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I guess I didn’t notice that this is really a book for pastors. I am neither a pastor, nor currently a church leader, so it didn’t exactly speak to me. It is full of good information and ideas, though. The first section is about power; how power has traditionally been used (or in some cases, abused) in the church, and how pastors can change that. The second section deals with servant leadership, and the third is a practical section about prayer, scripture reading, following the ancient monastic vows of povery, chastity and obedience, and becoming a servant leader.

I found the practical information most helpful — it was a good reminder to add some structure to my spiritual life, with concrete ideas for doing so.

I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to change the way you pastor.

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 links above. Thanks!

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 (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.

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 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.

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.


Brian’s personal website
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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 links above. Thanks!

It’s beautiful in Portland today, so I went for a walk.  When I’m walking, I often imagine dialogues in my head.  Here’s one on why I no longer belong to a local church.

“Do you go to church?” she asked, stepping over a branch lying across the bark-chip path.

I laughed.  “No, not any more.  I do meet with some people for a bible study, but I don’t belong to a church any more.”

“Well, why not?” she asked.

“It’s kind of a long story…” I demurred.

“We’re still walking,” she reminded me.

“All right, then.” I paused to pick up a candy wrapper and stash it in my pocket.

“Well, I definitely believe in God.  I’m convinced, based on personal experience, that there is something bigger than us, that binds us together.  You can call it God, the Force, whatever, it’s there.

“And I do believe that there was a man called Jesus, and that he was God-Made-Manifest.  This is one of God’s greatest gifts to us – that he came to us, and lived among us, and fully experienced what it was to be human.  We have a God who truly knows what it is to be one of us!

“He also taught us how to live life in the Kingdom of God.  He taught that we should love one another always, even those we call enemies, and that we should always be ready to help one another.  He reminded us that we should care for the last, the least and the lost.

“And I believe that he died for us, but not in a tit-for-tat way, like he died in my place so that I can get into heaven someday.  I think he died for two reasons: first, to show how much God loves us, even to the point of dying for us, as a parent might die to protect a child.

“Second, to teach us about the way of love.  He showed us that the way of love is more powerful than fighting back with violence.”

“You believe all of that and don’t go to church?” she asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Absolutely.  You see, that’s what the church should be about, and often these are things the church talks about, but it’s not what most institutional churches really do.

“I do appreciate the church.  It nurtured me, both as a child and a younger adult, and taught me a great deal.  But eventually, membership in the church became a routine of trying to get enough money to keep the institution going and trying to get more members so that my kids weren’t the only ones in the Sunday School classes I taught (and so that those members could bring in more money).  And that’s not the true  work that God calls us to.”

“But aren’t Christians supposed to convert other people?” she asked.

I smiled. “We are supposed to share the Good News of Jesus, just as I might share some great news about my family with you, or I might share a really cool discovery, which is what this is – it’s a really cool discovery about something that could change your life!

“But Jesus never said we should add people to membership rolls and have them give money to keep up a church building and get them to volunteer on committees.

“So I’m still looking for a different way to follow Jesus, without the institutional church baggage.  For now, I’m just seeking to follow his commands: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

I’m no longer Catholic, so maybe I have no right to speak – but I do find Pope Benedict’s record and recent actions troubling. His latest? He’s reinstated four bishops who were excommunicated by Pope John Paul II because their consecrations were unauthorized and performed by another controversial bishop (now deceased).

For the most part, I had a great deal of respect for Pope John Paul II, so that raises a red flag for me right there. But in addition, one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, has made clear statements as recently as November 2008 saying that he doesn’t believe that 6 million Jews were actually deliberately killed in the Holocaust.

You can read an article about it in the New York Times.

Earlier in the year, I committed to reading through the Gospel of Mark and blogging about it.  I did end up reading all of Mark with a small group.  We met in the park and called it “Mark in the Park.”  Corny, I know.  It was a terrific experience, though — so terrific that I really didn’t need to blog about Mark!  We got all our thoughts and questions out in the group instead.

This group was affiliated with our local church (of which I am a member), but I find that doing things within the church is becoming less and less important to me.  When my husband and I first joined a United Methodist Church, we jumped almost immediately into church leadership projects, because that’s how we are.  This was great for a while.  It’s fun and rewarding to be creative in designing and leading programs and worship services, and we especially enjoyed being involved in the new church band.

But after a while, it becomes a chore.  And you realize that maybe it’s not bearing as much fruit as you thought it was.  The local church itself may benefit, but are we really doing any good for anyone else?  We spend time planning things that will bring people IN to the church, but we don’t spend enough time doing things OUT in the world.

So we’ve recently backed out of the church leadership game.  I actually stopped attending services for a few weeks, too; I think I needed the break.  We’re maintaining our connection with the local church, especially with small groups, but it is no longer the focus of our spiritual life.

We want to be the church in the world.  We’re still figuring out what that means.  Lately I’ve been looking for ways to be involved in the community without dragging the local church into it.  For instance, I’m organizing a monthly Kidical Mass bike ride in our area.  I invited some people from the church, but it was definitely not a Church Event.  I was also not proselytizing.  Just trying to do something good for the people who live here. I’m also making an effort to talk to more people in the neighborhood.

Today, I read the Fall 2008 issue of Leadership Journal, and I’d like to close by sharing some quotes from it that really struck me.

“…to be missional means to be sent into the world; we do not expect people to come to us.” –Alan Hirsch

“Is it just about trying to grow your own local assembly? As opposed to going out and loving people and not getting any credit for it” — Pastor Dave Gibbons, in an article by Helen Lee.

We used to invite them to attend church; now we invite them to be the church.  I used to ask, ‘What can we do to get more people to attend our church?”  Now I ask, ‘How can I best equip and empower the people to go be the church in the marketplace where God has called them to serve?” –Walt Kallestad

From a cartoon of a church sign: “Midtown Fellowship:  Join us! (and gain, easily, 75-100 friends on Facebook)”

Let’s be the face of Christ in the world, everywhere we go, and in everything we do.

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
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
Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Neo orthodox
Modern Liberal
Classical Liberal
Reformed Evangelical