Archives For Practical Theology

Yesterday, I reflected on what it might look like to do college ministry different. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m ripping off Apple by using an adjective when you “should” use an adverb (my views on grammar are somewhat philosophically radical).

After answering why and how, it’s time for what. As in, “what should the end goal of a college ministry be?”

The short answer is that we are shooting for helping produce mature disciples of Christ who are competent Christian adults. I think this target is actually more or less the same whether the college ministry is in a local church or in a parachurch ministry. The difference would be what part of the end goal you are helping produce.

For instance, SHIFT states its mission this way:

SHIFT’s Mission is to see college students

1.  respond and be transformed by the Gospel;

2.  engage in Biblical community through worshipping and serving with a local church in the area;

3.  share the Gospel with others in a way that’s relevant to their culture; and

4.  lead others to do the same.

Just to unpack this a bit, here’s what I see as required by this mission. In general, a student coming through SHIFT should:

  1. Respond in faith the gospel
  2. Join a local church
  3. Be involved in serving in the local church
  4. Show signs of growing in their faith (the “transformed” component above)
  5. Become equipped in sharing their faith
  6. Develop cultural awareness in several dimensions (pop culture, politics, prevailing philosophies, sports, etc.) in order to speak to the signs of the times
  7. Become a leader of others (peers, but preferably those a stage of life below, so college students able to lead high schoolers, young professionals able to lead college students).

Notice that I inserted the local church connection between “respond in faith” and “being transformed.” That’s because I think the primary arena of Christian discipleship is the local church and that’s where transformation more readily takes place as students are in multi-generational community, hearing the Word preached, and partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Then as they grow, they start to serve in the church and are well on their way to the other phases.

I might go so far as to say I don’t want students involved in a college ministry that aren’t willing to be part of a local church. I also wouldn’t want students who know tips and tricks in evangelism and apologetics, but aren’t developing the virtues in 1 Timothy 3. And I wouldn’t want students who are growing but not living out their faith in away that can connect with others, Christian and not.

In short, the mission all works together. It specifies an end goal, but it also divides the labor between the local church and SHIFT in a way that I think is helpful. It also puts a burden on us to work to facilitate the local church connections to properly outsource what we need to outsource (and vice versa).

When it comes to the actual end goal, we would like to produce more Christian leaders. This is also how SHIFT will grow and develop more moving forward. And it is the one point that probably needs more sub-points unpacking just what a leader entails.

In a sense, in order to lead others, you have to lead yourself well. You have to be going somewhere and know where that is. Otherwise, no one will be interested in following you. This entails a range of competencies, although one shouldn’t think that it necessitates a person who has everything together and no struggles or weaknesses.

While we often tend to cast the qualities of leadership in Christian categories, I think a good bit of actual leadership involves competencies that aren’t distinctly Christian. This is perhaps why it is helpful to read business and leadership books alongside theology books if you want to be a solid Christian leader.

Recently, I saw this as I was reading Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult a few weekends ago. According to his subtitle, he sees a crisis in our culture because of a lack of self-reliance. Now, you can tell in reading his book that he’s not thinking of self reliance in a strictly non-Christian sense. What he means is that young adults are often not able to take care of things themselves that a competent adult could. There is a kind of lapse in development that by its nature prohibits leadership development.

His solution to the problem covers a lot of ground and revolves around 5 themes he unpacks through the course of the book. He takes three chapters to set some context before spending a chapter each on these goals for young adults (8-10):

  1. Overcome peer culture and wrestle with other life stages
  2. Learn to work hard (he says suffering in our work is actually a character building virtue)
  3. Resist consumption (he says consumption is not the key to happiness, production is)
  4. Travel to experience the difference between “need” and “want”
  5. Become truly literate

Going off that last point, it probably goes without saying that leaders are readers, and Christian leaders are first and foremost Bible readers. But, most solid Christian leaders I know are also general readers and so end up being biblically as well as culturally literate. As a result, a big part of what we’d like to do with SHIFT is see an increase in both of those types of literacy.

