Categotry Archives: books

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Book Review: The Seven Faith Tribes

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Categories: books, TheOOZE

The first book I read with George Barna’s name on it was Revolution. It was one of those powerful books that confirmed a lot of things I was seeing, and helped reshape my thinking.

The next book with his name on it was his collaboration with Frank Viola in re-releasing Pagan Christianity. This book ticked me off; in fact, I wrote a review on this blog about it. But over the long haul, I have to admit…despite the inflammatory tone, the information in Pagan Christianity has also deeply influenced my views and shaped my thinking.

This book, The Seven Faith Tribes? Not so much.

In my view, there are several fatal flaws in the book that make it far less than it could have been….

First–while the book acknowledges over 200 different expressions of religion in the United States, it attempts to boil them down to seven tribes. It is statistically impossible to do this without creating irreconcilable contradictions–it just crunches the data too much. One glaring example is the claim that one-third of all atheists/agnostics hold to an orthodox view of God and believe that He exists. (Hello? Doesn’t that defy the definition of either?) I don’t think many people will really see themselves in this book, or identify with any one tribe in particular, because there are just too many generalizations and contradictions.

Second–there is an alarmist tone in the book that seems out of character for a statistics guy. (For example, Chapter One: “America Is On the Path to Self-Destruction.”) While I’m not disputing his assessment per se, it just seems a bit unbelievable that a pollster would carry that strong an agenda in his writing, when most pollsters simply allow the data to speak for itself. It comes across with such a strong tone that it is off putting, and potentially damages his credibility.

Third–the theme of the book (essentially, how the seven faith tribes in America can focus on their common values to help America stop its downward spiral) honestly comes across as contrived for me. It just seems like a book about the seven faith tribes would have something more to do with revealing the kingdom of God than rescuing America, or that a book about rescuing America would take a different approach altogether. From the beginning, associating this data with this agenda doesn’t seem to fit, and is a line of thinking I can’t see most people connecting with.

Fourth–the book admits that it is a book about “big ideas”, but really does not make connection with the size audience it would need to bring those big ideas to reality. While describing the seven faith tribes, in reality it is only likely to reach one of the seven tribes Barna describes–mainly the “Captive Christians”. The premise of the seven faith tribes coming together around their shared interests requires being able to reach out to all seven tribes, and I don’t see this book having that kind of audience, especially with the conservative worldview the book itself carries.

So all told, the book was disappointing for me, and I lost interest early on simply because I had a hard time connecting with the premise. The data and research are useful enough; it’s just that I felt they could have been applied in a more practical way.

This book review is part of TheOoze Viral Bloggers.

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Book Review: "A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church" by Warren Cole Smith

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Categories: books, current issues, theological questions, TheOOZE

I have to say, I had a pretty complex reaction to this book. I selected to review the book because its title and description suggested to me that it was an unflinching look at some of the issues of the modern church. (And for the most part, it was.)

I thought the book would give an honest assessment of the lasting fruit of the evangelical movement, and tackle issues like greed and corruption. (And for the most part, it did.)

I did NOT expect it to be a book largely centered around and promoting Calvinistic theology. And that killed it for me.

If I had wanted to read a book about Calvinistic doctrine, I would have picked a book whose title suggested it. While making some very valid points about the state of evangelicalism, its detachment from the broader history of the church, its failure to retain a large percentage of its converts over the long term, and its product/brand industrialism…the author’s main point seemed to be theological in nature, using the symptoms described above as evidence of faulty theology. Warren Cole Smith, a journalist, never specifically says he subscribes to Reformed theology; however, his multitude of favorable references to Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and Reformed doctrine (not to mention his negative references to Charles Finney and Arminianism) make his bias clear.

The problem I have with this is that the book was billed as a journalistic expose, not an argument of a theological viewpoint. And for this, I fault the author with the same bait-and-switch tactics he would no doubt accuse evangelicalism of. I simply do not like being taken in under false pretense.

I mentioned that Smith is a journalist. And to the extent that he functions as one, I think he actually does a good job of it. When he is presenting facts and sorting through the data, the information he presents is very helpful. While I didn’t concur that all the data points to a problem (he seems to believe the church’s use of modern technology is a negative, for example), there can be no doubt that the evangelical church has some major problems, and he presents that case pretty well. I found myself heartily agreeing with him on several of these points, and he filled in a lot of historical gaps for me along the way.

