Archive for June, 2015

51agVhsRghL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I have a friend who pretty much believes that even when Brant Hansen breathes it is funny. Well, that might be an exaggeration, but in truth, Brant is funny and I am grateful to my friend who 'introduced' me to Hansen several years ago. (To be sure, Brant doesn't know me, didn't ask me to review his book, and I've never even listened to his radio program. Just so everyone knows there is no bias here.)

I find that I have the most difficulty with being offended in two places. The first place is Facebook. Facebook can be a cesspool of personal ignorance, political hubris, and religious stereotype. Needless to say, I get very little enjoyment out of Facebook and I am typically, generally, always offended at something or someone. The other place I get offended easily and quickly is in the car. I hate driving because there is no one on the planet who drives as well I as I do, who follows the rules as closely as do, and who never tailgates the driver in front of me. I have had to scale back my driving and let my wife do most of the work because my blood pressure elevates to such levels of offendability that I am afraid I might have a stroke while driving to church on Sundays.

But I digress. This blog post isn't about me, it's about this book called Unoffendable. And in my opinion, Unoffendable is a spectacular book worthy of the time spent reading it (and you should read it slowly) and beneficial for those who will invest the time to do so. The main question Hansen seeks to answer in this book is simple: "Isn't being offended part of being a Christian?" (2, his emphasis). Well, isn't it? I have spent a lot of time around the world of blogs over the past many years and there are times when I wish I had not. I would probably be a better person if I hadn't learned that there are so many offended Christians surfing the web and trolling blogs. It is no wonder at all, to me, that so many people dislike Christians. We are some of the most unbelievable offended people on the planet. And why? We have every reason imaginable not to be offended but instead filled with joy and love and compassion and laughter. And yet here we are more easily offended than loving, quicker to anger and slower to love, and happier to frown than smile. 

I think this is why I like Hansen, even though we've never really met: he laughs. And he makes people laugh. He doesn't take himself too seriously and I think he is trying to show the rest of us that, perhaps, we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously either. But the fact is we find all sorts of ways to justify our anger and our offendability and our curmudgeonly attitudes towards life and love and sin and joy and peace. I get it: Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed that of the pharisees. So we also took this to mean that our self-sufficiency, our condescending-ness, and our frowns and our offendability must surpass theirs also.  But the Scripture, Hansen makes clear, says that we are to get rid of all anger and that there is no justification for it. Ever.

All along Jesus is telling us to relax–let the world be the world. But you, disciple, follow me. Perhaps the reason we are so easily offended is because we don't really trust Jesus after all? Perhaps we think that we are somehow enhancing his image by being offended when people do all sorts of stupid things? Perhaps we think if we sneer a little harder, furrow the brows a little deeper, and groan a little louder that the offensive things we do won't be so noticeable to others. It's a distraction. Or something like that.  Hansen seems to be making the case that being offended does absolutely nothing to advance our cause or to expand the Kingdom of which we are citizens.

"We should forfeit our right to be offended. This means forfeiting our right to hold on to anger. When we do this, we'll be making a sacrifice that's very pleasing to God." (3) Yep. He is right–even if it offends my sense of right and wrong to do so. Forfeiting our anger is a large part of what it means to daily take up our cross and follow Jesus–the master of un-offendability. Jesus saw all sorts of unrighteousness and unsavory people and yet I don't recall a single instance of Jesus being offended–except perhaps he was offended one time when death dared to knock on the door and take the life of his friend Lazarus. But even as the grave was opened, Jesus wasn't offended. He simply called on his friend to come out and join them. And Jesus turned and occasion of offense into an occasion of joy. Maybe we should practice something like that, you know, take situations where offense might be warranted and redeem it, make it an occasion for laughter and joy instead of an occasion for arguing and yelling and gnashing of teeth.

Hansen invites us to think about the Kingdom of God and what it looks like and how its citizens behave: "I'm already a believer, but the kingdom of God is so shockingly opposite the way the rest of the world works that I need constant reminding of what it looks like and how good it is" (89). Being a member of this kingdom means that for us things are different. The way of the cross means we no longer have a right to hold on to our anger or resentment or bitterness or offendedness. "Humility means there's so much less at stake, so much less to protect" (191).

