Review

The Vow: How a Forgotten Ancient Practice Can Transform Your Life

by Ed Gungor

Bestselling author Ed Gungor admits that he's taking a risk in writing a book that is more theoretical than practical at this point. But it's a risk worth taking, as he will attest to having personally discovered significant changes from his experiences in making "vows." Gungor opens his eloquently written (and concurrently comical) text by defining what a vow is and what it isn't: "Vows are love-promises we make to God." Similar to the unexpected gestures romantic partners make toward one another to express their love, Christ followers of today can offer such sacrifices to God.

Interestingly, vows were commonplace in Old Testament history, but Jesus only mentions them a single time in the New Testament when he states that a "voluntary vow cannot nullify or obviate a biblical rule." Precisely because they are voluntary, says Gungor, vows cannot override biblical commands. He defines various types of vows, both individually and within church history. Citing the baptismal vow as the "granddaddy" of them all, he also details how "lesser vows" such as prayer or good works help Christians fulfill the call to be holy. It is this fervent desire "to follow Jesus without reservation" that is the impetus to making vows that will lead believers into deeper fellowship with God.

Gungor admits to being a lousy legalist and instead continually and gratefully admits his need for God's grace to enable him to be successful in keeping those vows he feels led by God to make. He terms it "vowing into grace," whereby God's grace pours into believers, but they must simultaneously pursue it by living intentionally. Gungor discusses in length the strength of the spiritual disciplines, such as study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission, solitude, silence, fasting and sacrifice, as well as the Daily Office (or God Breaks, as he calls them), to bring a constant awareness of God into everyday life. Instead of legalistically feeling the "should," believers can joyfully and voluntarily embrace the spiritual possibilities of such vowing unto grace.

Readers will especially appreciate the author's generous space given to describing the anatomy of vow making. This tidy and expansive list is helpful because it is both specific and clear-cut.

* Vows are acts of generosity toward God.
* Vows presuppose the full consent of the will.
* Christians vow to God.
* Vows are to be taken seriously, so count the cost.
* Vows are not applicable to such practices commanded by God.
* Vows can be added to responsibilities already being carried out.
* The Holy Spirit should do the leading when vows are made.
* Vows are naturally sacrificial by nature.
* Be prepared to keep a vow solemnly once it is made.
* Date vows before "marrying" them.
* Keep your words simple when you vow.
* Consider who needs to know about the vows you make.

Gungor then describes the various types of vows and closes up his weighty text with an excellent appendix detailing the disciplines of abstinence and of engagement. He also provides readers with the Daily Office by sharing the outline, prayers, readings, reflections and concluding prayer, which will strongly appeal to thoughtful readers.

Reviewed by Michele Howe on January 1, 2008

The Vow: How a Forgotten Ancient Practice Can Transform Your Life
by Ed Gungor