Narrative Apologetics – A Book Review

narrative apologeticsIs there a way to talk speak convincingly about Christianity without using theology? Can the stories we read in the Bible and stories where we see the work of God be used to compel people towards a faith in Jesus Christ?

Alister McGrath says that stories of the Christian faith, “can open up important ways of communicating and commending the gospel, enabling it to be understood, connecting it with the realities of human experience, and challenging other stories that are told about the world and ourselves.” We are a storied people who continually attempt to find meaning through stories, analogies, and allegories.

In “Narrative Apologetics” Alister McGrath refers to stories within the Bible where a narratival approach is used to break down defenses and reveal truth. Nathan’s confrontation with David stands as one example, as Nathan stealthily shares a story that helps David see the error of his ways. Jesus used parables in the gospels to illustrate deeper points to his audience. Sometimes, removing the specific emotional attachments that people might have to a particular account allows them to see more clearly and objectively to the meaning which is being conveyed within a story.

McGrath mentions many of the great Christian writers who have used allegory and story to illustrate the finer points of the gospel. Among them are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Both Lewis and Tolkien came to understand Christianity  not as a myth alongside other myths, but rather as the “fulfillment of all myths” to which all other myths point. In other words, in the search for meaning found in mythology, all the stories which make up those mythologies can be completed when resting upon Christianity.

McGrath goes on to share certain aspects of Christianity’s story and how meaning can be derived from it. The exodus. The exile of God’s people. The story of Jesus Christ. When looking at these stories, one can find connection. Rather than couching reality in abstract terms, narrative allows us to “taste” reality.

Meaning can be found through the use of narratives. Even when we begin to tell our own stories, we can begin to find meaning when we see it not as a story unto itself but as connected to the bigger story of God and Christianity. We tell our stories to connect us to the bigger story in which we are living, the story of the gospel, God’s rescuing of us.

Although this is a relatively short book, this wasn’t the easiest book to get into. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was the case. Perhaps it was the dry approach used by McGrath. Maybe it felt like some of the treatments of the material were exhaustive within the book itself. Regardless, this wasn’t a book that I would recommend to just anyone. If you are interested in exploring this idea of narrative apologetics and using story to give meaning to life, this may be a good start to move towards that.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge by Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

The NIV Life Application Study Bible – Review

1105192023.jpgAt the beginning of the NIV Application Study Bible, there is a section called “Why the Life Application Study Bible Is Unique.” It gives a synopsis of what makes this Bible unique. Just a few pages further and the features of this Bible are listed.

Each book within the NIV Life Application Study Bible starts the same way with an overview of the book. It is formatted so that every book looks the same and one can easily find what they are looking for regarding the specifics of a book. Purpose, author, original audience, date written, setting, key verse, key people, key place, and special features. The blueprint or outline of the book is laid out. The megathemes of the book are also given to know what to look for when reading the book.

Maps are also shown, detailing the specific places of interest throughout the book. This is helpful to be able to follow geographically the events of the books and helps tie them to other books and sets them specifically in the area in which they occurred. As the reader goes through the text, it’s super helpful to have these maps to give geographic context and to have a better understanding of where the text takes place.

Throughout the Bible are sections dedicated to characters encountered in the text. These sections give background information and short narratives of the character. They also contain a list that details some specific accomplishments, facts, statistics, and even a key verse regarding the character. Rather than having to thumb through the entire Bible to discover more about the characters about which you are reading, these sections have everything laid out in one place to discover simply and easily all the important information you want.

Much has been written in book form of the Harmony of the Gospels, within the pages of the NIV Life Application Study Bible, there is a short treatment of this, listing out in table form the significant events of Jesus’ life and ministry and where within the four Gospels these can be found. This is a helpful table to compare and contrast and to have a quick and easy resource to study these specific events yourself.

1105192024.jpgAesthetically, this Bible looks great. Not only is the soft leather cover an attractive and eye-catching element, but it also has a lay flat design that makes it easier to read when open on a table or countertop. While the thin pages initially stick together a lot, it seems like good incentive to read it more frequently to break those pages in.

If you are looking for a study Bible with helpful tools and resources, the NIV Life Application Study Bible may just be the end of your search.

(This review is based upon a copy of this Bible which was provided free of charge from Zondervan as a member of BG2. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Giving In Faith

you of little faith

If you were to ask any pastor the topics that are the most uncomfortable for them to address and preach on, I would be hard pressed to believe that money and giving would not fall in the top five. Despite the discomfort that pastors might have in addressing these subjects, Jesus seemed to have no problem whatsoever addressing these issues. After all, he said in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

People in the United States give an average of 3 percent to charitable causes annually. If you look at Christians within the church, the same number applies. Yet, there are numerous references in the Bible for people to be giving back at least ten percent to God. Why the disparity?

