Blog Tour

washed-waiting1

Homosexuality, Faith, and a Book: Why Wesley Hill is a Must-Read for All Christians

I received a complimentary copy of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill from Zondervan as part of their Blog Tour promotion. I purposefully signed up for this tour because I really wanted to read and engage with the writing and thoughts of a homosexual Christian who wrestled with identity and faithfulness.

I knew from the start that Wesley Hill and I would have a different understanding of God’s intention and homosexual orientation, but I sought to engage his story and see what his story could offer other homosexual Christians but also what it could offer the entire Body of Christ.

The first thing that everyone must recognize is that Hill is not writing this as an argument for his understanding of homosexuality but rather its purpose is to offer hope and a way of life for other homosexual Christians that hold the same beliefs as him. What are those beliefs? First and foremost, Hill recognizes himself as someone with homosexual orientation. In other words he was born as an individual who is only sexually attracted to individuals of the same sex. The second and equally important thing to realize is that Hill does not believe that homosexual orientation was ever the intention of God. Instead, Hill sees homosexual orientation as a by-product of the fall and the effect it had on all of creation. Thus, Hill, in light of his understanding of Scripture and the beliefs of Christian tradition, believes that acting on his orientation and fulfilling his desires is still a sin.

I can understand where Hill is coming from even though I disagree with his understanding of sexual orientation and it is important for anyone reading this book to enter into the narrative of Hill’s book with an understanding of where Hill is coming from. To write off Hill because of disagreements with his conclusions would be a serious mistake because you would miss out on a powerful story of struggle with identity, desire, and faithfulness.

Let me say that within the framework of Hill’s intention for writing the book (to offer hope to other homosexual Christians who hold the same understanding of sexual orientation and God’s desire) he has succeeded. I can only imagine that those who find themselves in similar faith communities and theological frameworks will find in Hill a kindred spirit who helps them with their identity and gives them a kindred spirit on their journey.

But I think Hill would be selling himself short if he thinks this is the only audience that benefits from his story. I found that this book offers immense value to the Body of Christ because it deals in such powerful ways with the struggle of “human desire” and “faithfulness.” While I may disagree with Hill’s understanding of acting on his homosexual orientation as a sinful “human desire,” I cannot but realize through entering into his struggle to see the benefit to all of us as Christians and our sinful human desires and their challenges to our living a faithful life.

Hill writes on page 68:

And this means that our pain–the pain of having our deeply ingrained inclinations and desires blocked and confronted by God’s demand for purity in the gospel–far from being a sign of our failure to live the life God wants, may actually be the mark of our faithfulness. We groan in frustration because of our fidelity to the gospel’s call. And though we may miss out in the short run on lives of personal fulfillment and sexual satisfaction, in the long run the cruelest thing that God could do would be to leave us alone with our desires, to spare us the affliction of his refining care.

What Hill is wrestling with in terms of his sexual identity and the understanding of that identity through his faith is something that I believe all of us deep inside wrestle with. At the core of this understanding is a belief that our desires can often be damaging to the life God would want us lead. While Hill struggles with his sexual orientation and the desires that come from that, undergirding this is the truth and reality that everyone of us struggles with misdirected desires. Desires as ends in themselves instead of desires directed to move us closer to God.

At the heart of it Hill has written an excellent book on faithfulness and what it means for each of us to struggle with that “thorn in our flesh.” If you begin to read Hill with an open mind to see your own struggles with sinful desires and its relationship to faithfulness you will come away with a rich depth of the messiness of faithfulness and the struggle to truly desire God.

Hill accomplishes the goal he set out in writing the book but he accomplished so much more by giving all of us a story we can relate to and a story we can see ourselves in. Just as Henri Nouwen and Gerard Hopkins allowed Hill to identify his own struggles with their stories, Hill’s writing and story allow us to identify our own struggles with his story.

