A Quick and Dirty Review of The Consolation of Philosophy

What It’s About:

This is an old book written in the six century by a political prisoner, Boethius, who formerly was a high ranking official in the Roman Empire. The book presents Boethius in jail being visited by Philosophy personified as a glorious woman that councils him about the meaning of life and the pursuit of virtue in his darkest hour.

What I Liked:

The book was a dialogue about the nature of life, the pursuit of virtue, and why it’s worth pursuing virtue even in the face of tremendous difficulty. In a way, this book reminded me of the book of Ecclesiastes or reading one of the well known stoic philosophers. In particular, there were a few chapters that focused on the futility of honor and titles that are conferred on you by higher authorities that is worth reading the entire book.


What I Didn’t Like:

This book was recommended to me by another believer on Twitter. I had asked my followers for their favorite Christian books that were written over 100 years ago. Having never heard of this book, I picked it up and gave it a read.

My problem with this book was that it was recommended as a Christian book when, after finishing it, I don’t believe it was. Philosophy talks to Boethisu about God regularly, but she refers to God as the highest or ultimate good. She never quotes or mentions Jesus or the Scriptures, but at length quotes Plato, Aristotle, and others.

All of this is fine if you planned on reading a book on philosophy and life. Again, there was at least one really helpful section that I felt contained a measure of earthly wisdom. But let’s not buy into the fact that just because an author uses the name “God” in a monotheistic way, that somehow baptizes the book and makes it Christian. In many ways this book follows in the footsteps of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoic philosophers, which doesn’t make it bad, but also doesn’t make Boethius a follower of Christ.

Should You Get It:

You should pick this book up for two reasons:

  1. You love philosophical works from over 1500 years ago.
  2. If you struggle with pursuing honor from others. Again, there is a section in the first half of the book about that topic that makes the whole book worth the read for just that section.

Otherwise, I would not really recommend this book.

Rating:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

A Quick and Dirty Review of “Giving Up Control” by A.J. Dejonge

What It’s About: A.J. Dejonge tells the autobiographical story of their time as Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) University missionaries when he and his team made a transition from a staff-led campus ministry to a student-led campus ministry. This allowed CCC staff to start and oversee multiple campus ministries at different colleges. Based on this experience, he argues that student-led (or lay-led) ministries can reach more people than any revival through the means of disciple multiplication. Dejonge contends that only catalytic ministry styles will allow CCC, other college ministries, and even the church itself achieve the multiplication disciples it is called to.

What I Liked: There was so much to like here!

First, Dejonge is clearly interested in starting movements where people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something people who have fallen in love with Jesus should be pursuing and his passion to reach the lost is contagious. Everything that is found within the pages of this book is focused on getting more people involved in reaching those who haven’t come to love Jesus.

While the book tells the story of their campus ministry expansion, it’s organized around different proverbs that their ministry has discovered. These proverbs help tease out the wisdom of their approach of putting every day students in charge of the ministry of reaching the campus. A few of the proverbs include: “Lead only to train,” “Value transferability over personal genius,” and “The empowered masses will always outperform the professionalism of a few.” Many of these proverbs are designed to help navigate the tricky balance between being a too-heavily centralized ministry or a healthy decentralized movement.

I love how the principles found in this book don’t just apply to CCC. While everything he learned during his time is taught through the lens of a college ministry, many of the concepts of multiplication have been borrowed from experienced church multiplication experts and can be easily implemented in multiplying ministry in the church. Dejonge essentially said part of this process was designed to help his college students start churches if they graduate and move to towns where no churches exist. At the very end of the book he acknowledges he is now in the process of planting a church outside of CCC using the very principles he is writing about.


What I Didn’t Like: There’s really only one chapter of the book I didn’t like. Chapter 10 is called “Ownership and Control” and Dejonge wrestles with the question of who really owns the ministry in this chapter. By the end of the chapter, it’s clear that while Dejonge is clearly in favor of giving much of the ministry happening on each campus to the college students on each campus, at the end of the day it’s still the staff who are ultimately in charge. This seemed odd from a book called “Giving Up Control.” He talks about a nearby college ministry that wanted support, but ultimately did not want to become a CCC affiliate and then goes on to speak about the wisdom of franchises. I think here, he misses the point of humility, being teachable, and healthy response to mentors in favor a business model that is man-centered. He makes some understandable points about why CCC staff is still ultimately in control of each ministry and yet there is a sense in reading this chapter that the name and brand of the ministry may still occupy a little too high of place in the author’s mind.