Ryan Thomas has written a provocative book meant to challenge believers to give not charitably or out of obligation but out of faith. Rather than giving because it is commanded or because of an altruistic spirit, Thomas urges believers to give in faith with the expectation that God will give back.

Thomas defines a faith-based giver as one whom, “gives to God, and only to God, and not because of how the money will be used.” He tells his own story, sharing of how he and his wife gave sacrificially and how God returned the blessing to them. He shares that giving to God should be driven by the rewards that we know we will receive in giving. In fact, he claims, the idea of giving to receive a reward is seen throughout the Bible and he shares the various places where we see this.

After sharing his own story, Thomas lays out the four rewards that should come to us when we give in faith. We give in faith because it will strengthen our faith, it will free us from materialism, we will be provided for, and we will receive treasure in heaven. He spends time within the book supporting these rewards and how the Bible supports them as well.

When I picked up “You of Little Faith,” I was incredibly skeptical of the message that it seemed to be promoting. It smelled of a “health and wealth” gospel, a gospel that can often treat God like a genie in a bottle, ready to accommodate our every request and desire. As I read from the author’s own experience, there were certainly times that I squirmed, feeling uncomfortable with what he was sharing. But I began to ask myself whether my discomfort was because what he was sharing was wrong or because it was different from everything that had been traditionally taught about giving.

As I made my way through the book, I couldn’t help but see parallels between what the author was sharing and my own experience in life. Growing up the son of a pastor, I heard stories from my parents of how God had provided for them in the midst of very difficult times. As a pastor myself, I have experienced those same times, times when I wondered how on earth we could keep pressing forward as a family, only to have God show up in a powerful and mighty way, unexpected and miraculous.

While there are certain things within “You of Little Faith” that I don’t necessarily agree with, the overall message of the book was a challenge to me to step out further in faith, giving more than was rational in expectation of just how God would show his faithfulness in sacrifice.

Among the verses that Thomas shares within the book is Malachi 3:10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” It’s a verse that most church-going people have heard around the matter of giving, but I wonder how many have written it off as irrelevant because of its location in the Old Testament.

If you want to be challenged to the point of wrestling and discomfort, you should read this book. While you might not agree with everything that the author shares and writes, you may be stretched in your faith, causing you to step out and test whether what he poses is true. If nothing else, it may cause your faith to grow in a way that you weren’t expecting.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Raising Resilient Disciples

faith for exilesIf you spend any time at all around the church and pay any attention to what’s going on in the western church, you know that there is a trend of younger generations leaving the church. Not only are children not being raised in the church but those children who have been raised in the church are going off to college, leaving church and sometimes faith behind.

Over the years, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, one of America’s leading research companies, has written much based upon the research that his organization has done. Together with Mark Matlock, he seeks to tackle this topic head on that research in his latest book, “Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon.”

The authors pull no punches in speaking truth. I the introduction, they write that it is their contention, “that today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” While the history of God’s people has shown that they can resiliently walk our their faith, they also contend that the kind of resilient faith that lasts and allows one to walk through difficulties, trials, and antagonistic culture is tougher to grow today.

While that might seem like bad news for some, the authors speak of how faith can grow deeper and stronger in unsettled times and dark places. The current climate may cause some to head for the hills and hide, but the authors are offering this book as a challenge that resilient faith can be grown, it just takes intentionality and hard work.

The authors speak of the importance of culture and its influence. They use biblical examples of characters who have walked in direct opposition to the culture surrounding them, the culture in which they have been immersed. One of the greatest examples may be Daniel and his three friends who found themselves exiles living in Babylon, a culture dramatically different and even opposed to their Jewish homeland.

Complicating our culture is the medium of technology and how it pulls us and the next generations away from productive things, particularly spiritual things. Screens demand our attention, they call us to be their disciples. Jesus himself said that we can’t serve two masters, so how do we can we be disciples of him and screens at the same time?

Matlock and Kinnaman suggest that we are exiles living in digital Babylon. While we would like to go back to Jerusalem, our home and safe haven, we don’t have that luxury and we need to find a way to live out of faith in this somewhat hostile environment. Fortunately, the story of exile isn’t limited to Daniel and his friends, it’s a story that plays out over and over again in the biblical narrative. We see God’s people living as exiles in lands that are foreign and often hostile.

