Thoughts on Prayer

freely-10139In whose presence do I walk? In whose hall do I enter? He is the one who burns with all-consuming fire. He knows all and sees all, including every detail of my life that shames me. Each is well-lit, easily seen by His eyes. Yet, He lavishes me with grace. He pours love over me. He died and rose so that I might live and walk here in His presence. Here I stand–trembling boldly in His presence.

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The Art of Personal Evangelism–sharing Christ in a new cultural dynamic

theartof-evangelism Published in 2003, The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Christ in a Changing Culture by William McRaney Jr. examines the need to change approaches to evangelism in light of a culture shaped by postmodernism. McRaney has served in various positions in state Baptist conventions related to evangelism. He is the founder of the Ministry Enhancement Group and holds a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Structure

McRaney divides the book into three sections. The first deals with elements of personal evangelism such as God’s involvement and the personal participation of the witness. The second section deals with communicating the gospel. The third section includes aids, suggestions, and tips for evangelism. The book concludes with appendices regarding one’s testimony, objections to the gospel, and illustrations for witnessing.

What I Appreciated

I made a lot of marks and notes in this book. I appreciated the explanation of the cultural shifts in this book. McRaney did not pine for a return to modernism nor did he spend time lambasting postmodernism. He recognizes that both have good and bad and encourages Christians to pursue a biblical view of the world. However, he explains clearly how our approach to evangelism must change to communicate the gospel to those with a postmodernist worldview. The lists comparing what verses relate best to those with a modern worldview and those with a postmodern worldview are very helpful.
Though an academic treatment of personal evangelism, the book is very practical. I hope to go back and work to memorize the scriptures mentioned as useful. The bibliography cites many books that would make excellent additions to any Christian’s library, particularly those with a ministry to equip others to do evangelism.

What I Wished Had Been or Not Have Been

At times, the lists overwhelmed me causing me to have traumatic flashbacks to some of my seminary courses. Occasionally, I did not understand why certain lists fell where they did in the book or what their purpose was. Of course, that confusion could be as much the fault of the reader as of the author. Also, after thirteen years, the book is a bit dated. I would be interested to read an updated edition that considers post-postmodernism and the increasing fracturing of our society between different identities.

Conclusion

I am very glad that read this book. I would recommend it to anyone trying to figure out why the way we did evangelism in the past isn’t working and what we need to do to be more effective. Ministers will want to find ways to present these ideas to their congregations and either discover or develop methods of evangelism training that take them into account.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free from B&H Academic. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Christian Citizenship Part 3: The Duty of Obedience and Civil Disobedience

mvlnw09fdoIt has been a while since I have touched on the subject of how we as Christians live as citizens of two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and whatever kingdom we live in this world. Partly because of the election year and the nature of it, I have wanted to avoid political themes.

But I think now would be an excellent opportunity to return to the subject. A few weeks ago, I taught a Bible study on the issue as found in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and 3:13-17. Here are some truths found in these verses.

1. We should submit to the just laws of the kingdoms of this earth. Because God created all humans in His image, everyone, not just Christians, has some understanding of what is right and just. Just because the source is secular, it does not make a law evil. By obeying just and right laws, we silence our critics. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are free in the kingdoms of this world, but our freedom does not give us the right to disobey the law.

2. We should give to everyone what he or she is due from us. And according to Peter, we owe honor to everyone. So no matter if we like a person’s political views, ideas of sexuality, appearance, or attitude, we owe them honor. We should treat them with respect and courtesy. Yet, we owe special love to the brotherhood, our fellow citizens in God’s kingdom. In a situation with persecution, such as the context in which Peter wrote, the care of each member of Christ body for the other is of even greater importance than normal. Even in that situation, Peter said that Christians should honor the Emperor. We don’t have an emperor in the United States, but the principle applies as we relate to our political leaders as well.

3. But above all else, we should fear God. In Peter wrote in 3:14-15, “Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.” Because Jesus is our Lord, conflict with our earthly country’s laws is possible. Peter instructs us in those cases willingly to endure the consequences and to follow the example of Jesus who unjustly suffered. As Peter expresses it, if we are going to be persecuted and suffer at the hands of earthly authorities, we need to be sure we are doing so for the right reasons. When God’s command and human law conflicts, we obey God and not human authority. (Acts 5:29) But our disobedience is tempered by the other commands in this passage—commands to honor those in authority. (Acts 23:3-5). Even in civil disobedience, we must seek to be redemptive and share the gospel. Our willingness to suffer gives credibility to our verbal sharing of the gospel.

Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

A review of 41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate

41willcome41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate is an encouraging book on the importance of waiting for God’s breakthrough in life’s tough situations. Tate is the founding pastor of RockChurch in Illinois.

Tate bases his book on the premise that in the Bible, 40 days (or whatever period) of a trial is followed by the 41st day, a time of God’s intervention, blessing, and work. Tate is correct in seeing this pattern in Scripture. It is why I always take note when I see the number 40 in the Bible. Tate focuses on the story of Goliath defying the army of Israel for 40 days until, on the 41st day, David in faith faces him.

The Good

Tate is a “warm and friendly” writer, encouraging. It is obvious that he has concern for people. The writing style reminds of that of Craig Groeschel and Matt Batterson. The book is illustrated not just with Biblical stories, but also with the lives of people today. The reader passing through difficult days will likely find some encouragement in this book. (I did.) The book is very practical.

But…

Sometimes it is practical to point of passing over deeper theological truth. For example in the chapter on the Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (another 40 in the Bible), Tate emphasizes Jesus use of the Word in terms of claiming God’s promises and launching toward God’s purpose. All of that is fine and well, but a deeper theological truth is at work in that passage. Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. He faced what the first Adam faced and did not sin as Adam did. Because He was sinless, He was worthy to be our Savior. He still is.

However…

Tate’s purpose was not to write a systematic theology but to encourage those waiting for God to help them or to fulfill their dreams. Such people are looking for encouragement based upon God’s Word that will them get to their 41. This book fits that need, and I recommend it.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale’s Blog Network program in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History

IntroductionbyCooperRecently released by IVP Academic, Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History is an excellent introductory text to the people, controversies, and events that have shaped twenty-one centuries of Christianity. Truly global in scope, the book will help Western Christians see and understand how Christianity developed in other parts of the world. As the center of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, it is important that we see Christianity through non-Western eyes. Derek Cooper, associate professor of World Christian History at Biblical Seminary, helps us to begin to see that Christianity’s history is not a Western alone. Christianity’s history began in Asia and has stretched around the world.

Strengths

The major strength of the book is the shift of focus from Western Christianity to Global Christianity. Cooper embraces the focus by placing a demarcation line of Christian history at the rise of Islam rather than the conversion of Constantine. This line shows great respect for Christians outside the West, as Islam has held more significant influence over the lives of Christians in the majority of the world than the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire.

The book surveys history rapidly. (See thoughts on depth below.) The writing flows. The language is not so technical that the reading would be difficult for most readers with an interest in the topic. A basic knowledge of theology and historical controversies that shaped systematic theology is helpful for understanding, but the lack of it would not prevent a reader from finding this book worthwhile.

Weaknesses

If the reader is looking for an in-depth study of the various aspects of world Christianity, this book does not meet the need. The book is an introduction and covers twenty-plus centuries in a little over two hundred pages. Personally, as an introduction, I find it excellent.

Conclusion

For a student in college or seminary, this book makes an excellent historical, survey text that could stimulate interest in further study later. Christians who are not in ministry professionally but who want to know more about Christianity’s history will find the book very accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a basic understanding of Christianity as it has come to be throughout the world.

(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from IVP Academic for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Rescuing the Gospel

Rescuing the Gospel is a history of the Protestant Reformation written by Erwin W. Lutzer. Lutzer is the long-term pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. His book is more than a history of the Reformation. It is as the subtitle suggests: it is “The Story and Significance of the Reformation.” The author explains the theological reasons behind the Reformation and why they remain significant today.

Strengths

I appreciate the fact that this book is accessible to most readers. The book would be an excellent supplement to readings on church history in a home school or a Christian school. The price for accessibility is that Lutzer oversimplifies some explanations (for example, his explanation of TULIP).

Lutzer does not whitewash the reformers. This book is not hagiography. He portrays them in all of their temperamental weakness. He also does not ignore the political intrigue and impetus behind their movement as well. Still, he argues convincingly that the main issues were theological and significant regarding the Bible’s teachings on salvation. He concludes that the Reformation was not a mistake, and that significant differences remain between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) today.

Weaknesses

If I have one complaint, it is the imbalance between the length of material regarding each of the reformers. Luther dominates the book. Zwingli’s work fills one chapter with his role in the martyrdom of Anabaptists covered in a second chapter. Calvin, whose influence on present-day Evangelicals is greater than that of Luther, receives much less attention than Luther. I would have also liked to have read more about the Anabaptists, the free church tradition, and the Radical Reformation.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Rescuing the Gospel for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of the Protestant Reformation and to anyone who questions if its importance remains true today.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)