Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Love Is an Orientation

The first words of Andrew Marin’s book, Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (InterVarsity Press, 2010), reads as a statement that reflects my own life: “I am a straight, white, conservative, Bible-believing, evangelical male. I was raised in a Christian home in a conservative suburb of Chicago and grew up in a large evangelical church. And I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.” However, over the last 10 years he has immersed himself in this community choosing to live in the gay district of Chicago called Boystown. One of the most polarizing discussions that can happen in our church today surrounds the topic of homosexuality. As someone that works often to illuminate and prompt dialogue on sexuality, this can be one of the most sobering and difficult conversations I have. To be honest, I would rather not discuss this topic because I know what lies beneath and it is neither easy nor quick to understand.

Marin’s story begins when three of his best friends “come out” over a three-month period. This title wave of revelation led him to deeply consider what he believed and how he was going to cope with this new reality, all three of his closest friends were gay! His decision, however, was one that some find strange. In order to completely answer the Holy Spirit’s call in his life, he decided to fully immerse himself in the GLBT community. Marin says that he wanted to be, “the most involved, gayest straight dude on the face of the earth.”

His immersion in this culture is what led him to write Love Is an Orientation. It is a challenging, yet dynamic work of literature on the issues surrounding the intersection of the church and the GLBT community. He points out that we need to begin moving past our default responses toward the GLBT community. He is not asking Christians to change their beliefs, nor is he asking them to change their foundational understanding of Scripture. His heart is to create a new paradigm that elevates our discussion on this issue.

Marin writes, “We have no problem wrestling with apologetics for people of different ethnicities and cultures that are totally removed from ours. Christians diligently study other belief systems and incarnationally move into neighborhoods of people with different beliefs, join their groups, attend their events and partake in their daily life, reveling in the unique opportunity to engage in what we don’t know. But Christians do none of those things for the GLBT community.”

Love Is an Orientation will challenge you to believe that their lives are as real as ours, and our faith in Jesus Christ requires us to meticulously seek honest transparency not only within the GLBT community but in ourselves as well.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hipster Christianity?

What does it mean for the church to be hip? Is cool Christianity something we should even strive for? These are a few of the questions that frame Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker Books, 2010). The book has received a lot of attention, garnering both praise and criticism. While some of the generalizations and presuppositions McCracken makes through the early portions of the book may miss the mark, the book lands on solid ground as McCracken comes to his conclusions in the latter chapters.

The book takes us through a historical look at the concept of cool and what it has looked like in practice over the years. Though nowhere near exhaustive, it provides a broad view that helps paint the picture of hipsterdom and some of its main tenets of freedom, individualism, exclusivity, and rebellion. Hipster Christianity then describes what hipsters look like in today’s society, generalizing them into twelve basic categories based on the author’s experiences. (Insert ironic criticism here.) McCracken then takes us on a tour of what he considers the rise of hipster Christianity dating back to the 1960’s. Those who grew up in evangelical homes during the 80’s and 90’s will at least relate to, if not appreciate McCracken’s references during this time period. The middle portion of the book focuses on what so-called “hipster Christianity” looks like today in practice, starting with a brief but helpful profile of several different well-known churches.

As stated before, the book holds the most weight in the concluding chapters as McCracken takes a look at whether the concept of “cool” can be reconciled with Christianity. In short, McCracken states that it cannot. Though he does allow that following Christ is a “cool” venture all to itself, he argues it’s not the same type of self-obsessed notion of cool that we have come to highly regard as a culture. If we’re not careful, and if we don’t hold tight to Scripture, the church can quickly lose its identity as found in being the body of Christ, and instead be focused on how attractive we look to the outside world. He suggests that churches who are trying to be cool simply for the sake of marketing to young believers or seekers, or to satisfy the fleeting desires of the “marketplace” are no different than corporations advertising their latest products. To be a radical for Christ means to deny oneself, and be fixated on the eternal aspect of God’s kingdom, rather than the vain, in the now, fleeting pursuits of “hip.” For many individuals and churches, this will be a tough pill to swallow.

Youth pastors and pastors alike would do well to read the final five chapters of this book. It will help them take a closer look at the decisions their churches make and hopefully encourage them to base those decisions on the unchanging Word of God rather than their personal desire to be cool or to appeal to the outside world.

--Chris Wagner

Monday, December 13, 2010

Looking for the King this Christmas?

Just in time for the release of the latest Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and for the gift-giving Christmas season, our good friend Byron Borger, proprietor of our favorite bookstore, Hearts & Minds, has assembled an excellent list of C.S. Lewis resources. Byron writes, “This year has marked some very important new C.S. Lewis resources, books and audio and--yes--some educational DVDs that are sorely needed, to enhance our appreciation of the great Oxford don.” Please check out Byron’s great list and, perhaps, think of that special someone who would greatly benefit from reading a book about or by C.S. Lewis.

Byron briefly mentions a new novel by David Downing that we are excited about. Check out the trailer above for the “Inklings” novel, Looking for the King. Is that not the best book trailer you’ve ever seen? Dr. Downing is a friend, teaches at the college up the street from CPYU’s office and a few years ago helped us see what C.S. Lewis might have to say to Christian students making the transition from high school to college (C.S. Lewis for College Students). His new novel also contains some “imagined” conversations with Lewis. While the trailer highlights the adventurous aspects of the story, the best parts of the book, in my opinion, are the conversations between the main characters and Lewis and his friends. Did you ever wonder what it would be like to have a cup of coffee with Lewis? Do you dream of the opportunity to meet J.R.R. Tolkien at a pub? This book is for you! And, if you’re just looking for a thoughtful, page-turning mystery, this book is for you too! It would be a wonderful gift for both Lewis fans and for friends learning about Lewis for the first time.

Tis the season to give books as gifts. David Downing (and Lewis) always seem to make my Christmas shopping a little bit easier!

--Derek Melleby

Friday, December 10, 2010

Interview with James K.A. Smith on "Letters to a Young Calvinist"

Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition is getting a lot of attention. Here's a good, short interview of James K.A. Smith talking about his new book. You can read the Bookshelf review here. And Dr. Smith responds to his baptist critics here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

About You

The pile of books "to be read" in my office just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Every once in a while a new book darkens the doorway that I allow to jump to the front of the line, or top of the pile as it were. A couple of weeks ago one of those books showed up and I devoured it quickly. It never even made it to the pile. . . I just took it home and started reading. It's a book by Dick Staub, a friend whose past books, Too Christian and Too Pagan and The Culturally Savvy Christian, I've made required reading for students in classes I've taught. The feedback is pretty consistent – things like "thanks for making me read that book" and "that book was a life-changer for me." Staub's latest offering, About You: Fully Human, Fully Alive (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is good reading I'm "assigning" to anyone who reads this review! It's good reading because it's filled with good writing that shatters some of the myths we've come to believe about God and ourselves, while offering a clear corrective regarding the ways things are and ought to be.

The book's cover is sure to attract attention from both Christians who think they know what being a Christian is all about, and non-believers who know Christians who have erroneously communicated what being a Christian is all about. Those facts hit readers when they spot this thought-provoking quote on the cover: "Jesus didn't come to make us Christian; Jesus came to make us fully human," words penned by Hans Rookmaker, a hero of the faith Staub and I share. Those words capture a reality that's so much bigger and better than what we've come to accept.

