Archives For Book Reviews


Stuff Christians Like by Jon Acuff

I have wanted to get this book for months and several times was a click away from purchasing the book but I hesitated and put it off. So instead of buying it I met Jon Acuff at the Denver Airport and he signed it and gave it to me (along with Quitter). I have followed his blog continuously and have enjoyed his sense of satire, story, sarcasm, wit and ability to make sense of the complicated Christian milieu. The book is filled with mini-stories about Christian actions, words and idiosyncrasies that are hilarious. With every story there are truths and the truths will leave you both laughing and crying. From “Booty-God-Booty” to “Secret Christian Bands” the book is filled with stories that speak to you. You must have a sense of humor to read this book otherwise you will come away thinking Jon is bashing Christians. He’s not. He is telling our story.

Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

This book came to me from my brother-in-law Andy Walker as a book to read about discipleship. I was skeptical at first because it read almost too easy and too fast. I wanted a complicated, theological, nay academic treatise on the subject but what I got was a practical, simple and well-thought out plan to make disciples. I must admit that I have failed miserably in creating disciples in my ministry. I have created safe atmospheres for transformation but have not intentionally fostered relationships which will in turn create better, more mature disciples. Ogden’s main premise is that a discipler must be with two (maximum of 3) other individuals in a covenant relationship for one year working through material but mainly just creating an environment for growth and accountability (although he cringes with that word.) I recommend this book for a how-to process specifically in the context of a church with churched people. This book is probably not a good evangelistic tool (even he recommends Neil Cole’s resources for that) but is excellent at making Christians become followers of Christ who will lead other followers and on and on.


I have rarely read a book that has probed my heart as much this one did. There are two groups who need to read this book: Elders and Ministers. This has to be read if a church wants to move from irrelevancy to relevancy. Yet, he challenges us because typically when we hear the word “relevant” we automatically think “unbiblical” or “conformist.” In this book you will be surprised by and even comforted by Andy’s challenges for us to be relevant AND biblical. Some pros and cons and some of my favorite quotes.

PROS

  • Innovative
  • Systems thinking
  • Looks at vision as template instead of programs/models
  • Immensely practical
  • Uses biblical wisdom
  • Tells his background to give you context
  • Seeks for each to look at his model and adapt instead of adopt.

CONS

  • He pushes the envelope and for many this is too much for them. I see it as a con only in the sense of how the reader may take this. I also see this as a pro.
  • Preaching method will make purists cringe. He rarely preaches expository sermons and will only use a verse or two if necessary. Keep in mind that this is too accomplish his the church’s vision of being a church for the unchurched.

Quotes

  • As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.
  • I think every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend. Why? Because the church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are his body. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well.
  • We don’t grade ourselves on size. We grade ourselves on how attractive we are to our target audience.
  • The tragedy is that what comes to mind when the average person thinks of church is such a far cry from what actually took place in the era in which the church was born. In the beginning, the church was a gloriously messy movement with a laser-focused message and a global mission.
  • It’s a shame that so many churches are married to a designed-by-Christians-for-Christians-only culture. A culture in which they talk about the Great Commission, sing songs about the Great Commission, but refuse to reorganize their churches around the Great Commission. These are often the same churches where members talk about grace, sing about how “amazing” it is, but create graceless cultures where only those who play by the rules feel welcomed.
  • Every innovation has an expiration date. At some point, new isn’t new anymore, regardless of what the package says. Eventually, new ideas feel like yesterday’s news. Bread is not the only thing that gets stale over time. Every new and innovative approach to ministry has an expiration date as well. Every single one. Nothing is irresistible or relevant forever. That should unnerve you a bit.
  • When people start with the, “Don’t preachers only work one day a week?” I have a good comeback. Feel free to use it. I say, “Think for a minute about the most stressful part of your job, the part that is the make-or-break for you financially. Imagine having to do that every week on a stage in front of your family, friends, strangers, and people who don’t particularly like you. Imagine not having the option to call in sick or reschedule because you weren’t quite ready for the presentation.” End of conversation.
  • Some of my favorite messages are the ones where I open up with a statement that makes everybody uncomfortable. Create tension and you’ve created interest. Iron out all the tension and you will eliminate interest.
  • The longer you’ve served where you are and the longer you’ve done what you are currently doing, the more difficult it will be for you to see your environments with the objectivity needed to make the changes that need to be made. The shorter version: Time in erodes awareness of.
  • People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no here’s the difference it will make tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.
  • The church needs leaders who are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we hand it off to the next generation in better shape than we found it.
  • The actual mission of many churches is Pay the Bills. No, you won’t find that written anywhere. But let’s be honest, most local churches don’t feel any urgency about anything until the money starts running out. Then suddenly they are concerned about “reaching people.” That’s when they start talking about how to attract young couples. A church can go for years and baptize nobody but children and no one is concerned. A church can go for a decade without a single profession of faith and nobody calls a special meeting. But miss budget for three or four months running? Suddenly everybody’s concerned. They’re talking about change. But not because they’ve had an encounter with God. Oh no. It was their encounter with an Excel spreadsheet that drove ‘em to their knees. Then, to add divine insult to injury, once the financial crisis passes, everything goes back to the way it was. The tragic truth is, most churches in the United States won’t change until finances force them to.

