A Handful of Book Reviews …

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There are a number of books I’ve read in the last couple months; here are a few with brief summaries of my thoughts on them!

“Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women,” by Carolyn Custis James. I thought this is a fascinating book; it was not what I expected. I really appreciated her comments on the different experiences for women around the world, challenging readers to recognize that while our fallen world often does not give women the respect and honor they deserve, the answers are not the same worldwide – that cultures and different environments demand different next steps. Ultimately, she challenges readers to capture God’s vision for women, to see the ways in which His will is not lived out and be a part of the answer to moving the world towards His intent. In our American culture, we are not yet a place as a country, or as a church, that can claim to be treating women like the image-bearers of God that they are. I definitely recommend this book.

“Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” by N.T. Wright. I really, really liked this book. I read it to explore Wright’s thoughts on heaven; that it is not a place we escape to, rather, it is a resurrected earth – part of our resurrection – a world finally fulfilling the vision God desires for it and His creation. What I didn’t expect was the incredible challenge to begin practicing for that resurrection life now; in how we live, how we treat others, how we care for the creation around us. Powerful, powerful stuff.

“Adam and the Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science,” by Dennis Venema & Scot McKnight. I thought Venema and McKnight took an interesting approach; Venema, a scientist who is a believer, wrote the first half of the book focusing on what the latest research has told us about the human genome. McKnight wrote the second half of the book, taking a theologian’s approach to reconciling that information with faith. I was blown away by what has been learned from the genome; Venema is right when he asserts it points to a Creator – even if that evidence might challenge some of our traditional assumptions about origins. McKnight’s half of the book was good as well; I didn’t agree with all of his approaches, and honestly, I think John Walton has handled these topics more effectively in his “Lost World” books. Either way, it’s a fascinating book, and having been released in 2017, makes use of the latest research powerfully.

 

Cobra Kai

Geek blog post alert. You’ve been warned.

YouTube Red, the paid YouTube service launched the Cobra Kai tv series; ten episodes of pure awesomeness set 34 years after the original Karate Kid movie. Ralph Macchio (Daniel) and William Zabka (Johnny) are back and it is glorious.

I accidentally marathoned the whole thing over the space of a few days. Wasn’t the plan, couldn’t stop myself. It’s that good. I thought it would be cheesy, but they actually did a phenomenal job of hitting just the right tone. They brought a whole new level of depth and complication to both characters; they’re both right, they’re both wrong. It’s so good. And apparently the numbers are through the roof; it’s only been out a couple weeks and they’ve green-lit season two already. I’m just bummed I’ll have to wait a year.

If you have any affection for the original Karate Kid movie, this is worth checking out. The first two episodes are available for free; if you want to see the rest, you need a YouTube Red account – which has a free trial period. It’s good. I’ll be honest, I’m planning on watching them again …

I’m such a nerd.

Life, The Universe & Everything

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We just concluded a series a couple weeks ago in our Sunday morning high school group that I had a lot of fun putting together. Over the course of three weeks we tackled the question of faith and science. For me, there was a basic, underlying purpose to the series as a whole; we know that, depending on the survey, something like 60-80% of young people disappear from the church when they finish high school. We also know that the number one reason given for this is over the issue of science and faith; that for many young people, their church’s present it as an either/or scenario, that you can only choose one. And when they see compelling evidence for scientific claims that conflict with what their church’s taught them growing up, they feel like they don’t have a choice. My goal was to help reframe the question, to give students room to reconcile faith and science without dictating a ‘right’ answer.

I’m a nerd, so yes, I lifted the title, and the weekly titles, from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I also used Doctor Who and A Wrinkle in Time as well. More importantly, I drew on a LOT of theologians who have done far better work on this topic than I ever could to help shape the content. Here’s what the three weeks looked like (click the title to hear the audio):

  • The Ultimate Question: We kicked off the series by wrestling with the question of whether or not we are asking the right questions when it comes to faith and science. What is the ultimate purpose of scripture? Does our cultural values give us unexpected bias while we read these ancient documents?
  • Don’t Panic: We continued the series by taking a closer look at different theories of origins, ancient cultural values and beliefs, and Genesis 1. Is it possible to have different beliefs regarding origins and still honor God? How would the ancients have understood the first chapter of Genesis, and how should that inform our reading of it? Whatever you do, don’t panic!
  • Mostly Harmless: We concluded the series by comparing the creation narratives of humanity in Genesis 1 and 2. How do we explain the dramatically different order of creation found in these opening chapters of the Bible? In exploring how the ancients would have understood the Hebrew terminology used in both accounts, reconciling the two accounts is possible.

