Rumors of God by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson

I just finished reading Rumors of God by Darren Whitehead (Willow Creek) and Jon Tyson (Trinity Grace Church: NYC). More than anything else, this is Whitehead and Tyson’s attempt at describing what the Christian life looks like in 2011. They cover a range of topics including: abundant life, God’s dream for humanity, generosity, love, grace, freedom, commitment, community, justice, and hope.

For me, the strength of the book comes in two areas.  FIrst, they do an excellent job of describing our modern context. For instance:

Ironically, the culture grows increasingly more “spiritual” while the church grows increasingly more practical.

In another passage they guess the dreams of many modern Americans,

You would like to have more money – financial stability. A comfortable living environment would be nice, perhaps a newer car. You’d have a progressing career, be respected in your field. You’d like to have emotionally healthy friends, who are energetic, encouraging, spontaneous, and fun. Maybe you’d wish to change something about your appearance – lose a few pounds, be taller, more athletic. If you’re single, you might desire to find a life partner, someone supportive, kind, and attractive (not just on the inside. Maybe you want to have kids. Or maybe you already have kids, and you want them to be well-educated, high-functioning, successful, well-mannered children who do better in school than your friends’ kids.

They then helpfully compare this with God’s dream for our lives.

The second thing they do very well is tell stories of grace and transformation from their communities. In several places they describe people whose lives have been utterly reshaped by the Gospel.

Overall, the book is well-written and clearly communicates their central concept that the Christian faith is remarkable and thriving even in a world where people are more skeptical than ever about the Christian faith. I’d recommend this book most to people who are trying to teach the gospel to a modern audience in ways that are engaging and simple.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Simple Life

I just finished reading, The Simple Life: Time, Relationships, Money, God by Thom S. and Art Rainer.  You may know Thom from books like Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples and Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts.

Based on a survey of 1,077 individuals, Thom and Art saw that an overwhelming number of people from all walks of life said they need greater simplicity in their lives in order to be more fulfilled.  Specifically, they wanted more simplicity in the areas of time, relationships, money, and God.

So, in a nutshell, the authors applied the concepts from Simple Church to these four areas.  These concepts are:

  • Clarity: knowing where you’re going
  • Movement: intentional, incremental steps
  • Alignment: making sure your life lines up with your goals
  • Focus: eliminating things outside of your goals, even if they are good things.

For whatever reason, it wasn’t simple for me to read this book.  I think after I saw the basic concepts, I pretty much knew where everything was heading.  Basically, the idea of the book is applying the concepts of clarity, movement, alignment, and focus to one’s personal life.  So, no big surprises here.

As a pastor, I think focus is the hardest thing for me.  It’s easy, for the most part, to say no to bad things.  It’s difficult when you have to choose between two, or more, good things.  A little clarity and alignment goes a long way in making those decisions in our lives.

So, in the end, cool cover, good ideas, borrow a copy from a friend or read Simple Church and apply those ideas to your life.  However, if you’re a layperson who doesn’t want to read Simple Church, then Simple Life might be just what you’re looking for.

Book Review: A Lovers Quarrel with the Evangelical Church

I just finished reading Warren Cole Smith’s A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.  You can find the official website here.  You could probably more accurately call this book, Smith’s Quarrel with the Republican-Evangelical Alliance, Historical Amnesia, Megachurches, Christian Consumerism, Pragmatic Evangelism, and the Uncritical Embrace of Technology.  If you’re in the camp that equates the Evangelical Church with these six characteristics, then you’ll likely be on board with Smith’s critiques.  However, I don’t tend to lump these together uncritically.  

For instance, in the chapter on Megachurches, Willow Creek and Joel Osteen’s congregation are both included as examples of the triumph of sentimentality.  I, however, wouldn’t lump these two in any category outside of sheer size.  It is also hard to see the hard and fast link between technology and megachurch growth while I’m serving in a megachurch that doesn’t use video screens during Sunday morning services.  