This was a great read. I read this in preparation for some per-marital counseling I am doing and I was trying to find a book that would help them look at marriage through a God-honoring lens. Little did I know that this book would help me in my own marriage to understand what a covenant is and what it means to place marriage in the context of servant-hood. This is a go-to book for those who are recently married, those who have been marriage for thirty years, those whose marriages are on the verge of divorce, those who are about to get married and those who are divorced and maybe want to get back together. Read this book! Some pros and cons…

PROS

  • Extremely biblical! Keller weaves passages of Scripture throughout the entirety of the book and uses God’s story from Genesis to Revelation to paint a picture of what marriage should be.
  • Confronts false assumptions about marriages. Have you ever encountered someone whose view of marriage was so false you just knew that it was destined for divorce? Keller confronts these false assumptions.
  • Talks openly about the “S” word. That’s right…SEX. Nobody is looking… you can go ahead and say it… SEX! He talks about the joy of sex within a covenant relationship but also talks about the pain of sex outside the covenant relationship.
  • Not statistical. I get anxiety attacks when people break out droves of statistics about this marriage and that marriage. Keller does not do that….his goal is theological not theoretical.

CONS

  • Keller is on a different level of thinking than most of us (or maybe it’s just me :)) and his book can be difficult to weave through if no theological background is present. I think this would be helpful more to the Christian than the non-Christian but both could still benefit.
  • I wish there were study guides and group discussion guides for this book (that will probably come or may already be out). This is excellent small group material but it is not available yet.

Some amazing quotes…

  • Despite the claim of the young man in the Gallup survey, “a substantial body of evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage.”(p. 15)
  • Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. (p. 29-30)
  • Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations. (p. 33)
  • If our views of marriage are too romantic and idealistic, we underestimate the influence of sin on human life. If they are too pessimistic and cynical, we misunderstand marriage’s divine origin. If we somehow manage, as our modern culture has, to do both at once, we are doubly burdened by a distorted vision. (p. 36)
  • The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. (p. 40)
  • If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility. (p. 44)
  • Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage. (p. 43).
  • When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken. (p. 86)
  • To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us. (p. 87)
  • We think of a prospective spouse as primarily a lover (or a provider), and if he or she can be a friend on top of that, well isn’t that nice! We should be going at it the other way around. Screen first for friendship. Look for someone who understands you better than you do yourself, who makes you a better person just by being around them. And then explore whether that friendship could become a romance and a marriage. (p. 117-18)
  • When you get married, your spouse is a big truck driving right through your heart. Marriage brings out the worst in you. It doesn’t create your weaknesses (though you may blame your spouse for your blow-ups)—it reveals them. This is not a bad thing, though. How can you change into your “glory-self” if you assume that you’re already pretty close to perfect as it is? (p. 131)
  • Truth without love ruins the oneness, and love without truth gives the illusion of unity but actually stops the journey and the growth. The solution is grace. The experience of Jesus’s grace makes it possible to practice the two most important skills in marriage: forgiveness and repentance. Only if we are very good at forgiving and very good at repenting can truth and love be kept together. (p. 155)
  • Even the best marriage cannot by itself fill the void in our souls left by God. Without a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives. But singles, too, must see the penultimate status of marriage. If single Christians don’t develop a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, they will put too much pressure on their dream of marriage, and that will create pathology in their lives as well. However, if singles learn to rest in and rejoice in their marriage to Christ, that means they will be able to handle single life without a devastating sense of being unfulfilled and unformed. And they might as well tackle this spiritual project right away. Why? Because the same idolatry of marriage that is distorting their single lives will eventually distort their married lives if they find a partner. So there’s no reason to wait. Demote marriage and family in your heart, put God first, and begin to enjoy the goodness of single life. (p. 190)
  • How different seeking marriage would be if, as we argued earlier in this book, we were to view marriage as a vehicle for spouses helping each other become their glorious future-selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship. What happens if we see the mission of marriage to teach us about our sins in unique and profound ways and to grow us out of them through providing someone who speaks the truth in love to us? How different it would be if we were to fall in love especially with the glorious thing God is doing in our spouse’s life? Ironically, this view of marriage eventually does provide unbelievable personal fulfillment, but not in the sacrifice-free and superficial way that contemporary people want it to come. Instead, it gives the unique, breathtaking fulfillment of visible character growth (Ephesians 5:25–27) into love, peace, joy, and hope (Colossians 1; Galatians 5, 1 Corinthians 13). (p. 195)
  • Biblical Christianity may be the most body-positive religion in the world. It teaches that God made matter and physical bodies and saw that it was all good (Genesis 1:31). It says that in Jesus Christ God himself actually took on a human body (which he still has in glorified form), and that someday he is going to give us all perfect, resurrected bodies. It says that God created sexuality and gave a woman and man to each other in the beginning. The Bible contains great love poetry that celebrates sexual passion and pleasure. If anyone says that sex is bad or dirty in itself, we have the entire Bible to contradict him. (p. 213)
  • Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less. (p. 215-16)
  • In short, the greatest sexual pleasure should be the pleasure of seeing your spouse getting pleasure. When you get to the place where giving arousal is the most arousing thing, you are practicing this principle. (p. 225)

