Blogtour: "The Next Story" by Tim Challies

Tim Challies. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. Zondervan, 2011. 208 pgs. 

Digital technology is everywhere. We all know it; we see it (or not), experience it, live with it, use it, and are surrounded by it all the time. From cars to cell phones to shopping to reading, 'the digital explosion' is as good a phrase as any to characterize our time. However, there are many important questions to ask in the face of this explosion. Questions like: How has life and faith been changed by these technologies? How does out constant connected-ness affect us? And what does it mean that we are under surveillance most of our lives? These, and more, are the questions Challies addresses in this book as he seeks to help the reader know how to think about technology as a Christian.

Challies first spends three chapters examining how we have arrived at this place of digital explosion. He then lays out three principles to keep in mind while evaluating technology. 1. It is a good, God-given gift. 2. It is under the curse, just like everything else. 3. "It is the human application of technology that helps us determine if it is being used to honor God or further human sin." With these in mind, Challies explores 5 major issues: speaking the truth in love (communication), mediation and identity, distraction, information, truth and authority, and, lastly, visibility and privacy. 

Next is a book which contains some great insights; it is an important addition to Christian literature. There is a great need for teaching and good material on how to think about technology rather than what to think about technology. There are simply too many new things coming at us to fast for us to rely on other people to determine for us what we ought to think and how we ought to react to each new item. This is, above all else, the great strength of Next: That it seeks to aid the reader in just this way, despite only succeeding at times. 

Challies words were particularly penetrating as he spoke, in various places throughout the book, about how technology or information can easily become idols in our lives. Of all the problems of technology this age-old issue is the worst; it is a must-have discussion in most of our churches. 

Unfortunately, Challies has also written a very inconsistent and, at times, shallow book. He does not keep to his own definition of technology, nor the list of three points he makes about technology (which I noted above). At times he speaks as if it is the application which makes a technology good or bad, and at times he does not. Frankly, I find point number 3 to be naive at best; the instrumentalist approach to technology is widely and, in my opinion, rightly rejected. The fact that we can use technology for good or ill is an obvious, and overstated, truth. The deeper truth is that technologies affect us in ways independent of how we use them. Challies bounces around the instrumentalist approach, affirming it here and denying it there. He notes that technology is a good gift of God but several times writes as if it were merely a necessary evil. Which is it? Further, his thoughts on mediated vs. unmediated communication are a muddle at best; skip that chapter. 

Overall, the best chapters in this book were on distraction and information. This is where Challies theological insight is keenest and where he focuses on idolatry and how technology, in general, is affecting us. The rest of his book was both philosophically and theologically weak. Yes, technology is under the curse, but what do we do with that? Challies never says. His conclusion is that we just need to think better about technology. While this is certainly true it is not enough. In many cases, technology itself inhibits better and deeper thinking. I would put a much stronger emphasis on digital fasting than Challies did, as well as on several other time honored practices of the Christian faith. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. This is a good, and needed, book on the intersection of technology and faith. It is worth reading. Be aware, however, that it contains a subtle but extremely negative view of technology (Edit: as Challies pointed out in the comments, his negative view is towards digital technology specifically, not all technology. Near the beginning of Next he does speak of technology, in general, as part of the creation mandate and, therefore, something good)and has embedded within it several areas of naivety in regards to what technology is, how it affects us, and how we can or should respond.

Thanks to EngagingChurchBlog for the chance to review this book. 


"Project Dad" by Todd Cartmell

Every father wants to be a great dad. We want to do what is best for our children, and be the kind of father they need so that they can flourish in life. But how do you do that? In this book Todd Cartmell, a father and child psychologist, offers his advice on how to be a great father. The subtitle, 'do-it-yourself' and all that, is designed to appeal to the part of a father that wants to build things and do it themselves. In order to do this, Cartmell urges fathers to pay attention to five areas of interaction with our children: our eyes (how we look at our children), our mouths (how we talk to our children), our hearts (how we connect with our children), our hands (how we act towards our children), and our feet (how we lead our children). He reminds us that a great father is a father who helps his children to develop their God-given gifts and potential, and be all that God has made them to be. 

