The Relational Pastor by Andrew Root

Note: I was sent this book from the publisher and as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Great books have a way of marking certain seasons of life. Similar to when you watch a great movie or witness a great sporting event and contextualize your enjoyment of it during a particular time in life. I’ll always remember watching Shawshank Redemption has part of my senior year of college and holding a crying newborn the night the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I’ll remember reading The Relational Pastor during this beautiful New England summer on my back patio with a cup of french-pressed George Howell coffee. I liked it so much that I read it twice. In addition to the excellent content was the timing of the reading. In a summer that intentionally sought spiritual renewal, Root’s words were welcomed and needed.

Here’s what I like so much about The Relational Pastor:

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Book Review of God Is On the Cross: Meditations for Lent and Easter by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Note: I was sent this book from the publisher and as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

As mentioned in a previous post regarding devotionals, I’m not big on them but I do look for them come Lent and Advent. I have to say, I was pretty excited when I saw God Is On the Cross: Meditations for Lent and Easter by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and here’s the summary according to the publisher Westminster John Knox Press:

“These forty stirring devotions will guide and inspire readers as they move thematically through the weeks of Lent and Easter, encountering themes of prayerful reflection, self-denial, temptation, suffering, and the meaning of the cross. Passages from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters and sermons provide special encouragement as readers prepare themselves spiritually for Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Supplemented by an informative introduction to Bonhoeffer’s life and a Scripture passage for each day of the season, these daily devotions are moving reminders of the true gift of Christ on the cross.”

Having read it through this Lent, I have to say it’s good work. Of course the material is great and one cannot [Read more…]

My Review of “The Searchers: A Quest for Valley for Faith in the Valley of Doubt” by Joseph Laconte

I was sent The Searchers: A Quest for Valley for Faith in the Valley of Doubt by Joseph Laconte from Book Sneeze. As always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

I first heard of Joseph Laconte back in 2001 when my cousin and I drove down to Osprey Point for a Trinity Forum lecture entitled, “What Would C.S. Lewis Say to Osama Bin Laden?” (It was later turned into an article here ). I love C.S. Lewis, I hated Osama Bin Laden, and I had no clue who Joseph Laconte was. Initially, we declined on going figuring it would be a bit predictable but Laconte made it all worthwhile. I’ve always kept an eye out for Laconte’s writing (he pops up all the time) even though I was focused on other interests and pursuits.

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My Review of Hazardous by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper

I am really excited to post this review and by saying that, the first thing I should admit is that I am hardly objective here. I’ve never pretended that this wasn’t a blog and so have embraced my subjectivity – I think the world of Ed and Derek and hope you read this book, not just because they’re great guys but it’s great book written by great guys.

Most of my time with Ed has been online interacting on Twitter, Facebook and enjoying his blog and a conversation here and there.
Derek on the other hand was one of my favorite professors at Biblical Seminary. We were introduced to him early in the LEAD Mdiv program and I’d say he was a significant shaper of our forming theological perspective over the years. I consider Derek to be the most brilliant guy I know who is younger than me – grateful to call him my friend.

And now onto the book. Hazardous tackles the great challenge of presenting the real and difficult aspects of Christian discipleship. They put their thesis front and center – following Jesus is risky. It’s a good thing they didn’t ask me for advice because I would have told them, “Hey guys, it sounds a little negative. I mean, I agree with you guys, but this sort of stuff just doesn’t jump off the shelf or the Amazon page …”

I think they would have smiled and graciously replied “We know.”

This book is excellent for at least three audiences:
First, for those tired of presentations of Christianity that are cliched and over-promise how wonderful the Christian faith is. (It is wonderful but only because faith is dangerous, not because it’s easy.)
Second, I can easily see this as a resource for adult small group/Sunday School/Adult Discipleship teachers that have already used some of the more popular resources. The content is solid and accessible and there’s a good bit to chew on here.
Third, a pastor looking for sermon material would be well-suited to create a series based on Hazardous. (Fellow pastors if you are interested, please let me know, Ed can hook you up with some additional help with this part).

