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