Anyway, it was a fun series to work on … and I’m hoping to continue to refine and adjust the content in the years to come.

Meet Generation Z

generation z“Meet Generation Z,” by James Emory White, is a book primarily focused on helping readers understand Generation Z (young people born between the years 1995-2010), as well as give some insight on how the church can better minister to them. Of course, the challenge to any such work on a generation that spans young children through current college students is that research findings are still early, and tend to be focused more on the older end of the generation – we just can’t survey eight year olds the way we can older teens and college age young adults.

The strength of this book is the first third of the book, labeled part one (the book is divided into two parts); White’s summary and exploration of what the research is telling us about Generation Z. He explores the impact on a generation that has grown up with an exposure to technology like no other generation, views on race, their sexual fluidity, and the reality of being a generation that has grown up in a post-Christian culture. It’s critical for older generations to recognize the realities that are shaping young people and the fact that none of us have experienced a childhood like they have. I may have been a teen, but I do not know what it is like for my children to be teens in 2018 America.

Part two frustrated me somewhat. White details his church’s approach to ministry to Generation Z, which is good and has some great practical ideas. But there are also times where he comes across as blaming Generation Z for some of the challenges they present; the reality is, though, they are the product of the culture that has produced them. Their lack of Biblical knowledge, or views on sexuality, are not some sort of generational agenda – it’s simply opportunities for us to learn in grow in our approaches. He also includes the transcripts of three sermons he gave at his church as examples of ways to teach to Generation Z on topics relevant to them; one on gay marriage, one on spirituality, and one on the topic of why we should believe in God. As someone who spends the bulk of his time working with Generation Z, while these are topics they care about – the sermons were more how I would approach it with the congregation as a whole, not as a lesson geared towards teens.

For me, the real value to the book is in the first third; part two is a mixed bag to me. Having said that, there is not much out there on Generation Z and this is a good first step. It’s definitely good for church leaders to check out, but it has limitations.

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

how to lead“How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge,” by Clay Scroggins, the Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley’s church), is a really strong book on leadership for everyone. The main thrust of the book is the idea that people do not need to wait until they are at the top of the org chart before they start leading; that we actually all have influence and potential to lead from whatever position we serve in, whether at work, the church, in the community, or anywhere.

I love his challenge that being a leader doesn’t mean leaning on positional authority, rather it is effectively leveraging influence and relationships to lead.  He challenges the readers to first lead themselves well, to be active – not waiting for opportunity and blaming others when it doesn’t go as hoped, but to instead be constantly thinking critically about ways to improve and grow and then go after it.

I loved his quote, “Leaders don’t sit back and point fingers. Leaders lead with the authority of leadership … or without it. The authority [a title, positional authority] is largely irrelevant – if you are a leader, you will lead when you are needed.” (p.26) I love that challenge. It really does boil down to recognizing that God gives opportunities to act, God gives each of us influence somewhere, and are we using it to lead? Scroggins does a great job of painting a picture of both recognizing that leadership ability and giving practical advice on acting on it.

As a guy who isn’t the lead guy in my church, I loved reading leadership advice from the man who leads under Andy Stanley – one of the more famous senior pastors in America. It was incredibly thought provoking and really challenged me to rethink the ways I could grow in my leadership while not being the lead guy. The book is easy to read, flows well, and has great guidance for everyone. I highly recommend it!

 

MinistryDownloads

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MinistryDownloads is a great all-around resource site for those in ministry I recently stumbled across! I feel like there has been a real shift in how churches are resourced over the last decade; instead of a handful of large companies being the only real resources out there with expensive materials, often times with pricing staggered to the size of the church, there has been a real rise in online, digital resources with incredibly low costs that stay the same regardless of church size. Instead of paying anywhere from $30-$120 for a four week curriculum, these kinds of sites provide similar resources for $8-$12. How? By removing a lot of the layers between the content creator and the resource customer.

This is GOOD for churches. I love being able to see the ministry budget I’m entrusted with go farther. MinistryDownloads is one of those sites; with resources for children’s ministry, youth ministry, small groups, and sermon resources for pastors, it is a great all-around resource site. There are a number of free resources available on the site in addition to all of the solid materials for sale (starting at $3 and going up from there depending on the size of the resource). They’ve also started a new subscription service called All-Access; for just $17 a month, subscribers can download whatever they want, as much as they want. It’s a really great deal; and a solid resource that can be shared with multiple ministry areas in the church. Definitely worth checking out!