Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0 | Book Review


The Bible begins with a family and ends with a multitude. Its narrative arc thus includes unity and diversity. Because of creation, all who bear the image of God are also children of Adam and Eve. Because of the new creation, the “great multitude” gathered before God’s throne in adoration encompasses “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9).

We do not live at either the beginning or end of the biblical story, however. We live in the middle, in a world divided by sin from God and from one another. The reason Jesus Christ entered the world was to overcome both divisions.

The apostle Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 2:15–16, where he writes: “[Christ’s] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” The Cross, in other words, is the place where Christ reconciles us both to God and to one another.

The Church’s mission, following in Christ’s steps, is to advance the work of this twofold reconciliation in both word (the gospel we proclaim) and deed (the gospel we practice). In my opinion, American Christians are better at the former than the latter. We have well-developed systems of evangelism but underdeveloped systems of racial reconciliation.

Brenda Salter McNeil’s Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0 helps rectify that problem by outlining how Christians can pursue racial reconciliation personally, in their churches, and in their communities.

She defines racial reconciliation as “an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.”

She then outlines “five primary landmarks as signs that will produce lasting personal and cultural change in people and groups” committed to such reconciliation:

  1. catalytic events: “painful but necessary experiences that happen to individuals and organizations that serve to jump-start the reconciliation process”;
  2. realization: “a state of awareness that requires a response because it literally changes everything we thought we understood about an experience”;
  3. identification: “where we begin to identify with and relate to other people who are experiencing the same thing”;
  4. preparation: where we move “from the personal and relational to the structural and the transformational, and the gap between the two is huge”; and
  5. activation: where we begin “to repair broken systems together.”

Throughout the book, Salter McNeil roots her counsel in biblical teaching, insights from social science, historical analysis, and long personal experience doing the work of racial reconciliation. The result is theologically rich, thought-provoking and eminently practical.

Salter McNeil argues that efforts at racial reconciliation usually break down in the preparation phase because personal relationships begin to impinge upon powerful structures. “Folks typically tend to gravitate to the first half of the model, engaging in the realization and identification phases with urgency and focus,” she writes.

Building personal relationships across lines of race and ethnicity is comparatively easy. Changing powerful structures is really hard. In the end, though, she writes, “relational connections cannot be sustained without structural intentionality.”

America is at an inflection point, and its churches have been given a kairos moment. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among others, have reopened the wounds of our nation’s longest injury, and the Church has a gospel capable of healing it through a call to repentance, the offer of forgiveness, and a commitment to justice.

At this moment, whether the nation hears that gospel may very well turn on whether it sees Christians putting racial reconciliation into practice first.

 

Book Reviewed
Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation 2.0: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020).

P.S. If you liked this review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review appears in the July-August 2020 issue of Influence magazine and is cross-posted here by permission.

The Multiethnic Church as a Solution to Racism | Influence Podcast


The death of George Floyd has sparked a nationwide conversation about racism. As our fellow citizens talk about how to reform public policy, it’s also important for the Church to look inward and see how we can better embody the truth of Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Mark DeYmaz about how the multiethnic church offers a solution to the problem of racism. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

One of the architects of the contemporary multiethnic church movement, Mark DeYmaz is the cofounder, CEO, and president of Mosaix, “a relational network of pastors and planters, denominational and network leaders, educators, authors, and researchers alike, that exists to establish healthy multiethnic and economically diverse churches for the sake of the gospel throughout North America and beyond.” This October, Fortress Press will release a new version of his classic book, Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Radiant Life Sunday School curriculum.

As a leader, it can be frustrating when you don’t have the tools your teachers need to engage students in the Bible. Radiant Life Sunday School curriculum is designed to be engaging and easy to use for any teacher, so that leaders can create a thriving ministry that changes lives. Radiant Life is also available in Spanish.

Visit RadiantLifeCurriculum.com to learn more.