Further, those who appreciate Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright and others will see their influences on Ed and Derek. In fact, they wrote it with the thought of “What could come after reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship?” So perhaps that is a fourth audience.

Among the first things I noticed is that the book is written with a timeless quality to it. There is very little interaction with pop-culture. Besides a David Bowie reference, the book is void of celebrity or brand references, etc. and though I am one who very much enjoys that intersection of faith and culture, even I found this to be refreshing.

Writing on discipleship is a difficult task. In my opinion, what we have in our evangelical community is a handful of amazing books on the topic but many others seem to fall into a couple of traps. In the author(s)’ desire to offer a “classic” work, there is that risk of coming across as a Bonhoeffer/Dallas Willard imitation. The second trap is when the author(s) don’t reference their society, they risk losing context and connection with the reader. While I always enjoy the important exercise of exegeting the culture, Ed and Derek seem more interested in exegeting Scripture and us.

Each chapter explores an element or a challenge of the discipleship (“Discipleship is Messy and Risky” or “Discipleship Involves Our Families,” or “Discipleship Requires Listening”) and examine characters and scenes in Scripture that have wrestled with the call of obedience. The chapter contain an excellent and fast-moving explanation of a Biblical passage, carefully avoids rabbit trails (you can feel the restraint), offers push-back questions consistent with the context that are legit like “Are We Going to the Same Place As Jesus?”, “What About Soldiers?”, “Should We Leave Our Jobs Behind?” and “Are We Really Hearing God?”

My one wish for the book was not knowing who wrote what chapter. I looked and looked to see if there was a mention in the intro that they would alternate chapters but never found it. It probably only matters for people like me who read with the author(s)’ voice in mind (I even make up a voice when I haven’t heard the actual. You should hear the voice I have for Martin Luther, boisterous, always shouting with a lot of inflection and beer in hand. I know it’s weird but whatever it takes to continue the discipline of reading is the idea).

Regardless, Ed and Derek have written an exceptional book on the risks of following Jesus that avoids over-promising some easy life but rather offers an intelligent, classic feel to the most central pursuit of the Christian. Hope you check it out.

You can buy it and learn more here.
Follow Ed on Twitter and check out his blog
Check out Derek’s author page on Amazon
And if you are interested in seminary, check out the place we graduated from – Biblical Seminary.

My Review of Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

When I got the email inviting bloggers to review Viral Jesus: Rediscovering the Contagious Power of the Gospel by Ross Rohde, I thought a few things. Looks like they misspelled his last name and it’s endorsed by Neil Cole, the author of Organic Church. Sign me up.

Here’s the description from the Publisher:
“By returning to what we once had… We can recover what we once enjoyed. In the early centuries Christianity was an explosive, viral movement that spread by word of mouth. Persecution could not stop it. In fact, it often helped to spread it.
But today, the gospel is no longer spreading like wildfire throughout the Western world. Slowly, Christianity has morphed into something much different…a stable institutionalized religion that no longer grips us with the excitement and spirituality of the early years.  Ross Rohde believes that this excitement and passion can be recaptured. In Viral Jesus he uses examples from the Bible and today to explore how we can return to our roots and once again enjoy the excitement, simple spirituality, and explosive growth of early Christianity.”

If this is your first entry point into the organic/missional church, this may be a helpful read for you. Especially if you have charismatic leanings as Ross does. There’s quite a bit that I appreciated about Ross’ big picture thoughts and he seems like a type of [Read more…]

A Bit About Our Reading Circles

I’ve received a few DM’s and emails about our Reading Circles so here’s a bit of the what and why.
At first glance, one might mistake this for a book club. But it isn’t. For one, I dislike the term “book club.”
And two, our time is not about the book necessarily, the focus is intended to be more on those that have gathered.

The Reading Circle is about conversation to create community for our GC@Night service. Of course anyone can attend, as we have regulars who come from the morning services but because the evening service does not have ministries like Adult Discipleship (and doing these classes in the evening generally do not work), the idea of facilitating discussions in our cafe after the service made sense.

It’s also helpful for those that are not able (or not ready) to be part of a small group. Obviously those who like to read will be drawn but it’s also for people who like to converse and connect and that’ s been the real strength of this time. When people share from their minds and hearts, it goes from being a book club to a moment of community.

