Wisdom is Made By Walking: a book review

I like a good pilgrimage. I’ve read books on it and have friends who have gone a sojourning.   But despite my interest, I have never gone on such a pilgrimage, outside of a couple of backpacking trips in the mountains.

9780819233493In Wisdom Walking: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life, Gil Stafford weaves together a story of a pilgrimage across Ireland coast-to-coast along the Wicklow Way. Stafford was a guide for a group of singing pilgrims, the Vox Peregrini. He weaves together his experience of walking, his own life journey from Conservative Southern Baptist College president to Episcopal priest-spiritual-wanderer, his family of origin, insights of Carl Jung’s depth psychology and alchemy as an archetype for spiritual transformation. Stafford writes, “To be on pilgrimage is to embrace the mission of a personal renaissance, to claim the inner beauty, the haunting, the frightening, the hated, the adored, the soft, the cruel, the humorous, the damaged, the hilarious, the pitiful—every sliver of conscious and unconscious—and a claim our self as our own who we are who we are becoming transformed into” (28).

Stafford invites us to this sort of journey toward spiritual transformation.  Chapters 1 through 4. Chapter 1 is about preparation and how the pilgrimage begins before we begin our walking, Chapter 2 describes the movement from the exuberant beginning of a pilgrimage to the ‘mundane ways of walking’ as the issues we carry come with us on our journey(18). Chapter 3 explores the experience of the pilgrim community, and how after 3 or 4 days of walking our defenses are down and we are vulnerable. Chapter four discusses the pilgrim at their most fragile when they feel like quitting (and this is the moment where spiritual transformation can happen).

These four chapters are broken up with ‘Interludes’—suggestions for equipment and physical, mental, and spiritual preparation of pilgrimage;  Ahmad, imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe, Arizona relates the story of his pilgrimage to Mecca; Crystal, (Stafford’s wife’s friend from high school), describes her Pilgrimage in Nepal; Greg’s transgendered pilgrimage as he journeyed toward becoming a transgendered woman (now Gwen).

In chapter 5, Stafford relates the story of his sister Dinah and his family’s pilgrimage with her as she lives with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Chapter 6 explores the experience of life, post-pilgrimage (Stafford describes this as a cross between a lovely afterglow and a bad-hangover), and the continuing journey of inner transformation.

Through the lens of Jungian psychology, Stafford’s description of pilgrimage focuses on this inner work of pilgrimage. The outer journey—tiredness and blisters, hunger and thirst and mundane walking, gives a context for a similar inner pilgrimage of transformation. Alchemy and the transmutation of base elements to gold become a poignant metaphor for the type of spiritual transformation envisioned by the pilgrim way. Stafford notes also, as a repeat pilgrim, that the inner process starts over with each pilgrimage because the process is cyclical. Though like a spiral staircase, we begin each journey upward at the same coordinates but with a new vantage point.

This was an enjoyable read. Stafford is a priest and a Christian and writes from a perspective of faith; however because the focus is on spiritual transformation, archetypes and inner work in a Jungian key, much of the insights that he explores here, are broadly applicable to anyone on a spiritual journey. You don’t actually have to go to Ireland (or wherever) to go on this sort of pilgrimage. I give this four stars -★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from the Publisher or Author via SpeakEasy in exchange for my meandering review.

Beyond Ableist Missions: a book review

The discipleship model I was taught as a young Christian, was to invest my time and energy in those who were FAT—Faithful, Available, Teachable. They were the people going places and investing in them would give us the greatest return on our personal investment. The funny thing was that when I picked up my Bible I was repeatedly exhorted to invest my time and energy in caring for the wounded, the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. And I discovered that a sign of God’s Kingdom was the inclusion of those who had been marginalized, excluded and oppressed.

5102The Disabled community is often marginalized and excluded from Church life. While churches have had to accommodate people with disabilities because of the Americans with Disability Act (1990), that has often meant, providing handicapped bathrooms, and wheelchair ramps. Far less thought has been given to how disabled people fit within the mission of the whole church and the gifts they offer to the community. Benjamin Connor (Ph.D., Princeton), professor of Practical Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan, and director of their Graduate Certificate in Disabled Ministry,  aims at enlarging the church’s vision to see the inclusion of disabled people as a ‘sign, agent and foretaste of God’s Kingdom.’

