My Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan

I received a review copy of Francis Chan’s new book Erasing Hell: What God Really Says About Eternity and the Things We Made Up from David Cook Publishing and agreed to post my thoughts this week. I am not required to post a positive review, all of these thoughts are my honest reactions.

Who is Francis Chan? Just about one of the better evangelical speakers around. He has a fantastic presence, possess excellent communication skills, and is “likable”. He has a casual, “say it as it is” style, yet uses a lot of passion, and is Biblically informed. From the back of his book: “Francis is a pastor, international speaker, and church planter, is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Love and Forgotten God. Chan is also on the board of World Impact and Children’s Hunger Fund.”

Why the Book? As you probably know, there has been a lot of interest surrounding heaven, hell, and the afterlife since Rob Bell released Love Wins. A plethora of books are being released on the subject and among all of them, I was interested in reading Chan’s thoughts. As you can see from the previous paragraph, I appreciate him and as a result, know that this post is not objective (as if one actually could be completely objective). I’m sure most of these books are not being written mainly out of a motive for profit but I’ve been wrong before. If you know Chan’s story, you’ll know that money is not a motivating factor for him which draws me more to the book and given the attention surrounding these types of books, I feel this should be said.

What I Liked
– He and his friend Preston Sprinkle (who has a Phd in New Testament studies and is a professor at Eternity Bible College) spent as much attention has possible focusing on the Biblical texts that talk about the afterlife.

– As alluded to earlier, because of who Chan is, I was excited to read how he would respond to Bell. Though I didn’t always appreciate what Chan was saying, I did like how he was saying it. And I find that to be very important if we really are interested in conversation.

– The tone of the book is very pastoral. I’m a sucker for this and I know I keep saying it but there are good number of pastors who know how to address an audience. I think Chan does as excellent of a job as anyone.

– This is an excellent book for small group study and expect that it will sell numerous copies for this reason alone and I’m sure there will be a group study questionnaire guide released by the time I finish this post.

– Really liked Chapter 2 “Has Hell Changed? Or Have We?” (not really the title but the content was solid) and loved Chapter 5 entitled, “What Does This Have to Do with Me?” Seriously, the best chapter in the book and reminds of why I appreciate Chan. I’d even say that chapter saved the book for me.

– Liked his treatment of “gehenna”. I did always believe that Jesus is referring to a garbage dump and I’m yet not convinced that he’s not. However, between Chan and Scot McKnight’s post on the subject, I do need to give it’s due attention.

– I expected Chan to lay off certain difficult thoughts (like in Chapter 6 but he took everything head on). Not sure if he gave it the space needed but it’s an excellent summary that points to God’s sovereignty and man’s need for humility.

– Chan’s wrestling with certain difficulties (but I quietly wished he would have shared more).

– the bibliography (though I wished he would have used NT Wright’s Surprised By Hope a bit more)

What I Wasn’t Crazy About

– As much as I like Chan, I really didn’t like the title or subtitle (didn’t really care for the video either). I know many times the author doesn’t decide on that and I get what they’re trying to say but I feel it’s poorly titled. I also find the subtitle to be pretentious. Does anyone really know what God says about eternity? Let he who is without sin lift up his perfect hermeneutics.

– Not sure of the first chapter on universalism was the place to begin though it was well-written. After my second reading, I thought chapters 1 and 2 should have been flipped. That said, I think Bell would agree with what Chan is saying and respond with, “Right that’s why I’m not a universalist either.”

– I felt that Chan wasn’t really responding to Bell but instead merely recentering the classic evangelical teaching of eternity. He just happens to say it better than most because of his exceptional communication skills but I think discerning readers will be a disappointed that they already know much of this content (though it’s well organized). Consequently, if you are coming to this conversation late, I suggest you read Erasing Hell first, then read Love Wins. Because even though Chan references passages in LW, Bell is responding what Chan is articulating. Anyone else see this?

