Thinking Out Loud

May 21, 2013

Firsthand Faith: Making the Family Beliefs Your Own

Like authors Ryan and Josh Shook, I grew up in a Christian home. Years ago, I remember giving my testimony to the church high school group and being very clear that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘adopt’ the faith of your father and mother because that’s all you had; you had to take ownership of it in a more objective sense. Just because you were born in McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.

Firsthand Ryan and Josh ShookThe Shook brothers — sons of Kerry Shook whose book One Month to Live attracted much attention — have developed this concept into Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own (Waterbrook Press). Although the book is written expressly to people in this particular faith situation, early sales of the book indicated that Firsthand struck a cord with Christian kids in their late teens and early twenties; the very people that statistically experience a great faith upheaval in what can be pivotal and transitional years. Here’s a sample:

We watched our parents step out in faith and plant a church when we were boys.  They had very little money at the time, just a dream God had placed on their hearts to reach the lost and hurting.  They started with fifteen people and from there it dwindled to eight after the first gathering.  Five were our family!  Now thousands are part of the church.  But we know all the little miracles God did along the way as our parents would step out in faith and watch God come through.

We feel as though we’ve had front-row seats to watch God working in our parents’ lives as they’ve taken risks in faith to obey God’s call.  But in a sense it’s been their experience, not ours.  We need our own experiences of stepping out in faith and watching God act. We don’t want front-row seats anymore.  We want to be in the game! We want to see God at work up close and personal in our lives.   (p. 108)

The structure of the book is notable. Each of the chapters is followed by a section called Making It Real, which is itself divided into Other Voices (quotes from people in similar situations) Think About It (a short study guide) and Might Try This (a variety of action steps and links to short films by Ryan). In addition to the Other Voices section, the book is very much the product of interviews with young adults whose journey contains the type of faith crisis the book addresses.

Firsthand is a resource worth knowing about that allows a specific audience to reconstruct the foundations of their faith. I’m not sure why the religious publishing division of Random House chose to do this in hardcover — especially when its target market is the demographic most likely to download rather than purchase a print copy — but the $17.99US/$20.99CAN price has not dissuaded buyers. It should also be must reading for anyone who works in high school and college-age student ministry.

A copy of Firsthand was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Waterbrook Press’ Canadian distributor, Augsburg Fortress.

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March 30, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Here we link again…

  • Topping the link list this week is my other blog, Christianity 201, which celebrates its first anniversary on Friday.
  • As the above picture indicates, The Book of Mormon, the book, is now The Book of Mormon the broadway play.  Even LDS leaders admit that the founding of their religion is a somewhat colorful story. (I think the guy in the forefront was working my street last week…)
  • The book Radical by David Platt was a big seller this summer, with some themes in common with Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. Here’s a link to the free download of the preview chapter for the forthcoming sequel, Radical Together.
  • Only six percent of Christian couples pray together?  Pete Wilson lays that statistic out as the basis for a seven day challenge to his congregation.
  • A related item:  Canadian Dave Carrol — a confirmed ‘scrapper’ —  talks about learning the art of ridiculous love.
  • Another Canadian, former Cambridge Vineyard pastor Robert Hall died suddenly in a construction accident on the mission field in Zambia.  He leaves behind three young children and his wife Kate who is the daughter of Canadian broadcaster Jim Cantelon and his wife Kathy.
  • A final Canadian story: Linda Bond was elected — on the first ballot — as head of the Salvation Army International; the fourth time in 150 years that a Canadian has held the post, and the third time the denomination has elected a woman.
  • In light of the latest teapot tempest over ‘that’ book, Rachel Held Evans considers The Future of Evangelicalism.
  • Dean Lusk finds some of those really old Bible translations, like the NLT, in need of an update in this more contemporary paraphrase of Romans 2.
  • The Maccabeats are back.  This time the theme is the Feast of Purim, aka the story of Esther, like you’ve never heard it before.  (Actually we’re about ten days late, Purim was March 20th this year.)
  • And while we’re YouTube linking, Darrell from Stuff Fundies Like explains the fundamentalist aversion to playing cards.
  • At the blog Biblical Preaching, a look at the problem of preaching moralism.
  • With Good Friday and Easter Sunday inching closer, I want to share a site with you that is very useful if you lead worship or prepare the quotations that often appear on-screen during weekend services.  Here’s what Daily Christian Quote offers for Good Friday.
  • Dave at a new blog, Armchair Theology is running a series of Bible misunderstandings under the title, Calling God Fool.  Click to link to the blog and then scroll into the middle of March posts.