The authors propose that discipleship today has the goal of developing Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live a vibrant life in the Spirit. They go on to reveal some of Barna’s research as they define four different kinds of exiles: Prodigals (ex-Christians), Nomads (unchurched), Habitual Churchgoers, and Resilient Disciples. Among 18-29 year olds today, 10% are resilient disciples, 38% are habitual churchgoers, 30% are nomads, and 22% are prodigals.

The book goes on to lay out five practices that have led to resilient faith. These practices are based on a decade of work and research. Not only are these authors experts in researching this material but they have also experienced this personally with their own children, experiencing how these practices make a difference.

The five practices that the research has shown build resilient disciples are: forming a resilient identity and experiencing intimacy with Jesus, developing muscles of cultural discernment, developing meaningful intergenerational relationships, training for vocational discipleship, and engaging in countercultural mission.

Intimacy with Jesus is about so much more than weekly worship gatherings. As the authors write, “we too easily mistake the starting point for the destination, oversimplifying Christianity to mere decionism.” This isn’t about merely following rules and habitually attending church and programs, it means creating an intimate relationship with Jesus, allowing young people to see that God speaks to us. Discipleship is growing in an understanding that one can hear and respond to the voice of Jesus in their lives.

Developing muscles of cultural discernment means combatting the easy and convenient teaching and learning that can be gained through technology.  As they define it, cultural discernment is the ability to compare the beliefs, values, customs, and creations of the world we live in (digital Babylon) to those of the world we belong to (the kingdom of God). It means we don’t bury our heads in the sand and we take a posture of learning and counterculturally speak. It’s not so much about protecting young people but preparing them for what they will face and how they will respond and live.

Developing meaningful intergenerational relationships  means being devoted to fellow believers we want to be around and become. It means mentoring and being mentored. It means to combat a culture of isolation and mistrust with deeper and spiritually significant relationships with those who have gained wisdom in experience. In digital Babylon, technology takes the place of real relationships, so those real relationships need to be forged in resilient disciples so that they won’t settle for cheap alternatives like technology.  These relationships are not forged by steamrolling questions and looking past legitimate doubts but sticking around long enough to work them out.

Vocational discipleship is about training up the next generation to know how to think about work and calling. It means finding meaning in what we do, not simply surviving. It means understanding talents and abilities, listening to God’s call, affirming those things, and being a church that enables and trains them to work this all out. Vocational discipleship does not mean full-time vocational ministry for all but it means being a full-time disciple regardless of your vocation, or even living out as a disciple through your vocation.

Finally, countercultural mission means living differently from cultural norms. We are privileged to be invited by God to join him in his mission to the world. This isn’t necessarily a safe mission, living in exile is not safe. Kinnaman and Matlock write, “Too many of our ministry efforts prepare people for a world that doesn’t exist, undercutting our witness and passing flimsy faith to the next generation.” The church needs to improve by focusing more on safe living than on faithful living. We need to help people believe and know how to express themselves and those beliefs in a spirit of love and respect.

Having read other books by Kinnaman, I was looking forward to reading this book. Much of what the authors share coincides with research that has come out of the Fuller Youth Institute as well. That kind of consistency should be encouraging for the church and should spur her on to the mission of raising up resilient disciples.

In order to fulfill this mission of raising up resilient disciples, we can no longer settle for a church that expects everyone to come to them, seeking good to be consumed and comfortable spaces to be coddled. Instead, we should be willing to venture into sometimes unsafe places, not just physical, in order that we might live out our faith resiliently, faithfully, and effectively.

If you care about the next generation and care about the church, “Faith For Exiles” is a book to be read with a message to be heeded. Matlock and Kinnaman offer not just problems but solutions. Their ideas are not some nebulous or fantastical theories but are based on thorough research. This book is a call to action, the question is whether or not the church will heed that call.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Creating a Remarkable Culture

bet on talentThe dictionary defines culture as, “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.” Everything and everyone has culture. Some of that culture is inherited and we try to change it. Some of that culture is created intentionally to shape and direct the future.

Dee Ann Turner spent three decades selecting talent within her organization. In the process of selecting talent, she realized how important the people selected for talent were in shaping culture. In her book “Bet On Talent” she talks about using talent to create a remarkable culture. She writes, “Because people decisions are the most important decisions a leader makes, they can be game changers for the culture and the organizations.”

Turner speaks out of her vast experience at Chick-Fil-A. She says, “it is far easier to create a strong, healthy culture from the beginning than to rebrand a struggling culture after it is formed.” She talks about the characteristics that make up a remarkable culture and how that culture is influenced by the people within it. Toxic people can create a toxic culture. Domineering people, primarily bosses, can stifle a culture and reduce creativity, innovation, morale, and motivation.