Rooted in the context of the unfolding Biblical drama of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, About You takes readers on a journey to discover what it means to be fully human, fully alive, and how to get there. This isn't a book about getting saved. This is a book about rediscovering the purpose, meaning, and shalom of life in the Garden, the echo of which haunts us all in our brokenness. About You engages both the saved and the seeker, leading them down the path to understanding one's self and all of life in the role we've been made to play in that great drama. It's a book about restoration that will open your eyes to who you were made to be and how to get there once again.

--Walt Mueller

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Letters to a Young Calvinist

There has been a recent interest in Reformed theology in general and Calvinism in particular. Major media outlets have reported on how many young people are attracted to what has been called “New-Calvinism.” YouTube clips abound of young pastors decrying the doctrinal shallowness of the contemporary church while urging protestant, evangelical churches to return to their reformed heritage.

As with any movement, the renewed interest in Calvinism has had both positive and negative aspects. Positively, the “New-Calvinists” desire to think more deeply, biblically and theologically and stress the importance and necessity of the local church for nurturing a worshipping community. But there have been a few negative aspects as well. While the reformed tradition has prided itself as being Gospel and grace centered it has also, well, “prided” itself. For some, being “right” doctrinally and theologically becomes a source of pride and arrogance often leading to divisive attitudes. What’s more, some of the “New-Calvinists” reduce Calvinism to its doctrine of salvation, popularly known as TULIP, or the 5-points, and miss the broader, richer vision of John Calvin himself.

What is the bigger, theological vision missed by the New-Calvinists? That’s what James K.A. Smith spells out in his new book Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition (Brazos Press, 2010). Smith’s own Christian journey took him all over the theological map, from Pentecostalism to currently teaching philosophy at Calvin College. His own journey is what motivated him to write these letters to a young Christian. In fact, truth be told, Smith is basically writing letters to himself, retelling his own pilgrimage through his theological pride to becoming a humbler, gentler Calvinist.

The book is creative, engaging and stimulating. It serves as a helpful corrective to all of us who may run the risk of missing Jesus while constructing persuasive theological schemas. At times, I think Smith assumes too much from his (supposed) young readers, referring to people, places and historical events that most young people will be learning about for the first time in these pages. In that sense, I’m not sure it serves as the best “invitation to the Reformed tradition.” But like Paul’s epistles, these letters do a marvelous job of ensuring that Jesus and the Kingdom remain the focus of the Gospel. A book like this one needed to be written and Smith was just the person to do it. His love for Jesus, the Bible and the church are evident on each page.

--Derek Melleby

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

I often wonder what it is my kids think about marriage. I wonder what they’ve learned by watching me and my wife live out the vows we recited to each other over 28 years ago. I wonder if the example I’ve given them is a good one. Do they have a high view of marriage? Or, like so many of their peers, do they view the institution of marriage with a skepticism that’s been fueled by faulty media depictions, the confusion of infatuation with love, declining sexual standards, a “feel-good” moral code, and the failure of marriage to work under the roof where they spent their childhood?

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our center when it comes to matrimony. When we get around to choosing marriage, our expectations are way off. When we get into marriage, those false expectations bear fruit that leaves us feeling like failures. . . and then far too many marriages disintegrate. The good news is that even though this is the cultural climate of the times, a majority of our kids long to enter into a stable, loving, and enduring marriage. Eighty-two percent of our teenage girls say that having a good marriage and family life is “extremely important,” and that’s a number that’s been trending upward in recent years. While the boys lag behind, over seven out of ten share that desire. But how can we help facilitate a transition from great expectations, to seeing those expectations become reality?

I’m fully aware that marriage and individual marriages are extremely complex. But stated simply, the two best things we can give to our kids is 1) an example of a healthy marriage, and 2) constant guidance and direction before their married so that they are prepared for the marital realities than run the spectrum from good, to bad, to even ugly.

One of the things I’ve come to love about Dr. Paul Tripp is his realization that life is messy. He would be the first to admit that his own life has been messy. He also trumpets the theological reality that we are all deeply flawed people who are living in a deeply flawed world. Not only that, but it is the grace of God as evidenced in the cross that not only saves us, but saves us from ourselves while allowing us to live in marital bliss and marital lack-of-bliss as one flawed person committed to another flawed person. His latest book, What Did You Expect??: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (Crossway, 2010), is a vulnerable, biblically-based, realistic, and very hopeful guide that can set us on the path to healthy marriages, the setting of good examples, and healthy conversations with our kids about the nature of marriage.

Tripp recognizes that our marriages need “the regular rescue of grace” because we are sinners who are married to sinners who are trying to live the married life in a broken and messed up world. Tripp proposes that contrary to popular opinion, the secret to a successful marriage is not rooted in romance. Rather, a marriage of love, unity, and understanding is rooted in the worship of God. It is only when we are focused on the worship of God “that we find reason to continue” in our marriages.

After smashing the faulty and idolatrous notions of marriage that we so easily believe and embrace in today’s culture, Tripp shares and explains six commitments that flawed couples must keep if they are hoping to grow in their love for each other and build a marriage that endures. They are. . .

- We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.
- We will make growth and change our daily agenda.
- We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.
- We will commit to building a relationship of love.
- We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.
- We will work to protect our marriage.

What Did You Expect?? is a timely book that I highly recommend. Of course, it’s one that all parents should read, discuss, and prayerfully endeavor to live. Youth workers would do well to give it a read? Why? Your kids are watching! Couples considering marriage will find the book especially helpful. And then anyone who wants to help young people hear and live a realistic and healthy understanding of this God-given institution will find more than enough good stuff to unpack and discuss with kids.

Tripp writes, “It is only when a husband and wife are in love with the same King and live in practical pursuit of the same kingdom that they have any hope of functional unity, understanding, and love.” Yes, God is in the business of rescuing us from ourselves and making all things new. . . including our marriages!

-- Dr. Walt Mueller

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Fatherless Generation

Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story (Zondervan, 2010) by John Sowers is eye-opening, dismal, but ultimately hopeful.

The first half of the book paints a bleak picture of fatherlessness in America. Thirty-three percent of youth—over 25 million kids—grow up without a dad. According to Sowers “the fatherless boy lives with the nagging accusation that he will never be adequate, never measure up, never really be a man.” And, “while our fatherless sons rage, our fatherless daughters decay. Driven by a crippling sense of unworthiness and a gnawing hunger for Dad, they are emotionally and sexually promiscuous.” Citing various sources, Sowers concludes: "The fatherless generation is accountable for most of the serious problems we face today…"

63% of youth suicides
71% of pregnant teenagers
90% of all homeless and runaway children
70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions
85% of all youth who exhibit behavior disorders
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger
71% of al high school dropouts
75% of all adolescents in chemical abuse centers
85% of all youths sitting in prison

But there is hope. The second half of the book is an urgent plea for churches to invest in intentional mentoring programs. Sowers is currently the president of The Mentoring Project, which “seeks to respond to the American crisis of fatherlessness by inspiring and equipping faith communities to mentor fatherless boys.” He offers countless stories and statistics of boys and girls who made successful and healthy transitions from adolescence to adulthood. The common denominator was that they had mentors in their lives, showing them want it meant and looked like to be men and women. Understanding the daunting task of being a mentor, the book concludes with helpful and inspiring advice on how to engage the fatherless among us.

Sowers forces us to open our eyes to the devastating crisis of fatherlessness. It is pervasive. And because it affects everyone in some way, everyone should read this book. If you come from a fatherless background this book will help you to make sense of your situation. Youth workers should read this book in order to better understand how to serve the fatherless in their congregations and communities. And, finally, fathers should read this book to be reminded of the importance and challenge of being a faithful dad.

