Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Books of 2009?

We are putting together our lists for the best books of 2009. Some of them were published in 2009 and some of them we just happened to get around to reading in 2009! You can read about last year's winners here: Derek's picks part 1 & part 2; Walt's picks part 1 & part 2.

Look for posts presenting CPYU Book Award Winners sometime in early 2010. For now, we're interested in hearing from you:

What were the best books you read this year?

(Just a reminder: whenever we have 15 or more comments we giveaway a FREE book. The winner is randomly selected from the "comment-ers.")

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Forgetting Jesus?

Many polemics have been written about the North American evangelical church. Some center on theology, others on practice, but many assume that what evangelicals think or do is gospel centered. Michael Horton, in his new book, Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (Baker), challenges readers to consider whether or not churches are preaching Christ, or something else. “I think that the church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful and perhaps even well-liked that it nearly mirrors the world itself,” Horton writes. “Judging by its commercial, political and media success, the evangelical movement seems to be booming. But is it still Christian?”

Horton believes many churches cater to society by offering a Gospel that is easy to accept, while preaching and teaching “good advice” not “good news.” He sifts through popular Christian writers and teachers, most notably Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Robert Schuller, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball and Mark Oestreicher, to reveal a reluctance to communicate the offensiveness of the gospel. According to Horton: “Today it is less about measuring ourselves against God’s holy will than about helping make good people better through good advice.”

Horton reveals that the moralistic, therapeutic, deistic worldview, discovered by sociologist Christian Smith is really the worldview of most Christian adults. Not everyone will agree with Horton’s arguments, but they certainly are worth considering. Has the church stopped preaching Christ and Him crucified? Are we leaving out central elements of the faith, especially when teaching the young? Horton’s diagnosis is compelling and seems more accurate than not, but it isn’t all bad news. He also reminds us of the Good News and suggests ways to put the church back on track.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Best Sex

Shoot straight. That’s certainly what the culture does with its pervasive and assorted non-stop messages about sex and sexuality. What’s resulted is a do-anything sexual ethic void of any boundaries other than those one sets for himself or herself—and it’s assumed that’s where sexual freedom is to be found. “Not so!” says C.J. Mahaney. If you believe there’s something more, you believe correctly.

Mahaney, of Sovereign Grace Ministries, offers up a much-needed biblical corrective pointing to true and full sexual freedom in his accessible little book, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know (Crossway). Rooted in the unfolding biblical drama and a deep understanding of God’s created purpose for His gift of sex, this book is forthright in setting out clear parameters for men in a world where the messages they usually hear and follow are destructive to relationships and lives. Mahaney reminds men that sexually satisfying intimacy is meant to bring Glory to God, and that “before you touch her body, you must touch her heart and mind.” He then goes on to describe ways to kindle romance, communicate and become immersed in “holy, erotic joy.” A wonderful chapter by Mahaney’s wife Carolyn is included at book’s end, offering “A Word to Wives.”

While Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God bills itself as a book for husbands, I highly recommend it as a book for mature young men who are not yet married. Not only will the book serve to outline a practical theology of sex for marriage, but it will help younger readers (and the youth workers who lead them) understand and practice their sexuality to the glory of God before marriage. My guess is that many older readers will find the book helpful, but finish it lamenting the fact that they had never discovered it before.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Teen Life

British author Nick Hornby’s novel Slam (Riverhead Books) is about a boy named Sam. Written in the first-person, Sam tells the story of being raised by his single, young, divorced mother. He’s a decent student who plans on being the first person in his family to attend and graduate from college. Skateboarding is his obsession and he has a poster of Tony Hawk in his room. He talks to the poster and the poster talks back. In fact, it’s safe to say that the poster functions as his mentor, giving him direction and frequently offering advice.

Life is going along as “normal” for an average 21st century teenager, until his new girlfriend, Alicia, gets pregnant. Sam and Alicia have major decisions to make and the book does a marvelous job at revealing how a teenager navigates these challenges. How will they tell their parents? Will they keep the child? Will they stay together in a relationship? Will Sam be able to go to college? Will Alicia drop out of school? Readers are given a unique, and I would say, accurate, look into how an adolescent shaped by contemporary youth culture processes such questions.

I highly recommend this novel for any student of youth culture, especially parents and youth workers who want to better understand the world of teenagers. Hornby knows their world well and his book helps us to see life through the thoughts and actions of teens. This book should be of special interest to anyone reaching out to teens from broken homes or helping teens navigate the challenges of teen pregnancy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Winner is...

Thanks for all who participated in our latest FREE book giveaway. We created a great list of books that would make excellent Christmas presents! The following person was chosen randomly from the list of comments and has won a free signed copy of David Crowder and Ben Hogan’s book, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, But Nobody Wants to Die:


Please email us, cpyu(at), with your mailing address to claim your prize. Thanks for playing! Stay tuned for future giveaways.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Columbine Reality

Last week I finally got around to a book that's been sitting on the pile for quite some time. I wanted to read Dave Cullen's Columbine before the 10th anniversary year of the watershed school massacre came to an end. Riveting reading, it was difficult to put down. Considered the nation's foremost authority on those who perpetrated the event now known by the simple one-word name of the school, Cullen has spent ten years investigating every nook and cranny of what happened in Littleton before, during, and after April 20, 1999.

