The Imperfect Disciple – A Book Review

The Imperfect DiscipleOn the last page of “The Imperfect Disciple” Jared Wilson writes, “I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that makes us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed.” And if we start with the ending, reading this page first, it really gives us a synopsis of “The Imperfect Disciple.”

Wilson’s sub-title for the book is, “Grace for people who can’t get their act together.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that discipleship is not just working harder, better, or more efficiently. We can only get to where we need to go through Jesus, not through our own efforts. Jesus is not looking for people who have it all together, Jesus is actually looking for people who can’t get their act together. It is those of us who don’t seem to be able to get our acts together that understand better that we are unable to get to where we need to get on our own.

Jared Wilson shares stories from his own experiences in ministry as he walks through what discipleship really can look like. We cannot simply manage our sin and think that’s enough to make us good disciples. In fact, if all we are doing is sin management, then we’ve missed the gospel and the essence of discipleship as it goes so much further than simply outward appearance and action. The essence of discipleship and the gospel penetrates to our hearts and souls, changing us from the inside out. That kind of change is not something that we are able to achieve on our own and the harder we try, the more frustrated we will become.

We cannot think that discipleship is all about us fitting God into the nooks and crannies of our lives. But Wilson says, “…God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not us. So God shouldn’t be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.”

Wilson explores sabbath rest, worship, and other key areas of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. He challenges those of us who think we can achieve and encourages those of us who feel like we will never measure up. While there was nothing here that was earth shattering to me, Wilson’s writing style and delivery made this book a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for encouragement after having tried to measure up to impossible standards, the message of grace that is presented here could be salve for your soul and encouragement for the way forward.

(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.)

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

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

What Is Reformed Theology? – A Book Review

what-is-reformed-theologyR.C. Sproul has become such a staple in the world of reformed theology that it’s hard to even think about the modern world of reformed theology without uttering his name. The seminary professor, pastor, and founder of Ligonier Ministries has written more than ninety books and can be heard regularly on the radio program Renewing Your Mind.

“What Is Reformed Theology?” is a primer on reformed theology. Whether you are new to reformed theology and want to have your questions answered or you are a veteran who simply wants to be sharpened and give yourself a refresher, this book is a valuable resource. While there are times that Sproul’s language and explanations may lose the casual reader, he doesn’t spend an awful lot of time lost in academic language. The subtitle of the book is “Understanding the Basics” and that’s what Sproul seeks to do, show the reader the basics of reformed theology.

The book is divided into two parts: The Foundations of Reformed Theology and Five Points of Reformed Theology. Both parts of the book are also divided into five parts. The first part points to the essentials and foundation of reformed theology, as Sproul describes them, the foundation stones on which reformed theology was built.

Sproul leads the reader through chapters on the God-centered aspect of reformed theology, on the centrality of Scripture, on the centrality of faith and justification to our salvation, to the supremacy of Jesus Christ as prophet, priest, and king, and the three covenants that are also central to reformed theology (giving it its nickname of covenant theology).

The second half walks through the five points of Calvinism. Sproul is quick to point out that these five points were not developed by Calvin himself but by his followers in response to the followers of Arminius. While Sproul shares the acronym TULIP for these five points, he also adds language which he finds more helpful, accurate, and reliable, again pointing out that the TULIP acronym was created reactively.

This second half of the book certainly labors along at times. It feels a little more exhaustive than the first. At times seeming as if Sproul is reiterating his point to a fault rather than simply moving on. Having met peers and colleagues who consider themselves three or four point Calvinists, I could see how this section of the book could give the reader more difficulties. But Sproul’s thorough explanations make for a good apologetic of the validity of reformed theology.

Overall, this is a very helpful book. Sproul has a way of explaining things in a more pedestrian way rather than being overly academic. This will be a helpful resource on my shelf when I need my own refresher on some of the specific explanations of reformed theology and the reformed tradition. While I am not sure that this will convince any skeptics to the validity of reformed theology, Sproul’s explanations will certainly help to reinforce those who have already embraced reformed theology as a way of seeing God and the world he created.

