What I’m reading…

Books, Church Leadership, Theology

For those interested, here’s a quick summary of the books I’ve dived into so far in 2023:

Christianity’s Surprise: A Sure and Certain Hope by C. Kavin Rowe (Abingdon Press, 2020)

A quite short (128 pp.) introduction to the surprising & revolutionary character of Christianity in its original ancient context. In the midst of the much softer, domesticated version of Christianity of the modern West, the author seeks to inspire his readers to re-capture the original allure & beauty of authentic cross-shaped living sustained by the original Christian hope.

Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness by Richard B. Hays (Baylor University Press, 2016)

The four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John) are inextricably linked to the story of the Old Testament. Reading Backwards is a brilliant, accessible, and fairly short work (177 pp.) that traces the connections between each of the four gospel accounts with the Hebrew scriptures. It’s a fascinating summary that I highly recommend to anyone.

Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson by Daniel Mark Epstein (Mariner Books, 1994)

I’ve known about Aimee Semple McPherson for many years. But my close proximity to her home & church in L.A. piqued my interest enough to read this biography. It’s a sympathetic and reasonably honest look at her extraordinary and tragic life.

Eat this Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2009)

For this modern age of 21st Century evangelical pastors, I cannot think of a more important thinker and writer to learn “pastoral theology” from than Eugene Peterson. That has nothing to do with this particular book, but I just feel the need to include that statement. For any pastors who may be reading this, Eugene Peterson is an author well worth your time & attention. His memoir, The Pastor, might be a good place to start.

Anyway, Eat this Book is an inspiring invitation into the practice of approaching the Bible not as a textbook, almanac, or pocket manual, but as an awe-inspiring and expansive story into which we are immersed. I enjoyed it so much, I’m planning on leading a discussion on this book sometime this summer.

Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King by Matthew Bates (Baker Academic, 2017)

This is one I first read a few years ago. I re-read it and led a wonderful group discussion in my office this Spring. We are saved by grace through faith. Amen. But what do these words mean? How do the concepts relate to one another? And how does it cohere with the gospel announcement of the New Testament? In Salvation by Allegiance Alone, New Testament scholar Matthew Bates sheds important light on this subject. The book gets a little dense in some spots, and in particular sections I think he could’ve written much more clearly. But for American evangelicals, he offers some important points that are not only worth our consideration, but are critical for us to grasp in order for Christianity to thrive in the Western world.

Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd by Mark Blake (Da Capo Press, 2008)

I don’t just read theology books. This was an enjoyable, bed-time read about a band I’ve always been fascinated with. It inspired me to give my children the experience of the famous Wizard of Oz//Dark Side of the Moon sync effect.

Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment edited by Alan P. Stanley (Zondervan Academic, 2013)

This book is part of Zondervan’s “Counterpoints” series, in which each book takes on a particular theological subject. Several scholars from different traditions write an essay representing their tradition’s view of the subject. Then the other scholars who represent opposing views each write a short response to one another’s essays. It’s a decent introduction to some of the various viewpoints Christians have on a wide range of topics and why they hold their views. Fresh off of reading Salvation by Allegiance Alone, I decided to dive into this one and wasn’t disappointed.

Currently reading:

Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique edited by David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke (B&H Academic, 2022)

I’m about 30% through this one, so I have a ways to go. It provides essays written by various contributors (including two of my favorite scholars, Ben Witherington and Roger Olsen, although I haven’t yet gotten to their essays). While I have significant quibbles with some of the soteriology in this book, so far I find it to be a thorough and effective critique of five-point Calvinism and its fundamental tenets and implications.

Out of the Embers: Faith After the Great Deconstruction by Bradley Jersak (Whitaker House, 2022)

Again, I’m about 30% through this one so far. So I don’t have much feedback yet on the book itself. However, so far I appreciate the way Jersak handles the topic of theological deconstruction in a careful and nuanced fashion. Too many evangelical “thought leaders” don’t really understand the term deconstruction, its wide-range of usage, and how it has become “a thing.” And because of this lack of understanding, many leaders carelessly (and fearfully) make generalizations and lash out, which ironically represents what many are deconstructing from. If none of this is making any sense to you, don’t worry about it. This book really isn’t meant for you. But it’s especially for people who have been going through theological change, those who have experienced deep pain in a church context, and/or those who have walked away from church or Christianity altogether. So far (30% in) I find it to provide compassionate & wise counsel written by someone who has been through it himself and has emerged with an ever-increasing fascination with Jesus.

The [Un]Locked Door

Church Leadership, Jesus, Spiritual Growth

I want you to imagine Christianity depicted as a large house. A house with multiple floors, sections, and rooms.

There’s a Catholic section. An Orthodox section. There are rooms for Anabaptists and Anglicans. Rooms for Mainline Protestants, Pentecostals & Charismatics. And there’s an entire floor for the vast array of Evangelicals. Lots and lots of rooms.

All under the same roof.

I was raised in a church that belonged to the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world—the Assemblies of God (a.k.a. the A/G). After eventually graduating from an A/G university with a degree in Pastoral Ministries, I spent the first seventeen years of my vocational ministry life working at an A/G church.

I have nothing but gratitude and respect for the Assemblies of God. I wouldn’t trade my experience for that of anyone else. And I will always be Pentecostal—that is, I am resolutely convicted that one can have real experiences with God. God is not simply a subject to be studied in a seminary textbook. God is a real Being we can encounter. This is and always will be part of my identity.

Nevertheless, here is my confession.

For the vast majority of my years, I spent my life in a locked room. My exposure to the rest of the Christian house was embarrassingly minimal. The door was kept locked for a variety of reasons. Early on, I suppose it was out of simple ignorance. As a child I probably had no idea there were other rooms.

But over time, it was my growing fears and insecurities that kept the door locked. No doubt these fears were stoked by external voices. But the effect was deep and long-lasting. By the time I was a twenty-something minister, virtually all of the sermons I listened to, books I read, and leaders I gleaned from were from within my own tiny section of the house.

Then at some point in my early 30s, I began to get a little claustrophobic. My dissatisfaction combined with wonder & curiosity emboldened me for the first time to unlock the door. I walked through that door and began to wander a bit outside of my own little room.

And as I allowed myself to explore the rest of the house, a surprising thing happened. I kept discovering riches in every room. I began to learn from Christians of every kind and from every section of the house. I stumbled upon the realization that while every stream and tradition of the Christian faith has its faults and excesses, it also has something essential and beautiful to bring to the table. Quarantining myself within my own locked room only kept me impoverished from the diverse wealth of Christ’s church.

Maintaining a sectarian mindset confines us to a limited perspective. As long as we incarcerate ourselves within the boundaries of our own streams and traditions, we’ll never gain the capacity to see things from a different point-of-view. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a subtle form of self-deception. We are seeking to console our own fears and anxieties within the locked room of a theological system, rather than following the One who transcends boundaries and systems.

That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.”

John 20:19

Therefore, I want to give you permission to take a tour around the house. You don’t have to spend your entire life locked inside a bedroom closet. Unlock the door. (The door is always locked from the inside.) Step out into the hallway and begin to look around. It doesn’t mean you have to permanently move out of your own room, of course. It’s always nice to have a place we can return to every night.

But it’s also okay to enjoy and appreciate the rest of the house. Sure, you’ll spend more time in some rooms than others. You’ll probably even gain a deeper appreciation for what you like about your own room.

But once you start discovering the multifaceted beauty and diverse goodness of this magnificent edifice we call the global and historic church of Jesus Christ, you’ll never want to lock the door again.

(The artwork is “House of Belonging” by Scott Erickson.)

Super Bowl Gospel

Church Leadership, Cross, Gospel of Mark, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom of God, Salvation

The Louisiana Superdome. Exactly twenty years ago. Biggest game of the year. The New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams are tied at 17 points with only a few seconds remaining on the clock in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Tom Brady spikes the ball to stop the clock at the St. Louis 33-yard line. On the final play of the game, New England kicker Adam Vinatieri boots the ball through the uprights, giving New England its very first Super Bowl championship in franchise history. Here’s the following day’s headline in the Boston Globe: