Immerse: The Reading Bible | Book Review


Most Americans own a Bible, but few read it. According to the American Bible Society’s State of the Bible 2017 (SOTB), 87 percent of U.S. households own at least one copy of the Scriptures. Unfortunately, only 50 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible, listen to it or pray with it at least three or four times a year.

How can we help people move toward greater Bible engagement?

There are many ways to answer this question, but I want to focus on a new Bible product I believe merits attention. It’s called Immerse: The Reading Bible, which Tyndale House Publishers created in Alliance with the Institute for Bible Reading. You can read more about it at ImmerseBible.com (BibliaInmersion.com for the Spanish version).

Immerse is designed to take the entire church — from Jr. High to senior adults — through the Bible in three years. It presents Scripture in six high-quality, low-cost paperbacks or e-books.

  • Messiah (New Testament)
  • Beginnings (Genesis–Deuteronomy)
  • Kingdoms (Joshua–2 Kings)
  • Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi)
  • Poets (Job–Song of Songs, plus Lamentations)
  • Chronicles (1 Chronicles–Esther, plus Daniel)

According to its website, “Immerse is built on three core ideas: reading a naturally formatted Bible, reading at length, and having unmediated discussions about it together.”

While most Bibles are formatted like a dictionary or encyclopedia — a two-column format with scholarly apparatus, including chapter and verse numbers, headings, cross-references and notes — Immerse presents Scripture in a single-column format and eliminates the scholarly apparatus entirely. According to SOTB, 8 percent of U.S. adults cite difficult layout as a significant frustration when reading the Bible. Immerse’s formatting reduces that frustration.

Using this Bible, a church’s small groups or Sunday School classes meet twice a year for eight weeks each time to read and discuss one of Immerse’s six paperbacks, starting with Messiah. Reading each paperback takes 20 to 30 minutes daily, five days a week, for the duration of the small group. This is what Immerse means by “reading at length.” Thirty percent of U.S. adults say lack of time is a significant Bible reading frustration. By delimiting how much and how often participants read, Immerse’s program addresses this concern.

During meetings, a leader facilitates open discussion around four questions:

  1. What stood out to you this week?
  2. Was anything confusing or troubling?
  3. Did anything make you think differently about God?
  4. How might this change the way you live?

State of the Bible 2017 found that readers are motivated to increase their Bible reading when encountering a difficulty in life (41 percent), a significant life change, such as marriage or childbirth (17 percent), or contemporary discussions about religion and spirituality in the media (17 percent). By focusing on four open-ended questions, Immerse encourages readers to ponder what the Bible teaches in the specifics of their lives.

Several other features of Immerse are worth highlighting. First, it uses the New Living Translation of Scripture (NLT). According to SOTB, 16 percent of U.S. adults are frustrated by the Bible’s difficult language. The NLT features readable, idiomatic English for a broad audience.

Second, within each paperback, Immerse reorganizes the books of the Bible in an interesting fashion. For example, the standard New Testament order of books is Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, other epistles and Revelation. Messiah pairs each gospel with letters related to it: Luke–Acts with Paul’s letters, Mark with Peter’s and Jude’s letters, Matthew with Hebrews and James, and John with John’s letters and Revelation. This helps readers see thematic connections between each gospel and its associated letters.

Third, Immerse provides resources to help readers understand the theological, historical and literary context of each book of the Bible. All six paperbacks include brief introductory essays. And the website includes free aids for small groups: a weekly 3-minute video that introduces each week’s readings, audio files of daily Bible readings, and downloadable guides for pastors, small-group leaders and participants.

God inspired the Bible to equip us for holy living (2 Timothy 3:16–17). If we don’t use it, however, it does us no good. Immerse offers church leaders a well-thought-out strategy for guiding readers through Scripture.

Books Reviewed
Immerse: The Reading Bible, 6 vols. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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The Case for Miracles | Book Review


On Pentecost Sunday evening, 1981, a young woman walked down the aisle of Wheaton Wesleyan Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Church attendance wasn’t uncommon in that city, which housed the headquarters of many evangelical institutions, including Wheaton College. And yet, this young woman’s steps elicited gasps from those in attendance.