Zondervan Blog Tour: "Insights on John" Review

Originally, I wasn’t too sure I wanted to undertake a blog tour review of a book that falls under the “reference” section of my pastoral library but I decided to do it anyway.  I will say this much Charles R. Swindoll has done a wonderful job of integrating biblical scholarship with an approachability and engagement that often can be hard to find in the genre.
What I really likes is the way the book is structured it allows you to engage with scholarship while at times feeling like it is in conversation with Swindoll himself.  Throughout the book he has placed some entries called “From My Journal” and they do a wonderful job of getting “real life” insights while finding connection with the scholarship.  There are also sections within the text called “application” which try to bring the text into an application for one’s daily life.
Probably my favorite part of the book is the integration of wonderful imagery and diagrams.  For those of who may not engage as much with just words, this is a great addition because it helps connect the text with images and concepts.  This leads to another form of engagement with the text which is great and can expand this book to be valuable to anyone who seeks to look deeper into scripture.
Overall, this is a good book to engage in deeper insight and reflection on the Gospel of John and a chance to hear a particular voice with insights that can be beneficial to others within the Body of Christ.  However, if one is seeking deeper scholarship that really parses and focuses just on the text primarily and application/insights lightly and secondarily you might want to look for something different.  I would not use this as my sole “commentary” Scripture research if I were using this for research/preparation for sermons, etc.

Blog Tour: "And" by Hugh Halter & Matt Smay

Once again, I am honored to be a part of reviewing a book for Zondervan on their blog tours.  This time around, I am writing about a great book titled And by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.

Summation


And is a great book that talks about the importance of both “the gathered and scattered church.”  Or in my own words this book attempts to show the importance of the missional church, but in a way that tries to combat the often seen argument for the “superiority” of the missional church over the church many have grown up in (Halter and Smay that the church most have grown up is synonymous with “consumer church”).  Halter and Smay argue that it is not an “or” situation but rather an “and” situation.  Math geeks everywhere get what they are saying (including myself).

The Foundation of the Book


In chapter 5, Halter and Smay point to an article by Ralph Winter (it can be found here), in which Winter points out the two functions of the church termed “modalities” and “sodalities.”  In reading, Halter and Smay you can see how this insight by Winter has really informed their argument for the importance of the “and” rather than the “or.”  Really what Halter and Smay are trying to say is the need for the “second decision” communities (sodalities) to help with the renewal of the Church in God’s mission.

Why This Book is Needed


Probably, the best thing I took away after reading this book is the fact that Halter and Smay don’t argue for the superiority of the “missional” church (or the “sodality”), but rather they try to point out the importance of both local congregations and missional communities (para-church organizations, house churches, etc.).  Greatest of all they offer encouragement and advice for leaders within local congregations (pastors, etc.) who believe the church is called to much more than its current “modalic” existence.  Their advice to start with a small amount of people who desire more and move from there is something that should give most local congregation leaders hope.  It doesn’t take “drastic” measures of scrapping the entire existence, it only takes trust in God and a willingness to start somewhere.