It is when he began drawing conclusions about the data that his true agenda came to the forefront, and his journalism began to fall short. Some of his conclusions were over-drawn, in fact. For example, he repeatedly stated that evangelicalism’s separation from the church of history flirted with denying the Incarnation of Christ–without ever really explaining clearly how the two were connected. Also, he gave two quotes (with no context) from revivalist Charles Finney to claim that Finney rejected the core doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s sinfulness–when in my view, the quotes did no such thing. I am neutral about Finney, myself, because I don’t know enough about his doctrine to say either way. But any journalist, especially Christian, should know better than to label someone a heretic without providing more substantive proof of such a claim.

But even more provocative than this is the fact that Cole’s overall conclusions about what should be done to rescue evangelicalism were more about theology than they were about methodology. What is surprising to me is that I would have thought someone having a “lover’s quarrel” with evangelicalism would lean to the liberal side of things; in fact, Cole does the opposite. To me, there was a clear “this-is-the-right-way-to-believe” vibe in what he wrote that left little latitude for other interpretations; and again, he did not properly tie the data to his claims.

It isn’t that I have a particular issue with or grudge against Calvinists or Reformed theology; I tend to take theology with a grain of salt, anyway, including my own. My beef was that I came away feeling utterly preached to and lectured, rather than simply informed. I thought journalists were supposed to be neutral.

BOTTOM LINE: Can’t recommend it, at least, not as a fair assessment of the issues tackled in the book. The strong Reformed bias overshadows the good information that can be gleaned. (At least, it did for me.) This is not the kind of book that convinces people to change their thinking–it will likely only rally those who already agree with it. Which means Calvinists would probably love it. 🙂 Thumbs down for me.

This review is posted as part of TheOOZE Viral Bloggers network.

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Book Review: "Strange Fire, Holy Fire" by Michael J. Klassen

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Categories: books, theological questions

In his book Strange Fire, Holy Fire, author Michael Klassen takes an honest and unflinching look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of the charismatic movement that has been so much a part of his own background. Drawing from his own experience and the experiences of others for examples, he attempts to “separate the wheat from the chaff” by holding the various beliefs and practices up to the light of Scripture through Biblical scholarship.

In the interest of disclosure, Mike Klassen is a friend of mine. We played on the same worship team at ORU together, and after being out of touch for over 20 years, we re-established contact last fall. So I read an autographed copy of this book, complete with a personal note from Mike inside the cover–which admittedly might make my copy a little more attractive than yours. 🙂 All joking aside, and despite the risk of bias, I purposed to read this book with the same scrutiny as I would any other, with the determination that I would be honest with myself and with my readers about any negatives as well as positives. In fact, I found myself a little reluctant to begin reading–because what if the book sucked and I had to say so on the blog? 🙂

Having said that…I read the book, and if I have to be completely honest….

…I loved this book. (Whew! It didn’t suck!)

Having a long history within the charismatic movement myself, I obviously related to much of what he shares in the book. But even if you don’t share that background, if you read the book, you’ll come away with a better understanding of charismatic belief and practice, how it came about, and where it fits in the greater context of church history. In a conversational manner, Mike goes into some the history of the Pentecostal and charismatic streams (they are not quite the same), and the differences in belief and practice. Also, chapter by chapter, he holds up various elements of the more common beliefs and practices, examines them honestly in the light of Scripture, and reveals where they stand up and where they fall short. He exposes various abuses of the movement and reveals where the original meanings and context of certain Scriptures have been misconstrued at times to draw the wrong conclusions. He discusses the long-term fruit, both good and bad, and validates those elements of the charismatic experience that have stood the test of Scripture and borne good fruit. It’s essentially an insider’s audit of the entire movement, with a healthy amount of scholarship brought in for balance and context.

If there is any criticism I would have, it would be that on one or two occasions I felt that the theological conclusions Mike drew sent the pendulum swinging just a bit too far the other direction, rather than bringing it back to the middle. While successfully deconstructing some commonly held (but incorrect) beliefs and practices, his “re-construction” in the other direction once or twice seemed to me to be equally unsupportable by Scripture. (I won’t give specifics so if you read the book you can draw your own conclusions.) Sometimes when the Scripture doesn’t support one view fully, neither does it fully support the opposite view; in such cases I’m learning to be okay with the mystery of not really knowing how it works. 🙂 So that’s probably why I’d be a bit sensitive to this kind of thing. So much of the problem with our modern theology is that we insist on solid or pat answers, and when those answers are tested and fall short…we would sometimes do better not to replace them with new pat answers.

