Monday, February 28, 2011

Review of "The Next Christians" by Gabe Lyons

Don't be Jerry Falwell, be Mother Teresa. 

That is the message—I kid you not—of Gabe Lyons' book "The Next Christians," which gives away the game in its sub-title "The Good News About The End Of Christian America." Clearly Mr. Lyons is no fan of Christianity as it has been practiced in this country. On page one he gives short shrift to his own Christian upbringing, graduation from a Christian college and how he eventually "began to notice" that many non-Christians between the ages of 16-29 have an "incredibly negative" view of Christianity. 

Really? Unbelievers are negative about our faith? Who knew? From that unremarkable insight, Mr. Lyons goes on to indict generations of evangelicals—never mentioning any generation of American believers he does admire—for what he calls "the loss of Christian influence in our culture." No one would dispute that there has been a loss—some loss—of Christian influence in America recently. But a case can be made that previous generations of Christians faithfully passed the torch after struggling with their "old wineskins," and that things would be much worse if not for the Jerry Falwells, Bill Brights, Charles Swindolls, James Dobsons, et al. 

But no, Lyons is near categorical in contending that Christian influence in America is gone. Finished. Lost. On its face this is a laughable assertion. I guess if one relies solely on Newsweek, The New York Times and CNN, as Mr. Lyons does, such a pessimistic conclusion about the state of America's faith is understandable. 

Starting from the rather shaky premise of his previous book UnChristian, that unbelievers reject Christ because believers are scolds, Lyons develops his prescription backwards from the prejudices of today's young non-Christians. Thus he himself scolds most American Christians as either Separatists (in three flavors: "evangelizers," "insiders" and "culture warriors") or as Cultural Christians ("blenders" or "philanthropists"). Of course he scores easy points on all of these folks—and I'd be the last to say American Christianity has no warts at all. The first part of his book alternates between sympathetic personal stories of "average spiritual sojourners" (Lyons description of unbelievers) and cautionary tales of rigid, judgmental, stone-age Christians. The second half tells of his hall-of-fame nominees for Next Christians: including anti-war radical Shane Claiborne, education reformer Sajan George and publishers Nick Purdy and Josh Jackson of Paste magazine. The common thread among his heros is that they're big on "engaging the culture," less interested in spreading the gospel.

Lyons was too young to have witnessed the invention of the parachurch organization or the birth of the Jesus Movement, or the impact of contemporary Christian music. I can attest that young believers back in those days were deemed "radical" by their parents and pastors. Lyons myopically contends that we are seeing a 500-year shift in Christendom, though he's very short on details. He could be right, but it'll take a hundred years for anybody to confirm. Surely believers of all generations have had successes and failures during their respective times . . . and Lyons himself cautions that Next Christians "won't always get it right." I found it telling that he decries his own Separatist upbringing, while admitting that he keeps many of today's cultural influences away from his own children.

This book reminds me of the "mockumentary" DVD Lord Save Us From Your Followers. I think Gabe Lyons is embarrassed by suburban conservative Christians, who are ridiculed in popular culture as backward, fearful and reactionary. Lyon's most annoying swipe is taken at the good deeds that are being done by putative Yesterday Christians. He says these churches are only doing community and humanitarian ministry because it's the "hip new thing." Please. Where was he when World Vision and Compassion International were founded? Not all Christians will emphasize the same kinds of  ministry or emit the same "vibe" favored by Lyons. Some Christians will rub certain types of unbelievers the wrong way, but those same folks will be exactly the kind of Christian needed to reach other kinds of unbelievers.

Lyons is right to celebrate Next Christians who are blazing new trails into unfamiliar territories of Christian service. But he paints with too broad a brush those who operate more traditionally and whose expressions of faith embarrass him. There most certainly are and will be Next Christians who will "do faith" differently than previous generations. But unless they are the last Christians, their kids and grandkids will reject the "old ways" as well.

Thank God we can have it both ways: give me a Jerry Falwell and a Mother Teresa.

The Next Christians: The Good News About The End Of Christian America
Gabe Lyons

$14.99 U.S.
Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0385529846
Doubleday Religion 
Released October 5, 2010
(Multnomah/WaterBrook sent me this book free as part of their "Blogging for Books" program)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How To Cut $63.7 Billion From The Federal Deficit

Why do we have a Federal Department of Education? Why do $63.7 billion of our tax dollars support 4,200 federal employees every year? Does the U.S. Department of Education build schools? Hire teachers? Establish curricula? Publish text books? No. The U.S. Department of Education does exactly one thing: it launders money.