As I mentioned yesterday, one way of doing this is through Bible studies aimed at developing biblical literacy. Another way may involve book clubs and the beginnings of a study center. Regarding the traveling component, that’s something we’d like to see happen through the student’s local churches as they take advantage of time during the summer to go on mission trips.

For the first three, I think that we will work to help students develop those areas through either monthly or bi-monthly large meetings. We are still thinking through the logistics of that at the moment, so hopefully I’ll have more to share later. But, when we do have larger gatherings (remember we’re staying de-centralized), we want them to be focused on developing cultural and leadership competencies, and so are focused on “adulting” rather than being something that could be confused for a church service.

It is also through these type of events that we can reach non-Christians. While we would want students to invite their non-Christian friends (that they are hopefully making in classes and around campus) to church, we’d also like to be a venue that they can invite them to something “secular” (which isn’t actually, but would be perceived that way).

I realize that’s vague, and so as you might guess, that means we need another post to unpack further. But, the main point is that we are hoping to help students grow into competent Christian adults, and that entails doing college ministry different, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is a question I’ve been thinking about for over 10 years. Ever since we’ve been in Florida, I’ve been involved with a college ministry at UCF called SHIFT. I’ve also been a high school teacher at a small private school about 20 minutes away.

As far as teaching, I’ve taught 3 classes now from freshmen to seniors. I’ve also seen two cycles of UCF students come in as freshmen, graduate, and adjust to life outside of the school schedule. I’ve seen students in both cycles flourish as well as flounder. And I’ve mostly wondered what could promote the former while diminishing the latter.

Generationally, I’m a millennial, but I prefer the label Generation Y. That’s probably because I like “why” as a question, and I actually think that’s a reason people don’t like millennials (sorry for the hot take there). Part of it is also my analytic personality type (INTJ) that leads me to question traditional methods, especially when they don’t seem effective.

So let’s ask some why questions.

First off, why do college ministry to begin with? Probably because college is a pivotal time in most people’s lives as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. Your identity tends to solidify in the 18-25 range, and for many people, a big chunk of that time is in college (or all of that time if you’re me). College is when teenagers become adults, for better or for worse.

I would like to see college ministry done in a way that helps young adults move through the sink of swim stage of their early 20’s. It can either be done through the local church, or through a parachurch. But, those two venues should have different aims.

So, with that in mind, how should you pursue college ministry?

This is where the different part comes in. The college ministry we are working with, SHIFT, is a parachurch organization. That means that what we do needs to be done alongside the local church (para means beside in Greek).

Too often, college ministries inadvertently replace the local church. If they create their own discipleship structure and have a weekly meeting that includes worship music and preaching, that’s effectively replacing the local church rather than working alongside it. We don’t want to do that.

A big part of that stems from taking a centralized approach, rather than a de-centralized one. In the former, it is about coming to a central location for a meeting that involves everyone in the ministry. It is a “come and see” sort of thing. The weekly meeting is the primary vehicle of engagement and all the activities flow from that central event.

In a de-centralized approach, you may never have a big meeting. SHIFT took this approach last year and rather than relying on a weekly meeting, had three small groups that met in various locations on campus. One was more apologetics based and dug into why Christianity is true. Another wrestled with the dynamics of integrating your faith into your work. And the other was a more traditional girls discipleship Bible study. Here and there all the groups would converge, but the primary avenue of engagement was the small group.

This is what we anticipate continuing into this coming school year. Not those exact groups per se, but the basic commitment to go small and mobile rather than large and inert.

We also want to work to get students plugged into local churches as their primary outlet for growing and serving. In other words, if students have time to volunteer for outreach and mission, we want them doing that in a local church, not through SHIFT.