Why? Because Barbara — that was the young woman’s name — had been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis 16 years earlier. She hadn’t been able to walk for seven years. Indeed, at that point, the progression of her illness was so severe that she was in hospice care at her home, with a life expectancy of six months.

What accounted for the change? A prayer request for Barbara had been communicated to Moody Bible Institute’s radio program. Over 450 people wrote letters to her church, indicating they were praying for her. As Barbara’s aunt read some of those letters to her at her bedside, Barbara heard a man’s voice say, “My child, get up and walk.” And she did. She’s been free of MS ever since and now lives with her husband, a pastor, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Lee Strobel recounts Barbara’s story in his new book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel was the award-winning legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and an atheist before coming to Christ in the early 1980s. Since then, he has written The Case for Christ and other books investigating evidence for the truth claims of Christianity.

Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Among its supernatural truth claims are the existence of God, the creation of the world, the inspiration of the Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, among many other miracles. In the modern world, under the influence of science, many have come to doubt the reality of the supernatural.

To understand their doubts, Strobel interviews Michael Shermer, a well-known atheist and editor of Skeptic magazine. Shermer agrees with the critique of miracles outlined by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his essay, “On Miracles.” Hume defined a miracle as a violation of the law of nature. He believed that claims of miracles come from uneducated persons in less advanced societies, people and places unaware of how the world works. And he argued that, in any case, it was more likely that there was a natural explanation for an event than a supernatural one. Shermer considers this the best argument against the miraculous.

Barbara’s case provides evidence that Hume was wrong. Here was a modern person, treated by doctors at the Mayo Clinic no less, whose instantaneous healing was documented by her doctors in two separately published books. And that healing took place in the context of a spiritual experience. Those facts indicate that naturalistic explanations — remission, psychosomatic cure, placebo effect, etc. — are insufficient empirically.

And Barbara’s case is not the only one Strobel cites. Strobel interviews Craig Keener for further evidence in favor of miracles. Keener was an atheist who became a Christian. He is a well-known New Testament scholar and author of the two-volume book, Miracles. While writing a commentary on the Book of Acts, Keener realized that too many scholars believe Acts is unreliable historically because it contains accounts of miracles. Keener decided that if he could provide evidence that miracles happen today, it would buttress the historicity of Acts. He provides documentations for hundreds of modern miracles, including Barbara’s.

Strobel goes on to interview other scholars about Christianity’s supernatural truth claims: Candy Guenther Brown on the efficacy of prayer and Michael Strauss on the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universe, for example. And he summarizes the case for the resurrection of Jesus through an interview with atheist-turned-Christian J. Warner Wallace, a cold-case homicide detective.

Of course, miracles don’t always happen. They’re exceptions to the laws of nature, not the way that nature ordinarily works, after all. Strobel interviews Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis (pronounced GROTE-hice) to understand how Christians can remain faithful in the absence of miracles. Groothuis’ wife, Rebecca, a scholar in her own right, was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, which has slowly robbed her of her ability to speak and to think. It’s been agonizing to watch, but Groothuis’ faith has helped him. “I’m hanging by a thread,” he says. “But, fortunately, the thread is knit by God.”

Whether through their presence (Barbara’s case) or through their absence (Rebecca’s case), miracles are signposts pointing to God. On the one hand, if readers approach miracle claims with an open mind — i.e., one that doesn’t rule out miracles because of a dogmatic naturalistic worldview — they might come to believe that there’s more to nature than meets even the scientifically trained eye. On the other hand, if they realize that this-worldly suffering poses unavoidable questions of meaning and significance, they might come to believe that they need more out of this life than this life can offer.

Either way, that “more” is God. If you’ve never thought about the case for miracles or the importance of finding meaning in life, I encourage you to read The Case for Miracles and reach your own verdict.

Book Reviewed
Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this article for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.P.S. In my article, “When the Healing Doesn’t Come,” I wrestle with the problem of miracles that don’t happen, based on my own experience with chronic illness.