In Disabling Mission: Exploring Missiology Through the Lens of Disability StudiesConner strives to stimulate a conversation between disability studies and missiology on what it means for the entire body of Christ to share in the witness of the church (7). He also helps us reimagine “how we might [dis]able Christian theology, discipleship and theological education for the sake of enabling congregational witness” (7).

In Part 1 of the book, Conner describes his chief dialogue partners, disability studies, and missiological studies. Chapter 1 is an ‘introduction to Disability Studies for Missions.’ Conner rehearses issues which face people with disabilities such as unemployment, abuse, violence, poverty homelessness, and incarceration (28-33) and ways that the church may move intersectionally to minister to the needs of people with disabilities. In chapter examines the field of Mission studies to see what it has to offer disabled communities. Ideas that are particularly fruitful for framing Christian mission to people with disabilities are the Missio Dei (that the church participates in the Mission that God initiated), indigenous appropriation and contextualization, and Christian Witness (39-47). While much of missiological studies have not specifically engaged issues around disability, Cooper draws on insights from two missiologists that addressed disability explicitly (he’s drawing on Amos Yong, and more critically, the work of Lesslie Newbigin).

Part 2 introduces the practical outworking of this discussion between disability and mission. Using Robert Schreiter’s “Teaching Theology from an Intercultural Perspective,”  Conner observes how disability cultures are homogenized (treated like they are the same), colonized (dominated by the dominant culture), demonized, romanticized, or pluralized (i.e. “we are all disabled”) However these approaches to disability (and other cultures) prevent us from seeing the gifts that disabled cultures offer the whole church. Connor examines first the deaf community (chapter 3), and those with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) (chapter 4).

By highlighting the d/Deaf community, Connor acknowledges that many in the deaf community would not regard the d/Deaf experience as  a “disability.” Many d/Deaf people regard hearing people as disabled because of our limited perception visually, our manual language and our limited visual capacities (68). Nevertheless the d/Deaf culture (schools, societies. etc) developed in the context of 19th Century missions to deaf people’s. The deaf community has historically (and concurrently) marginalized by the audist (ableist community). Using Schreiter’s categories Connor points how while deaf culture has been homogenized and dismissed and their contributions devalued, colonized and dominated by audist culture, demonized (their deafness is seen as evidence of fallenness), romanticized, and pluralized (their different experience and contributions relativized to a non-meaning (89-92). Through a missiological lens (Missio Dei, contextualization and witness), Conner points to the gifts that the d/Deaf community has to offer the whole church, “enhanced communication, embodiment, different and more relational ways of arranging space, visual-kinetic ways of communicating the gospel” (101).

In discussing Intellectual Disabilities (ID), Conner notes the similar ways that those with ID are marginalized by the Ableist community. Through the lens of Orthodox iconography, Conner points to a way to understand personhood (and the Imago Dei) in a way that does not privilege rationality, and values the contributions of all to the total witness of the church:

People with intellectual disabilities expose the limitations of our words for conveying truth. They remind the church that truth is “not as a product of the mind” but “a ‘visit’ and a ‘dwelling’ of an eschatological reality entering history to open it up as a communion -event.” The goal of our iconic evangelism is, ultimately, communion with those whom we are bearing witness—and that communion is in Christ (130).

and:

A faithful Christian anthropology embraces the limitations and contingency of all human existence, and it recognizes that the image of God we bear  is expressed together in Christ and animated in us collectively by the Holy Spirit. People with intellectual disabilities are indispensable to their faith communities because among the other gifts and trials they offer, they remind their communities that our abilit to image God is externally grounded. All personhood—able and disabled,  in all its diversity—is grounded in gift, animated by the Spirit and eschatological in nature. Stated succinctly, and borrowing Amos Yong’s phrasing: “People with disabilities are created int he image of God that is measured according to the person of Christ” just like everyone else. Our iconic witness doesn’t exclude anyone because it is not dependent on a strategy or capacity that is intrinsic to us (140-141).