The essence of a culture is in the person at the top. As Turner writes, “Culture is not owned by the talent, people, or human resources function of an organization. It is owned by the person at the very top, and then all of the other leadership and everyone who is part of the organization have a role to play in  building, growing, and strengthening the culture.”

Throughout “Bet on Talent,” Turner shares about the elements of a remarkable culture, how to build a team that creates this kind of culture, how to grow that culture among your team, and how to engage guests through that remarkable culture. There is so much wisdom that Turner shares about the characteristics of culture, how they are created, and how they impact not only your team but the people that you are seeking to reach.

Turner says that quality people can create a remarkable culture which can, in turn, draw remarkable people to that culture and experience. She talks about the importance of principles over rules as rules can be restrictive, especially for those who can’t see beyond them. So much of what she shared had me nodding my head in agreement as I had experienced in various places in my life people who had created both remarkable and toxic cultures. It was helpful to see not only the characteristics of remarkable cultures, as shared by Turner, but also how to go about creating those cultures and to avoid some of the pitfalls that will be encountered along the way.

If there was any criticism for this book, it was that the chapters were so long. The book was structured well and flowed well, but there were not as many stopping points throughout the book to allow for digestion of the material. Chapters varied in length from about sixteen pages all the way to over fifty pages.

There were so many insights that Turner shared that I thought were so beneficial. I came to the book at a time when I was in the process of creating culture in an organization myself, so it felt that much more significant and relevant for me. While Turner shares from her experience in the business world, the principles that she shares can easily be transferred into the non-profit sector as well, allowing for remarkable cultures to be created in that world just as well.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

 

Confronting Old Testament Controversies – A Book Review

Confronting OT ControversiesFor anyone who considers themself to be a Christian, they have most likely encountered a verse, a passage, a story, or even a book of the Bible that has had them scratching their head, wondering whether or not it’s true or just how they should be interpreting it. For centuries, people have come to these passages from a variety of different viewpoints.

How do we approach the Bible? What do we do with the sections that seem fairly controversial to us? What happens when parts of it seem to be out of date or irrelevant? What happens when the dominant culture pulls away from what had become the societal norms conveyed in the pages of Scripture?

With his latest book, “Confronting Old Testament Controversies – Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence,” Tremper Longman addresses some of the questions most frequently asked about the Bible and all that is found within its pages.

To start, Longman states in his introduction that, “this book is written for the church and not the broader culture.” This is a helpful statement knowing that he would be writing with a very different approach had his book been targeted at those who did not necessarily subscribe to the Bible’s teachings.

Longman tells his readers what he will be addressing within the book. Creation and evolution. Historicity. Divine Violence. Sexuality.

Longman spends some necessary time addressing the notion of inerrancy.  He writes of interpretation and intended meaning of authors. Basically, he gives a high level overview of hermeneutics. He does a good job of giving this overview as he also addresses context and seeing Scripture through the eyes of those for whom it was originally intended.

God speaks, Longman writes, through nature and through the Bible. While those things are inerrant, our interpretations of both of those may not always be true.

From here, Longman goes on to dig into Genesis. He addresses various teachings that have occurred over the years on the first chapters of the Bible. How should we be interpreting it based upon other writings similar in style to it? Is there figurative language used that is trying to be read more literally than it was intended?

As he lays this all out, Longman writes that Genesis 1 is not giving the reader, “a blow-by-blow account of how God created everything but is using the standard workweek…as a literary device…” He reminds the reader that genre triggers reading strategy. So, we are in error to be reading poetry or analogy as history.

He compares the creation account found in the Bible to other creation accounts found in the ancient near East. He concludes the section saying that there is no reason, in his scholarly opinion, to think that what is found in the pages of Genesis gives a factual report of the specific process of creation. Considering evolution or other secondary causes, Longman suggests, does not undermine God’s role as the divine Creator. He goes on to address the fall of humanity, Adam and Eve, and other ramifications that his interpretation may reveal.

After creation and evolution, Longman addresses the historicity of various sections of the Bible. Did they really happen? If they didn’t happen, does that undermine the validity of Scripture? What do we do when Scripture makes reference to these elsewhere or when Jesus himself makes reference to them?

In this section, Longman, who considers himself a part of the evangelical camp, is critical of evangelicals saying that, “evangelicals have a tendency to treat the Bible as if it were all one genre.” While he addresses a story like Job and says that it did not actually happen historically, he also addresses the exodus and says that the historicity of that story is crucial to establishing a track record for the God of Israel.

Longman gets fairly technical, addressing some of the historic finds that have brought into question the validity and historicity of the Bible. His bottom line is that not all of the sections of the Bible need to be interpreted as having literally and historically taken place in order for the message that is conveyed to be true and important.

He then moves to the section on divine violence. As he enters into this section, he gives his reader the bottom line thesis saying that both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible give a consistent, coherent, and unified picture of God. He addresses the concern that many have had in trying to reconcile the wrath of God shown in the Old Testament with the love of God identified within the New Testament.

He does a good job of conveying his viewpoint as well as contrary viewpoints. He gives reasons for his difference and supports his argument. As he speaks of death, pain, suffering, and violence, Longman reminds his reader that death and suffering were not the purpose or goal of Jesus’ mission but instead that his mission was accomplished through death and suffering.

While there are certainly uncomfortable sections and events in the pages of the Bible which describe the wrath and violence of God, Longman says that we need to interpret God based on his revelation of himself in those pages rather than trying to soften the sections that make us uncomfortable or with which we disagree.

The final section of Longman’s book may very well be the most anticipated and controversial. It seems that the traditional Christian stance on sexuality has become outdated and flies in sharp contrast and opposition to where culture and society are today.

Longman addresses the controversy and argument that many have made regarding the publicness of sex. He writes, “Sex and marriage are public, social acts, not private acts, even if the sexual acts are done behind closed doors.” He also addresses gender and sexuality dysfunction, saying that everyone is sexually dysfunctional at some level.

While Longman addresses the standard laws that have been used in the argument against homosexuality, he also brings focus back to creation and speaks of God’s original intent for things. He reminds them that creation, as we are experiencing it, is not as God originally intended it to be. Therefore, we need to be cautious about not considering that as we look at everything.

He addresses the standard argument of the three types of laws found within the Old Testament: ceremonial, moral, and civil laws. He makes his case that ceremonial and even some civil laws may have been fulfilled but that there is no indication in the Bible that the moral laws that were originally given to the people of God were ever made null and void anywhere in Scripture.

He hits on arguments and questions that have been made by some who support an affirming lifestyle. He writes, “Our problem is that we, as modern Westerners, believe that love should allow us all as individuals to find our own personal happiness in the here and now. But personal happiness is not the greatest good in the Bible.” Ultimately, Longman lands on the traditional side of this argument.

Longman addresses each of these topics in its own chapter, making the chapters fairly long. Each chapter has discussion questions for use by the reader to spend time mulling over these various sections. Some sections get a little heady and he may lose some of his readers in these technical sections. Of course, I could imagine him simply suggesting that readers skip to the sections of which they are most interested.

I was so curious coming to this book as to where he would stand on these four important topics. As I read through the first section on creation and evolution, I was somewhat surprised at where he came down with his conclusion. Then, after reading the first three sections of the book, I was rather surprised to come to Longman’s section on sexuality and read his stance. I had expected, based on what I had encountered in those first three sections, that Longman would be vying for a non-traditional approach towards sexuality and marriage.

Longman treated these topics with academic care, as would be suggested by someone of his educational and professional background. While there were times when he seemed to be belabor the point (in my opinion), I think he did a sufficient job of covering his bases, laying out arguments for and against his case, and clearly giving his final analysis on these topics.

Readers may not hang on for all the depth that Longman gives them in this book. While he comes from the academic world and, at times, he dives fully into that in his writing and explanations, he does a good job not getting too overly academic and is still understandable by the average person.

Longman did not seem to have treated all four of these topics consistently. While there were some sections where he would bring in viewpoints of others, he did not always do that. While I would not say that this impacted his treatment of any of these topics, it would have been nice to have been given some names and viewpoints together rather than going through the bibliography and looking up books and authors individually.

“Confronting Old Testament Controversies” is worth the read. While it may not be for everyone, those who do read through it from front to back, regardless of whether they agree or not, should find themselves walking away having learned something along the way.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Logic of God – A Book Review

The Logic of GodRavi Zacharias has become fairly renowned for his apologetic work. I would be surprised for anyone who followed him through his speaking or writing to suggest that he comes across as arrogant or simplistic. He is thoughtful and courteous, using logic to explain his own rationale for belief in God.

It makes perfect sense then that this apologist would write a book entitled “The Logic of God.” Belief in God, Zacharias claims in the introduction, “offers the most coherent and logical answers to life’s four essential questions – origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.” With this claim in mind, Zacharias set about to write a book that would encourage Christians to build up their worldview.

I appreciate Zacharias’ words when he says that, “apologetics is often first seen before it is heard.” We live out our worldview and our faith before we are ever given the opportunity or permission from someone to explain why we believe what we believe. In today’s culture, where everything and anything goes, Zacharias reminds his readers that, “Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false.”

