Surprised By Hope Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

Surprised By Hope attempts to “recapture the Christian answer to death and beyond and the nature of our task as we wait” (pp. XII-XIII). Said differently the book addresses two questions: “What is the ultimate Christian hope?” and, “What hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present?” (p. 5). Wright sees hope for the first question in the resurrection of Christ, which guarantees the resurrection of the believer. He provides strong arguments for the historical resurrection of Jesus (pp. 53-76), and repeatedly affirms that, while Christians enter the presence of God at death, their ultimate destiny lies in their bodily resurrection and life on the new earth (pp. 28, 41, 171-172). These discussions are the strongest features of the book. Wright stumbles, however, when he attempts to resolve his second question – what hope does the resurrection give for present transformation of...

Mission Drift, the Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches by Peter Greer and Chris Horst

Mission Drift describes the all too common drift from the original purpose and mission that organizations (the authors are primarily focused on Christian non-profit and churches) experience in time. Two dimensions of drift are described—personal and institutional (p. 12). The authors state their goal as: We want to name and illustrate the causes of Mission Drift. We want to help you clarify the missions of the organizations you most love. And we want to equip you with the safeguards to reinforce and protect them (p. 30). I believe Greer and Horst achieve their goal through a number of avenues. First they provide excellent stories of organizations such as the YMCA (pp. 11, 68-69), Harvard University (pp. 16-17, 144-146), Yale University (p. 18), Franciscans’ food banks (pp. 19-20), Christian Children’s Fund (pp. 24-26), ChildFund (p. 41), Pew Trust (pp. 60-64) and Veggie Tales (pp. 98-99), who have drifted radically from...

Church Unique, How Mission Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini

Will Mancini leads Auxano, a team of church consultants (although they prefer the word “navigators”) who are training pastors on how to “do church” in the 21st century. Church Unique lays out the ideas and goals of Auxano. In many ways Church Unique is much like many church management books written in the last 50 years. It emphasizes vision, teaches how to form and implement strategy, and virtually insures success if you will but follow the principles within. Mancini is a motivational writer, par excellent. His use of superlatives is extensive. In fact, they are used so often as to lose their effect; after all, not everything can be mind-blowing and earth-shaking. Like other books of this genre, Church Unique is also complicated. To actually work Mancini’s system well from the book alone would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Those serious about applying these ideas will no doubt...

Defense of the Truth by Michael Haykin

This is a marvelous little book (only 129 pages) which introduces the reader to some of the early Christian defenders of the faith and, at the same time, details the formal recognition of many essential doctrines we hold dear today. Some of the key characters found in Haykin’s book include those we term the “Church Fathers:” Irenaeus, Origen, Basil, Athanasius, Augustine and Patrick. The value of the book is multi-facet. We are provided with: Information concerning some of the heresies and challenges which faced the early church. Sketches of the lives of several Church Fathers, as well as their antagonists. Details of how some important doctrines (the Trinity in particular) were debated and ultimately accepted. A general history of the first centuries of Christianity. I particularly found the story of the ebb and flow of premillennialism very interesting, The Defence of the Truth is an excellent book, informative yet...

What’s Right with the Church, A Manifesto of Hope by Elmer L. Towns (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009), 223 pp. Hard $11.99

The church is constantly being criticized by friend and foe. This is not hard to fathom as the church is a big, slow moving, easy target that is flawed because it is made up of flawed people. Much recent criticism is deserved, some is not. Towns has grown weary of those who make it their mission to point out what is wrong with the church, usually to promote their own agendas. George Barna is referenced as one such person (p. 219). As a result Towns wants to pin-point some of the things that are right about the church. He focuses on twelve items, devoting a chapter to each. They include being right about Jesus, the Bible, conversion, sin, family and the Great Commission. Several of these chapters are very encouraging. I also found helpful Towns’ overview of six different worship styles prevalent in America today, complete with their strengths...

