How to Settle Your Soul After an Unsettling Year | Influence Podcast


This past year was an unsettling one. I like to think of it as the Year of Three Ps: pandemic, protests, and politics. Each one fomented conflict, but taken together, they were a conflict force multiplier. And that doesn’t even taken into account the normal stressors we face every year.

How can followers of Jesus Christ experience settled souls in the midst of unsettling times? That’s the question I’m talking about with Dr. Jodi Detrick in this episode of the Influence Podcast. I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine and your host.

Dr. Detrick is a personal coach, public speaker, and most recently author of The Settled Soul: Tenaciously Abiding with a Tender God, published by Gospel Publishing House. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, she loves to talk to people at the heart level about things that matter most.

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

The Dark Side of Discipleship | Book Review


In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis 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.”

Gary Tyra carefully avoids both errors in The Dark Side of Discipleship. He offers a realistic but not sensationalistic perspective on how Christians should “deal with the devil” as they pursue “spiritual, moral, and missional faithfulness” to Jesus Christ.

Tyra is professor of biblical and practical theology at Vanguard University of Southern California and an ordained Assemblies of God minister.

He divides The Dark Side into four parts:

Part One examines “the devil’s reality, origin, nature, and deal (what he’s about).” In conversation with contemporary scholarship, Tyra affirms the traditional view that the devil is a fallen angel. Citing Scripture, he shows that the devil’s “primary goal is to keep human beings from entering into, and then enduring in, a restored, intimate, interactive, life-story-shaping, fruit-bearing relationship with their creator.”

In Part Two, Tyra identifies four strategies the devil uses to achieve his goal: seduction, deception, alienation, and temptation. The devil directs these strategies against “the four cardinal components of the Christian life”: worship, nurture (i.e., teaching), community, and mission, respectively.

Tyra’s emphasis on missional faithfulness is especially helpful. Too often, church discipleship efforts are inward-focused, but following Jesus requires an outward focus, too.

After all, as Tyra summarizes the matter, Jesus’ mission was twofold: “revelation and redemption.” He came to show humanity “who God truly is and what he’s really about.” More than knowledge, however, Christ came to effect a restored relationship between “fallen, sinful humankind (and all creation) to its Creator.”

Christ now sends the Church into the world with this redemptive message. A failure of mission, then, reflects a failure of discipleship. To follow Jesus, disciples must follow Him to the lost whom He came to save.

In Part Three, Tyra outlines seven “spiritual warfare moves” to resist thedevil’s strategies. Spiritual warfare is a hot topic in Pentecostal and charismatic circles these days. Unfortunately, some spiritual warriors exhibit the excessive interest Lewis described — going well beyond biblical revelation and into the region of human imagination. By contrast, Tyra hews closely to key biblical texts, especially Ephesians 6:10–20, highlighting their “pneumatologically real” aspects.

Pneumatological realism — which Tyra explores at length in a previous book, Getting Real —  “insists that, rather than conceive of the Holy Spirit as a philosophical concept or impersonal force that is simply presumed to be at work in believers’ lives, he can and should be known and interacted with in ways that are personal, phenomenal, and life-story-shaping.”

For Tyra, Christians deal with the devil most effectively by drawing ever closer to Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, in Part Four, Tyra turns to an apologetic question: Given the devil’s destructive goals, why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, completely good God allow him to operate? Philosophers refer to questions such as this as “the problem of evil.”

Interacting with open-theist theologians particularly, Tyra advances “a biblically informed theodicy that retains the emphasis [open theists] place on the relational nature of God, but doesn’t require a revised understanding of his foreknowledge.” Moreover, he believes this theodicy “encourages an enthusiastic participation in what the Bible portrays as God’s defeat of Satan.”

That defeat is God’s final word about the dark side of discipleship. In this life, we cultivate what Tyra calls a “lifestyle spirituality” of spiritual, moral, and missional faithfulness to Christ through an ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit. All the while, whatever difficulties we encounter, we retain hope because we believe the truth of Paul’s words:

“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20).

I recommend The Dark Side of Discipleship to church leaders and church members. It offers a faithful, Pentecostal perspective on a controversial topic. Reflection questions at the end of each chapter make it ideal for use by small groups and book clubs.

Book Reviewed
Gary Tyra, The Dark Side of Discipleship: Why and How the New Testament Encourages Christians to Deal with the Devil (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2020).

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

P.P.S. You can also listen to my Influence Podcast with Gary Tyra about the book here.

P.P.S. This review appears in the January 2021 issue of Influence magazine and is posted here by permission.

The Dark Side of Discipleship | Influence Podcast


“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils,” wrote C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. “One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

With Lewis’s insight on the need for a balanced view in mind, in this episode, I’m talking with Gary Tyra about what the Bible teaches Christians about why and how to deal with the devil.

