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I saw this posted on Twitter today: Dear Church. A Letter From the Searching.

It’s not from an actual searcher. But please read it. It’s a good reminder that this is likely where many visitors are coming from. They’re looking for SOMETHING; not necessarily thinking “Gee, I really need to get SAVED.”

Meet them where they are.

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Colors of God: Conversations about Being the Church was co-written by three authors/pastors: Quentin Steen, Dave Phillips, and Randall Peters. The three are or have been leaders of an emerging church called neXus in Abbotsford, B.C., Canada.

The book draws on their experiences working with an emerging congregation, but the three also come from an Evangelical background, which is reflected in their theology. In fact, the evangelical aspects were a little off-putting for me at first. I come from a Roman Catholic and United Methodist background, so I have a hard time with statements about “the finished work of Jesus Christ”, like “the gospel says that Christ has fully met all the expectations and requirements of God on my behalf.”

I think behind the language we probably do agree more than disagree, though. I do agree that we should not be worrying so much about whether we are pleasing God with our holiness. God is already pleased with us and loves us, and nothing can come between us and the love of God! And I do think we need to acknowledge our brokenness and our need for God’s grace. I just don’t necessarily believe in the theology of atonement that goes along with that.

Anyway. The book is divided into four sections. Blue represents Gospel Faith, Green is Healthy Living, Red is Inclusive Community, and Yellow is Cultural Engagement. These are the tenets that neXus is based on. In each section, the three authors carry out a three-party conversation, which is apparently to the sermons/teaching they do at neXus. This is followed by a chapter of question and answer with questions frequently asked by other people, and a chapter of additional notes on the topic, again in a conversational style.

I really enjoyed the conversational style and humor of the authors. In one of my favorite exchanges, Randall references Karl Barth on whether everyone goes to heaven (Barth says no, because some will choose not to), and Dave and Quentin respond.

Dave: By the way, let me say, I believe you just quoted a German theologian. I kind of think that makes you a dangerous liberal, but I’ll leave it at that.

Randall: He’s actually Swiss, by the way, not German.

Quentin: Nicely played.

The authors also refer constantly to scripture, and specifically to Jesus’ parables. They do look at Scripture a little differently. I thought their take on the Good Samaritan was a little odd (the injured man represents Jesus?), but I thought their look at Matthew 18 was interesting. Matthew 18 begins with the disciples asking “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It then moves quickly from “unless you become like little children” to “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away,” and on to the parable about leaving the 99 sheep to look for the one lost one. This is followed by the instructions for what to do if your “brother” sins against you:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (NIV)

And then we get Peter asking how many times we must forgive someone (seventy times seven, says Jesus) and the parable of the unmerciful servant.

The interesting part to me is the authors’ interpretation of treating someone like a pagan or a tax collector. They point out that many churches use this passage as instructions for (or justification for) kicking someone out of the church. However, how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? Levi/Matthew WAS a tax collector who became Jesus’ disciple. And Jesus was well-known for treating outcasts with love.

I think this book is great for anyone with a fairly orthodox theology who’s interested in the emerging church, or the future of the church in the 21st century and beyond. I found it easy to read, but also thought-provoking and spirit-stirring. I definitely recommend it.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review as part of The Ooze Viral Bloggers program.

Gospel. Good News. What was the actual good news that Jesus and his disciples preached? Was it really about who gets into heaven, or is there more to it?

Many Christians have considered these questions in recent years. This material will be familiar to anyone who reads Brian McLaren, Frank Viola, or Leonard Sweet. David Rudin comes at these issues from an analytical and biblically literal point of view, but still comes to similar conclusions — that Jesus was telling us how to live NOW, not that we needed to believe in him in order to be saved from our sins and get into heaven.

It’s an excellent analysis that will make the reader think, even if he/she doesn’t agree with the conclusions.

The Gospel You’ve Never Heard is available in paperback through Amazon, but you can also get a free PDF copy through the book’s website.

Disclosures: I received a free copy of the book through The Ooze Viral Bloggers in exchange for this review. I do receive a small commission for any purchases made through Amazon.com links above. Thanks!

This review is part of the Picking Dandelions blog tour. Welcome, tour guests! To find out where the tour stops next, visit sarahcunningham.org.

Picking DandelionsSarah Cunningham almost made me believe I was right there with her, on her “search for Eden among life’s weeds.” Cunningham has a gift for detail and for storytelling, which makes this book a joy to read.

