Posts Categorized as: book reviews
As I write this post, Easter is right around the corner. I love Easter! The resurrection is the single most important historical fact in the world. I rejoice every year that sin has been broken and light came into the world! Through the Pascual Event the redemption of the world began. While I deeply rejoice during this season, I am always tempered in heart by the injustice and suffering I see around our world today. The experience of Easter has still not come for many people in the world today. For the last 20+ years I have had the privilege and sorrow of trying to be part of the solution to this issue. And, as mission practitioner and professor I am always looking for wise ways to help people to engage in being part of what God is doing for those who are most vulnerable. Over these decades I have gone through several iterations of trying to be helpful: Prophet (I’m not very good at that), Activist (exhausting and unproductive for me), Systems-guy (lacking passion) and even scholar (more or less). I have read mountains of books and articles to try to understand what the wise way of engaging this problem is. I’m happy to say that my friend, Stephan Bauman* has written a wonderful book to help people begin the process of standing with the vulnerable.
When I call this book “wise,” it’s a high compliment for me. I know lots of people who become single-issue activists. There are rafts of folks trying to point out where the church is off-base and there are oodles of impassioned pleas for some kind of radical steps. Seldom do you hear voices advocating a way that is both possible, wise, honest and sustainable. So, let me tell you some things that you might need as a caveat before reading this book:
First—this is not an explanation of injustice or an exegesis of poverty. For you analytical folks, the book does not go into macro-economics or the theologically variant positions held by those searching for a true antibody to the global causes of evil. Rather, it is a book that calls us personally to get involved at a whole-life level.
Secondly, for the passionate side of the room, this book is not the common “rah-rah” about how the corrupt American church has abandoned the true gospel and how the tears of a thousand victims accuse us from the yada yada yada. This book is an invitation to get involved with what is hurtful to God. So, for those of you who tend to drop a book at the first hint of passion—keep reading. While the book starts out with an impassioned plea from Stephan, it gets more practical and helpful as you continue to read. And, for those of you who will start to get bogged down in the logic behind a sustainable pathway to wise engagmement—keep reading! The end of the book is a wonderful reminder of what we can do!
Here are some things that I like the book:
- I know Stephan. He is both a remarkably gifted leader (on a truly global scale) but he also a poet, a great Dad and a faithful husband. He is smart, gifted and yet surprisingly humble. Do he and I disagree? Probably. But I would never start there. He and Belinda show the fruit of the Spirit and my wife and I just simply love them—we always want to be closer to Jesus when we’re around them. That says a lot to me.
- The book is a catalyst rather than an explanation. Poverty and Injustice are categories that are excruciatingly hard to explain. Categorically, for many people there are no words to explain the horrors of the LRA in Uganda or the DR Congo. Sex-trafficking and starvation are not like biological categories—they tend to be protean and inhabited with evil. Even that statement is hard to understand unless you’ve seen and felt it. “Possible” is a book that says that while we may not understand it, we can be part of the solution.
- In the book, the central character is God. I love this. Some people sell books or a media empire based on their own personality. Stephan constantly points back to the fact that God is the agent and we are the participants! It is God who holds the responsibility for the movement and the success. He is the standard of what is just.
- The stories Stephan uses are people and situations that he personally is familiar with. Almost anyone can use data or stories from others to prove almost any point they like, but Stephan has lived and walked with the people he discusses in the book. That’s pretty rare.
- The appendices are extremely helpful. Stephan took some very complicated theories and practices and made them accessible for anyone willing to simply take the time to work a little bit.
I have two small critiques of the book from my experience as a missionary and as a teacher. First, the book doesn’t address the nature and effect of the spiritual powers that are involved in systematic evils. Second, there isn’t a section on the character formation needed to sustain a lifetime of involvement with injustice and outreach. But, those things being said, no one book can be all things to all people. Stephan’s point was not specifically to explain but to catalyze. In this department he succeeds admirably. If nothing else, read the list of endorsements in the front pages from some of Christianity’s most influential leaders and you’ll understand that this is a book you’ll want to read.
Stephan, thanks for writing. Reader, I hope you’ll take the time to at least give the book a chance. Happy Easter!
*Stephan is the President of World Relief. For more information on World Relief, please visit their website soon. For more of his poetry and writing, check out stephanbauman.com. And, just for anyone wondering, Neither Stephan nor the publisher asked me to write this review. I just wanted to share.
Dark Days Indeed:
Several of my readers and students have asked me to address some of the recent social issues that are plaguing our world today. I have hesitated to put my opinions about these issues into print because of the current climate of volatile dialogue. You and I live in an era where making any kind of statement instantly labels you: bigot or activist, hateful fear-monger or hateful defender of the status-quo. I recently read that we are in an era where people don’t want freedom of speech, we want freedom from speech (that bothers us). One person warned me that if I didn’t say something, my silence on these issues implicates me on the side of the bad guys… what’s a teacher/pastor to do?
