Category Archives: Culture

Quick Review: Families Where Grace is in Place

One of the most timely books I’ve read in a while is Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen.  I enjoy VanVonderen. Quite a while ago I was deeply ministered to by his book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse in a season where I was observing a lot of spiritually abusive dynamics and tactics in some of my environments. This book on grace in the family was just as refreshing and significant.

I’ve read a few books in the last few years related to marriage and family and this has vaulted to the top for me I think so far. Some of it may be timeliness in that we are under a year from having teens in our household, but it’s more that VanVonderen grounds an approach to marriage and parenting…and really all developmental relationships in the foundational truths of the gospel and the need for grace for true change to take place.

Today there are so many ways Christians especially rationalize their legalism, shaming, and performance approach to parenting, leadership, and any exercise of authority roles. This book shines a spotlight on what does not pass the grace test and what truly reflects leadership under the Lordship of Christ. It’s convicting and even painful at points as the book fosters self-evaluation according to shame or grace-based approaches in relationships. But it offers hope and life that is grounded not in methods or control, but in love and the life of Christ as the source of all life and all authentic change.

The author uses a couple acronyms that are helpful – C.U.R.S.E. and T.I.R.E.D. to capture the reality of parenting and exercise of authority in relationships that reflect the core patterns of sin in Genesis 3. You can read the book to do a deeper dive on those – but it’s well worth it 🙂

As I’ve been researching more and more stuff related to shame, the more I’m convinced we need to ground everything we do in authentic, grace-based relationships in which the truth is allowed to do its work to heal and restore rather than harm, hurt, put down, or belittle. But sadly that is not the case for many marriages, families, and churches. This is what we are trying to prioritize in our development right now as parents and it’s been life and hope giving as well as healing in some regards as well.

 

Quick Review: Shame Interrupted

Over the past few months I read Edward T. Welch’s Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & RejectionIt was one of those books that lent itself to casual reading over time to maximize the experience of reading it. There are about 30 chapters that all take about 15 minutes to read and they are thematically organized so taking it in short doses while I read other things as well was a quite refreshing way to go through it.

Welch is a counselor so he tackles the issue of shame from that perspective, but he also offers some solid theology to ground his writing. What I appreciate was that in addition to the theological and psychological insights, Welch shows himself aware of many of the cultural and social dimensions to shame and identity. He draws on helpful insights from both the Ancient Near East as well as cultures today. He also addresses power and majority-minority dynamics intentionally at various places, which I appreciated.

There’s a poetic and lyrical nature to how this book is written so it is very easy to read in some ways, but it’s an easy read more so because the style targets the human heart and reality so authentically that there’s not much in the book that you don’t feel like you relate to.

In Asia, shame is a more recognized and understood dynamic. People just get it – and as such, this is a great resource here in Asia. In the west, shame is not something most know their way around. Many either are not aware of what it is and its impact on identity and relationships or they don’t know what to do with it or how to find freedom.  This book helps develop awareness of how shame may be at work in one’s life and it offers a grounded and hopeful perspective from Scripture to help one understand how to see their story re-written as they place their story within the God’s story.

It’s actually a really creative and insightful book that offers an immense depth of wisdom and insight. I would recommend it to just about everyone because I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t benefit from going through this book whether for personal growth or leadership development.

 

Quick Review: The Five Temptations of a CEO

Thanks to Audible, Patrick Lencioni’s book The FIVE Temptations of a CEO was on sale last week for 50% so I think I got it for around $4 or so. It’s one of his shortest books and also the first of his well-known leadership fable books to my knowledge. The audio version was about an hour and a half. I listened to just about the whole thing while supervising my kids in the swimming pool on vacation one afternoon. Water was WAAAY too cold for me so I opted for some Lencioni instead.

This was maybe the most simple of all the books I’ve read from Lencioni. Simple story and five simple principles that have a significant and disproportionate impact on leadership and team success. It was a brief book, but it came at a good time for me as I’ve been stretched lately through having to lead at a higher level. It’s not just for CEO’s, but for anyone really leading a team and who is in a position to steward organizational mission, vision, and values.

The five temptations are essentially these:

  1. Status (protecting self over focusing on results)
  2. Popularity (wanting people to like you instead of holding them accountable and making the needed decisions)
  3. Certainty (wanting to avoid risk and failure)
  4. Harmony (wanting to avoid tension and uncomfortability in the team)
  5. Invulnerability  (Maintaining distance and avoiding authenticity)

Here’s his model in simple form as it’s covered on his website. You can download the model here in pdf form.