As far as discipleship goes, I think that is something that takes multiple mentors to accomplish. For that reason, we still see Bible study as something should happen through a college ministry. But, we would see it as not just teaching about the Bible but as about learning to study it for yourself. While this can be caught through quality preaching, sometimes it is better to hash it out in a discussion based format.

As an example, for our summer Bible study in Ruth, it is part teaching Ruth and part learning to ask good questions when you’re reading the Old Testament. It is also a good test case for reading the Old Testament in light of the New since Boaz is literally called a redeemer. Learning to read the Bible well is both science and art, and college is a great time to start the journey.

A last, but not least question is, “what’s the target?”

Imagine a basketball team that used practices exclusively for conditioning drills. Everyone would be in really good shape, but wouldn’t know what to do in an actual game. On the other hand, if you had a team that only did shooting drills all practice, they might all be the next Steph Curry, but they wouldn’t have the endurance to get through a real game. And what if a team just did defensive drills all practice, without any explanation of how they fit into the flow of a game?

College ministries, and even local churches, can make similar mistakes. All the activities that take place as part of a college ministry need to have an end goal in mind. College ministry can’t just be youth group 2.0 (and no offense if your youth group is solid). It can’t feel like its church for your college years. And it can’t waste a bunch of time keeping people busy doing all kinds of “ministry” activities that don’t really lead to seeing people grow in Christ.

So what’s the target?

I’ll tell you tomorrow.

A couple of weeks back my father in-law Tim Kaufman published his first book, Singing Hallelujah When You Feel Like Hell. The title plays on both his gifting as a singer and his experience with clinical depression. Though the subtitle is “a true life story of how to triumph through depression,” it is not a typical self-help book. It is also not prosperity gospel nonsense that may promise that if you just believe enough or follow these steps your depression will go away. But it is the story of how Tim lived through periods of time when darkness was nearly his only companion. And it is an example of how a variety of factors work together in helping someone through the valley.

I was glad to read through the book when it was still in the editing stages. Here is the blurb that I submitted:

Singing Hallelujah When You Feel Like Hell isn’t just a book with a clever title. It is a firsthand account of someone who has been through the darkness and lived to tell about it. Tim is not just my father-in-law, he is also a wise and godly man who is willing to be vulnerable with his own story in order to reach out and minister to the many friends and loved ones we have who deal with depression. Odds are that even if you haven’t struggled with it, you love someone who has or does and they would benefit from reading this book.

While I don’t have firsthand struggles with depression, I did have a period of about 6 months of burnout where I had many of the same symptoms. In retrospect, I’m glad because I think I am able to be more sensitive now to advice people give that isn’t particularly helpful. Part of the issue with struggling through depression is that you just don’t have the will to do much of anything. Because of that, advice, while possibly true and godly, isn’t necessarily what you might need. It is true that you need to believe the gospel, pray, and search the Scriptures. But when you’re really depressed, it is hard to even get out of bed, much less focus on anything of value.

Since Tim has struggled with that, and been in ministry for decades, he is able to tell his story from between two worlds so to speak. Depression is a spiritual issue, but it is not only a spiritual issue and Tim is more than aware of that. I tend to think of things like depression triperspectivally (not a surprise if you know me well). As such it has normative dimensions which are the spiritual components. But, it also situational factors that are usually life stories that have left scars resulting in shame and perhaps internalized anger. And there is also the existential components of brain chemistry and dietary and exercise habits (or lack thereof).

To treat any of these in isolation is to miss part of what’s going on. What’s good about Tim’s book is that though he doesn’t use this terminology, he is aware of how all those issues have come into play in his story of the triumph of grace in his life. And if that is something you’d like to read more about it, you ought to make sure you pick up a copy of his book for yourself!

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I grew up listening to Steve Brown, but this is the first book that I’ve read by him. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. I grew up hearing Steve Brown’s voice on syndicated Christian radio and remembered it for its distinctive bourbon infused depths.