While the focus of chapter 4 is on ID, the concept of iconic witness is applicable to other forms as a disability as well.

In chapter 5, Conner discusses ways to [Dis]able theological education by disabling constructs, disrupting myths of self-sufficiency, and dis-locating narratives (151-152), After sharing a couple of examples of ways in which disabled students have enriched the community of Western Theological Seminary, Conner challenges us to reconfigure our learning communities by including disabled students, being intentional about their participation in life, and the dimension they bring to the theological community (159-64).

Conner points to a more inclusive vision for missiology, that values the abilities and contributions of all, regardless of their physical abilities or mental capacities. The concept of iconic witness doesn’t place the responsibility for Christian witness on the autonomous individual—able or disabled. It instead, lays emphasis on the church as a witnessing community where all are included. This means that while disabled people (or, other-abled people) have a crucial place in enriching the witness of the church. Conners approach honors the unique contributions that disabled people offer to our ecclesial and missional life.

I highly recommend this book.  Part and parcel to the church’s witness is the care for the vulnerable in society (James 1:27). As Christians make space to minister to and care for the vulnerable, they participate in God’s mission of redemption of the world. This book is valuable for an academic context (he envisions some changes for theological education), but as he traces the implications of disability for missiology, anyone who seeks to minister in the name of Christ will find this valuable. I give this five stars and think this book may be a real game changer. – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

42 Seconds to Talk Like Jesus: a book review

I  read a book by Carl Medearis half a dozen years ago on the art of Not-Evangelism (Speaking of Jesus, David Cook, 2011).  It was a breath of fresh air. Medearis didn’t advocate manipulative techniques to talk about your faith. He said to not get stuck trying to defend the faith but he pointed at talking about our experience of Jesus in ways that were winsome, inviting and authentic. That was the only one of Medearis’s books I’ve read, though I’d hear him as a podcast guest occasionally, talking about his work as a peacemaker and his advocacy for Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He is very much evangelical, but he has sought to respond to terror and Islam in ways that reflect the manner and character of Jesus.

978-1-63146-489-8His newest book, 42 seconds, was birthed after a casual conversation he had with his neighbor as they both were working in their yards. Afterward, he emailed his assistant Jesse and asked him to look up every conversation Jesus ever had in the gospels. Hesse compiled a list, and the two of them read through each conversation, out loud, discovering the average conversation Jesus got in was 42 seconds long (ix, at least the portion of the conversation recorded in the Gospels). Medearis notes, “Because Jesus being Jesus, his conversations were typically anything but normal. and when I realized this—when I realized Jesus managed to turn otherwise everyday conversations into something profound—I knew I had to figure out how he did it” (ix).

So Medearis compiled a month’s worth of meditations on Jesus’ conversations, to be read for the course of four weeks. Each week has five readings on a theme, plus ‘a final word’ which tie it together with some reflections and suggestions for practice. These reflections are organized under the headings: “Be Kind,” “Be Present,” “Be Brave,
and, putting it all together, “Be Jesus.” Sorry, Melania, No “Be Best.”

Each daily entry has some practical reflections for engaging people in conversation about things that matter. The “Be Kind” section begins by exhorting us to say hi to people and acknowledge the people we fail to see (e.g. like the waiter or busboy filling your water). Medearis encourages us to ask questions, find some small act of service to do,  to pay attention to children (the way Jesus did). The “Be Present” section describes cultivating attention to the person we are talking to, and what may really be going on with them (instead of rushing to some strategic end, letting conversations go where they go).

The “Be Brave” section presses into the challenging things that Jesus said. Jesus says hard things, but not to everybody, and not always (religious insiders bore the brunt of his criticisms). The final section, “Be Jesus” prompts us to make sure our words and life are consistent with the life and witness of Jesus.

Medearis weaves stories of his own interactions with strangers and friends—evangelistic conversations or otherwise—with  Jesus’ conversations with people in the Bible. Medearis is winsome and this book is pretty accessible. If you read it over the course of a month, there are small challenges to be more like Jesus in our conversations and make every 42 seconds count. This isn’t a book on evangelism but on entering into more significant conversations (which includes evangelism or something like it). I give this four stars. -★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.

 

Let Go and Let GOP: a book review

Every wonder why the Republican party is the party that self-consciously allies itself with the Christian Faith, even as its leadership has suspect moral values and betrays the OR Book Going Rougebiblical call to care for the vulnerable? According to Terry Heaton, the answer is Pat Robertson, the 700 Club, and his CBN empire.  Heaton writes:

When I worked with him the 1980s, we practiced and promoted a brand of Charismatic Christianity that was seen as a breath of fresh air to a faith that had grown stale in every aspect from its music to its preaching, and we worked long, hard hours to move hearts and souls in the way we felt was right. In so doing, we altered the course of political power in the United States, and it was as natural as our Christian calling. Taking positions on social issues formerly held by conservative Democrats such as the sanctity of life, religious liberties, patriotism, family, school prayer, and respect for individualism and tradition, we spoke to primarily rural and suburban Christians on behalf of the Republican Party. We presented as Biblical mandates or “laws” economic views that catered to a culture, teaching that being one of the haves was available for everybody. Our arguments and teaching helped move the GOP to the right on the political spectrum and created a following that continues to baffle even the smartest political analysts in the country who are confounded by how such people would act against their own interests in giving power to Republicans. (2-3)

Jesus joined the GOP because as Pat Robertson wagged on about God, he wagged the dog, diverting evangelicals toward partisan politics and Republicanism. Heaton tells this story in The Gospel of SelfHe had a front-row seat for most of this. In the 1980s, he was the executive producer of The 700 club, helping to transform it to its news-style format which would, in turn, influence the shape of conservative politics. Heaton sees their work at CBN as pioneering the sort of point-of-view-journalism which prefigured the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Conservative Talk Radio, and Fox news.

History will record that The 700 Club was the tap-root of that which moved the Republican Party to the right and provided the political support today for a man like Donald Trump.  A 2015 Harvard report concluded that right-wing media was driving the GOP, not Republican leadership, but this assumes that in order for people to behave as cultural radicals, they must be manipulated into doing so. This is a misleading interpretation of human nature and the power of personal faith. (12-13).

Heaton sees the work of CBN, and later right-wing media outlets, as instrumental in manufacturing political opinion.  Much of the book recounts the story of CBN’s success in the 1980s and the political genius of Pat Robertson. The book is called the Gospel of Self because of the evangelistic emphasis on self-interest in Robertson (and other evangelicals) which dovetailed with fiscal conservative concerns for personal, economic prosperity. Heaton describes the growth of Robertson’s empire, his influence, his nearly successful bid for the GOP nomination, before being investigated by the IRS (Heaton suggests the government pressure came because George H W Bush was Vice President and Robertson’s chief opponent).  In the final two chapters,  Heaton offers his critique of media manipulation and the return of real independent journalism, and his suggestions for the emerging church in the post-Christian/postmodern era.

This is a critical look at Pat Robertson and his influence, but Heaton is not vindictive or bitter about his experience at CBN. Like Robertson, he was convinced they were doing the Lord’s work. So even as he talks about the way The 700 Club’s sometimes exaggerated or manipulative claims of healing, or Robertson’s overstated prophesies,  Heaton also extolls the good. The ways Robertson and CBN impacted real lives and made a difference, Robertson’s genius, and fundraising and commitment to Christian mission. Heaton now advocates a brand of Christianity that is less top-down, more relational and less manipulative (204), but I didn’t feel like this book is out to smear Robertson’s character (even as he points at some glaring problems).

The real value of the book is the insider perspective that Heaton offers on Robertson. Robertson and his impact on Evangelicals in politics are highly significant for understanding American political landscape. Of course, Robertson was not alone. There was also Falwell’s Moral Majority, Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, and a host of other voices. Heaton doesn’t really tell their story (he briefly mentions Falwell, or segments Colson did on The 700 Club), but he was too close to the sun all other luminaries paled in comparison. Heaton linking Robertson’s 1980s empire to Trump did seem a bit tenuous, other than to point out ways in which conservative politics and Evangelical sociopolitical identity became entangled.  Though he does make some interesting suggestions on how motivated conservatives and evangelicals are by self-interest, and the ways social-care, a gospel prerogative, was short-shrifted by evangelicals (and the GOP).   A book like Francis FitzGerald’s The Evangelicals (Simon & Schuster, 2017) does a better job of tracing the movement of Evangelicalism towards the GOP and the rise of Trumpism, but Heaton’s perspective is interesting as one. I give this three-and-a-half-stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

 

Having the Horse Sense to Hear the Divine: a ★★★★★ book review.

