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Written May 27th, 2007 with No Comments »

Static by Ron Martoia I used to challenge the thinking of nominal believers during my undergraduate studies in theology by asking them a few pretty serious questions about the Jesus they so easily called lord and savior. One of the most challenging questions I asked a choice few of these individuals had to do with surnames and identification by family. Specifically, I’d ask them if they were aware of Jesus’ surname, and if so, what is it? They normally responded with “Christ,” which of course led to a sketchy discussion about the differences between a Jewish concept/title and a family name. Obviously, Christ is not Jesus’ last name. I thought individuals who actually called Jesus “lord and savior” should at least know that his last name was not “Christ.” I still do think believers should be more than nominal and very literate of that in which they are actually investing belief. Authentic discipleship demands as much.

It’s not too difficult to find points of personal convergence in the basic premise and goal of Ron Martoia’s Static, given my own dedication to non-nominal and critical faith consideration(s). Static is Martoia’s attempt to unpack Christian ideas and concepts that are easily advanced but rarely contemplated and/or considered at a deep or critical level. Martoia specifically focuses upon popular Christian vocabulary; the meanings of words like gospel, repentance, salvation, and kingdom are contextually and historically considered in the book. His goal: to point out and challenge the many contemporary assumptions and definitions superimposed onto Christian words (mostly by Evangelicals), and thus challenge his readers to embrace a static-less, deeper, and authentic expression of Christianity, so they can then tell the story honestly. I do think he accomplishes as much, and that accomplishment earns my respect, but I must admit that it takes far too long for him to get there, and the final arrival is less informed than it could be.

So, yes, the book accomplished the basic premise and goal, but I had a very difficult time getting there. I’ll explain in a couple of points, following:

1. I really do find it unnecessary - and slightly annoying - to read authorial disclaimers about a universal lack of knowledge re: the mind and actions of an infinite God, and how this universal lack of knowledge re: the mind and actions of an infinite God enlightened the author to his inability to “figure it all out,” only to have him (the author) spend thirty chapters pointing out the obvious theological mistakes of others and articulating exactly how he has “figured it out.” Seriously, it is a tired and less than honest methodology, isn’t it?

2. The historical aspect(s) of the work in this book is less than complete. There is so much more to be said about Jewish eschatology and the entire 1st Century backdrop to the story of Jesus of Nazareth. I got the distinct impression that this book was built upon weak highlights of works by Herzog, N.T. Wright, Borg, Crossan, and maybe Lenski. Static just seemed so under-developed in the area that matters most to its basic premise and goals. Anyone interested in a fuller picture of the history and setting into which the story of Jesus is situated would be better served by picking up a few works by experts in the field.

3. The running theological conversation shared between Ron, Phil and Jess is literarily entertaining (helpful), but laughable in light of the premise and goal of the work. Yes, that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Why? 1. The running conversation between Ron, Phil and Jess substantiates what I said earlier re: authors who say they don’t have “it” all figured out, yet go on to talk to others as if they actually do have “it” all figured out. 2. The overall setting of the running conversation between Ron, Phil and Jess is loaded with a sort of evidential consumerism which made it very difficult to focus upon the 1st century setting and definitions in which, according to the author, the “authentic meaning” of Christianity’s words are rooted! I had a very difficult time connecting what little historical information was provided by the author to the Christianity modeled in real-time by the author. Talking about the real ramifications a first century understanding of Jesus of Nazareth has upon contemporary expressions of Christianity over a seemingly endless supply of NASCAR-size toolboxes, Three-burner 80,000 BTU Gas Grills, T-bone steak dinners, Ben & Jerrys, Blackberry(s), iPods, SUVs, the Lexus, vacations, regular recreational weekend trips, etc., etc., is blatantly counterproductive. Seriously, the juxtaposition created a real gap in this book I could not bridge. It’s like watching Mel’s Passion of the Christ with a gallon of soda in one fist, and three pounds of buttered popcorn in the other, in a comfortably air-conditioned theater, isn’t it?

4. The goal of the author is not that radical. So, I’m not really sure why a sort of “get ready to have your theological world shaken at any moment!” warning was consistently strewn throughout this book. It’s not radical to go deeper than popular surface definitions, is it? I suppose it depends upon who you ask.

All of that said, I do think the author articulated well his desire to see more people embrace a static-less, deeper, and authentic expression of Christianity. It just seemed to take him forever to get there, and when the arrival finally came, it was less than literarily and academically satisfying. He basically ended by defining the major words like so:

Gospel = Newsflash | Repent = Reorient | Kingdom of God = Empire of God | Sin = Shame | Salvation = Do-over and Shalom

Again, what is so radical? Personally, I will tell the story of Jesus like an Anabaptist would tell it. I think I have a very good understanding of the historical meanings of the words used too, so I’ll stick with my tradition and conducive missional method(s).

