David Fitch — Prodigal Christianity

David Fitch is one of my favorite thinkers currently thinking and writing about the church. For me, he provides a welcome relief from writers like David Platt and Francis Chan, two thinkers who are very popular, and obviously well-intentioned, but who are suggesting cures for the church that I’m convinced are actually part of the problem. Fitch is one of the rare thinkers in the church who is thinking creatively, who is willing to venture far enough out onto the ledge to find something fairly new to say.

Fitch’s book The End of Evangelicalism had a big impact on me a couple of years ago when it was released. It has influenced much of my thinking and practice of church ever since. Frankly, he freed me to go out as far in my thinking as I had always wanted to, but had been too afraid.

What follows is a brief video where Fitch and cowriter Geoff Holsclaw talk about their new book Prodigal Christianity, which I haven’t yet read, but I will be soon. When I do, I will post a review here. If you beat me to the punch, and you’re interested in submitting a review of the book to me to be possibly published here as a guest post, I’d love to work with you. Email your review to me at dave at davidkflowers dot com.

My top book recommendations: Psychology/Self-help

Despite having a B.S. in Clinical Psychology and an M.A. in Counseling, I don’t read a lot of “straight” psychology books. Often they are boring and extremely theoretical. I tend to read practical psychology books, the kind that most others would find interesting in this category. A rare exception to this makes up my first choice today:

1. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. Frankl (a psychiatrist) and his family were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. In this challenging, galling, depressing, and yet extremely moving account, Frankl theorizes that people and circumstances can rob you of everything you have in the world except the thing that matters most , which is your ability to choose your attitude in any and every situation. This idea is now one of the foundations of modern psychotherapy. Even if you are not a frequent reader of books in this category, do yourself the favor of reading this one soon. You won’t regret it.

2. The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. This gazillion seller contains one of the most thoughtful meldings of psychology and spirituality I have seen. Read it and you will understand yourself better and you will be better equipped to love those around you.

3. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero. This one may not be that interesting to my readers who are more secularly-minded, but it is fantastic with the idea of accepting responsibility for one’s emotional and spiritual growth and how growth happens.

My top book recommendations: Leadership

When in doubt, wave a flag

Andrew Becraft, “Leadership” September 25, 2006 via Flickr, Creative Commons

Mark Twain said there is little difference between a person who can’t read and a person who doesn’t. So true, and one of the surest signs that a person needs to read is that he/she has no use for it. Similarly, one of the first things you learn when you begin reading is how critical reading is. My next several posts will deal with my top book recommendations in a number of categories. We begin today with leadership.

I’m sick of leadership books. Then again I probably only have the luxury of saying that because I have read hundreds of them. By the time you have read a hundred leadership books (and perhaps far fewer), you realize that leadership is more art than science. Still, there are books that are essential in the field.

  1. The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John Maxwell. For some reason John seems to ignite controversy but I think he’s just blunt, which is, I think, a fairly good way to get at the truth. This book is a must-read. It has the distinction of being the only book on leadership I would recommend to you if I knew you were only going to read one.
  2. Good to Great, by Jim Collins. Now-legendary book about how organizations leap across the chasm that separates good from great. Well-written, and based on solid research.
  3. The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, by Steven Sample. The leadership book for people who are tired of leadership books.
  4. The Servant, by James Hunter. This book is written in an accessible allegory format, for those who prefer fiction. It is a book about the soul of leadership.
  5. Leadership, by Rudolph Giuliani. Although I no longer see as eye to eye with Giuliani as I used to politically, one must give credit where credit is due. Giuliani inspired America with his leadership after 9/11, and in this book he explains that he did it simply by following the same routines he had followed for years. A great book about the habits of an effective leader.
Question: What are your favorite books on leadership? Any in my top five that you think need to be demoted?

Photo

Sex on the rooftop sells books

Apparently a pastor in Texas is going to set up a bed on the roof of his church and hit the sack with his wife there for 24 hours. The 24 hour bed-in will be broadcast on the Internet. The date corresponds with a book the pastor will be releasing about sex.

Source: http://thesexperiment.com/

Really? When I was growing up in the church, the revolutionary message was, “Christians can rock too!” Now our church leaders are doing “Christians can f**k too?” No thanks. Is that really where we’re at? By the way, I too have had weeks where I have encouraged couples to be intentional about having all the sex they can — I think that needs to happen. But this whole thing reminds me a bit of the scene in that Monty Python movie…(warning to the sensitive — there is brief nudity in this scene, and a comic demonstration of sex):

In what way is this different? The Youngs feel the need to demonstrate sex by getting in bed together, and to do it on a rooftop, put it on the Internet, etc., for the supposed benefit of others. (The mere fact that some, perhaps many, may in fact benefit in various ways is beside the point.)

BTW, my use of the term f**k instead of the less vulgar “have sex” is intentional. It seems to me that once you put it on a rooftop and invite thousands of people out to see it, it could never be anything other than f***ing. After all, the medium is the message, right? Can you take sex and put it in a barnyard and have it in the mud and invite all the neighbors and expect that what they will see — no matter your intentions — is beauty and intimacy in action?