Much of these principles are unpacked in more detail in later books, especially The Five Dysfunctions and Getting Naked. So I don’t know if paying full price for this book is what you need to do. I would think a lot of it can be gleaned from The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. But for the price, it was a great and simple overview of some key things. Of all the ones here, the temptation of certainty was the one that was most helpful for me right now. It’s the one least covered in other books I’ve read so maybe that’s where I found a lot of value here. But overall – it provided a great opportunity for self-assessment and to explore possible development and change moving forward.

It was a great hour and fifteen minutes – I listened at 1.25x speed 🙂

The website for the book is here.

 

 

 

Quick Review: Pursuing Justice

One of the books with the most impact on me this year was Ken Wytsma’s Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger ThingsI read it in the summer, but I re-read it over the past couple of weeks. Wytsma founded Kilns college and started The Justice Conference. I’ve started going through the last couple conferences via what is on the internet and vimeo.

This book is a primer on God’s heart for justice and offers a corrective to both social gospel as well as gnostic, all that matters is the afterlife,  approaches to the gospel. There’s a strong Biblical foundation offered for what the Scriptures really say about justice and where many of us have gone off to one extreme or the other.

There’s a few chapters I loved.  There is a chapter focused on advent, the incarnation, that was exceptional regarding the call to incarnate into people’s lives and realities as fundamental to Christian life and ministry. Given that I re-read it prior to Christmas this year, my second reading of this chapter was even more meaningful. Maybe the chapter I appreciated the most though was the chapter entitled “Empathy” that connects are hard-wired human ability to feel what other people feel and experience as a key to God’s heart for justice. Without empathy, there is no justice.  There is a paradigm offered in this chapter regarding empathy and “the other” which may come in handy in my PhD research.

Wytsma covers a lot of ground. In addition to the above, he tackles briefly the gospel and politics, the history of the evangelical phobia of “social justice,” and the range of response to justice such as apathy. This book is a great introduction to thinking Biblically about justice and it’s a convicting one that all believers would benefit from.

One of my big takeaways, while not a new conviction, is a deeper commitment that Christian ministry along with its methodology reflects what the Scriptures really teach about the gospel and justice. That’s neither the social gospel or the spiritual escapism often present in evangelicalism today. When word and deed go together, it’s a powerful thing and I’m thankful for those who are helping lead the church towards a more integrated and restorative vision of what it means to be the Church.

I will come back to this book because it also cites really great sources and work from many historical and contemporary justice practitioners. While I’ve read a decent amount regarding justice, there was much that was new to me in terms of stories and anecdotes, but the resources referenced were just as much of a blessing.

 

Quick Review: The Mentor Leader

One of my personal goals this year was to do some intentional development in the mentoring area.  In the last several years I’ve been doing more mentoring by nature of my role as a faculty member with a commitment to mentor several men on a weekly basis. In the last five years I’ve noticed I’ve been in a transition phase – where I’ve been moving from one looking for mentoring to having to embrace this particular aspect of leadership in new ways the older I get.  I am comfortable mentoring situationally and without long-term commitment, but I’m increasingly in situations where I need to give more in these ways.  One of the developmental resources I chose to read was Tony Dungy’s The Mentor Leader since the title was in the neighborhood of what I am looking to learn more about and develop in.

The book does have some great principles and wisdom for mentoring, but in general, this is really a good team leadership resource. Dungy at points synthesizes some of the best insights from other leaders and then adds his own principles and philosophy. His philosophy is unpacked through his 7 “E’s” that he illustrates in his final chapter. These E’s are familiar words like engage, educate, empower, elevate, encourage and a couple others.  And they cover the essentials of culture shaping leadership that puts people first.

Dungy uses a lot of business and leadership content, but he uses Scripture more and does it pretty well. In that sense, this book can be used as a good servant leadership for people just beginning to learn about Christian or ministry leadership.  I can see this being a helpful outreach resource too for those that admire Tony Dungy from his football accolades and media presence.

It is full of stories and anecdotes from the sports world, which I enjoyed because I’m familiar with many of the names and personalities mentioned. Not everyone who has that backdrop may resonate with some of the illustrations or stories in the same way, but they provided great context and depth to Dungy’s content and teaching.