By far most of those 4,200 employees spend their working days doling out our tax dollars to school districts that will dance to their tune. They package money taken from the states and—after paying for buildings and bureaucrats—they turn around and give some of that money back to the states. With strings attached, of course.

The role of educating children is not among the enumerated powers delegated by the constitution to the central government. And all powers not specifically granted to the feds "are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." So the States and the people are responsible for teaching our children. 

The States and the people did a pretty good job for the first 203 years of our Republic before Jimmy Carter foisted the Education Department upon us in 1979. Ronald Reagan, who once said a government bureaucracy was the closest thing on earth to eternal life, actually pledged to shut it down. Reagan replaced Carter and could have done us that favor, but his prophecy was more powerful than his pledge...and the E.D. lives today. 

Does anybody here believe that public education in America is improving? Not the producers of Waiting For Superman (available on DVD this Tuesday): "Among 30 developed countries, we rank 25th in math and 21st in science. In almost every category, we've fallen behind...except one: kids from the USA rank number one in confidence." Talk about cognitive dissonance. Is it any wonder that the politically-correct trait of "self esteem" is the greatest achievement of a government-dominated education system?

The Department's mission creeps and crawls deeper into every crevice of our society. Its tentacles grip ever tighter around the throats of our States and school boards. Its protector parasites grow fatter and fatter, feeding off their host's largesse and the union dues of many millions of teachers. And yet our children's test scores and competitiveness continue a long, slow decline.

A modest proposal: eliminate this wasteful, harmful agency and reduce the deficit by $63.7 billion. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pt 2 of "Are You A HEREDEWOSO?" review

Continuing my review Matthew A. Jackson's book, subtitled "Five Issues Evangelicals Should Re-Think." Recapping the five issues: 1) Head and Heart; 2) Religion and Relationship; 3) The Misnomer of "Non-Denomination"; 4) Worship; 5) "Soon." Picking up where we left off...

3. THE MISNOMER OF "NON-DENOMINATION." Our money is denominated into many different units: $1, $5, $10, $20 and so forth. Different shapes and sizes, but all U.S. dollars. Matt's point in this chapter is that even a single, independent, autonomous, stand-alone church is a de facto denomination, in the same way that a penny is a denomination of the official United States currency—the real deal on a smaller scale. 

Major brands like Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and protestant ones like Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, and Baptist have been around a long time and occupy high-profile mind-share (not to mention real estate). Consequently, when unchurched folks think of church denominations, they're picturing these established names. Because of the sometimes negative reputation of the name-brand denominations, evangelical churches seeking to entice new members need a harmless way to set themselves apart—realizing that "N0n-Catholic" sounds too snarky. And it's imprecise, because they're also "Non-Lutheran" and "Non-Baptist". So it's handier to lump all the major players into a word that sounds bureaucratic and authoritarian, and define themselves as "Not That". Hence, "Non-Denominational". 

This is understandable to the author, but he contends that it is inaccurate: if you're non-denominational, you're not the real deal. Unfortunately, Matt doesn't offer any marketing suggestions to upstart evangelical churches. He just wants them to avoid distancing themselves from Christ and giving the impression that they're judgmental or condemning of other churches.

4. WORSHIP. This is the longest, most detailed and substantial chapter in the book. There are extensive tables and lists of Hebrew and Greek words and over a hundred scripture verses quoted as well. Matt believes that the word "worship" has been used too broadly in evangelical circles, resulting in a near-total loss of the original meaning: to bow or prostrate oneself in obeisance, fealty or submission.

Evangelicals usually describe their weekend gatherings as "worship services," dub their music groups "worship teams" and even refer to congregational singing as "worship." This does two things: first, it dilutes the meaning of worship and second, it eviscerates the concept of praise. While worship should be understood as bowing in contemplation of and preoccupation with God, praise is a much more expansive concept. And here is where Matt really shines; detailing eight distinct actions described in scripture as "praise"...verbal declaration; thanksgiving; singing; shouting; lifting hands; dancing; playing an instrument; offerings. That could be a whole 'nother book!

A proper understanding of worship among evangelicals is much more than a semantic debate. Our comprehension of God and our approach to praising Him are foundational to the health of the church and individual believers, not to mention being critical in spreading the gospel.