“The Logic of God,” like other works of Zacharias, is well-written. His thoughtfulness comes through in his writing as it does when one listens to him speak. This book is organized into fifty-two chapter, one for every week of the year. Each chapter begins with a Bible verse or passage, followed by narrative written by Zacharias, and concluding with reflection questions and personal application points. This allows the reader to read and reflect on a chapter per week, should they so desire.

The subtitle of the book is, “52 Christian essentials for the heart and mind.” As I read through the book, I appreciated everything that I read, but it was hard for me to see a cohesion between all the chapters. The information was encouraging and helpful by itself. The book is hardcover bound with a fabric bookmark sewn into the binding for the reader. So, it seems this book is really meant to be a gift book or coffee table book.

While I would have liked the chapters to flow better together, I don’t think that was Zacharias’ intention with the book. It serves as a book that can be left on the table, in the living room, at your bedside, in the bathroom, or wherever you read the most. The reader can pick it up whenever and wherever they want, easily reading through the short chapters one at a time.

With that in mind, this book succeeds for what it is, a devotional read for encouragement and uplifting.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Brave Surrender – A Book Review

brave surrenderIt seems that when God wants to use someone in a mighty way, there is a certain amount of difficulty and pain that they need to walk through in order to be ready and formed. Kind of a like a diamond, the pressures and stress inflicted will result in beauty, people can be shaped and formed into a tool and vessel for God. Kim Walker-Smith is a perfect example of this.

In her book “Brave Surrender,” which is more of a memoir and recounting of her early life up to the present, Walker-Smith honestly and candidly tells her story. She starts with what she is most well known for, her rendition of “How He Loves”  with Jesus Culture, and moves through the difficulties she faced growing up. Her father’s motorcycle accident which led to a severe brain injury and eventual divorce of her parents. Stepfathers who abused her, physically and mentally. A struggle with who she was and who God was calling her to be.

Throughout the book, Walker-Smith’s tendency towards the charismatic is evident. She refers to the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit because putting “the” in front of him makes her relationship with him seem so impersonal. But it’s evident that she has a strong relationship with the Holy Spirit, constantly seeking to be in tune to his leading and movement in her life.

Walker-Smith writes with candor and openness. She lays all of her past out there on the pages knowing that God has shaped and formed her through all of these difficulties. She isn’t afraid to reveal it because she’s confident that God can use it to help others in their own journey.

“Brave Surrender” accounts Kim’s story and really gives the reader a glimpse into who she has become through all that she has been through. As she writes, she speaks of the growth points in her life, her need to worry less about pleasing others, her need to surrender to God’s leading in the midst of fear, anxiety, and depression.

Walker-Smith’s story is an experiential recounting of God’s work in her life. It is an encouragement to those whose journeys have been difficult, an encouragement to know that God can even use them. If your journey has been a difficult one and you are wondering how God might still be able to use you, “Brave Surrender” may bring the God-given hope that you are looking for.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Between Belief and Unbelief

When Faith FailsIf you’ve spent any time in the church, you may have grown uncomfortable with certain things that you see there. Aside from certain social issues that have emerged to the forefront in the recent past, there are other things that have irked people who find themselves struggling to make sense of what they know of God, what they read in the Bible, and what they experience in their daily lives. The juxtaposition of those three things is rarely as well-fitting as puzzle pieces but might rather feel more like the jagged edges of glass or pottery that were shattered and are now trying to be mended and put back together again.

Dominic Done steps into a difficult and sometimes controversial topic in his book “When Faith Fails.” He addresses doubt, a subject which has been avoided in some camps and embraced in others. Rather than taking the approach that it is bad, wrong, or sinful, Done instead recognizes it for what it is, “an opportunity for authentic and vibrant faith.”

Done divides the book into three sections: Far From Home, Exploring the Terrain, and Coming Home. Far From Home addresses how we got here to this point of doubt, wrestling with our faith. Exploring the Terrain seeks to find hope in life’s hardest questions. Coming Home deals with moving through doubt in pursuit of deep faith.

In the Far From Home section, Done is quick to correct those who may want to live or expect to live with complete and total certainty. He says that in seeking total certainty, we lose the beauty of mystery. As he puts it, “If all we value is explanation, we lose the joy of exploration.” He spends the section vying for a healthy doubt and trying to promote is as normal and an everyday part of life.

Doubt, as Done sees it, is living in the world in between belief and unbelief. It is a moment of tension, living somewhere in between. It is the place that stands in stark contrast to the Lego gospel which says that everything is awesome, because life is hard, tragic, and people sometimes suffer. It is the place you come to when everything you thought was supporting you and holding you up disintegrates.