There is a season for provocateurs and prophets. I used to think that I was someone who played both roles. As I’ve grown older, I don’t think I have either the wisdom or authority to do so. My roles of husband, Dad, pastor and teacher have more than enough challenge.
It is true. We are plagued by some really difficult issues today: Injustice, Trafficking, ISIS, War, Political disasters, Racial divides etc. It can be easy to be completely discouraged when your personal life is hurtful and the society you live in seems to disintegrate around you. What we need is a miracle. Thanks to God, there is a great new book about this.
Recently, I received an invitation to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book, “Miracles.” Once I accepted, I got a free book and an introduction to a well-organized group of fellow readers. I was unable to read the entire book in one sitting but, when I finally finished, I was determined to write a review that would encourage others to read this book. As I was reading the book, I began to realize that God was giving me a way to respond to the darkness of our era. Rather than opining on particular issues, this was a chance to bring encouragement and healing rather than more division. I want to start with a quick review of the book. Here are a few things that I want to share with you that I liked:
- This is a readable book. Make no mistake, it’s well-researched and full of complex issues but it is written in a way that a broad audience can enjoy and grow from this book. He does not shy away from some very difficult issues but the tone is never one of speaking down to someone.
- The key elements in understanding the big issues of miracles are dealt with (check out the subtitle on the pic above). Metaxas discusses the nature of miracles, the reason they happen, how to determine what a miracle is, why they sometimes don’t happen and discusses miracles in the Bible. Then he gives a series of miracle stories from real people. This leads to my next point:
- These are stories from Metaxas’ own life or people he personally knows. This allows the reader to see the experiential aspect of the topic. The stories are amazing and so moving! No hagiography here; just real people with real miracle stories.
- Chapter six could be seen as the fulcrum for the whole book. I’m saying this as a Pastor. As a professor, I liked chapter two the best because of the tight logic and good research about the ontology of miracles. However, almost no one I love gives one hoot about the word “ontology,” let alone what it means. What almost everyone wants to know is this: what will God do for me? We don’t mean to be myopic but pain in life does that: we don’t see the peripherals (even if they’re important). This chapter addresses the difficult questions that apply to our personal experience with miracles.
- The book is a harbinger of hope. In our world today, there are myriads of people bashing the church, pointing out where the strong ones fail, critiquing models of ministry and decrying the deterioration of society. Few voices are shouting that God is still active, still powerful and present. This book give hope in a tangible way and I loved that.
We all want God to do miracles in our lives. I think this is normal and should be expected by those of us who believe the Bible is true. Every day I am praying for miracles to happen in my life…I’m not kidding. When I pray for Kate’s legs or Shannon’s healing, I ask God to miraculously heal them. I am extremely urgent in my prayers for my house to sell. I call out to God to help my Mom with her Alzheimer’s. Yet sometimes the long days and unanswered prayers can extinguish the fervor of faith. So, on top of just asking for miracles, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open for the miracles that God has already done for you and for others. This book is a good part of that!
When I do this in my own life, I think of my son-in-the-faith, Kevin.
There are no geographical, historical or logical reasons that we’re so close. Nonetheless, God has healed the social and racial divide that would have separated us. God has made us family! His entire life is a miracle and I thank God almost every day for bringing him into our lives…Kevin remains on my daily prayer list.
I also think of how God urged us to move to Texas. We did not know that Kate needed a more accurate diagnosis when we felt Him tell us to leave. I marvel at the doctors God has brought into our lives. I think of how God has used our local church in NE to help my Dad during these dark days… the list of miracles in my life goes on for a long, long time. Even though God has yet to answer some of my prayers, He has lovingly given me a great amount of large and small miracles! The give-and-take process of asking for miracles and then counting the ones already given has helped me have a more robust faith in God despite my sorrows and heartache. Metaxas said it well, “True faith is not a leap into the dark, it is a leap into the light” (pg14). It is in this tension that we walk—it is the already and not-yet. The light shows that God has not left us alone. He is still acting despite all the evidence being heaped up against peace.
Can you imagine the era during the birth of Jesus—the Romans, the oppression, the injustice, the loss of hope? It was during the worst of times that God sent his Son to dwell with us; to suffer with us. In our own era of darkness, there is hope that God is still working. It might be quiet and hidden in a manger, but He is here and He sees us. I hope you are able to read this book. It re-ignites my faith and I think we all need that from time-to-time…especially during the Christmas season…especially if this season brings heartache. God is with us in joy and blessing, and in pain and poverty. He is with us now.
Blessings on you. Merry Christmas and may God give you miracles.
*I am not getting any reward or compensation from this review. I’m hoping that someday I might get to meet Eric Metaxas… but no guarantees…