Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stuff that Really Matters

Prior to my trip to Rwanda, I read about God’s call for Christians to pursue justice, along with several stories of those saints who had done just that. What resulted was an eye-opening education that convinced me more than ever of the church’s need to go beyond our comfort zones. Gary Haugen is one believer who has been transformed by living this reality. Now, he’s encouraging others to do the same through the work of the International Justice Mission and his book, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (IVP).

Our lack of concern and action regarding justice is evident in the fact that while Haugen’s message is at the heart of the Gospel, he has to write a book to remind God’s people about what lies at the very heart of the God we say we follow.

In the book, Haugen tells the story of his friend Sean Litton, a lawyer who decided to put Christ’s call—to find one’s life by losing it—to the test. Litton walked away from his safe and secure job to work for Haugen’s IJM, addressing sexual trafficking and child sexual assault in the Philippines. His life was changed, but he almost didn’t go. He says four things were holding him back. There was the comfort of his nice house and all he had accumulated. There was his security and freedom from danger. There was the control he had over the circumstances of his life. And finally, there was the success he was experiencing in his career. But he let go of comfort, security, control and success, and he took the unsafe option by giving up his life and going to the Philippines.

What happened? Sean Litton found his life. In exchange for what he gave up he got back adventure, faith, miracles and a deep knowledge of Jesus. His faith grew and solidified in ways he could have never imagined. That’s why this book is must-reading for us all.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Past Interviews

The great response to the Jim Belcher interview reminded us that CPYU Bookshelf has had the privilege of interviewing some remarkable authors over the past two years of its existence. So, we have created a new side-bar to feature all of the CPYU Bookshelf exclusive interviews. And, we offer the list to you in this one post as well. Please let us know if you know of an author that you would like us to interview and we will do our best to make it happen! Here is a collection of all of our past interviews:

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

"Reader" Interviews:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jim Belcher Interview: Deep Church

Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional, has not only won a prestigious Bookshelf Book of the Year Award, but it has also won awards from other respected voices in the book review world. Our good friend Byron Borger says that "it is one of the most important books published in recent years." Pastor Tim Keller says, "Jim Belcher shows that we don't have to choose between orthodox evangelical doctrine on the one hand, and cultural engagement, creativity and commitment to social justice on the other. This is an important book." Indeed, it is. What follows is an interview with Jim (JB). Deep Church could not be more highly recommended to pastors, parents and students!

CPYU: Tell us a bit about your story. What led you to write Deep Church?

JB: What led me to write Deep Church? A moment of insanity! Honestly, I thought it would help the church. I knew it would be risky to try to stand in the middle of two camps arguing but I really thought I could bring them together. As someone who has had a foot in both the emerging and traditional wings of the evangelical church, with deep friendships on both sides, I felt compelled help both sides listen to each other.

I also was saddened by the rhetorical shouting match going on between the two sides. I wanted to call for a “time out” and demonstrate in the book what it looks like to take the other side seriously, even when you disagree. My goal is to get both the emerging and traditional churches to first agree on what they have in common before they jump to what they disagree over. At the same time, I thought that both camps were missing some important truths. So my goal was to put forth a third way that transcends the limitations in both perspectives.

CPYU: What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding that the traditional church has with the emerging church and vice versa?

JB: I think the biggest misunderstanding by the traditional church is over postmodernism. Because they define it so differently, they assume that the emerging church is embracing relativism, which is not true. The biggest misunderstanding by the emerging church, I would contend, is their view that because the traditional church values belief that they don’t see the importance of belonging in coming to faith. I think it is more complicated than this and I point out a “third way” in the book.

CPYU: Explain what you mean by a “third way”?

JB: In Deep Church I take up the seven most common protests of the emerging church has against the traditional church. I dedicate one chapter for each protest. After laying out the problems the emerging church has with the traditional church on each of these topics, I give the traditional church a chance to “push back”, to challenge the thinking of the emerging church. Then after looking at the positions of both sides, I demonstrate how both camps are missing something vital in the discussion. I propose an alternative to thinking about the standoff, what I call a third way. So there really are seven different third ways that I describe in Deep Church.