As “When Faith Fails” unfolds in these pages, Done shares insights and wisdom, but he does it with care, compassion, and sensitivity. There are plenty of helpful phrases that he shares, none of which felt contrived or cliche to me. For instance, “God doesn’t demand that we understand him, but he does ask that we trust him.” And, “You can believe without doubting, but you can’t doubt without believing.”

The Exploring the Terrain section contains an apologetic for the Bible. Can we trust it? As he walks through this section, he helpfully tells the reader that we might need to change our approach and view of the Bible. Rather than looking at it through modern or postmodern eyes, Done suggests we see it for what it is, “an eccentric, weird, difficult, challenging, inspiring, inviting, paradigm-disrupting book that, page by page, story by story, culminates in the person of Jesus.”

Done also asks in this section whether science is the enemy of faith. As he sees it, faith and science are not enemies, but different sides to the same picture. He writes, “Science only tells us part of the story. It reveals and enriches our perception of reality; opening our eyes to the complexity and splendor of the world. But it cannot tell us why it takes our breath away.”

While many in the world of religion see science as the enemy and many in the field of science see religion as incompatible with science, there are others who live in the tension of both, scientists who are theologians and who embrace both sides.

Theodicy, the problem of pain and suffering, and the silence of God are also addressed by Done. He doesn’t throw trite answers at any of the questions he poses. He also doesn’t give packaged responses that fail to address what is at the heart of these questions and issues. If I could describe the approach in one way, it would be embracing the tension of the in between. So, if you are seeking a beautiful resolution like a thirty minute sitcom, you should probably go somewhere else.

As Done moves into the third and final section, one of the most memorable recommendations that he makes to the reader is to, “do the hard work to put yourself in a place where the truth can find you.” He recommends seeking out community because it is in community that we are shaped, formed, and that we learn. Rather than seeing community as a provider of resources to be consumed, we should see it as a family to invest in. Even as we look at Scripture, Done says, we should see it as active participation in the unfolding of a story that tells us we are all in this together. The community of the church is the place where broken people should discover that they are not alone.

Done does a great job of encouraging his readers to embrace doubt with purpose and intent. While some doubt dogmatically challenging anyone to prove those doubts false, Done recommends an approach that seeks to learn and understand, not completely, but adequately.

I have encountered a number of people within the church over the years who have been so adamantly against doubt that you would think they were afraid of the outcome had they embraced it. I wish that I had encountered a book like “When Faith Fails” a long time ago, I would have felt less awkward and much more affirmed when I found myself in that in between world.

The approach that Done recommends with doubt is very much the approach that is modeled by David in the Psalms. He started with his honest doubts, questions, and concerns, but he always came back to God, who he was, what he had done, and what he had promised to do in the future.

If you have wrestled with doubts and questions, this book won’t give you quick and easy answers, but it will help you to know that you are not alone nor is there something wrong with you. Instead, Done brings encouragement to his readers to embrace the tension and continue on the journey with expectation, anticipation, and mystery. If you can live with the tension, then “When Faith Fails” may just be the book to help encourage you through it.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Parents as growing guides

Growing WithI have sat back and observed the helicopter parents that seem to be so prevalent within our society. I’ve witnessed those parents who seem to be living vicariously through their children’s experiences. I’ve wondered whether the children who are on the courts and fields alongside my own children are there because they legitimately have a love and desire to play a sport or because their parents are banking on their kids securing an athletic scholarship in the no too distant future.

There is no doubt that parenting isn’t for cowards. There is no doubt that there are parents out there who have no concept of their own growth and transformation alongside their children on the journey. But if we embrace a faith in Christ and truly seek to be changed and transformed on this journey, we should also be seeking to be transformed in places where we may somehow think we’ve arrived, that includes parenting.

“As parents and caring adults, we often feel the gap between us and our kids widening as they become teenagers and young adults. Maybe it’s just that they’re growing up. But we fear the gap is also a symptom that we’re growing apart.” So write Kara Powell and Steve Argue as they begin their latest book “Growing With.”

Powell and Argue say that Growing With parenting is an attempt to close this growing gap between parents and their maturing children. Growing With parenting is an attempt to seek transformation not only for our children, but for ourselves as well. As maturity seems to be trending older now, meaning that children are arriving at certain life experiences later than their parents, there is a need for parents to understand this, learn from it, and seek ways to help rather than hinder their children on those journeys.

With this in mind, Powell and Argue suggest three dynamic verbs by which parents can best help their children and themselves as they move through this journey: withing, faithing, and adulting. It is around these three verbs that “Growing With” is written.