I think I should also say that sometimes the gospel is rejected by unbelievers. It is rejected because it is a stumbling block to many, and for a variety of reasons. The gospel also just might include repentance from moral sin too, and not just social injustices and failures. I think it is a “both and,” rather than an “either or.” This book bends heavily in a social direction. The gospel is both; it is gospel.

I would just slightly recommend this book, and only after reading deeper materials re: the historical setting of the 1st Century and Jesus of Nazareth. Static is not fully developed.

Note: All of the books found under the “Book Reviews” tag are sent to me free specifically for review on this site (4 Mis-Categorized Exceptions: Watt, Hirsch, Bell and Webber). Thank you!

Written May 25th, 2007 with 1 Comment »

Yup Nope Maybe I finished the Christian Life & Relationship paperbacks authored by the therapist duo aka Stephen James and David Thomas. The companion works are titled “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? A Man’s Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask” and “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” A Woman’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Language of Men.

I already offered my thoughts and questions re: “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? A Man’s Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask.” I appreciated the book, and found it to be both enlightening and entertaining. I would say the same re: “Yup. Nope. Maybe. A Woman’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Language of Men.” It too was an enlightening and entertaining read. The pair are good books, all around.

Again, if you are the sort of person who is comfortable living at either end of the bipolar paradigm that is the gender egalitarian and complementarian left and right, then you will probably not enjoy this book. Why? Well, it is built upon the idea of serious gender differences. Men and women are inherently different. This fact does not, however, result in inequality. The “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” authors argue as much very early in the book. They write: “Although the differences between men and women provide material for stand-up comics and water cooler jocularity, they don’t imply superiority or inferiority for one sex or the other. But insofar as these differences shape our language, and thus spread out into the nooks and crannies of our lives, they have a profound effect on the quality of our relationships” (11).

Improved quality of relationships through intentional gender-based interaction and nurture is the point of this book, just as it was in “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? A Man’s Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask.” I appreciate this overarching, relationally-based characteristic and goal. I also appreciate each chapter’s concluding theological application. Once again, as was the case in “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?,” theology, or how all of this relates to God, is the point.

“Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” was birthed straight out of the questions women have about men. The authors e-mailed women from all over the country and asked them to submit the most pressing questions they had concerning men. Questions submitted included: “Why won’t men stop for directions?” “Do men always think about sex?” “How can men fight fearlessly in war and yet whimper like children when they’re sick?” “Why do men watch sports?” “Why do men spend so much time on the porcelain throne?”

The answers to these initial questions are rooted in deeper gender specific instincts, feelings, and desires. So, men, just like the women who asked the loaded questions in “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?,” are digging much deeper into gender specific tendencies than it may initially appear at the surface level of everyday acts and events.

An example of this can be found in each chapter, but I think the chapter titled “Can’t It Wait ‘Till Halftime” epitomizes the James and Thomas methodology. In “Can’t It Wait ‘Till Halftime”, men are described as instinctive “warrior-adventurers” who “get energized by just by watching the battle played out in front of us” (63). This is why, according to the authors, men are virtually unresponsive to the rest of the world on Saturday & Sunday afternoons during football season. They are vicariously engaged in a battle that they instinctively do not want to disengage. Men crave adventure; men are created to be warriors.

The authors summarize the man as warrior-adventurer chapter with the theological implications, as they do every chapter. They write: “God designed men to be dangerous. Look at the imagination, dreams, and desires written into the heart of every boy: hero, warrior, and explorer. Sadly, most men abandon those dreams in favor of more obtainable and predictable avocations. The true heart of a man, what God designed us to be, is bent toward danger, passion, and freedom. Men are made to war against evil” (63).

The authors’ point in all of this is to direct the relational attention of women toward gender-driven actions expressed by men through surface level behavior and language. Women, when confronted with such actions, can maximize relational health by looking beyond the surface level behavior and language. Women then can intentionally react to men in gender specific and sensitive ways. In other words, a woman who cares about her man’s maleness could actually - and should - provide the space for him to live out his instinctive need to battle through the big game on NFL Sunday. Men, beware: she may just go all the way and sign you up for Ultimate Fighter Six, so you can authentically embrace the warrior-adventurer inside. You may just get more adventure than you bargained for! Me? I’m not fighting anyone! I gave that up in junior high school. I’m content with the Pittsburgh Steelers, thank you.

