the God who saves us. The Revd Peter Anthony is Junior Dean of St Stephen's House, Oxford, and Junior Chaplain of Merton College, Oxford From Heart of Sussex Newspaper - July/August 2012 As a holiday read this is not the type of book you take on the beach to relax, but, it could be a very helpful tool if you choose to spend the time on holiday reflecting and letting God speak to you more deeply than you usually have time for. It calls us to address the deep well-springs of our actions, which are in our hearts, and to allow God to show us where our motivation and thinking have become conformed more to the world around us than to the truths of the Gospel. It's about tough, nitty-gritty discipleship issues and calls for transformation. That said it is written with inbuilt pauses for reflection all along the way, so that it can be absorbed in bite-sized pieces. It is also suitable for use with a group or for a retreat or quiet day. A challenging read but well worth the effort.