-- Derek Melleby

Monday, November 8, 2010

Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers

Billy Joel once sang about how only the good die young. It was a song about a good catholic girl and a bad rebel trying to sway her from her religious roots. Now we never know what happened to that girl at the end of the song (to many ooo’s and woah’s to find out) but if the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2007), Mark Regnerus, has any say in the matter he might conclude that she ran off with the boy.

Forbidden Fruit is a few years old so it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve missed this one recently. However, the answers to what is happening in the lives of teens as it relates to sex and sexuality, and more importantly the behavior of teens, is why this book deserves to stay on our reading lists. Regnerus asks questions about religion and sex among American teenagers, and his conclusions are neither simple nor straightforward. In fact, he poses that simple and straightforward answers to questions about sex (like, avoid sex before you're married) have largely fallen flat among American teens, Christians included. There's new material on emerging sexual norms, masturbation, homosexuality, virginity loss, and post-virginity sexual decision-making. For these reasons, I think the book could be considered as a standard in the study of adolescent sexual behavior, independent of its emphasis on religion.

Forbidden Fruit
is not only a meta-analysis on the issues of religion and sex as it relates to teens but it also gives insight into how people of faith have discussed the topic of sex. Regnerus quotes Don Schrader who says, “to hear many religious people talk, one would think God created the torso, head, legs, and arms, but the devil slapped on the genitals.” Unfortunately the data collected suggests that religion has failed to persuade people to talk about sex in ways that are not dehumanizing and demonizing all in the hope of keeping teens from having sex before marriage.

Whether you are a parent, pastor or educator I would recommend this book. It can at times be very thick with statistics, but Regnerus masterfully balances his overall analysis with the rawness of teenage emotion and experience. Overall, I think this is worth the time to sit and read. There are few authors who can tackle such a serious subject in such a disarming way.

-- Jason Soucinek

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again)

I’m not a guy who has a long list of heroes. Perhaps it’s because it takes a lot to impress me. To qualify as a hero for me, someone has to be a real flesh-and-blood person (sorry, Superman!) who has unselfishly pursued their God-given life-calling with single-minded purpose and almost reckless abandon. They also have to have done with great humility and integrity. It’s for that reason that I list Wayne Rice as one of a small handful of my youth ministry heroes.

I was a freckle-faced kid longing to survive life Huntingdon Junior High School and the harrowing transformation from childhood to adolescence when Wayne Rice was blazing the youth ministry trail with his buddy Mike Yaconelli. . . a partnership that would very quickly birth Youth Specialties. Although I didn’t know it, my youth pastors around that time were discovering and tapping into the youth ministry stuff Wayne and Mike had originally been selling out of the trunks of their cars. In a few short years, I would find myself answering the call to youth ministry, a calling that was fueled in large part by the growing volume of resources and training provided by YS.

Over the years, my relationship with Wayne Rice morphed from me admiring him from afar as he led music onstage at a convention, to a highly-respected friend. Wayne Rice has always been the real deal. . . that’s what I love about him. Now, after a few years out of the spotlight spent pondering his own story and legacy, Wayne is sharing his time-tested wisdom and heart in his brand new book, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again): From Bells and Whistles to Flesh and Blood (InterVarsity, 2010).

Let me be straightforward and blunt about this book – every youth worker needs to pick it up and read it. Reality is that lots of younger youth workers might be tempted to write Wayne off as an old guy who’s a youth ministry has-been, which means that he’s got nothing worry saying to people in youth ministry today. But if you understand the wisdom that comes with having a history and honestly evaluating that history, then Wayne Rice is a voice who needs to be heard. It’s no stretch to say that Wayne Rice had a huge hand in making youth ministry what it’s been since the 1960s and into today. . . . both the good and the bad. Wayne would admit that – and does admit that – himself in this book. Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) takes readers on an autobiographical and historical tour of youth ministry without the cloudy vision caused by taking the tour with rose-colored glasses. And by telling us all what was done right along with admitting what was misguided and wrong, Wayne helps today’s youth ministry mavericks avoid the mistakes that so many of us made. Instead, he calls youth workers back to a biblically-faithful and mature view of the Scriptures, the church, the family, and what has to be in place for lasting spiritual nurture to take place in the lives of kids.

Some day, everyone of today’s youth workers will arrive at the age where they take a look in the rearview mirror and think about what they’d do differently if they could only have a chance to do it all over again. It’s inevitable. But I believe that today’s youth workers will reach that point with a shorter list of regrets and would’ve, could’ve, should’ves if they would carefully consider Wayne’s words in Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). All of us in youth ministry owe a debt of gratitude to Wayne Rice. With this book, our debt just got bigger.

–- Walt Mueller

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jonathan Morrow Interview: Is God Just a Human Invention?

Jonathan Morrow is passionate about encouraging and equipping the next generation to think Christianly about all of life. He is the author of Welcome to College: A Christ-follower’s Guide for the Journey and the coauthor (with Sean McDowell) of Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. Jonathan also contributed several articles to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Talbot School of Theology, where he is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Engaging Mind and Culture. Currently he is the equipping pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Murfreesboro, TN.

Jonathan has been a guest on Family Life Today and Point of View and blogs regularly on the intersection of Christianity and culture at http://www.thinkchristianly.org/. He and his wife Mandi have been married for 10 years and have two children. What follows is an interview with Jonathan about his latest book Is God Just a Human Invention? and about equipping Christian students for college.

CPYU: What motivated you and Sean to write this book?

One of the things we have noticed in our experience with students and people within the church today (Sean as a Teacher and myself as a Pastor who works with students and adults) is that the New Atheists’ books, articles and debates, have been wreaking havoc on their faith. And so we wanted to write a book for this generation that would be understandable and engaging but that would also contain substantive responses to the eighteen biggest objections raised by the New Atheists. We also wanted to cover a wide spectrum of topics from scientific and philosophical issues to moral and biblical ones—all in one place. Most people aren’t going to read the best 5 books on a single topic, so we wanted to offer a resource that really hit all the big issues. The conversation about God and truth can get pretty heated. However, our goal was to have a productive conversation so we tried to maintain a civil tone while at the same time making a rigorous case for God and responding to the specific objections raised by the New Atheists. I guess the bottom line in writing Is God Just a Human Invention?, is that Sean and I wanted to make sure there would be someone to help guide young adults in their faith journey and ensure that they have the opportunity to seriously consider an un-caricatured, thoughtful understanding of Christianity because becoming a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ is the best decision one could ever make.

CPYU: How did you develop your passion for apologetics?

For me, that journey really began as I was asking the big questions of life during college. This was aided by the fact that I also seemed to end up with every hostile professor to Christianity on campus! So I scrambled for answers and wanted to know if there were good reasons to be a Christian. Was it true? I had no interest in following fairytales and certainly didn’t want to base my life on religious wishful thinking. But, the more I investigated, the more confident I became that this really is true. I began reading people like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, and J.P Moreland and it was like a breath of fresh air for my soul during these formative years. That really gave me a vision for doing for others what they did for me (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).

CPYU: A very helpful aspect of the book is that each chapter concludes with a “why it matters” section. Why was that important to you?

