Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

I’m very stoked, pumped, excited, and animated to be heading to Rochester College this May 16-18 for “Streaming: Biblical Conversations From the Missional Frontier”. Streaming is an in-depth exploration about the adventure of ministry. It  will focus on the book of James and will offer ministers and church leaders biblical resources to help them lead God’s people in a missional era. Mark Love – the churches of Christ missional yoda and peculiarly dedicated Bob Dylan fan, has put together, along with JoPa Productions, an awesome line-up of missional thinkers.

The featured speakers will be Scot McKnight and Miroslav Volf! Wow!!

Many of you already know Scot McKnight. He’s a Christian blogosphere rockstar (if there can be such a thing), has written a first rate book on how to read scripture and is not afraid to call John Piper’s questions of whether or not “Jesus preached Paul’s gospel” stupid, well “irritating!” His newest book is One.Life.

Perhaps less people know Miroslav Volf, but you should. Volf is as first-rate as first-rate gets when it comes to theology, and his book Exclusion and Embrace is a modern-day classic when it comes to race, identity and reconciliation. His newest release, Allah: A Christian Response is supposed to be excellent as well.

Just those two guys make Streaming worth the mere $189 for the registration. Plus, other incredible folks you’ll want to be around will be there. People like me, Jack Reese, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.

I hope you’ll join me this May in Michigan.

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Timothy Keller, “Generous Justice.”

Dan & Chip Heath, “Switch”

TNIV Reference Bible

Larry Osbourne, “Sticky Church”

Rodney Stark, “What Americans Really Believe”

Chick-Fil-A Leadercast

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit

Q

Gabe Lyons, “The Next Christians”

Behance Action Journal

Barnes & Noble Nook

Read A Book (a rant)

Posted: December 8, 2010 in books, leadership, life, reading, words

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about the importance – indeed, the necessity – of reading. Most blog readers are readers in general, but interestingly, I keep running into people who envisage reading and readers with skepticism and sometimes even disdain. Certainly, not everyone enjoys reading on the same level or can read with the same speed and comprehension as others, but in the last year I’ve heard some really distressing news regarding readership in America.

The news can be summed up by saying this: Most people don’t read! One thing I can tell you about “most people” is that the ones who truly don’t read are not producing in work and life at the level they should. They are not leaders or influencers in their fields, not great followers and are making big mistakes that others have already made in every area of their lives. To my horror, I’ve heard the following recently, (1) after attaining their final level of education, most people never read another non-fiction book; (2) “I just don’t see the point” (of reading), and (3) “I just don’t have the time.”

These are troubling statement if for no other reason than it has been proven throughout the centuries that it is through reading that cultures advance, that technologies emerge, that discovery is made, and that better ideas evolve. To not read is dangerous, not just for the person, but for society as a whole.

As a matter of fact, people who choose not to read (and reading is volitional) are saying at least these four things:

1. I Can’t Handle Complex Ideas. Complex ideas (and the most important issues in life are complex; religion, politics, life and death, meaning, etc…) cannot be handled in an hour on TV or in sound-bytes. Complex ideas have to be unpacked, there are foundational philosophies that have to be explained and advocated and books are the best and fullest way to do this. A friend of mine has said of theology, “Never believe anything that can be reduced to a bumper-sticker.” Yet that is what people frequently do. We reduce complex ideas to nuggets. In church contexts, when we do this, we shouldn’t be surprised when thinking people pose questions to us that we don’t respond well to. In response to legitimate questions, we come up with something pithy but vacant. Or worse, we believe things that are popular, but wrong.

2. I Know Everything Already. If I’m right and the most important and complex ideas need unpacking and we do so by engaging ideas in reading, then to not do so means we think we know everything we need to know already. At the very least you may be saying, “I may not know everything already, but I know all I want/ need to know.” This is deliberate ignorance. Newsflash: You didn’t learn everything you need to know in kindergarten! By not reading, the world is passing you by. New information, new perspectives on old information, news, analysis and insight are passing you by and eventually, without reading, you will become obsolete.