This book is not an easy read. If you read this book honestly and constantly evaluate yourself as you do so you will likely get offended a lot. Hansen has written a book that forces us to think deeply about what it really means to be a Jesus-follower, a kingdom citizen, a cross-driven disciple. He invites us to look deeply at ourselves and evaluate the things that offend us and get our shorts in a wad and then to lay those things down, to sacrifice them to Jesus, and to get on with living in Him. Perhaps the reason Hansen can write so freely and deeply about this subject is that he has a lot of experience. I don't know because I don't know what's in his heart. All I know is what's in my own heart and and my own experience. I was confronted a lot. I have a lot of sacrifices to make; a lot of anger to let go of.

The good thing about this book review is that I can write whatever I want about the book and, perhaps, about Hansen, and know that he is not going to be offended by what I say. In fact, he might even invite me over for dinner. That's the kind of fella he seems to be and that alone makes this book worth reading: it was written without a shred of pretense or condescension. Hansen says: Here I am. There you are. I love you. I think that's kind of what Jesus was getting at. It's hard to believe that I can't offend Jesus and yet I am persuaded that Jesus thinks I am worth having dinner with or going to a party with or dying for.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the book is this: I want to be just like the guy who wrote it because I suspect he really knows Jesus. 

Highly recommended for it's honesty, transparency, and because, unlike many books written for the masses, Hansen doesn't use Scripture as a mere prop.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Unoffendable: Amazon (Kindle, $9.99)  Thomas Nelson (Paperback, $15.99)  CBD ($11.99) B&N (Paperback, $11.62) (Prices current as of June 10, 2015)
  • Author: Brant Hansen's Blog  Facebook  Twitter
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson
  • Pages: 209
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience: Christians, others, pastors, preachers, housewives, baby-mammas, baby-daddies, high school students, humanity
  • Reading Level: High School
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy via Thomas Nelson's BookLook Blogger program.
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9781601426703Title: Bringing Heaven to Earth

At Amazon: Bringing Heaven to Earth

Authors: Josh Ross & Jonathan Storment

Publisher: Waterbrook Multnomah

Year: 2015

Pages: 215

I like to mark up the books I read with my pen. In this way, I will be able to go back through the book at a later time and note important passages or thoughts that I may wish to use in a lesson or blog or whatever. For this book, I used a nice red ink and on page 2, near the bottom, I wrote, "I'm already on board!" I wrote that after reading this:

We don't believe the primary purpose of following Jesus is to enjoy the gift of heaven. Rather, it is to be united with Christ in His love and mission. The call to conversion in the New Testament isn't a decision for salvation, but a decision for Jesus. It is more than a change in status; it is a shift in allegiance, passion, and calling. (2)

I like that. I like that very, very much. I like it because it resonates with me deeply in that I want something different from the pie in the sky Christianity I was raised on–the kind I have complained about elsewhere. That sort of Christianity gets us in the club and we talk an awful lot about how to get into the club. Then we go through the motions. I was a church preacher for nearly 20 years and I have seen the results of preaching that simply aimed to get people into the club and along for the ride.

Frankly, it's boring. It's meaningless. And it has killed the church. Or it has at least ruined it for some of us. Books like Bringing Heaven to Earth will, hopefully, go a long way towards rectifying one of our most significant problems in the church: definitions. In my opinion, for too long the church has misused some of its language. We have misused words like kingdom, heaven, mission, and judgment. Maybe we have even misused the name of Jesus. N.T. Wright has done the lion's share of the work in helping us re-acquire proper definitions of bible words and others, more recently Scot McKnight in his book Kingdom Conspiracy, and I think Tim Keller to an extent (we might also say Yancey, Hauerwas, Willimon, and others), have taken Wright's heavily historical and theological work and brought it down to the level of the pew. I do not mean this in the sense that McKnight's work or the current book is 'easy' or pedestrian. Wright's work needed a filter for the average pew sitter and these author's have done remarkable work in bringing Wright's message home to the church.

The church has benefited from their work and now I am hopeful that the church will also benefit from the work of Ross and Storment. I come from the same church background as Storment and I can say with utmost confidence that this is a message our churches need desperately to hear. IF there is a denomination in America deeply entrenched in mis-applied definitions it is the church tradition I belong to. Storment's message resonated with me deeply for this reason–especially since I only have a limited voice in that church at this point in my life.

