A Quick Endorsement of Kevin Belmonte’s The Quotable Chesterton

As part of the Blogger program BookSneeze, I was excited to pick up The Quotable Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte. In some ways, he’s like a Bob Dylan, everyone quotes him, but he’s not as listened to/read like he should be.

GK Chesterton was a theologian that we, evangelicals should be reading more of. We don’t for a number of reasons. One is that he isn’t the easiest to read. Two, is that we have hidden him under CS Lewis (who loved and quoted Chesterton extensively). He said, “Chesteron had more sense than all the other moderns put together”.

It’s this realization that Kevin Belmonte offers The Quotable Chesterton. He writes in the intro that Chesterton was quite the star in the early 20th Century. The Times tracked his life and writing throughout his career, even putting his death on Page 1 back in 1936. George Bernard Shaw considered him a “colossal genius”, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway found ways of including his writing in their books like The Man Who Was Thursday and Into Three-Day Blow.

Everyone took notice of his faith, including the New York Times that wrote this of his legacy, “Mr. Chesterton talks about God because God is the most interesting subject for conversation that there is.”  His most popular book Orthodoxy, is considered among the greatest of Christian classics.

Here are a few of the shorter quotes that I enjoyed from:

“Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities.”

“He is a very shallow critic who cannot see an eternal rebel in the heart of a conservative.”

“Without education, we are in a horrible danger and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

Being a book on quotes, it’s not exactly reading, but more of a resource or in my case, a devotional (like Proverbs). It’s in this way that books like these are of value. So if you are “C.S. Lewised Out” or in need of some “new old ideas”, or better, want to begin reading an often-overlooked brilliant literary and theological mind, pick up The Quotable Chesterton: The Wit and Wisdom of G..K. Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte.

My Review on Scot McKnight’s One.Life

As a fan of Scot McKnight, I was excited to read his new book One.Life Here’s the official synopsis from Zondervan:
In One.Life, Scot McKnight offers a manifesto of Christian faith that beckons readers out of the rut of religious rituals to the high places of Christian living. What does it look like to follow Jesus? Find out what it means to embrace the vision of God’s kingdom in a way that awakens your finest dreams and shapes your entire life.

It’s for everyone but who will really like it are … College Age/Young Adult students. Though anyone can read this book, Scot is in “reflecting outside the classroom” mode using examples of college age and young adult students.  It will be appropriate enough for some senior higher students to enjoy and older readers who appreciate newer perspectives will like it too. Further, if you have been “raised in the Church” and feel either confused or disenchanted about what the Christian faith is about, this book is an excellent telling of what you may have missed/not given.

For those of you to busy to read a lot … This is a fast read written in a popular level by a legitimate Christian scholar. For all the times you wished the academics would get out of their ivory towers, McKnight has not only left that a long time ago, but now he’s knocking on your door. Seriously, this is an easy and excellent read.

What I really liked about it … I like how people like Scot talk about Jesus and how he articulates the Kingdom. It’s among my favorite subjects but what makes this book different from perhaps an NT Wright book is that it’s even more accessible to readers.

My favorite chapters were probably …

Imagined.Life -I appreciated what Scot says about Jesus’ use of parables, empty religion, and Kingdom life. Last line of chapter is great – “A Christian, then, is one who follows Jesus, devotes his or her One.Life to the Kingdom vision, and uses her or his imagination to see what God can do in this world. This imagination is nothing other than kingdom imagination shaped by Jesus’ parables.”

I also liked what he said about sex. Not bad for a Christian college prof. Using  many different sources like writer Laura Sessions Stepp who says, “A girl can tuck a Trojan in her purse on Saturday night, but there is no such device to protect her heart”. The brief section on sex and science was not only thoughtful but reminded me how few Christian writers like to mention science in this way. Lastly there’s some direct and practical advice, “It is impossible to engage in the hookup culture without damaging your brain’s innate desire for healthy, faithful, emotional bonding.”

