Sunday, December 11, 2011

Radical Together Review

I'm not sure there's a book I've anticipated more than this one in the last year... and it was well worth the wait! David Platt's first book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, brought into focus the incompatibility of the Christian life with the American dream, and has had a huge impact on Christians -- particularly those in my generation. Many readers of that first book have begun to live lives of radical obedience to Christ, devoting themselves to prayer, reading God's Word, and spending their time and resources serving others at home and abroad. Many of these readers' stories are shared in this second book. 

But one person being radical will not ultimately accomplish much. To see real change come in this world requires like-minded Christians to band together in local churches, with each person contributing their talents, resources, and energy to the cause of Christ as part of a unified body. What Radical did for individual Christians, Radical Together aims to do for churches. I believe it will succeed! 

In the first chapter, called "The Tyranny of the Good", Platt urges churches to re-examine the use of their resources, facilities, and time. Most churches, he says, are not investing themselves in worthless, unfruitful, or unbiblical pursuits. Rather, they are held captive by the "tyranny of the good", spending themselves on labors that are good... but not necessarily best for advancing God's Kingdom purposes. Therefore, churches should "put everything on the table", reconsidering before God our ministry strategies, our worship services, our programs, our finances, and our policies, priorities, and procedures. "The gospel compels the church to go to God with everything we have and everything we do and then ask, `What needs to go? What needs to change? What needs to stay the same?`" (p. 9) 

The goal is to determine how best each church can serve the Lord, but this may require letting go of some very good things. These good things tend to grip churches the same way that the "American Dream" grips individuals, keeping us from serving God with all we have. 

If there was a problem with Radical, it was that many who read it might be tempted to feel guilty that they were not living radically enough, and that they were not adequate to be used for God's purposes. Thankfully, Platt addresses this concern in the second chapter, called "The Gospel Misunderstood". Since everything we do as Christians starts with the gospel, it is imperative that we understand it properly. Platt talks about two types of people who misunderstand the gospel; he calls them Andy and Ashley. 

Andy has professed faith in Christ, believing (correctly) that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However, because he believes himself already and eternally saved, he sees no need to "do" anything with his faith. His life bears no fruit of faith, and he has no concern for the lost, or for the poor. He is defensive when people start talking about "radical" faith. 

Ashley, on the other hand, never feels as if she has done enough for Christ, and is never sure of her salvation. Reading Radical only made her feel guilty, and trying to live out the gospel is wearing her out. Andy and Ashley are both wrong about the gospel, and they are likely represented in every church in the world. But for both, a right understanding of the gospel will fuel both faith and works, and the worship that is the right response of every Christian to what God has done for us. 

For the Ashleys of the world, Platt assures that "you will never be radical enough... and the beauty of the gospel is that you don't have to" (p.27). The gospel frees us from work, and from the effort to overcome our guilt before God. But "the gospel that saves us from work also saves us to work" (p.28). Through a helpful examination of the different usages in Scripture of terms such as "works", "deeds", and "acts of love", Platt provides a holistic understanding of how faith and works relate, with the simple summation: "Real faith always creates fruit." (p. 29) 

From this point, he continues to show how guilt is an insufficient motivator for long-term Kingdom work, and that the gospel alone is sufficient to sustain and strengthen God's people for accomplishing God's purposes. In order to access this gospel, though, we need to depend entirely on God's revelation of himself. This is the focus of chapter 3, "God Is Saying Something". 

Here he brings the attention of churches and church leaders back to where it always should have been: the Word of God. Contemporary Western Christianity so often believes we "need" programs, flashy music, and dynamic speakers in order to have a "successful" church. Platt challenges these assumptions and encourages us to focus on the things which God has clearly commanded in Scripture, and trust that God will be faithful to bless work that aligns with His plans. 

The two strongest chapters in the book are the fourth and fifth, "The Genius of Wrong" and "Our Unmistakable Task". In the first of these two chapters we read about the great value God places on people. Not only is the gospel itself intended to bring people into relationship with God, but the people of God are to be the means by which the gospel goes forth. Whereas many churches use what Platt calls "manufactured elements" (performances, places, programs, and professionals) to attract nonbelievers, the Bible simply calls for Christians to love God, love one another, and serve those around them. Though it may seem like God is using the "wrong" sort of people (sinners) to accomplish his purposes, it is the "genius" of his plan to save those who believe through the folly of the preaching and ministry of Christians who have not yet been perfected. 