(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.)

Unparalleled – A Book Review

unparalleledWe live in a world where anything goes when it comes to beliefs. It’s okay for you to believe in what you believe as long as it works for you and doesn’t negatively impact me. The problem when we embrace this is that we can quickly devolve into people who lack any real conviction, who aren’t quite sure what they believe, and who don’t legitimately think for ourselves when it comes to our beliefs.

In the area of beliefs and faith, Christians have always spoken about the uniqueness of their faith. When confronted with the idea that all paths lead to God, Christians will swiftly respond by saying that Christianity is unique as it stands in the lineup alongside all of the other major world religions. Jared Wilson takes this idea a step further in his book “Unparalleled” by saying that the uniqueness of Christianity is also the thing that makes it so compelling.

Out of the gate, Wilson writes that, “Christianity has never made converts primarily by winning arguments but rather by capturing hearts.” Although this book falls into the category of apologetics, Wilson isn’t out to win arguments, he is convinced that the truths of Christianity will be as compelling for others as they have been for him. He writes with a style that doesn’t beat down, but gently leads along.

Throughout “Unparalleled” Wilson hits on some of the main, unique tenets of Christianity. He writes about the Trinity, the three persons of God, speaking to their uniqueness and how the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit give us a better understanding of our own human need for connection and intimacy.

Wilson writes of the uniqueness of Jesus, asking the question as to whether the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is the same God. He arrives at the conclusion that, “…to worship God at the exclusion of Jesus is to worship another god altogether.” For those who are seeking to be more inclusive, this conclusion will not be very appealing. Wilson goes on to write, “If one does not affirm that Jesus is God, one does not worship the same God as Christians.” It is through the uniqueness of Christ that we understand the essence of Christianity and the salvation that is offered.

We are all created in the image of God, and that, Wilson says, should impact the way that we look at others. Not only should it impact the way that we look at others, but is should also impact how we treat others as well. He writes, “Human life is sacred because God created it in his own image.” But Wilson is quick to point out, acknowledge, and confess that, “There have been too many prominent examples of professing Christians treating others as less-than-human.” In other words, while this is how we should act and view others, we certainly don’t always get it right. I appreciated this admission and the humility behind it.

Wilson covers the idea of grace, salvation, and the end of all things. He speaks to the impact of sin in this fallen world and the fact that salvation within Christian theology is something that comes from outside of ourselves. This external salvation is a unique concept compared to most other major religions who teach of a salvation through the efforts of the individual.

At one point, as Wilson writes about the brokenness of humanity, he writes, “The worst storms I have faced in my life have not occurred outside of me but rather have been found inside of me.” While I think I understand what Wilson is getting at, I’m not sure that I can completely agree with his statement. Yes, I can attest to the fact that, oftentimes, I am my own worst enemy, but in my own life, there have been significant storms that I have encountered that have occurred outside of me. These storms are a result of living in a fallen and broken world, there was no individual cause for some of them, and I would argue that they didn’t happen inside of me.

There is nothing in “Unparalleled” that is groundbreaking or new to me. Wilson has an engaging writing style and he gets his points across with clarity. While I was reading the book, I kept wondering to whom the book was written. Was it written for believers in Christ, those who are already convinced? Was it written to those who need to be convinced? It seems that it could be beneficial for those who are searching, not yet having come to the conclusion that Christianity is both convincing and compelling.

To those who believe in Christ and accept the claims of Christianity, Jesus is unparalleled, as is the salvation that he offers. If you are in a place of searching, needing to be convinced of Christianity’s claims, this might give you an overview or a snapshot of these claims. There are far deeper and more exhaustive books on the claims of Christianity that may serve you better, but for a basic overview, this might work. It’s not a must read, in my opinion, and anyone who is seeking something more academic may best be served elsewhere.

(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.)

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(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.)

