I Choose Honor | Book Review


The dictionary definition of honor is “to regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect.” In I Choose Honor, Rich Wilkerson starts with this definition but goes on to show that the biblical conception of honor is more far-reaching. He also shows that honor is a pervasive biblical theme: “The stories of honor contained in the Word of God start from the verses in Genesis and continue to the last words in Revelation.” Along the way, he demonstrates how to honor family members, God’s creation, the poor and outcast, and God himself (through worship.” He then discusses how to create circles of honor, practice honor within relationships, honor the Holy Spirit, and practice honor day-to-day. For me personally, the chapters on honoring God’s creation and the poor and outcast were the most thought-provoking.

Book Reviewed
Rich Wilkerson, I Choose Honor: The Key to Reltationships, Faith, and Life (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2019).

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

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Growing With | Book Review


Kara Powell and Steven Argue begin Growing With by pinpointing the dilemma our kids face in the crucial season between 13 and 29 years of age: “On the one hand, our kids’ sophistication has accelerated and it seems like they are getting older earlier; but on the other hand, they feel less mature as the typical markers of adulthood are now delayed.” In other words, the transition to adulthood begins earlier and lasts longer in this generation than in previous generations.

How we parent our children changes as they age. Powell and Argue define “Growing With parenting” as “a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all.” Growing With helps Christian parents navigate those changes by describing three stages of development our kids go through.

In the “learner” stage (ages 13–18), our kids enter “a season of rapid physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, and spiritual growth and change.” As parents, our primary role in this stage is as “teachers,” not in the sense of telling them what to do, but in the sense of “learner-centered teaching.”

In the “explorer” stage (ages 18–23), our kids “often venture for the first time away from home or home-oriented routines to pursue their goals, relationships, and beliefs.” During this stage, parents’ primary role is as “guides,” shifting “our parenting focus away from setting goals for our kids and toward guiding them on the journey of setting their own goals.”

Finally, in the “focusers” stage (ages 23–29), our kids “begin to gain a clearer sense of who they are and have likely made educational, vocational, and relational choices that set them on particular trajectories.” Our primary role is as “resourcers.” Our kids come to us for advice because “we have lived through the life events they now anticipate, including career advancement, marriage, parenthood, renting or buying a home, and financial investments.”

As these changes occur, Powell and Argue urge parents to pay “special attention to three keys areas of our child’s exploration: family, faith, and freedom” [emphasis in original]. Parents who do so engage in what the authors call the three “dynamic verbs” of “withing,” “faithing,” and “adulting.”

      • Withing: “a family’s growth in supporting each other as children grow more independent”
      • Faithing: “a child’s growth in owning and embodying their own journey with God as they encounter new experiences and information”
      • Adulting: “a child’s growth in agency as they embrace opportunities to shape the world around them”

The unique contribution Growing With  makes to the literature of Christian parenting is its detailed advice about what shapes withing, faithing, and adulting take in the learner, explorer, and focuser stages of our kids’ lives, and how we should parent as a result. This advice takes up the bulk of the book (chapters 3–8). In this review, I’m only focusing on the organizing framework. You’ll have to read the book to get Powell and Argue’s detailed advice.

Growing With is a valuable read for parents of adolescents and young adults. It describes the changes our kids are going through, and what kinds of major life choices they are beginning to make using a memorable vocabulary to describe both the changes and the choices. Throughout, the authors urge parents to keep the lines of relationship with our kids open, even when — perhaps especially when — they begin to make choices we disagree with. In that vein, I wish the authors had provided clearer direction to Christian parents about kids and LGBT issues, which are a much bigger deal today than when most of us were growing up.

I close by quoting three mantras the authors encourage parents to tell themselves:

      1. “Today I will attempt to be in the right place at the right time.” This means knowing what stage your kids are in and what role your parenting should take as a result.
      2. “Today I will allow grace to give me courage to take a next faithful step.”
      3. “Today I have what it takes to be the best parent for my kid.”

It’s never too late to be a better parent, and Growing With offers valuable advice for better parenting our kids as they emerge into young adulthood.

Book Reviewed
Kara Powell and Steven Argue, Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

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

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

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage | Book Review


Some books offer advice about marriage, others about prayer.

