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Before reading this book, almost everything I knew about Justin Bieber came from Glee. Or secondhand from Twitter (I don’t follow Bieber, who’s a fairly prolific and honest tweeter). And maybe a little bit from my kids, but they’re not huge fans either.

So Bieber’s story was completely new to me anyway, but reading it with a spiritual twist, and from the point of view of a woman my own age, put it into a good context for me.

Cathleen Falsani (author of The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers) admits that she was only minimally aware of Bieber before writing this book. She became interested after seeing a February 2011 Rolling Stone article titled “The Adventures of Super Boy: God, girls and boatloads of swag.”

And indeed, Justin was open about his faith in the interview. This is the one where he talked about homosexuality (he thinks it’s none of his business) and abortion (he’s against it, but also says “I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that”).

But faith is part of his overall story, too, especially from his mother’s point of view. Much of the book really discusses Justin’s mother’s faith, rather than his own.

Falsani takes us through Justin’s history starting from before he was born to a teenage mother, through his childhood and into his current teen years. She recounts events that are probably familiar to the true Beliebers, like how he became a YouTube sensation, and how he ended up with a record deal.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to directly interview Bieber or people close to him for the book. So the information is coming from other interviews, and from Twitter. In fact, the advance copy I read includes several pages of tweets by Justin and his mother.

What’s clear is that Justin Bieber has grown up surrounded by faith, and that it’s part of who he is. I’d also say that’s he’s still very young, and his faith is still developing. Right now, he’s got the faith he’s grown up with; the faith of his family and friends. Like other young people, he’s still going to have to figure out whether this faith is authentically his own, and something he can live out as an adult.

ADDENDUM: I had my 11-year-old daughter read the book, too. She said that a lot of it was things that she already knew from Bieber’s movie. She also didn’t like reading pages and pages of tweets. She thought some younger people and teens might be interested, but that this book was geared more toward adults.

 

Want to read a FUNNY book about Jesus? This is it! Imaginary Jesus is a novel, in which Mikalatos introduces us to various familiar versions of Jesus — King James Jesus, Testosterone Jesus, Magic 8-Ball Jesus, while he searches for the REAL Jesus.

I was a tiny bit disappointed at the end…real Jesus didn’t quite work for me. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and its reminder that we’re not always following the real Jesus, even (or especially) when we think we are.

My husband managed to snatch this book and read it before I did, and he posted his review a long time ago. He also included Todd Agnew’s song “My Jesus,” which totally fits with this book.

Finally, I’m proud to say that Matt Mikalatos is from our own Portland, Oregon. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Check out Matt’s imaginary website for Imaginary Jesus! You can even download and read a sample chapter there.

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!

Through the River: Understanding Your Assumptions about Truth, by Jon and Mindy Hirst, took me a while to read.  It’s not long, but it’s dense with philosophical thought and information.

The Hirsts describe three basic truth lenses: positivism, instrumentalism, and critical realism, applying them to Christianity and how Christians relate to the world and each other.  They use analogy and story to explain the truth lenses, but reading it still requires work. I found myself taking notes and making outlines to make sense of it all. Here are the basics of the three truth lenses:

Positivists, known in the book as Rock Dwellers, believe that “all truth about us and about our world is knowable, and that it is our job to engage in an active search for that truth, allowing us to expose untruth.”  All truth is objective, regardless of individual viewpoint, culture, etc.

Instrumentalists (Island Dwellers in the book) reject total objectivity, seeing truth as a personal matter. Truth can be different for each person, depending on their background and experience.  Instrumentalists have no problem allowing different systems and theories to co-exist.

Critical Realists, known as Valley Dwellers in the book, is summarized as “the truth you know, and the truth that you are learning.” This lens acknowledges that universal truths exist, but also that the experiences of different people and cultures affect how they perceive and use these truths. Critical realists understand that we can always learn more about truth, and that we can learn from the perspective of others.

Interestingly, these truth lenses can apply regardless of one’s religious and political viewpoints. I can think of people who are liberal and conservative, religious and atheist, who could fit all of these descriptions.  And I can even see all three in myself, at various times in my life and in different situations. I know there are issues on which I’m pretty rock-like, and others in which I’m a good deal more tolerant.

Though it was a difficult read that took a lot of concentration, I did enjoy the book and appreciate what it had to say.  I think it does provide a good explanation of why many people have trouble relating to each other on religious and political issues, and it gives good suggestions for how people can try to relate to each other.

DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of this book from The Ooze Viral Bloggers program in exchange for this review.

I had a hard time with this book. Barna divides (based on research, polling, etc.) the American people into seven faith tribes: Casual Christians, Captive Christians, American Jews, Mormons, Pantheists, Muslims, and Skeptics.

I really dislike making generalizations about people, so the first part of the book, in which he explains the characteristics of each faith tribe, was difficult to read.  Also, I felt like implication was always that the Captive Christians were the ones who got it right.

However, later in the book Barna does compile a list of values that the faith tribes do have in common, and suggests that it would be beneficial to our country for the faith tribes to do all they can to instill and encourage these values.

My husband read this book first, and kept telling me that while the first part would make me mad, the last part would make up for it. I didn’t quite feel that way — I still felt like Barna was pushing a Captive Christian worldview.  So I can’t say that this was a book I liked, or that I felt was important information.

It is the result of a great deal of research, though, and it was interesting to look at the data comparisons and research methods in the appendices.

Disclosure: I received this book free in exchange for a review via http://viralbloggers.com.

In this book, Chole writes about her journey from adamant atheist (she used to deliberately antagonize her Christian friends in high school) to ardent believer. It’s an interesting read. Chole keeps some suspense going throughout the book, leading up to the moment, the encounter that made her a believer (which I found anti-climactic, but sometimes real life is anti-climactic).

The book is also an apologetic, or an explanation of why the Christian faith is true.  A lot of this does make sense and matches my own experiences, but some of it irked me.

For instance, Chole says that she’s grateful for “the privilege of learning from Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Christian friends.”  However, she also implies that pluralism (the idea that other faiths are equally good roads to God) is wrong, and that Christianity is the only correct faith.  I wonder how her Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh friends feel about that?

Chole explains four filters she uses to determine whether a faith is a valid one:

  • Is it consistent at its core?
  • Is it livable and not just quotable?
  • Is it sustainable through life-size pain?
  • Is it transferable to others (will it work for people in other cultures, economic situations, etc.)?

She makes a good case that Christianity passes these filters, but I suspect that devout people of other religions could make a strong case for their faith passing as well.

I did like Chole’s statements that God is not bothered by questions about faith, and that it’s OK to question.

“Believing does not mean that you will no longer have questions.  Believing does not mean that you will turn off your brain.”

And another good quote:

“God neither dilutes discrepancy nor ignores complexity.  God does not conveniently edit out the uncomfortable.”

Although this book irked me at times, it was an interesting read. I’m not sure it’s the kind of book an atheist would be willing to read, but it will be interesting to believers, and maybe to people on the edge of faith.

Disclosure: I received this book free in exchange for a review via http://viralbloggers.com