Pursuing Justice – Review

Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsPursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is simply an outstanding book! Ken Wytsma has brought theological and practical depth to the contemporary Christian “justice” discussion. Ken recognizes that justice is a fad for many post-modern Christians, but Ken spends the first few chapters crafting a theology of justice firmly grounded in Scripture. What I appreciate most about Ken’s book is his measured approach. While he is clearly a passionate advocate for justice (through his work with World Relief, Food for the Hungry, and Kilns College), he brings Biblical balance and wisdom to his passion. So many “service projects” and “short-term mission trips” are just one-night stands with justice & mercy. After the mountain-top experience, we return to the well-worn ruts of our evangelical sub-culture, obedient consumers in the Church/Industrial Complex. Ken’s book will sustain those who desire to radically alter the pattern of their lives, answering the call to participate in the world-transforming work of a God who defines Himself by “justice” (Psalm 146:6-9). This was one of the huge revelations for me in this book–despite being a graduate student in theology, I had somehow missed the fact that justice is an attribute of God (Psalm 9:16). If we really want to know God, and imitate Him, we must pursue justice (Jeremiah 22:13-16). Ken is a wise guide for the journey.

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)


Dreams and Visions – Review

Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? by Tom Doyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an amazing book! I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first. I typically don’t give much credence to “dreams” or “visions,” but the overall argument of the book is compelling. Doyle lists many examples of Jesus appearing to Muslims all over the Middle East, and the cumulative effect is astonished gratitude for how God is showing His face to people trapped in dark places. The stories of torture, persecution, and execution were heart-breaking, and stirred me up to pray more diligently for my brothers and sisters in Muslim lands. If my father, mother, brother, son, or daughter were being tortured in an Iranian prison, I’d pray for them every day! Sadly, we get so distracted by our petty problems in America (Land of Freedom and Plenty), that we forget the daily struggle and danger confronting so many thousands of our spiritual family. God is at work in the Middle East–will we join Him?

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(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

The Art of Neighboring

Art of Neighboring, The, Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, 978-0-8010-1459-8

Just got a review copy of The Art of Neighboring:  Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door, by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon.  This book has a remarkable story behind it.  A few years ago, Jay and Dave gathered with the mayor of their town and several other pastors.  The goal of the discussion was to discuss how churches could work together for the good of the city.  Eventually, the mayor told them:  “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors” (19).  Out of that discussion grew several city-transformation and neighboring movements that united churches around a common goal.

Jay and Dave ask a disturbing question:  What if Jesus expected us to take him literally when we told us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-3)?  Jesus did say this is the second greatest commandment, after all.  Jay and Dave have written this book to help us actually obey Jesus.  For many people, this will demand that they totally re-orient their lives.  We are very good at ignoring our neighbors, but can we really say we love Jesus if we disobey him?

Jay and Dave challenge us:  “The solutions to the problems in our neighborhoods aren’t ultimately found in the government, police or schools or in getting more people to church.  The solutions lie with us.  It’s within our power to become good neighbors, to care for the people around us and to be cared for by the people around us. There really is a different way to live, and we are finding that it is actually the best way to live” (22).

This is what 1LoveWake is all about (based here in the Triangle, NC).  You can also check out the Art of Neighboring web-site, which has other great resources.  You can find a nation-wide map which shows other people interested in being good neighbors, and you can enter your own information.  Let’s fill up the map!


John Stott on Being Missional

Although he doesn’t use the word “missional,” Anglican theological giant John Stott has some great thoughts on the relationship between “evangelism” and “loving our neighbor”:

“I venture to say that sometime, perhaps because it was the last instruction Jesus gave us before returning to the Father, we give the Great Commission too prominent a place in our Christian thinking.  Please do not misunderstand me.  I firmly believe that the whole church is under obligation to obey its Lord’s commission to take the gospel to all nations.  But I am also concerned that we should not regard this as the only instruction which Jesus left us.  He also quoted Leviticus 19:18 ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’, called it ‘the second and great commandment’ … and elaborated it in the Sermon on the Mount …”