We wanted this book to have a unique angle that speaks to this generation. And so we invited eighteen leading scholars to share a little bit of their own stories and how these truths were meaningful to their lives in a “why it matters” section that follows each of the chapters that we wrote. We thought it was important for students to see that this is not just an academic exercise for those who get into that sort of thing. These questions really matter. Ideas have consequences! We were blown away and humbled by the generous response of these scholars to give of their time to help encourage the next generation in their search for truth. Their willingness to participate really speaks to how important these questions really are for all of us.

CPYU: Many of the readers of this blog are concerned with the college experience for Christian students. How will this book help college students as they encounter tough questions about faith on campus?

Specifically, I think it will help them in a couple ways. First, I think it gives them solid reasons to believe that God not only exists, but that he has also spoken in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15). This is something you can investigate with eyes wide open. Furthermore, it will help explode slogans and myths that get bantered about like “science has made God irrelevant” or that “Christianity is dangerous” or that “Christianity is based on blind faith.” Another way this book will help is that students will be introduced to 18 leading Christian thinkers as they read. Sometimes, people can get the idea that not many people take the life of the mind seriously in Christianity. This is simply false. We are commanded to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37). In addition, we offer the top 2 resources for further investigation of that topic at the end of each chapter plus websites and DVD’s. Finally, we hope students who work through this book will walk away with a renewed sense of confidence that Christianity really is true and that they would seek out the unique part God would have them play in the mission of God.

CPYU: From your experience traveling and speaking, do you think the New Atheist Movement is growing or shrinking?

One thing is for sure, they have the media’s attention. They are selling lots of books, developing apps for the iPhone, are active on social networking sites and Internet forums, and sponsoring billboard campaigns. One of the things that is “new” about this manifestation of atheism is the evangelistic zeal with which they are trying to get their message out. In my experience, people may not always be able to tell you the names of the new atheists, but they are raising the same issues and objections mentioned in their writings. So while this is still a relatively small percentage of the people in America, they do have access to the microphone to get their message out which means we need to be ready to engage.

CPYU: What do you think the rise in popularity of the New Atheists has taught the church? What should Christians learn from the kinds of questions the New Atheists are asking?

The New Atheists present both an opportunity and a challenge for the church. The difference between an opportunity and a challenge largely depends upon how a person responds. The New Atheists want students to question their faith. In a sense, so do we. If Christianity is really true, then it has nothing to fear from honest and vigorous investigation. Let the best ideas win! In the end, everyone has to answer the big questions in life: Where did I come from? Do I matter? Is there a God? If so, does this God care about me? Was Jesus really who he claimed to be? What is the good life? Is there life after death?

We see this as an opportunity because when Christian students come out on the other side of wrestling with these fundamental questions and the challenges of the New Atheists, they will have formed convictions—and passion flows from conviction. After all, we are called to contend for the faith (Jude 3).

But here is the challenge. The church must do the hard work of equipping the next generation to think about their faith. This will take time, resources, mentors, study and careful thinking. And it will not always yield “immediate results.” But the return on investment will be huge down the road. There is no shortage of books and polls documenting that an increasing number of students seem to be checking out from their faith in college and beyond. I think recovering an emphasis on apologetics and Christian worldview training is one important part of the remedy, along with cultivating strong peer and mentor relationships.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Download: Teaching Teenagers to Filter Their Media Choices

A sample video clip from a new resource from CPYU and Simply Youth Ministry. Download: Teaching Teenagers to Filter Their Media Choices with Walt Mueller is a 3-week small-group video curriculum. Download is available in the CPYU Resource Center.

Also be sure to check out CPYU's How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices, available at the CPYU Resource Center.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back On Murder

Have you ever been so engrossed in a novel that you started to think that the story was actually happening in real life? That happened to me on multiple occasions while reading J. Mark Bertrand’s first installment of Roland March mysteries, Back On Murder. My wife and I would be having dinner and I’d say something like, “They still haven’t found Hannah yet, have they?” That would get a blank stare followed by me trying to act like I was only joking. One time while watching a cable news channel, I actually thought the next story was going to be an update about the case. And, truth be told, I had a dream that included some of the book’s characters.

I was beginning to think that, perhaps, I thought this book was too good. Do I have to get out more, I wondered? In fact, when I showed the book to someone and mentioned how great it was, a glazed look came over his eyes. He glanced at the Christian imprint. The face said it all: it can’t be that good. But then, slowly, other glowing reviews started being published. John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, says that it is a “promising debut” and he is “ready for the next book.” In a review for Comment, Richard Doster writes, “In this first installment of a promising new series, Bertrand has given readers an intriguing plot, delightful prose, engaging dialog, and a story that's well worth reading.”

So, if they can do it, I can do it. Let the gushing begin. Back On Murder is engaging, suspenseful, thoughtful, and entertaining. It’s everything crime fiction should be. And here’s Bertrand’s real gift, and it is a gift, to be sure. There is not one f-bomb in the whole book, and yet the dialogue is realistic. There is not a single description of a sexual encounter and yet the book is not without sex. Like a good comedian who is funny without swearing, Bertrand reveals that it is possible to write a good story without being crude. Most importantly, the book is refreshingly honest about the human condition. The protagonist Roland March is complex, often discussing deeper motives behind his actions and being frustrated by his limitations. And, I hope I don’t need a “spoiler alert” for this one, the ending is satisfying without having everything neatly tied up.

Here’s the one word I would use to describe Back On Murder: flawless. Now I know that’s a strong statement, and certainly every book has flaws. But I really couldn’t ask for more from a novel. The good news is, there’s more to come! I know what I will be reading at the beach next summer.

Click here to read a Bookshelf Interview with Bertrand about his book Rethinking Worldview

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NEW DVD Curriculum from Walt Mueller

Download: Teaching Teenagers to Filter Their Media Choices with Walt Mueller

3-Week Small-Group Video Curriculum
CD & DVD Included
Published by our friends at Simply Youth Ministry and Group Publishing!

Available for pre-order
. Releases this September!

Your teenagers are inundated with media every day—video games, TV, movies, YouTube, texting, Facebook, iPods. In fact, studies show that the average teenager consumes more than 7 hours of media a day. That doesn’t even count any media related to homework assignments or class projects!

With so many media options out there, it’s critical for teenagers to be equipped with tools that help them make wise choices. That’s where Download comes in. This 3-week video curriculum from CPYU President Walt Mueller will teach your teenagers how to filter their media choices.

In a culture where the traditional institutions like families, schools, and churches don’t nurture teenagers like they once did, students are turning more and more to the media for the nurture and guidance they need. Give your students—and their families—tools for walking wisely in this media-saturated world.

3 video lessons on DVD include:
Lesson 1 – Discover
Lesson 2 – Discern
Lesson 3 – Decide

Discussion questions in PDF & Word format also included

CPYU recommends using Download with our best-selling 3(D) Guide. CPYU's How to Use Your Head to Guard Your Heart: A 3(D) Guide to Making Responsible Media Choices would be a great companion piece to this video based curriculum. Learn more about our 3(D) Guides here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Final Words of Wisdom

(The following review by Denis Haack originally appeared in Critique, a publication of Ransom Fellowship. To purchase The Radical Disciple by John Stott from the CPYU Resource Center, click here.)

Over the years, John Stott’s writings have nourished my soul. His faithful exposition of Scripture, always beguilingly simple, never fails to engage my heart and mind, and always spurs me on to greater obedience and fuller adoration. Now he comes to old age, and he ends his life as he lived it, namely, well.