August 12, 2010

Steven Furtick: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God For the Impossible by Steven Furtick, the pastor of the rapidly growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.   The title, releasing another “sun significant” day, September 21st from Multnomah Books,  is based on Joshua’s prayer in Joshua chapter 10.  “There has never been a day like it before…” (vs 13 NIV)

This is a book about prayer, and it’s a book about faith, and mostly, it’s a book about praying prayers of faith, or what he calls audacious prayers.   As such it’s a title that will inspire next-generation Christ-followers to stretch their faith in prayer; a book that might be given to a teen or twenty-something and/or someone who is new to the family of faith.

The author quotes Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire early on and in many ways this book stands in that tradition of — and I hate to use this word because it can diminish the impact — books on prayer that are truly inspiring.

But beyond the reading process which I began several days ago, I decided to dig a little deeper to, if you’ll forgive the nameplay, see what makes Steven Furtick tick.

The book begins with the story of Elevation Church filling the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte the year on Easter Sunday; a dream planted in Steven Furtick’s heart just four years earlier.     Reports ranged from attendance figures of 10,000 to the figure on the Elevation Worship Blog, 11,600.   (It also lists the worship pieces that morning; of the eleven, six were from Hillsongs.)

I decided to watch the service online, but presented with a range of sermons, decided to jump into something else, only to find myself watching a guest speaker, North Point’s Andy Stanley.   In the process of trying to ascertain where Furtick and Elevation fit into the larger map of American Christianity, Andy Stanley came as a bit of a surprise.

That’s because — as my reading of the book and eventual viewing of the Easter sermon and two other sermons convinced me — Furtick’s message and style seems to fit into a long line of Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition.  For the Time Warner Arena occasion, he donned a suit which, combined with the dynamics of the arena, couldn’t help remind me of Joel Osteen.

But I’m not sure that Furtick would welcome the comparison.   I decided to dig into his blog; not just current entries, but ones from its beginnings in the fall of 2006.    He considers Craig Groeschel and Perry Noble mentors, and there’s nothing in his church’s core beliefs that hints of Pentecostalism.

Maybe it was just the Easter suit thing.   Or the traditional invitation at the end of the messages.  Or having the congregation stand for scripture readings. Or the “Amen Corner” on the website.

…Or maybe it’s part of our fallen nature that anytime someone has a faith-stretching, big-believing message we want to categorize or pigeon-hole that person with a “Charismatic” label, instead of recognizing that this is what it means to follow Christ as the early disciples understood it, and as we’re reminded in a story early in the book, Christians in the third world or persecuted church understand it today.   In fact, in some places Furtick would challenge the prosperity or claim-it message of hardcore Charismatics.

In the end, I have to conclude that Steven Furtick is a hybrid.   His next-generation appeal might earn him the label Emergent Charismatic.   Neither adjective is fully accurate here — how about Missional Pentecostalbut it’s the best I got because Sun Stand Still is a Spirit-filled message of classical Biblical faith, but it’s a 30-year-old’s fresh take on a classic Old Testament passage that any young person should enjoy reading.

The book will energize your prayer life no matter where you are on your journey with Christ.   If you want to dig in to more of Elevation online, you’ll find some powerful and passionate preaching with a wisdom beyond Steven Furtick’s years.

Reviewer’s Notes:

  1. Thanks to Norm at Augsburg Canada (Multnomah’s up-North distributor) for the advance copy.
  2. Elevation’s online sermon server gets you a full-screen, high-def video sermon every time, that downloads quickly provided you’ve got the bandwidth. Clearly among the best I’ve seen.   I don’t see an audio option.
  3. Given the aforementioned appeal to younger readers, I gotta seriously question Multnomah’s decision to release this in hardcover at $20 U.S. ($23 CDN)   I hope initial sales don’t discourage those involved, because this is a natural title for paperback first edition. UPDATE:  This will release in paperback at $14.99 US/$16.99 CDN.  They must have been reading this blog!!
  4. If you click on the “comments” section for this post (below) you can watch the promotional video for the book featuring Steven’s ever-changing hairstyles!

August 10, 2010

The Last Christian: David Gregory’s Brave New World

The year is 2088…

Any kind of futuristic writing — both fiction and non-fiction — requires taking a great deal of risk.  Especially if you incorporate technologies that some readers find just plain silly.   What if the audience doesn’t see your vision of that era as plausible?   A few bad reviews and your book is fodder for recycling.

