Disruptive Compassion | Book Review


“If I want to do something with my life and make a difference in the world, how do I do that?”

A college student asked Hal Donaldson this question several years ago after Donaldson made a presentation at his university. In the succeeding years, others asked Donaldson the same question. Though they were older than the student — some middle aged, others past retirement — each desired more than to do well; they wanted to do good.

Disruptive Compassion is Donaldson’s answer to their question. It reflects lessons he has learned personally, having grown up poor, and professionally, as CEO of Convoy of Hope. Convoy is a leading Christian compassion ministry whose mission is to “empower others to live with greater independence and freedom from poverty, disease, and hunger.”

But what precisely is “disruptive compassion”? As Donaldson explains, it’s not “code for sanitizing the world or condemning people who don’t measure up to your standards.” That is not the way of Jesus. Rather, disruptive compassion is “a rejection of the status quo and a belief that a tidal wave of love and acts of kindness can heal a wounded world.”

That sounds easy enough, right? Yes, and in a sense it is. The book’s thirteen chapters each contain an imperative for “compassion revolutionaries” to follow:

      1. Believe
      2. Define the Mission
      3. Do Reconnaissance
      4. Conduct an Audit
      5. Be Authentic
      6. Build a Team
      7. Pay the Invoice
      8. Create Momentum
      9. Eliminate Distractions
      10. Take Risks
      11. Measure Outcomes
      12. Persist and Pivot
      13. Go

These imperatives, while easy to articulate, are difficult to apply, however. Even to get started, you have to overcome what Donaldson calls “the true enemies of progress”: “doubt, apathy, and blame.” In my experience, this is the hardest threshold to cross because it calls us out of our comfort zone and challenges us to make a difference in our circle of influence.

While the imperative to believe presents a psychological challenge, the remaining imperatives present practical challenges. Where will I focus? What are the resource gaps that I can fill? How has God prepared me uniquely to address these gaps? Who will team up with me? And what costs am I willing to pay to see the mission through? These are some of the hard questions Donaldson asks (and answers) in his book.

Compassion revolutionaries come in all kinds. Some, like Donaldson himself, are full-time visionaries who create organizations, like Convoy of Hope, that become movements of love and kindness. Others excel in their professional careers but leverage their influence and wealth for Kingdom purposes. And still others serve in the army of volunteers that every genuine movement needs. You can read the stories of all kinds of compassion revolutionaries in the book.

The key thing, however, is to seek personally to “make a radical difference through disruptive compassion, wherever you are.” And so, having read the book, I find myself asking a simple question: Today, where can I show love and kindness to a person who needs it, whether through my words or by my deeds? Read this book, and I think you’ll start asking yourself the same thing. Answer it in word and deed and who knows how far your circle of influence eventually may extend!

Book Reviewed
Hal Donaldson, Kirk Noonan, and Lindsay Kay Donaldson, Disruptive Compassion: Becoming the Revolutionary You Were Born to Be (Grand Rapids, MI: 2019).

P.S. To hear my conversation with Hal Donaldson about Disruptive Compassion, please listen to Episode 184 of the Influence Podcast.

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

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Why Grace Is More Liberating Than You Believe | Influence Podcast


“There is power available to you that can unlock your soul and all of its hidden longings,” writes John Lindell—“the buried hopes of the past, the strength needed for the moment, and the dreams for a beautiful future. That is the power of the best news: the gospel is able to change your life at this moment, even now.”

In this episode of the Influence Podcast, I talk with John Lindell about this power, which is the power of God’s grace. Lindell is pastor of James River Church, a multisite congregation in Springfield, Missouri. He is devoted to seeing the local church thrive and standing boldly for the cause of Christ. Most recently, Lindell is also of Soul Set Free: Why Grace Is More Liberating than You Believe, just published by Charisma House.

If you’d like to listen to John Lindell’s thoughts about expository preaching, listen to Episode 97 of the Influence Podcast.

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

Truth Plus Love | Book Review


In the Church’s first few centuries of existence, Christians spread the gospel by means of Roman roads. Today, the internet and social media are Roman-road equivalents, giving Christians the ability to share the gospel farther and faster than at any time in history. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians — especially, though not exclusively, in America — are blowing it.

Take a look at your Christian friends’ social media posts, if you doubt me. Many use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like innocuously enough as platforms for sharing grandkid pics or corny jokes. To the extent that they use them to make arguments for religion, culture and politics, however, far too often their social media feeds are angry, dismissive, stereotypical and filled with “fake news.”

Looking at numerous online controversies, my wife likes to say, “Nobody ever wins an argument on Facebook.” She usually says that to tell me to knock it off. My own social media feeds, it turns out, often fail miserably at being a wholesome Christian influence on others.

InTruth Plus Love, Matt Brown identifies the biblical formula for influencing others: “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). He uses quasi-mathematical formulae to quickly communicate the gist of his book:

  • Truth – Love = Noise
  • Love – Truth = Error
  • Truth + Love = Influence

No matter what your religious convictions are, you should be able to see the aptness of these formulations. Speaking the truth in love is a Christian imperative, but it’s also a universal need and a contributor to the common good.

We all know what truth is, but we sometimes get confused by love. Love isn’t just ooey-gooey sentimentalism. It’s the multidimensional fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23), so it incorporates joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control too.

Speaking of self-control, Brown offers a useful acronym about how to T-H-I-N-K before we speak: Is this true, honorable, important, necessary, kind? My guess is that Christian social media influence would increase just by answering that question before posting anything.

Truth Plus Loveis an easy-to-read book, written for a popular audience. Brown has an easy way with words, tells memorable stories, and formulates his advice in a memorable, simple way. If you’re a Christian looking to influence others toward Christ, whether online or off, this little book is a helpful guide.

Book Reviewed
Matt Brown, Truth Plus Love: The Jesus Way to Influence(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

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

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

P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with Matt Brown here.

Love Your Enemies | Book Review


Arthur C. Brooks opens Love Your Enemies with a personal anecdote about a speech he gave to conservative activists in New Hampshire. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank, so the audience for the speech was “an ideological home-field crowd” for him. Among other things, he talked about how the American public perceives liberals as “compassionate and empathetic” and argued that conservatives should earn that reputation too.

After the speech, an unhappy women approached him and castigated him for being too nice to liberals. “They are not compassionate and empathetic,” she argued. “They are stupid and evil.”

Stupid and evil. Although a conservative voiced the words, the sentiment is common on the other side of the political spectrum too. A November 2018 Axios poll found that roughly the same percentage of Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party as “ignorant” (54 and 49 percent, respectively) and “evil” (21 and 23 percent, respectively). Even worse, “The share of Americans who have more generous impressions is roughly equal to the poll’s margin of error, which is 3%.”

According to Brooks, this denigration of the other side reflects more than anger or incivility. It reflects a pervasive “culture of contempt,” contempt being defined as “anger mixed with disgust.” Or, as Arthur Schopenhauer put it, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

In such a culture, what is needed most is not tolerance or civility, as important as those practices are. Rather, Brooks argue, what is needed most is love, especially love for one’s enemies. Following Thomas Aquinas, Brooks defines love as “to will the good of the other.” Love doesn’t mean setting aside facts and compromising in some mushy middle. But it does require remembering that while “their views might be [worthy of contempt], no person is.”

Although Brooks is president of a secular think tank and his book is pitched at a broad audience, his is a fundamentally Christian insight. (Brooks himself is Catholic.) The book’s title comes directly from Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 5:44. That being said, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry, but an exercise in the application of enemy-love to American public discourse.

Along the way, Brooks outlines the features of our culture of contempt, asks whether we can afford to be nice, gives love lessons for leaders, shows how we can love our enemies even if they’re immoral, identifies why identity politics is both powerful and perilous, asks whether competition is a problem, and encourages people to disagree with one another — though without contempt, of course. Throughout, he uses anecdotes and contemporary social science to make his points. The resulting case for love in the public square is both convincing and well worth reading.

Love Your Enemies covers a lot of ground, so Brooks helpfully concludes the book with “Five Rules to Subvert the Culture of Contempt”:

  1. Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful.
  2. Escape the bubble. Go where you’re not invited and say things people don’t expect.
  3. Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.
  4. Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.
  5. Tune out. Disconnect more from the unproductive debates.

As noted above, Love Your Enemies is not a theological tome or a how-to book for Christian ministry. I read this book as a Christian minister, however, and can’t help but see its salience to Christian readers and leaders. So, I close my review with an exhortation to them:

Christ commands us to love our enemies. There’s no carve-out when the “enemy” is on the other side from us religiously, culturally or politically. There’s no exception clause for those moments when an election is on the line. Loving our enemies is simply what Christians do for others because it’s what Christ did for us. So, let’s do it. It’s the right thing to do, and if Brooks is right, it’s also the most socially beneficial thing we can do in our nation’s roiling culture of contempt.

Book Reviewed
Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt (New York: Broadside Books, 2019).

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

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

Truth + Love = Influence | Influence Podcast


Jesus Christ is the greatest news the world has ever heard, and the internet and social media give contemporary Christians effective means to share it. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians are blowing their chance, as even a quick glance at Christians online shows. How can we better use these communication tools for greater gospel influence?

I’m George P. Wood, executive editor of Influencemagazine and your host. In Episode 172 of the Influence Podcast, I’m talking to Matt Brown about the biblical formula for influence, whether you’re online or off.

Matt is an Assemblies of God minister, founder of the online evangelistic ministry Think Eternity, and author of Truth Plus Love: The Jesus Way to Influence, forthcoming from Zondervan. He lives with his wife Michelle and their two boys near Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

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

Tuesday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Craig Keener explains from Scripture why Pentecostals need always to keep power and love together, because the Spirit is the source of both.
  • John Davidson reviews Chris Sonksen’s new book, When Your Church Feels Stuck. Make sure to listen to John’s Influence Podcast with Chris too!
  • We note a recent Gallup poll that finds a third of Americans thinking that religion is out of date.

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

Review of ‘You Are What You Love’ by James K. A. Smith


YouAreWhatYouLove350This review first appeared at InfluenceMagazine.com.

James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016).

You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith is a small book with large ambitions. It aims to reshape the way evangelical Christians understand discipleship, replacing their emphasis on thought with an emphasis on desire. Rather than saying, “You are what you think,” Smith urges Christians to say, “You are what you love.”

For Smith, this reshaping of discipleship is not something new, but something old. Both the Bible and the pre-Enlightenment Christian tradition taught that “the center of the human person is located not in the intellect but in the heart.” For example, consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19: “out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Or consider Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Jesus’ words reveal that the heart orients us toward evil thoughts and evil deeds. Change the heart, and the thoughts and actions will follow. Augustine’s words remind us that our heart is oriented toward a telos, an end or goal, a vision of human flourishing. Because God made the heart, only the heart that seeks His telos—the kingdom—finds rest. Every other kingdom leaves our hearts weary and restless.

The problem is, how do you disciple the heart? How do you properly form human desire? Through practice, which develops habits. A cousin of mine likes to say that practice makes permanent. That’s as true for playing the piano as for developing moral character. What we do repeatedly shapes who we are.

According to Smith, the practices that shape our hearts can be called “liturgies,” a churchy term for the order of worship. Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” There is a liturgy, then, that develops a good heart for the true God. There are also liturgies that develop bad hearts for false gods such as consumerism. Smith urges us to take a “liturgical audit” of our lives to make sure our practice is oriented toward the proper telos, God and His kingdom, not some lesser goal.

Smith uses the term liturgies expansively. In the final three chapters of the book, he uses it to describe Christian practices in the home, at school, and in one’s vocation. The heart of his book concerns the worship practices of the gathered church, however. It is here that the Christian heart is most formed. Smith states that his book “articulates a spirituality for culture-makers, showing…why discipleship needs to be centered in and fueled by our immersion in the body of Christ. Worship is the ‘imagination station’ that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed toward God and his kingdom.”

For him, worship is about “formation” more than “expression.” It is God himself meeting us to shape us into the kind of people who do His will, not just an outpouring of our sincere feelings about Him. (Pentecostals might be tagged as “expressivists” because of their exuberant services, but it seems to me that their theology of spiritual gifts aligns with the notion that God is the agent of worship, not just its audience.) Seen this way, and mindful that practice is repetitious, Smith urges Christians to hew closely to the traditional “narrative arc” of worship—which consists of gathering, listening, communing, and sending—and to eschew “novelty.” (He’s not talking about the “worship wars,” by the way. This has to do with the structure of the worship service, not the style of its music.) That liturgy “character-izes” us, meaning, it shows us that we are “characters” in God’s story and then forms the appropriate “character” in us.

Interestingly, Smith argues that Christian cultural innovators need to be rooted in Christian liturgical tradition: “the innovative, restorative work of culture-making needs to be primed by those liturgical traditions that orient our imagination to kingdom come. In order to foster a Christian imagination, we don’t need to invent; we need to remember. We cannot hope to re-create the world if we are constantly reinventing “church,” because we will reinvent ourselves right out of the Story. Liturgical tradition is the platform for imaginative innovation.”

I hope I have accurately and adequately communicated the gist of You Are What You Love. It is a thoughtful, thought-provoking book that I would encourage pastors, church leaders, and interested laypeople to read. Having said that, though, I want to make two “yes, but” points.

First, yes desire, but also thought. In other words, I agree with Smith that the heart is the heart of discipleship. This is a point on which evangelicals should unite, whether they are heirs to Jonathan (“religious affections”) Edwards or John (“heart strangely warmed”) Wesley. I am concerned, however, that Smith has swung the pendulum too far toward a discipleship of desire in order to compensate for the tendency in evangelicalism to swing the pendulum too far toward a discipleship of thought. This is, admittedly, an impressionistic critique. Smith is a philosopher and theologian in the Reformed tradition, after all, and the Reformed are known to be punctilious about doctrine. Still, I would’ve liked to see more on the discipleship of the mind in the book.

Second, yes process, but also crisis. A process-orientation in discipleship focuses, as Smith does, on the development of spiritual habits. A crisis-orientation focuses on the necessity of decision. The characteristic forms of process-oriented discipleship are stable liturgies, the sacraments, and spiritual disciplines. The characteristic form of crisis-oriented discipleship, at least among evangelicals, is the altar call. As a Pentecostal, I would also add the call to come forward for Spirit-baptism or healing. There is little place for crisis in Smith’s book. Perhaps this is an overreaction to the crisis-orientation of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, which often leave little room for process. Still, it seems to me that both are necessary to discipleship. Wesley was no slouch when it came to process. His followers weren’t called “Methodists” for nothing, after all. But he still stood outside the mines and called miners to repentance and faith. I didn’t see that in Smith’s book.

These two “yes, buts” notwithstanding, I intend to re-read and meditate further on Smith’s book. As a Pentecostal, I disagree with certain aspects of Smith’s Reformed liturgical heritage (infant baptism, for example), even as I am challenged by the overall thrust of the book. The heart is the heart of the matter. Any discipleship that fails to take that truth into account fails to achieve its aim.

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

 

Love: The First Mark of the Ideal Church (Rev. 2:1–7)


As Christians, we know who we are: sinners who need to repent. But who should we be? According to John Stott, Jesus’ letters to the seven churches describe “seven marks of the ideal church”: love, suffering, truth, holiness, sincerity, mission, and wholeheartedness.[i] Let us take a closer look at each, beginning with love.

Love is perhaps the most indiscriminately used word in the English language. The statements “I love God,” “I love my children,” and “I love crispy tacos at Taco Bell” use the same words to describe radically different affections. After all, if you love God and Taco Bell in the same way, either God means too little to you or Taco Bell too much.

The Greeks have an advantage over us English-speaking folks, for they employ four words for love: storge, philia, eros, and agape. Storge describes familial affection. Philia describes friendship. Eros describes not merely sexual (i.e., erotic) love, but any love that is directed toward an object of high value. (Love of a beautiful woman, a fast car, and crispy tacos are all erotic insofar as the lover holds them in high value—which just goes to show that erotic love is not necessarily rational. I mean, really—Taco Bell?) Finally, there is agape, a word that under Christian influence came to describe selfless love.

Jesus uses the word agape in his letter to the Ephesian church (Rev. 2:1–7, see verse 4). Unfortunately, the Ephesians have “abandoned the love you had at first.” What does this mean? Love, we might answer, has both an objective and a subjective side. Objectively, love is associated with “right beliefs” (orthodoxy) and “right deeds” (orthopraxy). “Love does no wrong to its neighbor,” Paul writes: “therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).

Now, in some ways, the Ephesians have the objective side of love down pat. They are, according to verses 3–4, hard working, patient, just, orthodox, and unceasing laborers for the cause of Christ. But they are still missing something, namely, the subjective side of love. As John Stott puts it, “It was no doubt at the time of their conversion that their love for [Christ] had been ardent and fresh, but now the fires had died down.”[ii]

In the eighteenth century, following on the heels of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards asked, “What is the nature of true religion?” He answered, “True Religion, in great part, consists in Holy Affections.”[iii] Affections, what we might call emotions today, are the subjective side of Christian living. And the chief of our affections must be love. As Edwards put it, “The Scriptures place religion very much in the affection of love, in love to God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and love to the people of God, and to mankind.”[iv]

An ardent, on-fire love is what the Ephesians lack and need to regain. They have orthodoxy and orthopraxy. What they need is orthopathy, that is, “right passion.” And so, do we. For without such a love, we are nothing (1 Cor. 13:1–3).

 

[i] Stott, The Incomparable Christ, 177.

[ii] Stott, The Incomparable Christ, 178.

[iii] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: 1986; original, 1746), 15, 23.

[iv] Edwards, Religious Affections, 32.

Permissible, But Not Beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1)


The Daily Word will begin after the following book review blurb…

__________

Alister McGrath, The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010). $22.00, 210 pages.

Recently, so-called “new atheists” have been making loud noises about how stupid and wicked religion is. Richard Dawkins thinks belief in God is a “delusion” to be replaced by scientific thinking. Daniel Dennett views religion as a “spell” that needs to be broken. Sam Harris longs for “the end of faith,” whose absolutism he thinks leads only to violence. And Christopher Hitchens argues that “religion poisons everything.”

Alister McGrath disagrees….

To read my complete review, go here. To receive my book reviews via email, subscribe here and make sure to reply to the confirmation email.

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Permissible, But Not Beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1)

First Corinthians 10:23–11:1 concludes Paul’s argument about eating food sacrificed to idols. He prohibits eating such food at religious feasts in pagan temples, but he permits eating it at dinner parties in private homes on a case-by-case basis. First Corinthians 10:23–11:1 outlines his reasoning on the latter subject.

First, Paul argues that the responsibility to love others takes precedence over the rights that knowledge confers. Verses 23–24 read:

“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

He then argues that idol-food, in and of itself, raises no moral issues for Christians. Verses 25–26 read:

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).

But given the first and second points, he argues that believers should not eat idol-food if a person raises an issue about it. Verses 27–30 read:

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

Finally, he argues that believers should reflect God’s glory in all they do. 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 reads:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example as I, as I follow the example of Christ.

Two things strike me about 1 Corinthians 10:23–11:1—indeed about the entire argument of 8:1–11:1. The first is the robust knowledge that guides Paul’s thought process. Paul’s argument proceeds out of a deep commitment to truth and a deep rejection of superstition. But the second is that robust love that animates Paul’s commitment to people. He knows idols are nothing, but he loves people who continue to mistakenly believe they are something.

At the outset of my comments on 8:1–11:1, I noted that few modern Christians—at least in the West—deal with the problem of food sacrificed to idols. Our temptation, therefore, is to breeze through or ignore what Paul writes there. But now that we’ve revealed Paul’s thought process, we can see how applicable it is to modern times. Do we relate to others on the basis of the knowledge that confers rights, or do we relate to them on the basis of the Christ-like responsibility to love them?

Knowledge and love. Rights and responsibilities. These are very modern issues, aren’t they?

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