In many ways my experience and opinion of this book mirrors my experience and opinion of The Irresistible Church (which I posted about yesterday). The title made me skeptical, but the description and author pulled me in to read it anyway. Further, the book was very formulaic, filled with cliches and typical structures for a book of this sort. But, Cartmell rises above these things by offering genuinely good and useful advice to fathers. He reminds fathers that they are to be fishers of the good in their children, that our words have power to build up and destroy, that our example will be followed, and that while none of us is perfect we can be great in aiding our children to grow and pointing them to God. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. Are you a father? Can you handle a book with a title like this? Then you will be rewarded with some great ideas, advice, and reminders. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group


"The Irresistible Church" by Wayne

Wayne CordeiroIrresistible Church, The: 12 Traits of a Church Heaven Applauds. Bethany House Publishers, 2011. 176 pgs. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".  

Wayne Cordeiro is a mega-church pastor in Hawaii. This book contains his advice on 12 traits of a church that heaven applauds. And that is the first thing you need to know about this book; it is not about making your church irresistible to other people, rather it is about making your church irresistible to God (though Cordeiro insists that if you have the latter, you will have the former as well). As you should expect, each chapter (other than the introduction) outlines one of these 12 traits. According to Cordeiro an irresistible church: Hungers for the presence of God, remembers who she is, lives heart first, practices gratefulness, promotes healthy relationships, is always learning, promotes spiritual self-feeding, connects everything to a soul, chooses to love, takes risks, humbles itself, and has a plan. 

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. You should know that I approached it with some skepticism. I find that books based on a list (7 habits of excellence, 5 steps to improve your prayer life, 12 steps to get everything you ever wanted for yourself and your entire network of family, friends, and acquaintances, etc.) are generally not very good. They tend to be about taking formulas which worked for one specific individual in one specific context and applying them everywhere. They deny the intrinsic importance of place and person, promote short-cuts, and as a rule they over-promise and under-deliver. Why, then, you might wonder, did I accept this book for free review? 2 reasons: the author, and the subject. I have heard Wayne Cordeiro speak and preach and quite enjoyed it. Also, in the blurb I got it mentioned that this book was about making a church irresistible to God rather than people. This intrigued me. 

In a lot of ways, the book is what you would expect. Filled with stories and illustrations, lacking focus in its subject, using scripture as proof-texts, and all to brief in the teaching of each of the points. However, in other ways it was not what you would expect. 7 of the 12 traits are genuinely good, healthy, and necessary advice. The other 5 are not bad; ranging from obvious to good teaching, each one was still worth reading. I especially appreciate his words about love, humility, and desiring the presence of God. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended. This is a decent book. It is a quick read, filled with good advice, and while somewhat formulaic Cordeiro has managed to get past that enough to make it worth reading. Just don't expect this to be what it isn't. 


Books for Pastors - List 5: The Leftovers

Make sure you read the first post in this series for disclaimers and explanations and links to the full series.

We are almost done with these lists; I hope they have been helpful. 

This last list contains 5 books that I want to strongly recommend to you but which, for one reason or another, did not fit well into any other category. 

1. "To Change the World" by James Hunter. There is no better book on church and culture and how we ought to interact with our world. 

2. "Telling the Truth" by Frederick Buechner. A wonderful little book on preaching and the gospel; Buechner helps even the most jaded and tired pastor to see it all with fresh eyes. 

3. "The New Testament and The People of God" by N.T. Wright. Yet another difficult text. Not sure which is harder: this one, or Sources of the Self (which I recommended earlier). Either way, very much worth reading as a great help in reading the New Testament well (which is so important for us as pastors). The astute reader may have noticed a complete lack of 'bible' books (commentaries and the like). The reason for that is because no particular work stands out. If you use commentaries, use plenty for each book. More importantly, do your own study in the original languages. This is my nod to the fact that there are excellent works in NT and OT biblical studies which are well worth your time; so many that I didn't want to pare them down to put them in a list of 5. 

4. "Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites... and Other Lies You've Been Told" by Bradley Wright. This is a very contemporary book; in five or ten years it will probably no longer have a place on this list. In the meantime it is essential. Wright takes on a raft of bad statistics and stereotypes which frequently get passed around in churches and which I guarantee you have heard, if not said, yourselves. 6-9 out of 10 youth leaving the church? Garbage. Christians viewed by the majority of people as hypocrites? Untrue. Divorce rates of Christian couples the same as non-Christian couples? Myth. Read the book and find out more. 

5. “The Abolition of Man” by C.S. Lewis. Probably Lewis’ magnum opus; definitely worth reading, several times.