Fortunately, David Gregory (Dinner With a Perfect Stranger, A Day With A Perfect Stranger) is able to navigate the future just fine, thank you.   While he hasn’t lost the heart of an evangelist that so characterized his shorter works mentioned above, any apologetic in Last Christian is weaved into a much larger, much more complex plot.

That plot concerns biomedical advances that are becoming reality towards the end of the 21st century.   But it’s the absence of religious ethics that characterizes the world in which these so-called ‘advances’ are taking place.   Into that environment steps a character who is almost literally from another time.  Someone who doesn’t fit into such a world.   Someone who discovers that the unease is mutual.

As a mostly non-fiction reader, I now fully understand the meaning of the oft-used, “that was real page-turner.”   This is a book possessing a literary intensity I have not experienced in a long, long time.  Each chapter — and the narrative moves along quite rapidly — ended with a surprise, driving me deeper into what followed.   That pace — and those plot twists — continue right up to the end.

But don’t take my word for it.   Allow me to do something I’ve never done before here, and steal some consumer reviews from a retail website:

  • As I read the back cover’s description, I thought to myself, “Yeah, right.” Then I read the book. Gregory’s use of existent technologies, experimental technologies and not-too-far-distant-future-type technologies renders this fictional work very believable. As for there only being one Christian left in America in 2088? Well, even that isn’t so hard to imagine if you see how rapidly we’re following Europe’s footsteps, using no discernment governmentally, socially and even the evangelical church seems to be losing it’s bearings on the gospel and God’s Word…
  • This book was full of nail biting edge of your seat suspense, with a few twist and turns you won’t expect or see coming! … I would love to see this as a movie!
  • Christianity has died out completely. The mega-churches of the 90’s are now schools and malls. While all this sci-fi stuff is entertaining to read, the heart of the book goes much deeper. Gregory makes a really important point in his book. The reason, he writes through one of his characters, that Christianity died in the US early in the 21st century is because Christians didn’t look any different than non-Christians. Their lives hadn’t been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
  • David Gregory’s America seems so far removed from our current way of life, but it’s easy to see how we could easily venture down the same road. The Christian worldview is becoming an object of disdain for many, and technology is advancing at an incredible rate. The Last Christian was a fun and entertaining read. It’s a science fiction thriller with Christian apologetics mixed in. Although it was certainly a page-turner, it also caused me to really think about some serious issues in our culture today
  • Christian fiction has taken a direction that is wonderfully exciting and The Last Christian is a fantastic example!
  • I was shocked by the many things that are slowly taking root even now in America, despite the book’s setting being in 2088. At this time, Americans have become accustomed to feeding their desires and pleasures through entertainment and enjoyment. …many live in virtual reality more than they do in the “real world”. In the name of tolerance and acceptance, all things are acceptable and morality is something each individual decides for his or himself…

I compared these reviews to a few from “the usual suspects” list of bloggers, and while I recognize that some of these reviewers’ blogs as well, I think they said it best.

My recommendation here leans a little more toward Christian readers, but some other reviews spoke of possibilities in giving or loaning the book to someone outside the faith; perhaps provided they had demonstrated some spiritual openness.   It certainly speaks in a mature manner to some of the main elements involved in following Christ, as well as addressing what Christianity isn’t.   Age-wise, because of the ‘sci-fi’ flavor, I can see this book appealing to older teens as well as adults, provided they can commit to the 400+ page count.  (We’re talking about four times the word count of the two Perfect Stranger titles.)

The two of David Gregory’s shorter books mentioned above already exist as movies.   Could Last Christian make it to the big screen?   It would be an extremely fast-paced film to be sure; but for now, we have the book which earns my highest recommendation.

