Gospel According to Mike or Jesus?

I am all about growing in my faith and being challenged through new teachings, but after reading “One: The Gospel According to Mike” by Michael Williams, I was left with more of a concern for others reading it than I was questioning or growing in my own beliefs.

The premise behind ONE, is that the relationship between God and humanity has been restored in Christ, which I believe to be true. But what Mike doesn’t address is the free will of humanity to accept that gift of grace needed before we can live in it and the relationship God intended.

I’ll start with what I appreciated about the book: the supremacy of Christ and the emphasis on biblical literacy. But other than that, I wasn’t too excited to move from chapter to chapter. I respect Mike for his call as a Bible teacher, but he seems to have had the MO of being a pot stirrer for the Church of the builder generation. The back cover references his appearances with Benny Hinn and John Osteen, names practically irrelevant to Millennial Christians. Also, the statement in the preface that the King James Version of the Bible is “one of most often cited by most scholars” (p. 12), shows the contributors ignorance to Christian scholarship. And from a missionary standpoint, the insensitivity for reaching a changing culture. Not taking anything away from the historical impact of the KJV, but times have changed and people don’t speak with “thy’s” anymore.

I understand that Mike is trying to rattle the feathers of those trapped by traditionalism in the institutional church and also really provoke believers to have a full understanding of what they actually believe and why, but I am always offended when someone, especially a faith teacher (or as he is now called, an “unteacher”) with attributed authority begins to knock the Church. Any flaw attributed to Her is the result of sinful humans, not God. Mike takes it an entire step further by declaring the Gospel and Christianity are simply incompatible. In attacking a definition of Christianity by Franklin Graham (another sign to the generation of which Mike is addressing), the author writes that “Jesus is not the protagonist of Christianity. He is not its main player. He is not its centerpiece, and he did not start the religion as many if not all encyclopedias would have you believe… Believing the gospel does NOT make you a Christian” (p. 71). To be fair, the attribution of Christianity described by Franklin Graham wasn’t in my opinion the best definition either, but this theme of Mike’s gospel being somehow truer than that of a 2000 year old faith tradition has me worried. It’s not so much that I disagree with what Mike is saying, (though I have my points) I just disagree more with how he is saying it and the implications his book will have for its readers.

As another example, Mike writes that “Christianity presents an intricate, detailed, explanation of why Jesus really never succeeded….Christianity is the perfect demonstration of the absolute ignorance of the will of God and the gospel… the only religion that attempts to embrace Christ as Savior is Christianity. and then it systematically and categorically undoes the power of the cross, the power of God’s grace, and the power of God-the gospel” (p. 215). It seems that Mike has a flawed understanding of Christianity, influenced perhaps by his experiences growing up in a church that taught more about rules in religion than a relationship with Christ.

For someone who is attuned with an organic form of Christianity, free from some of the negative, denominational baggage, Mike’s teachings could liven up their faith and those Christians might be encouraged by the spiritual culture of the New Testament church presented.  He does a good job at pealing back layers of doctrine to expose the divine and tackles big issues like how to be born again, how to know when you’re in God’s will, and shares his thoughts on the Rapture. I also thought he had some interesting insights to temptation, the origin of sin, and our identity in Christ, but even those were still muddied by his condescending tone.

As I already mentioned, I like how Mike’s stressed the need to understand the broader biblical narrative and to read Scripture in context. What I am confused about though is why he didn’t cite verses and chapters? In the preface, it is stated that in the ONE, Mike’s “paraphrases can be easily looked up in the King James Version”. Well to me, if I was trying to remedy biblical illiteracy, I would do everything I could to help the reader navigate and learn Scripture. This would definitely include giving chapter and number references for passages. I would also be careful on when and how I “paraphrased”. Lastly, I’d most certainly not use the King James Version. How are we supposed to help people get over a “cut and paste” methodology of reading the bible, if we don’t first model an appropriate way of studying Scripture?

All in all, I am not sure about a Gospel according to Mike, but I’d confidently take a Gospel according to Jesus. That account is recorded in our New Testaments.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

One- Gospel According to Mike

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God is a Gift: Learning to Live in Grace

In his new book, “God is a Gift: Learning to Live in Grace”, Pastor Doug Reed explains how God’s love is the greatest gift to the world. From that love, expressed most evidently in Christ’s life and mission, humanity is taught a new way to live. In the Christian’s restored relationship with God, comes the responsibility to bring restoration to the rest of creation.

