Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five Views

youthminMy first thought when I saw the title of this book: “I didn’t even know there were five distinct views, what could they possibly be?” Here they are, in a nutshell:

The Gospel Advancing View by Greg Stier: This view focuses on evangelism, on saving the lost. Stier believes that discipleship happens when the mission (the Great Commission, the “Cause”) is at the forefront.

The Reformed View by Brian Cosby: This view attempts to apply consistently Reformed beliefs and practices to Youth Ministry. This includes an emphasis on faithfulness instead of “success” and a emphasis on the “means of grace”: the Word, prayer, and sacraments, as the primary drivers for youth ministry.

The Adoption View by Chap Clark: Clark believes that we have erred and become too individualistic in our view of discipleship and need to focus, instead, on building up the body of Christ. This view emphasizes the need for churches to “adopt” children into “family” of God by including them more deeply within the broader church.

The Ecclesial View by Fernando Arzola: Like the Adoption view, the Ecclesial view focuses on the Church. Where the adoption view emphasizes the local church congregation, the ecclesial view focuses on the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic” church. It emphasizes connecting youth with the historic church.

The D6 View by Ron Hunter: “D6” stands for Deuteronomy 6. This view argues that it’s God’s design that parents should play the primary role in discipling their children and that the church’s job is to lay the theological foundation, equip the parents for their work, and come along side the parents in a supporting role. The D6 model also emphasizes having and integrated approach to children, youth, young adult, and family ministry where ministry leaders work towards a common goal.

Analysis: In my initial estimation, the Adoption view and the D6 view made the strongest case for being the overarching philosophy for youth ministry. The others are important to keep in mind as well, though, and could provide necessary correctives when things get out of balance.

I’m curious, which of these types of youth groups did you grow up with? What worked and what didn’t?

Book Review: Prophetic Lament

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah, like the book of Lamentations of which it is is a sort of hyper-contextualized commentary, offers a counterbalance to the dominant voices of triumphalism in our culture and reminds us of the role of lament in Israel’s history, and in ours.

Prophetic Lament works through the book of Lamentations chapter by chapter and theme by theme. It is not a traditional commentary. Instead it looks primarily at the “big picture” of the book, how it is structured (acrostics in four of the chapters), its genres (funeral dirge, city lament), its voices (the narrator, the people in the city), and its major themes. Rah then applies those big picture elements to the context of the American Church, primarily to issues of racial injustice.

Prophetic Lament offers balance to the more common voices in American Evangelicalism.

Rah calls for incorporating lament into our worship, instead of only praise and triumphalism: “The loss of lament in the American church reflects a serious theological deficiency.” He encourages us to listen to voices other than just white men. He reminds us of the reality of corporate sin and the need for corporate confession, instead of only viewing sin through a hyper-individualistic lens.

Other major themes include God’s sovereignty, including his sovereignty in judgment and the need to look at the raw and uncomfortable reality of the “dead body in front of us”, the ravages of sin and injustice in the world. Applying this to racial injustice Rah states “Our nations tainted racial history reflects a serious inability to real with reality. Something has died and we refuse to participate in the funeral.”

Prophetic Lament, like Lamentations, can be bleak. But, like Lamentations, the glimmer of hope resides not in our abilities but in God’s faithfulness to his covenant. God’s judgment comes out of his faithfulness to his covenant. And so, if God is faithful, it is that same covenant faithfulness which brings about ultimate restoration. That restoration, Rah reminds us, is finally found in the saving work of Jesus.

In the mean time we lament. We have failed to live up to God’s standards and so we repent where necessary, listening to the voice of those who suffer, advocating for our brothers and sisters, moving forward in hope that is anchored in the character of God.