Should You Get It: Probably! If you’ve never been in ministry or never thought about multiplying disciples and churches, I would likely point you to an easier entry point like “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, because it’s more accessible for every Christian. However, if you are in any kind of leadership capacity, if you have a heart for making disciples that make disciples, if you have apostolic leanings, or you’re part of a house church or church plant, I would seriously encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. It has a lot of practical wisdom about instilling skills and competencies in people so that you can entrust the work of the Gospel to them with minimal oversight and this is critical to raising up movements of the Gospel.

Rating:

A Quick and Dirty Review of “God is Good” by Bill Johnson

What It’s About: Written by Bill Johnson, the book sets out to convince the reader that their current perception about God is wrong. Johnson argues that God is not like the abusive step-father we believe Him to be and more like a good Father that Jesus portrays in the Gospel. Johnson invites us to believe in a God who is good and desires good things for His children.

What I Liked: I love Johnson’s approach to healing and the supernatural. He pushes us to not settle for hopelessness and the idea that God desires sickness and defeat. There is war in his spirit that comes out in this book that will be helpful to the body of Christ. I found myself encouraged to pursue God more, believe Him more, and contend in prayer for the things He wants to do.


What I Didn’t Like: Unfortunately, while I love Bill and some of the things he represents in the Kingdom, there are some things I didn’t like about this book at all.

The first thing I didn’t like is his spurious treatment of the Old Testament. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about it, defending his love for it, and even showing the goodness of God in it in places, all while he simultaneously seems to diminish its importance. It should be said that I’m a big believer in the following statement from Paul: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). So, when Johnson makes arguments that the Gospels/Jesus reveal the true nature of God and juxtaposes that argument with a quote from C.S. Lewis that pits the doctrine of the goodness of God against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Johnson dances dangerously close to setting up a set of books in the Bible that is more inspired than other parts of Scripture. I believe the fullest and most exact expression of God is Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), but I don’t believe we have to dismiss the rest of Scripture in order to get there.

Secondly, this book would have more aptly been titled “The Failure of Man: We’re God’s PR Problem.” I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I had bought this book to wash my spirit in the goodness of God and hoped not only to get a theological treatment of the topic, but an experiential one that Johnson would be able to provide. Instead, the main thrust of Johnson’s argument is that God is not perceived as good because we have failed to represent Him (especially in the area of manifesting His power) the way He really is. In Johnson’s view, more people would think God is good if we got our act together and believed for the things God wants to do.

Do I believe God wants to do more through his people? Absolutely. Do I think sometimes we focus too much on unclear passages in Scripture and what they say about God’s character than we do about the clear example of God we see in Jesus? Yes. Can we believe God is better than we currently think and become a sign of God’s goodness to others? Undoubtedly. But is diminishing the importance of God’s inspired word and pointing to our failures a good way to help us see God’s goodness? I don’t think so.

Should You Get It: There are a lot of good books by Bill Johnson. I just finished “Raising Giant Killers” by Johnson earlier this year and LOVED it. There are some beneficial things in the book and if you can “eat the chicken and spit out the bones” of this book, you may grow from this book, however, for most, I find it generally hard to recommend.

Rating:

A Quick and Dirty Review of “Rising Tides” by Neil Cole

What It’s About:

Rising Tides is Neil Cole’s most recent published book that looks at four “rising tides” or trends in the Earth that are changing society and are changing the narrative for how and why we “do” church. Those four trends are rapid population growth, extreme technological innovation, growing economic disparity, and increasing political polarization. After discussing these four trends he spends the rest of the book talking about changes the church as a people must make to remain relevant in a society that is increasingly different than the one the church was so successful in reaching a generation or two ago.

What I Liked:

I’m a fan of Cole’s thought process and writing. Cole was one of my early influences in my process of starting house churches. Many of the societal factors Cole describes in his book and their impact on the church are reasons why I have chosen to meet and help give birth to house churches, so I found myself nodding, agreeing, and being encouraged about how he connected daily new stories and trends in the earth to the need for a church to be simple, reproducible, and real. Towards the end of the book, the themes come together in a very prophetic way that will present a picture of how the church must change.

Of all the books of Cole’s that I have read, this book is the most “end-time-like.” While Cole dances around the idea of end-times a bit, it’s clear he sees some of these factors pointing to a definitive point in humanity’s future. While he doesn’t exactly say we are living in the last days, he makes a solid case that history is heading towards a climax of some kind and we need to make an adjustment to endure the days ahead.

In many ways this book was much like a tract for those who might not be convinced by biblical reasoning to start an organic church but may be convinced by the need and the shifting atmosphere to adjust how the church is oriented. I love books that are more like tracts and as a “convert” it was a fun read.


What I Didn’t Like:

For those of us who have read “Organic Church,” “Organic Leadership,” “Church 3.0,” and some of Neil’s other books, there’s not as many new ideas here. If you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed all these reads and came for something maybe a little fresher. There is some of that, but most of the fresh material relates to the trends affecting us currently. It’s not that these sections were bad, but they weren’t really a surprise. There was maybe a new idea every chapter or two, but much of what was found here was repackaged from some of Cole’s other works. This isn’t a problem if you’re new to Cole’s work, but for someone familiar it served mostly as a good refresher.

The other thing I struggled with was the book seemed to raise the four “rising tides” as shifts the church needed to address, but the solutions seemed to still be forming in Cole’s mind. It wasn’t that they were bad ideas–most of the problems presented by the rising tides Cole addressed with the answer of a more organic, reproducing church. Again, here I agree, but in some ways these ideas didn’t seem robust or well connected to the problems. The one Cole most thoroughly covered was how a multiplying church could keep up with population growth, but with the tides of technological innovation or economic disparity the connections to his solution were less clear. Cole himself admitted this book was written quickly in order to not become out of date and it may be that some of the ideas needed a little more time to develop.

Should You Get It:

If you’ve never read a book by Cole, I would strongly suggest it. Cole loves the church and he writes a love letter to the church begging her to recognize the times she’s living in. Once you’ve read this book, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Church 3.0 or Organic Church to further explore the ideas he suggests within this book.

If you love Neil, have heard him speak a lot, or kept up with his other books, I would be a little more wary. Unless you have a need to read every book of his or haven’t thought much about how house churches keep up with an ever-changing society, this might be a redundant book.

Rating:

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Zoo Christianity

One of the things I think we all love about zoos it the ability to see animals many of us would never be able to afford to see in the wild. Most of us would never seen a tiger, hippo, or a monkey in real life. Zoos bring the animals to us and allow us to capture the exotic nature of a wild safari without the danger or the cost.

One of the things I think we would all acknowledge about zoos, though, is that the animals we love to see in them are rarely as full of life as they are in wild. On a recent trip to a zoo with my family, we stopped to look at the lions. There were three of them laying on the ground, sunning themselves. My wife leaned over to me and whispered, “I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a zoo and every time they look exactly like this.” Animals that are fed, caged, and have their every need cared for rarely have the spark of life that we think of when we picture an animal in the wild.

My wife’s comment reminded me of a trip to Africa several years ago. In the midst of different wings of our ministry trip, we had a down day for rest and recuperation. Our contact asked what we wanted to do that day. I told him I wanted to see a giraffe or a hippo. He got a delighted look on his face and said, “We can go to the zoo!” I quickly shot back, “Paul, this is Africa. I don’t want to go to the zoo!” I wanted to see what the animals operating like God designed them.

Often, Christians live in cages, too. These are cages of their own making. They are regularly “fed.” They have all their needs met. In these cages, they are safe to do everything Christians do. People from the outside can even come in and look at what Christians are and what they do.

The question is, like the monkey or the lion that has lost his spark in the zoo, have you lost your spark? Have you settled for less than what God has intended for you? Maybe it’s time for Christians to venture out into the wild and learn what it means to feed themselves and function without the cage. You might be surprised what a Christian released into their natural habitat is capable of.

Toronto Zoo, Toronto, Canada by James Rajaste

On Dimes, Twenty Dollar Bills, and Spiritual Discipline

I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.

He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:

“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”

He shook his head yes.

“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?

He shook his head again.

“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”

Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.

This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.

So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.

Photo Credit: Drop It On A Dime by Voldy Morton


2018 In Books

Happy New Year to you all!

Long time followers know that for the last several years I’ve been trying to read more books. I love reading and in the thick of raising a family and starting churches I largely gave up my reading habits for a season. The last few years I’ve been trying to correct that problem. This year I was able to successfully complete 20 books, which is a recent record!

Now, while I’ll never be this guy who read 308 books this year, I thought it might be helpful to some of you to give a quick run down of the top ten books I’ve read this year in the hopes that you might find something worth while to feed your spirit, soul, and mind. Don’t just read the list: find one or two that might challenge you in the new year and dive in! Or, instead, suggest a book I need to read in 2019 that you found helpful. We all grow as a result.