6.  I have left the last space of this blank because I do not want to recommend a last book. Instead I want to strongly recommend that you, as pastors or anyone else, be life long learners and life long readers. Don't ever stop. You owe it to your people and your self to continually grow and you absolutely need books in order to do that. 


Books for Pastors - List 4: Oldie but a Goodie

Make sure you read the first post in this series for disclaimers and explanations and links to the full series.

Lets face it, most of us don't read many books which are over 100 years old. But we should. Most of the best books ever written are old. Here is a list of five books over 100 years old which pastors should read.

1. "Orthodoxy" by G.K. Chesterton. Ridiculously good book. Still highly relevant. Chesterton writes a vision of what orthodoxy should be, breathing life into a tired word, and on the way tells you why he has faith. This book will reinvigorate your faith and your mind. 

2. "Enchiridion" or "Faith, Hope, and Love" by Augustine of Hippo. I know, everyone will tell you to read "Confessions" by Augustine; and you should. It is quite the book. However, part of why it is so renowned is due to it being the first of its kind, another reason is because of the deep philosophy, and a third reason is because of Augustine's amazing story. These are all great things, but not so helpful to the pastor. Meanwhile, in the Enchiridion you have a kind of manual on the Christian life by Augustine and this will be much more helpful. 

3. "On The Priesthood" by John Chrysostom. About what it says it is about, this great little book by Chrysostom provides some very good thoughts on being pastors. 

4. "On The Incarnation of the Word" by Athanasius. This is one of the first great defenses of Christian orthodoxy and a deep look at why the incarnation of Christ is central to the gospel. 

5. “The Interior Castle” by Teresa of Avilla. One of the best books on prayer ever written. Enough said. 


Let the Preacher Tell the Truth

"Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in that silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have."
- Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. 

Books for Pastors - List 3: 'Non' Essentials

Make sure you read the first post in this series for disclaimers and explanations and links to the full series.

This is a list of books that are not entirely focused on Christianity or religion in their topic matter (if at all) but are nonetheless very important for pastors to understand. Heads up, this will probably strike you as the strangest of all the lists I am posting. 

1. "Thinking in Systems: A Primer" by Donella H. Meadows. Systems theory is an incredibly rich, rewarding, and important area of study for a pastor to understand. The fact is that we are mired in systems and there is nothing we can do about it. Not only that, but lacking an understanding of the systems you work in will inevitably lead to frustration, especially when dealing with change. Ever wondered why the more you push, the more 'they' push back? Or why you meet resistance to change despite everyone agreeing that the change is necessary and good? Or why the more things you try to change the more things stay the same? Systems theory will help you understand. 

2. "Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue" by Edwin Friedman. This is very much related to the first book on this list but instead of being a primer on the theory of systems it is an applied text on how this works out in family processes. This book will open your eyes, guaranteed. You will read sections of it and be able to see those things happening all around you. 

3. "Philosophy and the Christian Faith" by Colin Brown. For many pastors Philosophy is a no-go subject. I am not advocating that all pastors be philosophers. However, I do believe that as a pastor you will be greatly helped by a rudimentary understanding of philosophy. This book will get you started. 

4. "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" by Malcolm Gladwell. Another book which will help you understand better what is going on in your congregation. Gladwell is a very good writer, making this a very enjoyable book. The subtitle basically tells you what the book is about and I have nothing to add. 

5. "Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity" by Charles Taylor. I really debated whether or not to put this book on any of these lists. It is probably the hardest and definitely the longest book I am going to recommend. But, if you can wade through this you will come away with a much deeper understanding of the culture you work in. 

Runner up for this position: "Philosophical Fragments" by Kierkegaard. Another very difficult book that is worth wading through. Christianity and philosophical idealism are truly and deeply incompatible, but idealism is a seductive and powerful force in our culture which easily seeps into our faith. Kierkegaard is a great aid in understanding this struggle. 


Pressures on the Preacher

"There are all kinds of pressures on the preacher, both from within and without, to be all kinds of other things and to speak all kinds of other words. To speak the truth with love is to run the risk always of speaking only the truths that people love to hear you speak, and the preacher's temptation, among others, is to deal with those problems only to which there is, however complex and hard to arrive at, a solution. The pressure on the preacher is to be topical and contemporary, to speak out like the prophets against injustice and unrighteousness, and it is right that he should do so, crucial even, and if he does not goad to righteous action he fails both God and man. But he must remember the ones he is speaking to who beneath all the clothes they wear are the poor, bare, forked animals who labor and are heavy laden under the burden of their own lives let along of the world's tragic life....