In The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling, Stott reflects biblically on eight issues, and then closes his public ministry with a word of Farewell. This slim volume is good reading, a lovely immersion into the truth of God’s revelation in Scripture, full of wise words for those who find themselves on a pilgrimage through a dark world towards a City filled with divine light. The brief excerpts that follow are not intended as summaries of Stott’s chapters, but as appetizers intended to stimulate you to read the book.

Nonconformity. “We are not to be like reeds shaken by the wind, bowing down before gusts of public opinion, but as immovable as rocks in a mountain stream. We are not to be like fish floating with the stream (for ‘only dead fish swim with the current,’ as Malcolm Muggeridge put it), but to swim against the stream, even against the cultural mainstream” [p. 27].

Christlikeness. “Why is it that our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given, and I must not oversimplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we proclaim” [p. 35-36].

Maturity. “When I was traveling in the 1990s in the interests of the Langham Partnership International, I would often ask an audience how they would summarize the Christian scene in the world today. I would receive a variety of answers. But when invited to give an answer to my own question, I would sum it up in just three words, namely, ‘growth without depth’” [p. 38].

Creation Care. “We human beings find our humanness not only in relation to the earth, which we are to transform, but in relation to God whom we are to worship; not only in relation to the creation, but especially in relation to the Creator. God intends our work to be an expression of our worship, and our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator. Only then, whatever we do, in word or deed, shall we be able to do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)” [p. 54].

Simplicity. Quoting from An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Life-Style: “So then, having been freed by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, in obedience to his call, in heartfelt compassion for the poor, in concern for evangelism, development and justice, and in solemn anticipation of the Day of Judgment, we humbly commit ourselves to develop a just and simple life-style, to support one another in it, and to encourage others to join us in this commitment” [ p. 82].

Balance. “We have followed Peter in the six metaphors which go to make up the portrait he paints of the disciple [in 1 Peter 2:1-17]. Here they are again: as newborn babies we are called to growth, as living stones to fellowship, as holy priests to worship, as God’s own people to witness, as aliens and strangers to holiness, as servants of God to citizenship. This is a beautifully comprehensive and balanced portrait” [p. 97-98].

Dependence. “I sometimes hear old people, including Christian people who should know better, say, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else. I’m happy to carry on living as long as I can look after myself, but as soon as I become a burden I would rather die.’ But this is wrong. We are all designed to be a burden to others. You are designed to be a burden to me and I am designed to be a burden to you. And the life of the family, including the life of the local church family, should be one of ‘mutual burdensomeness.’” [p. 110].

Death. “Death is unnatural and unpleasant. In one sense it presents us with a terrible finality. Death is the end. Yet in every situation death is the way to life. So if we want to live we must die. And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads. This is the radical, paradoxical Christian perspective” [p. 133].

Farewell! “As I lay down my pen for the last time (literally, since I confess I am not computerized) at the age of eighty-eight, I venture to send this valedictory message to my readers. I am grateful for your encouragement, for many of you have written to me.

“Looking ahead, none of us of course knows what the future of printing and publishing may be. But I myself am confident that the future of books is assured and that, though they will be complemented, they will never be altogether replaced. For there is something unique about books. Our favorite books become very precious to us and we even develop with them an almost living and affectionate relationship. Is it an altogether fanciful fact that we handle, stroke and even smell them as tokens of our esteem and affection? I am not referring only to an author’s feeling for what he has written, but to all readers and their library. I have made it a rule not to quote from any book unless I have first handled it. So let me urge you to keep reading, and encourage your relatives and friends to do the same. For this is a much neglected means of grace… Once again, farewell!” [p. 136-137].

In none of these chapters does Stott say all that needs to be said on the topic, and many are explored in more detail in his previous publications. The Radical Disciple is more like what I imagine he might say to a young friend who is accompanying him to the place of his retirement, and who has the chance to listen in on what Stott is most exercised to pray for when he thinks of the church he has served so faithfully for so many years. It isn’t the final word, perhaps, but it’s a timely one, and a word of wisdom worth heeding.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Resource: The Radical Disciple

CPYU Resource of the Summer:
The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John Stott.

What is a life of radical discipleship? At root, it means we let Jesus set the agenda of our lives. We aren't selective. We don't pick and choose what is congenial and stay away from what is costly. No. He is Lord of all of life.

In the last book by the leading evangelical churchman of the twentieth century, John Stott opens up what it means at root to be a follower of Jesus. He explores eight aspects of Christian discipleship which are too often neglected and yet deserve to be taken seriously.

Here, including the last public sermon he ever preached, Stott offers wisdom gained from a lifetime of consistent Christian commitment. In addition, he poignantly reflects on his last years of life and ministry.

The message is simple, classic and personal: Jesus is Lord. He calls. We follow.

Click here to purchase The Radical Disciple

Click here to read Walt Mueller's blog about The Radical Disciple

Click here to read an interview with Stott biographer Roger Steer

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Abbie Smith Interview: The Slow Fade

Abbie Smith has been a good friend of CPYU over the years. She has spoken at college transition seminars with Derek, and her first book Can You Keep Your Faith in College? continues to be one of CPYU's bestselling resources. Abbie's latest book The Slow Fade, cowritten with Reggie Joiner and Chuck Bomar, seeks to help churches be more attentive and intentional with young adults. What follows is a recent interview with Abbie about her own story and why she is passionate about helping God's people mentor twentysomethings:

CPYU: In the beginning of the book you write that you are “experiencing the fade.” Tells us a little bit about what you mean by “the fade,” and how it connects to your story?

AS: “The fade” I’m referring to is that of 18-25 year olds from the Church. High-school seniors raised in the faith tend to hit college and dismiss belief systems for various other more appealing and inviting options. And we as their Body have yet to do anything terribly active to explore, understand and ultimately, move toward this fade’s halt. Instead of seeking-out this age-stage as a viable asset to our whole, we tend to focus our energies on more seemingly “willing” assets in our midst (not the assumedly rebellious, non-committal/conforming/tithing type, like the college-aged). Being a twentysomething myself, I’ve felt and watched the shrapnel of this fade far too often, and can’t in good conscious allow it a lenient, or passive, response. So I guess “The Slow Fade” is a piece of my story’s response.

CPYU: The book’s main strategy to keep twentysomethings connected to the church is to “recruit a new breed of mentors to invest time in those who are college-aged.” How did you arrive at that conclusion?

AS: The book is tri-authored, alongside Reggie Joiner and Chuck Bomar. After witnessing frustrated personal and church-wide conclusions in our respective circles, realizations about programmatic approaches, or college-aged individuals wanting more than entertainment, the simple task of older believers opening their lives to the journey of younger believers stood-out as the most apparent transformer (particularly important for this age-stage, for reasons explained in the book). Furthermore, in this relationship the individual is intentionally transitioned from adolescence to adulthood, discovering a purpose, belonging, and thus reason to remain participatory in his/her faith community.

CPYU: Part of your story you relay in the book is that it “took you about a week in the following-Jesus journey to realize college students lacked a voice in the church.” Why do you think that is? What are a few simple things churches can do to give college students a voice at church?

AS: Whether considering typical church budget allocations, demographics of attendance, or philosophies of ministry, rarely will you find a church who is taking ample consideration of the 18-25 year old voice. Reggie, Chuck and I believe this voice is not only of Biblical integrity to include, but has potentials of passion and creativity that are our loss to exclude. A great first step would be noticing college-age attendees at your church and offering to take one out for coffee, or a meal, simply with a goal of letting them speak—listening to their story. And for those who are intimidated by such a thought, we’ve written a series of “Conversation Guides” for ideas on how to navigate and further understand this age-stage. See xp3college.org for more on this.