CPYU: Many of our readers are parents and youth workers. How would they benefit from reading Deep Church?

JB: One of the great challenges facing kids today who grow up in the faith is their failure to remain in the body of Christ when they go off to college. Sadly, many Christian kids fall away in college and drop out of church. What could prevent this exodus? According to sociologist Christian Smith, when kids grow up in a church that is multi-generational and where their parents model for them a discipline of Scripture reading, they have a much higher chance of remaining in the faith and in church. I think Deep Church can be a great encouragement to parents and youth workers, painting a picture for what this kind of church can look like. I know one high school teacher in Ohio that has assigned Deep Church for her Christian students. Not only is she trying to disciple them but she is attempting to safeguard them from falling away from the church when they go off to college. She reported to me how receptive her students are to the book, especially the stories of individual transformation.

CPYU: I see you are speaking at the annual Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh! What do you think college students would gain from reading your book?

JB: Studies show that most young people lack purpose and meaning in life beyond getting a job, making lots of money and buying tons of toys. They lack something bigger than themselves to attach their lonely selves to. Thus they are often depressed. What they need is a vision for the church and the Kingdom to inspire them to greatness. It is my prayer that Deep Church will provide a big, bold, exciting vision for the Bride of Christ and how amazing it is to be part of it. If young people want to be where the action is, to be at the center of what God is doing in his world, bringing truth and justice to broken people and institutions, it is most likely happening in the church and God’s Kingdom. I try to show this in my book. As a former college professor, I strongly believe that this is a big enough vision for college students to build their life around and provide enough meaning and purpose to last a lifetime.

CPYU: The book has gotten many positive reviews. What has surprised you the most about how the book has been received?

JB: I think what has surprised me the most is the fact that people have NOT lost their love for God’s church. They may be cynical about it, jaded by its failings, and just discouraged about how anemic it has become but they have not given up on it or failed to see how vital it is to God’s plan in the world. They long to see it renewed. They have been waiting for an excuse to get excited about it again. I think in a small way Deep Church has been the gasoline poured on the dying embers. And for many, this has ignited their passions and excitement for Christ’s body. I get emails every day from tired pastors who have been re-energized, laypeople who were ready to give up but now are using the book in study groups at their church, and even people giving it to non-believers and saying, “this is what Christianity is all about; not what you have heard in the media.” To the extent that God is using this book to engender a greater love for His church, I could not be more thrilled and humbled. May He receive all the glory and praise.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Walt's Best Reads of 2009

Once again, Derek has asked me to list my top 10 list of reads from 2009. Not all the books were published in 2009 but that’s when I read them. Consequently, my lists always run the risk of including some books others may have read a few years before I got to them. My criteria for choosing the following 10 titles was easy: choose books that made an impact on me in some significant way. Since Derek and I always have some overlap in what we’re reading, I chose books that would be unique to me. Since Derek got to his list first, I’m not including any books he might have already mentioned. Here goes. . . in no particular order. . . .

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch (P&R). Nothing like getting vulnerable with your first choice! This book’s been around for over 10 years and sitting on my “to read” pile for almost that long. Knowing this would be a long and challenging read due to the book’s topic, I kept putting it off. I’m sorry I did. Welch goes right at the core of so many of our insecurities and problems – fear of what others might think – from a helpful, Biblical perspective. In essence, this is a book about idolatry. As a follower of Christ, it’s my hope that I will always worship the Creator and not created things. This book has helped me to get a handle on some patterns and habits that are anything but good.

