Book Review: Active Spirituality

Active Spirituality: A Non-Devotional Guide. Charles R. Swindoll. Word Publishing, 1994.

ActiveSpirituality

There’s been a distinct interest in “spirituality” and “spiritual transformation”, as can be seen in the number of books about angels and general occult things. Although, spiritual matters are often things seen as internal and not something that is actively lived. Charles R. Swindoll points this out in his book “Active Spirituality”, his study through the book of Proverbs, and endeavors to describe a spiritual life actively lived.

In each of the 22 chapters, Swindoll focuses on a number of practical qualities that he extracts from the Book of Proverbs. These include obedience, serenity, counsel, controlling your tongue, contentment, diligence, industriousness, financial accountability, and other topics.

This book provides a number of “non-devotional” looks at several of the topics of Proverbs. Swindoll presents these topics in a straight forward way with no fluff, along with some ways to directly put the concepts into action. As he points out in the conclusion of the book for himself, looking at these ways and endeavoring to implement them brings a huge personal growth.

However, most readers may not like the nuts-and-bolts “non-devotional” style. As a result, there is very little that is entertaining about this book for those that may be used to personal stories and experiences over pure Scripture. This preference speaks more to the reader of the book than it does to the author.

Overall, Active Spirituality provides a good overview of the Book of Proverbs. This book holds a wealth of good teachings regarding what a real Christian should be partaking in and living in from a practical real standpoint. Some readers may be turned off, though, by Swindoll practicing what he preaches in terms of how he presents the material.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Crazy Love

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Francis Chan (Author),‎ Chris Tomlin (Foreword),‎ Danae Yankoski (Contributor). David C. Cook, 2008.

Book Review - Crazy Love

Have we missed the love of God? In looking at a God that created the universe and everything in it, something is wrong when our response is to go to church and sing songs. Francis Chan aims to point out a deeper response to correct this “wrong” in his book “Crazy Love”.

Chan begins by pointing out the qualities of God. He then moves to point out how short life is and that people mistake what God’s love is. The author then endeavors to profile the “lukewarm”, and tries to back that up with examples. Chan then describes what it is to be “in love with God”, live a life with a view of eternity, and describes what it is to be obsessed with God. Finally, Chan provides some stories and then tries to summarize the book.

This book provides an interesting view into several points that are glossed over in the modern church. The need to see God for who He truly is is a definite need and Chan makes a good attempt towards describing the real God of the Universe, and points out the value of seeing a loving forgiving God over one that is eager to mete out punishment. Chan also makes a weak attempt at pointing out how non-serious most who claim the name of Christ are in practicing their faith.

Unfortunately, Chan advocates the very thing that shipwrecks the Church these days and causes the need of so many Christians and churches to repent before the Lord. Chan is a heavy advocate of the Personal Jesus, pointing out in very clear language that you “fall in love with God” and that “God is calling you into a passionate love relationship with Himself” (back cover blurb quotes).

This faciliates an incorrect, carnal view of God’s love – projecting it into an eros love bent on feelings and actions stemming out of those feelings rather than true faith born out into action from the deeds of God. Chan translates this eros love into service towards others in the world, instead of a true fearful service of God. Ultimately, Chan beats up those that see something wrong with the typical proscriptions of the modern churches in the way most do (even claiming them to be “unsaved”), assaulting those that “beat up the Church” and blaming those that are discontented for not following after them instead of looking at themselves to repent of their apostasy.

Overall, this book holds several good teachings that the Church needs instruction in, in order to repent before God, but holds a number of sloppy ones as well. Unfortunately, Chan presents a different carnally loving god that each person manipulates into their own image. This perpetuates all those things that cause that “something’s wrong” perception that Chan touts. While there is enough truth in this book to give the average person pause, Chan does not present the true radical authentic faith that was given those in the New Testament and instead presents the gospel of this wicked age. Much discernment is indeed required in dealing with this book.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

Book Review: Jim & Casper Go To Church

Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians. Jim Henderson & Matt Casper. Tyndale, 2007.

Jim&CasperGoToChurch

The interest of pastors to bring people into their churches is evident. In the quest to understand how those who are outside the churches think of them, Jim Henderson, a Pentecostal pastor for thirty years, has hired an atheist, Matt Casper, in order to travel around to a number of notable and not-so-notable churches and document their reactions.

Henderson and Casper tell the story of their visits to twelve churches:

  • Saddleback (Rick Warren’s church)
  • Angelus Temple (a.k.a. The Dream Center)
  • Mosaic
  • Willow Creek (Bill Hybel’s church)
  • First Presbyterian Church of River Forest
  • Lawndale Community Church
  • Jason’s House (A house church of one of Casper’s friends)
  • Imago Dei
  • Mars Hill Church (Mark Driscoll’s church)
  • The Bridge
  • Lakewood Church (Joel Osteen’s church)
  • The Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes’ church)

Finally, Henderson and Casper provide some closing words and then answer some questions.

This book provides an interesting and entertaining read as Jim Henderson and Matt Casper chronicle their experiences in these churches and deal with questions that stem from what they see. The questions and observations that Casper provides are often incredibly insightful and point towards a number of the problems that exist with churches today.

Unfortunately, Henderson seems to miss the point behind these things Casper says. While he successfully sees this problem of “religionism” that plagues all the churches, he misses the full breadth of the issue behind Casper’s question: “Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?”.  Sadly the churches Henderson selected are the best of the best, not being average churches.  Most churches today are out in the world, seeking to build worldly empires.  In that sense, it is more about programs, policies, and procedures than it is about people. The light shows, the smoke machines, and the other negatives both authors observe are a direct reflection of the wisdom of the world. He who puts on the better show gets the favor of the adoring public.

Sadly, this is the direct reflection of the advice that Henderson gives, to “become more reflective and repentant on how outsiders perceive us” (p149) and that “we have to adapt to them” (p149). The Church has been continually poisoned by the world – the leaders duped into thinking that they have to be like the world by the standards of numbers, nickels and facilities, in order to entice people to join them (never mind Christ). Most all churches have been following this advice by adapting to the world instead of adapting to Christ. Barna’s own work indicates this.

This results in the churches offering something that is nothing different than the world, and in the end offering only stones and snakes instead of bread and fish (Matthew 7:9-11) to those who are seeking something different. Casper notes this in a number of his observations, asking the question “What does the way Christianity is practiced today have to do with the handful of words and deeds uttered by a man who walked the earth two thousand years ago?”

Overall, this book was an entertaining and insightful read, providing many questions and points to ponder.  But much more could have been done to contrast many of the reasons behind Casper’s comments, and would have provided much more impact. As Henderson might have found with Casper if he indeed did push a little more, the majority of “atheists” and other “non-believers” have tasted what these churches have to offer and find them wanting. As much could be said about my experience with this book.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

Book Review: The Christian Atheist

The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist. Craig Groeschel. Zondervan, 2010.

TheChristianAtheist

The topic of Christians not living up to Christian ideals as espoused in the Scriptures is a common one to all the blogs I’ve done, and readily visible in most Christians and churches. Craig Groeschel calls this out in “The Christian Atheist”, claiming that most Christians are people who claim Christ but do not live according to the principles set out by Him.

Groschel calls out twelve areas he believes Christians are lacking in:

  • Not really knowing Him
  • Being ashamed of your past
  • Not being sure He loves you
  • Not believing in prayer
  • Not thinking God is fair
  • Not forgiving others
  • Not thinking you can change
  • Worrying all the time
  • Pursuing happiness at any cost
  • Trusting in money
  • Not sharing your faith
  • Not fully supporting church organizations

Craig Groeschel starts with a five-star concept: The idea that people who claim Christianity aren’t acting that differently than the world. Sadly, that’s where any real value of this book ends. The author offers a stream of stories and confessions to the reader, providing either a vacuous or suspect view of them.

