Posts Tagged 'Books'

Flash Review: ‘Churched’ by Matthew Paul Turner

I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned my friend Matthew Paul Turner‘s memoir Churched on the blog before. You should go out and get a copy. This flash review is going to live up to its name; I’m simply going to reproduce for you the blurb I wrote for its back cover, as well as that of Sara Miles:

Churched is funny, poignant, and surprisingly moving. In this deft story of his fundamentalist upbringing Matthew Paul Turner proclaims the good news: that even church can’t drown out the message of Jesus.”
Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread

“Who knew that a journey through faith and fundamentalism could be so painfully funny? I laughed out loud many a time while reading Churched. Matthew Paul Turner manages to channel both boyhood innocence and wry retrospective through this fast-moving account of growing up with Jesus in late 20th-century America, and beyond. Highly recommended!”
Mike Morrell, TheOoze.com

You can follow Matthew on his wildly popular Twitter here.

Does God Have An ‘Eternal Purpose’? A Review of From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola

https://i1.wp.com/frometernitytohere.org/pic2.jpgIt was 2003; I was 23. Finally after all these years, I had scraped up the cash (& credit cards) to undergo that great American rite of passage – the summer trip to Europe. Thanks to the generosity of Andrew Jones & family, a couple of house churches, and many other hospitable friends (including Bea & Andy Marshall) I made my way from London to Bournemouth to the Netherlands to Birmingham and Sheffield. While on one leg of my British journey, I was part of a learning party Andrew & friends put on called Wabi-Sabi. It was there I was having a conversation with a fellow American, a new friend 20 years my senior, who had published a book the year before. He was a pastor and church planter, and ‘coach’ to other pastors and church planters. He was asking me what I was up to, & I told him about a book I was working on. (It’s a book I’m still working on! Could this be the month I finish it..?)

“What’s it about?” He asked.

I proceeded to tell him, noting that in part it attempts to unfold “The eternal purpose of God.”

“Well!” He exclaimed jovially but incredulously. “When you figure that one out, be sure to let the rest of us know!”

Ah, these were the early, heady days of postmodern incredulity to metanarratives – even postmodern Christian suspicion of Christian metanarratives. And why not, after all? We (at least, we evangelical Christians) were weaned on a ‘big story’ of “If you were to die tonight, do you have assurance in your heart that you’d go to heaven?” Or, “Have you heard the four spiritual laws?” Those of us following Jesus with awareness of our post-everything cultural shift were keenly aware of the shortcomings of our blithely-uttered “theories of everything,” and were looking for a humbler approach – even if it ultimately meant affirming a much humbler, more localized, cosmology.

But I had a problem – one I still have, at least in part, today. But it’s one I think From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola speaks into. My problem, sitting in Europe circa 2003 – and in the Southeast US of A circa 2009 – is that, since 1998 or so, I was arrested by a grand story – a tale of a God in love, a God who is love, a God who is Community, creating matter and physicality and embodiment as an expression of that love to pour Godself into. If this Story doesn’t do away with the Fall-Rescue-Restoration narrative so common to Christendom, it certainly reframes it, going back further and then permeating the present, to the point (for me at least) that some eschatological tensions are less pronounced. And further still, proponents of this Story have the audacity to believe it’s hiding in plain sight right in our bibles: https://i0.wp.com/jotpuree.com/images/theophanes_in_russia_larger/theophanes_in_russia_larger-Images/16.jpg

Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paul’s letter known as Ephesians, 3:8-11, TNIV – emphasis mine, as ancient Hebrews & Greeks did not have italic fonts yet.)

So this story’s sexy – it has grace, and the overseeing of an age-old ‘mystery,’ in the same sense as ‘mystical’ or Babylonian mystery religion (only better). A message, a power, hidden by God in Christ that would be as revelatory to heavenly principalities and powers as it would be for mere mortals, a divine purpose that’s not only age-old but eternal.

WTF??

By which I mean Where to, Frank?? It is this impenetrable enigma that Viola turns his pen to unfolding for us – and it’s a good thing, too: If folks in the first century CE barely grasped what the apostle Paul (and, Frank contends, Jesus – and others) were talking about, we certainly don’t talk much about this stuff 20+ centuries later.

