Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer


Already Gone

A friend dropped this book off at my desk a while back and I finally had time to read it. This book is worth your time. Don’t stop, go get the book and read it this week. OK?

The subtitle of the book is this: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Is that provocative enough for you? The scary part is that they are correct! In my circles, kids are less likely to stop going to church; they are more likely to migrate from very conservative churches to more standard evangelical churches. So I’ve been asking the question: why is this generation leaving conservative churches. Ham and Beemer ask a more fundamental question: why is this generation leaving church?

The answer is the same: a lack of relevancy in modern churches. And by relevancy, I don’t mean “cool,” but rather “useful for life.” Ham and Beemer have done a series of studies on twenty-somethings who attended evangelical and conservative churches as children and now rarely if ever attend church. (Beemer is a professional pollster and has real-world experience creating legit polls and evaluating the data.)

The results might surprise you; they ought to shock you. Most of these young adults have a good view of the Bible and evangelical theology; they’ve left because the perceive the church to be less than useless to their lives. The book begins by attacking Sunday School as the main culprit. I disagree with that assessment (though I do think we screw up by teaching Bible “stories”). Sunday School may have implementation problems, but Sunday School is just a manifestation of a larger issue. Really the problem is twofold. First, there is a lack of spirituality amongst Christians. Second, there is a refusal to utilize logic and critical thinking skills.

To the first point, may Christians set their spiritual lives on autopilot and refuse to rock the boat. This shallow approach to Christian living teaches the young that the Bible is a great morality tale and is sorta useful as a guideline to life. Ham makes an interesting point at the end of the book. It is insufficient to read your Bible each day. You must study it and more importantly you must think about it. I’ve noticed that the times that I am called on to teach are the times that my walk is deepest. Before I teach a Sunday School class, I spend 10+ hours in preparation with most of that time thinking through the meaning and purpose of the text. So yeah, I think he’s right on that point and that this case can be made from the Psalmist as well. (By the way, in Psalm 15:2, we find that the righteous man “speaks the truth in his heart.” I recommend you spend time thinking about the ramifications of that point.)

How many Christians do you know that look down on those who smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage and sniffle about that great sinner? How many of those Christians lie, cheat, play politics for position in the church or generally whine or snap at people? Which is worse: worrying or stealing? Matthew 6 implies that worrying is the defining characteristic of unbelievers…. Kids see this hypocrisy and recognize that while the people might be nice/good people, they aren’t trustworthy role models.

To the second point, failure to utilize logic and critical thinking skills leaves children with unresolved dichotomies. A friend once told me that though he grew up in a good home and in good churches, he assumed evolution was true. This was not because his parents or church taught him it was true, but because it was what he learned non-stop in school. It was not until college when someone detailed the scientific case for creation that he realized the fallacy of evolution. So here was a child who believed that God created in six days and that evolution was true. He kept that as an unresolved dichotomy for years.

The surveys taken by Beemer discovered that many kids (starting in upper elementary school) begin developing these dichotomies. Often authorities tell them: the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. That’s no answer! That’s blind faith and we have a reasonable faith. Give the kids a reason to believe. Unfortunately, we seldom do that. Kids want to know the pros/cons of smoking or drinking, they want to know why premarital sex is bad, they want to know why their parents believe the Bible is true, they want to know how they can trust the Bible to be error-free and what inspiration means. They want to know! They need to know why they should base their belief in this book that their friends tell them is useless for anything more than moral guidance. Tell them! and don’t tell them that this is what the church or pastor or someone else believes. Don’t tell them that you said they should believe it and never question it again. Have honest open and forthright discussions. Ensure that your answers are grounded in logical thinking.

I remember a fight (or four) I had with a friend growing up. I was taught not to do things like attend the theater or listen to “bad” music. I look back on these fights/debates today with chagrin. My reasons were simply parrotings of illogical statements. My friend was pointing out all the myriads of holes in the arguments I had used. So don’t tell me that kids won’t see through stupid arguments. They do. And when you tell them that they should believe something or not do something and back it up with illogical fluff, don’t be surprised when they ignore you. You let them down and you gave them no reason to believe you.

Pat answers won’t cut it.

I’ve been arguing for some years now that my generation is leaving our churches because they don’t get answers. (If you spend any time in very conservative churches, you’ll discover that they this makes me unpopular….) The truth is, this survey confirms that idea and reveals that the problem is much greater than I had imagined. What are you doing about it? I know where I need to work personally.

