Engaging with People of Other Faiths

“When I am engaging with people of other religious faiths, I find myself unable to commit to their conclusions or agree with their assessments. Yet at the same time I come away encouraged by the spiritual truths found in their traditions, thrilled by new insights into my own faith, and more passionate than ever about being a disciple of Jesus. The truth is illuminated and elongated in my mind, and my presuppositions and myopic perspectives are challenged and corrected in the process.  Anything less would not be a conversation and would imply that truth is a proposition and not Christ.”

— Leonard Sweet, Nudge, Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There, p.28,

Jesus Manifesto Book Review

Earlier this month Thomas Nelson released Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the Supremacy and Sovereignty of Jesus Christ by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola.  A good deal of fanfare, (Facebook, Twitter, Blogosphere, etc.) preceded and accompanied  it’s release.  When books come to us this way, I find that many are disappointing, but that is not the case with this book — quite the opposite.

The title serves as a clarion call to the Church to make a course correction that provides an alternative path that is neither left or right, but forward with Christ.  From the introduction to conclusion, “Christ must be  ‘the ‘North Star’ or ‘Southern Cross’  in our exploration to know Him.   The point: the church is off course and nothing will bring her back on course, but “an inward revelation of Christ to our hearts by the Holy Spirit — “a progressive unveiling of the person who stands behind the sacred page and is the occupation of all things.” (p.19)

Throughout Sweet and Viola constantly and consistently make their call to course correction by providing their readers with fresh and needed correctives to our understanding of the person of Christ.

The serves as reminder that Christ is our chief occupation in both life and ministry.  Too often the Church occupies itself with secondary issues and doctrines (evangelism, missional ministry, social justice, praise and worship), relegating Christ to a mere side issue, or sub-point.  The reader is reminded in a fresh and culturally significant way that the route back is once again placing Christ as the end all and be all of all things.  The corrective is always found in the person of Christ – first and foremost.

Here is some of what I highlighted reading through this book:

  • God doesn’t lead you through phases or steps.  He draws you to Himself in continuous motion. p.69
  • In all the religions and philosophies of the world, a follower can follow the teachings of its founder with having a relationship with that founder.  But not so with Jesus Christ.  The teachings of Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus Himself.  Christ is still alive, and He embodies His teachings.  This is what separates Him from every great teacher and moral philosopher in history. p.82
  • Our problem is this: We have even created a narcissistic form of Christianity, in which “conversion” is less a turning toward to Christ than a turning turning toward success or fame or fortune.  Narcissus never had it so good than in best-seller Christianity, which has become self-centeredness wrapped up as “spirituality,” which has become the latest fashion accessory for the person who has everything.  p.100
  • The meaning of Christianity does not come from allegiance to principles of justice or complex theological doctrines, but a passionate love for a way of living in the world that revolves around following Jesus, who taught that love is what makes life a success; not wealth or health or anything else. Only love. p.117

If you are one who is dissatisfied with the present anemic condition of the western church, whether you are conservative or liberal, armenian or calvinist, reformed or pentecostal, whatever your theological ilk; this book is latent with Christological insight that all should agree on.  It serves as a timely corrective that will provide for the church a view and understanding of Christ that will aid it in an authentic embodiment of the Good News before the present postmodern world. Reading this book will engage many with a Christ they never knew and for others it will renew the “first love” they lost somewhere along the way.

If I were fashioning a curriculum for a “Christianity 101” class, this book would be at the top of my required reading list, it is extremely relevant, valuable, prophetic and timely.

Swimming Upstream

For those troubled over the consumeristic and consumptive mentality of contemporary western culture Swimming Upstream: Reflections on Consumerism and Culture by Christine Roush is a breath of fresh air.  This is not another book containing theories in an attempt to address our bent to keep up with the Jones’, but an honest assessment of the author’s personal struggle to counter this all consuming cultural malady so prevalent among us all. If this issue concerns you, you will find this book a valuable resource as you engage in your own struggle.

This book is an invitation to join in the struggle of swimming against cultural flow of consumerism we westerners live in.  As Christine Roush states in the introduction, any old fish can tumble down the stream.  Go against the flow. Contained within the pages of this book is found a holistic perspective on stewardship involving personal spirituality, time management, financial and fiscal responsibility,  corporate marketing, and care for God’s creation.  And in process an identification with the fish who valiantly swims upstream against the strong currents of culture’s norms.

Most valuable is the practical nature of this book.  Each chapter can stand alone on its own, but is also a piece of a larger whole.  The practicality of the book is found at the end of each chapter as the author provides four sections that offer the reader some added resources helpful and useful for his/her own swim upstream. They are: 1] Questions for further reflection, 2] A few suggestions in the form o an Action Plan, 3] Added resources for your personal upstream journey, and 4] a short story tying the chapter together.

Here are two excerpts that are invaluable and thought provoking:

I became wedded to my job in order to pay for my stuff, and I cannot see my way out.  My husband and I created a way of life that we thought we wanted.  Most days we are happy with it. But the truth is this; I no longer run my life.  My life runs me.  That bumper sticker I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go is not funny anymore. I set my sights on a certain standard of living, and now that standard takes a toll on my time. It owns me.  I have decided I want to be home more, I just cannot figure out how.  Still, I have remembered a wise saying: To get out of a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. I am almost ready to stop digging.  Maybe others are also ready to drop their shovels.

I am writing this the day after Columbus Day.  I am as excited about North America as the next person, and am glad Christopher Columbus established a connection between the hemispheres, but does a celebration of this event really require an extra twelve flyers in the newspaper, all telling me about their blow-out Columbus Day sale?  Is every holiday meant to be about buying stuff?