“Here then are two instructions of Jesus–a great commandment ‘love your neighbor’ and a great commission ‘go and make disciples’.  What is the relation between the two?  Some of us behave as if we thought them identical, so that if we share the gospel with somebody, we consider we have completed our responsibility to love him.  But no.  The Great Commission neither explains, nor exhausts, nor supersedes the Great Commandment.  What it does is to add to the requirement of neighbour-love and neighbour-service a new and urgent Christian dimension.  If we truly love our neighbour we shall without doubt share with him the good news of Jesus.  How can we possibly claim to love him if we know the gospel but keep it from him?  Equally, however, if we truly love our neighbor we shall not stop with evangelism.  Our neighbour is neither a bodyless soul that we should love only his soul, nor a soulless body that we should care for its welfare alone, nor even a body-soul isolated from society.  God created man, who is my neighbor, a body-soul-in-community.  Therefore, if we love our neighbour as God made him, we must inevitably be concerned for his total welfare, that good of his soul, his body and his communityy.  Moreover, it is this vision of man as a social being, as well as a psycho-somatic being, which obliges us to add a political dimension to our social concern.  Humanitarian activity cares for the casualties of a sick society.  We should be concerned with preventative medicine or community health as well, which means the quest for better social structures in which peace, dignity, freedom and justice are secured for all men.  And there is no reason why, in pursuing this quest, we should not join hands with all men of good will, even if they are not Christians.

“To sum up, we are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve.  For this is the natural expression of our love for our neighbours.  We love.  We go.  We serve.  And in this we have (or should have) no ulterior motive.  True, the gospel lacks visibility if we merely preach it, and lacks credibility if we who preach it are interested only in souls and have no concern about the welfare of people’s bodies, situations and communities.  Yet the reason for our acceptance of social responsibility is not primarily in order to give the gospel either a visibility or a credibility it would otherwise lack, but rather simple uncomplicated compassion.  Love has no need to justify itself.  It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need.

“‘Mission’, then, is not a word for everything the church does.  ‘The church is mission’ sounds fine, but it’s an overstatement.  For the church is a worshipping as well as a serving community, and although worship and service belong together they are not to be confused.  Nor, as we have seen, does ‘mission’ cover everything God does in the world.  For God the Creator is constantly active in his world in providence, in common grace and in judgment, quite apart from the purposes for which he has sent his Son, his Spirit and his church into the world.  ‘Mission’ describes rather everything the church is sent into the world to do.  ‘Mission’ embraces the church’s double vocation of service to be ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’.  For Christ sends his people into the earth to be its salt, and sends his people into the world to be its light (Matthew 5:13-16)” [John Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World, 29-31].

King Jesus Gospel – Review

The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News RevisitedThe King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, is a keeper. In fact, I would say it’s one of the best theological books I’ve ever read. Part of what makes it exciting is that McKnight is excited himself! You can sense his energy and his joy in his subject, as he leads us step-by-step through his own theological development. It takes some work to read Jesus in his own context, and McKnight is patient with us.

I used this book in my classes at a Christian school, to help bolster my case that Christians should read the Old Testament more. My students were honest in their admission that they don’t read the Old Testament much, and don’t see the point. McKnight argues that, unless we understand the story of Israel, we cannot really understand Jesus.

I appreciated his critique of the Reformation, his insistence that we learn about the early church, and his endorsement of prayer-books and creeds. If you don’t see how those are connected with Jesus in first-century context, you’ll just have to buy the book and find out for yourself!

My only real question concerns the “contextualization” question. McKnight presents a solid case that Apostolic preaching looked like thus-and-such. Basically, the preaching of Peter and Paul was dramatically different than our “four spiritual laws” presentations and arm-twisting methods of “gospel” persuasion. Granted. But, Peter and Paul were preaching to a largely Jewish culture. Even when Paul is writing to sort out problems between Jews and Gentiles, he’s still working within Jewish categories. When we take the Gospel to Africa, do we still stress every aspect of Old Testament history as much as the Apostles did? Stephen’s speech in Acts wouldn’t seem to work so well in remote jungles. I hope McKnight will take this up in another book.

Overall, this is a splendid book, and I hope it will help to shake up the anemic and shallow American church!

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan 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.)

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Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission – Review

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our LipsThe Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips by John Dickson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fantastic book! I loved Dickon’s combination of scholarly acumen and practical wisdom. The “best kept secret of Christian mission,” it turns out, is that all Christians are called to missions, in some way or other.

This is not the same as saying that all Christians must share the gospel with at least one person per day. Dickson came out of that mentality, and shows the flaws in such thinking. Dickson also spent many years as an evangelist, and he argues that some people have the gifts and calling of an evangelist. But, he also acknowledges that most people don’t have this calling. How, then, can all Christians participate in mission?

Dickson, with a careful balance of substantive exegesis and pastoral directions, works through various ways the Bible presents the missional calling of all Christians. First, we pray, both for people we know who need Christ, and also for the evangelists in our churches. Secondly, we support missions with our money. Thirdly, we support missions with our lifestyle. The way we live, and the good works that we do, will draw others to Christ.