The pressure on the preacher, of course, is to speak just the answer. The answer is what people have come to hear and what he has also come to hear, preaching always as much to himself as to anybody, to keep his spirits up. He has to give an answer because everybody else is giving answers... the pressure on the preacher is to promote the Gospel, to sell Christ as an answer that outshines all the other answers by talking up the shining side, by calling even the day of his death Good Friday when if it was good, it was good only after it was bad, the worst of all Fridays. The pressure is to be a public relations man, and why not, only not to the neglect of private relations, the relations especially of a man with God and with God less as a presence much of the time than as an absence, an empty place where grace and peace belong. The preacher has to be willing to speak as tragic a word as Jesus speaks, which is the word that even if all the problems that can be solved are solved - poverty, war, ignorance, injustice, disease - and even if all the answers the world can give are proved each in its own way workable, even so man labors and is heavy laden in his helplessness; poor naked wretch that bides the pelting of the storm that is no less pitiless for all the preaching of all the preachers."

- Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. 

Books for Pastors - List 2: Essential Fiction

Make sure you read the first post in this series for disclaimers and explanations and links to the full series.

Yes, you read that title correctly. I think there are some important works of fiction that pastors ought to read, and here are my top 5. 

1. "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo. The classic tension between law and grace is depicted nowhere so well as in this work. Hugo's insight into the human condition, the compassion he arouses within the reader, and his depiction of the utter destitution of our world without God are all unmatched in literature. 

2. "The Brother's Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Anything by Dostoevsky is worth reading, and this book is, perhaps, his best. The exposition of the problem of evil/pain/suffering offered by Ivan within these pages has yet to be matched in my opinion; the new atheists could learn a thing or two here, and all pastors ought to consider the force of the arguments and objections offered in these pages.

3. "Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlifes" by David Eagleman. This is a book of 40 short stories. In each one, Eagleman has some kind of strange and new idea about what the afterlife is; the rest of the short story works out the logical consequences. We live in a world with an extremely impoverished vision of the afterlife. Most individuals do everything they can to avoid thinking about death at all. Meanwhile, we read a book of scripture which was written in a context of rich, imaginative, and terrible visions of the afterlife. That alone makes Eagleman's book worth reading. There is more imagination, hopelessness, and bitter irony than you will likely find anywhere else in thinking about the afterlife. It will help pastors appreciate what we hope for, and understand the need to speak well about the eternal life Jesus offers us. 

4. "Life After God" by Douglas Coupland. We live in a post-Christian west and it is high time for many pastors to get a glimpse of what that culture, and that life, can look like. Coupland offers just such a view, brilliantly written as usual. 

5. Something by Charles Williams. No, I didn't forget the quotation marks. I don't think he has a book called 'something.' It is just that I have only begun to read his works, so I am not confident which one to recommend to you. They are very enjoyable, and he is a favorite author of several people I deeply respect (such as Dr. J.I. Packer and my friend Jeremy). 


Books for Pastors - List 1: The Basics

Make sure you read the first post in this series for disclaimers and explanations and links to the full series.

When Chris first asked me for this list I asked a couple of other guys at the retreat what they would put on it. We started talking about picking the best books in some important categories. That is the origin of this first list, "The Basics." 

1. "Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness" by Eugene Peterson. Category: Pastoral Soul Care. Comment: This book is a must read for all pastors. Peterson speaks to the heart of the pastoral experience and offers excellent advice about avoiding common temptations in ministry. 

2. "The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission (Biblical Theology for Life)" by Christopher Wright. Category: Missional Ecclesiology. Comment: It was hard not to put Wright's much larger volume, "The Mission of God," here. However, this book is an excellent exploration of the biblical theology of mission and how it informs the identity of the church. 

3. Category: Systematic Theology. Comment: The category is first because I have a few to put on this point. 
       a. "Systematic Theology" Vol. 1-3 by Thomas Oden. Comment: Yes, 3 volumes. But so good. Mainline theology, classic protestantism. 
       b.  "Theology for the Community of God" by Stanley Grenz. Comment: More controversial, more thought provoking. You might call this 'post-conservative evangelical.' 
       c. "Christian Theology" by Millard Erikson. Comment: Kind of a standard evangelical systematic theology. Not my favorite, but it will serve you well. 
       d. "Institutio Christianae Religionis" by John Calvin. Comment: The man was a genius. Whatever you think of his modern day namesakes, this you should read.