I’m not sure if Rah always makes all of his points. The book deals with some highly controversial topics and I was not always convinced by his arguments. His applications of the text sometimes felt contrived. But overall he offers an important perspective. I agree that, in many ways, we as an American church have a hard time entering into sustained lament. We stick a toe in, perhaps, but jump out as soon as possible. We have a hard time listening to other perspectives (particularly in regards to race!) Perhaps we ought to begin by grieving together, acknowledging the ways we have failed. Ultimately I am grateful for the voices of those like Soong-Chan Rah, challenging the status quo.

Summary and Book Review: The Good of Affluence

Summary

The Good of Affluence by John R. Schneider lays out a theological framework, primarily through interpreting the biblical text, by which to view wealth. In many ways this book is a defense of affluence over and against the view that the wealthy should divest themselves of most or all of their luxuries in order to provide necessities to the global poor. It is also, to a lesser degree, a defense of capitalism as a means of creating wealth which benefits both the rich and the poor alike.

Before entering into an analysis of the biblical narrative, Schneider makes an important observation about modern capitalism. In his view, capitalism is a “new” and different way of acquiring wealth which the world did not know in biblical times. For most of human history great wealth (affluence) was acquired primarily by taking it from other people through unjust means such as war, thievery, or taxation which rose to the level of extortion. But capitalism is different in that it is not a “zero-sum” game. In capitalism wealth is acquired by adding value into the whole system, which raises the level of all, or most, of those involved in the process. “When capitalism really works, every member of society becomes affluent to some comparative degree and (as D’Souza’s numbers show) that is exactly what has happened in some nations. The cultures that capitalism helps to create do not merely contain great wealth. They are cultures of wealth” (25). This “new” form of wealth building is a set of “new wine skins” which require a fresh look at the data, namely, the biblical text.

From there Schneider works through the biblical narrative. He begins with creation (chapter 2) and observes that God’s original intention was for people to live in a state of material delight. This was Adam and Eve’s experience in the garden before the Fall and it is where we are heading after the resurrection. From there he moves to the exodus and the laws of the Old Testament (chapter 3). Here he argues that part of the exodus meant moving the people from a position of slavery (including economic slavery) and into a position of delight and economic freedom – life in the promised land.  The laws which govern the people in the promised land do indeed include care for the economically vulnerable but they are followed with the promise of God’s material blessing. Schneider interprets the Jubilee, not as primarily a radical concern for the poor (since many of the most vulnerable – foreigners, for instance, were left out of any benefits the Jubilee might have brought) but as a way to re-establish God’s people in the land – a sort of re-living of the exodus.

At this point Schneider also introduces a principle central to the book, that of moral proximity. The principle of moral proximity essentially means that the closer one’s “moral proximity” is to someone else the greater one’s obligations. For Schneider this means that we are most responsible for our immediate family and have only loose obligations towards the global poor.

In chapter 4 Schneider reviews the Prophets and Wisdom literature. He focuses primarily on Proverbs and the book of Amos. His central thesis here is these writings assume God’s original intention of delight while, at the same time, decrying the abuses of the wealthy over and against the poor. He summarizes his view of Amos in the following way:

“It is a matter of become a mature person with a vision of the Lord and a heart for people, especially the poor and powerless. The rich must be liberated not from riches but from the selfish mind and the heart of the serpent. We must have the mind of God, the true Lord, who is our servant. We must strive toward the light of the exodus vision and recover the spirituality of redemptive power, which turns our delight into love” (106).

Schneider then moves to the New Testament, beginning with the Incarnation (chapter 5), Jesus’ teaching and his call to discipleship – the parable of the rich ruler, the call of Zacchaeus (chapter 6) – and Jesus’ parables (chapter 7). Here Schneider argues that Jesus did not call all to completely divest themselves of property but that he did call all to creatively use their wealth for kingdom purposes. Finally, Schneider moves to the early church, particularly to Acts, James, and Paul’s appeal for funds to help the church in Jerusalem (chapter 8). All in all, his review of the biblical text is representative and he deals with some of the more difficult passages to Scripture without (in my opinion) being evasive.

