The Awakening of Hope (Book Review)

ImageWhen I see Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s name on a book, I want to read that book.  When I also see Shane Claiborne’s name, I would walk barefoot through snow to get a copy.  Fortunately for me, this time all I had to do was respond to the offer from SpeakEasy.

The Awakening of Hope is a primer for living out the Christian faith.  This very readable book is written in the form of an apology; not an “I’m sorry” apology, but as an explanation of beliefs, thoughts, and actions. The practices described are clearly and easily identified with the New Monasticism,

For me, the chief attraction of this book is this positive focus primarily on practices.  There are helpful, instructive words inside about specific beliefs of Christians, but these paragraphs arise in the midst of a discussion of practices.  The practices covered are: eating together, fasting, living together, making promises, not returning violence for violence, and sharing good news.

I am pretty sure people get tired of other people arguing for one belief or against another;  I know I do.  I don’t think this is because most of us want everyone to agree on everything.  I think it’s because of the arrogance, condemnation, and condescension that fill so much of the air when differing opinions interact.

The Awakening of Hope, on the other hand, intends only to describe the way of life, and thus the beliefs, of a particular subset of those who understand themselves to be following Jesus.

If you are potentially interested in the resurgence of an ordered life, or just curious about it, this is a great place to start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Being Jesus in Nashville -a book review


I have to admit that I was drawn to read and thus review Being Jesus in Nashville in part because it was turned down for publication by “Christian” publishers. I was also a little imtrigued that a multiple Cy Young Award winning pitcher was now writing about Jesus. I quickly learned that this is a different Jim Palmer.

Long story short, I very much appreciate Palmer sharing this story with us. I’m not sure I buy all the theological pariculars he offers, but I surely resonate with his journey and the evolution he has faced throughout his life.

Like any of us, Palmer was not satisfied with the Jesus who wants to forgive us but leave us substantially the same until some miraculous post-life transition happens. Like John Wesley, Jim Pamer was (and is) determined that “following Jesus” actually means following Jesus. Thus the title and premise for the book; Palmer seeks becoming Jesus for Nashville, his home. He concludes, through a story that, I assure you, is provocatively worth reading, that he ought rather learn to be Jim Palmer as God created him to be.

Let me be clear: Palmer did not give up on following Jesus, or decide to settle back into the American Christianity that is “not perfect, just forgiven.” Rather, he learned through an interesting set of events interpreted through his passion to follow Jesus that the more or more closely he follows Jesus the truer he becomes to the person God actually created him to be.

Read Being Jesus in Nashville; tell me what you think. I would very much enjoy having conversation(s) about this book. In fact, I believe that’s just the kind of response Palmer would want.

Book Review: Speaking of Jesus

Carl Medearis is a pastor and follower of Jesus. He wants the world to know Jesus.  He is convinced that if people are introduced to Jesus, they will be willing, even eager, to learn from him and follow his ways. Having lived in Lebanon for 12 years, he is also a leader in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations.  Speaking of Jesus: the art of not evangelism is his invitation to the rest of us who follow Jesus to “quit defending Christianity” and begin inviting people to follow Jesus along with us.

In one sense this is another in a long (recent) line of “they love Jesus but hate the Church” books.  Since I haven’t read any of the others, I offer this one as a good one to read, if you only read one.

Medearis invites all of us who follow Jesus to reclaim our Lord and Savior at the expense of defending the Church, organized religion, or institutional Christianity.  Though I grew up in the Church, I did not feel beat up by Medearis’ characterization so much as encouraged that Jesus is really what each of us, at one time or another, found endearing and attractive about this faith.

The author has extensive positive experience sharing Jesus, his life and teachings, with those of other faiths and no faith. In each shared experience, Jesus is shared openly and inoffensively.

“Jesus didn’t come to build a Kingdom. He brought one with him.”  Simpler, clearly words have rarely been spoken, yet this line near the middle of the book captures Medearis’ overall intent; to invite us to join Jesus and to share Jesus.

Speaking of Jesus is challenging and reaffirming.  I’ve got this theology and Jesus stuff down in my head.  I know the answers to most questions.  I am smooth and quick with words that fit the situation.  Yet I am increasingly aware this is not what most people are looking for.