3. I Don’t Like to Be Intellectually Challenged. The very nature of good reading places the reader – somewhat – under the influence of the writer. Many folks don’t like this. I’ve known and know some people who cannot stand being intellectually challenged. For some, being challenged is tantamount to saying everything they’ve ever known is wrong. But you can see the obvious weakness of this position. Everything any of us have ever learned we learned only because we didn’t know it already.

4. Spiritual Life is Unimportant to Me. The world is made of words. Genesis’ account of creation tells us God “spoke,” and John tells us that Jesus is “the WORD made flesh.” Yet these are spiritual commitments and interpretations that some may not share, so I’ll go one step further. Research has repeatedly demonstrated the 2nd strongest factor for teenagers adopting the Christian faith is reading. Simply put: The more one reads the more likely they will develop faith. Faith and reading are sojourners. You cannot do one well without doing the other.

Let me put it simply: If you’re not reading you’re failing and falling behind. Don’t do this to yourself

I read a lot. I don’t even get to read everything that I want.  At this very moment, I have 633 articles waiting review on Google Reader and I just cleared it out 5 minutes ago. I am in the midst of 4 great books, and am constantly reading and reviewing books, reading articles for blogs, reading for teaching, to better my leadership and sermon preparation. Certainly, most people don’t need to read this much – and if statistics are true, most people don’t. A major reason reading frustrates many of us is because there are certain skills to reading that no one teaches us. This is not an indictment of others or an elevation of myself, it just means that speakers, teachers, leaders and opinion-makers must read and stay information-current to do what they do well.

Occasionally, I’m asked about my reading habits, so here they are.

  1. Read Widely – As a minister I read both academic theology and popular level material, but more than that, it’s important to remain current on leadership, marketing, communications, technology, etc…. Plus, good leaders read works from multiple perspectives. Never become locked in to one particular human perspective. Think big. Think broad.
  2. Know When to Stop – Not every book deserves to be finished. 80% of the content is in 20% of the book. Because publishers generally think people won’t buy shorter books, most books have “filler” – a good bit of it, in fact. Skip it! Read and incorporate the important parts. Keep the rest for reference.
  3. Read “How To Read A Book” – I was required to read this book in graduate school. In it, Charles Van Dooren (yes, the Charles Van Dooren who cheated on “21” as was chronicled in the movie “Quiz Show) teaches you how to understand how books are written and how to read them to follow the author’s “argument.” You’re missing out on your reading if you don’t know how to read. Reading actually isn’t natural.
  4. Force Yourself – Reading is a discipline. When you’re working through a book, make yourself complete a certain # of pages every day. You’ll be amazed at how you start to tear through books at, say, 50 pages/ day. I know people who exercise their bodies for hours a day, but never exercise their mind. Reading is exercise for your mind and heart.
  5. Use Google Reader – RSS feeds are incredible. In 10 minutes you can keep up with a great deal of what’s happening in the world and in your particular interest. This is when blogs and finding good bloggers matters.

My guess is that by incorporating these 5 simple exercisess, you will enjoy and increase your reading. Remember, reading engages the heart and mind while leading us to new places in thought and deed. My hope is that you would become a lover of ideas and that those ideas would change the world.

I have long been a fan of Brian McLaren – both the man and his writings. We’ve e-mailed back and forth through the years, been apart of a scripture project together (The Voice), shared multiple meals, and Brian spoke an important blessing into my life at a critical time. His “A New Kind of Christian” came along for me at the perfect time; a time when I thought I was becoming disillusioned with faith, but ultimately, I was disillusioned with the version of Christian practice I’d thoughtlessly inherited. Brian showed this to me. This is, perhaps, Brian’s greatest gift; causing people to reexamine, search, study, investigate and re-conclude. In this way, Brian is a one man Hegelian Dialectic.  This is why so many people distrust and despise him and his work while others love him. In “A New Kind of Christianity, (ANKoCty)” Brian’s newest release, McLaren will not disappoint his fan or his critics.

