12 books to help us become grown-up Christians

12 books to help us become grown-up Christians May 1, 2015

I hope you enjoyed the review I did last week of the latest memoir of the feisty and increasingly skilled writer, Rachel searching for sunday.jpgHeld Evans. Searching for Sunday told of her frustrations with her experiences of conservative evangelical faith and her embrace of a more sacramental, open-minded sort of mainline denominational church experience. Our bookstore has always worked hard at showing books from various viewpoints and theological traditions, and while there seems to be an abundance these days of well-written memoirs and theological reformulations that tend to move away from historic orthodox views, there are – it is helpful to know – many who are moving (shall we say) the other way, too. (None that are as beautifully written as Rachel’s though, or as dynamically passionate as Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber, say.)

There is an exodus from some mainline denominational churches which are often fuzzy about historic creeds and many of these disillusioned, hurting pilgrims are finding homes in more conventional, traditionalist churches, evangelical, Catholic or Orthodox. (Frederica Mathewes-Green, who has a brand new introduction to Orthodoxy, by the way, is a stellar writer from a decade or more ago who wrote Facing East, a memoir of becoming Orthodox which is beautifully rendered, and a very compelling faith journey; Rosaria Butterfield wrote seriously of her conversion to conservative Reformed faith after years as a postmodern literary critic, religious skeptic, and lesbian, in her memoir The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Thomas Oden’s big autobiography, A Change of Heart, about which I have exclaimed before, although not lyrical or elegantly composed, is a brilliant story of a leading theological liberal who discerned a fatal trajectory in his life and work and returned to ancient, multi-cultural sources, becoming in the process an expert in ancient North African Christianity and thoughtful evangelical pressing the church towards clarity about the first things of the gospel.)

Anyway, I resonated with much of Rachel’s very contemporary, fabulously-written and tender book, and commend it. If you know of anyone who, like she, has gone through religious disillusionment and needs to find an orientation to faith that is less harshly dogmatic and more gracious, her story of refusing to give up on church will be an aid. If you are evangelical and concerned about those drawn to other sorts of faith experiences, I think it is a good window into the journey of many these days and will be an interesting read.  Here is another review that I thought was helpful on this very matter written wonderfully by Katelyn Beaty of Christianity Today.

So, on we go; we keep reading, keep learning, enjoying books and finding good conversations around the creative sentences and poignant pages found in these blocks of paper and print. I have often said that it is wise to work through classic works and maybe even some dry tomes, but I do hope you find pleasure in your learning, reading stuff that is enjoyable, stimulating, good to hold in your hands and hearts. Books matter, and reading a lot is a good thing. It is a joy to serve you by alerting you to books and titles, authors and ideas.

Here are some new ones that I won’t take time to describe in detail. Almost without me realizing it at first, these are mostly all about deepening faith, maturing, being wiser and better informed, able to take up Christians ways of being in the world. I hope you notice the ecumenical diversity.

pray like a goumet.jpgPray Like a Gourmet: Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul David Brazzeal (Paraclete) $18.99 Brazzeal lies in France (“where he enjoys warm baguettes from the boulangerie and fresh cheese from the marche.) I gather he’s a character -the back cover says “whether writing poetry, creating guerrilla labyrinths, or electro-meditative music, his work is inspired by the organic fusion that exists between the spiritual and the creative.” Here, he offers bunches of ways to “pray like a gourmet” by drawing on all things foodie, imagining prayer like a find French meal, a flow of courses, one as good as the next, creative recipes, infusing all your senses, enticing you to return for more.

One fantastic endorsement is from Graham Kerr, of the old Galloping Gourmet TV show – he is now a strong Christian! – which would make you want to read it immediately. The widely read and ever gracious Phyllis Tickle says it is the “gentlest, most readable, kindest guide to prayer one could ever hope to explore.” I love how she puts it: “Reading through its storied pages, one goes from “‘I never thought of that’ to ‘I could do that’ to ‘I want to do that’ and back again.”  Now that is a nice endorsement for a book on prayer, isn’t it? And, there’s all that fun French food stuff.  Done in lovely full color art it is delightfully designed, offers creative insight and is a grand book, another in the “Active Prayer Series” published by this ecumenical, contemplative publisher. Beautiful, intriguing, wondrous.

Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure Nancy J. Nodrenson (Kalos Press) $14.95 Kalos Press is FindingLivelihood-ag4-330.jpgknown for being a classy, literary house that does thoughtful and beautifully crafted books of essays and memoirs. (God In The Sink: Essays from Toad Hall by our friend Margie Haack was their last release, one of our “Best of 2014” award-winners.) This brand new book is nothing short of spectacular, and I will surely review it more thoroughly, soon. I believe it is fair to say that Nancy Nordenson is a writer to watch and that this book should be considered a major, significant work. She has written in places as diverse as the Harvard Divinity Bulletin and Comment magazine.

This lovely book is about a lot of things, but mostly, about a spirituality of work. It takes the “faith and work” conversation in new directions, drilling deeper, offering ruminations on the nature of good work, on measuring our significance, or discerning God’s call.  I’ll write more later, but it is extraordinary and I highly recommend it.

Here is what it says on the back cover: “At once a shrewd challenge of Buechner’s assertion that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” and also a lyrical journey to the place where labor and love meet, Finding Livelihood explores the tensions between the planned life and the given, between desire and need, between aspirations and limits.”  Oh my, isn’t that beautiful and intriguing and good? Don’t you long for good writing and mature thinking like this? You will be hearing more about this, for sure.

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides  Scott Sauls (Tyndale) jesus outside the lines.jpg$15.99  Perhaps the largest theme in the new book by Rachel Held Evans, that I reviewed last time, is her frustration with those who bring culture wars approaches from the so-called religious right to evangelical faith. She, and many of her fellow-travelers, have tired of that approach, and for good reason. Yet, some think, I suppose, that many progressives — writing with such passion about what is wrong with fundamentalism — themselves damage the church by fueling the fires of dissension. Are the religious progressives just the flip side of religious fundamentalists?  I don’t know quite what to think myself, since I have such allies on various places in the Body of Christ, and have worked for reform myself, sometimes with a bit too much self-righteous zeal. I tired of it all, a long for healing and hope. Or at least civility…

Scott Sauls brings a voice of relief, a rare view, indeed. That there is a foreword by Gabe Lyons isn’t surprising — Gabe has long made a case for a generous but robust evangelicalism that engages the culture without ideology or anger. Tim Keller offers a front-cover blurb, calling it “a refreshing look at discipleship in our late modern times.”  That Keller observes the cultural location — “late modern” times — is not insignificant, of course, and is a clue that this book carries a degree of social sophistication. I think it is a very good book.

Yet, what Sauls offers is pretty basic: the gospel of God’s grace, an invitation to color outside the lines a bit, redemptively.  For those on either side who are weary of “us vs them” we need not be polarized but can find truth and beauty, grace and goodness, by more closing following the patterns of Jesus Himself.  This book will not erase differences, or even animosities, I’m afraid. But it might offer us a way forward — away from harshness, caricatures, and stereotypes, if only it is read and taken to heart. I know I need to be reminded of this call to civility and Christian charity, and I suspect you might too. Sauls serves as the senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, but previously served as a lead and preaching pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan.  My friend Bethany Jenkins (director of the Gospel Coalition’s “Every Square Inch” project writes,

The “conform or else” mentality of our late modern culture is disheartening, lamentable, and transgressive to human flourishing. Yet the root of the problem isn’t “out there” in our culture, but “in here” in our hearts. In Jesus Outside the Lines, Scott Sauls is authentic and vulnerable as he wisely and gently reminds us of our brokenness and shows us how the power and beauty of the gospel can heal us, from the inside out.

Listen to the eloquent reminder from Steve Garber,

Scott Sauls invites everyone everywhere into an honest conversation about the things that matter most — and therefore at the same time are the most tender and contentious for us. But he does so as a friend… agreeing to disagree where we must, but with love and respect, with listening and friendship. In our polarizing world, where the more we know about each other means the less we care for each other, Scott’s vision is a gift for those who care about the common good.

From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity Thomas Bergler (Eerdmans) $20.00 I displayed a big stack of these at two different gatherings of church leaders, recently, and nobody bought any, which from here to maturity.jpgdiscourage me more than I can say. I suppose the subtitle is perplexing to some, and maybe they thought – if they had heard of it at all – that it was mostly about youth ministry, as was his first one, The Juvenilization of American Christianity. That book is one which you should know about, as it won a number of awards last year, and got rave reviews in both Christian Century and Christianity Today.  That  first book argued that the historical rise of the specialty of youth ministry in the latter half of the twentieth century (for all its value) created new norms, customs, expectations, within American Christianity (mostly Protestantism) that were, well, juvenile. It is a dense and sophisticated diagnosis, and its acclaim was well deserved.