Medearis challenged me to offer Jesus rather than reason and compassion rather than passion. He takes on the “us versus them” that so easily characterizes so much inter-religious talk from several different angles.  I really appreciated the variety of ways he shares that it comes down to Jesus; not beliefs, not reason, not “winning.”

Influence and Relational Ministry I

If you are married, do you love your spouse?  Do you have a good relationship with him or her?

If you answered yes to these questions, I have a follow-up for you:  How do you plan to influence your spouse?

Most of the best stuff on ministry, especially youth ministry, these days, is put in terms of “relational” ministry. The gist of relational ministry is that ministry happens in and through relationships we build.

But what is the next step?  In more than a few of the books, videos, podcasts, guides, relational ministry is a stepping stone towards influence.  We build relationships with people, and then seek to influence then, ostensibly toward God, the Gospel, etc.

But is your relationship with your wife or husband that kind of relationship?  Did you build a relationship, then get married, and now your goal is to influence the other is a particular direction?

Is that really what anyone wants in a marriage; to be “influenced” or changed intentionally by another person?  Not a chance!

The kind of relationship on which we build good marriages is one of trust and mutuality.  Are we changed, even influenced, by the one we marry, the one whom we love and to whom we commit our lives?  Of course; we change for the better, and, over the years, in ways we could not have imagined when we walked down the aisle.

But influencing, or changing, the other cannot be the goal of a healthy marriage.

Neither can it be for healthy ministry.  A relationship based on one person’s desire to change another person is not a mutual relationship; is not a loving relationship.

These thoughts, and subsequent posts under this heading, are inspired by and drawn from Andrew Root’s Relationships Unfiltered.

Is God a Priority?

How do you get youth to commit to youth group?

How do you get church members to commit to church?

Same question, I think; only slight difference.

This was a discussion we had yesterday in a group called “YouthWorker Roundtable.”  The way the issue was raised particularly interested me; it came up in the context of youth (of course) wanting “to make God a priority.”

Can you make God a priority without your youth group or church being a priority?

No, you can’t.

Let me clarify: I don’t mean you have to be part of an established, institutionalized church.

What I do mean is that no, you cannot worship God the same way in the privacy of your home or on the lake or the golf course as we do in the church.

Beginning a couple hundred years ago, the church, especially the church in the US worked hard to free up God from the Church.  In doing so, we separated such things as “making God a priority” from any particular evidence in one’s life that God is, in fact, a priority.

The proper follow-up question to the claim of “I’m making God a priority” is “how?”  Not a judgmental or sarcastic or holier-than-thou “how?” but a “how?” nevertheless.

Book Review: Through the River


Yesterday I found myself thinking I might share this book I’ve just finished with someone. I thought it might help.  I was immediately confused because my first impressions of Through the River weren’t good.

The book is Through the River: Understanding your assumptions about the truth. It is my latest read for review for the Viral Bloggers Network.

The book is about “truth lenses,” Which is a shorthand term Jon and Mindy Hirst use for epistemology.  There are, in River Town (a mythical community metaphor used throughout the book), three truth lenses: Positivist, Instrumentalist, and Critical Realist.  The Hirsts take the reader through the history of Western Philosophy to describe the progression that has brought us these three truth lenses.

The Positivists represent, generally, conservatives and fundamentalists, and the Instrumentalists represent (again, generally) liberals and progressives. Both these truth lenses are described in detail yet are found lacking.

Like anyone who tries to figure out where a story is going before he gets there, I had the positivists and instrumentalists pegged early in the story as positions the authors do not respect very much.  Characters from either of these perspectives are, in the book’s portrayal, hopeless; they are stuck in their epistemology.  It is only the Critical Realists who have hope, life, and healthy relationships.  I was, at points, surprised not to find the Critical Realists described as wearing capes, masks, and tights.

This methodology strikes me as both counterproductive and typical for evangelicals.  Setting up the opposition, or alternative, points of views as straw men, then knocking them down with one’s superior point of view is, truthfully, neither fair nor generous.

But, alas, for a primer on the history of the development of Western Philosophy, the Hirsts are more generous with what is left out than they are with the sadly lacking “truth lenses” they hope to present.

Case in point: the explanation of philosophy in the West jumps from Plato to Copernicus to Einstein, only the first of whom was actually a philosopher.  For the Hirsts, philosophy is a progressive, building development through history. However, their only source for citing Copernicus as a significant player is Thomas Kuhn, who is perhaps best known for his role in dismantling the progressive, building development way of understanding history, philosophy, and science.

So, in other words, Jon and Mindy cite Thomas Kuhn (a philosopher) as their only source on Copernicus (not a philosopher) to support their use of Copernicus as playing a major role in modern philosophy.  In doing so, they show that they don’t understand Kuhn.

What the Hirsts want is for people, especially Christians, I think, to consider two things: first, that though there is objective, real truth, you don’t have a monopoly on it; and second, through communication and community we can all better come to know the truth and life that God offers us.

Book Review: The Diversity Culture

diversityI am finally writing my review of Matthew Raley’s The Diversity Culture for the Viral Bloggers Network.  I received two books at once and freaked briefly over the thought of reading and reviewing both within a month.  I had them both read on a three day vacation I took, but have let this one languish for a couple weeks before reviewing it.

I liked the book, then again, I didn’t.  I have always thought I come from evangelical roots, by Raley and others are convincing me that I was always a mainline person, with fundamentalist, then evangelical affinities.

Raley’s story, flowing out of his own story, is about “healing relationships as a way f showing Jesus Christ to Contemporary America.” (p. 16) Diversity Culture is set in Café Siddhartha, where each one  is several stereotype rolled into one.

Using the story of Jesus and the woman at the well (John 4), Raley makes some interesting and valid points for evangelicals who “have difficulty penetrating this culture’s ways, and seem to feel it was designed to exclude them.”

Raley does a respectable job of trying to draw evangelicals out of their absolute, fact-driven world into the world where everyone else lives – the world of relationships and brokenness and community.  Is this relativism?  “Is it relativistic,” Raley asks, “to hear someone out, or to participate in discussions that may not resolve neatly?”

My hesitation to recommending the book strongly is about what seems to me to lie beneath the surface.  The Diversity Culture reads to me as if Raley is hanging onto the assumptions that the evangelical worldview is the one true and accurate worldview, but that evangelicals ought to loosen their grip on it for the sake of building relationships and thereby bringing others to Christ. This worldview is from the Reformation and its progeny, not from Jesus or the New Testament era. We don’t need another book calling us backward to Calvin, Luther, and Locke.

Overall, it is a good read.  At only 166 pages, it is written well enough to be worth the time it takes you to read it.  Raley raises good questions, and is, I believe, headed in the right direction.

Book Review: A Prayer to Our Father

prayergordonjohnsonA Prayer to our Father by Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson was one of my two recent reads for viralbloggers.  I very much enjoyed pouring through this book in a couple of days.

I deeply appreciate that this book is co-authored by a Jew and a Christian. I further appreciate that they acknowledge in the introduction that this is significant.   The camaraderie they share makes the story they tell even more powerful.  The shared respect for each other, for texts, for tradition, for the process, and for the pursuit of Truth is admirable.

Gordon and Johnson devote 6 chapters to their quest to find the most probable location of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7.  I was skeptical that this was off point for discovering meaning in the Avinu Prayer (as they call the Lord’s Prayer, based on the first word of the Hebrew version),  yet I was drawn into this quest along with them, and enjoyed the rich history of the region.  This quest, or the way they narrate it, draws together the 20 centuries that have passed since Jesus walked there.

I read two other books on this prayer earlier this year, for the season of Lent(this one by Willimon and this one by Claiborne & Wilson-Hartgrove). I would place A Prayer to Our Father along side these on matters of information and insight.  I would, however, recommend it ahead of either of these as a single source because of the way they tell the story. This book is worth reading for the experience of having read it.

If you pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father, the Avinu Prayer, you should read this book.

Bits that interest me

Probably like a lot of you, a wide variety of things pique my interest.  Here are a few I share today:

Blockbuster is closing 960 stores, ostensibly hurt by netflix and redbox.Thanks, Relevant Magazine.

Betting on horse racing is in such a decline NY is looking at its Off Track Betting filing for bankruptcy. Economist

Music publishers feel they are being shorted by iTunes. cNet

Mohammad surpasses Jack as top name given newborn boys in England. NPR

Jim Wallis on racism in the US.