Blessed to Bless | Influence Podcast


“The blessing of God is the solution to your biggest problem, the answer to your boldest prayer, and the fulfillment of your bravest dream,” writes Mark Batterson in his new book, Double Blessing. But God doesn’t want us merely to receive His blessing, He wants us to give it away too. We are, as Batterson puts it, “blessed to bless.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, George P. Wood, Influence magazine’s executive editor, talksto Mark Batterson about this “double blessing.” Batterson is pastor of National Community Church, a multisite congregation in Washington, DC, and the New York Times best-selling author of fifteen books, including In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and The Circle Maker.

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

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When to Walk Away | Book Review


This sentence in Gary Thomas’ new book grabbed my attention: “Sometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or to let them walk away from us.”

I wish someone had told me that 25 years ago, when I stood in a courtyard between Sunday School classrooms yelling at a church member. At that time, I was the 25-year-old Christian education director of the church in which I had grown up. I superintended approximately 20 Sunday School classes and taught one myself.

One day, an eager, early-middle-age Brit joined the class. At first, he kept to himself, which was fine by me. After several weeks, he began participating in class discussions, which was also fine by me. But I began to notice a trend to his class contributions. They all had to do with the inferiority of this or that modern translation of this or that Bible verse when compared to the King James Version. He was a King James Only kind of guy, it turned out.

It took me a while to catch on to this. My first response was to educate myself. Then, young teacher that I was, my next response was to educate him. But regardless of my months of feeding him articles and hours of one-on-one time explaining the error of his ways, he persisted in derailing every class discussion he participated in — and he now participated in all of them! — with bad exegesis and crazy conspiracy theories.

Which is why I was standing in the courtyard after Sunday School, exasperated at his latest shenanigans, telling him not to attend my Sunday School class, or any other, ever again.

Why do I tell you this? Not because I am proud of my response to KJV Guy. I’m not. I tell you this because at that stage in my life, I felt it was my duty as a Christian and as a minister to devote lavish amounts of time to any person who demanded it, no matter how unreasonable their demand. Over the years, as a practical matter, and to retain my sanity, I’ve stopped doing that. But in the back of my mind, I always felt a bit guilty for not being more like the “Hound of Heaven.”

But as Gary Thomas demonstrates in When to Walk Away, not only did Jesus himself walk away from people on occasion, He allowed them to walk away from Him. Thomas includes an Appendix listing 41 times in the Gospels that Jesus did this for one reason or another. It makes for eye-opening reading.

Jesus walked away or let others walk away for a variety of reasons. Thomas’ focus in this book is walking away from “toxic people.” These people excel in at least one of three things: “a murderous spirit, a controlling nature, and a heart that loves hate.” When to Walk Away includes numerous examples, from Thomas’ life and pastoral counseling, of toxic people.

Thomas is careful to warn against understanding toxicity too broadly. It’s not synonymous with difficult people or circumstances. After all, Jesus came to “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), and the lost are difficult people in difficult circumstances by definition. Toxic people are difficult, but in a soul-killing, relationship-destroying way. Like internet trolls, once you’ve identified them, you’re best off avoiding them.

Why? Because God doesn’t want His children to play defense against toxic people. He wants them to go on offense, using their best time, talents and treasures to develop “reliable people,” that is, 2 Timothy 2:2 people. In that verse, Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

Although Thomas spends most of the book advising readers how to identify and then disentangle themselves from toxic people, the heart of his book is really Chapters 6 and 7, “No Time to Waste” and “Reliable People.” In those two chapters, he outlines a strategic offense that allows us to put our best time and efforts into reliable people. This doesn’t mean avoiding problems or difficulties, since even reliable people have plenty of both. It does mean exercising discernment about people, however. And in some cases, the good news is that even toxic people, at least some of them, can become reliable ones through strong boundaries and good counsel.

I recommend When to Walk Away to pastors and other church leaders especially, who, perhaps more than others, strongly feel Christ’s imperative to disciple people. Thomas didn’t write it just for pastors, however, and it can be read profitably by just about anybody.

Book Reviewed
Gary Thomas, When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom from Toxic People (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

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

P.P.S. I wrote this review for InfluenceMagazine.com. It is posted here with permission.