Back to definitions. As one example, take the word 'heaven.' Churches in America have this strange idea that heaven is a place 'we go' after we die. Preachers have done a remarkable job painting pictures of mansions within mansions, ethereal whispiness, clouds, and harps. I confess that when I was younger I used to think to myself that such an existence, no matter how long, would be utterly mind-numbing. And I could never reconcile that vision with Jesus' words about 'heaven being God's throne and the earth being his footstool.' Then along came N.T.Wright who began articulating for me what my heart had only been whispering. I'll never forget the time I preached from the pulpit that when we are resurrected we will have bodies, real flesh and blood bodies and one of the ladies approached me afterward and virtually questioned my sanity. Didn't matter that Jesus was resurrected with a body. But I digress. Ross and Storment bring it home to all of us:

In the Christian worldview, heaven is the realm in which everything is as God wills; it is not just a far off location out past Jupiter. Heaven is less a location and more a reality defined by God's will being done. Yet here on earth, a lot of people are working against heaven by trying to make sure that what they will is what gets done. (33; their emphasis.)

And,

Don't get us wrong, the Gospel is about heaven. But heaven is not the distant, otherworldly place we often imagine it to be. Heaven will come down to earth. We will live on earth in a renewed, restored world. (59; except that the Gospel is not necessarily about heaven; it's about Jesus and how he has brought about heaven's rule here on earth.)

This is good, solid theology for the masses here (except I would eliminate the word 'just' in the first sentence.) The point is clear: so many Christians are caught up thinking about the 'Promised Land' that they haven't given any thought to what God is doing right here, right now, and how what he is doing right here and now will last into eternity. Our lives are about what Jesus continued to do and teach (Acts 1) and what we are doing will be tested in fire. Some will burn up; some will last. Yet there is a reason why Jesus died, was resurrected, and bids us to keep on living here instead of swooping us up as soon as we believe. There is work to be done here, now, and it matters now and then. In one sense it is true that 'this world is not' our home, but there's a better sense in which we do not have much of a choice.

Later on, the author's write:

If we think God's future has nothing to do with our lives and this world, then it won't affect how we live. It's possible to be a Christian and waste your life. It's possible to think that the gospel is all about another time and another place, and totally miss out on what God is doing right in front of you. (190)

What encourages me greatly about this book is that it was written by two preachers. What this tells me is that the message is getting into the hands and hearts of people who live in the world every day of their lives. It tells me that at least in some places in the church words are being defined properly and people are taking in the message and not kicking out the preachers who are doing the defining. What it tells me is that there is leadership in positions of authority who are supporting the message of these preachers. Finally, what it tells me is that the Holy Spirit is indeed moving in our congregations and that the famine might be staved off for a while yet.

This book greatly encourages me not because they have it all correct (although there were more than a couple of times when their insights were deep), but because they are living it, preaching it, and sharing it with others. It's easy to be innovative for the sake of an audience, but I don't sense innovation in this book. I sense a deep personal conviction that this is a message that needs to be heard by the people of the church. It's a strange sense of conviction I get from these two authors/preachers that this is a fire in their bones that cannot be quenched. I'm encouraged because when so many preachers are taking the easy way, they are sticking with the Gospel.

The book reads easily; although, it's easy to get reading and miss the depth. They tell plenty of stories. Quote plenty of Scripture even though I thought perhaps a little too much prominence was given to the story of the Prodigal son. There are several pages of discussion questions at the end and also notes are at the end as well. In my ARC there was no subject index but it may have been added in the final edition.

The only real quibble I have is that I wish they had pushed the metaphor a little more. That is, I wish 'bringing heaven to earth' had been a little more obvious in each chapter because I thought at times it was a bit obscured by other things. It doesn't take away from the book. It just means that a little more work has to be done to find it.

This is an excellent volume and I think it will be a welcome edition to anyone's library–preacher, teacher, church member/parishioner, Protestant or Catholic, or whoever. I applaud the men on their work of bringing this timely message to bear on the church in these days.

5*/5

Disclaimer: I was provided an ARC via the Waterbrook Multnomah Blogging for Books readers' program. I was not compensated or asked to write a favorable review. I was only expected to be honest and that I have been. Enjoy.

 

Jesus OTLTitle: Jesus Outside the Lines

Author: Scott Sauls

Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers

Year: 2015

Pages: 210

Disclaimer: Happily I was provided a free copy of Jesus Outside the Lines via Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my free and unbiased review of the book. Joyfully, I present to you my review–free of additives, preservatives, and sugary marshmallow shapes. Just my undiluted opinion, free of charge, here at Typepad and around the web at such places as GoodReads, Amazon, and elsewhere. Thanks for reading.