There is a constant tendency to want our children to experience things similarly to us, but we have to understand that the world is different. We need to hold on more loosely to our own ideals and dreams and allow our children to develop and mature in a path that may look vastly different from our own. As the authors write, “Growing alongside our withing, faithing, and adulting kids requires holding our future snapshots loosely, because our dreams may not end up being theirs.”

Powell and Argue, through their research, lay out guidelines by which parents can best facilitate their children’s growth through these three phases of withing, faithing, and adulting. They helpfully identify the various stages along the journey by labeling both children and parents. Children move from learners to explorers to focusers while their parents move from teachers to guides to resources. Because everyone is different, there is an overlap in all of these stages as children are transitioning from learners to explorers to focusers. Just as children transition through these stages, so do parents transition and there is overlap through their stages of teachers to guides to resources as well.

Just as there is awkwardness and uncertainty for our children as they move through these stages, so is there awkwardness and uncertainty in our own transition through the stages of parenting. We will not always get it right, we are not perfect, we will fail. Powell and Argue are not ashamed to share their insights which have come from both successfully navigating those transitions as well as unsuccessfully navigating. There are plenty of insights that come from the learnings that have been gained from failures and mistakes. I appreciate the humility and candidness with which the authors come, sharing their own imperfections to encourage the rest of us that even the “experts” don’t always get it right.

The authors use a helpful diagram which lays out a picture of the journey through all three stages of withing, faithing, and adulting as children move from learners to explorers to focusers and as parents complete their own journey as teachers to guides to resources. The inclusion of this diagram throughout the book is a helpful reminder to the reader of what the journey may look like and just how fluid these processes become.

Humility and grace are required for this journey. Growing With parenting cannot be achieved by parents who are seeking only for their kids to avoid certain things or for parents who simply believe that filling their children with Jesus when they’re young will somehow propel them forward and fill them up for the rest of their lives. Growing With parenting seeks for faith to be more than a noun. Faith is also a verb.

There are so many insights within this book, more than a short review allows me to share. Having read Kara’s book “Sticky Faith” years ago and also having been privileged to have been part of Sticky Faith cohort through the Fuller Youth Institute, the principles which are laid out and shared in “Sticky Faith” and also in Kara and Steve’s book “Growing Young” are cumulative, the build on one another. While reading these other books isn’t a requirement to read “Growing With,” it is helpful to be familiar with the concept which the authors lay out.

Part of the Growing With journey for parents is about allowing your children to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It’s also about giving children the space to make decisions that don’t always align with your own values. The authors share insights into the most effective ways to do this and, through their own research, share the statistics and rates of success. Not surprisingly, some of the methods that may have been labeled as “tried and true” in the past are proven, through research, to not be nearly as effective as they once were thought to be.

Powell and Argue do their best to tackle as broad of a spectrum of experiences as possible in “Growing With.” They share insights about identity issues that emerging adults may be struggling through, particularly in the area of LGBTQ. While this might cause some readers to squirm, I appreciate the authors’ sensitivity and understanding that this is not an issue to be swept under the rug, but rather one to hold and acknowledge, regardless of where you stand on the specifics of this identity and the Bible.

Having not only read their books but having also sat under their teaching, I can honestly say that Kara and Steve offer parents the triple threat of information. They have been educated in this area, they have done extensive research in this area, and they have the experience of being parents themselves of emerging adults who have been on this journey. The insights and wisdom that they offer doesn’t come from some ivory tower of academia but it is seasoned with the scars and lumps that have been gained from knowing firsthand what this all feels like.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that there are times in “Growing With” that some of the statistics and additional information presented can feel burdensome. But admittedly, I am a bottom line person who can too easily become entangled with peripherals, so I appreciate a straightforward presentation of material. I often feel the need to read every sidebar, note, and insight within a book. I don’t imagine that the authors expect that same approach from every reader, but they also know that there will inevitably be those readers who want this additional information so that they can journey down the rabbit hole towards a better understanding of the conclusions reached in this book.

For readers who are longing to see not only the growth and development of their children but also their own growth and development, “Growing With” is a must read book. Nowhere along the way will the reader feel as if they are being lectured or talked down to, instead, they should feel as if they are being the gift of two humble and loving guides who are seeking to help others navigate and negotiate the difficult journey of parenting in the 21st century.

I highly recommend this book, not only to be read once, but to be kept on your shelf for constant reference as you navigate the rough waters of parenting. I also recommend that anyone who is part of a local church, whether in leadership or not, read this book as well. Based on what we read in Scripture, the task of parenting should not be limited to those who are biologically or legally responsible for their children. If we truly care about the growth and transformation of Christ’s church in this world, then we should also be considering how we are investing in her next generation.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)