What the Book is About

Simple Church offers a strategy for churches to simplify their disciple-making processes, thereby increasing the effectiveness with which they advance God’s kingdom. The book is based on a significant research project done through LifeWay Christian Resources. Over 500 churches responded to a comprehensive survey, with roughly half of respondents considered “growing, vibrant” churches, and the other half being churches that have either plateaued or are experiencing decline. The churches surveyed varied significantly in size, location, style, and ministry focus. Not all vibrant churches were large, and not all plateaued churches were small.

The research revealed that vibrant churches have a significant statistical relationship to simplicity in their approach to ministry and disciple-making. This does not mean, however, that these churches don’t have much to offer, or do things the easy way. In the words of the authors, “simple is basic, uncomplicated, and fundamental.” (p. 16) A simple church is not a shallow church; it is a church that has a clear process for helping people become committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. It must move people toward maturity. It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it.-Simple Church

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The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart

What the Book Is About

In The Experience of God, David Bentley Hart makes a compelling case for classical theism. Drawing from a wide array of sources, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu thinkers, Hart weaves together their most basic theological strands into a beautiful tapestry of the divine. With tremendous respect for the past, he reaches back into the Middle Ages and the classical period to to pull together a grand vision of God who is “the unity of infinite being and infinite consciousness, and the reason for the reciprocal transparency of finite being and finite consciousness each to the other, and the ground of all existence and all knowledge.” (p. 324)

As well as Hart makes the case for classical theism, he also builds a powerful case against atheistic materialism and Naturalism. He asserts that “materialism is among the most problematic of philosophical standpoints, the most impoverished in its explanatory range, and among the most willful and (for want of a better word) magical in its logic, even if it has been in fashion for a couple of centuries or more.” (p. 48) There are many reasons for this in Hart’s mind, but perhaps none more potent than the need for a “necessary reality,” or in other words, something that does not depend on anything else for its existence.

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Benefit of the Doubt by Greg BoydWhat is faith? What does it mean to have great faith? What does faith look like in our relationship with God? What is the nature of our relationship with God? These are the questions that drive Greg Boyd’s book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. Part theology, part philosophy, part auto-biography, Boyd takes the reader on a journey of exploring the nature of biblical faith, contrasting it with the certainty-seeking faith he sees in many believers today.

Boyd argues that the problem with faith today is that it is most often expressed as an intellectual, or psychological, certitude. Using the metaphor of the “Strength Tester” carnival game, Boyd writes that the goal for many Christians today is “to hit a faith mallet as hard as you can in order to send the faith puck up the faith pole to get as close to the certainty bell as you possibly can.” (26) Faith has become the removal of, or the resistance to, doubt. The greatness of our faith is directly related to how certain we are about various beliefs; and God, of course, will reward our great faith by answering our prayers and showering us with blessing. Our relationship with God, then, is entirely dependent upon how certain we are in our minds that various things are true.

In chapter 2, Boyd gives eight compelling reasons why this approach to faith is misguided and unbiblical. While each of his objections to certainty-seeking faith give cause for reflection, I found the third objection quite compelling: “It replaces biblical faith with magic.” Some would immediately object to this statement, but I think there is deep truth in this statement. What, after all, is magic? Boyd defines it this way: “Magic is generally understood to involve people engaging in special behaviors that empower them to gain favor with, or to otherwise influence, the spiritual realm in order to get it to work to their advantage.” (38) Certainty-seeking faith aims to make God act on our behalf (through healing, perhaps). It is a means to an end. “One of the many differences between ‘magic’ and biblical faith is that magic is about engaging in behaviors that ultimately benefit the practitioner, while biblical faith is about cultivating a covenantal relationship with God that is built on mutual trust.” (39)

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The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard BauckhamThere are many different interpretive models for the book of Revelation. Some approach it as though it were a code to be deciphered, matching ancient images with present figures in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the last days. Others see it as a uniquely Christian history with little or nothing to say to believers today. As we seek to understand this fascinating and oftentimes befuddling book, perhaps we should interpret it in basically the same way we interpret every other book of the Bible. That is to say, maybe the key to unlocking Revelation’s secrets is to simply ask, “What did this mean to the people to whom it was originally written?”

In his book The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Richard Bauckham takes this basic exegetical approach, and manages to make sense of, and draw compelling meaning from, John’s Apocalypse. Bauckham starts where most Christian exegetes start with any other biblical book by asking, “What sort of book is this?” The answer, he discerns, is that “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.” (2)

John’s work is a prophetic apocalypse in that it communicates a disclosure of a transcendent perspective on this world. It is prophetic in the way it addresses a concrete historical situation – that of Christians in the Roman province of Asia towards the end of the first century AD – and brings to its readers a prophetic word of God, enabling them to discern the divine purpose in their situation and respond to their situation in a way appropriate to this purpose.
In other words, the book of Revelation is John’s attempt to speak into the lives of real Christians in a real place by giving them a heavenly perspective on their temporal challenges. “Life looks overwhelming from your perspective,” he says, in essence, “but I want to show you your life and your circumstances from God’s perspective.” Revelation is, at heart, a pastoral work. It is a call to abandon the idols of the Roman Empire and the futility of its warmongering ways, and to instead worship the true God and lay hold of the victory of the “lamb who was slain.”

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momentmakerCarlos Whittaker’s life is full of hilarious, awkward, and powerful moments. Whether it’s a bird feasting on his children’s just-released flock of pet butterflies, buying a round of drinks for a returning troop of soldiers, or humiliating a girl by being too romantic, Carlos Whittaker lives his life in the moment. He is a man who was born with an innate ability to seize every moment and draw every last drop of life out of it, and in his new book Moment Maker, he wants to show you how you can live this way, too.

Whittaker identifies three types of moments in life: created moments, received moments, and rescued moments. Created moments are those special events in life that we make for others – birthday parties and romantic dates, for examples. Received moments are those times in life when things just happen, almost out of the blue. Rescued moments are what happen when your plans go awry and you’re faced with the choice to double down on the moment or just cash out. The common element of the three types of moments are that they push us beyond the boundaries of our self-centeredness and into the lives and hearts of others.

Being a moment maker is about living for others on purpose. It’s about pursuing the happiness and well-being of those around you, whether they are family, friends, or strangers. Moment makers imagine possibilities in life that the rest of us don’t see. They open their eyes to those around them, living according to the schedule of love rather than their daily calendars.

With often-funny and always-engaging stories, Whittaker invites the reader to wake up to the possibilities of a life full of created, received, and rescued moments. This book is particularly challenging for introverts like myself who would much rather enjoy the comfort of a quiet room and a good book than take the risk of moment making for the sake of others. Not all of us will be able to live life the way Carlos lives his, but we can all stand to be more invested, and more interested, in the happiness and well-being of others.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

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