Furthermore, Groschel falls right in line with the typical Churchianity of today in how he deals with these topics. The author is a supporter of all the suspect seeker-sensitive doctrines that mar the Church today. He espouses the personal relationship doctrine (a different Gospel), minimizes the importance and effect of sin in the life of the Christian by belittling it as “shame”, and supports the Old Testament tithe.

Groschel consistently favors his personal stories over the truth of Scripture, producing a book that is The Gospel of Groschel. This is in line with much of wayward Christianity, which seeks to meet “felt needs” instead of upholding Godly standards for living. He does provide a Scriptural veneer where he often shops for things that match his views, often pulling things wildly out of context or even providing false views of Christianity in trying to bolster his points. Groschel proves predominantly that he has very little understanding of the Christian faith, and has no business anywhere near Scripture let alone pastoring a church.

Overall, this book was an incredibly disappointing read, given the valuable premise that it starts with.  But Groschel misses that actions come out of the heart (Matthew 15:10-20), and that a heart with an incorrect faith will produce incorrect actions.  While his stories were mildly interesting and entertaining, the majority of the book is empty air, offering only worldly pop-psychology and spiritual junk food.  Unfortunately, Groschel is preaching the very thing that has caused this “atheist” problem to surface.  Beware this book!

Rating: 1 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

Book Review: Generation Next

Generation Next: What You Need to Know About Today’s Youth. George Barna. Regal Books, 1995.

GenerationNext

Dealing with people of other generations can be challenging, given that they have different values and ideals in living life. This concern is especially magnified for the youth ministers of most church organizations. George Barna provides an answer in his book “Generation Next”, where he presents results and commentary of his surveys of youth, aged 13-18 (as of December 1994). In doing this he seeks to explain this generation to the older generations that are working in the churches today.

Barna begins by pointing out the generations are different, then relays the concerns and crises of the youth. He then describes the character of teens, how they choose to spend their time outside of schooling, and their typical family environment. The author then describes spiritual matters of teens like their views of Christianity, the after-life, the church, the Bible, and how they believe their faith should translate into behavior. Barna then describes in detail how teens tend to live out their faith. The author then makes the observation that teens (and adults!) are rather spiritually anemic by Biblical terms, noting the lack of difference in belief between those who claim Christianity and those who don’t. Finally, Barna summarizes what he found into a number of “Rules”, and then provides advice to parents and others who may work with teenagers of this group.

George Barna provides a wonderful view into the often scary views that teenagers have adopted regarding Christianity. His survey research is very thorough. His comments on the remarkable things he found, such as the lack of belief in absolute truth coupled with a belief in the Bible as an absolute source of truth, is very excellent and on point.

However, at many points, he often takes an incredibly conciliatory tone towards some of the scary things he observed. As a result, his desire to identify with the target audience of his surveys and embrace the wrong aspects of their thinking tends to play more into the desire of his readers to embrace the world and its thoughts (as his subjects do) instead of return to true Biblical Christianity.

Overall, this book is an interesting and valuable view into the faith that is expressed in most of the churches today, despite his intention to describe the next generation. Given my eight years of experience blogging about the state of Christianity today, many of these points have only gotten worse since 1995. Unfortunately, Barna doesn’t do enough in this book to draw those contrasts that he discovered through his surveys with actual Scriptural practice.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

Book Review: A Passionate Life

This book review reads a lot like the last one because the content of both books are similar enough to be different drafts of the same book. This book contains a few edits and a few more personal stories added, but otherwise offers nothing different than “The Passionate Church”.


A Passionate Life. Mike Breen & Walt Kallestad. NexGen (Cook Communications Ministries), 2005.

APassionateLife

Are you a Christian but just not living the kind of refreshing life that you hear others speak of? Mike Breen & Walt Kallestad attempt to show the reader how to have a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have a deeper refreshing life. Breen & Kallestad have packaged their observations in what they call “LifeShapes for Leadership” and have presented this in “A Passionate Life”.