See…I can be objective. 🙂

Mike says of his own book that he wrote it “for people like me”–people who have experienced wounding in their connection with the charismatic movement, and who need to discern what was bad, and why–as well as what was good about their experience. The book carries a theme of healing throughout, expressing a desire to see people move past their pain and carry with them the great blessings he believes are ultimately part of this move of God. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that not throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a huge thing for me–so I’m sure you can understand why this approach appeals to me. 🙂 That’s what I see Strange Fire, Holy Fire as doing–helping to separate baby from bathwater in this movement, so we can keep what is good and do away with what is bad.

BOTTOM LINE REVIEW: Highly Recommended.

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"ReJesus" Review part 2

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Categories: books, Jesus, TheOOZE

Yesterday, I posted a conversation with Michael Frost about his recent book with Alan Hirsch, ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church. Today, I’ll share my impressions about the book.

I was immediately interested in reading this book because I’d read Hirsch & Frost’s previous book, The Shaping of Things to Come, which has had a lasting impact on me. ReJesus was also an impacting book, but in a much different way. While the first book was filled with a lot of information and practical ideas about how the church should be shaped (and re-shaped) to engage our world, this book was more about where the church–and believers as part of the church–should be focused in their faith: upon Jesus as the center, rather than the institutions of church. Not the skewed pictures of Jesus, the many ways we re-make Him in our image, but the authentic Jesus that the Bible actually describes. To phrase it as Michael Frost would, Shaping was about ecclesiology (the structure/function of church), while ReJesus is about Christology. Here is another way of looking at it. In emergent/missional circles we often hear about the “ancient-future” approach. While Shaping was focused on the “future” part–ReJesus is more about the “ancient” part. But even beyond focusing on ancient traditions of the church, Hirsch and Frost go all the way back to the Founder of our faith as the necessary anchor, expressing our need as the church to sort of “reboot”, to return to Jesus as foundational to all “re-shaping” that must take place.

Because of this focus, while the first book really engaged my mind and confirmed a lot of what I was thinking and feeling about the church itself–reading this book was more of a spiritual experience for me personally. I could feel myself adjusting and shifting in the soul as I read–hungering to engage this real Jesus in a deeper way. In a way, it felt like each chapter was its own experience, and God encountered me in a different way within each one. I realize that’s subjective, and I’m not suggesting this will happen to you if you read the book; I’m just saying that’s how I responded as I read it.

If you approach this book with the expectation that Frost and Hirsch are going to simply debunk the inaccurate images of Jesus and replace them with the “real” historical one, you will probably be disappointed, because that really isn’t the point. Yes, the Biblical Jesus is described here at some level, but more importantly, the reader is invited to engage Jesus rather than just study about Him–to know Him not just by description, but by experience.

The only weakness I perceived in ReJesus is that Frost and Hirsch tend to make numerous references to their previous books to reinforce what they are saying in this one–to the point that on a couple of occasions, had I not already been familiar with those books, the point might have been lost on me. I realize this was probably to keep from repeating too much information, but in some cases it might have been better to be redundant for the benefit of people who were reading these authors for the first time–even if it made the book a bit longer.

I blog often about the need for the church to function like an organism rather than an institution, and how we need to adapt as an organism to our environment (not changing our principles, but our methods). Once a reader asked me what would happen to the church if, in our “adapting”, we adapted ourselves away from Jesus and the gospel. My answer was, “It would no longer be the church.” And the reality is, over centuries of institutionalizing the church, we have drifted from Jesus–not completely, but in framing Him according to the parts of Him that appeal to us, and in distorting the image of who He really was/is. There is a great need in all our expressions of church to recalibrate back to our founding principles, and to our Founder Himself–to recover our focus on Jesus and truly be His disciples again, as the starting point for all that we do. And this is why the discussion in ReJesus is so important.

BOTTOM LINE REVIEW: Highly recommended.

This review is posted as part of TheOOZE Viral Bloggers network.