This is Spinal Tap is a brilliant 1984 mockumentary about a fake band called Spinal Tap that is a send up of the absurdity, filth, excess, and stupidity of rock culture. (Great movie, but to be compared to anything that happens in it is not good.) Their song Sex Farm comes to mind here. In the movie the point is made, ironically of course, about how this song debases sex.

Comment on the song Sexfarm,by Spinal Tap, from the movie This is Spinal Tap, 1984

Now for the song. Again, if you are sensitive about sexual things, this lyric will bother you. Don’t watch it. It debases sex, big time. That’s the point.

The song “elevates” sex (according to the band) by taking the idea of it and putting it on a farm. Does it matter whether it’s a farm or a rooftop? Isn’t the medium the message? Aren’t you always saying more by how you say something (and the context in which you say it) than by the words you say? So again I ask my question. Can you take sex and put it in a barnyard (on a rooftop) and have it in the mud (in the sky) and invite all the neighbors (the Internet) and expect that what they will see — no matter your intentions — is beauty and intimacy in action?

My presumption is that Pastor Ed and Linda aren’t actually going to have sex, but that too is beside the point. What is going to be accomplished by this circus that couldn’t be accomplished more effectively by simply modeling appropriate sexual attitudes in one’s personal and public life day after day? I’m not questioning that Pastor Ed is already doing that. I’m just stating that it’s enough.

This media show is every bit as absurd as the Monty Python clip above, isn’t it? And depending on your point of view, it’s every bit as funny. Or every bit as tasteless. Then again, quietly living out a life of sexual propriety, decency, responsibility, faithfulness, and integrity — as great as that is — doesn’t sell books. Besides, who wants to see a pastor and his wife in bed together? Creepy.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088258/

Love Wins? Count On It!

Rob Bell's Love Wins book

What’s the Big Deal?

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins. I did this because so many people have asked my opinion about it. Love Wins is the first Rob Bell book I have ever completed. His material normally is not challenging or enlightening to me on any level whatsoever. Love Wins was the same. However, people are not asking me if I find the material challenging or enlightening. They are asking me if I agree with it. And I can say, for the most part, yes I do. In fact I don’t see what the big deal is.

Shaping God

There’s something people really need to deal with that they often do not deal with. Christian people often refuse to deal with the fact that, as Bell stated, we shape our God and then our God shapes us. A huge number of Christians will tell you that at their church they just teach the Bible, not the “opinion of man,” as if the Bible and our opinion of it can truly be separated. That’s simply absurd. You pick up the Bible. You read it. You think about it, but you tend to think differently about certain things than I do. You see nuances I may not see, and miss ones I may catch. You read with different eyes, different understandings, and even different needs and a different heart.

This is what it means to say you shape your God. You read into the text the God you need to believe in. I know. I do too. We all do. The question is, who do you need God to be? In order for God to “save” you, bring you peace and joy, and assure you that you are safe in this universe, do you need to know beyond doubt that millions of other people have missed the boat and are burning in hell? If so, that’s the God that appeals to you. The thing that’s important is that we stop this shell-game of insisting that this or that opinion of the Bible and its meaning is completely drawn from the text itself and is therefore the authoritative version and any other opinions or ideas must therefore be not only wrong but heretical.

Questions

As far as I’m concerned, the very best thing about Love Wins is the number of questions it asks. If someone simply reads all these questions and then sits with them for a while, I think the truth will make itself clear. They will make Bell’s basic point appear necessary, which I believe it is if we are to really believe God is who we have always said God is.

In the meantime, why is this book controversial? Does Rob Bell ever once make the claim that he knows what happens to people after they die? Nope. Does he ever claim there is no such thing as hell or that no one is going there? Much the opposite. Does he ever claim that anyone other than the risen Christ is working to bring people to the knowledge of God? Never.

Objections and Responses

“But it leans toward universalism.” Definitely — at least compared to the “turn or burn” version of things. And still, leaning toward universalism and being a universalist are very different. “It’s terrible theology.” Well certainly it is for those who reject his ideas. C.S. Lewis would beg to differ. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, defends the book. “It’s heresy.” So you say, but you didn’t even really read the book, apparently — after all, you still think Bell’s a universalist.  🙂 “But millions of people in hell has been the established position of the church for two thousand years.” Yeah. They thought burning people alive was a good idea too. They’ve had a lot of bad ideas. They’ve been wrong a lot. Don’t be offended by that, it’s just facts.

It’s always funny to me how good Protestants will rail on Catholics like crazy for not really getting the whole God thing, but when Protestant B departs from strict orthodoxy, Protestant A will start saying how “the church has always believed…” (which must mean the Catholic Church since they were the only game in town for so long). Personally, I’m not in the least bit anti-Catholic, but the double-standard is funny. Which is it? Do the Catholics always get it or not? I think they’re like me. And like you. And like Rob Bell. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. Hopefully they continue to pray for the wisdom and humility to know which is which.

Conclusion

I’m sure Rob Bell prays for the same. In the meantime, Love Wins said things that need to be said and I applaud Bell for his courage. Of course Love Wins. Isn’t God love? Doesn’t God win?

Rule for commenting on this post. You must have actually read the book.