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.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit | Influence Podcast


One of the hallmarks of classical Pentecostalism is its emphasis on baptism in the Holy Spirit, both theologically and experientially. This is certainly true in the Assemblies of God, which includes two articles on the doctrine—Articles 7 and 8—in our Statement of Fundamental Truths. Why we emphasize this doctrine, and how to make sure it moves from mere doctrine to vibrant experience, is the topic of my Influence Podcast with Tim Enloe.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. Tim Enloe is an evangelist ordained by the Assemblies of God. He and his wife Rochelle lead Holy Spirit Conferences throughout the nation and internationally, helping people to experience healing and Spirit baptism. He’s also author of several books, including—and I love this title—Goodbye, Chicken! Hello, Dove!

Against the Darkness | Book Review


Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons is the newest installment in Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. Its author, Graham A. Cole, is dean and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and an ordained Anglican minister. He is author of He Who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (2007) in the same series.

“Even though the present work addresses a topic in systematic theology,” Graham writes in the introductory chapter, “the shape of the study pays attention to the biblical plotline….” In other words, it “moves through the key motifs of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation” (28). Here are the titles of the book’s nine chapters:

  1. Introduction
  2. Angels, Their Kinds, and Heavenly Activity
    Excursus: The Nature of Spirit
  3. Angels, Their Activity on Earth with Individuals and Nations
    Excursus: Angelophany
  4. Satan, the Malevolent Spoiler
  5. Demons, the Devil’s Entourage
    Excursus: Genesis 6:1-4 and the Methodological Question
  6. Jesus, Christus Victor
  7. Spiritual Warfare
    Excursus: How to Test the Spirits
  8. The Destiny of the Darkness and the Victory of the Light
    Excursus: The Archangel Michael and the Man of Lawlessness
  9. Conclusion

Cole writes self-consciously as an evangelical theologian. “Scripture is the final court of appeal in any contest between authorities, including reason or tradition or experience.” It is “the norma normans (the norming norm), while the others are “norma normata (ruled norms). In evangelical theology, as Cole sees it, reason, tradition, and experience have a say, but Scripture has “the final say” (19–20).

C. S. Lewis famously wrote: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them” (quoted on 28). Cole steers between these two extremes in Against the Darkness, affirming the reality of angels and demons but denying them undue importance or attention.

Throughout the book, Cole interacts critically and constructively with theologians throughout Christian history and across the theological spectrum: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, including mainline, evangelical, and Pentecostal/charismatic theologians. This includes Dionysius the Areopagite, Aquinas, and Karl Barth (68–69; 101–102); Amos Yong (113–114); Walter Wink (125–127; 173–175); René Girard (155–158); David Powlison (175–177); Gregory A. Boyd (177–179); and C. Peter Wagner (179–182), among others.

Three appendixes round out the book’s discussion. Appendix One, “The Creation Manifold,” argues that the “fundamental metaphysical distinction is not that between being and becoming, or the infinite and the finite, but between the Creator and the creature” (231). Angels are creations, less supernatural (above nature) than supranatural (beyond material nature). Appendix Two, “Angels, Iblis, and Jinn in Islam,” contrasts Christianity and Islam on the topic, concluding “there is so much in the Qur’an that speaks where Scripture is silent on the matter of angels” (238). Appendix Three, “Creeds, Articles of Faith, Catechisms, and Confessions” quickly doctrinal and liturgical statements on this topic throughout Church history.

I read Against the Darkness immediately after I read Michael S. Heiser’s Angels (2019) and Demons (2020), so it was interesting to compare and contrast the three books, even though Cole could not take Heiser books into account because of publication deadlines. (He interacts with Heiser’s two 2015 books, The Unseem Realm and Supernatural). There are interesting overlaps, of course, since both are drawing on the same biblical passages.

However, the most interesting dispute has to do with Genesis 6:1–4. Heiser interprets “the sons of God” as members of the Divine Council who engaged in sexual intercourse with human women, producing the Nephilim and inciting God’s judgment in the Flood. Cole, on the other hand, interprets the same phrase under the heading of “the ‘religiously mixed races view’ (godly Sethites and worldly Cainites)” (116).

The difference between Heiser and Cole on this topic betrays a methodological dispute between over the value of extrabiblical sources, such as the literatures of the ancient near east and of intertestamental Judaism. Heiser draws heavily on extrabiblical sources, which are speculatively, often wildly so. Cole, on the other hand, argues that “the biblical testimony stands out for its reserve on such matters” (119). Both make detailed cases for their conclusions, but Cole argues that we must consider “comparative difficulties” (138) when assessing those differences. For Cole, views such as Heiser’s raise more or weightier difficulties than views such as his own, which has fewer or lighter difficulties. This should push theologians toward a nonsupernatural reading of “the sons of God” in Genesis 6: 1–4.

I found Against the Darkness to be both theologically informed and practically helpful. Chapter 6, “Jesus, Christus Victor,” helpfully reminds readers that the Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension of the Lord are the climax of the biblical story, and that one of the reasons for His work is “to defeat the devil” (162). Chapter 7, “Spiritual Warfare,” then sifts through seven models of how Christ’s followers stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

What I most appreciate about Cole’s book, aside from its conclusions, with which I largely agree (though there are notable exceptions), is his catholic spirit and irenic tone. By the former, I mean that he feels free to interact with Christian theologians outside the contemporary evangelical spectrum, without giving up on fundamental evangelical convictions. Moreover, he does so peacefully, not pugnaciously, learning what he can from those theologians, even as he expresses fundamental disagreements with them. Given how polarized public discourse has become, including public Christian theological discourse, this catholicity and irenicism are welcome.

Book Reviewed
Graham A. Cole, Against the Darkness: The Doctrine of Angels, Satan, and Demons (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019).

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

A Deadly Act | Book Review


A Deadly Act begins with a famous Israel actress, permanently disabled by a car accident, revealing who murdered a colleague five years earlier. At least she thinks she knows. She doesn’t have proof, however—only circumstantial evidence and a woman’s intuition. So, she hires Adam Lapid to investigate a case that has gone long cold.

This book is the fifth installment in Jonathan Dunsky’s Adam Lapid mysteries. (I reviewed the previous installments here,here, here, and here.) All the books are set in Tel Aviv in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence (1947–1949). Lapid is a former Hungarian police officer, Auschwitz survivor, Nazi hunter, Israeli war hero, and now private detective.

Set in 1951, A Deadly Act is best characterized as hardboiled, featuring a brooding detective haunted by his past living in a city beset with difficulties on all sides: economic rationing, political squabbling, and ever-present worries about the Arabs. On top of that, a black marketer has taken a strong dislike to Lapid, threatening to harm him. Even the murder victim—a young actress is a well-regarded theater company—has a tragic backstory, her unsolved death only adding to the sense of tragedy that pervades the novel.

And yet, Lapid is the kind of detective who, once he’s pulled a thread, keeps pulling until the entire mystery has unraveled, exposing the murderer. My primary criterion for a mystery is whether it keeps me turning pages to find out what happens next. My secondary criterion is whether it stays within the boundaries of my wiling suspension of belief. A Deadly Act meets both criteria. It kept me reading, and it didn’t require credulity of me.

Toward the end of the novel, as the plot took yet another direction, I wondered for a moment whether the book story was too long. In the end, however, the revelation of the murderer made sense of the plot twists that had gone before. The book is dramatic. Fittingly, its denouement takes place on stage.

If you like the hardboiled feel of mid-twentieth-century American crime novels, I recommend Jonathan Dunsky’s Lapid mysteries. A Deadly Act is a nice addition to the series, and I look forward to the sixth novel. Don’t keep me waiting too long, Mr. Dunsky!

Book Reviewed
Jonathan Dunsky, A Deadly Act: An Adam Lapid Mystery (Self-published, 2020).

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

How to Relaunch Your Church | Influence Podcast


After weeks of being closed by state and local public health orders, many churches are beginning to reopen their doors for ministry to their communities. Rather than merely reopen, however, the present moment offers churches an opportunity to relaunch. We’ll explore what relaunching your church might look like in this episode of the Influence Podcast.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host. My guest today is Dr. John Davidson. He is director of Leadership and Development for the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God. In that capacity, he oversees CMNLead.com , a website providing free resources for pastors.

Over the past few weeks, CMNLead.com has published—and will continue to publish—resources to help local churches respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Spanish-language resources are available at CMNLead.com/Spanish. One resource you’ll want to look at particularly is the Church Relaunch Kit, which we’ll talk about in this conversation.

The Narcissistic Leader | Influence Podcast


“While it seems as if the church should be the last place narcissism shows up,” writes Chuck DeGroat, “it does indeed—in ordinary laypeople, in clergy across all theological spectrums, and in systems that protect narcissistic people and foster abuse.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking with DeGroat about what narcissism is, how it deforms both individuals and systems, and how churches can heal from the emotional and spiritual abuse that come in narcissism’s wake. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Chuck DeGroat is professor of pastoral care and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He’s also author of When Narcissism Comes to Church, published earlier this year by InterVarsity Press.

Recommended Reading for Leaders | Influence Magazine


I recommended the following three books to church leaders in the May-June 2020 issue of Influence magazine. As always, if you like my recommendation, please click “Helpful” on the Amazon review pages for each book!

WHEN NARCISSISM COMES TO CHURCH
Chuck DeGroat (IVP)

“Narcissistic pastors are anxious and insecure shepherds who do not lead the sheep to still waters but into hurricane winds,” writes Christian psychologist Chuck DeGroat. In this book, DeGroat draws on his extensive counseling experience and academic research to illuminate narcissism in all its variety, demonstrate its negative effects on both church members and church systems, and outline a plan for healing its victims, including the narcissists themselves. The good news? The “radically humble, self-giving way” of Jesus Christ.

Link to Amazon

HOW TO MAKE BIG DECISIONS WISELY
Alan Ehler (Zondervan)

“Big decisions shape the course of life,” writes Alan Ehler. The question is how well you’re making those decisions. In this book, Ehler introduces Story Shaping, a four-step model useful for making personal and organizational decisions, as well as for resolving conflict. The four steps are: 1) read the backstory, 2) catch God’s story, 3) craft a new story, and 4) tell the new story. It is “a prayerful process integrating Scripture, theological reflection, and skills derived from decision science and neuroscience.”

Link to Amazon 

THE MOTIVE
Patrick Lencioni (Wiley)

In this book, Patrick Lencioni tells a fable about two CEOs, which identifies two motives for leadership. Reward-centered leadership believes that “being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable.” By contrast, responsibility-centered leadership believes that “being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging.” Although written for business leaders, this book has multiple applications for pastors and other church leaders too.

Link to Amazon

After Digital Church, What? | Influence Podcast


Over the past few weeks, churches have creatively responded to public health orders that closed their doors by going digital, offering worship experiences and small group meetings online. Is this use of digital technology a “new normal”? Or is it merely a temporary expedient to for extraordinary circumstances?

Those are some of the questions I talk with Jay Kim about in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Jay Kim is pastor of teaching and leadership at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, and author of Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age, published by InterVarsity Press.

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