4. "The Glory of Preaching: Participating in God's Transformation of the World" by Darrell Johnson. Category: Preaching. Comment: One of the most important duties of a pastor is to preach the Word of God. Johnson's book is grounded in a clear, biblical, vision of preaching and it will also help you practically. 

5. A good set of Greek and Hebrew language tools. This includes training in the languages, lexicons, grammars, and whatever else you need. The bible really is the most important book and you ought to be able to read it well. 

Here's the thing. I thought through that list and, in being limited to 5 choices, I couldn't even cover all the categories I thought were important, let alone all the books. On top of that, any pastoral training institution or program worth the time of day ought to be getting pastors to read what it considers to be the best books in these categories, and more. So, I could hardly leave things at that, now could I?

More tomorrow :)  


Books for Pastors

Nearly a month ago, while I was at a youth pastors retreatChris Throness asked me if I would blog a top 5 book list for pastors. Naturally, I said yes. I think I said yes before he even finished the sentence. 

But I am not sure if Chris realized that asking a book addict for a list of recommendations is a bit like asking Solomon to get married. 700 women later....

Well, thank the Lord, I am not that bad. No, my top 5 list only contains 25 books... OK, 27. 

How, you ask, does a top 5 list contain 27 books? Well, I have cleverly justified this five-fold expansion by writing up 5 top 5 lists. Yes, that's right, 5 for the price of 1! 

Not only that, but since I have five lists, I am going to spread out the posting of them over the rest of this week. So, not only have I cleverly found a way to recommend way more books than you want to hear about, I have also used said misdirection as a way to fill my blog for a week.  

For those of you with a niggling question at the back of your mind about my math (how does 5 lists of 5 books get us 27 books?) let me take a moment to assuage your worries. The math works, trust me. Read the lists and you will see. I may have cheated somewhere else, but the math works. 

A couple of disclaimers:
1. None of these lists are "in order." They are top 5 lists, but the book in spot 1 is not better than spot 5. 
2. I do not expect everyone to agree with my choices. In fact, I am looking forward to hearing how your opinion differs in the hopes of receiving some new book recommendations for myself! Moreover, I don't even know how long I will agree with these lists. After all, I am sure there are better books I haven't read, and better books yet to be published. 
3. I hope it doesn't need to be said, but while I have made these lists 'for pastors' they can help the rest of you to! 
4. The focus of these lists is for pastors in the west. In most cases, it makes no difference, but in a few it does.
5. I admit to a bias towards what I consider to be me more 'unique' books, or books I suspect fewer people have read. I have tried to keep this bias as slight as possible, but I am pretty sure it is still there. 
6. The bible isn't on this list because it is assumed to be accepted as the most important book for any and all pastors to read (duh). 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the upcoming week of lists of book recommendations. 

"Revise Us Again" by Frank Viola

Frank Viola. Revise Us Again: Living From a Renewed Christian Spirit. David C. Cook, 2011. 176 pgs. 

In this book Viola takes a look at revising the script of our life to be in line with the script of Jesus Christ. Through ten chapters Viola examines various issues in the Christian life, how we think about things, how we talk about things, and how our life needs to be revised in light of Jesus and His word. These topics range from our misuse of phrases such as "Let me pray about that" (which really means 'no, but I am too uncomfortable to say it to your face, so I would rather take a spiritual out and hope you forget you asked me') and "God told me..." to our misunderstanding of the gospel and our God. 

Unfortunately, caricature reigns in this promising, but ultimately disappointing, book by Frank Viola. He almost brings up some good issues, but then approaches them in such a shallow manner as to negate even the good brought about in raising the topics. In the first chapter, Viola offers a list of 'lenses' which Christians see through when it comes to matters of faith. This list is terrible; after reading it I actually sat back and was overcome by a momentary feeling of foreboding. It only got worse. Maybe I am just blessed, but I have never met anyone who flagrantly abuses the phrase 'God told me...' in the manner Viola describes. Maybe I have just never talked to the right(wrong) people, but Viola's outline of the three theological conversational styles seemed completely useless. Again, it is a caricature, a reduction of real people to formulas. Viola even acknowledges the danger of this happening but seems blissfully unaware that through the utter lack of insight and by failing to make better options available he has, unintentionally or not, fallen into that same trap. 

