Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren Book Review

I recently completed the book Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren for the Viral Bloggers web site.  I feel that it is best to admit that I generally do not consider myself as being in the emergent camp, but I do like to follow the conversation that they are involved in.  I am a believer in Organic Christianity and that is sometimes in contras,t in my opinion, to what I find in organized religion.  With that being said though, I do love all my brothers and sisters in the Lord despite our differing views and opinions on how one worships the Lord.

This book was a challenging read for me, as I am a huge fan of the premise.  There is a need in our current culture to strip back everything that has been piled on top of Christ into this entity that we call religion.  It is for this reason that I selected The Naked Gospel previously from the Viral Bloggers to read.  This review is not a compare and contrast though but rather a look into what motivates me in selecting the books that I review.  It was hard for me to read this book and put some of the rumors that I had heard about Brian McLaren on the back burner.  Since I have not read his previous books, including his A New Kind of Christianity, I did not want to let the review be tainted.  As I read the book, I found that there were many chapters that I enjoyed.  I also enjoyed the attempts of the author to put much of his life and his journey into the pages of this book.

With the 12 words for his book established (here, thanks, O, sorry, help, please, when, no, why, behold, yes, and silence) Brian takes us along a journey with him to how he ended up where he is today.  And I loved this.  I enjoy the journey, but I must be honest with everyone and say that I felt like many of the chapters were broken down into two sections.  One section dealing with Brian’s journey and another that dealt with the word.  I freely admit that could be my reading of it and even been influenced by some early perceptions.  The problem that I had with this dynamic was that much of the time, I felt that they were set up in such a way that they words were not meant to be unique to the Christian faith or the Christian reader, but rather the book was structured to have universal truths with Brian’s underlying story being one that included Christ.  I felt that the words were to anybody reading the book.  The non-personal narrative seemed to reference “God” but not necessarily Christ.  Christ was a part of Brian’s story, but Christ’s story was not central to this book as a whole.

For me reading this through my Christian eyes made things very difficult because I do believe that Christ needs to be intertwined into each and every of the twelve words and not a footnote in the examples of each word.

With that being said, I was able to push beyond that and complete the book.  I actually enjoyed the insight that the book provided and I would even walk away from the book and recommend it.  If you will struggle with the same things that I did, most of the time Brian would refer to “God”, I would replace it with Christ and push along.  While, I might have violated the author’s intent with the book by doing so, it allowed me to complete the book and gain some valuable insite into my own personal story and walk with the Lord.

If the author’s intent was for this book to reach many of those that fall into the “unchurched” category or those seeking, then I can commend him for that attempt and hope that many of them will pick up the book with an open mind.  Brian does a good job of peeling away many layers and starts one on a journey to get back to something more basic and far more enriching than what many find today in organized religion.

Nudge by Leonard Sweet

I am currently working my way through the book Nudge by Leonard Sweet.  Overall, I am enjoying the book.  It is a book that addresses evangelism from the perspective that I have come to believe is more in line with the New Testament than what I have found in the west.  The book focuses not on going to the nations and being centered on finding the lost and converting them, but it desires for believers to find Jesus in everyone.  Overall I would recommend this book to a believer, but the manner in which a few topics are written, it’s target audience would appear to be somewhat on the intellectual or mature side.

For me this is the only deterrent from recommending this book emphatically.  I found that at times, it addressed the ideas behind evangelism beautifully, but at other times, the topic would be lost in it its own cerebral descriptions.  If someone is apprehensive or looking to find out what true evangelism looks like, to have to wade through heavy concepts and ideas that lack exposition, it would cause one to put the book down. As I have read the book, I have found myself engrossed and encouraged by the words on the page, only to find that moment broken by having to google a term or look it up in reference materials.

That though is a minor fault, when I look at all that book has to offer the believer looking to break away from the systems and ideologies that exist to describe how to save the lost.  At many instances, I found that this book was fantastic because it reminds the believer, that they must be evanagelizing themselves.  That is to say they must be looking for Jesus and not looking at people as projects.  Evangelism is something that takes place daily in every interaction that a believer has.  They are sharing Christ by how they live their lives.

For me, while this book has a few minor shortcomings, this is the best book on evangelism that I have read.  I would recommend this to any individual, but would really encourage groups to pick it up and read it together.  This book will not simply help in evangelism to the world at large, but to each other within our own faith communities.

The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley Review

I recently completed Andrew Farley’s, The Naked Gospel.  To be totally honest, I do not know how I would rate the book.  I found myself thoroughly enjoying a chapter or section, only to feel a few pages later that it was time to move on to another topic.  I felt that as I read the book, a new chapter would begin, but the topic of conversation or even the approach to the same topic did not change much at all.