That said, in order of impact, my top 10 books I read last year are:

Letters to the Church

This book was by far the most motivating and challenging book that I read this year. It’s written by well known speaker Francis Chan who famously left his mega-church to start a house church in San Francisco. The book is not a treatise of why you should be a part of a house church. Instead, it’s a look at everything that is troublesome about the modern American church and how we can become the church God wants. Chan masterly identifies problems with the American church, problems he himself helped create in his own church that are both found in each human heart and among the people of God corporately. Both the house church movement and the traditional church will find much to repent of in these pages. Throughout the whole book, however, those of us who have been part of house churches will see the answers to the questions Chan raises in the model we’ve been pioneering. Chan spends the last chapter offering the answers they’ve discovered as their network has asked these questions, but the answers will not surprise those of us who have been part of a house church. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It will challenge you, cause you to look at your heart, and possibly even push you to rethink how you relate to the church in the future.

I will write a more thorough review of the book in the near future.

The Vanishing American Adult

If Letters to the Church hadn’t appeared on the shelves this year, “The Vanishing American Adult” would have easily been my top book this year. Written by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, this book is a look at the increasing stalled maturity that seems to be plaguing American youth. Sasse could use the problem to rant against generational stereotypes or lay the blame on his opposing political party. Instead he traces trends in our society that have lead to us allowing teenagers to remain immature into their 30’s and beyond. Part of the beauty of this book is the author could have used the problem he profiles in depth to suggest a political solution. That’s what politicians do. Instead, Sasse details out five ways that parents can work against the tide of society to raise real adults in the face of increasing cultural imaturity: Expose kids to other generations, expose kids to hard work, teach them be frugal, expose them to rigorous travel, and expose them to great books. As a parent whose children are quickly approaching the teen years, I devoured this book. Sasse isn’t writing as a distant theorist. He writes as a parent who is trying raise responsible, tough adults and who knows the peril that will come if we don’t do it right. My one criticism, if I had one, is that at times it swerves a bit much into concern for our nation. This doesn’t drown out the true message of the book, but it does at times remind you that Sasse is both writing as a Christian and a leader in our nation for the benefit of both.

I will write about this book in the future as well. However, one of the things this book did was convince me that I need to read more deeply and more thoughtfully. Sasse’s chapter “Build a Bookshelf” is worth the cost of the book alone and it lead to the formation of a “Man Book Club,” where me and other guys can gather and grow as deeper readers. If you see better books on my list in the future, this book is why.

The Pilgrim’s Progress

As I started to read more books this year, this book became one I increasingly wanted to spend time in. I’ve known for years that it is a Christian classic that details the life of a disciple. What I hadn’t known is that it is regarded as the first English novel. Written by John Bunyon while in prison for his faith, the book details the journey of a man named Christian and then his wife as they set out from their home to find the Heavenly Country they hear about in the Gospel that is preached to them. It’s an allegorical story that teaches believers about the path of true discipleship. One of the things that reading old books does for us is liberate us from tyranny of our age that comes through in our social media and modern writing. As I read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I realized just how much of my approach to following Jesus is birthed out of my generation’s approach to Scripture and not Scripture itself. I read this as an audiobook, but a more modern rendering of this book would be a great discipleship manual to hand to a new believer. If you’re wearied by books that are full of three steps to a better life and authors that aren’t awed by the majesty of God, this book will be a refreshing change of pace for you.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, An American Slave

This was the first book our “Man Book Club” tackled and it’s hard to under-estimate it’s impact. It’s an autobiographical look at slavery that will challenge your understanding of what slavery was truly like. I knew slavery was horrible, I didn’t understand the different dimensions of slavery and how terrible they were. I’ve never had a desire to read this book until Ben Sasse mentioned it as a book to read as part of his cannon of books he’s hoping to pass onto his children. This book made the list as a book to help Americans from every stripe understand the plight of Americans who were denied rights under a constitution that promises rights to all. As a believer in Jesus, this book also helped me understand the kind of bad religion that empowers oppression instead of liberating those subjected to it. I also gained a greater appreciation for the situation of African Americans in this country in a way I wouldn’t have without this book. Regardless of your race, class, or political persuasion, you should read this book.

Confessions by Saint Augustine

This was another of those books that I loved because it was born out of another age. Written by Augustine of Hippo in the later part of his life, this book details life from being a seeker of truth but in many ways an atheist to his conversion and discipleship. I expected this book to have many deep theological truths about God but instead this book spoke to me about the power of desire in the human heart. In many ways, Augustine’s confession highlights the wickedness and pride of the human heart and the mercy of God that causes Him to meet with us in spite of them. These were truths that were good for my heart to hear because there are very few writers who speak of the dangers of wickedness and pride. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s worth it for those who persevere through it.