© theresurgence.com

Matt Chandler is the Lead Pastor for the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas which has 10,000+ members in a multi-campus setting. If you have not listened to his sermons please check out the podcast on iTunes as it is some of the most intense sermons you will ever listen to. The ferocity in which he preaches comes out in his writing as he is intense. This book seeks to lay the foundation for what the gospel is and what it is not. He divides the book in two sections: The Gospel in the Air and the Gospel on the Ground. It seems Chandler is making an effort to state that the gospel has transcendent and immanent implications. To stress one over the other is perverting the gospel and making it something God never intended. I want to share some pros, some cons and then some of my favorite quotes.

PROS

  • Theological. Chandler unleashes thick (the meat!) principles of God’s word and allows them to shred your heart as God’s word takes a hold of you.
  • Practical. Even though this was a theological text I thought he did a pretty decent job of answering the question, “So what?” Concepts and facts mean nothing unless they have real world application. He talks about what the gospel means and the implications it has in the world we live in.
  • Simple. You won’t have to carry the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology to read this book as he uses terms that every church goer can understand.

CONS

These are miniscule and more personal with me than with him…

  • If you are not Reformed then his theology might drive you insane. I was ok with it but I could see some people taking huge issues with his view of mankind (depravity).
  • While I understand why he does it, Chandler seems to take too much time trying to explain the slippery slope of social justice folk. To be fair he did talk about fundamentalists as extremists both do not have the place in the gospel. Yet, I really thought it seemed he anticipated too much flack from the social gospel people so he felt the need to explain their folly.
  • While he spent a lot of time talk about the “gospel” I felt like he needed to discuss more about the gospel and the kingdom. I understand what the gospel means for me (and that is ultimately important) but what does that mean for “us” corporately? He did some of this but I felt he could have done more.