Compassion and the Mission of God | Book Review


Compassion and the Mission of God has two purposes, which Rupen Das articulates in the book’s Introduction, the first as a statement and the second as a question. First, the statement: “This book will revision some of the biblical narratives to try and understand where the poor and the broken fit within the economy of God and why” (15–16, emphasis in original). Second, the question: “Why does God care for the poor, and as a result, why should we?” (16, emphasis in original).

Chapter 2, “Issues That Frame the Discussion on Compassion” (17–41), examines “four foundational issues that influence different perspectives on whether compassion is a fundamental biblical value and whether the church should respond to poverty and other social issues. These are: (1) how is Scripture read and understood, 92) can theology be contextual, (3) the exact nature of the mission of the church, and (4) how one views the poor” (18).

Chapter 3, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Old Testament” (43–71), examines what the Hebrew Bible teaches about the cause and cure of poverty. Das argues that the Wisdom tradition largely sees poverty as the result of “laziness and lifestyle choices” (71), the legal and prophetic tradition took a more systemic view of the matter. “A social-scientific and historical approach to the study of poverty in the Bible helps explain the history and the social, economical, and political contexts that created and entrenched poverty in Old Testament society and which then are the reason for the teaching on the issues of poverty, care of the poor and of justice” (70). Obviously, these two explanations—bad choices, unjust systems—continue to characterize the contemporary debate over poverty.

Chapter 4, “The Biblical Basis to Understand the Poor and Poverty: The Gospels” (73–86), focuses on “the socioeconomic context of the Gospels rather than an analysis of the teachings on the poor and poverty” (73). Das argues that the causes of poverty in Jesus’ day were the same as in the Old Testament, though with different elites. “The causes of poverty continued to be exploitation by the ruling business, political and religious elite” (85).

Chapter 5, “Teachings and Practices of the Early Church: The New Testament and Church History” (87–103), address three topics: (1) “the context within which the early church lived” (87); (2) “the practice of charity by the early church and its impact” (88), showing that “Christian and Jewish charity”—which Das sees as one thing, not two, so perhaps Judeo-Christian would be the better term—was “a completely new departure from existing [i.e., Greco-Roman] values and practice” (92); and (3) “the teachings of the early church fathers” (88). Das argues that the early church clearly valued charity, but also notes that the justice theme of both Old and New Testaments is not as prominent. Regardless, “The Central truth through all the teaching was that the only way one could demonstrate that they were true followers of Christ, was if they showed mercy and compassion toward the poor” (102–103).

Chapter 6, “Theological Challenges” (105–121) looks at three theological debates that have divided Protestant Christianity, affecting how it ministers compassionately to the poor: (1) the nature of the gospel, whether Jesus’ “kingdom of God” or Paul’s “justification by faith”; (2) the nature of “righteousness,” specifically whether it is “moral perfection” or “obligation”; and (3) the nature of the Millennium, where some interpretations effectively separated “evangelism and discipleship” from “justice and compassion.”

Chapter 7, “Healing the Divide” (123–134), surveys the history of the modern missions movement regarding the relationship between “the verbal proclamation of the gospel” and “addressing social and physical needs” (123). Das examines the great century of Christian missions (the nineteenth), which practiced both, though without “a clear theological understanding of whether social issues should be addressed” (123). In the nineteenth century, if Liberation Theology and the World Council of Churches swung to the extremes of social concern over evangelism, evangelical missiologists (led by Donald McGavran) swung the other way. The Lausanne Covenant brought evangelism and social concern back into relationship for evangelical missions, with evangelism still considered “prior” in some sense. The integral mission of the Micah Declaration, Das argues, “finally provided the right balance between the verbal proclamation of the gospel and the demonstration of its reality. Neither operates independently and each has significant implications for the other” (134).

Chapter 8, “Transformation or Witness: The Challenge of Transformation” (135–163), asks: “Does the compassion of God focus on only meeting immediate needs through charity or is God concerned with the underlying issues that cause poverty and in the transformation of the world?” (135). It answers affirmatively. However, it adds: “But it is God who transforms and he invites us to partner with him. God is already in the process of redeeming human beings and creation, and will transform us all when created time melds into eternity” (161, emphasis in original).