Finding God in the Hard Times

finding god in the hard timesIf you’ve spent any time around churches that sing contemporary songs over the past several years, chances are that you’ve heard Matt and Beth Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name.” With a focus on God’s presence and provision in both the good times and the bad times, the song takes its refrain from the book of Job, the biblical account of a man who lost everything and still held on to his faith and trust in God.

 

Having both experienced difficult times in their lives, Matt and Beth Redman have written this book (previously released as “Blessed Be Your Name”). Detailing the difficulty of the circumstances that easily crowd out our thankfulness, the Redmans write, “At times, painful life circumstances seem to obstruct our view of Him and His goodness. But we have seen the form of the Lord many times before – in life and in Scripture – and know Him to be as good and as kind as He ever was.” Redman says that worship is a choice, and it’s a choice that we need to make, regardless of whether the sun is shining or if the clouds are endlessly gray.

 

The Redmans don’t shy away from engaging the subject of dealing with difficulties in life. They share of their own experiences that caused heartache in their own lives, but they also remind the reader that worship is a choice that we make always, in good times and in bad. While difficult times will come, we also need to celebrate and be thankful during the good times. Our trust in God cannot be circumstantial and based on whatever circumstance we find ourselves. We need to remember his promises and hold on to what we have seen him do in the past.

 

The reader is reminded that things won’t always turn out the way that we would like. Sometimes, our prayers for healing won’t be answered. They write, “In His infinite wisdom and kindness, God may well purpose to bring us healing. But perhaps we will have to wait awhile to see our situation changed. Or perhaps we will never be healed this side of heaven. And if we are not, God hasn’t become any less wise of merciful.” These words are reminiscent of the words of the Hebrew boys before they were cast into the fiery furnace. While they trusted God to save them, they were still willing to believe even if he did not save them.

 

The book offers a helpful reminder of the hope that we need to have in Christ as well. While others may grieve as if death is the end, Christians grieve differently. Loss is marked with hope. They write, “Outside of Christ, many a memorial service or funeral is a groping in the dark – a heavy cloud of grief with no clarity as to what lies beyond it.” The hope of the resurrection should comfort those who are in Christ. Not that it eliminates the loss and pain that is felt, but through the grieving and restoration, we need to remember that this is not the end.

 

Still, we also need to remember that God is God and we are not. There will be times when we will face difficulties without understanding, when the answers are nowhere to be found. The Redmans write, “Yes, there are some things we will never understand while we walk upon this earth. There comes a time when we simply have to submit to the mystery.” As we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah, God’s ways are not our ways, his ways are higher and we may never understand them on this side of eternity. It’s a tension with which we may need to wrestle at some point, a tension that feels uncomfortable, yet which is important for us to understand.

 

The book is composed of just five chapters. It’s not a long book or a difficult read. It seems designed to allow for the reader to quickly move through it, something which is important during the difficult times that we may face. The chapters follow some of the lines of the Redman’s song. Each chapter includes questions for reflection at the end. There is also a discussion guide for small groups included at the end of the book. These are helpful for anyone who wants to use this book as a springboard into a deeper study.

 

Having gone through some difficult times of my own and having experienced some significant losses in my life, I very much appreciate the Redmans’ book. They don’t candycoat the subject or try to over-spiritualize difficulties. They are honest and yet pointed in dealing with the subject of hard times in life. This book is a good resource and source of encouragement, a book that could easily be shared with a friend or loved on going through difficulties without feeling as if you are burdening them with a big book full of heady theology. There’s enough here to bring comfort but not so much that a grieving or struggling person will feel weighed down at the thought of reading it.

 

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

We Cannot be Silent – A Book Review

we cannot be silent

There is a revolution sweeping the nation and the world. Some are rejoicing over it while others are mourning the loss of what used to be. According to Albert Mohler, this revolution that is sweeping through our country and our world is wiping away sexual morality and redefining an institution that has been in place for thousands of years.

While some may think that this revolution sprung up overnight and suddenly appeared, others may realize that the revolution has been years and decades in the making. In fact, Mohler claims that the revolution came long before the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is this revolution that is the subject of his book “We Cannot Be Silent.”