Do Hard Things

I first heard about this book ten years ago. It was written by twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris who founded a website called The Rebelution. The Rebelution is devoted to asking teens to rebel against low expecations that society puts on teenagers. The website was founded in 2006 and quickly became an internet phenomenon where teens banded together to encourage each other to follow Christ and push the envelope for what could be expected by teens. The book is part biography, part manifesto, and part how-to. It’s written by teens and for teens, but I read it in hopes of giving it to my daughter who is quickly approaching her teen years. In many ways, this book mirrors The Vanishing American Adult, but in a way that speaks to teens. I’d recommend it for the teens reading this blog.

Silence

I almost didn’t recommend this book. Several days ago, Michael Frost asked his followers what book stuck with you this year. This is that book for me. It’s written by Shusaku Endo and was originally published in Japanese. Endo is a Japanese Catholic who has written several books on Christianity and I found his approach fascinating. This fiction work follows the story of two Catholic missionaries who travel to 17th century Japan to find a former hero of their missionary order who is said to have left the faith. Along the way they share the Gospel, meet other believers in Japan, are captured, and are forced to watch as both they and the believers they came to serve are tortured. The whole novel ponders the idea of apostacy and the grace of God. This book was interesting for me on two levels. On one level it forced me to examine again my willingness to suffer for Christ and what level of suffering I would embrace for Him. On a completely different level, I’m left with a weird taste in my mouth, not sure I agree with the author’s message that is quickly and succinctly delivered at the end of the book. Whether the message is true or not, the ideas have turned over and over in my head and because of that it’s earned it’s place here.

The Jesus Revolution

This book was not on my radar at all, but when Greg Laurie released this book in October I couldn’t pass up a chance to collect another set of stories from the Jesus People movement. For those not in the know, the Jesus People movement was a genuine, grass-roots revival that spread among America’s youth during the hippie movement of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Laurie writes this book to both look at the origins of the movement and it’s continuing impact on Southern California and the world. Laurie brings first hand experience to the story: He was a flower child of that era and came to Christ through the evangelistic work of notable Jesus People leader Lonnie Frisbee. Through Frisbee, Laurie joined the Calvary Chapel started by Chuck Smith that would go on to launch numerous ministries in the midst of the Jesus People movement. Through Laurie’s involvement with both Frisbee and Smith, he would go on to become an evangelist, pastor, and mega-church leader in his own right. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of my love for the Jesus People movement but I also profited from some of Laurie’s brief thoughts on the nature of the church’s need for continual revolution on the inside to power the expanding nature of the church. There are broader, better treatments of the Jesus People movement but Laurie’s is authentic and his lessons are worth considering.

Deep Work

I try to read at least one book every year related to my full-time work. This book had been recommended by Russell Moore at the end of last year and it seemed like a worth-while read. Cal Newport makes a strong case that focus is the asset of the future and after building the argument goes on to detail how the reader can build a lifestyle of focus, regardless of their career. The advice ranges from broad to very specific, but in general will be helpful to the vast majority of people. Much more needs to be written about this subject, but this book is a great start. It will definitely benefit you in your work life, in your personal life, and even in your spiritual growth.

Canoeing the Mountains

I picked up this book at the suggestion of Jeff Vanderstelt, who recommended the book as a paradigm for the changes the church is going through in this generation. The book is written by Tod Bolsinger, a former pastor of a growing and thriving church that recognized his church was on the verge of plateauing. He caught a vision for a more missional church and now brings that vision to bear not just in the local church but as the leader of a seminary. Bolsinger uses the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition of the Lousisana purchase as a sort of parable for the place the church finds itself in this hour. While it may seem odd for this organic house church guy to recommend a book by a seminary president, there were a few gems here that were universally applicable…specifically Tod’s commitment to mission as the organizing reality of church and the truth that in times of being stuck, humans tend to double down on the thing they are best at, hoping that fixes the problem. Both of these ideas have not only been helpful to me this year…they’ve actually spoken into circumstances that I or others have been in over this past year. I’m grateful when I can learn from my traditional church brothers to strengthen the church, wherever I find it.

Other Books I Read

These were the top 10 books I read this year. I hope to read more next year. In case anyone is still reading, here’s the other ten books I read this year, in no particular order:

The Reason for God by Tim Keller

There’s a Sheep In My Bathtub by Brian Hogan

Increase Your Faith by Steve Bremner

Revolution by George Barna

On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson

Signs and Wonders of the New Churches by Wolfgang Simson

42 Seconds by Carl Mederis

Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams

Julius Ceaser by William Shakespeare

So, did you see anything on the list that you’re going to add? And what did you read this last year that might benefit the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash