Category Archives: Book Reviews

Praise Father, Son and That Other Guy

HAVE WE FORGOTTEN GOD?
A BOOK REVIEW:
FORGOTTEN GOD by FRANCIS CHAN

Calling the Holy Spirit “Forgotten God” may be a bit of an overstatement. Or perhaps it is an understatement. Some Christians seem to show little evidence that they have any theology of the Spirit while others seem to emphasize the Spirit at the expense of other biblical doctrine. What seems clear is that few Christians have it quite right. In this new book Francis Chan says, “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. While no evangelical would deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.” With the entertainment (or perhaps “edutainment”) model of church so prevalent today, churches have become filled with self-focused consumers instead of Spirit-filled believers. Chan asks this provocative question: “What if you grew up on a desert island with nothing but the Bible to read?” If you had nothing but Scripture to guide you, would your understanding of the Holy Spirit be far different from what it is today? It is probably worth thinking about. Says Chan, “If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit.”

It is easy to fake the presence of the Spirit, isn’t it? “Let’s be honest: If you combine a charismatic speaker, a talented worship band, and some hip, creative events, people will attend your church. Yet this does not mean that the Holy Spirit of God is actively working and moving in the lives of the people who are coming.” It is possible for a church to be fun and vibrant and exciting even while utterly ignoring the Holy Spirit—even while outright grieving the Holy Spirit. Such churches may say much about Jesus but little about the Spirit. Yet how then do we reconcile Jesus’ words that it is better for us if we have the Spirit than if we have the Son? Chan says, “I think most of us would…choose a physical Jesus over an invisible Spirit. But what do we do with the fact that Jesus says it is better for His followers to have the Holy Spirit?” Do we believe Him? If so, do our lives reflect that belief?”

Alternating teaching with stories and testimonies, Chan seeks to reverse this neglect of the Spirit. Essentially he provides a brief and basic theology of the Spirit (even titling one chapter “Theology of the Holy Spirit 101”) and shows how the Spirit can and should operate in the life of the believer. It is an eminently quotable book, offering scores of statements that are worth highlighting and worth pondering in the days and weeks to come. Some reading this review will want to know his position on the continuation of the miraculous spiritual gifts. I would say his is “guarded, hesitant continuationism,” though this comes from reading between the lines more than any bold statements to that effect.

If the book has a weakness I would say it is in Chan’s unwillingness to draw distinctions and to clearly delineate opposing doctrine. It is all very well to indicate that a church may not quite fit within one mold or another, but sooner or later we do need to make distinctions. Either the Spirit speaks through audible voices or he does not; either words of knowledge exist today or they do not. We cannot have it both ways and the distinction can cut right to the heart of a church’s beliefs. I realize that labels can be as unhelpful as they are helpful, but at some point we do need to make distinctions. I will grant that this may not be the role or purpose of Forgotten God but it is still possible that the book can confuse the reader exactly because of this lack of precision.

Nevertheless, for those who have thought little about the person and role of the Holy Spirit, Forgotten God may be just the thing to get them thinking. For those who have not thought about the Spirit for a long time, this may serve as a good wake-up call. It is far from a full-orbed or exhaustive treatment, but neither is that its purpose. Chan sets out to get the reader thinking “that by keeping in step with the Spirit, we might regularly fellowship over what He’s doing rather than what He did months or years ago.” It’s about living a life dependent on and surrendered to the Spirit, about seeking how we can live faithfully here and now. And this he accomplishes well.

Chan’s previous book Crazy Love has sold over a quarter million copies and continues to fly off bookstore shelves. Forgotten God shares a message that is nearly as urgent and undoubtedly even more important. It is a fitting sequel that bears many resemblances to the book it follows. After all, how can we show true love if not through the Holy Spirit? There are many people sharing similar messages today, but few doing so to Chan’s audience which is largely young and in many cases not very well trained in the teachings of Scripture. I have little doubt that God will use this to shake them up in all the right ways.

timchallies Tim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs. He is also editor of Discerning Reader, a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians.

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Scouting the Divine: An Interview with Margaret Feinberg

Recently we had a conversation with Margaret Feinberg, author of the new book, Scouting the Divine. We asked her questions about her pilgrimage across the US, caring for a flock of sheep, and Wal-Mart. And this is what she had to say…

Have we heard incorrectly or did you recently come to Oregon, our neck of the woods (or should we say “God’s country”), to spent time with sheep?

I love me some Oregon. Seriously, I HEART the Pacific Northwest. After spending five years living in Alaska, it’s hard not to fall in love with your region of the country. Almost a decade ago, I met a woman from outside of Portland who took care of sheep. I never forgot our meeting all the rich spiritual insights that emerged from her simply talking about caring for a flock. Last spring, I tracked her down, cold called her, reintroduced myself, and garnered an invitation to spend time in her home and among her sheep. The experience was unforgettable.

Why ‘Scouting the Divine?’ Where did this concept come from?

I’ve become increasingly aware that the agrarian world of the Bible is distant from my modern suburban lifestyle, so I decided to be intentional about closing the gap. I went on my own “stay-grimage.” or “spiritual pilgrimage” in the United States. I spent time with the shepherdess in Oregon, a farmer in Nebraska, a beekeeper in Colorado, and a vinter in Napa Valley. With each person, I opened the scripture and asked, “How do you read this—not as a theologian—but in light of what you do everyday?” Their answers changed the way I read scripture forever.

Can you spend a minute and tell one of the truths that impacted you personally while writing Scouting the Divine?

There were so many spiritual discoveries. One I’ve been gnawing on lately came from my time with the beekeeper. I asked him why he thought the Promised Land was described as a land overflowing with milk and honey. The land could have been described as anything—the land of ginormous pomegranates or luscious olive oil. Instead, God chose to make the land famous for overflowing with milk and honey. When I asked the beekeeper, he noted that a land that overflows with honey means that everything is working in its proper order. The winter snows don’t melt too late. The summer heat isn’t overwhelming. The rain falls at its appointed time. The first freeze doesn’t arrive too early. If any of these factors are out of alignment then the grasses and flowers can’t bloom to their full potential and the bees can’t produce honey in abundance. That means that one of the defining characteristics of the Promised Land is that everything works in it’s proper order. I want to enter that Promised Land in my own life.–where I’m living in the season of life God has placed me in to my full potential.

On a side note, we’ve always been impressed – from following you on Twitter and reading your blog – that, despite the busyness of ministry, you prove to remain passionate about your relationship with Jesus. What are some practical things that you do to keep that passion fresh?

Even in the midst of a busy schedule, I try to take care of myself. This may sound so unspiritual, but I try to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. I carve out mornings when I allow my body to drink in as much sleep as it needs. Why? When I’m well-rested, I’m less like to make foolish decisions that lead me into sin and it’s easier to connect to God and respond to His leadings and nudging. I have a hunch the people of God would be far more effective if we were well-rested. In addition, I love to read what I call Bible nerd books. I read commentaries, studies on ancient Israel and obscure books that really feed my spirit and soul. And Leif and I read a Walter Bruegermann prayer aloud together. It’s one of the sweetest moments of our day.

When does Scouting the Divine release and how can people purchase it?

Scouting the Divine is available October 1 and the accompanying six-week DVD study releases from Lifeway in January 2010. You can check it out on amazon.com, borders.com, or my own site—which is launching all-new in October!–www.margaretfeinberg.com. For all you Facebookers, I’m on as Margaret Feinberg and for all you twitters, you can find me @mafeinberg.

Next time you’re in Oregon herding sheep, you’ll have to stop by and say hi.

Would love to! I’ll be speaking at Living Hope Church in Vancouver, Washington, and George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, in November.

BONUS: When I think of Wal-Mart, I think of … the hidden story of Sam Walton’s heart for caring for the poor that isn’t heard or heralded oenough. I just got back from Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Wal-mart, and discovered countless stories of outrageously generous and good things being done by this shopping behemoth. You’d be surprised at just how much!

007A popular speaker at churches and leading conferences such as Fusion, Catalyst, and LeadNow, Margaret Feinberg (www.margaretfeinberg.com) invites people to discover the relevance of God and His Word in a modern world. Audiences love her ability to connect the practical with the spiritual. Recently named by Charisma magazine as one of the “30 Emerging Voices” who will help lead the church in the next decade, she has written more than a dozen books including the critically-acclaimed The Organic God and the Sacred Echo (Zondervan). People of all ages connect with her relational teaching style. Margaret currently lives in Morrison, Colorado, with her 6′8″ husband, Leif. When she’s not writing or traveling, she enjoys anything outdoors, lots of laughter, and their super-pup, Hershey. But she says some of her best moments are spent communicating with her readers. So go ahead, become her friend on Facebook, or tag her on Twitter at @mafeinberg.

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Twilight vs. Harry Potter

It’s the series that has media blogs and entertainment websites debating, “Is ‘Twilight’ the next Harry Potter?” Hollywood.com called it, “The most epic romance since Titanic.” It’s the “pop culture phenomenon” known as “Twilight.”

The supernatural series written by Stephanie Meyer includes, “Twilight,” “New Moon,” “Eclipse,” and “Breaking Dawn,” with future books in the works. The story is written in the first person view of Bella Swan, a 17-year-old, who after her mother remarried, moved from Phoenix, Ariz. to Forks, Wash. to live with her father. Bella’s new, wet and dreary hometown located on the Olympic Peninsula is not only the place of her childhood home, but it is also the residence of an ancient family…of vampires.

Bella Swan’s first encounter with one of the beautiful bloodsuckers takes place on her very first day at Forks High School. While all the other boys drool over fresh meat, one young man seems completely turned off by Bella: Edward Cullen, who she describes as a model or a god. This intrigues her.

The Cullen family seems normal enough to Bella. That is, if five teenagers (of which two sets of the teens are dating each other) living with a couple in their early 30s is normal. But Bella is able to push past the whispers of gossip in the school hallways and the local tribal legends, and accept the Cullen family for who they really are – a covenant of the undead. Or so she finds out after Edward saves her from a near death experience involving a truck.

As the first book progresses, so does the relationship between Edward and Bella. The two fall intensely and passionately in love. Edward finds he is strong enough to put aside his desire to taste Bella’s blood (a metaphor for abstinence). The rest of the Cullen family have also given up their fleshly desires, and are able to exist peacefully in a human society because they have given up their way of life – praying on innocent humans – and instead have taken up “vegetarianism,” or feasting on the blood of animals. The Cullens also made a peace treaty with the local Quileute (Native American) tribe: as long as the Cullens maintain their vegetarian status and do not “turn” a human into one of them, they can remain in the area.

The majority of the first book, “Twilight,” is made up of the strong emotions of longing and yearning that Bella and Edward feel for each other. While many people out of high school may find the 300 plus pages of teenage romance squished in between a couple action scenes in the first book hard to swallow, this is what draws in the teens and preteens.

According to 12-year-old Morgan McMillan, “Most people think that vampires are evil and they want to kill you, but the Twilight series shows that they have a deep sensitive side to them besides just killing.”

It’s the deep sensitive side of Edward Cullen and his I-would-die-for-you attitude toward Bella that has the girls swooning and putting themselves in Bella’s skin.

“Edward is just so romantic,” said 14-year-old Janie Naylor. “I love how he would put Bella before himself and how he feels like he can’t live with out her – how he is willing to kill himself if she ever died.”

While Meyer relies heavily on the blossoming love relationship between Edward and Bella in order to develop the characters in the first book, she does add in other elements that help appeal to a broader audience.

Kim Ecker, a high school senior, said, “As soon as I read the first book, I was hooked. I love how the author combines romance and adventure.”

After hints of fantasy and action in the first book, Meyer allows the fantasy world to melt with real life. She mixes in other ancient covens, evil vampires and even werewolves. By adding to the story more of the vampire-werewolf mythology, Meyer is able to hook in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy buffs, as well as the hopeless romantics.

By the end of the third book, “Eclipse,” Meyer adds another ingredient to keep her readers interested: Jacob Black’s point of view. Jacob Black is Bella’s best friend. However, Jacob feelings for Bella intensify; creating a love triangle, in which Bella must eventually choose between Edward and Jacob. Black is a complex character. Some “Twilight” fans find it hard to decide which male character they like best.

“Choosing between Edward and Jacob is an impossible task for me. Edward is so romantic and protecting, but Jacob has the ‘fall in love with your best friend’ thing going for him that I really like a lot,” said Ecker.

However, others either love Jacob or hate him.

“I just want to say go team Edward,” McMillan said, while Naylor shows off her “Team Edward” bracelet.

Just type in “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” into “Google” and you’ll come across pages and pages of the big debate. It’s a pop culture controversy much like the great, “Is professor Snape good or evil?” argument of the Harry Potter series.

While the “Twilight” series has generated a fan base nearly just as large as Harry Potter has, the content differs significantly. While both Meyer and J.K Rowling were able to create a story in the fantasy realm, and mold characters that readers could fall in love with, “Twilight” knocks Potter off the bookshelf in one department: its mature content.

Throughout the first three books, Edward wishes to remain abstinent. The theme of waiting until marriage is paired with the metaphor of Edward resisting Bella’s blood. Meyer’s aspiration of promoting abstinence is well intended, but perhaps was not thought out well enough.

Bella and Edward constantly find themselves in steamy-risky situations, in which temptations (and hormones) run high – situations most teens could not resist. Edward is constantly “sleeping over,” or watching Bella sleep (without Bella’s father’s approval). And during these night watches, Bella persistently pushes Edward to give in.

Ecker said, “Although their relationship is perceived to be more mature than a typical high school fling, some of the turns that Edward and Bella’s relationship takes could send some red flags to parents of young readers.”

While Ecker is old enough and mature enough in her Christian faith to point out these “red flags,” some of the younger teens and teens that do not have a Christian upbringing, may perceive these mature situations of the norm.

Fortunately, Meyer does hold Edward to his no sex before marriage standard. Unfortunately, in the forth book, “Breaking Dawn” (caution: minor spoiler), Bella marries Edward right out of high school. This young betrothal may cause some love-struck teenagers to be blinded by visions of sparkly vampires. Also Meyer does give a PG-13 rated look at the newlywed’s Honeymoon night.

“I would recommend the series to anyone over the age of 15 due to the mature content,” said Ecker. “Younger teenagers should not read this book. The relationship that Edward and Bella have could convince young readers that all relationships are that perfect, causing hurt for them in the future. Also, the mature content dealing with sex is something to look out for with younger readers.”

If, parents, you do decide to let your preteens and younger high-schoolers read this series, it is important that you discuss with your children what a true-godly relationship looks like. Also, talk with them about their desires for a career or to continue their education after high school. Getting them to think about the future may hold back any impulses they just might have to elope after graduating.

So is “Twilight” the next Harry Potter? Perhaps, if you’re counting fans and loveable characters. But, Meyer has created a series in the fantasy realm of its own. Comparing the two would be like comparing vampires to wizards.

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Shawnee Randolph is a freelance journalist who lives with her husband near Salem, Ore. She graduated in May 2008 from Corban College with a Bachelor of Science in English-Journalism. She currently works as the Office Administrator at her church. Shawnee has been working along side her husband in youth ministry for four and a half years.

This article was printing in the March/April issue of Rethink Monthly magazine (issue #6).

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The Fine Line

I have a problem. His name is Kary Oberbrunner. He has actually become a friend of mine. Well, he was a friend … up until he gave me a copy of his latest book, The Fine Line.

It wasn’t the title that bothered me. It wasn’t even the appearance of the book – its yellow-ness is quite appealing. And, since I’m always looking for ways to “rethink” topics and positions within my relationship with Jesus and within the church as a whole, it wasn’t the book’s bi-line (“Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture”) that caused such a stir within me.

The emotions began to flare up when I got to Chapter 7. It enraged me and, at the same time, caused me much discomfort. Read this excerpt and tell me how it makes you feel:

Every guy knows the rule.

You can talk about someone’s lack of athleticism, humor, or even intellect, but you never disrespect his girlfriend. A couple of years ago, I gave in. I broke the rule and badmouthed someone else’s girl. I was sitting in a coffee shop with a few of my buddies, and we started talking about a guy we all knew. We liked him, a lot. He was our friend. But his girl annoyed the heck out of us, and the negativity started to fly.

Ripping on this girl felt good because it helped to separate us from her. After all, nobody wants to be associated with a loser. And we were clearly associated with her. She had been part of our lives since we were kids. Most of us had even fallen in love with her at one point or another. Maybe that’s why we started throwing around the comments—we were insecure or hurt. I walked away from the coffee shop that night feeling pretty low. Although the conversation had been entertaining, I still felt convicted.

But the next week my buddies and I started to talk about our friend’s girl again. Only this time it was more intense. Mild dislike soon devolved into hatred. We started telling stories about how this girl offended us. She didn’t dress well or talk right. The music she liked was old and stuffy. But our main gripe was her looks. Put simply, she was as ugly as a dog. It was an ugliness that could be seen on the outside and the inside. Her entire look was outdated and irrelevant. She just didn’t fit in, and none of us wanted to be around her. We were ashamed to admit that we even knew her, much less that we used to hang out with her.

This went on for several months. And then it got worse. More people knew this girl than I first thought. At parties on the weekends it almost became an opening line—talking about this girl. I met more people than I can remember just by communicating my dislike for her. I had the lines memorized and my timing perfect. People howled as I told story after story about how ridiculous this girl was.

Then I ran into her guy.

I didn’t expect to see him. I just kind of bumped into him one day. As soon as I saw him, I realized how much I missed him. I didn’t even remember the last time I’d seen him. But my delight quickly changed to deep embarrassment. I could hardly even look at him.

He stood and looked me in the eye. “Why, Kary?” he asked quietly. “How could you talk about her like that?”

I could sense how much he loved her, and he could sense how much I hated her. His question bored a hole right through me. Why did I hate her so much? What had she ever done to me? Suddenly all my well-rehearsed insults and petty gripes seemed pretty trivial.

I dropped to my knees—I couldn’t help it. “Jesus,” I said to this guy, “I’m sorry I spoke about your bride, the church like that.”

Are you?

Like I was saying, it enraged me. But it wasn’t the words that Kary wrote that bothered me, it was the conviction I felt from within. I, too, have talked about another man’s girl. And let’s just be honest – that’s not right.

Kary is still my friend. And he does an amazing job with this book. There are few resources that explore this “Fine Line,” so take a minute and pick up a copy of it today (click the image below).

You will be challenged. I guarantee it.

Leave your thoughts below.

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Excerpt from “The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap between Christ and Culture” by Kary Oberbrunner. Published by Zondervan. ISBN 0310285453. To purchase the book from Amazon, click here.

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