Schneider concludes the book (epilogue) with a reflection on how his view of affluence might be understood in a world of poverty. His conclusion here is that what holds people in poverty is not a lack of hard work or from a lack of capital, but systems which have not allowed for the release of capital. He summarizes the work of Hernando de Soto who argues that what is common to all stagnant economies is a lack of functioning rules regarding property, which are necessary for the creation of wealth. If this is true then the problems of these countries can’t be solved (at least not in the long-term) through external aid. Instead they need to be solved internally, through the creation of necessary economic infrastructure. The second implication is that in this view the “global poor” are not a problem which needs to be solved, but are in fact, are themselves the solution.

Review

Of Schneider’s work I have two words of commendation, one of critique, and one of warning.

First, Schneider’s exegetical work is of the first order. He offers scholarly, clean, and convincing arguments. Those who would disagree with him, if they are believers, will first need to deal with his formidable exegetical work. Second, reviews which state that Schneider is arguing that wealthy Christians have no obligation to the global poor are mistaken. They simply do not understand Schneider’s argument. If everything looks like greed then the only answer they will accept is divestment of property. But Schneider views the world in a very different way (more nuanced and complex) so they don’t recognize his solutions when he states them.

My critique is that Schneider offers very little in terms of concrete applications to the reader. I believe this is intentional on the author’s part, but it is still frustrating. I was personally hoping for a bigger payoff in his epilogue. I understand his “solution” I think, but I have no idea how I can play any part in it.

Finally, a warning: This book could be read by the rich to justify either inaction or indifference. Again, this is not the author’s intention. I simply state it this way: Wealth, while a blessing from God can, because of our sinful natures, become a deceptive snare. If you have been blessed with affluence Schneider’s call would be to creatively use your wealth in service to others.

10 non-inspirational quotes from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together

life-together.jpgNote 1: This is not a list of inspiring quotes. Bonhoeffer’s words do not inspire, at least in the “make feel you happy” kind of way we usually use the word. They cut with the sharp knife of truth.

Note 2: It was hard to select only 10 quotes. I had to cut out all the quotes I wanted to select from the first chapter since I had already covered them here.

Note 3: All page numbers refer to Life Together published by Harper One, 1954.

Note 4: These quotes don’t really do this book justice. I recommend you get your own copy and read all these in context.

On the importance of starting out the day in worship:

“At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him. Therefore, at the beginning of the day let all distraction and empty talk be silenced and let the first thought of the first word belong to him to whom our whole life belongs.” (43)

Commentary: Bonhoeffer’s proscription for daily personal and community worship are intense by today’s standards. They include reciting a psalm, reading at least a chapter of the Bible (in family worship), meditating on a shorter section (in personal worship), singing, and prayer. He recommends at least an hour a day of personal devotions for pastors (I’m failing). In this quote he is emphasizing the importance of giving the first part of the day to God in worship.

On the importance of having the right attitude of the heart in worship:

“Where the heart is not singing there is no melody, there is only the dreadful medley of human self-praise. Where the singing is not to the Lord, it is singing to the honor of the self or the music, and the new song becomes a song to idols.” (58-59)

Commentary: Bonhoeffer does not get hung up on the externals of musical worship – though he does, surprising, stress the importance of singing in unison. His most pointed passages on this topic are when he stresses the importance of the heart of the singer. These are some convicting words.

On the importance of practicing both Christian fellowship and Christian solitude:

“Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” (78)

Commentary: This book is called “Life Together” but Bonhoeffer devotes one chapter to time in silence and solitude. He sees the two not in opposition, but as playing complimentary roles. Time alone prepares you for time together and time together prepares you for time alone. Each is dangerous by itself.

On the nature of silence as it pertains to Christian solitude:

“Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God… Silence is nothing else but waiting for God’s Word and coming from God’s Word with a blessing.” (79)

Commentary: Bonhoeffer is insistent that we not step away from the Word of God during our times of solitude. In fact, time with the Word is central to the whole process. He speaks of meditation, but not as an emptying process by which we clear our minds, but as a filling process so that we might overflow with the Word of God.

On testing the effectiveness of solitude and fellowship:

“Has fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure? … Furthermore, this [test] is the place where we find out whether the Christian’s meditation has led him into the unreal, from which he awakens in terror when he returns to the workaday world, or whether it has led him into a real contact with God, from which he emerges strengthened and purified.” (88)

Commentary: The “test” to which Bonhoeffer is referring is time in a world hostile to Christian living, something he surely knew well. It is in this test that we can tell whether or not our time along and time together have really been effective.

On the priority of listening:

“One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.” (98)

Commentary: See the quotes below on the importance of Christian rebuke among a fellowship of believers. But before we can ever speak, either words of encouragement or rebuke, we must really listen.

On the basis of Christian encouragement and rebuke:

“We speak to one another on the basis of the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction. We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s severity.” (106)

Commentary: The basis of either Christian encouragement or rebuke is, surprisingly, the doctrine of sin. This is the “help we both need” to which Bonhoeffer is referring in the above quote. Of course, this only works if we first honestly consider ourselves the worse of sinners.

On the importance of godly reproof:

“Reproof is unavoidable. God’s Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin. … Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and succoring.” (107)

Commentary: On a personal note, God is slowly but surely strengthening my spine. Reproof and rebuke are never easy but, as Bonhoeffer rightly states, are unavoidable if we hope to really care for the spiritual life of another.

On the nature of genuine spiritual authority:

“Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority… The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents which he possess. Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own.” (109)

Commentary: So often authority is coercive. For Bonhoeffer this is anathema. Because we are never to have “direct access” to another soul we must always only approach people as mediated through Christ. This means we serve others best (which is the basis of Christian authority) when we serve Christ first.

On the destructive cycle of sin and withdrawal:

“Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he comes involved in it, the more disastrous his isolation.” (112)

Commentary: How do we break the cycle of sin and isolation? Bonhoeffer’s answer: Confession, specifically to someone who has a personal understanding of the grace of God in Jesus.

Earth Day

pollition

In honor of Earth Day I have decided to post a summary of Francis Schaeffer’s little book from 1970 Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology. The book is only 93 pages long but is really an excellent summary of how Christians ought to relate to nature. If you have any interest in the topic of ecology, I highly recommend getting your hands on this gem.

The book was written in 1970 and so it feels a little dated. Schaeffer deals quite a bit with the ideas present in the hippie movement of the time, especially in its relation to pantheism. However, while the hippie movement has since lost its prominent place in American culture, many of the ideas of pantheism are still alive and well in the culture, and really make their presence known on Earth Day.

Is Pantheism the Answer?

“Pollution and the Death of Man” is a response of a sort to two articles. The first article, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis,” by Lynn White laid the blame for the modern ecological crisis on Christianity. White argues that “the Christian notion of a transcendent God, removed from nature and breaking into nature only through revelation, removed spirit from nature and allows, in an ideological sense, for an easy exploitation of nature.” Agreeing with White, Richard Means in “Why Worry About Nature?” makes the case that we as a society should instead turn to pantheism as the moral base for how we treat nature.

Schaeffer addresses both articles, though he focuses on the one by Means. His first criticism of Means’ article is that while he uses the term “moral basis” he really has no moral base. He is only using pantheism in a pragmatic way, as a means of motivating people to action. As a “modern man” Means really has no categories to speak about morality. He recognizes that there is a pragmatic problem and he discerns that the existing moral structure has led to an ecological crisis, but he himself does not really possess a moral base. Schaeffer rightly points at that he is “using science and religion for purely sociological ends” so that all he has left is “sociological manipulation.”

The question of Means’ method aside, one must still ask, does pantheism produce a moral basis with which to solve ecological problems? Schaeffer says “no.” “Pantheism,” says Schaeffer, “eventually gives no meaning to any particulars.” If we are all really one substance and one entity then we have meaning in unity, but we have no meaning in the particulars, in man as man, in tree as tree, or in stone as stone. Schaeffer notes that this is true both in Eastern pantheism and in Western scientism, which is its own kind of pantheism where everything is only energy particles.