Truly like the Eternal.Life chapter that focused on the afterlife, heaven and hell. It’s impossible to compare it to Wright’s Surprised By Hope (it’s not only half the size but a different type of book altogether) but those like me who have loved that book will appreciate much of what Scot says here. There was a part of me that wanted him to go further but what I really liked was the revealing of his inner monologue. It’s precisely the lack of this with so many other scholars/pastors who insist on certain parts of the after-life (as though they have been there) that puts off the Gen-Xers and Millennials.


As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m a fan of Scot’s, have enjoyed his blog over the years and loved one of his more popular books The Jesus Creed. Again, One.Life is aimed to young minds and among the many wise words offered, his pastoral heart really emerges here. Those college students in his classes, his audiences, and here, his readers, are in great hands – I highly recommend One.Life.

Review of Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code

Primary Audience – Pastors and Church Leaders

Review of Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code by Samuel R. Chand

All in all, I appreciated Dr. Chand’s book. As you can tell from the title, every church/organization has its own culture that must be understood before strategic planning then implementation can take place. In some way, it’s “captain obvious” but as obvious as it, I know of very few leadership books that spend an adequate amount of time offering perspectives on understanding your church’s culture.

My favorite chapters were 1 (Culture Trumps Strategy), 4 (Vocabulary Defines Culture) and 7 (Changing Vehicles) and they probably best contain the outworkings of his thesis. Chand offers some solid thoughts in those chapters (and throughout the book, of course). It’s easy for me to see why this is a part of the Leadership Network Series, a “brand” I take seriously.

Those who will profit the most from it are “big church guys” in traditional churches that have a big boat to turn around. They are the illustrations most often used and most of the chapters assume you are leading or a part of a larger pastoral staff. Consequently, pastors of smaller churches may like it but may have trouble implementing a lot of the principles. And lastly, those a part of missional-type churches will probably appreciate this the least (though there’s plenty wisdom for you too).

As I was reading, I kept having two thoughts: One, I need to read more leadership books and I’m glad I’m reading this one. And Two, When is he going to get to the part of connecting with the actual congregation. There’s so much attention in dealing with the large church staff, when is the pastor going to communicate his vision that has been tailored to the culture that he and his staff have finally cracked?? The answer is Chapter 7 and that’s my only criticism, it happens a bit too late and is not enough (though Ch. 7 is lengthy). I personally would have liked to hear more of Dr. Chand’s advice relating to the congregation because he seems very qualified. But the problem for me is it’s easier to change your staff culture because at some point, they know they will be dismissed if they don’t get on board. What do you with a church that doesn’t get on board? And what do you with your church when their culture is not to get on board? Again, Chapter 7 (and 8) helps but I would have liked to see more of the book focused on that (as the title implies).

Once you understand the trajectory of the book, I think most will appreciate it and find it insightful. It’s clear, every church has a culture and leaders need to understand it in order to lead it.

Church In the Inventive Age Part 2 – “But There Is Nothing New Under the Sun, Right?”

As mentioned in the last post, I think everyone interested in the future of the Church should read Church in the Inventive Age by Doug Pagitt. While there are a lot of other great books you could read as well, this one is very brief and in my opinion, provides a clear perspective on why the Church needs to invest itself in change.

A couple early quotes from Doug:

“It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that everything in our lives, everything we depend on for basic survival was created in the last two hundred years. Think about your typical day. You wake up in a bed made of materials – internal springs, polymers, anti-microbial fabrics – that didn’t exist 200 years ago. You are awakened by an alarm clock that was invented in 1876 (or maybe an iPod that was invented in 2001). You take a shower (indoor plumbing arrived in the mid-19th century); eat eggs shipped by trucks from a different part of the country, purchased at a grocery store with a credit card, and cooked over an electric stove. You drive a car to work and maybe make a few calls on your cell phone on the way” (p. 3).

10A05E1A-E34E-4D56-AF56-D25DE5924381.jpg“In the last 200 years, American culture has moved through three distinct ages – the Agrarian Age, the Industrial Age, and the Information Age – and is heavily engaged in a fourth – an era I have dubbed the Inventive Age. With each of these ages has come a shift in what we think, what we value, what we do, and how we do it” (p 4).

