Tag Archive | Books

Review: Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

This is my personal review of “Viral Jesus” by Ross Rohde.  You can also find this review posted online at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.  In the interest of full disclosure, Ross was kind enough to provide me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Christianity was designed to spread like a virus, moving from person to person, contact point to contact point, quickly changing people and making them an agent of change.  That all came to an end after a sustained period of growth several hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. The church slowly abandoned it’s commitment to the “epidemic principles” they were founded on and adopted a different method of living.  This is the premise of Ross Rhode’s new book, Viral Jesus.  According to Rhode, though, these “epidemic principles” can be recaptured and a viral Christianity can again become the norm.

I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Viral Jesus ever since Rhode began blogging at Viral Jesus a few years ago.  If you’ve read the blog or enjoy the missional house church/ organic church/ simple church discussion, you will certainly find an enjoyable read in this book.  But this is not just another book about doing house church.  This is a book about spreading the Lordship of Jesus throughout a society, something that house churches become a vehicle for.  This is a radically different approach than most “house church” books take, but it was incredibly helpful.

I want to offer one warning up front before I continue with the review: Do not read this book if you’re looking to transition into a new church fad.  This book is fairly unique and it will not give you step by step instructions for getting new converts.  This book presents Jesus Christ as Lord, both of the world and of the church, and that means you won’t find strategies that work apart from Him.  Rohde takes a lot of necessary time presenting this truth and because of that, someone only wanting change without prayerfully submitting to Jesus would get very frustrated. But if you desire to follow the real Jesus into His harvest field, this book will be both incredibly helpful and challenging, but well worth the read.

Strengths

The first obvious strength of this book is the fact that it presents Jesus as the operating system for life, both inside and outside the church.  This is not a how-to book.  It forces you to acknowledge the ways in which you’ve been dependent on other things besides Jesus, especially in the church.  Rohde significantly develops the idea of “Jesus as Lord” that Hirsch and Frost discuss in books like “The Shaping of Things to Come” and “The Forgotten Ways.” But instead of developing the theology of “Jesus as Lord” Rohde presents very tangible examples from Scripture and experience of “Jesus as Lord” playing out in the life of the church.

One of the things I appreciated in the book was it’s strong endorsement of supernatural phenomenon in the life of Jesus movements.  Most of the current books on church planting and organic church argue for returning to most of the principles of the book of Acts, but spend little or no time discussing the place miracles plays. This is confusing because it is one of the most prominent features of the early church.  I suspect that because Rohde truly believes that the Lordship of Christ is the issue for viral Christianity to be restored, he has no problem presenting the Holy Spirit as active and involved if we submit to Jesus.  I can’t emphasize enough that these two issues need to be stressed over and over in the organic church conversation, and that fact alone makes Rohde’s book an invaluable contribution to the discussion.

Another strength of the book are the multiple stories Rohde tells about the adventures he and his co-workers have in the harvest field.  These stories take place in locations where many people think the Gospel is irrelevant, hardened Western Europe and California, and they make the principles Rohde lays out believable.  I’ve heard plenty of stories about miracles and conversions happening in America and Europe, but Rohde tells the stories in ways that make everyone believe they are capable of doing the same.  He and his friends aren’t the heroes of the stories, Jesus is, and because of that you gain faith you can participate in similar stories yourself.

Finally, Rohde’s chapters on Viral Evangelism and Viral Church Planting are worth the price of the book. Both chapters are a look at how, once submitted to Jesus, a believer is typically led by Him to share the gospel and see churches started.  Rohde makes evangelism and church planting a joy, not a burden, and accessible to everyone.  I’m actually going to list this book in the evangelism section of my Amazon bookstore because it so easily encourages and trains believers in basic principles for sharing their faith and planting churches.

Weaknesses

The one weakness I found in the book is it’s treatment of the historical Jesus movements of the past.  Rohde traces the fall of the early church away from the “epidemic principles” it was originally founded upon.  He then looks at times throughout history most Christians would call revivals and dissects how these revivals missed turning into full-fledged Jesus movements that God had intended.  I think this is the point where most Christians would have problems.  However, I actually agree with Rohde on most of the issues he presents as problems.