One of my earliest memories involves a horse. I would have been 2. My family lived on an acreage underneath the big sky of central Alberta. We had two horses, a mare, and her yearling colt. Cinnabar. One afternoon I was in the sandbox behind our house and decided to go down the hill and visit with the horses. They watched me disinterestedly from behind their barbwire fence, glancing sideways at me, munching the pasture grass. I crawled under the fence to get closer to them. The yearling turned and ran and kicked me in the face. His rear hoofs scraped across my cheeks, just below my temples. Had I been one step closer, or the horse a little older, I may not be here today.  My mom tells me that I ran up the hill with more rage than pain screaming, “Cinnabar kicked me!”

 horses-speak-of-godMy family moved to the city and we didn’t have horses after that, but I would ride them, some, at the nearby dude ranch, or on my grandparent’s farm in the summertime if they happened to be watching their neighbors’ horses.  I love horses. They are majestic creatures, and I’ve since learned to not climb under fences and walk behind them, to respect their size and give them a wide berth.

Laurie Brock, an Episcopal priest and crisis chaplain, has a better relationship to horses than I ever had. In Horses Speak of God: How Horses Can Teach Us to Listen and Be Transformed, she shares the things she has learned from the horses she rides: balance, steadfastness, vocation, trust, routine, love. Brock writes, “I began to ride as a hobby. I did not expect to learn a language that spoke of God” (9).

Throughout these seventeen mediations, Brock weaves together stories of riding lessons, the horses she’s ridden, ministry, the church calendar, Scripture and the liturgy.  She is the student and she honors horses as her teacher. She learns from them. Sometimes the horses teach her about losing control, about having courage, and empathy:

As I reflected on the moment when I’d walked away from my dirty dishes and into the midst of tragedy in the aftermath of a death, I knew they were the same emoitions similar experineces. I could be in the presence of  grief and its wildness because I rode Izzy. And suddenly, I realized that the rearranging that hapened inside of my soul had to do with the words that horses had opened to me. (5).

Sometimes a particular horse would reveal something for Brock about facing fear, or discovering vocation. Sometimes the process of learning to ride illuminates an aspect of her own faith journey. For example, ‘collecting’ a horse—raising the horse’s head while keeping it’s weight slightly on its hind legs so that its movements are focused and directed—becomes a metaphor for own soul, as she finds for her soul the balance between control, energy, and direction in the Collect of the Eucharistic liturgy. (67-71).

Brock is both priest and chaplain but this is not a book about discovering God in the church. It is a book about wrestling with God and learning faith while learning to ride, It is about experiencing the grace of God in the face of a horse, and seeing the face of God in the grace of a horse. This is poetic prose. I highly recommend this book, especially for animal lovers and for those who connect with God outside of the church. Brock does a great job of translating the wisdom of the Christian experience into the language of horse and rider. The lessons she learned from horses are kinder and more generative than getting kicked in the face by a horse. God’s grandeur and grace. The divine and the equine. I give this five stars. – ★★★★★

I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review

 

Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee: a book review

People are moving and people are being displaced. There are immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers all wishing to leave there country of origin, for a variety of reasons poverty, environmental catastrophes, terrorism, nations destabilized by war and revolution, and the promise of a better life somewhere else. “There are about 60 million people on the move . . . . 1 out of every 122 people on the planet today is out of there natural home” (15). “The world has literally come to our doorstep. Will we open the door?” (back cover).