QUOTES

I could share a ton be here are my favorites…

  • For some reason—namely, our depravity—we have a tendency to think that the cross saves us from past sin, but after we are saved, we have to take over and clean ourselves up. This sort of thinking is devastating to the soul. We call this the “assumed gospel,” and it flourishes when well-meaning teachers, leaders, and preachers set out to see lives first and foremost conformed to a pattern of behavior (religion) and not transformed by the Holy Spirit’s power (gospel). (p. 14).
  • The work of God in the cross of Christ strikes us as awe-inspiring only after we have first been awed by the glory of God. (p. 21).
  • In the 1950s and ’60s, rationalism began to erode evangelical scholarship, from academia on down, resulting in a liberal theology that crept into seminaries and churches. As a defensive maneuver, conservatives grabbed hold of the pendulum and swung it all the way over to the right side, wanting to believe they’d got “God” down to a science, his thoughts and ways explainable like mathematics. Romans 11:33 tells us instead that God is incomprehensibly immense, exceedingly expansive, and eternally powerful, and so much so that time and time again our response to many of the things of God ought to be “I don’t know.” Rather than respond to his incalculable God-ness with our slide rules and flowcharts, we would do better to worship him with reverence and awe. How can God see, know, and do all that he does? I don’t know. (p. 27).
  • If we don’t understand the bad news, we will never grasp the good news. The bad news is not just that we don’t measure up to the law but that by the works of the law none of us will be justified before God (Gal. 2:16). What alternatives to the cross are there? Be a good man? Be a good woman? Be a good Boy Scout or Girl Scout for Jesus? This is what it boils down to for many in the church: replacing the centrality of the cross with something more appealing, something we think is more weighty.  (p. 59).
  • Receptivity and rejection are ultimately dependent upon God’s will, not ours. (p. 75).
  • In the end, there is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment. You have to look beyond the sun. The groove in our hearts cannot be filled with the temporal. It demands eternity. Therefore, our very searching for more and more, for bigger and bigger, and for better and better, is our sense that something is off, amiss, deformed, and broken. In the same sense that death, pain, and suffering tell us that something in the world is broken, our insatiable searching tells us that something bigger than the earth itself is missing from our soul.  (pp. 130-131).
  • The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven. (p. 142).
  • When God’s love takes hold of us, it powerfully pushes out our own love for other gods and frees our love to flow back to him in true worship. And when we love God, we obey him. (p. 218).

 


Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

I absolutely loved Missional Youth Ministry by Brian Kirk and Jacob Thorne. Brian and Jacob are mega-bloggers for the amazing blog, Rethinking Youth Ministry. The book was well-needed for my ministry context and I gained a lot of principles to think, chew and meditate on as I continue ministry here in Springfield. I must say, the book is so much a “model” for youth ministers to place into their programs as it is a discernment tool to ask questions to see if we are leading our teens to be disciples. The book is not a textbook on what it means to be missional as it is more of a practical guide to share ideas and to ask (stated above) difficult questions. I appreciate how relational and ecclesial the book was in its primary focus. Love God, love others and love the church might be a good motto for the thrust of this book. My favorite chapter was “the end of educational ministry” where they dissected a teenager’s brain (metaphorically of course ;)) to show how they learn, connect and lead others. The book is worth the purchase just for all of the ministry ideas related to programming, worship and discipleship. I also loved how they implemented their blog posts throughout the book. I wish they would have cited the url for the post but we could always look it up. I could see this being used among youth ministry teams, youth minister retreats and even among parent-minister meetings. I loved it!

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

  • Chapter 1 – “The challenge for those of us in youth ministry is to get beyond our fears and anxieties and trust that God is already working in the lives of young people” (p. 20).
  • Chapter 2 – “Helping teenagers grow stronger in the Christian faith goes far beyond having them memorize Scripture or learn bible stories or creeds” (27).
  • Chapter 3 – “I find that too often our youth ministries offer a Jesus who is safe, a Jesus who asks little of us beyond giving intellectual assent to a list of religious beliefs” (p. 45). “If you’re playing it safe to keep your job, or to make sure your teens like you, or to make parents happy, then it’s time to flip everything you’re doing upside down” (p. 46).
  • Chapter 4 – “Thinking intentionally about the boundaries in adult-teen relationships isn’t optional” (p. 64).
  • Chapter 5 – “We live in a results-and-success-oriented culture. Even the church has bought into the lie that its identity comes from its programs” (p. 75).
  • Chapter 6 – “We can teach all of the bible studies we want, but ultimately the parents have the most important and lasting influence on a young person’s faith–for good or ill” (p. 97).
  • Chapter 7 – “…it’s easier to tell teens what to think (and what not to think) than to walk with them through the long and sometimes difficult process of discovery–especially if we believe we’ve already found the right answers” (p. 108-09). Speaking of emotionally-charged camps and forced spiritual decisions: “Some of those same youth who made tearful committments tp Christ on the last night of camp were the first ones to ditch church and youth group a week later in order to go to a friend;s home to play video games” (117).
  • Chapter 8 – “Teenagers want to know and worship a God who spends time with them beyond the confines of stained glass and organ music” (p. 128).
  • Chapter 9 – “A truly missional youth ministry can only grow out of the unique gifts and needs of the young people in your group” (p. 145).

