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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

JR Woodward and Dan White, Jr., The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities (IVP; 2016)

During lunch a few days ago, one of my Christian colleagues shared his frustration in trying to find a suitable church home for him and his family. He was looking for a community of believers who were serious about discipleship and the pursuit of godly living. As he further shared his burden with us, I (half) jokingly said to him that it looks like he’d have to go and plant a church from scratch. At this point, when it became apparent that this might indeed be a path he may have to take by the grace of God, I suggested that he read some of the missional literature; in particular, I mentioned two books that I had read / am reading.

Earlier, I had posted a brief blurb on Michael Frost’s book, and in this post I will give an overview of The Church as Movement, which I just finished reading yesterday.

move

This theologically-grounded but practical book is divided into four sections (themes), each with two chapters, thus giving rise to 8 missional competencies:

  • Part 1: Distributing
    1. Movement Intelligence
    2. Polycentric Leadership
  • Part 2: Discipling
    1. Being Disciples
    2. Making Disciples
  • Part 3: Designing
    1. Missional Theology
    2. Ecclesial Architecture
  • Part 4: Doing
    1. Community Formation
    2. Incarnational Practices

These four sections are bookended by an Introduction and an Epilogue, and at 240 pages, this book is not a long-winded treatise, but in keeping with its subject matter, the pace is brisk without feeling rushed.

The Foreword by Alan Hirsch begins with an epigraph by business guru Peter Drucker: “People in any organization are always attached to the obsolete— the things that should have worked but did not, the things that once were productive and no longer are.” It is sad that some things are so sacrosanct that even when they become a hindrance to the advancement of the gospel or church life, Christians refuse to let go of them. As Hirsch notes, “most churches operate out of a largely obsolete understanding of the church that was developed in a completely different age and for a completely different set of cultural and social conditions— largely that of European Christendom.” Hirsch and others have proposed an alternative model of church for the new millennium, and Woodward and White have done a church a huge service in presenting this new paradigm in a fresh and appealing manner in their book. Both write as practitioners who have been through the ups and downs of planting missional-incarnational communities, so this is not a case of hopping on the missional bandwagon and spouting off theories: no, what they write is borne from the fires of failure and boots on the ground experiences. It would be apt to let the authors introduce the rationale for yet another “missional” book:

This book is an attempt to help people plant the kind of churches that reflect the viral movement of the early New Testament, fuelled by the values of tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission. This is “church as movement.”

At the heart of the book is a concern to return to the centrality of discipleship within a communal context. Indeed, I sighed with frustration and sadness when they write in the Introduction: “This book is best used with a group of four to twelve people. … It is important to work through this material with others, since it was designed for a group rather than to be digested alone.” Well, heck, I don’t have even three other people I know who could be part of what they call a “discipleship core”. So sad! It means that my learning from the book will be shortchanged and I will not fully benefit from the formational learning aspects (meta-learning, reflective learning, and experiential learning) that require communal participation. Sigh …

The first theme is “Distributing” which I take to be a shift from a hierarchical and centralized focus to pluriform gifts and polycentric leadership — i.e., a distributed and relational approach.  They begin by describing the Church as the “Christian-industrial complex”, at least those churches that are held up as models of success:

In our American imagination success means growing bigger, collecting more resources, consolidating power, creating strong hierarchical structures and growing rapidly.

American church leaders’ imaginations and metrics for success are increasingly shaped by the things they can count. But, as Albert Einstein said, “That which counts is often the most difficult to count.”

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Dropping the Act

scaryclose

… we will never feel loved until we drop the act, until we’re willing to show our true selves to the people around us.

When I heard that I knew it was true. I’d spent a good bit of my life as an actor, getting people to clap—but the applause only made me want more applause. I  didn’t act in a theater or anything. I’m talking about real life. (xv)

No doubt about it, you will find many actors in your average church; people are terrified to take off their masks for fear of being judged. While Donald Miller’s latest book is about his personal journey from insecurity/isolation to intimacy and from failed relationships to freedom to be himself, much of what he writes is applicable to our relationships we have in church life.