CPYU: Many of our readers are youth workers. What advice would you give them to help prevent the slow fade?

AS: I’d give encouragement before I’d give advice. Namely, that what they’re doing in choosing to relationally invest in teens is absolutely incomparable. Whether they ever see fruits of transformation or salvation, the steadfast work of modeling love to this vulnerable age-stage is an investment with capacities toward not just one life, but the lives of future families and generations. My advice, then, would be to cling closely to God's love and belief in who they are and what they're doing. Such a task (discipleship of youth) is one that will rarely come easily, and never without resistance, for such a task is denting the markings of eternity. Finally, I would tell them they are so very appreciated.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Beach Reading and Win a FREE Book

Collin Hansen of Christianity Today recently listed Seven Theology Books for the Beach. He writes, “Summer affords many of us a few spare moments to sit down someplace warm and relaxing and read a good book. In case you're looking for something deeper than a celebrity magazine or cliffhanger novel, consider picking up these new releases that make theology accessible and practical while staying true to Scripture.”

After reading Hansen’s list, I glanced at my bookshelf and thought, “What do I hope to read this summer?” To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World by James Davison Hunter stuck out. I hope to get to it very soon. But we'd like to hear from you...

For a chance to win a free book and to help others create a summer reading list…

What books do you hope to read this summer?

(There needs to be at least 10 comments to qualify. Winner will be chosen randomly from list of participants. Only one comment per person, please.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Wisdom We Need

My favorite books are written by older, wiser Christians reflecting on their lives as followers of Christ. Some of the best books on how to follow Christ in the 21st century have been written by John Stott, rector emeritus of All Souls Church in England. His latest book, The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor (InterVarsity), is both a personal memoir of the development of his deepest convictions, and solid, important advice to today’s Body of Christ.

This book is full of pastoral wisdom we desperately need to hear. Of course, if you are going to talk about today’s church, you need to say something about worship. Stott suggests, “Young people tend to be impatient with the inherited structures of the church. Understandably so, for some churches are too conservative, too resistant to change… We must of course listen to young people. But the Holy Spirit’s way with the institution of the church is more the way of patient reform than impatient rejection. So don’t let’s polarize between structured and unstructured.”

But there is more to “church” than worship services. Stott explains that the church needs to be a learning, caring, worshipping and evangelizing community that is more concerned with those outside of its walls than those on the inside. Here’s vintage Stott: “If society becomes corrupt, there is no sense in blaming society for its corruption. That is what happens when human evil is unchecked and unrestrained. The question to ask is: Where is the church? Where is the salt and light of Jesus?”

We need voices like Stott’s to wake us from our complacency and remind us of what is most important. This book needs to be read by everyone who truly desires to see the church be the church in the midst of a hurting world. It is not formulaic or cliché, but solid wisdom from someone who cares deeply about the state of contemporary Christianity.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Roger Steer Interview: The Inside Story of John Stott

CPYU is a big fan of John Stott. His theology continues to undergird much of our approach to issues of faith and culture. British biographer, Roger Steer, has recently written an engaging and inspiring biography of Dr. Stott. Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott (IVP) takes readers on an adventure into the life of one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century. What follows is an interview with Mr. Steer (RS) about his new book:

CPYU: What motivated you to write a biography of John Stott? Were you friends with him before you began the project?

RS: I first got to know John when he spent just one afternoon in the mid 1990s helping me with my book about evangelicalism which was published in the USA by Baker Book House under the title Guarding the Holy Fire (1998). Previously I had heard him preach at All Souls in the 1960s but not known him as a friend.

CPYU: Our hope is that this interview leads people to read the book for themselves, but, if you would, briefly explain who Dr. Stott is and how he has so profoundly influenced the church, especially evangelicals.

RS: John Stott became Rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London in 1950 at the age of twenty-nine and Chaplain to the Queen in 1959. He chaired the British National Evangelical Anglican Congresses in 1967 and 1977, shaped the Lausanne Covenant in 1974 (advocating a new balance between evangelism and social action), founded both the Langham Partnership (to equip Christian leaders and pastors throughout the world) and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (encouraging Christians to listen both to the Word and the world – “double listening”). He is known for his writing (51 books translated into nearly 70 languages), preaching and bird-watching. He led fifty university missions worldwide. My book attempts to reveal the man behind John’s public persona, and weave his timeless insights into the story of his remarkable life.

CPYU: What surprised you the most as you dug deeper into Dr. Stott’s story?

RS: The roundedness of his personality: his gift for friendship, his sense of humor, his stamina, his humility, the absence of a ‘dark side’ and his total, selfless commitment to Christ. That is not to say that John has no faults: and honoring his instruction to tell his story ‘warts and all’ I have allowed both his friends to make their intimate comments and his critics to have their say.

CPYU: Many of our readers are young youth pastors. What do you think they would gain from reading your biography of Dr. Stott?

RS: They should read about John’s relationship with a succession of young men (and they were only men I’m afraid!), mostly Americans, who worked for him as study assistants. They will discover what John taught his young study assistants and what they taught John! They will read about what John said in personal interviews with university and college students in missions throughout the world. They should note the comments of those who have known John for many years and who think of him more as a gentle pastor and friend than as a famous preacher and writer.

CPYU: For people new to the writing of Dr. Stott, where do you suggest they begin reading? Do you have a favorite Stott book?

RS: An immediate answer would be John’s The Cross of Christ (first published 1986) about which he told me, “More of my own heart and mind went into it than into anything else I have written”. But, less predictably perhaps, I am especially interested in a little book he wrote which arose out of the Presidential address he gave in 1972 to the annual conference of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship at Swanwick, Britain, on the place of the mind in the Christian life. “Nobody wants a cold, joyless, intellectual Christianity,” he said. “But does that mean we should avoid ‘intellectualism’ at all costs? Is it experience, rather than doctrine, that really matters? Many students close their minds with their textbooks, satisfied that the intellect should play little, if any, part in the Christian life. How far are they right? For the Christian, enlightened by the Spirit, just what is the place of the mind?”

He made no secret of the fact that partly in his sights were “Pentecostal Christians, many of whom make experience the major criterion of truth”. His argument was that the great doctrines of creation, revelation, redemption and judgment all imply that we have an inescapable duty both to think and act upon what we think and know. We are created to think. The fact that humanity’s mind is fallen is no excuse to retreat from thought into emotion, for the emotional side of our nature is equally fallen. In spite of the fallenness of our minds, commands to think, to use the mind, are still addressed to us as human beings. God invited rebellious Israel, “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18).

John insisted that the fact that God is a self-revealing God and has revealed himself to humanity indicates the importance of our minds. Redemption carries with it the renewal of the divine image in us, which was distorted by the fall. This includes the mind. Paul described converts from paganism as having “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:10) and as being “made new in the attitude of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23).

What is faith? John asked. It is neither credulity nor optimism but reasoning trust. Faith and thought go together, and believing is impossible without thinking. He argued that the battle for holiness is nearly always won in the mind. It is by the renewal of our mind that our character and behaviour are transformed (Romans 12:2). “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). We certainly shouldn’t think of the mind as being against the things of the Spirit: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6). In order to combat the risk of the use of the mind resulting in a barren intellectualism, he concluded his talk with a powerful section showing how knowledge should lead to worship, faith, holiness and love. The text of the lecture was published by IVP as an influential booklet, Your Mind Matters.