I could say the same about pretty much every chapter; there is a near formula at work here. 1. Describe caricatured and exaggerated problem. 2. Tell some luke-warm stories. 3. Offer shallow solution based on mistaken caricature.  There is, despite all, truth in this book. We really ought not to abuse such phrases as "God told me" and "let me pray about that." We really do need to be aware of how we converse, how powerful our God is, and so on. But does God really fit into a procrustean bed of "the God of unseen endings?" Watching Viola try to squeeze the story of Job into that model was, in a word, painful.  

Conclusion: 1.5 Stars. Not Recommended. Viola had the opportunity to do some great good here; the idea, of revising the scripts of our lives to conform that of Christ, is a good one. It is just executed very poorly in this book. 


"Questions" by Jon Morrison and Chris Price

Chris Price and John Morrison. Questions You're Probably Already Asking

Yes, a book by John Morrison... or is it Jon Morrison? Is there a type-o on the cover of your book Jo(h?)n?

Jon and Chris have written a brief introductory apologetics book for teens. It takes on nine traditional apologetics areas (Creation, Sexuality, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Suffering, Bible, Hell, Science, and Good), most with more than one question embedded in each section, and then answers them in a style designed with students in mind. Jon and Chris alternate authorship of the chapters, though they maintain a fairly consistent style and writing voice throughout. Each chapter begins by introducing the questions, then explores the answers Jon and Chris are offering, and concludes with a list of additional resources and a small group study guide. 

Questions is a fairly good apologetics book for teens. Jon and Chris are very honest about what is, and is not, in this book. They do not claim to have come up with any amazing new break-throughs in apologetics, nor did they need to. They have collected and explained, briefly but well, many of the best apologetics arguments which others have already put forth. They do not claim to answer, fully and to the satisfaction of all, the questions they are taking on (or at least, not most of them). Again, nor did they need to. I find this honesty within the field of apologetics to be refreshing, as many apologetics books claim to fully and completely answer the questions they are asking when they clearly do not. 

Stylistically, this book is very readable and quite well designed for teens. The writing exemplifies answers offered in a gentle spirit, as well as being both engaging and appropriate. I would give this book to the students in my youth group rather than any other introductory apologetics text. Be aware, however, that "introductory apologetics" is precisely what you are getting here. Due to the breadth of the topics and questions covered, and the relative shortness of the book, the answers are necessarily brief. The questions and arguments against Christianity are not stated with full force, numerous permutations are left unexplored, and the answers offered frequently assume that one is at least half in agreement with them already. This is a necessary weakness of a book like this. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. On condition that what you are looking for is an introductory apologetics books geared towards high school students. If that is what you are looking for you will not find one better. 


"Daddy Dates" by Greg Wright

Greg Wright. Daddy Dates: Four Daughters, One Clueless Dad, and His Quest to Win Their Hearts. Thomas Nelson, 2011, 224 pgs. 

Greg Wright is the father of four daughters. Faced with a house full of women he loved, Greg knew he needed to do some work to live out that love in a way his family would appreciate. So he took a retreat, did some thinking, and came up with the idea of spending time one-on-one with the women of his home. That time had to be focused on them, he had to listen, he had to put thought and effort and creativity into it, and he had to make it special. In other words, he would date all five women, not just his wife. 

Now, you might read that and say 'duh.' But, for some reason, there is a disconnect for many fathers in exactly this area. We understand, or understood, the necessity of these actions when courting our wives (or faked understanding well enough to get by) but then we get married and forget it all. So, while the advice Wright offers is simple, it is also right on the mark. This book is worth the time.

Conclusion: 4 of 5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. This is a great book for fathers. Wright has an easy, readable, style with a well balanced array of jokes, stories, tips, and good advice. 

This book was provided by BookSneeze for review. 


RCPC Day 3 and 4


Right. Thursday, day 3 of the conference, was far too busy to blog. I got home, had just enough time to eat dinner, and headed off to a meeting. Then, on Friday, I left the conference early because I got the stomach flu and spent the entire rest of the day in bed. 

This also means that I don't remember what quotes I was going to put down for those days. Sorry. 

Summary Response: 
The conference was great. All the details were handled well, the speakers were excellent, the session instructors were well chosen, and it was well worth the time investment. 

The two main sessions which spoke to me the most were the ones presented by Paul Williams. He spoke about the apostolic and prophetic ministries, and individuals, in the church. He ended his first talk by conjoining 1 Peter 5:2 (Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve) with 1 Corinthians 12:31a (But eagerly desire the greater gifts.) He had asked why we have moved away from these gifts, questioning whether it was a result of dispensational theology or as a result of fear. Either one is wrong, and so he concluded by challenging us: Do you desire these things? Are you willing to serve in this way? 