This is a philosophical problem and also a practical problem. Schaeffer states that “any ‘results’ one does get from pantheism are obtained only by projecting man’s feelings into nature.” This is simply romanticism. When we project man’s feelings onto a chicken we “evade the reality of the chicken.” Secondly, this is a practical problem because, in pantheism, everything in nature must be “normal” but within nature there is a “benevolent face, but it may also be an enemy.” Schaeffer puts it this way: “If everything is one, and a part of one essence with no basic distinction, how does one explain nature when it is destructive?” Third, Schaeffer observes that pantheism, while aiming perhaps to elevate nature, instead only reduces man. “Far from raising nature to man’s height, pantheism must push both man and nature down into the bog… man becomes no more than the grass.” In fact, in modern day, man is often seen as less than nature, as the enemy. This is the absurdity of those who go to great lengths to save the egg of an eagle on the one hand and promote abortion as population control on the other.

Platonic Dualism

But, Schaeffer argues, not every form of Christianity has an answer for ecology that is any better than the answer given by pantheism. Schaeffer specifically addresses Christianity influenced by platonic dualism of the natural vs the spiritual. This kind of Christianity is only interested in the “higher life” of the spiritual world. The physical world is at best unimportant and at worst a hindrance to following the “higher” spiritual life. Christians of this ilk may see nature as a kind of pointer to God (natural revelation) but they have no interest in nature as itself and thus have no interest in ecology. If the world is simply going to be burned up in the end, what reason do we have to find solutions to ecological problems?

The Christian View

Schaeffer believes the answer is found in Reformation theology. It is worth noting that at this point Schaeffer follows the same script as Mike Wittmer (see Becoming Worldly Saints). Both are fond of referencing Abraham Kuyper and both use the Creation-Fall-Redemption metanarrative to frame their arguments.

Creation

Schaffer’s solution to ecological problems is rooted in creation. The created world is not an extension of God’s essence, as in pantheism, but has an existence in itself. The created world has value, then, not only as a pointer to God (which it is) but because God made it. This gives meaning to the particulars, something which pantheism cannot do. God made the tree as a tree and so it has value as a tree and therefore we must value it as a tree.

The nature of creation also matters. Schaeffer makes two distinctions, between the infinite and the finite and between the impersonal and personal. On the one hand we have a distinction between the infinite and the finite. (I prefer the terminology created vs uncreated.) God alone is infinite. He alone is independent. Everything in creation is finite and dependent. On the other hand we have a distinction between the personal and impersonal. Because humans alone are made in God’s image we possess a “personality” not otherwise known in the created order. Humans, then, have a unique place in creation. On the one hand we can say, “Am I only the hydrogen atom, the energy particle extended? No, I am made in the image of God.” And yet we can also say, “I, too, am created, just as the animal and the plant and the atoms are created.” The result is that we are both separated and united with all of creation. We are united in the sense that we are all part of the created order. But we are separated in the fact that we are uniquely created in the image of God.

The result of this worldview is that we learn to treat God’s creation with integrity. We treat a tree as a tree, a fish as a fish, a man as a man, etc. We love each according to its own order because we love the Creator. Schaeffer puts it well when he says: “Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing he has made.”

Fall-Redemption

Schaeffer next offers hope for what he calls “substantial healing.” This substantial healing is rooted in his view of both the Fall and Redemption. The Fall led to division throughout the created order. There was, first and foremost the division between God and man, but there was also a division between man and self, between man and man, and between man and nature. We can only heal this division through reconciliation and the only possible Reconciler between God and the created order is the God-man Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ as our Savior we are reconciled to God. In our spiritual lives we also look forward to the Day of Redemption and the complete healing of our relationship with God. In the meantime we must day-to-day seek God and fellowship with him.

