Is Contemplative Spirituality Christian? | Influence Podcast


If Christian book publishing trends are any indication, contemplative spirituality is a hot topic among Christian readers — hotin the dual sense that it arouses intense interest as well as intense opposition. Proponents claim it is an ancient Christian practice capable of deepening a person’s love for God and neighbor. Opponents counterclaim that it is biblically subpar, smacks of medieval Catholicism, and opens the door to New Age mysticism.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to John Coe and Kyle Strobel about whether contemplative spirituality is Christian, and if so, how. Coe and Strobel are professors at Biola University in La Mirada, California. Both are active in the university’s Institute for Spiritual Formation, Coe as the director and Strobel as a teacher. They are the editors of Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice, published by IVP Academic earlier this year.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN PODCAST

P.S. This episode of the Influence Podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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Love Your Enemies | Book Review


Arthur C. Brooks opens Love Your Enemies with a personal anecdote about a speech he gave to conservative activists in New Hampshire. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, so the audience for the speech was “an ideological home-field crowd” for him. Among other things, he talked about how the American public perceives liberals as “compassionate and empathetic” and argued that conservatives should earn that reputation too.

After the speech, an unhappy women approached him and castigated him for being too nice to liberals. “They are not compassionate and empathetic,” she argued. “They are stupid and evil.”

Stupid and evil. Although a conservative voiced the words, the sentiment is common on the other side of the political spectrum too. A November 2018 Axios poll found that roughly the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party as “ignorant” (54 and 49 percent, respectively) and “evil” (21 and 23 percent, respectively). Even worse, “The share of Americans who have more generous impressions is roughly equal to the poll’s margin of error, which is 3%.”

According to Brooks, this denigration of the other side reflects more than anger or incivility. It reflects a pervasive “culture of contempt,” contempt being defined as “anger mixed with disgust.” Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer put it, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

In such a culture, what is needed most is not tolerance or civility, as important as those practices are. Rather, Brooks argue, what is needed most is love, especially love for one’s enemies. Following Thomas Aquinas, Brooks defines love as “to will the good of the other.” Love doesn’t mean setting aside facts and compromising in some mushy middle. But it does require remembering that while “their views might be [worthy of contempt], no person is.”

Although Brooks is president of a secular think tank and his book is pitched at a broad audience, his is a fundamentally Christian insight. (Brooks himself is Catholic.) The book’s title comes directly from Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 5:44. That being said, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry, but an exercise in the application of enemy-love to American public discourse.

Along the way, Brooks outlines the features of our culture of contempt, asks whether we can afford to be nice, gives love lessons for leaders, shows how we can love our enemies even if they’re immoral, identifies why identity politics is both powerful and perilous, asks whether competition is a problem, and encourages people to disagree with one another — though without contempt, of course. Throughout, he uses anecdotes and contemporary social science to make his points. The resulting case for love in the public square is both convincing and well worth reading.

Love Your Enemies covers a lot of ground, so Brooks helpfully concludes the book with “Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt”:

  1. Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful.
  2. Escape the bubble. Go where you’re not invited and say things people don’t expect.
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.
  5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.

As noted above, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry. I read this book as a Christian minister, however, and can’t help but see its salience to Christian readers and leaders. So, I close my review with an exhortation to them:

Christ commands us to love our enemies. There’s no carve-out when the “enemy” is on the other side from us religiously, culturally or politically. There’s no exception clause for those moments when an election is on the line. Loving our enemies is simply what Christians do for others because it’s what Christ did for us. So, let’s do it. It’s the right thing to do, and if Brooks is right, it’s also the most socially beneficial thing we can do in our nation’s roiling culture of contempt.

Book Reviewed
Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (New York: Broadside Books, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Evangelizing the Unsaved Christian | Influence Podcast


“The Bible Belt is the most difficult place in America to pastor a local church.” That’s what Dean Inserra’s friend Matt told him as they left seminary to plant churches, Dean in Florida and Matt in California. “In California, there is rarely confusion. Either you’re a Christian or you’re not. In the Bible Belt, many people think they’re Christians but have no concept of … the overall message of the gospel.”

In Episode 174 of the Influence Podcast, Influencemagazine’s executive editor, George P. Wood, talks with Dean Inserra about eight types of cultural Christians and how to share the gospel with them. Inserra is author of The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel, just out from Moody Publishers. A Southern Baptist church planter, he is founding pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Florida, where he lives with his wife and his three children.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.S. You can read my book review of The Unsaved Christian here. If you like it, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

Islam and Christian Mission | Influence Podcast


What should Christians believe about Islam? And how should Christians treat their Muslim neighbors? Contemporary events both abroad and in the U.S. require thoughtful Christians to answer these questions.

In Episode 173 of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, Influencemagazine’s executive editor, interviews Mark Brink, Mark Hausfeld, and Mark Refroe about Islam and Christian mission. All three are veteran Assemblies of God missionaries to Muslim-majority nations.

Mark Brink is international director of Global Initiative, a ministry of Assemblies of God World Missionswhose mission statement is “To equip the global church to reach Muslims because every Muslim must know the truth about Jesus.” Mark Hausfeld is professor of Urban and Islamic Studiesat the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. And Mark Renfroe is director of Reaching Africa’s Muslims, an AGWM initiative to plant the Church among Africa’s 806 Muslim unreached people groups.

Additional Resources

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

The Miracle Lady | Book Review


Readers of a certain age remember Kathryn Kuhlman (1907–1976). She was “the miracle lady,” whose catchphrase, “I believe in miracles because I believe in God,” inspired millions to seek faith in Jesus Christ and the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements even described her as the “world’s most widely known female evangelist.”

Younger readers are likely unfamiliar with Kuhlman, however. Her miracle services, radio ministry, and syndicated television show, though well attended and widely consumed in her day, lost influence after her death. This decline was not unexpected. The ministries of charismatic leaders rarely outlive them, especially when, as in Kuhlman’s case, their estates are diverted away from ministry maintenance toward personal gain by unscrupulous heirs.

And yet, Kathryn Kuhlman should be better known because she played a crucial role in what biographer Amy Collier Artman calls “the gentrification of charismatic Christianity.” Until the middle of the 20th century, classical Pentecostalism was the primary bearer of “Spirit-filled Christianity.” Starting on the wrong side of the tracks, socially and ecclesiastically speaking, classical Pentecostalism had increasingly moved toward respectability by mid-century, as symbolized by the Assemblies of God joining the National Association of Evangelicals as a founding member in the early 1940s. (Today, it is the NAE’s largest denominational member.)

It was charismatic Christianity that accelerated the popularity of Spirit-filled beliefs and practices in the second half of the century, however. “Kuhlman was a leader in the transformation of charismatic Christianity from a suspect form of religion to a respectable form of religiosity that was accepted and even celebrated by mainstream Christianity and culture by the end of the twentieth century.” The Miracle Ladytells the story of how this happened, focusing especially on Kuhlman’s skillful use of talk-show television.

Rather than broadcasting her spiritually charged miracle services themselves, Kuhlman invited people who had been saved, healed and filled with the Spirit to share their own testimonies, first on Your Faith and Minein the 1950s, then on I Believe in Miraclesin the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. These television shows presented normal looking, intelligent people calmly telling others what God had done for them. Out were the pyrotechnics of the Pentecostal revival service. In were normal folk talking normally about the supernatural. Artman says that Kuhlman and charismatic Christianity “came of age” together. The same could be said of them and television. Kuhlman was an early adopter of the talk-show format, which was perfectly suited for introducing otherwise cautious viewers to charismatic Christianity.

By the same token, Kuhlman in her day made it clear that she was not a “faith healer,” an appellation she shunned. Unlike Word-of-Faith evangelists, she did not believe healing was dependent on the character of one’s faith, or that faith would inoculate a person from suffering. Additionally, she did not use her television show to make continuous appeals for money, despite the high costs of production. (In this respect, she needs to be distinguished from televangelists such as Benny Hinn, who despite implicitly claiming Kuhlman’s “mantle,” never actually met or worked with her.)

Artman also discusses how Kuhlman navigated the tensions of being a woman leader in a theologically and morally conservative movement. Kuhlman adopted a rhetoric of “negation,” often stating that she wasn’t God’s “first choice,” but no man had been willing to step up and do the work, so she volunteered. “Take nothing and use it,” she often said.

Artman contrasts this rhetoric of negation with Adele Carmichael’s rhetoric of “affirmation.” She recounts a 1974 interview Kuhlman conducted with Carmichael on the set of I Believe in Miracles. (Carmichael, five years Kuhlman’s senior, lived until 2003, dying on her way to teach Sunday school at 101 years of age. She continues to hold the record as one of the Assemblies of God’s longest-serving ministers, having been first credentialed in 1918.) In that episode, Kuhlman remarked to Carmichael, “It was not the easiest thing in the world to be a woman preacher. How did you master it?” Carmichael responded, “I had a wonderful husband who was 100 percent for women preachers. As I study the Word, I believe God needs women, has a place for their ministry.” In fact, she went on, “Many times I’ve prayed thanks that God gave you your ministry and not a man,” Kuhlman demurred, saying “I always thought I was second or third choice.” But Carmichael boldly declared: “I think you were his first choice.”

Even today, unfortunately, Spirit-filled women continue to navigate the difficult waters of leadership, sometimes justifying their ministries through negation rhetoric like Kuhlman’s. Carmichael’s affirmation rhetoric offers a better way forward, it seems to me.

The Miracle Ladyis not a who-did-what-when type of biography. If you’re looking for a more traditional biography, I’d recommend Wayne Warner’s excellent Kathryn Kuhlman: The Woman Behind the Miracles. The strength of Artman’s The Miracle Ladyis that it uses Kuhlman’s life as a lens through which to view a crucial period and a key mover in the transformation of charismatic Christianity. A 2008 Barna study estimated that 80 million Americans self-identified as either “Pentecostal” or “charismatic.” This happened, at least in part, because of the efforts of Kathryn Kuhlman to mainstream Spirit-filled Christianity and broaden its appeal. For that, Kuhlman deserves to be remembered.

Book Reviewed
Amy Collier Artman, The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Truth + Love = Influence | Influence Podcast


Jesus Christ is the greatest news the world has ever heard, and the internet and social media give contemporary Christians effective means to share it. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are blowing their chance, as even a quick glance at Christians online shows. How can we better use these communication tools for greater gospel influence?

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine and your host. In Episode 172 of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Matt Brown about the biblical formula for influence, whether you’re online or off.

Matt is an Assemblies of God minister, founder of the online evangelistic ministry Think Eternity, and author of Truth Plus Love: The Jesus Way to Influence, forthcoming from Zondervan. He lives with his wife Michelle and their two boys near Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

P.S. This podcast is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

Nothing to Lose | Book Review


Nothing to Lose is the second book in Victoria Selman’s mystery series featuring Ziba MacKenzie, a freelance criminal profiler who consults with New Scotland Yard. (I reviewed the first book, Blood for Blood, here.) In it, Ziba investigates two crimes: the  recent serial murders of young Persian women who look remarkably like herself and the murder of her husband some two years earlier.

The story begins in the third person, with the Saturday interrogation of a suspect. It then moves backward in time three days to Wednesday, when the serial murders started. The plot develops rapidly, and the time frame of both investigations is approximately one month. After the opening chapter, however, Selman tells the story in Ziba’s first-person narrative voice, interspersed with occasional but increasingly frantic blog posts from a potential murder victim. These blog posts provide crucial data needed to understand the resolution of the serial murders case, so pay attention!

I enjoyed the book on the whole, though an editor really should’ve condensed its 143 short chapters into fewer but longer ones. It seems to me that the number of the chapters made the book “feel” longer than it actually is. The serial murders plot receives the lion share of attention and is the best developed of the two cases. It involves two hard plot twists. I had an inkling of the first twist about halfway through, but the second one caught me by surprise. So, good on the author!

The husband-murder plot was less successful, in my opinion. In murder mysteries, it’s not uncommon for the lead character to investigate several crimes at once. (Think of just about any Bosch novel, for example.) Here, however, the second investigation distracted me more than it enhanced my enjoyment of the novel. Given the criminal enormity in the background of Ziba’s husband’s murder—he was with Scotland Yard too—it might’ve been better had Selman made this crime the focus of an entire book, not a sideline to the main plot.

One other small criticism: In my review of Blood for Blood, I mentioned that it had an “ensemble of secondary characters that grow on you.” Unfortunately, with the exceptions of Ziba herself and Jack Wolfe, her late husband’s best mate and a potential love interest, none of the characters from the first novel reappear in the second, at least not beyond a mention on a page or two. That was disappointing to me, as I’d grown to like some of the secondary characters in Ziba’s circle of acquaintance.

So, just four stars from me, not five. While Nothing to Lose wasn’t as good as Blood for Blood, it was still an enjoyable read, and I look forward to Book Three.

Book Reviewed
Victoria Selman, Nothing to Lose (Seattle, WA: Thomas & Mercer, 2019).

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