After marrying my native Orlandoan wife, I heard more about Steve, and then actually heard him speak in person at an Acts 29 Pastor’s Conference here. He chose Matthew 23 and then let loose. It was amazing.

Anyway, the book Hidden Agendas: Dropping The Masks That Keep Us Apart is quite helpful. Thanks to New Growth Press, I was able to read through it earlier this summer. It is quite enjoyable because of Steve’s tone and conversational style (I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him by first name). It is also not a book you can set down and walk away from without some reflection.

The short essence of the book is that we all wear masks that keep us from living in closer community with each other and ultimately color the way we try to relate to God. But, while counterintuitive, there is freedom is putting down our masks and being honest with one another and resting in God’s grace that is presented to us in the gospel.

Anyone attentive to recent discussions about grace, the law, and antinomianism, knows this is a tricky topic. Steve has been accused of being an antinomian, but I think this book does a good job of vindicating him of that charge. He doesn’t think you should abandon obedience, but rather that you should be honest about how much of a sinner you actually are. And in doing so, know that if the gospel is true, then God still forgives and accepts you.

I’ve found the book particularly helpful and noticed that it seems designed for a small group to use. Each chapter includes several background Scriptures and some questions designed to get “behind the mask.” I could see it being an excellent resource as a small group begins to get to really know one another. And this could be especially so in a context where many people have some legalistic baggage from earlier church experiences.

Given all that, I’d really recommend this quick read. While it may be quick and easy (at my pace) to read this book, it offers a view of gospel truth that is not necessarily appropriated quickly and easily. But, I think the effort is well worth it to live more authentically and to bask in the grace of the gospel more freely.

And if reading is not really your thing, you should check out Steve’s podcast, Key Life. I subscribed shortly after finishing the book and noticed he was working through much of the content on there. I’m not sure if there will be complete overlap, or if you can go back far enough to get the earlier episodes, but you can get the gist by listening to a few episodes.

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As a general rule, if Sinclair Ferguson has written a book, you should probably look into it. Even more so if it touches on hot button issues like legalism and antinomianism. While it might surprise some readers, there is much to be learned from a theological controversy from the 1700’s.

His most recent book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still Matters, as the subtitle suggests, introduces readers to the “marrow” controversy. If you’re not familiar, this controversy relates to the book The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. As Ferguson clarifies in the introduction,

[This] is not a study of The Marrow of Modern Divinity as such, although reference will be made to it. It is not an historical analysis of the often heated Marrow Controversy, although that serves as the background to it. Nor is it a study of the theology of Thomas Boston, although his name regularly appears in it.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is by borrowing from the world of classical music: The Whole Christ might well be subtitled, “Variations on themes from The Marrow Controversy.” It is an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early eighteenth century, view from the framework of the present day. (19)

The first chapter proper is mostly historical background for the study. Starting in chapter 2, Ferguson tackles several theological topics. He begins with grace, which in a sense, is the topic of the whole study. He explains that the chapters that follow will focus on four topics (37):

  1. The gospel of the grace of God and its offer to all (chapters 2-3)
  2. The gospel and legalism (chapter 4-6)
  3. The gospel and antinomianism (chapter 7-8)
  4. The gospel and assurance of salvation (chapter 9-11)

Through it all, Ferguson does a much need job of distinguishing real legalism from the call to obedience, real antinomianism from the free offer of grace and Christ, and how the assurance of salvation truly works (sorry). With a general culture that is prone to extremes and a Christian culture that is often not much different, it is helpful to have a nuanced book on the topic of sanctification like this. For anyone working in pastoral ministry, this book is worth grabbing. Even if you’re not a pastor, your church background may have left you with some legalistic baggage. Ferguson’s book can offer a much needed remedy.

The one difficulty readers might have is the jumps back to the 18th century. There are a fair amount of lengthy block quotes, meaning the book requires a bit of patience. But then again, what book doesn’t? I suppose some of this could have been smoothed out, but on the other hand, you could be trying to read John Owen.