The same principle applies to our other relationships (to self, man, and nature). It is the same gospel and the same Reconciler in all cases. In each case while we wait for complete redemption we continue to seek substantial healing. The gospel offers us internal peace, reconciliation with our brothers, and it provides hope for substantial healing in nature. Just like the consummation does not invalidate our search for daily healing with God it does not invalidate our search for healing with nature.

But what about our dominion over nature? Since this was one of the issues which White and Means saw as one of the causes of our ecological problem (they saw it as arrogance) Schaeffer addresses this issue next. He suggests that perhaps dominion is misunderstood. We do not exercise dominion in an autonomous way but as stewards. Schaeffer does not use the term “stewardship” but he draws the parallel to the parable of the talents. We exercise dominion, but in a way that acknowledges the fact that only God is sovereign and that it all belongs to Him. We have dominion over the fish and so we treat the fish as a fish. We can use it for food, but we don’t treat it as though it is a “nothing” or with contempt. Schaeffer states, “On the one hand it is wrong to treat the fish as though it were a human baby; on the other hand, neither is it merely a chip of wood.”

The “Pilot Plan”

Schaeffer concludes his book by calling the Church to be a “pilot plant” or a community of individuals who model what proper ecological stewardship looks like with the worldview of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. To this degree Schaeffer believes the church has failed.

Scienctism fails, but Christianity has not provided the ecological solution we have. “Science today treats man as less than man, and nature as less than nature. And the reason for this is that modern science has the wrong sense of origin, and having the wrong sense of origin it has no category sufficient to treat nature as nature any more than it has to treat man as man.” But Christians have not done much better, even though we have the philosophical and moral tools to properly care for God’s creation.

We succeed to the extent we exercise dominion over nature with self-constraint. It is this self-restraint that separates us as unique members of God’s creation. It sets us apart as human. A cow simply eats the grass, it can do no less. But as humans we have a self-limiting principle. Specifically Schaeffer calls us to practice self-restraint in the areas of greed and haste, which he sees as the primary causes of our ecological problems. If we, as Christian individuals, business people, consumers, etc. would give up on greed and would demonstrate patience, we really could seek substantial healing in God’s creation.

Ultimately, I think Schaeffer succeeds in presenting a robust biblical view of ecology. He roots his theology in the created order and, ultimately, in love for God. One of the best quotes of the book is this:

“If I love the Lover, I love what the Lover has made. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Christians feel an unreality in their Christian lives. If I don’t love what the Lover has made – in the area of man, in the area of nature – and really love it because He made it, do I really love the Lover at all?”

Like many Christians, ecology isn’t something I consider terribly often so this book was a convicting read. Perhaps we all need to be challenged in this area. On the off chance you’re reading this and ecology matters to you a lot I propose to you that it’s only in the worldview of Christianity (and ultimately the person of Christ) that our created world will finally find substantial healing – and in a way that does not lower man to mere grass.

Book Review: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship

My copy of The Cost of Discipleship is filled with underlined passages and notes in the margins, all indications of time where Boenhoffer led me on a mini inner-dialog. I would love to bring those notes and reflections to bear on this review. However time constrains me to deal too much with the content. I have done so a little bit here, in regards to Bonhoeffer’s view of discipleship.

As much as I was struck by the message of this book, I was perhaps more impressed by Bonhoeffer’s tone. Bonhoeffer wrote to a church in the crisis of Nazi Germany. Many in the Church capitulated. For others who resisted and chose instead to follow Jesus, the cost was high. Bonhoeffer speaks often of suffering and martyrdom and the Christian life being a life shaped by the cross. He not only wrote about this – he bore this out in his life and death.

Whether it is because of the crisis in which Bonhoeffer wrote or not the style of The Cost of Discipleship is bold. His language is stark. He loves to draw sharp distinctions between ideas, his most famous being his distinction between cheap grace and costly grace. This draws the reader to a point of internal conflict. Is this distinction really so great? Is there really so much on the line? Is the way really so narrow? Is this cost really so high? He does not often call the reader to decision, he just points out that there is one, and that decision is of utmost importance.