Miller describes how he terrified he used to be of being known by others and how he felt people would only love him if he found ways to impress them. We see this played out in churches where Christians jump to serve in as many ministries as possible, in order to feel appreciated and acknowledged. I know how they feel: been there, done that. And one can’t blame them, because the alternative is that you’ll be largely invisible. So if we’re honest, more often than not, we are motivated by our desire for applause and adoration rather than for God’s glory. At the very least, the temptation is always there, for most of us are “attention addicts”.

self

Miller shares what a therapist once said to him: “when some animals feel threatened they make themselves appear bigger. She said it ‘s true with people too—they often make themselves appear better than they are in order to attract others and protect themselves from threats.” (31) What costume are you wearing to make yourself appear larger? Your job? Your wealth? Your education? Your good looks? Your biblical knowledge? Your position in church? Miller confesses that validation by others is very intoxicating. But then he “began to wonder what life would be like if I dropped the act and began to trust that being myself would be enough to get the love I needed.” (35)

We construct a false self to so others can’t see the shame we feel and we embellish that persona with all sorts of things. “Somewhere along the line I think many of us buy into a lie that we only matter if … We only matter if we are strong or smart or attractive or whatever” (56). However, “the more we hide, the harder it is to be known. And we have to be known to connect” (20). Paralyzed by the fear that we will not measure up to others’ expectations and petrified that no one will love us if they knew our true self, we continue to hide our imperfections and insecurities. But as Miller points out: “Grace only sticks to imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections can’t accept grace either” (45).

“Perhaps that’s another reason true intimacy is so frightening. It’s the one thing we all want, and must give up control to get.” (98) And how do we control others? Through manipulation, which usually operates subtly. Miller identifies five categories of manipulation (104-108):

The Scorekeeper

“Whenever somebody starts keeping score in a relationship the relationship begins to die. A scorekeeper makes life feel like a contest, only there’s no way to win.”

The Judge

“When a Judge personality is religious, they’ll use the Bible to gain control of others.”

The False Hero

“The false hero manipulates by leading people to believe they have something better to offer than they do.”

The Fearmonger

“Fearmongers rule by making people suffer the consequences of insubordination. The mantra of the Fearmonger is: If you don’t submit to me I’ll make your life a living hell … Fearmongers are completely incapable of vulnerability and, as such, incapable of intimacy.”

The Flopper

“A Flopper is somebody who overdramatizes their victimhood in order to gain sympathy and attention. … Floppers assume the role of victim whenever they can.”

In a chapter entitled “The Risk of Being Careful”, Miller discusses the “roles that vulnerability and self-expression play in relationships” (138).  For most people, vulnerability is a frightening place to be, but then “How can we be loved if we are always in hiding?” (140)  So in church, for example, we put on our religious robes and pious masks and pretend we got our sh*t together. No wonder it’s so hard to find genuine fellowship with other believers. He goes on to ask, “Is there anything more toxic than the fear of being judged? Judgment shuts us down and makes us hide. It keeps us from being ourselves, which keeps us from connecting with other people.” (143) We say we believe God has accepted us in Christ but are we really living out that truth in our lives? Furthermore, we are commanded to “Therefore accept one another, just as Christ also accepted you” (Rom. 15:7; CSB).

Relationships are messy: manipulation, codependency, obsession. Intimacy and vulnerability is painful and scary because it means we have to be “naked” before each other—but we’re not comfortable removing the fig leaves we’ve covered ourselves with. Not everyone wants to be “scary close”; many people have inscribed on their foreheads “please keep your distance!”

keepback

Which leads me to the final point: ultimately our deepest longings can only be satisfied by God. But even then, that longing will not be fully satisfied here, but will have to wait until the eschaton when we will be finally and fully transformed. Miller himself discovered this as well: “I realized there was a subconscious longing in my heart that could never be resolved by another human being.” (213)

But knowing the reality of unfulfilled longing doesn’t dampen the desire for deep connection, for fulfilling friendship/fellowship and intense intimacy; and yet, the ache of that unfulfilled longing is actually for our good. For that yearning in our heart is a compass to point us Godward and a daily reminder that no substitute will satisfy.

