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

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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

Book Review: Becoming A Contagious Christian

Becoming A Contagious Christian. Bill Hybels & Mark Mittelberg. Zondervan, 1994.

BecomingAContagiousChristian

Drawing new people into membership has always been an imperative of a church organization. A movement has always been in place to increase the number of people pitching this membership in the community. Bill Hybels is one of the preachers that has become known for doing such things. With Mark Mittelberg, he offers a pattern to foster increased personal evangelism in the average believer in “Becoming a Contagious Christian”.

Hybels & Mittelberg begin by indicating that people matter to God. They then describe the rewards and costs of increased personal evangelism. The authors then describe the value of impacting the world. Hybels & Mittelberg continue by extolling the virtues of authenticity, compassion, and sacrifice. They indicate the value of relationships and provide guidance for building relationships with unbelievers, guiding the reader into ways to initiate and sustain spiritual conversations with them and deal with buying into the membership. Finally, the authors show a view of a church filled with people that are active in personal evangelism.

Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg present a well thought out and written plan, describing step-by-step a plan and conditions for personal evangelism. Their guidance is clear and well-written enough that anyone could pick up this book and follow the pattern and change their lives in the way that the authors indicate.

However as to be expected with an originator of the Seeker-Sensitive Movement, the book trades into worldly business views instead of in the ways of Scripture. In doing this, the book comes off much like a secular self-help book. This is to be expected as this movement seeks to change the Church to fit the world’s thoughts, ways, and attitudes, instead of conforming people to Christ. This is especially reinforced in a section where believers are discouraged from being protective about being influenced into worldly behaviors themselves.

Furthermore, the false gospel of the personal relationship with Christ that involves no view of the evil of man and requires nothing of the believer but an occasion of words pervades this book. And as with many matters involving church organizations and discipleship, the question of what entity that is being served comes into question. Often with church organizations, they serve themselves instead of Christ. An out-sized cancerous view of evangelism as the chief and only function of the body (1 Corinthians 12), as illustrated in the book, is often the product of a system that requires nothing more out of the life of a believer than to be utilized to service the organization’s goals. Believers in such a system are pushed towards the organizational goal of evangelism and away from their true Spiritual gifts.

Overall, this book is an interesting one in reiterating several basic facts, though with the bias of a worldly organization with worldly ends. This attitude poisons any good that the book might have for the average believer.   Instead of merely letting the Spirit speak through Scripture, this book spoils the reader after the tradition of men and the rudiments of the world (Colossians 2:8).  While it has some value, the caution is definitely out there to beware of these authors and their practices.

Rating: 4 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Archive.Org

Book Review: What In The World Is Going On?

What in the World Is Going On?: 10 Prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore. David Jeremiah. Thomas Nelson, 2008.

WhatInTheWorldIsGoingOn

The world’s events are chaotic and uncertain.  The global trends that people are noticing also can be fearful.  From jarring headlines, distressing news shows, and dire predictions, it can be easy to wonder “What In The World Is Going On?”  David Jeremiah aims to answer this question through the study of ten points that he finds through looking at the news and Scripture to know the signs of what to come.

Jeremiah begins by describing the background of the creation of Israel.  He then continues by describing crude oil and the focus the world has upon the Middle East.  The author then moves to the connection that Ancient Rome has with the European Union.  Jeremiah describes the phenomena of Islamic terrorism next.  He then goes on to describe The Rapture, and how he views America in terms of prophecy.  The author then describes how he sees current events lining up with the anti-Christ, the war of Gog and Magog, the war of Armageddon, and the return of Jesus Christ to rule upon the earth.

David Jeremiah presents good research on each topic, as each chapter is fascinating and thought-provoking to read and most all of the topics are interesting and proper for the premise of the book.   As to be expected, Jeremiah does a wonderful job of interpreting the Scripture that he brings into play, when he does it.  What he presents is quite obviously well thought out.

However, Jeremiah places more of a focus on current events and the typical Republican political agenda than he does on Scripture at times, including twisting Scripture around to try to apply it to his scenarios.  The chapter on oil is pretty terrible as it’s been proven wholly irrelevant in 9 short years because oil production has been shifted to the Western Hemisphere from the Middle East.  This is shown in the fact that a number of oil-based economies are struggling now and looking to diversify away from oil. The chapter on the United States reflects the typical over-exalting of the nation as a “Christian Nation”, reflecting a “chosen nation” status.   The chapter on the Rapture is pure false teaching, reflecting Jeremiah’s belief in dispensationalist doctrine.

Overall, this book is an interesting book on several topics that would be of interest to most readers. However, it strays away from a purely Biblical focus in a number of the chapters in favor of commentary on current events, pure speculation, and twisting Scripture to meet his ends. While this works for entertainment, akin to a novel, the warning definitely needs to be sounded on taking much of this book as serious doctrine.

Rating: 3 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon

Book Review: Growing True Disciples

Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ. George Barna. WaterBrook Press, 2001.

Growing True Disciples

I’ve said much in the course of both of my blogs about the state of Christian discipleship. Church organizations have chased after increasing attendance, giving, programs, and property over chasing after the will of the Lord has laid out through Scripture. George Barna shows the fruit of this process throughout “Growing True Disciples.”

Barna begins by casting a vision for discipleship that is outside the typical church vision – a vision of committed followers of Christ as opposed to simply “members”. He then goes on to explain some of the definitions and framework of discipleship, defining some Scriptural justifications for those things. The author then presents an overview of the current (2001) state of the church. Barna then provides an analysis of how things have gotten to their current state. He then presents a goal of discipleship. The author then presents some findings from studying churches that he deemed were doing good work in discipleship. Finally, Barna presents some models that he distilled out of some of the data for discipleship in churches.

In reading the book, the author presents a fairly decent framework of discipleship. As well, the author is very thorough about presenting the things the churches are doing that he feels is effective, and why they are effective. He presents a lot to think about regarding the topic of discipleship and gives a start on the best ways to accomplish those things.

However, Barna misses the seminal problem that caused all of these things. As I’ve noted in previous reviews of books about discipleship, the issue of what you are discipling them into gets completely missed in the book. Most churches, including many of the ones he’s studied and lauded are about discipling people into the church organization (i.e. the world) as opposed to discipling people into Christ. Goals often stem from what your life is centered upon. Or as Scripture says, we should not expect good fruit out of bad trees (Matthew 7:15-20). This fact is shown time and again as Barna advocates for business processes instead of Scriptural remedies. His avocation of covenant agreements is especially disturbing, in terms of the controls that he would place upon the average believer from men.

Overall, while this book has much value, that value is sullied by not recognizing the core issue of the problem that has plagued those who have been called out from Christ from the beginning. When man gets his hands into things and changes them for his own benefit and his own desires to control others, the entire nature of the tree is changed. Hence the fruit is changed. In my opinion, this book has value for the study presented, which in the last 16 years has without a doubt gotten worse according to my own research. But beyond that, it doesn’t offer much fruit in the way of leading towards a Scriptural model of discipleship.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Book Cover Image Source: Amazon