The Hole in Our Gospel: The Answer That Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns (Thomas Nelson). This one combines a memoir with a deep and necessary challenge to the contemporary American church. Stearns wasn’t always the President of World Vision. He was a wealthy and talented Christian businessman who had planned on staying at the top of the corporate ladder for a long, long time. Much to his surprise, God’s call knocked him off that ladder and into a deeper understanding of what it means to believe the whole Gospel. . . . not just the part about personal salvation. Stearns issues a masterful and convincing call to step away from the American Dream and into the life-giving will of God. American Christians will benefit from hearing a perspective that is necessary and corrective.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters by Timothy Keller (Dutton). Are you seeing a pattern in my choice of books? This one, too, is all about idolatry. A true prophet for the ages who has a masterful ability to humbly communicate God’s Word in a direct and understandable manner, Keller tackles the big stuff that has become far too big and important in our lives. Only God can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. This is a great book for believers and for those who aren’t there yet.

The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell (Free Press). Over the course of the last few years of studying youth culture it’s become increasingly obvious to me that perhaps the most alarming trend is the growing commitment to love, serve, honor, and obey the “holy” trinity of Me, Myself, and I. In this book, researchers Twenge and Campbell offer insights and analysis based on their ongoing research into the shape and extent of narcissism in today’s world. This is a must-read for culture watchers.

Clearing the Bases: Juiced Players, Monster Salaries, Sham Records, and a Hall of Famer's Search for the Soul of Baseball by Mike Schmidt (Harper). This read is more evidence of my shameless obsession since childhood with the Philadelphia Phillies and baseball. Schmidt, who some argue is the greatest third baseman of all-time, held down the hot corner for the Phillies during my adolescence and college years. I saw him play dozens of times. His book offers fans a peek into the hidden world of the game, along with some direct commentary and opinion on what the game has become. This was a fascinating read that offered some great insights into some of the more recent scandals, including steroids. I was especially fascinated by Schmidt’s take on how the ball, bats, and the strike zone have changed the game in significant ways.

Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance by Tony Dungy (Tyndale). I’ve always love sports books. Rare are the books by athletes that meld sports with great life lessons in deep and compelling ways. Then there’s Tony Dungy. This guy’s a man of integrity. Dungy challenges men and boys to consider what it means to live a life of integrity through a series of short chapters on matters of character. Reading this book offers a peek into what it must have been like to sit with Dungy in the locker room during halftime. I liken this book to reading the Old Testament Book of Proverbs. . . a source, no doubt, of much of what Dungy passes along to his readers. This book will get you thinking.

Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian by Gary Haugen (InterVarsity). This is another timely and convincing challenge to the church, this time from the founder of the International Justice Mission. Haugen tells it like it is, about both a hurting world and a Word that calls God’s people to exercise a costly redemptive presence. I read this book before traveling with Compassion International to East Africa. I will re-read it regularly.

The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World by Michael Horton (Baker Books). I have a short-list of authors whose every book I want to read. Horton’s on that list. This follow-up to Christless Christianity forces readers to think about both the silliness and negative consequences of our well-intentioned efforts to add to the Gospel, a problem that’s reached epidemic proportions in the market-driven church. Only the Gospel can change people. Horton unpacks this in a context full of excellent cultural critique. This isn’t an easy book. . . but it’s a must-read.

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Imaculee Ilibagiza (Hay House). Hands down, this book had the greatest impact of any I read during the last year. This was one of many books I read in preparation for our trip to Rwanda. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the dynamics and experience of the Rwandan genocide. Ilibagiza spent 100 days locked in a tiny bathroom with several other women. This testimony of the miraculous power and grace of God cannot be put down. I learned about the darkness of the human heart. I learned about the deep, deep love of God. And, I learned about me. This is an amazing story of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak by Jean Hatzfeld (Picador). All my reading about the Rwandan genocide left me scratching my head about the killers and what must have been going through theirs. Then, I found this book. Hatzfeld offers insight into how the tide of Hutu power picked up and swept so many away.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