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"ReJesus" Review Part 1: A Conversation with Michael Frost

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Categories: books, changing mindsets, church, Jesus

As mentioned previously, in conjunction with reviewing the book ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church…I had the opportunity to chat with one of the book’s authors, Michael Frost. Michael serves as Vice-Principal of Morling College in Sydney, Australia, and is the director of the Tinsley Institute at the college. Besides co-authoring two books with Alan Hirsch (ReJesus is their second collaboration), Michael has written numerous books on his own, Exiles probably being the most well-known. He is also the founder of the missional community “smallboatbigsea”, and travels and speaks internationally.

Distance being an issue, we opted to converse by online chat. Below is the transcript of our conversation. Due to the length of the conversation, I’ve chosen to break the review into two posts. My actual review of the book will be posted tomorrow.
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me: Thanks again for agreeing to chat with me. I count it a real privilege.

Michael: Not at all. I appreciate the opportunity very much.

me: This first question is sort of in two parts. You have now co-written two books with Alan Hirsch—The Shaping of Things to Come and now ReJesus. First—how did you and Alan come to collaborate on the first one; and second—what prompted you to collaborate again on this one?

Michael: Alan and I have been dear friends for about 15 years. We launched a missional church planting training program about a decade ago and Shaping was basically our write-up of the curriculum we used in that course. Quite frankly, we simply expected to sell a few hundred copies every year to the participants in the program. To find that it has become an international best seller was a huge surprise to us. Somehow, from way down here in Australia, and unbeknown to us, we were tapping into a global conversation. In fact we feel quite privileged to have been able to contribute to that conversation through that book. As for ReJesus, well we thought it was the logical next step. If Shaping was exploring a missional ecclesiology we thought it natural to then explore a missional Christology, since we had posited the formula that Christology must lead to missiology and then to ecclesiology. We are currently writing our third book.

me: That’s pretty amazing, watching it take off like that…I read Shaping at just the right time in my journey, and it verbalized a lot of stuff I was already feeling.

Michael: Amazing how many people say that! The most common compliment I get about that book is that it resonated with what people were thinking/feeling but hadn’t yet verbalized. It’s a great blessing to give words and concepts to others peoples’ intuitions.

me: And considering how revolutionary it must sound in some circles (“Christendom is dead?”) 🙂 …that positive response must have been pretty encouraging as well…

Michael: Well, I don’t want to overstate how positive the response was. There were plenty of people who hated it. My favorite negative response I got was that Alan and I were “ecclesiastical terrorists”!! What did excite me though was that it was church planters, missionaries, youth pastors, welfare workers etc who really picked up on the book. In other words, the real missionaries in our midst knew what we were talking about. It seemed that the denominational leaders of church bureaucrats and large-church pastors who were incensed by it. Interestingly, it seems even those guys are coming around somewhat these days.

me: Let’s talk a moment about the word “reJesus”, because I’ve noticed a few people have had some mixed reactions to the title of the book when I mention it to them. For the benefit of those who haven’t yet read the book—what does “reJesus” mean?

Michael: Yeah, some people have thought it means “regarding Jesus” as in re:Jesus. But we used the term to refer to reJesusing the church, that is, refocusing the church around its Founder and less around instititionalism, bureaucracy and the latest marketing strategies. It’s an idealistic book in many respects. It urges readers to explore what Jesus actually had in mind when calling people to follow him. Did he have in mind the enormous global corporation we have now? Or was his radical plan to unleash an organic movement of “little Jesuses” into the world to infect that world with the values and message of his new kingdom?

me: So…reJesus means more of a re-turning to Jesus, rather than “re-imagining” Him or “re-inventing” Him? (That’s some of the misunderstanding I’m getting from folks here.)

Michael: Interesting! I hadn’t had that reaction. No, it’s not about reinventing Jesus. It’s about allowing the person and message of Jesus to re-infect our churches: to assess everything we do on the basis of his original vision and example. In other words, would Jesus be comfortable as a member of many of our churches? What would need to change? What needs to be abandoned and what needs to be taken up if we took seriously our role as followers of the radical messiah, Jesus? Alan and I begin the book talking about a day we spent visiting St Peters in the Vatican and asking ourselves, where is the wild, radical Nazarene to be found among all this wealth and religious paraphernalia?

me: In the book, you and Alan talk about the tendencies we humans have to picture Jesus according to the parts of His nature we most gravitate toward—to sort of co-opt Jesus and frame Him according to our image, or our desires. Why do you think we do this?

