Evangelism and Honor: a book review

Perhaps, like me, you know you ought to share your faith with others. You believe the good news and want others come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but you are as turned off as anyone by  that tone-deaf-evangelism. Formulaic presentations and canned sales-pitches  and one-size-fits-all approaches don’t ring true or require you actually listen to the story of those you are doing evangelism to. How do we share our faith in a way that is warm, inviting and honoring of the faith journeys of those we are talking too? Mary Schaller and John Crilly suggest a different approach in  The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conservation.

978-1-4964-0576-0Schaller is the president of Q place and Crilly is its former national field director. Q place is an organization which works with churches to create environments for small group participants to explore questions of God and the Bible together. In The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations they suggest a orientation, and a set of practices which enable Christians to share their faith which honors other worldviews, and life experiences. Yes, evangelism remains important, but it doesn’t explode.  It happens organically in the context of relationship as we seek to love, welcome and engage unbelievers as they are. Seeing them as they are and listening well to their stories is as important as sharing our faith with them.

The “nine arts” are described under three major headings. Part I: Getting Ready gives us an orientation toward sharing our faith through noticing who are neighbors are, committing to praying for them and relationally listening to their stories (instead of transactionally listening as we wait our turn to speak). Part II:  Getting Started suggests three practices which help us create welcoming, engaging and safe environments, learning to ask good questions, loving well, and hospitality. Part III: Keeping it Going, explores practices that keep faith-based discussions going: facilitating, serving together and sharing (your faith). Additionally,  Part IV: Ongoing Spiritual Conversations provides practical suggestions and encouragement for making your own “Q place.”

The “nine arts” are important for anyone who seeks to share their faith with others organically. It is significant that the ‘evangelism’ part of this book only comes into focus as the final practice. If you follow the trajectory of this book, you will not vomit your faith on others but will share your journey with Jesus in the context of real relationship. I like the approach a lot. And appreciated Crilly and Schaller’s stories of friends they have shared life and their faith with. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.

 

Beginning Again: a book review

We all experience times we are overwhelmed by life circumstance when the Spirit hovers over the very chaos of our lives.  Steve Wiens, pastor of Genesis Covenant Church in Maple Grove points us to a resource for beginning (and beginning again)–Genesis 1.  The seven days of creation tell more than how the world was created; these days are a resource through times of transition and difficult circumstance. In BeginningsWiens inhabits the text and offers it up as Midrashim. The creation account re-stories us, plays midwife to us, and invites us into the process of becoming (xxii-xxv).

978-1-63146-400-3Each of the seven days  speak of God’s work in our lives. On Day One, God’s Spirit hovers over the chaos and darkness we experience, bringing light and hope. On Day two, an expanse (space) is created between the waters above and below. This symbolically speaks of how God creates space in our life to grow something new. Day Three we experience the growth of seeds in freshly broken ground. Day Four (the seperation of day and night, Sun, Moon and Stars) we are able to see seasons. On Day Five we confront the monsters in the waters which threaten to strike down our new beginning. Day Six we press into God’s creative work in fashioning us, healing our past and propelling us into the future. Day Seven we learn the power of stopping and nurturing ceasing.

This is a unique book in that Wiens doesn’t address any of the creationist/evolutionist debates, and instead focuses on what the seven days of creation tell us about our life. Writers like John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP ACademic 2009) tell us that ancient near east cosmologies are more concerned about how the universe is ordered than they are about origins. If this is true (and I believe it is), a book like this which focuses on what Genesis 1 tells us about our life and God’s creative and redemptive work are truer to the message of scripture than many literal readings of the creation account. The focus  here is less on what happened, so much of what it means.

Wiens also brings the message of Genesis down to a personal level. He share of difficult seasons in his own life (vocational struggles, infertility, problems with physical health, etc) and names the way God was at work in his life. His discussion of the seven days invites us to reflect on God’s work in our own life. I read this book in the midst of my own difficult season of life. Wiens’s words give me hope and a vision of where God may be at work in this stage of my journey. I give this four-and-a-half stars.

