Category Archives: review

“Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission,” some thoughts

41TfHkM5ZmL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Chester and Timmis offer another insightful, Biblical, and helpful book on “church.” Their previous book Total Church is one of my ecclesiological “must-reads.” This book is helpful because it applies the foundations of “gospel and mission” (discussed extensively in Total Church) in the current Western situation.

They open with a provocative observation on the decline of Christianity in the Western World. Rather than spend too much time bemoaning its fall, they quickly look for the gospel opportunity. I would argue that their underlying question (laid out on pp. 13-21) is this: Do we want to hold on to Christendom or Christ?

It is likely that for all Christendom’s good you can’t have both. And that’s not to mention its many demonstrated ills. Christendom cannot exist in a pluralistic society because it requires political and/or military power. Following Christ requires radical love and service. Conversion cannot be coerced by power but must be won by love.

It is a losing battle to only focus on rechurching the dechurched (see p. 26). Reintroducing Christian culture without Christ is a painfully misguided attempt at returning to the glory days. What is needed is a radical commitment to reaching the unchurched with the gospel. To do this requires that Christ and his message be the central principal of our lives EVERY DAY.

We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We can no longer think of church as a meeting on a Sunday morning. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. And we cannot think of mission as an event that takes place in an ecclesiastical building (p. 28).

The church is about the “people of God” not some sort of “building of God.”

One of the central contentions of this book is that our marginal status as Christians in the West requires us to think differently about mission. One way is by dropping our preoccupation with church [defined as a building] (p. 85).

The foundation of Gospel community is the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Nothing can supplant that foundation. If the word is first and final, then the way it says “to do” mission is important. Mission in the Bible is not primarily “attractional” (e.g., “come and see”) but “go and tell.” Even when crowds came to Jesus, he was “among them.”

Much of the message of this book is broken down into four basic truths about God. These liberating truths are for those we pastor and those who pastor (p. 76).

  1. God is great, so we do not have to be in control.
  2. God is glorious, so we do not have to fear others.
  3. God is good, so we do not have to look elsewhere.
  4. God is gracious, so we do not have to prove ourselves.

IMG_2758The discussion of pastoring based on the greatness, glory, goodness, and grace of God (pp. 82-83) was the most helpful and convicting part of the book for me. It helped me identify some latent sin in my heart toward God and the church. As a result, I could identify with various levels of “over-pastoring” (e.g., self-importance, domination, micro-managing, proving myself) and “under-pastoring” (e.g., fear of others, conflict avoidance, seeing people as burdens.”IMG_2759The same truths that inform pastoring are truths to be proclaimed to those we are seeking to reach with the gospel. This book is wonderful in its biblical depth, theological acumen, and cultural analysis. However, it is also very practical. The chapter on “everyday evangelism” recognizes the necessity of sharing the “good news” on which our faith is built but also the difficulty that many of us have. Not everyone is a natural evangelist! How do you develop the ability to share the gospel in everyday life?

  1. Make your everyday conversations with other believers about the gospel! By talking about Jesus more with your Christian friends you will find it easier to talk about Jesus with your non-Christian friends (pp. 111-112). “If you find it hard to talk about Jesus with Christians, then how do you expect to talk about him with unbelievers?”
  2. Let your unbelieving friends in on your everyday Christian community. If your unbelieving and believing friends are sharing a meal at your house, your unbelieving friends are bound to overhear your conversations about Christ (p. 112).
  3. Don’t assume that people have a Christian background. As a result, your gospel presentations must be more holistic, more big-picture, and more patient (p. 112).
  4. “Sometimes less is more” (p. 113). Silence is okay. Give people time to think. Give the Holy Spirit some space to work. Don’t expect that everyone can make the journey that has taken you a lifetime in a few minutes.
  5. Allow the people you are sharing the gospel with to ask their questions. Don’t just answer the “popular” objections to Christianity.

Chester and Timmis suggest that “story” is the primary way that people in the modern world interpret life. As such, everyone has a “story” that includes their version of salvation. Look for points of intersection between the “true” gospel story and the functional gospel story that most people have.