Picking Dandelions is a memoir of conversion, not just as a one-time event, but as a growth process throughout life. Much of Cunningham’s story was familiar to me. I grew up Catholic, and she grew up a Baptist, but as people who grew up inside the Christian faith, we did have similar experiences, like attending Backyard Bible Clubs where some of the kids would raise their hands every day when asked if they wanted to ask Jesus into their hearts!

Cunningham describes her near-idyllic childhood, briefly covers her high school and college years, and moves on to her twenties, when she became outreach director of a megachurch and led a ministry team to New York immediately after 9-11. And then she writes about change.

It took me at least twenty-eight years to realize that faith should involved ongoing change. And another year to get around to changing.

Cunningham comes across as a real and likable person, with human flaws (which she discusses at length, because one of her flaws is over-thinking things. ;-)).

I’d recommend this book for anyone who enjoys spiritual memoirs, but also anyone who’s interested in a relational, missional Christianity.

Sarah Raymond Cunningham is a high school teacher, part-time college prof, and chief servant to the nine month emperor Justus. She is a popular church and conference speaker, the author of Dear Church, and a contributor to several books, including unChristian. Sarah, her husband, Chuck, and their son live with their manic Jack Russell terrier in Jackson, Michigan. They attend a church plant called Rivertree. Find out more at www.sarahcunningham.org.

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Disclosures: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for this review. Thank you, Sarah! And I do receive a small commission if you purchase through any of the Amazon links above. Thanks for supporting this site.

Despite the subtitle (What the Church Can Learn from Facebook, the Internet, and Other Networks), this is thankfully NOT a book on how to use social media to promote your church. Instead, it’s about relationships, and how the church can use its networks more effectively. Again, NOT social media networks — just the relationships between people and groups in the church and in the world.

So as far as language goes, it’s a very geeky book — lots of networking vocabulary and metaphors. That will be pleasing for people with technical knowledge, but it’s not too much for non-technical types, either.

Instead of trying to explain the book, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes:

Once, while teaching a class, Friesen “invited the learners to collaborate in the creation of a network map of our collective journeys to the school.”

“By the time the whole class had finished, we discovered a clear hubbing pattern, and it was not what I’d expected to find … One of the most connective hubbing nodes was http://www.mhgs.edu (the school’s website), and the other was Brian McLaren.”

On connective leadership:

“The goal of connective leadership is not to gain more links to increase the scale of your own influence, but to help those connected to you make meaningful connections that will help them find fullness of life.”

I can’t categorize this, but I like it (emphasis mine):

“We exist to connect people with God, one another, and with creation in continuity with the capacious narrative of Scripture … Sometimes this may even mean helping people who are a vital part of your church connect to a different faith community or ministry even at great cost to your own ministry … The church doesn’t exist simply to propagate the church, rather the local church exists as a local expression of the reality of God’s networked kingdom.

And there’s more. I bookmarked several other sections which are too long to include here, like the story of how an aging, traditional congregation welcomed and eventually transferred their entire facility to a young church plant, for the sake of God’s networked kingdom.

I recommend this book especially for Christian techies, but anyone who is interested in relational aspects of the church, and in getting beyond traditional church structures and routines, will enjoy it.

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Disclosures: I received a free copy of the book through The Ooze Viral Bloggers in exchange for this review. I do receive a small commission for any purchases made through Amazon.com links above. Thanks!

A few months ago, I enthusiastically reviewed and highly recommended Sara Miles’ book Take This Bread.  So when I read “An Interview With Sara Miles” by Jarrod McKenna on Jesus Manifesto, I was pleased to see that she does have another book out now — Jesus Freak: Feeding Healing Raising the Dead. And McKenna included this amazing video of the food pantry Miles founded at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

I’m adding Jesus Freak to my Goodreads list, and I’ll be sure to review it here when I get a chance to read it.

Since reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, I can’t stop thinking about Ubuntu.

The geeky me really wants to say that McLaren thinks we should all use Linux, because in Chapter 20 he advocates Ubuntu.

But I have to admit that he’s not talking about computers. He’s actually throwing ubuntu into the rainbow.

In this chapter, McLaren attempts to explain different kinds of Christianity through a color metaphor, moving from red to violet in stages, and calling the violet stage “ubuntu”

…from Africa, a word meaning one-another-ness, interconnectedness, joined-in-the-common-good-ness, and profound commitment to the well-being of all.

McLaren puts most of us who are asking the questions into the indigo category, where we seek honesty. However,

…those of us in the indigo zone commonly look down on red-, orange-, yellow-, green- and blue-zone people and groups, calling them primitive, backward, immature, conservative, fundamentalist, and so on…no wonder indigo people see others as obstructionists, and the others see them as terrorists or nihilists.

But if we are to be ubuntu/violet people, we have to lovingly accept the people who are in the other color levels.

Even if they won’t return that acceptance?

I’m sure Jesus would say “Even so. Seventy times seven times.”

That’s one thing that gets me. I’m not very tolerant of intolerance.

But really, is it too much to ask?  I considered this as I read and digested McLaren’s ideas. And I realized that for the most part (if not all the time), people I know personally whose beliefs differ from mine do not pressure me at all. They do not tell me that my beliefs are wrong, or that I am a heretic.  I may be aware that their church would say this, or that certain public figures they admire might say this, but the people I know? They don’t call me names.

So yes, I need to quit worrying about whether others are doing it wrong. There are still instances in which I think it’s important to stand against what a church is doing. I do think it’s just plain wrong for churches to advocate against civil same-sex marriage laws.  Religious institutions should not be allowed to perpetrate civil injustice.

But otherwise? Take a deep breath. Let it go. Love God and love your neighbor. Ubuntu.

A New Kind of ChristianityIn A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren finally comes to the point. He’s no longer trying to express his beliefs and remain acceptable to fundamentalists (which wasn’t really working anyway). He comes right out and says that it doesn’t make sense for God to condemn the majority of people who have lived on Earth to eternal conscious torment. He says that homosexuality itself isn’t evil. And he’s still saying that everything must change.

That was his previous book, Everything Must Change, which I thought was terrific as well. But McLaren explains in this book that a lot of Christians still aren’t ready to address the issues in Everything Must Change (crises of prosperity, equity, security, and spirituality), and that that’s why he wrote this book. Here’s a description of what happened on his Everything Must Change book tour:

During the Q & R session, most questioners simply ignored the four crises I had talked about. Instead, they focused on arguing fine points of theology with me – all within their conventional paradigms. It was as if they said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. But you’re decentralizing our preferred theory of atonement!”

And so he wrote a book directly confronting these conventional paradigms.

McLaren discusses ten key questions in this book:

  • What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?
  • How should the Bible be understood?
  • Is God violent?
  • Who is Jesus and why is he important?
  • What is the Gospel?
  • What do we do about the church?
  • Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
  • Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
  • How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
  • How can we translate our quest into action?

As a Christian, I’ve been asking myself these questions for a long time. And I’m actually pretty comfortable with my answers now (although perhaps that means those answers could use confronting, too). But these are also questions that I often hear non-Christians or marginal Christians asking, and maybe those are the people this book will really speak to.

I’m delighted that McLaren has written this book, and that more and more people are asking these questions.

Links

Brian’s personal website
Brian on Facebook
Brian on Twitter
Browse inside A New Kind of Christianity

Disclosures: I received a free copy of the book through The Ooze Viral Bloggers in exchange for this review. I do receive a small commission for any purchases made through Amazon.com links above. Thanks!

Okay, I’m a United Methodist. I have been for about 8 years now. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, though, and I didn’t leave the Catholic Church because of strong theological or philosophical differences. My husband was raised as a United Methodist, and has never been comfortable in a Catholic Mass, so when we finally decided we wanted to attend church together, I agreed to try the Methodist church.

The one in our area at the time (United Methodist Church of Rancho Cordova, near Sacramento), was awesome. They had a woman pastor (nonexistent in the Catholic church). She left soon after we started attending, but the next pastor was a woman also, and became a good friend. We formally joined the church. I still missed things about the Catholic church — the familiar hymns and rituals and the weekly Communion especially, but eventually the Methodist traditions became familiar as well.

Today, I took a quiz that I found through this blog entry, which was in my Tag Surfer today. It measures something called your “theological worldview.” I’m not sure how to define that. I was surprised, however, to find that I still scored primarily as a Roman Catholic! My second worldview is Emergent/Postmodern, which is more where I see myself these days — and really, the two go together a bit, because one characteristic of emergent/postmoderns is that they like getting back to the ancient rituals of the church.

My third worldview is Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan, which is the United Methodist part of my background. Apparently, however, the faith I was raised in still has a huge impact on my theology and practice.

The full results are below, along with a picture representing Roman Catholicism. Very formal. My husband, who scored fully emergent/postmodern, got a picture of Brian McLaren.

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Roman CatholicYou are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic
 
75%
Emergent/Postmodern
 
71%
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
 
64%
Neo orthodox
 
61%
Modern Liberal
 
50%
Charismatic/Pentecostal
 
50%
Classical Liberal
 
50%
Reformed Evangelical
 
32%
Fundamentalist
 
0%