I remember where I was when I first heard the news. I was in the car driving from speaking to an English class at Lancaster Bible College, heading a few miles south to speak to some at-risk students in an after-school program at Lancaster City's McCaskey High School. An initial radio report had informed me that there had a been a school shooting in Colorado and a few kids had been injured. By the time I got back in my car a couple of hours later, a more grim story was unfolding fast. I was up all night glued to the TV. Since then - in fact before the bodies were removed from the school - Columbine reality and myth have been woven together in a mix that's allowed the truth to get muddied by chaotic confusion, trauma-fueled desire, misinformation, hasty assumptions, false conclusions, irresponsibility, and lies.

Yesterday, after finishing Cullen's book, I ran across this quote attributed to John F. Kennedy: "Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." Timely. The age of rapid information has combined with our desire for easy answers, our lack of good research, our need for Evangelical heroes, and our bent towards believing what we want to believe to cloud the truth about Columbine. And this bad habit is not only limited to the Columbine massacre. We do it all the time. And Evangelicals - a group I'm a part of that values truth and integrity - is usually no different. Mainstream media, viewers worldwide, Columbine families, and my own Christian culture jumped to some hasty conclusions. Then along comes Dave Cullen, shedding light on the facts and thereby illuminating the truth about Columbine in some undeniable ways. Granted, Cullen doesn't know everything and he has the advantage of post-dust-settlement hindsight. But he's helped us know more than we've ever known before...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Books Make Great Christmas Gifts!

We have another signed copy of David Crowder and Ben Hogan’s book to give away! You know, their book (signed!) Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die would make a nice Christmas present, don’t you think?

Books make great Christmas presents. We’re wondering:

Will you be giving any books as gifts this Season?

Are there any books you hope to get for Christmas?

"Comment" your answers... the winner of the FREE SIGNED BOOK will be chosen randomly from the list of comments (only one comment per person, please) on Tuesday, December 15, 2009.

Read an interview with the authors.

The winner from the previous giveaway still has not claimed his prize. Please check the comment section of this post to see if you are the winner.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Volunteer Help

It’s always interesting to hear the responses when I ask a room full of youth workers to describe what they do in youth ministry. Those who volunteer their time to pour their lives into kids usually sell themselves short by almost embarrassingly confessing, “I’m just a volunteer.” But with a little bit of information and encouragement, these folks can begin to see that they need to drop the “I’m just a” to confidently embrace the amazing role they play in shaping the hearts and minds of young people.

My friend Jim Hancock made the transition to youth ministry volunteer after more than 20 years of getting paid to minister to kids. His experience as a volunteer taught him quite a bit, and in his signature style he has crafted a helpful and encouraging book for those who pursue this high calling and high privilege without getting paid a dime. How To Volunteer Like a Pro: An Amateur’s Guide For Working With Teenagers (Zondervan/Youth Specialties) is full of practical advice and helpful tips loaded into 37 short chapters, making it highly suitable for individual reading or small group training sessions. Jim includes guidance on everything from how to build relationships, to crossing cultures, to reporting abuse. One chapter even offers suggestions on how to ask good questions, with Jim passing on the three time-tested best questions he knows.

Youth ministry volunteers aren’t chaperones, supervisors or an adult presence. They powerfully serve Christ and kids by becoming the hands and feet of Jesus on the ground, right there where kids live. How to Volunteer Like a Pro will encourage and equip them to fulfill their God-given calling as an incarnational presence in young lives.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Engaging The Shack

The novel The Shack has reportedly sold over 4 million copies. The self-published phenomenon has been a New York Times bestseller and author William Young has been interviewed by almost every major media outlet. If you haven’t read The Shack, someone you know has. And, chances are, it has left a lasting impression on how they view God and understand faith.

The Shack
is about a man whose daughter is kidnapped and murdered, plaguing his life with a “Great Sadness.” He is invited to a meeting at the shack where his daughter’s dress was last seen. There he meets God and engages in long conversations with the Trinity trying to make sense of how a loving God would “allow” such an evil thing to happen.

The book is not without its critics. Some have declared it unbiblical and heretical. In his new book, Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption (Intervarsity, 2009), Roger Olson offers a fair and wise assessment. Olson was moved by the book, found it very encouraging, especially for people who have endured hardships, and doesn’t want it dismissed. He explains, “The Shack is not a book of systematic theology or orthodox doctrine; it’s a story—like Jesus’ parables—meant to convey a message about God.” But, according to Olson, that does not mean we shouldn’t read it critically: “However great and inspiring it may be, The Shack is just a story and not God’s Word … while there have been amazingly popular and life-transforming books written since the Bible, all must be judged by Scripture.”

This book helps to that end, by walking readers through the story and comparing it to God’s Word and Church history. The Shack is not without its faults, and Olson has provided a user friendly guide to make sure readers do not lose sight of the truth of the God portrayed in The Shack. A small group discussion guide is also included.