Other hightlights:

Hearing Gordon Smith speak about sacraments and mission. 

Reading "Captive to the Word of God" by Miroslav Volf

Listening to "Liberating Grace" lecture series by Alan Torrance (some great stuff!)

It was a good week. 


RCPC Day 2

#RCPC2011 (Regent College Pastors Conference 2011)

Speaker Quote of the Day:
"Evangelical communion can be very christo-monic. Only the second person of the trinity gets mentioned during the Eucharist. The father, well he doesn't really have anything to do with it. And the Spirit, He is busy, off doing His thing with the Pentecostals. But, you can have the other two, we have Jesus and we will be fine with Him, thank you very much!"
- Gordon Smith (who, I learned today, is an amazing speaker, brilliantly sarcastic and witty, and a pleasure to listen to)

Other Quote of the Day:
"My contention is that at the heart of every good theology lies not simply a plausible intellectual vision but more importantly a compelling account of a way of life, and that theology is therefore best done from within the pursuit of this way of life."
- Miroslav Volf

Event of the Day:
Actually, my favorite part of the day was the bus ride in, during which I read "Captive to the Word of God" by Miroslav Volf.  That is not to say the conference was bad, not at all; today was exceptional.  It is, however, to say that Volf was even more so! 

As an actual event, however, I would have to say that the best part of the day was listening to Gordon Smith talk about sacrament and mission in the church. He and I share denominational ties and so I found it especially funny, and insightful, as he made numerous comments about the strangeness of how we do thing sometimes. He made the comment that he grew up churches which were all about the word. The altar, from which the Lord's Supper was served, was on wheels; it could be rolled in and out as necessary. The pulpit, however, was bolted to the floor. Things like that.  

Books purchased so far: 5.  That bookstore is so good/evil. 


RCPC 2011 Day 1


The first day of the pastors conference is over. It was a great day.

Speaker Quote of the Day:
"There should be an I in team, as long as it is a perichoretic I." 
- Ross Hastings

Quote of the Day:
"To take a person trained in ways and means that are custom-formulated to fit into the world's ways and then place that person in the worshiping,evangelizing, witnessing, reconciling, peace-making, justice-advocating people of God is equivalent to putting an adolescent whose sole qualifications consist of a fascination with speed, the ability to step on the accelerator, and expertise in operating the radio, behind the wheel of a brand-new Porsche."
- Eugene Peterson

Worship Song of the Day:

Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind
If I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
And never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
Should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
In you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see
If I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free
And never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean
And do such as this unseen,
And admit to what I mean
In you and you me?

Will you love the 'you' you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found
To reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound
In you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same
In your company I'll go
Where your love and footsteps show
Thus I'll move and live and grow
In you and you in me

Learned/Remembered Today:
Leadership is a gift from God. It is not something we need to create. It is not something we need to conjure up or even purely do (though it does, of course, involve doing). Rather, Christian leaders are called by God for a specific purpose and gifted by Him for the accomplishment of that purpose. 

Being a Christian leader is about being a good follower of Jesus Christ. We are not trying to blaze a trail, create a legacy, change the world, or any other motivational phrase you might pick up from leadership guru-speak. We are seeking to follow Jesus and build up others to do the same. 

" It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Ephesiasn 4:11-13

The center of leadership in this definition is participation with the Triune God. Any other kind of leadership is soul-killing, community-endangering, and spirit-less. We lead out of, and in to, communion with God.


April Reflections

Yes, this post is a day late.  I normally put up my reflections on the first of each new month. I was planning on doing that yesterday; I even started the post.  Then we left to take Ethan to the hospital at 7:30pm and we didn't get home until 2:30am. He had been throwing up all day and started to seem dehydrated, so off we went. When we finally got to see a doctor, he told us we would have to do 'rehydration therapy' with Ethan. For a little guy like him, that involved giving him 5ml of diluted apple juice every 5 minutes for over an hour to see how he handled it. Then, we got to take him home and let him sleep. As soon as he woke up, we continued the treatment. Kristina has posted some more details on her blog.