This is a valuable book for everyone finding themselves in the cultural stream of consumerism and searching for ways and strength to swim upstream against this torrential current.  A great resource particularly for those of us who would like to align ourselves with the Roman 12:2 text of Scripture.

The Meeting of the Waters

The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents that will Propel the Future of the Church is a newly released book published by David C. Cook and written by Fritz Kling.  What follows is a short synopsis of the 7 Global Currents.

MERCY

Younger people of faith around the world increasingly demonstrate their piety and their love for others by serving–by feeding the hungry, addressing AIDS, rescuing girls sold into slavery, saving the earth, etc.

MUTUALITY

While Americans and the West had long been the leaders of worldwide “Christendom,” now Christians from countries all around the world have the education, access, resources, and confidence to share leadership with powerful countries like the US.

MIGRATION

People everywhere are on the move, to meet economic needs, flee repression or combat, seek freedom or asylum, enjoy tourism, etc.  While in the past Christian missionaries reached diverse people groups by ships or planes or trains, now everywhere in the world is more diverse.

MONOCULTURE

Focusing on helping individual people in the unique cultures and countries in which they live, the Christian church has trained and sent missionaries around the world for a long time.

MACHINES

The importance of technology is not news to anyone, but its impact on Christian communities around the world has its surprises. Studies on technology and evangelism abound, so I highlight examples of how technology is radically changing disaster relief efforts.

MEDIATION

Many people say that the world is “flattening,” and that we’re all coming closer together. But the internet and available media are actually providing more opportunities, tools, and points for polarization and division.  Who will mediate, and how?

MEMORY

In the shadow of so many game-changing trends, every country, region and village has its own “backstory” — those historical features, clues and codes that may be unseen but affect everything in those societies.

Looking forward to reading this book

The Bartender

The Bartender: A Fable about a Journey written by Michael McNichols is inspiring, encouraging and profound.   A wonderful story about a Pastor and his leadership struggling with the issue of “evangelism.”  Specifically, how do they bring their congregation to a place of being intentional about sharing their faith with consistency and intentionality that will result in people coming to faith in Christ.  This is a concern for most pastors and congregations and even denominations – at least those that would label themselves evangelical.

If you are a frustrated pastor or church leader lacking either the energy or  ability to ignite your constituency to do evangelism or join your most current outreach program, this book is for you.

If you are feeling that doing evangelism is something for those more qualified, biblically literate, and professionally trained, or that if I do this I’m in need of more training, this book is for you.

If you find yourself terrified at the prospect of sharing your faith with another individual, or you believe your faith is a private matter, this book is for you.

If you don’t want to be identified as an over zealous Christian radical who wears a sign-boards, this book is for you.

If you have someone you would like to share your faith with, but just don’t know how, this book is for you.

If you believe that God is already out there preparing a way for you to engage your culture and community, this book is for you.

If your stuck in what some refer to as the “Evangelical Bubble” and wanting to escape, this book is for you.

If you want to discover new ways of living out the implications of your faith, this book is for you.

The story that McNichols tells, is not about a new programmatic ways and means to share one’s faith, but what a natural expression of God’s grace looks like in the lives of those who take serious their responsibility in being salt and light in their respective worlds.

If this story could be embraced and applied to the majority of those who identify themselves as Christian, we would all soon find ourselves living in a better world.

Mosaic Bible – Impressive

I purchased a copy of the Mosaic Bible from Tyndale House Publishers. I must say, I’m impressed!!  It is actually two books in one. The first is a 52 week devotional geared to the Christian Calendar featuring traditions from Church history using quotations, essays, poems, hymns  from individuals representing every century.  The second book is the second addition of the New Living Translation with center column references and a number of others features of most standard Bibles.

I have found the first book devotionally valuable and will be using the Mosaic Bible as my primary bible for 2010.  It begins with the Christmas advent and ends with Pentecost.

According to the Church Calendar we are in Advent Week 4.  Here is an example Mediation I found quite encouraging living in the current chaos of our times as we celebrate the 2009 Advent.

THERE’S A LIGHT UPON THE MOUNTAIN

There’s a light upon the mountains,

And the day is at the spring

When our eyes shall see the beauty

And the glory of the King;

Weary was our heart with waiting,

And the night-watch seems so long,

But his triumph-day is breaking,

And we hail it with a song.

In the fading of the starlight

We can see the coming morn;

And the lights of men are paling

In the splendors of the dawn;

For the eastern skies are glowing

As with light of hidden fire,

And the hearts of men are stirring

With the throbs of deep desire……

He is breaking down the barriers,

He is casting up the way,

He is calling for His angels

To build up the Gates of Day;

But his angels here are human,

Not the shining hosts above,

For the drum-beats of His army

Are the heart-beats of our love.

— Henry Burton (England/ 1578-1648)


What our faith is about…

Walter Brueggemann writes:

  • if you cringe at the boisterous, cocky new sound of religion in politics,
  • if you worry about the divisiveness of “red” and “blue” and 
  • if you are vexed that too many people claim to to be speaking directly for Christ…..

you might think that our Christian faith is all about getting the moral issues right and leveraging others to think and act the right way, as do we.  But if you think that, you are very wrong, because such contemporary loud posturing is not so much about faith as it is about anxiety and maintaining control in the world.  Our faith, I propose, is not about pinning down moral certitudes. It is, rather, about openness to wonder and awe in glad praise.                  Mandate to Difference p.1