4535In  Serving God in the Migrant CrisisPatrick Johnstone and Dean Merrill teamed up to examine the causes of today’s refugee crisis and the global displacement, explore the  Christian response towards immigrants and aliens, and describe actional steps that individuals, churches, non-profits and the global body of Christ can do to respond to immigrants, refugees and vulnerable strangers in crisis. Johnstone is the original author of Operation World (a global prayer guide for Christians), and a number of other Operation World resources. He served on the leadership team for Worldwide Evangelisation for Christ (WEC International) for 32 years and has been active in writing, in advocating for and ministering to refugees in his home, Derby, England.  [Merrill is the author or coauthor of more than 40 books, but the ‘I’ voice throughout the book, is Johnstone’s].

The book divides into three sections. In part one, Johnstone examines what’s going on. Chapter 1, describes the scope of the global migrant crisis. Chapter 2 explores our attitudes toward immigrants. Notably, Johnstone speaks to several fears people have about migrants. Against the charge that immigrants will take advantage of us and be drain on resources, Johnstone posits that once migrants start working, their payroll tax contributes toward social funding (25-26). He also challenges the notion that immigrants have ill will in their hearts (or maybe secret terrorists). Certainly, there is a risk, which government officials are aware of and work to neutralize,  but the vast majority of immigrants are more likely to be victims of crime then they are to be perpetrators. Johnstone quotes Michael Collyer of the University of Sussex:

Where rapid urbanization coincides with a significant rise in urban violence migrants are often blamed. However, newcomers are over-represtened amongst poor and marginalized groups who typically suffer the most serious consequences of violence—they are much more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators (26).

Against the idea that helping people will only increase the flood of immigrants into our country, Johnstone allows that while may be true and that there are complicated issues around who immigrates and how (e.g. no one has argued for completely open borders),  he reminds us that as Christians we ought to continue to treat immigrants as Divine image bearers (27).  In chapter 3, Johnstone argues that with continued political unrest—failed states, and states which are on ‘shaky ground—as well as other factors, there seems to be no end in sight to global migration.

In part two, Johnstone describes what we should know as we seek to respond to the migrant crisis. Chapter 4 describes why people run—the things that push refugees out of their homelands, and the things that pull them to seek asylum in the West (e.g. security, hope and the promise of a better life). Chapter 5 provides a brief overview of immigrants in the biblical story (e.g. Jesus, Moses, the people of Israel, etc). Chapter 6 exhorts us to behave compassionately towards immigrants and refugees and to challenge the policies that are harmful toward them. Often government policies in the developing world, leave refugees languishing and at-risk in their countries of origin:

Whatever our nationality, citizens who care about justice for the “alien and stranger” need to work to reform these polices and practices. After all, 99 percent of the world’s refugees are not being savely restelled whether inside the borders of their own country, in a nearby country, or accross the ocean. Instead, they are waiting, waiting, waiting, often in squalid conditions as months and years tick by” (63-64).

Johnstone challenges us further, to not let fear or politics get in the way of helping the stranger:

Let it never be said that we “would have liked to” help today’s refugees, but the policy environment was not conducive, and so we turned to other activities. “Of course we want to keep terrorists out of the country,”  says Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (United States) “but let’s not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS.

His collegue Matthew Soerens, United States director of church mobilization for WOlrd Relief, adds, “With governemetn doing its job of screening and vertting, our role can’t be to ask, “Is it safe?” We have to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

The need for real people—God’s highest creation—must always trump poitical arguements and personal fear. (68).

Chapter 7 argues that the contributions of immigrants to society will both re-energize a complacent society, and a complacent faith (i.e. often refugees fleeing primarily Muslim countries, are Christians).

In part three, Johnstone explores what we can do. Chapter 8 describes where we start. First, as an evangelical Christian committed to mission, Johnstone argues that we ought to appreciate the strategic opportunity of the world knocking on our door (82). Second, Johnstone argues that we need to admit and acknowledge our past mistakes, namely how Christian enmeshment with empire and colonialism is a driven a good deal of the current migrant crisis (86-89). Third, we need to become more sensitive toward other cultures (88-90). Fourth, we need to believe that God really cares about migrants (90). Johnstone points to a number of examples from the Bible that demonstrate God’s care for the immigrant (cf. Leviticus 19:33-34, Leviticus 24:22. Deut. 10:18-19, Deut 24:14-15, Deut. 27:19, 1 Kings 8:41-43, Psalm 146:9, Ezekiel 47:21-23, Zechariah 7:8-10, Hebrews 13:2).