Double Blessing | Book Review


I have known Mark Batterson for 30 years and read most, if not all, of his books. Double Blessing is his fifteenth book, and it combines Mark’s trademark blend of insightful biblical commentary, memorable phrasing, optimistic cheerleading to go deeper in your faith, and random biographical and scientific facts. (For example, I learned about the Avogadro Constant in chapter 4). If I could sum up the book in one sentence (Mark’s), it is this: “The secret of the double blessing is simply this: the way you get it is by giving it.” In a culture that focuses on getting, this book is a blessing.

Book Reviewed
Mark Batterson, Double Blessing: How to Get It. How to Give It (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2019).

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

Shepherding God’s People | Book Review


Dr. Siang-Yang Tan is professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and senior pastor of First Evangelical Church in nearby Glendale. In Shepherding God’s People, he examines “biblical and theological foundations for pastoral ministry” (Part 1) and “areas of pastoral ministry” (Part 2). The author himself describes the book this way in the Preface:

The book presents a biblical perspective on pastoral and church ministry that emphasizes faithfulness and fruitfulness in Christ (John 15:5), through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; Eph. 5:18; 6:10–18), made perfect in weakness, brokenness, and humility (2 Cor. 12:9–10) rather than in success or excellence of the wrong kind … . Each chapter includes a substantial review of the literature available on the topic as well as my own biblical, theological, psychological, cultural, and personal reflections.

Baker Academic published the book, and I imagine its intended readers are seminarians preparing for ministry. Although it is well, clearly, and simply written, it at times feels like an introductory survey rather than a how-to guide. Being nearly 25 years out of seminary — I attended Fuller but did not have Dr. Tan as a professor — I found this off-putting at first.

But as I kept reading, I realized that I was benefitting from the author’s extensive reading of the relevant literature, especially as it was focused through the lens of his own pastoral ministry. I came to regard the book as the equivalent of a refresher course on the theology and practice of pastoral ministry. An added bonus is that each chapter includes an extensive list of recommended readings. You can use the book as an introduction to best practices and the recommended readings as a guide to what you should read next, should a specific topic interest you.

As a Pentecostal minister, I appreciated Chapter 2 especially. It is titled, “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit as Crucial and Essential for Pastoral Ministry.” Though Dr. Tan does not write from a classical Pentecostal perspective, this chapter reminded me of the breadth of the Holy Spirit’s work as well as the many points in common between Pentecostal and evangelical theologies of the Spirit.

Book Reviewed
Siang-Yang Tan, Shepherding God’s People: A Guide to Faithful and Fruitful Pastoral Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019).

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

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

Pastor Paul | Book Review


What do pastors do? A lot of things. Perhaps too many things. They preach and teach; plan worship services; officiate at major life events such as baby dedications, weddings, and funerals (“hatch, match, and dispatch,” as one wag puts it); evangelize; disciple; counsel; visit the sick and elderly; disperse benevolence funds; cast vision; raise money; lead meetings; set up auditoriums; clean toilets; eat too much at the potluck; and so on. The list is long, but something else is always being added, as every pastor knows.

But what do pastors do these things for? In the midst of a busy schedule, pastors all too quickly and easily forget their purpose, losing sight of the end toward which all their activities are but means. In Pastor Paul, Scot McKnight mines the life and thought of the apostle to the Gentiles to remind pastors of their fundamental purpose. He announces his thesis early on: “The pastor is called to nurture a culture of Christoformity.” As Paul himself puts it in Galatians 4:19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (emphasis added). In Romans 8:29, Paul describes Christoformity as God’s own goal: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (emphasis added).

We typically understand Christoformity in individual terms. A person — you or me, for example — increasingly becomes like Christ in thought, word and deed. That’s right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough, for Christoformity must also be understood in social terms. It is a characteristic of both the Christian and of the congregation in which he or she is a member. A church’s culture consists of four elements, according to McKnight: the pastor(s) and leaders; the congregation; the relationship between them; and the policies, structures, and systems that govern them. “No church culture is completely good,” McKnight warns, “because it emerges from human beings who are not completely good. Yet the gospel’s power transforms what could be a bad culture into good at some level, so churches have at least some small chance of emerging as a culture of (some) goodness.”