“I’m calling us to find our place in a swiftly changing culture, to consider how we need to change what we think, what we value, what we do and how we do it. I’m calling us to be the church in the Inventive Age” (p. 5).

Aside from institutional aspects like marriage and so forth, I cannot think of one aspect of my life that I am using that was around prior to 200 years. From the way I drink coffee to the way I interact with others, indeed everything is different in some way.

Every so often when I am discussing this, someone will be quick to remind me that “There is nothing new under the sun.” In moments like these, I would like to take the literal scroll of Ecclesiastes and hit them over the head in hopes I can beat out the strict literalism in their mind. Unfortunately, no one reads from scrolls anymore – we have been using books and e-readers now and these objects are prone to bruising (Actually during the Davidic/Solomonic Kingdoms, scrolls, papyrus, and codex were used together – Go Egyptians! And I do expect an archeologist to dig up an ancient Egyptian Kindle any day now). Still, the printed book, e-reader, the engine, and countless other inventions would have been new to the “The Teacher” of wisdom and frankly, this is not what Ecclesiastes means when saying there is nothing new.

Seriously, for those especially who tend to tune out upon hearing the words “new”, “change” and “rethink”, this is an important era in the life of the Church.  And like very era, we need to be faithful with it.  I would like to convince you that it does not undermine our faith in God, the Scriptures or the leading of the Holy Spirit to see the Church and live out our calling in new ways. In fact, we have been doing it throughout the Church’s history. It would be wise for us to search the ancient ways of the Church and to discover new ones. Doug does an excellent job launching from here and I think once we clarify certain assumptions, a bright and hopeful age becomes possible.

Church In the Inventive Age Part 1

Back in August, I read Doug Pagitt’s latest book, Church in the Inventive Age. It’s excellent. And I have been waiting this long to post it for a few reasons. One is that I procrastinate, sometimes on good things. But the other reason is that I wanted to make sure that I posted it as the blog was moving in a “future church” direction and what better time for those in my local context than now as we move forward after celebrating our 50th Anniversary?

It’s true that I am biased towards appreciating Doug’s work (everyone is biased towards something you know). As one who spends a lot of time working on the problem of why our churches are shrinking, Pagitt is among the few that have insights and answers worth pursuing. Perhaps one of my greatest admirations of him is that he is truly not afraid to question. I think I can only say that about a handful of people. That said, this does not mean that every question he asks is a good one, but many of them are. So when Doug asks, What should the Church look like in the future, I’m interested in that conversation.

But before we jump to the present, Pagitt takes the reader on a quick crash-course on the last 200 hundred years of American Christianity. He divides the years into four ages: Idyllic, Industrial, Informational and presently, the Inventive Age. I don’t think that I have ever seen a better and more concise explanation of that material.  I plan on blogging about this a little more tomorrow.

I have some sense of my readership, I thought it may be helpful to cut to the chase and construct a bit of FAQ or FMS (Frequently Made Statements)

Who Should Read It?
Anyone interested in the future of the church, especially those who do not understand how we got to where we are. For those new to Pagitt or these conversations, this is the easiest book to begin with.

Isn’t Pagit one of those “emergent” guys?
One, praise God he is. Two, I’d really like you to sit down wiht me for some coffee so I can introduce you to a library of resources that would likely change your impression of what “emergent” is/isn’t. (Simplest explanation – It’s a conversation). And three, this book never mentions the term. To my traditional-type friends, consider this like you would a tract. It’s a brief and great overview of the recent history of the Western Evangelical Church, the direction our culture is headed and Doug gives some very broad strokes on how the church should respond. Unless you are against that sort of stuff …

“Because “The Gospel” never changes, can’t we just do the same types of things that we were doing 50-60 years ago? The Church was flourishing then …”
It’s true that Jesus is Lord – that will never change and no one is contesting that. However the proclamation of the Gospel is ever-changing. And while we can debate the success-failures of the last 50-60 years, i think we’ll see that the proclamation of the Gospel was faithful to that age. Thus, copy and pasting that proclamation to today’s world is not helpful. It’s like fixing a new Toyota Prius with the parts of a ’56 Bel Air.

You are really hyping this book, are you getting royalties from it?”

I think one of my pastoral, (if not Christian), duties is to lead people in a necessary direction. Among other Christian disciplines, I try to read a lot of books, I like a lot of them and I try to share the knowledge and hopefully the application of them. And like many, I see things like social networks, blogs, etc. as an extension of the ministry so as always, thanks for taking the time to read here and I hope you consider reading The Inventive Age.

“I Don’t Have Time to Read …”
You should change that. Reading is an essential habit for the growing Christian. Read the Scriptures and read this book, it’s an easy 2 hour read and it’s worth it. Order it here through Amazon or here at Augsburg Fortress for a discount on bulk orders.

By the way, Sparkhouse did a fantastic job on this book and I look forward to reading their  other titles. Not only is the book is aesthetically pleasing in its cover, easy readable text and  chapter display, it’s got a great physical feel to it (take that digital version!), and big quotes  in case you missed the good stuff – seriously they did a nice job.  Also, if you are a youth  pastor or involved in vbs, you should check out some of their curriculum here.

Review of The Search For God & Guinness by Stephen Mansfield

The Search For God & Guinness is an easy book to enjoy, especially for those that love both and so I had some real expectations for this book. Fortunately for me, it was a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend it to my friends.

What stood out was the excellent research that Mansfield provided. He not only did a fantastic job with the facts but he did a phenomenal job of creating the context of the Guinness attitude. In short, it’s a great story. He also has a very easy writing style that moves the chapters along. As a seminarian accustomed to some laborious reading, I found Mansfield’s style to be very refreshing like a nice cold … never mind.

It would be helpful for readers to know that this not a spiritual memoir of Mansfield and not really one of Arthur Guinness either. Instead, it tells the beautiful history of Guinness beer, the company, and their community in Dublin, Ireland. If you are interested in what Google does for its employees, you will be amazed on what Guinness did for their workers. Not only were they generations ahead in benefits and such but also in shaping a culture and an attitude that served the community. If you know a wine-drinking CEO, I’d give them a copy.

I have also found that it was an easy book to talk about. Being about the Guinness company creates a lot of interest among Christian believers and non-believers. Further, because it is not about alcohol, non-beer drinkers could find it of interest as well. Again, there is a lot of social justice and corporate responsibility packed in here.

Evangelicals may look for an overt gospel message but one is not needed. For me, this book is not a gospel tract but rather an excellent conversation starter.   For the simple reason of being such an interesting premise.   My hope is to host book discussions (in an Irish pub of course) that will lead to conversations that will revolve around God, social justice and good beer.  If you are interested, let me know!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Brief Endorsement of A New Kind of Christianity

I’ve been reading the new Brian McLaren book, A New Kind of Christianity and have been trying to figure out what to say about it.  First, it’s pretty good.  Second, I hope people really read it.  Third, it seems to me that people have been very quick to label this book as “(insert your word or phrase here)” but I feel that misses the point of the book.

It reminds me of why I love reading these types of books.
Here’s my basic premise.
1. As a follower of Christ, I love God and others.
2. Because of the New Testament (specifically the Resurrection of Jesus), I believe in the mission of the Church and doing my part in serving God’s Kingdom.
3. The Church is failing to capture the attention of the culture. Meaning more and more, people are becoming less interested in Church, Christianity, and even Jesus.

If this describes you as well but you have not heard of Brian McLaren or heard that he is heretical, I’d like to ask you to read this book before making that conclusion. While I have yet to meet anyone who agrees with Brian point for point, he is one of the good guys. He mentions in the beginning of the book the many labels he has acquired over the years, “Dangerous”, “UnBiblical” and of course as mentioned , “Heretic”. He isn’t. And as a conservative evangelical, I want to continue in the conversations that he raises because I find these conversations to be very important.

