Artisan Bread, Broken for You: a book review

The synthetic, the industrialized, and the mass-produced have fallen on hard times. Everywhere you look there is a rediscovery of natural and sustainable methods. People love local, organic vegetables, artisan bread, real chocolate, good coffee, craft-brew and good music.  John Joseph Thompson explores this cultural shift away from mass-production toward more wholesome fare and asks what the implications are for the spiritual life. Is this a re-discovery of something important here that will re-enliven our vision of the Christian faith?

Jesus, Bread and Chocolate is much more than an exploration of three of my favorite things. Thompson explores a range of plastic-y products ranging from twang-less pop-country music, bread for the masses, chocolate that is more chocolaty than chocolate, bad coffee, and cheap beer.  Alternatively, he holds up honest, raw music which has a healthy dose of reality (twang), artisan bread crafted with love and care and good ingredients, pure chocolate, the perfect cup of coffee and a cultivated taste for the local and the small. Interwoven with these chapters on less-industrialized fare are reflections on justice, gardening and Thompson’s story.  This book chronicles his personal journey from consumer to enjoy-er. Thompson explores how the turn away from the industrialized, commodified, and mass-marketed prepares us to drink deeply from the real Jesus.

I think two different groups of people will appreciate this book. Because Thompson is attentive to justice (i.e. environmental impact, farming practices, etc), he presents a vision of faith and life that is responsible and responsive to the world around him. Thompson adds his voice to a chorus of evangelicals who are starting to be thoughtful about creation care, especially in his chapter on organic gardening. Secondly, this is a sensual book. Thompson really enjoys good sounds (music), good smells, and good eating. This is a foody-faith-buffet, inviting others to come and enjoy the feast. In both regards, Thompson imparts a thoughtfulness about what we consume and what nourishes us.

I like Thompson’s reflections and where he calls me to enjoy the good things in life. I also think he is appropriately attentive the way industrialized food (and faith) fail people. Certainly there are other domains of the Christian faith that Thompson leaves under or unexplored, but I appreciate this book for what it is.  The link to biblical theology could be clearer and Thompson’s cultural analysis could be more incisive (though he points in good directions). In the end, this is a personal journey and Thompson’s own reflections around food and faith. It is also a popular level book. For that, I give it four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher via the booklook bloggers program. I was not asked to write a positive review, just an honest one.

NIV Essentials: a Bible review

I have an ambivalence toward Study Bibles. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the scholarship and hard work that goes into producing them. I read commentaries and use several study resources in my personal devotional reading. My ambivalence is rooted in my love for inductive Bible study. I have led one too many Bible discussion groups where I have asked a question designed to get people to engage the passage and the only response I get back is, “My notes say. . .”  The conversation is short circuited  and people disengage from actively reading. There is a  tendency to use a Study Bible notes as a divine oracle (and of course, notes are not always right).

This is hardly the fault of Study Bibles. It is what people do with them. So I took a chance and decided to review the NIV Essentials Study BibleThis new edition from the good folks at Zondervan, combines the features of several of their  best-selling Study Bibles and resources. They offer six lenses for ‘grasping the fundamentals of scripture’:

  • Book Introductions from The Essential Bible Companion and maps, photos and timelines from the NIV Quest Study Bible.
  • Study Notes from the NIV Study Bible. 
  • Articles from the NIV  Archaeological Study Bible designed to help you ‘dig deep’ and understand the historical significance/reliability of the Bible.
  • A ‘Q & A’ lens which presents ‘easy-to-grasp answers to difficult Bible questions (adopted from the NIV Quest Study Bible).
  • A’People in Focus Lens’ which profiles various characters from the Bible  (taken from the NIV Student Bible). 
  • An ‘Insight lens’ which presents a magazine style article relating the passage to life situations (NIV Student Bible).
  • Guided Tours from the NIV Study Bible.
  • Reflections from the Great Rescue Bible ( a narrative devotional Bible).

There is some great content here. I appreciate that it is paired with the 2011 edition of the NIV which I am using increasingly in my own personal reading. The NIV study notes are generally quite good and the various resources are integrated well. I like the look of the Bible and the sidebars. Each article is followed by an abbreviation (SB, ASB, QSB) to alert readers from which resource they came from; however the authors of articles and notes are not included in this volume. On the whole, I would say that this is well put together.