Note: I received this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Bloggers Network in exchange for my honest review.

More of God: a book review

Alec Rowlands had a childhood experience of God’s presence while growing up King William’s Town, South Africa. As an adult and as a pastor he wondered how to keep the vitality of that experience in his life and ministry. He then sets out on a journey through studying historic revivals, recovering his prayer life and giving his attention to the winds of the Spirit.

Today Rowlands is the senior pastor of Westgate Chapel in Edmonds, Washington and has a D.Min from Carey Theological College. In The Presence: Experiencing More of Godhe explores the nature of spiritual experience, cultivating a friendship with God and an openness to the surprising ways in which God works.

Growing up Pentecostal, Rowlands is open to the Spirit’s work in sometimes ‘weird’ ways. As an old-school-evangelical he is a student of revival (Keswick, First and Second Great Awakenings,  early Methodism, etc). However on neither score does he fall into the error of baptizing all ‘spiritual experience’ and revival. He points to examples. historic and contemporary where spiritual manifestations no-longer aided believers to sense the Spirit’s presence and leadership but became a distraction. He also spurns techniques and methods for manufacturing revival. While it is true that we can cultivate our awarness of God’s presence, the Wind blows where it may and revival is always fundamentally the Spirit’s work. God’s presence, not God’s presents.

Underneath Rowlands’a search is a hunger for a deeper experience of God’s empowering presence in all of life and ministry. This is the gift of this book. He stokes our expectancy for more of God’s presence, he gets us to be mindful of the what God saved us from, he exhorts us to cultivate our love for God through a vibrant prayer life, he opens up the surprising ways the Spirit works, and invites us to participate in God’s mission. This has both personal and corporate implications. He sometimes writes of his own spiritual life, and other times the ways God has helped him to lead or grow his congregation (or early on discern when God was leading him to a new congregation).

Another thing I really liked is how thoughtful this book is. Rowlands is rooted in history, philosophy and theology. While he may invite us to chase a personal experience of God, he also maintains a place for reason.

At the close of each chapter, there is a text book about revival. These sometimes seemed to fit the theme of the chapter, but not always. I am not sure what they actually added to the book as a whole other than giving a short thought about revival which you could print on a mug or t-shirt. On the whole, good engaging book on the Spiritual life. I give it four stars.★★★★☆

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Tyndale Momentum in exchange for my honest review.

We Didn’t Start the Fire: a book review

Neil Cole has written a book designed to get followers of Jesus to engage in mission with the five-fold gifts described in Ephesians 4:11-12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,  to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”.  The so-called APEST gifts (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, and Teacher) provide a template for Churches and ministers hoping to impact the wider culture with the reality of the Kingdom of God. This book is designed to help church leaders and members of the body of Christ understand their contribution by recovering the gift and ministry that Christ intends for us.

I believe the APEST acronym (originally APEPT) originates with Alan Hirsch who’s The Forgotten Ways (Brazos Press, 2007) covers similar ground. What sets Primal Fire apart from Hirsch’s is the level of detail he goes into looking at each of the gifts, and his rooting of each of the roles in the ministry of Jesus (the archetypal Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher).  In Cole’s first section of the book he points to Jesus as our chief exemplar, discusses the role of elders and deacons, and argues for the recovery of each of these gifts for our contemporary contexts. In section two, he profiles each of these gifts from Ephesians 4:11 and how they work together. He identifies the ‘start and go team’ (Apostles and Prophets) an the Stay and Grow team (Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers). Section Three focuses on how these gifts, used together will enrich the church and re-invigorate it for mission. He also points to the danger of counterfeit gifts (super apostles, false prophets, Judaizers, hirelings,  and false teachers).