– While I didn’t want Chan to go blow for blow with Bell (like the way DeYoung did in his .pdf), I was expecting a little more engagement since it was marketed as a response. I would be very interested in seeing what was edited out :) Perhaps, I should say, it’s a good book, but not an excellent response.

– I feel there is room to speculate on the afterlife when you offer the disclaimer that you are speculating. Thus, I wished that Chan would have shared his imagination a bit more. That is what’s so powerful of the first third of Bell’s LW.

With all sincerity, I did enjoy reading Erasing Hell and I expect it to be the better among the “Response to Bell” books that are being released.
And though the content is much thicker than LW, it’s still reader-friendly. My advice is wherever you start read Surprised By Hope by NT Wright , Love Wins and Erasing Hell if you really are interested in the subject.

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.

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.

My Review of Jolt! by Phil Cooke – The Better of the Self Help Stuff

I was given a copy to review Phil Cooke’s new book Jolt! a few weeks ago by Book Sneeze. You should know that I am not required to give a positive review and that these words are as honest as they can be.

Here’s a bit of context first:
Who is Phil Cooke?
According to his bio:  Phil Cooke, a writer, speaker, and filmmaker, is changing the way business, church, and nonprofit leaders influence and engage the culture. Christianity Today calls him a “media guru.” His media company, Cooke Pictures, advises many of the largest and most effective churches and nonprofit organizations in the world. A founding partner in the commercial production company TWC Films, he also produces national advertising for some of the largest companies in the country. His books and online blog at are changing the way religious and nonprofit organizations tell their story. He’s lectured at universities, such as Yale, University of California at Berkeley, and UCLA and is an adjunct professor at the King’s College and Seminary and Biola University in Los Angeles. His new book is Jolt!: The Power of Intentional Change in a World that’s Constantly Changing.

I like Phil Cooke. I saw him make a presentation on social media at the Collyde Summit and bought a few of his other books like Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t . When I first heard about Jolt!, I was underwhelmed because I didn’t like the title (it reminded me of the Wham! Sock! Jolt!i in the old Batman tv series). Then I read that it was a self-help type of book and I’m not really into those. I already have enough help making me wish I had someone else’s life. In fact, I think there should be more books about how my life is so good and why you should want me to keep it the way it is. :)  By the way, if this is your first time on my blog, sarcasm and self-deprecation are consistent themes here.

But since I agreed to review it, I thought I’d give a good and fair skim. However, as I was skimming, I liked what I saw so then I started reading it. Further what drew me in at the Collyde Summit kept me interested here and that’s Phil’s personality. It occurred to me that most of the self-help stuff I read and resented could be based on the fact that I thought the writer was pretentious. In all honesty, I never really wanted their lives because I am more interested in a better version of my own. And that’s what Jolt! is about.

It’s called Jolt! because Phil describes that everyone needs a shake-up to get them out the holding pattern they feel stuck in. You need to get jolted out of it … Admittedly, it’s better than Wham! and Sock and Your Better Life Now :)

Who Should Read It:
Those who already like self-help/personal improvement/leadership/organizational management books. If this is your thing, I believe this is up your ally.
Those who never read these aforementioned books. Let’s face it, part of the reason we probably don’t like these books because it reminds us of failed resolutions and bring up guilt. I’ll be the first to say there are a lot of bad books in this field, I feel this is an excellent one.
I could see a church staff or a non-profit read this together.
I could also see a small group of young professional types reading it. (Though more ideal for those working together).

What  I Liked:
It’s Christian without speaking Christianese. I’ve seen other self-help types written by Christians to be very shallow and almost divorced from the faith they claim to espouse. Phil has a good balance of wisdom without the preachy sermon. I assume this balance is informed by being a pastor’s kid and working in the television/film industry. In any case, the last third is definitely more Christian and is a part of the section “Jolt Your Future”.