The first Circle we did this year at Grace Chapel was Don Miller’s A MIllion Miles in a Thousand Years (We actually did it twice, once in the morning, then in the evening – both went very well). Then we took a month off and Andrew Sullivan’s article “Christianity in Crisis” which was featured on the cover of Newsweek back in April. And today to be consistent with our summer series on the Psalms, we are are starting Reflections of the Psalms by C.S. Lewis.

We’re trying to create community and conversation so the idea is to pick books that will allow for dialogue. Not all books do that easily. If you are in a group of people you don’t know very well, it can be hard to be interesting because most people wish to avoid awkward moments potentially brought on by critique. My idea is to select books/readings that let you disagree. Don Miller is one. Sometimes he’s flippant, sarcastic, irreverent, too honest, and at moments he can come across as self-centered (which he acknowledges when he makes the comment Million Miles is about me writing a book about me making a movie about me which is based on a book about me ….

“Christianity in Crisis” was another example. It was brief, easily accessible and relevant. Honestly, I liked a good bit of the article, and here was my initial review when it first came out  “Wishing Andrew Sullivan a beautiful Easter …”  I think what I liked least was the title – it was so dramatic. But a more appropriate title like, “Issues the Christian Church Should Look Into Resolving So It Can Move Forward” isn’t going to move a lot of Newsweek’s or generate a lot of clicks.

And here we are with Lewis’ Reflections of the Psalms. What I like about the book is that it’s not a scholarly commentary and lives up to its title of being reflective. My hope is that those gathered will feel free to push back against a figure and a mind like Lewis because I think he allows for that in this book. I also hope that his take opens the door for our take on some of what naturally comes out from reading the Psalms.

In all honesty, I’m excited. So, if you around Lexington, come on out, we’ll likely start a little after 7.30p, we’ll have fair trade coffee and tea, some light foods and will be meeting again on the July 8th, 22nd, and August 5th.

We’ll be starting another one in the fall and will most likely be A Faith Of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt. If you are in a book club/reading circle or been a part of one, feel free to add your thoughts. Also, if you are interested in starting one and need some help, know that I’d love to connect – send me an email if it’s easier than posting below.

My Review of Surprised By Laughter by Terry Lindvall

I was sent this book by Book Sneeze, as always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Almost a year ago, I attended a lecture given by Terry Lindvall at the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City. I found the lecture to be pretty interesting, was excited about the book until I saw that it was more than 450 pages. Umm … I’ll wait for the movie. Then it became available through BookSneeze and thought I’d sign up.

Surprised by Laughter is a legit read.  For me it wasn’t an everyday book but a one I enjoyed picking up every so often.

A couple things. This book is written with a dude with a PhD. Just a head’s up – PhD humor is different than regular people humor. This is not to say that people with such degrees aren’t funny – some of them really are. But I think it’s safe to say that Terry’s idea of humor is different then the writers of SNL. So who is Terry Lindvall? He is the CS Lewis Professor of Communication and Christian Thought at Virginia Wesleyan College. He is clearly more than qualified and I found his personality to be relatable, it’s no surprise that he would write a book like this.

Two, this book is not for the casual CS Lewis fan. It’s more than 450 pages! It’s not the next step after reading Mere Christianity. Further, if you are not familiar with Lewis’ personality, sarcasm and wit, this might not be that interesting to you.

What I Liked:
– Because I heard the lecture first, I had an appropriate expectation. So it was easy for me to appreciate (this is why some authors are eager to do book tours right?).
– The writing is fantastic. You would expect that but it better be good if you expect people to make it to the end.
– The research is impressive. But it’s not just library research, so much of Terry’s content is found in the stories that are being told by people who knew Lewis and now the children of people who loved him.
– My favorite aspect of the book is that it gives you such a personal perspective of Jack (Lewis’ nickname). It’s not just analyzing how he uses humor, nor is it strictly about comedic episodes of his life, it’s a much broader take on Lewis’ personality and how he saw the world – this included much humor.
– The inclusion of Jack’s friends. Laughter is best experienced with others and it was great to get that.