As I said, Cole covers a similar ground as Hirsch (who writes a glowing endorsement). While Cole does refer to passages across the New Testament, Ephesians 4:11 with its list of the five gifts is central to the organization of the book. Some readers will fault his appropriation of the term “Apostle” as one ‘sent out’ on mission to pioneer God’s work (rather than a historical, limited list of leaders commissioned by Jesus himself). Other readers may find his biblical case shallow as he does tend towards prooftexting. I think his profiles of each of the gifts are as rooted in his experience as a church planter as they are in his exegesis. Throughout this book he says what each of the gifted ‘tend to do’ (i.e. Apostles tend to…, Prophets tend to…). In many of these cases he is sharing personal observations of things he’s seen among the gifted.

He also doesn’t spend much time explicating his central passage, Ephesians 4:11-13:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Verse 11 provides list, and verse 12 tells us that these gifts are given for the building up of the church. Verse 13 gives us the telos: these gifts are given to build up the church until they reach unity in the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, maturity and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Coles use of verse 13 is as proof for the continuing of each of the five gifts (63). He uses it show that the work is still incomplete, but  his profile of each of gifts would be more grounded if he showed how these gifts serve this end (verse 11-13 are one sentence!).

Though I think pastors and leaders will find much food for thought here and a challenge to recover the character and content of mission in the early church. I give this book 3.9 stars

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Praying God’s Attributes: a book review

The problem with reviewing devotionals is that a timely review demands that you turn around a review before you’ve had time to live in the book.  Such is the case for Anne Spangler’s Praying the Attributes of GodSpangler followed up her previous devotionals, Praying the Names of God and Praying the Names of Jesus by producing a devotional which focuses on the Divine attributes. She draws inspiration from A.W. Tozer’s books on the attributes of God,  to produce a 17 week long devotional which focuses on the attributes and the character of God.

What makes Spangler’s devotional good is that she doesn’t throw around ten-dollar-theology words.  She talks about God’s immutability, omnipresence, omnipotence, transcendence, and immanence, but her chapter titles are much more user-friendly than that.  Her first chapter is a week of devotions focused on God’s love entitled ‘God Cares For You.’ Other chapter titles include: God is Better Than You Think (God’s goodness); God is Bigger than You Think (God’s infinitude); God is Not Moody (God’s immutability); God is Not Weak (God’s Omnipotence); God is Never Surprised; (God’s Omniscience); God is Never Frustrated (God’s Patience); God Always Knows What to Do (God’s Wisdom); God Has No Limits (His eternal, self sufficiency);  God is a Lover (the Jealousy of God), God is Always Fair (God’s Justice); God Leans Towards Compassion ( God’s Mercy); God Never Gives Up (His Faithfulness); God is Better Than Anyone You Know (God’s Holiness); God is an Artist (God’s Creativity);  God is Above All (His Transcendence).

Each chapter has a week’s worth of devotions (Monday-Friday). Mondays have a key scripture passage and a brief Bible study which unpack that particular attribute. Tuesday-Thursday have brief devotions which help you pray through particularly scripture passages related to that attribute.  Friday’s reflections relate God’s attributes to a particular passage.

I have not lived in this devotion enough. I have only read through the first couple of weeks and skimmed other parts of the book. However I appreciate Spangler’s ability to root her reflections in scripture and get her readers to pray passages.  Praying and reflecting on God’s love and goodness were good for me. I need to spend more time reflecting on this and  This was helpful.  Tozer’s books are meatier, but the way that Spangler gets us to pray ‘God’s attributes,’ takes us from passive readers to active participants in the life of God. This is a very good thing.

I am unsure what I would think of later chapters. Briefly skimming through the book, I think that at places, Spangler’s account of God’s attributes seems overly simple.  This is probably unavoidable in a devotional. This is, after all, not a theological tome. But the passages from the Bible are carefully chosen to illustrate particular attributes.  Reading the Bible in this way means that you are not wrestling with apparent counter-testimonies.  To say, for example, that God is never frustrated and is a patient God is true. Scripture reveals a God who is slow to anger and abounding with love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). However, readers of the Pentateuch will also encounter passages where God’s anger burns against his obstinate people.  In Exodus 32, God wants to destroy his people and start over but stops because of Moses’ intercession).   This passage also challenges our understanding of immutability (God’s non-moodiness) because God apparently can change his mind.

