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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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"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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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.