If they could get hold of it, I think your readers would love this booklet. If not, of course, The Cross of Christ, Basic Christianity and I Believe in Preaching are all classics which have become international bestsellers.


Click here to visit Roger Steer’s website

Click here to purchase The Contemporary Christian by John Stott (named as one of Walt Mueller’s “Top Ten Most Influential Books”)

Click here to read Derek Melleby’s review of Stott’s The Living Church

Click here to learn more about Stott’s latest (and final) book The Radical Disciple (IVP)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Walt's Top Ten Most Influential Books

So Derek has issued the challenge. . . . the 10 books that have had the greatest influence on my life. I’ll add this clarifier. . . “besides the Bible.” This is a tough one. How do you narrow it down? I estimate that I’ve got about 2200 books on the shelves in my office. Several hundred more are at home. Others are sitting on the shelves in the libraries where I checked them out, and still more are books that I sold. . . . which means they probably weren’t that influential, or I just flat-out needed some money.

I established some parameters to help me narrow it down. The books have to be books that I look at and say, “Yep, that book has shaped who I am, what I value, and how I live my life.” A really influential book has the power not only to shape, but to be read again and to leave you re-shaped. I chose 10 books that I would call “marker books.” In other words, they were so influential that they stand out as catalysts for or part of watershed moments in my life.

The first book I remember is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. When I retreat into my memory and travel back to third and fourth grade at Cedar Road Elementary School, I can see myself standing in the library. Right there in the middle shelf on the outside front wall, about halfway up. . . that’s where this one sat. I remember checking it out several times. My name was on that card more than once. I can still feel and hear the crinkle of the cellophane jacket as I escaped into this fabulous story. My academic career was one marked by frustration. I sometimes wonder if I didn’t have some kind of learning disability or ADD. My only success came in reading. I was always in the highest-level reading group and even skipped up a grade once to read with the older kids. I loved reading for that and several other reasons. I’m not sure how A Wrinkle in Time shaped my life other than it was the first thick book I ever read. And, I loved it enough to keep going back.

A strange addition from my childhood would be the Book of Common Prayer, specifically the edition used in the Reformed Episcopal Church. My dad was an R.E. pastor way back then. When I was in 6th grade I went through Confirmation Class, an experience which culminated with my public profession of faith. I think there was a reception after the ceremony. But what I remember most was being handed a brand new red-covered copy of the Book of Common Prayer that was personalized with my name – “Walter Mueller” – in gold stamping right there on the front cover. That little book nurtured me into an appreciation for the beauty and order of well-thought-out liturgy, and it shaped the way I pray today.

Fast-forward to college. I was a sociology major. The text for Sociology 201 was written by the professor, Dr. Russell Heddendorf. The book was titled In The World: An Introduction To Sociology. It wasn’t published at the time and it still hasn’t been published. The text was on mimeographed sheets that were copies of Doc Heddendorf’s own typed manuscript. It was in a cardboard loose-leaf notebook. Built on the foundation of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17, that book steered my worldview in a new direction that I’ve been going in ever since. I still pull it off the shelf from time to time.

During those same years I took a little one-credit discussion class on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I learned a little bit about reading the classics, a little bit about reading good literature, and a lot about my faith. I need to go back and read it again.

Shortly thereafter I graduated and went into campus ministry with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. It was during my time with the CCO that I was exposed to the next two books on my list. Number Five is John White’s The Fight. My copy of this then-popular book on discipleship shaped my thinking on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I led numerous student groups through a study of The Fight.

Without my CCO years I don’t think I would have ever discovered Albert Wolters’ Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. This book is serendipitous and transformative for all who read it. Not only is it a great intro to the life-giving and incredibly liberating theological system known as Dutch Neo-Calvinism (the foundation beneath our theology of faith and culture here at CPYU), but it lays out redemptive history in amazing ways. Anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ needs to give this book a shot. You will quickly learn that the Gospel encompasses much, much more than the message of how to personally get saved.

My time at Gordon-Conwell Seminary was filled with books. Surprise, surprise. Several thousands of pages from books too numerous to count for each and every course I took. I narrowed my seminary time down to one book: How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth by Douglas Stuart and Gordon Fee, two of my GCTS profs. I think it's now out in its third edition. This book is the antidote to so much of what ails the church in terms of Bible study, interpretation, and application.

Next up is John Stott’s Contemporary Christian. I’ve read it several times. I’ve marked it up. I’ve quoted it endlessly and will keep on doing so. I’ve assigned it as required reading to students. Again, this one is an antidote to much of what ails me and serves the same purpose for the contemporary church.

Because I study youth culture, I have to add a book to my list that opened my eyes to the stuff kids face. David Elkind’s All Grown Up and No Place to Go was dead-on when it was written 25 years ago. It was also prophetic. Why? Because it’s dead-on for today. I had the thrill of talking to Elkind when he spoke at a National Youthworkers Convention back in the 1980s. He autographed my book. His mark is also on my life. I study culture because kids hurt. Elkind help me to understand hurting kids.

Finally, there’s a book that I pull off my shelf from time to time as a prescriptive remedy to difficulty. My dad turned me on to it, which means that it has a special place in my heart. It’s from Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure has served me well over the years. Enough said.

That’s it. Ten. I wonder if my list will look any different ten years from now. Maybe I’d better get around to reading The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Top-Ten Most Influential Books

John Wilson, editor of Books & Culture, has been encouraging readers to list the top-ten books that have influence their view of the world. It’s a fun but tough question, of course. This morning I grabbed a sheet of paper, glanced at my bookshelf, reflected on my life as a reader, and jotted down the books that came to mind. I wanted to do this quickly. I didn’t want to overanalyze my list or try to list the books I liked the most. What I was looking for were books that have really influenced the way I see, understand, and live in the world. Influence is not easy to define, but I do think that the following list reflects books that have influenced me deeply over the years. I return to them often to discover even more ways that these books have shaped me:

1. The Bible. If the Bible does anything, it certainly influences one’s view of the world! It’s the starting point. It’s where a view of the world comes from, for Christians. For me, the books of the Bible that have been most meaningful, at different times of my life, for different reasons: Genesis, John, and Ephesians. I’ve written an extensive study on Genesis that also tells more about my story and how it relates to the influence of the Bible: In the Beginning of the Beginning: A Study of Four Great Events in Genesis.

2. Hatchet, Gary Paulsen. Most of my reading as a child was to earn points to get free pizza at Pizza Hut. Paulsen’s classic put this thought in my head: maybe reading a book can be as good as watching a movie. Who knew? But seriously, because of Hatchet, I gave reading a chance!

3. A Time to Kill, John Grisham. I read this book in high school to impress a girl and now we are married. That’s influence. I’ve told this story elsewhere: Falling in Love, One Book at a Time.

4. A Walk Through the Bible, Lesslie Newbigin. I can still remember where I was sitting when I read it. It was a major ah-ha moment. In a brief 85 pages, Newbigin tells the biblical story from start to finish, showing readers how it holds together in Christ. Before I read this book I was reading the Bible mainly for nuggets of wisdom, or for proof-texts to make a point. Not any more! Newbigin taught me most fundamentally that the Bible is a story that shapes a community. The implications for this central idea greatly influenced chapter 4 of my coauthored book, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness.