Written May 23rd, 2007 with 1 Comment »

Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? I recently read through a pair of enlightening and entertaining Christian Life/Relationship paperbacks collaboratively authored by Stephen James and David Thomas. The works are titled “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?” and “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” The former is “A Man’s Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask,” the later is “A Woman’s Guide to Getting More Out of the Language of Men.” Fun, educational reads, both of them.

I’ll start with a quick review of “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?” A review of “Yup.” “Nope.” “Maybe.” will follow shortly.

First, however, I think a quick word should be said about egalitarianism and complementarianism.

I am joyfully partnered for life to a wonderful, life-giving woman. She is my joy, love, and strength. In all honesty, I would be utterly lost without her daily guidance and foundational presence. I also have a set of gorgeous twin girls who are old enough to cosmetically decorate their faces, of their own volition. I have been living in deep relationship with these three women for enough years to know they need and desire things that are very different from the instinctive needs and desires of my son and me. It’s O.K! We are different; I know it and they know it too! We could pretend it is not so, but then not one of us would be honestly embracing our God-given genders. We are different, but we are equals! I would never lord over my wife or daughters like an idiotic, back-water barbarian who unwisely uses scripture as chauvinistic leverage. Never would I do such a thing! I also would never bar my daughters or my wife or any other woman from senior leadership positions in Christ’s church, if they are so equipped and called. It’s just silly to do such asinine things. We can try to kick goads, but our feet will just hurt.

Yes, men and women are different, and we have different gender-based desires and needs, but we are beyond equal in leadership abilities, talents, and gifts, especially in Christ’s church. So, gender differences, in my house, exist, and are celebrated, but they do not result in inequality. I guess I’m looking for a landing strip somewhere between - or better yet, beyond - egalitarianism and complementarianism. The best answer always exists somewhere beyond the polarized ends of any topic.

That said, I’ll pick back up with my thoughts on “Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?

Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? is built upon a few of the “loaded questions” seemingly faced by all men over the long course of a healthy relationship. Men, I promise, a quick look at the book’s table of contents will induce a bit of soulful laughter. The chapter titles are not inherently funny but you will undoubtedly recognize some of them! You have probably heard all of them at some point in your relationship! Has your girlfriend or wife ever asked you questions like: “Does this dress make me look fat?” “Do you notice anything different about the house?” “Do you think that woman is pretty?” “Am I like my mother?” “What are you thinking about?” I have heard a few of those myself!

These loaded questions, according to James & Thomas, are merely surface questions. The loaded-surface questions point toward much deeper questions based upon even deeper feelings, emotions and needs. These feelings, emotions and needs are shared by women everywhere, presumably. We men, however, and more often than not, drop the relational ball when confronted with these questions, respond to them poorly, and miss out on rich opportunities to meet feminine needs and engage deeply with our girlfriends and wives, relationally speaking. Our relationships with our wives should be about way more than sex. We should be meeting other deep needs and desires too. First, however, we have to realize they actually exist. This book is a good starting point for this sort of recognition.

That said, I’m not 100% sure if the deeper questions pointed to by the loaded-surface questions are true all of the time, but that is not the inspiration I took from the book. The point is to begin to actually think deeply about what your girlfriend or wife is saying to you and react in an intentional sort of way so as to deepen and grow together, relationally. She’s probably already doing just that … but you - man - are probably missing it. The point is to treat our girlfriends and wives extravagantly, as Christ would his Church. We are called by God to do so. In fact, this theological imperative is a good segue to my final thought re: the book.

The book concludes each chapter with theological implications and considerations. This is an especially appreciated feature. God’s role in our lives is not limited. It includes our relationships. We should, therefore, consider the theological implications of relationships lived and lives shared. This book is structured in a way that will help you to beginning thinking theologically about common life issues and events. This practice is worth so much more than the price of the book itself.

I enjoyed reading this book. My favorite story can be found in the chapter titled “Do You Think That Woman Is Pretty?” I enjoyed it so much, I read it aloud to my own wife over breakfast this morning. I’ll have to set the scene before quoting my favorite portion.

The story involves three people: 1. Ethan & Julie (a young, hip, attractive couple); 2. A female barista working at one of Seattle’s many coffee houses. Scene: Ethan and Julie are holding hands and chatting over coffee. The barista passes by the table and Ethan’s eyes track straight to her posterior. Julie catches him and recoils! She pulls her hand away from his as if she had been bitten. Ethan tries in vain to deny that he was actually looking at the butt of a passerby.

This is where the story gets good, and deserves a quoted excerpt:

About this time, the barista in question came out from the back room, passing right back by the table. Julie reached out and gently grabbed the woman’s arm, stopping her cold in her tracks. “Excuse me,” she said with all the pleasantness she could muster.

