Sometimes Church Don’t Feel Like it Should: Book Review and Book Giveaway!!!

If you are part of a church (and you should be), sooner or later you are bound to experience a ‘church hurt.’ Everyday wounded people leave the church never to return because of their woundedness and others’ jerk-face jerkiness. Trust me, I know. I have struggled to not be bitter at big-ego-pastors, manipulative back-stabbers, gossips and dismissive deacons. All too common and par for the course for many churches. I could tell you stories, my own and friend’s stories, about how churches discriminate, dehumanize and destroy people. Clearly there are major problems.

In Stephen Mansfield’s interesting book, he quite intentionally doesn’t address any of the problems we find in church. You could read this book and the circumstances at the First Church of Senior Pastor Overcompensating may actually not change at all. Mansfield’s purpose is a little more basic: he wants to help you heal and fix what you can inside of you, so you could rejoin the fold of God’s people. From his own experience of church hurt and that of others he interviewed, he discovered:

No matter how petty the cause is, every religiously wounded soul I encountered was in danger of a tainted life of smallness and pain, of missed destinies, and the bitter downward spiral. And every soul I encountered had the power to be free, for each of them, no matter how legitmately, was clenching the very offense or rage or self-pity or vision of vengance that was making life a microcosm of hell (10).

So he wrote this book to help people move past their wounds, their pain and anger, their church hurt, to a place of healing, forgiveness and freedom.

Mansfield examines examples of betrayal and hurt from church history, the Bible and his own experience and reflects on how to manage betrayal and wounds without letting it poison your personal and ecclesial life. He offers helpful advice, provides questions to help people sort through how they are handling their wounds, and help them learn from the experience and he attends to possible spiritual dynamics and directs people on how to re-engage the church after experiencing wounds (possibly a different church, but not necessarily).

I wouldn’t say that this is the most insightful book, but I really appreciate Mansfield’s focus on helping people move on and not let their ‘church hurts’ keep them from giving and receive love in the body of Christ. Certainly at different points in my own journey, a guide like this could have been helpful and may have guided me through some difficult circumstances.

Sounds Great James! How Can I Get This Book for Free?

So glad you asked that. As it so happens, I have a voucher for a free book which you can redeem from your local bookstore or directly from Tyndale. I will happily mail this to one of you. In order to get your free copy, please comment below (you have to provide a valid email address so I can contact you, but that won’t post publicly). As I am free to arbitrarily pick the winner, tell me a little bit about why a book like this would be helpful to you.

Regardless if you win this book, my hope is that you will find a way to navigate past your hurts and re-engage in church, feeling the joy of fellowship.

Thank you to Tyndale for providing me (and maybe you) with a copy of this book for the purpose of this review/giveaway.

More Scattered than Cohesive (My review of More Lost than Found).

When I picked up More Lost Than Found I was expecting it to be a spiritual memoir of someone who lost his faith and then found it again. This is indeed part of Jared Herd’s story, he alludes to it in the prologue of this book. The rest of the chapters are comprised of his reflections on faith, culture, what it means to believe, what the kingdom is, how technology adversely affects us and prevents us from having meaningful connections, the divisions between rich and poor, how misery and pain form us, how faith and certainty are thankfully different. There are some interesting essays in this book and Jared Herd does indeed have thought-provoking things to say, but this book lacks an overarching vision and a connecting thread holding the chapters together.

So who is Jared Herd? He has been on staff at both Rock Harbor Church, in Costa Mesa, California and North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA. He is the Creative Director of XP3 College Ministries (part of the Rethink Group). A millennial himself, he engages in ministry and presenting the gospel to young people.

Admittedly, the lack of comprehensive vision for this book is annoying to me, but there is a place for a book like this: the bathroom. The chapters are devotional, pithy and thought-provoking, making it the perfect bathroom reader. If you treat the chapters as separate entities and do not look for interconnection and flow, the book is quite good.

Alternatively, this is the sort of book you could get someone to read a chapter of. I think Herd does a good job of offering a winsome apologetic without spelling out all the answers to everyone’s tough questions.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Could it be….Satan? (A book review)

As I am reflecting on the nature of sin this season, I thought it would be worthwhile to read a book from a Charismatic/Pentecostal perspective. This book talks about the invisible battle we face as we seek to live holy lives. As someone who’s diabolic imagination has been set aflame by Screwtape Letters I accept the world that Kris Vallotton describes in Spirit Wars: Winning the invisible Battle Against Sin and the Enemy. I have attended charismatic churches and been around when people were praying over others for demonic deliverance. A lot of these ‘deliverances’ seem more psychosomatic than real, in the same way that divine healing can sometimes be attributed to the placebo effect. Still I have seen enough, and have thoughtful friends with enough discernment that I know that some of it is real and there is a real spiritual battle being fought. Therefore a book helping Christians better wage this war makes sense to me.

And Kris Vallotton does not disappoint. He shares from his own experience of demonic oppression, physical depression (or in his case a hormonal issue), experience in praying with people and his reading of scripture. He argues that for those who are in Christ, victory over sin and the powers is not only possible, it is the norm (explaining at one point that he can go several weeks without sin). Vallotton does not discount that there could be psychological causes for struggles and advocates that those struggling with long term depression or anxiety see a physician, get a proper diagnosis and medication. He also avoids the spirit-flesh dualism of some Pentecostal preachers by urging that physical, emotional and spiritual causes for our struggle are intermingled inside the human person and cannot be easily separated.

I don’t endorse everything that Vallotton says here. He oversimplifies at some points and takes fanciful leaps. I would question his interpretation of the Bible. People who self-describe as prophets (as Vallotton does) often take an imaginative approach in biblical exegesis, which provides keen insights as well as abysmal errors. So I affirm some of what he says but have serious questions about other portions of this book. For example, he uses Nehemiah and Joshua as exemplars of how we can resist “the enemy” and carry out the task that God gives us. This spiritualizes and allegorizes the biblical history of the Old Testament, which is legitimate to a point, but Vallotton’s approach means an uncritical view of both Nehemiah and Joshua. Contrary to leadership and popular accounts, the hero of the books of Joshua and Nehemiah are not the men the book is named for, but Yahweh himself. Joshua and Nehemiah do some things well and also make horrid missteps along the way ( i.e. Joshua is told to be strong and courageous, but instead sends spies and sits on his hands for several chapters, fails to call on God; Nehemiah ends with the sending away of foreign wives). I think if Vallotton was attentive to the ways these leaders failed, his insights for spiritual warfare would be more incisive.

Also, Vallotton makes errors in his interpretation of passages by drawing distinctions that are not in the text. He makes the common error of drawing a strong distinction between spirit and soul (within the human person), but the biblical material neither supports this nor warrants it. Likewise, he distinguishes terms (such as a distinction between prisoner and captive in Isaiah 61:1) which betray an amateur understanding of Hebrew poetics and parallelism.

I think this book is more useful as describing one person’s experience of the spiritual battle and his personal insights into the nature of it. When it comes to Biblical interpretation I do not think Vallotton is a trustworthy guide though he does provide and interesting window on individual texts. I would recommend this book to the discerning charismatic Christian who can separate the good from the bad, truth from error. While I have my reservations about parts of this book (some of which I failed to mention here), I will likely refer back to sections.

Thank you to Chosen books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and honest review.