My Book Review of Revise Us Again by Frank Viola

I was given Revise Us Again to review and am not obligated to give a positive endorsement. My hope is to clearly communicate what I thought of the book.

Who is Frank Viola?
According to the first paragraph on his bio, “Frank Viola has been pioneering in organic missional church life since 1988. He brings over 20 years of experience to the table in what is now a growing phenomenon. Beyond planting organic missional churches, he is a Christian author and speaker. Frank’s public speaking covers a wide range of topics including the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ, the deepening of the spiritual life, Christian community, church planting, God’s eternal purpose, mission, and church restoration.”

If you have never read anything by Frank Viola, I suggest you read Jesus Manifesto (co-authored by Leonard Sweet) and Pagan Christianity (which was my first introduction to Viola). I consider those two required reading in today’s missional church tract but I don’t consider them to be prerequisites for Revise Us Again. I should also mention that Church Reimagined is pretty good too and I have not read his other works (but I’m sure they’re good reads too).

What I LIked
Frank calls himself “post-charismatic”. He offers an explanation of what that is and quotes someone that claims there are 92 million of them. Since I’m not part of these circles, reading this is as close as I have come to one. I’m up for a conversation with anyone who calls themselves “post” something. It’s usually reflective and worthy of discussion. And as just alluded to, I could use a few more (post-) charismatic voices in my life.
The last two-thirds of the book.
I like Frank’s tone. It’s a bit aggressive, I imagine he writes similarly to how he speaks and for much of the book, I pictured that these were conversations that could be shared over coffee/beer over.

What I Wasn’t Sure About
While I enjoyed and agreed with the first third of the book, it was a bit lost on me since I have had this conversation too many times. Obviously a legitimate conversation, one that evangelical church ought to have, but I’m not sure if I could have handled an entire book (even if it was short) on it.  I felt that since I was outside of this conversation that I was eavesdropping and a this was therefore a reminder that I may not be the target audience here (which is ok).
I felt Chapter 4’s Spiritual Conversation Styles (SCS) was a bit too simplified and systematized. I did agree that understanding this would be helpful for the church at large but felt it would be a natural outworking of communal life. I wasn’t sure I saw the need for this chapter but that’s probably because of my SCS ;)

Who I Think It’s For
Playing off the classic quote, the title says it all – Revise Us Again. While I was a bit confused by the cover art of the book (the illustrated page is blank; shouldn’t there be some text to “revise”?. If it’s genius, I’ll admit it was lost on me), there is clearly a place for revision in the church.
All in all, I recommend it especially if you already appreciate Frank. I especially recommend the book for those who feel lonely in the church and see the faults of the Chrisitianese subculture. It is lonely if you are a pastor not in a ministry network or a pastor/involved church member that at least doesn’t have an online network. (This is part of the many blessings of social networking by the way but this post isn’t the place for that discussion.  It can also be lonely as a congregant if you feel that you are the only who thinks like this.
For those of you who do not appreciate Viola, already burned out of the Christianese sub-culture and already have an endless “To Read” shelf, it’s hard for me to consider this “required reading” (Again, I would more readily suggest Pagan Christianity and Jesus Manifesto). That said, I could see this book being used in a small group led by a person like this for “busy church-minded but a bit disenfranchised” folks (Did that make sense?).
I could also see it being used in a young adult ministry, especially by those who had an akward church/youth ministry experience, are frustrated by organized religion but still search for God and a more robust Christianity.

Teens, Plastic Surgery and Cindy Jackson

Over the weekend, I heard about this woman named Cindy Jackson who has had over 60 cosmetic surgery procedures and has spent over $100,000 on the work spanning the last 25 years. Oddly, she doesn’t look terrible at all. In fact, if I saw her at Shop Rite, I’d think she was another 50 year old woman. But she is not ordinary, she actually holds the Guinness Book of World Records for most cosmetic surgeries. She is even now a cosmetic surgeon consultant (which has to be a real easy job :) and she’s dating a 29 year old dude. Perhaps in her world she has it all. Obviously she has money, the attention of men, she probably has a loyal following of women who are cheering her on as she fights the war on the aging process.

If she was a comic book character, she’d be armed with a scalpel and sleep in a botox chamber and fighting against an ugly character named Dr. Hideous. (I should totally pitch this to Comedy Central later today. Oh wait, I’m hanging out with students later  – Oh well).

Now I am not against plastic surgery procedures, I think in some cases, it’s a worthy consideration. But I do start getting nervous when we talk about teen-agers and plastic surgery. By now you may have heard stories of 15 year olds going under the knife to fix certain birth defects. In some cases, they may be a good idea in the same way that braces are. In other cases, it seems likely that such procedures will have a negative impact on students and society.

What does it say about us as a society when we admit to treating you better if you looked a certain way? We might be inclined to react and say, “Hey that’s how society is!” Believe me, I know. I was the sole minority in my school until 10th grade and the only kid with a middle-eastern shnoz in the county – I remember. But I remember also thinking that my identity can’t solely come from my appearance and like all adolescents, the search of “Who am I?” began. But what does it say about the society?

I’ll be the first to say that things are different today than they were in the late 80’s-early 90’s and it would be foolish to only compare the way things were to the way things are. As a youth pastor, my heart goes out to the teens of today for the many different types of pressures they endure. And while I would like to remind them that there are incredible blessings about being a young person today, I get that it’s hard too. I remember one of our female students explaining the number of girls in her school who have undergone procedures to help them look great in a bathing suit. And I’ll never forget the line, “It’s not just the people at the beach who see you, because of Facebook everyone sees you!” Indeed things are different today.