In his book, Mohler walks through how he believes this revolution began, looking back at the sexual revolution within the United States. He carefully and thoughtfully walks the reader through this revolution, looking at the technological advancements that have taken place to aid and abet the revolution. Mohler suggests that the institution of marriage had already begun to weaken and experience structural integrity with the advent of birth control, artificial insemination, and other advancements. Mohler suggests that Christians began to compromise as well by failing to maintain “a vital voice and the ability to speak prophetically to the larger culture concerning matters of marriage, sex, and morality.”

Separating sex and procreation through the advent of birth control enabled a more carefree approach to sex. As long as sex was connected to the possibility of pregnancy, there was a biological check on sex outside of marriage and promiscuity. Birth control opened up a whole new opportunity for the two to no longer be so connected. Not only birth control, but the social acceptance of extramarital sex and cohabitation were among the other factors, “that have fueled the expansion of that revolution into terrain that the early sexual revolutionaries could never have imagined.”

Technological advancements were not the sole perpetrators, however. Mohler suggests that no-fault divorce also eroded the institution of marriage, making marriage more of a contract than a covenant. Mohler even suggests that, “In the end, we will almost surely have to concede that divorce will harm far more lives and cause far more direct damage than same-sex marriage.” Statements like this throughout the book helped me to gain respect for Mohler for his honest assessment of the situation.

Over and over again, Mohler points to the Christian church as compromising its own morals and values, not necessarily by condoning the behaviors that were embraced by society and culture but by simply not speaking out in opposition to what was being widely embraced outside of the church. Mohler is not accusatory of those with whom he disagrees but, like Jesus, reserves his greatest criticisms for the religious right who must share ownership of the current state of affairs and degradation.

Throughout this book, Mohler uses resources from both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. While he certainly has an agenda and viewpoint, he presents it fairly and humbly, without accusations to anyone but those who are within the church. Perusing the endnotes and the resources referenced there would likely interest those on both sides of this debate.

Mohler offers a humble confession and apology to the homosexual community for behaviors against them by the church. He says that the church has failed, “to reach out to our neighbors with true love, compassion, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The church has been guilty of an idolatrous pursuit of comfort which has lead us to associate with those who are like us. Mohler boldly states that, “Both love and truth are essential as we establish a right relationship with our neighbors in a way that consists with our ultimate commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Humble confessions like this, in my opinion, go a long way to trying to restore and repair the relationship between those within the church and those in the LGBT community.

He honestly confronts the cries of millions of evangelicals who have claimed that we live in a Christian nation when he says, “At this point, we must respond with the sobering reality that America has never been nearly as Christian as many conservative Christians have claimed.” While he still points to the Judeo Christian values on which this nation was founded, he doesn’t use them as a false support to claim that our nation is Christian.

Mohler addresses the transgender revolution as well. He is critical of the new ideology and mindset among many within the culture who are changing definitions that have been in place for years. He writes, “Arguing that we should draw a clear distinction between who an individual wants to go to bed with and who an individual wants to go to bed as requires the dismantling of an entire thought structure and worldview.” While he clearly states his points and leaves no room for misinterpretation of his own viewpoint, he still maintains a humility and Christlikeness by claiming that there is a need for the church to “develop new skills of compassion and understanding” in dealing with those who find themselves in the midst of their own personal struggles in this area.

As Mohler talks about this shift within our culture, he raises consciousness of the breakdown that is taking place regarding tolerance and religious liberty. Mohler writes, “The remaining question is whether champions of tolerance are prepared to tolerate proponents of a different ethical vision.” Mohler rightly asks this question, wondering whether or not those who claim to be so tolerant are tolerant enough to be able to accept opposing opinions and ideas. It would seem that tolerance is an easy word to trumpet while not being quite as easy to actually live out, especially when it comes to tolerance of ideas that fly in opposition to your own.

