Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Book Related Reading Links

It’s hard to believe that it is Christmas time again, already. Where does the time go? Well, time flies when given good things to read, I guess! In this last post of 2008, I would like to highlight some book related weblinks and let you know of some new things coming up ahead.

There is a link on the sidebar highlighting the Hearts & Minds Bookstore of my good friend, Byron Borger, but I don’t think I have mentioned him directly in a post before. Please visit his Booknotes Blog. He updates it regularly featuring books that we all should be aware of… and he often offers “Blog Specials.” Although you may never have a chance to visit his store in Dallastown, PA, you can still order books online. The staff at Hearts & Minds are as reliable as any “internet bookstore.”

Don Opitz and I have a website for our book The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness: We try to update it regularly and are currently featuring an Advent Sermon preached by Don a few Sundays ago. Enjoy!

CPYU’s Winter 2008 edition of Engage is now available for FREE. Along with articles helping parents and youth workers navigate the often confusing world of teenagers, we also provide a well rounded review of books to consider. Of special “book interest,” in this issue we have an excerpt from John Stott’s excellent book, The Living Church.

And COMING IN 2009…

Be on the lookout for CPYU Bookshelf Book Awards in early January!

Looking for a chance to win FREE books? Well do I have news for you! Coming soon: CPYU Bookshelf Question of the Week. Spread the word. You won’t want to miss it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

David Naugle on Reordering Our Loves and Lives

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness, David Naugle (Eerdmans, 2008)

David K. Naugle (DN) is chair and professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University. He is also the author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans), selected as a 2003 Christianity Today Book of the Year.

CPYU: What motivated you to write about love?

DN: Over the years, I have become convinced that people don’t necessarily do what they say they will do, or behave according to their beliefs, or act on the basis of their thoughts or ideas. However, at the end of the day, people will do what they love!

Augustine put it like this in his book Enchiridion: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves.” We are motivated to do what we do by the things we love, care about and desire. Our lifestyles follow our loves; our loves lead to our lifestyles.

It seems to me that this has been the missing element in various Christian programs of moral and spiritual formation. We can’t just impart biblical information and expect much to happen. Our deepest loves, affections and desires must be reordered for lives to change in a Christ-like way.

But our loves and lives remain severely disordered, especially because of cultural influence. No one knows this better than CPYU! In light of the biblical teaching on love which is the nature of God, at the heart of the greatest commandments, and is the chief of virtues (1 John 4; Matthew 22; 1 Corinthians 13), a book on love and the necessity of reordering our loves, seemed like a good idea.

CPYU: On the surface, it does seem obvious that love is related to happiness, but what is the deeper meaning? Where do we often get love and happiness wrong in our culture?

DN: If we follow the main outline of the biblical story, we discover that God intended for us to enjoy the deep meaning of happiness (or shalom, as it’s called in the Hebrew Old Testament) rooted in rightly ordered loves for God and for everything else under and in Him.

When we sinned, however, we lost this deep meaning of happiness found in God and in his good creation, rightly related. However, we did not lose our love or longing for happiness; in fact, it may have even deepened, even if it was distorted and disordered.

As extraordinarily needy and ignorant people in search of a fulfilling life in a deeply fallen world, we attach our loves in intense ways to whatever we think will make us happy, whether it be people, places or things.

But these people, places or things that we love for happiness’ sake fail us every time. They promise the satisfaction we have been longing for, but they fail to keep their promises. They simply are not made to do so. We end up frustrated once again. As Bono famously sings: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!”

Out of this disordered love in search for happiness, our lives become a mess, a wreck, especially because of our idolatries, vices, habits, and addictions. We will turn to crime, violence, and even warfare, if that’s what we think it will take to get what we want, since our deepest sense of self and overall well-being depends on it. See James 4:1-2, for example.

Not only our own ignorance, but the false, misleading messages of our culture through music, TV, films, and advertisements also misdirect us and lead us into a big, ugly ditch (to put it mildly) … all in search of happiness! As Augustine once said, “… what am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”

This is precisely where the Christian gospel enters the picture. When we believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and we are reconnected to God. He then enables us to love God and everything else in God in reordered ways. We don’t reject the world, but worldliness; we don’t reject creation, but its corruption. In other words, we seek to love the created world in a reordered and right way in God as its creator and redeemer.

This, I believe, is the key to discovering the deep meaning of happiness both now and forever! Reordered love and reordered lives and the discovery of the deep meaning of happiness are the primary benefits of the Christian faith and God’s good news about Jesus Christ!

Thus, the connection between love and happiness, as I try to develop it, follows the major points of the overall biblical narrative, and I can summarize the story like this:

- The deep meaning of happiness in God as He intended at creation rooted in rightly ordered loves and lives;

- Happiness lost in the fall of humanity into sin and replaced with devastating ignorance and disordered loves and lives;

- The deep meaning of happiness already redeemed and one day fully restored in Jesus Christ who graciously reorders our loves and lives through the Christian gospel.

CPYU: This is from the review of your book in Publisher’s Weekly: “Many Christians will enjoy this book and be renewed in their quest for true happiness. Others will not, given the author's insistence that accepting Jesus is the only way to real happiness. In a religiously pluralistic world, the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.” How do you respond to this?

DN: Well, actually, though PW (Publisher’s Weekly) didn’t intend it as such, I take their criticism as a compliment. I DIDN’T CAVE INTO POLITICALLY CORRECT RELIGIOUS PLURALISM!

Furthermore, my goal was to do what PW said I should have done, namely to show how “the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.”

PW thinks I failed at this, but I think I succeeded (Lord willing), especially by appealing to various expressions of popular culture that show how our disordered loves can disorder our lives and make us miserable. For example, Alan Jackson’s C&W song — “Everything I love Is Killing Me” — hits the nail on the head! And Johnny Cash’s return to faith shows how his reordered love for God reordered his life, and brought him into an experience of the deep meaning of happiness. And what happened to Cash can happen to us as well.

In this sense, then, my book is a form of cultural apologetics, showing how Jesus Christ is the sweet fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires as we search and find the genuinely happy life in Him (I am employing Charlie Peacock’s thoughts from his endorsement on the back of the book).

CPYU: What are some practical ways that parents and youth workers can help teenagers “reorder” their loves?

DN: In many ways, this is what the seventh and last chapter in the book are all about. There I point out that the deep meaning of happiness we experience now is not perfect and never will be. Presently, we live between the cross and the consummation, at the “hyphen” between the “already” but the “not yet.”

Consequently, at this time in God’s narrative plan for history, we must enroll in the school of Christ for the ongoing mending of our hearts. In Christ’s school of followership, the Christian practices make up the curriculum for life change and consistency. It’s unnecessary to reinvent the wheel on this subject of the Christian practices since so many good books are already available by authors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. I recommend them highly.

However, what may be of particular interest to parents, youth workers, and students is my own autobiographical description of “The Disciplines and Me” on pages 193-203. Here I talk about the Christian practices I learned from my mentors early on as a student that have served me well over the years. I talk about the Bible and books, church and community, prayer, the enemies of the christian life, virtue and vice, thinking, loving and doing, and so on. Hopefully a portion of my own story may be of inspiration in the “how to reorder our loves” department.

Related Links:
Reordered Loves, Reordered Lives website

David Naugle’s website (full of great information and articles)

Learn more about David Naugle’s award winning book Worldview: The History of a Concept

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Fine Line Blog Tour with Kary Oberbrunner

The Fine Line Teaser (HD) from josh franer on Vimeo.

The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap Between Christ and Culture, Kary Oberbrunner (Zondervan, 2008)

Kary Oberbrunner (KO) is the Pastor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Grace Church in Powell, Ohio.

CPYU: What motivated you to write The Fine Line?

KO: I grew up in a Christian home. I did the whole Christian school, Christian college, and Christian seminary gig. One day I guess I woke up and said, gee, I have nothing in common with anyone in the world. In fact, I don't even know many unbelievers. I found myself extremely judgmental toward culture and I knew God wasn't impressed. Jesus told his followers he wanted them to be in the world and not of it. But here I was, removed from the world, isolated in my little Christian subculture.

