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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Payday Lending Links


Today, I made a presentation on payday lending at Evangel University’s Compassion Symposium.

First, here’s a video from Pew Charitable Trusts that explains how payday lending works:

Here’s an additional video about who uses payday loans and why:

I referenced the following Scriptures:

I referenced the following documents:

Make Your Church Safe for Kids! | Influence Podcast


In a recent 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.”

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

Richard Hammar’s checklist to prevent child molestation can be accessed here.

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.

P.S. This podcast was recorded for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

The State of AG Ministers’ Personal Finances | Influence Podcast


“Many Assemblies of God ministers are doing fine financially, but a significant group is experiencing considerable financial difficulty.” That’s the first sentence of the Ministers and Finances Study published by the AG’s Center for Leadership and Stewardship Excellence.

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Rollie Dimos about the concerning results of that study, as well as what to do about them. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Rollie Dimos is director of Internal Audit for The General Council of the Assemblies of Godas well as director of its Center for Leadership and Stewardship Excellence. He is author of Balanced Budget, Balanced Life: 10 Steps to Transforming Your Finances(Salubris Resources), which is also available in Spanish as Presupuesto Equilibrado, Vida Equilibrada.

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

How to Have Better Spiritual Conversations | Influence Podcast


“Americans today are less involved in spiritual conversations than we were twenty-five years ago,” writes Don Everts in his new book, The Reluctant Witness. In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk to Everts about why this is the case and what we need to do to have better spiritual conversations.

Don Everts is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and associate pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri. He is also author of several books about evangelism, most recently, The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations, published by IVP Books.

For free online resources about how to engage in better spiritual conversations, go here.

And to read my review of The Reluctant Witness, go here. If you like my review, please click “Helpful.”

Faith for Exiles | Book Review


Many Christians in America feel alienated from their culture. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock explain why when they describe changes happening in North America and elsewhere as a transition from “from faith at the center to faith at the margins.” Moving from the cultural center to the cultural margin is a profoundly disconcerting experience.

No wonder, then, that so many of us look to Biblical stories about the Babylonian exile to formulate our response to an increasingly post-Christian America. This includes Kinnaman and Matlock, whose new book is titled, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. Kinnaman is president of Barna Group, a leading research company; Matlock is principal of WisdomWorks, a leadership consulting firm.

According to them, digital Babylon describes America’s “accelerated, complex culture that is marked by phenomenal access, profound alienation, and a crisis of authority.” This definition draws on Kinnaman’s earlier book, You Lost Me, as well as subsequent Barna research. The earlier book asked why young adults raised in church were leaving the faith. Faith in Exile asks why they’re staying.

Kinnaman and Matlock focus on the experience of young Americans, ages 18 to 29, who grew up Christian. They offer a fourfold typology of these young adults:

  • Prodigals “do not currently identify as Christian” (22 percent of total);
  • Nomads “identify as Christian but have not attended church during the past month” (30 percent);
  • Habitual Churchgoers “describe themselves as Christian and…have attended church at least once in the past month, yet do not meet foundational core beliefs or behaviors associated with being an intentional, engaged disciple” (38 percent); and
  • Resilient Disciples are “Christ followers who (1) attend church at least monthly and engage with their church more than just attending worship services; (2) trust firmly in the authority of the Bible; (3) are committed to Jesus personally and affirm he was crucified and raised form the dead to conquer sin and death; and (4) express desire to transform the broader society as an outcome of their faith.”

The authors believe that the goal of a church’s discipleship ministry today is “to develop Jesus followers who are resiliently faithful in the face of cultural coercion and who live a vibrant life in the Spirit.” In other words, the goal is to develop resilient disciples.

Faith in Exiles drills down on the quantitative and qualitative data that underlies Barna’s research and identifies five practices that characterize resilient disciples. They are:

  1. To form a resilient identity, experience intimacy with Jesus.
  2. Ina complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment.
  3. When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationship.
  4. To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.
  5. Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission.

Though the five practices emerged from Barna’s research, Kinnaman and Matlock show they are consistent with Scripture and illustrate them with anecdotes from everyday life.

As a parent and as a Christian minister, these five practices resonate with my own experiences and goals. One of the tendencies I have noticed among my fellow Christians is a tendency to retreat behind the barriers of safe, institutional Christianity. Somewhat ironically, the most vibrant, effective Christians I know resist this tendency. They are “in” the world, but not “of” it, to borrow language from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17:16, 18. If our children or church members never venture beyond the four walls of the Church, they will never develop the spiritual, intellectual, and missional muscles that Christ exercised and expects His followers to develop.

So, who should read this book? Pastors and other church leaders, of course, who are charged by Jesus Christ to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). I also think Christian parents could benefit from reading the book, however. I know I have.

Book Reviewed
David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

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

Psalms and Proverbs: Poetry and Wisdom for Today | Book Review


My Bible-reading goals are the same each year. I like to read the Old Testament biannually, the New Testament quarterly, and Psalms and Proverbs monthly. Although I switch up translations from time to time, my go-to translation is the New International Version (NIV).

For some time, I’ve been searching for a pocket-size Psalter with Proverbs that is readable. Pocket-size New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs are easy to find in multiple translations, but they all are printed in a two-column format with a small font. My aging eyes have a very difficult time reading them.

While browsing in a Christian bookstore, the other day, I picked up the NIV’s Psalms and Proverbs: Poetry and Wisdom for Today. I didn’t even know this product was on the market, but it was exactly what I was looking for! It is printed in a single-column format with a readable font. Plus, being pocket size, it’s easy to carry with me wherever I go.

Everyone’s Bible-reading goals are different, of course, but if yours are like mine, I’d encourage you to get Psalms and Proverbs. Every day I read a chapter from Proverbs and the day’s allotted psalms, following this rubric:

Daily Psalm Reading

Day A.M. P.M.
1 1–5 6–8
2 9–11 12–14
3 15–17 18
4 19–21 22–23
5 24–26 27–29
6 30–31 32–34
7 35–36 37
8 38–40 41–43
9 44–46 47–49
10 50–52 53–55
11 56–58 59–61
12 62–64 65–67
13 68 69–70
14 71–72 73–74
15 75–77 78
16 79–81 82–85
17 86–88 89
18 90–92 93–94
19 95–97 98–101
20 102–103 104
21 105 106
22 107 108–109
23 110–113 114–115
24 116–118 119:1–32
25 119:33–72 119:73–104
26 119:105–144 119:145–176
27 120–125 126–131
28 132–135 136–138
29 139–141 142–143
30 144–146 147–150

 

Book Reviewed

New International Version, Psalms and Proverbs: Poetry and Wisdom for Today(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

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

Masada | Book Review


I first visited Masada in the summer of 1982, wending my way up its treacherous “Snake Path” to the summit. Since then, I have returned more than a dozen times—though now I ride the cable car. Masada is the second-most visited tourist site in Israel, well worth the long ride from Jerusalem.

The allure of Masada has always been tied to the story the historian Flavius Josephus told about its last Jewish residents. The First Jewish Revolt against Rome began at Caesarea Marittima in A.D. 66 and quickly spread throughout what is today Israel, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. It was a bloody affair, not only between Jews and Romans but among factions of the Jews themselves.

Members of one of those factions, the Sicarii, seized Masada early in the war. (They were known as Sicarii—from the Latin sicarius, meaning “dagger-man”—because they assassinated appointments in public places using easily concealed daggers.) After Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70, members of the Sicarii led by Eleazar Ben-Yair holed up at Masada. The Romans destroyed similar holdouts at the desert fortresses of Herodium and Machareus, then they turned their attention to Masada, laying siege to it in winter-spring of either 72–73 or 73–74. (The precise date is uncertain.) The outlines of the siege wall, Roman camps, and siege ramp are still visible today.

According to Josephus, the night after Romans breached the casemate wall on Masada’s eastern side, Eleazar Ben-Yair stood before the Sicarii and urged them to kill themselves rather than submit to Roman slavery. Each man would kill his family. Lots would be drawn, determining a handful of men who would kill heads of households. Finally, the last lot would determine who killed those killers before killing himself. “Let our wives thus die dishonored,” Eleazar exhorted, “our children unacquainted with slavery; and when they are gone, let us render a generous service to each other, preserving our liberty.”

Fast forward nineteen centuries to Israel’s War of Independence (1947–1949), and it is easy to see why the Israeli Defense Forces, with the Holocaust behind them and hostile Arab armies around them, began to use “Masada Shall Never Fall Again” as a motto. Indeed, for many decades, new soldiers climbed to the summit via the Snake Path and took an oath to defend Israel. This patriotism was bolstered by Yigael Yadin’s excavation of Masada, which seemed to verify Josephus’ picture.

Today, however, archaeologists and historians take a more critical view of Josephus, the only ancient author to give us information about the siege of the fortress. Jodi Magness’ Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth brings readers up to date with this more critical view, explaining how archaeology provides partial confirmation of Josephus’ account, as well as potential rebuttal at key points. Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She codirected excavations of the Roman siege works at Masada in 1995.

Masada is an informative read. I learned new things about the site, and when I return in spring 2020, I plan on taking a closer look at them. Moreover, the book’s historical chapters (5–8), which narrate the history of Jewish conflicts from the Maccabean Revolt to Masada, were a tour de force, making sense of the various people, movements, and events that shaped this period. This is especially true of Herod the Great, that master builder of the ancient near east, including the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and Masada itself. This period is crucial for understanding Masada, of course, but for Christians, it is also crucial for understanding the history and culture of the New Testament period.

