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.

Healing Drought

What’s the best way to water your lawn?

The American Lawns website recommends 3/4 to 1 inch of water per week, and applying it “as infrequently as possible.”

I’ve known this for some time and have been practicing this summer.  We try to limit watering any part of our yard to once per week, and watering deeply enough to soak in.  Any expert will tell you that watering this way encourages deep root growth, which makes for a healthier, more drought-resistant lawn.

Since I love making analogies between physical and spiritual things, I wondered this morning, what is the significance of this deep-water metaphor for spirituality?

It makes sense to me that deep watering of our souls would produce deeper, stronger, healthier roots in our lives.  But what is the difference between deep and shallow soul-watering?  Surely not the difference between daily and weekly devotional time?

Have you been watering your soul deeply enough?  If so, what is your method/process? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Lover’s Quarrel with “A Lover’s Quarrel”?

Viral Blogger Book Review no. 2:

Warren Cole Smith’s “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.”

loversquarrelYou are a backslider! You’re the worst kind of “Christian;” a lukewarm, liberal Christian.  You probably don’t’ even believe in the Bible!

So I can imagine the 18 year old Steve Heyduck saying, were he to meet the 45 year old Steve Heyduck.

I’m not nearly so sure what that 18 year old might have said to Warren Cole Smith after reading this book.

Smith identifies the problem early; on page 4 he states: “The evangelical church has spawned the megachurch. It had become about power buidling, not power sharing. And it certainly was not about power sacrificing.”  But he still identifies himself as evangelical, so continues the book from the perspective of wanting to identify the prolems and issues with the intent of being part of the solution.

Smith’s work is very helpful in identifying a couple of trends within evangelicalism.  First, he charts the history of the modern evangelical movement flowing from the Second Great Awakening rather than the first.  This is significant because the Second Great Awakening was marked much more by emotional experience of conversion than by actual transformation of individuals and then society around them.

Second, I think Smith is dead-on in characterizing much of evangelicalism as caught up in the “Christian-Industrial Complex.” But are there really any coherent arguments out there today that would disagree that the church as a whole, and the evangelical church included, has drunk too deeply from the waters of consumerism and market capitalism?

I have already posted my concern over Smith’s chapter on “the Great Stereopticon.” Let me summarize it this way.  Smith is grieved at the priority given to technology in worship-chiefly the overwhelming move towards the use if electronic image-making in worship.  Smith concludes: “Words-and not pictures, drama, or any other medium-seem to be the preferred strategy fo God, of Jesus, and of scripture.” (p.179)

His problem is that the example he gives of the use of words is Jonathan Edwards – lead theologian of the First Great Awakening.  Edwards is perhaps most famous for “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

This is not the “word” to which Jesus had access, however.  Jesus lived 1500 years before the printing press, Edwards more than a century after. Shane Hipps does a fine job explaining the difference the printing press made in Christendom in his The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture.

To summarize my contention against Smith’s assertion that God’s preferred medium of communication is the word is that the “Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”  God’s preferred medium was the Incarnation, not the printed word!

I like Smith’s suggestions for the evangelical church:

  1. focus on church planting rather than mega-church building
  2. regain a perspective on vocation
  3. disciple for depth as opposed to numerical gain.

Read this book.  Engage Smith’s arguments.  The tone is conciliatory and encouraging.

Much as I wonder hypothetical conversations with an earlier, far less mature version of myself, most of my growth has been connected with the milieu that is Smith’s focus; for this connection and history I am grateful.

Word of the Ancestors

loversquarrelI’m reading Warren Cole Smith’s A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church, the second book I’ve received for review as a Viral Blogger.

In the chapter I just finished, Smith has critiqued the image-driven, multi-media hungry “stereopticon” tragedy of the modern evangelical church.  He concludes:

…dependence on the great stereopticon and rejection of the “foolishness of preaching” deny the Word of God itself…. When the Word of God is faithfully preached, as in Jonathan Edwards’s day, it bears fruit.”

The point Smith misses is that if we are to be historically accurate to the Biblical tradition, we cannot merely go back to the Reformation fervor aided by the printing press.  To be faithful to the Word of God to which he refers, we would have to go back to the first century, when even the literate had very limited access to reading materials.

The printed word, so prominent in Jonathan Edward’sday, was not at all the same printed word as in Jesus’ time.  Perhaps I’ll learn differently by reading the rest of the book, but thus far I haven’t found Smith recognize that Jesus lived not only before video on demand, but also almost 1500 years before Gutenberg.

The Art of the Sermon

Last night was my first ever experience of Rob Bell in person preaching/speaking/delivering a message.   I intended to take notes, perhaps even twitter it, but found myself rather just listening, watching, absorbing.

Bell has been a major influence on me for these last 4 or 5 years, so seeing/hearing him in person was a joy.  This guy comes across as passionate and genuine as I feel when I preach.

In fact, honestly, I have adopted some of his style, method, and intonation.  This is apparently not overdone, else I’m sure I would have heard about it from colleagues by now.

This conference is about “reclaiming the art of the sermon.”  For that, I’m all in.  The part of that that I’ve always gotten is the part of the art that springs, sui generis, from the identity of the preacher.  The part I want to develop, and that I expect this conference to help with, is the study, the work development and practice of the art that brings it together over time.

I have already found the inspiration and motivation that going to a conference offers; so, for the next two days, I am eager to find the rest of what is in this for me.