I knew my problem, but I didn't have a solution. And believe me I looked. Everywhere! CD's, seminars, conferences, you name it. Sure there was the book Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr, but that was written well over fifty years ago when times were different.

Niebuhr, a genius faculty member of Yale Divinity School, named the Sterling Professor of Theology and Christian Ethics, attempted to describe the variety of ways in which Christians interact with culture, and make sense of it. His book was profound, for its time. Many classify it as one of the most influential Christian books of the past century. No other book has dominated an entire theological conversation for so long.

But as a twenty-something at the time, I wasn't impressed. It's not that I didn't like the topic of a believer's role with culture—I was fascinated by it—but I couldn't understand Niebuhr's book. Even though I'd been a pastor for years, graduated from two seminaries, and have a doctorate in ministry, I couldn't grasp Niebuhr's style. It's written for the elite within the academy not for the masses within the church.

You see, in 1951 the world was very different. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness. The divorce rate was less than half of what it is today. Prayer was still allowed in school. Abortion was illegal. There was no Internet or cell phones. And attending movies was considered a sin by many.

A book about Christians transforming that type of culture is a little bit different than today. One might argue that our culture back then was much more Christian. On some levels it was easier. Even though culture has changed God hasn't. Our generation needs to re-envision what it means to live in the world and not of it. Christians today want to know how they can transform culture not separate from it or conform to it. We need a new paradigm for a new time.

CPYU: How do you think this book will benefit parents and youth workers?

KO: I've seen enough of the next generation leaving the church. According to some estimates, fifty-eight percent of young adults who attended church at 18 no longer attend by age 29. This number accounts for more than 8,000,000 twentysomethings who are simply "missing in action."

Why is much of this generation voting on spiritual matters with their absence? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there is little difference between the attitudes and actions of believers and unbelievers. Rather than drawing people to Christ, many Christians are pushing people away because of the disconnection between what we say and how we live. That cannot continue.

Christ followers are supposed to be the most liberated, grace-filled people on earth. We're supposed to have what people want—a message so powerful it will cause the dead to rise and the blind to see. We're supposed to have the Living God, living inside us. We're supposed to know how to live in the world but not of it.

Most believers I know don't know. Most are either out of the world or they're of the world. No wonder Christians have so little impact, so little relevance. Now more than ever, we need understand how to live in the world but not of it. And that's exactly what this book will do: discover the fine line.

You see, Christians fall into one of three camps: the Separatists, the Conformists, and the Transformists. Only one camp is relevant. The other two have alienated themselves from the conversation. Separatists reject culture. Conformists embrace culture. Only Transformists change culture.

The Fine Line explores the meaning of relevance. Many teens think it has to do with externals like the clothes you wear or the music you listen to. But ironically relevance has little to do with externals.

The Fine Line shows how we all lean tend toward irrelevance. Separatists think they love God and end up failing to love people. Conformists think they love people and end up failing to love God. But only Transformists love God and people. They're the Christians who walk the fine line and they're the people who are re-envisioning the gap between Christ and culture. Each generation of people who follow Jesus must wrestle with the question- how does one live in the world and not of it. Each generation must emerge with some kind of answer. This question of relevance is, as Michael Joseph Gross puts it, "arguably the most basic ethical question of the Christian faith."

Teens don't want to be sold a product. They don't want to hear a sermon or handle a Gospel tract. Teens want to see a changed life. And that's exactly what this book does. It is changing their lives because it puts words to an age-old mystery. It is our generations' answer on how to live in the world and not of it.

CPYU: If churches took the central message of your book seriously, what changes do you think they would need to make?

KO: Many Christ followers for many years have misunderstood what being in the world, but not of it truly entails. For fear of being of the world, the Separatists (in the book "deceived God lovers") have forever attempted to escape the world. Their motives are correct, wanting to be righteous, but their outcomes are always skewed.

Sometimes the Separatists have built a Christian subculture -a cheesy, vanilla flavored, sanctified copycat version of pop culture. Other times Separatists have done some fairly epic, but irrelevant acts, like a guy named Simeon Stylites a monk type figure alive in the 400's who lived on top of a 50 ft. pillar for over 36 years, in order to escape the wicked world. The plan backfired and he became a rock star in his own right, only attracting more "worldly" fame.

For fear of going out of the world, the Conformists (in the book "deceived people lovers") have forever become of the world. Their motives are correct, wanting to be relevant, but their outcomes are always skewed too. Many Conformists become church haters and hypocrites. Conformists want to change the stereotype of Christians being lame, but they cross the line and the limits by simply conforming to the world, instead of transforming it.

If churches took the central message of my book seriously, they not only would need to make changes, but so would the people in the church, including the pastor. Let me give you a few concrete examples from my own world.

My church (Grace Church) has started a free medical clinic called Grace Clinic (check out the video clip). Doctors, nurses, and volunteers show up every Wednesday night to offer free health care to those who have no insurance. We offer prayer first. Some people accept it and some refuse.

We give people a taste of the Kingdom and some want more. Some just want a prescription. We now have several people in our church who started out as Grace Clinic patients. Although initially unbelievers, they made the decision to follow Jesus. Some of these people are hardened people: ex-convicts, drug addicts, and people wanting sex changes. Still Jesus has freed them from their addictions and given them holistic peace in this life and the next.

Because not all readers can do a "Grace Clinic" I'll share a less glamorous story. A few months back I'm at the YMCA doing my routine workout. I see a man next to me obviously struggling with his mp3 player. I asked him if he needed help. Turns out Bob, a 71 year old, African American, needed an introduction into the technological age.

After several encounters and several lessons with iTunes, Bob started attending our church. Just last month he stayed after the service and informed me that he wanted to give his life to Jesus. Evidently, the light he saw in his mother's eyes before she passed was the same light he saw in people's eyes at our church and he wanted it.

Related Links:
Kary’s website

Recent media coverage of the book

Thursday, December 4, 2008

David Wells on The Courage To Be Protestant

The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008)

David F. Wells (DW) is the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

CPYU: What motivated you to write The Courage to be Protestant?

DW: What I tried to do was to make the substance of my four previous books more accessible to people. So, this is a summary of what I have been writing about for the last two decades. The bottom line to this is that Christianity is having a hard time sustaining itself on contexts like our own which are highly modernized—urbanized, linked by technology, consumer-oriented. Statistically speaking, Christianity is leaving the West. This is less evident here in the U.S. and much more evident in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. So, what’s the problem? Why is biblical Christian faith now so weakened and confused? I travel quite a lot outside the U.S. Christians in other parts of the world all see this but it is hard for those of us living in the U.S. to see ourselves as others are seeing us.

CPYU: In the book, you write about the "inside God" and the "outside God." What is the distinction between the two? And what is the end result of embracing each?

DW: This distinction is simply my way of trying to make a point that is crucial to understand. What happens in contexts like our own—though the reasons for this are quite complex—is that people are living only within their own self and only see the world from within that self. They process all of reality in psychological ways. They therefore look for therapeutic benefits from Christian faith. This is not unnatural because living in our culture today is extraordinarily difficult and stressful and so many know the consequences such as broken homes and marriages. Nevertheless, God is not simply there to make up for what I don’t have in myself. He is not a fix for me. He is not there to be accessed on my terms, when I want, in my own way, as if I were a consumer and he a product. On the contrary, he stands over against us. He is not a part of our self, not an extension of it, but separate from it and, as such, in his character of total goodness and purity, he calls us to come before him on his terms and in his way.

CPYU: You equate "bottom-up spirituality" with paganism. What can parents and youth workers do to battle this trend while fostering a top-down Christian spirituality?

DW: Yes, the bottom-up spirituality—the spirituality I am here describing—is indeed what paganism was about. It was about sensing meaning inwardly. We miss this today because the way this kind of spirituality works is the way consuming works… and we are all consumers! In Christian faith, however, we cannot come before God as consumers! Why not? Because consumers all define their own needs and choose their own solutions. Before God, we do neither. He defines our need and only he can provide the solution. We come empty-handed to receive it.