At the end of the day, this book is something I’ll probably give a second read. It covers issues pertinent to discipleship and Christian growth. It unmasks legalism and antinomianism alike, and clarifies the gospel. What more could you want?


Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why The Marrow Controversy Still MattersWheaton: Crossway, Januaray 2016. 256 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been a staff writer with a website called Christ and Pop Culture. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me reference it, and perhaps link to articles I’ve written. Recently, my writeup on Unashamed posted (a good companion to The Soul of Shame) and you can get it free for a brief time. You can read my full write up here.

That’s right, by being a member of Christ and Pop Culture, you can support the writers who put out pretty stellar content on the site, and get free books (and other stuff too). You can read more about membership here. In my time doing the write ups, here’s some of the books that were available:

That should give an idea of the track record of books that are offered. Recently, I was working on a write-up for David Dark’s Life’s too short to pretend you’re not religious, Due to a slight miscommunication, a more full length essay was already commissioned on it, and you should be able to read that here. Before I found that out, IVP had graciously sent me a hard copy of the book, so I felt like I should still post my thoughts on it.

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Dark writes in a meditative style, which makes the book a fairly easy read. However, he is helping readers reflect on their religious practices. Many of these might not seem to be so religious on the surface, and so Dark’s style helps disarm readers and move them toward reflection. In doing so, he shows that if we have entered into relationships with others and with facets of our culture, we have engaged to some extent in religious practices. Culture itself is intimately tied to religion and Dark subtly unmasks the connection. You can get a better feel for what he’s up to in the book by watching this video. Had you been a member before now, you would have just snagged yourself a copy!

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Another book that I received thanks to Crossway before I knew it would be free for members is Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley’s Conscience What It Is, How To Train IT, and Loving Those Who Differ. I liked this book so much that I immediately put it to use in class and decided to require it next year for my 11th grade Bible class. There are several diagrams within that I tried to recreate on the board (which is difficult for a lefty, but I’m a professional at this point). I am told it was helpful to several students as they prepare to navigate going away to college and starting to live by a different set of rules (or at least not having as many rules as previously).

While a short book, I think it does a masterful job of covering a much neglected topic in practical theology. D. A. Carson thought so too and that’s probably why he wrote the foreword. As try to navigate the straits between legalism and licentiousness, a book like this helps to clarify the discussion and offer a way for Christians to think about their Christian liberty and how it relates to those in their community. I would highly recommend this book, and it’s free if you’ve become a Christ and Pop Culture member by now. If not, why keep waiting?

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We all have a story. One thing all of stories unfortunately have in common is incidents of shame. To one degree or another, shame becomes part of virtually all of our stories. For some, it is not an incidental detail in a larger story but the bulk of the story itself.

Along these lines, Curt Thompson introduces his book The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About Ourselves. He says, “This, then, is a book about the story of shame. The one we tell about it, the one it tells about us, and even more so the one God has been telling about all of us from the beginning. Most important, this book also examines how the story of the Bible offers us a way not only to understand shame but also to effectively put it to death, even if that takes a lifetime to accomplish” (12-13). He continues,

The premise of this book, then, is that shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity. These gifts include any area of endeavor that promotes goodness, beauty and joy in and for the lives of others, whether that be teaching our first graders, loving our spouse well, managing forests, conducting healing prayer services, creating a new medical technology, offering psychotherapy or composing symphonies (13)

From this premise, Thompson, a psychiatrist specializing on the intersection between interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) and spiritual formation, unfolds the story and definition of shame in the first chapter. In the following two chapters, he draws on his specialization in IPNB to help readers better understand the nature of shame at that level. This leads to a discussion in chapter 4 about our nature as storytelling creatures and chapter 5 then places this within the biblical narrative.