Through the use of personal stories and inspiring accounts from others, Doug Reed illuminates Scripture and eloquently describes what God wants for us as well as what God wants from us. Expanding upon John the Evangelists declaration that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), Doug makes the case that God’s love is a gift for the Christian life and has several implications for how we perceive our relationship to the world. Doug writes that “understanding that God is a gift transforms all of our relationships. It opens the door for us to love our neighbor and ourselves; if God embraces our neighbor, so must we. Since God has given Himself to us, we can no longer look at who we are or what we have done to measure our worth. Our worth is now tied to who Jesus is and what He has done.

Some of my favorite chapters include Ch. 2 “The Two Trees” in which Doug reflects on the consequences of Adam and Eve’s decision to choose selfishness and independence over paradise in relationship with God; and Ch. 7 “The Cross” where the atoning work of Christ is highlighted to show the reconciling power of God. At Calvary, the fall in Eden was undone and sin lost its power. Jesus the Second Adam establishes the right relationship God intended with the first. Doug writes that “at the cross, Christ became the human condition. And we can describe this condition not so much in terms of pain but of shame and isolation. Aloneness is the greatest consequence of rejecting God’s gift (p. 87).

“God is a Gift” is a great book for the believer to grow in their understanding of how faith in the work of Christ can transform our relationship with the Father and each other. Anyone struggling with insecurities in their spiritual walk will be encouraged and strengthened to see themselves in their new identity as God’s child. One of my favorite biblical story’s, that of the Prodigal son, is a reoccurring theme throughout the book, that later gets fleshed out in its own chapter.

In addition, the author shares some of the personal history behind his church, the world-renown Throncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas which I had never heard of before this read. After finishing this book, I’ll be sure to jump on any opportunity to visit the scenic, “Ozark Gothic” Throncrown Chapel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

God is a Gift

New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good

manifesto fn cvRE.inddThough I am not involved with politics, several of my closest friends are. Many of those friends are also evangelicals and members of the “religious right”. With the reelection of President Obama this past November, I heard several of my conservative associates lament that America is no long a Christian nation.  Remarks like “this election taught me that the church is no longer an influence in our culture” and other similar statements scattered my network of airwaves for weeks. I am not going to get political or theological for that matter in this review, but feel that many in the religious right are finally beginning to realize how drastically different the social and spiritual landscape is in our country. At least at the turn of the new century (and many would argue long before then) our Western mindset and Judeo-Christian affiliation began to shift more rapidly towards postmodernism and America became a post-Christian nation.

In the new book, A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good (2012) edited by David P. Gushee, twenty-two different Christian scholars and pastors write on provocative issues that are becoming major hot button issues in the church. These issues, like global poverty, human trafficking, creation care, consumerism, and the rise in Muslim populations are being recognized by the “new evangelicals” as opportunities to share God’s love in a new way among a new generation. Contrary to the closed mindedness that often accompanies the religious right, these new evangelicals advocate more of an acceptance and abundance spirituality. Though I will not argue which “evangelical” is correct, it is evident that for me and the Millennial generation, the Billy Graham era of the 1950’s is lost in America’s yesteryear.

Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals and current President of the New Evangelical Partnership, describes the NEP as: “1) believing in the authority of Scripture as the Word of God, 2) the virgin birth, saving death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus, 3) the call by our Lord to be born again; and 4) the command to share that faith with others” (p.30). The “New” part confesses that: “First we are committed to reaching out beyond our own constituency to be ‘bridge-builders’ with others for the sake of public good.. ‘[and] Second, we are committed to not politicizing the church.” (p. 30-31).

In the opening chapter, “The Church in America Today”, well-known blogger and activist, Brian McLaren states four challenges to the Evangelical church, including the cultural shifts to postmodernism/post-colonial/post-industrial, heightened sense of pluralism, an apathetic response, and the politicizing of faith. To the last point, McLaren differentiates between the “right-wing/regressive who focus on the nostalgia, nativist, and negative (called “3N”) with those in the emerging conversation/new evangelical left-wing/progressives who “instead seek an ethos of hope, diversity, and creative collaboration” (p. 6).

As someone who was very involved with creation care during the first decade of the 2000’s, I was very interested to read about Richard Cizik’s struggle with his very public dismissal as the VP of the NAE. Cizik was fired for comments he made about creation care, civil unions, and abortion. Though I agree with Cizik’s work on earthly stewardship, I cannot support his beliefs regarding his other statements. Still yet, I was struck by a powerful line in the beginning of Richard’s chapter: “To not learn and change, especially spiritually, is a form of death” (p. 26). I can get behind this remark but would have to clarify that for the Christian, they should always be changing, by growing into the likeness of Christ. Richard Cizik concludes his thoughts by encouraging Christian leaders to seek a vision, strategy, and tactics from God, while also remaining bold and humble. He quotes Jim Collins the management, research giant by saying that leadership should also be about “creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted” (p. 40).

Chapter 3, “A Disenchanted Text: Where Evangelicals Went Wrong with the Bible” should convict readers to question why in our Western world the Bible is no longer relevant. It is a call to rectify the sanctity of Scripture and release it from the scientific strangleholds of Enlightenment. Author Cheryl, Bridges states that both liberals and conservatives during the twentieth and twenty-first Century “robbed the Bible of its status as having any subjecthood… Truth was disjoined from presence, and Spirit was disjoined from Word” (p. 19). Like Bridges, I too yearn for a revival of God in our land and I believe it will begin with prayer and a reaffirmation of biblical authority.

Tectonic Transformation

Missional MovesThe culture of the Western world has undoubtedly experienced, and is continuing to experience several major changes in philosophy, economics, science, and society. It is in the paradigm shifts of postmodernity, spike in secularization, and embrace of religious diversity that the Church in the West now exists. Though many books have been written over the last fifteen to twenty years warning the Church of these cultural transitions, few have offered any real understanding or practical implications in the realm of helping pastors navigate through these seas of change.

Rob Wegner and Jack Magruder have vocalized a new hope for the church that not only bellows a call from the wilderness, but gives strategic and encouraging insights on the true nature of repentance; how to turn away from the world and return to God. In their new book, Missional Moves: 15 Tectonic Shifts that Transform Churches, Communities, and the World, Rob and Jack write from their experience in the trenches of ministry. Giving accounts from their many missionary trips to India where they were a part of a church planting and pastor coaching movement, to the radical transition they have helped chart as staff leaders of Granger Community Church.

As a fellow citizen of Northern Indiana, I have heard much about the missional excitement and ministry happening over at Granger and I am glad to now have available the story of how their Senior Management Team has led a megachurch to be a missional, multiplier of micro “missional communities” and “essential churches”. Through these shifts, Granger is now literally making a positive impact for the Kingdom in their local neighborhood as well as all across the world.

Missional Moves is the latest edition to the Exponential Series, a publishing and resourcing initiative focused on accelerating multiplication through creative and missional efforts. With a forward by Alan Hirsch, Exponential’s resident missional guru, Rob and Jack expand much of their thinking on that of Hirsch’s prominent books, “The Forgotten Ways” and “On the Verge” coauthored with Dave Ferguson, another Exponential leader and author. While I am sure some readers will be overly critical of all the references to India and Granger, I felt the real life stories told help put flesh on the bones of a missional theology, and reveal the Truth of the living Body in a fresh and active way.

Each of the three sections of Missional Moves, open with a brief introductory that lay out the chapters and offer an overview of the shifts to be covered. Using the metaphor of an earthquake and the shaking of tectonic plates to create a tsunami, the authors advocate for a reverse tsunami of love, brought as a reaction from the cultures clash on the church. The 15 shifts are divided by the three sections; Part 1 Paradigm Shift: Missional Imagination, Part 2 Centralized Shift: Local Churches on Mission, and Part 3 Decentralized Shift: The People of God on Mission.

Part 1 does a great job at explaining the current cultural climate and the need for the church to respond with realignment to God’s main purpose for the humanity – to have a relationship with his people. Chapter 3, “From My Tribe to Every Tribe” was by far my favorite in this part. Rob and Jack trace the story of Scripture with the divinely-directional and missionally-oriented counsel of “G3” or God’s global glory. They write that our map should be the Scriptures, our compass-the Spirit, and our destination that of the global glory of God (p. 63).

Rob and Jack show that living in right relationship with God means fulfilling certain responsibilities in His family. Referencing “top-line blessing”, the authors indicate how in the commissioning of Abraham, and Adam and Eve before him, there has always been an intention for God’s chosen people to be a blessing for all. This commandment is likewise given by Jesus to the Church, the new Israel. The authors also explain how living with an “orientation language” clarifies Christ’s primary concern for all people groups in the Great Commission. In a brief word study of the Greek “ethne”, the reader will see how the commonly translated “nations” can be properly understood as “all tribes”, tongues, families or ethnic communities of people.

The theme of people groups is further fleshed out later in chapter 15, “From Great Commission to Great Completion” in the author’s discussion on reaching other cultures through “APG’s” or adjacent people groups and “PPG’s”  or proximal people groups. In reading the emphasis placed on understanding and utilizing different cultures to move from Jerusalem to Judea and to Samaria, I was reminded of another missionary to India, Donald McGavran, and his work on movements within people groups as “Bridges of God”.