The quotes like:
“None but a coward dares to boast that he has never known fear.” – Ferdiand Foch, WWI French Military General
“Everything communicates” – Brad Abare, branding and organizational consultant.
“Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources. If we waste it on frivolous communication, we will have nothing left when we really need it.” – John Freeman, The Tyranny of E-mail.

I liked who inspired Phil like Thomas Edison, CS Lewis, Winston Churchill, Seth Godin, Jim Collins, etc.

I can’t say enough about Phil’s tone. He’s urgent without being annoying. He’s not motivational in the sense that he’s dangling a carrot in front of you, it’s more inspiring. And I believe that’s why I don’t classify this as a typical self-help book.

Lastly, I liked its relevance for today’s reader. He talks a lot about social media, our fast-paced world, and the entertainment industry. As mentioned, I don’t read a ton of these types of books, but I know this seems unique to what’s out there (and what I’ve alread read).

What I Would Have Liked to Have Seen:
More quotes.
Perhaps an appendix of resources, suggested periodicals, sites, tools, management systems, etc.

So if you need a change but are suspicious of these types of books, I do think Jolt! will be a good thing for you.
Order it here through Amazon ($15)

For more check out his site and watch his promo video

Review of The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family

If you like Matthew Paul Turner (Jesus Needs New PR) and appreciated his hilarious semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in a Conservative/fundamentalist home Churched and you appreciate history, Andrew Himes’ new book The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family is a fantastic read. It’s a legitimate, historical and academic account of not just a fundamentalist upbringing upbringing but growing up in practically the royal family of fundamentalism.

I know what some of you are thinking – Who is Andrew Himes?? I didn’t know either until I stumbled upon him on MPT’s blog. He is one of the grandsons of John Rice who was a pastor, revivalist and published the newsletter of the fundamentalist movement – “The Sword of the Lord”. I’ll put to you this way – John Rice helped launch Billy Graham’s career. At his funeral, Jerry Falwell called him “God’s man for the hour” and Andrew tells the story of how he did everything he could to not debate Falwell at the reception of his grandfather’s funeral.

Andrew was also the black sheep of the family. I know what you are thinking – How hard can it be to be a black sheep of a fundamentalist family? I mean, put on a pair of jeans and listen to a few songs on the radio and your fundie grandmother will cry herself to sleep while praying for your wicked soul. But first, it seemed that Grandma Rice was an incredible woman (he talks highly about that). Second, Andrew really was liberal – at one point he was a Vietnam war protesting Marxist at the University of WI and this was his path for the next 10 years.  Yeah, when growing up in the 60’s-70’s, that qualifies as a rebel in most American families.

Aesthetically, it’s not a pleasing book and I fear that people who would really enjoy the content will be turned off by the cover and it’s probably a terribly titled book because it contains the words “American Fundamentalism” and “sword”. But if there is ever a time to NOT judge a book by its cover, it’s this one.

Who This Book Is For:
… those who love history, specifically church history. However, because Christian fundamentalism became so big in this last century, there is so much American history here as well. Andrew chronicles his family history immigrating from Ireland, then where his ancestors were during the civil war, their involvement with the KKK, their rejection of the KKK, their personal involvement in the Civil Rights movement, the Scopes Trial and their deep connections with figures like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. It’s a pretty incredible family history and even more compelling because Andrew is able to call out the missteps while also sharing the blessings.
Those who want to see how fundamentalism mutated from a good idea to what we have today. Pretty fascinating.
Those who want to see how “control” has always been one of the most damaging themes throughout church history. Pretty tragic.
There’s even a Mark Driscoll reference. Yep, Andrew calls him a fundamentalist.  (Hey, they’re both in Seattle, hmmm).
There’s a Kenda Dean reference from her stellar book Almost Christian.  Yep, Andrew thinks her points are brilliant.