CPYU: You tend to be critical of the seeker sensitive and emergent strains of Christianity that are so quickly embraced in today's world. Why is that?

DW: The market-driven churches—like Willow Creek—are now imploding. Hybels’ own study, “Reveal,” itself demonstrated that this approach had failed and, in fact, it could never have succeeded. It took the model of consuming and put Christian faith into that: the gospel is a product, the pastor is the sales person, the people in the audience are the consumers. The whole approach undercut biblical truth, however unintentionally. The emergents have recognized the failure of marketed faith but they are thinking that instead of casting Christian faith in consumer terms, they will do so more in generational terms, specifically Gen. X and the Millenials. Both approaches are producing a kind of cultural Christianity which really is the explanation as to why biblical faith is not sustaining itself in the West.

CPYU: If you were to address a room full of youth workers and you had the opportunity to communicate one message to them, what one message would you communicate?

DW: It is time to get brave. Let’s stop the pandering. Kids see right through it. Let’s give them the real thing. They are looking for it. No one has demanded anything of them; let us tell them that if they come to Christ, he bids them die. No one has told them that they can know truth as something other than their own private perspectives; let us tell them there is Truth and those who know it, lose their lives. No one has told them that there is a different way of life. What many churches have done has been to run after the kids fearing that they will be lost irretrievably to MTV, rock, sex, and drugs. So, better to give them small, undemanding doses of Christianity that won’t interfere too much with their lives and which they will be willing to accept, than none at all, we think to ourselves. Wrong! If we tell them that they can have Christ on their own terms, we are selling them down the river. They instinctively know that. So, let us not make fools of ourselves anymore.

Related Links:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Recommended Reading for Advent

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2008)

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

Watching the news on Thanksgiving Day quickly reveals the often uncomfortable tensions in which we live. The lead stories are always the same: homeless shelters serve Thanksgiving meals to the poor and people campout in tents to receive deep discounts on Black Friday morning. The homeless are thankful to be inside, enjoying good food and company, while others take to the streets, sleeping outside, fighting the cold and crowds, in hopes of paying less for things they don’t really need. And then the bad news on Black Friday: gun shots at a Toys R Us, a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death, fights breaking out at outlet stores. What’s going on here?

And then in a blink, it’s the first Sunday of Advent. A candle is lit, parts of the Christmas story are read, and if you’re lucky, you get to sing a Christmas carol at church. Blink again: you’re at home, eating leftover turkey, watching football and commercials, hoping for “good news” later on 60 Minutes.

This is not meant to be an anti-consumer diatribe. I’m not trying to sound overly pessimistic. Here’s the truth: I desperately want Advent and Christmas to mean more. And the reality is that I’m included in any indictment on our North American culture. I long for the poor to fed, but do very little to help make that happen. I have so much stuff that I don’t need, but I still bargain shop with the best of them. My hunch is that I’m not alone in these struggles. Here’s what I’m learning: recognizing and acknowledging the tension and frustration of the Holiday Season is what Advent is all about. We will only be ready for the Messiah when we come to grips with how much we need His salvation.

Helping me to remember the true meaning of this season, yet again, is a splendid new collection of Advent readings edited by Nancy Guthrie: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas. The 22 readings include works from classic theologians (e.g. George Whitefield, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards) and contemporary pastors (e.g. John Piper, Tim Keller, J.I. Packer, Randy Alcorn). In the preface, Guthrie explains that she wanted to put together a book of short readings from writers that “reflected a high view of Scripture and that put the incarnation in the context of God’s unfolding plan of redemption.” This is a magnificent, one-of-a-kind collection that challenges and encourages readers to remember Jesus’ arrival and long for his return. Read it after the nightly news for maximum benefit! And, of course, I’m sure you can find it at a discounted price somewhere!

Related Links:
More about Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus and see the full list of contributing writers

More about Nancy Guthrie and her ministry

Monday, November 24, 2008

Are Youth Ministries Chasing Cool?

Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today’s Cluttered Marketplace (Atria Books, 2007)

Reviewed by Chris Wagner

The authors of Chasing Cool: Standing Out in Today’s Cluttered Marketplace sought to answer one question, “How do we make this thing cool?” In their journey, Noah Kerner and Gene Pressman interviewed dozens of innovative and creative people from key industries to discover the answer.

Boardrooms across the world are full of people “chasing cool.” However, Kerner and Pressman suggest that if cool is something you have to chase after, then perhaps you’ll never achieve cool at all. Rather, cool comes out of the vision and innovation of individuals with great ideas who stick to their guns.

On the surface, this book would be helpful to youth ministers because it provides case studies and examples of how companies have tried to achieve cool among today’s younger generation, and the marketing efforts they have used in the process. However, being cool seems to be so important to many youth workers that perhaps Chasing Cool’s greatest impact on the world of youth ministry can come if we take the time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether we are simply chasing cool for cool’s sake. Do our efforts to be cool and get students to show up to our programs mimic those in the business and marketing world? Are our ministry models intended to be sustainable for the long haul? Are we creating buzz, or are we making lifelong disciples?

Chasing Cool speaks of creating a holistic aesthetic that blends form, function, and atmosphere together to reflect a single vision. Are we presenting a gospel that simply displays the shiny appearance of cool, or are we modeling the life-changing Gospel that will permeate through our students for the rest of their lives in a holistic manner? Though not intended to, this insightful book may help us regain a proper perspective of what God would consider cool.

Related Links:
This review was featured in the Fall 2008 edition of Engage: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU available for FREE

More CPYU recommended titles on marketing and advertising

CPYU highly recommends: The Merchants of Cool: A PBS documentary on the creators and marketers of popular culture for teenagers (you can view the entire film online!)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Matt Bonzo on Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader's Guide

Click here to learn more about Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life, by J. Matthew Bonzo & Michael R. Stevens (Brazos Press, 2008)

J. Matthew Bonzo (MB) is assistant professor of philosophy at Cornerstone University.

CPYU: Some of our readers may not be familiar with Wendell Berry. Tell us a little bit about him and why you think his work is important for Christians to consider?

MB: Wendell Berry is a farmer, writer and former college professor. He has written several novels, volumes of poetry and multiple collections of essays. He has been called the social critic of our age. He continues to farm his land, live simply, and speak prophetically. Berry shows the believing community how easily it is to mistake a culture of death for a culture of life. As a recent Dallas Times editorial has suggested, “Wendell Berry is the man for our time.”

CPYU: What first drew you to Wendell Berry’s writing? How has he influenced your work as a philosopher and college professor?

MB: I found my way into Berry’s work through his short stories where his concern for community and his emphasis on a sense of place resonate. As a professor I work hard to craft a classroom as a place where students belong. Learning is a project that we engage in together. And we work hard towards the making of a good life that we share by asking hard questions about how we understand and what we desire. Beyond the walls of education, my family and I run a small C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture) farm the shape of which has been influenced by Berry’s vision.

CPYU: What were your motivations for co-writing your new book Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life?

MB: The book is an act of friendship. Michael and I wrote nearly every word together. We simply had a conversation about Berry, sometimes straying into talking about high school football, parenting, or lunch. The conversation grew out of two classes we taught together on Berry’s thought. We saw the impact his vision had on students’ lives. There aren’t many books written on Berry, especially doing the kind of synthesis we wanted to do. Thankfully the editors at Brazos agreed with us.

CPYU: The majority of our readers are parents and youth workers. How do you think this demographic would benefit from reading Wendell Berry?

MB: Berry’s insight in what makes up a healthy community and his awareness of the forces that work against such practices are essential in a world that apparently has been stripped of meaning and purpose. As my wife and I raise our son, we intentionally try to equip him with the resources to lead a good life, a life which witnesses to the reality of the kingdom of God in our world. Berry’s wisdom reminds us of the goodness of creation, the havoc we fallen people wreak on creation and each other in the name of efficiency and wealth, and the healing that is a’comin’.

CPYU: Why do you think college students should read Wendell Berry?

MB: College students are setting the habits and practices in place that will shape their lives. Berry invites us to be intentional about our habits and practices by forcing us to think about our future lives in relationship to the environment that makes that life possible and in relationship to the families, households, and neighborhoods in which we will dwell. Quickly we realize that a life overflowing with gratitude is the only proper response to what God has given us.

CPYU: For people who are new to Wendell Berry, where do you suggest people start reading?

MB: It is hard to go wrong. If you start with an essay, I would suggest “The Body and the Earth.” If you are going to start with his novels, you may want to begin with an early work like A Place on Earth to set the context of his fictional village Port William. Jayber Crow is probably my favorite novel. There is a new collection of his Mad Farmer poems just out that I highly recommend.

CPYU: Do you have a favorite quote by Wendell Berry?

MB: From the poem “Marriage:” “We hurt, and are hurt/and have each other for healing/It is healing. It is never whole.”

Related Links:
Mr. Wendell Berry of Kentucky: Internet Resources

To ask questions about Wendell Berry or to purchase his books, we kindly suggest asking and shopping (online or in person!) at Hearts & Minds Bookstore.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

David Kinnaman: Reader Interview

Current position/title: President, The Barna Group

CPYU: Have you always been a reader? If not, how did you become one?

DK: Yes, I have always been an active reader. As nerdy as it sounds, my parents told me that my first word was “book.” I guess right then and there my parents enrolled me in the geek squad.

CPYU: What are your reading habits and practices?

DK: I read a lot of magazines and online content, but there is nothing better than a great book. I love good novels but my favorite thing to read is a mind-expanding author delve into something I’ve never considered before.

CPYU: Name 3 books that have been very influential in your life and one sentence that explains why.

DK: Frog in the Kettle – George Barna’s book about the church and the future; it changed my life because after reading it, I became an intern in his company…and now I am president!

Post-American World – a sobering, but hopeful new book by Fareed Zakaria about the changing role of America in global affairs…the connections to the role of Christianity are staggering.

The Back of the Napkin – a very practical and distinctive book that describes how we can solve problems through pictures, using our imaginations and visual thinking.

CPYU: If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and what questions would you ask him or her?

DK: I love talking with authors. Many of them are so rich with ideas and perspective. But one person would be amazing is J.R.R. Tolkien. One time, a friend and I tried to create our own fantasy world. We worked on it for almost a year. I think we had a small map and about a chapter worth of material. I would love to ask Mr. Tolkien what fueled his imagination and got him to finish such an ambitious project!

CPYU: According to a recent study by the National Endowment of the Arts, very few young people are reading. Do you have any ideas on how to get young people to read?

DK: Well, there are lots of people and thinkers trying to tackle that huge issue. I think you have to get young people focused on a set of topics they love. You can’t force a person to read, but you can help him or her grasp the power of reading to deepen their mark on the world.

Related Links:
The Barna Group's website

Official website for the book Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

Read Walt Mueller's review of Unchristian

Listen to an interview with Walt Mueller and David Kinnaman
(right-click to download)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November Resource of the Month

You're looking for a youth pastor. Again.

What is going wrong? What would it take to build a ministry that withstands the revolving door of youth ministers?

Based on his own experience as a youth minister and on his work with churches in crisis, Mark DeVries pinpoints problems that cause division and burnout. He then provides the practical tools and structures needed to lay a strong foundation for ministry - one that isn't built solely on a person. In these pages he offers accessible guidance for:

- creating a realistic job description
- making wise hiring decisions
- equipping youth pastors to build a strong volunteer team
- helping youth pastors set and keep boundaries
- creating a road map for navigating church politics

You can start building your youth ministry so that it lasts for the long haul. Here's how.

Click here to purchase

Click here to browse the CPYU Resource Center

Monday, November 3, 2008

Timothy Keller on The God of Extravagant Grace

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2008)

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

About five years ago a college student gave me a recorded sermon by Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. It seemed that every time I met with this student he was talking about what he was learning from Pastor Keller. In fact, he connected almost everything I said to an illustration in Keller’s messages. Finally, I asked to borrow one of the tapes. I still have it. It’s now become a bit of a joke. Although my friend still asks for it when we talk, I refuse to give it back. (Thankfully, the sermon the student let me “borrow” is now available for free at Redeemer’s website!) I am always both challenged and encouraged by Keller’s sermons. After all, isn’t that what a good sermon should do?

In the past year, Keller has published two books that have expanded his influence in the church and around the world. He is a master at connecting Biblical truth to life. One would think that in an age of mega-churches and information galore, there would be more resources available that do this well. But, sadly, it’s not often the case. Some books explain the Bible brilliantly, but fail to make connections to the here and now. Other resources are big on life experiences but don’t offer biblical depth. Not so with Keller. Keller’s strength is that he doesn’t allow Christian doctrine or biblical teaching to remain abstract. If what the Bible teaches isn’t livable, it’s nothing at all and Keller refuses to keep the Gospel in the realm of “ideas.” The Gospel isn’t an idea or advice, it is the Truth of the person, Jesus. But it takes someone like Keller to make these connections in a way that makes sense and leads to change.

Keller’s first book, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, was a New York Times bestseller. The book was structured around the common objections to the Christian faith that he hears most often as a minister in New York City. He discovered early on in his ministry that most people weren’t necessarily rejecting the God of the Bible, but were either (1) ignorant to the basic message of the Gospel, or (2) rejecting a simplistic, narrow understanding of it. The Reason for God was Keller’s attempt to show that you can think and be a Christian at the same time. Not everyone will agree with all the arguments that Keller makes in this book, but everyone should agree with this: Keller has graciously and humbly offered good reasons for why people believe in God, the Bible, and Jesus.

Keller’s second book, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith is much shorter but carries just as much weight as his first. Had I borrowed this book from my college student friend, I would never, ever have given it back! This is a book I will read and re-read and give as a gift to many friends.

The Prodigal God is a short reflection on one of Jesus’s most known parables: The Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. This is the story of the “younger son” (brother) who asks for and then wastes his father’s inheritance on “wayward living.” The younger brother is “lost” but returns to the surprising open arms of his father. A party is thrown, the father’s son was lost, but now is found! Keller is quick to point out that the parable should be called The Two Lost Sons, noting that there is another son in the story. The elder brother refuses to join his younger brother’s party because he had lived a life of “keeping all the rules” but the father had never had a feast in his honor. Here’s the punch line: both brothers are lost! You can be lost and disconnected from God like the younger brother: by rejecting the Father, wasting your life, living by your own rules, being your own God. Or you can be disconnected from God like the elder brother: by trying to keep all the rules, living a life that looks pleasing to God on the outside, but on the inside is motivated by the desire for control and self-salvation. The younger brother and the elder brother were both motivated by trying to control their father and be their own gods. Keller explains:

“Jesus’s great Parable of the Prodigal Son retells the story of the entire Bible and the story of the human race. Within the story, Jesus teaches that the two most common ways to live are both spiritual dead ends. He shows how the plotlines of our lives can only find a resolution, a happy ending, in him, in his person and work.”

Here is the central question that Keller’s book (and Jesus’s parable) forces the reader to ask: What are my motivations for being good? Keller explains that this parable radically redefines sin and lostness. Sin is not just doing something wrong, but it could also be doing something right for the wrong reasons. Those who are “lost” are not just people who are obviously immoral, addicted to drugs or sex or money. The lost are those who reject the father and desire control of their own lives. They are people who want the blessings of God but not God. Keller concludes:

“Jesus does not divide the world into the moral ‘good guys’ and the immoral ‘bad guys.’ He shows us that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and control for themselves. We are just going about it in different ways. Even though both sons are wrong, however, the father cares for them and invites them both back into his love and feast... The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.”

Like anything that is true, Jesus’s message in this parable is simple and profound and will only be grasped when given time to germinate in our hearts and minds. Keller’s insight into the deeper meaning of The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a seed worth planting, one that has the potential to grow a people God longs for: a people of humility and extravagant grace. If the Gospel we preach and teach does not naturally lead to living lives marked by humility and grace, Keller’s masterpiece invites us to “recover the heart of the Christian faith.”

