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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: What Is the Mission of the Church? by DeYoung and Gilbert

Mission, social justice, shalom, and the great commission. If there was a contest this year to see who could fit the most current Christian buzzwords on the cover of their book, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert would probably win with What Is the Mission of the Church? Fortunately for all of us, DeYoung and Gilbert are bringing some needed balance to these ideas rather than just riding the wave of popularity behind these hot topics.

Regarding these trending themes in Christianity:

"We are concerned that in all our passion for renewing the city or tackling social problems, we run the risk of marginalizing the one thing that makes Christian mission Christian: namely making disciples of Jesus Christ . . . We want to help Christians articulate and live out their views on the mission of the church in ways that are more theologically faithful, exegetically careful, and personally sustainable."

I can't say this book is for everyone, but for the pastor or church leader who feels torn a hundred different directions with good things the church could be doing, this book brings the focus back to "the main thing". After an introductory chapter, the bulk of the book is spent doing one condensed biblical theology after another regarding the Great Commission, the biblical meta-narrative, the gospel, the kingdom of God, social justice, and shalom. While none of these chapters are comprehensive treatments on such themes, the authors give sufficient time to each to make their case:

"In the end, the Great Commission must be the mission of the church for two very basic reasons: there is something worse than death, and there is something better than human flourishing . . . Universal shalom will come, but personal redemtion comes first . . . We are not called to bring a broken planet back to its created glory. But we are to call broken people back to their Creator."

If I may make two observations not directly regarding the content of the book: (1) This is now the fifth book I've read authored or co-authored by DeYoung, and it is certainly the driest. There is no fluff, personal anecdotes, or humorous illustrations. This is DeYoung at his most mature, perhaps because he feels the ideas are most dire. (2) This is one of the most seamlessly co-authored books I've ever read. Most of the books I've read written by two or more authors suffer from a choppy train of thought, awkward self-references, and painful transitions between authors that all serve to break up the flow of the book. Not so with this book.

What Is the Mission of the Church? is at the same time an important corrective and an impassioned plea for the church to rightly prioritize among all the good things we can be about doing.

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Pastors, church and missions leaders

This books was a free review copy provided by Crossway.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Book Review: Radical Together by David Platt

In 2010 David Platt made significant waves with the release of Radical. Platt's book took aim at the American Dream and the "consumer Christianity" that has bought into it. It landed on the New York Times Bestsellers' list and not without a little controversy within the church. Much of the debate surrounded sacrificial living, poverty, missions, and what a faithful life committed to Christ looks like. While there are respectable and reasonable arguments (and persons) on both sides, I count it a win that this book pushed the conversation to the forefront.

Radical Together promises to do more of the same. At the same time, Platt seems to have taken heed to some of the concerned criticism and clarified his position taken in Radical. This second book revolves around what he calls foundational ideas for churches unleashing people into the world with the gospel:
  1. One of the worst enemies of Christians can be good things in the church.
  2. The gospel that saves us from work saves us to work.
  3. The Word does the work.
  4. Building the right church depends on using all the wrong people.
  5. We are living—and longing—for the end of the world.
  6. We are selfless followers of a self-centered God.
With a cursory read these ideas sound counter-intuitive (and, to some, even offensive). Yet with compelling biblical arguments and examples from real life practitioners, Platt brings these challenging ideas down to ground level.

In many ways, Radical Together is the proper partner to Radical, bringing balance and clarification where needed. While at the heart of the book still lies a near-impossible challenge, I kind of think that's the idea.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Fans of Radical, those tired of American consumerism

This book was a free review copy provided by Waterbrook Multnomah.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Huge giveaway over at Christians In Context!

Over at my other blog, Christians In Context, we're having a huge giveaway for the entire season of Advent, Dec. 1st - 24th, everyday! I would suggest heading over there and subscribing (email, RSS, or Reader) so you don't miss a day!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Book Review: From the Garden to the City by John Dyer

At the risk of sharing details that no one is interested in, the books that I review are always and only sent to me from publishers upon my request. So when Kregel Publications sent me two books unsolicited, I was certain there had been some sort of mistake. Only after contacting Kregel did I find there had been no error. Rather, Kregel is so excited and confident in their products, they decided to send them out to prior reviewers. Initially I was slow to pick up the books since I felt no obligation towards them, but in the end I caved...and am happy I did so.

As a former communications major at a Christian university, I've read a number of books addressing the intersection of technology and Christianity. These "theology of technology" books have almost always proven to be heavier on the technology side than the theology side. The authors, likewise, have more often proven to be students of Marshall McLuhan (a major figure in media theory) than students of the Word.

But that all changed as I read this latest book by John Dyer (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary). From the Garden to the City has a biblical balance and insight to it that has been missing in all my previous reads. Dyer shows an uncanny ability to skillfully and faithfully weave the two seeming unrelated topics of faith and technology into quite an engaging book.

The very structure of the book follows the Christian metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Dyer argues that (1) our ability to make technology is a reflection of our Creator, (2) every technology has the potential to be used for sin and rebellion, (3) technology can also be used for redemptive purposes, and (4) God's plan is the restoration of all things, including some of the things we make. Here's a thread of insights I felt made a significant connection:

Adam and Eve's very first act after sinning simultaneously reflected their programming as God's image-bearers, and their newfound sinfulness...
The clothing was their way of transforming their circumstances such that they would no longer rely on God for anything...
Technology can at the same time be both a reflection of the image of God and a subtle rebellion against him and his authority... is also one of the chief means by which humans attempt to create a world without God. As our technology grows more and more powerful, the illusion of control becomes increasingly convincing. (Chapter 5, "Rebellion")

Dyer does a masterful job of helping the Christian reflect on the nature of technology. If I have one critique, it is that there was not equal emphasis on how the Christian should respond to technology. Or put another way, at the cross-section of theology and technology Dyer gives us plenty of implications but not enough applications. (Perhaps a second book is in order?)

Living in the middle of a technological explosion (comparing the last 150 years with the span of human history), we should be all the more diligent in examining and "seeing through" the technology we use. Dyer warns, "When technology has distracted us to the point that we no longer examine it, it gains the greatest opportunity to enslave us."

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Communicators, techies, multimedia ministry personnel

This book was a free review copy provided by Kregel Publications.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson

What do tattoos, cremation, and homosexuality all have in common?* They each reveal one's fundamental belief about the body, it's design and purpose. While Christians should arguably have a higher view of the body than most, the average evangelical theology of the body often remains unexamined and merely reactionary towards cultural trends and spiritual concerns.

Matthew Lee Anderson challenges the unexamined and reactionary in his surprising new book Earthen Vessels. Not knowing what to expect of the latest blogger-turned-author (an ever growing breed) in his debut work, I found myself tearing through this book in a matter of days. How interesting can a Christian's book about the body be? As it turns out, very.

As already hinted at, Anderson artfully covers a spectrum of modern day implications for a deeper understanding of the human form. As one who resisted against all odds, I found the chapter on tattoos particularly interesting (definition of irony: in pursuit of individualism, rebellion, and self-expression, tattoos and their host bodies are now markers of conformity and consumerism). Homosexuality too got its own chapter, and the insights here alone make the book worthwhile: long as those with same-sex orientations treat the fulfillment of their sexual desires as a necessary part of their identity, the most sensitive traditional responses to same-sex attraction and acts will inevitably be reduced to bigotry. (p. 146)
All in all, Earthen Vessels is solid and enjoyable, and Anderson has made a definite contribution to an important conversation that has long been overdue in evangelical circles. Two thumbs up!

*I tried to come up with a punch line for this question but never succeeded. If you have any zingers, I'm all ears!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Theologians, pastors, counselors

This book was a free review copy provided by Bethany House.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great Bookshelf Cleaning Giveaway

Do you like free stuff? Wanna win a free book? If you said "no" to either of those questions, I am seriously questioning your humanity.

==>Click here for the CIC giveaway<==

Over at Christians In Context, we are giving away three books:

Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
Finally Alive - John Piper
Your Church Is Too Small - John H. Armstrong

==>Click here for the CIC giveaway<==

Hurry, the giveaway only lasts until Saturday midnight!