I noticed a couple of times in the book that Saul's quotes people with whom we might have a difference of opinion or two. In the introduction, he quotes as a source of authority Chris Stedman who happens to be a chaplain, at Harvard, and an atheist. There's a part of me that kind of cheers that Sauls finds something in common with Stedman, but there's another part of me that shudders because in quoting Stedman as an authority, early on in the book, he is allowing Stedman to set the agenda for the book. Maybe that's a good thing; I'm not sure. To be sure, he also quotes from Tim Keller and Tim Kreider and Jesus and Dostoyevsky and dozens of others. Slowly he builds his case that we should all be able to talk to one another peacefully even though we may disagree with one another on about every conceivable subject.  So:

Is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love that person deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and simultaneously embrace those who reject your deep convictions? (xxv)

And:

Do you want to be known for the people, places, and things that you are for instead of the people, places, and things you are against? Do you want to overcome the tension of wanting to be true to your beliefs and engage the culture? Are you ready to move away from polarizing conversations and toward Jesus and your neighbor? (xxvii)

This is the thesis of the book and the rest of the book explores this thesis with, surprisingly, some depth. And not surprisingly, he begins by discussing politics. I was prepared to roll my eyes frequently but early on he wrote this, "…when it comes to kings and kingdoms, Jesus sides with himself" (5). I agree. Then he ends with this thought concerning you and me: "Seek first the kingdom of God…, and all these things will be added to you" (19). I have engaged enough political debates on blogs and FB to know where my buttons are and I am able to simply avoid those conversations.

This might be key to all of our understanding of loving people and disagreeing with them. When I see a thought I disagree with, I assume first that it is just that: a thought. In other words, I try to remember that on the other side of the thought there is a person that I love or who may love me. IF I cannot handle the thought, I don't engage it because I prefer to remain in love and in friendship with the person who wrote it. It takes a lot of work, but learning not to be bothered by other people's ideas is a huge step in maturity. Learning how to peacefully disagree is another step in the journey. Learning how to see people instead of mere thoughts is Jesus. Being able to laugh with others, learn from others, listen to others, and love them deeply is probably something close to divinity.

Sauls frequently confronts the reader with the idea that Christians haven't always been the most gracious, kind, and loving people on earth when it comes to our disagreements with those who hold to a different worldview. We have tended to get all worked up, start campaigns, or believe, naively, that the only way to win a conversation is to elect a certain politician who will make our point of view law. That'll show 'em! I think Sauls does a fairly good job of helping us bridge that massive gulf between what we believe and how we treat others because of those beliefs. He tackles some fairly significant topics along the way towards peace–because ultimately, Sauls is playing the role of the peacemaker in this book–such as abortion, money, sexuality, church, poverty, and suffering. At times his thoughts are deep and at other times his thoughts are a little confusing; at times his exegesis is spot on and at other times it is a bit sketchy; and at times his voice is clear and prophetic and other times he really needed a better editor.

With all that being said, the book grew on me. I started out with my typical skepticism and by the time I got to the end I was in a fair amount of agreement with him. The book is subtitled: A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides. No one should get this book and attempt to read it with the expectation that Sauls is going to lay out a step by step set of instructions for this 'way forward.' Instead, he is going to tell us some stories, talk to us about Jesus, point out where our flawed definitions of Bible things have caused us to see things with eyes fixed on the wrong thing. The book is going to cause the reader to stop and listen to Jesus and to 'examine the self.' Maybe all of us would do well to pause each day and examine ourselves or ask God to do a deep search of our souls and see if there be in us any unrighteous thoughts or way. The Spirit searches all things. Maybe we should invite the Spirit in for some housecleaning.

Interestingly, the following quote sort of summed up the book for me: "If Christianity has something to significant to contribute to the question of suffering and evil, it is that Christianity is incredibly realistic about how messed up the world is" (153-154). I have two thoughts, one negative and one positive. First, the negative, 'if' is a big word. I think I understand his point, but I also think that given the nature of our our faith (cruciform), 'if' is a bit too squishy. Here I believe his sentiment should have been a little more concrete and affirming. Second, the positive, if his point is true, and I think it is, then we (christians) are, and should continue to be, incredibly realistic about how messed up the world is. Let's live in hope that God has redeemed this world, but also let us be incredibly real about the hope we have in Jesus precisely because of the suffering he endured.