The Tangible Kingdom, Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008) 195 pp, Hard $17.99

As I progressed through The Tangible Kingdom I kept feeling that I had read this book before and, in a sense, I have. Essentially, I read the same message in 1971 in David Main’s Circle Church, in Girard’s Brethren, Hang Loose in 1972, in Snyder’s The Problem of Wine Skins in 1975, again in Tucker’s The Church Change or Decay in 1978 and Tillapaugh’s The Church Unleashed in 1982 and on and on. More recently the works of Brian McLaren and Rob Bell have repeated the same themes, which are basically that the church is a mess, has lost its way and must either change or die. Fortunately for us, so the message goes out, all these authors have discovered the “secret sauce” (as Andy Stanley calls it in his books) and they are here to share the ingredients. Halter and Smay follow this pattern to a tee (see...

Deep and Wide, by Andy Stanley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 350 pp., Hardcover $24.99

Endorsed by everyone from Rick Warren and Bill Hybels to Dave Ramsey, Steven Furtick and Jeff Foxworthy, Deep and Wide reveals Andy Stanley’s “secret sauce” (p. 17) which he believes makes his church not only great but a model others should adopt. Stanley’s goal has been to create a church that unchurched men, women and children love to attend (p. 11) and by all accounts he has succeeded. The first of five sections tells the story of the birth of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, first as an extension of his father’s (Charles) church, then as a split, in which several thousand people eventually left the mother church to join Andy’s. Andy knows this is not the best way to start a church, but is honest and transparent enough to admit that this is what happened. Conflicts with his famous father were inevitable and Andy chronicles those...

Vertical Church, What Every Heart Longs for, What Every Church Can Be, by James MacDonald (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012), 320 pp., Hard, $22.99

James MacDonald is the well-known pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, a megachurch near Chicago. Harvest’s church planting ministry has founded numerous Harvest Bible Chapel churches throughout the United States and Canada. MacDonald writes this book to encourage churches to return to a vertical focus on Christ and His glory which he thinks most churches have abandoned. The author believes the local church should be built on four pillars: proclaiming the authority of God’s Word without apology, lifting high the name of Jesus through worship, believing firmly in the power of prayer, and sharing the good news of Jesus with boldness. Concerning worship MacDonald mocks what he calls “shoulder-up” worship and calls for “whole-person,” enthusiastic, loud worship (p. 173). He often claims Harvest’s worship services are “window-rattling, earth-shaking, life-altering experiences” (pp. 112, 186, 303), and that people line up outside and run down aisles because God is going to meet...

Be Careful How You Listen, How to Get the Most Out of a Sermon by Jay Adams, ( Birmingham, Alabama: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007), 160 pp., paper $11.99

This book was originally published in 1991 under the title A Consumer’s Guide to Preaching. Since there are many books dealing with how to preach but few on how to listen to preaching, Adams decided to republish the book for a new audience. Adams states, “I have written this book because of the dearth of material devoted to genuine concern for preaching from the listener’s point of view. So far as I know, there is no other book like it” (p. 9). While a few others now exist (see my reviews on Expository Listening and The Family at Church), this little book is very helpful. Adams’ writings are always biblically based and practical. Be Careful How You Listen is no exception. The author deals with preparation for listening, the listener’s attitude and expectations, how to analyze a sermon, the various types of sermons, discernment, and even how to handle...

The Family at Church, Listening to Sermons and Attending Prayer Meetings,by Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 80 pp., paper $5.40.

This book has been recommended by Ken Ramey in his book <em>Expository Listening</em> as a virtual goldmine, but I did not find it so. While there weresome helpful insights and advice, overall it was dated and far too linked to the Reformed traditions to be of significant value to those not in lock-stepwith those traditions. As evidence, in the 66 pages of actual text there were 66 references to Calvin, Spurgeon or the Puritans. There were far morereferences to this group and their opinions than to Scripture, which was often used out of context (see pp. 34, 41). The second half of the volume was devoted to prayer meetings. Here Beeke has in mind primarily the mid-week style of prayer meeting, for which he offersnot only encouragement to have such but even rules for how they are to be conducted (pp. 67-72). While this reviewer believes strongly in corporate...