Do Miracles Really Happen? | Influence Podcast


Easter is a few days away. Around the world, Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event, so pivotal to Christian faith, is a reminder that Christianity is an inherently supernatural religion. Unfortunately, in the modern era, many disbelieve in miracles, their skepticism fueled by appeals to science. So, the question naturally arises, do miracles really happen?

To answer that question, I interviewed Lee Strobel about his new book, The Case for Miracles. Strobel began his career as the award-winning legal editor for The Chicago Tribune. After his conversion from atheism to Christianity, however, he turned his attention to apologetics and evangelism and has written bestsellers like The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for Grace. He currently serves as professor of Christian Thought at Houston Baptist University as well as teaching pastor at Woodlands Church.

If you’d like a video of Lee Strobel making the case for Jesus’ resurrection, which you can download and use in your church, go here.

P.S. This is reposted (with minor edits) from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. Here are my two previous podcasts with Lee: (1) “Why Evangelism Needs Apologetics” and  (2) “Raising Your Church’s Evangelistic Temperature.”

Small Church Essentials | Book Review


“Your church is big enough,” writes Karl Vaters in Small Church Essentials. “Right now. Today, at its current size.”

Vaters’ statement goes against the grain of what many ministers have been taught, explicitly and implicitly, about church growth. “A healthy church will grow numerically,” they’ve been taught in so many words. “If yours isn’t growing, you’re doing something wrong. Here’s how to break the ____ barrier” (fill in the blank with a large number).

The intent of this teaching is good, of course. Church growth aims at increasing a church’s size by increasing the number of people it wins to Christ. And church-growth ideas have been successfully implemented at a number of churches, which have grown exponentially.

But not all churches. Not even most churches. Indeed, despite the intent, the effect of church-growth teaching can be demoralizing to small-church pastors who implement it with little or no resulting growth. That’s certainly how Vaters felt after implementing church-growth programs at his church for many years with no appreciable change in size.

Things came to a head when he heard a denominational leader state that 80 percent of that denomination’s churches were under 200 in weekly attendance, and 90 percent were under 100. “I knew the expected response to the statistic should be, ‘Our church is small too. Oh no!’ But something inside me broke that day.”

His immediate response was defensive and a bit cynical: “Our church is small, so what?” But as weeks passed, he realized that “so what?” was not an agenda. While planning an upcoming church event, the thought hit him: “Our church is small, now what?” That was a game-changer, an epiphany.

It led Vaters to a new understanding of a growing church, epitomized in this sentence: “We are always striving to increase our capacity for effective ministry.” Any church can do this, at any size.

Of course, capacity for effective ministry is going to look different at small churches than at big churches. Why? Because of the Law of Large Numbers: “The bigger the group, the more predictably they behave. The smaller the group, the less predictably they behave.”

So, for example, leading a big church requires a pastor to focus on systems and processes. Those systems and processes move people from the large-group experience on Sunday to a small-group experience at midweek. A small church is already a small group, however. Instead of focusing on systems and processes, a small-church pastor leads by personal relationship.

Here’s another example: In a big church, discipleship typically takes place using a curriculum model. (Think of Rick Warren’s baseball diamond analogy here.) When a church needs to train large numbers of people, this systems-oriented approach works well. But a mentoring model works better in a small church precisely because it leverages the value of personal relationship.

I could cite other examples of how the Law of Large Numbers shapes leadership in big and small churches, but I think you get Vaters’ basic point. Leading a small church requires different ways of thinking about and practicing ministry than leading a big church. Not better or worse, mind you, just different.

Small Church Essentials isn’t anti-big church by any stretch of the imagination. By the same token, though, it’s not uncritically pro-small church. “Small churches are not a problem, a virtue, or an excuse,” Vaters writes. “Jesus calls every church and every church leader for a purpose,” he concludes, “and He equips us with everything we need to accomplish that purpose.”

Regardless of size.

If you’re a small-church pastor who wants to increase your own capacity and your church’s capacity for effective ministry, I highly recommend this hopeful, helpful book.