April 6, 2010

Tributes to Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk

  • Michael wasn’t the anybody of the blogosphere. He was the Internet Monk of the blogosphere. There is now the post-iMonk Christian blogosphere. A few weeks ago I said on Twitter that none of us are gonna get to heaven and hear Jesus say, “Great blog, dude.” I take that back. Michael made so many people, from so many different places and traditions and perspectives and experiences, feel like they weren’t alone — many times through sharing his own sense of exile — and he did it by stubbornly insisting a fixation on Jesus. ~ Notes from a Small Place blog
  • Michael Spencer’s online writings have affected me deeply from the first day I discovered them.  They’ve always pointed me toward the gospel of Jesus Christ. ~ Meg’s blog
  • Coming back to the Church and life in Christ after a long absence, I found myself in need of this sense of perspective, of finding, for lack of a better word, those spiritual guides, who offered true guidance and direction to those of us with many, many, many questions.  Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, was one of those guides for me over the past few years.    ~Wandering Tree blog
  • I felt like I came to know Michael and his quest through the “post-evangelical wilderness” over the past few years. He will be missed… ~Green Leaf blog
  • Michael Spencer has graduated.  He has left this world for bigger and better things.  The sum total of all our years will seem like a moment in the span of eternity.  The time until we met again will pass like vapor in the wind.  We can mourn and comfort each other in the void he leaves behind, and at the same time rejoice as he rejoices on the streets of glory.  His desire each day was to more clearly see the face of our Lord; and now that joy is complete. ~ The Master’s Table blog
  • Michael was a good friend of mine, even though I never met him in real life. I found his blog back in the 1990s sometime – I don’t even recall what I was looking for – and was hooked. Through reading his stuff there and through participating in the Boar’s Head Tavern collaborative site, I got to know how he thought. At the time he was a Calvinist, and I disagreed with him; but through engaging with him, I learned a great deal about what I believed and why I believed it. Michael’s thinking shaped mine in many ways; his well-thought writings required that I also think well. ~ Cogita Est Ora blog
  • I feel like I lost: a friend, a brother, a guide, and a safety-net for my own inadequacies. The irony in this is that I have never met Michael in person.  We exchanged one or two emails, but that was the extent of our personal contact. Meeting him in person was on my list of things to do before I died.  It looks like that goal will have to wait now. What Michael provided in my life was the sanity check that I so desperately needed as I was drowning in deep despair in Evangelicalism.  The constant questioning of the feeling that I didn’t belong and that I sensed that something was wrong, were all answered by Michael’s writings.  He helped me to become who I am today and how I view things in the church. The Lord used him to take away the bitterness and resentment that I had built up towards Evangelicalism. ~ Peaceful Walk With Jesus blog
  • Michael’s prodigious output as a blogger, both at Internet Monk and at the Boars Head Tavern that he started, relentlessly directed readers to the person of Jesus. His wide-ranging reading interests incurred the ire of some, but many readers like me found provocation of the best kind, inspiration and encouragement. Michael was captivated by radical grace, and now that Grace has captured him. Though he died, yet does he live. ~ Common Ground Online
  • Michael was Jesus’ man – on a life-long journey to center his thoughts, emotions, actions and character around Jesus and to genuinely know Jesus.  That quest was not simple for Michael.  It was often quite complicated, full of questions and doubt and darkness.  But it was also marked by unique clarity, certainty and the light of heaven’s smile. ~ Ponder Anew blog
  • Michael Spencer, the graceful writer behind Internet Monk, died yesterday surrounded by his family. What a wonderful writer. What a wonderful man.  ~Dating Jesus blog.
  • A wonderful writer who influenced my decision to move to a more liturgical church. Thank you Michael.  ~Becoming Episcopalian blog

These are just some of the tributes from everyday Internet Monk readers such as you and I.   You can also read tributes from Frank ViolaSteve McCoy at Reformissionary, and Andrew Jones at Tall Skinny Kiwi.

If all of these leaves you scratching your head going, “Who?,” then I’m sorry that you missed out on Internet Monk.    Hopefully the back catalog of posts will remain online for a long, long time; so you can still catch up.   He was a unique voice among bloggers.

This outpouring of love and sympathy online also proves the value of Christian online community.    In many respects we may come to know each other with a depth not always achieved in face-to-face communication.   And we come to grieve the loss of someone we knew in this manner every bit as deeply as those with whom we have what some think more direct contact.   One post at Boar’s Head Tavern reads:

I hate weeping alone at my keyboard when I should be weeping in the same room with you guys.

There are many, many other tributes posted there, and as of this writing, over 200 posts in the past 24 hours on Google.

It would not be surprising if Michael Spencer reached his widest audience with the publication of his book Mere Churchianity, due September 7th from Waterbrook Press.   I wonder if some of his online writings might also be preserved in print form for those who heretofore didn’t know him.   It would be a daunting project, but there is much worth publishing.

Finally, I want to end by referring back to the post on this blog just a few hours ago.   I concluded by asking the question, “What do you want your life to be remembered for?”

Michael Spencer’s life will be well-remembered.

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