So this, which I think is Sauls' point: let's be honest. Let's stop acting like the world is so easily divided into 'us and them' or 'we and they' or 'me and you.' All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Problem in the church is that we simply forget this because we come to church on Sundays. We seem to forget that we, too, were 'once like them' (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-12; Ephesians 2:11-22). If there should be any compassion, it should flow from this idea that we were once like those with whom we so often disagree. And if there is compassion and mercy it should not come from arrogance or hypocrisy or condescension, but from compassion, weeping, and grace. I think a large part of the problem with the church is that we have forgotten to remember…many things.

I came away from this book reminded to be sober in my thinking about others–especially those with whom I have philosophical or theological differences. I came away reminded that even though Sauls nicely divides the world in binaries, that the world is not so easily categorized as black and white.

Sauls does a good job balancing the book between self-deprecating stories and faith-hero stories–but he is never the subject of the faith-hero stories. He quotes all the standard folks we would expect to see in an Evangelical publication: Lewis, Chesterton, Volf, Lamott, and more. He quotes plenty of Scripture; although, at times it was mere prooftexting. I prefer larger quotes with more context and a little deeper exegesis, but it doesn't kill the book that he does not do things this way. The notes are all at the end of the book, there is no index, and there are no references. He ends the book by again quoting a lengthy swath of ideas from an atheist. I'm not sure how I feel about that, even the thoughts might be helpful, yet it does fall right in line with the theme of his book.

All in all, this was a helpful book and as I noted above, Sauls words and style grew on me as the pages were turned. There is a lot to think about in this book and he certainly makes us pause for a draft of reality as it relates to our own faith in Jesus and how we go about treating other people in the world. Get to know people. Step away from stereotypes. Listen to their words and engage thoughtfully. But always bear in mind that there is a person speaking to us and we may not  know all there is to know just by reading a FB update or Tweet. Talk to people, not ideas; dislike ideas, not people.

Maybe we should do two things. First, join Jesus outside the lines already drawn and, second, stop drawing new lines.

4.5*/5

 

 

 

Kigndom_conspiracyTitle: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church

Author: Scot McKnight

Publisher: Brazos Press

Year: 2014

Pages: 289

Kingdom Conspiracy

I read a lot of books and I write reviews for most of the books I read. Most of the books I read are kind of popular level books written for the general Christian population among us and they are thus not too deep or theologically hefty. Mostly they are boring.

Every now and again I come across a book that radically alters the way I think about things or the way I believe or understand things. Sometimes a book utterly rebuilds the landscape. Kingdom Conspiracy is one such book. I say this without the slightest hint of hyperbole: this might be one of the most important and significant books written during my generation. That is how important this book is and that is why this book should be read by every Christian–pastor, preacher, and parishioner alike. I think the Pope should read this book–maybe he has. Seminary professors ought to read this book. In a world where words often mean nothing, it's important that we are also careful not to make words mean anything or everything. This, I think, is key to understanding McKnight's ideas in Kingdom Conspiracy. 

Not everyone who reads this book is going to wholly agree with all of his ideas of what the kingdom of God is (sometimes I thought the hair he was splitting was a little too fine) or his understanding of certain passages of Scripture. But one thing I think everyone can and should agree upon is that whatever we think of the kingdom of God we need to be very careful not to define it too loosely or casually. That is to say: not everything people label as 'kingdom' work is, in fact, kingdom work. (To put a finer point on it: merely calling something 'kingdom' work does not necessarily make it kingdom work or sacred and when we call something kingdom work, even if it is, it is not ours to bypass the church in the process.) Definitions matter as much as articulation. Thus his opening salvo: "Precision begins with defining terms" he writes quoting Marilyn McEntyre. Yes. It does. He goes on: "I lay down an observation that alters the landscape if we embrace it–namely, that we need to learn to tell the story that makes sense to Jesus. Not a story that we ask Jesus to fit into. No, we  to find the story that Jesus himself and the apostles told" (22).

Definitions and articulation matter. What I continue to see and hear–both from pulpits and in the books being published–is that we get it wrong on both marks most of the time. The Americanized gospel of 'join the club, go to church, and follow the rules so you can also go to heaven' is the result of unclear definitions and poor articulation. It's the result of thinking democracy=kingdom. That is decidedly not the kingdom articulated in the Scripture. Again, I see it in the books I read for review and in the sermons I hear and read. I am grateful for preachers like McKnight, N.T. Wright, and others who refuse to take shortcuts around the Bible to make a gospel that Jesus fits into. Frankly, I think if we asked a group of 100 Christians to articulate the Kingdom story, 99 would fail because it simply is not preached in the pulpits: "Until we can articulate the Bible's kingdom story, we can't do kingdom mission" (23). I agree.