Related Links:
Learn more about The Prodigal God at the book's website.

Listen to Tim Keller's sermon the inspired the book (right click to download)

Read Byron Borger's excellent review and comparison of Keller and Henri Nouwen!

Read Walt Mueller's review of The Reason for God

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quitting Church without Quitting God

Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do about It, Julia Duin (Baker Books, 2008)

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

Journalist Julia Duin’s new book Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do about It has much to say to the contemporary church. Duin contends that many faithful, thoughtful followers of Jesus are not finding a home in local congregations. Using a variety of research methods, from Barna and other pollsters to interviews with friends, family, pastors and theologians, Duin tries to make the case that older, mature Christians are finding it difficult to find and commit to a church. According to Duin, today’s churches lack solid, demanding and relevant teaching, true community life, expectations of the Holy Spirit, pastoral visionary leadership, effective outreach to singles and needed adaptations to the 21st Century, especially as it relates to women’s roles. Commenting on the research, she writes, “So it’s official: evangelicals, for a variety of reasons, are heading out of church – not all of them and not everywhere, but the trend is undeniable. Sunday mornings at church have become too banal, boring, or painful. Large groups of Christians are opting out of church because they find it impossible to stay” (p. 21).

Duin does not claim to be a neutral observer and reporter. This is deeply personal. She is a Christian professional who came to faith during the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. She was attracted to a powerful faith that brought meaning to every area of her life. She was also influenced by studying at Labri with Francis Schaeffer and longs for the vibrancy that she and her friends experienced during this time period. Much of her critique is valuable and undeniable. Churches should demand more from their congregations; many churches fail to rely on the Holy Spirit; some mega churches seem more interested in growing in numbers rather than depth; and far too many evangelical churches have settled for a lowest common denominator, catering to the desires of a consumerist age. Duin notes that there is a strong movement of house churches that could become the next big movement of God. Participants appreciate the more intimate community support, heart felt times of prayer, meaningful worship experiences and relevant teaching that doesn’t rely on a professional. Even though she doesn’t see much hope for current, established, institutional churches that refuse to change, she does challenge pastors to tackle tough issues and questions that people face. Issues and questions that often go unnoticed as pastors are trying to attract new members.

While there is much about this book that I applaud, there were times when I was frustrated by her simplistic approach. The pastor of the church I attend recently retired. The church had some of its roots in the Jesus movement and he had been the founding and senior pastor for 37 years. The past few weeks the congregation has been celebrating his service and the stories have been inspiring. What I most appreciate about this man is his humility and honesty. Being a pastor is not easy. There are many ups and downs along the way. But I imagine that if you are a pastor for long enough, if you stay put in one place and not follow “promotions,” if you marry and bury people year after year, if you do your best to shepherd sinners, if you offer consistent daily prayers, and if you see people come and go, a book like Duins can be very tiring to read. Her own story is a bit tiring. She has lived a nomadic life. Lacking a commitment to a particular place, being offended by pastors for not taking her seriously, longing for the perfect church, her own apparent restlessness expressed on these pages, at times, distracts from her critique.

My hunch is that mobility has wounded the American church more than any acknowledged sin. It’s easy to become restless. The stories told in Quitting Church are real and will be difficult for many pastors to hear. I admire Duin’s courage to start this needed conversation. Yes, some things desperately need to be done if the church is going to be the church for the sake of the world. But I don’t think the solution will be found in trying to do better. It will be found when we focus less on doing and more on being. Faithfulness over the long haul is not about going from one high to the next, naming and claiming when things were done “right,” but in daily, small steps with Jesus. A mature church in the 21st Century, will be a church full of people that have attended, through thick and thin, for many many years. I’m sure there are droves of people fed up with the church for good reasons. My hope is that they get so mad at the church that they stay put. Declare: “I’m so sick and tired of this church, I’m not leaving. In fact, I’m so frustrated with this town, I’m not moving.” If the Jesus movement of the 1960s was about anything, it was about being counter cultural. What would be more counter-cultural than groups of mature followers of Christ refusing to flee from beat up, watered down churches?

But don’t let my quibble keep you from reading. The overall message of Duin’s book is a good one. Pastors will be challenged by the research. Restless congregants will gain insight and clarity into their own frustrations. And, if nothing else, Quitting Church should spark much needed discussion in churches that care about faithfully serving God and people. We need books like this one to keep us on track, asking the important questions that are often missed. What is the church and why does it matter? Duin keeps these questions on the forefront and it’s obvious that she cares deeply about finding answers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Author Interview: Amy Black Helps Christians Make Sense of American Politics

Click here to learn more about Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics (BakerBooks, 2008)

Amy E. Black (AB) is associate professor of politics and international relations at Wheaton College.

CPYU: The title of your book is intriguing. Why did you think this book needed to be written?

AB: I wanted to write the book to help the educated Christian who has an interest in government and politics but doesn’t necessarily remember everything from high school or college civics class. I remind readers of the basics of how our system works and then I give them tools to help them apply their faith to politics.

The tone was very important to me – instead of talking about lots of policy issues from a particular vantage point so that the reader concludes that good Christians must be Democrats or must be Republicans, my goal is to help the reader figure out for him or herself how God is leading them.

To a large extent, the book reflects what I try to do in the classroom. I want to encourage my students to think for themselves and make their own decisions, but I also want to make certain points without making them feel pressured. In the same way, I want to help my readers understand faith and politics more clearly but also make up their own minds on divisive and controversial issues.

CPYU: How did you develop a passion for the intersection of faith and politics?

AB: My interest in the subject began from many, many discussions of current events at the dinner table and in my daily family life. Once I arrived at college, I discovered a love for the academic study of political science and decided to make it a career. As a Christian believer, it seems natural to want to find points of intersection between my faith and the subject I study and teach.

CPYU: Over the years that you have been teaching, what shifts have you noticed in the way young people of faith have engaged politics?

AB: The most significant trend I have noticed is the growing diversity of opinions and concerns of young people of faith. Instead of focusing narrowly on one or two issues, they are thinking about how their faith affects their views on a much wider range of political concerns from the environment to foreign policy to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is good to see the conversation broadening and widening as more young people seem engaged in politics and seek to bring their faith to bear on so many different and important problems.

CPYU: As you think about how young Christians are getting involved in politics today, what are some things that excite you and what are some things that concern you?

AB: I am always excited by the enthusiasm that young adults bring to life in general and politics in particular. I spent part of my office hours last week talking with a Wheaton student who is now old enough to vote for the first time. She wanted advice to help her bring her faith to bear in politics, and had many tough and insightful questions. This kind of dialogue is very exciting. On the other hand, youthful enthusiasm can be quite problematic if not tempered by reason and knowledge. Too many young people like to follow prevailing trends without careful consideration first. My hope is that we can channel the positive energy into deeper thinking.

CPYU: What advice would you give to parents and youth workers who want to engage teenagers in conversations about politics this election season?

AB: Ask questions. Confront doubts. If a claim seems either too good to be true or too awful to be true, it probably is. So do your own research. Far too much political discussion today relies on semi-truths and caricatures, and Christians are at least as guilty of spreading misinformation as anyone else.

I frame my book with reminders from Scripture that I think are important reminders for anyone wanting to engage in conversations about politics. I take my readers to my favorite “political” text in the Bible, I Corinthians 13. This chapter is a beautiful and challenging picture of God’s unconditional love, and I want my readers to apply Paul’s exhortations to their political interactions. If we truly seek to interact with others in love, we can’t apply stereotypes or demonize others. Paul’s words remind us that we won’t know everything perfectly clearly this side of heaven; if we keep in mind that we only see “through a mirror dimly,” we are much more likely to approach politics, and everything else, with humility.

I also point to the first three commandments. In the heat of political debate, it is easy to forget that we first and foremost have to serve God and honor him. In the process of trying to achieve a political victory, we can get our priorities completely out of order and forget that we are fist and foremost ambassadors for Christ.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Youth Workers... Read this New Book by David Wells, The Courage To Be Protestant!