In Part 2, chapter 6 “From Top Down to Bottom Up” should be studied by every leader looking to begin activating more of a missional approach to ministry. The importance of beginning relationally, embracing experiments, and building on asset-based strengths is highly stressed for the success of movements. The authors write that “a top-down approach expects perfection and looks for guaranteed results. But a bottom-up approach is more flexible, learning through trial and error how to best serve the community. It embraces failure as an opportunity to learn” (p. 12). Also, the chapters’ discussion on “demonstration farming” by cultivation, contextualization, demonstration, replication, and multiplication will be refreshing and revolutionary for many who serve in ministry coaching and training of indigenous leaders and church planters.

While the entire book offered incredible insights for effectively being missional or the “what” and incarnational, the “how”, I found Part 3 “Decentralized Shift: The People of God on Mission” to be of particular importance. Every chapter shines new light on missional application and the exponential process of Christianity as a grassroots movement. Chapter 11, “From Formal to Factual Leadership” presents a “both/and” approach to governance. Building upon the popularity of the hit book, “The Spider and the Starfish” by Rod Beckstrom and Ori Braffman, Rob and Jack suggest a combination model of “spiderfish”. They write, “We went looking for this hybrid model because we are an organized megachurch that wants to unleash autonomous, viral movements. We are committed to being attractional and missional, organizational and autonomous” (p. 206).

The remaining chapters in this section present extraordinary insights into expanding apostolic movements, discipleship and mission through community as well as intimate relationships, reproducing simple and organic systems, and how to leverage Hirsch’s mDNA for a megachurch moving micro. A couple surprising parallels shared include how Granger takes the military’s example of boot-camp training for intensive ministry exposers and what can be learned from Notre Dame University’s thriving alumni relationship built on expectations and identity.

Visual graphics, charts, and pictures from Granger and India scatter the pages of this book, helping to bring the authors teachings to life. In addition, there is a website available (missionalmoves.com) that equips readers with supplemental material including video clips, downloadable ebooks, and links to other relevant pages.

Missional Moves is more than a story of a megachurch turned missional and more than the memoirs of a couple of missionaries. It is a work that places priority on God’s purpose for the Church and illustrates tangible ways to partner with God in fulfilling His mission.

Grace: More Than We Deserve Greater Than We Imagine

GraceIt’s been said that justice is when we get what we deserve. Mercy is when we don’t get what we deserve. And grace is when we get what we don’t deserve. Best-selling author and pastor Max Lucado explains in his new book how Grace is “more than we deserve and greater than we imagine”. In what is being hailed as his best book yet, Max does an incredible job at beautifully portraying God’s gift of Grace through Christ and the radical transformation that believers can have by living in the presence of this awe inspiring and mysterious gift. In a line that captures the book’s tone, Max writes, “Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace threw him a party” (p. 72).

Each chapter opens with a big idea epigraph that is fleshed out through that topic’s writing. In addition, numerous Scriptures and encouraging quotes from theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, St. Augustine, John Stott, C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer offer a thought provoking and reflective introduction to each section.

Some of my favorite chapters include chapter four “You Can Rest Now”, a discussion on God’s provision and the Israelites exodus from Egypt; chapter five “Wet Feet” which gives an account of Christ taking on the posture of a servant and washing the disciples feet; and chapter seven “Coming Clean with God” where confession is addressed using the example of King David and his infamous bad decisions.

Other insightful and stirring topics include Max’s beer cravings and the hypocrisy he felt, the difference between sustaining grace and saving grace, and the astonishing response of an Amish community that experienced a school shooting massacre in 2006.

Through numerous Bible passages, Max shows how grace is found in God’s generosity, and not his grading system of human merits.  It is “by grace we have been saved through faith not of our own doing” (see Ephesians 2:8).

Familiar stories highlighted include Paul’s thorn in his side, Ruth and Boaz, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus and the sycamore tree,  Jacob’s late night wrestling match, and Joseph imprisonment resulting from the advancements of Potifar’s wife.

Throughout the book run themes of forgiveness, new identity, generosity, Christ’s service, Kingdom adoption, and eternal security.

Max concludes with a powerful paragraph summarized here in a few of his closing sentences on grace: “More verb than noun, more present tense than past tense, grace didn’t just happen; it happens. Grace happens here. The same work God did through Christ long ago on the cross is the work God does through Christ right now in you” (p. 150-151).

In addition there is a “Readers Guide” at the end, equipped with questions to consider and Bible passages to follow along with and mediate on. The Readers Guide is perfect for personal study or to use in a small group setting and is a great tool for grasping the gift of grace from God and learning to live in His transforming grace every day.