The book is well structured and includes a well-structured philosophy of leadership that is rooted in both Scripture and some of the better wisdom from leadership experts out there today. For those who have read tons of leadership reading, it may feel a bit light on theory and philosophy, but that’s ok for what Dungy’s general audience is in this book.  The focus is on helping people embrace the idea that adding value to other people’s lives is foundational to how we should define and understand leadership. In this way, there’s less here about how to accomplish things than there is on how to build others up in the process.

It’s a good resource. The audiobook is great because Dungy himself narrates it and for those that are familiar with his voice from his NFL television analyst role it feels quite natural and comfortable. The audiobook is at last check only $4.

There’s some things here I can envision using in the future, but in general, its strength is how it helps people embrace the call to add value to other people’s lives. That alone is a refreshing emphasis for a leadership book.

You can download a free pdf or mp3 of the 1st chapter of his book here.

 

 

Quick Review: 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness

Over the past year I have, as the opportunities have allowed, have worked my way through Eric Metaxas’ book 7 Men and The Secret of Their Greatness.  I took this book slow and when I was in the mood for a brief biography this was a great go to book, especially via the audiobook version.  Each biography is about 50-60 minutes on the audio book, basically the length of my commute to and from work.

The book includes 7 biographies of men of faith that have had a significant impact on others and society.  The list includes George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson.

Many of thus are well-known figures, some with movies documenting parts of their stories or journeys. Amazing Grace came out on William Wilberforce, Chariots of Fire on Eric Liddell, and most recently 42 on Jackie Robinson. I recommend all of them.

I personally learned new and significant things about each man that I didn’t know before even though I have been quite familiar with many of these men.  I enjoyed all of the brief biographies, but I was particularly encouraged from my learning on the lives of Pope John Paul II and Chuck Colson, who I did not know as much about. These men are quite different in their personalities, gifts, and historical and social contexts. But the faith and integrity demonstrated that showed up tangibly in service to others is quite the powerful common thread to their impact.

I am not typically a “biography” guy, but this was a great way to expose myself further to the lives and examples of these men and leaders, each in contexts that carried such great challenges.  I recommend the audiobook, which is my preferred mode to do biographies. It was a great antidote for traffic and long commutes.

 

Quick Review: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

I love Patrick Lencioni and I love his books, wisdom, and style of communicating. He does a great job communicating some complex things in simple modes. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is a book I’ve been wanting to get to and I’ve seen summaries of it, but only recently was able to get to.

This book is the intro book more or less to his overall model of organizational health that he unpacks more completely in more recent books. But this provides a good overview.

I’ve been involved in a lot of organizational health and change work lately so this was a helpful resource for me to do some assessment of what I and my team are doing well and where we need to be more intentional with the big picture in mind.

You can get some of the resources free online related to this book and the model included at Lencioni’s site here.

The book demonstrates through fable and a model 4 disciples for executive leaders for the sake of organizational health.

  1.  Build and maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team
  2. Create Organizational Clarity
  3. Over-Communicate Clarity
  4. Reinforce Clarity Through Human Systems

#1 is unpacked further in his well-known book,  Five Dysfunctions of a Team, but I’ve been in a perfect space to reflect on all four of these.  It’s been both affirming for some of what we’ve been able to do and also encouraging me to persevere in some of these areas for further clarity.

But the biggest value for me was Lencioni unpacking more specifically what each of these things involve.  Everyone believes clarity and communication is in important, but Lencioni provides a bit more detail that can help someone get a handle on where to focus their attention.

Quick Review: Strong and Weak

One of the richest and most practically helpful book I’ve read this year is Andy Crouch’s Strong and Weak.  It’s the third book I’ve read by Crouch this year and all three form together what I would describe to be a trilogy related to a theology and practice of image bearing. You can see some of my thoughts on the 1st of these books Culture Making here or the more recent Playing God here.

Strong and Weak is roughly an extension of Playing God.  Playing God  is a more in depth look at power and privilege. Strong and Weak continues that, but Crouch introduces a framework for understanding social ethics, relationships, and authority among other things.  This allows for a really clear conceptual understanding of much of what he unpacks in Playing God.

Crouch builds his book around a 2 x 2 chart. The X axis is represented by the concept of vulnerability, while the Y axis is represented by the concept of authority. Crouch draws from the first couple chapters of Genesis these two significant aspects of what it means to be an image bearer. Having the authority and ability to take meaningful action on one hand, and having the posture of vulnerability and risk on the other.