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Constantine R. Campbell, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament (Zondervan; 2015).

advances-greek

[I am grateful to Zondervan for providing me a digital review copy of the book through Netgalley]

Summary

If you are at all serious about exegesis and serious study of the Word, then this book is a worthwhile read, no matter how rusty or limited your knowledge of NT Greek is. Dr. Campbell does a commendable job of bringing the reader up-to-date on recent scholarly advances in Koine Greek in a manner that is informative, engaging and accessible.

Remarks

The book begins with a helpful historical survey of Greek scholarship from the 19th century to the present. If this introductory chapter is any indication of the rest of the book, the reader can be assured that Campbell is a reliable guide to the different topics that are surveyed in the remainder of the book. Furthermore, given the important role that linguistics has played in contemporary scholarship, he also provides the reader with a fascinating historical introduction to major developments in the field of linguistics. For example, he surmises that the lack of progress in Greek studies seems to correlate with the “rise of modern linguistics”. He explains that prior to Saussure, the approach was based on “comparative and historical philology”; after Saussure, a synchronic, rather than diachronic approach carried the day in linguistics, “thus making the direction of nineteenth-century Greek philology suddenly almost irrelevant.” (p. 39).

As the survey comes to a close with the modern period, Dr. Campbell cites the contributions of key figures such as James Barr (The Semantics of Biblical Language), Kenneth McKay, Kenneth Pike (one of the early SIL scholars), Johannes Louw and Eugene Nida (for their ground-breaking work, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains), Stanley Porter (perhaps the most prolific Greek scholar today) and others. The chapter closes with a nod to a major resource recently published, the three volume Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics (Georgios K. Giannakis, editor).

Chapter 2 offers a brief but excellent introduction to linguistics, a field that is foreign to most people. Campbell’s interesting and informative survey serves to highlight the importance of linguistics and its impact on Koine Greek studies. After outlining the various branches of linguistics, there follows a discussion of the two major schools of linguistic theories: generative linguistics, largely originating from the work of Noam Chomsky and “characterized by the core assumption that all languages are shaped by a universal grammar, or universals of linguistic structure” (58-59); and functional linguistics (and in particular, the Prague school and Systemic Functional Linguistics) which seeks to “account for how language is used, and how the use of language informs us as to its structures” (60). The chapter closes with an illustration of how one’s adherence to a particular linguistic methodology can colour one’s view of, in this case, of temporal reference in Greek verbs.

In the same vein, the following chapter provides a helpful survey of lexical semantics and lexicography. I appreciate that Campbell gives examples from the NT to highlight the practical importance of the lexical principles under discussion. In particular, he discusses the complexities and challenges of applying these principles to NT Greek lexicography.  I really came away with a renewed appreciation of the difficulties entailed in producing a work such as the standard Greek lexicon of the Greek NT, BDAG, as well as the innovations introduced by Louw and Nida in their Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains.

As I am but a novice student of NT Greek and have been away from the Christian scene for awhile, I was not aware of the paradigm shift “taking place in our understanding of Greek voice, with particular reference to the concept of deponency” (91). In chapter 4, Campbell presents arguments from scholars as early as James Hope Moulton and A.T. Robertson questioning the usefulness or legitimacy of deponency. In an appendix to The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Neva Miller concluded that “if the verbs in the above classes are understood as true middles—and if active forms could not have expressed such concepts—then it may be that categorizing such verbs as deponent is no longer relevant” (93). Other scholars followed suit in their criticism of the standard treatment of deponency, culminating in the 2010 SBL Conference (Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics Unit) where Stanley Porter, Bernard Taylor, Jonathan Pennington and Campbell called for the abandonment of deponency. Campbell concludes by highlighting some of the outstanding issues and outlining a path forward, noting that there at least 2 recent NT Greek grammars that teach voice without using deponency.

Chapter 5 deals with a major and controversial topic, verbal aspect. After introducing the concept and helpfully distinguishing tense, Aktionsart and aspect, Campbell moves on to give the reader a history lesson on how the concept developed. In the modern era, Kenneth L. McKay’s contributions must be mentioned, but it was really Stanley Porter’s dissertation, published as Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, that really set things in motion. This was followed shortly  by the independent research of Buist Fanning, whose dissertation was published as Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, in which he adopts a more moderate route. This has led to “one of the best-known debates regarding verbal aspect … whether Greek tense-forms semantically encode temporal reference alongside aspect” (114). Of more interest to most readers, including myself, was the helpful section on how verbal aspect can enhance exegesis, and here, Campbell does not disappoint. Granted, the examples are necessarily brief, so he refers the reader to his introductory volume, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek.