Michael: I guess we do that with everyone we meet. We have certain categories and boxes into which we seem to need to put people and it’s easier to make sense of a neater, simpler world when we do it. I suppose it’s no wonder that we’d do it with Jesus. The other reason, though, has to do with the radical claims he makes and the uncompromising stance he takes. It can be so confronting that it’s just easier to box him into our preferred category and leave him there: gentle Jesus; charismatic Jesus; theologian Jesus. But every time you think you’ve got Jesus boxed he slips out of our grasp (if we take the Gospels seriously) and escapes our attempts to tame him or domesticate him. But this presupposes we are spending some serious time in the Gospels, something I’m not sure we can assume about many Christians. It’s as if the Gospels are seen as elementary stuff. We learn the stories of Jesus in Sunday School as kids and then we graduate to something deeper or richer. But the fact is the gospels are the deep rich vein of life-giving blood for the church. We can’t “move on” from them and simply allow Jesus to remain a caricature to us. Scott Peck called the Gospels “the best kept secret in Christianity.” We can’t continue to allow that to be the case.

me: I definitely know what you mean about the Sunday school versions of Jesus. Having grown up in church, a lot of my picture of Jesus had already been framed before I was old enough to read the Bible…and then, of course, for many years, I let my own formed picture of Him shape how I read Scripture, instead of the other way around.

Michael: That’s a great way to put it. Neither Alan nor I grew up in the church, so perhaps that freed us to come to the gospels with less preconceptions. Having said that, I grew up in a lapsed Catholic family and Alan’s family is Jewish. How odd that the two of us should end up writing about the wild and uncompromising Jesus who shatters all religious convention and ushers in the end of religious institutionalism. We refer to Jacques Ellul a few times in ReJesus. He reminded us that Jesus never instituted a new religion. He signaled the end of religion. Isn’t it bizarre that we’ve spent two centuries building a new religion in Jesus’ name?

me: You and Alan spend some time debunking some of these inaccurate images we have of Jesus; yet some reviewers of the book have expressed an opinion that you are a bit vague in your descriptions of the true, Biblical Jesus. Like “these are the wrong pictures”, but what is the right one? Was this vagueness intentional, or do you feel perhaps this misses the point you were trying to make?

Michael: I’m dismayed by that criticism. We certainly spend some time early in the book looking at false or unhelpful caricatures of Jesus, but the later part of the book, and the final chapter in particular, explores what kind of faith community Jesus built. In those sections we mine the Gospels for the distinct or unique mission of Jesus as he presented it to his followers. Maybe some reviewers don’t read much past p.50. If readers are looking for our replacement caricature of Jesus then they definitely miss the mark. We’re suggesting you can’t tie Jesus down to a one page description of his character and lifestyle.

me: The third chapter of the book—“ReJesus for the Church and the Organization”—was one of the most impacting chapters for me personally. It talks about how, in order to survive over time, any movement (including Christianity) must continually return to the heart and principles of its founder—in our case, Jesus—and how the very structures set in place to perpetuate a movement eventually dilute it, and so must constantly cycle between dismantling and reforming. This gave me a great amount of context for what we see happening in the church right now, with so many people drifting from institutional forms, getting back to basics, attempting to follow Jesus in a more simple manner. It’s part of a healthy cycle. What I’d like to know is…do you have any specific examples of church communities that are purposely “rebooting” in this way, attempting to “reJesus”, and if so, how is it playing out? How are these communities changing?

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Coming Soon: Interview with Michael Frost

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Categories: books, random stuff

Just a heads-up of upcoming happenings on this here blog…

A couple of months ago I mentioned that on occasion, I will be reviewing books for the Viral Bloggers project for TheOoze. The first such review will be of ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church, by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.

As part of the review, Michael Frost has graciously agreed to be interviewed here on the blog.

I’ll be chatting with Michael later this week, and plan to post the interview on Monday, May 4.

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So Now I’m All Oozy and Viral

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Categories: books, link love, TheOOZE

You know, looking at that title up there…I wonder if we’ve taken our computer/Internet terminology in the wrong direction. 🙂

I was contacted this past week by TheOOZE and invited to join their Viral Bloggers Network. As part of this project, I will occasionally be posting reviews of books of interest, and possibly getting to interview some of the authors from time to time.