ANKofCty endeavors to consider 10 questions that Brian says are transforming the faith. Truth is, these questions are not transforming the faith, but Brian wants them to, and he’s right to want it. The ten questions: (1) The Narrative Question, (2) The Authority Question; (3) The God Question, (4) The Jesus Question, (5) The Gospel Question, (6) The Gospel Question, (7) The Church Question, (8) The Sex Question, (9) The Future Question, and (10) The Pluralism Question are good ones, and Brian hopes to help push us ahead as we think through them together.

At the heart of ANKofCty is what McLaren calls, the “Greco-Roman” reading of scripture. This, it seems, is the root of our collective problems in terms of church and culture. Brian argues that freeing ourselves from this narrative releases us to answer the 10 questions Brian poses more faithfully. Within the Greco-Roman reading of scripture, Brian argues, there is no room for story or development, which ultimately gives rise to a “six-line narrative” that prejudices our reading of scripture. McLaren argues the “six-line narrative” leads us to all the wrong conclusions about everything – which Brian endeavors to demonstrate throughout the remaining pages of ANKofCty. In the end, Brian argues that we have read the Bible backwards with our filter coming through Paul, the apostles, Augustine, Plato and the Platonism and philosophical systems that are foreign to the true nature of the scriptures. Therefore, our view of Jesus and the Bible is not the Jesus OF the Bible, but a character – or caricature – inherited by thousands of years of interpretation lodged and birthed by the Greco-Roman narrative and Greek philosophy. This is Brian’s central thesis and gives rise to his conclusions.

I think Brian is both right and wrong. In fact, having read nearly all his books, I have never felt more strongly that he is both right on and far off course. This is what I mean: In terms of McLaren’s analysis of the Greco-Roman reading, he is dead on. The problem is that there is no way to avoid this, no way to time travel back through scripture and get something other than what we already got. This is where Brian is right and wrong. Having been raised in a “Restoration” movement, I know all too well the nonsensical pitfalls of thinking you can just skip over history, doctrine, theology, and theological and ecclesial development and get back to “the real thing.”

It cannot be done!

At best you miss the richness of the tradition that has given life to the faith that gives us life, at worst, you become a partisan to largely uneducated, ununified and incoherent belief system. If we were able leap backward over the hurdles of history to uncover a new way – or the grand old way – to read and interpret text without the obstacles course of 2000 years worth of interpretation and thought, then we would be forced to just to pick a method, system or interpretive lens and go with it arbitrarily.

Been there. Done that. Thank you very much.

All of that to say this; even Brian is coming at the text from somewhere “post-Jesus” in terms of history. Is he right in arguing that the method we’ve chosen is bad for hosts of reasons? Yes.  Is it possible for us to read and interpret Jesus the way McLaren wants us to, without the narratives that have been imposed heretofore? Unfortunately, no.

This means that all of our conclusions, even Brian’s, have to be held loosely, with epistemological humility. Perhaps it is my own ecclesial history, but something in my gut churns at the thought of dismissing church history and the schools of thought developed through it. For this reason, I’m open to the idea that I may be seeing shadows and experiencing paranoia where there need not be. I may be reacting to something not explicit in the pages of ANKofCty.

At the same time, Brian has offered the most helpful way forward on a number of issues that are becoming tremendously important to more and more people – sexuality, pluralism, etc…. He is far from convincing his critics or those entrenched in either/or, black/white, privileged / unprivileged thinking, but Brian’s conclusions, I think, are generally pointing the church in the right direction – though I need more convincing in some areas, myself. Both critics and fans of Brian know where he’s going with many of the issues addressed in ANKofCty before they turn the first page, but what is good about his work is that he provides a useable way forward for conversation (for those willing to have it). Using the Biblical text, McLaren at least gets the ball rolling and establishes what can become common language around these issues. This, I think, is the great service Brian has done for us.

In addition, Brian explores Romans in ways many will find broadening. In fact, I read ANKofCty with my Bible open. Trust me: this does not happen often! What more can you ask of a book? Brian forced me to look into the scriptures and I found myself looking differently. That alone is worth the price of purchase. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to read Romans the same way after engaging ANKoCty.

