Monday, August 31, 2009

Jason Soucinek: Reader Interview

Current position/title: Director, iPULSE, a division of Life Services, and Associate Staff with CPYU

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

Reading was one of those things that I dreaded when I was in school, even college. In fact, I took great delight in having passed all my English literature classes (and many others) without ever having read a single classic. It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I learned how much I LOVED to read. Now I can’t get my hands on enough books. It seems like I am always reading. Especially the classics! Funny how you avoid something most of your life then you spend the rest of it trying to make up for lost time!

What are your reading habits and practices?

A couple of things worth mentioning here:

As for habits, typically I love to read in the morning and in the evening. Whenever I travel I try my best to use public transportation. There is nothing like getting in a chapter or two while I wait to go from one point A to point B.

As for practices, I read on a variety of topics from several different perspectives. I feel this allows for me to understand issues in a much broader sense. I think it is silly when you don’t challenge yourself to see some of the big things we read about and not understand the other side.

Find one or two authors you love and read everything they ever wrote! For me that is John Steinbeck and C.S. Lewis.

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

Wow! That is like asking what my favorite band is or what movie I like the most but I will try my best. I am sure as soon as I send this off to you I will think of several others that could replace these three.

The Pearl, by John Steinbeck. This was the first book after I graduated from college that got me hooked on reading. Since then I have made Steinbeck a stable in my yearly reading pattern.

The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. This book was thick! Not just in the physical sense but in the spiritual and mental sense. This was the first book that had me reading scripture right alongside the book I was reading. I remember spending days doing nothing but studying scripture and reading this book. Absolutely fell in love with the Lord all over again!

Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King Jr. There is probably no other person in modern history that has had as much influence on my life as this man. This is the book that started that adoration.

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

C.S. Lewis, where did you find time to write, teach and respond to all those letters while also having a social life?

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?

I think the one thing that this generation is missing is the use of their imagination. This might be hard to accept but I recently went to the museum with a group of students. When they were asked to look at the art on the walls they couldn’t place themselves in the picture. They had a hard time playing in the fields or thinking about what might be beyond the hills or who might live in the house that was painted. I believe that this is a direct result of a generation of students that are not reading or who have never been read to as a child. Reading unlocks our imagination. I learned this late in life but I am taking full advantage of it now!

One way for us to curb this trend is to use books in our teaching. Whenever I speak I love to use books that we all remember from our childhood like Where the Wild Things Are, The Giving Tree or The Velveteen Rabbit. What I’ve realized, however, is not everyone in my audience have read these books. But something happens when I read them aloud…people’s heads perk up and they are taken into the story. Maybe they’ve never read the story but it gets them excited about reading. I’ve had more than a few teenagers that will come up after I’ve spoken and ask about the book I just read out loud. My hope is that this starts a rhythm or practice that will start them on a journey of reading. Gosh, to think if someone had done that when I was younger…all the books I could have already read!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Great Man, Great Advice

Reviewed by Walt Mueller

The older I get the more I’m convinced that the greater the spotlight a person finds himself in, the harder it is to keep one’s priorities straight. We’ve all watched heroes and role models rise—and then very quickly fall. That’s why Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy is such a breath of fresh air. He is a man whose life is marked by humility. He is a man whose greatest commitment is to be committed—truly committed—to Jesus Christ. Tony Dungy is the real deal.

After reading Dungy’s best-selling memoir, Quiet Strength, readers who had been exposed to Dungy’s life and story in that book hungered for deeper insight into the principles and commitments that guide his life. Now, Dungy has released his latest, Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance (Tyndale House, 2009), a book that shatters the cultural myths we so easily buy into on a quick path to idolatry.

Done with an easy-to-read style that’s packaged in digestible, thought-provoking nuggets, Uncommon leads readers on a helpful look in the mirror, challenging them to develop godly attitudes, to love their families, to be a positive model in the lives of their friends, to reach their full potential in life, to establish a mission that matters, to choose influence over image and to live out their faith. Uncommon offers a straightforward message that must be heard. While it’s recommended for all males, it’s especially suited for men and boys who might not normally read much at all.

Dungy writes in the introduction, “At the end of the day, I’m sure of one thing: accumulating stuff and women and titles and money are wrong keys. Fitting in, following the crowd and being common are not what we’re supposed to do. There’s more in store for us.” He’s pointing men in the right direction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Michael Wittmer Interview: Don't Stop Believing!

Michael Wittmer (MW) is professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Click here to read a review of his most recent book, Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough.

CPYU: Before talking about your new book, Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough, our readers would also be interested in your previous book Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God. Briefly tell us what you hoped to accomplish with that book.

MW: This book teases out the implications of the Christian worldview to explain the meaning of life. Many evangelicals think that this world is not their home, that matter doesn’t matter (or worse, that it is the matter), and so they mistakenly conclude that only their spiritual activities matter to God. Heaven Is a Place on Earth calls us back to a biblical understanding of creation and culture and to the cosmic scope of our redemption. It explains why everything we do—even the ordinary routines of life—drips with spiritual significance.

In this way it supplies a nice companion book to N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Dave Naugle’s new book, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives. Dave, who you interviewed below, is one of our premier Christian professors. I am blessed to count him as a friend and encourage everyone—especially college students—to profit from his wisdom in this book.

CPYU: What motivated you to write Don’t Stop Believing?

MW: I first heard of postmodernism in the early 1990’s, but it was always something that existed out there in the culture at large. In the last five years I’ve noticed that its perspectives have entered many of our churches and schools. My students are asking fundamental questions about things that we used to take for granted. It’s an exciting time to be a professor—because we are discussing big issues that really matter—but it’s also a bit scary, for the same reason.

