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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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Review: Fiction Family

In a scene dominated by the gentle, hypersensitive sounds of Sufjan Stevens, The Welcome Wagon and Fleet Foxes, Jon Foreman and Sean Watkins finally inject some manliness back into the acoustic guitar.

Fiction Family, the culmination of two of our generation’s most prolific and respected songwriters, debuts as a masterful collection of tales about murder, adventure, lost love, and war that highlight each contributor’s strengths and personalities while managing to defy perceived expectations.

There’s a beautiful carelessness to this project—a work birthed out of rest, friendship, and unabashed innovation. With no immediate deadlines, rules, or formats to follow, Foreman and Watkins embark on a musical journey of the purist, most unadulterated kind. The album keeps one foot in the folk door (a familiar home for both artists) while audaciously messing with everything from techno beats to ’60s pop choirs to fisher price instruments. While the acoustic guitar remains fixed in the foreground, a symphonic cast of unlikely characters join the conversation. Chamber stings, tympanis, accordions and electric fuzz tones somehow manage to play nicely together. A few of the most arresting tracks replace traditional bass lines with resonate piano timbres, dark pounding drones that duel eloquently against intricate finger-picking patterns.

There’s an idea that the farther one departs from the traditional pop format, the less tangible their work becomes to the average listener. Not so with Fiction Family. Wildly inventive and spontaneous (track two entitled “Out of Order” sounds exactly how it reads) the work stands in victorious defiance against a crumbling conventional music industry. Hooks and phrases linger long after their first introduction, and are sure to induce an involuntary foot-tapping episode or two.

It’s the stories, however, that give the project a sense of timelessness. In the spirit of his Season EPs, Foreman channels cultural staples like Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, even various Motown voices, conveying raw acoustic narratives like “Betrayal” and “War in My Blood” that read straight out of a great American novel. Watkins attaches his expertise for the hauntingly sorrowful love song that, in his case, always seems to relay more familiar truth than angsty longing. “Elements Combined” sketches the complexities of a woman, an intoxicating mixture of “earth, air, fire, and wine.”

But it’s not all love and war for the Family. Both Watkins and Foreman wrestle with the spiritual complexities of human nature. On “Closer Than You Think” the two critique the widely held notion of heaven as a distant and out of reach destination and suggest it may be “right under your feet.” In traditional Foreman lyrical style, “Prove Me Wrong” is laden with tender screams for affirmation and acceptance as it contemplates every man’s darkest struggles and fears through a solitary voice.

Those who have eased into a level of comfortable enjoyment of Jon Foreman’s solo projects and Watkins’ bluegrass repertoire may be caught off guard by the duo’s progressive departure from the predictable. Those looking for Switchfoot meets Nickel Creek will be disappointed. This is truly a profound exploration deep into the creative wells of two tremendously inventive and forward-thinking songwriters. Fiction Family is genius. It’s progressive without being high-brow, laid-back but fearless.

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CJ is an artist, writer, and cultural commentator with a passion for raising a new generation of innovative artists and forward thinkers.

To download a free mp3 of Fiction Family’s “When She’s Near Me” please click here.

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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