I was in his grip after 3 chapters and he never let go.

What has most amazed me since I started (and finished) the book is how aware I have become of kingdom language in the Bible. Don't get me wrong: I think McKnight nails it most of the time when it comes to understanding what Kingdom is and is not. My point is that as I read through the Bible–I am currently teaching through the book of Daniel–I am amazed at the language that is used: kings and kingdoms, kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, and so on. It's all over the place. It's amazing and it is there from front to back, Genesis to Revelation, and all places in between. Maybe someday some fine theologian will do a comprehensive study of the Kingdom of God from the beginning to the end of the Bible. I think it would be a fascinating study. (I'm currently reading a book called The Kingdom according to Luke and Acts by Karl Allen Kuhn which is exploring Kingdom in a small part of the Bible, but he is also nicely tying that story in with the meta-narrative of the entire Bible.)

I'd like to note what I think is probably the most significant aspect of the book for me insofar as giving readers something to practice. I belong to a generation of people who have by and large given up on the church. Let me be honest: I'm on the edge. I'm on the edge because of my experiences as a pastor with churches that have refused to move forward and who found that getting rid of me would make their lives easier. But I haven't given up entirely for two reasons. First, the church hasn't given up on me. If one church has gotten rid of me for their own convenience, another church has taken me in and bathed my wounds. I still love the church; the church still loves me. Second, because the McKnight solidified for me something I have already and always believed: the church and the kingdom are synonymous. Thus: "…kingdom mission is church mission and that kingdom mission is not working for the common good…" (115). Further,

What I am not in favor of is assigning the word 'kingdom' to such actions [as public action or social justice or compassion for the poor or feeding the homeless] in order to render that action sacred or to justify that action as supernatural or to give one the sense that what she or he is doing is ultimately significant. When we assign the word 'kingdom' to good deeds in the public sector for the common good, we take a word that belongs in one place (the church) and apply it in another (the world). In so doing we run the risk of diminishing church at the expense of the world. (115, his emphasis.)

And he's correct. For the Christian, the church should be a significant priority. "Kingdom is the realm of redemption and the redeemed, not what followers of Jesus did in the public sector" (114). Yes. His argument is, admittedly, complex and being able to draw that line in minds that are already persuaded is difficult. Nevertheless, we must indeed have our minds open and our hearts rent so that we can clearly define and articulate bible things. In the tradition I have belonged to for most of my life, this has been a part of our 'doctrine'–that we should call bible things by bible names. This is good. Now my tradition just needs to start defining Kingdom with more accuracy and clarity and then begin articulating it from the pulpits of our churches with more frequency, more duration, and more intensity.

I am glad that McKnight takes up for the church. I am guilty, but I get tired of people running down the church, the body of Christ, the Bride for whom Jesus died. So often people are so busy running the church down that we might think christians can get along with it. We cannot. We need the church. All of us. Yet we struggle.

"It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard. It involves people who struggle with one another, in involves persuading others of the desires of your heart to help the homeless, it means caring for people where they are and no where you want them to be, it involves daily routines, and it only rarely leads to the highs of 'short-term mission' experiences. But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church's mission shapes kingdom mission" (97).

We can do better.We need the church. We need one another. McKnight helped stoke the fires of affection in me for the church again. Maybe I have been too critical; perhaps unfair. With a prophet's insight and conviction, McKnight confronted my own church angst and now restoration has begun in me.

This book asks some difficult, soul-searching questions. It challenges time honored traditions concerning definitions. While I get the point of demarcating this book along lines of 'skinny-jeans christians' and 'pleated-pants christians', I think even McKnight would acknowledge there is a lot of room for frilly-dress and bonnet christians, overalls christians, sweat-pants christians, polyester slacks and silk shirts christians, and many more besides.  In other words, his categories help us see the differences but all of us have this problem of definition. His clear point is this: be careful how you define words because your definition directly affects your articulation. I agree.