Why I Am So Interested In It
As a Liberty University graduate, I get fundamentalism but also, there’s so much I don’t get. Frankly, I almost didn’t make it at Liberty  (I tried to drink the Kool-Aid but eventually, I threw it back up). Had it not been for a the honest words of a few religion professors and falling in love with the beautiful woman who would become my wife, and some great friends, I would have transferred.  Between the history and the Jerry Falwell pieces, I found this compelling.

The Sword of the Lord brings such a focused context from the Rice family and Andrew narrates the fundamentalist monologue so well (without villainizing).  As the book winds down, you get a sense of how Billy Graham is feeling the need to do something different, which will be later called the “Evangelical Movement”.  Which by the way, he becomes my favorite figure of the book (a testimony of Andrew’s fair writing).

The book finishes with a few of Andrew’s reflections and I only wish he had written more and maybe he will in a future book.  In any case, I hope you read this.  Here are a few links and he’ll be speaking live today at Town Hall Seattle and you can watch the Live Stream here at 5PST.  Today is the book’s release date, you can buy it here through Amazon.

You can also check out his telling of his questioning because of his own church’s racism.


Watch live streaming video from andrewhimes at

Review of Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren

I loved Brian McLaren’s latest book, Naked Spirituality – A Life With God in 12 Simple Words. It was sent to me by The Ooze Network as part of their Viral Bloggers program. I am not required to write a positive review so know that these are my honest thoughts.

In truth, the book caught me my surprise. There wasn’t a lot of attention surrounding it, not much praise, no criticisms, not even a “Farewell Brian McLaren” tweet. In looking back on it, I think we all know why. Which in some way, it made the reading experience a little more satisfying to me.

The point of the book is about getting naked – not physically, but spiritually. It’s about stripping away the symbols and status of public religion – the Sunday-dress version people often call “organized religion”. There is a number of audiences this book could work for. The obvious one is anyone interested in spiritual formation. Second is the over-churched or those that are very discontent with the idea of “organized religion”. In the intro, Brian says he is also writing to the “Spiritual but Religious”.  And I’ll agree, especially for the “intelligent unchurched and seeking”  (Check out his video below).

Good books begin well (they should end well too) and I appreciated his introduction of why he incorporates the term “naked”. Frankly, I wince any time the term is mentioned in public, especially in a Christian setting. But Brian echoes Jesus here and says when the Lord taught his disciples to pray, he said go in your closet, where you are naked, and when you pray be “naked” before the Lord. Naked = void of all pretense, absent of all self-righteousness, completely baring your pure, soul to your Maker. In this sense, not only is the imagery not awkward, but the idea of soul to soul with God is quite beautiful and appropriate for prayer..

I was fortunate enough to hear this material on one of our Biblical Seminary retreats last year. Speaking for so many of us, we loved it. His insights on spiritual formation are fantastic. Years of pastoral ministry, his more recent work in traveling and writing and his personal seeking of the Lord offers so much wisdom that it’s a joy to read and reflect upon. It was interesting to read some of the points and illustrations he used during our time together.

Most people know Brian as a postmodern type who is vague and objectively elusive but in this book, he is reflective and very transparent. In fact, I’m interested in seeing the feedback here. My hope is that some of his critics will be moved by his God-fearing heart.

Anyway, here’s a summary of what I liked:

Among the reasons I appreciate Brian is his humility. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and read his books – even when I disagree with his points, I always appreciate the way he intelligently articulates himself with such humility.

The “12 Words” are pretty solid (wasn’t sure I would but It resonated very much with me). I’m rarely satisfied with any book/subtitle that claims to have “10 Steps for Better-living” but this worked for me. What I really liked were the double chapters that looked at each word from different angles. This not allowed for shorter chapters but allowed the reader to really appreciate the two angles on the same word. The twelve words he uses are Here, Thanks, O, Sorry, Help, Please, When, No, Why, Behold, Yes and “…” (which is a cool idea).