Except, interestingly, there is a stream of the Christian family who has dared speak about such things: Plymouth Brethren, Christian Missionary Alliance, Keswick Higher Life movement folks, and their descendents. I can’t do justice to their whole story here – that’d be a post in itself, or a series – so I’ll just do a genealogy. Ruth Paxson begat Mary McDonough begat Watchman Nee and T. Austin-Sparks (I’m talkin’ spiritually, now) begat Stephen Kaung and Devern Fromke. Hudson Taylor and AW Tozer run around in this family tree too, somewhere. All of these folks had teaching ministries, or churches, or publishing outreaches, the emphasized the the exchange that happens when those who trust in Christ spiritually ‘die’ with Christ and have his resurrected life take the place of your own – and how this all fits into a larger, more cosmic plan of God’s original purpose – or as Fromke calls it, ‘The Ultimate Intention.’

Frank brings these teachers’ core messages into the 21st century, connecting them in dialogue with other branches of the Christian family, including neo-orthodox folks like Karl Barth & Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who explore radically Christ-centered spirituality as the ground of all being and escape from religion and conventional categories of knowledge), and more recently still post-evangelical luminaries like Stan Grenz and Miroslav Volf who explore the social habits of the Trinity and how these might be reflected in the Church.

So where to, Frank? Frank wants us to begin in the Godhead:

In “the agelessness of eternity,” God had an incredible dream: He wished to expand the “infinite communion” that He had with His beloved Son. He wanted other beings to participate in the interior mystery of the Trinity, to share in the sacred exchange of fellowship, love, and life that flows…between the Father and His Son. He wanted others to participate in “the amiable society” of the Godhead.

But he doesn’t end there. In order to “participate” in the Godhead, the Church in Frank’s depiction lives out four values (see chapter 27):

Communion with God:

As the bride of Christ, the church is called to commune with, love, enthrone, and intimately know the heavenly Bridegroom who indwells her.
Churches that excel in the bridal dimension give time and attention to spiritual fellowship with the Lord. Worship is a priority. Seeking the Lord, loving Him, communing with Him, and encountering Him are central.

Corporate display of the church in an atmosphere of ever-member freedom:

The church is called to gather together regularly to display God’s life through the ministry of every Christian. How? …In open-participatory meetings where every member of the believing priesthood functions, ministers, and expresses the living God in an open-participatory atmosphere (see 1 Cor. 14:26; 1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 10:24–25, etc).

God dwells in every Christian and can inspire any of us to share something that comes from Him with the church. In the first century, every Christian had both the right and the privilege of speaking to the community. This is the practical expression of the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood all believers.
The open-participatory church meeting was the common gathering of the early church. It’s purpose? To edify the entire church and to display, express, and reveal the Lord through the members of the body to principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 3:8–11).

Community life where practical reconciliation takes place:

The church’s allegiance was exclusively given to the new Caesar, the Lord Jesus, and she lived by His rule. As a result, the response by her pagan neighbors was, “Behold, how they love one another!”

God’s ultimate purpose is to reconcile the universe under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:20; Eph. 1:10). As the community of the King, the church stands in the earth as the masterpiece of that reconciliation and the pilot project of the reconciled universe. In the church, therefore, the Jewish-Gentile barrier has been demolished as well as all barriers of race, culture, sex, etc. (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:16). The church lives and acts as the new humanity on earth that reflects the community of the Godhead.

Thus when those in the world see a group of Christians from different cultures and races loving one another, caring for one another, meeting one another’s needs, living against the current trends of this world that give allegiance to other gods instead of to the world’s true Lord, Jesus Christ, it is watching the life of the future kingdom lived out on earth in the present. As Stanley Grenz once put it, “The church is the pioneer community. It points toward the future God has in store for His creation.”

It is this “kingdom community” that turned the Roman Empire on its ear. Here was a people who possessed joy, who loved one another deeply, who made decisions by consensus, who handled their own problems, who married each other, who met one another’s financial needs, and who buried one another.

Commission where we love the world as God does:

As we have already seen, when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He chose to express Himself through a body to continue His ministry on earth. As the body of Christ, the church not only cares for its own, but it also cares for the world that surrounds it. Just as Jesus did while He was on earth.