In their book, Breen & Kallestad begin by describing the rationale behind their “LifeShapes” program. The authors then relay a process for learning, the idea of handling rest versus work and the idea of balancing relationships with those in the church, outside the church, and following Christ. They then write of a leadership model, of the roles of the Church, and the Lord’s model prayer. Finally, Breen & Kallestad bring forth the idea of the Church as an organization, and relay an evangelistic model to the reader.

In the course of this book, Breen & Kallestad point out a number of important things about the nature of the true Church that most of the church organizations are missing. For instance, diverging some from the over-importance placed on these church organizations created by men is a welcome change, along with emphasizing the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-9) and providing explicit teaching to avoid the typical problems of cancer in many churches. This book is written in a very clear understandable style, and some of the “shapes” that the authors use present a useful mnemonic for what they are relaying.

However, this book suffers from an oversimplification of message in many parts. This is coupled with an over-wordiness by which the size of this book could easily be halved. Consequently, the substance of what is written is very unfulfilling. Some of their shape models fall flat as well. The authors tend to very freely apply Scripture to their own points, causing a dubious connection between the Scripture text and what the authors have to say. Finally, much of the true story of the Gospel and the Scriptural intention of discipleship is left out of Breen & Kallestad’s work in favor of the “personal relationship” false Gospel and the equally false idea of “servant leadership”, leading to the presentation of a skewed view of Christianity.

Overall, this book provides a useful introduction to several Biblical concepts which would be useful to a newer believer in Christ. Unfortunately, so little substance is presented in this book that the reader is often left wanting. While it might function as a good entry into true Biblical discipleship, many other resources are far better.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

Book Review: The Passionate Church

The Passionate Church: The Art Of Life-Changing Discipleship. Mike Breen & Walt Kallestad. NexGen (Cook Communications Ministries), 2005.

thepassionatechurch

One of the pushes of churches is to draw people in. Given the failure of that in recent years, church leaders are scrambling for answers in how to get people back and retain them. Mike Breen & Walt Kallestad have stumbled across an obvious answer which has eluded most of the churches: Attempt to make churches about what they were initially. Breen & Kallestad have packaged their observations in what they call “LifeShapes for Leadership” and have presented this in “The Passionate Church”.

In their book, Breen & Kallestad begin by describing the rationale behind their “LifeShapes” program. The authors then relay a process for learning, the idea of handling rest versus work and the idea of balancing relationships with those in the church, outside the church, and following Christ. They then write of a leadership model, of the roles of the Church, and the Lord’s model prayer. Finally, Breen & Kallestad bring forth the idea of the Church as an organization, and relay an evangelistic model to the reader.

In the course of this book, Breen & Kallestad point out a number of important things about the nature of the true Church that most of the church organizations are missing. For instance, diverging some from the over-importance placed on these church organizations created by men is a welcome change, along with emphasizing the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-9) and providing explicit teaching to avoid the typical problems of cancer in many churches. This book is written in a very clear understandable style, and some of the “shapes” that the authors use present a useful mnemonic for what they are relaying.

However, this book suffers from an oversimplification of message in many parts. This is coupled with an over-wordiness by which the size of this book could easily be halved. Consequently, the substance of what is written is very unfulfilling. Some of their shape models fall flat as well. The authors tend to very freely apply Scripture to their own points, causing a dubious connection between the Scripture text and what the authors have to say. Finally, much of the true story of the Gospel and the Scriptural intention of discipleship is left out of Breen & Kallestad’s work, as to be expected of disciples of the seeker-sensitive model, leading to the presentation of a skewed view of Christianity.

Overall, this book provides a useful introduction to several Biblical concepts which would be useful to a newer believer in Christ. Unfortunately, so little substance is presented in this book that the reader is often left wanting. While it might function as a good entry into true Biblical discipleship, many other resources are far better.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon