From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: a book review

Christianity began in Jerusalem—the place where Jesus died and rose again, and where the Spirit descended like a rushing wind on Jesus’ disciples. Through much of Christian history, the center of Christianity was in Europe, but in the past century, the church has spread east and south, across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, the geographic center of density for the Christian faith is found in the East African country of Mali, the city of Timbuktu.

4527In From Jerusalem to Timbuktu, Brian Stiller traces the dynamic growth of the Church in the global south, identifying 5 key factors which have shaped the Christian mission (more on this below). Stiller is the global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, the former president of Tyndale University College & Seminary in Toronto, and the founder and editor of Faith Today magazine. He is a Pentecostal evangelical engaged in mission and has an eye on many of the trends he describes here.

So what are the 5 key factors that have ignited church growth in the global south? Stiller’s 5  key drivers are: (1) a renewed openness to the Spirit (Pentecostals and Charismatics enjoy the most exponential growth), (2) Bible translations in the language of the people, (3) indigenization of Christian leadership and mission, (4) re-engagement of the Public Square, and (5) a holistic gospel which tackles not only Spiritual issues (getting right with God) but systemic injustice (e.g. global poverty, racism,etc). Stiller introduces these five drivers in Part 1 of his book, explores them in detail in part 2, and the notion of wholeness in mission for part 3 (with an eye toward prayer movements, women in ministry, praise and worship, refugees and migration, and global persecution).

Stiller is well-connected to the worlds of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism with an eye toward their global mission, as both a scholar and practitioner. The trends (or drivers) he identifies have shaped the worldwide evangelical movement and the rapid growth to the south.  Stiller gives a sort of insider perspective on how these drivers have impacted the movement, weaving together statistical data, history, with narrative and personal anecdotes. I found this book well-reasoned, and well-researched, but not a dispassionate account. These are trends that Stiller is excited about, and it is infectious.

Despite the title, there is not much mention of Jerusalem or even Timbuktu. These cities are used symbolically to describe the shift of Christianity’s Center to the south. However, Stiller focuses on what is driving the growth the global church in the Southern hemisphere, not on the movements of the church which took us from the first century in Jerusalem to where we are today. So really the focus is on the last hundred or so years. Most of the trends that Stiller mentions, trace the shift of Christianity from Eurocentric and colonial toward indigenization.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the global church and mission. I give it four stars. -★★★★

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

God’s Supernatural Agents: a book review

I was interested in Angels: God’s Supernatural Agents for two reasons. First I do not have enough authors on my reading list, or enough Christian authors from the charismatic/pentecostal stream. With this book,  I got both. Ed Rocha hails from Brazil and is immersed in the Charismatic movement (á la Randy Clark, and Bill Johnson).  Rocha has a degree from International Bible Institute, London, is the founder of Pier49 and a speaker for Global Awakening Ministries and is planting a church with the Global Awakening Network. In this book Rocha describes angels as ‘ministering agents sent to serve those who inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). He aims to demonstrate the ways angels protect us, come to lead us into worship, or in answer to prayer, and the gifts they have to offer us.

ANgelsThe scholarship in this is really thin. The foot notes mostly point to the Strong’s Bible lexicon (accessed via Blue-Letter Bible). Rocha does point to scriptures about Angels and discusses angels in the Bible, but for the most part account of angels is colored by his experience of signs and wonders (i.e. where he or others have witnessed ministering angels). He tells stories of angelic visitations and times when angels helped him through difficult circumstances (like getting him through customs).

I like hearing angel stories, and I am interested in seeing how a supernatural God may use such beings to intervene in people’s life. I felt challenged by Rocha to be open to the way God uses angels in our lives. Unfortunately this book strained credulity. In chapter twelve Rocha describes unusual signs which sometimes accompany angelic visitations, such as gold dust, golden teeth or hair, and gems from heaven. Golden teeth and gems sounds more pirate-like than angelic. He also describes a picture of an angel he has on his iphone. I am all for recapturing the supernatural nature of the Christian faith but this all seemed like it fell into ‘experience hunting’ rather than abundant life in Christ.

I give this book two stars (because I enjoyed some of the stories) but I can’t recommend this.

Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Spirit Baptist: a book review

Chad Norris was a preacher. He went to seminary at Beeson Divinity school and studied under Calvin Miller and Robert Smith, jr.  He was passionate about following God and living for him. But he struggled with depression and panic-attacks. He hungered for  a ‘New Testament’ experience of God. A fresh reading of the gospels (especially John) and  an attentive heart to where he felt God was leading, led Norris to a greater openness to the Spirit.  Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher is his story.

Signs, Wonders and a Baptist Preacher by Chad Norris

Written with grace and good humor, Norris describes his journey into supernatural ministry. As pastor of Spiritual Formation at City Church in Simpsonville, SC, Norris has led mission trips and healing services.  His story tells of his own experience of healing and deliverance and his attempts to follow where the voice of God led him.  He is a bit of a goofball but this is a fairly even-handed account.

What I liked  about Norris’s story is that he doesn’t argue that being open to the Holy Spirit means you have to be as weird as you possibly can. His description of his  healing services is of a quiet grace filled moment where he and others pray for people. He acknowledges that some people still have to take medication and don’t get healed, and looks for the grace of God in the lives of those who suffer (he calls them the real ‘heroes’).  Ultimately though, Norris’s point is not just for people to experience the supernatural gifts. He wants people to know intimacy with God. This is his emphasis throughout.

I also appreciated that Norris is comfortable talking about pain and hard experiences. He doesn’t paint the Spirit filled life with Pollyanna brush strokes and he’s had his share of painful experiences.  He does commend Spiritual experiences because God is a supernatural God. What he presents here is not a formula.

Norris tells us that it was his reading of scripture which led him to a richer experience of the Spirit; yet this book doesn’t present a fresh reading of the Bible. It is more of a memoir of one man’s spiritual meanderings and the events that have shaped his life and ministry. Taken for what it is, I really enjoyed the book and I think Norris hopes that people will hear his story and be inspired to re-read the gospels for themselves and hear the voice of God calling them into a deeper experience of Him.  The book closes with a prayer that you can pray but there is no ‘how to’ in the text.  If you are to experience

I liked this book because I like Norris’s storytelling and his story. He is funny and the book is a quick read.  I give it 3.5 stars.

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

Learning to Love: a book review

I first became aware of the ministry of Heidi and Rolland Baker through a class I took in seminary. My professor (Bob Ekblad) is an activist who works with people on the margins and is passionate about the work of the Spirit.  He held up the Bakers as exemplars because of their tireless work in mission and their passion for supernatural ministry. I had seen video clips of interviews of Heidi Baker  but knew little about her (and Rolland’s) mission organization or their work in Mozambique. So I was excited to read Learning to Love: Passion, Compassion and the Essence of the Gospel

Heidi and Rolland take turns narrating  their work in Africa and around the world.  Learning to Love tells of their experience  entering into the suffering of Christ, loving people, responding to God’s leading and seeing Him work in often incredible ways. The passion and zeal the Bakers have for sharing the gospel is infectious.  While many charismatic authors in the United States preach prosperity, the Bakers have given their lives sacrificially to see the people of Mozambique and around the globe come to saving faith in Christ. They speak of miracles and God’s provision but they also have really entered into the suffering of the nations they’ve served. This book is their story of ‘loving God and the person in front of you.” There mission has involved them in caring for children and orphans, planting churches,  leading bush revivals, prayers of healing, digging wells, launching schools, providing needed physical care and more.  Through it all they have sought to be faithful to God’s call on their life.

Yet Learning to Love was a difficult read for me. To me, the book reads like a series of support letters for Iris Ministries (their organization). They are passionate and expound on where God is working in their midst, but there seems to be little cohesive organization to their chapters.  I also found that I still know very little about their mission philosophy (other than an expectancy to see God at work). I like that they are listening to the Spirit and expect miracles and are driven by a concern for the people of Mozambique, but because this book tells you the breadth of all that they do, you don’t get a sense of what their long term commitment to one place, or one group of people is like.  There is more to their story which I would like to hear.

I do respect that these charismatic missioners have seen God bring healing and new life in their mission and have come to expect God’s supernatural ministry. This is the experience of the global church and too often us educated Americans seek naturalistic explanations instead of the God of Grace.

I am not sure that I can say I loved this book, but I did like Heidi and Rolland and what I heard from their story.  I give this book 3 stars and am interested in hearing more about their work.

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