Chapter 1 briefly sketches “ten elements of a Christoform culture that a pastor can nurture”: people, formation, listening, prophecy, presence, priesthood, servanthood, and leadership, all the while resisting the temptations of celebrity and power. Chapters 2–8 describe what such a culture looks like in terms of relationships, economic stewardship, Scripture interpretation, evangelistic witness, subversion of worldliness, and practical wisdom. McKnight acknowledges that these topics are illustrative rather than exhaustive. Pastor Paul, he insists, is not a complete or systematic theology of pastoring.

Also, throughout the book, McKnight repeatedly states that he writes as a New Testament scholar, not as a pastor. He’s trying to describe what Pastor Paul did, not prescribe what contemporary pastors should do. Even so, the book is illuminating and suggestive. Pastors with ears to hear will hear its Christoform message and know what to do with it in their own congregational contexts.

I close with a quotation from McKnight’s penultimate page, which reminds pastor-readers of their need for the Holy Spirit. McKnight himself isn’t Pentecostal, but as a Pentecostal, I appreciated this statement nonetheless:

Christoformity is not the inevitable consequence of forming the right habits, nor is it simply the result of intentions and willpower. Rather, Christ is present in our word at its core through the Spirit, and the grace of God operating through the Spirit is the only path of Christoformity. Christocentricity is only possible through Pneumacentricity: we can only find Christ at the center if we are open to the Spirit taking us there.

Amen!

Book Reviewed
Scot McKnight, Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2019).

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

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

How to Walk Away from Toxic People | Influence Podcast


“Sometimes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to walk away from others or to let them walk away from us.” That’s what Gary Thomas writes in his new, When to Walk Away, published this past Tuesday by Zondervan. I’ll be talking with him about how to walk away from toxic people in this episode of the Influence Podcast.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Gary Thomas is writer-in-residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and adjunct faculty teaching spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Denver, Colorado, as well as Houston Theological Seminary. He’s the author of numerous books, including Sacred Marriage, Sacred Parenting, and Authentic Faith.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Say HELLO Forever Friends:

Sharing Jesus is easy when you “Say Hello!” Help kids build intentional friendships with Muslim friends and others who need to know Jesus with the Say HELLO Forever Friends curriculum kit. Start kids on a path to lifelong evangelism while showing them how important it is to connect to others with compassion and care.

For more information visit MyHealthyChurch.com/SayHello.

P.S. This podcast originally appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is posted here by permission.

Meet the Assemblies of God’s New General Treasurer | Influence Podcast


This past August, the Assemblies of God Executive Presbytery appointed Wilfredo De Jesús as general treasurer of the denomination. Best known as “Pastor Choco,” De Jesús succeeds Rick DuBose in that office, which is charged with oversight of the Division of Treasury.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Pastor Choco about his life, ministry, and new responsibilities.

Until his appointment as general treasurer, Pastor Choco was senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church, a multisite congregation in Chicago, Illinois, and one of the city’s fastest growing churches. He is author of Amazing Faith, In the Gap, and Move into More, among other titles. You can watch him on TBN’s miniseries, In the Gap.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Balanced Budget, Balanced Life:

People don’t plan on having money troubles, which is exactly the problem: they don’t plan! In Balanced Budget, Balanced Life, Rollie Dimos shows you how to make a Biblically sound financial plan and stick to it. Get back the time and resources you need to stop stressing out about money, and start enjoying the balance of a truly abundant life.

For more information visit BalancedBudgetBalancedLife.com.

How to Make Disciples in Digital Babylon | Influence Podcast


“Millennials, and now Gen Z, aren’t going to ruin the world or the church,” write David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock in their new book, Faith for Exiles. “We, the Christian community, would do well to put our confidence in them.”

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to David Kinnaman about how to make disciples of young adults in our current culture. Kinnaman is president of Barna Group and the author or coauthor of numerous books, most recently Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Genration to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, published by Baker Books.

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by My Healthy Church, distributors of Tru Fire curriculum:

From Preschool to Middle School, Tru Fire digital curriculum equips teachers with engaging lessons that help students connect with the Holy Spirit and respond to Him. Tru Fire is the Pentecostal curriculum your church is looking for.

To download free sample lessons, visit TruFireCurriculum.com.

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

P.P.S. I reviewed Kinnaman and Matlock’s Faith for Exiles here.

Who Is an Evangelical? | Book Review


The word evangelical comes down to us via Latin from the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον, meaning “good news.” In the Reformation Era, it described Lutherans and other Protestants who broke from the Roman Catholic Church, emphasizing the good news of justification by grace through faith. Beginning in the 18th century, however, it came to describe a particular movement within Anglophone, trans-Atlantic Protestantism, which Thomas S. Kidd calls “the religion of the born again.” He traces the history of that movement in his new book, Who Is an Evangelical?

Kidd is the James Vardaman Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University and a scholar of the era of the American founding. He is author of numerous books, including The Great Awakening; biographies of Patrick Henry, George Whitefield, and Benjamin Franklin; and the forthcoming America’s Religious History. In Who Is an Evangelical? he aims to “introduce readers to evangelicals’ experiences, practices, and beliefs, and to examine the reasons for our crisis today.” More on that crisis in a moment.

Evangelicals, as Kidd defines the term, are “born-again Protestants who cherish the Bible as the Word of God and who emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.” These three markers — “conversion, Bible, and divine presence” — make evangelicalism a loosely defined movement rather than a tightly defined denomination or theological school. Understood this way, evangelicalism has always been international, multiethnic, and transdenominational.

(Side note: I am an ordained Assemblies of God minister and executive editor of the denomination’s Influence magazine. The AG is a classical Pentecostal denomination whose distinctive doctrine is baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. Though this doctrine distinguishes the AG from other evangelicals, there is no doubt that the AG specifically, and Pentecostals generally, are evangelicals. Indeed, the Assemblies of God was a founding member of, and is the largest denomination within, the National Association of Evangelicals.)

Today, unfortunately, the term evangelical serves as “an ethnic, cultural, and political designation rather than a theological or devotional one,” according to Kidd. For example, you undoubtedly have heard that 81 percent of evangelical voters in the 2016 presidential election cast their ballots for Donald Trump. Pollsters identified “evangelicals” with “white religious Republicans.” This identification was problematic for at least two reasons:

  1. Non-white voters were not classified as evangelicals even if their theology and spirituality matched traditional markers of evangelicalism — e.g., conversion, Bible, and divine presence.
  2. White voters who self-identified as “evangelicals” retained the identification even if their theology and spirituality didn’t match those traditional markers.

This “politicization” of evangelicalism is a crisis for the health of the movement long term. It trades the traditional emphasis on conversion, Bible, and divine presence for an emphasis on partisan politics, leaving in its wake “the widespread perception that the movement is primarily about obtaining power within the Republican Party.” In the process, it overlooks the tremendous growth of evangelical forms of Christianity among the very racial and ethnic minorities — black, Hispanic, Asian — who represent a rising tide in America’s demographic sea. At the very moment when America’s Christians need to speak with a united voice across a wide range of social and ethical issues, politicization makes it harder for us to do so. United by faith, evangelicals are divided by politics.

Kidd’s brief survey of evangelical history shows that “the tension between the spiritual and political goals of evangelicals has existed since the 1740s,” the era of the Great Awakening, when George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and John Wesley were leading Anglophone evangelicalism. Politics, in a sense, cannot be avoided, since our nation — any nation, for that matter — must decide what its public policies are. But politicization, the reduction of the gospel to policy and of Christianity to party, both can and should be avoided, lest the good news be tarnished by the lust for earthly power.

“Partisan commitments have come and gone,” Kidd concludes. “Sometimes evangelicals have made terrible political mistakes,” mistakes that he documents in his book, though the mistakes are leavened somewhat by evangelical successes. “But conversion, devotion to an infallible Bible, and God’s discernible presence are what make an evangelical an evangelical.”

Whether the term evangelical can be rehabilitated to shed its racial, ethnic, and partisan connotations is an open question. If that question is to be answered affirmatively, however, it will likely be along the lines Kidd sketches in this historical introduction to the religion of the born-again, which I fervently hope will be born again.

Book Reviewed
Thomas S. Kidd, Who is an Evangelical? The History of a Movement in Crisis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com and is posted here with permission.

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