Help Me Be: a book review

Dale Fredrickson is a teaching pastor and spoken-word artist at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, CO. Both as pastor and as poet, he is charged with the ministry of word-care (or Word-care).  In his new book of poetry, Help Me Be: Praying in PoemsFredrickson uses his words to ignite our hunger for God amidst difficulty, suffering and brokenness.

Help-Me-Be-Cover-1010x1024The organization of these poems is lifted from Walter Brueggemann’s Message of the Psalms (it’s okay, Brueggemann wrote the forward). There are poems of Orientation (Or, Life is Good), Disorientation (Or, Life is Not Good), and New Orientation (Or, Life is Good Again).  However, I felt like ‘new orientation’ breaks into the poems of ‘disorientation’ a little too much. Fredrickson writes poems to give us a sense of the Divine Presence doesn’t press into the darkness as much as he could.

I enjoyed these poems. It is a short book (48 pages) and Fredrickson offers poetic prayers reminiscent of Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven (Rooted in Earth), Inscribing the Text  or Prayers for a Privileged People. Fredrickson lacks some of the prophetic edge of Brueggemann but there is a lyrical quality to his poems. Among his poetic influences are Wendell Berry, Shel Silverstein and Mary Oliver.

These poems should be read aloud. Fredrickson is a spoken-word artist and I found I appreciated these poems more when I let the words play on my tongue.

I read these with an eye toward their possible liturgical use.  Many of these poems do not avail themselves to a ‘responsive reading’ as the poetic voice is singular. I still think they would add to a worship service, particularly with the right reader. I would give this about four stars.

Help Me Be is available for purchase through Amazon.

I recieved this book from SpeakEasy in exchange for my honest review.

Baxter and the Shackster: a book review

The Shack was a literary phenomenon inspiring a whole slew of theological reflections on blogs, in articles and in full length monographs. Books like Finding God in the Shack by Roger Olson, or Finding God in the Shack (what can I say, catchy title!) by Randal Rauser read Young’s novel with a sympathetic eye affirming much of its content. Others are more scathing in their critiques (see for example James DeYoung’s Burning Down the Shack).

The Shack Revisited: There is More Going on Here than You ever Dared to Dream by C. Baxter Kruger

What sets C. Baxter Kruger’s The Shack Revisited apart is his glowing endorsement of The Shack’s overall theological vision (the other authors  above each register points of critique). As a friend of William Paul Young and an early endorser of the novel, he describes the emotions he felt when first reading it in  a deer stand while  hunting. Kruger was overcome by Young’s depiction of the Triune God and the way He (She? They?) dealt with the brokenness of Mackenzie (Young’s protagonist).  Young himself writes the forward and commends it to all who read and valued The Shack“If you want to understand better  the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book is for you (ix).” This makes C. Baxter Kruger the author-approved theological interpreter for his book.

Kruger is no theological-light-weight. He has a Ph.D in philosophy  from Kings College, Aberdeen where he studied theology under James Torrance. He has also written  influential books of his own on Trinitarian theology. However, he has chosen to use his gifts in service to the church rather than academy. He is the director of Perichoresis Ministries an international ministry which proclaims the gospel of the Triune God.  In many ways Kruger’s emphasis in theology dovetails well with The Shack making this a good vehicle to proclaim his Trinitarian theology.

The Shack Revisited divides into three parts. In part one, Kruger explores the image of Papa in The Shack. He gives a good apology for Young’s depiction of the Father as an African-American woman. God defies the images we construct of him and pastorally, this sort of revelation of God was exactly what Mackenzie needed. In part two Kruger widens his theological circle to reflect on the nature of the Son and the Spirit and their relationship with the Father.  Like Young, Kruger eschews any hint that Jesus died to appease the wrath of the Angry God; Rather, the Trinity acted in Christ to restore those of us who were lost and broken. He quotes extensively from the novel and praises Young for the way he depicts the Spirit and the way the Godhead relates to one another.  In part three Kruger expounds on ‘Papa’s Dream’–namely, our full inclusion and participation in the life of the Trinity.

Those who are critical of The Shack will likely also be critical of this book. Kruger adds some theological meat to Young’s story but he does not allay every concern. I am a sympathetic reader of The Shack but I don’t agree with every emphasis I read in Young’s prose. My biggest problem with The Shack is Young’s anti-institutional/anti-church bent (he can’t help it, he’s a Boomer).  This is somewhat softened in Young’s follow up novel, Cross Roads ,
but it remains a concern for me. Kruger doesn’t make much mention of this aspect of the novel.  Other’s will be bothered by Kruger’s and Young’s inclusivism. For both these authors, every person no matter how twisted and broken, somehow participates in the divine life of the Trinity and are ultimate recipients of Jesus’ saving work on the cross. With all the hoopla these days about universalism, this will remain a sticking point for many readers.

For my part, I enjoyed this book but found it slow reading. Kruger uses the story of the Shack as a springboard for theological reflection. That means he swings between describing pieces of the story and the characters, quotations and his own theological musings. This book made me want to read another book by Kruger and perhaps The Shack again, although it may be a while be for I revisit these pages. I give it 3 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Its not the Size it is the Motion: a book review

Steeple Envy by Vic Cuccia

Vic Cuccia had a cushy ministry job at a popular mega-church but realized something was amiss. He had bought into the commodified, American-Dream-Infected vision of life in ministry which said BIGGER is better and MEGA is majorly better. He had bought into the idea that in order to minister to the people who were coming to his church, people in a certain tax bracket, than he needed to keep up a certain standard of living, have a nice home, drive a nice car, etc. And then he had an uh-huh moment and realized that somewhere along the way his Americanized/commodified vision of the gospel was compromised in several respects.