For instance he brings up Scripture,
He asks, “What is the Gospel”. Most people like to say that it’s the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which it is but is that all it is?  For years now, I have been discovering that the Gospel is so much bigger than I ever gave it credit for.  He discusses Scripture, the Church and also asks some important questions regarding sexuality.

Again, these are conversations and they are worth having. I encourage those who are interested in the future of the Christian faith to consider picking up a copy of New Kind of Christianity. In the meantime, I plan on posting more about this promising book.

My Review of the Justice Project

Shame on me for underestimating its potential but to put it simply, The Justice  Project exceeded my expectations.    In my defense, I simply could not believe that  one book that asked such wide array of minds to confine their words in only a few  pages each could be so powerful.  Looking back on it, I approached it the way I see  many compilation cd’s.  You know what I’m talking about – those albums created for  a particular cause but are so disjointed that their best feature is that they gave a tiny  percentage of the proceeds to the cause itself.

The Justice Project is nothing like that.  I figured I would like it, but I didn’t realize  how moved I would be by so many chapters.  I know this sounds overly dramatic, but  I am not sure I could figure out which chapter I liked the least.

Similar to the Coldplay effect on music where so many bands decided to incorporate more piano and less guitar, to some, justice is the new novelty of the Christian world.  What the JP does is open the eyes of the reader that justice has always been the mandate of God and part of the scope of the Scriptures but unfortunately, some of us have missed it.

Justice has gotten a bad reputation amongst evangelicals.  Scarred by the missteps of the social justice movement (where the pendulum swung too far), the mission of God became exclusively about winning souls to heaven (the pendulum swung back too far).  In some circles, the term “justice” has gotten a bad rap as it was often modified by the word “social”. And we all know that if you are interested in social justice that you can’t be interested in the resurrection of Jesus too.  Clearly one is completely alien to the other.   This book would help alter that perspective.

If I could read it over again, I would have used this book as a devotional.  I don’t normally use daily “devotionals” and not real crazy about the connotations associated with the term but using this as a daily reading would be beneficial.  There’s a lot to consider.  Like the Hebrew and Greek word for “justice” occur over 1000 times in the Bible.  However, how many sermons have you heard on the subject of justice? I bet you have heard more sermons about sex than you have about justice. Further, I bet that you have rolled your eyes more times at Bono talking about justice than the number of times your pastor has centered a sermon around this subject.

One of the best features of the book is that it includes voices from various ethnicities and from different corners of life.  While there were some very familiar names like Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Lynne Hybels, Samir Selmanovic, Peggy Campolo, the Samsons, about half the names were new to me and I found myself googling them after finishing their chapters.  I especially liked the author bio on the first page of the essay as opposed to the last page.  As you may have heard by now, everything is contextual and it was great to get a hint of where the writer was coming from.  I also liked the way the five parts the book was broken into: The God of Justice, The Book of Justice, Justice in the USA, A Just World, and A Just Church.

As most of the faithful readers of this blog know by now, I direct a lot of words to the conservative evangelicals because I consider myself to be one.  To put it bluntly, if  you can define justice as part of God’s righteousness, and if we as a Church can see and treat it the way we regard evangelism and discipleship in the Kingdom, then  I believe, we would be a more complete Church.  Pick up the Justice Project, it’s excellent.

My Review of The Diversity Culture by Matthew Raley

I received The Diversity Culture by Matthew Raley from the Ooze Viral Bloggers program and this is the review I left on the site:

Here’s the book summary copied from the Ooze: “We are facing a crisis in civility in our society. Whereas in the 1990s polarizing talk radio was a growing novelty, today this level of demeaning, caricaturing, hyperbole-laden discourse is the New Normal in America’s public square. Even worse, it seems to have found a hotbed of grassroots support among American evangelical Christians. Evangelical Christians, it seems, feel the ‘pain’ of our multicultural, pluralistic society more than most. In fact, to many of the rest of us (this would include emerging, mainline, and progressive Christians), multiculturalism and pluralism aren’t negative realities at all, but something to be celebrated. Even so, emerging and missional Christians often wrestle with how to witness authentically to the life of God found in Jesus without culturally steam-rolling our friends, neighbors, and relatives.