The authors bring the book “full circle.” They started explaining the marginal status of modern Christianity and end similarly “at the margins.” As such, the Biblical admonition to expect persecution and suffering should be taken seriously. The result is a paradoxical coexistence of joy and grief amidst suffering. But suffering is no threat to the will of God. Suffering has no power over the “hope of glory” (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6, 4:13).

In the end, the authors are challenging the church to take the mission of God seriously “every day.”

Advertisements

The Next Christians: A Hopeful Appraisal of Christianity’s Future

Gabe Lyons, coauthor of the insightful book UnChristian, has written a helpful book entitled The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their blogging for books program.

When it comes to Lyons’ basic premises I think he is right on target. First, any notion of America as a Christian nation is quickly coming to an end. Greg Boyd and others have been banging this drum for some time now. The idea that America is, should be, or ever was a truly Christian nation is essentially over. Second, the loss of Christian America is a (gasp) good thing! With the end of cultural Christianity the gospel is able to flourish in an environment where it can be heralded without the false assumptions and blatant hypocrisy’s of those who claim Christianity but have no resemblance to Christ.

Whether for reasons of misplaced nostalgia or poor historical recollection, there is a tendency for some, as they grow older, to glorify the past and pessimistically evaluate the present. Lyons provides a lot of hope in his description of the state of Christianity. He is able to point out the current struggles of modern evangelicalism while still observing a number of younger evangelicals who are sacrificially and whole-heartedly communicating and demonstrating the love of Christ at home and around the world.

It can be uncomfortable to hear traditions being challenged but in the midst of such challenges is the opportunity to evaluate what the Bible has to say about the gospel, the church, and the mission of God.

Lyons is well-read when it comes to scholars who have studied Christianity and culture. In addition he is particularly well-connected within evangelical circles (though his name-dropping verges on annoying). I felt that Lyons had a great grasp on how to influence culture (e.g., education, media, etc.) but might have been lacking in some areas of Biblical studies. He emphasizes key concepts in the Bible such as redemption, community, and charity. In his emphasis on more relational aspects of proclaiming the gospel he deemphasizes other equally valid Biblical models such as public proclamation of the gospel or vocal opposition to sin.

All-in-all Lyons book is easy to read and provides an optimistic look at younger Christians and the way they can shape culture by proclaiming and living the gospel. Lyons doesn’t say much that is new but his voice is well-respected among younger leaders and, therefore, his influence will be felt. I would still recommend the authors he cites (e.g., Niebuhr, Lewis, Schaeffer, Guinness, Newbigin, Carson) as more comprehensive, thoughtful, erudite, and profound but Lyons serves as an interesting entrance into the discussion of Christianity and culture.

Gungor Interview and CD Giveaway #freestuff #GungorGiveaway

Gungor has been kind enough to supply me with a few copies of their newest release Beautiful Things to give away on this blog.  There are several ways to enter the contest (one entry per method – comment, subscribe, or tweet – can be entered).  To enter the giveaway you may  1) leave a comment on this blog with a valid e-mail address, (2) subscribe to this blog via the e-mail subscription button in the column on the right, or (3) include #GungorGiveaway in a“tweet.”  The winners will be announced on this blog and will be contacted on June 14.

The album Beautiful Things by the more t-shirt friendly glossed “Gungor” (formerly “The Michael Gungor Band”) has been a genuine bright spot in the often trite and contrived “Christian” music market (notice I didn’t say “genre” as there are only Christian topics/lyrics and not Christian music/melodies).

One of the things I find fascinating about the album Beautiful Things is the range of musical style; this album is an eclectic mix.  Classically inspired guitar solos morph into genuine Hard Rock anthems (“Dry Bones”).   “Heaven” is introduced by a funk-styled bass run mixed with the gospel vocals.  “Brighter Day” will convince you that you picked up a vintage Switchfoot album.  Some tracks hint of Iron and Wine’s folk style (“Please Be My Strength”) or the experimentation of Arcade Fire (“We Will Run”) while others feel more like “church songs.”  All of them, however, come across with honest artistry.  The title track most clearly evidences the poetry, ability, and breadth of style that Gungor possesses.  This album provides opportunities to shout and to weep, to sing and to be silent, to dance and to meditate.  Gungor manifests genuine artistic freedom to make beautiful music that stands on its own without feeling an obligation to cater to a particular style, genre, or audience.

