The book I reviewed for the journal Review & Expositor is about the means of grace, specifically the lost discipline of conversation also known as “conference” or “holy conference” by English Puritans. This discipline of conversation is, I think, essential in that we intentionally engage people with a view to finding their needs, marrying biblical knowledge with life experiences, and seeking the will of God. The discipline of conversation is critical for creativity, leadership, and missional churches. Conversation sparks creativity, calls for leadership, and helps discern the will and activity of God in people’s lives as well as in organizations and communities. I hope this kind of conversation would take place actively among Central’s constituents and beyond.
The Lost Discipline of Conversation: Surprising Lessons in Spiritual Formation Drawn from the English Puritans, by Joanne J. Jung. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018. 224 pp. $16.99 (pbk). ISBN 9780310538967
Joanne J. Jung is Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University and Chair of the Talbot School of Theology committee for online learning. In the introduction of her book, The Lost Discipline of Conversation, Jung introduces a forgotten means of grace, namely, conversation or conference, or “holy conference” as the Puritans would call it (p. 19). Her book is timely in an era when people oftendo not have friends with whom they can have a deep and meaningful conversation, although social media allegedly makes it easier to connect with others. The book is also helpful in that the discipline of conversation or conference is a vehicle through which Christians can ask authentic and soul-searching questions, especially when they struggle with their faith. Therecent announcements bytwo high profile Christian leaders whono longer consider themselves Christians can testify to this struggle. Jung did a great job of recovering this lost discipline or means of grace, explaining how it was done by the Puritans, how it can be done by Christians today, and offering sample Bible studies, which is conferencing through God’s word.
The Lost Discipline of Conversation has three parts: rediscovering a lost means of grace, conference in various life contexts, and soul-to-soul Bible studies, which is conferencing through God’s word. In the first part of the book, Jung deftly unearths, like an archaeologist, the lost art of grace, which is conference. She addresses how we all have a viral hunger for sacred community where we can experience transformation and spiritual authenticity (p. 26). She also addresses what the means of grace mean, how important it is to “grasp a high view of Scripture, pastors, and sermons,” (p. 35) when souls were refreshed through conference, and what the features of conference are. One of the passages that supports the practice of conference is, according to Jung, Malachi 3:16, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them. . .” (ESV). Those who practiced the discipline of conference, including English Puritans, desired to have a better understanding of biblical truths married with life experiences in conversations “over the state of their soul” (p. 54). One of the helpful features of conference is soul-to-soul prompts that are guiding questions in conference.
After laying out the foundation of conference such as its history and elements in the first part, Jung, in the second part, addresses conference in various life contexts: soul-to-soul purpose, soul-to-soul perspective, soul-to-soul participants, soul-to-soul perks, soul-to-soul paucity, soul-to-soul preparation, and soul-to-soul prompts. While part one is theoretical, part two is practical and systematic, being highly applicable and well-illustrated. Any Christian will benefit from it greatly, as it deals with small group conferences, family conferences of the conversational kind, marriage conferences of the conversational kind, pastor conferences with their congregants, pastor conferences between pastors, and distance conferencing via various media, including letters. All these conferences require its participants, both leaders and members, to examine themselves because they need their “own faithfulness to God” (p. 85). The testimonials of conference from students and friends of the author make this part of the book richer, more authentic, and encouraging to others. The author’s choice of conferences of various sorts is excellent, and her treatment is winsomely relevant. Distance conferences by letter or using technology makes great sense forpeople with high mobility and technology savviness.
Part three touches on soul-to-soul Bible studies, that is, conferencing through God’s Word. Emphasizing the importance of the study of God’s Word, Jung introduces seven passages from the New Testament with “prompts and questions that promote engagement, meditation, and conference” (p. 160). The study of each passage has four parts: ground rules, background, ground work, and holy ground. Like the second part of the book, this part serves likes a manual on how to do a Bible study with a view to a conference. Jung treated these seven passages in a way that models how a Bible study can be done with the intention of a conference. Some Old Testament passages, however, would have been a good inclusion to the list of sample passages. Although the book is about the discipline of conference exercised by English Puritans, it would have been helpful had the author included how this discipline of conference is used in different denominations these days.
Jung wrote a book that celebrates a means of grace, especially conversation also known as conference. Her recovery of this discipline is a boon to many Christians as it will help them engage in a conversation in which they can ask hard questions they usually do not ask, thus enabling them to connect biblical knowledge with life experiences. The book will be useful for any Christians seeking deeper knowledge of the Scripture and intimacy with God and others through conference. Leaders will also find the book very useful in facilitating more engagement among their members.