CPYU Bookshelf Awards: Derek's Picks for 2009

It’s time, once again, to award the best books we’ve read this past year. I have ten awards to give and Walt’s list is coming soon as well! A few of the following books were published in late 2008, but make this list because they were read in early 2009. They are listed alphabetically by author:

Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by Jim Belcher (InterVarsity Press). I read this book with great interest. It has a diverse group of endorsers. Do you know of any other book that includes endorsements from both Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell? Wow. It’s no secret that many people are questioning what it means to be the church in our post-Christian world. The latest church battle is between what Belcher describes as emerging verses traditional. He gives them both a fair and balanced assessment, but concludes by offering a third way, learning from both and pushing the church to go deeper. I think this is currently the best book available for anyone trying to make sense of the “emergent conversation.” It is thoughtful, engaging and personal. I’ve written more about this book at Living Jubilee.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford (The Penguin Press). Crawford makes a strong case for the value of “working with one’s hands,” or manual labor. With a PhD in political philosophy, Crawford has worked at universities and think-tanks, in what he calls “knowledge work.” But it was never satisfying. The “work” was too abstract, without much to show for it. When he opened a motorcycle repair shop things began to change. Not only did he find this work more meaningful and enjoyable, but he also noticed that it required him to think more. Repairing motorcycles was more intellectual in a richer, deeper sense of the word. Crawford wonders, “Given the intrinsic richness of manual work – cognitively, socially, and in its broader psychic appeal – the question becomes why it has suffered such a devaluation as a component of education.” Where have all the shop classes gone? As a culture do we tend to look down upon work and workers who do manual labor? In attempting to answer these questions, Crawford has some important things to say about education in general and higher education in particular. It’s an exciting book to read, a great conversation starter and forces readers to ask tough questions about the meaning of work and ultimately, of life.

In the Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life by Marva Dawn (InterVarsity Press). I recommend reading this short book devotionally. Try a chapter a day and follow up on the biblical references. You won’t be disappointed. Dawn is a master at communicated deep theology in an accessible way. In the Beginning, God focuses on the first three chapters of Genesis, revealing how most of our essential doctrines can be found early on in the story of God. If we are going to read the Bible well, we need to get off to a good start and Dawn’s book provides a helpful framework that can lead to penetrating Bible study.

Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace by Cathleen Falsani (Zondervan). In February, I was perusing the book table at the annual Jubilee Conference and a good friend and fellow reader was nearby. I asked her one of my favorite questions: “Read anything good lately?” Without hesitation she replied, “You should read Sin Boldly.” I did and I’m glad. Falsani is an award winning journalist and it shows. She takes readers on a journey to discover grace. Grace may be tough to define but it’s easier to explain through story. Falsani is a master story-teller, opening the eyes of her reader’s to the grace-filled world in which they live. The book is funny and moving and never dull. It is a wonderful reminder of grace that has been found in some of the toughest places in the world.

The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield (Thomas Nelson). American Christians might be surprised to learn that beer has played a major role in world history, particularly religious history. Yes, beer. Mansfield’s book tells the captivating story of beer focusing on the life, career and family of the founder of the Guinness Brewery, Arthur Guinness. A master craftsman, Arthur developed his trademark stout as an act of discipleship; a way to love God and neighbor. Readers will be amazed by the Guinness story. In an age of corporate irresponsibility and corruption, the Guinness story is one worth telling and retelling.

Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges—and Find Themselves by David L. Marcus (The Penguin Press). This unique book follows a year in the life of an award winning high school guidance counselor in Long Island, New York. Readers not only get a rare glimpse into the world of high school and college administration, but they also learn more about the world of today’s teenagers. The college admissions process can be stressful and tricky. Most parents want their kids to build a resume and get into the best school possible. But is this the best approach? According to the guidance counselor in this story, the college application process should be about finding the best “fit” and discovering who you are in the process. This book is both challenging and refreshing. It strongly challenges the American narrative for college (you go to college to get a degree to get a better job, etc.) and shows readers a better approach to understanding the college years.