 

Book Reviewed
Karl Vaters, Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Character Gap | Book Review


The cover of Christian B. Miller’s book, The Character Gap, has a picture of Gandhi at the top and Hitler at the bottom with a graded spectrum between them. The picture is fitting, for one of Miller’s central theses is that most people are neither as bad as we could be nor as good as we should be. We are, instead, a muddle. The question that arises, then, is how we can become better than we are.

Miller is A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University and Director of the Character Project. Funded by the John Templeton Foundation, the project examines character from the perspectives of psychology, philosophy and theology. It maintains a website for scholars (thestudyofcharacter.com) and for a general audience (thecharacterportal.com).

What Character Is
The Character Gap is divided into three parts. Part I examines what moral character is and why it’s important. In general, as Miller defines it, character is the “unique collection of characteristics or traits that are centrally important to who you are and how you act.” Your unique collection includes moral elements (virtue and vice) and nonmoral elements (personality, aptitude, style).

But what are virtue and vice? Miller argues that virtue has four features: It leads to good behaviors that are “appropriate to a particular situation,” “performed in a variety of situations relevant to the particular virtue,” and “done for the appropriate reasons or motives.” Thus performed, these actions result in “a pattern of motivation and action that is stable and reliable over time.” A virtuous person, we might say, does the right thing at the right time for the right reason and does it repeatedly and reliably.

Surprisingly, vice shares “the very same features virtues that virtues do. The main difference is that they are oriented in the opposite way.” One further twist on vice is that it occasionally mimics virtue. “Like virtuous people,” Miller writes, “the vicious often do good things for others.” Why? Because they believe that other people are watching them.

The recognition that vicious people mimic right action for the wrong reason (to be seen by others) helps refine our understanding of character. “The real difference in behavior between the virtuous and the vicious emerges when they think they are not being observed.” As H. Jackson Brown put it, “character is what we do when we think no one is looking.”

Miller closes Part I by offering four reasons for being virtuous. First, “virtuous lives are admirable and inspiring.” Second, “good character typically makes the world a better place.” Third, and this is surprising, comes as it does from a philosopher: “God wants us to become good people.” More on this God-factor later. And fourth, “a good character can be rewarding.”

In Between Virtue and Vice
Now that we understand virtue and vice better, can we make any generalizations about the character of most people? We tend to rate our friends as virtuous and our enemies as vicious, but Miller thinks this is a mistake. Part II explains why.

Over the course of successive chapters, Miller summarizes empirical evidence derived from empirical studies pertaining to four topics: helping, harming, lying and cheating. As he reports the findings of those studies, a pattern quickly emerges: “most people have characters which are neither virtuous nor vicious. They instead fall in a middle space between virtue and vice.” Their character, in other words, is imperfect and unresolved. They have the capacity to act a lot better, but also a lot worse.

Instead of repeating all the evidence Miller cites for this conclusion, I’ll simply ask you to examine yourself. My guess is that you’re a decent person, a good neighbor. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll also admit that you don’t always do the right thing. Even when you perform the right behavior, you might do so at the wrong time or for the wrong reason. You are not as good as you should be.

By the same token, you’re not as bad as you could be, however. You might fail to help a motorist in need, or harm your spouse with a cutting remark, for example. You might lie to get yourself out of a jam, or cheat your way through your driver’s test at the DMV. These things are bad, of course, but the people who do them rarely do them to the nth degree.

In other words, we’re neither Gandhi nor Hitler. We’re somewhere in between. But we can become better, morally speaking. How to do so is the focus of Part III. Miller considers a variety of strategies for becoming more virtuous people.

Strategies for Improvement
He begins with what he calls “some less promising strategies.” These including doing nothing, virtue labeling, and nudging toward virtue. Doing nothing is a counterintuitive strategy, until you realize that some virtues come with age and experience. (If you don’t believe me, trying teaching a newborn baby patience when feeding time comes around.) Virtue labeling means naming and honoring those behaviors and traits that you want to see more in others. Nudging means structuring choices in such a way that good choices are the default option, while bad choices must be consciously chosen. The basic problem with these strategies is that they promote a desired behavior, but not necessarily the right motivation for it or an enduring character that alone can sustain it.