Passages like this challenge the categories we place on God. If we want to understand who God is and how he relates to his people, than we discover it in our engagement with the Biblical story.  I agree with Spangler’s categories and like the scriptures she chose but I worry that dependence on devotionals like this rob people of encountering the God of the Bible who sometimes defies our expectations and acts in ways we do not fully understand.  The narrative of scripture is the story of God’s relationship to his people.  ‘The attributes of God’ is a framework borrowed from systematic theologies and imposed on the Bible to help us understand what sort of God we worship.  This is helpful and I really like Spangler’s use of it. I just want readers of her book (and other devotionals) to go beyond the pages of her devotional and read the Bible with it (all of it!).

That is a rather lengthy qualifier but I would recommend this book and I think it can be used fruitfully by those seeking to grow in their prayer life and in their relationship with God. Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  What is  a more excellent and praise worthy thing for us to think about than God? I give this book 4 stars.

Thank you to Tyndale books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

From Generation to Generation at Work: a book review

For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workplace at the same time: Traditionalists (those born before 1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen Xers (1965-1980) and Millennials (1981-2001).   Each of these generations grew up with  experiences that shaped their ideology,practice and assumptions. Traditionalists (or Builders) came back from World War II and built  many of the major companies and still lead many of these organizations. Boomers entered the work force and climbed the corporate ladder by putting in long hours. Gen Xers were smaller, and so did not move up the food chain as fast as Boomers did (because Boomers keep not dying). Millennials have now entered the workforce, but are not as inclined to follow the rules as much as the older generations (Gen Xers weren’t either but because of their small numbers, did not effect much change).

Haydn Shaw has written Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Ploces They Come Apart to help businesses leverage the strengths of each generation. Each of the generations has something to offer. Traditionalists built many of the organizations, industries, and companies.  They and Boomers still occupy places of significant leadership, but have not always passed on important information. Gen Xers have navigated the business world (as defined by previous generations) and have risen to meet various challenges. Millennials are poised to creatively contribute to the market but find that they are judged by other generations for their work ethic, lack of experience, and disrespect for authority.  Stereotypes about each generation abound, and often the other generations are dismissed for where they are found wanting. Shaw helps us appreciate the gifts of each generation that is rooted in their history.

Shaw examines each of these generations, providing an overview of their characteristics and history before discussing the 12 ‘sticking points’ which create generational tension in the work place. These are:

  • Communication
  • Decisions Making
  • Dress Code
  • Feedback
  • Fun at Work
  • Knowledge Transfer
  • Loyalty
  • Meetings
  • Policies
  • Respect
  • Training
  • Work Ethic

In each of these areas, Shaw helps us acknowledge the tensions, appreciate why the tension is there, identify where organizations can ‘flex‘ to accomodate different approaches, leverage the strengths of each generation and resolve how to handle these areas.

I appreciate many of Shaw’s insights and I think this will be a helpful book for people working together from different generations. Because my own vocational goals are ministry, I immediately translate Shaw’s insights to that context. I think he names some of the tensions of intergenerational ministry but his focus is specifically on the work environment (i.e. company policies, work ethic, etc). Some of this is translatable to a church setting (though not all of it).

One of the insights of this book that I appreciated was Shaw’s explanation about Gen X as a ‘squished generation.’ When Gen Xers entered the workforce, they did not climb the corporate ladder the way their parents did, nor were they able to effect organizational change because they did not have the numbers Boomers have.  As a result, they have learned to navigate working with the older generations, playing by their rules (but breaking rules and asking for forgiveness later). Many of the features of Millennial generation are held in common with Gen Xers but because of their numbers, they will effect greater change in business and industry. However, for the moment Gen Xers are working in dynamic tension between Boomer leaders and Millennial’s entering the business world. They have to navigate both worlds.

Books about generations are by necessity generalizations. Shaw admits that his characterizations describe generations but may not describe individual members of each generations. When generational characteristics are used as a hammer, they do not do justice to the personhood of the people they attempt to describe. Thankfully Shaw has put the hammer away and has written a book which helps us appreciate the different assumptions we carry to the workforce and how their can be a greater level of cooperation across generational lines. I give this book 4 stars.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Prototype: a book review

Jonathan Martin is a pastor of a church with a trendy name (Renovatus) which ministers to people on the margins in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a great head of hair, tells poignant stories of his own spiritual journey and those of his faith community. He cries a lot for kind of a big guy, quotes all the right books and likes all the right music (i.e. Bob Dylan, U2, Bruce Springsteen, etc.). These are all the sort of things that should make me suspicious. But then I found myself really enjoying his new book Prototype: What Happens When You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think.

Prototype: What Happens When You Are More Like Jesus Than You Think by Jonathan Martin

The underlying premise of Prototype is that believing in Jesus means being like Jesus. Not a new concept right? But this isn’t just a WWJD-knock-off. Martin argues that Jesus, the prototype of the new humanity, came to show us how to be really human. That means getting in touch with our true selves and not operating out of our fractured identity. Jesus is our exemplar and following him means discovering what we were meant to be.

Prototype begins with two stories. The first story comes from Mark 5 where Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac who said his name was Legion. Martin observes that this fractured man who had been bound in chains and lived naked among the tombs did not frighten the Gerasenes.  Nor were they afraid when their pigs rushed over a cliff. The frightening thing for them was seeing this man fully clothed and his  right mind (Mark 5:15). Martin observes:

In a world where self-destructive behavior has become commonplace, the most frightening scenario may not be a global apocalypse. Perhaps the most startling thing to see is someone whom we have come to expect to be as fragmented, fractured and self-destructive as we are, transformed into the epitome of sanity, peace, and purpose (5).

The second story which frames this book is a story about Martin himself. He talks about how as a fearful and anxious child (raised on Pentecostal apocalyptic literature and movies),  he experienced freedom from his anxiety during the countless hours he rode his blue-and-silver Schwinn bike around his cul-de-sac. While riding he made up stories, talked to himself and felt free. As an adult, Martin was praying with one of his friends who pictured  the boy Martin riding his bike, talking to himself, making up stories and alive with freedom and creativity. Martin had not told his friend about his childhood bike riding, but six months later when Martin was on a bike the image arrested him and he felt the intensity of God’s overwhelming love for him in the same way he experienced that freedom and life as a child.

In the pages that follow Martin unfolds our true identity in Christ–our belovedness. He talks about how God shows us who we are in the obscurity of the wilderness and  how God’s love can pour through our wounds and bring healing to others.  He talks about the nature of doubt and faith (using Thomas’s hopeful doubting from John 20). And he paints a picture of community in all its wonderful, aggravating glory. He weaves together Biblical reflections with personal anecdotes and stories of those in his church.

I loved this book. Martin comes from a Pentecostal heritage and his reflections are amenable for Charismatic Christians.  However this is a little more substantive than books you will find in the Charismatic section of your Family Christian Bookstore. Martin is a graduate from Duke Divinity and his book is peppered with references to Stanley Hauerwas, Herbert McCabe, Henri Nouwen, Frederick Buechner and Eugene Peterson. Yes, Martin reads my favorite authors [note: I haven’t actually read anything from Herbert McCabe: he is my favorite author I haven’t read].  But the theological depth he brings to his prose is unobtrusive because mostly Martin is just a  good storyteller. You find yourself drawn-in by his humour and grace.  So this is a great read which will challenge you and help you discover your identity and calling in Christ.  I was personally encouraged by Martin’s chapter on “Obscurity” which is where I feel like I’m living right now.

On the ministry side:  I liked what I learned about his church and their vision for ministry and will likely look for more from Martin and Renovatus.  His great hair still makes me suspicious. I give this book 4.5 stars!

Thank you to Tyndale Momentum for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.