The Long Snapper: A Second Chance, A Super Bowl, A Lesson for Life by Jeffrey Marx (HarperOne). Marx’s previous book, Season for Life, is one of my all-time favorites so you can imagine how excited I was to see this new release. Marx is an excellent writer with the ability to tell gripping stories. His latest book tells the story of former NFL longsnapper Brian Kinchen, a thirty-eight-year-old middle school Bible teacher who was shockingly called out of retirement by the New England Patriots on December 15, 2003. The Patriots were in desperate need of a proven long snapper as they headed into the playoffs and Kinchen was offered the position. The Long Snapper is not only about life in the NFL—although readers will never watch a game in the same way again—it is also about faith, family, and calling. It is a emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. Kinchen is placed in a very difficult and important position on the team and his faith and family pull him through. It’s an inspiring story that reads like a fairy tale. Only it’s true!

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller (Thomas Nelson). Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz was a mega-seller that created a large following. It took Miller a bit by surprise. All of the sudden he was a best-selling author, being invited to speak at a variety of venues. But an even bigger surprise soon followed. A movie producer wanted to make a movie about his life adapted from his books. Thinking his life was pretty boring, Miller began to view life through the lens of this question: What makes a good movie? He came to realize that the same things that make a good movie will make a good life. Intrigued? Well, the book is about how he came to that realization. In characteristic Miller style, the book is often funny, making humorous observations and asking good questions. But this book also has a more mature agenda, in a good way. Miller wants readers to re-examine their lives in hopes that they would move a little closer to finding their story as a part of God’s story.

Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David Naugle (Eerdmans). Naugle invites readers to consider what they should aim for to obtain a truly “happy life.” He suggests that we need “not a hedonistic but an ‘edenistic’ happiness that roots the fullness of human life in God and his creation.” This type of happiness only comes when we learn to love the right things. “The happy life consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time.” Using illustrations from history, pop culture and Scripture, Naugle makes a strong case for how followers of Christ can (re)learn how to live a “happy” (properly defined), good life. The book is deep, but accessible, and would be good reading for parents and youth workers as they help young people better understand what true happiness really is. And, truth be told, the message of the book is one we all need to be continually reminded of: Our happiness is found in our love for God. Read an interview with Naugle here.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose (Grand Central Publishing). On April 1, 2009 I made a bold prediction that The Unlikely Disciple would win a Bookshelf Award. Well, it has. I continue to amaze myself! Roose grew up in a self-proclaimed “liberal” environment. After high school he attended Brown University, also known for liberal ideals. However, Roose was not convinced that he was receiving a well-rounded education and convinced his advisor to allow him to attend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The Unlikely Disciple chronicles Roose’s adventure, inviting reader’s to consider an outsider’s perspective on evangelical Christianity. Here’s the surprise: Evangelical Christianity is not what Roose expected. In fact, not only does he develop deep friendships with fellow students at Liberty, but he also discovers that the faith is not as shallow as he perceived. This book offers a fascinating window in the supposed cultures wars, suggesting that the gap between “red and blue states” may not be as wide as we think. Readers will also benefit from its unique perspective on current college student culture, revealing the hopes and dreams of young people in America today.

As I look over this list, I am reminded of the blessing that a good book can be. Numerous, thoughtful, engaging conversations were started or enhanced over the last year by discussing these books. It’s not easy to write a book and I am grateful that these authors took the time to teach us something meaningful about life in God’s world. Thank you, thank you, dear writers of good books, for your sacrifice, patience and courage.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Essential Leadership

New book from the Fuller Youth Institute: Essential Leadership by Kara Powell. Learn more here.

"Essential Leadership is an essential tool for building your youth ministry team into a group that forges ahead with unity, passion, knowledge, and depth in ways that will take kids deep in their faith…both now and for the rest of their lives."

--Dr. Walt Mueller, Center for Parent/Youth Understanding