With that said, I still think that I would recommend this book to others.  I would recommend this book to those that some times need to be hit over the head numerous times before things sink it.  The topics within the book, were not mind-blowing or staggering.  The fact that the book centered on the idea of “Jesus plus nothing” is obviously not a new convention.  Churches and people have been arguing on the proper way to do “Jesus plus nothing” for ages.

I appreciated the approach that Farley took with this book though.  It felt conversational and easy going as opposed to a book that relied on demonstrating superior knowledge in order to woo the reader into thinking the author was much more intelligent and therefore must be right.  I was able to leisurely approach the book and find enjoyment in the metaphors that were used.  I enjoyed the discussion on the law and the new spiritual creation that one becomes when they are reborn.

Overall I appreciated the message that Farley was wanting to bring and share.  I got bored when it seemed that it was slow to move from one idea to the next.  Or at times, I would think we had moved on, only to return to the same old topic and the same conclusion.

If I had a star system to rate this book, I would still give it 3.5 out of 5.  The material is presented in a way where most anyone could understand it and be encouraged by it.  Even in the areas where my personal beliefs did not line up with the authors, I did not feel threatened by the differences.  It never came across to me as a “my way or the highway” book and that is something that is commendable in today’s culture.

The Book of the Shepherd by The Scribe Book Review

I have to agree with many of the reviewers here and say that there is good in the book, but for me it was far from fulfilling of a read.  I gave it a three star review because it was short, sweet and didn’t make me think all that much.

There is some good truths to the book, but they are what I consider to be surface level truths.  They are things that many of us know to be true and probably believe, but that we do not always act out.

I wanted to like the book.  I wanted it to be something that I could read with a group and start serious discussion with, and I believe that it could do that, I just do not think that it would lead to the sort of discussion the author intended.

I honestly think that the fact that the author wanted me to believe that this was some story that was found and recently translated, I immediately distrusted the tale itself.  It allowed me to read it and feel that the author did not believe the very words that were penned.

All in all, I cannot say that I disliked the book, but it is hard to openly and honestly say that I enjoyed it as well.

Through the River – Book Review

I recently read Through the River by Jon and Mindy Hirst.  I started reading the book with great anticipation as I felt the topic of truth is relevant to any discussion that takes place.  I felt that how one views truth is extremely important when religion enters into any conversation.  I wanted the book to break down some walls and be something that I could pass along to others so that they might open their eyes and minds to the idea of different approaches and opinions to the same topic.  I wanted the book to truly encourage people to strive to put aside their pre-conceived notions on how life is and start trying to step into other people’s worlds; in essence, to see the world through someone else’s eyes.

Unfortunately, I was not able to complete the book as it just did not keep my interest.  I honestly felt that many of the topics were too general and there was little that encouraged the reader to come to their own conclusions.  I felt like through the part I was able to complete, the authors were attempting to steer my reading down the path they desired.  It did not seem to approach the “towns” from the approach of pro’s and cons in an unbiased straight forward manner, but instead, I felt like I was being guided to one set of pros away from two sets of cons.

I do hope that the next selection does provide a bit more unbiased substance.

A Prayer To Our Father – Book Review

I just completed the book A Prayer to Our Father by Nehemia Gordon and Keith Johnson.  When I had the opportunity to review this book, I was very excited.  I had read the promo blurb about it and was very excited as it explores the origins of the Lord’s Prayer.  It is a journey that is carried out by a Christian and a Jew together.  I was not disappointed with this book in the least.  It appealed to my desire for knowledge, but it also added in a very personal meaning.  It also didn’t hurt that much of what the book spoke on and detailed lined up with what I believe about the kingdom of God as well how faith should be lived it.  I also enjoyed the simplicity with which some of the complex word meanings are outlined.

The book can in some regard be broken down into two parts.  The first is a look at how the two authors came to meet each other as well as explaining how a Jew and a Christian can explore the Scriptures together.  It was a good example of a dialog between the faiths.  The second part is an actual break down of the prayer from its original Hebrew (the authors explain the history as to why the prayer was in Hebrew as opposed to Greek).  They take each line and break it down into what it would mean to both the cultural groups and how it can play into their identity.  As a Christian, I enjoyed having the Jewish perspective there as Jesus and His followers were Jewish.