All in all, Smith’s critiques aren’t critiques the average seminary student hasn’t heard by their second or third year. Smith’s audience is likely laypeople who already have an issue with any of the things listed above.

Strangely enough, Smith’s conclusions seem to come from a different planet than his critiques.  While reading the first six chapters, I thought it would be impossible for me to recommend this book to anyone.  Chapters seven and eight softened my stance.  Strangely enough, Smith’s prescription for fixing what he describes in the first six chapters is a movement of strategic church planting movements and strong biblical communities.  In fact, I find it hard to see the connections between what he describes and what he prescribes.  However, in the end, I would say I agree with the prescription even if I don’t totally agree with the diagnosis.  

Even with the sharp turn at the end, I would have a hard time recommending this book.  If you know me you can borrow mine, since I won’t be reading it again.

So Beautiful

A few weeks back I recieved So Beautiful by Leonard Sweet. I’m not sure what you think of Sweet’s work, but I happen to be a fan.  So many of the books I read these days seem to be a rehashing of the latest greatest common wisdom of the day, but I never get that feeling when I’m reading Sweet’s material.  Instead, you find a person passionately thinking through the issues within the church, sometimes pushing boundaries, but never boring.  So Beautiful carries on this same tradition, but doesn’t rehash even Sweet’s own work.
The title refers to the description of the discovery of DNA and loosely refers to the three strands Sweet sees as essential to the Church: Missional, Relational, and Incarnational.  If you’re expecting an extended reflection on the DNA metaphor, that’s not what you’re really going to get.  However, if you’re interested in a tour of Sweet’s latest thinking on the Church, you’re in for a treat.  In fact, the word that kept popping into my mind as I read this was, “conversational.”  It was almost as if I was just listening to Sweet in a conversation, popcorning ideas from one moment to the next.
You can find a sample chapter here, if you’d like to explore the book a bit for yourself, or just follow Sweet on Twitter here (he’s consistently one of the better “tweeters” out there, by the way).

Great Questions, Commentary Guides, & Ministry Thoughts

Every now and then I like to share really helpful posts and thoughts that I come across, and today is one of those days.  Scot McKnight is one of my favorite biblical scholars.  He is very sharp without being inaccessible, and he is a clear communicator.  In my line of work, these are the kind of teachers I seek out constantly.

He has an excellent series on his blog right now asking thought provoking questions about the Kingdom of God.  Check it out here:

He also writes with pastors in mind, as in his series recommending his favorite New Testament commentaries:

Finally, I’ve been really interested in reading the shifts that have taken place in some of the more obviously successful new church endeavors.  Craig Groeschel from Life Church, right here in Oklahoma, has been making some interesting comments lately on his blog that have given me much food for thought.

BWIII on Viola’s Reimagining Church

If you haven’t, you need to go over and check out Ben Witherington’s comments on Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church. He really spends a lot of time interacting with Viola’s work, and I think you’ll find some interesting insights here.

On the first post, Ben indicates that Frank will respond to these comments, Ben will respond to the response, and then Frank will have a last word.  I look forward to this conversation!

Powerful Reading

During seminary, I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and I really enjoyed it. Last week I checked out Sue Monk Kidd’s book, Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings, from the local library. Apparently Merton had a big influence on her life and writing, so it inspired me to buy more of Merton’s works. I had just sold a few books on Amazon.com, so I ordered two of his books with my earnings: New Seeds of Contemplation, and Spiritual Direction & Meditation.

Wow. New Seeds of Contemplation is a book I really needed to read during this time of my life. I wouldn’t have got much out of this book if I had read it any earlier, so I’m thanking God for this providential coincidence (how’s that for a paradoxical phrase). There are times while I’ve been reading it yesterday evening and this morning that I’ve found that Merton knows me far too well! I’ll just warn you, don’t read this if you don’t have time to stop and pray.