I don’t want to cite examples of what I deem as legitimate and what is not, it’s too judgmental (I think we can all agree that lypo-suction is not a moral issue right?). And I will be the first to say that this a gray area and that’s ok too because I like gray areas. But I will say that it seems wise to say that cosmetic surgery to fix things like birth defects is quite different than cosmetic surgery to attempt at looking “perfect”. Cindy spending $100,000 and sixty procedures articulates that quite well. I submit that deep down inside she would prefer the unconditional love of a man that truly loves and accepts her faults and all than to be with a 29 year old guy who may not be around when the money and botox run low.   And even more importantly, I hope she genuinely “accepts herself”.

This is among the many aspects that I love about the Christian ethic. It demands that we treat people the way we would want to be treated. It reminds us that we are all flawed and in need of redemption and it offers us identity in our most original design by the Creator Himself. That cannot be found in 6 weeks of recovery after the initial consultation. Which brings us to another question, “What does it say about a society that accepts and loves people for who they are?” I know some may scoff at the idealism here. And it’s true and with the risk of more scoffing, I’d like to add that this “heavenly society” offers that we live the good life forever with our Maker and Redeemer. This is where identity is found and nurtured. And it’s my hope that those searching can find it.

My Review of The Invitation by Greg Sidders

I was given The Invitation written by Greg Sidders to review from Revel Publishing. Like all reviews, I am not required to give a positive one and these words are my own.

Who is Greg Sidders?
I didn’t know either but according to the back of the book he is a former journalist and the pastor of White Pine Community Church in Cumberland, Maine. He and his wife have three sons.
He seems like a great guy.

What I Liked …
Greg has an easy and enjoyable writing style. I’d even describe him as cheerful.
Short chapters filled with many illustrations and helpful Scripture passages.
Even in that small space, he does a decent job at explaining a passage or giving the meaning of a particular word/phrase in Greek.

What I Didn’t …
I felt that too many of the illustrations were dated and unoriginal. I think it’s great when pastors use their sermon material for a book but the material was old.
It wasn’t “messy” enough for me. Because of the “not-so-simple truth” subtitle, I expected it to be grittier.
I get the title is called The Invitation so he feels the need to be hospitable and kind but again the sub-title is “the not-so-simple truth about following Jesus” and it lacked the teeth to live up to that part.
Very quickly, I realized this book was not for me (or people like me) and my critiques may be unfair because I am not Greg’s intended audience.  SO, for those dear blog readers who don’t care for half the other books I recommend, this could be more for you :)

Who I Think It’s For …
Greg has a a nice guy candor to him. He seems to be very likable and I’m sure his congregation find his messages to be very encouraging.
I think this book is for the Christian who has been sitting in church for years but is aware enough to know that they’ve been missing the idea of discipleship.
It could also be for skeptics who have some understanding of Christianity. But know that I am not talking about educated skeptic but more the lazy skeptic (for lack of a better term). But Greg is not offering a C.S. Lewis-esque apologetic hear (but I’m sure he could, it’s just not what he wanted to do here).
Pastors who like to give books away to people in their congregation looking for something that is helpful but not overwhelming.

I think The Invitation is a great place to start if you have found yourself (or know someone) bored with their faith and confused about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

Talking to Teenagers About Failure

Last week in youth group, we talked about dealing with failure. It’s a subject that I find that we Christians do not talk about directly enough (I looked through my notes, and I won’t admit here the last time I talked about it).

Here are few things that I have learned about teenagers and failure:
1. They think about it much more than I think they do. They apathy that we think they walk around with is part of the self-defense mechanisms in hopes of repelling adults from pointing out even more flaws and failures. (This is happens even if they are not consciously trying)
2. Teens are susceptible of allowing failure to shape their identity. Often they carry this into adulthood.
3. Youth ministry training needs to have more adolescent psychology because I know I am only scratching the surface here.

I chose the end of the year to discuss this topic for obvious reasons. Among them is that not everyone is going to finish the year the way they hoped. Final grades are coming to fruition, sophomores and juniors are getting their SAT scores and seniors are opening up acceptance and rejection letters. Oh and then there are all the normal pressures of high school life, prom season, family issues, etc.

It’s here that I hope that young people lean on their faith rather than see it as another source of potential stress.

We opened our time with some of my favorite quotes on the subject:
“Try is the first step to failure.” – Homer Simpson
“No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you.” – Homer Simpson
“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” – Oscar Wilde
“Remember, no man is a failure who has friends” – Clarence Oddboddy from It’s a Wonderful Life
“Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again …” Proverbs 24:16

Sadly all of us from students to adults fail in a number of ways, morally, physically, spiritually, alone, and in community – it’s a part of life. I take comfort that many of the “success” stories in the Bible are born out of failure. To name a few, Abraham, Moses, Jacob (who’ve been talking about all year), David, Paul, and Peter. And that’s the best part for me.

I love that we serve a God that not only forgives us but also strengthens us to overcome the difficulties of life. I have many hopes regarding this idea, but as a youth pastor, my prayer is that young people don’t go through life alone (or leaning on only a few friends), but in community relying on the grace that only God can give.