There are many interesting tidbits that the authors point out and I truly enjoyed reading about the history as well as reading the slight changes in the versions of the prayer.  These changes are minor, but add much to what I would believe is the truth behind the Lord’s Prayer.  By having someone look at the Hebrew version, it appears that this “version” lines up with more with the remainder of the Scriptures.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys church history explained in layman’s terms.

The Seven Faith Tribes – Full Review

This month for the Viral Bloggers I am reviewing the book The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna.  To be honest, this book is based more on interpretation of numbers from polls and such.  I will not go into a lot of detail on their information gathering techniques, but it is by looking at a large number of polls that had a couple of faith questions.  It was from these polls that Barna extracted the information on the lifestyles and the rest of the information.  It is also interesting because this book attempts to remove any sort of slant on the various tribes.  The author fully discloses his Christian faith, but explains how this book was written as a means to explaining the various tribes and how the all fit into the current economy and how the shifting values in America are causing the once peaceful interaction or co-existence of the faiths to become contentious.

I must admit that after reading the first three chapters (dealing with how the data was collected, the importance of the data, and then a chapter on Casual Christians, and a chapter on Captivated Christians), I think that the book is more than worth it, and I would highly recommend this book.  My reason for saying that is because as a Christian, we like to think that we are in the captivated category, but after reading this we slowly will see that we have allowed our values to slip and slide.  I think that, this in and of itself is pretty enlightening to read.

I am halfway through the chapter on American Jews and am starting to find areas that I wish were of value still to the modern day Christian.  While the American Jew is not tied to religious tradition, they are deeply communal and familial.  This is something that I think has been lost, that was not a part of the transition between the old and the new covenant.

In the second part of the review, I will cover the rest of the book as well as look at how it is all pieced together.

I completed The Seven Faith Tribes today and in the latter chapters, I felt that my enthusiasm for the book dwindled on some level, but that is from my own personal convictions and beliefs on what needs to happen in order to truly change the world and our country for the better.  I am a believer in Jesus Christ and as such, I have tendencies that will push me to one side of the spectrum on issues.  So when Barna calls for all the tribes to focus on the similarities, I can appreciate his point.  I can even commend him for his ability to detach himself from his “tribe” in order to attempt to write a book that takes us out of our safe little boxes.

I do however feel that many of the obstacles we face today, are bigger and deal with a lot more than the “can’t we all just get along” mentality.  I do strongly agree with the ideas that were expressed in the first chapter about the paradigm shifts that are taking place, or have taken place in the US.  I can even agree with many of the stances that he takes in the latter chapters, but there are from an idealogical standpoint, that would call for many people to give up some of their core beliefs from within the tribes themselves.

The main thing that I did not see addressed was the simple truth that within the culture shift, there has been a marginalizing of the Christian perspective.  It is a trait, that I did not see fully covered and that is that, the majority can be removed for the sake of the minority.  Society and the US has moved into a realm of being so afraid to offend that we remove the majority for the sake of tolerance. That which is given to the public is through a completely different lens, the lens of tolerance.  The majority tribe (Christians – Casual or Captivated) are asked to put aside their views for the sake of the other tribes, without the same thing being expected from the other tribes.

Overall though, I do think that the book was worth reading.  I do think that this book is eye-opening in how it explores and lays out a broad understanding of the various tribes.  I think that the ideas suggested by Barna are good and encouraging on some level, but they are at times a lot to ask.  To ask all the tribes, to become a melding pot and yet still hold onto their individuality is a little hard to swallow.

But even with saying all that, I would recommend that people read this book for the sake of seeing those broad pictures of the tribes.  The information within those sections will surprise many.

Book Review for the Month – Christ in Y’all

I recently finished the second book for the viral bloggers site.  For the second book, I selected a two pack of a book and a CD.  I will cover the CD first as it is relatively easy to review.

Dede – From the Fields of Boaz

Overall, there is not a lot that I have to say about the CD.  It comes across as a demo CD with five tracks on it.  For the most part I enjoyed the CD, but did think that it sounded unpolished.  It did feel like it was a good combination to go with the book as most of the songs sounded as if they could be used in an intimate gathering for worship.  I primarily enjoyed the message on songs four and five.  The CD does have a fairly broad diversity in musical attempts and that is why it sounded somewhat like a demo CD.  I would listen to a full CD if one was released, but for the most part, I would recommend it to someone else that was looking for something that had a good message and is something new.

On to the book review

Christ in Y’all by Neil Carter

For the most part, Ienjoyed the book.  With that being said, I felt that the author should have focused on follwing Christ and less on trying to make the argument between traditional church attendance and home church.  I find that he made the same mistake that many make when they wish to talk about the home church movement.  Somewhere between deciding to leave the traditional church and begin meeting in homes, the ability to connect with others increases.  The truth is that many people that write about why the small intimate house meetings are “better” seem to focus on Sunday only.