Chapter 9, “Transformation or Witness: Being a Witness” (165–179), takes up the flip side of the coin. Christian mission involves both transformation and witness. This call to conversion is a hallmark of evangelical missions in particular. However, missionaries who combine evangelism and social concern must face several challenges: (1) “there should be no conditionality in the assistance that is provided” (175), and “there is no conditionality and proselytism to force individuals to change their social group and religious affiliation” (179). Bearing witness is the Church’s work. Converting people is God’s.

Chapter 10, “The Face of Compassion” (181–195), outlines “three dimensions of compassion” that God exemplifies and that his disciples should exemplify too: (1) “God seeks to bless human beings and his creation”, (2) “He defends and protects those who are the victims of evil,” and (3) “God desires his creation to be restored to him” (186, emphasis in original). These three dimensions—blessing, justice, redemption—should also characterize the people of God.

Chapter 11, “Conclusion: A God of Compassion” (197–202), rounds out the book with this strong statement: “The ministries of compassion and social justice are in effect prophetic ministries because they embody the values at the core of the kingdom of God. Most people encounter the invisible kingdom for the first time through these ministries and realize that maybe there is an alternative to the realities of the world they live in. This opens them to the possibility of a God who is compassionate” (201). And, “To be compassionate in the midst of a culture which robs people of life is what it means to be the people of God in the world that we live in” (202).

Book Reviewed
Rupen Das, Compassion and the Mission of God: Revealing the Invisible Kingdom (Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2015).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Whole and Reconciled | Book Review


One of the central debates among evangelical missiologists in the past century concerned the relationship between evangelism and social concern. In the mid- to late-twentieth century, many evangelical missiologists prioritized the former to the later, primarily in the West. In the last quarter of that century, however, prioritism gave ground to holism, especially among the Rest, who viewed evangelism and social concern as equally indispensable aspects of the Church’s mission.

In Whole and Reconciled, Al Tizon outlines a holistic missiology. Rather than rehearse the arguments for holism, however, he assumes their conclusions. What is unique to his articulation of holistic mission is the use of the concept of reconciliation to clarify what holistic mission requires. As he puts it in the Introduction, “We engage in holistic mission when we participate with God in putting the world back together in Jesus Christ: reconciliation as mission” (xii). Or as he states in the Conclusion, “This book has sought to reshape our understanding of the church’s holistic mission in the world by seeing it through the lens of biblical reconciliation” (212).

Tizon divides the book into four parts.

In Part 1, “Whole World,” he outlines “major global shifts that have massive implications for the church in mission” (3). These include globalization (6–20), post-Christendom (21–36), and postcolonialism (37–55). He severely critiques the first (i.e., capitalism) but embraces the other two.

In Part 2, “Whole Gospel,” Tizon critiques “false gospels” and “half gospels” (pp. 63–76). The former includes gospels of hate, prosperity, comfort, and empire. The latter includes the gospels of (merely) personal salvation and of (merely) social liberation, the characteristic understandings of the gospel on the Right and Left, respectively. Turning from critique to affirmation, he defines the gospel in terms of the kingdom of God. Trying together the concepts of kingdom and reconciliation, he writes: “To the extent that God reigns over existence, reconciliation between God and people, between people and people, and between God, people, and creation happens” (85).

In part 3, “Whole Church,” Tizon turns to the nature of the Church, believing that “the impact of the whole and reconciled gospel on the world depends on the wholeness of the bold and humble church” (96). Such a church requires “whole persons” (97–109); a diverse, reconciled, and reconciling community modeled on the relationships of the Persons of the Trinity (111–128); and “the spirituality and worship practices of the people of God” (129–144, cf. 130).