Miller thus turns to “some strategies with more promise”: moral role models, selecting our situations, and getting the word out. Moral role models are self-explanatory. Selecting our situations means that “we should actively seek out those situations which are going to inspire us to act well, while actively avoiding those situations that are fraught with temptation and other pitfalls.” Getting the word out means understanding the “tendencies” or “desires” that shape our behavior. If we understand what motivates us to do either the right thing or the wrong thing, we can identify our worse motives and choose better ones, thereby changing our behavior.

The Character Gap ends by considering strategies for “improving our characters with divine assistance.” To this point, Miller’s advice has been secular in orientation. Most religions offer advice to people for changing their character, however, advice that philosophy and psychology typically ignore. But Miller suggests that Christian faith offers unique resources for what theologians call “sanctification,” the transformation of our character to conform it to Christ’s. He specifically mentions Christian rituals and practices (such as prayer and fasting), participation in a community of faith, and the direct work of the Holy Spirit as three such resources.

About the Holy Spirit, Miller writes: “This idea turns character improvement upside down. Rather than people being left to their own devices in improving themselves, the thought is that God himself can intervene in an important way and actively contribute to the process.” As a Pentecostal Christian and a minister, I appreciate and agree with Miller on this point, offering a hearty “Amen!”

And yet, I cannot also help but think that while the Holy Spirit does not leave us only to our own devices, He does in fact expect us to use those devices in cooperation with Him. As Paul wrote, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12–13). In this passage, God works, but so do we.

Recognizing this truth helps me appreciate Miller’s philosophical and psychological insights. Though psychology and philosophy on the one hand often are pitted against religious faith on the other hand, Miller shows that they need not be in this instance. Becoming the people we ought to be is our moral responsibility, to be sure, but it is also a gift of grace. In the end, sanctification is not an either God or us, but both/and. The Character Gap is helpful precisely because it shows us what we can do to improve our character, even as it recognizes that divine assistance is needed.

Book Reviewed
Christian B. Miller, The Character Gap: How Good Are We? (New York: Oxford, 2017).

P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The Future of the Global Church | Book Review


Patrick Johnstone is best known as editor of the first six editions of Operation World, a prayer guide for Christians interested in fulling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20). Now in its seventh edition, and edited by Jason Mandryk, Operation World presents data on the geography, peoples, economy, politics, and religion of the regions and countries of the world, which is drawn from sophisticated databases maintained by WEC International, an interdenominational missions agency. This data helps readers pray intelligently about the needs of those regions and countries throughout the year.

In The Future of the Global Church, Johnstone has drawn on those databases to create succinct narratives about and visualizations of the growth of global Christianity. The book can best be described as an historical atlas of the past, present, and possible future of world Christianity. It is a helpful resource for readers who want a concise presentation of the relevant information.

Johnston divides his material into nine chapters. Chapter 1 describes nine global challenges currently experienced around the world: population growth, migration, urbanization, pandemics (such as HIV/AIDS), climate change, income inequality, sustainable energy, political and social freedom, and water resources. Throughout the book, he highlights how environmental challenges such as these affect the movements of people—physically, intellectually, and spiritually—both in the past and at present. Doing so reminds readers that the course of history is not shaped merely by human thought and action. Larger forces are at work (such as natural disasters, pandemics, and birthrates), shaping the context in which people receive and propagate religion and nonreligious ideas and practices.

Chapter 2 summarizes the global growth of Christianity from its first-century origin to the present. Each of Christian history’s twenty centuries is summarized on two pages (except the twentieth century, which receives more extended treatment). These pages present maps depicting the faith’s global growth, tables summarizing relevant demographic information, and bulleted lists summarizing major events in the world at large and the church in particular. For readers interested in a quick summary of Christian history, this chapter is invaluable.