5. Creation Regained, Albert Wolters. This book expands on the major themes of the grand-narrative of scripture: Creation, Fall and Redemption. Wolters’ distinction between structure (the goodness of creation) and direction (moving either toward or away from God) was life-changing. I explain this in greater detail in the Genesis study mentioned above.

6. The Fabric of Faithfulness, Steven Garber. How do you connect what you believe about the world with how you live in the world? Why are the years between 18-25 so crucial for wrestling with that question? Not only did this book help me in my own discipleship, but it also helped to shape my paradigm for college ministry. A must read for those concerned with reaching every generation with the Gospel!

7. The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis. For me, Lewis, the person, has probably been more influential than his books. As an undergraduate, I needed models to show me that it was possible to think and be a Christian at the same time. But The Screwtape Letters revealed something else to me as well: it is possible to be creative and a Christian at the same time.

8. The New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright. Currently, Wright is somewhat of a controversial figure in some Christian circles, but this book was written nearly 20 years ago, before his now public debates about Paul and the doctrine of justification. Here Wright focuses on three major questions: How do we do history? Who was Jesus in his historical context? What difference did and does Jesus make? In my humble opinion, this is Wright’s best and most important book.

9. To End All Wars, Ernest Gordon. I often say that this is my favorite book of all time. The first time I read it I was wrestling with this question: What difference does being a Christian make, really? Gordon’s story of being a P.O.W. in Southeast Asia in WWII illustrates the transformational power of the Gospel. Not only was Gordon’s life changed by following Jesus, but the entire P.O.W. camp was transformed. I dare you to read it!

10. Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry. Berry is my favorite writer. Part of me wants to qualify that. The other part, more influenced by Berry, perhaps, says I don’t have to! Let’s put it this way: my wife and I live in the same town where we grew up, on purpose. This is due, to a large extent, to the writings of this farmer from Kentucky. I wanted to name our first son Jayber, but my wife has not been as influenced by Berry as I have been! For what it’s worth, I love Berry’s novels, enjoy his poetry and tolerate his essays. For most Berry fans, I’m learning, that list is reversed.

As I look at my list, I notice something surprising: a few of my favorite writers are not listed! People who know me well, know that I am constantly reading or re-reading something by Eugene Peterson, Os Guinness, or Tim Keller. The person who I often say most embodies my theology is John Stott. But I don’t have a single book listed by any of those writers. Interesting.

The second thing I notice is that all of the books are written by white men. Ephesians being the exception. (That was a joke! Please, please, please, do not quote me on that. I was trying to be funny!) I’m not sure what to do about that, except to make sure that I continue to read more diverse writers.

And there you have it… my list of top ten most influential books. Anyone else want to join in on the fun?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Gary A. Parrett Interview: Grounded in the Gospel

Grounded in the Gospel seeks to recover an ancient practice for modern evangelicals.

Historically, the church's ministry of grounding new believers in the essentials of the faith has been known as catechesis--systematic instruction in faith foundations, including what we believe, how we pray and worship, and how we conduct our lives. For most evangelicals today, however, this very idea is an alien concept. Packer and Parrett, concerned for the state of the church, seek to inspire a much needed evangelical course correction. This new book makes the case for a recovery of significant catechesis as a nonnegotiable practice, urging evangelical churches to undertake this biblical ministry for the sake of their spiritual health and vitality.

CPYU President, Walt Mueller, on Grounded in the Gospel: "J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett offer a diagnosis and prescription to remedy our shallow faith and practice. While the prescription might not be popular in our individualistic, do-it-yourself contemporary church culture, it's precisely the remedy needed to reverse the pandemic of narcissistic spirituality and lethargy plaguing the church."

What follows is an interview with one of the authors, Dr. Gary Parrett (GP). Dr. Parrett is professor of educational ministries and worship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

CPYU: Grounded in the Gospel is dedicated to David Wells with this inscription: “To David Wells, who diagnoses so clearly the malaise for which catechesis is the remedy.” Would you briefly describe the cultural malaise that you are referring to?

GP: David has decried the encroachment of the forces of secularism and consumerism (and much more) upon the life and vitality of the evangelical church. We have let the surrounding cultural forces shape us rather than allowing God, by His Spirit and through His word, shape us into the likeness of Christ so that we may have a Gospel impact upon the cultures in which we live. To use the titles of a couple of David’s books, too often we evangelicals seem to have No Place for Truth and have long been Losing our Virtue. Catechesis is, we believe, a critical piece of the answer to David’s lament.

CPYU: What is catechesis and why do you think some evangelicals are skeptical of using it for instruction in the faith?

GP: Catechesis is, to use the definition we propose in the book, “the church’s ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the Gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty and delight.” It is a biblically based and historically affirmed ministry of ensuring that the people of God have a grasp on the essentials of the Faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. This, we believe, includes: clarity about the Gospel, a sense of foundational theology (doctrine), a sense of how to commune with the living God in worship and prayer (devotion), a sense of how to love God and neighbor in daily living (duty) and, over and above all, a sense of delighting in the God who has so profoundly loved us in Jesus Christ (delight). One of the key reasons contributing to evangelical skepticism about catechesis is that for nearly two centuries, most evangelicals have simply not used this language or approached teaching and formation in this way. We have heard the term, if at all, chiefly from our Roman Catholic friends, and most evangelical Protestants are wary of whatever they perceive to be “Catholic” practices.

CPYU: Who is your target audience for the book?

GP: We have chiefly written the book with evangelical pastors in mind, as well as church leaders of various types, especially those charged with ministries of teaching and formation in their churches. A secondary audience would be seminary classrooms where pastors and educators are being trained. I would say that it really is the senior pastor of churches that we most hope to speak to in this book. For too long, too many evangelical pastors have not seen teaching and formation as a critical part of their responsibility (though there always are, of course, many wonderful exceptions). We sense and hope the tide may be turning in this respect and hope the book may be part of this turning and that it may, also, become a help for pastors who will be looking for guidance as they renew their commitment to be the primary teachers of their flocks.

CPYU: What advice would you give young parents who desire to raise their children in the Christian faith, especially as it relates to the themes in your book?

GP: A few quick points of emphasis would be: 1) please take up your biblically appointed calling to raise their children in the Faith, and do this in partnership with our servants in the church, including pastors and teachers; 2) please believe in your children’s capacities to learn the deep things of the Faith, even as you believe that they are capable of great achievement in other areas—academics, athletics, the arts, etc.; 3) please teach the Faith with a concern for biblical holism—that is, teaching not only their minds, but aiming to shape their hearts and their habits as well; 4) please be concerned not only for the ‘content’ of the Faith you would teach your children, but also of your example in living out the Faith with your children, and of the family ethos and culture in which you teach them. And finally, pray that all your efforts at Faith training are joyous and Jesus-focused.

CPYU: What advice would you give to people from “free church” backgrounds that might want to begin to integrate catechesis into their church’s discipleship and educational ministries?

GP: Really, the entire book is an attempt to answer this question, so it’s hard to give a brief answer, except to encourage them to carefully read and consider the book’s arguments and suggestions for first taking first steps in this direction.

CPYU: Has anything surprised you about the way Grounded in the Gospel has been received?

GP: I have long suspected that the time was ripe for catechetical renewal in evangelical churches, and the response to the book thus far has been affirming that sense. The book, we hope, can spur further discussion and help to stimulate new efforts and proposals. I am so grateful that the early evidence suggests that these things are already beginning to occur.