The remainder of the book, (chapters 9-12) describe what individuals, churches, organizations and the world church can do to minister to migrants.

This is a short book, and certainly, Johnstone does not untangle all the issues. However, there are several aspects of this book I really appreciated. First, this book is certainly non-partisan. Johnstone is an old school evangelical but from a British, not American context. Many of the issues he describes were already pertinent before our current U.S. President took office. The current political rhetoric in this country makes it sound like Democrats care about helping people and Republicans lack compassion. The truth is that Republicans and Democrats have both been bad about carrying for immigrants. Second, I appreciate how much Johnstone sees the migrant crisis as an opportunity to care for others, to share our faith and to bless the world.

Johnstone is more of a practitioner than a scholar and this is a popular level book (134 pages. I read it on a plane ride). Certainly what is said here can be nuanced but if you are looking at the world and wondering how as a Christian you ought to respond to the millions of displaced peoples, this is a good place to start. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

You Don’t Have To Be A Bad Evangelist! a book review

If you are like me, you have a lot of mixed feelings about evangelism. I mean, there is Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), So I guess I believe evangelism is really great, right?  But there is so much bad evangelism. I know, I’ve done my share of it. I’m really good at bad evangelism.

978-1-63146-856-8There are lots of things that make evangelism bad. Some evangelism is bad because people don’t hear good news from the evangelist. I remember once listening as an open-air-evangelist berated a passerby for wearing his baseball caps backwards, “Your hat’s on backward! You must have your head on backward, or you wouldn’t be sinning!” Needless to say, that guy didn’t hear the good news in that evangelist’s message. Other attempts at evangelization miss their mark because the message is irrelevant to the listeners or too full of religious-insider-jargon to make any sort of impact.

Matt Mikalatos wrote Good News For a Change to help those of us who struggle with evangelism talk to others about Jesus. The double entendre title speaks of both the way the good news has been complicated by bad evangelism and the good news of transformation available to those who come to faith in Jesus (sometimes in spite of our bad evangelism). Mikalatos is experienced at sharing his faith, whether it is by leading atheist Bible studies, or leading student outreaches with Cru (the artist formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), or through his imaginative writing. I first became aware of Mikalatos through his brilliantly funny Night of the Living Dead Christian and My Imaginary Jesus, and his modern retelling of Jesus’ parables in The First Time We Saw Him. He is an engaging and insightful author. In Good News, he turns his attention to helping the rest of us share the good news of Jesus, with imagination, verve, and whimsy.

This book is helpful in several ways. First, Mikalatos reminds us that the gospel is good news:

With the gospel, we need to get past the sales tactics and high-pressure techniques because we don’t need them. A well honed sales pitch reveals that we’ve forgotten the gospel is, at its core, good news. It was good news for us, and it’s good
news for the people with whom we’re sharing (xvii).

Because we have good news, we don’t need to rely on sales pitches and scripts. Instead, we can share with people the unchanging good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as well as our own personal good news— the ways that a relationship with Jesus has transformed our lives and given us hope.

But Mikalatos doesn’t stop there. Much of Good News For a Change is dedicated to dedicating to listening to others, even as we share our faith with them. This helps us describe how Jesus is good news for them. Mikalatos translates the gospel into Brony (the language of My Little Pony enthusiasts) and shares stories of conversations he’s had with Buddhists and door-to-door salespeople. But he also challenges us to craft messages that speak to people (communicate well, avoid jargon and live lives cognizant of the good news of God’s welcome in Christ and gives us some tips on how to engage in conversation those who are antagonistic to our faith. One of the greatest things about Mikalatos’s approach to evangelism is how attentive he is to the people he’s talking to. Bad evangelism is often bad because of how tone-deaf it is. Mikalatos helps us to speak in ways that are responsive and engaging.

This book is both entertaining and helpful. In the end, talking to others about Jesus is just bearing witness to the ways we’ve experienced life in Him. Mikalatos encourages us to share our experience of Christ, and listen for and connect with ways that the Spirit is already at work in their lives. This is helpful, and like Mikalatos other books, a fun read. I give it four stars. ★★★★

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.