Dickson then spends quite a few pages defining the Gospel Biblically. It turns out that the Gospel is quite a bit more powerful than the gospel-bytes and sinners’ prayer that most of us were taught in evangelism classes. (I love how Dickson invites his readers, at the end the book, to pray the LORD’S PRAYER, rather than some sappy “sinner’s prayer”! 🙂

Dickson then lays out the exegetical groundwork for believing that a distinct office of “evangelist” exists in Scripture. The chapter I most enjoyed, however, was chapter 10, where he shows that our public worship is evangelistic. For a liturgy-geek like me, it was the icing on the cake. We evangelize simply by worshipping God! Of course, this implies that we actually bring our non-Christian friends to church, something I am personally not very good at doing …

Perhaps that’s why chapter 11 is so important. Dickson shows how we can magnify Christ in our daily conversation. There are countless opportunities we have throughout our lives to drop little phrases that glorify God, and might spark further conversations.

The last chapter is a fictional story, drawing together many pieces of Dickson’s experieces with evangelism. God uses all sorts of ways to bring people to Himself. Dickson does a splendid job of showing our every area of our lives has the potential to be missional!

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Review – AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church

The AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church (Exponential Series)AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church by Hugh Halter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I firmly believe that if every pastor in America read this book, two things would happen. First, we would have a major disruption and church-fight on our hands. Second, a stronger, healthier, and more effective church would emerge in America. While Hugh Halter and Matt Smay temper their criticism of the contemporary American church with exhortations to proceed slowly and patiently, their vision (and their practice) is truly counter-cultural and revolutionary.

It is counter-cultural in that it challenges the “church culture” that so many churches mistake for the essence of church life. Why do we go to church? To hear a sermon, to hear a great praise band, to have great fellowship, to have a potluck. Then, after all our felt needs are met, we go our separate ways and never see our church buds until next Sunday. AND shows that the church is called to more than this.

Halter and Smay note that there are two types of churches: “attractional” and “incarnational.” Most churches are “attractional”—they try to attract people to their service, or to all their wonderful programs, through various means. They might go out into the culture (door-to-door), but the main point is to get more people into the building, and to keep them there once they’ve been lured into the church. The “attractional” model engages culture after establishing a church/ community. In contrast, the “incarnational” model engages the culture first, forms a community, which then attracts people to a life of following Christ. The “incarnational” folks would spend more time in coffee shops, in pubs, or in throwing block parties. They proceed in the assumption (a Biblical one, I think), that people will find true godliness and holiness beautiful and ultimately more attractive than programs or good preaching (how many Christians even care about good preaching!?). They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they will notice that Christians are living differently, living more deeply, and they will want to be a part of it. A good sermon might move them for 5 minutes (just like a politician’s speech), but a community that loves them and is helping them to see what it means to live in God’s Kingdom–that’s something the world doesn’t offer!

While joining a church is the part of this process, it is not the final goal. The final goal of being “missional” (the new catch-phrase, but I think it’s a needed one), is to go on mission yourself. Not on a short-term mission to some South American country, as valuable as that might be, but on a life-long mission to everyone we come into contact with. This means that we actually have to come into contact with people, rather than just creating a really cool web-site with solid theological slogans 🙂 It’s a sad fact that most church growth now seems to be “transfer growth,” rather than conversion growth. People just leave one church and join another. 

Halter and Smay balance both sides of being the church admirably. The church must “gather” as the church, but it must also “scatter” into the world. Most churches just focus on one side of the AND–thus the title of the book!

My only criticisms would be along the lines of “don’t throw out the baby with the bath-water.” Although “churchianity” has failed in many ways, I would meditate deeply on the words of G.K. Chesterton: “Christianity has not been found tried and wanting. It has never been tried.” If the historic structures and liturgies of the Church seem to have failed recently, then perhaps it’s because they weren’t being done in the right ways. We don’t have to re-invent all of the wheels on the Church-wagon–maybe just re-inflate a couple.

I’m just getting into the whole “missional” and “emergent” scene, and learning lots of valuable things from these folks. But, as I read what they’re doing, I keep thinking, “That’s the early church!” So, perhaps we can all agree on that. If we get our hearts right and focus on community and evangelism in the same way as the early church did, amazing things will happen in the American church. Amazing things are already happening, in America and throughout the rest of the world. The only question is whether existing churches will be a part of it, or whether God will work through up-starts like Halter and Smay and whether the established churches will some day be as empty as the grand cathedrals of Europe are now.

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