The Cost of Discipleship is devoid of the fluff so common in most modern popular books. Bonhoeffer simply says it as he sees it and grounds it all in a rich understanding of Scripture. In fact, most of the book is simply exposition on Scripture. Part 2 is an exposition on the Sermon on the Mount.

I hope that a bit of Bonhoeffer’s boldness and style can find its way into my preaching and writing (and even personal conversation.) I so often couch everything I am saying, and sometimes that is necessary. But sometimes I am being soft and cowardly.

There are many “talking-heads” today who are “bold,” but they are the bold for their own sake, for their own brand. Their “boldness” is really only added for shock value. It is ultimately empty. Bonhoeffer was not bold in that way. He speaks often of the “hiddenness” of the righteousness of the disciples. A disciple’s good works are hidden from himself. A disciple looks only to his Master, never at his own works. That is the sense I get from Bonhoeffer’s style. He was simply focused on obeying Jesus and the boldness followed naturally. It did not need to be manufactured on its own. In fact, it could not be and still be worthy of praise.

It is this kind of discipleship the Bonhoeffer draws our attention to – a single-minded focus on obedience to the call of Jesus – and it is this kind of discipleship that Bonhoeffer lived.

Book Review: Beyond Awkward by Beau Crosetto

Talking about Jesus is outside by comfort zone, which may sound weird coming from a pastor. But it’s true. Most of the time I’m talking about Jesus it’s in a religious setting – which doesn’t faze me at all – but get me out of that setting and it’s just plain awkward. It probably is for you too, which, if you want to be a more bold and less awkward witness, that’s probably a good reason to read Beyond Awkward: When Talking About Jesus Is Outside Your Comfort Zone.

There are three “big ideas” in this book that I want to interact with more closely.

Moving Beyond Awkward

The title is a play on words. Evangelism can be really awkward but it’s worth it and on the other side of the awkward there is a divine encounter, a spiritual breakthrough, so we have to get beyond the awkward moments. Crosetto admits that evangelism will always be awkward because in evangelism we are almost always breaking various social rules. Crosetto makes some great points about how being “pushy” is different from being “bold.” Pushy people try to force their way in. Bold people step through the door God opens. Timid people avoid the situation all together, pretending there is no door. Pushy people make things unnecessarily awkward. Bold people accept some level of awkwardness but move forward anyway. Timid people avoid awkwardness completely.

But if we ourselves know the goodness of the gospel, love our friends and family, and believe that it’s really worth it, then we need to be bold. Crosetto states his case as follows:

“Evangelistic moments will freak us out. But if we bail out early we will miss the breakthrough moment that God, the other person and we were hoping for the whole time… If you want to see God move, then you need to enter into the awkwardness” (p42-43 author’s emphasis).

All of this is based on two assumptions. The first is that God is always busy setting up opportunities for his people to bear witness to his name. The second is that there are seekers waiting to have a spiritual conversation. The role of the evangelist is to see those opportunities as they arise, following the lead of the Spirit and go through the doors that the seeker opens.

Spiritual Warfare

Here is where the book really gets interesting. Crosetto spends a lot of time talking about the supernatural aspects of evangelism. He begins this section with a personal story. When he was a new Christian he had the opportunity to do some evangelism in a village in Egypt. While witnessing door to door, at each place he visited, he would receive some kind of “word of knowledge” which he would deliver through his interpreter. These words of knowledge were things he couldn’t have known apart from some supernatural source. At one point he prayed over a withered hand and it was healed immediately, much to the shock of those he was with. The impact of these events is that it confirmed the message of the gospel to the people in the village. At the time Crosetto had no idea how to interpret what had happened, except that he knew it was the power of God.