The book is heavily researched and, as per usual, given that it is written for a popular audience, notes have been relegated to the end of the book. It is deeply exegetical and contextual–in other words, he doesn't prooftext his readers but thoughtfully engages in exegesis of large swaths of scripture to give context and clarity to his ideas. It contains a substantial subject index which will be helpful for preachers and teachers alike. Sadly, there are no references except what is found in the end notes so following up with his research might prove to be a bit of a chore. This is a book that will not disappoint the thoughtful reader–the person wholly engaged in trying to understand what Scripture says about a particular theological subject.

I simply cannot say enough good about this book. Please read it.

5*/5

Thanks for stopping by for a visit. Below I have published a list of books that I would like to obtain for my classroom. I have these books on cassette and would like the actual book to go along with the cassette. If you have any of these books and would be willing to donate them or sell them to me for a reasonable price, please comment below or contact me via email. Thanks.

Jerry

What have you done, Davy

The Bunny Hop

Just one!

Pigsty

The Apple Pie Tree

Franklin and the Thunderstorm

Franklin’s New Friend

The Grumpy Morning

The Paperboy

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

The Kinderkittens Show and Tell

Tell Me Something Happy Before I go to Sleep

Little Red Riding Hood (Ernst)

Alligator Baby

The Runaway Pumpkin

The Roly-Poly Spider

Poppleton

The Seven Silly Eaters

Walter the Baker

Franklin’s Neighborhood

Bat Jamboree

Toot and Puddle

Make Way for Ducklings

Little Cloud

Sara Squirrel and the Lost Acorns

Stone Soup (McGovern)

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Those Can-Do Pigs

That Fat Hat

The Gingerbread man

Blabber Mouse

Zoom Broom

Moose’s Loose Tooth

The Patchwork Quilt

David Gets in Trouble

Possum’s Harvest Moon

Monkey Mo Goes to Sea

Strega Non Meets her Match

When the Earth Wakes

I’m a little Teapot

Sweet Dream Pie

A Bad Case of Stripes

Barney Beagle Goes Camping

What’s the Matter with that Dog?

I Can Read about Dinosaurs/Trucks & Cars/Seasons/Baby Animals

What Will the Weather Be Like Today?

Clifford the Firehouse Dog

Franklin’s Halloween

YOKO (Wells)

Inside a Barn in the Country

Comet’s Nine Lives

Finders Keepers for Franklin

Hopper’s Treetop Adventure

Monster Movie

Colors of the Rain Forest

PossibleTitle: Possible

Possible @Amazon.com

Author: Stephan Bauman

Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers

Year: 2015

Pages: 205

World Relief

"These principles apply equally to us, to our own families, churches, schools, and organizations. Without a biblical understanding of wealth in its full array…"–140

In my mind, this quote, albeit shortened but not wholly out of context, sums up this book's major problem. In my opinion, it was entirely too focused on issues surrounding money (or finance, or microfinance, or economics, or capital, etc.) and there was nothing about it that was a specific call to the church. A specific call to the church may or may not have been Bauman's objective, but there's enough language within the book that made me think he was writing from a christian perspective and that he might be issuing a summons to the church to get up and get busy. At this point we might agree, but the above quote puts the whole book in perspective: these principles apply to anyone, anywhere, and within any group and the church is merely another group or organization that needs to get on board.

Thus the church may or may not be relevant to his conversation. Frankly, I came away from the book wondering.

This seems to me sort of ironic given how much connection his organization, World Relief, seems to have with the church (see above link). He notes on page 130 that "…if you are passionate about development economics, microfinance, or fair trade, you would ideally also have an MBA in business, finance, or banking, and your network would span both the academic and professional worlds, reaching also into the majority world." I came away from the book thinking that perhaps for the work he is asking us to do an M. Div. might be of more use; however, the most significant problem I see in the book is he talks a lot about money and finance and broken people–all important topics, yes, but what about the message that accompanies all these good works he is asking us to do? I struggled mightily to find a place in the book where we are explicitly called to speak the Gospel using our mouths.

I am not one to sit here behind my computer screen typing furious criticisms about those who are going out into the so-called third world and helping victims of violence, refugees of war, oppressed children and women, and so on. No. That's not nearly my point. The point is that we can very well go into the world and fix this and fix that and elevate this person and give them relief for a little while, but what happens when we never talk about why we are there, about who compelled us to be there, and the message that provokes our every move? To be sure, he does talk about the Gospel on pages 80-82 (and other places too) but really only to point out that the Gospel is not only about evangelism and 'saving us from our sins.' Here we agree. The Gospel is also about what we do, yes!, and again, Yes! But Bauman is nearly taking his criticism to the point of excluding a Word at all. So if his point is that we must include deeds of social justice/activism alongside our preaching of the Gospel, then let him also note that we cannot cut off the right hand just to empower the left. As Rich Mullins was wont to sing, "Faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine" I might turn it around and say something like, "Works without the Word is, well, just works."