I received a copy of Grace free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

 

The Human Need and Biblical Prescription for a Stop Day

24-6God is using the entire Sleeth family as a prophetic voice to call the Church back into right relationship with our Creator and His creation. From their teaching and resourcing ministry, Blessed Earth to all their incredible written content being published, the Sleeth’s beautifully reflect God’s inspiration and revelation on how the human life should be.

Continuing the theme of creation care and a simplistic yet meaningful and contributing life, Matthew’s new book 24/6 A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life (2012) addresses the human need and divinely appointed commandment to remember and observe the Sabbath. The fourth commandment to rest isn’t just an Old Testament rule, but also a spiritual discipline practiced by Jesus.

Yet, in all the hustle and bustle of life in the Twenty-first Century, taking a day to stop and just “be” with God is a routine not often practiced by many in the Church. In addition to the desire for “the American dream” and what Max Weber called the “Protestant [Work] Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” the Western world is also experiencing a technological and informational overload. The busyness in people’s lives is undeniable.

That is one of the reasons why Matthew Sleeth advocates remembering the Sabbath, or “taking a stop day. In addition to man’s need to rest, the Sabbath is also the only commandment of the Ten that begins with “remember”.  To the generation receiving these words from God through Moses, they were a people who had known nothing but a life of slavery, hard work, and bondage in Egypt. When you are a slave, rest is not an option. With their deliverance from slave labor, God also gave them the freedom to rest.

This is a liberty that God experienced himself, for God rested after his work in creation. And once he unbound His people from the bondage of slavery (and their sin through Christ), he once again tells us to remember his provision and rest in his presence.

Matthew shares stories from his work experience in the medical field as well as Sabbath habits of his own family. Weaving the biblical mandate of taking a “stop day” through his writing and reflecting on both Old and New Testament passages, he has truly done the Church a great service in sharing this divinely appointed discipline in his new book.

In addition to the clear and compelling communication of Matthew, is a Forward by Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Eugene Peterson, a list of Scriptures dealing with the Sabbath, numerous quotes from several well-known pastors and theologians, and opening poems to each chapter. The book concludes with a series of blessings relating to family, communion, and service.

Just weeks after I received my copy of 24/6 I used it as the main resources for a teaching I did on the topic of Sabbath. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Your Character is formed by the Challenges You Overcome

UnstoppableWow! What an inspiring book! Nick Vujicic is a living example of life without limits. He is a dynamic, speaker and writer. In his second book, “Unstoppable”, Nick addresses issues including personal and relationships crisis, career challenges, health and disability concerns, self-destructive thoughts, emotions, and addictions, bullying, persecution, and dealing with intolerance, as well as how to serve others. He also speaks to the need to find balance in body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick is experiencing a wonderful, adventurous life and has given motivation and encouragement to millions. He is also a raving evangelists and is continually praising God for the life he has been given. Every story is saturated with God’s provision, and the confidence available to those in Christ.

Through many inspiring stories from his own challenges as well as the lives of others he has come into contact with, Nick explains how in our weakness God is strong and how “when we put faith into action, we are unstoppable” (p. 3). I always say that as long as we are still living and breathing on this planet, God has a plan and a purpose for us to fulfill. Nick has found his calling in helping people become inspired to action and to maximize their gifts and talents. As someone who loves seeing others succeed, this book will be one I highly recommend to many as they search for meaning.

One of my favorite chapters was, “A life of Passion and Purpose” (ch. 4). Though I am not a career coach, I do greatly enjoy helping people discover what they were born to do. I am grateful to have helped several people recently find the courage they needed to follow their dreams and God-given potential. In regards to the ache some people feel in their purpose or existence, Nick gives great advice writing, “they question their value because they aren’t clear on how they can contribute and make a mark… I encourage you to identify whatever it is that fulfills you and engages all your gifts and energy. Pursue that path, not for your own glory or enrichment, but to honor God and to make a contribution. Be patient if it takes time to find your way” (p. 78).

Likewise, Nick addresses risks, timing, sacrifice, doubt and career choices writing from his own experience in finance and how he moved into a life of vocational speaking inspirational and evangelistic messages. His final career and calling advice is most important, to always pray about it. “Checking with the Ultimate Authority” is always the best way to find out what God wants us to do.

It is clear that Nick loves God and loves people. He writes with evangelistic zeal and offers practical steps for turning passions into positive difference, both in the Kingdom and for the here and now. I will refer to this book often for inspiration as well as recommend it to everyone I know looking for a true story of hope they can believe in.

I received a copy of “Unstoppable” for free through Water Brook’s Blogging for Books review program in exchange for an honest review on my blog.