Likely the most out of character elements of ANKofCty comes in chapters 12 and 13 dealing with The Jesus Question. To articulate his vision of Jesus, McLaren takes on two vocal critics who happen to hold in common the ability to be consistently wrong and increasingly sought-after.  For those in the know, the critics are fairly easy to recognize, though Brian does not name them. What is out of character is Brian’s pointed language. Having spent time with Brian multiple times, I’ve found him to be irenic and generous, these chapters weren’t. At the end of chapter 12, I wrote in the margin, “Bam! One in ___________ _______________’s kisser.”

Between you and I, the rebuke was long overdue. Overdue not because scores needed settling, but because this particular critic has, and often does, misread Jesus and the Bible, offering an alternative gospel, in my view. This critic seems to envision Christian leadership as a full-contact blood sport and Brian gives him what he wants. Brian skillfully disarmed the violent, warrior-only version of Jesus, which had the added benefit of fitting nicely into Brian’s overall aims in ANKofCty. At the same time, he gave one particular critic the only kind of conversation he seems to understand. Harsh! In this way, the rebuke can be described as incarnational – speaking to people in their own language.

If Brian’s goal is to get people thinking and talking, ANKofCty is a success. Clearly not all will embrace his vision, yet others will be freed to pursue the Spirit in wild and new directions. Ultimately, ANKofCty is more than worth the time. I suggest reading it community. Drink from it slowly and invest in the ideas, maybe even choosing one question and digging deep over time. This is not a book for singular and individual thought. Brian has returned to what he does best – challenging the church. And he does so brilliantly this go round.

—————————-

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Viral Bloggers for the purpose of this review.

How To Read

Posted: March 16, 2010 in books, leadership, reading, words

I read a lot. And I don’t even get to read everything that I want.  At this very moment, I have 633 articles waiting review on Google Reader and I just cleared it out 5 minutes ago. I am in the midst of 4 great books, and am constantly reading and reviewing books, articles for blogs, reading for teaching, to better my leadership and sermon preparation. Certainly, most people don’t need to read this much – and if statistics are true, most people don’t read. A major reason reading frustrates many of us is because there are certain skills to reading that no one teaches us. This is not an indictment of others or an elevation of myself, it just means that speakers, teachers, leaders and opinion-makers must read and stay information current to do what they do well.

Occasionally, I’m asked about my reading habits, so here are.

  1. Read Widely – As a minister I read both academic theology and popular level material, but more than that, it’s important to remain current on leadership, marketing, communications, technology, etc…. Plus, good leaders read works from multiple perspectives. Never become locked in to one particular human perspective. Think big. Think broad.
  2. Know When to Stop – Not every book deserves to be finished. 80% of the content is in 20% of the book. Because publishers generally think people won’t buy shorter books, most books have “filler” – a good bit of it, in fact. Skip it. Read and incorporate the important parts. Keep the rest for reference.
  3. Read “How To Read A Book” – I was required to read this book in graduate school. In it, Charles Van Dooren (yes, the Charles Van Dooren who cheated on “21” as was chronicled in the movie “Quiz Show”) teaches you how to understand how books are written and how to read them to follow the author’s “argument.” You’re missing out on your reading if you don’t know how to read. Reading is less natural than you’ve been told.
  4. Force Yourself – Reading is a discipline. When you’re working through a book make yourself complete a certain # of pages every day. You’ll be amazed at how you start to tear through books at, say, 50 pages/ day. I know people who exercise their bodies for hours a day, but never exercise their mind. Reading is exercise for your mind and heart.
  5. Use Google Reader – RSS feeds are incredible. In 10 minutes you can keep up with a great deal of what’s happening in the world and in your particular interest. This is when blogs, and finding good bloggers matters.

My guess is that by incorporating these 5 simple principles, you will enjoy and increase your reading. Remember, reading engages the heart and mind while leading us to new places in thought and deed. My hope is that you would becoming a lover of ideas and that those ideas would change the world.

A Life of Reading

Posted: September 24, 2009 in Bible, books, church, missional, reading, speaking, words, writing

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