I don’t exactly know how to interpret the story either. Part of me is skeptical but on the whole I believe it. First, it’s certainly not beyond the power of God, even if it is outside of my experience. Second, the impact of the signs is the same impact as that in the book of Acts – it confirmed the message of the gospel and pointed people to Christ. Third, Crosetto’s story could be discredited. He was with a group of Americans, any of whom could read his account and publicly discount what had occurred. Fourth, I doubt very much that Crosetto expects to make a lot of money from this book. In other words, he doesn’t have much to gain by lying about it.

This experience clearly shaped Crosetto’s view of evangelism and that view is presented in the book. In evangelistic encounters he expects to hear the voice of God. When preparing for evangelism or engaged in it he will ask God for some image or word to aid him. Once he received the image of a wall, which he first interpreted to mean that the person had hit some “wall” spiritually. When he asked her what she thought about God, though, she said that she always thought of God being “in the wall” because that is how her parents had always prayed. He then shared with her that he had been given the image of the wall and all this aided his evangelistic efforts and confirmed the gospel for her.

From Crosetto’s perspective God has given us general instructions in his authoritative Word but he also guides us through his ongoing voice helping us in specific situations. He looks to Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian in Acts as an example. Philip has a general call (Go and make disciples) and then God gives him ever increasingly specific instructions (Go South, Go up to the Chariot). We need to listen to both.

Crosetto puts in all the necessary caveats and even includes a special appendix for trying to discern the voice of God in our lives. We need to test it against Scripture, which is authoritative. We need to test it against the community. We need to ask whether it is making us into more mature Christ-followers. Etc.

I am not a pure cessationist, that is, I don’t believe that all miraculous activity or so-called sign gifts ceased after the book of Acts. I remain open, at least, to the possibility. To do otherwise, I think, would be to put God in too much of a box. If he does act in that way I don’t want to be caught saying “He could never do that.” However, I’m skeptical of Crosetto’s approach to evangelism.

There’s another way to interpret the “voice of God” which guides us to specific applications of general commands. In this alternate interpretation the Christ follower is continually growing in awareness of God, His Word, His values and is growing in awareness of the world around him and how God’s command intersects with God’s command. The nudging of the Spirit might be that his conscience is more attuned to the love of God and he is able to recognize opportunities that arise around him. That’s not to say that the Holy Spirit isn’t active in this interpretation. He is. He is always confirming to us the truth of God’s Word and helping us apply it to our lives. I think both interpretations are equally “spiritual” in nature.

It doesn’t, however, account for Crosetto’s “words of knowledge,” which for now I will do nothing more than add to the pieces of evidence which point towards their reality. From my tradition Crosetto experiences seem “weird,” but not unorthodox or dangerous. He definitely challenged my thinking on this point, for which I am grateful.

Methodology

Crosetto gives some guidelines on evangelistic methodology. Early on he suggests that in our experience-based culture an experience-based evangelistic method is needed. In my experience with youth in our city, he seems to be spot on, although I should note that culture is by no means uniform. I have several friends for which propositional evangelism would still probably be the most effective route. He gives advice on how to avoid being pushy, how to be patient (but not miss the moment when it arises), how to ask good questions, and how to turn a conversation to Jesus.

To turn a conversation to Jesus we need to locate the “handle” which Crosetto identifies as that particular need (such as fear, anger, or frustration) which intersects with the good news of the gospel. From there we can guide the seeker to a divine encounter and share the gospel. For instance, Crosetto had a friend who confided in him his struggles with his job. After some time Crosetto asked him if he wanted to know how knowing God and following Jesus could help him. When his friend opened the door (said that he did want to talk about that) it gave Crosetto the opportunity to share the gospel more fully.

Beyond Awkward is filled with wisdom, exhortation, and encouragement. I’m inspired by Crosetto’s many stories. God calls his children to be bold witnesses for his name, not pushy, but not overly timid either. The gospel is the good news and it’s the good news for the entire world. May he help us share it.