The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008)

Reviewed by Walt Mueller

Over the years I’ve made a mental list of the books youth workers should read, but most likely never will. If you’re like most youth workers, your reading time is spent consuming books that deal with your craft (I thought you’d like to think of yourself as performing a craft!), or books that have gained popularity and momentum among your peers and that effective communication tool known as “the youth ministry grapevine.” Okay, so you do read other stuff. But it’s highly likely that most of books you’ve read fall into one of these two other categories. Because I spent a large portion of my life reading that way, I’ve consciously tried to expand my horizons, especially looking to read books that will stretch me out of the comfort zone where I tend to live. I want to encourage you to do the same.

Over the course of the last ten years I’ve spent a good deal of time immersed in a series of these most-likely-never-read books from a most-likely-never-heard-of author, David Wells (at least I think he’s largely unknown in our youth ministry circles). Wells is a brilliant theologian who thinks and writes from the perspective of a wonderfully responsible combination of theology, history, sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and some “ology’s” I’m not even aware of! All that to say, Wells offers a well-reasoned, highly informed, and intensely challenging perspective on things that will either 1) tick most youth workers off, or 2) leave youth workers rattled (in a good way) and saying, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.” And from where I sit as a youth ministry vet and culture-watcher, we need to be challenged.

I first met Wells when I was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary back in the 1980s. My appreciation for the man and his critique of who we are as the American church has steadily grown ever since. Now he’s written and released a book all youth workers should read. His latest, The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, will rock you to the core. I was reading the book on a flight a couple of weeks ago. A South American gentleman sitting across the aisle saw the title and asked me what the book was about. I assumed he was being a defensive Catholic. My questioning revealed that he was. I assured him that Wells hadn’t written an anti-Catholic tome. Rather, Wells critique targets you and me and our understanding of what it means to follow and worship Christ as evangelicals in the 21st century. Wells doesn’t hold back in his examination of the seeker-sensitive movement, and the response of emergents to a seeker-sensitive movement that left a horrible taste in their mouths.

I’ve learned that every now and then we need to pause, look in the mirror, and evaluate who we are, how we got here, and if this is really the place God wants us to be. The Courage To Be Protestant will put you right in front of the mirror. Wells is a deep thinker. Still the book is accessible. Be ready, however, to bite off small chunks that will take some time to digest. But by all means, think, think, think about Wells’ critique. Don’t be defensive. Instead, continually ask yourself if what Wells writes is true and then ponder what you’re going to do about it.

Related Links:
Learn more about David Wells

Other titles by David Wells in this series

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Resource of the Month: The NEW 3(D) Guide

The recently redesigned and updated How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices is a unique and easy-to-use tool that is designed to be employed by parents, youth workers, Christian School teachers, and other adults to help you stay informed as to the media students are consuming, while helping those students become more media literate.

The 3(D) Guide allows you to teach your students how to move from being “mindless consumers” of media, to an approach of “mindful critique” as they learn how to filter all media through the lens of a Christian worldview. Because teenagers are at a developmental stage where intellectual and cognitive abilities are taking shape, the 3(D) Guide is a tool that allows adults to walk alongside students as they begin to develop the ability to think for themselves. While many of us mistakenly continue to “think for” students as they pass through the teenage years on the road to adulthood, the 3(D) Guide enables you to “think with” students about their media so that they will be equipped to launch into adulthood with the ability to “think for themselves” about media in faithful, obedient, and God-honoring ways.

Click here to purchase

Click here to download the FREE Leader's Guide

Click here to see sample 3(D) reviews of music, videos, movies, TV shows, video games and more!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Author Interview: J. Mark Bertrand on (Re)thinking Worldview

Click here to learn more about (Re)Thinking Worldview.

Note: A review of Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway, 2007) is featured in the fall edition of Engage: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU downloadable for FREE.

J. Mark Bertrand (JMB) is on the faculty of Worldview Academy, an academic summer camp for high school students, and is the fiction editor at Relief Journal.

CPYU: What motivated you to write this book? Or perhaps better, why did you think that worldview needed to be rethought?

JMB: It dawned on me that everyone in the church was talking about worldviews, and at the same time most of them really weren’t. What I mean is, the rhetoric had been adopted while the reality had not. When I was first introduced to the worldview concept—the idea that we build perceptual frameworks that then influence our interpretation of new information—the potential for theology and apologetics seemed explosive. Today, though, there are all these burning fuses and nothing’s blowing up.

The problem? For one thing, the worldview concept was too watered down. When an idea is popularized, it is often streamlined. That means the ambiguities and nuances are stripped away. To take a philosophical concept and make it applicable in a Sunday School setting, a certain amount of streamlining is necessary. But if you go too far, you’re left with a caricature. Where the worldview concept is concerned, I think that’s often all we’re communicating: a parody of the original insight. As a result, it’s lost its power. Worldview thinking should shake things up. All too often, though, you embark on a promising journey only to end up at some predictable, predetermined destination—a place you could have reached without any help from “the biblical worldview.”

Because it was so watered down, and the results so accommodated to the wisdom of our age, I thought it was time to rethink worldview. The alternative would be to abandon the concept, and that would be a tragedy.

CPYU: You suggest that the term worldview has been used wrongly, especially by people interested in the “culture-wars.” What are a few practical examples of how the term is misused?

JMB: Politics is a great example. One of the staples of evangelical worldview discourse has been the articulation of “the biblical perspective” on a variety of policy issues. That sounds promising. It sounds more than promising. But then you get to the conclusion, and it turns out that God’s position corresponds perfectly to one side or the other of the current debate. Politically conservative Christians discover that God is a free market capitalist who likes small government and minimal spending on social programs, while progressive Christians discover just the opposite. Remember the petition a few years ago declaring that God was neither a Republican nor a Democrat? The title sounded good, but the details made him sound like a pretty committed progressive, albeit with pro-life scruples. Conclusions this predictable tend to devalue the process by which they were reached.

For another example, read the letters section of World Magazine, which seeks to cover news and culture from a Christian perspective. It seems like every issue includes an angry letter from a shocked reader complaining that an R-rated movie was reviewed. (Not that it was reviewed positively, but that it was reviewed at all.) Worldview thinking ought to produce cultural engagement, but all too often we’re faced with people who talk the talk of engagement but walk the walk of isolation. One of the things that makes the “culture wars” interminable is that they’re mainly being fought by people content to fire blindly over the barricade, without first identifying their targets (or even checking whether they’re friend or foe).

CPYU: Many of our readers are parents and youth pastors working with teens. Why do you think teaching teens about a Christian worldview is important?

JMB: Because you can’t give them all the answers or keep them from hearing other arguments. Worldview thinking inoculates teens against the either/or dilemma they might otherwise face when someone smarter than their parents or pastors, someone with impressive credentials and a persuasive case, insists that everything they learned at home and in church was a lie. The greatest fear Christian parents often have is that their children will reject the faith. Instead of acting from a place of fear and sequestering them, worldview thinking instills in teens a confidence in the truth that actually prepares them for encountering opposition.

Let’s face it. Sheltered teens become adept at compartmentalization. They aren’t as ignorant of the surrounding culture as we believe—they just dissemble their knowledge when playing the pious role. They learn how to say the right things to please authority figures. But when those figures change, they’re equally skilled at saying the right things (or at least, not saying the wrong ones).

When you cultivate a habit of worldview thinking in teens, though, it tends to tear down the compartments. Every aspect of life is scrutinized, emphasizing the importance of biblical thinking and practice across the board. I’m not saying that sheltered teens always go astray and worldview thinkers always hold firm to the truth, but in my experience, the person with a worldview orientation fares better than the one without. The fact that worldview talk is so popular in student education is a reflection of this. What I want to do is put some punch back into the talk.

CPYU: What are some of the toughest challenges that you have faced when teaching teenagers today? Have you noticed any changes since you started teaching teens?

