Archive for March, 2010

Bonhoeffer: A Biography, by Eric Metaxas

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , on March 27, 2010 by seguewm

How do you measure courage? What does it really mean to follow Jesus by faith? Does God still speak to believers in a manner that leads them to stand up to the evils of our day?

This is not only a tremendous story of a truly mindful human being, but also a wonderfully told story by an experienced author.  I began recommending this book to family and friends even before reaching the tenth of its thirty-one chapters! This is a must read for any contemplative soul of the twenty-first century.  It could have had a sub-title of: guide for the serious thinker.

There are a couple of things I wished could have been written differently. First, some chapters contained details that really weren’t necessary to the overall biographical sketch.  Minutiae often bogged down an otherwise thrilling story, yet very lengthy story. Second, unless one was already quite familiar with the history in which all this took place they would, as I did, look for more detail.  Inserts or an appendix with expanded details about particular historical events would have been much appreciated.

We live in such a polarized age that is instantly and even militantly apt to exclude those who differ, rather than to expect to learn anything, that this book presents itself as a warning.  Unless we discipline ourselves to be attentive to the realities around us without knee-jerk reactivity nor mindless tolerance, we will ultimately find ourselves hoodwinked by the neo-Hiltlers of our time. 

Events outside of our control can unwittingly escalate our commitment to ruinous pursuits.  Blinded by a miriad of complex factors we will fall prey to calling true savior, devils and the devil our savior. If you are seriously interested in being a thinker and not a mere reflector of the times, read this book.

If The Church Were Christian, by Phillip Gulley

Posted in Book Review with tags , , on March 27, 2010 by seguewm

 I’ve read his other thought-provoking books. I was thrilled to see that he had a new book published.  Making it even more enticing were those who recommended this book, some of my favorite authors – Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, Shane Claiborne, and Barbara Brown Taylor!

But, let me be honest, I haven’t ever fully agreed with all of Gulley’s notions.  I do, though, find his honest appraisal of the church refreshing. Lots of folks can critique the church or even to re-imagine it, but few offer useful ways to actually do itGulley makes Christianity real.

There are 10 chapters designed to address the issues of church-as-usual. For instance, what if we spent more effort knowing Jesus as our model for living rather than merely the One we worship?  What if we actually practiced our calling, the ministry of reconciliation, rather than majoring in judgment? Imagine how folks woud view the ‘church’ if acting graciously trumped our obsession with right belief?

Gulley suggests that the church lost its way when it chose to prioritize the afterlife over this life; cared more about the sexual practices of members than about loving others; valued the possession of power over being a leader towards peace;  protecting the institution of church as their prime directive rather than meeting the needs of hurting people; insisting on uniformity of belief & practice over unity in diversity; being experts who could answer every question rather than inviting questions and embracing mystery.

Is it possible for the church to get back on track?  Or should it, as Sam Harris suggests, be jettisoned as an embarrassment to humanity?  Will Christians be willing to acknowledge these failures and insist on change or will they continue to put their trust in the priest of the cult, rather than in the Lord Jesus himself?  Will we take the time to rediscover the values of Jesus or simply keep on in the facade of being ‘church’?

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect – by John C. Maxwell

Posted in Books to Read on March 14, 2010 by seguewm

What do the most effective leaders do differently when they communicate with people?  Everyone communicates, yet some folks are able to connect with those they are speaking to – in an almost magical way.  Is this a gift divinely endowed and written within the genes of a select few?  Is this ability to successfully grab and hold the attention of others an art that anyone can learn?  Or, is this knack for connecting more about character formation, the heart, rather than merely a technique? 

Maxwell engages this subject with his usual engaging form, introducing us not only to his own insights on this topic, but also to dozens of others that he has cleverly invited to participate in the creation of this book.  

There are plenty of great stories, quotes you’ll want to keep within easy reach or at least share with friends, and a well thought through reviews at the end of each chapter.  The other strengths of this book include Maxwell’s many years of experience as a leader and speaker, his ability to humorously illustrate his points, and his abundant research.