“Yes. Can I help you?” the barista asked politely.

“No, but you might be able to help him. My boyfriend here was just admiring your tush. I thought he might want to meet you.”

Ethan sank low in his chair - his urban coolness melting and quickly evaporating - while two women scowled derisively at him.

My wife loved the story over breakfast, of course. She thanked me for reading it aloud to her. I left the breakfast table wondering why in the world I would ever read a story like this to her. I totally equipped her. I’ll be extra careful at all public dining spots from this day forward. You can count on it!

Written March 25th, 2007 with No Comments »

I must admit to being utterly bewildered. Sometimes I do end up confused, but usually not as a result of my own doing. I feel like a lost, teenaged hayseed, fresh off the Greyhound, suitcase in hand, wandering around somewhere in the unfamiliar maze of a bewildering downtown Los Angeles bus terminal. Why? Well, because I actually spent $55.00 dollars on a book titled: Bible-Carrying Christians: Conservative Protestants and Social Power. It has to be one of the silliest reads I have purchased in quite some time. Its silliness actually rivals that of Why Christianity Must Change or Die by Bishop Spong. Too, remember, I say this as a fan of neither liberal religion, nor fundamentalism.

So, why do I not like this book? I will try to explain in a short page or two.

The author, David Harrington Watt, would have us to believe – he goes out of his way to do so – that his so-called field method will reveal something about conservative Protestants that would otherwise go unobserved. I have nothing at all against ethnographic study, which is his method of choice. Ethnographic study can be a wonderful tool leading to a fuller anthropological understanding of cultures and/or subcultures, at least when it is taken to the field in a disciplined manner. Watt is not disciplined in his attempted field study. In fact, his research predictably reads more like a bitter Ex-Southern Baptist turned Episcopalian than a disciplined Ethnographer. The introduction of culturally preferred preferences into field work is an inherent danger facing the Ethnographer. Religious communities maximize and compound this danger, because religious communities are religious and everyone – even Ethnographers – has an opinion or preference concerning religion and subsequent communities. I suppose, Watt can skate if he can prove that there is such a beast as total objectivity in research, and that his own religious development (Southern Baptist to Episcopalian) had no residual effect(s) upon his field experience and research. I won’t hold my breath.

Watt cherry picked his churches. Watt is no stranger to Christianity.

Watt cherry picked his churches. What do I mean? Simply this: Watt is no stranger to Christianity. He was a Southern Baptist; he is now an Episcopalian. He understands well the liberal and conservative dynamic inherent to American Christianity. He’s not stupid. So, Watt trounces through Philadelphia in search of three Christian churches into which he can live and circulate, albeit for a limited time. What churches does he pick: Oak Grove Church, The Philadelphia Mennonite fellowship, and the Philadelphia Church of Christ? They are all socially conservative churches, and staunchly so (The Mennonite Community was slightly progressive on a few issues). Sure, these churches are populated with individuals who carry their Bibles to Church, but so are many others, I’m sure. So, was the act of “Bible-Carrying” the litmus test for the picking of these churches, or was social conservativism? If it is the later, which I strongly suspect, then the whole premise of this book is off-kilter. Too, it seems the recurring issue for Watt was the social relationship between male and female within the church communities. Every chapter ends with comments regarding alleged gender oppression against women within the church. There are politically moderate and/or indifferent churches out there and they are filled with people carrying Bibles. Why were not a few of these chosen? Why focus on the negative social characteristic of these churches? Doesn’t anything good happen in these communities too? It seems strange that a wise and serious Ethnographer would knowingly choose specific churches for field study in which he already knew he would not be able to authentically assimilate, without decisive argument. More than that, why the argument in the first place? Do Ethnographers actually engage in debate with their filed subjects? I don’t think so. This sounds not like Ethnographic research, but a religious liberal hack job dressed up as Ethnography. There are plenty of so-called “Bible-Carrying” Christians out there who are not at all limited to the characterizations advanced by Watt in this book. Too, I’m not so sure these folk posses anything remotely close to the social power attributed to them, save within their own communities, and that’s their own choice.

So, I’m confused. I spent $55.00 of my hard earned money on this book. I’ll never see those dollars again. I could have scored a whole lot of Fuddruckers with $55.00! Oh well.

Written March 25th, 2007 with No Comments »

InTransit Lifeway 4

Real life is all about waiting. We wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. We wait some more … We wait all the time. We wait for mail, job promotions, loves, marriages, kids, families, houses, and vacations. We wait in lines, transit stations, stop lights, and doctor’s offices. We do a lot of waiting! We do not like it either, for the most part! But … God must be there, somewhere, in all of that waiting, right? Right! How can we become aware of God’s active and tangible presence and purpose within all of our time spent waiting? Doesn’t the fact that God is right there, somewhere, within all of the time spent, change the whole concept of waiting? Perhaps. Does God make us wait sometimes? Yes! So, the question then is, “What do you do with your wait?” Threads (by Lifeway) and Mike Harder tackle this very question in a fantastic small group curriculum titled InTransit: What Do You Do With Your Wait?

A Fantastic Small Group Curriculum for People who Like Fantastic Small Groups

I love small group experiences. I especially enjoy small group experiences that are dynamic, hip (read: contemporary), and media rich. Media is so important today. So, it must be done well. I’m pretty picky, as far as media quality is concerned. I will actually refuse to use a curriculum if it is attached to really poor - or cheesy - media. I’m not, for example, a fan of 8 Life Shaking Moments with Jesus. Sure, it incorporates a lot of media (DVD video), but it is all so poorly done, in my opinion. So, yes, media is a must have, but it must also be high quality. Too, more media doesn’t always lead to a richer small group experience. I have experienced curriculum that was loaded and overflowing with media, but was not as good as other curriculum with far less. So, more doesn’t always equal better.

InTransit Lifeway 2

Threads has it all covered in InTransit. InTransit is a dynamic, hip and media rich (balanced) curriculum. I really like this one. It is solid. It is an edifying group trip into the lives of three people who had to wait … for God. Joseph, David and Jesus spent years waiting. Most of us can obviously relate.

A Few Personal Highlights of Threads’ InTransit: What Do You Do With Your Wait?

First of all, the InTransit: Multi-media Leader Kit is as aesthetically pleasing as the Threads website itself. I love the art direction. I love the aesthetic packaging. Yes, packaging tells us a lot about contents. This packaging speaks to young, active, and life-driven postmodern adults who are very, very interested in looking for and finding God in those less then fulfilled and seemingly dormant aspects of their lives (i.e., the waiting). The curriculum’s focus is young adults, though it could work for any age group, if facilitated by a savvy group leader.

InTransit Lifeway 1

Secondly, I love the Member Book. It too is put together in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. It is also chock full of seriously edifying content that will undoubtedly be the catalyst for more small group discussion than you will be able to squeeze into your allotted time on Sunday morning (don’t worry about time though, aspects of this course are e-mail based! So, be creative!). The Member Book content comes in the form of Six Sessions that conceptually and methodologically flow into the next naturally: Session One: In the Waiting Room; Session Two: Destination Unknown; Session Three: Short Circuits are Dangerous; Session Four: Under Construction; Session Five: Choice is Optional; Session Six: Cleared for Landing. Also included: “In the Meantime …” sections, at the end of each session (”In the Meantime …” sections include a few cool ideas that will help you connect and process what you are reading); A large section in the back of the Member Book is dedicated to personal journaling.

InTransit Lifeway 3

Finally, a few words should be spent on the DVD and other media aspects of the curriculum. The DVD clips are top-shelf, first rate productions. The actors are actually really talented and totally believable. I really like the clip for Session Five: Choice is Optional (Dude! Are You Listening?). Too, the audio clips included are awesome. Songs from Spur58, Go Deep, Phil Joel, and The Longing are included in the study. It’s a playlist filled with great Christian contemporary songs. Audio insights and interviews from author Mike Harder are included too. These files are for group e-mailing. So, in summary, let’s just say a great bunch of media is bundled with this curriculum.

This is really, really great small group curriculum. I’m going to be using it very, very soon. I honestly can’t wait! I would not hesitate to recommend it for use in any small group setting. It’s Biblical, Media Rich, and very, very exciting. InTransit is a great small group resource, to say the least.

Written March 11th, 2007 with 2 Comments »

I picked up a copy of The Forgotten Ways by Emerging Missional Church (EMC) thinker Alan Hirsch. So far, it stands out as one of the best missions reads I have picked up in quite some time. It’s right up there with Stetzer’s Planting Missional Churches. Yes, it’s a stand out, and unarguably so. Hirsch’s work is both readable and seriously focused upon detail(s). Basically, the book is an accessible but scholarly read/analysis of the state of contemporary missions. It makes one think, to say the least.

The Forgotten Ways

Hirsch begins by asking the following questions (to call them thought-provoking would be a serious understatement!):

“How did the number of Christians in the world grow from as few as 25,000 one hundred years after Christ’s death to up to 20 million in AD 310?”

“How did the Chinese underground church grow from 2 million to over 100 million in sixty years despite considerable opposition?”

Christians - all Christians - interested in evangelism and missions should read this book. The heart of it all, as Hirsch says in the third chapter, is “Jesus as Lord.” Jesus is Lord of all, indeed.

READ UPDATE: I just stumbled upon incredibly profound snippets of analysis in the “Addendum and Glossary.” Ponder these thoughts:

“By and large, churches are very conservative organizations, and after they have been around just a few years they can quickly become institutional, largely because of the Christendom mode and assumptions underlying it, but also because of the leadership style and influence. on the whole, churches seek to conserve the past, and particularly in the historical denominations (e.g. Anglicanism and Presbyterianism) their primary orientation is often backward to an idealized past rather than forward to a new vision of the future. As such they are classic, often inflexible, institutions that enshrine an inherited tradition. Hence, the historical churches are leading the decline of the church in the West. For instance, in some areas, the Uniting Church of Australia is losing members at 20 percent exponentially per annum! This would be similar for many liberal mainline denominations and is due almost entirely to the fact that they are closed systems built squarely on institutional systems story with a liberal theological base a classic sign of institutionalism” (261).

“Theological liberalism is an indicator of institutional decline not only because it tries to minimize the necessary tension between gospel and culture by eliminating the culturally offending bits, but because it is basically a parasitical ideology. I don’t mean this to be offensive to my liberal brothers and sisters; I wish merely to point out that theological liberalism rarely creates new forms of church or extends Christianity in any significant way, but rather exists and ‘feeds off’ what the more orthodox and missional movements started. Theological liberalism always comes later in the history of a movement, and it is normally associated with its decline” (262).

Wow! True, so true. I have been personally involved with liberal religious organizations during my ten years of study; I can attest to a nearly identical appropriation of orthodox forms, practices and methods, that simultaneously exist and are practiced alongside of liberal theological expressions. So, the end result is an obviously convoluted liberal institution that staunchly proclaims a non-Christian and/or post-Christian identity, in spite of active member participation in things like Sunday morning “Religious Education,” “Harvest Communion (the bread and wine are replaced by corn bread and cider),” or even M.Div programs! I understand what Hirsch is pointing toward. Too, I understand his desire not to offend liberal brothers and sisters. True is true, however. Theological liberalism is not the future of Christianity, I promise. I tried it, wholeheartedly.

At any rate, do pick up this book. It is well worth the price, especially for those of us seriously interested in missions and the Church of Jesus Christ.

Work Cited: Hirsch, Alan. “The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.” Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006.

Written March 09th, 2007 with No Comments »

I will soon be reviewing what looks to be ‘a must have’ small group leader resource called ‘InTransit’ from LifeWay’s new young adult imprint, Threads. You can bet that I’ll be diving into the kit - which includes a member book, DVD, and CD - as soon as it arrives at my front door! ‘Till then, a little bit of info from the Threads site will have to do!

InTransit

Here’s the quick & official run down re: the resources available:

Tired of Waiting? InTransit by Mike Harder: Do you ever feel like you are waiting for real life to begin? InTransit looks at three truths about waiting as it traces the lives of David, Jesus, and Joseph—who were promised great things concerning their lives and waited, sometimes painfully, to see God’s promises come to pass.

Material, Media & Other Stuff: The Leader Kit is designed specifically to help small group leaders create a close-knit community among their group as they delve deeper into three truths about waiting. The Leader Kit contains a Member Book, an enhanced CD-ROM and a DVD. Note: Participants in a small group using this curriculum need only by the Member Book, not the Leader Kit, unless they are the actual leaders, then … well, you get it, right? Right.

Online Sneaks, Samples & Thrilling Live Action Photos: YouTube Video for InTransit & Threads Flickr Page.

So, watch for my official review coming soon!

Written February 06th, 2007 with No Comments »

I’m currently reading Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches (editor: Robert Webber) and I am revisiting Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Rob Bell). Late, late last evening, I read through Driscoll and Burke’s positions (and the accompanying responses) in Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches. Driscoll was solid, reformed, as usual; as was Burke. Burke was a bit more flexible, it seems. I say “it seems” because I think Driscoll is just as flexible but dresses the Christian walk & practice in much more intentionality, theologically & doctrinally speaking. I think they both are saying virtually the same things, but take different approaches. Driscoll’s is a Biblicist’s approach; Burke’s an Incarnational. I bet that is why the chapters are named as much! I’ll have much more to say when I’m actually done reading the book. So far it’s a great read. Too, I have to dive into Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis. ‘Till then.

Velvet Elvis Emerging Churches

Written November 16th, 2006 with No Comments »

This book was sent to me by Oxford University Press specifically for review on this weblog. Also, I would be less than spiritually responsible if I did not state that I am a bible-believing, Jesus Christ following, Evangelical Christian who absolutely loves studying Gospels (canonical and extra-canonical). I do not personally endorse anything apart from the Gospel as related to the world via the canonical Christian New Testament. That said, it is good to study broadly. Broad Christian study is a spiritual discipline, to say the least.

The previously lost Gospel of Judas affords those interested in the study of Gospels (canonical and extra-canonical) with a very, very early narrative of the events leading up to the betrayal, arrest and crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. This particular version of the story differs from every other known Gospel source as concerns the dark and shadowy events which arguably could be tagged as catalysts for one of the most tragic executions in human history. In other words, the Gospel of Judas is not your typical or familiar Gospel story. The hero and antagonist roles have been swapped in this narrative. It makes for seriously interesting reading. Do strap on your Gnostic goggles, this one is rich in Gnosticism, literarily speaking.

I have read the translated Judas text (Rodolphe Kasser, Marvin Meyer, and Gregor Wurst, in collaboration with François Gaudard) many, many times prior to picking up New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman’s latest work on the Gospel. Ehrman’s “The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot: A New Look at Betrayer and Betrayed” (Oxford University Press) is a literal mine of quality academic research and information dedicated to the fostering of an exhaustive, holistic and critical read of the Gospel text. My overall understanding of this sometime bizarre new text has been greatly informed by the critical work of Ehrman.

The Gospel of Judas, in case you have yet to hear, presents the Gospel’s most infamous Beelzebub as not only the most righteous disciple of the famous twelve, but also as the only (ONLY) disciple who actually understands Jesus. Judas is the one “who gets it.” Consequently, Judas’ betrayal of Jesus - which results in Jesus’ death - is actually a Gnostic-laden event which separates Jesus from his evil earthly matter and actually frees him. Yes, it is a Gnostic gospel.

Ehrman’s approach to this text is as critical as it is exhaustive.

Ehrman starts with an examination of the Judas story as it appears in the writings of Paul and the earliest known Gospels. This section of Ehrman’s book will probably enlighten most readers to previously unconsidered aspects of Paul’s work and the Gospels as much as it will be revelatory regarding the Judas text itself. Ehrman is a New Testament scholar in every imaginable sense of the word. He is thorough, to say the least.

Consider this example, taken from a section wherein Ehrman is unpacking Paul’s knowledge of Judas and 1 Cor. 15:3-8:

In fact, there is one passage that might suggest that Paul did not know about Judas and his betrayal. Later in the same book [1 Corinthians], Paul is discussing the appearances of Jesus to various groups and individuals after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8), and here he states that “[Christ first] appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.” This clearly refers to Jesus’ twelve disciples, but how could he have appeared to all of them if Judas was no longer among their number?

Ehrman then searches out the Judas tradition as it is told by later Gospel traditions. This section is incredibly interesting, especially if the reader is unfamiliar with extra-canonical Gospels. Tales concerning the life of Judas exist well beyond the more familiar “later Gospel traditions” (e.g., Acts and John) which are so strange they border on the entertaining. Papias’ writings regarding Judas, for example, tell us of a Judas who literally swelled bodily until he literally exploded. Prior to his detonation, however, Judas’ eyes sunk into his skull, his genitals quadrupled in size, and he emitted pus and worms in the place of urine. Yes, it is quite an unpleasant story of divine retribution for the act of betrayal.

The Gospel of Nicodemus, The Arabic Infancy Gospel, The Golden Legend, and the writings of the Church Fathers are all considered in this section of Ehrman’s work. I did mention Ehrman is thorough, right?

Ehrman then spends a chapter upon our previous knowledge of the Gospel of Judas, prior to the actual discovery of the text. He then spends a bit of time talking about the actual discovery of the Gospel.

I absolutely love his writing style. It is not often that a critical and academic work reads like a suspense novel (historical non-fiction, of course). Ehrman’s Lost Gospel of Judas reads in that fashion at times. It is a page-turning joy, at least for Gospel aficionados. The following “Discovery” excerpt is but a small example:

Ferrini finally caved in under pressure, and on February 15, 2001, Nussberger and Roberty flew to Cleveland to collect the manuscripts. Ferrini agreed as well to hand over all photographs, and copies of photographs, that he had taken of the manuscripts while in his possession. The exchange itself was an enormous problem: since Nussberger could not read Coptic and had not previously counted the pages of the manuscripts or known exactly what their contents were at a glance, she had no way of knowing if Ferrini was genuinely keeping his end of the bargain. Was he holding anything back? Any manuscript pages? Any photographs?