Rohde argues that each of these revivals were short-circuited because they didn’t completely abandon the trappings of Christendom that they emerged out of.  Because of that, these revivals eventually died down and became trapped in a dead religious state that they had been awakened out of.  I don’t even disagree with Rohde on this point. However, what was written seemed to imply that even though God moved powerfully many different times, these Jesus movements continually fell back into the Christendom mindsets they emerged out of.  Can a viral Christianity emerge in a country where Christendom is present and operating? I believe it can and I even think Rohde believes it can, but I walked away from the chapter having to truly process these thoughts out.

In the end, I believe that even this was helpful, because these chapters forced me to examine where I’ve compromised with foundational principles of the world in my Christian experience.  But my hope is that even though much of Christianity in the West is still steeped in Christendom, that viral Christianity lived out in front of the rest of the church will actually convince the church of the validity of abandoning many of the Christendom principles it has built itself on.

Should You Read Viral Jesus?

Yes, yes, and yes!  You will be encouraged, stretched, and challenged in ways you cannot imagine.  Rohde is really balanced in a radical, Jesus-following way.  Reading this book will push you in the most healthy direction you’ve been pushed in awhile—closer to Jesus.  If you’ve never been part of an organic church this a great book to get you started.  If you’ve read every book by every guy about church planting movements and house churches, this is still a really helpful and inspiring book.  And this is not a book for leaders, it’s a book for everyone, because viral Christianity is for everyone.

Because of all of this, I want to recommend you pick a copy of this book, take a journal and a Bible with you, and go and wrestle with the issues Rohde presents.  My hope is that it causes Jesus movements to spring up throughout the West and changes Christianity as we know it.

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Primal by Mark Batterson

[This blog is part of a blog tour for Primal by Mark Batterson.*]

I stumbled onto the Batterson Blog a few months ago thanks to the recommendation of Randy Bohlender of Stuff I Think fame.  As I’ve read the posts I’ve come to enjoy Mark Batterson’s unique perspective on life and ministry which is both transparent and biblical all at the same time.  In true Web 2.0 form I became aware of Mark’s new book through his blog and I was intrigued because the theme of Mark’s book, restoring the lost soul of Christianity, and signed up to join the blog tour. 

Mark’s book reads like an extended version of his blog, which in my opinion is a compliment.  It’s personal, a good mix of experience and biblical thought, and well-written.  Mark contends that we must return to what made Christianity great in the first few centuries and in order to do that, we must return to what made our Christianity great in the first days after we came to know Christ.  This is the primal place, the place, according to Mark, “where loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all that matters…[where] the place for the lost soul of Christianity begins…”

I have to stop here and say that while I believe that loving God with all of our being is essential to restoring the lost soul of Christianity, I do not believe that you can just start there.  I believe that loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is the result of a revelation of Jesus to the human heart, both initially and continually over the life of a believer.

The way forward in each of these areas (heart, soul, mind, and strength) seems somewhat like a maintenance prescription for a car that neglects filling the tank with gasoline. And while I’m sure that Mark believes in the necessity of encountering Jesus regularly, the book seems to convey the idea that simply attempting to grow in love in these four areas will cause Christianity to be revitalized. So, yes, these are essential, but they have to flow out of a revelation of God to the human heart.  And when they do, we will see the recovery Mark is talking about.

That said, if you are encountering Jesus in a continual and regular basis and are looking to be pushed in some practical ways, this a good book and will be helpful for you.  Mark splits it up into four sections focusing in on how we can grow in our heart, soul, mind, and spirit.  I’ve never seen someone take quite the same amount of time on each of these sections individually.  Each one would be great to focus on devotionally for a season of time and I think the book can be read that way. For the purpose of brevity, lets look at each of these sections and sum up Mark’s take on them.

Heart

The first section of the book is about loving with our heart and Mark does a good job of showing us how we’ve stopped living (and loving) from our hearts.  He then points to the fact that much of our Christianity is detached from feeling what God feels and he calls the reader back to the place of feeling the things that God feels very deeply. 

Mark’s description of what happens when we touch God’s heart focuses primarily on how it affects our pocket book.  People who feel what God feels are compelled to lives of extravagant giving and generosity toward the lost and the poor.  I whole-heartedly agree.  My only complaint is we don’t see much on how loving with our whole heart affects other areas of our lives, such as prayer, how we spend our time, or live out our testimony before unbelievers.

Soul

The next section focuses on loving God with our soul.  This was probably the section that challenged me the most.  Mark links the growth of our soul in love to our ability to wonder at things around us.  God, he says, wondered at His creation and we stunt our spiritual growth into His image if we loose our capacity to wonder at the things around us.  I know for me, it’s easy to get caught in routine and lose a wonder for God and the things He has created. 

The primary place of wonder Mark spends time calling us to rediscover is our wonder over the record of God found in the Bible. I found myself whole-heartedly agreeing with him about our tendency to expect to be fed by a local church leader and not feeding ourselves on the truth in the Bible.  Mark shines in this section as both a teacher and a confronter.

Mind

After looking at our ability to love God with our soul, Mark spends time exploring what it means to love God with our mind. One thing I’ve learned by reading Mark’s blog and the book is that Mark has never been fond of boundaries and it shines through in this chapter.   Because of that, Mark believes that there are new, God-inspired thoughts that can change the world and change lives, and it’s the believer’s duty to tap into them. 

The challenge then is to receive these thoughts and act on them. The only way to put these thoughts into action is to change our approach to risk and failure, because a fear of failure will cause us only to replicate already existing patterns.  Again this was solid food for thought and prayer and I would recommend it to those who haven’t thought about what it means to love God with their mind.

Strength

I have to be honest, I haven’t read this section yet, which saddens me.  But the blog tour must take place and I can’t leave a book unfinished, so at some point stop back and I’ll give you my thoughts.  I do have to say, however, that I think this is shaping up to be the strongest part of the book.  Just by way of looking at the chapter titles, this is the part of the book I was most excited about and I believe most tangibly relates to movements.  I’ll be interested also to see how Mark ties all four sections together into the “Primal Movement” he’s been describing since the beginning of the book.

In summary, Mark offers us a good book on returning to an all-encompassing relationship with Jesus.  Because (at least in my estimation) Mark seems to be a boundary pusher, anyone who needs a jolt in their walk with Jesus or just a different perspective on loving God would benefit from the book.  Again, I believe it would have been helpful to explore more of the vertical aspects of this love that Mark calls us to pursue.  Things like encountering Jesus in prayer, fasting, and meditation might have been helpful.  But to the person who is, this book will definitely push your boundaries in each of these four areas and bring us closer to the primal movement we all long to see.

*In the interest of full disclosure, Multinomah offered a free copy of this book in exchange for a review posted here as well as on a merchant site.

Thoughts on “Stuff I’m Reading”

It became really obvious to me last week when I was writing “Stuff I’m Reading…Err…Listening To” that my little breakdowns of the books I’m reading are becoming more like reviews and less like short run downs on the books I’m reading.  And, while reviews are great, I’m thinking that in the interest of me actually writing one of these more than once a year (which has about been my track record) I’m going to write shorter, more promo-style blurbs for my “Stuff I’m Reading” page in an effort to keep things short, interesting, and more timely.

With that said, I’m moving my behemoth of a blurb to the “Stuff I’m Reading” Page to take its place in the pantheon of books that I’ve read.  I’m also kicking around the idea of sponsoring a communal reading of a certain book over a certain period of time and posting thoughts and comments about content here and on my Twitter account.  A good example is I just started reading Watchman Nee‘s “The Glorious Church” and I think it would be really interesting to either here or on Twitter discuss things we’re reading as we’re finding them in a common book.  Let me know in the comment section or by tweet if you’re interested.

Until then, that’s all for tonight, folks!

Stuff I’m Reading…Err…Listening To…

crazylove

In a continuing effort to keep the world updated about my reading habits, I now bring you the newest finished book in my collection.  Before I go into the book, I have to say that I actually did not read this book, but I downloaded the audio version from Christian Audio.  They make a free audio book available for download once a month and this was July’s freebie.  You may see “Stuff I’m Reading” books corresponding to their free book of the month more often.

I just want to go on the record by saying “Crazy Love” was a lot better than I expected.  I’ve seen it on the bookshelves of Christian bookstores for at least a year or more and had sortof written it off as the kind of book that would last a few weeks and fade in everyone’s memory.  The whole book looked like it was written to get a sale but not change anyone.  It took a recommendation from (I think) Frank Viola before I would actually read the book.  Who would ever believe that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover?

The first thing I loved about this book was the time that Francis Chan spent delving into attributes of God at the beginning of the book.  Most modern books present a problem and then tell you how to fix it.  Chan takes us into the character of God before he takes us anywhere and I believe that is part of the reason this book is so successful. In a way, this section reminded me of the book “The Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer, but it’s written in a way that would move the heart of any college student.  Because the remainder of the book calls the church to action, Chan spends the first three chapters describing a God worthy to act on.   The book succeeds because it’s not a response to a problem but a response to God as He really is.