The pages of history are filled with stories of how the early Christians took care of the poor, stood for those who suffered injustice, and met the needs of those who were dying by famine or plague. In other words, the early Christian communities cared for their non-Christian neighbors who were suffering.
Not a few times a plague would sweep through a city, and all the pagans left town immediately, leaving their loved ones to die. That included the physicians. But it was the Christians who stayed behind and tended to their needs, sometimes even dying in the process…the early church understood that she was carrying on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. She well understood that He was the same today, yesterday, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

So there you have it. I’m still not sure if we contingent humans can dare speak in plain prose about something as ineffable as an “eternal purpose of God.” And yet, if I saw my American church planter friend again today, I’d echo Pete Rollins (or is that Caputo? Or is that Derrida?) in saying that while language definitely fails at such a sublime provocation, we cannot help but speak about eternity and ultimate meaning. Some of the best conversations, orations, letters and books have been penned exploring this very idea, and From Eternity to Here is no exception. What I appreciate about it is its desire to marry the contemplative with the active, the mystical (if you will) with the missional. As I said in my inside-cover endorsement of the book,

Frank Viola is the heir apparent to classic Deeper Christian Life teachers, faithfully bringing their core ideas into the 21st century with his own fresh insight. Visio Dei meets Missio Dei in this passionate examination of what motivates the very heart of God!

Check it out. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And for a list of reviews and endorsements, check out the booksite.

Re-Visioning Jesus’ Atonement: Recommended Atonement Reads

https://i0.wp.com/www.bradjersak.com/images/stricken-cover-new-5-web.jpgMy reflections on the meaning of Jesus’ atonement are far from finished. I think such multifaceted and rich dimensions of the life of faith rarely are. This year, as I’m able, I’m going to be reading through the following volumes in my library, books that have been recommended to me as valuable resources on reconciling messages of Jesus with messages about Jesus. Most of these I’ve read at least partially before, but I’m gonna buckle down! Here they are:

Stricken By God? An incredible anthology edited by Brad Jersak, featuring Rowan Williams, Miroslav Volf, Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg, NT Wright, and a ton of others, it has been a most enjoyable read this past year.

Recovering the Scandal of the Cross by Joel Green & Mark Baker

Consuming Passion: Why the Killing of Jesus Really Matters An anthology – Hard to find in the U.S.

The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver

A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight

Saving Paradise by Rita Brock

This Book Will Change Your World by Kevin Beck

I’ve had this one recommended to me, but haven’t recieved one yet – Saved from Sacrifice by S. Mark Heim

In addition to books, here are a few free online resources I’m working through:

The Day God Turned His Cheek by Graham Old

The Cross: Cure Not Punishment by Wayne Jacobsen (audio)

Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor by Derek Flood

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence by Walter Wink

Rethinking the Death of Jesus: Cross Purposes by David Heim

Clarion Journal of Spirituality & Justice articles on atonement

The Anthropology of René Girard and Traditional Doctrines of Atonement

…so what resources would you recommend?

https://i2.wp.com/www.eerdmans.com/shop_products/9780802832153_l.jpg

Listen to My Beautiful Idol – Free!

https://i0.wp.com/www.zondervan.com/media/images/product/large/0310283108.jpgMy friend Pete Gall is making his infectiously-funny, hard-hitting memoir My Beautiful Idol available for free as an audio book on NoiseTrade if you share it with 5 friends. If you like Dave Eggers, Tom Wolfe, Anne Lamott, Sara Miles, or (yes) Don Miller, you should download this puppy and give it a listen. Word on the street is Pete’s got another book coming out soon; I can’t wait.

Oh, and incidentally, I think Pete’s decision to give this book away for a season in audio format is a smart one from a publishing standpoint; this week, God-willing, I’ll be blogging a bit about the recession, publishing industry, and creative marketing innovation.

But anyway, you can download the free audiobook here.

Englewood Review of Books Christmas Book Giveaway!

My friend Chris Smith of the Englewood Review of Books wants you and your friends to subscribe to their excellent free e-newsletter. Each week, the write some of the most substantial essays about the best books coming out in politics, art, ecology, history, and faith – all free. (Well, they certainly wouldn’t mind if you also stopped by their quality indie press site, Doulos Christou – I had one of my very first editing gigs with Doulos back in the day – editing Chris’s own compilation, Water, Faith & Wood: Stories of the Early Church’s Witness for Today) And for the next two weeks, they’re holding a drawing: Subscribe yourself and three friends to the Englewood Review Newsletter, and enter to win a drawing of eight of their review books from this past year! Full details here.

House Church: Ready for Prime Time? Pt. 2

Happy post-election day!

So a couple of weeks ago I posted concerning house churching, an ancient-future ecclesiological habit that just a decade ago seemed relegated to a listserv backwater*, but is now one of the forefronts of consciousness around the world today. In its North American flavor, the people who have done the most to make this a reality are Tony & Felicity Dale, Neil Cole, and Frank Viola. The latter has been especially visible in publishing and online milieus, and is likely most familiar to emerging church folk.

(*nothing against HCDL, the oldest and one of the best house church discussion lists. I am a member!)

Pagan Maelstrom

In July and again in September, Viola had some fascinating exchanges with noted New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III. First Ben reviewed Pagan Christianity (which I blog about in Coming out of the Pagan Christianity Closet):

Pagan Christianity Pt. 1
Pagan Christianity Pt. 2

Pagan Christianity Pt. 3

Pagan Christianity Pt. 4
Pagan Christianity Postlude

I can’t possibly summarize these posts – they’re so flippin’ long! – so you’ll have to read ’em if you want. But I will give you a coupla quotes. I think BW3 has a point when he said (in post 2):

While I understand the complaint about things done by rote, it all depends on the spirit in which such things are done. If they are simply done mindlessly, repeating words without thinking about what one is saying or without focusing on God—well that’s not a good thing. But frankly I’ve seen far too many people who find joy in the recitation of the liturgy, and meaning, and are drawn closer to God by doing so. And there is nothing unBiblical about ritual. Try reading the psalms for example, which as Ephes. 5 makes clear Christians recited and sang. Here’s an important point When one rules out pre-set liturgies and orders of worship, that in itself becomes a ritual by default if one does it over and over again that way.

Here here! I agree. With community intent and understanding, fellowships can worship in whatever way they choose. And as the alt.worship movement in the UK shows us (not to mention St. Gregory’s in San Francisco) it’s possibly to have open-source, participatory liturgy. ‘Liturgy’ after all is ‘the work of the people.’ My house church has personally benefited, at times, from utilizing Phyllis Tickle’s magisterial compilation The Divine Hours.

[ben_frank.jpg] Nonetheless! Dr. Ben loses me utterly when he says “And here we come to an important point- Christ is not the leader of the worship service.” Sorry, I guess I’m just too Quaker or Pentecostal or what have you, but a sense in which the Spirit is directly leading and guiding our activities together is just too precious to relinquish simply because we can (of course) trace some human agency in the process of God’s speaking in our midst.

Overall, Ben Witherington III’s review of Pagan is insightful in that it shows Christians of good will and historical awareness can disagree – it’s not as though there will ever be a cut-and-dried air-tight case for ‘organic’ church meetings based in homes. But I’ve gotta tell ya: Independent scholar Dr. Jon Zens does a devastatingly good (and irenic) job sparring with Dr. Ben’s posts right here. It’s well worth the read.

Reimagining the Dialogue

So they say controversy sells – it certainly does. While BW3’s posts are only the tip of the blogstorm in terms of online response to Pagan, I’ve noticed that Frank’s followup Reimagining Church has received comparatively little online traction. This is really a shame, as Reimagining is the crucial reconstructing to Pagan’s deconstructing, and as such is my favorite of the two. As I said in my inside-cover endorsement of the book:

Reimagining Church is a readable (and livable!) description of organic, New Testament–rooted church life for the twenty-first century. Avoiding the weeds of both wooden fundamentalism and unreflective overcontextualization, Frank Viola paints a winsome and attractive portrait of a gospel people, inhabited by the Holy Spirit with God in Christ as their energetic center. Frank helps us learn from the peculiar genius of Jesus and his earliest followers, planting seeds for authentic, deeply rooted life together.

Further, I’ve reviewed the book here for TheOOZE. But enough of what I think. While Reimagining hasn’t found as much of a blog traction as I would have liked, BW3 has been a faithful engager. Here’s his (even longer!) series on this one:

Reimagining Church Part One
Reimagining Church Part Two
Reimagining Church Part Three
Reimagining Church Part Four

On these Ben invited Frank to reply directly. So he did:

A Frank Response Part One
A Frank Response Part Two

Ben’s Epilogue

Frank’s Coda

(And Frank also edited his responses together in one handy-dandy PDF document, right here.)

Whew! Their exchange is friendly, and in Frank’s case fairly witty. Ben lets his guard down a little (especially in his Part Three), but in some ways makes Frank’s case for him. When BW3 talks about subordination in the Godhead, or how we might be ‘ontologically’ united with Christ but kinda not really, he comes across as…well, a cautious scholar to Frank’s animated prophet. Which I suppose is all well and good in the grand scheme of things, but makes me feel more clearly that Frank ‘wins’ this round if winning means venturing out and exploring fresh terrain.

There are some other posts in this latter mix that are worth reading:

Bill Heroman Part I II & III (I spent a good 4-5 years with Bill in a house church community)

Neil Carter: (Whom I also spent 4-5 slightly-different-but-overlapping years with in the same community.)

