Experiments in Honesty – Book Review

experiments in honestyI read Steve Daugherty’s Experiments in Honesty as my first blogger review book in a long time. What a great choice to get back on that horse with! Full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book based on my promise to blog a review of it. The content of the review is entirely up to me.

The advice offering part of my brain seems more acutely willing to weigh in than it has for many years. There were, of course, the years of early adulthood when, as Mark Twain might have observed, “I still knew everything.” I was eager to dole out advice then.

Though nostalgia and seeing 60 coming on faster than a speed limit have apparently resurrected a propensity in me to offer advice, solicited or not, I have taken Steve Daugherty’s practice in this book under advisement.

In other words, sharing insight drawn from my own experience and observation comes across better than “Ok, now, here’s what I need to teach you: listen up….”

Experiments in Honesty is the opposite of a preaching practice I’ve come to notice lately. Some preachers actually parathensize the phrase “you listen to me here” throughout their messages.

If I’m not already listening to you, telling me to do so will not make me start in the middle of a message.

Daugherty, starts from the other side. This book of full of rich stories plumbed from a hunger and thirst for righteousness. The reader shall be filled, if only he or she follows along.

Perhaps I am struck because I see so much of myself in his stories. When he compares his response to feeling hunger, “I’ll make myself a sandwich” to his wife’s, “I will feed the family, because if I’m hungry they probably are, too.” caught me gently off guard and exactly where it should. Guilty as charged. Yet I wasn’t condemned in my guilt; I was drawn towary this book that is about looking inside. It offers a way to see and understand and grow and recognize that me simply trying to become someone else is the opposite of the point of the gospel.

You’ll find yourself in Experiments in Honesty, and it’ll be a you you want to find, and a you you want to grow. It’ll make you want to know yourself and God better; not because “you better, or else!” but because you are both worth knowing better.

 

Book Review: The Mainliner’s Survival Guide

Hi.  My name is Steve, and I’m a Mainliner.

Through all my years as a Fundamentalist, then an Conservative Evangelical, then some variation of Emergent, I have been a member of The United Methodist Church, a mainline denomination.

I believe this is where God has called me.

Plenty have tried to convince me otherwise.  I’ve sat face to face with some of the leaders of the Emergent movement and heard them explain, with rather convincing rhetoric, why getting out (of the mainline) would be a good thing.

Yet here I stand.  I can do no other.Penwell book

Perhaps, then, you can imagine how appreciative I was to find Derek Penwell’s The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World.  Here was a book written from inside a mainline denomination, yet, ostensibly, with the recognition that the glory days of American Denominationalism are clearly gone and not returning.

Let me be clear:  I wasn’t hopefully expecting Penwell to make it sound ok.  The last thing I wanted was some platitudes encouraging me into hospice care as the denomination and its version of Christianity continue to linger.

Reading Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us brought me such great joy when I read it almost a decade ago that I bought a dozen or so copies and offered them free to any clergy friends who would agree to read the book.

I would consider doing the same with this book from Derek Penwell.

The book opens with what I find to be a stellar comparison of our times with post-Revolutionary War American.  I found this comparison helpful and Penwell’s historical work insightful to the point of making me wonder why I hadn’t read this elsewhere.

Penwell does an excellent job, I feel, of stirring up the conversations that must happen.  Mainline denominational folk know that something is wrong, but this book offers to help us identify and make corrections without simply trying to keep up with whatever the ecclesiology-of-the-month might be.

 

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.

Book review: The Story Lives

Here is my latest review of a book for the Speakeasy Blogger Network.  I’ve just finished Henriet Schapelhouman’s The Story Lives.The Story Lives

This is a good, straightforward read. She had me at “Story,” actually; the more I work as a pastor, the more I meet people and seek to hear their stories. Though the seeds of the power of story were sown in me in seminary, they have only really taken root recently.

I appreciate Schapelhouman’s passion and her ability to weave stories from scripture with stories from contemporary lives. This is the primary strength of this book, in my opinion.  Connecting our story to God’s story is essential, and The Story Lives helps us do this.

But it offers more, as well.  Schapelhouman invites Jesus’ followers, and indeed any reader, into the missional life.  Where some today might seem to pit missional living against traditional church membership, Schapelhouman offers what I take to be a healthy corrective without dualizing.

Being ‘missional’ is, after all, about actually following Jesus and thereby becoming part of the Kingdom of God present in the world.  It is not an alternative to being a member of a congregation. It is, rather, the healthy living out of being a member.

On the other hand, the text sometimes felt platitudinous to me – as though a truckload of “Christian Lifestyle Slogan-Art” had driven too close to a scanner.  Even here, though, I must admit; the triteness of so many of those sayings derives from our historical refusal to have our lives transformed as God has offered.

The subtitle, “Leading a Missional Revolution” lead me to expect a more confrontational approach. To me, The Story Lives reads more like “Leading a Missional Transition.”

I’ve read plenty of ‘missional’ stuff; this book fits well within that context, but I found nothing earth-shatteringly new here. If you have not yet read of a missional understanding or perspective on following Jesus, this is a good 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.

This Atheist Gets it Right – Book Review

Cross-ExaminedThis is the latest in a series of books I have received for review through the SpeakEasy Blogger Network.

My last review book was thick and heavy enough that I wasn’t sure I would review any more for awhile.  But when I read about this one, I set that aside.  I was excited to read a novel about the interaction between religion, irreligion, and life.

I don’t think I recognized at the time that Bob Seidensticker, the author, was an atheist.  Such knowledge would not have affected my decision.  I have appreciated reading some of Sam Harris’s writings, and would rather engage a thoughtful atheist than a unthoughtful Christian in conversation.

I found Cross Examined an excellent read. The main characters are well developed and complicated people.  This is no simplistic Christians are bad, thoughtless, mean people while freethinkers or atheists attempt to save the world from them.

In fact; this could be Seidensticker’s thesis; the realization that life is more complex than a tract or apologist’s rhetoric is the beginning of real conversation and the quest for meaning in life.

The subtitle of the book is deeply informative of this book’s mission; to invite the reader to consider his or her own spiritual journey.

Having read Cross Examined leaves me hopeful for sharing space, time, and meaningful interaction with all who are willing to enter genuine conversation.

Book review: “Why Be A Christian? (If No One Goes To Hell)”

This is my latest book review for the SpeakEasy Blog Network.

I received my copy a little over a month ago, and tore into it.  Like you (perhaps), I expected some intriguing discussion over the theological history of hell and the causes of one’s ending up there.

I was a little let down to find out this is really not the author’s interest. Daniel Meeter spend little time (and less explanation and historical development) telling us that hell has never been the intended eternal destination for the lost.  He is, in short, and anihilationist. The argument that everyone gets to go to heaven, but that the lost will find death to be the end.  No eternal torment; no eternal anything.

But being this close on the heels of Bell’s Love Wins probably has many people reading into this title in the wrong direction. Is Meeter another reformed pastor following Bell’s questions about the (recent) traditional Western understanding of heaven, hell and eternity?

He is not. The author, as I said, explains succinctly that hell is not and never has been an eternal destination for the lost. Then he moves on and spends the rest of his focus on the real point, and a good point it is: fear of eternal damnation and torment is not the best motivation for becoming, or at least living as a, Christian.

Meeter’s argument is fascinating and a pleasure to read.  I deeply appreciate such careful yet readable articulation of an affirmative case for following Christ.

As one who began his walk with Christ primarily motivated by fear of hell, I have long since moved over to the other side.  I have no interest in “scaring the hell” out of people to try to win them into heaven.  I find Jesus’ life and way inviting enough.

Being Jesus in Nashville -a book review

image

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.”