J.D. Greear is the pastor of the multi-site Summit Church in Raliegh-Durham, North Carolina and the author of several Christian books. While I am geneJ.D. Greear is the pastor of the multi-site Summit Church in Raliegh-Durham, North Carolina and the author of several Christian books. While I am generally suspicious of mega-churches, I am impressed by the substance of Greear's teaching. He is passionate about biblical teaching, discipleship and getting people to live out their faith in risky ways. His new book, Gaining By Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send unpacks ten kingdom 'plumb lines' for church leaders to lead their churches in becoming a sending church. When Greear took over the helm at Homestead Heights Baptist Church, he relaunched a traditional Baptist church as a contemporary missional church. They went from a congregation of three-hundred to a mega church, to a multi-site church. Greear has a passion for growing missional leaders and releasing them to make a kingdom impact.
At the heart of Greear's approach is a passion for sending. While other pastors focus on growing their church or movement, Greear and his leadership team do not hold on to their most gifted leaders. They train them and send them out. In this book, Greear shares 'plumb lines' --short memorable phrases that he repeats ad nausem to help keep his leadership and congregation on mission. These include:
The Gospel is Not Just the Diving Board, It is the Pool Everyone is called. The Week is as Important as the Weekend A Church is Not a Group of People Gathered Around a Leader but a Leadership Factory The Church Makes Visible the Invisible Christ The Point in Everything is to Make Disciples Every Pastor is Our Missions Pastor We Seek to Live Multicultural Lives, Not Just Host Multicultural Events Risk is Right When You are Sick of Saying It, They've Just Heard It While the stated purpose of the book is to get churches to be sending churches (through both church planting and short term missions), the above "plumb lines" illustrate an approach to ministry that is gospel soaked, rooted in the priesthood of all believers, puts a priority on discipleship, and actively cultivates diversity. The church that I pastor is not at sending stage but a small church that needs to pursue growth. Nevertheless Greear has plenty of things to say which apply to my context, and casts a vision for where we can grow to.
As a pastor, I appreciated the practical nature of this book. I like that Greear is not confused about technique, models and methods. His vision for a sending church is firmly grounded in New Testament faith. Two appendixes give practical insights for setting up an international mission strategy, and developing a strategy for domestic church planting. For my context, many of Greear's recommendations don't work, but I still felt myself stretched and encouraged to take Kingdom risks. I give this four stars.
Note: I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews and Zondervan for the purposes of this review. I also would be remiss if I failed to mention how much the cover evokes 80's era video games for me. Ah, memories....more
Whatever we say about the Kingdom of God it is not like any other kingdom we've seen. To say Jesus is Lord is to declare Caesar is not and to sound thWhatever we say about the Kingdom of God it is not like any other kingdom we've seen. To say Jesus is Lord is to declare Caesar is not and to sound the death knells on empires everywhere. In The Unkingdom of God: Embracing the Subversive Power of Repentance author Mark Van Steenwyk examines how the gospel is about far more than personal transformation. It exposes the lies of consumerism, the dehumanizing effects of the powers on communal life, and the myraid ways that 'empire' or 'Christendom' poison the well. The good news is that real freedom from powers and structures is possible According to Van Steenwyk, Christ's kingdom is an unkingdom where Jesus is unking (96). In Christ it is possible to live with a group of people (church) without being ruled.
If you haven't guessed from the above description, Van Steenwyk is a part of two maligned and poorly understood groups: he is a Mennonite and an anarchist. As a Mennonite and therefore stands within a tradition which strives to be a faithful witness to Christ while looking suspiciously at the Constantinian drift in the wider culture. He is also an anarchist challenging the dehumanizing structures and powers at in our society. These converge in his vocation as pastor of the Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis, his work as an editor for Jesusradicals.com and as host of the Iconoclast podcast. The themes of this book were also addressed in an earlier book, The Holy Anarchist, though this volume is better executed and crafted.
Van Steenwyk has some challenging stuff to say and he says it well, but the thing that makes this book a compelling read is how he weaves his theological and sociological reflections together with his personal narrative. He tells of his early camp conversion and the radical streak he had which was effectively exorcised by the charismatic church he grew up in.. As a young teen he was a patriotic, cowboy hat wearing Garth Brook's fan brought to tears singing 'I'm proud to be an American." Yet as his faith matured, Van Steenwyk began to question the evangelism-as-conquest approach of his Evangelical upbringing, and the highly individualistic gospel he had proclaimed. This set him on a journey to a more communal and political witness (or apolitical, though not in the apathetic, disengaged sense).
Van Steenwyk is astute at naming the insidious nature of structures and powers, controlling-myths that blind us, the false promises of consumerism, and the ways that religion, even Christianity, can be a enslaving power, rather than a wellspring of freedom in Christ. In the latter part of the book he invites us into practices which help us enter more fully into the Unkingdom of God: He invites us to encounter the feral God through experimenting with God, embracing our creaturleliness,and practicing silence (121-6); he summoned us to walk with Christ with a localized imagination, paying attention to what is in front of us, and learning from the margins (133-8). He calls us to discern the subversive spirit through open worship and consensus decision-making, the practice of naming powers and resisting, and 'arguing with Jesus' through engaging both scripture and what is rising in us in opposition as we read (145-9).
It is a testament to how good a book is, when upon finishing it, I have no desire to place it on the shelf--marked off as done and collecting dust. I've thumbed back through the pages several times already, re-reading passages I had underlined. There is so much here that causes me to examine again the way racism, unjustice to Native-Americans, the marginalization of children, the bankruptcy of political discourse on the right and left are the effects of empire and institutionalized structures. I also love how vulnerably Van Steenwyk tells his own story. Sometimes anarchists/anabaptists are dismissed as idealists who don't live in the real world. Van Steenwyk shares the ways he has struggled to move from patterns that are selfish and accommodating to the dominant culture to a lifestyle that is more communal, more radical and ultimately more faithful to the gospel.
I need books like this. There are a lot of ways where I would be out of step with Van Steenwyk. I am challenged by and enlivened by the writings of Anabaptists and Christian anarachy. The former because it is part of my heritage, the latter because I have been a part of churches with an unhealthy authority structure, and in my own role as pastor have sought to lead in ways that were non-manipulative. Still I sit somewhat outside of both camps. Van Steenwyk call is to a faithfulness to the gospel and resistance to the powers. I can get behind both objections even if I demur from his conclusions at various points (i.e. consensus leadership, his handling of Romans 13, etc). I still happily give this book 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who would like an accessible and thoughtful take on the life of radical discipleship. ★★★★★
Thank you to SpeakEasy for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
At the heart of who we are is a longing for connection and relationship. This longing is thwarted through our woundedness but it doesn’t go away. OneAt the heart of who we are is a longing for connection and relationship. This longing is thwarted through our woundedness but it doesn’t go away. One of the joys of coming to Christ is being brought into relationship with the Trinity–Father, Son and Spirit. We are invited into the primal relationship! Our spiritual maturation involves us learning what it means to give and receive love, the way this God-in-relationship does.
Richard Plass is the president and Jim Cofield is the the co-director of Crosspoint Ministry in Jeffersonville, Indiana. There they invest in the spiritual formation of leaders and in matters of soul care. Their approach to spiritual formation is biblical rooted, psychologically sensitive and historically informed. Their new book, The Relational Soul: Moving From the False Self to Deep Connection, explores the relationality at the core of our being, how unhealthy attachments cause us to act out from the false self and how our relationship with Christ enables us to move towards greater relational health and wholeness.
While there are no formal ‘parts’ to this book, there is a natural division with a brief interlude between chapters one to six and chapters seven to ten. In the first section (chapters one through six), Plass and Cofield make the case that relationships and our longing for meaningful connection are central to how we learn to navigate our world. Our ability to form attachment in our families of origin (chapter two) and our emotional memories (chapter three) determine how we respond to the world around us. To the extent that we are wounded, and we are all wounded, we react out of our False Self (chapter four). The False Self keeps us from real relationship because it motivated out of a sense of self-protection. This cycle is broken in our life by the operation of grace as we enter into relationship with the Triune God–the God in relationship! (chapter five). It is through our relationship with God that we learn that relationship with God enables us to move from our ‘reactive False Self’ to the ‘Receptive True Self.’