Chan then spends the next several chapters looking at what it looks like to not be moved by God in an appropriate manner.  Unfortunately, we find more of ourselves in these chapters than we care to admit.  The chapter entitled “Profile of the Lukewarm” was probably the hardest chapter of the book to listen to because it challenged me at a very deep level. Chan takes a look at a number of “religious people” in the Old and New Testament who thought they had it all together but really had no relationship with God.

I think a lot of people who read/listen to this chapter and the following chapter could very easily get offended because in a lot of ways it challenges what most of us feel satisfied with in our religious lives.  But because Chan packs these chapters with biblical truth and an unfolding of God’s character from the earlier chapters, his observations make sense.  There will still be many who will be offended as they read and my hope is that their offense will lead them to go back to the Bible and decide if what Chan is saying is true.  This may be the beginning of some of us, including me, waking up.

From there Chan begins to unpack what it looks like to be moved by love for the God he described in the first few chapters.  This is the “practical” section of the book where he begins to describe his journey and the journey others took to change their lifestyle to match what they see in scripture.  My favorite chapter of this section is “Who Really Lives That Way.” Most books like this one leave you feeling like you could never do what the author suggests. But  Chan introduces you to person after person who has lived radically for Jesus.  Some of these people are from a century or so ago but most of them are still alive today.  The beauty of this chapter is that most of the people he describes are not famous.  They don’t even think they are special.  They are all just changing their lives to respond to the God they have fallen in love with.  If you want to get a picture of what that looks like, I highly suggest you read this book.

If I have one beef with the book, I would have loved to see more of Chan’s personal story to see how these things have been worked out in his life. While he doesn’t give us the whole story, he does give us quick glimpses.  They are helpful, but I think readers would profit from a more personal perspective to encourage them that they can live whole-heartedly as well.    I’m convinced from his writing that his life has significantly changed… I was just looking for more than a snapshot here or there.

But the book was a great read listen and I would highly recommend that if you have a chance, you pick up this book.  I have to say I was moved by this book and am seriously rethinking some different aspects of my life, especially how I relate to the poor of the Earth.  Chan provides one of the most balanced arguments for Christians living their lives differently that I’ve seen in a book in a long time.  It will challenge you for the better.  And, if you want more when you’re done, you can hop on over to Christian Audio and listen to his new book “Forgotten God” by clicking here.

[Btw, if you’ve read “Crazy Love” and have thoughts of your own, either leave a link to your review in the comment section or leave your thoughts in the comment box below.]

Come Rest

come-restI just thought I would take a minute and plug the book of a dear friend of mine.  Come Rest is a new book by Dick Speight, founder of Come Rest Ministries.  I first met Dick when he cold-called me after having heard about me through his daughter. We met a short time later and discovered we had deep affection for four things: Jesus Christ, the church, the contemplatives, and Monk.  Instant friendship in the making.

Dick has been an advisor to our house church network, a dear friend, and an advocate in the city for us as we journey into unexplored territory.  One thing that I love about Dick is that he is constantly learning.  Even though he is old enough to be my father, he is still humble enough to think that he can learn from me and my experience.  He’s a rare guy.

That made it easy when he emailed me a copy of his new book and asked me to endorse it.  The book was great but the reality is I wanted everyone to get a chance to see the guy I see regularly.  After I finished reading his manuscript, I wrote this:

“We live in a 24/7, non-stop, always connected, relentlessly busy world that leaves us more empty and alone than when we found it. Only God has a remedy for us.  God has made Richard a rich blend of a desert father, an evangelical contemplative, and a loving pastor. The result is a message that provokes you from all sides to rest in Jesus.  ‘Come Rest‘ is more than a book, it’s an invitation into the life of rest you were designed to live.”

I want to encourage you if you’re looking for a good devotional or you’re just looking to draw away a little deeper in the love of God, to consider picking up a copy of this book.  You can find it here or you can buy a copy at the “Apostolic Christianity Bookstore” found on the right hand column of this blog.

Several years ago, the Lord told Dick that he was to tell the earth “Come rest in My love.”  Join Dick as he shares the Lord’s heart with the world.