Chapter 3 identifies six major streams of Christianity. Listed in descending order by size, they are Christian (32.5 percent of global population as of 2010), Muslim (22.6 percent), non-religious (14.8 percent), Hindu (13.7 percent), Buddhist (6.5 percent), and ethnic/other (10 percent), the last category including religions such as animism, Sikhism, and Judaism (65). Johnstone provides several pages of data and visualization for each religious stream on succeeding pages.

Chapter 4 then turns its focus to the Christian stream. Johnstone divides Christendom into six megablocs: Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Anglicans, Independents, and Marginals, by which he means “[a]ny group that claims to be Christian but displays one or more of the following characteristics,” characteristics that focus on heterodox doctrine, non-biblical sources of revelation, and extreme sectarianism (114). Johnstone predicts that in the future, Christian growth will slow “due to the slowing of population growth” generally, but also that “Christian areas [such as Europe and North America specifically] will see their majorities eroded by secularism and diluted by non-Christian immigration.” This will be offset, however by “continued growth in Africa and Asia—especially China, India and [Southeast] Asia.” And Johnnstone predicts that there “are likely to be increasing numbers of conversions to Christianity in some countries with large Muslim populations,” Islam being the chief religious competitor to Christianity globally (118).

Chapter 5 examines “renewal movements” in Christianity, which Johnstone divides into three broad categories: Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics. Evangelicals are “characterized by a theology based on the inerrancy of the Bible, a personal experience of salvation by faith through grace and a desire or obligation to witness to that salvation” (121). Given this definition, all Pentecostals are evangelical, and most Charismatics are. Elsewhere, Johnstone defines Charismatics as “those who testify to having had a renewing experience of the Holy Spirit and who exercise the gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy and miracles” (xii). Given this definition, all Pentecostals are charismatic. What distinguishes Pentecostals and Charismatics is largely denominational affiliation. The rapid growth of these movements is noteworthy and will likely continue well into the future. “If present projections prove accurate, by 2050 charismatic Christians will comprise one-third of all Christians and one-tenth of the world’s population” (125). This is remarkable growth, given that however one dates the history of modern Pentecostalism, by 2050 it will only be approximately 150 years old.

Chapter 6 outlines the history, growth, and geographic distribution of Evangelicals Evangelicalism in its many forms (including Pentecostals and Charismatics) provides “the main thrust for world evangelization” today, Johnstone contends (139). One of the most notable trends among the world’s Evangelicals is the demographic shift from North to South. As a share of regional population, Evangelicals are declining in Europe, North America, and the Pacific, but growing exponentially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Despite the fact that Christianity is the largest religious stream globally, and that the most evangelistic components of that stream are its fastest growing segments, major regions of the world still exist without effective evangelization efforts by Christians. The unevangelized are the focus of chapter 7. “In the 1990s,” Johnstone writes, “5% became accepted as the dividing point between ‘unevangelized’ and ‘evangelized,” by which he means 5 percent of the population that “professes Christianity” in some form. He concedes that this is an inadequate definition, but it is nevertheless illustrative of the challenge of evangelization. Using that definition, in 2008 numbers, 2.5 billion of the world’s inhabitants are unevangelized because their people group consists of 5 percent or fewer Christians. Another 2 billion inhabitants live in people groups where Christianity is a statistical minority. And approximately 2.3 billion live in people groups where Christianity is a statistical majority (172).

Chapter 8 then turns to a consideration of what kind of missionary resources are necessary for the world’s people groups to be effectively evangelized. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch between the number of missionaries serving each of the six religious streams. Most missionaries serve in countries or regions where Christians constitute the majority of the population. Thus, 43 percent of Christians serve in Christian-majority countries. In descending order, 17 percent of missionaries serve among the ethnic religions, 15 percent among Hindus, 9.7 percent among Buddhists, 8.1 percent among Muslims, and 7.2 percent among the non-religious (231). The disparity is especially noteworthy with regard to Muslim-majority countries or regions. Though Muslims constitute the second-largest bloc of religious persons worldwide (after Christians), missionaries to Muslim-majority countries constitute the second-smallest bloc of total missionary personnel. Clearly, that needs to change if effective evangelization is to take place.

Johnstone concludes The Future of the Global Church by quoting the Commitment of the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, which took place in South African in 2010:

Let us keep evangelism at the centre [sic] of the fully-integrated [sic] scope of all our mission, inasmuch as the gospel itself is the source, content and authority of all biblically-valid [sic] mission. All we do should be both an embodiment and a declaration of the love and grace of God and his saving work through Jesus Christ (239, emphasis in original).

Given the data Johnstone has presented to this point, the Lausanne exhortation provides the exact right exhortation with which to end the book.

Book Reviewed
Patrick Johnstone, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Extraordinary Women of Christian History | Book Review


“One Half of the World does not know how the Other Half lives,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack. That is certainly true of church history, the standard volumes of which are dominated by accounts of the thoughts and deeds of men. Ruth A. Tucker’s Extraordinary Women of Christian History tells readers about the “Other Half” of Christendom by means of biographical snippets of famous Christian women.

Tucker has served as a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary. She is best-known for her biographical approach to both the history of Christian missions in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya and of church history more generally in Parade of Faith. In 1986, she and Walter L. Liefeld coauthored Daughters of the Church, which is a systematic account of “Women and ministry from New Testament times to the present,” in the words of the book’s subtitle.

Like Daughters of the Church, Extraordinary Women arranges its material chronologically. Chapter 1 begins with the apocryphal, but nonetheless influential, Thecla, erstwhile missionary compassion of the apostle Paul. Chapter 14 ends with Helen Roseveare, missionary doctor to the Congo in a time of civil war. Along the way, readers peak into the lives of women, both Catholic and Protestant, some married but others not, who professed the Christian faith with their thoughts, lives, and deeds.

From the outset, Tucker confesses that her accounts of these women’s lives will be anything but hagiographical. Analogizing her choice of subjects to “the tastiest candy from this sampler box of chocolates,” she notes that “in many cases [i.e., other writes’ accounts of these women’s lives] the candy is too sweet for the palate—sugarcoated heroines.” Tucker’s accounts are anything but sugarcoated. Indeed, if anything, they tend toward bitter chocolate. She writes, “I was struck by how many failed marriages and failed ministries had become added ingredients of this volume” (x). At times, this non-sugarcoated approach becomes too much, as if the failures outweighed the successes, at least to my mind.

Regardless, I appreciate Tucker’s reminder: “These women are anything but the super-saints of pious heroine tales. They are real people, and they are like us” (x). There is hope in that statement. God can make a beautiful thing out of the crooked timber of humanity.

One final takeaway as a male reader—or rather, a question. The women Tucker portrays advanced the kingdom of God despite opposition, especially the opposition that arose because so many of them labored against the grain of traditional gender roles and expectations. Ironically, the Protestant Reformation made the leadership of women even more difficult. “Protestants disdained monasticism,” Tucker writes, “which incidentally had been the primary path to ministry for women” (53). One can feel the sting of that opposition to women’s contributions in the complaint of nineteenth-century preacher and social reformer Phoebe Palmer:

We believe that hundreds of conscientious, sensitive Christian women have actually suffered more under the slowly crucifying process to which they have been subjected by men who bear the Christian name than many a martyr has endured in passing through the flames (148).

Interestingly, Palmer countered this “crucifying process” with a long, rigorous defense of women’s preaching ministry in a book whose title alludes to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2—Promise of the Father.

The question(s), then, that rises from reading Extraordinary Women of Christian History is this: If the Spirit has been poured out upon “all people,” both “sons and daughters” (Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28), why do so many churches continue to erect barriers to the full involvement of women in all of their ministries? Would not the work of the kingdom advance more steadily if its daughters were not unduly hindered? The women whose lives Tucker sketches did much. One cannot help but wonder whether they could have done much more, had they worked without hindrance from within the church.

Book Reviewed
Ruth A. Tucker, Extraordinary Women of Christian History: What We Can Learn from Their Struggles and Triumphs (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.