What I Wasn’t Sure About:
– More than 450 pages! Though well-written, though well-researched, it was hard to be motivated to read it for what it was. But to be fair, just about everything written about Lewis is too long, so I guess this fits the genre :)

Who I Think the Book Is For
This book is really for CS Lewis fans who have to buy every book with his name on it. But the real benefit of the book is that you really get an incredible look in Lewis’ life and so even if you don’t read all the way to the end, you’ll enjoy what you have read. You probably won’t be funnier but you’ll get to see more of Lewis’ personal life (and you may have a a couple more interesting things to say should you stop by the C.S. Lewis Society in New York City).

Review of Decision Points by George W Bush

A while back I was sent Decision Points by former President George W. Bush through WaterBrook Multnoma’s Blogging for Books program.  As always I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

I know that as ordinary American citizens, we only get bits and pieces of the real stories happening in our world. I realize that our government cannot tell us “everything” as revealing too much information would allow too much vulnerability. I know that our various media outlets filters out details and includes others to sensationalize, sustain attention, occasionally inform and to sell commercial space.

I get all that which was why I was eager to read Decision Points because I thought we’d get more of the story. Now mind you, I’m not expecting a tell-all, nor am I expecting that anything “classified” would be revealed, I did think that I was going to get a little more than a summary of White House Secretary updates and deeper clarifications defending policies and decisions. I was looking for a little more of W’s soul in this book.

What I was looking for was what went into the decisions. What I got were some great stories, accessibility to President Bush’s personality, and helpful recaps of what was going on like in the Gulf War, but I was not satisfied in the sense where I said, “Ohh, that’s what was going on.” If anything, I was surprised by what we already knew …. hmmm …. maybe the media outlets are not that far off, I mean Decision Points affirms quite a bit.

Perhaps my expectations were unfair but here’s why I chose to agree to review it. I really did believe W was going to methodically narrate his thought process of the last 8 years. I expecting him to be a bit more divided, humbled, sobered. After reading it and after thinking about it, I know how naive that was but it’s what I thought going into it. I suppose this is this is the only type of book that can be published within a few years of leaving the White House.

It’s always fascinating reading the insider moments, like his conversations with world leaders like Putin. Of course, my eyes perked up anytime I saw a reference to Iraq and Afghanistan or 9-11. Halfway through the book I realized what I was getting was a walking tour in the exhibit of W’s Presidency. Nothing wrong with that, but I was expecting to enjoy something a little more personal.

I for one believe that history books will be kind to George W. By then, many of us will have forgotten the awful speech deliveries and the overall awkwardness. We’ll probably not remember Decision Points either though. Not saying that to be mean, just an honest thought. Instead, we will think of 9-11, fighting terrorism and the complications associated with that and who knows, in 20 years, maybe he’ll write the memoir 20 that I was looking for.

My Review of Rumors of God by Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson

Note: I have not been asked to review this book by a publisher or by the authors. Like all reviews, these are my sincere opinions.

Rumors of God by Darren Whitehead & Jon Tyson has been sitting on my To-Read shelf for too long and I was glad to read it. Darren is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek and Jon is a church planter in New York. Now Trinity Grace now has six campuses in the City and I’ve always appreciated my interactions with those in their ministry. Having spent the last 5 years in north Jersey, I’ve bumped into Jon a couple of times at various gatherings. I find him to be a good soul in a city that we all know can be grueling.

I appreciated the message and content of the book, really liked the concept, although I was a little thrown off by the subtitle “Discover the Kind of Faith You’ve Only Heard About.” Many have not heard anything good about faith or the Church, and for some, their view of God is rooted in an absent, angry being that roams around the galaxy. From what I know of Jon (and the little that I know of Darren), they know this to be very true. Still, the point is taken, there are a significant number of people who have heard glimpses of the redeeming message of Christianity. So much of what many grace-preaching, sharp and caring pastors are saying is being overpowered by the scandal-rich, crazy, hate-filled verbiage out there. The true gospel is almost coming out like a rumor.