In the chart there are 4 quadrants, which Crouch describes as flourishing (high authority, high vulnerability), suffering or poverty (low authority, high vulnerability), withdrawal or apathy (low authority, low vulnerability) and exploitation (high authority, low vulnerability).  The book is organized around these quadrants and their implications for relationships, community, and even leadership as well.

The simple 2 x 2 chart provides a really helpful framework to understand some really complex dynamics as well as the powerful and countercultural implications of gospel action through people in different quadrants.  It provides a helpful way of understanding servant leadership, empowerment, social responsibility, and community development all in one.

This book is about 150 pages or so, very readable. I highly recommend you read this – it has something for everyone and it serves as an incredible teaching tool to help people understand how to look at the importance of both authority and vulnerability – which cover a surprising amount of the issues leaders have in negotiating the social realities of their contexts.

This is an important and helpful resource that should help people think more theologically and responsibly about the dynamic relationship between authority and human relationships.  I really encourage you to find time to read it.

 

Quick Review: Playing God

This month I worked my way through Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  Really this year I’ve worked through what is a trilogy essentially from Andy Crouch with three books that all revolve around the central theme of what it means to be human as God intended, as God’s image bearer. The first book in this thematic series is Culture Making, which I reviewed a few months back and I’ll review the third book Strong and Weak, which was released this year, sometime next week.

All three of these books are highly worth reading and I recommend reading them sequentially and together because of the continuity of ideas, language, and frameworks offered.

While Culture Making focused on the themes of creating and cultivating as image bearers, Playing God focuses more specifically on the theme of power and authority – related to its original design and intentions and to its abuse.

In a refreshing statement, Crouch begins the book with a clear thesis that power is a gift. It has purposes for people and communities that glorify God and that are meant to serve and honor other people.  But we all know the world is full of people who use power for their own gains, so the gift of power gets corrupted into something much worse. Actually we all use power for our own gain – that’s the power of sin in our lives. We all need to learn how God wants to redeem power for his purposes.

Crouch makes mention in several books of the importance of developing a theology of image bearing around the whole of Scripture – with special attention to Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. He argues that these 4 chapters guard against the dualistic theology prevalent for so many generations – where the only concern is trying to save souls from sin (Gen 3 – Rev).  I think it’s a helpful reminder to really think deeply about the whole Biblical narrative and its implications for all of life.  That’s the power of developing a theology of image bearing, whether it involves creativity or power. A solid theology of image bearing should inform all of life – relationships, power and authority, calling, and community.  This is what I appreciate about what Crouch attempts to do in his books.

Some of the sections that I think Crouch really did a great job with are his treatment of the themes of idolatry related to power. The chapters on idolatry and icons are really helpful and I’ve already gone back to a couple of those chapters.  There are some very helpful sections that help someone evaluate their hearts as the source of their behavior and what they worship in practice.

Another strength of the book is a framing and his effort to articulate the dynamics and even provide some measure of a theology of privilege. Privilege is often used pejoratively as a label. I’ve seen it misused more often than not, which is why Crouch’s efforts are really valuable.  While there are problems and limitations with the word “privilege,” no one can deny that this points to a reality which is very much true. It’s not an American thing either. Privilege exists as a social reality across the world that impacts identity and communities. Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and

Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and the dark side of privilege in its impact on relationships and society. These are realities we must help people understand through a more complete theological lens – not just through the lenses of social activism and social justice. These issues point us back to a more comprehensive vision of shalom, of what human life and community is meant to be.   For much of the last century and beyond, t

For much of the last century and beyond, there has been a theological gap in bias and practice between social justice and evangelistic mission.  There continues to be a divide today, albeit with different influences and forces driving some of those divides and reactions. Crouch attempts to bridge some of this gap through a theology of image bearing and power.  It is not the focus of the book to provide a comprehensive theology of the church as it relates to social action, but nonetheless there are very helpful sections to help inform how we think about the church’s role in society as part of a Great Commission vision.

Much of his work in Playing God gets elaborated on in Strong and Weak, in which he provides a helpful conceptual framework to illustrate how image bearing and power in community goes wrong….and right sometimes.

This book has very wide relevance and application so if you have not read it, I recommend getting all three of these books onto your reading list soon.