He is doing very well, thank you. He is through the worst of it, and though not 100% yet, he is heading that way. Kristina and I are exhausted. Other than that, I have a deeper appreciation for both facebook and smartphones. Because of them I was able to get a lot of people praying for Ethan on no notice at all, and I know that that fact made a huge difference. So thank you all very much!

Still thinking about how to incorporate that into my mostly negative view of facebook :)

Anyway, here is the usual list of the month:

3 Most Visited Posts of April:

1. Politics in/and Church  - Once again the most 'controversial' post rises to the top. 

2. Introducing... My Wife! - This pleases me greatly. If my blog points you to better things then I have accomplished my purpose. 

3. "Life is a Miracle" by Wendell Berry - Such a good book (even if the second one I read by Berry wasn't as good).

Posts to look forward to (these are working titles):

Regent Pastors Conference on Leadership - I don't know what the post(s) will be, but I am heading to the Regent Pastors Conference tomorrow and I am almost guaranteed to post something, or several somethings, as a result.

Books for Pastors - A friend at the retreat I went to a couple of weeks ago asked me to blog about what 5 books I would tell every pastor to read.

"Daddy Dates" by Greg Wright - a book about raising strong and confident daughters. A bit of a departure from my normal review material, but as a father of a young daughter I was happily surprised to have this option; hopefully it is good.

One good month gone, so here's to another good month to come!


It Sounds Good, But...

Sometimes we need a wake up call. Sometimes we need to put some thought into an idea, movie, message, book, or quote. 

I need to do this often. I thoroughly enjoy making others do it as well. 

A couple of months ago, during the Sunday School class I was teaching, I asked the students to tell me everything they could about King David. They come up with a huge list. But, it was mostly good stuff. I had planned for this response and had a question ready. 

What did David pay King Saul as a bride-price for Michal? (see 1 Samuel 18:25-27 for the answer). 

I went on to point out the severely messed up, and mixed up, life of David, and concluded by asking why we, and the scriptures, call David "a man after God's own heart." Interesting discussion ensued!

Then today, again during the Sunday School class I was teaching  I borrowed a thought from John Stackhouse and asked the students if they had ever thought about ridiculous Christianity can sound. 

"We believe in God. But not just any God. Our God became a man, a Jewish carpenter turned Rabbi over two thousand years ago. God did this, becoming man, in order to save the world. He succeeded in saving the world by dying on a cross and then rising from the dead; that is how he paid for our sins. He promised to be with us always, and we talked to Him this morning actually, and he promised he would come back one day. And if you want you can talk to Jesus too, and invite Him into your heart whenever you want!"

Now, as part of an entire narrative, it all makes sense. And I believe it. But laid out in a series of propositional sentences, it can sound ridiculous. 

Other examples I have used include the Twilight series (barf!), Kung Fu Panda (the power is inside of you! you just have to believe! there is no secret ingredient! Booyah....), and the false gospel preached at History Maker Conference last year.

Today, I came across yet another chance to make people think.  How many of you have ever heard this quote: 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Marianne Williamson in her book "A Return To Love" (which is an examination of, or reflection upon, "A Course in Miracles") {new age distorted spiritualistic garbage}

If you have seen the movie "Coach Carter" then you have heard this quote. Sounds good, doesn't it? But it is complete nonsense.

Whatever our deepest fear is (for we fear both rightly and wrongly), our deepest problem could be stated precisely in terms of our inadequacy: we are sinful and incapable of saving ourselves, our lives are inadequate to 'earn' forgiveness, reconciliation is beyond our reach. Only God can save us. We are not powerful beyond measure; we are finite, fallen, broken, and fragile human beings. And it is not our light, or our darkness, which ought to most frighten us but the light of God (John 3:19). As for being brilliant, gorgeous, talented, or fabulous, these are not the goals of life. We are to be faithful, hopeful, and loving. God has created us all unique, and called us to our very best, whatever that looks like; though we are all incredibly loved and valued, beyond anything we can imagine, by God. You are a child of God, and you ought precisely to humble yourself before Him so that he can lift you up; playing big will serve the world even less than playing small (though false humility is still unhelpful). We are meant to shine by reflecting the light of Christ into the world; no other light will help anyone (Matt. 6:23).  It is as we throw ourselves wholly on God that we free others to do anything worthwhile, and it is as He liberates us from our fears, through His perfect love, that we can become ministers of reconciliation and liberation to those around us.

So I urge you, think! Think about what you hear, see, read, and take in. Much will sound, or look, or smell, or taste, or feel good, but...