5. SOON. Whoa—from the frying pan into the fire! Matt isn't content simply declaring that modern evangelical "worship" is defective, his final target is last-days prophecy. Well, bad pun notwithstanding: it's about time. After so many books like 88 Reasons The Rapture Will Be In 1988, subsequent volumes which predicted Jesus' return around Y2K or November 2007—and even current ones warning that 2012 is our planet's expiration date—it's refreshing to see a common-sense re-examination of the Futurist/Dispensationalist method that has generated most of these failed predictions. In contrast, Jesus' prediction about the Temple that "...not one stone shall be left here upon another" came to pass less than 40 years after He ascended to heaven. Matt believes that kind of timeline should guide us to what Jesus might have meant by the word "soon". 

It's not surprising that much of the recent hullabaloo got started in the 70s, following the Six Days War in Israel and the 1970 publication of Hal Lindsey's seminal book The Late Great Planet Earth. It isn't hard to get lost in the weeds when hiking through Biblical prophecy, and Matt thankfully takes a giant step back to offer some perspective, laying out a case from Jesus' own parables spoken as a postscript to His Second Coming speech recorded in Matthew 24. 

I lived thru a false alarm in Vancouver, BC in the late 1980s. There was a prediction in a prominent full-gospel church that a tidal wave would destroy the city on a particular Sunday in August. I knew about the prophecy but decided not to panic, keeping my young family at home. I won't say I didn't feel a slight pang of uncertainty—after all, Richmond BC is 6 feet below sea-level, kept dry by a system of dikes and pumps. Seeing many of my Christian friends leave town that weekend was an odd feeling, but it was nothing compared to their feelings the following week trying to explain that their sudden unplanned getaway had nothing to do with the prophecy.

Matt favors a "time-text" interpretation of Prophecy, commonly called Soft Preterism, which holds that much of Jesus' speech in Matthew 24 referred to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70. He suggests we live our lives according to what Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25 explicitly told us we should do—be wise with our resources, ministering to those around us who are in need—and avoid what Jesus said we should not do: fret and run around based on somebody's certainty that the end is coming soon. 

Matt concludes his book with these words: "...we owe it to the Lord to examine the way we present and articulate His gospel to the world." And I will conclude by saying that even for folks who haven't been a friend of Matt's for 30 years, chapters 4 and 5 alone are worth the price of this book.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review of "Are You A HEREDEWOSO?" by Matthew A Jackson (Pt 1)

Matt Jackson is a friend of mine. We served together in Christian ministry back in the 70s and 80s, touring the United States with a traveling musical theater group. We've stayed in touch since then as best we can living in different cities (sometimes different countries).

I just learned about Matt's 2008 book subtitled "Five Issues Evangelicals Should Re-Think." That subtitle shows why the book is difficult to categorize—but does not excuse the unusual title, which does nothing to help a potential reader decide if the book would be worth her time. And the back-cover copy is even more cryptic—perhaps fearing that disclosure of the five issues would give away too much. Well, I don't work for the marketing department at Xulon Press, so I'll spill the beans here and now. The fives issues are:

1) Head and Heart; 2) Religion and Relationship; 3) The Misnomer of "Non-Denomination;" 4) Worship; 5) "Soon."

So now you see Matt's problem: he is a layman with a grab-bag of topics he wants to address, but didn't have time to write five books. The good news is that it's a quick read— just 130 pages from the Introduction through the last chapter. Today's post will cover chapters 1 and 2. 

1 - HEAD AND HEART. Matt's premise is that many evangelicals are driven too much by their feelings and emotions, not enough by their understanding. He recognizes that true Christianity is a matter of the heart, but goes on to demonstrate that scripture teaches us to use our heads as well as our hearts. I'm a soft touch for any argument that includes Philippians 4:8, so when Matt reminds us that we are to "think on these things", he's gettin' two thumbs way up from me. But he's on softer ground when asserting that the Fruit-of-the-Spirit called self-control "is completely a [mental] commitment and application."

As one who has worked in the Christian publishing industry through many decades, I can say that almost every Christian non-fiction book is "head" oriented. Here's a sample of titles I've recently read: Dr. John MacArthur's Slave, Andy Stanley's The Grace of God, Pete Wilson's Plan B, Timothy Keller's The Reason for God and David Chilton's Productive Christians in age of Guilt Manipulators. Somebody is reading all those books, though clearly none of them has sold 105 million copies—the estimated number of evangelicals in America. I suspect that Matt and I may differ on how many American evangelicals live an un-thinking Christian life. But for any who are trapped in a see-saw existence of emotion-based Christianity, Matt's reminder is a helpful tonic.