He also divides the 12 words into the “4 Seasons of Life”. Thinking about these words with the backdrop of these seasons of life was an added feature as opposed to seeing the words “Part 2″.

His sources – Kempis, Rohr, Merton, Bruggemann, Lewis, Yancey. Need more of some, can’t have enough of others.

An excellent appendix too that includes a section on Group Practices, Body Prayers, Simple Prayers and Discussion Guide.

Appreciated his diverse inclusions from different religions but his central emphasis on Jesus. Brian is gifted at showing the reader God’s goodness found in not so obvious places. For those who appreciate the idea of natural law/grace, there’s some great anecdotes here.

For people who pray, this is a must read.

His reinterpretation of the Prayer of Jabez. Seriously, it’s about time someone wrote about this prayer that Bruce Wilkerson hijacked and made millions from.

I loved the emphasis on the Holy Spirit. He even articulates a great case for Pentecostalism. Now I’m not persuaded to be Pentecostal in the “traditional Pentecostal” sense but I did appreciate where he was coming from.

What I wasn’t sure about:
Brian always throws me a bit with his love for evolution. I’m all for micro-evolution and he always depicts God as the Creator and the Divine Hand behind it all but as an honest reader, I wonder if he credits too much to the theory of evolution (It’s still a theory, right?). Brian loves nature and I appreciate his insights but sometimes I find the evolution commercials to be distracting.

Only 12 words? I’m sure he had a list of 50 and many of these words were probably synonymous with each other. I would have been interested in seeing the words that didn’t make it – is there a B-sides project here?

My most critical point is I think he took it a little easy on “The Season of Spiritual Surviving” section. I found myself wondering if he was avoiding controversy or just a much godly person than me. Don’t get me wrong, it was honest, it was pastoral, it invoked hope, etc. but if I had to narrate my inner monologue, I think I was looking for some more anger and emptiness. I’m also a big Radiohead fan so maybe it’s unfair to project my presuppositions here.


For Gen-Xers who were moved by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, I think this book is perfect for you. It’s fresher. In comparison to Celebration of Discipline, one of the most influential books of my life, Naked Spirituality does an excellent job in reminding you that you are naked in your closet before the Lord. Your closet is still connecting to your home, your neighborhood, your world. You’re naked but in some sense, so is everyone else – they may just not realize that they are before God. This is my favorite feature of the book and I highly recommend it.


A Sarcastic Youth Pastor’s Review of Tim Keller’s Excellent The King’s Cross

Regular followers of the blog know that I like to read and review books. I get them from a number of publishing houses blogger programs and then there books that I simply choose to read – The King’s Cross by Tim Keller was one I wanted to read.

There’s a lot I like a lot about Keller. I know some of my friends feel he gets too much attention and to some extent it’s true but like others, there overplayedness shouldn’t actually detract us from appreciating their work (while some of my friends love him). Among his qualities, I like his use of words and concepts and he tends to have the right pastoral balance of intelligence and simplicity when preaching/writing to congregations filled with life-long Christians and seekers. It’s a quality that I hope to mature in.

I was interested in reading The King’s Cross for a couple reasons. One, it’s on the book of Mark and we just finished teaching that in Sr. High Sunday School class (yep, as I was reading I had plenty of thoughts of, “Oohh I wish I would have used that illustration.” There were a also a couple of thoughts of “Hmm, I’m not sure he’s right about that one but hey, who am I? ;)

The second reason I wanted to read this was all my books I’m reading this Lent have to do with the Christ’s work on the cross. So far it’s been Love Wins and Community of Atonement. If Bell’s book was the provocative piece (at least semi-provocative), and McKnight the theological teaser (not sure you can find a more brilliant book that only has 120 pages), then Keller’s book was the devotional.