He also speaks of the death of religious liberty, writing, “This is how religious liberty dies – by a thousand cuts. An intimidating letter here, a subpoena there, a warning in yet another place. The message is simple and easily understood. Be quiet and get in line or risk trouble.” He raises the alarm on the breakdown of religious liberty that he sees. While the erosion of those liberties may seem subtle, over time, these subtle shifts can result into a significant shift over time, a point that Mohler hopes to get across throughout the entire book.

Religious liberty is dying and tolerance is being advocated while seemingly only being a ruse for the tolerance of ideas that are embraced by the majority. What happens when there are those who embrace a minority viewpoint that is in opposition to the majority? The evidence up to this point has not shown that tolerance means much more than tolerance for the majority viewpoint, all others must fall in line and succumb.

The last chapter of the book is dedicated to hard questions for which Mohler provides his own answers. While that might sound harsh, if the reader has gotten to the end of the book, Mohler’s viewpoint won’t be a surprise. Those for whom this book was intended will most likely find this chapter helpful. Mohler may not change the viewpoints of anyone, but he does offer helpful insights. His status and position within his conservative denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, may be helpful to those who might not look as objectively at this topic as Mohler tries to do here.

At the end of the book, Mohler adds an addendum as the book had gone to press prior to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Mohler claims that this decision is not just a legalization of same-sex marriage but a redefinition of marriage, opening up the possibilities for further expansion in the future into areas such as polygamy and other distortions of traditional marriage.

The majority decision and the rationale of the majority of the justices alludes to the fact that, “…any opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in moral animus against homosexuals. In offering this argument the majority slanders any defender of traditional marriage and openly rejects and vilifies those who, on the grounds of theological conviction, cannot affirm same-sex marriage.” Mohler’s frustration is evident here, implying the obvious question, “Is it possible to hold an alternate viewpoint without being accused of bigotry or prejudice?”

I appreciated Mohler more in reading this book. While I was familiar with him prior to this book, I felt like this book gave me a clearer picture of him and his views. His honesty and humility were evident throughout the book and I think that it would be hard for even those with opposing viewpoints to accuse him of being unfair, harsh, or hateful in laying out his viewpoints.

I have been personally impacted by the cultural shift about which Mohler writes. I have friends who are gay, some who have embraced same-sex marriage and participated in it. While I don’t embrace their viewpoints, I still love them just the same. My disagreement does not mean that I hate my gay friends any more than my dislike for Duke or the Yankees means that I hate anyone who embraces them as “their team.”

I think it’s important that both sides of this issue begin to address and answer some difficult questions. Whatever happened to good, old fashioned differing opinions? Why is it that we can’t disagree without somehow wanting to discriminate? Regardless of whether or not you agree with Mohler, the opinions laid out within this book are important to consider and formulate our own opinions, not simply embrace the opinion of the majority or masses.

(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.)

For the Love – A Book Review

For the LoveAlthough this is the first of her books that I’ve read, Jen Hatmaker has been on my radar for years. If you roll in Christian circles at all and aren’t familiar with who she is, chances are that you aren’t paying much attention. Her book “7” garnered rave reviews and a faithful following as she counter-culturally challenged people to cut down the excess and move towards a life of less, pointing people towards ways of narrowing things down to just 7 items in all areas.

Jen Hatmaker wrote “For the Love” to remind women (and anyone else who reads her book) that in this world of impossible standards where grace is hardly extended, that same grace is necessary for survival. In a society driven by social media, Hatmaker says that it has a way of making it seem like everyone else is just killing it at life, cooking meals, parenting like a boss, and being as creative with projects so as to be called a master artist in the world of Pinterest.

She talks about the need to stay connected. In a society where the hum and buzz of social media and technology can too easily replace the actual heartbeat and breath of real life flesh and blood, she stresses the importance of community, noting that, “Instead of waiting for community, provide it, and you’ll end up with it anyway.”

Hatmaker has some quality wisdom and advice to share, reminding people of the fact that they are not alone in their imperfections and shortcomings. She reminds people that there are others out there and points people to find those people; build relationships so that you can hang with people who get it.