Rumors of God covers a lot of ground. We learn a good bit about these two men who knew each other as teenagers in Australia. We read of their Christian conversions, we see their passion, hustle and glimpses into their personal lives (like Jon’s 2 year old daughter wiping the contents of her diaper on her bedroom walls).

I resonated with much of how they spoke of themes like love, the need for community, social justice and appreciated how they spoke of the Christian Triune God. The book is a great introduction to the Christian faith but it’s also a welcomed re-introduction. I could see this being helpful to the countless who leave the church in college and are now seeking to find something deeper than the materialism and humanism that they traded for. In fairness to them, many churches are not doing an adequate job in preparing their young hearts to leave their homes and churches. I don’t just mean the institutional church, I also mean it in terms of church as a community of families, friends, etc. Each of the mentioned needs to dramatically improve, not just with effort but in perspective as well. Though it would be nice to go further with this line of thought, this is intended to be a book review and I only mention it to say that Rumors of God is especially helpful to this audience.

Chapter Seven “The Radical Individual” was my probably favorite chapter as I find this to be an extremely important message for our culture. Especially for our twenty and thirty somethings who have been groomed by American individualism and promised the world. Which brings up another distinction, “the world” that many of us as X’ers and Millennials are promised isn’t the same one that the Boomers and Builders were talking about. But that also doesn’t really fit in with this book review.

Chapter Four, “Getting the Gospel In Order” threw me a little bit (but I still liked it). It had an excellent central point, it’s orthodox and so forth, I’m not throwing any heresy flags out there. I just thought it was a little too old-school in comparison with the rest of the book. It even had the classic “The officer pulls you over, pays our fine” (gives you his car) illustration. Glad to see the illustration of the railroad engineer who takes his son to work and got his little foot stuck … didn’t make the cut. I loathe that story on so many levels. But I’m just being critical because this a blog post. I do want to reiterate that the central point of this chapter is solid; I do like the “Jesus trades identities with us and gives the believer His inheritance” and it is certainly true that the church needs to be known as a place for grace. But I am hardly original in pointing out the church may need some better metaphors in discussing substituionary atonement.

After that, I did find the dichotomy of old-school evangelical versus new school. Which in some ways, works for certain parts of my ministry. While I certainly do not want to dismiss the richness of the last 50 years of evangelicalism, I’m not sure these are the parts worth preserving. And when I say, I’m not sure, I’m not trying to be polite here, I am honestly unsure. This has been on my radar the last 10 years of ministry and while I loved the content of Rumors of God, I’m not exactly the target demographic for it. I found myself thinking about their approach in reaching out to fellow X’ers/Millennials. To be fair, some of this was odd to me because of what I think I know of Jon. (He uses a lot of NT Wright material in his messages and frankly, he uses it really well.) It does make me wonder about the behind the scenes of Christian publishing though.

That’s about as critical as I can be – it’s a great read, especially for a significant number of people who are looking for a better articulation of the Christian faith and hoping for a better church. This may be a book we read together in a future Reading Circle, we’ll see …

If you’re interested, I suggest you follow Darren and Jon on Twitter, check out their book promo video and you can order the book at Amazon.



My Review of Insurrection by Peter Rollins – Part 1

I was sent this book as part of the Speakeasy On Tap Blogger Program. As always I am not required to give a positive review, only an honest one. I also agreed to give a timely review but I failed at that. I’m about a month overdue. Likely no one will notice but the truth is I really wanted to write the right words for this.

First the presuppositions.
I am an admirer of Pete Rollins.
A few years ago, good friend, Thomas Turner of the great blog Everyday Liturgy and I organized an event in Philly that featured Pete (and John Franke). We got to spend some time with Pete and I appreciated his heart. (Didn’t really expect much because he’s a philosopher. Add to that, he’s Irish. An Irish philosopher with a good heart? Let the paradoxes begin!)
Anyway, he was still living in Ireland then and was planning on moving to the States. Now that he has, I’ve been fortunate enough to see him a number of times. Last year I bumped into him in a coffee shop and asked him about his next project. He said this next book may upset some people, among a number of things.

I thought he was exaggerating but here I am, a bit messed up. I’ll get to that in a minute.

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