Zondervan Blog Tour: "Exponential" Review

This is the third book I have reviewed for a Zondervan Blog Tour and I was thankful to be a part of this one because I truly enjoyed this book.  I found in this book everything that I felt was lacking from the first book I read for the Zondervan Blog Tour:  Multi-Site Church Road Trip.
Some background:  I am working on starting a missional community within the life of Central United Methodist Church where I serve.  This book was one of those God-convergence moments where I was thankful that it was given to me because the Ferguson brothers have some very good practical and motivational advice that will help me frame the strategic steps forward. 
Let me start by saying that this book is a great read for any leader within the church (I think an argument could be made for it being a good read for any leader of a movement, but if you don’t like Christ-centered philosophy then it might not be a good read if one is outside the church).  It is one of those often hard to come by books that is both practically and theologically grounded at the same time (it is sad that often books are either very “theologically grounded” but lacking some practical advice or the inverse).  Many of the theology behind their “practices” of leadership development, church development, and network development are based on stories from Scripture (see Acts 8…it is a favorite reference of Dave).
One of the best parts about this book is that their advice and thoughts are not only theologically grounded, they also are grounded within the narrative of their own experiences at Community Christian Church and the NewThing Network.  I often find it valuable if I can join a narrative journey with someone to see how their practices took root (both struggles and victories).
So what can you expect to find inside the pages that will help you?  A very strong guide to leadership development which helps make a vision given by God into an incarnate reality.  What it isn’t is actually what is the best about it:  it isn’t a carbon-copy formula.  The principles, in my opinion, lend themselves to the context one might find themselves in and can be adapted as such.  It really isn’t communicated as do X then X and get Y.  Rather it is more:  here are some principles to guide your decisions and to help you turn the vision into a movement.  I particularly enjoyed their chapter “Reproducing Artists” because it took seriously the importance of the artistic and creative community in the life of the overall church and took seriously giving advice on how to connect with this community which in places has disconnected with the church.
One of the other benefits is that while the book progresses towards reproduction all the way from leaders to movements, those who may be parts of denominations still can benefit from the parts leading up to the “networks” and “movements” (for instance as a Methodist there might be ways to follow the network creation reproduction but I am not sure how and the movement part could be a movement of renewal within Methodism but the philosophies of the networks and movements by the Ferguson brothers would definitely push against the denomination in many ways).  The strong principles of how to take seriously reproducing leaders is one thing that I think the Methodist denomination could benefit from.
Now one thing some people might find annoying is the * within the text that links to a comment box that has a comment from Jon Ferguson.  Now, I say “some” people because some might find it distracting and others might be put off by Jon’s sarcasm.  I, however, am not one of those people.  I found the addition of Jon’s sarcasm and the break it brought into the reading helped transform the reading of a book into the feel of a conversation.  It kept the mood of the reading light and for me added some great laughs in the midst of the reading.
Overall, I think this is a great book that will be a great asset to God’s movement in the world.  Thanks to both of them for sharing their insights.

Book Review: Different Eyes: The Art of Living Beautifully

I found this book a fascinating read.  Chalke and Mann have constructed a very engaging book dealing with Christian Ethics in a way that anyone interested in Christian living can understand and engage with.
For those of you who have read Stanley Hauerwas or Samuel Wells, Chalke and Mann are of the similar position (in fact the writings of both are referenced within the book).
Academically, this book is about setting forth “virtue ethics” as the best form of Christian ethics.  In the first two chapters, the framework is set for why virtue ethics are the best option over “deontological ethics” or “consequentialist ethics.”
For those who may not be familiar with Christian ethics jargon, this book is still a great and must read.  Chalke writes in a way that engages the mind and opens up the messiness of life and all its ethical choices by pointing to a living and dynamic faith that comes from following Jesus Christ.  
Chalke writes, “The development of character traits or habits, such as honesty, justice and integrity, enable us to act wisely and in line with our beliefs.  Therefore, the question we should ask of any action is, What kind of person will I become if I do this?” (pg 39) and “But discipleship is not primarily about rules; it’s about the development of habits and practices.” (pg 76)
Chalke sees Scripture as the Story of God and God’s choice to be present in the lives of people.  Through the story, God’s character is revealed and a vision is cast.  Discipleship then is the action of developing the practices and habits that come from that vision and allow the disciple to enter the process of becoming more and more in-line with God’s character.
If you want to gander at a section of the book yourself, check it out here.
My favorite part about this book is the inclusion of the “Thinking Christianly” section at the end of each four parts of the book.  These sections include two letters of differing views about some controversial topics.  Each letter is thought out by whoever wrote them and points to the messiness of discipleship and how answers aren’t always easy as both letters often can be convincing.  The inclusion of these sections invites the reader to start “practicing” the “art of living beautifully.”  After the two letters there are some questions that engage the reader to begin thinking about the topic individually or as a community.
That brings me to my advice:  If you read this book, read it with a group of people.  Don’t just read it as an individual disciple but read it as a group of disciples.  The “Thinking Christianly” sections bring about great dialogue and create an open atmosphere that seeks to discover who God would have us be.  After reading this book for review, I was so excited about the communal possibilities that I am using it with the college students involved in the campus ministry I lead and ordered each of them a copy.