However, I am not sure if the sum of its parts is worth more than any of the Bibles it uses as source material. The introductions, pictures and graphs from the NIV Study Bible are quite good but not included here, so that material is not duplicated. In addition NIV Study Bible are somewhat abbreviated. Types of notes are left out which would duplicate what this Bible does in sidebars and in-text articles.. Some great content is left out in order to showcase more of Zondervan’s flagship resources.  There is no cross-reference system which is easily my favorite feature of a Study Bible. This seems odd to me, because it would easily be integrated and providea ‘canonical lens’ for understanding scripture.

This Study Bible seems to be designed as a sampler to get you to buy more NIV Bibles. The dust jacket profiles the six resources used in editing the NIV Essentials Bible. If you can get past that, there are some great notes and reflections which will guide readers through the text, help them understand the message of the Bible and appropriate its truths to their lives. This Bible can be used fruitfully for personal study. Just remember the Bible is inspired, but the notes are not. And if you are in Bible Study, quote the Bible not the notes! That is the essential part.  I give this Bible 3.5 stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from the publisher via the Book Sneeze Blog Review program in exchange for my honest review.

Your Moves Are So . . .Missional, I Got to Let You Know (a book review)

Missional Moves: 15 Tectonic Shifts that Transform Churches, Communities, and the World by Rob Wegner, Jack Magruder

One my passions and dreams in ministry is to lead a congregation to missionally engage their neighborhood and their world. I’d love to see the whole church–the whole people of God–motivated and mobilized to advance the kingdom in caring for neighbors, sharing good news and partnering with their communities. When a book comes out touting holistic missional engagement which focuses on transforming community, I get excited. Missional Moves is a book which carries such a promise. Authors Rob Wegner and Jack Macgruder both serve in ministry at Granger Community Church (in Granger, Indiana) and have put a lot of thought and energy into getting an attractional mega-church to become more missional.  This book describes some of the ‘moves’ that they’ve made in rethinking and retooling how to do ministry. They are not advocating a program but  they do bring a sensibility and outlook on mission which in translatable to a number of contexts.

The book divides into three sections. In part one Wegner and Magruder discuss the ‘paradigm shifts’ necessary for full missional engagement.  They urge a ‘shift’ towards ministry which is more holistic, comprehensive, inclusive, accommodating to both attractional and missional models and intentional about reaching those on the margins.  Wegner and Magruder want people to catch a big vision of what God is doing, his overarching story of redemption and the global scope of the Kingdom of God.

In part two, ‘Central Shifts,’ they turn their attention to activating the local church for Mission. They discuss the priority of relationships over organizational structures, the need for focus, the need to establish transformational partnerships, the movement from relief to a development model of ministry, and the movement from professional ministry (clergy) to full participation in ministry (every member).  I think this is the most important and helpful section of the book. Macgruder and Wegner talk about how Granger Community Church has changed the way they do ministry as they have sought partnerships on the margins (and among indigenous churches). By choosing a development model and forming a ‘transformational partnership,’ Granger has been able to empower those on the margins while offering appropriate assistance and resources (often in the form of training). This has helped guard against an unhealthy paternalism and dependence. If you seek to do ministry among the marginalized in your city or community, you have to wrestle with the dynamics . Granger has faced and Wegner and MacGruder are good guides here.

In the final section, they address ‘decenterized shifts’–motivating and activating all God’s people for Mission in all their various spheres of influence.  They advocate  providing a less formal leadership (they propose a ‘fractal model’ of leadership which allows creativity and initiative at all levels). They also emphasize Christianity’s potential as a movement (rather than institution) and explore how thinking ‘micro’ can help you become more missional (not small groups, but micro mission groups). Wegner and Macgruder believe that the local church can support its membership as they engage their work, their neighborhood and world. In order for a church to be ‘missional,’ members and not just leaders need to catch the vision. What Wegner and Macgruder advocate here is what happens when the church catches a vision for mission to their community.

This book doesn’t say much that is ‘new’ but it does a good job of synthesizing much of the missional conversation (Alan Hirsch, who wrote the forward, is the most often quoted or footnoted author in the text). I appreciated hearing from Wegner and Macgruder how this works out at Granger Community Church. I think that ministers, ministry teams and church planters would find a lot of useful stuff here.  However this is really a book by practitioners for practitioners. If you are interested in a theological framework for mission than this book will be disappointing. Ross Hastings’s Missional God, Missional Church (IVP 2012) or Chris Wright’s The Mission of God  (IVP, 2006) do a better job of surveying the theological conversation and Biblical material (respectively). Still this is a valuable contribution, especially for showcasing how missional concepts work out in a particular context. This book gets my recommendation.

Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and  Zondervan for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.