I have read a few books that have changed the way I perceive Christianity, culture and the world but few have changed my life like this book.  Under the Overpass is about a journey of two guys named Mike and Sam who decided to take the words of a sermon seriously and go and live among the poor for a few months.  They sought guidance from spiritual advisers and decided to start in a Mission in Denver.  They traveled from city to city panhandling for food by playing their guitar and singing worship songs.  What you get when you read this book is a first-hand perspective at the ugliness of poverty and the grip Satan has on people with the drug culture.  Mike has an excellent flow to his writing and he has many keen incites to the heart of the gospel and its concern with those who are struck with poverty.  In this book it not only opens your eyes to basic assumptions about the homeless, but it calls into question our prejudice towards those in a lower socioeconomic status.  I wish I could find something wrong in this book as I usually find things I disagree with or something I would have said differently.  Not the case in this book.  What you get are real, authentic and raw stories about two guys on a journey to find God both in themselves and in the streets of America’s toughest cities.

Below are some memorable quotes from the book that I wish to share and let me challenge you to read the book and then put your faith to action.

  • I watched an old man take a slow, thankful sip of coffee and put his cup back on the table, careful not to spill a drop. “Come all you who are weary …,” said Jesus. It was moving to watch the weary man come, even more to see his desperation give way to peace, if only for a little while. (p. 24).
  • If we are the body of Christ—and Christ came not for the healthy but the sick—we need to be fully present in the places where people are most broken. And it has to be more than just a financial presence. That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation—it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters. (pp. 36-37)
  • I felt my frustration rising until I realized how unentitled I really was. No one deserves mercy. And no one walking by owed us a dime. Mercy is, by definition, undeserved, or else it isn’t mercy. Every coin in the case looked different after that. (p. 52).
  • While kids might pretend people who don’t exist do, it’s the parents who pretend that unwanted people who do exist don’t. (p. 55)
  • Praying “Thy will be done” means you don’t believe in chance (p. 79)
  • What’s worse? To do dope or to not love your brother? Why do we kick drug users out of the church while quietly overlooking those who are ignoring their own different but equally destructive sins? Why do we reject the loving, self-sacrificing, giving, encouraging, Jesus-pursuing drug addict but recruit the clean, self-interested, gossiping, loveless churchgoer? Which one do you suppose Jesus would rather share a burrito with under a bridge? (pp. 96-97)
  • “Oh, my gosh!” I exclaimed, stopping. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” “What?” said Sam. Then he saw what I was looking at. “Oh,” he murmured. A large gray church rose up behind a wrought iron fence in front of us. The building was old and weathered. Above the mahogany double doors hung a sign in red letters: “No Trespassing. Church Business Only.” A new chain and two huge padlocks secured the gate at the sidewalk. “It would take bolt cutters and a battering ram to get into that church,” I said, suddenly angry. “ ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden’? Yeah, and what, die on my front steps?” (p. 104)
  • “Then again, I guess we aren’t supposed to expect circumstances to be easy or safe just because we’ve prayed about them. We’re supposed to go into them knowing that we’ll be given what we need, when we need it.” (p. 139)
  • The words “Jesus loves you” take on a whole different meaning when you’re down and out. You hear them differently. You need them more. Just saying them to the next desperate person you meet could change his day. Wrap those words in friendship, a home-cooked meal, bus fare, and you could change his life. (p. 148)
  • We don’t go to church, we are the church. So many problems that show up on the church steps, or in the pews, or between congregations seem to start with misunderstandings about that. The church isn’t a physical building or a doctrinal statement or a perfectly produced program. It is us—we are the living expression of Christ’s presence in the world, His body. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to be the healing body of Christ to our sin-sick world. (p. 155-56)
  • I had discovered that I pulled better tips playing the guitar outside the liquor shop than across the street outside the family restaurant. Drunk people are more generous than sober people. (p. 181)
  • As we talked, the four of us agreed on one thing: Yes, God is alive and well on the streets of America, but so is Satan … He is busy stealing talents from promising lives. He is breaking bodies and smashing dreams. He is locking up good minds behind the bars of addiction. He is trading in the music of God for the sound of a crazy man yelling his head off in the middle of the street, destruction barreling straight at him. (p. 189)
  • The bottom line is that real love always shows itself in action. Nothing happens or changes in this world unless, by faith, we actually do something. (213-14)
  • I doubt those risks will have much to do with putting on a Christian acronym bracelet or a cross T-shirt. More likely, your journey will lead you toward utter dependence on the King of kings and a resolution to follow Him wherever He may ask you to go. (216)

Want to settle for the status quo and feel good about all the money, clothes and stuff you have?  Want to feel good about the middle-class church you attend where you have your nicely structured worship, comforting singing, warm pew and cordial hand shakes?  Don’t read this book.  Why?  It will change the way you think about Jesus, the church and your calling.  But if you want to change, read this book.  “There’s only this left to do: Walk off the edge with Him” (p. 218).