Now Cuccia is the leader of a small community (around 75 people) and has started 12X12 Love Project, a ministry which builds homes for the needy in Guatemala.  Steeple Envy is his story of learning to see and discovering that as he unplugged from the mega-church, he saw just how prosperity infected and off base it was. Far from building his own empire, Cuccia is now engaged in extending the mission of God to those in his community and abroad. They are moving out, trusting in God to provide and seeing that provision in miraculous ways.

But please note that this not a book that is bent of criticizing mega churches per say. Some of Cuccia’s heros are or were mega church pastors (i.e. Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, etc.). He isn’t saying a big sized church is necessarily bad; what he is saying is that in his own experience on being on staff with a mega church, he got off track in his understanding of the gospel getting caught up in the cultural trappings in that setting. This is his story about re-discovering what it means to live faithful to his calling as a minister of the gospel.

I liked this book. I really liked the first half of the book where he confronts the soul deadening elements of his ecclesial life.  The title chapter (chapter six) talks about ‘Steeple Envy’ and the whole temptation towards Christian empire building. Cuccia’s critique is profound if laden with double entendres The second half the book is good, and it is interesting to see how Cuccia’s  re-thinking of how to do church has led him to lead a community which gives sacrificially and is delightfully not polished.  Cuccia left a successful ministry job to work on the margins in ways that he felt were more faithful to the gospel. I am grateful that he saw fit to share some of the insights he’s gained on his journey.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Jesus at the Watering Hole: A Book Review

Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Home Brewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith by Michael Camp

Michael Camp has waded his way through the entire evangelical subculture. He converted in the seventies, after previously been apart of evangelistic youth rallies and meeting CCM music legend Phil Keaggy (his conversion is not directly related to either of these). He then went to L’Abri, did missions, got a degrees from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions and Eastern College, he attended Baptist churches, Che Ahn’s church in Pasadena (Charismatic Evangelical), Calvary Chapels, Non-Denominational Churches and Vineyards, as well as more Emergent Churches. He is well versed in Christian politics, dispensationalist End-Times theology, biblical literalism, creationism, evangelism and world missions, homophobia and Hell and a whole host of evangelical peculiarities.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper  tells the tale of Camp’s conversion to Christ and his gradual drift away from conservative evangelicalism.  The format is reminiscent of Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christian trilogy, but  whereas those were fiction, this is Camp’s own story. Camp explores various topics while telling  the story of his  journey through evangelicalism. Each chapter closes with pieces of a  discussion between Camp and his  friends in a bar, discussing his journey, his book, and his current theological stance. Today he is still a Christian and concerned about listening to the scriptures, but politically, socially, and theologically he has come to critique the evangelical culture which first formed him in the faith. He has moved away from the legalism, an acculturated form of church and the Christian life,   from He also has moved towards Christian Universalism and the full affirmation of homosexuality and a hermeneutic of the Christian life which is based on love.  But lest this sound like he’s just another liberal, he also is passionate about proper interpretation of the Bible and  affirms intelligent design.

I enjoyed this book.  I have wrestled with many of the same parts of my evangelical heritage, though I haven’t come to all the same conclusions. I think he raises good questions and  I generally found reading this book made me think.  I don’t agree with everything Camp says, but he does seem fair in his reading of scripture and evangelical culture. One aspect I really appreciated was the attention he paid to biblical hermeneutics. He has a chapter on Bible Abuse where he offers sound advice on how to interpret scripture sensitive to its context.

However, despite my generally positive experience reading this book, I did find several aspects to critique:

  1. I found the format of the book a little preachy. This isn’t just a story about Mike Camp’s journey. It also records his discussion with friends over dinner and beer reflecting on that journey. Those conversations shift the narrative for me, from an exploration of one man’s journey, to an apologetic for why I should come to the  same conclusions as Mike Camp.   Camp comes off as the grand guru of his own book (the one with all the answers).  His friends sometimes vehemently disagree with him (especially his staunchly evangelical pal, Steve), but it is obvious that they haven’t spent as much time thinking through the issues and are as well read as he is.  Thus I found the dialogue with his friends less engaging than the story parts of the book. This discussion comes off as a device which clarifies Camp’s own position rather than  being a robust debate. Occasionaly his friends seem like strawmen.
  2. Camp occasionally describes people as conservative, moderate, liberal or progressive evangelicals owing to their position on particular hot button issues.  What bugs me about this is that based on his criteria, he likely would peg me as a moderate evangelical. I loathe the word moderate and there is nothing I would hate being called more.  I think it is like calling someone tepid. Yuck.
  3. Camp repudiates most of what he has been taught in evangelicalism but he seems to buy in (at least in some form) to Christian primitivism (the idea that we should get back to the church of the New Testament) and he has rather low ecclesiology.  This leads he and his friends to be rather dismissive of the institutional church (in favor of just being a couple Christian friends hanging out at a bar).  In a couple of places I wanted more connection to church history and theology.
  4. The discussion in the bar and over dinner happens while Mike and his friends are drinking Fat Woody, Ridgetop Red, Pumpkin Ale, Panther Lake Porter and Belgium Blonde.  This discussion happens west of the Rockies and there was not a single person drinking IPA.  It doesn’t seem right.

These critiques aside (which may say more about me than Camp’s book). I think this book would be an interesting read for any of us who have lived through the past thirty odd years and have seen the various trends in the evangelical world.  I also appreciate the way Camp catalogues his thinking and points his readers to various resources and authors.  Do not read this book if you are uncomfortable being challenged and do not like to think for yourself.  My seminary friends will be cognizant of many of the issues Camp raises here, but others will find his story format engaging, challenging and informative.  Maybe one day I’ll catch up to Mike and the two of us can sit down over a cold one and discuss theology. I’ll be drinking the IPA.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.