In “For the Love,” Hatmaker takes the opportunity to vamp on everything from getting older to calling, fashion to using your gifts, cooking to parenting, children (“If they don’t love Jesus and people, it matters zero if they remain virgins and don’t say the F-word.”) to school, marriage to difficult people, and church (“If folks don’t recognize God is good by watching His people, then we have tragically derailed.”) to mission trips (“The world is so done being painted by the American church.”). She shares her heart with honesty and spunk, using her own brand of self-deprecating humor and wit to get her points across, and she does it masterfully.

Throughout the book she has a section called “Thank-You Notes” where she takes the opportunity to sarcastically thank people, places, and things. From NetFlix to the skinny girl in the dressing room, from Facebook to Angry Birds to Yoga pants, Caillou to Target to Pinterest to automatic flushing toilets, it seems that no stone is unturned and nothing is “off-limits” while Hatmaker takes time to vent about humiliating, frustrating, or fulfilling experiences.

I know I’m not the target audience for a Hatmaker book. As I read this book, there were moments along the way when I felt like I was eavesdropping on a women’s book club, Bible study, or phone conversation. There’s no denying that she has to offer a lot to anyone who takes the time to read her books.

As a pastor, there were moments when I resonated deeply with some of what Hatmaker writes. She says so many of the things that I have thought and often wanted to say but either never had the opportunity or knew that if I wanted to keep my job, I couldn’t. It’s an interesting thought considering that she’s a pastor’s wife, so it’s encouraging to think about the kind of culture that she and her husband, Brandon, have created in their church.

After reading “For the Love,” I can see the draw of Hatmaker, Where we’re so used to being politically correct and pussyfooting around issues, Hatmaker has a knack for telling it like it is. She doesn’t hesitate to voice her thoughts and opinions, opinions that some might feel are a bit abrasive.

The book isn’t for everyone, especially those who are easily offended. There were moments when I bristled a little bit and thought, “Can she say that?” Ultimately, this Northern boy felt like it was a breath of fresh air and was actually surprised that a Southern girl could speak so frankly without adding “bless your heart” to the end of the phrase.

If “For the Love” is any indication of who Hatmaker is and the insights that she has to offer, then I think I’ve just added a few more books to my “To Read” list. If you want to laugh, be encouraged, and be challenged, then pick up “For the Love.” You won’t be disappointed.

(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.)

Into the Fray – A Book Review

Into the FrayIn his previous book, “The First Time We Saw Him,” Matt Mikalatos retold some of the stories from the Gospels in modern language. His gift for storytelling and narrative was evident as he wove and reimagined these stories together, putting them into a language and context that makes sense in a modern setting.

In “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos reimagines the Book of Acts. He asks the question about the Gospel, a term that is taken from the Middle English word that means, “good news.” While some claim to be able to describe and tell the Gospel in a nutshell, Mikalatos says that the full gospel, “can’t be presented in fifteen minutes or in a sermon or in a series of sermons.” In fact, he says, “Every new understanding we gain about the person and character of Jesus is the good news, and he is an infinite being.” If the Gospel is really the good news about Jesus and what he has done and offered to us, then we might be doing something wrong as many who aren’t part of the church don’t really know just what it is that we are trying to offer to them. If it’s good news, we might need to present it in such a way that lets it be distinguishable as such.

“Into the Fray” is the retelling of the Acts of the Apostles, which Mikalatos believes to be a terrible name. After all, the stories told throughout Luke’s book are not so much about the acts that were accomplished by the apostles but the acts accomplished by the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts tells stories about people who are ordinary rather than extraordinary. The only way that these people become extraordinary and accomplish the astonishing is through the receiving and the power of the Holy Spirit. As one of the characters retelling the stories puts it, “It’s not the people who are extraordinary. It’s what’s inside them.”

In the stories and in his own narrative throughout “Into the Fray,” Mikalatos pushes against some of the preconceived notions and accepted norms of evangelicalism. Who is in and who is out? What does a “real” Christian look like? He reminds the reader of the apostle Paul’s words that our fight and battle is not against flesh and blood. People are not the enemy. He calls us to question the things that we have called to be sacred just as Peter was given a vision of eating the very things that had been off-limits according to the old covenant.

Mikalatos reminds his readers that we are called, as followers of Christ, to make pure Jesus followers, “people who come close to Jesus and become more like him.” He says, “As we become more like Jesus, we behave more like him, thus naturally stopping sinful behavior and embracing pure, beautiful, godly behavior.” Considering that the Book of Acts is full of stories of people who have been changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit and an encounter with the living God, it’s a good reminder that we aren’t called to change people or get them to act a certain way, we’re simply called to introduce them to Jesus and teach them all that we have been taught about him.

We enter into conversations with those who are far from Jesus by finding connection points. Sometimes those connect points are cultural or musical while other times they are spiritual. Sometimes, we find common points, points of discussion and conversation around another religion that someone has chosen to follow. Those can act as starting points, springboards into other conversations. Mikalatos write, “It’s not that the conversation ends there or that we’re allowing other religions to dictate our own. It’s that we’re sorting through two belief systems and finding the places they overlap and starting the conversation there.”

Throughout the book, Mikalatos admits to the reader that he is in process himself. He admits his own tendencies towards Pharisaism and judgment. He writes, “Whether I look at my own heart or at Christian culture, I see evidence of areas where we refuse to interact with others because, at the heart of it, we see ourselves as better, more clean, more correct, more holy, more spiritual, more righteous, more dedicated, more committed, more insightful, more innovative, or more traditional.” He reminds us that God has admitted those into his kingdom that didn’t necessarily meet the standards that were expected or even called for.

Mikalatos pushes just enough to be provocative but not so much that he becomes antagonistic or belligerent. His provocation isn’t simply for provocation’s sake, but with the intent of helping the reader to reimagine some of the stories from the Bible. He has a knack for taking them out of the context in which they were written them and transplanting them into our own context, staying true to the essence of the stories while retelling them in such a way that they are easily understandable.

“Into the Fray” ends with a discussion about story, the parts of story that matter, and how we tell our story. Mikalatos writes, “Our stories matter. We all know that a witness is someone who saw something. And as John said, our story is the story of what we have seen, what we have heard, what we have looked at, and what our hands have touched.” We tell our stories to let others know just what God has done in our lives. We come to the place in our stories and say, “That’s when God showed up,” and that’s when all the change took place. Sometimes, as followers of Christ, we make our stories simply about what happened up until our meeting Jesus, but we can’t forget that’s only the beginning of the story.

Mikalatos talks about his experience with creative writing. His ability to craft stories is evident throughout “Into the Fray” and he sticks with this strength. It might not be everyone’s style, to rethink and reimagine stories from the Bible that already seem perfectly understandable just the way that they are. If that’s your thoughts, this book is probably not for you. If you want to stretch your imagination about how some of these stories may have played out in a modern context, then “Into the Fray” is a worthwhile read. You will be challenged and stretched to think outside of the comfortable places where you’ve come to reside. If you let yourself, Mikalatos and his ability to tell stories may just help you see just how much the Holy Spirit is capable of doing as you experience some heart and life change of your own through these stories.

(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 Emotionally Healthy Leader – A Book Review

emotionally healthy leaderPeter Scazzero and his church, New Life Fellowship, have emerged in the past decade as models of how to navigate through the world of church, leadership, and spirituality in an emotionally healthy manner. Scazzero started with “The Emotionally Healthy Church” back in 2003 and followed up with “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” in 2006. In the midst of his sharing about his own experience, in 2010, his wife wrote “I Quit,” the story of how she had drawn the line when she could no longer put up with the emotional unhealthy ways of her husband’s approach to life and ministry.

Now Scazzero has written “The Emotionally Healthy Leader.” In this book, Scazzero shares his experience of understanding and embracing limitations (your shadow), of finding ways to lessen stress and tension, and of moving towards allowing yourself to experience better emotional health. Early on in “The Emotionally Healthy Leader, “ Peter Scazzero writes about a time in his life where he, “always seemed to have too much to do and too little time to do it,” a place that many of us have probably come to in our own lives. Scazzero shares not only out of his successes but, more importantly, out of his failures.