In Part 4, “Wholeness as Mission,” Tizon narrates the history of the theology and practice holistic mission (155–170). He writes about three dimensions of reconciliation (171–181). These dimensions describe “the ministries of (1) evangelism, facilitating reconciliation between God and people; (2) peacemaking, between people and people; and (3) stewardship, between God, people, and creation” (174). Finally, he asks, “What principles must be operative for genuine peace [among people] to manifest itself” (183–210, cf. 184).

While I agree with the general framework of holistic mission and am sympathetic to Tizon’s use of reconciliation as an organizing principle for it, I don’t agree with everything in the book. I struggled especially with Tizon’s critique of capitalism and embrace of a post-Christendom and postcolonial perspective in Part 1. Other readers may find different points of disagreement. Regardless, Whole and Reconciled is a worthy contribution to the theological and practice of holistic mission.

Book Reviewed
Al Tizon, Whole and Reconciled: Gospel, Church, and Mission in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees | Book Review


Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees is the third installment in Daniel Taylor’s series of mysteries featuring Jon Mote, erstwhile Ph.D. student and special-needs adult caregiver, now book editor for Luxor House, a subsidiary of Continental Media, itself a small part of World Wide Holdings International, which in is run by an even larger corporation known to insiders as Imperial Interests.

The book begins and ends at a retreat center in northern Minnesota as fall is changing to winter. The central plotline takes place on a single day and is written in the voice of Jon Mote. Readers get Mote’s perspective on events as they unfold, but the unfolding involves a lot of flashing back to earlier events.

Those gathered at the retreat center are part of a Bible translation committee charged with producing the New World Standard Bible, the primary need for which seems to be making its publisher lots of money. In order to expedite the translation process, the publisher buys the 70s-era paraphrase of the Bible produced by Dr. Jerry DeAngelo (“Dr. Jerry”), a retired televangelist who’s glad to be back in the game. His dutiful wife, Cate, sits in on all meetings, saying little but knitting a lot.

Members of the committee are a diverse group, including Dr. Bart Sprung (“the most publicly known progressive figure”); Dr. Lilith Weekly (“an established feminist scholar”); Dr. Martin Shabazz Douglas (“a rising young black scholar”); Dr. Adam Corinth (“an expert on the historical books of the Old Testament”); and Dr. Peter Stone (a fundamentalist theologian “teaching at a Baptist university in Virginia”). If disagreement about a choice of translation arises, committee members vote, and ties are broken by Robert Green, an agnostic Jew from New York who represents the publisher’s financial interests and enforces its deadlines.

If you know anything about Bible translation committees, you know that this committee would never exist in real life. It’s too ideologically and ecclesially diverse. And with the exception of Adam Corinth, none of the members is a biblical scholar per se.

That niggling detail should be overlooked, however, because Daniel Taylor isn’t satirizing Bible translation as much as using Bible translation to satirize the sorry state of Christianity in America, of the academic study of religion, and of religious publishing. The satire works well, hilariously so at points. Bart Sprung seems like a mashup of Bart Ehrman and John Shelby Spong. Two other characters, Robby Clapper and Orlanda, are stand-ins for Rob Bell and Oprah. Even the Peter Stone’s redundant name—Peter derives from the Greek word for rock—is a witty caricature of fundamentalist immovability.

Moreover, if you like series novels, as I do, Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees continues the story of Jon Mote as he heals from the personal traumas related in Death Comes for the Deconstructionist and Do We Not Bleed?, which I reviewed here and here. He is reconciling with his ex-wife Zillah and continues to care for his older sister Judy, who has Down Syndrome. All of that makes for a rich, textured literary universe that’s enjoyable to explore.

As a mystery, however, Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees was only so-so, in my opinion. Several characters die in the novel, starting with Adam Corinth, and there are hints at a suspect, but the clue that solves the mystery arrives too abruptly when no one is looking for it. It is literally just found. As a mystery novel reader, that aspect of the novel was something of a letdown.