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage offers advice about both, under the assumption that couples who pray together stay together.“The richness of your marriage will be determined by how frequently and how fervently God is invited into your relationship,” write Joel and Nina Schmidgall. “Prayer will draw you into unity with God and, as a result, with one another.”

The concept of “praying circles around _____” comes from Mark Batterson’s excellent book, The Circle Maker. The Schmidgalls are in-laws of Batterson and work with him at National Community Church in Washington, D.C., Joel as executive pastor and Nina as direct of family ministry. Their book is an excellent addition to the “Circle Maker” brand.

The Schmidgalls identify seven areas (or “circles”) of marriage that couples need to address prayerfully:

  • developing a shared purpose (Vision Circle),
  • resolving family conflicts (War Circle),
  • cultivating personal intimacy (Romance Circle),
  • balancing marital unity with individual interests (Dance Circle),
  • establishing a peer network (Support Circle),
  • responding to unexpected crises (Storm Circle), and
  • impacting future generations (Legacy Circle).

“Of course, the purpose of prayer is not to get what we want from God for our marriage,” the Schmidgalls write in conclusion. “Its purpose is to commune with God and gain His heart for our marriage.”

Praying Circles Around Your Marriage offers Bible-based, common-sense, experience-tested advice about prayer-filled marriages. It’s suitable for private reading but can also be used in premarital and marriage counseling, as well as in book clubs and small groups.

Book Reviewed
Joel and Nina Schmidgall, Praying Circles Around Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

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

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com. It appeared in the January-February 2019 issueof Influence magazine.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed Joel and Nina for Episode 164 of the Influence Podcast. Take a listen!

 

The Storm-Tossed Family | Book Review


After a years-long journey from foster care to adoption, my wife, son and I welcomed our two girls into their forever family on Friday, December 9, 2016. Family and friends crowded into the courtroom to witness the formal adoption ceremony. Afterward, we trooped over to our house for cake and presents for our daughters. Their adoption was a joyous event, well worth celebrating.

And yet, as is always the case with adoption, a tragedy lurked in the shadows. You cannot build an adoptive family unless a tragedy, neglect or abuse has broken the biological family first. And though our girls are young, they have memories of their bioparents, and thus an inchoate sense of loss.

The family makes us and breaks us. It is the source of celebrations and tragedies. Our highest joys and our deepest pains typically come from no place like home.

Commentators often speak of “the crisis of the family” when they talk about long-term, systemic changes to the nuclear family that have occurred over the past few generations. These changes include increased levels of nonmarital cohabitation and childbirth, high percentages of marriages ending in divorce, and the rise of nontraditional family structures. When I picked up Russell Moore’s The Storm-Tossed Family, I assumed it would be a polemic addressing the decline of family values in our nation and arguing for a return to those values.

As much as such a polemic may be needed, and as much as Moore would be the person to write it, that isn’t what this book is about. (Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, well-known for his thoughtful conservatism, both theological and political.) It is not about “the crisis of the family” in general as much as it is about “the crises in my own family” in particular, that is, the milestone events in a family’s life cycle, whether for good or bad.

More than that, it is a Christian account of those milestone events, one that interprets them through a cruciform hermeneutic, one that shows “how the Cross shapes the home,” as the book’s subtitle puts it. Three points stood out to me particularly.

First, family values are not ultimate. “The kingdom is first,” Moore writes; “the family is not.” This sounds radical, and it is, but what else should we make of Jesus’ teaching that His disciples must “hate” their family members (Luke 14:26). Moore rightly notes that hate here means “priority of affection” rather than “hostility or disrespect.” Still, the priority of the Kingdom reminds us that humans can turn any good thing into an idol, even the family. By contrast, he argues, if “we give up our suffocating grasp on our family — whether that’s our idyllic view of our family in the now, our nostalgia for the family of long ago, our scars from family wounds, or our worries for our family’s future — we are then free to be family, starting with our place in the new creation family of the church.”

Second, and building directly on the first point, family is more than the nuclear family. The focus of The Storm-Tossed Family is dad, mom and kids because that’s a fundamental building block of humanity. But the New Testament treats the Church itself as a family. It portrays the Church as the bride of Christ and also as a fellowship of adopted siblings who have one Father in heaven, for example. Regarding those outside the Church, those without a spouse or kids, Moore asks fellow Christians: “Will they hear from us the good news that Jesus invites them, and us, into a family we never could have imagined, a family united through not the blood in our veins but the blood shed from his?”