Please do not read in too much into my use of devotional. I was trying to avoid reading critically (not that it’s a switch you can turn off). I did need to continue reminding myself that these are sermonic in nature and he is consciously avoiding certain features of Mark. So when he doesn’t frame the parables in the context of Mark the way Wright does (even though he’s quoted throughout the book), it’s intentional on his part. It’s not a cheap treatment, definitely not boring or cheesy, but it’s more classic and reinforcing. Hope that makes sense.

Third, I wanted to read it because I’m accustomed to answering ‘No’ to the question, “Have you read Keller’s latest?” Like I mentioned already, I like Keller but I’ve tangled with his following from time to time (The Keller Klan? You heard it here first). I must say that things changed for me after he brought NT Wright to Redeemer but I digress.

I really liked his use of illustrations:
Now, don’t get me wrong, every illustration has a breaking point and when you’re a youth pastor, even when you steal a brilliant illustration from CS Lewis or Martin Luther or even the Apostle Paul, students still say it sucked. Give that same illustration in sermon on a sunday morning, and their parents will cry and grandparents will repent of their sins. I’m telling youth ministry is where it’s at. So of course over the years, I have become a consignor of illustrations. Keller’s church is in Manhattan (and that’s almost as tough of a crowd as AP suburban teens) he needs to have decent illustrations. (But then again, they like Trump too so … :).

Just an example, no one I am aware of has ever used Harry Potter in an illustration relating to substitutionary atonement – a little 2005 emergent, no? :). Anyway, I loved it. And I look forward to his next book The Apostle’s Execution when he uses the Twilight Series to illustrate the Council of Jerusalem. #rumorsIamstarting

Again, Keller writes/speaks beautifully to church people and seekers and as he says in this video, “and everyone in between”. If you are looking for a classic Christ-centered devotional-type on Mark, I hope you check it out.

Here’s the first chapter.


My Review of Rob Bell’s #LoveWins – What I Liked and What I Wasn’t Crazy About

At this point where does one begin when describing Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins? Much digital ink has been spilled and in my opinion, a lot of it has been worthwhile. Here’s why. First, sincere, God-searching discussion is good. Second, right or wrong, the potential influence of this book serves as both a wake-up call and a reminder to the Boomer Generation. The wake-up call is that countless people (especially those outside our church) are asking these types of questions and these other subjects cannot be ignored, spoken over, or be given shallow answers. The reminder to the Boomer-age evangelical is that the Christian faith is to be shared by each living generation as we remember the words of previous ones and as we pray for future ones. X’ers and Millennials would do well to take note, it will be our turn one day soon too ;)

For those who see these words as exaggerated, consider how social media has shaped this conversation. I have no doubt that this whole scene is drastically different if there were no such things as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. It’s a changing world and ideas in books in moments like these reveal that. And frankly, Rob Bell is an excellent person to demonstrate this. I only regret that we have not recognized other voices similar to Rob Bell.

Know that I understand the concerns and the ramifications of getting too carried away of what Rob Bell is saying (“What if people completely lose their urgency for the Gospel? We barely have any as it is!” “If people can find Jesus in the afterlife, how do we convince people to follow him in this life?) I’m a conservative, I get this. And while this could be a different post altogether, I think it’s worth saying, that if our hearts are set to pursue the generous truth that Christ offers, consequences and ramifications are secondary, just above trivial. If we want urgency for the Gospel, let us invite people to life in the Kingdom of Jesus now, let us live the Jesus’ heaven on earth here. If you understand what I mean by this, you probably have a good idea of what heaven and earth is really about.

Talking about Love Wins is a bit like ruining a movie. There’s huge rush to answer and judge certain questions, “Is Rob a universalist? No?? Well, he’s still a heretic”, “Does he believe hell is real, here, there, forever, empty, full?” “What? Well, he’s still ambiguous” … So I’m going to do my best not to ruin too much for you because you really should read it for yourself. But he asks great questions, offers excellent insights but my favorite part of the book is that his heart comes through, and I would suggest, interestingly, it comes through stronger than any Nooma video, sermon, or HD production he’s ever given.