Starting in chapter 6, Thompson presents a path forward. Healing from shame requires vulnerability, and that tends to take place in community with others. He discusses here how the shame that we feel and have internalized often works against us when it comes to actually overcoming it (see for instance the Brene Brown TED talks). Chapter 7 gives readers ways to address their shame using Scripture. Chapter 8 takes this into community and how that can either nurture shame or be catalysts for healing. Chapter 9 finishes with an eschatological touch as Thompson casts vision for how our freedom from shame can lead to joyfully engage our various creative callings.

While I would take a few things here and there with a grain of theological salt, this is a valuable book for those engaged in ministry. You don’t have to be a full-time counselor to encounter people who are burdened by shame. You might even be so yourself. Thompson’s insights from IPNB, as well as the idea that shame can take on a life of its own to be put to demonic means (Thompson prefers personify evil) were my main takeaways from the book. I might have switched chapters 4 and 5 as well, giving the biblical background and foundation first, then expanding the idea of lives as storytelling creatures. On the whole though, this is a well written book that covers an important topic. I’d recommend giving it a read.


Curt Thompson, The Soul of Shame: Retelling The Stories We Believe About OurselvesDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August 2015. 256 pp. Hardcover, $22.00.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new title in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series is in want of a place on my bookshelf. On first glance, today might seem better suited for a different kind of post. But, as I read recent events, it’s a call to start taking prayer seriously. With that in mind, I’d really commend this book to you for its analysis of prayer and it’s timeliness.

Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer is J. Gary Millar’s second work in the series. It is also an excellent companion to Tim Keller’s Prayer. Here, as is true in many titles in this series, Millar traces the nature of prayer from Genesis to Revelation. His chapters are divided by traditionally Old Testament divisions (Torah, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Writings). Before turning to the New Testament, he devotes a chapter to the Psalms. He then offers chapters on the Gospels, Acts, Paul, and the later New Testament letters. The afterword ties everything together and applies it to our current evangelical context.

Millar defines prayer as “calling on the name of the Lord,” hence the title of the book. In the introduction he offers an important clarification about what his work is trying to do (beyond just tracing out the passages most germane to prayer):

Initially the focus will be on showing how “calling on the name of the Yahweh,” or prayer that asks God to deliver on his covenantal promises, is the foundation for all that the Old Testament says about prayer. On moving to the New Testament it will become apparent how calling on the name of Yahweh is redefined by Jesus himself, and how, after his death and resurrection, the apostles understood praying in the name of Jesus to be the new covenant expression of calling on the name of Yahweh. Prayer throughout the Bible, it will be argued, is to be primarily understood as asking God to come through on what he has already promised; as Calvin expressed it, “through the Gospel our hearts are trained to call on God’s name” (18).

Without editorializing too much, that’s exactly what the present moment in our nation (and world) calls for. The gospel trains our hearts to call on God’s name to bring restoration and redemption to a broken world. We are asking God to come through on what he has already promised and we do so in the name of our new covenant Mediator and his Holy Spirit.

It is in that afterword that Millar laments the downturn in evangelical emphasis on prayer. He then offers several reasons that he thinks the church is praying less (233-235):

  1. Life is easy
  2. The communications revolution
  3. The rise of Bible study groups
  4. The availability of good teaching
  5. The dominance of pragmatism
  6. The vacuum created by cynicism

If 3 and 4 seem weird to you, you’ll have to read the book to see why he includes them. Having diagnosed the issue, Millar offers these insights for relearning to pray in light of his biblical theology of prayer:

  1. We pray recognizing our greatest need(s)
  2. We pray realizing that it is always going to be hard work
  3. We pray patiently (while looking for interim answers to big prayers)

He then suggests five no brainer prayers that the New Testament teaches us to believe God will always come through on:

  1. Forgiveness
  2. To know God better
  3. For wisdom
  4. For strength to obey/love/live for God
  5. For the spread of the gospel

Ultimately, we are praying for God to do his covenant work through the gospel (239). I mentioned earlier that this book is a good companions to Keller’s. I think the main reason for that it is this book shows in a fairly exhaustive fashion what the biblical prayers look like and then draws summary conclusions. Keller’s book provides good historical analysis and pastoral how-to. Millar’s book, through extensive biblical quotations (more so than a normal volume of NSBT) shows the logic of prayers in the Bible.