The remaining sections of Ehrman’s work focuses upon a historical study of the newly discovered Gospel of Judas. He begins with an enlightening overview of the Gospel itself. A literary trip through Early Christian Gnosticism follows. A deep look at the Gospel of Judas’ depictions of Jesus, Judas and the Twelve is offered next. Ehrman wraps up by asking who was the historical Judas and what did Judas actually betray and how did he actually betray it? Ehrman bring us back into perspective by chapter eleven, which is titled “The Gospel of Judas in Perspective.”

It is an enlightening and exhilarating read from the first page of the book’s introduction to the last paragraph of the last chapter, which serves as a fantastic summery of this strange new Gospel:

Only Judas had a glimpse of the truth. And so to him alone did Jesus reveal all that needs to be known. In return, Judas performed for him the greatest service imaginable. His betrayal was not the act of a traitor to the cause. It was a kind deed performed for the sake of his Lord. He turned Jesus over to the authorities so that Jesus could escape the confines of his body. In doing so, Judas is the greatest of all the apostles.

The Gospel of Judas is an interesting read. It is completely divergent from every other known Gospel source concerning Judas, betrayal, and Jesus. Yes, it is Gnostic to the core. It is interesting, however. It is best read along side of Bart Ehrman’s work on the subject. Much will be missed otherwise. If you are serious about your Gospel study, do grab Ehrman’s book.

Written November 09th, 2006 with No Comments »

David Griffith has produced one of the deepest critiques of contemporary American culture I have read to date. He did so in less than 200 pages. Griffith’s A Good War is Hard to Find (Soft Skull) traces America’s current approach to military, politics, foreign policy and religion directly to our detrimental social penchant for darkness, masochism and pornographic violence. David writes about this terribly unfortunate situation not as one who self-righteously places himself in some sort of holy judgment above all others, but as one who sees the potential purity in an authentic and literate faith. His is a prophetic sort of testimony. It is not pop televangelist. It is a call entirely too deep and too costly for satellite transmission. Heck, it may even be too costly (read: authentic, deep and meaningful) for popular American Christianity. His is a call meant for discovery by a lone reader searching in the quiet isolation of his or her study. I was moved by the author’s ability to totally avoid the familiar rhetoric and party lines owned and wielded by the twin sides of a culture war whose participants miss the big picture entirely. This is especially impressive considering the inspiration of the book: Abu Ghraib. Griffith, however, holds up Abu Ghraib as a mirror in which we can honestly see our state as a nation of collected and individual selves. Abu Ghraib isn’t about a handful of deviants; it is about all of us. He thus abandons the popular rhetoric and spin of the left and the right and instead digs deep into our social and collective unconsciousness and spiritual condition. We are, according to Griffith, a spiritually sick - even diseased - society. The most obvious symptoms of our disease is our taste for violence and what Griffith calls “the desire to achieve redemption without repentance …”

Here are a few other deep questions raised in the pages of Griffith’s work:

Will Christians in America see the images of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib as O’Conner (Flannery) would, as evidence of the spiritual struggle within all human beings … or as a deviant fantasy dreamed up by desperate characters? What is the cost of treating these events as the result of abnormal psychology? At what cost do we demand to see ourselves as redeemers - the judgers of Good and Evil?” (p. 40).

… I thought of the Abu Ghraib photos and how they seemed to connect me to some point beyond the war, to a fundamental truth about humankind - that within all of us is the capacity for both great humanity and great inhumanity … America’s response to atrocity on the part of its citizens has been to deny that those particular soldiers “speak for us” or “represent the larger good America stands for.” This is the most harmful response imaginable from a spiritual standpoint, revealing a profound misunderstanding of sin and evil” (p. 100).

The inane humor of Pulp Fiction - serious conversations about foot massages seconds before committing triple murder - insulated (inoculate?) us from violence. The actions are reprehensible, but the dialogue is full of inconsequential, trivial bullshit - where to get a good hamburger, taking a moment to savor a sip of gourmet coffee while a headless corpse bleeds in your car” (p. 72).

I honestly hope no one reading this review equates Griffith’s commentary re: solutions to social issues described with terms such as darkness, masochism, pornography and violence with the cheap answers offered up by the card-carrying evangelists on either far-side of the tired American culture war. David Griffith has obviously given his expression much, much more theological thought and reason. A Good War is Hard to Find reads nothing like a liberal or conservative partisan playbook, but has everything to do with our spiritual and religious selves in contemporary American society and culture. It offers readers a serious theological approach toward social being in the tempestuous times in which we live. I would have nothing to do with it otherwise.

Read this book … but keep a mirror handy.