This new book, From Here to Maturity… is equally serious, but is Bergler’s guide to help both individuals and church groups to move on from juvenilization, to grow spiritually, and grow towards spiritual maturity. This book explains what maturity is, why it is desirable and attainable, and how to reach it. Of course, maturity happens in community, and the ethos of our church or parachurch may or may not be congenial toward members growing up in the Lord. Some of this is based on research done in real congregations, by the way, and he has helpful appendices listing questions used in observing congregational cultures, and some observed characteristics of youth ministries that build maturity. Church leaders: you should know this stuff, and I am sure From Here to Maturity will help remind you of your own high calling and the best practices to ponder and enact.

The Complete Guide to Godly Play Volume 8 Jerome W. Berryman (Living the Good News) $29.95  We have sold these unique resources since they first came out, and while this “Montessori” approach to Christian education is beloved by those who ugodly play volume 8.jpgse it, it takes a serious and spiritually profound commitment to trust the Spirit’s leading in drawing children to the Biblical text and playfully/prayerfully allowing them to imagine its meaning. You may know that the various books cover various seasons, or themes; this new one includes 15 new presentations. The back cover tells us “it also includes a wealth of capstone insights gleaned from decades of research and practice, as well as an appendix summarizing the foundational literature and describing the entirety of the Godly Play spiral curriculum as it exits today.”

As one reviewer notes, “Forty years of Jerome Berryman’s thought and wisdom are reflected in this long-awaited Volume 8, the capstone…”  It certainly fills in some gaps, offers some helpful introductions, and, we believe, will deepen learners of any age in their relationship with Jesus.

Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission Michael J. Gorman (Eerdmans) $28.00 I don’t often Becoming the Gospel.jpgwrite about heavy theology texts or mature works of Biblical studies. I’m not particularly qualified for these deep waters, but I do know that – see above! – we must deepen our maturity as we grapple with God’s Word and form communities of faith in the way of following Jesus. Occasionally, a book of Biblical studies arises that even if it is seriously written, deserves to be widely known, widely read, and should be well considered. Becoming the Gospel is that kind of book. I’ll admit, gladly, that Mike is a friend,  and that I have heard him lecture on this very topic.  Dr. Gorman has several other books – some rather academic, on Paul (Apostle of the Crucified Lord, Cruciformity and Inhabiting the Cruciform God which are in many ways companions to this new work), a lovely book called Reading Revelation Responsibility and a recent one offering a “(not so) new” model of the atonement, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant. Among other things, Mike holds the Raymond E. Brown Chair in Biblical Studies and Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD.

One can learn a lot by noting who authors acknowledge and thank. When one thanks Tom Wright, Beverly Gavanta, Michael Barram, and Richard Hays (among others) for reading parts of the manuscript and offering feedback, well, you realize you are in the top ranks of New Testament work. One reviewer says “Gorman has written another superb and groundbreaking study.”  Another calls him “one of the leading Pauline scholars of our age.”  Maybe the best way to express how important this new volume is, and the acclaim it is already receiving, is to cite this endorsements from the back cover by Dean Flemming:

This book is a tour de force in missional hermeneutics. With clear exegesis and fresh theological insights, Gorman uncovers Paul’s rich and comprehensive understanding of the mission of God. The book’s central thesis, that Paul expected all Christians not only to believe the gospel, but to become the gospel, and thus to further the gospel, is completely convincing. Yet this study also packs a powerful contemporary message, challenging Christian communities to hear Paul’s invitation to become the gospel, in word and deed, where they live.

The God We Worship- An Exploration of Liturgical Theology.jpgThe God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans) $20.00 Speaking of reading widely and deeply, and growing into creative, but orthodox, lively but sensible, whole-life, culturally-engaged discipleship, there is hardly a better person to give us philosophical foundations for our deepest Christian convictions than the estimable scholar Nicholas Wolterstorff. He is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. (And, he has a chapter in the book I edited, to be announced soon, called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, maybe the most popular-level book Nick has ever found himself in!)

This new book, which I am working through carefully myself, were first given as the esteemed Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology, which are essentially evangelical equivalent of the prestigious Gifford Lectures (established in 1885 in Scotland, and still delivered and published annually. Wolterstorff has a book of those lectures, as well.) The first chapter here is introductory, “The Project: Liturgical Theology” and Wolterstorff brings his thoughtful eye to what we even mean by this phrase. This quickly alerts us that this is not a simple book of zippy steps for better – whatever that may mean – worship services. Nor is it a book about why we should conjure up more passion for an awesome God, although, I suppose I should say that the author certainly would think we need “better worship” and greater passion for God’s attributes. But this book is deeper then that, and, consequently, surely more lasting.

Cornelius Plantinga notes that Wolterstorff “writes on Christian worship with enormous expertise…This book is a flood of light. It has all of the Wolterstorff marks, including brilliant clarity and powerful illumination of the subject.”

Other back cover blurbs come from the esteemed classical and church musician Jeremy Begbie (who, like Nick, has written widely on aesthetics) and John D. Witvliet, of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Witvliet says it is “a rare kind of book that can simultaneously challenge common assumptions about theological method, make bold theological claims about the character of God, correct readings of significant theologians in the history of the church, and inspire deeper liturgical spirituality of wonder, expectation, and hope.” Wow.

There are many lectures of Dr. Wolterstorff on line: here is his first lecture from the Kantzer Lectures which should inspire you to get this book!  It’s about an hour, well-spent.

backpacking with the saints.jpgBackpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice Belden Lane (Oxford University Press) $24.95 Oh my, my outdoor experiential education friends, this is one of the ones we’ve been waiting for. We still need more really good, theologically sound books on “finding God in nature” and on the spirituality of the great outdoors. Those who read in this field know that Lane has himself been nearly a patron saint, with his excellent and lyrical Solace of Fierce Landscapes and another on geography and land metaphors in American spiritual formation, Landscapes of the Sacred. He has another heady one that we’ve really appreciated, Ravished By Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality.

I mostly want to rave about this great book, too, which, like Solace of Fierce Landscapes, is part travel narrative and part spiritual memoir and part theology of hiking. You should know that although each chapter looks great – I won’t read it until I get to sit outside, later in the season, maybe on a pile of rocks down by the Susquehanna River, if I’m lucky — but it is structured around his engagement with others who have written about faith and the outdoors; they are not all Christians, let alone Biblically-sound spiritual guides. Yet, as you surely know, we can learn much even from the misguided and odd balls (maybe we can learn especially from them!) There are chapters here on classic people from the heart of the Christian tradition such as Therese of Liseux, Thomas Traherne and Martin Luther, but there are also chapters on Gandhi and Rumi and Teilhard de Chardin. It may be jarring for some to read about the Anglican verse of the British Thomas Traherne in one chapter and the Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh and the eclectic Lutheran mysticism of statesman Dag Hammarskjold in the same book, but there you go: Lane is a wild man in more ways than one. In fact, the first two chapters are under a unit called “The Power of Wilderness and the Reading of Dangerous Texts.”

What looks particularly interesting about Backpacking with the Saints is how Lane tells about each particular author while climbing or hiking in one specific place, with chapters grouped around different legs of the journey. (In this regard, it reminded me of the classic Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster with his grouping of “Inward Disciplines” “Upward Disciplines” and “Corporate Disciplines.” Foster is himself a hiker, by the way, and wrote a book with his son Nathan about climbing the fourteeners in Colorado, so here’s hoping somebody gets Richard to review this book!)

With Lane’s complex but clearly organized format we get cool chapters such as “Venturing Out: The Irish Wilderness and Columba of Iona” or “Solitude: Bell Mountain Wilderness and Soren Kierkegaard” or “Failure: Mt. Whitney and Martin Luther.” The last chapters, by the way, are in the “fourth leg” of the journey, a grouping of entries on “returning home with gifts.” I can’t wait to get to the last chapter, “Holy Folly: Aravaipa Canyon and Thomas Merton.”  This may not be your cup of tea, but if it is, you are going to love it!

road to character.jpgThe Road to Character David Brooks (Random House) $28.00 I simply don’t understand the lurid animosity on the left against Mr. Brooks, and the nasty stuff written about him on blogs comments is inexplicable. He is, I am aware, a moderate conservative, and the tea party right thinks he is soft while the left increasingly is strident even about moderates. Maybe it is a case in point about the urgent need of this extraordinary book, in fact: we are a nation full of folks who are deeply flawed, and as we grapple with this we could become more noble people. I think Brooks is a clear and interesting writer, even though he is quite thoughtful and a bit sophisticated. His two books about the sociology of place and class — Bobos in Paradise and On Paradise Drive are among my all-time favorite reads, and the best-selling The Social Animal is very, very important, especially for any of us who care about the workings of the unconscious mind, our interior lives, and how people change. As the San Francisco Chronicle put it, “Brooks’s considerable achievement comes in his ability to elevate the unseen aspects of private experience into a vigorous and challenging conversation about what we all share.”

This new one is, simply (ha!) about character formation.  Brooks has written this book during, he admits, a period of soul searching, which gives it a certain humility, but also urgency; it is not a distant, academic bit of social criticism. Brooks has read, interviewed, and consulted widely, and the stories here are truly inspiring.

That he thanks Tim Keller for helping to shepherd him through some of this has caused some to speculate if he is moving towards some sort of Christian conversion. (He writes about Augustine and sin and even a bit about grace in this book, for crying out loud!) The Road to Character looks at a wide array of people, colorfully and caringly described, who were, in many ways, great individuals, but who had deep flaws. He looks at the remarkable Bayard Rustin (a gay socialist who was very, very influential in the life of Martin Luther King) and Dorothy Day (the spiritually traditional Catholic convert who worked for radical social change with the likes of Thomas Merton and the Berrigan brothers), President Eisenhower and a host of writers, politicos, business leaders and others who served well in their professional careers but struggled to – as Steve Garber put it in the subtitle to Fabric of Faithfulness – “weave together belief and behavior.” I don’t know for sure, but I have reason to believe that Mr. Brooks has read Garber’s substantive book.

I won’t put too much emphasis on this, but the Road to Character starts with a bit of a survey of the stuff that is often said in college commencement speeches. That my soon to be released new book (Serious Dreams) is a collection of college graduation speeches designed to offer vision and inspiration for young adults to take up their vocations in the world, for the sake of the common good, is, well, perhaps an example that not all such speeches are inane, offering advice about listening to the self, or focusing on one’s own bliss or suggesting other sorts of self-centeredness. How we’ve shifted from the virtues of humility and service to self-aggrandizement and a theology of Self is a complex and important story, and he tells it with his characteristic blend of social science, a bit of history and a dash of good wit.

Please listen to this wonderful “On Point” radio interview with David Brooks here. He not only holds up examples of those whose character has been shown to be virtuous, but echos material in the book about how we got away from this as a culture. (Surprise, he does not blame the lenient 60s and the boomers.) I bet you’ll be as intrigued as Beth and I were as we listened to this amazing stuff about faith and formation and character and theology on NPR, and you’ll want to form a smart book club to discuss this splendid new volume.

Believe AND Think, Act, Believe.jpgBelieve: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus Randy Frazee, editor (Zondervan) $24.99

Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ Randy Frazee (Zondervan) $15.99

If some of the above titles remind us of the need to “grow up” in Christ, to seek creative and energetic ways to deepen our knowledge and maturity in faith, and to read widely in order to discern the contours of faithful discipleship in our age, then I think it is helpful to name these two books designed, mostly, it seems, for new believers. Since so very few churches have “catechism” for adults, and we all can benefit from knowing a bit about what we believe, and why we believe it, and how such beliefs can transform us into the people God wants us to be, it might be wise to see this pair of books as helpful resources for anyone doing adult education, Christian formation, Sunday school, or the mentoring of others, new believers or not.

Believe me, I think you could use these in fruitful ways, if not in a full class of seekers or new church members or young Christians, but in one-on-one mentoring, spiritual formation sessions, or “disciple-making.” Maybe you could use it to inspire your own curriculum plans, or draw on it, bit by bit. Use it as a resource for your own teaching, or share it with somebody who you think maybe would appreciate a guide to being grounded in the basics.

Here’s the deal with how they are arranged.

Believe: Living the Story of the Bible is not exactly an abridged NIV Bible, but it is almost entirely Scripture, in a Bible-sized hardback, with the passages and texts arranged around three major themes. These themes are offered under the headlines Think, Act, Do Each has a subtitle that explains what they mean by Think, Act, Be: “What Do I Believe?” and “What Should I Do?” and “Who Am I Becoming?”  Each chapter within each of the three sections has a “key idea” and a “key verse” but then mostly is just long passages of the Bible, annotated in italics with some basic context stuff, or single verses offered. I’ve perused many of these annotations, what they say to frame the passages, and these brief connective, explanatory comments are clear, evangelical, helpfully designed for assisting people to see the truthfulness of these portions of the unfolding Story of God.

Think / What Do I Believe? This section includes 10 chapters about God, salvation, the Bible, the church, humanity, compassion, service, and more.

Act / What Should I Do?  This offers Scripture readings on worship, prayer, surrender, spiritual gifts, sharing one’s faith, stewardship of money and time, and other basic Christian practices.

The Be / Who Am I Becoming?  The last portion is a 10 chapter study of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, self-control, hope, patience, kindness/goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, humility) offering Bible portions from Old and New Testaments.

There are 30 chapters to this, and there is a nice, basic 30-session study guide in the back, offering a few helpful questions for readers to ponder or for groups to discuss. I should be clear that although there is this handy format and organized structure and some apparatus naming key verses and offering annotations, this really is mostly Bible. It says on the back “It’s one thing to know the story of the Bible. It’s another thing to live it.” Believe really is grounded in carefully selected Scripture, offering a unique spiritual growth experience that takes participants on this journey of thinking, doing, and becoming more Christ-like in character. I am sure you could quibble or refine his rubric here, but Frazee is helping if offering us ten key beliefs, tend key practices, and ten key virtues. This is an amazing resource.

Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ is a companion to Believe and is arranged in the same three units, adding a fourth called “Transformation” which presents more good information exploring how inner transformation happens and the benefits of deepening one’s own journey towards Christ-likeness. It covers lots of ground, but remains accessible and clear — useful stuff. For those that care about such things, Frazee and his co-writer Robert Noland draw on profound insights from philosopher Dallas Willard (of course!) especially the valuable V.I.M. approach explored in Willard’s important Renovation of the Heart. (V.I.M. stands for Vision, Intent and Means.) These last few chapters on the “think-act-be” revolution” is really, really helpful for those who don’t have much an intentional strategy about Christian growth, and it is well worth considering his insight about the relationship of believing and belonging, and the essential connection between doing and growing. It is my experience that few churches (or even para-church groups who are on the front lines of mentoring and discipling eager learners) have much of a strategy to guide life-giving teaching in discipleship.  This can help.

This paperback book is laden with good stuff, contains solid Biblical teaching about all manner of basic, sensible, Christian practices, written with lively, evangelical passion. Here’s what it says on the back cover:

In Think, Act, Be Like Jesus bestselling author and pastor Randy Frazee helps you grasp the vision of the Christian life and get started on the journey of discipleship.

In thirty short chapters, Frazee unpacks the ten key beliefs, ten key practices, and ten key virtues that help disciples to think, act, and be more like Jesus Christ. As he unfolds the revolutionary dream of Jesus, he shows how our lives fit into the big picture of what God is doing in the world.

I know, dear friends, that some of you don’t like formulaic approaches or numbered points or too much simple appeals to Bible verses to guide you towards the deeper waters of faith. Okay, read the mystics and postmodern theologies and ponder the transformational potential of ritual or find God in popular culture or missional service; I do, or try to. Use Brian McLaren’s extraordinary We Make the Road By Walking as an essential guide for progressive spiritual movement into this world of personal change and communal growth and social change. I’ve recommended it often as a year-long story- journey through the Bible in ways that are designed to be transformational.

But I am also convinced that without revisiting the basic, historically-grounded, classic matters, offered in Think, Act, Be Like Jesus we become unmoored and disheveled. Our programs of spiritual direction become vague conversations about discerning one’s own inner voice without much concrete guidance in formulating reliable application to process and integrate Biblical wisdom into our own transformation.

Thomas Bergler is right in his examination of how youth ministry visions and practices, and a pop culture of immediacy and sensation has caused us all to drift away from solid, good stuff. His aforementioned Eerdmans book, From Here to Maturity might be best to start you thinking deeply about how transforming spiritual growth can be seen in your faith community. Think, Act, Believe Like Jesus unpacks so much, in such readable, usable nuggets, that I think it would be a valuable resource for anyone wanting to know how to lead others into maturity in Christ, even if it is a tad basic for some tastes. If your church doesn’t offer you this kind of stuff, take charge of your own faith journey, work through this, and see where it all leads.

This post originally appeared at the blog Booknotes.


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