Archives For Praxis

 

“Embracing the Depths of Life

A review of
Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society

by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy.

Review by Sarah Winfrey.


VENEER - Willard/ LocyVeneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society
by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy.

Hardback: Zondervan, 2011.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
[ Amazon – Kindle ]

If you listen to the voices of our culture, there’s nothing better than feeling good about yourself, and it doesn’t much matter what you have to do to get there. Whether you buy something (or many somethings), make yourself into a celebrity (even if just a small-time one), or take medication, it’s all worthwhile if you feel good about yourself and your life. As Christians, we’ve even welcomed these ideas into our churches and our homes. After all, doesn’t Jesus want us to be happy, healthy, and to thrive during our time on earth?

The problem with putting so much emphasis on happiness, though, is that we come to value certain aspects of life more than others. If it looks good and it makes us feel good, we begin to automatically welcome it. Unfortunately, this means that we welcome, without question, many things that we might otherwise eschew. It also means that we change how we look and how we come off to others, eventually embracing a picture of reality that’s far from true.

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Probing The Church-Kingdom Relationship.
A Reflection on Two Recently Published
Perspectives on This Relationship and its Meaning

By Chris Smith


Right Here, Right Now - Hirsch, FordRight Here, Right Now:
Everyday Mission for Everyday People
.
Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford.

Paperback:
Baker Books, 2011.


Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]


[ Read my review here… ]

and

One.Life - Scot McKnightOne.Life:
Jesus Calls, We Follow
.
Scot McKnight.
Paperback:
Zondervan, 2011.

Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]


[ Read an excerpt of this book here… ]

What is the nature of the Kingdom of God – God’s reign here on Earth and throughout creation – and how does that relate to the local church community?  These two concepts have both been crucial to our understanding here at Englewood Christian Church of what it means to follow Jesus, so it is not surprising that this question kept racing through my mind as I read parts of two excellent new books: Scot McKnight’s One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow and Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People by Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford (Note: the passage from this second book that got me pondering the above question was from Alan Hirsch’s concluding chapter, so I will refer him alone when referencing this book).  I have a deep appreciation for the work of both Scot McKnight and Alan Hirsch, and I have read a number books of by each author over the last decade; thus, it grabbed my attention when they made statements that seemed– at least on the surface of things – to bein complete opposition.  What I’d like to do here is to survey the passages where the authors make the pertinent statements about kingdom and church, as well as part of a recent interview I did with Scot McKnight where I asked him to elaborate on his statement in One.Life, and then to try to unpack the logic and context of both statements and explore the image they cast together of the relationship of kingdom and church.  In my review of Right Here, Right Now last week, I briefly summarized these two positions in this way: Alan Hirsch is making the appeal that we need to loosen up the correlation between kingdom and church, while Scot McKnight is calling for a stronger correlation between kingdom and church.

Consider the passages that got me thinking, beginning with Alan Hirsch’s:

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“Have We Radically Misunderstood
What it Means to Follow Jesus?

A review of
The Gospel According to Jesus:
A Faith that Restores All Things.

By Chris Seay.

Reviewed by Adam Ellis.

The Gospel According to Jesus:
A Faith that Restores All Things.

Chris Seay.

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

The Gospel According to Jesus - Chris SeayAs much as you can be a “fan” of someone like Chris Seay and his work, I am one.  I really enjoy his easy, almost conversational writing style.  I’m impressed with his ability to exegete theological meaning from various touchpoints of pop-culture, from the Enron scandal to the epic television series “LOST.”  The theology that drives his work (both writing and speaking) somehow comes across as equal parts ancient wisdom and fresh insight.  He almost always manages to be challenging without being condescending;  crazy-smart, yet humble and accessible.  In light of all of this, and given the fact that one of my favorite theological soapboxes has to do with the fact that the Gospel many Christians proclaim seems to have very little to do with anything Jesus said or did (besides dying), it would be an understatement to say that I approached Seay’s new book, “The Gospel According to Jesus” with interest.

What if we who seek to follow Jesus have radically misunderstood some of the most basic aspects of what it means to do so?  Would it get your attention if someone could make a solidly persuasive argument that this is the case?  If so, Seay will have you from the first chapter.  Using research that he apparently commissioned from the Barna Research Group, and solid research regarding the Biblical text and the original languages in which it was written, he makes a solid case that the majority of Western Christians may well be working with a deep misunderstanding of the Biblical concept of “righteousness.” Worse yet, how many of us actually define the concept may often put us at odds with Jesus’s actual agenda.

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348346: The Mockingbird Parables

The Mockingbird Parables:
Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story
.

Matt Litton
Paperback: Tyndale House, 2010.

Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Josh Morgan.

[ This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog,
and is reprinted here with permission.  ]

In honor of the 50th anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird, Matt Litton released The Mockingbird Parables: Transforming Lives Through the Power of Story.  While Mockingbird was not a particular favorite of mine as far as novels go, I was intrigued by Litton’s use of a novel to explore spiritual truths. Litton defines parables as “simply stories, and stories are not only a powerful way to deliver meaning–stories are the voice of humanity” (9).

This is a welcome and accurate definition of parable in a world where we hear so much theology and spirituality in terms of discrete “facts,” truths, and assertions. Litton’s work emphasizes how these truths become so much truer and powerful through the parable of story.

The reader does not need to be familiar with the original novel to benefit from the book. I read Mockingbird in high school and remember only pieces of it. Litton provides enough summary to make his points. And he elaborates on the text remarkably. This book truly is a devotional that not only helps the reader understand the original better, but also God and the Christian life.

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A Brief Review of

The Big Book of Christian Mysticism:
The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality
.
Carl McColman.
Paperback: Hampton Roads, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Mary Bowling.

Carl McColman seems to have made a good decision in writing a big book of Christian mysticism. There’s a lot to cover under that topic, and any book other than a big one might not have been able to thoroughly deal with the task of exploring Christian mysticism; its roots and origins, its history, tenets, paradoxes and practices.  The book is written for a broad audience and assumes that the reader may be starting from scratch when it comes to mysticism, or possibly even Christianity. As such, the writing is very basic, but the coverage of the topic is quite thorough and serves as a very good introduction to Christian mysticism and contemplative practices.

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“Crossing the Boundaries Between Communities

A Review of
What We Love about the Black Church
.
By William H. Crouch, Jr. and Joel C. Gregory
.

Reviewed by Bob Cornwall.


What We Love about the Black Church.
William H. Crouch, Jr. and Joel C. Gregory
.
Paperback: Judson, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

[ This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog,
and is reprinted here with his permission. ]

WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT THE BLACK CHURCHYears ago I was invited to preach at a black church. I declined the offer, thinking that my style and personality might not match the expectations of the people in the pew. Later on, after I’d taken up a position as pastor of a local church, I did preach for the Latino congregation that rented space from our church. Maturity had set in by then, and I enjoyed my experience. Coming to metro-Detroit I’ve found that the majority of Disciple churches in the area are either black congregations or they are pastored by African-Americans. I’ve found my colleagues to be welcoming and supportive. So, when a colleague from Detroit invited me to bring my choir and preach at a revival scheduled for this fall, I knew that this was something I should, without any hesitation, do. What I didn’t realize back then, but have come to understand more recently, is that the congregation won’t expect me to be anything other than myself.
Although Sunday mornings remain largely segregated, that may have more to do with the role that the church plays in ethnic minority communities. For generations these churches provided social cohesion, support, and leadership opportunities. Culture maybe changing to the point where there are now other avenues by which community leadership and solidarity can be expressed, but these churches remain strong centers for the community of color. For those of us standing outside these communities, it is helpful to understand not just who they are, but what we might take away to enrich our lives of faith.
What We Love about the Black Church is authored by two white Baptist pastors who now hold academic posts. Crouch is President of Georgetown College of Kentucky and Joel Gregory teaches preaching at Truett Seminary at Baylor. Both men have had ministries that have crossed the usual boundaries, and their experiences have led to great appreciation for the distinctives of the black church. The authors don’t claim to be basing their reflections on research, but simply upon their own experiences as white Christians with the black church, write:

 

A Brief Review of

946011: Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and  Sovereignty of Jesus Christ Jesus Manifesto:
Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ

By Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola

Hardback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.

Buy now:  [ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Jeff Rhodes.

“The gospel that’s so often preached today lacks a revelation of Jesus Christ. The contemporary gospel boils down to a fire-insurance policy, a Santa Claus God, or a performance-based religion. As long as we stay on that plane, we’ll never see or comprehend the staggering enormity of our Lord.”

Frank Viola and Len Sweet have combined their writing prowess to form one of the most powerful pieces of Christian literature of our generation. Jesus Manifesto is a no-holds-barred examination of the Bible’s infatuation with Jesus Christ. Viola and Sweet articulate the awe-inspiring truth that the Old Testament is taken up with Jesus Christ; the New Testament is taken up with Jesus Christ; Paul was taken up with Jesus Christ; the Apostle’s “doctrine” was taken up with Jesus Christ; the Father was taken up with Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit was taken up with Jesus Christ; the early church was taken up with Jesus Christ; and throughout the last 2000+ years, whenever a serious refocus of God’s people occurred, they were taken up with a fresh revelation of the supremacy of Jesus Christ. From the Creation narrative, to the summation of all things in the last two chapters of Revelation, Jesus Christ is the One through whom all things were made and the One in whom all things will be consummated. He is the Alpha and Omega.