Because of that, this is definitely a book you want to add to your library. Not only that, you ought to read it and apply it. I’m in the process of doing that now and I hope you’d join me in doing the same.


J. Gary Millar, Calling on The Name of The Lord: A Biblical Theology of PrayerDowners Grove, IL: IVP Academic, March 2016. 264  pp. Paperback, $24.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Read an excerpt

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

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Few things are more American than working when you’re supposed to rest. So, here I am writing this book review on the Fourth of July. But, I guess it’s ok because it’s for Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo’s One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics. At least I can be patriotic, especially since I’ve already unlocked the “get a sunburn by large body of water” achievement for the day. By the time you read this, I’ll be unlocking “eat too many calories in one sitting” via some all you can eat wings.

Now, as far as the book goes, it’s a great little resource, and I do mean litte. Just recently, I have learned that you should pay attention to book dimensions on Amazon. I tend to assume most books are 6×9, which I consider “normal.” This one is 5×7, which means it’s a smaller book, that thankfully has smaller font. And I say that not sarcastically because that means even though it is small and might seem like a Saturday afternoon read (it is, for me at least), it still has substantial content (side note: when are books going to start including word counts so we can gauge the length better?).

That content is divided roughly into two parts. The first 6 chapters lay a theoretical foundation for how to understand politics within a Christian worldview. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture paradigm comes in handy in chapter 2. The following chapter tackles how the gospel functions as a “public truth.” The relationship between church and state is mapped out in the following chapter. The final two in this part move toward the practical, with chapter 5 dealing with our post-Christian country and chapter 6 with what wisdom looks like in public discourse in that space.

It is fitting them that after a brief interlude, Ashford and Pappalardo take up key topics in each of the next 7 chapters. You could probably guess what those topics are, or I can just tell you:

  • Life and death
  • Marriage and sexuality
  • Economics and wealth
  • The environment and ecological stewardship
  • Racial diversity and race relations
  • Immigrants and immigration reform
  • War and peace

Hopefully no surprises in that list. It is hard to imagine a hot button topic (as opposed to a hot pocket) that doesn’t fit one of those categories. Because this is a brief introduction, the chapters can’t be exhaustive. What they can be is helpfully orienting, and then conclude with recommended further readings on the topics, which is what they are and do. The book is closed with a brief example of what we can learn from Augustine when it comes to this sort of thing (spoiler: more than you even know).

This is not the last or final word on how to politic as a Christian American, or even as an American Christian. It is not intended to be. What it is though, is a good first word that you can read for yourself and then give to your friend interested in politics (or tell him to buy it on Amazon). Then you all can have a meaningful discussion on the issues after a solid orientation to the theory and practice of politics. You can avoid the usual clucking of opinions that are merely conjectures masquerading as arguments (hopefully).

While that may sound harsh, I assure you it is intended that way. Politics and religion are two topics that many uninformed people gravitate toward in order to promote their ideas. Thankfully, that doesn’t characterize either author of this book from what I can tell. They are judicious and clear, building sound arguments and contributing to intelligent discourse. They would never do what I do a few sentences ago, which I did as illustration purposes I guess now that I think about it. Anyway, if you’re intrigued by political theater and want to think Christianly about it, go get this little primer and have at it.


Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American PoliticsNashville: B&H Academic, December 2015. 176 pp. Hardcover, $14.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to B&H Academic for the review copy!