Enter a self-confessed ‘conservative evangelical’ California pastor, whose book The Diversity Culture is sub-titled Creating Conversations of Faith with Buddhist Barristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hippies, Political Activists, and Everyone In Between.”

Who I Think the Book is For: A thoughtful, very conservative evangelical whose looking for a change from being inspired by Max Lucado, angered by Bill O’Reilly and has already read all the Ravi Zacharias, John Piper and Chuck Colson one can handle.  If that’s been your diet of books lately, than I suspect that you will appreciate this offering from Matthew Raley.  Honestly, I think this book is for my parents.  Even further for any boomer age parents who have felt they have lost their son/daughter to the “relativism and humanism” taught in the university, this book would help in understanding where their children are/were coming from.

Who I Don’t Think this Book is For: Me.  While I enjoyed reading it, it didn’t alter or challenge me in any dramatic or profound way.  And that’s ok.  I don’t think Raley had postmodern seminarians like me in mind when he was writing it.  I think Doug Pagiit’s A Christianity Worth Believing would be more helpful for the postmodern believer or skeptic. That said, it probably did help me in trying to communicate more effectively to the Boomer generation.  Like Raley, I am a pastor in a Evangelical Free Church and I see myself as a mediator,

What Raley Does Well: 1. I think he offers excellent caricatures of those outside the Christian faith.  There’s a couple but the main one focuses on “The woman at Cafe Siddhartha” which is his coffee shop equivalent of the well.   She really takes life in chapter four or at least that’s when I connected with her.  She’s  an intelligent, culturally savy woman who has given up on the basic faith she was raised with.2.  I like the whole “Cafe Siddartha” theme.  As he explains in the beginning, “Siddartha is the birth name o f the Buddha which translates to “One who has found meaning”. Among other things, he explains that this is the place of understanding the diversity culture.   3. I liked how he continued to weave through Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman as an excellent approach of creating conversation outside of our walls.  4. I liked how he criticized the lame approach of Teen Mania.  Although it was too polite, a thoughtful Boomer will nod in agreement.

What I Would Have Liked to See More of: 1. I think i wanted to feel more of the plurality of what was contained in  the subtitle of the “Buddhist Baristas, Agnostic Students, Aging Hippies…”  2. He has a chapter called, “Be a Heretic” (Ch. 8) and in truth, I was looking for more boldness (or at least one heresy).  It seemed that it should have been called its theme which was “Don’t Be a Hero”.

Concluding Thoughts: Overall, I liked The Diversity Culture. It’s a well written book with excellent themes weaving throughout.  I think it’s strength is in opening the mind of a Boomer in helping him/her understand the mentality of those outside the Christian faith.  We in the church like to say that non-believers are “lost in their sin” and “have hardened their hearts to the Holy Spirit” and dismiss them.  I think Raley will help people see why some non-Christians like being non-Christians and how one can begin a similar conversation as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well at our respective wells and cafes in life.

Samir Selmanovic at Princeton University, Thursday, October 22

Received this email, thought I’d pass it along to anyone interested:

“Friends who live in the vicinity of Princeton University, please come this Thursday, October 22, at 4:30, to Murray-Dodge Hall. Light refreshments and thought provoking material will be served!”

Also, here’s a video of Samir being interviewed.

“I wouldn’t be a Christian without the help of Islam, Judaism, and atheism.”  That’s probably my favorite part of the interview.  I am challenged by that and find it very thought-provoking.  For me as a Christ-follower, it points to an amazing God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  I also embrace the idea of practicing faith in an inter-connected world.  I think this is why so many find these interfaith ideas so challenging – they cannot/don’t want to accept or understand the world we live in now.

I also really like the line, “I want a better kind of certainty.  I want a certainty that does not need to argue for the absence of God in the other in order to affirm the presence of God here.”

Check him out at Princeton and hope you consider reading the book.