I recently spoke to Michael Gungor about music, art, Christianity, and community.  He felt it important to play honest, creative, and organic music.

Sometimes part of our downfall in Christian is that the message becomes of such central importance (which of course the message is important) that the music becomes secondary to the point where it almost becomes propaganda, something to carry a message.  I think there’s something sacred about art itself.

Throughout the album you hear an honest description of the Band’s journey.  Beautiful Things could be described as a “journal entry from [Gungor’s] first two years living in Denver.”  The song “We Will Run to You” was written for their faith community (Bloom Church) in Denver as they were struggling to express the need for repentance.  As you listen to Michael Gungor, you hear the growth and change that has come with the move to Denver and the organic creation of a new church.

When asked how such deeply Scriptural pleadings with God can be used to reach out to non-Christians, Gungor explains how honest art and the human need to worship God come together.

[Our music is] definitely church music and most of it is written to God.  There is something about [a song written to God] that unbelievers are drawn to, when it is done in a pure and honest way, when it is not manipulative.

As a Christian, when I hear Gungor I hear “praise” music as it should be:  honest, artistic, Scriptural, and confessional.  Within this CD you can marvel at the beauty of the creative process and, in turn, the beauty of the creator.

Gungor has been kind enough to supply me with a few copies of their newest release Beautiful Things to give away on this blog. There are several ways to enter the contest (one entry per method – comment, subscribe, or tweet – can be entered).  To enter the giveaway you may  1) leave a comment on this blog with a valid e-mail address, (2) subscribe to this blog via the e-mail subscription button in the column on the right, or (3) include #GungorGiveaway in a“tweet.”  The winners will be announced on this blog and will be contacted on June 14.

Renrutkram’s New Music — “Gungor”

After hearing a Relevant Magazine podcast feature on the band “Gungor” (formerly the “Michael Gungor Band”) I was immediately hooked (you can listen to the live performances or download them for free… I particularly recommend the riveting guitar version of “Doxology”).

I am rarely impressed by the musical depth of a band that sings almost exclusively “Christian” music.  Gungor’s music, however, has all of the range and experimentation of an Arcade Fire while managing simple folk interludes and classical guitar flourishes.  I was pleased to find variety and meaning with Scripturally deep and redemptive songs.  Michael Gungor and his bandmates manage to explore moving and creative musical and lyrical content while avoiding any hint of kitschy or trivial “contemporary Christian music.”

I am quickly becoming a fan of this band’s church planter/pastor/guitar prodigy front man.  Check out their new album, “Beautiful Things.”

https://renrutkram.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/beautiful-things.mp3 “Beautiful Things (Live)”

“Doxology (Live)”

Do You Know How to Read?

There is a profound difference between reading information and reading texts.  The former permits a disinterest in the question of how the matter is composed; its interest is only in the content…

When people do read today (and they don’t read often), they read almost exclusively for information or content; they almost never read for the pleasure obtained by reading an author whose command of language is exception.  Many ministers, for instance, will read the occasional book about history.  But with few exceptions, the interest in historical writing resides in the events narrated, not in the skillfulness of the narration…

[Modern readers ask what a] passage is about?… but they don’t raise questions about how the passage is constructed.

— T. David Gordon

I have, both anecdotally and formally, observed this to be the case in reference to the Bible.  Most teachers of the Bible are concerned only with the words and principals of the sacred text.  There is little concern for the syntax and grammar.  Word studies abound with no interest in paragraph structure or the flow of discourse.  This sort of textual myopia is further encumbered by a faulty view of much of Scripture regarding the importance of events recorded in the text.  John Sailhamer has been influential in cogently explaining the necessity of viewing the intentionally constructed text of Scripture in its final form as the only element worth interpreting.  Whatever so-called “event” might “lie behind” the inspired text is of no importance to the Christian interpreter.  Rather, one must spend their time understanding how the text of Scripture is intentionally constructed to communicate a message.