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Thanksgiving

This site is about book reviews. And only book reviews. But, as I own this site, I get to make exceptions on the (very) rare circumstances that I want to do so. Deal with it…. :-p

So, I was thinking about all the things for which I am thankful. It is two days till Thanksgiving after all. Now, I could compile a list of things for which I am thankful and post it here online, but I won’t, because I am paranoid about security. Let’s just say, that God has done many wonderful things for me this year.

There is one thing that I will share with you. Romans 8:1 states, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s step back and take a big view of Romans:

    Chapter 1: Man rejects God and God’s standards; these standards are required to enter Heaven
    Chapters 2-3: Men attempt to achieve God’s standards in their own way
    Chapter 4-5: The only way to meet God’s standards is to repent of your sinful actions and trust in the work of Christ to save you. You can’t do it on your own. A Christian is one who chose God’s way.
    Chapter 6: The process by which a Christian attempts to reach and maintain God’s perfect standards (clearly not accomplished in this mortal body…). This is the goal for daily living.
    Chapter 7: The struggles by which Christians try and fail to maintain God’s high requirements. Paul, the author of this book, expresses great frustration at his inability to maintain this perfect standard. This is our failure to maintain that goal.
    Chapter 8: The assistance needed to reach that goal and overcome failure.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

Often as a Christian I fail to live up to God’s standard. OK, most of the day I actively fail to measure up. That becomes frustrating to say the least. God expects better and yet I, like Paul described in chapter 7, fail miserably. Failure breeds depression, frustration and a desire to give up.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

This simple statement grants great reassurance. God isn’t judging Believers over their failures. He has forgiven those failures already. (That’s not a license to sin. In Chapter 6, Paul soundly rebukes that concept.) Rather this is the ability to step past my failures and try again. Romans 8:4ff argues that those who follow Christ “Set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” In other words, they choose to think about Godly things. Further, we learn a few verse later that those who walk according to the Spirit “through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.”

So victory comes through knowing that I am forgiven, actively focusing on things that honor God, and relying on the power of Spirit to say no to sin. That’s a formula that I’m not doing so well at, but I am starting to understand and grasp the ramifications of that first piece.

What am I thankful for this year? There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

You?

The Shining Sword by Charles G. Coleman


The Shining Sword

The Shining Sword is an analogy of the armor of G-d. The author uses fictional characters and a season in their lives to show how she believes the armor of G-d is portrayed in the Bible. (I consider it accurate)

Lanus is our main character and he is very lazy. His favorite activities include wrestling and sleeping in the grass. He works only when he absolutely has to, and looks to the villagers for free meals here and there. He does not sound like much of a hero does it. No, and that disturbed me at first, that the author chose such a character for her hero, but it soon became clear that Lanus’s character was soon to get a wake-up call.

As Lanus is leisurely lying in the grass on a hill, he sees a familiar figure approaching, who turns out to be a friend that disappeared a year ago. Robin, the friend, tells Lanus of his life as a solider of the King, and that he came to invite him to visit the King’s home beyond the little valley where Lanus lives, and to become a soldier of the King.

Lanus agrees to visit, and is impressed with the work and lifestyle Robin and his comrades live in, yet the work part is still a bit bothersome to him. So instead of staying he goes back to the village. Yet instead of staying, you guessed it, he decides to return and become a soldier of the King, and face the enemy (the devil). From there we watch Lanus grow, fall and get back up again and learn proper use of the armor of the King. (G-d)

I must admit I considered this book a bit of a bore for the first 10 or 15 pages, the way the author began things was a little tedious and not very catching. However, I persevered because a friend lent it to me and I told him I would read it. After those first few pages, it began to pick up speed. It never reached 90 miles per hour, but it did end up keeping my interest and finishing out as a book worth reading. (198 pages at most)

If you end up reading this book, let me know what you think about the way the author portrays the armor of G-d. I liked it and thought it a good reminder.

John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait, by William J. Bouwsma


John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portraitr

This book purports to be an overview of John Calvin’s life from a fresh perspective, taking into account Calvin’s historical and theological influence on the modern world. Unfortunately, the book lives up to neither expectation. I’m working on finding a good in-depth Calvin biography. This is the worst sample I’ve found.

The good: Good explanation of some of he errors that histroians of Calvin’s life have been prone to, that introduction. Accurate overview of the events in his life, part of the first chapter. And blatantly secular humanist worldview is (while claimed to be neutral), open and obvious. Otherwise, um, the writing style is nice?

The bad: Bouwsma spends the entire introduction talking about how many historians have ignored or abused John Calvin’s memory in favor of their own agendas. Then he spends the entire book making Calvin out to be a caricature worthy of modern political cartoons. To this author, Calvin might as well have been Erasmus’s long lost twin brother who went off his meds and spent his life depressed, craving a father figure he never found in the papacy. The level of scholarship is pretty sad: both of the author’s main contentions fall flat.

The first contention of “A Sixteenth Century Portrait” argues John Calvin was a humanist, and that he agreed with Erasmus on every point (“Erasmus this” and “Erasmus that” gets really old by chapter two. The title really should have been “Erasmus, a 16th Century Portrait”). The logic behind this accusation is Calvin’s practical applications in his sermons. Applying the gospel to everyday life does not a humanist make. John Calvin’s practical streak was entirely bent on bringing the light of G_d’s Word to the people where they were, not on some academic plane but at home or in the marketplace.

Second, the author tries to argue that Calvin’s theological bent was a result of severe depression. The evidence cited is Calvin’s letters to a close freind back home, which are full of sorrows and complaints about his life in Geneva. No doubt, Geneva was a trial for John Calvin, and his calling there brought him little worldly pleasure. Its entirely possible to complain and rant about trials in one’s life and still be a very happy personality. Many college students, for example, feel called to complete their degree and use it in a career for G_d’s glory: this doesn’t preclude them from arguing about the high cost of textbooks, or complaining when a professor is perpetually late. Calvin may have been a weak vessel, but theological works and venting to friends are not evidence for a depressed soul.

Finally, its worth noting that the author also tries to make passing psychological evaluations of Calvin, his need for a father figure in G_d driving his break with Rome, etc. These are superficially made and unfair to Calvin as a person, historical importance aside.

Overall: You know you’ve hit rock bottom as a writer when your entire set up for the character of your book is based on someone else. Calvin was a complex but important historical figure who deserves more than a broadly stroked comparison: I was sorely disappointed by this book.

For a short but accurate overview of John Calvin’s life from a theological perspective, see “Five Leading Reformers”, by Christopher Catherwood. It includes Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Cranmer, and Knox.

Why We’re Not Emergent, By Two Guys Who Should Be, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck


Why We're Not Emergent

If you haven’t heard of the emergent movement, chances are you know a college student who has. If you want to understand young christian college students, the general spirit is very well conveyed in this work. As one of the aforesaid, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the book spoke to me (an a non-emergent), and its accuracy in describing my emergent friends.

“Why We’re Not Emergent” spends about half its 200 pages unraveling the confusion around emergent theology or lack thereof. My emergent friends could be best described as Unitarian liberals with postmodern leanings, which is about as specific as I can get without quoting the authors verbatim. If you want to understand if further, read this book, or at least watch one of the authors duke it out with emergents here:

http://www.therebelution.com/blog/2009/04/video-the-emerging-church/

The authors take turns writing the books’ chapters. Kevin’s are more in depth, and inspired a lot of reflective moments for me. He goes through the theological underpinnings of the emergent movement, explaining step by step their pagan/Unitarian similarities and why its important to believe that Jesus was about more than doing good and caring for the environment. Ted’s, I admit, were more interesting. He relates a lot of things to movies and obscure pop culture references, but by and large he taps into my generation’s psyche in a meaningful way. Both make great use of footnotes to entertain, so be sure to read those too.

Overall, read this book.

Christ in the Camp J. William Jones.


Christ in the Camp

Christ in the Camp deals with revivals in the Army of Northern Virginia.

It describes the work of the Lord in great detail as the author drew not only from his own experiences as a chaplain, but also from letters he received from other chaplains. The grace of God is very evident in this writing. I had no idea that there was any type of large scale revival in the Southern Camp – thousands were converted! The book is 460 pages long with a 164 page appendix which deals with revivals in other armies of the South among other things. I was greatly encouraged by this book, especially since I am very interested in that time period. This is not a book that you could read casually as it is rather long.

Positive: This has been encouraging, informative, and uplifting to read of all the men brought to Christ through this war. Army camps were and are considered veritable pits of sin, and this is one of the very few times that there was an exception. Also, if you’re a Yankee, the author scrupulously avoids mentioning why the South was right (with very few exceptions).

Negative: It took some discipline to read as it was rather repetitive (not a bad thing considering the circumstances, i.e. revival); other than that, nothing.

Overall: Definitely worth the read. This is not for those who cannot handle 500+ page books, but other than that, I heartily recommend it.

The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counseling Resource by Janelle Hallman


The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counseling Resource

Note: Not sure if this properly published last week; so here it is again. Matt Gardenghi

Sadly, many assume that a woman who has same-sex attraction is easy to peg—easy to spot. They assume that this type of woman is “ugly,” “bra-burning,” and “man hating.” In The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counseling Resource, Janelle Hallman argues that there are many more women than just those conceived stereotypes struggling with same-sex attraction. After years of counseling women with SSA, Hallman has written a book that explores the causation, different expressions, and methods of counseling women with SSA.

The Heart is divided up into two parts, “The Building Blocks: Understanding Their Stories” and “The Work of Restoration: Leading Them Home.” The first section explores causation, the therapist or counselor relationship, codependency issues, and contributing social and familial issues. The second section weaves together stories of Hallman’s clients with practical applications of “how to” help women who find themselves with SSA.

Hallman begins by destroying the idea of the stereotypical radical lesbian. In her prologue she discusses the beginning of her interest in helping these women. While in a women’s Bible study, she saw two women confess that they had “crossed the typical physical and emotional boundaries of friendship” (p. 11). Apparently, these women were not “that type,” and yet they had fallen to this behavior. With this impetus, Hallman discovered that “every woman with SSA is unique . . . in how she experiences her same-sex attraction” (p. 23). Contrary to what the stereotype may be, Hallman’s clients range from 25-50, single and married, parents and grandparents. These women struggling with same-sex attraction will often express it in ways that do not always include physical activity. At times their SSA will be manifest in relationships that are emotionally dependent and destructive in their introspection.

Unlike men who deal with homosexuality, women’s expressions of SSA rarely have a root in physical attachment, but are more enmeshed in the realm of emotional dependency and satisfaction. “The relationship is about connection” (p. 106). The web of varying SSA behavior seems ultimately to be attached to the events of the woman’s past, including but not limited to childhood experiences. Hallman cites numerous experiences with her clients as well as other scientific studies that lead her to this assertion. When a woman looks to “another woman . . . to survive or adapt to unresolved childhood deficits and traumas, she can inadvertently become extremely emotionally dependent on her friend and block or negate her own autonomous growth and healing process” (p. 100). A harmful childhood is not the only contributing factor to SSA, but one of many. The message throughout The Heart is that female same-sex attraction must be confronted as one peels an onion—slowly and deliberately breaking through the layers.

In the book’s second section of practical applications, Hallman presents four steps for the counselor or therapist to lead the client through. She reminds the reader that it often takes months, if not years for women to see lasting and meaningful change in this area. There isn’t an “SSA switch” that can be flipped. Change comes through the transformation and renewing of the woman’s mind. The four suggested steps include: Formation, Transformation, Integration, and Consolidation and Maturity. Hallman spends several chapters on each explaining how the counselor can walk the client through this laborious and rewarding process.

Because women are so relationally oriented, Hallman urges the counselor or therapist to be unconditionally accepting of the woman herself. Some readers may be uncomfortable with this perspective or see it as “too soft on sin.” She, however, argues that for the counselor to succeed in challenging, and assisting in changed behavior, the counselor must provide a warm and welcoming environment so that the first stage of healing, Formation, can be reached (p. 118). These hesitant readers would do well to remember what Christ did in dealing with another woman caught up in sexual sin; He focused on the nature of who she was, not the mere act of her sin (John 8).

Perhaps due to our permissive society, the evilness of our hearts, or pervasive abuse, there seems to be growing amount of women dealing with same-sex attraction. I have known several women who would self-identify as lesbians. But I have known more women who engage in destructive, “canabalistic” female friendships that ended in pain and heartache (p. 105). Some of these women were single and some were married; all of them considered themselves Christians. Yet, they engaged in inappropriate emotional relationships, turning their friend into an idol (p. 101); someone who they hoped would give them a reason for being. It was because of these women that I wanted to read this book. Anyone who is in a counseling position, be it a man or woman, would benefit from this book including Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, pastors, and counselors.

In the end there is hope. A woman can walk through this “lengthy process in which she reclaims, piece by piece, her heart and her soul, which have been deposited or housed in the other woman. She must salvage the threads of her true self and reknit them around new perceptions, impressions and beliefs that arise out of a corrective experience of love, support and acceptance” (p. 114). A love ultimately found in God, not another person.