JMB: I don’t talk to teens any differently than I would an adult audience. I made a decision when I started that I’d never talk down to my students. I’d let the hard questions stay hard—in fact, I’d make them harder if need be. It seems to have worked. Teens are much more sophisticated than they are experienced. Before they’ll listen to your experience, they have to believe in your sophistication. You have to prove it isn’t ignorance that motivates you, but knowledge.

The most challenging aspect of teens is what they have in common with the rest of us. As comfortable middle-class North Americans, we enter a classroom expecting to be pandered to. We look at knowledge the way a consumer views a product. We expect to be entertained, emotionally engaged, and ultimately affirmed in their starting assumptions.

Since we all grew up watching television instead of reading and talking about books, many the discursive skills that go hand in hand with literacy are on the wane. Teens might actually have it a little better than their parents, since the Internet has at least fostered an abridged form of literacy, but being able to read a passage and immediately get the gist of it seems to be a specialized skill these days, which is troubling in a text-oriented community like the church.

CPYU: As you work with teenagers and see them off to college, what do you think are some of the key things that churches should be doing to prepare them for life after high school?

JMB: The overall message we send teenagers is how important it is to make the right decisions in your personal life: keep your faith, find the right spouse, get qualified for a good profession. Responsible decisions, by and large, are safe decisions. But what would happen if the focus shifted from making a success of yourself to making a contribution to the world around you? If we raise young people to pursue their own happiness, they will never find it. If we raise them to be selfless, they might find much more.

Along these lines, I think it’s important to stay true to the old liberal arts idea that education is its own reward, and instead of giving students crib notes to guide them on life’s most important decisions, we should instill wisdom so they can actually make sound decisions all on their own.

How can the church help this process? By not letting the quest for a biblical worldview end as a doctrinal abstraction. By letting the faith be as big and intractable and mysterious as it really is, and instilling a total reliance on Christ. Also, instead of having expectations about what young people will do when they go out into the world, we can start having expectations about how they will do it—and for whom. This is where a dogged and determined pursuit of a biblical worldview really pays off. The worldview nurtures a life of wisdom and that life expresses its highest urges in contributing truth and beauty to the surrounding culture.

Related Links:
Rethinking Worldview website

J. Mark Bertrands' blog

Review of Rethinking Worldview on p. 17 of Engage: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Creating Culture

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press, 2008)

Reviewed by Walt Mueller

(Note: Portions of the following review appeared in the fall edition of Engage: The Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU, currently downloadable for FREE!)

For too long Christians have not understood nor have they assumed their place in God’s world. The debates over how to relate to culture have put us everywhere on the spectrum between the extremes of fearful retreat and mindless accommodation. Here at CPYU we are committed to and promote what we believe to be a Biblical approach to matters of faith and culture, understanding that the will of the Father is for His followers to be in but not of the world. Culture is a fallen mix of elements, some which our faith requires us to challenge, and some which our faith requires us to affirm. At all times, we must be about the business of engaging the world with the Gospel.

Inherent in this understanding - but not always communicated with great clarity - is the reality of the imago dei – or image of God – that is a foundational part of our created makeup and which has deep ramifications for how we live as God-imaging creators in God’s world. In his new book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch lays out a reminder - and for many - a new understanding of this timeless truth, specifically that all Christians are called to be culture makers. Believing that culture is “what we make of the world,” Crouch calls readers to celebrate their creativity and live the Kingdom of God by approaching everything from the making of a sculpture to the making of a western omelet as calling and doxology.

I’m a long-time fan of Andy Crouch and his writing. However, I’ve never met Andy. Perhaps that’s why I was a bit uneasy as I read through the first half of the book. Discussions with other readers of Culture Making indicated that they sensed some of the things I was sensing in the first half of the book. First, Crouch seems to indicate that those who talk about engaging the culture (that’s us/me... so maybe, I thought, I was just being a bit defensive) don’t go far enough or fully understand a more complete calling to create culture. That bothered me somewhat as I know that for me and many others, creating culture and engaging culture are two sides of the same coin. And second, I sensed what might be construed by some as an arrogant tone on Andy's part. I say this cautiously as I’m convinced that Andy is not that kind of person. Still, as I read I wondered if he believed he was telling all readers some things that none of them had ever heard or embraced before. That’s not, however, the way it is in the circles I’ve run in for thirty-some years. All that said, the book turned the corner on both of my concerns as it moved into its second half. All in all, this is a good book.

Culture Making is significant for a variety of audiences. For the typical Christian reader, the book will most likely rattle your previously held theological assumptions. This is something that has to happen if the church is to be the church and the Christian is to find his or her place in God’s world. For the youth worker and parent, the book will offer a framework that can and should shape the way you nurture kids, preparing them for a life of service to God and His Kingdom that will truly reflect their created purpose as human beings made to make.

Related Links:
Culture Making website

Review by Gideon Strauss in Books & Culture

Review by David John Seel Jr. at Ransom Fellowship

FREE fall edition of Engage: Journal of Youth Culture from CPYU

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Author Interview: William Mattison on Moral Theology and True Happiness

Click here to learn more about Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues by William C. Mattison III.

William Mattison (WM) is assistant professor of theology at The Catholic University of America.

CPYU: What motivated you to write your new book Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues? And who is the intended audience?

WM: The book is basically a written version of an Introduction to Christian ethics course I have now taught over 20 times the past six years at four different institutions. When I began teaching there seemed to me a real need for an accessible, engaging presentation of Christian discipleship as an alluring and persuasive answer to the basic human question, “How can I live a happy life?” University students today are for the most part poorly formed in matters of faith, and their ideas of what Christianity entails too often consist of childish imagery or mere moral maxims. In the tradition of great books like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and excellent recent books like Lee Camp’s Mere Discipleship, I hoped to present an accessible and engaging yet thoroughgoing account of the Christian answer to the question, “How can I live a good, i.e., happy, life?”

CPYU: Briefly describe what you mean by “true happiness.” How might your definition conflict with popular cultural notions of “happiness”?

WM: For centuries from classical thinkers such as Aristotle through Christian greats such as Augustine and Aquinas, morality was simply understood as the path to a genuinely happy life. True fulfillment, or happiness, was constituted by living virtuously. Now we too often understand morality or virtue as an impediment to our happiness. That is sad. The book tries to make the case that the questions “How can I live a morally good life?” and “How can I be truly happy?” are one and the same.

As evidenced by the important differences among the thinkers mentioned above, establishing that morality is about happiness is a distinct matter from explaining what true happiness is! Yet notwithstanding important differences among these thinkers, they are all representative of one of two basic answers to the question of human happiness. They all recognize that happiness is essentially a matter of friendship, of communal living for the common good (of our friends, our families, our cities, etc.). This is opposed to the rival understanding of happiness, so popular today, as self-centered and individualistic, in short, as getting whatever one wants. True happiness is instead about wanting what is truly best for ourselves and for those with whom we share life.

Of course, Christians have a distinctive take on the nature of that friendship. It is friendship with God, a very participation in the Triune divine life made possible by Jesus Christ, who calls us His friends and invites us to a life in communion with God and others where our joy is complete. Christian discipleship is answer to, not a rejection of, the human longing for happiness. Indeed, though it answers that natural longing it does so in a way that far transcends anything that humanity could understand let alone live out without God’s grace.

CPYU: There is a recent movement of college presidents seeking to lower the drinking age. This has sparked a national conversation about binge drinking in college. As a professor of moral theology, what do you think are some of the deeper issues related to drinking on today’s college campuses?

WM: One of the biggest problems with the approach toward students on college campuses today is the near complete adoption of a morality of obligation rather than a morality of happiness. Students are presented with rules that are backed by fear of consequences of some sort. What we need to lead students to question is how their drinking is contributing to (or, at least as likely, impeding) their ability to live genuine happy and fulfilling lives. The goal is not to “not drink,” but to live well. To the extent that drinking alcohol contributes to that endeavor, fine. But it takes only a modicum of reflection with college students to lead them to see how common practices concerning alcohol on college campuses today actually impede the very things students claim to be pursuing when they drink: deepened friendship, relaxation, romantic relationships, etc.

CPYU: In your book there is a chapter entitled “Alcohol and American College Life: Test Case One.” What did you learn from writing that chapter that might inform this conversation?

WM: First of all, there are a lot more students in college who do not abuse alcohol than we might expect. It seems we would go far by lifting these students up. By fixating on those who abuse alcohol we unwittingly reinforce a drinking culture at college.

Second, we concentrate disproportionately on the external effects of drinking: drop out rates, drunk driving, vandalism, violence (including sexual violence), etc. These are serious problems to be sure and we ignore them at our peril. But by concentrating solely on these more obviously measurable problems resulting from problematic alcohol use, “solutions” often take the form of designated drivers, drinking near to home, staying close to friends to keep an eye on us, etc. Elaborate student practices have developed to enable people to keep drinking excessively and yet not face these bad effects. But that fails to address how our (ab)use of alcohol can warp our characters, displace other more genuine goods in our lives, and corrupt the friendships and romantic relationships that we engage in while relying on alcohol for relaxation and socialization. In short, the more obvious negative side effects of drinking are not the only problem with alcohol at college today.

Third, an honest and detailed look at why and how we drink reveals much about where we hold alcohol in terms of our priorities, and how it stands up to other priorities we insist are more important to us than drinking but which appear on closer examination to be governed by and deformed by our drinking practices.

CPYU: Many of our readers, parents and youth workers, are preparing students for college. What do you think are some of the challenges students face transitioning to college and how can we begin to nurture virtues in our teens that will help them navigate those challenges?

WM: So many freshman who arrive on college campuses find themselves free of the rules that had prevented them from drinking alcohol, and as a result drink excessively in reaction against the yoke of those perceived taboos. To the extent that we parents and educators present the rules regarding drinking as obligations, as barriers to living well rather than aids to living more genuinely fulfilling lives (quite possibly including the drinking of alcohol), we fail to prepare young adults to see on their own the rationale behind our rules and choose for themselves responsible behavior that is not simply “the right thing to do” but actually a more rewarded and fulfilling way to live.

Related Links:

Click here to read an excerpt of Introducing Moral Theology

Derek Melleby's thoughts in USA Today on lowering the drinking age

Friday, September 26, 2008

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, Colin Duriez (Crossway, 2008)

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

“Who is Francis Schaeffer?” The question came from a young, bright, Christian college student who over heard me talking about the new biography Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez. “Are you serious? You don’t know who Francis Schaeffer is?” I responded. It was as if someone from a far-off tribe had asked me “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth that you speak of?” My heart began to beat a little faster, and I had the privilege of introducing this young student to the giver of Christian intellectual life, my savior, I mean, my hero, Francis Schaeffer.

There was irony in this conversation, of course. I was talking to a young, Christian student, who is passionate about developing a Christian approach to sustainable agriculture, linking it to deeper, local community life. We have had numerous conversations about the church in the 21st century, the kingdom of God, and environmental concerns. She was beginning to make connections with her deepest convictions about the environment and the Gospel and was living them out at a summer internship on an organic farm. Connecting what she believed about the world with how she lived in the world, was being manifested (incarnated) in tangible ways, and she had a plethora of resources to draw from: books, conferences, mentors and MP3 lectures. Here’s the irony: while she had no idea who Francis Schaeffer was, he had pioneered a movement of Christians to not only think more deeply about the Christian faith and how it sustains the attacks of modernity and the scientific revolution, but he also pleaded with believers to live-out faith in ways that showed the world the “Truth” of the Gospel. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that if this same college student would have had similar convictions 50 years ago, the only place on the planet where she could have had an opportunity to wrestle with these questions, network with like-minded people and seek a Christian understanding of her concerns would have been under the teaching of Francis Schaeffer at his L’Abri ministry in Switzerland.

I don’t want to overstate this. Certainly Francis Schaeffer wasn’t the only “thinking Christian” in the 20th Century. But it did dawn on me that while this student didn’t know who Francis Schaeffer was, she was certainly living in his legacy. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a Presbyterian pastor who became a missionary in Europe to expand a children’s ministry that he had started with his wife Edith. He was also deeply concerned with the “liberalization” of the church, especially the “higher criticism” approach to scripture. Not only did Schaeffer travel from city to city starting children’s ministries, but he would also lecture on the contemporary challenges to biblical, evangelical faith. In 1955, the Schaeffers started L’Abri (French for shelter), a place for “truth-seekers” to come and ask questions, wrestle with faith, and study Christianity more deeply. People came from all over the world, many converting to Christianity and many being energized to live-out their faith in powerful ways. You can learn more about this amazing ministry in Edith Schaeffer’s book L’Abri.

Colin Duriez’s biography is an excellent place to start to learn more about this remarkable man. I recommend it highly, not only for those wanting to learn more about Schaeffer but for anyone who is interested in a deeper engagement with the Christian faith and culture. Schaeffer’s story needs to be known for generations to come and Duriez has told his story beautifully. Instead of retelling his story here, I’d rather discuss what I learned. What follows are three important things that I learned about Schaeffer through reading this book, and why I think each one is vital for the church today:

First, Schaeffer was not afraid to ask tough questions about his faith. Before starting L’Abri, Schaeffer went through a grueling period of doubt and reconsideration of the Christian worldview. In fact, his wife thought that there was a chance that he was going to walk away from his faith altogether. Fortunately, this crisis of faith led Schaeffer to an even deeper commitment to the Truth of the gospel and to starting one of the most influential ministries of the 20th century. Probably the most significant aspect of Schaeffer’s legacy is his belief in the Christian faith for the sole reason that it is True. Because of this, he wasn’t afraid to meet intellectual challenges head on, even opening himself up to the possibility that he could be wrong. Humility became one of his defining characteristics. What a legacy for the church to consider. Do we, as the body of Christ, welcome times of questions and doubts? Do we take the time to fully understand opposing viewpoints? Is humility one of our defining characteristics? In order to engage the culture around us in effective ways, we can learn much from Schaeffer’s approach.

Second, Schaeffer was not only concerned with a “thinking” faith, but also a “living” faith. Schaeffer thought that too many Christians were not living out what they believed. Following his faith crisis, Schaeffer was determined to live in a way that revealed the Gospel to be true. If there truly was a God who was present, working in history and in our lives, then we should live in a way that conformed to this reality. We should expect God to meet our needs, provide opportunities to minister and make Himself known to others. In many ways, L’Abri could almost be seen as Schaeffer forcing God’s hand, making Him be true to his word. And the story of L’Abri is, itself, confirmation of the Truth of the Christian faith. Do we live in ways that require the Gospel to be true? Or do we simply live out an American, Western lifestyle and hope God is there to bless us? I think Schaeffer would challenge us to evaluate our lives to see if we really live as if the Biblical story is the True story of the world. Schaeffer’s words from an interview in 1980:

"I think there are many Christians - I mean, real Christians, real brothers and sisters in Christ, people I'm really fond of - who believe that certain things in the Christian faith are true, and yet, somehow or other, never relate this to truth. I don't know if it comes across, what I'm trying to say, but I believe it's truth - and not just religious truth, but the truth of what is. This gives you a different perspective." (p. 189)

Third, Schaeffer was willing to partner with people outside of the evangelical Christian faith who supported a common cause. While not wavering on his personal convictions regarding evangelical faith and the authority of Scripture, he had no problem joining others who had similar concerns regarding public policy and social justice. This is certainly more widespread today, but in Schaeffer’s day, as a reformed Presbyterian pastor, it was almost unheard of to work along side Catholics or Mormons or agnostics who were united to confront injustices in the world. The church today should glean needed wisdom from Schaeffer’s willingness to work with and learn from others outside of his Christian tradition.

Schaeffer’s story is one that needs to be told and retold. Thanks to this new biography, more people can learn about this important person in Christian history. Christian college students, especially, need to be reminded of the coherence and Truth of the Gospel and how it applies to all areas of life. Duriez’s biography reminds us that the life and writings of Francis Schaeffer is a good model for how to put this into practice.