Quick Review: Resolving Everyday Conflict

Sande and Johnson’s Resolving Everyday Conflict is essentially an abridged version of Sande’s more well known The Peacemaker.  It’s a great summary of Sande’s approach to resolving conflict and it’s very manageable and framed in a very accessible and smooth way.

I did this book via audio book despite already having the e-book. It took me less than 3 hours to listen to it so it wasn’t long at all.  I covered all of Resolving Everday Conflict to and from a hospital visit to a friend (Manila traffic!)

It includes chapters on Sande’s “4 G’s” as well as the “7 A’s of Confession/Apologies.” If you don’t know what those are – get one of these books or google summaries of the Peacemaker and you can probably find a good summary out there. I have no doubt there are fantastic summaries online out there for free.

This would be a great and manageable resource to do conflict resolution training because it’s concise and clear and easy to go through. The ebook version is only 2 –  3 $ less than the full version of The Peacemaker which goes into a lot of the content on a much deeper level so if you had to pick one book I’d suggest The Peacemaker, but if you know you only can manageable a smaller dose of content that covers the essence – this is a great option.

If you have not read either, I highly recommend going through it. It’s great content on conflict resolution, forgiveness, and essentially the gospel as well since that is the foundation of Christian reconciliation.

 

Quick Review: Culture Making

I recently finished Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and wanted to share some quick thoughts on the book. I had been wanting to get to it for quite a while and some of the discussions I’ve been in recently related to ministry and education gave me cause to finally dive in.

Essentially the book presents a theology and practice of creative stewardship and work. After an exploration into what “culture” is and how it works, there is an analysis of the many ways people engage culture.  The most common expressions of how Christians engage culture are noted as condemning culture, consuming culture, critiquing culture, or copying culture.  There are some similarities to some of the categories offered by Reinhold Niebuhr as well as to more recent work by Tim Keller. But Crouch’s focus is primarily on culture as it relates to creativity and calling (thus the title) as opposed to a full-blown theology and practice of cultural engagement that includes political and social engagement. The term cultural engagement doesn’t really even capture Crouch’s thrust – he focuses rather on “culture-making” instead.

Crouch, drawing on Genesis and the Scriptures, argues for two other paradigms that are more “Biblical” in nature.  He names creating culture and cultivating culture as the two approaches to culture that are often overlooked by Christians, but that provide the greatest redemptive contribution to God’s purposes in restoring the world.  He uses the metaphors “artists and gardeners” to illustrate what is involved.  Cultivating refers to the work of stewarding the best of what humanity is and has created while creating obviously refers to the effort given to bring dreams into reality for the sake serving mankind and glorifying God.

I found the discussion incredibly helpful and enjoyable, especially because creativity and cultivation have long been overlooked. Creativity has had its champions, but I was intrigued by the role of “gardeners” in the church and in the Kingdom of God. I’ve been thinking about this and feel like it is a neglected aspect of the church’s engagement with culture.  Maybe the historian in me is drawn to the idea, but it feels significant to me.

There’s a lot more in the book including content related to power and other topics that are of interest, but the thrust of the book is above – helping people understand the many ways they navigate culture and to consider that the best way to impact society for good and for God is through the creation of new cultural goods. The argument being that bad or insufficient culture isn’t transformed until something better comes along to replace it. One of the incisive criticisms Crouch levies at the church is noting how most efforts to bring Christian worldview to the table in relation to culture stops in the realm of critiquing culture, falling well short of creating culture.

My final note is that Crouch gives an insight in his introduction that really stuck with me. He notes the popular maxim, “Pray as if it all depends on God and work as if it all depends on you.” I’ve always understood the kernel of truth here and the call to diligent stewardship exercised in dependence on the Lord, but something never fully felt satisfying to me.  Crouch critiques the application of this phrase, affirming that we need to learn to work as if it all does depend on God – because it does. Stewardship is implied, but the freedom of exploring vocation in the guidance of the Holy Spirit opens doors for creativity and inspiration.

I think this book gives a lot to chew on – not every person may be gifted or inspired to be a creator or a cultivator, but these are elements that every community would be wise to nurture for the sake of both worship and mission.

 

Quick Review: Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge

I recently read Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace and wanted to post a few thoughts as I found it a really rich book on several levels.