2 - RELIGION AND RELATIONSHIP. This chapter goes a long way to make a short point: Christianity is a religion. Matt takes exception to the cliche' born during the Jesus Movement of the 1970s that Christianity isn't a religion, rather it's a relationship. His argument can be boiled down to this: if the cliche' added a qualifier like "just" or "only" or "merely" in front of the words "a religion", all would be sunshine and roses. He says it's both: that Christianity is a religion promising a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. Matt chides those who want to pretend it isn't a religion. He lays out the four classic components of religion from Webster's dictionary (belief system; public/community aspect; divine being; codes of conduct & ritual) and concludes that Christianity meets all of them. Case closed.

I will post my review of chapters 3, 4 and 5 "soon". (Get it?)

Are You A HEREDEWOSO? Five Issues Evangelicals Should Re-Think
Matthew A. Jackson
$14.99 U.S.
Paperback, 148 pages
ISBN-10: 1604775564
Xulon Press
Published February 9, 2008

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review of "Global Warming Deception" by Grant R. Jeffrey

WaterBrook Press sent me a review copy of their upcoming book (releasing February 8, 2011), subtitled "How A Secret Elite Plans To Bankrupt America And Steal Your Freedom". As Count Floyd used to say: "Scary stuff kids!" Especially from an author specializing in Biblical prophecy and apologetics. But Jeffrey isn't a mere egghead: he worked much of his adult life for a major forest-products company in him a front-row seat for the birth of environmentalism.

To be clear: the author does not dispute that the world has been warming, only that 1) human activity is causing the warming and 2) increased temperatures are unprecedented and dangerous. The object of Jeffrey's concern is what he calls the "Anthropogenic Global Warming" movement, defining anthropogenic as "caused by humans".

It is no secret that the "green movement" is a now creature of the left. Why this should be so, however, is far from obvious. After all, what conservative cheerfully empties his car's ashtray out in the church parking lot? Or seeks to operate the dirtiest-possible factory? Or longs for a cabin overlooking a toxic waste dump? Jeffrey cites scripture mandating that stewardship of God's green earth is a universal responsibility for all humans.

Like Jeffrey, I grew up in the 50s and 60s and remember the invention of the word "environment". As schoolboys we used the word "litterbug" as a derogatory term for people who tossed trash out of their automobile. Back then it was all about "pollution" and folks in western nations really cleaned up their act...dramatized by the despoiled conditions in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A strong case can be made that the further left a country moves, the worse their stewardship of the land, water and air. Would you rather breath the air Beijing or Los Angeles?

Jeffrey meticulously documents—and footnotes—the early opportunism of leftist/globalist organizations like the Club of Rome, the Communist Party USA, the Audubon Society, the Rio Earth Summit and others, who used the issue as a Trojan Horse for ever-increasing control over people and nations. Kyoto, Davos, the EU, the IPCC and particularly the United Nations have all recently come out-of-the-shadows to promote "global governance", citing global warming—now called "climate change"—as the reason to overrule national sovereignties.

There are other books more detailed in exposing the flawed science, false claims, faked measurements and phony computer models underlying AGW, but Jeffrey covers the ground adequately and updates this body of knowledge with current quotes, studies and disclosures. His brief bibliography is too slender at nine titles, but at least contains my favorite book on the topic by Dr. Roy W. Spencer.

The weakest part of Global Warming Deception is the connection between Biblical prophecy and the danger of AGW. After hammering hard on global government, the Anti-Christ and Satan's plans in his Introduction and first chapter, Jeffrey pretty much drops those themes for the rest of the book. This was quite a relief to me, frankly, because the overwhelming sense he conveys early in the book is the impending, inevitable end of the world in "our lifetime". (I note that he doesn't say "my lifetime"...given that he is about 60 years old.) But he spends the rest of the book urging Christians to be wise, to be informed, to be active and to be prayerful...conveying a sense of hopefulness in this battle, and that God's judgment may be deferred. He even ends his book with the famous words of 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Prophecy and theology aside, this is a well-researched and helpful book for those seeking to understand what lies behind all the silly, intrusive, laughable, coercive, frivolous, but ultimately deadly laws and regulations coming down the pike from those who seek not to "save the world" but to "enslave the world".

Global Warming Deception: How A Secret Elite Plans To Bankrupt America And Steal Your Freedom
Grant R. Jeffrey
$14.99 U.S.
Paperback, 224 pages
ISBN-10: 1400074436
WaterBrook Press
Available February 8, 2011