Here’s More of what I Liked:
While promoting the book, I liked how Rob went on every talk show and said that God is grieving too over what happened in Japan. In a world of Pat Robertson’s and John Pipers who state that God sends earthquakes and tornadoes when He’s angry, this is a beautiful pastoral moment of evangelism. (Btw, I always wonder what the mindset is when evangelist types say that – Have they not read Genesis 9? Or is God off the hook on the technicality that the entire world wasn’t destroyed? Seriously, many times a very terrible image of God is portrayed to our world).

I loved the questions he asks. Like what does happen to a 15 year old atheist that dies in a car accident? I’m a youth pastor – this question cuts deep. Further, we are overdue for an intelligent discussion on the age of accountability.

I really did like how Rob describes the hell on earth. We as evangelicals need to do a better job at acknowledging those in and going through terribly painful times.

Appreciated how he described that different people have very different understandings of “Jesus”. As much as we evangelicals want to present a “Biblical” version of Jesus, we must acknowledge that for many outside the church, their take on Jesus is extremely different from ours – thus a great part of the reason why they are outside the church.

How he described how different people have had very different salvation encounters with Jesus. He uses the gospel narratives very well here.

The Deconstruction of it all. He does a great job at describing the Hebrew understanding of the afterlife, the idea of “forever”, and of course, heaven and hell.

I loved the honesty and openness of it. He allowed for a lot of mystery and the wondering about God is an amazing experience for any faithful believer.

What I Wasn’t Crazy About
Though I really liked how he used Scriptures and commend him from not shying away from certain passages, he was a bit care-free in throwing them around and I think a proper study of some of his examples may be counter-productive. I am afterall, a conservative evangelical, and I think he could have done better here (which would have made the book longer and less pastoral but this is the trade-off). That said, I will concede that most of them serve his big point in some way.

Wished he would have spent more time talking about the justice and sovereignty of God as those that would champion those attributes from God would be in check or perhaps answered. I know that may have added another chapter to the book but I think it would have been helpful.

The last third of the book. I’ll give it that it was courageous and made for a very interesting read but I feel it came up a bit short for Rob Bell’s standards. It may be similar to an album that after a few listens/reads, I find the brilliance in it but til then, this is my first impression.

His use of Origen and the early church fathers needed more context. I’ll leave it at that except to say critics have implied that he is ignorant of the patristics. Not true if you listen to his sermon podcasts and that’s why I am a bit disappointed here.

I am not sure what he could have changed about the “Does God Get What He Wants?” chapter, He does a great job in presenting his argument, then does an even better job by humbly backing off his argument and stating that it’s a mystery, none of us can actually know the mind of God and so forth. But the problem for me was framing the chapter around that question seemed to undermine his argument and after some thought, perhaps the title of the book as well. In other words, Rob says that freedom must have love, if not, it’s not love. Excellent – I’m there with you. But then God potentially does not get what He really wants. We may hope that His love will eventually melt all hearts and therefore win but I took the title of the chapter to be a rhetorical question and the title, “Love Wins” to be declarative. But I’ll give any non-Calvinist credit for for asking that question though.

Therefore, if I may be so bold, perhaps the book should have focused more on Life than Love. I know it’s not as catchy and it may be splitting hairs but I think the “life” angle works even better (and obviously Jesus’ work is rooted, motivated, fulfilled out of love)

For all the talk on mystery and so on, I was really waiting for him to say more about the work of the Holy Spirit. This is my biggest letdown of the book.

Right now, Kevin DeYoung is working on a book called, “Why Love Doesn’t Always Win – Wrath, Anger, Torment and Reflections from a God-Appointed Warrior Who Hates Sin”

All in all, it’s a really good book and a great conversation starter. I hope it’s lovingly discussed in churches, small groups, living rooms, coffee-shops, pubs, and wherever else open-minded dialogue is welcomed. You can order the book here (only $12 from Amazon).