The book is dividing into two sections.  As the title suggests – the first half focuses on giving and the second half focuses on forgiveness.  I would say first of all – the first 3 chapters as a theology of giving is one of the best and maybe the best Scriptural and theological grounding of giving that I’ve come across.

The dynamics of giving, receiving, taking, and exchanging are covered in this section in a way that explores giving through the overall Biblical narrative.  So Volf grounds giving and receiving in the doctrine of creation and the image of God. He also explores the depth of how sin and the fall corrupts loving giving and receiving in ways that provide a strong critique of the many ways we manipulate each other in community and even seek dominance as one community over an other.

The forgiveness section is also very well done and is framed on top of Volf’s work in the 1st half of the book on giving.  I had not thought about forgiveness through this lens before, but I found it powerful for reflection and thought.  Understanding the giving and receiving dynamics and sides of forgiveness are crucial to developing an ethical practice of peace and reconciliation and restoration.

Volf’s personal background and history as one who has experienced great loss and has had to struggle through these themes at the deepest of levels brings credibility and power to the reading.  This is a book I’ll keep coming back to in the future both personally and for teaching.  The kindle version is only $5 too 🙂

 

 

Quick Review: Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?

I read last week Are Miraculous Gifts For Today? which is part of the Four Views Counterpoints series.  The book is edited by Wayne Grudem, but has four authors that interact with one another over the key issues of the debate.  There is cessationist, an open but cautious perspective, a third wave perspective, and a perspective that represents charismatic and pentecostal theology and perspectives.

In general, this has not been a topic that I have been very concerned about or have spent a lot of time wrestling with theologically.  But it was helpful for me to get the broad contours of the conversation.  Of most interest was the approach and needs involved in working towards a foundation of ecclesiological unity even if some areas of doctrine and practice vary.  There is a great challenge here given how the practice of miraculous gifts or lack thereof impacts culture and experience in dramatically different ways. Some of the key gifts involved in the discussion are prophecy, healing, and tongues.

I think it was helpful to see the authors develop some kind of consensus for what key theological issues are and even see where the differences are.  I was most intrigued to read the pentecostal perspective as I have been least familiar with pentecostal theology, but now that I’m teaching some students from pentecostal backgrounds it was very helpful to me.

I run and live in circles where most would fall in the cessationist or open but cautious camps.  I think for many who have not been exposed much, they can easily dismiss pentecostals without really understanding some of the perspectives grounded in Scripture.  There are some hard things to work through to find a unity in doctrine and practice given the full range and strength of the positions involved, but this is a helpful model of the type of dialogue and collaboration in that direction.

Quick Review: The 3D Gospel – Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

I recently finished The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jason Georges. This had been on my list for over a year since reading The Global Gospel by Werner Mischke last year and attending Mischke’s online webinar hosted by mission nexus.

This is a fairly brief (less than a 100 pages) primer on how to see the full range and impact of the gospel as expressed in different cultural contexts.  Georges uses the metaphor of a multifaceted diamond that reflects the same essence in different ways.  I actually appreciated the diamond metaphor as it provided a more holistic and integrated approach to the discussion about guilt, shame, and fear which sometimes degenerates into either/or application.

The book gives a great, user friendly intro to the discussion and unpacks the correlation between the gospel, culture, and ministry application.   For each of the 3 main culture  (guilt/innocence, shame/honor, fear/power), Georges provides a succinct summary of the salvation narrative through each of those thematic areas of focus, followed by the core ministry approach that may be the most appropriate expression of ministry for that culture.

The connections between culture, the gospel, and ministry expressions is really helpful as it helps one begin to think about contextualization and integration of the gospel into a specific context in specific ways.  I’m very encouraged that more and more are providing practical and theologically grounded efforts at contextualization in light of these common themes in different cultures.  It may not make since to many who have not experienced much beyond their native culture and context, but these perspectives and efforts to provide real tools for ministry are incredibly valuable.

Because of the brevity and and clarity to this book, I really am motivated to find ways to use this in my ministry and leadership training.  There is potential application beyond evangelism and discipleship to other aspects of ministry and leadership development that excite me, but it serves as a great intro and primer to how to think about contextualization in non-western contexts so I highly recommend this as a resource.

 

Quick Review: The Kingdom of Christ

I was able to recently read Russell Moore’s The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective and instead of providing a full review I will share some of where I think this as a lot of value.