O Me of Little Faith (review)

I must commend Jason Boyett for catching that most illusive of literary prey — readability.  His book (O Me of Little Faith:  True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling) is both interesting and enjoyable.  It is pleasant to read.  He combines vulnerability, humility, and self-disclosure with brief (possibly too brief) discussions of Christian apologetics.  All the while he tells interesting stories and provides funny illustrations.

This book provides a personal, ongoing journey through valleys of doubt and peaks of faith.  Along the way it provides wonderful gems of Biblical, cultural, and spiritual insight while also running into a few logical and Biblical potholes.

Boyett has a knack for observing the inconsistencies of modern American “churchianity.”  He rightfully notes that many of the intellectual and pragmatic objections to Christianity are answered unsatisfactorily by Christians (so-called).  For example, he notes the false god of “American evangelical Christian religion” who is “totally cool with the money we spend on concert lighting in the worship center while the widow down the block has a hole in her roof” (p. 129).

One of Boyett’s greatest strengths is also one his greatest weakness.  The reader is deeply empathetic with his doubt struggles and particularly interested in the answers he has found to deal with his rollercoaster of faith and doubt.  Unfortunately he either refuses to give answers by hiding behind the “I’m no theologian/scholar” excuse or giving examples of unsatisfactory responses he has found (e.g., Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are not at the top of my list of credentialed, well-researched, exegetically qualified, and philosophically sound apologists).

Boyett takes issue with a hard deterministic view of God’s sovereignty, the philosophical “problem of evil,” and purely rational (as opposed to presuppositional) apologetics.  While this book cannot answer every philosophical issue of Christianity, I would have hoped Boyett could have offered a few alternative Christian views on these subjects.  The only intense objection I have with this book is the conflation of the Biblical perspective of doubt with Boyett’s personal doubts.  In the Bible various characters doubt the trustworthiness of the promises of God, but Boyett is doubting (it appears) the very existence of God.  I cannot find a Biblical character doubting the existence of God.

All-in-all reading this book is like sitting down for a drink with a close friend.  You are never exactly sure where the conversation will take you (e.g., church history, liturgy, sin, existentialism, apologetics, etc.) but you will be glad you had a chat.  Along the way you will be challenged and maybe even frustrated.  You will learn some good spiritual lessons and you will be encouraged to give voice to the questions and doubts with which you wrestle.

The Man in Black

I got Johnny Cash’s posthumous recording release (produced by Rick Rubin) entitled “American VI:  Ain’t No Grave” (only $3.99 at Amazon.com).  The only ‘original’ release is the song “I Corinthians 15:55.”  The rest of the recording consists remastered, “pared-back” covers.

The purportedly final Cash composition (“1 Corinthians 15:55”) is a beautiful musical rendition of the famous verse: “Oh death, where is thy sting?  Oh grave, where is thy victory.”  Cash has his theology firmly planted in the Christian hope of a future, bodily resurrection (of which Christ’s resurrection is the first).

Relevant Magazine has profiled the “complicated faith” of Johnny Cash.  The article is full of memorable quotes and a fair look at Cash as famous sinner (e.g., drug abuse, spousal abuse, poor fatherhood, etc.) and famous saint.  The article quotes Cash as describing the spiritual toll that drug abuse took on him:

[The drugs] put me in such a low state that I couldn’t communicate with God.  There’s no lonelier place to be.  I was separated from God, and I wasn’t even trying to call on Him.  I knew that there was no line of communication.  But He came back.  And I cam back.

Here are some of the lyrics to Cash’s song “Redemption Day”

I’ve wept for those who suffer long / But how I weep for those who’ve gone / Into rooms of grief and question wrong / But keep on killing / It’s in the soul to feel such things / But weak to watch without speaking / Oh what mercy sadness brings / If God be willing

There is a train that’s heading straight / To heaven’s gate, to heaven’s gate / And on the way, child and man / And woman wait, watch and wait / For redemption day

In this recording (only months before his death) you can hear the sincerity and wisdom of Cash’s age.  His voice has a gentle tremble that comes with age, yet the lyrics and music display the perfect blend of insight, art, and simplicity.