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influence magazine, and your host.

Gary Tyra is professor of Biblical and Practical Theology at Vanguard University of Southern California, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, and author of The Dark Side of Discipleship, recently published by Cascade Books.

P.S. You can read my review of The Dark Side of Discipleship here.

Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors | Influence Podcast


“While God can (and does) interact with individuals in a vacuum,” writes Don Everts, “he often uses the household as a reliable laboratory for discipleship.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Everts about three characteristics of spiritually vibrant homes. This conversation arises from his book, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, published earlier this year by InterVarsity Press.

Don Everts is a writer for Lutheran Hour Ministries and associate pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

This episode of the Influence Podcast is brought to you by the Assemblies of God, publisher of the Church Relaunch Kit.

For more than a month, public health orders have closed church doors through the United States in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. When those order are lifted, don’t just re-open your church, relaunch it! The Church Relaunch Kit offers church leaders valuable insights about relaunching your church’s ministries to the community.

To download this free resource, as well as other related resources for your church, go to COVID19.AG.org.

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

Resilient Faith | Book Review


Christianity in the United States is a mile wide but an inch deep.

The faith, especially its Protestant variety, has exerted considerable influence on the nation’s history and culture. A supermajority of citizens continue to identify themselves as believers. On the whole, evangelical churches — where evangelical serves as a theological descriptor, not a political one — are holding steady even as liberal Protestant congregations and Roman Catholic parishes shed adherents.

Despite these things, many Christians feel that their influence on the broader culture is slipping away. A partial explanation comes from the last two decades’ rapid rise of the “Nones,” that share of the populace that picks “None of the above” when asked by pollsters to select their religious affiliation. Radical shifts in public opinion about moral issues such as same-sex marriage, drug use, and voluntary euthanasia constitute an additional explanation. And the once unheard-of criticism of Christian charities, such as the Salvation Army, for continuing to uphold biblical standards of sexual morality offers still another explanation.

None of these explanations, it should be noted, entail that America has entered a post-Christian phase. They do indicate that the nation is trending that way, however. If that trend worries you, I encourage you to read Gerald L. Sittser’s Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World.

Sittser is professor of theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, where he also serves as a senior fellow and researcher in the Office of Church Engagement. In Resilient Faith, he offers an account of how the Early Church forged a “Third Way” between accommodation to the surrounding idolatrous culture and isolation from it. He states his thesis at the outset of the book:

[T]he early Christian movement became known as the Third Way because Jesus himself was a new way, which in turn spawned a new movement — new in theology, in story, in authority, in community, in worship, and in behavior. Christian belief was so new, in fact, that it required Christians to develop a process of formation in the Third Way to move new believers from conversion to discipleship. … Rejecting both accommodation and isolation, early Christians immersed themselves in the culture as followers of Jesus and servants of the kingdom of God.

Over time, this third-way approach gained followers, and with increased followership, increasing influence. By the time Constantine converted to Christianity in A.D. 312, Christians already constituted a significant, though occasionally persecuted, minority within the Roman empire. Over the next century, they became the only legal imperial religion. The once powerless Church became powerful.

Ironically and tragically, this power began to deform the Church. The Third Way became the First Way, integrity giving way to accommodation. Whereas the early Christian movement assumed that idolaters needed a rigorous form of discipleship, the so-called catechumenate, to mold converts into the faith and life of Jesus Christ, the post-Constantinian Church began to assume that everyone under the sway of a Christian emperor was Christian by default. The real faith of early Christians became the nominal faith of Christendom.

And that tension between the real and the nominal brings us back to the feeling so many American Christians have that our cultural influence is slipping away. If it is — and I believe that it is — how should we respond?

One response is simply for American Christians to engage in cultural and political warfare. While I am a proponent of informed Christian engagement in politics and culture, I worry that this response, however effective it may be in the short term, is ineffective in the long term. Sittser captures the gist of the dilemma when he writes:

If anything, the harder Christians fight, the more precipitous the decline will be, for cultural power and privilege will come at an increasingly high price. Christians will either accommodate until the faith becomes almost unrecognizable, or they will isolate until their faith becomes virtually invisible.

The better response — the one called for by Jesus Christ himself — is the way of discipleship, “baptizing [the nations] in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). According to that way, success is not defined in terms of the accrual of political power or cultural influence, though they may come, but by fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ regardless of whether they come. He is the Way, so His way must become our way too.

Until American Christians decide that fidelity is more important than power and privilege, their Christianity will continue to be a mile wide and an inch deep, though getting narrower and shallower every day.

Book Reviewed
Gerald L. Sittser, Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian “Third Way” Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: