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 Mainliner’s Survival Guide

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.

Book review: The Story Lives

Don’t Waste Time Reading!?

New, from Barna:  Barnaframes are designed to help you read important, worthwhile things without wasting all that time, well, reading. Watch this: BarnaFrames Or, as they put it, “Read less, Know more.”

Honestly, the idea is appealing to me.  There is so much more out there that I want to read than I have time to read.  Even my brother Richard, who reads faster and more broadly than anyone I know, cannot possibly read everything worth reading.

My suspicion is that a BarnaFrame by a certain author, well done, will entice me to want to read actual books by the same author.

Someone said once (I think it was Dennis Kinlaw, but I’m not sure) that we should not try to read all the good books or all the interesting books, but that we owe it to ourselves to read the great books.

I am open to the idea that BarnaFrames can connect me with some great books.

Feel free to start with anything from my Essential Readings page.

Don’t Waste Time Reading!?

Book Review: Coffee Shop Conversations

CoffeeShopConversationsI was encouraged enough by the title Coffee Shop Conversations: making the most of spiritual small talk that I asked for a copy to review.  This is the latest of my periodic reviews for the Speakeasy Blog Network.

I am not reviewing books at the rate I used to; 2 small children and a new appointment has changed my priorities, and, frankly, the time available. I figured this one would be worth my time, though, as I am intensely interested in communicating the gospel.

Dale and Jonalyn Fincher are likewise interesting in communicating the gospel, and encouraging more Christians to do so.  Communication, remember, requires a receiver as well as a sender. We may think we are sending the message of Jesus, but if no one wants to receive it, we are not communicating. Sharing one’s faith is not “intellectual arm wrestling.”

Unlike some collaborative writing, I had no trouble shifting between Dale’s and Jonalyn’s parts of the book.  The flow was easy to follow and fairly seamless.  Conversational style will draw you forward through this book.

The Finchers admirably identify some phrases and attitudes Christians ought to retire from our conversations, as well as some mountains we’ve made of molehills, and vice versa.  If you are interested in sharing our faith with others in ways that might help them hear and accept, this book is worth your read.

On the other hand, later in the book, I felt like I was reading a warmer, friendly Josh McDowell Apologetics Manual.  Almost to the point that, in light of the first half of the book, the procedure is

  1. Earn the right to be heard by listening to and respecting others
  2. Consider your words as yours only and your witnessing as dialogue not monologue
  3. follow these seven (pick a number, any number) steps to prove your doctrinal point!

To be fair, nothing anywhere in the book leads me to believe that the Finchers are anything but respectful and open to what others have to say. There are some bits here and there with which I take issue, but, following their lead, these would be things to discuss over a cup of coffee, not to blast about in a blog.

Their aim, clearly stated, is to help others towards a flourishing faith.

On this, I am with them 100%.

 

Book Review: Coffee Shop Conversations

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.

This Atheist Gets it Right – Book Review

Book Review: Evolution’s Purpose

Evolutions-PurposeThis is the latest in the series of books I have received for review through the SpeakEasy Blogger network. Of all the books I have received for review, this has been my most challenging read yet .

First off, it has been a while since I read such straightforward academic philosophy.  This called for slower, more careful reading.  Thankfully, I found I was drawn back toward my years of school and the volumes of reading I had done then.

In response to questions about evolution and faith I began, about 10 years ago, responding that “I don’t believe in science.”  What I mean by this is that I do not expect the same things or kinds of knowledge from science as from faith. What I do not mean is that evolution is a godless attempt to kill Christianity.

So, I was intrigued to get hold of this title, as I am curious to read how people treat religion and evolution with each other’s context(s). McIntosh treats both with respect. He describes himself as one who does not “subscribe to any organized religion (xxiv). (I often want to ask such individuals if they subscribe to any disorganized religion.)

I wish I had more profound things to write about this book.  I enjoyed what I read, and was intrigued at McIntosh’s efforts to argue that we are, indeed, progressing while at the same time wanting to, no, insisting upon, avoiding the cultural arrogance of Social Darwinism.

Could we ever again name a war “The War to End all Wars”?  Are we better, or even better off, than our grandparents’ generation, or their grandparents’ generation.

Progress is a dangerous thing to argue because one tends to assume the position that one’s vantage point is better than all the others.  Each of us set up some set(s) of categories  by which we understand the world. Likewise, we tend to insert ourselves into the place of privilege in those categories.

The hardest part of recognizing change, progress, evolution may be admitting that we are not at the apex of it. All of history has not moved with purposeful intent towards today; rather, today is a part of life, history, and evolution’s movement in the direction of the beautiful, the true, and the good.

It is, I suspect, the habit of each generation or civilization to understand itself as that which all the past was laid out to give us.  This book, on the other hand, read as a provocative challenge to interpret that we are still on our way somewhere.

Book Review: Evolution’s Purpose

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.

The Awakening of Hope (Book Review)