They fail to acknowledge that organic church relationships can be made in the traditional churches if the members are willing to extend the invitation to meeting people outside the Sunday service.  But this problem of not having organic church life does not fall solely on the fact they go to a traditional church.  The system may be flawed, but you have to admit that some of the problems fall on the individual.  If you want to have organic life with people, then you have to spend time with them and meet with them.  Just because you meet once or twice in a home, does not a relationship make.  I can go to a home meeting and not form relationships with those there.  I have been to several home meetings where I did not get to know the people involved any more than I would have known them had I been in a traditional church meeting.  I think that people need to recognize that there are some faults with the traditional church model, but not all the problems are in the system.  Some of them have to do with human laziness.  Just changing how we meet, does not change the nature of the beast.

I will give the author credit for what he is trying to do and for admitting that the changes do take time.  I just wish that author’s in this movement were willing to acknowledge that the traditional church is not an enemy.  I wish that when I read some of these books, they would asknowledge that some of the same problems they point out with the traditional church can arise in home meetings as well.  I have been a part of home churches where one man becomes a leader that teaches every week.  I have been a part of home churches where there is a hidden leadership structure.  As previously mentioned, there are home churches where people still meet once a week and have a very organized service and that is all the relationship that comes from it.

It is for that very reason, that I wish that many of these authors would focus on following the Spirit and following Christ example because it is in these areas, that I feel many of the authors that are writing from the home church movement perspective have very solid things to say.  I enjoyed many of the points this author made about following Christ and living in the Spirit.  I thought that Mr. Carter wrote in a very easy, concise manner that touched on some very good things that I think are skipped over in many places today.  I think that for the most part if the author would have focused on living with a heart focused on the Lord and living in the Spirit then this book would have been much more beneficial to me.  I also would not have run into some frustration becuase of those things previously stated.

The biggest question is whether I would reccomend it or not.  I think that if you are into the Home Church movement, then this book is right up your alley and will be something that makes many of the arguments simple and straight forward.  If you have not read any other books about the movement, this is a great starting place.  It is a good introduction to authors like Frank Viola and the like.  I am a fan of home churches, but I think that if you are going to make an argument against it, one needs to focus on how the system limits the Spirit moving or how the system can be the problem, but please do not forget that many of the people that attend traditional church are seeking the Lord and want to follow the Spirit.  You can attack the system and how you feel it affects things, but be careful when it comes across about the people.  If you want to have an organic church, the people are going to be the key.

the furious longing of God by Brennan Manning

I recently signed up to be a viral blogger.  Since I enjoy reading, and enjoy blogging (writing), it was a good fit for me.  I read one book a month, write a review and then select another book.  It is a great opportunity for me to be introduced to different authors that I might not otherwise have read.

The first book that I read was the furious longing of God by Brennan Manning.

I must start off my review by stating that the book was not what I expected at all.  I honestly thought that I was going to be reading a story that had hints of autobiography in it, but that was not the case.  This was a book that dealt with and tried to define varying aspects of what it means to truly be a Christian.  I thought that the second half of the book was more encouraging that the first part.  I was honestly a little frustrated with the first half, feeling that the author was very impressed with himself and his views on faith.

If I was not reading the book for a review, I might have put it down and not returned to it.  It was not that I felt the content was bad.  In fact, most of the content and the ideas presented, I found encouraging and enjoyable.  I ran into trouble when it started to come across to me that the author thought very highly of how he has lived his life.  It was not until the second half of the book that I felt that the author could adequately relate to what many Christians face in regards to viewing themselves as a failure in the eyes of the Lord.

When Manning, moved towards the current state of the church and the truth that many people are becoming disenchanted with it, my interest increased.  I was left thinking that more people need to read this and understand that the Lord loves us where we are.  He loves us and sent His son for us, so that we might enter a relationship with Him.  We would be united with Christ.  I especially enjoyed the description that discussed what it meant to be like Christ – it is not about imitating that actions of Christ but about approaching life and people in the same manner as Christ did.  That is a rather simple paraphrase, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that Manning pushes believers in a direction that is away from performance-based spirituality.

He encourages people to truly understand the Gospel and what it means to be made a new creation in Christ.

I am surprised to be saying this, but I would recommend this book to someone else.

For additional information please see the following:

Brennan Manning Home Page

Book Trailer

Book Sample