Reimagining Church
Reimagining the Trinity
Out on a Limb

With blogs, books, and – oh yes – more and more house churches being planted – it would seem that ‘house church’ has indeed reached prime time. My friends and my family continue to talk, with helpful interjections by scholar-teachers. We will all be the better for the exchange.

Coming in Some Subsequent Post (I cannot guarantee you when): The Future of ‘House Church’ – Where It’s Going (at least for me). In the meantime, enjoy the first chapter of Reimagining Church.

Narcissism & the True Self: Deliver Us From Me-Ville

Ah, self. Such a wonderful, complicated idea. Does the ‘self’ even exist? Descartes says yes; many postmodern deconstructors say ‘no.’ Even amongst spiritual people, who in the main affirm the idea of ‘self,’ there is much dissonance as to its overall value – is it something to be ‘denied,’ or celebrated, or transcended to reach what Thomas Merton and others call the ‘true self.’
IVP’s Likewise editor Dave Zimmerman pulled a crossover special and published a book with David C. Cook (One way to separate public vocational and personal life, I suppose) addressing this enigma head-on, in what should take the prize as 2008’s funnest title – Deliver Us from Me-Ville.
In it Zimmerman (a heck of a nice guy, by the way) takes a sympathetic look at western culture’s paradoxical obsession with and loathing of Self. As he recently said on his personal blog,
In writing Deliver Us from Me-Ville I took great encouragement from Dietrich Bonhoeffer´s description of Christ as pro-me. It´s a nice foundation on which to build a critique of self-absorption: Jesus is for us enough to become us and join with us, then separate our sin from us and die for us, then resurrect to us and go on ahead of us to prepare a place for us.
Honoring God’s view of human selves as created in the imago dei but in need of maturation puts us at odds with prevailing culture’s praise of the individual, ambivalent virtues like pride and self-esteem.

How are we best supposed to function? Can we peer throough the mystery into God’s heart? Zimmerman takes readers on a guided tour through Scripture to show how God has changed people who thought it was all about them. Throughout the book he shares practical steps to help us take the focus off of our ‘false self’ and onto others, as a lens pointing to God as subtext and context of a grounded self-with-others.

Here’s a great video intro of the book, by Zimmerman. In it he tells the story of how he married his niece – oh my!

Read ‘The New Conspirators’!

The New Conspirators cover

Boy oh boy. I recently got The New Conspirators from IVP’s new Likewise imprint–this is like their New Friars, but even more comprehensive. It’s a who’s-who of todays New Monastic, 24/7 prayer, and other communal movements.

Some reviews/excerpts:

Emergent Village

Open Source Theology is doing a multi-part interview/review.
Part Zero
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

I’m looking forward to reading this, hopefully with other dreamers, practitioners, and rabble-rousers. Three cheers for Tom and Christine Sine, and their continuing work!

Related: Who’s going to the PAPA Festival this summer?

Coming Out of the “Pagan Christianity” Closet

pagan1.jpg

Update: Brother Maynard at Subversive Influence has completed a good three-part interview with Frank; check it out here, here and here.

Also: P.C. has been breaking into Amazon best-seller territory.

So: My buddy Frank Viola‘s book Pagan Christianity? has been causing quite the stir. Many responses have been positive, but some clearly have taken issue with matters both of tone or content. I’ve sort of just realized that I’ve largely been sitting on the sidelines of the debate raging through the blogosphere, even though many of the participants are my friends and I care deeply about what’s being discussed. Why?

Because I suck at time management. It’s tough being a new daddy, husband, have 2.5 businesses, and take graduate-level courses. I’m seeing a life coach friend. I’m getting better–slowly but surely. So here’s my belated entry into the fray.

I feel deeply ambivalent about the talk going ’round, like the kid with a lot of friends whose friends are really really different from each other. One day the kid has a birthday party, and the friends are all under the same roof for the first time…and they ain’t getting along so well. My journey of knowing Jesus led me into house church waters in 1998, and into the pre-emergent discussion in 2001 (back when it was just PoMo Christianity, baby! Who remembers Stranger Things?). I have since felt like the bastard child of both, a hopeful amphibian breathing the air and water of two similar yet distinct movements/phenomena. Of course emerging saints are waaaay more media saavy (new media, old media, all of it) and so have made far more headway into the popular religious imagination and discourse. But now that me pal Frank has graduated from guerilla publishing to real, live publishers, our subterranean wares are being offered in the marketplace of ideas for the first time and eeesh! We’re like that odd gypsy family offering homemade trinkets to snobby European connoisseurs. What to do?

Continue reading ‘Coming Out of the “Pagan Christianity” Closet’


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