Third, family points to the gospel. “The family is one of the pictures of the gospel that God has embedded in the world around us,” Moore writes. “Through a really dark glass, we can see flashes in the family of something at the core of the universe itself, of the Fatherhood of God, of the communion of a people with one another.” A family’s joys point to the greater joys of the Kingdom. Its sorrows point them to the Cross, where Christ both suffered and saved. In the depths of misery, family members can look to Christ on the cross and know, “Oh, the Lord redeems all of that.”

The Lord redeeming the mess we have made of our families constitutes the bulk of Moore’s book. He discusses family milestones such as gender differences, marriage, sexuality, childbearing and adoption, parenting, divorce, trauma and aging. His words are wise, irenic and filled with astute theological insight, often expressed in memorable aphorisms. I’ll conclude with just such an aphorism, for it succinctly captures the theme of the entire book: “The only safe harbor for a storm-tossed family is a nail-scarred home.”

Book Reviewed
Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home (Nashville: B&H Books, 2018).

P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of the book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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

Review of ‘The Tech-Wise Family’ by Andy Crouch


The first computer I ever owned was an Apple Macintosh Classic II. Released in October 1991, my Mac Classic boasted a 16 megahertz CPU, 2 megabytes of RAM and 40 megabytes of memory — 80 if you splurged. It weighed 16 pounds. I felt privileged as a graduate student to have such computing power on my desk. Some of my peers had to make do with word processors or, even worse, typewriters.

Today, my iPhone 6SE weighs 4 ounces, has a 1.85 gigahertz CPU, 2 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of memory. It wakes me up in the morning, tracks my diet and exercise progress, and handles all my emails, texts and social media. It takes pictures, shoots video and streams movies, TV shows and music on demand. It stores books and magazines that I read, including the Bible. When my kids get bored — or, to be honest, when I get tired of paying attention to them — it entertains them.

My Mac Classic was a tool. My iPhone is (almost) my life. And that’s a problem.

All of us know how useful technology is. We can do things with it that we cannot do without it. In The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch points out what many of us fail to see as we use technology, namely, that it is changing us and our families, and not always for the better.

To understand his point, think of what technology is and what families are for.

First, according to Crouch, the defining characteristic of technology is that it is “easy everywhere.” Think of your smartphone. It is easy to use (my 3-year-old has it figured out) and it can be taken everywhere. Twenty-six years ago, I had a phone (landline, not mobile), a camera, a video camera, cassette tapes, a boom box, a TV, videocassettes, a VHS player, boxes of books, stacks of magazines and a computer. Together, they filled a small room and weighed several hundred pounds. Now all those things are accessible on a four-ounce device that fits in my pocket.

Second, although families have many purposes, Crouch suggests that its key purpose is “the forming of persons.” This has less to do with “being” (what we are) than “becoming” (who we can be). Becoming a person is a matter of virtue formation, and Crouch focuses on two virtues in particular: “wisdom and courage.” Wisdom, he writes, is “knowing, in a tremendously complex world, what the right thing to do is — what will be most honoring of our Creator and our fellow creatures.” Courage is “the conviction and character to act.” Forming these virtues requires loving relationships: “If you don’t have people in your life who know you and love you in that radical way, it is very, very unlikely you will develop either wisdom or courage.”

Anyone with a family knows that long-term, emotionally intimate relationships are the exact opposite of easy everywhere. The phrase, “There’s an app for that,” applies to many routine tasks, but not to cultivating intimacy with your spouse, rearing your children to be responsible adults, contributing to the wellbeing of society or leaving a legacy for your descendants. These require hard work at specific times and in specific places. Technology and family, in other words, point in different directions.

The question Crouch seeks to answer in The Tech-Wise Family is how to put technology in its proper place. How can we use it without our families being overcome by it? Crouch offers 10 principles that his family has tried to live by — not always successfully, he admits.

  1. We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
  2. We want to create more than we consume. So, we fill the center of our homes with things that reward skill and active engagement.
  3. We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  4. We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
  5. We aim for “no screens before double digits” [i.e., age 10] at school and at home.
  6. We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
  7. Car time is conversation time.
  8. Spouses have each other’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
  9. We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
  10. We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.

To be honest, I found many of Crouch’s suggestions radical, especially when compared to how I and members of my family actually use technology. Crouch jokes that he’s suggesting people become “almost Amish.” He also insists that his family’s commitments need not be your family’s commitments. Still, these commitments and the rationale behind them should spark some new ideas in you, your spouse and your kids, hopefully leading to a chastened use of easy-everywhere devices and a wiser, more courageous home.

 

Book Reviewed:
Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017).

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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

Friday’s InfluenceMagazine.com Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Chris Railey offers three helpful insights about the importance of delegation.
  • We interview Brian Schmidgall about how MiddleTree Church is building bridges between racial and socioeconomic divides in North St. Louis, Missouri.
  • I review Andy Crouch’s new book, The Tech-Wise Family.
  • And Christina Quick notes Pew Research about faith commitment and levels of education.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

Review of ‘Faith in the Voting Booth’ by Leith Anderson and Galen Carey


Voting_Booth_350Leith Anderson and Galen Carey, Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

Today (March 15), voters from Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Since I am a Missourian, I performed my civic duty and cast a ballot along with them. Voting is so routine in American life that we Americans often take it for granted. We shouldn’t, however. It is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.

It also can be hard work. Choosing a candidate or supporting a referendum requires informed decision-making. What principles should guide us? What should our priorities be? Thoughtful citizens try to answer these questions as they enter the voting booth.

Faith in the Voting Booth is a primer on biblical principles and priorities for the thoughtful evangelical voter. Leith Anderson and Galen Carey are, respectively, president and vice president of governmental relations for the National Association of Evangelicals. The NAE is the largest organization of evangelicals in America, whose mission is “to honor God by connecting and representing evangelical Christians.”

Evangelical is “often portrayed as a political identity by the national press,” which Anderson and Carey note is fundamentally wrong. Evangelicalism is first and foremost a spiritual identity. The authors cite with approval historian David Bebbington’s list of “four convictions that identify evangelicals”: (1) conversion—having a “born again experience, (2) action—consisting of evangelism and social action, (3) Bible—Scripture is the top authority, and (4) cross—Jesus died to save people from sin. These four convictions unite evangelicals spiritually across partisan political lines.

Of course, it would be next to impossible for a person’s spiritual identity not to affect their political identity in some way. “The ultimate political statement is ‘Jesus is Lord,” Anderson and Carey point out. But American evangelicals do not always let their core convictions shape their political principles and priorities. For example, Lifeway Research conducted a survey of evangelical opinions on immigration. That study found, in part, that evangelicals were as likely to be influenced on that issue by “The media” as by “The Bible” and “Your local church” combined (slide 16). For people whose core convictions include the Bible’s supreme authority, that’s an alarming statistic.

The core of Faith in the Voting Booth is an examination of hot button issues from a biblically informed perspective. Anderson and Carey cite four broad areas “where most evangelicals agree most of the time.” These are biblical authority, life, religious freedom, and marriage. They then examine eight issues in more depth: poverty, racial and ethnic minorities, marriage and family, immigration, taxes, justice and jails, foreign policy, and environmentalism. The goal is to bring biblical principles and priorities to bear on public policies.

Faith in the Voting Booth is difficult to peg, ideologically. For those looking for a lawyer’s brief for their side of the political aisle, this is not your book. But it’s important to remember that the Bible is not captive to modern ideologies or political parties. It stands outside of them, critiquing them for what they get wrong and affirming what they get right. If we follow the Bible, then, our political principles and priorities won’t be easy to peg as merely partisan ideology. Personally, I found the book refreshing. In a few places, it caused me to reexamine whether my political convictions are as biblically rooted as I think they are. In a few places, I disagreed with it. That kind of critical self-examination is a good habit to develop, it seems to me.

Anderson and Carey close the book by making a case for civility in the public square. Given the taunting, name-calling, and isolated acts of violence that have marred this election cycle, the authors’ plea for civility is especially appropriate. I’ll close with this quotation from the book:

The practice of Christian civility brings the fruit of the Spirit into the public square: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). We please God, display the love of Jesus, and bless our nation all at the same time.

Amen to that!

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P.S. This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Leith Anderson about the book.

P.P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.