I’ve taken a look at TheOOZE website, and it is an expansive site with lots of information and resources to encourage the emerging church. There is an emphasis on the arts, community, healthy discussion, and authentic Christ-following. I count it a privilege to contribute to the conversation through this blog.

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Not Crying Foul, Just Asking Questions (or, "Hey, Where’s MY Copy?")

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Categories: books, food for thought

***TONGUE-IN-CHEEK ALERT***

Okay, so a couple of months ago, some of the folks from Frank Viola’s organization apparently read some older references I had made on this blog to the book Pagan Christianity? They emailed and asked if I’d like a “review” copy of the next book Reimagining Church. I emailed back and said yes, please.

Then, after this took place, I actually wrote a review of Pagan Christianity?–admittedly a fairly negative review. At that time, I quipped that I hoped my review would not make the Viola folks change their minds about sending me the next book.

Still waiting…

Actually, since writing that review, several things have happened (and not happened) that are making me go, “Hmmmm….” Consider the following:
  • After writing that review, I received several comments defending Pagan Christianity?, written by people who had not previously commented here, and have not commented since.
  • On another blog discussing P.C. (I cannot remember where), I saw a commentor make a humorous reference to Viola’s “blogger police”–people who apparently do blog searches for the book and defend its contents when necessary. (Whether these people actually exist, I cannot prove; like I said, it just makes me go “Hmmm…”)
  • When I began to get word that other bloggers were receiving their review copies of Reimagining Church, I emailed Viola’s ministry again to inquire why I had not received my copy. I recieved an email back stating that my review copy would come on a “future run”.
  • Other bloggers are now writing their reviews of the new book. Fairly positive ones, I might add. Meanwhile, the book has been released and is now for sale. So much for advance review copies.
Still waiting….

So without unfairly leveling accusations here, this stuff does raise my eyebrows a bit. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the reason I got slated for a “future run” of the new book was because I wrote a negative review of the last one. Meanwhile, people who reviewed the last book positively…they have their copies.

Hmmm….

Not crying foul, just raising the questions:
  • Is the Viola camp attempting to manipulate the Internet and the blogosphere to try to keep their positive spin in the forefront?
  • And if so…how is this any different from the control issues that plague the institutions they themselves appropriately criticize?
Oh, I suppose by now I could go buy the book and review it myself. But I don’t wanna. I did buy the first one, and was promised a free copy of the next one. It’s the principle of the thing.

So just in case this is true–I’d like to offer the following friendly reminder to the Viola people: Publicity is publicity. Negative reviews get your book seen just as much as positive ones do. In fact, I’d suggest that most of the sales of Pagan Christianity? were generated precisely because of the controversy it raised. (That’s why I bought my copy, in fact.) And I don’t even know what kind of review I’d give the next one. Either way–how could a healthy discussion of the issues hurt your case? I mean, really?

So…what about it? Any Viola “blogger police” want to give me some feedback? 🙂

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Books that Have Shaped My Journey Lately…

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Categories: books, Meanderings (look it up)

…besides the Bible, I mean. 🙂 (That one’s always in the picture.)

I have probably read more books in the past 18 months than I have in the previous 10 years. It has been a real season for reading, thinking, and processing for me. Amazon.com should give me an award or something. 🙂

Anywho, I’ve been thinking about my journey over the past couple of years, and pondering about how much change I’ve undergone in my thinking during that time–how God has de-constructed so many mindsets and expanded my perspectives in so many other areas. For anyone who has been reading this blog and thinking, What the HECK is going on in his head???…I figured I’d offer a sort of reading list to trace my journey.

Now, I’m not one who is easily convinced; I’m a natural skeptic, and I have to go over information and really own it before I repeat it. I tried purposely to veer away from streams of thought that I was familiar with (like Word-Faith and spiritual warfare); I wanted to see what was going on outside the normal streams. Some of these books sparked my thinking; some of them verbalized things I’d felt for a long time; some of them irritated me. Some things made me want to throw the book across the room; some things made me want to dance. (Be glad I didn’t. It wouldn’t be purty.) But pretty much all of these had some sort of part to play in where I am today.

  • Revolution by George Barna. In this insightful book, pollster and researcher George Barna reveals current trends in the church and where he feels they will take us in the upcoming decades. This was the first book I ever read that openly talked about taking the practice of one’s faith beyond institutional Christianity. Very inspiring.
  • Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman. I’ve mentioned this one before. I mention it now, not because you particularly need to follow U2’s spiritual journey, but because reading it painted a picture for me of what it might look like to follow Jesus without ever having been immersed in in the institutional church. Raw and messy, perhaps; but focused more on the works of Jesus than the proper church etiquette.
  • Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. Some very good spiritual insights couched in very non-spiritual language. And very, very funny.
  • Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli. A simple but encouraging read about Christians who don’t “measure up”–which is basically all of us.
  • The Gospel According to Starbucks by Leonard Sweet. A good analogy between the experience-oriented mission of Starbucks and having a passionate, experiential faith in Christ. Some good insights on our current culture along the way.
  • Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. A bit rough for my taste (lots of profanity) and questionable theology in spots; but reading the reflections of a believer who obviously sees the world very differently than I do added depth to my own journey and made me think about what I believe.
  • Dear Church by Sarah Cunningham. Written as a series of letters to the church, these are insightful thoughts by a twenty-something preacher’s kid on the status of the church and how twenty-somethings view it.
  • This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley. Written by Donald Miller’s pastor, this is a great look at seeing and participating in the Kingdom of God here on earth. (A bit different than some of the other “kingdom” stuff that has been written.)
  • They Like Jesus But Not the Church by Dan Kimball. I loved the insights in this book; the title pretty much speaks for itself. The Emerging Church, also by Kimball, is also a good read.
  • The Shaping of Things to Come by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch. Took me a long time to work through this one because it’s so rich; but this is probably the book that has most affected my thinking about church in the 21st century. Highly recommended.
  • Jim and Casper Go to Church by, um, “Jim and Casper.” (aka Jim Henderson and Matt Casper) What an eye-opener. Jim and Casper (a long-time minister and an open-minded atheist) visited a wide range of churches across America (the churches are named within), and shares their insights. It is particularly interesting (and devastating) to see our church practices through the eyes of a non-believer.
  • Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer. The reflections of a former career minister on the unlikely people in his path who have taught him more about God.
  • Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Having been forewarned about some questionable theology, I had some reservations going into this one; but with all the talk about it, I felt I needed to be at least conversant about it. It turned out to be one of my favorites. Bell does make some shocking statements that, taken alone, could seem like gate-openers to heresy (perhaps some unfortunate wording?). But putting those few statements in context with the entire book, I don’t think he was really going that way. It will make you think, anyhow.
  • The End of Religion by Bruxy Cavey. Written primarily for seekers and skeptics, this is a great look at how Jesus came not to establish a new religion, but to do away with religion as we understand it.
  • And…as much as I hate to admit it…Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna has shaped my thinking as well. My critique of the preachy tone of the book can be found in this review. As an argumentative piece, I think it falls short, and I certainly don’t agree with many of its conclusions; but reading the origins and history of many of our common church practices was eye-opening and helpful overall. So in all fairness, I have to include it in the list. 🙂
There are numerous other titles I’ve been reading, but these are among the standouts. As a bit of a postscript–some of you emergent-church thinkers might notice that there are no titles by Brian McLaren on my list. Interestingly, McLaren is one author I have felt I needed to stay away from at this time. (Call it an inner witness, maybe.) Even before I heard about some of his more permissive theology in the opinions of some…I guess I felt that if one guy had written that many books about something that’s supposed to be new, it was already being turned into its own “camp”, and camps are something I’m trying to stay away from just now. Obviously, not having read him, I can’t form an opinion either way; just saying what my line of thinking has been.

So…any books on this list that you’ve read? What did you think? Any books you’d like to recommend?

Well?….

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Following Up on "Pagan Christianity"

7 comments

Categories: books, changing mindsets, church

As of the time of this writing, there haven’t been an abundance of comments to my recent review on Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. (I recognize I’m a bit behind many other bloggers in my review, and many have already moved on from this conversation.) However, of the four comments I’ve had so far, three have sided in favor of the book. Their thoughtful remarks, and reading some of the follow-up content on Frank Viola’s website, have prompted me to follow up a bit as to why I reviewed the book the way I did, and where I was coming from.

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