I read Intelligent Church: A Journey Towards Christ-Centered Community by Steve Chalke with Anthony Watkins. It is an interesting book, but for me it was a lot of similar material that I have read over the last several years, thus nothing struck me as life/ministry altering. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a bad book, there just wasn’t a lot of new material I haven’t read or heard before. I did however, react quite strongly to the assertion that the chapter about the church being politically active – I reacted this way until I finished reading the chapter and realized that the author was talking about being socially active (caring about the social problems in our community and world). In fact, they come out against the church being one with a political party and the important need to be independent. I agree and what I thought was going to be a HUGE difference in opinion ended up being a semantic difference with language.
My friend James recommended Frederick Buechner’s book Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale to me and I was not disappointed. Speaking about communicating and understanding the Gospel, it is insightful on so many levels. It has helped me understand and reflect on preaching in a way that I never really thought of before. It reminded me that the gospel is tragedy that is bad news before it is good news. That the gospel is comedy: “The folly of preaching Christ crucified, preaching the king who looks like a tramp, the prince of peace who looks like the prince of fools, the lamb of God who ends like something hung up at the butcheres.” It also reminded me that the gospel is fairy tale calling people to something that seems to good to be true – otherworldly. Or as Buechner writes: “With his fabulous tale to proclaim, the preacher is called in his turn to stand up in his pulpit as fabulist extraordinary, to tell the truth of the Gospel in its highest and wildest and holiest sense. This is his job, but more often than not he shrinks from it because the truth he is called to proclaim, like the fairy tale, seems in all but some kind of wistful, faraway sense too good to be true, and so the preacher as apologist instead of fabulist tries as best he can to pare it down to a size he thinks the world will swallow.”
This book has made me realize the nature of the gospel story and that it is more than just an apologetic step-by-step process but so much more. It is Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale and I want to be one who communicate the gospel for all that it is and not one that pairs it down to some palatable size, consequently making it “simple” and in the process strip it from it’s fullness and power.
I just finished Henri Nouwen’s book, In The Name of Jesus, and once again a Nouwen book that doesn’t disappoint. It is an insightful and soul (not just thought) provoking and inspiring book. As I read, I found myself convicted and inspired. I often wonder how much of my drive, passion and ministry comes from a place other than my call from God. This book has helped to make me reflect on that reality and start chiseling alway some of my misunderstandings and begin seeing my life and ministry through the loving and freeing call of God.
I read this book in the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains in Banff while I was at Pastor’s Prayer retreat and the beautiful setting dovetailed with what God was teaching me: the limits I have are not something to begrudge but are a gift from God – what a tough and freeing reality to grasp.
I recently read Rob Brendle’s book, In the Meantime: the practice of proactive waiting. This was one of those risky books that I found in the clearance box. It was a risk that was interesting in ways I would have never expected.
In terms of the content of the book compared to the title, the first several chapters were interesting and there is no doubt that Rob is a gifted author and communicator. But as the book wore on, I found it losing focus and changing directions.
What I found most interesting about this book had nothing to do with the book itself. When I was half way through the reading of the book the news about Ted Haggard’s deception, drug use, and sexual history came out. I then, it Da Vinci Code like fashion, began putting the pieces together. Rob Brendle is one of the pastors at Haggard’s Church and I began to get an insight into the ministry and ethos of New Life Fellowship. Take this quote for example from the book as Rob refers to his call:
“This is what I am called to do. God had shown me only this: that I was to serve Ted Haggard. And serving Ted meant doing what Ted wanted done. It was my calling-to serve Ted-and in a way, it was my salvation.”
Rob Brendle’s book, especially the first half, was interesting, but I have to say that with the news headlines of late, the brief glimpse into the ethos of New Life Fellowship was most interesting. There is little doubt that after the news this book will be reduced even further in price.
After reading the book “a.k.a. Lost” by Jim Henderson I was disappointed. I wasn’t so much disappointed with the book’s content but I think I set my hopes way to high. It isn’t that I think it is poor book (On the contrary, I think it is a good filled with great ideas), I was just expecting some newer ideas. Maybe it’s because I’ve read a lot of recent books on evangelism and for the most part this book echoed similar ideas/concepts.
There are several things I took away from this book. One is the idea of doing the common in evangelism, using the analogy of Seinfeld Evangelism and that we need to look at our evangelistic opportunities more like a Seinfeld episode where it is just about ordinary life. I agree…I am just an ordinary person and need ordinary forms of evangelism and ways to look at it. Second, I really liked the book’s focus on listening, something we can all do more of whatever our religious bent. It is something I need to practice more in my life and Henderson’s idea of “non-manipulative intentionality” was interesting. I think that is something we all need to consider.
Although it is still mulling over in my mind, the question Henderson asks of the Church and as individual Christians is poignant: “What business are we in? Are we defenders of God’s refutation, or are we the proclaimers of his love?” (Page 84) This is something I have thought a lot about and have been working through in my ministry and life in various ways. This has once again prompted me to think and reflect on that question in greater detail.
What I found troubling was that although he argues against the sales-pitch approach to evangelism, which is evident in modern evangelism techniques (even that phrase demonstrated that), the alternative he gives still seems to smell like a sale pitch – just in a more relational one. I guess I wonder if we aren’t talking about getting rid of sales evangelism and instead we’re talking about replacing it with a different, more relational, sales technique. Much like the change in sales techniques in our culture, which is now more relational than ever. It seems that instead of looking at a completely different model we are just altering the modern on to better suit our culture.
It isn’t that I am arguing with what Henderson is presenting…his ideas are a welcome change and I agree with many of them. I guess I am just wondering if we can ever be free from the concept of selling the gospel, because in some way we are by nature of persuading, attempting to have someone buy into the concept of God that we are in some way “selling.” Thus, ultimately the question needs to be asked: is that necessarily bad? A great question worth pondering but I think we’ll leave the question of persuasion for another day.
When it comes to evangelism, I think we need to focus on the great commandment and remember that we are called to love with nothing in return. The opposite of sales…we are called to radically give away love because we have been loved – to live through word and deed the message of love. Maybe in that there is an element of persuasion…to persuade to the point of love…and is that bad? Is that manipulative? I think that is a question we need to continue asking of ourselves. It is one I need to reflect upon.