Chapter 6 is entitled “Idiolect, Genre and Register” and as the title implies, deals with issues relating to style and genre. According to Campbell, “[s]ome of the points of interest in observing idiolect are vocabulary, syntactical constructions, patterns of verbal usage, and more macro features, such as those observed through discourse analysis” (136). To be honest, I found this chapter a bit of a tough slog, not so much because it is not well written, but because the concepts were largely new to me.

The following two chapters deal with the important topic of discourse analysis, “one of the most exciting new areas of research related to Greek exegesis” (148), which he defines as a “interdisciplinary approach to understanding how units of text relate to one another in order to create the theme, message and structure of a text” (148, 149).  Campbell highlights the benefit of discourse analysis as providing a robust methodology for assessing the exegetical conclusions obtained through traditional exegesis. In Chapter 7 he begins by outlining the four major schools of thought, then proceeds to survey the influential work of M.A.K. Halliday. This is followed in Chapter 8 with a review of the work of Stephen Levinsohn and Steven Runge; in both chapters, Campbell offers a brief but helpful evaluation of each approach as well as its implications for NT exegesis.

I found Chapter 9 on pronunciation rather fascinating, and from the onset of the chapter, Campbell states his position that “[a]ccurate pronunciation is a sign of respect for the Greek language, is people and its history. It also has implications for one’s enjoyment and mastery of Greek” (192). Based on recent research, it is argued that the common (Erasmusian) pronunciation scheme for Koine Greek is incorrect and that it should pronounced in a similar fashion to modern Greek, for which Campbell provides a helpful pronunciation chart. Interestingly, Daniel Wallace, NT scholar and author of the popular textbook, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, defends the traditional Erasmusian pronunciation, primarily on pedagogical grounds.

Speaking of pedagogy, the book’s final chapter is in fact, all about teaching and learning Greek. Campbell notes that in many introductory grammars, students are rarely asked to actually begin reading the Greek NT, and translation exercises typically deal only with short fragments instead of entire paragraphs or sections. He does cite one recent grammar as an exception, Rodney Decker’s Reading Koine Greek, where by chapter two, students are already asked to read significant portions of John’s Gospel. There is also a brief discussion on the use of software tools such as Accordance, BibleWorks, and Logos, and how they can enhance the study of Greek. Finally, the chapter closes with a review of immersion learning and advice for how to retain one’s proficiency at the language once it has been acquired.

In conclusion, Campbell’s book offers an excellent, engaging tour of the latest in NT Greek research and is highly recommended!

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Keeping Company with God

Recently, a friend and brother in the Lord decided he doesn’t want any of his Christian books anymore—he’s in a bit of a spiritual rut lately. Ironically, a good number of books in his library were formerly mine when I got fed up with church and decided to unload my massive library. I gladly took them off his hands and have been enjoying thumbing through the pages of my “old friends”.

Right now, one of the books I’m savouring is James M. Houston’s The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God (formerly published as Prayer: The Transforming Friendship). The opening sentence in his Preface are words that could have come straight out of my mouth: “For many years, prayer was [still is for me!] probably the weakest dimension in my life as a Christian.”

Houston said the Aha moment for him was when he realized the truth of what Clement of Alexandria said about prayer as “keeping company with God”; from henceforth, he “began to see prayer more as a friendship than a rigorous discipline … more of a relationship and less of a performance.”  I see now that years of religiosity and ritualized routine have had the same effect on my prayer life.

He goes on to assert that “Prayer is a matter of theology and ethics, both thinking and doing. It is profoundly guided by what we believe and by how we behave. The character of our prayers will be deeply determined by the character of God as we know him and have experienced him.” I think that last bit is key: “experienced him”; I confess that I may have a fairly solid theological knowledge of God, but I can’t say that I have a deep personal and experiential knowledge of God.

Hopefully this book will help to deepen my friendship with God through prayer.

“Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” (Soren Kierkegaard)

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Creativity and Community

“… Pixar’s fifteen-acre campus, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, was designed, inside and out, by Steve Jobs. … It has well-thought-out patterns of entry and egress that encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate. .. the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community.” (p. ix; emphasis mine)

– Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Random House; 2014)

creativity

When I was part of a house church, the contrast was such that it was quite apparent to me how church buildings spoke of our corporate life together as a spectator sport—what with rows of (uncomfortable) pews, all of us sitting and staring at the back of someone’s head and the packaged program. What a far cry from the intimate, interactive and participatory nature of church meetings in homes that we read of in the NT!

That said, I’ve come to accept that church buildings aren’t going away anytime soon. I do wish however, I could rennovate our church building, with a view to proxemics, the functional use of space and the principles of aesthetics and design thinking.

I can dream in the meantime, can’t I?

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Goodbye HCSB, Hello CSB

Lifeway’s CSB (Christian Standard Bible) is scheduled to be available next month for purchase. From what I can tell, this is being billed as a new translation and not just a revision of the HCSB and not just a rebranding/marketing gimmick. The translation philosophy is described as “Optimal Equivalence”,  striving for “linguistic precision to the original languages and readability in contemporary English.”  You can read it online now; here are some sample verses with a comparison to the ESV:

Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47)
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (ESV)

For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)

Paul said, “I am a Jewish man from Tarsus of Cilicia, a citizen of an important city. Now I ask you, let me speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39)
Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” (ESV)

In addition, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a safeguard for you. (Phil. 3:1)
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. (ESV)

Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. (Col. 4:5)
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. (ESV)

Deacons, likewise, should be worthy of respect, not hypocritical, not drinking a lot of wine, not greedy for money (1 Tim. 3:8)
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. (ESV)

Can the one who shaped the ear not hear, the one who formed the eye not see? (Ps. 94:9)
He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? (ESV)

I gave you absolutely nothing to eat in all your cities, a shortage of food in all your communities, yet you did not return to me. This is the Lord’s declaration. (Amos 4:6)
“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me,” declares the Lord. (ESV)

At least in these instances, I prefer the way the CSB reads. It will be interesting to see how the CSB will be received and whether it will make any gains over the ESV, although the NIV still remains the bestseller.

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Reformation and Revival

Of late, I have been burdened about the spiritual condition of our church; perhaps my prolonged absence from church has heightened my sensitivity due to my intimate experience of lethargy and lukewarmness. Surely, such an awareness could lead to a critical and judgmental spirit were it not for my acute sense of my own sinful heart, not just when I was in my prodigal state, but even now as I struggle by God’s grace to be revived.

In his classic work, The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter, whom J.I. Packer describes as “the most outstanding pastor, evangelist and writer on practical and devotional themes that Puritanism produced”, observes that:

There are many of our flock that are young and weak, who, though they are of long standing, are yet of small proficiency or strength. This, indeed, is the most common condition of the godly. Most of them content themselves with low degrees of grace, and it is no easy matter to get them higher. …to increase their knowledge and gifts is not easy, and to increase their graces is the hardest of all.

I believe D.A. Carson is correct in his assessment that the “one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God.” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation; Baker Books, 1992). Okay, so now what? More preaching?  More bible studies? Certainly anything we attempt to do in the flesh would fall short at best and at worst, be manipulative, resulting in shallow results. No, we must get on our knees and pray— really pray— for revival.

Our church did have a prayer meeting last year, but to my knowledge, we haven’t had one since.  However, if (when) we have another one, I would suggest we strip it down to the essentials; sure, we could begin with an appropriate song or hymn. And yes, perhaps we could have an open time of sharing where brothers and sisters can briefly share the burden of their hearts, but the bulk of our time and the focus should be on revival—which would entail confession of sin (personal and corporate), crying out for the Spirit to fill and empower us, praising and exalting God, and agonizing over lost souls.

Like the early church, we must lift our “voices to God with one accord [ὁμοθυμαδὸν]” (Acts 4:24; NASB) and wait upon Him to pour out His Spirit upon us. While we can have a time of quiet prayer individually, we should also pray together as one body in unity.

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