This is theology and doctrine resource so it’s heavier reading and there were parts where I labored through it.  Other parts were very compelling because the implications are significant for the church’s impact on society and its understanding of its identity and mission.

The book is fundamentally a treatment about how a new unity of evangelical theology and thought has slowly developed since the culture wars of the early 20th century.  The key figure throughout this book is Carl F.H. Henry as Moore unpacks Henry’s critique of evangelicalism in the post-war era and explores his beliefs of what is theologically required for the church to have a faithful and responsible witness to and engagement with society.

The heart of the book is really tracking how reformed and covenant traditions as well dispensational branches of evangelicalism have found some common ground and through dialogue and engagement have corrected some errant theology and found a foundation from which there can be a unified understanding on how to engage society.

Doctrinely speaking, the book takes a fairly deep dive into the integration of eschatology, soteriology, and ecclesiology for the sake of a healthy theology of mission in the world today in the face of the extremes of isolationism and capitulation to the world.   One expression of this that is discussed thoroughly is the liberal protestant movement towards the social gospel compared to the perhaps dualistic isolationist faith of the fundamentalists in the early 20th century.

I found it interesting in that I have one set of grandparents that were fundamentalists (independent baptists) and another grandfather who probably would fall more in line as a pragmatic liberal protestant.  I have both sides of this debate in my own family history and it’s interesting to reflect on the strengths and limitations of each, particularly from a doctrinal standpoint.

But of critical importance for most Christians today is the eschatology piece.  This book is a great resource to really think deeply about how poor eschatology or an inadequate theology of the kingdom of God leads to really poor assumptions about how to engage the world and society. The prevalence of “Left Behind” theology and attitudes that it’s all going to burn any minute so why invest deeply in engaging society is an attitude and perspective that undermines the integrity and witness of the church.  This book provides a healthy corrective to that type of theology.

All in all – while the general outlook for mobilizing evangelicalism towards a healthy biblical and theological foundation seems bleak because of how hard it is to see sound theology spread to the local level and the masses, it is encouraging that scholars seem to be uniting in these core areas in the face of rising new challenges.

 

Quick Review: A Farewell to Mars

I’m excited to share this quick review as A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd was one of the best and most compelling and challenging books I’ve read in some time.  The book in general is a treatment of how the gospel gets coopted by culture to serve national interests – usually through the rationalization or justification of violence as the means to achieve “peace.”

There’s much I can relate to in the journey of the author as generationally I’ve experienced some of the key events that he describes as being critical to his journey at a similar life stage to him.  The challenge of this book is to explore deeply all the ways in which we have actively or passively endorse a path of violence while believing the lie that such violence is “righteous” and that God is on our side.  This can be reflected in our attitudes towards war, politics, international policy, and even action movies!

This is one of the books that I anticipate will be one of the most recommended books to others.  But let me share a couple of the highlights for me in the book.  First, the book has 2 chapters that rank among my favorite of any book I’ve read.  The first was entitled, “Jesus Versus the Crowd” and goes into some of the best treatment of the scapegoating dynamic that fuels violence in community.  This area is an area of great passion for me as a result of my exploration into family and congregational systems theory, but Zahnd gives a phenomenal treatment of it as it relates to violence and society with a great treatment of the Biblical text in the book of John.

The other chapter that really stood out centered on the nature of freedom, which is a critical issue for us to understand since violence and freedom are often presented as hand in hand when we celebrate our national histories.  This was an excellent treatment of freedom, again with the theme of peace versus violence as the greater context.

I think the majority of Christians, especially evangelicals, would find this greatly convicting and it’s why all should read it.  Christians are often portrayed as a violent people in western society today – not always because they are perpetuating physical violence, but because the way Christians engage society or deal with difficult or sensitive issues often tends to reflect language and attitudes that are violent in nature.  Christians need to reclaim the identity as peacemakers that we are called to be and I am grateful for the challenge that A Farewell to Mars brought me.  Can’t recommend it enough to you.

 

 

 

Quick Review: Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller

I recently finished another book in Gary Burge’s Ancient Context, Ancient Faith series.  This one was called Jesus, The Middle Eastern Storyteller with the focus being many of the parables that Jesus taught in the gospels.

I really have enjoyed this series because of the cultural insight into the ancient near east and the time of Jesus.  This edition of the series added helpful insight to the ways in which Jesus captivated people through stories.  The book is grouped into topical storytelling themes that illustrate some of how Jesus tried to convey powerful teaching into contextualized stories.

The chapters focus on the banquet and excuses, hospitality and honor related to prayer (Luke 11), compassion, forgiveness, materialism and inheritance, the lost and general storytelling in the culture.

My favorite chapters related to prayer (Luke 11), excuses and the Kingdom of God (Luke 14), and forgiveness (Matthew 18).  All three of these chapters brought such great cultural insight into the text that provided a deeper and more robust interpretation and reading that have stayed with me over the past week since reading them and will shape my spiritual formation and understanding of these areas of faith.  I had not read Luke 14 with the honor and shame categories before and applied to the literary context of prayer.  It really has built my confidence in prayer.

If you want to go deeper into some of the parables from a cultural and literary standpoint, it’s worth checking it out.  I’m really enjoying the series.

 

Quick Review: Quiet

Over the past month I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  As I share some thoughts, I disclose that I am an introvert myself, which was part of why I read the book.

The book itself really isn’t about introversion entirely.  I found that a little misleading as there are plenty of things that deal with ethnicity and culture as well as popular culture.

One of my reactions to the book felt like it was more naming the obvious as it relates to introversion in life, relationships, and the workplace. I didn’t find the content to be extraordinarily revolutionary regarding the dynamics or experiences of introversion – in part because I am one and because I’ve been exposed to the concept through tools like the MBTI and others over the last couple decades.  But there were some great nuggets that I enjoyed and I think it’s worth reading – especially for extraverts.

One of the sections I found interesting dealt with the rise of the personality cult of leadership and two of the leaders compared and contrasted were motivational speaker Tony Robbins and Evangelical pastor Rick Warren.  I don’t think they are anywhere in the same boat, but it was insightful and worth thinking about how stereotypes or contemporary culture has impacted what people believe about what leadership is or should be. The Tony Robbins section was very entertaining to me and exposes the business as a grand marketing scheme that reinforces certain presupposed values about life and leadership.  The Saddleback scenario is more of an indictment of pre-packaged spirituality that allows people to be entertained without authentic reflection.

As I thought about the above examples – it did make me reflect more on my journey working for what I would describe as an “extravert” organization where social initiative is deeply embedded in the values and mission of the organization.  That’s always been a challenge.  I’ve learned it, but I also am not surprised that I’ve only found myself thriving when I’m in places where I am not required to be functioning socially in those ways.  These are new thoughts for me, but it was good to think again after more years of experience.

There’s a helpful section related to culture and stereotypes about leadership anchored in historical paradigms in the east versus the west.  While I feel like the author at times comes across unnecessarily critical of extraverted or outgoing leadership, it’s a helpful exploration of how Asian leaders or others that share similar qualities are marginalized in the western leadership context.  It unpacks some of the things we use to regularly interact over when I was working in Epic, an Asian-American ministry.  I’m facing some of those things now as I do leadership development in an international graduate school and seminary context.

One thing I didn’t like was that the author came across as a bit as having an agenda.  Maybe it was the audiobook version as I did this book while commuting over a couple weeks, but I just didn’t like the tone of the book or some of the assumptions or conclusions in the book.

One note I found to be quite irresponsible was the argument that Jesus was representative as a “western” god who was charismatic and outgoing compared to eastern gods who are more figures of silent wisdom.  When she attempted to enter into the religious sphere, including her treatment of Warren and Saddleback, she was somewhat out over her skiis.  But to say Jesus was an extraverted and charismatic leader in the western mold is just not true and reflects an uninformed knowledge of the Jesus of the Bible.  But there is a helpful takeaway – recognizing how cultures view wisdom should impact how you would want to represent Jesus and his teachings.

If you are an introvert and have never thought about your experience, then this would be great for you.  If you are an extravert and you are interested in seeing where your blind spots might be impacting the people around you and how you can help a large number of people around you succeed, then it’s a great book for you as it will open up your mind to some important social and corporate realities that impact how we go about what we do.

One last note – I really enjoyed the practical suggestion included of a “restorative niche” – a space or break that allows introverts to recharge.  This is something I want to think more about as I can often have extraverted activities stacked back to back to back but then I crash.  I need to schedule some introverted restorative niche space intentionally to allow me to manage my energy better throughout the week.  That was a great takeaway for me.

 

Leadership Formation & Development Within Systems and Organizations