My next post is on how we using terms like “unbiblical, unorthodox, “Making the gospel palatable”, etc. are not helpful for humble truth/God-searching discussion.

Recapping the Rob Bell Controversy #Lovewins Part 2 – A Few More Links Since the Book Release

Of the 140 million tweets per day, almost half of them are about Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. I’m not really tired of the discussion because, frankly, I think it’s worth having. A few of my friends have asked for my thoughts and while I finished the book, I’m still working on how to appropriately share them (I like the book and only have one major complaint and a bunch of “yeah, I think I see what he’s saying, I’m not sure about that though”‘s). I have about three posts on the book and the reactions about it. But before I do, here are some of the links that I enjoyed over the past week or so.

Eugene Peterson’s thoughts
“I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell says. But I think they’re worth saying. I think he puts a voice into the whole evangelical world which, if people will listen to it, will put you on your guard against judging people too quickly, making rapid dogmatic judgments on people. I don’t like it when people use hell and the wrath of God as weaponry against one another…”

David Fitch’s post The Rob Bell Fiasco: Why We Can’t Have This Conversation. Regretfully, I resonate with the evangelical-divide idea. I’m also interested in reading David’s new book The End of Evangelicalism?

Rob Bell on Good Morning America.

Rob Bell on MSNBC’s Martin Bashir Show – This one got a lot of attention because Bashir accused Rob of making the “gospel palatable” and rephrased the same question 3 times. I have a little bit to say about that and hope to post soon.

RELEVANT Magazine has a great online interview with him, entitled Is Rob Bell a Universalist? I thought the most interesting part was his answer to the question “Are your feelings hurt by the response and what has been said about you and your ideas?”

You can still watch the Livestream here.

And order the book here (only $12 from Amazon)

My Review of Matthew Paul Turner’s Churched

I had the opportunity to review Churched for the Blogging for Books program by Multnomah Books.  I think I’m supposed to say that I am not required to write a positive endorsement, only an honest one.  Faithful readers should know that by now, new readers, beware :)

As a fan of MPT and his blog Jesus Needs New PR, I’m not sure what took me this long to read Churched. It’s a pretty fast read, I finished it in a night.
Here are my thoughts:

It is legitimately funny. Matthew is not only a fantastic story-teller but also has an excellent sense of humor that you can tell has been refined over his years on teen-retreats in a church van.

Second, it’s therapeutic. You cannot help but feel comforted by the similarities of your own family, church, and inner monologue.

Third, there is a warning contained here for all of us pastors, church leaders, parents – these kids we have now eventually get older, acquire book deals and do a tell-all as if they were a politician’s girlfriend. Ask the Lord to help you bring your A-game everyday.

Lastly, based on this, there are two types of people who should read it: Christians raised in fundamentalist churches (especially in the 80’s and 90’s) and parents who raised their children in these types of churches. The book is marketed to the former, but I think it would be extremely interesting for Boomer parents to read what was going in our heads throughout those years. I kept thinking, I bet a lot parents have no idea that this is how so many of us felt. It is written with enough humor and exaggeration that I think it’s very possible for it not get overly personal. Just a thought.

MPT does a great job in not preaching at all in this book – it’s all in the dialogue and the sarcasm. He creates these caricatures (please let them be caricatures) that reminded me of what Matt Groening did with his own family and upbringing when he created the Simpsons (yes, the concept of the Simpsons is based on a true story).

Perhaps the most insightful thing I can say about the book is this – the greatest thing fundamentalism did for kids like us, is that our existing faith is evidence of the Holy Spirit. There are thousands of us who were raised in this no long hair, no tattoo, no secular music message of Christianity and crawled out the other end of the CCM sewer, found Jesus and raised our hands like freed people in the Lord Shawshank Redemption style.

Again, it’s a fun read, hope you check it out.