An excellent study of the factors that shaped American Christianity in the early years of the republic. Not only is this a very good historical study,...moreAn excellent study of the factors that shaped American Christianity in the early years of the republic. Not only is this a very good historical study, but it helps the reader come to a much greater understanding of the current state of the church in America. No other book has enabled me to understand Christianity in America better than this one.(less)
A good collection of essays dealing with three major strands of the Reformed tradition in America—the Princetonians, the Dutch Reformed, and the South...moreA good collection of essays dealing with three major strands of the Reformed tradition in America—the Princetonians, the Dutch Reformed, and the Southern Presbyterians. Naturally, as is always the case in an edited collection, some essays are better than others, but all in all this is a helpful resource for those wanting to learn more about the contours of this relatively diverse Reformed community as it established itself in the United States.(less)
(I had to write a review of this book for class, so here it is. Overall, I wouldn't recommend it.)
Books on discipleship abound, says Charles H. Dunaho...more(I had to write a review of this book for class, so here it is. Overall, I wouldn't recommend it.)
Books on discipleship abound, says Charles H. Dunahoo, but many focus only on how-to techniques and step-by-step processes. In his book, Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2005), Dunahoo argues that this approach misses the mark; the focus of discipleship should be helping Christians develop lives that are entirely transformed and centered on the kingdom of God.
Dunahoo has divided his book into three parts. In the first part, he outlines a framework for discipleship, challenging the patterns of the past. “Simply put,” he argues, “we have been operating, often unintentionally, with more of a man-centered rather than a God-centered approach to making disciples, and it is not working” (6). Particularly illustrative of this are the lack of biblical literacy among younger generations and the decline of the church in recent decades.
Pointing out three unhelpful models—the program-based model, which focused on giving large groups of people lots of information; the individual model, a one-on-one approach focusing on addressing felt needs; and the small group model, which focuses on cultivating relationships within smaller settings—Dunahoo proposes his kingdom model as a more helpful perspective from which to do discipleship. This approach “not only incorporates these three models, but places them in the context of God’s kingdom. It is informational, formational, and transformational” (11, emphasis his). The goal of this approach is, using Abraham Kuyper’s well-known dictum, to bring every square inch of life under the domain of Christ’s lordship. “The primary objectives of the kingdom approach of disciple making include knowing, understanding, and applying God’s Word to all of life…[It:] does not separate faith and life (as though such were possible). It focuses on integrating God’s truth into all areas of life” (11-12).
Moving into a discussion on epistemology, Dunahoo writes that becoming disciples of Christ means that we first need to come to a knowledge of the truth, and our only standard of truth must be God himself because we are entirely dependent on him for all our knowledge. Knowing God’s truth will transform “the way we think, live, and relate to him, to the world around us, and to one another” (36). Knowing God’s truth means submitting to his rule and reign in recognition that we are part of the kingdom of God. Borrowing from the insight of men like Kuyper, Dunahoo recognizes that as Christians we have multiple callings in life and that our faith is to be lived outside of the walls of the church as well as inside. He is eager that “Christians, kingdom disciples, see and understand that we have a diversity of roles in hits life. We must be able to make the distinction among them while not attempting to hide or to keep our religious convictions out of the picture” (52).
This is all part of the process of consciously forming a world-and-life-view built on Scripture. However, this process, Dunahoo cautions, will not provide Christians “with answers to every little detail of life…[but instead:] provides a framework with which we can demonstrate the image of God within us by dealing with all the issues of life from a godly perspective” (70). Understanding theology is an essential part of forming this worldview, and he commends the “Reformed faith [as:] a systematic or coherent way of framing God’s truth” (78). This should function as the basis of our worldview. A brief expose of the essential tenants of Reformed theology helps Dunahoo demonstrate why that system forms the best foundation for shaping a worldview. He then discusses the importance of understanding the covenantal relationship between God and man, and how God relates to his people as Lord. Discipleship involves learning that “since no area of life is exempt from his lordship, we have to learn to think and live Christianly in all areas [of life:]” (103).
The second part of Dunahoo’s book is an analysis of the context we find ourselves in and how to apply the timeless principles of our world-and-life-view in reality. He begins by walking us through the impact modernity has had on our culture and on Christianity, with specific reference to the pluralism, privatism, individualism, relativism, and technism that have come to characterize the modern West. Having briefly sketched the contours of modernity, he then moves into a discussion of postmodernity in order to illustrate the direction Western culture is moving, recognizing that while postmodernity is attempting to address the shortcomings of modernity, “as a philosophy…it is antithetical to the Christian faith” (152). A kingdom disciple centers himself on the gospel story, and because postmodernity rejects metanarratives, it is not a philosophy a Christian can build on. Dunahoo then briefly sketches the different generations of people that comprise modern society, discussing their respective relationships to modernity and postmodernity and how this impacts the discipleship process.
Finally, in the third part of his book, Dunahoo presents a number of models for applying a biblical worldview to the world we find ourselves in. Using the example, first, of Paul in Athens in Acts 17, he notes Paul’s effort to make a point of contact with the Greeks and concludes that “if we are to serve God’s purpose in this generation, then we must know how to speak in an intelligible way to the audience” (178), such that we demonstrate to our audience a familiarity with how they think and view the world. Like Paul, we “must be more relational and more oriented to explaining the personal implications (‘so what’) of our message…[and like Paul:] we too are going to have to become more adept at helping people to know how to ask the right questions and find the right answers” (185).
Dunahoo then walks through Ecclesiastes as “one of the best scriptural examples of setting forth a Christian world-and-life-view and contrasting it with a nonbiblical world-and-life-view” (187). This is something we too need to do today as we interact with others, because it is “such an important ingredient in the disciple-making process…[and:] clearly points to the importance of beginning with God” (189) if we are to make sense of the world.
Lastly, Dunahoo sets out to “demonstrate how to read, study, understand, and apply the Scriptures from a covenant framework” (207). This covenantal understanding helps us do five things: recognize that we are part of a community, recognize that there is a metanarrative in history, see that everything begins with God’s grace, learn to see life from God’s perspective, and understand ourselves in relationship to God (208-211). To do this, he works through Genesis 13, demonstrating that reading Scripture covenantally will always leads us to “focus our attention on God as he reveals himself in this Scripture. Seeing the whole redemptive narrative is the key to understanding the parts” (220). Not doing so, Dunahoo believes, is one of the biggest problems in the modern disciple-making process because without this covenant framework, total life-transformation is not possible.
Making Kingdom Disciples offers those engaged in discipleship some things to think about. Dunahoo is right to emphasize the need for conscious formation of a holistic worldview based solely on God’s revelation in Scripture and to recognize that we are citizens of the kingdom of God living under his rule and reign. In addition, his stress on the need for a covenantal framework is to be commended. The practical examples he offers showing how to apply a biblical worldview to a particular context are quite helpful as well.
Nonetheless, it is hard to help but feel that the book has a number of shortcomings. First of all, in many respects the book seems to lack originality. In one sense, this is good; he recognizes the wisdom of his tradition in the discipleship-making process. Still, while Dunahoo has done well in bringing the material he has together, more often than not I was left feeling as if I had read or heard this before, albeit recognizing that this may be because I come from a Reformed context. That, however, leads to my second point, which is that this book is clearly written for those coming from a Reformed perspective. If this was Dunahoo’s intention, then there is perhaps some superfluous material that could be left out. However, if not, then more work would need to be done in making the case for a Reformed framework to be the best foundation for a Christian worldview.
Additionally, Dunahoo’s treatment of postmodernity is weak. His analysis of modernity is helpful, but he does not deal adequately with postmodernity. In part, he cannot be faulted for this; indeed, postmodernity is so amorphous that it is nearly impossible to properly define it. But Dunahoo too easily adopts popular critiques of it, and, although I agree with his conclusions, am left thinking that he did not do enough research. It should be noted, however, that his treatment of the different generational shifts and perceptions is very helpful.
In the end, Making Kingdom Disciples is a decent resource, even if beset with a few shortcomings. Dunahoo helps us to see the need for a holistic, covenantal worldview and how that is to work itself out in the world around us, and its particular significance for the task of discipleship.(less)
(I had to write a review of this book for a class, so I decided I would just post that review here.)
There is a process that usually attends my purchas...more(I had to write a review of this book for a class, so I decided I would just post that review here.)
There is a process that usually attends my purchase of books. Most of the books I purchase come from a bookstore, and after seeing a book on the shelf that piques my interest, I will spend a few days or a week thumbing through it before I decide whether or not to purchase it.
However, this was not the case with Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful (Wheaton: IVP Academic, 2009). When I saw this book on the shelf, I nearly ran to it, looked at the contents and purchased it, all within a space of about five minutes. It was the second half of the title that grabbed me; the fact that the authors would employ a derivative of the word formation told me that this book would be a valuable asset for someone involved in the educational ministry of the church.
I was right.
Parrett and Kang divide their book into four parts. The first deals with the purpose of education in the church, and they begin by observing that when it comes to educational ministry people are far too quick to ask how things should be done without first enquiring as to why they should be done. The first question to be asked, then, is why the church exists in the first place. Parrett and Kang use the book of Ephesians to answer this because “Paul focused attention on the nature and purposes of the church in broad and bold strokes, and in ways that can easily be applied in a wide variety of settings” (28). Taking the Greek word poiēma from Ephesians 2:10, they construct an acronym to outline the contents of the letter:
Praise for God’s glorious grace (1:1—2:10) One body in Christ (2:11-22) Intercession toward knowledge of God’s unknowable love (3:1-21) Exhortation, equipping and edification of the body (4:1—5:2) Maturity through Spirit-fullness (5:3—6:9) Armor for spiritual warfare (6:10-24) [29:].
Fleshing out each point a little, Parrett and Kang come to the conclusion that the task of education in the context of the church is to aid in fostering a church that has these characteristics. To that end, we are to teach “out of and unto obedience; unto conformity to Christ; unto salvation, holistically understood; unto faith, hope, and love; [and:] unto edification of the body” (49). In summation, when our teaching is marked by these characteristics, we are teaching “in order to revere the living God and to help others do the same” (71).
Having laid a foundation in answer to the question of why education is an integral part of the church’s life, Parrett and Kang begin the second part of their book, which discusses the message to be proclaimed in the church’s educational ministry. Recognizing that the question of content is one that could be extensively debated, their approach “is not to ask what might be taught or what could be taught. We ask, rather, what must be taught?” (78). Briefly discussing and evaluating a number of suggestions others have made in answer to this question, they in turn propose the following outline:
1. The Gospel, as of first importance (1 Cor 15:1-5) 2. The sound doctrine that conforms to the Gospel (1 Tim 1:10-11) 3. The life-giving benefits that flow from the Gospel (2 Tim 1:10) 4. The way of living that conforms to sound doctrine (Tit 2:1-15) [93:]
These four elements give shape to a holistic education centered on the Gospel, for in the end, they want to make the case “that the Gospel must be the foundation for all our proclamation” (93). The Gospel is often conceived of as the basics or the essentials, but the authors argue that “we should not see the Gospel as the ‘milk’ from which we must move on to more ‘meaty’ things. We do not move on from the Gospel. Instead, we move on in the Gospel, for its depths are unfathomable and its implications for life and teaching are innumerable. In other words, the Gospel is to be both the center of our kerygma (proclamation) and the heart of our didachē (teaching)” (99).
Moving to suggest what might form the basis for a church’s curriculum, Parett and Kang lay out what they call CORE content, “CORE” being an acronym that stands for “Comprehensive, Orthodox, Renewing Essentials” (126). There are a number of elements that make up their CORE content. The first is the foundation already mentioned, the Gospel message itself. Secondly, they propose that the three summaries of the one Faith (the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue) be taught in a formal catechetical setting. Third, education must move toward deeper immersion in the Gospel and its implications. Finally, we must learn to engage the Truth, the Life, and the Way on a daily basis, rooting ourselves in the Story that God has placed us in (134).
In the third part of the book, the authors discuss the people involved in the task of education in the church, both the teachers and the community of learners. Drawing on examples from the Old and New Testaments, they paint a biblical picture of the role of teacher in the Bible, and also discuss the roles of pastors and parents in the education process. Christ-like teachers, Parrett and Kang write, must be characterized by six pairs of attributes. They must believe and have a calling, they must have zeal and knowledge, teach truthfully and gently, have humility and partnership, be vulnerable and willing to suffer, and have authority and be able to listen (177). Ultimately, “those of us who are called to teach the Faith and form the faithful are exhorted to live as learners who are constantly in the presence of the triune God, always preoccupied with meditating on and obeying his Word so that we can aptly teach others to obey all that Jesus Christ has commanded them” (210).
Noting some pertinent insights from well-known psychologists, they move into a discussion of various theories of learning that are important for teachers to keep in mind as they teach the Faith. Forming a community of learners is important in order to effectively educate. Part of forming this community involves having teachers who “understand the purposes toward which they teach…But it is also vital that teachers study the people among whom they minister” (262).
The final part of the book deals with practices, discussing different strategies for teaching and forming. Parrett and Kang acknowledge that “too often, our ministries of discipleship, of teaching and formation, begin with a concern for relevance. But this misses the mark. We begin with a concern for faithfulness to God’s purposes” (265). To that end, they construct their own definition of teaching:
To teach is to come alongside another, in the power of the Spirit and in the company of the faithful, to seek an encounter together with the Truth; taking aim to perceive it more clearly, consider it more critically, embrace it more passionately, obey it more faithfully, and embody it with greater integrity (277).
The authors envision nothing less than an education that aims at wholeness, a wholeness found only in relationship with Jesus Christ (302).
Taking aim at a number of practices that have been institutionalized in modern evangelicalism, Parrett and Kang discuss why these are hindrances to the formation of a faithful body of believers. One such practice is the intentional separation of generations in the life of the church, which the authors vigorously oppose. Adults and children have much to learn from each other and it is a grave mistake, for example, for churches to isolate children during worship and prevent them from interacting with the full life of the church. The authors note, “Our children may be our children, according to the flesh, for a brief season in this temporal life. But in the Spirit and for all eternity, they are our brothers and sisters (313). The educational ministry of the church needs to take this sort of thing into account.
Finally, the authors discuss the role of worship in Christian formation. Our worship services must communicate nothing less than the truth. It is necessary for us to prayerfully construct our worship such that in our conduct, we embody and proclaim the truth. In this way, “we can more faithfully and effectively liturgize catechetically. The formation that occurs in such gatherings of worship is a critical component among all our efforts to teach and form God’s people more fully into the beautiful body of Christ that we are called and created to be” (357).
Gary Parrett and Steve Kang have composed an excellent resource for those involved in the educational ministry of the church with their book, Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful. Indeed, a short review such as this hardly begins to scratch the surface; there are many riches to be mined from their insights. Any difficulties one might find with their work are primarily stylistic—for instance, I found the fourth part of the book to feel a little disorganized. Quibbles like this are minor, however. On the whole, this is not just another how-to manual with tips for relevance and strategies to provide numerical growth. Instead, the authors set forth a wholly biblical portrait not just of the “how” but also the “why” of education, effectively demonstrating that when the latter remains unanswered, the former will have no direction or purpose. Growth depends on our action, but it must be action intentionally centered on the church being the poiēma of God. We must continue “delighting in and laboring for the glorious Gospel, diligently teaching the Faith and fully engaging in the unfolding of the great redemptive Story” (435), to the glory and praise of God. (less)
An excellent analysis of the history of Dutch Reformed Christians in North America. Since this is, in large part, my own story, I was able to resonate...moreAn excellent analysis of the history of Dutch Reformed Christians in North America. Since this is, in large part, my own story, I was able to resonate deeply with a lot of the things Bratt writes about, including the struggle to find a place within the exisiting North American culture. Well worth the read even if you are entirely unfamiliar with the Dutch Reformed world. There is a lot to learn especially in how to understand Christ as Lord over all of life.(less)
This is by far one of the most interesting books I've read in quite some time. Hunter does a particularly good job at dissecting many of the problems...moreThis is by far one of the most interesting books I've read in quite some time. Hunter does a particularly good job at dissecting many of the problems with American Christianity today, particularly the way much of it is tied up with politics. He proposes instead something called 'faithful presence,' which, although he doesn't go into a great amount of detail elaborating on – indeed, part of his point is that he's just setting out a basic framework which he hopes Christians will work out in practice themselves) – envisions a holistic discipleship that enables Christians to live faithfully in every part of life.(less)
A good read with a lot of helpful suggestions. The first part of the book deals with the theology of preaching, and is by far the stronger part of the...moreA good read with a lot of helpful suggestions. The first part of the book deals with the theology of preaching, and is by far the stronger part of the book. Stott makes a compelling case for the importance of preaching in the ministry of the church. The second part deals with practical matters—constructing sermons, the preacher's demeanor in the pulpit, and so on. But it's all a bit tedious, and Stott keeps emphasizing that these are only his suggestions, which doesn't help to convince that much of what he is saying is important for the reader to remember. In the end, I'd recommend Lloyd-Jones' Preaching and Preachers.(less)