New Books of Note

June 23, 2017 — 1 Comment

On Pastoring by H. B. Charles Jr. is exactly what the subtitle implies: a short guide to living, leading, and ministering as a pastor. It is 30 short chapters divided into three parts:

  1. The Pastor’s Heart
  2. The Pastor’s Leadership
  3. The Pastor’s Ministry

While I think most of the insight is fairly basic (or should be), I also think a lot of it is ignored or just never learned. By that I mean, it’s things you should know if you’re a pastor, but that doesn’t mean you do know them (or were properly taught or mentored at some point in time).

The highlights to me were the chapters on being a healthy pastor (in a holistic sense), leaving a godly legacy, being faithful where God puts you, and trusting the sufficiency of God’s Word over life experience. You’ll notice the first three go in the first section of the book, and I think it was the strongest.

I would consider myself a non-traditional pastor in the sense that I’m primarily a high school Bible teacher and also work with an on-campus ministry. Pastor is not my title, but I shepherd young hearts and minds and so I try to self consciously think of myself in that role.

That being said, what Charles offers readers here was useful to me, even post seminary and several years into my vocation. It was a good refresher and reminder on things I need to keep close guard. I would anticipate it could work that way for you as well!

Getting Jesus Wrong by Matt Johnson is one of the more “real” books on spiritual growth I’ve read in a while. In the first part of the book, he devotes a chapter to each of the wrong “Jesuses.” They are:

  • Life Coach Jesus
  • Checklist Jesus
  • Movement Leader Jesus
  • Visionary Jesus

After another chapter related to the pride and despair of following these false Christs, Johnson turns the corner into the second part of the book that offers an antidote. He presents a chapter on the proper function of the law, then the Gospel, and then a closing chapter encouraging readers with humility and hope. It’s there that you see how much Johnson is in transition and growth himself and isn’t writing from a place of having it all figure out.

An interesting subtext to the book is that the church frequently mentioned in part 1 is Mars Hill. I don’t think he comes right out and says it, but knowing he is from Seattle makes it fairly obvious. I appreciated his honest reflections about some of the problems and the effect it has had. He doesn’t go out of his way to bash Mark Driscoll or the church, but you can tell that movement leader Jesus wasn’t exactly what the church needed.

All that being said, I think this is a helpful book for what it critiques, but I didn’t find the solution as helpful. It is more in the Lutheran vein of theology, but if that’s you, you’ll appreciate his approach. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, it has to do with how you view the law functioning in Scripture, and how much continuity or discontinuity there is in the Old and New Testament approaches to sanctification. I should probably devote another post to explaining that in more detail!

James Emery White’s Generation Z is a helpful tool for understanding the generation coming behind millennials. The first part of the book does some demographic exposition. The second part offers an approach to reach this generation. Three appendices present talks that White gave on hot button issues like gay marriage, the spiritual world, and whether belief in God is coherent or not.

In case you’re not clear on generational distinctions, Generation Z are those born between 1996-2010. So, in essence, every high school student I’ve taught to date. White’s book offers many surprising and potentially alarming statistics about this generation. The main ones tended to relate to how this generation is less religious, but not necessarily uninterested in spiritual things.

In general, I think the picture White sketches in the first part of the book is helpful. And while he has a good track record at his church, I didn’t find the new approaches in the second part that compelling. Admittedly, there is a thin line between catering to culture and challenging it. While not mutually exclusive, I think I would default to following the track Tim Keller is on. In terms of differences, I think Keller is more nuanced, and falls more on the side of challenging rather than catering (the latter of which isn’t the same as caving in on convictions, just so you know). But, this book is a good starting point for understanding some of the issues, and at least seeing an approach that you can choose to follow or modify.

Ron Citlau’s Hope for The Same-Sex Attracted is written from the perspective of someone who struggles with just that. But, he is also a pastor and has been happily married for years. He writes to those who have struggles similar to his, but who need the hope that the Bible provides.

To be clear, that hope is never cast as becoming a “normal” heterosexual married person. Instead, the first part of the book presents three obstacles that Citlau sees to having hope. Then the second part of the book discusses five gifts that can help those who struggle with same sex attraction. He then closes out the book with a chapter to church leaders and then one to those that struggle.

Citlau openly critiques the gay Christian identity movement (if you can call it that) in the first chapter. He is clear that he doesn’t think it is helpful to identify as gay even if one is committed to biblical sexual ethics and a life of either celibacy or heterosexual monogamy. He likewise sees the spiritual friendship movements and obviously gay marriage as obstacles to true hope.

The gifts that he sees that can provide hope are the church, healing communities and Christian therapy (but is not championing reparative therapy), singleness, marriage, and lament. I thought the last chapter was a unique contribution to the discussion and relies heavily on J. Todd Billings’ Rejoicing in Lament.

I have mixed feelings about recommending this book. While the stories of life change peppered throughout are helpful and hopeful, I found myself wondering who the book was truly for. It is clearly for Christians who experience same sex attraction. But, it is not routine (from my experience) for people who have same-sex attractions to identify themselves as same-sex strugglers. They either only have attractions to the same sex and so identify as gay, or can be attracted to both and identify as bisexual.

In a sense, by definition Citlau is bisexual because he is attracted to his wife, but still has some struggles with same sex attraction. I would think that he would consciously reject that label, and would encourage others to do the same if they have similar experiences (and I’m not suggesting he should adopt that label either).

I would agree that if your identity is wrapped up in your sexuality (gay or straight) that is the bigger issue. But, using conventional labels to name your experience isn’t the same thing. I think you can say you struggle against same sex attraction because you are committed to a traditional sexual ethic, but also acknowledge that you experience bisexual sexual attraction. That’s not an option open to readers of this book, but I think it should be a valid option.

In the end, I think if I were to suggest this book, it would be in dialogue that asks for the reader’s opinion. I wouldn’t suggest to someone “you need to read this book,” because I don’t think I fully agree with the approach. But, it could be good to start a conversation about what hope for the Christian who has non traditional sexual attraction patterns looks like. This book, read in conjunction with a couple of others that are committed to a traditional Christian sexual ethic could prove helpful in the long run.

[Thanks to Moody, New Growth Press, Baker, and Bethany House for sending me these review copies!]

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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