Advanced Reading Copy Review: "The Power of a Whisper" by Bill Hybels

I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Reading Copy of The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels courtesy of Zondervan.  I didn’t know what to expect going in as I have never read any of the writings of the Willow Creek founder.
Overall, it was a good book but really wasn’t necessarily suited for me.  That however does not mean that it isn’t worth reading, but for someone who was a Religion major in undergrad and then went on to Seminary it just didn’t bring anything great to the table for my tastes.  Personally, I would have found it more interesting if it was just a straight narrative piece that talked about the way God had “whispered” to Bill and how his responses (either listening or ignoring) ended up changing his life (for good or bad).  Now, those components are in there, but they are inter-twined with practical advice, etc.  This book is great for newer Christians or those who have remained “surface level” but are now going deeper and that is who the book seems to be directed toward.  In that regard this is a great book because you get to enter into Bill’s reflections on how God has whispered in his life, but also see how he lives out a life attempting to hear the voice of God.
The best part of the book is probably the fourth chapter where it talks about how one can discern whether a whisper is from God or not.  Bill shares five “filters” that he uses to help him discern whether a prompting is from God or something of his own mind/desires.
#1-  Is the Prompting Truly from God – take time to reflect and ask again
#2- The Scripture Filter – Does it match themes in Scripture
#3 – The General-Wisdom Test – Does it go against wisdom and common sense?
#4-  The Wiring Test – Does it match background, gifts, education?  This doesn’t rule out the possibility of extreme change, but points to if it is a 180 there probably should be multiple affirmations of it.
#5-  The Godly Counsel Test – Run it by Christ-followers who are mature in their faith.
This is probably why I think this book is best for newer Christians or those who are now going deeper.  It is a great guide to helping discern how God might be prompting individuals in their life and gives some narration of how Hybels has interacted with God’s “whispers” in his own life.

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.


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.