Since this is where the Bible places the emphasis on ministry, why do churches emphasize other things so much? Platt exhorts us to devote ourselves individually and corporately toward loving people and developing disciple-making disciples. "We will never have enough resources, staff, buildings, events, or activities to reach all the people in our community, much less all the peoples in the world. But we will always have enough people. Even if they seem like the wrong people." (p. 75) 

He follows this up with a call for a global evangelistic effort that completely consumes our churches. He says that "our unmistakable task" is to reach every people group in the world with the message of salvation, and that our motivation must be the return of Christ. Scripture says that before the Lord returns, the gospel must reach every people group in the world; therefore the church ought to be motivated for missions because we long for Jesus' second coming! Though some may disagree with this view of Christ's return (and Platt is careful to state that his "definition of unreached people groups may not be exact" and therefore it is possible that Christ could come back at any moment), hopefully everyone can agree -- regardless of one's particular system of eschatology -- with the statement, "But we do know this: Jesus hasn't come back yet, which means there is still work to be done." (p. 85) 

If there is one thing in this book that readers may take the wrong way, it is Platt's very nuanced stance on local and global missions. While he is emphatic that missions must be both global and local (as opposed to either/or), there will undoubtedly be some who will believe he does not value local missions, thanks to sentences like this one: "I am convinced that Satan, in a sense, is just fine with missional churches in the West spending the overwhelming majority of our time, energy, and money on trying to reach people right around us." (p. 87) 

However, he does do a good job of clarifying statements like that, making a compelling case that global missions actually drive local missions. Platt urges his congregation and his readers to devote 2% of their time -- roughly one week per year -- to sharing the gospel outside our local context, though one must be aware that many short-term mission projects are little more than glorified vacations that may do more harm than good (see Corbett & Fikkert's When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor... and Yourself). Done properly, though, these trips can make all the difference in the life of individuals and of churches, both here and overseas. 

"Successful short-term missions must be a part of fueling a long-term disciple-making process in another context... At the same time, successful short-term missions must also be a part of fueling long-term disciple making in the sending church. As we go together into other contexts, we grow together in Christ. Our eyes are opened and our hearts transformed as we serve in situations that make us uncomfortable." (p. 94) 

The final chapter ("The God Who Exalts God") and the book's conclusion give us our marching orders. Amid a series of vignettes sharing examples of people and churches who have made radical changes are several challenges rooted in the exaltation of God, who does all things for his own glory. Platt casts a vision that he hopes will spread throughout the churches, and I sincerely hope that it will! He gives us plenty of encouragement from Scriptures that promise success in our evangelistic efforts when we are motivated by the pursuit of God's glory among the nations. "For when our faith communities actually believe that God deserves the praise of all peoples, then our humble worship in the church will lead to an urgent witness in the world." (p. 109) 

I highly recommend this book, though I suggest reading (or re-reading!) Radical first. This book is not a sequel per se, but it does build upon things covered in the first book, and in some ways assumes that the reader is familiar with some of the previous material.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Realms Thereunder review

The first book of the Ancient Earth trilogy, The Realms Thereunder, is also author Ross Lawhead's debut novel. It creates a well-thought out plot that alternates between two worlds, the world of present day Oxford and the timeless realm existing under the earth. His protagonists, the drifter Daniel Tully and the OCD student Freya Reynolds are on a quest to discover the source of the increasing evil that is manifesting itself in horrible and unsettling ways. 

Though comparison with Lawhead's father, author Stephen Lawhead is inevitable, one should try to read Realms for its own merits, which are many. A well-written and engaging read full of dark alleys, evil and malignant creatures, memorable characters and travel between alternate realities, it maintains a good pace and enough interest to hold this inveterate and opinionated reader of good fantasy captive. 

The Realms Thereunder is a blend of ancient and modern day England and draws heavily from the country's rich store of history and myth, creating a compelling landscape across which the author spreads his story of interweaving realities. For an exciting distraction from your own reality, I would heartily recommend this book. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reggie Review

Reggie Dabbs's life changed when in the second grade he realized his parents were not his real parents, and that his birth was the result of a twenty-dollar deal his sixteen year old unwed mother made to secure the food she needed for her three other children. Dabbs went through his pre-teen and adolescent years wrestling with this news while growing up in a home where despite his background, he was in the care of two people that would provide for him as they would to their own flesh and blood, and where Reggie would learn that value of being unconditionally loved. Now, Dabbs spreads this unconditional love to each venue he visits to speak, trying, to the best of his abilities, to speak into the hearts of every single person that can hear his voice. 

Truth be told, I had never heard of Reggie Dabbs before finding his book on After reading the description and learning more about him, I was interested in learning about this man who has spoken world wide in front of thousands and tens of thousands, spreading a message of hope, inspiration and most of all, love. Spread throughout the pages of his book are inspirational and insightful stories during his life that impacted him and altered his perspective on where he was going to take his life. Many of his stories are successfully related to stories found the Bible, provided with perfect clarity a message of redemption and of hope. It is hard to not to feed off this man's charisma and be engaged in the stories he tells and the points that he drives home. 

If there is anything that I did not like about the book, it is the amount of "filled in" story Dabbs provides for several of the stories he tells from the Bible. They are just filled with some fluff that I did not particularly care for, and for people who may read this without knowing the stories, some facts could get a little mixed up. The points made are the same, but the finer details provided somewhat dilute what we may or may not know. While he added to stories when retelling them, some with humorous twists, he by no means declares the account he is retelling to be factual or definitive. It is just that he sometimes went into a lot of details that we otherwise do not have. A pretty minor point, and by far the worst "offense" of this inspirational book. 

This is an excellent book for all teenagers and for adults that may not realize they possess the potential to break out of the chains of their past. On a personal note, it did not bring any more clarity to my walk with God than I already know, but what I do know is that I would have benefited greatly from this man's wisdom and message of love during my teen years, when the woes of every day drama were heavy on my mind while I took for granted the kind of home I grew up in. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Every Single Man's Battle Review

I read this book month's before I was getting married so the read was meant for the sole purpose of obtaing an new book to review. I thought that this was a pretty good read. The only issue I had was that it was the work book. I didn't have the other book to use, so I was a bit lost. I liked the fact that this was aimed at single guys. Not many books out there are aimed to help single guys stay pure. Its a hard thing for any guy, but I believe its especially hard for single guys. Married guys are able to release sexual pressure with their wives, but a single guys has no way of releasing with out compremizing his purity. I thought that this  book was great bcause it shows the reader that he is not alone in his struggle and that he can get through it and all from a biblical perspective.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

If We are the Body....

Hey Folks! This is the first commentary like post of the summer! I'm pretty stoked! Are you? I hope so! 

Ok lets get started. 

So something that's been on my mind is the Body of Christ. What does that actually mean?

What is it?
Is it a physical body?
What makes up the actual body?

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that WE in fact are the body. We're all different but together we are one. Its quite insane to think about really. Just the thought that I am a part of the same body as someone in London, England just tickles me pink! (I have this strange facination with England...not quite sure why but I'm convinced that I am actually British...LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!)  One way that is so very symobolic of Christ's people being one body is when we take Communion. Think about it. Jesus said the bread was his body and the cup was his blood. When we partake in communion together we are in a sense, joining his body. So when the people of Christ all do something that joins to something, they join together guessed it one body. Pretty cool right?

Now, heres the kicker. Just because we're all one body doesn't mean that we all have to be the same. Take your own body for example. There is not one thing on your body that looks or acts the same as another part. Yet your body still FUNCTIONS perfectly (depending on how you treat it of course...put down that fatty snack...thats right. Go gfet a glass of water...).  Its the same way with the body of Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 puts it perfectly:

[12] For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. [13] For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13 ESV)

So with that in mind, knowing that we are all one body, and knowing that we are all different, why do we try and act like we're not a part of the same body? Why do we pretend that because someone someone is a part of a different sect of our lifestyle called Christianity, that they are somehow wrong in that particular sect and therefore are actually not a Christian.  Or they are the wrong  kind of Christian.  Protestants hate the rigid Catholics, and Pentecostals are really big on tounges, the Catholics think they're both idiots, and everybody thinks the Emergents are completely off. We take what makes us different, and reject those whose differences don't line up with ours (does that make sense?)

When we do this we break a part the body, and ultimaly the Church, because the church is not a building, the Church is not four walls. It is not a place we GO to. The Church are the people who are gathered together which is reason the building exists. So if I'm an Alliance Kid (We're Protestant with a touch of Nondenominational) and I meet a fellow who's Eastern Orthodox, 

Or Lutheran
Or Presbyterian
Or Pentecostal
Or Baptist, Weslyan, Catholic, or even a self proclaimed Emergent,

We should be able to sit down with one another and recognize that we belong to the same body.

In his book Becoming the Answer to our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, Shane Claiborne says this

Many Christians are concerned about the breakdown of nuclear families (and rightly so), but we often just accept the breakdown of God’s family. We live like teenagers in a high school cafeteria-some of us eating at one table (our table), while others at another table (quite often, the soup kitchen’s table). What we miss is the gift of God’s new economy.  And with it, our brothers and sisters on “the other side.” (Claiborne 39)

Claiborne reminds us that in our family structure, excluding others is not an option.  We cannot keep others from eating with us of because their doctrine is different from ours; it goes against the very base of our creation. We were not created to exclude; we were created to include.

When we allow ourselves to separate and break apart the body, the result is often catastrophic. We spend all of our time fighting with each other and we forget what we are actually called to do on this earth as the body, and that is to:

Go into the world
Making disciples of ALL NATIONS(ooo hurts doesn't it)
Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-19)

...Are we doing that? Seriously when you look at the Church today is that what is truly being done on a daily basis? Or are we too busy calling each other heretics and watching Fox News (My amazing soon to be wife just pointed out that I am doing the exact same thing in this blog post...I don't deny it one bit, I am takling to myself too...remember this blog is just me getting out my thoughts...) 

In the song If We are the Body by the band Casting Crowns, the chorus goes like this;

But if we are the Body
Why aren't His arms reaching
Why aren't His hands healing
Why aren't His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren't His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way

Church, this is what we need to ask ourselves. Why are we not being the physical body that is replacing Jesus? We need to step up, put our differences aside and join together as the church,

as the body
as the bloodline of Christ

and go to all the nations proclaiming the Gospel, healing the sick and show the world, that the body of Christ is not millions of different people, with millions of different styles and thoughts, but we are a people that are here to finish the work that Christ started and to bring as many people to the kingdom as brothers and sisters as we can. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Churched" Book Review

          Churched follows the spiritual journey (or lack there of) of Matthew Turner. Matthew’s family goes from being United Methodists into the world of the Fundamentalist Baptists. Turner depicts life as a church boy. Stuck in Sunday School and Other services with a Pastor who preached a colorful view of Hell, Fire, and Brimstone. As turner goes through life his head is filled with things to think as a Christian. He grows up thinking about what it means to be a Christian and is ready to go toe to toe with anyone who thinks differently. As he grows turner begins to ask more and more questions, and realizes eventually that Christianity is not a head game. There is no perfect formula to being a follower of Jesus.
          I found this book to be excellent. Growing up a church boy it was easy to relate with. I myself had to do some growing and questioning and I’m still doing the same. Through out the whole book, I was hoping that Matthew eventually made it out of IBBC alive. What I found most comforting is this. God, no matter what, shows his glory. No mater how much people try and twist and squish and falsify who he is, God lets his children know he loves them and in a truthful way. In Matthew’s case it took God taking him out of a situation that not only screwed him up, but  had he stayed would have eventually led to him screwing up the lives of many others.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Jesus Inquest Review

The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ An interesting take on the debate among different sides of the resurrection faction. Litigated by two opposing players, X and Y, author Charles Foster seems to nail down some of the most difficult issues that seem to present themselves on both sides of the aisle. This book is highly detailed with many sources being used in an extensive list of end notes and bibliography. Foster really did his homework when composing this masterpiece. Full of information, sometimes diving very deep into theology and thought, The Jesus Inquest is reference tool for someone looking to investigate apologetics in regards to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not a weekend read, because of the heady material, but worth a read for those who have been interested in Lee Strobel's "The Case For..." series. Booksneeze gave me the book for review in exchange for my unbiased review.