As an editor, I was frustrated by the organization of the book. It starts with the siege of Masada (chapter 1), then turns to early archaeological explorations (chapter 2), then moves to the geographical and historical contexts—starting with the Chalcolithic Period! (chapter 3), then describes Herod’s building projects (chapter 4), then gets into the chronological telling of chapters 5–8, then ends with a chapter on Yigael Yadin’s excavations and their aftermath. Because of this organization of chapters, some of the material gets repeated. To be honest, I was losing interest in the book until I got to chapter 5. In my opinion, readers would’ve been better served by a straightforward chronological organization, beginning with the Maccabean Revolt and ending with modern archaeological excavations.

Still, Masada is a worthwhile read. If you’re going to Israel and plan on visiting Masada, you might want to read it beforehand. I recommend reading it in this order: Prologue, chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. If you don’t have a guide, use Magness’ Epilogue, which lays out a tour of the summit.

Book Reviewed
Jodi Magness, Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019).

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

The Reluctant Witness | Book Review


“There is something delightful about spiritual conversations,” writes Don Everts in The Reluctant Witness. Scripture seems to agree. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15) is the way Paul puts it, quoting Isaiah 52:7. Can anyone not smile in response to a friend saying, “I have good news”? I doubt it.

And yet, spiritual conversations strike many Christians as “pesky, painful, awkward things,” as Everts puts it. He defines a spiritual conversation as “any conversation about spiritual or faith matters (including doubts) with anyone.” That broad definition includes, but is not limited to, evangelistic conversations. It is those conversations that many find pesky, painful and awkward.

In The Reluctant Witness, Everts considers why this might be the case and shows how spiritual conversations, including evangelism, can be more authentic. The book is based on research conducted by the Barna Group in cooperation with Lutheran Hour Ministries, which Everts serves as content manager. It is the first of three collaborative projects focused on “how Americans are expressing their faith.”

So, why aren’t Christians engaging in spiritual conversations? Everts points to “the silencing effect of fear,” specifically, the fear of giving offense. “Our culture is increasingly secular (less and less colored by our Christian heritage) and more and more relativistic (looking down on exclusive truth claims),” he writes. “In this postmodern context, the idea of attempting to convert someone else to your own faith is seen as religiously extreme by most Americans.”

More is going on than just fear, however. Christians also don’t engage in spiritual conversations because they subscribe to a number of myths about them. Spiritual conversations, so the story goes:

  1. take place in special places, during special moments, by special people;
  2. are serious and sober events;
  3. require that the Christian be able to give the right answers;
  4. involve conflict, which ruins everything;
  5. are burdensome duties that are, in the end, painful and regrettable.

If that’s what evangelism requires, it’s no surprise that the average American Christian chooses to be a “reluctant witness,” in the words of the book’s title.

Here’s the crucial point, however: Neither spiritual conversations generally nor evangelistic ones specifically have to live down to the myths. There is a better way to talk about spirituality and share the Christian faith.

“Eager conversationalists,” as Everts calls them, practice four habits on a regular basis. First, they “look for and expect spiritual conversations in everyday life.” They look for “God moments,” in other words, defined as “a moment when we see God actively at work in the people around and sense God is opening a door for us to be a part of his work in their life.”

Second, they “pursue and initiate spiritual conversations.” Everts denies that this means “awkwardly inserting Christian non sequiturs into conversations,” giving this example: “Speaking of your new car, if you were hit by a bus tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” It’s a good question, but a canned one, one that feels inorganic and unauthentic. Instead of making hard, awkward transitions like that, eager conversationalists explore “tentative, hopeful moments in a conversation,” such as when people begin to ruminate about larger issues and deeper feelings.

Interestingly, these conversations are impactful. Thirty-five percent of “all adults in America claim they have personally made a ‘big change’ in their life because of a conversation about faith,” according to Everts. Fear silences, but genuine spiritual conversations help people change.

Third, eager conversationalists are “open to sharing their faith in a wide variety of ways.” This openness takes into account whether our conversation partners’ spiritual posture is “unreceptive,” “receptive,” or “seeking.” In turn, our “prayerful response” to them seeks to “gain a hearing,” “give good news,” or “guide toward faith,” respectively. Depending on the relationship dynamic, our conversation may take one of six forms: “chat,” “relate,” “share,” “connect,” “explore,” or “clarify.” Lutheran Hour Ministries calls this dynamic the “Spiritual Conversation Curve.” (See figure below.)

Finally, eager conversationalists “gently push through the awkward moments” in spiritual conversations. The deeper a conversation goes, the more likely “tension or conflict” will surface. It is tempting to bail on spiritual conversations (or on any other deep conversation) when this happens. As Beau Crosetto has pointed out, “right after some of the initial tension is released, some kind of breakthrough comes, whether in the other person, in us or in the conversation.” So, keep talking!

The Reluctant Witness is a short book that can be read in a single sitting. But Everts uses words wisely, quickly and memorably addressing why Christians don’t engage in spiritual conversations more and how they can do so better. Its advice is data-driven, Bible-grounded and road-tested, and well worth reading if you’re a pastor or church leader, or just a Christian interested in better sharing your faith.

Book Reviewed
Don Everts, The Reluctant Witness: Discovering the Delight of Spiritual Conversations(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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