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Every now and then I’ll read a book that makes me laugh out loud (i.e. LOL). It’s not often given the books that I tend to read, but when I saw that Sammy Rhodes’ This Is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open The Door to Intimacy and Connection was out, I knew it would do the trick. Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s partnership with BookLook Bloggers, I was able to get a hold of a free copy. I wanted to read it because 1) I enjoyed following Rhodes on Twitter, even as the whole plagiarism thing hit the fan (which he recounts in chapter 10) and 2) I’m an awkward introvert so I knew I’d resonate with a good bit of the book.

This book ends up being part humorous memoir of sorts and part meditation on how awkwardness awakens us to grace. Rhodes has a had a far rougher life than his jokes on Twitter would have let on. He can add “authentic” to his self-description along with “awkward.” It was probably already there and known to those students that he ministers to at The University of South Carolina. But now the wider public can get more of a glimpse.

Whether you primarily knew of Rhodes before the Twitter plagiarism fiasco ignited by Patton Oswalt or because of it, you’d do well to read Rhodes thoughts on it here. He had already come clean in my mind, but this gives you more background about where he was personally during that time and then moves from that to discussion of how being online can be an escape for introverts (or just people) but that it can also come with a price. I don’t think he tries to minimize what happened, and he definitely seems to have learned from it. He presents a kind of cautionary tale for what happens when you unexpectedly get “Twitter famous.”

Especially as summer approaches, I’d recommend taking a break from whatever you normally read and pick up This Is Awkward. I guess that is unless your usual genre of reading is awkward memoirs from introverted campus pastors. If that’s the case, I think you should point me in the direction of more books like this.


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Speaking of campus ministry, I recently went through a book that unlocked several insights for me. Thanks to Zondervan, I was able to get a hold of Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom’s Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow. For me, the key takeaway is what the subtitle suggests. Deeply indebted to Joseph Myers’ book The Search to Belong, Harrington and Absalom map out 5 contexts in which discipleship happens. Conveniently, you can also correlate these with relationships Jesus had in the Gospels (58-59):

  • Public (Jesus and the crowds)
  • Social (Jesus and the 70)
  • Personal (Jesus and the 12)
  • Transparent (Jesus and the 3)
  • Divine (Jesus and the Father)

As we seek to carry out the Great Commission and make disciples, we do well to attend to these different contexts. While it may be beneficial to teach people how to have a quiet time, that’s only one context (divine). Likewise, just because someone is in a small group (either personal or transparent context), doesn’t mean they are good to go. Ideally, all of the contexts work together to help mold us into the people that Jesus would want us to be. Within any school or church, all of these contexts should be present and developed in order to be utilized in discipleship.

I mentioned several insights were unlocked, and that covered a couple (pay attention to contexts, let them work together). Another was that I had been approaching discipleship at church and at school in a way that didn’t work within the given contexts. For instance, while we had developed the small groups at school a little more, their focus was primarily on doing Bible studies. But, they all already had a Bible class and heard sermons weekly. They needed a space to process what was going on in life, thus being more personal and transparent, rather than social, which was what it drifted toward when they had a “study” to do. I realized that we should provide a structure and possibly curriculum that is aimed at moving students from the social to the personal to the transparent context in their small groups. Not entirely sure how we’ll approach that yet, but it’s a slight modification we hope to make for next year.

In a similar vein, I realized that what we were doing for small groups at church (at least the ones I was involved in either as a member or a coach) was similar. I think often because of that, I found myself less interested week to week because I already did a lot of theological reading and studying so I wasn’t necessarily eager to do more. To be fair though, I really enjoyed and benefited from the times I was there. But I think the initial expectations were off because of what the group was. Had we spent more time fostering personal connections (and we did in the week that I personally enjoyed the most), I think it would have bound our group a little tighter together, and we could have done so without abandoning discussing the Bible or theology.

All of this is to say that Harrington and Absalom’s work is worth checking out and I found it immediately applicable. It’s helped me re-think discipleship in church and school and I feel like I’m better prepared for some of the things that I’ll hopefully launch later this summer and fall!