While these first chapters lay the ground work for the movement of spiritual formation, the last four chapters focus on the practical aspects of spiritual formation and accompanying disciplines. Chapter seven examines the necessity of self understanding in the spiritual life, chapter eight the importance of community; chapter nine explores the core spiritual disciplines for engaging with God (i.e. solitude, silence, contemplative reading of Scripture, and contemplative prayer). The end goal is chapter ten: transformation–dying to the (false) self and being raised with Christ, being fully enabled to give and receive love.
This is a phenomenal book full of rich insights on our fallen tendencies to protect ourselves from hurt, and thus cut ourselves off from true relationship. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to set us free to love and be loved. When we enter into the life and freedom that Christ brings, we enter into relationship with the Triune God and that changes everything. I really loved Plass and Cofield’s description of the process and their insights on how we are formed spiritually.
The concepts in this book are not ‘new’ to me. I have had my own struggles against the false self and had to wrestle through ways in which I was relationally ‘shut down.’ My false self is buoyant and independent and holds others at bay. It took some loving and committed friends and mentors to help me confront the relational patterns which were keeping me from growing in my friendship with God and others. I can say experientially that the movements which Plass and Cofield describe are true. They also describe the journey I still need to take as I still strive toward greater wholeness and transformation.
I highly recommend this book but I read it all wrong. I read it by myself and didn’t discuss it with anyone. I think this book is ideal to read together with others (i.e. in a small group, with a partner or with a mentor/discipler). This is a book that will spur on conversation and mutual self-exploration. This is a book which will help people move away from unhealthy patterns of relating toward deep relationship. The next time I read this book, I will not do it alone. I give this book five stars: ★★★★★...more
What if we are more committed to the idea of justice than we are to actually living justly? Are we overrated? Do we talk a good game but fail to do juWhat if we are more committed to the idea of justice than we are to actually living justly? Are we overrated? Do we talk a good game but fail to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Pastor and activist Eugene Cho has written a book–a confession of sorts–which chronicles his struggle to live a life of world changing. In Overrated he challenges us to not just change the world, but allow ourselves to be changed in the process. This is a book written to encourage us in our pursuit of justice, and to encourage us to count the costs (17-8).
BookCover-3D Cho tells us how he came to care about issues of justice and his first steps into trying to live out his calling to care for those on the margins. He founded One Day’s Wages, an organization which seeks to alleviate extreme poverty by challenging people to give a day’s wages to the cause. Cho did not ask anyone to give up anything he wasn’t willing to give. When One Day’s Wages was founded, he gave up an entire year’s salary for the cause of justice. Some may find Cho’s emphasis on justice misplaced but he argues that living justly is an integral part of the life of discipleship. Justice may not describe discipleship in its entirety but it is impossible to conceive of the Kingdom of God without hoping and striving for the justice of all.
Most of Overrated describes Cho’s journey to deeper places and his challenge to us to tenaciously pursue a disciplined life. He discusses the challenge of living simply and prophetically within an upwardly-mobile culture of consumers (chapter three) and describes the challenges he faced in living out his calling when there is no formula or easy fixes (chapter four). When he first got the vision of planting a multi-ethnic church in Seattle it took longer than expected and he struggled to find other work to make ends meet. Cho warns seminarians, “Be careful, your degree in seminary will soon make you useless to society” (86). Cho knows. He was turned down by Taco Bell when he needed a job. For Cho pursuing his calling meant daily faithfulness and awaiting God’s timing and provision.
But Cho urges tenacity in our pursuit of justice (chapter 5) and a self examination which asks “why am I doing this?” (chapter 6). He also exhorts us to life-long learning where we have more depth than our soundbites suggest. In a social media world, we need more depth than 140 characters allows (chapter 7) We need expertise and we need to live out the sort of lives we are calling others to (chapter 8). One area of self examination that Cho suggests, is to audit our efforts at justice (chapter nine). Are we doing justice, justly? When we send shoes to the two-third’s world are we alleviating the problem of global inequity or are we assuaging our consciences and failing to combat the bigger systemic problems?
What Cho has discovered is that behind our call to change the world, we are also called to change ourselves. God is at work in the world and we are commissioned to work for his purposes (the restoration of all things) but there is soul work to be done in ourselves. By sharing pieces of his own journey Cho challenges us to examine our own lives and learn from his steps (and missteps). I appreciate Cho’s humility, grace and humor as he presses into some serious issues. We all know people who cast more shadow than light. I for one, have been (still am) one of those people. I am grateful for Cho’s challenge to do the hard internal work while remaining committed to real-life-justice. There is no either/or approach. There is no ‘heart religion’ or ‘social justice.’ Real justice flows through those who have counted the cost, examined themselves and have continually sought to love their world well. Changing the world is possible, but we need to change ourselves first.
Of course justice is a journey and we are all at different places. Cho wisely puts his chapter on doing justice, justly late in the book. Steve Corbitt wrote When Helping Hurts and Bob Lupton wrote Toxic Charity to help us think through how we give to the poor and marginalized. Unfortunately it is possible to use either of these books as an excuse for inaction (if helping can hurt, I better not give until I know more, etc). By placing this concern within a narrative of a lived-out commitment to justice, Cho shows how the concern to give intelligently and strategically is a stage of growth along the way. For some of us, we may need to give badly and generously before we give generously and well. Some of us need to hear the biblical imperative for caring for those on the margins (which Cho explores in chapter two) before we can answer the ‘how we give’ question.
I first became aware of Cho’s work through his blog. Some mutual friends shared his posts on Facebook and I discovered a passionate advocate for racial and economic justice. I have been challenged and spurred on by Cho for several years now and am excited to see his first book come to print. I highly recommend it for world changers and couch surfers alike. Wherever you are on your journey, this will spur you on to greater justice. Five stars: ★★★★★...more
Those saints which are most like Jesus are the ones that have learned to walk with Him through all of life. They are secure in God’s love, they persevThose saints which are most like Jesus are the ones that have learned to walk with Him through all of life. They are secure in God’s love, they persevere in faith and are sustained by a strong hope. Helen Cepero, spiritual director and adjunct professor at North Park Seminary and Multnomah School of the Bible writes a rich meditation on the pathways to God. Christ-Shaped Character: Choosing Love, Faith and Hope shares the story of Cepero’s faith journey and the practices which have nurtured her spirit, as well as those to whom she has ministered with. But this is not a cookie-cutter approach to Christian spirituality. Cepero eschews formulas and detailed road maps. Instead she shares pieces of her own narrative and invites us to reflect on our own pathways to God.
In Christian theology, Faith, Hope and Love are called the theological virtues and are explored in much of the literature on Christian character formation (they come out of 1 Cor. 13:13). These virtues form the outline of Cepero’s book (here Love, Faith and Hope) and frame her reflections on the spiritual Life. Each section is comprised of three chapters. Part one, ‘Choosing Love,’ explores our identity as God’s beloved, and the practice of hospitality and forgiveness. As we cultivate our awareness of God and his love for us, this frees us up to welcome others and forgive just as we ourselves are forgiven and welcomed. Part two, ‘Choosing Faith’ helps us to cultivate our friendship with Jesus, embrace our vulnerabilities, and live life with integrity. Part three, ‘Choosing Hope,’ shows us how to cultivate attentiveness to God (through Sabbath), our ability to see God’s blessing in us and to trust God with our whole beings as we live improvisationally. Cepero is a Spiritual director and here, she helps us train our spiritual senses on where God is at work in our lives.
Cepero weaves together personal stories from her life and ministry with suggested spiritual practices, buried in the middle of each chapter rather than tagged on at the end. She is a perceptive writer on the spiritual life and quite the story teller. She begins her book by describing watching her ten-year-old daughter at a Beginners’ Band concert and then uses this an apt metaphor to describe how we begin our spiritual lives with the same sort of clumsy joy (as in art, so in life). The exercises she commends throughout her book include different types of prayer, meditation, Sabbath, various exercises in self examination, and Spiritual direction. These are rich reflections. well worth reading. I give this book an enthusiastic five stars and recommend it for anyone seeking to grow in intimacy with God: ★★★★★
Thank you to Intervarsity Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review....more
With the five patches of ‘red letters’ and its exploration of Jesus’ life, Matthew’s gospel is an apt mareview posted on thoughtsprayersandsongs.com:
With the five patches of ‘red letters’ and its exploration of Jesus’ life, Matthew’s gospel is an apt manual for discipleship. In Partnering with the King, author John Hiigel takes us on a 31-day-tour of Matthew, exploring its implications for disciples. The book opens with an examination of the story about the feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:13:21). In that story, Jesus’ disciples were asked by Jesus to feed a crowd but had no resources to do so (or very little resources). Jesus takes whatever they had to give and he multiplies it and uses it, miraculously feeding the multitudes. This is what Hiigel calls ‘partnering with the King.’ Jesus holds the power because he is God and King, but we get to partner with him in bringing God’s kingdom to this earth. Just like the disciples, we are asked to do what seems impossible, but as we learn to faithfully obey Jesus multiplies what we offer a. The nd uses it for his glory. The feeding of the five thousand is a personally meaningful image for my life and ministry and provides a great organizing motif for this book.
Partnering with the King: Study the Gospel of Matthew & Become a Disciple of Jesus by John Hiigel After the feeding of the five thousand, the rest of the daily entries follow the book of Matthewin a largely chronological fashion. As Hiigel walks through the text several themes emerge. Jesus’ authority is seen in his miracles, healing, casting out of demons, and his teaching. His life is commended to us for our imitation, and we are challenged to put into practice his teaching. Ultimately his entries explore what it means for us to participate with Christ and ‘partner with him’ in bringing about his Kingdom in its fulness. Disciples see the the kingdom Theses daily entries can each be read in 10-15 minutes and are fairly meaty.
Hiigel teaches Biblical Studies at the University of Sioux Falls. Having received his Ph.D. from Fuller, he’s also served as a pastor for decades and as a musician in Los Angeles. His examination of Matthew blends together the world of scholarship, pastoral insights, and musicality. While music is not a major theme, he utilizes several examples of his ‘musician days’ to help explicate the text.
This is not a scholarly book and so it does not explore every critical issue or fill in all the background of the first century context. That doesn’t mean that Hiigel is not a good scholar or that this book does not rest on good scholarship. It just doesn’t explore every jot and tittle of the text. I was occasionally disappointed when Hiigel did not fully exegete my pet passage. On the other hand Hiigel stays on task, exploring Matthew for what it tells us about discipleship. What he shares here is challenging and engaging. For a devotional commentary on the book of Matthew, I think this is the best of its kind even if I happily recommend it, especially for personal study. I think that this is better than Tom Wright’s Matthew for Everybody and breaking it down into daily readings makes it a great way to soak in Matthew’s message for a month.
Personally I really appreciated that this book did not just tell us what Jesus said or what Jesus did but raised a challenge by asking,”in light of this passage, what should we do?” Hiigel wants people to be hearers of the Word who then do what it says. I found myself prayerfully reading over passages and underlining a lot. Listen to his words regarding the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: 31-46:
We are meeting surrogates for Jesus at every turn. The grave danger is to be lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of life and miss the sacredness of the people around us and the reality of God’s unseen kingdom. Blessed is the servant whom Jesus finds doing what he commanded when he returns. Imagine hearing Jesus say in the end, “Well done good and faithful servant . . . Come, you are blessed of my Father, and receive the inheritance that has been prepared for you from the beginning of time! (239)”
As someone who too often is lulled to sleep by the ordinariness of life but really hungers to be used by God with my life and ministry, I found myself challenged anew in these pages. I give this book ★★★★★.
Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
In this review, I didn’t offer a detailed summary of most of what Hiigel says but am always happy to discuss particular passages from Matthew and what Hiigel says about them. ...more
In Scot McKnight's trademark style he unfolds here what it means to follow Jesus with your life. I like what he says here, because he is holistic in hIn Scot McKnight's trademark style he unfolds here what it means to follow Jesus with your life. I like what he says here, because he is holistic in his approach and not one dimensional about discipleship but covers a lot of ground (salvation,the kingdom, justice, peace, wisdom, sex, vocation, the cross and resurrection, and more). The chapters are short and pithy making this ideal for a book group. His context as a professor (and the fact that this book was birthed out of his Jesus of Nazareth class) makes this an ideal book for college age followers of Christ. Having done college ministry I think this would have been a helpful resource.
Not that it doesn't say anything to older folks as well, but a lot of examples are drawn from student life.
This is not my favorite McKnight book, but I don't dislike it either. I think the King Jesus Gospel (which came out after this) is the better and more important book of the two. But as always McKnight is thoughtful and informed, but accessible. ...more
One of my passions and interests is to help people grow as disciples of Christ. I also really like the gospel. So when I saw a book called Gospel CentOne of my passions and interests is to help people grow as disciples of Christ. I also really like the gospel. So when I saw a book called Gospel Centered Discipleship coming down the pike, I just knew I had to review it. Jonathan Dodson, pastor of Austin City Life Church (located conveniently in Austin) has written a thought provoking book addressing what discipleship properly centered on the gospel is. In part 1 he defines discipleship, in part 2 he addresses the motivation and power behind discipleship, and part 3 he addresses practical aspects of how we live it out.
Sharing vulnerably about his own steps and missteps as a disciple, Dodson demonstrates the ways that our discipleship models sometimes miss the point. Some disciples emphasize piety at the expense of mission (spiritual disciplines, instead of social justice or Evangelism). Others emphasize missional activism but fail to help people grow in holiness. The desire to provide accountability, sometimes gives way to legalism, while other discipleship groups err on the side of cheap grace by providing license for believers to sin. Dodson doesn’t want you to emphasize piety at the expense of grace or vise-versa; both vertical and horizontal dimensions of discipleship are important. What he wants us to live into the reality that Jesus is Lord and follow him in his mission and piety.
Along the way, he invites us to experience confession and community, stoke our religious affections and commune with the Holy Spirit to help us mature as disciples. His focus on the ‘three conversions’ (conversion to Christ as Lord and Savior, conversion to the Body of Christ, and Conversion to Christ’s mission) ensures that his own model of discipleship is fairly holistic and communal. His model is rooted in church practice rather than individual disciplines.
The last section of the book, talks about how we can practically live out this model of discipleship. Dodson writes about ‘fight clubs’ which are his name for a three person small group where participants meet to encourage one another to fight the good fight in living for Jesus (fighting sin in our lives, fighting to keep Christ at the center of our heart, fighting to extend his mission). Admittedly, I find the name is cheesy and a little gimmicky, but I like the concept. At any rate, Dodson’s description of fight clubs can be modified. This is just one example of how you can live out gospel-centered discipleship.
There is so much I like about this book. I really appreciated the way Dodson critiques some versions of discipleship which I have found unhelpful (i.e. how accountability groups can promote legalism). His model of discipleship is Biblically and theologically informed (mostly from a Reformed Evangelical bent). While I may disagree in minor points of emphasis, on the whole this seemed like a helpful and thoughtful book. I really appreciated the richness of sources he cited.
The part of the book that I found most aggravating, does not reflect on Dodson so much as his editor. In the print edition, a general Index and Scripture Index covering various topics, authors and Bible passages quoted in the text. Unfortunately both of these seem to be for a different book (they cover topics Dodson does not and direct you to page numbers he doesn’t have). If you choose to read this book electronically, then the indexes are superfluous, but I found their ineffectiveness irritating.
But as a whole I would recommend this book to someone looking for an accessible guide to discipleship for those who want the truth of the gospel and Jesus’ Lordship (his kingship and leadership) to penetrate every part of our lives.
Thank you to Crossway books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and rather friendly review....more