I wanted to help students find their way through this new world by affirming where the new thinking is correct but also to warn about the dangers of going too far in this direction. In sum, I heartily affirm this generation’s emphasis on social ethics (they are much more socially conscious than I was at their age) but want them to remember that following Jesus also includes believing some foundational doctrines about who Jesus is and what he came to do.

CPYU: I find your book to be a very helpful bridge-builder between conservative and “emerging” churches. What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding that conservative churches have about “emerging” churches? And what do you think is a major misunderstanding among “emerging” churches toward conservative churches?

MW: A major thesis of Don't Stop Believing is that emergent churches emphasize loving our neighbor while conservative churches focus on right belief. While this is generally true, I think that many conservative churches are doing more social good than emergents give them credit for and many emerging churches do a good job of keeping the faith (I am less optimistic about emergent churches—which is a more liberal subset of emerging—for the leaders of this movement, such as Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Brian McLaren, have displayed a willingness to dismiss some of the church’s foundational doctrines, such as original sin and penal substitution).

CPYU: Tell us a good story (or more) about a response you have gotten to Don’t Stop Believing. Anything surprise you or stick out about the way people have responded?

MW: A few months ago I was a respondent on an emergent church panel at an evangelical college. My job was to ask the three emergent panelists any question I wished so long as I was prepared to answer it myself. Midway through the morning, I said that I affirmed all the social good that had been discussed that morning, but my question was whether a person also had to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, or was being a good person who did good things and asked good question sufficient. The panelists (from England, Ireland, and the host college) took five minutes each but did not answer my question. They merely restated the preface to my question, where I made the point that beliefs cannot be divorced from practice.

I didn’t respond to their non-answers then, but later in the day an older gentleman from the floor asked if I was happy with their response. I said that I wasn’t, for they hadn’t answered my question but had merely restated it back to me. They took another run, and this time 2 out of the 3 affirmed that beliefs are unnecessary to follow Jesus. One said that even to ask my question is to needlessly divide faith from practice. Another, the professor at this Christian college, espoused an inclusivism where “Christians, Jews, and Muslims all pray to the same God.” He said that beliefs are not essential, for “God does not make himself available only to Christians.”

When I explained from John 3 and Romans 10 why believing that we are sinners and Jesus saves us from our sin is essential for salvation, one panelist declared that I held a “Baptist, conversionist” view which treated people as heads rather than whole persons. I’m sure that they thought I was too modern and fundamentalist for asking my question, but the experience reinforced for me the need for a book like Don’t Stop Believing.

One funny story. I was on another panel recently where the emergent moderator kept agreeing with everything I said. Every time I would bring up the need to believe, she would say something like “I feel your passion, your heart beats with the love of Christ,” etc. I wanted to scream “Stop hugging me! It’s hard to have a conversation if you won’t acknowledge our differences.”

Finally, one of the other panelists had enough, and he declared that he didn’t know whether doctrine would make it through the worm hole into the future but he was sure that Jesus would. I responded that if doctrine did not make it, then neither would Jesus. He replied that the church has always permitted diversity of opinion. I agreed, but said that the church also declared that some thought was out of bounds, and one should pause before following a heretical strain. Many in the audience applauded and the emergent moderator announced “Oooo, he used the ‘H’ word.” Apparently the only heresy in some circles is to declare that there is such a thing as heresy!

CPYU: What’s next? Working on another book?

MW: I think many people today, both conservative and more liberal Christians, are confused about faith, its relation to doubt, and what it means to believe. I’ve got a catchy title, which I don’t want to give away but I promise that, like my first two books, it can be sung to a 1980s rock song (everyone needs a shtick, mine just happens to be dumber than most!). I am just beginning the research and haven’t pursued a publisher yet, so it probably won’t be out for a couple of years. In the meantime, anyone who is interested can follow my occasional musings at

Other Bookshelf Author Interviews:
Tim Clydesdale, The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School
David Lovelace, Scattershot
William Mattison, Introducing Moral Theology
J. Mark Bertrand, Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World
Amy Black, Beyond Left and Right: Helping Christians Make Sense of American Politics
Matthew Bonzo, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life
David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant
Kary Oberbrunner, The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap Between Christ and Culture
David Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives
Mary Poplin, Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service
Mindy Meier, Sex and Dating
David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
Benson Hines, Reaching the Campus Tribes (part 1 & part 2)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

There is a popular, growing concern among some segments of the church that for too long Christians have focused on “believing the right things” instead of “living the right way.” Some claim that Jesus was much more concerned with how one lived than with what one believed. In his book, Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough (Zondervan, 2008), seminary professor Michael Wittmer warns that this popular notion may be taking things too far. He writes, “I appreciate the renewed turn to practice, but wonder why we must turn from doctrine to get there. If modern, conservative churches replaced concern for right living with right doctrine, shouldn’t postmoderns be wary of falling off the other edge replacing concern for right doctrine with right living?”

Wittmer writes with humor and passion, tackling the toughest questions the church is currently wrestling with to show how both right doctrine and right living is necessary. Sample questions include: Must you believe something to be saved? Are people generally good or basically bad? Which is worse: homosexuals or the bigots who persecute them? Is the cross divine child abuse? Is Hell for real and forever? Is the Bible God’s true Word?

Wittmer offers a balanced, thoughtful and biblical approach to these questions and many more. This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the church and current theological debates. It is especially important for those who are both critical and receptive of the theology of what has become known as the “emerging church.”

Coming soon: a CPYU Bookshelf exclusive interview with professor Michael Wittmer!