This book took longer than it should to finish but with each passing page I felt my life and vocation was under permanent construction.  Books that say the same thing about Christianity bore me as those are a dime a dozen.  Books that afford all of the answers and develop a formula for the world’s current existence also bother me.  The Next Christians did none of that as it posed very difficult questions with some great a unique challenges.  This was a book that merged topics like church, culture, spiritual formation, leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity and collaboration all under the umbrella of Lyons’ fundamental thesis (paraphrased): The world “ought” to be different and Christians should seek to restore the world in the name of the gospel.  I think what was most helpful for me was how he dissected the different ways Christians have interacted with current culture in a way that would make Richard Niebuhr proud.  He then offers six characteristics that set apart the next Christians from the current milleu of Christianity:

  1. Provoked, not offended
  2. Creators, not critics
  3. Called, not employed
  4. Grounded, not distracted
  5. In community, not alone
  6. Countercultural, not “relevant”

I am not making an understatement when I say this book has changed how I view Christianity in the present world.  It has changed my focus and even how I read and interpret Scripture.  Normally I give you the strengths and weaknesses in this book and the only weakness I found was that it bordered on the tension between theory and practice.  There were times I felt Lyons spent more time on just talking about gospel-living (or restorers) instead of showing us how we could actually do it.  But that is the paradox in that restorers have no limits to the practical implications of this book.  As cheesy as this sounds, from here you can go anywhere.  Throw cheese bombs at me…I know.

Pick up the book and read it and then send it to a friend.  Let’s start changing things for the better of our society and our world.

“If this Gospel-the Gospel of Jesus Christ-is going to re-engage Western culture in a new way, it starts with us.”  Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians, p. 195


I have read a few books in the past year but none have encouraged me more than Messy Spirituality by the late Mike Yaconelli.  His sense of wit and ability to word things spoke to my soul.  This was a book for the Christian who struggles reconciling the tension between the flesh and the spirit.  Mike’s candid transparency revealed what I could not and that spirituality, “the frustrating and difficult attempt to find God’s trail in the dusty terrain of our lives – can’t be charted easily” (p. 129).  Mike relays stories from his church in Yreka, California showing that discipleship is somewhat complicated and we are often mixed in a pool of confusion wondering how to become closer to God.  With clarity, Mike discusses his hesitance of people who “got it together” and offers an honest response that being a Christian means we are going to have to live in what he calls “God’s annoying love.”  This book could easily be read in an afternoon but it took me a while as I allowed each words to penetrate the guarded chambers of my broken heart.  One particular quote that spoke to me was his thesis for “messy spirituality”:

“Messy Spirituality is the scandalous assertion that following Christ is anything but tidy and neat, balanced and orderly.  Far from it.  Spirituality is complex, complicated, and perplexing-the disorderly, sloppy, chaotic look of authentic faith in the real world.  Spirituality is anything but a straight line; it is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.  In other words, messy spirituality is the delirious consequence of a life ruined by a Jesus who will love us right into his arms” (p. 27).

There are other quotes but those need to be simmered for your perusal upon purchase of this book.  Some pluses and minuses of this book:

Negatives:

  • It was not his intention but he lacks good theology in this book.  It almost seems he advocates an “anything-goes” spirit in this book.  I imagine he smiles when he sees this post though and thinks, “thanks for proving my point.”
  • I wanted more…I thought he could have fleshed out more practical ideas on how to solve our issues rather than live in the theoretical.
  • Application of this book could lead to some dangerous contextual ramifications.  Meaning: spirituality is messy but that does not mean spirituality is careless.  Messiness to Mike, I think, means difficulty not apathy.

Positives:

  • Easy to read…not technical at all.
  • Great voice for those who feel incomplete, intimidated and unqualified.
  • Great lessons about living in God’s grace.
  • Good humor to sustain us for the journey.
  • Great lessons on biblical characters like the Samaritan Woman, Syro-Phoenician woman and Zaccheus.
  • Story form approach allows the reader to place themselves in his story which means we also place ourselves in The Story!

