Monday, September 24, 2012

A Novel Approach To Discipleship--Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence

I saw this book while I was taking a discipleship class in my last year at seminary and thought that it might be a good source for my final paper. It would have been had I actually read it during that time, but required readings, a pinched nerve, and the birth of my first daughter cut this from my reading schedule until seminary was over. 

Going Deep is the second book of this type that Gordon MacDonald has written--a non-fiction message in novel form (the first was Who Stole My Church?, which is the same setting for this novel). In this book MacDonald (a.k.a GMac) and his wife Gail are the pastors of a mid-sized church in New England who become obsessed with a "great idea" that leads to a two-year journey in forming a fourteen person discipleship group that will reproduce itself in the coming years. The "great idea" slowly but surely becomes this pastor's all-consuming mission--his most important job in ministry is Cultivating Deep People (CDP). From the perspective of Gordon's first person narrative, readers have an inside look at how ministries like CDP come to into being, starting with conversations in parking lots, e-mails, phone calls, and board meetings. This book takes you from the inception of "the great idea" to end of the...well, you'll have to read the book for yourself to see how it ends.

The material in Going Deep is great stuff. I couldn't agree more with MacDonald's message that the Church needs to be making spiritually deepening people. The method that he presents for how to get this done is also excellent. Information-wise this book gets 4 or 5 stars in my book. When I first started this novel, I was intrigued with the style of seeing what the day-in/day-out of this type of ministry might look like; however, this is the very aspect that soon wore thin. The problem is: fiction drama really requires conflict or tension to keep it moving. Nobody wants to hear a story about Mr. A trying to get to  X and actually getting there on time with no problems...they want to read about Mr. A trying to get to point X but having to overcome between 1-10 obstacles in the process. GMac must be a idealist because everything goes smoothly for 255 pages before they hit their first snag. I've been involved in ministry long enough to know that there are plenty of opportunities for drama and conflict within the span of a year and a half, but seemingly not in the magical land of New England. Every idea meets with unanimous approval by all leaders and key members of the congregation. If you've ever worked in ministry this should seem like the Twilight Zone. The story element of the first 2/3 would get 2 stars in my rating.

Consequently, since there were no obstacles, mystery or tension, I had very little motivation to keep reading (other than writing this review). But something happened around page 255--I started to care. The characters became real. I wanted to know what happened. A bit of tension found its way into the story. So I would rate the last 125 pages 4 stars. All in all, a great message that is important and needs to be heard, but lacks in terms of the elements of fiction. Overall I would give it 3 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Three Quick Tips For Remembering the Fruit of the Spirit

Let's face it--memorizing scripture can be very challenging. Many Christians only have a vague notion of what the books of the Bible are and forget about knowing how they fall in order. However, I would venture that many Christians would like to learn more, even memorize more, of the Bible. They just struggle with remembering what last week's sermon was about, let alone all the Books of the Bible, the Beatitudes, or the Fruit of the Spirit. Memorizing lists doesn't have to be hard. They just require mnemonic devices and occasional refreshing. Here are three quick tips that can help you remember the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)  in order:

1. Remember that there are 9. Three sets of three (3+3+3).

2. Each of these three sets increases in syllables. The fruit in the first set have one syllable: love, joy, peace. The ones in the second set have two syllables: pa-tience, kind-ness, good-ness. And the ones in the third set have three syllables: faith-ful-ness, gen-tle-ness, and self-con-trol.

These two tips alone helped me remember the list, but if you still struggle to remember them there is always...

3. Learn the song. Campy children's songs stick in your brain forever, and if they come with hand motions so much the better. If you're not much of a fan of Sunday school songs, you might try inductive Bible study instead. After spending 9-12 hours on in-depth study on a passage, you usually can't forget it if you try. The trick here, whatever it is, is to make logical anchors in the brain.

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Did God the Father Turn His Back On the Crucified Christ?

I'm sure you've heard it at one point or another. It has become so prevalent in Christian books, sermons, and songs that it must be in the Bible. Right? It always goes something like this: "On the cross Jesus bore the sins of humanity and even the rejection of the Father as God turned His back on Jesus."
So, is this really true? Is it Biblical? Thomas H. McCall says, "NO!" and I happen to agree with him.

In his recent book Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters, associate professor of biblical and systematic theology Thomas McCall makes a strong case for dismissing the idea that the Father turned His back on the Son as He atoned for the sins of humanity. As someone who has long rejected this theology, I have read many articles that make their case for why the Father did not turn His back on the Son; however, McCall takes it to a whole new level by reflecting on the very nature of the Trinity and God's attributes.

In the first chapter, "Was the Trinity Broken: The Father, the Son, and Their Cross," McCall sets the stage for the argument by looking at what contemporary theologians and Biblical scholars are arguing before turning to his own Biblical argument and early Church beliefs on what "My God! My God, why have You forsaken me?" means. If you can only read one chapter, make it this one. 

Chapter two turns to atonement theologies--the wrath of God and holy love. Here he tries to bring balance to both wrath and love by examining them in Biblical, rather than contemporary, terms. 

"Was the Death of Jesus A Meaningless Tragedy?: Foreknowledge, Fulfillment and the Plan of the Triune God" (otherwise known as chapter 3) explores the topic of who was to blame for Jesus' death. Did people kill Jesus or did God?

Finally, chapter four, "Does It Make A Difference?,"turns to matters of Justification and Sanctification. What did the cross accomplish? How are we to understand Jesus' sacrifice?

I greatly appreciate the fact that McCall engages many dialogue partners and looks at this subject from many angles. This is an important book to read and reflect on the implications for theology and ministry. Too often we sing songs about God turning His Face away or hear sermons that hammer home the idea that substitutionary atonement requires a Divine mental fiction, in which an omniscient God sees only sin in the obedient Son and detaches Himself from the second member of the Trinity in the crucial hour.  I don't want to give away McCall's points because you really need to read this one for yourselves. This book deserves attention among Evangelical intellectuals. Props to IVP for publishing it.