If faith without works leaves God with a black eye or cripples Christianity (81), then how much does it damage people who see our good deeds but never hear our words? I think there needs to be a balance because our mission is not to simply go into the world 'for the greater good' or even to 'change the world.' Our mission is to go into the world and bring the world good news of the saving grace of God through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. People may well see our good deeds and give praise to the Father, but faith comes by hearing the Word of God. I think Bauman should have striven for more balance to his approach.

I'll go a little further with this criticism. In Appendix B (pp 173-182) Bauman goes into great detail about what a community is and how to build that community. As I read it, I kind of shook my head because, well, don't we already have a community? Isn't that community already defined? And most of those communities have already discovered, bridged, and mobilized their assets. I wonder just a little about why he seems to think the church is not enough. So two things happened for me. One, I questioned who is audience was and, two, I came away from the book not feeling like Bauman has a very strong opinion of the church or at least not much confidence in the church as an agent of God's activism in this world. If the church is merely another organization in the world that seeks to 'change culture,' then perhaps we can rightly ask if the church is at all necessary?

I will venture one final squabble and that is with his conception of who Jesus was and what Jesus came to do here on earth. On page 30 Bauman writes these strange two paragraphs:

"If you believe we need to desperately change how we change the world, and if you sense we are experiencing an unprecedented moment in history, then where do we start?

Just as with Luther and Jesus and Bono and so many others: with a complaint."

I confess that these two sentences trouble me for three reasons. First, is he really lumping Jesus in with Luther and Bono? Second, is he really saying that Jesus did what he did because of mere complaint? Third, was Jesus a mere activist? Reformer? I'm not going to dwell here except to say that Jesus must not be relegated to mere activist with a complaint and his work must not be mitigated to mere reformation–as if Jesus went around doing nothing but fixing all the world's broken people and stuff. His work was much more comprehensive and lasting. And he rarely fixed anything without also preaching the Good News. Again, I wanted balance and it was not there.

I understand full well what Bauman is saying and what he is hoping to accomplish in this book and to a certain degree I fully agree with him: the world is really a terrible place at times and God has raised us up to do something about it and often the church fails. I don't think our world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis as he seems to think or that it is now somehow worse than it was 15, 20 or 100 years ago. Every generation can say they live in unprecedented times of social and cultural crisis. So, the saying is true: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" I'm not even saying that starting with a complaint is a bad idea. I am saying that this version of Jesus does not satisfy what the Scripture has taught us about Jesus and why Jesus came to the earth in the first place and when we neglect that, then we are going to be unbalanced in the work we are called to do. There are plenty of people who can do activism and advocate for the weak and forgotten. If that's all Jesus came for, then it seems like it may have been a wasted trip.

Balance is what this book fails to achieve.

The book reads fast. I came away at times out of breath the pace is so fast. He tells a lot of stories that are, indeed, compelling, moving, and heart wrenching. I confess that I kind of grew weary of reading about his wife's work. I also wondered what some of the stories had to do with the church. Just because a person does something activism related doesn't necessarily mean they are doing Kingdom work; a good work, perhaps, but not necessarily a God work. And finally I'm still a little concerned that his overall point is that we need to work on 'changing the culture' (103). I am just not sure that's the point. It's a nice idea, but it's not practical; it's compelling, but not the Messiah's objective.

All told, there's not anything wrong with his ideas (I'm a little hazy on exactly what the blueprint is) and there's nothing in the book that is necessarily opposed to Jesus and there are plenty of times when I agreed with him heartily (e.g., his discussion in chapter 3 about 'calling'). He quotes all the right people and tells all the right stories from Tolkien, Lewis, Bonhoeffer, and others. At the heart, who can disagree that we need to get up and get something done for the people of the world? My criticism of this book is that its under-girding theology is weak and there is a deep sense of imbalance between going and speaking.

3*/5

[Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC via Multnomah-WaterBrook Blogging for Books book review program. I was not compensated or asked to write a favorable review, just an honest review. Thanks for stopping by and reading. Reviews are also available at Amazon.com and Goodreads.]