Scazzero shares examples of emotionally healthy and unhealthy leaders both through biblical examples as well as examples that he has encountered along the way. According to Scazzero, unhealthy leaders are those who have low self-awareness, who prioritize ministry over marriage/singleness, who do more activity for God than their relationship with God can sustain, and who lack a work/Sabbath rhythm. These four characteristics frame the rest of the book as Scazzero asks the reader to answer questions about facing their shadow, leading out of their marriage/singleness, slowing down for loving union with God, and practicing Sabbath delight.

It’s important and essential for leaders to practice emotionally healthy leadership by allowing themselves to be transformed in order that they can help in the spiritual transformation of those whom they lead. Scazzero emphasizes the need for analyzing success properly, not embracing a “bigger is better” model but pushing for deeper and more significant success. He writes, “When it comes to the church and numbers, the problem isn’t that we count, it’s that we have so fully embraced the world’s dictum that bigger is better that numbers have become the only thing we count.” Scazzero stresses the importance of who you are rather than what you do and how being with God improves your emotional health more than doing for God does.

A key point that Scazzero highlights is the need to address and face conflict rather than sweeping it under the rug. Too often, leaders (especially spiritual leaders) will adopt a “don’t rock the boat” approach as long as things are moving along. Scazzero points out the need to ask painful and difficult questions for the sake of everyone involved. If the “elephants in the room” are not addressed, the church and its leaders will need to pay a significantly higher price later on.

Scazzero takes the reader through the journey of self-discovery towards emotional health. He discusses the idea of facing your shadow. As Scazzero describes it, the shadow is, “the accumulation of untamed emotions, less-than pure motives and thoughts that, while largely unconscious, strongly influence and shape your behaviors.” Scazzero talks of the shadow side of some of the gifts that we have, things that most of us use to our advantage that can easily be used to the detriment of others if we are unaware of them. Scazzero says that, ““…we have a stewardship responsibility to honestly face our shadow.”

Throughout the book are various exercises designed to help the leaders move through these various areas towards emotional health. He talks about the importance of establishing a rule of life, a means by which one can stay consistent and maintain a healthy balance between life and work. One of those things that he sees as essential is the establishment of a weekly Sabbath to incorporate necessary rest into one’s schedule. The surveys and assessments include questions that can help the reader move towards healthiness in the areas of facing and addressing their shadow, leading out of their singleness/marriage, growing in their oneness with God, and practicing Sabbath rest.

The book is divided into two halves: the inner life and the outer life. After walking through the four essential questions that Scazzero lays out regarding your shadow, your singleness/marriage, your loving union with God, and your Sabbath, Scazzero moves on to how these things play out in ministry. He discusses the importance of planning and decision making, of culture and team building, of power and wise boundaries, and of endings and beginnings.

2/3 of the way through The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Scazzero writes, “We share openly about what God is teaching us – in sermons, staff meetings, private conversations, and with members of our small group.” I would say that may very well be the secret of his success: his humility. Scazzero leads from his strengths but is not afraid to confront, identify, and share his weaknesses and limitations. His humility is evident and he never comes across as a “know-it-all” but rather as one who wants to share his own struggles in order that others can avoid the same ones. He shares from his heart out of a desire to see others avoid some of the same mistakes that he has made in his life.

Since Scazzero has been writing books for the last decade, the honest and reflective insights that he shares have been incredibly helpful to me. Having grown up in the home of a pastor and now being a pastor myself, what Scazzero shares is not something you can get in a basic seminary course, although it should be. Learning and embracing what Scazzero shares is essential and life-giving for those who are willing to take the time.

I think that “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” is not just a good resource, but an essential resource for any pastor or ministry leader who wants to really see the kind of transformative growth to which God calls us in both ourselves and the people we lead. If you are serious about seeking out emotional health and aren’t afraid of embarking on a journey of renewal and restoration, then you need to get a copy of this book.

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