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