Overall, 5 stars for this one.  Recommend it to all Christians, including those who have it all figured out 😉


I just finished Francis Chan’s latest book Erasing Hell and I have to tell you, I could not put it down.  From start to finish this book is one of his most accessible books for me to read and I could see his points connecting and it was a great book.  Chan seeks to discuss what Scripture says about eternity.  The title of the book comes from his inward desire to not want to talk about hell.  I must confess, I have avoided talking about hell in many circumstances because it is just uncomfortable for me.  The idea of people spending time in torment is not an easy subject to discuss.  So often we try to “erase hell” from our vocabulary, sermons, classes and conversations.  Chan seeks to give a thorough treatise of the subject and offer his critique of various opinions (Rob Bell’s Love Wins gets a hefty treatment in chapters 1-3).  His chapters are…

  1. Does everyone go to heaven?
  2. Has hell changed?  Or have we?
  3. What Jesus actually said about hell?
  4. What Jesus’ followers said about hell
  5. What does this have to do with me?
  6. What if God…?
  7. Don’t be overwhelmed
I enjoyed the book but I do not want to spoil it by telling you everything that is in it.  Below are some of my Pro’s and cons of the book.  I recommend this book to everyone.

PROS

  • Easy to read
  • Delves into the Greek substantially but on a simplified manner
  • Addresses most of the major issues
  • Has a high view of inspiration of the Scriptures
  • His sincerity, compassion and humility is obvious in his pleas to the readers.
  • Placed Jesus in his historical setting as a First Century Jew and that shaped Jesus’ view on hell.  Loved that!

CONS

  • Sometimes Chan is too simplistic in that he does not flesh out issues enough.
  • He really did not add much to the debate.  As much as I want to say he did he simply reiterated what many have at least discussed from the evangelical perspective.  He adds his eloquent touch and I agree with a lot of what he says but most of it is not new.  (maybe that is good?)
  • Chan’s view of “submission to God regardless of our questions” seems t0o dismissive to me.  I agree that at the end of the day “God’s ways are not our ways nor his thoughts our thoughts” but does that mean we accept that at face value and not question why things happen?  Chapter 6 basically is a sermon telling the readers that the clay cannot be the potter so we should simply (and fearfully) submit.  I struggled with this one.
Hope you enjoy the book.

So I had a rare treat last night in that I had the opportunity to hear Rob Bell speak about his new book Love Wins at Belmont University.  I had every intention of taking notes but for some reason I was drawn to his speech in a way where taking notes seemed a bit superfluous.  Besides, the way Rob Bell speaks makes it hard to take notes since he tells a captivating story from start to finish.  This was the first time I have heard Bell speak (in person) and I was impressed.  In his speech he basically gave snippets of ideas he expressed in his book (which I will address in forthcoming posts) and then fielded questions for about 20-30 minutes.  I was interested in the Q&A because of a couple of particularly engaging questions I thought were helpful.  The first question (which was one of the last questions asked) was asked by a lady in this manner (I am paraphrasing):

“When I told someone I was reading your book they said I was a universalist and I really did not know what that means.” [It was not really a question but the question behind the statement was, “Are you a universalist?”]

Rob did a great job answering as he said: “You are probably like me and
thought, ‘Yes I do belong in this universe!'”  He broke it down into some categories where he said “there are some who say that everybody gets in and the problem I have with that are the Nazis.”  But then he really did not answer the question all that well but made a good statement about defining universalism articulately.

A second question asked by another lady was essentially this:

How do you, Rob Bell, love your enemies considering all of the criticism you have received in the past couple of weeks?

At the heart this was what I wanted to hear because I read the book and already knew what he believed.  His answer was powerful.  He shared that the past couple of weeks (“Quite honestly” to quote him) has been difficult for him personally.  He said it has been “the most difficult two weeks of his life.”  Pretty powerful for a man who has seen a lot of brokenness.  But, he said that the brokenness he experienced allows him to form a response in a way in which he too can help people in their own brokenness.  I was amazed.  Rob Bell, like you and I, is a human being.

Whatever you say about Bell and other authors you may or may not disagree with is irrelevant because at the end of the day they are fellow people created in the image of God.  In reading all of the posts, blogs and updates about Bell I have encountered few people who share concern about him personally and that question seemed to provide hope for people like me.

It was a great evening and I was blessed to be there.  As Rob signed my book I also leave you…

Grace and Peace