I can’t help but wonder, though, whether this observation is beside the point. The title of the book is Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, which alludes to Jesus’ denunciation of the same in Matthew 23 and Luke 11. Taylor doesn’t cite any verses from those chapters in the book’s epigraph, however, instead quoting Deuteronomy 4:2 and Mark 7:13. Regardless, given the allusion and the quotation, it seems clear to me that Taylor has authorities in both academe and the church in mind throughout this book. They are the ones “making the word of God of none effect through you tradition” (Mark 7:13 KJV).

In other words, this book ultimately isn’t a mystery about violent murder but about misusing the Bible. The way some people use the Bible kills. If so, then I’d hazard the guess that Dr. Martin Shabazz Douglas is the real hero of the story.

If that doesn’t make sense to you now, read the book, and it will.

Book Reviewed
Daniel Taylor, Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees: A Jon Mote Mystery (Eugene, OR: Slant, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

How to Make Your Church Spiritually Safe for Kids | Influence Podcast


In a 2019 article for InfluenceMagazine.com, Mark Entzminger wrote: “[A] poorly designed or implemented safety plan can not only damage the church’s reputation in the community but, more importantly, it can also damage the heart and spirit of a child for a lifetime.”

He was talking about emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, but what he said also applies to the spiritual life of a child. There is such a thing as spiritual abuse, and it’s the job of church leaders to keep their kids spiritually safe.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Mark Entzminger about why churches must put the spiritual safety of their kids first and how they can do so. Entzminger is national director of Children’s Ministries for the Assemblies of God (USA).

What Racial Reconciliation Requires | Influence Podcast


The events of the past week have set America on fire.

It began on Monday, March 25th, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the death of George Floyd, a black man. Video of the event showed the white arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite cries from both Floyd and onlookers to relent. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd said. Floyd died soon after, and Chauvin has since been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

As the video of Floyd’s death went viral, protestors in Minneapolis and other cities across the nation gathered to protest racism and police brutality. Some of those protests were marred by violence, looting, and arson. But the obvious injustice of George Floyd’s death is forcing Americans to ask, Where do we go from here? And the question the Church needs to ask is this: What does racial reconciliation require?

Those are the questions I ask Alex Bryant in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Alex Bryant is an ordained Assemblies of God minister, campus pastor at AG Theological Seminary, and an evangelist. Bryant, who is black, and his wife Angela, who is white, are authors of Let’s Start Again: A Biracial Couple’s on Race, Racial Ignorance, and Racial Insensitivity.

Fair Warning | Book Review


Fair Warning begins with a murder. That’s unfortunate, but even more unfortunate for Jack McEvoy is that the LAPD considers him a suspect. McEvoy knows he’s innocent, but how will he prove it to the police. And how will he find the real killer?

This is the 34th book in Michael Connelly’s fictional world of murder in Los Angeles. Most of the books feature LAPD detective Harry Bosch, but other novels center around Mickey Haller (Bosch’s half-brother), Rachel Ballard (an up-and-coming detective and Bosch’s occasional colleague), and Terry McCaleb (an FBI serial killer investigator). Fair Warningis the third novel featuring award-winning journalist Jack McEvoy and FBI profiler Rachel Walling.

Connelly seems incapable of writing a boring book. While some are better than others, Fair Warning definitely finds him at the top of his writing game. I kept turning pages eager to figure out what will happen next.

And the elements of the story feel contemporaneous: Hatred of journalists. Incel rage against women. Consumer data breaches. Podcasts displacing print. And the ever-depressing reality of lives ruined by violence.

Jack McEvoy and Rachel Walling teamed up in Connelly’s novels The Poet  and The Scarecrow. They work well together, but they also have a past. If I read Fair Warning’s ending correctly, they may team up again in the future. That’s a novel I look forward to reading.

I’m also looking forward to Connelly’s November 10, 2020, release of The Law of Innocence, featuring Mickey Haller.

Five stars from me for Fair Warning. In my opinion, Connelly is the best crime writer currently on the market.

Book Review
Michael Connelly, Fair Warning (New York: Little Brown and Company, 2020).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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