Viola and Sweet illustrate Jesus to be the aperture through which the light of the Godhead is focused, harnessed, and glaringly intensified. They take time to develop the truth that Truth is not a statement, religion, system, buildings, or any other man-made initiative; but rather Truth is a person, the person of Jesus. They laboriously insist the gospel is not merely social activism, moral objectivity, or a system through which to make the world a better place. Instead the gospel is nothing short of a monumental unveiling of Jesus Christ in all His mercy, love, compassion, grace, wisdom, and grandeur. The gospel is both death and life. It marks the beginning of a new race, a new humanity that never existed before Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the Cross. Jesus is the gospel! Furthermore, according to Viola and Sweet, the Bible never advocates just the following of Jesus’ sayings or teachings. Rather, Jesus said, “Follow me.” This distinction separates Christianity from all other religious systems whose leaders are dead and cannot be followed.

If you’ve never glimpsed the “sight of peerless worth,” you’re in for a jaw-dropping, breath-taking, whirlwind of emotions and spiritual advancement as you journey through this masterfully written work of art. Jesus exudes its pages. No other agenda outside of exalting the Exalted Christ is at hand. Though this book may be an affront to modern religionist ideologies of social justice, doctrinal creeds, health-and-wealth purveyors, and many other religious institutions of thought, Viola and Sweet make one thing clear: Christianity is NOT about us, but is totally about Him who is all and fills all, the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

A Review of

013430: Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship Untamed:
Reactivating a
Missional Form of Discipleship

By Alan & Debra Hirsch
Paperback:
Baker Books, 2010

Buy Now:
[ ChristianBook.com ]

Reviewed by Jeff Romack.


“We’ve become tamed by tradition, captivated by culture, and controlled by our desire to fit in, not make waves and never offend anyone.  We’ve been domesticated instead of discipled” — From the foreword by Rick Warren.

The above quote succinctly summarizes what missiologist Alan Hirsch and co-writer and wife Debra Hirsch view as the current state of discipleship in the Church.  It is this situation that the Hirschs seek to address in their book, Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship.  The authors define discipleship as the “capacity to lovingly embody and transmit the life of Jesus through the life of his followers . . .”  No Jesus, no life.  No life of Jesus in the Church, no life for the world.  This relational thread from Jesus to Church (Christ’s followers) to the world necessitates the reactivation of a missional form of discipleship for the sake of the world.  Contrary to current practice or lack of it, missional discipleship is normative for followers of Jesus. Such discipleship requires a rediscovery of what it means and a re-envisioning of what it actually looks like to follow Jesus in our culture; the outcome being a life “untamed.”

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A Brief Review of

Ambassadors of Reconciliation (Vol. II):
Diverse Christian Practices of
Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.

Elaine Enns and Ched Myers.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Dustin Hite.

In this second of a two volume work, Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, whose work with Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries is well-known to some, offer those interested in issues of restorative justice, peacemaking, conflict resolution, and other disciplines some wise words of encouragement, as well as numerous examples of how many diverse people are working successfully in these areas.

This particular volume opens with a three-chapter sectioning laying some groundwork for the perspective from which Enns and Myers are operating in their own work.  For instance, chapter one deals with a short explication of the spiral of violence and how it is operative in the social world—an understanding that is crucial for one to grasp in order to move into the next two chapters.  In both chapter two and three, the authors begin to offer a critique of the segregated nature of the disciplines mentioned above, as well as developing a harmonized approach to their own view of restorative justice and peacemaking practices.  One highlight of this work, among the many, is chapter three.  Both Enns and Myers acknowledge how power dynamics are at play in any attempt to succeed in these matters.  In their own way, this chapter highlights how some in this field, especially those who belong to the dominant culture, fail to understand how power dynamics, and the acknowledgment thereof, can either help or hinder efforts.  It is this critique that may be most helpful to anyone—whether professionally engaged in this type of work or only so through personal interaction—as they seek to navigate themselves in an interdependent world.

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A Brief Review of

Crave: Wanting So Much More of God.
Chris Tomlinson.

Paperback: Harvest House Publishers, 2010.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

[ Read the first 3 chapters of this book on SCRIBD! ]


In the new book Crave: Wanting So Much More of God, Chris Tomlinson explores in really basic terms our desires, how they are formed and how they affect our lives.  Desires are fundamental to our existence as humans and yet to many of us they remain mysterious forces.  Especially in a consumerist culture in which our desires are constantly being preyed upon by corporate advertising, we need some serious theological reflection on our desires and how they are formed into (and out of) the way of Christ.  In Crave, Tomlinson offers us an engaging introductory look at our desires that is part memoir and part spiritual reflection.  Crave would be a good choice for discussion in a Sunday School class or Bible study group.

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