If there is anything on the less enjoyable side it would be the redundancy of ideas and just too many illustrations making the book about 75 pages longer than really needed.   In fact, it was on page 166 that Maxwell included this insight regarding how he speaks, yet not well applied to how he writes: “I’ve also discovered that when I speak for less time and do so more succinctly, people remember it better and longer. Isn’t that ironic?”  Yes, it is. 

Overall, I found far more to be blessed by – practically so – by the book and would recommend it to anyone interested in truly connecting with those they are speaking to.

The Teaching of the 12, by Tony Jones

Posted in Book Review on March 10, 2010 by seguewm

What did the earliest Christian communities believe?  What were their practices?  The didache set forth the basics for both belief and practice. A glimpse into these teachings, from a copy written in 1056 and only rediscovered in 1873, gives us a window into history that is otherwise unknown to us.

Tony Jones brings that time back to life by inviting us along on a journey into their world.  For the 21 century Christian living in the United States, the ancient practices of Christianity appear more than merely foreign to us.  Is this really the same religion?  Had they skewed (skewered?) it to fit their first century subculture or have we read into the faith our western culture?  Probably a bit of both is true.

This book is another vital piece that all thinking Christians ought to read – if not just to assuage curiosity about a historical period, then to actually broaden our own understanding of the diversity that makes up the ‘church’.

Manifold Witness, by John Franke

Posted in Book Review on March 3, 2010 by seguewm

What is truth? Are you sure you know? Might there exist more than one truth? How should Christians respond to the diversity of truth notions within Christendom?

John Franke takes the reader on an easy to understand, yet challenging discussion, focusing on the plurality of truth. It doesn’t take but a moment of reflection to confirm that, even among Bible-believing Christians who are deeply committed to Christ and who live Spirit-filled lives, that their perspectives on what is truth differs – often markedly.  But why?

Frankes response to all this is that this is God’s intention.  In fact, as finite beings it is impossible to know as God knows. Furthermore, what God has revealed has been ‘accomodated’ (think, The Shack), indigenized to where we ‘are’ and to ‘who’ we are in our particular cultural milieu.

All this is rather humbling – and should be. When we assume that what we ‘know’ is the absolute and only way to ‘know’, we err.  More so, we make an idol out of our ‘knowing’.  Others need to hear what we experience of God and we must hear what God has given them as an experience.  Together we are enriched. Arrogantly separated we all lose.

None of this, wrote Franke, is to suggest that all ideas are equal or even ‘good’.  There are parameters within which truth exists.  It thus behooves the body of Christ to frequently deconstruct what is ‘known’ and to pursue the perspectives of what others have ‘known’ historically about God and ‘known’ today from within the varying cultures and ever-evolving traditions of ‘church’.

What Frankes has written, much like what Peter Rollins has given to us, is a useful frame of reference for thinking within Christian communities.  Christians who choose to abstain from wrestling with these notions not only deny the Spirit-given wisdom of the ages, but will predictably find themselves adding to the dysfunction of society.  Ours can only be a ministry of reconciliation to the degree that we humbly acknowledge our finiteness before the eternal and infinite God.

Saint Patrick, by Jonathan Rogers

Posted in Book Review on March 2, 2010 by seguewm

Saint Patrick has always been known through more obvious myth than fact.  The legends about him are endear, yet often a bit strange.  Jonathan Rogers presents one of the best pictures of this saint that I’ve read – sharing the unimaginable while parsing out, as best as possible, the reality.  I think Saint Patrick himself would have been pleased by this report of his life and work.

Rogers begins his book by introducing the reader to the world that then existed. He then pieces together for us, using the two documents written by Saint Patrick as well as other historical documents, the life of this man of faith.  Truly, this was a Christian of incredible faith.

The story leads us from his privileged boyhood faithlessness, through years of faith development while in captivity as a slave of Irish barbarians, to a daring escape to freedom, and finally his Spirit-led return to the land of his captivity to serve as the pastor of Ireland.  As in many stories like this, one can’t help but imagine if I, the reader, would have been man enough to do as Patrick did.  Would I have seen and heard God in the midst of such loss and suffering?  Could I have returned to the land of my enemy to lead my captors to God?

In a brief 132 pages, Rogers well engages the reader in an unforgettable, unregrettable, spiritual journey.