Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together

My Rate – Must Read

Level – Fairly easy, short to moderate length.

Summary
A book about how to be a disciple written by someone who apparently isn’t very good at it. As usual, I don’t have a very good summary of what this book is about. The best summary of the books is right there as the subtitle – grace for people who can’t get their act together. I don’t know how to add to that. There are 10 chapters (20ish pages each) with a short introduction and even shorter conclusion.

My Thoughts
This is what a book about discipleship should be. This might be the best book I’ve read this year, certainly the best ‘Christian’ book of the year, probably the best in a while. I was given a copy of this book to review, but I may actually go buy a few more to hand out. So, what makes it so good? Was there anything revolutionary in this book for me? Honestly, no. There was almost nothing new and different for me, other than a growing jealously of his writing style.

Why would I want more copies of this book then? Because it is the best book to give out to people who ‘try’ hard to be ‘good’. I resonated deeply with his background, in the fundamentalist/moralistic sects of the baptist world. It probably took me until my 20’s to really understand Grace and the Gospel. To his subtitle, I already know I don’t have together and never will, and understand that this is the need for grace. However, there are so many people who don’t yet know this. Wilson is a master at saying what needs to be said in a way that will be heard by those who need to hear. He writes with the obliviously well worn heart of a pastor who has seen people burn themselves out or tear themselves down.

Buy this book for a new believer. Buy this book for the old believer you know who is always trying to ‘be’ better and is confused as to why they can’t. Buy this book if you disciple anyone, or lead any small group. Buy this book if you work with youth or college students. Buy this book for anyone new to the Biblical concept of Grace. Finally, go ahead and get if for yourself. It is a fun, enlightening read. I just pulled up amazon and it is less than $9. Admit it to yourself, that is less than you spent last time you went to one of those weight your ice cream places.

I rarely ever hold pages, or underline/make notes in non-academic books (things other than commentaries or systematics), but I just flipped back through this and found 15 dogeared pages. Maybe the most surprising is how broad they are, everything from what it means to be a disciple with examples from Isaiah, to issues with American Christianity and consumerism, to depression and struggling with your faith, and coincidentally to me as I am studying this right now – some good teaching from the Sermon on the Mount.

This book really is a go to book for what it means to be a disciple and a must read for anyone interested in the topic of being a follower of Jesus. The depth of the theology and pastoral messaging was incredible, while at the same time the book was funny and honest. He writes the way a non-pretend theologian blogger would write if he were to write a book.

* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Music Friday – Broken Bones

I haven’t done it in a while, so here is another Wolves at the Gate song, from their latest CD Types & Shadows. I’m torn on the videos for this whole CD. I like that they decided to put all the words up, because the words in these songs are incredible. On the other hand, with the exception of ‘The Fountain’, all of the videos look like ice cream and sprinkles.

Check out the words, though, I really like the line here where he says

“Don’t be nervous to face the truth that you’re not fine, you never were,
So don’t be frightened to see the Light when you open up your eyes”

Book Review: Mile Marker Zero

Mile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West — William McKeen

My Rating – Put It On The List

Level – Short to moderate in length, but reads longer, easy to moderate read

Summary
I’m torn on the summary. It can be summed up in a basic sentence, or it would take a whole page to do justice to the craziness of this book. essentially, it is about Key West, way back when. When Key West wasn’t a tourist trap, when it was the wild west of modern America. This is post landbarron, like Flager, and celebrity, like Hemingway, but pre-over commercialization. There were as-yet unknown writers like Corcoran, McGuane, and Buffet. Hunter S. Thompson among others makes an appearance.

All to say, if you grew up with the legends of the Conch Republic, read this book, if you’ve never heard the stories of the way things were, it will either be dull or incredibly fascinating.

My Thoughts
So, I did grow up the stories of Key West, especially from my dad, who visited more often in his lost years. In fact, we took a pilgrimage, driving the 800+ plus miles from Atlanta, when I was maybe 12 or so. In a somewhat odd coincidence my dad actually grew up next to where Vaughn Cochran, proprietor of the Black Fly and secondary character in these Key West chronicles, spent his summers. Actually, it was my dad who loaned me this book.

Anyway, this book is a lot of fun. If you’ve spent time in Mallory Square or read the autobiographies of Jimmy Buffett or Hunter S. Thompson, you’ll get a lot out of this. It is all the craziness you’d expect and then some. Plus, some somewhat odd and data funny parts, like the little crew down there getting members only jackets with fake name to wear as the walked around getting drunk and partying.

There is a just an interesting mix of writers, musicians, and artist, you have to wonder why it never really got the popularity of some of the other historical places for such people. Maybe because it was at the bottom of the country, inhabited by nomadic Southerners so forgotten than the US Army once accidentally invaded the island; but probably mostly the commercialization tha followed. Ironically, Buffet’s own Parrot Head/Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise stores are currently part of the problem, a victim of his success.

 

Book Review: The Christian Life

The Christian LIfe: A Doctrinal Introduction

Rating – Must Read

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
The subtitle of this book is really illustrative of what this book is about. It is an introduction to doctrine for Christians, more specifically reformed theology. This is probably the best intro book I’ve ever read. You won’t get the full intro that you’d need to tackle Systematic Theology, there is no doctrine of church, sacrament, eschatology, etc., but his chapters on man, sin, grace, election/adoption, justification, and christian living are possibly unmatched in their accessibility to the average Christian.

I’d highly recommend this book for anyone looking to understand more about doctrine, to go above a Sunday School level, and it may even work as a gateway book into deeper study of theology. Ferguson was a theologian and professor, but this book is written by a pastor first and foremost and can easily be read by any Christian at any level of education and knowledge.

My Thoughts
If I’ve somehow been unclear, I’m really high on this book. Clocking in under 200 pages but with 18 chapters, anyone can hope in and out of the different doctrinal chapters with ease. As I mentioned above, this is a great intro for anyone looking to expand their knowledge. It is also a great reminder to pastor and theologians of the basics of doctrine. A way to bring those who greater knowledge back down to a simpler level, a more concise study of what others need to know.

This is written almost as a series of sermons and could be a great book for a Bible study or community group looking for something to read. For pastors and elders in the church, this should be the go to suggested reading for anyone inquiring about doctrine. Overall, it is a must read for every Christian.

Book Review: Katharine and Martin Luther

Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk

Rating –  If you have time

Level – Easy read, short to medium length

Summary
For the most part the book is about the marriage of Katharina and Marin Luther. The first few chapters look at the two of them individually, then their life together, culminating in the death of Martin. The book is at its best, not necessarily discussion their marriage, but when getting into the minutia of life in the early modern period. The book is at it’s worst when the author seems surprised by the fact that life was hard for women 500 years ago.

If you are looking for an interesting book about the marriage between a former monk and former nun, this is probably not it. There are interesting insights, but it is far from a good history, there is a good bit of editorializing and comparing them to marriages of today. There is a little bit about the famous Table Talks and their life together mentoring and growing the next generation of reformers, but not nearly enough. In my view, this should be the centerpiece of a book about their marriage. It truly was revolutionary, but the author instead focuses her surprise on the fact that Martin loved and respected Katharina despite believing the Bible to the the Work of God.

My Thoughts
It should be pretty clear from above that I was a little disappointed in this book. The author goes in and out of interesting historical facts to discussing her shock that someone could read the Bible, believe it, especially as it pertains to the so-called ‘roles of marriage’ and then still love their wife. She starts with a good history of the issues women face, and they are shocking and substantial, but she doesn’t seem to be able to separate them from their place in history and our current time. She anachronistically puts modern views into the history of the early modern period.

Katharina and Martin hosted dignitaries, students, pastors, and leading intellectuals of the time from across Germany and other parts of Europe. She really misses out in this book by not getting into more of those conversations and how they related to each other. She also comes off a bit patronizing, unintentionally, to Katharina. She takes minor quips and solid comebacks and conflates them into great iconoclastic events.

Overall the book seems a bit jumbled, shifting focus too often. There is far too many uses of phrases like, ‘one wonders’ and ‘it’s not hard to guess’ for my liking. To be fair, in her defense, she never claims to be a historian or that this book is a definitive biography of historical discussion on their marriage. Her near unending shock that there are many letters retained from possibly the most famous and impactful European in church history greatly outnumber his wife’s letters in a time when most women (or people for that matter) could not even read, gets old quickly.  I guess if you happen across this book at a good price it could be worth while, but over all, it is probably not worth your time.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. See more here.

Book Review: Generation Z

Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World

Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Pretty easy ready, goes quickly, about 200 pages.

Summary
The book is exactly what it sounds like, and introduction to Generation Z, who he defines as those born between 1993 and 2012, how they will be different form previous generations and what the churches needs to do about it.

The book is broken into two parts, plus a pretty extensive appendices. The first part is focused on the Zs and the second on the difference and the churches new approach. The focus is mostly on the changing demographic of Zs, they are less white, more multiethnic, more liberal (economically and socially), and less Christian. White does a good job explaining the way technology is changing their lives, especially as it relates to early sexualization and porn.

My Thoughts
I think White does a good job of not being alarmist. It is a fact of history that the next generation will be our undoing, people have been saying it for thousands of years. So, it was good to read him taking a measured approach. There is a lot of media hype over the ‘nones’, and he explores how it is possible that a middle group who could go either way on the church is now siding with the no-religion group because it is the more socially advantageous position as it is more of the culture norm (the same way the opposite was true 50 years ago and through most of American history). I’ll add two reason I think the ‘nones’ are overblown, one it is cool now to be ‘independent’, we see it with political parties. I see it in church going people who are very devout, they like to say that they don’t like names or denominations. This is already a bit of a tangent, but second, I’ve worked with detailed surveys throughout my career. People are bad at them. You can look at the polling data and see that 9% of self-identified Atheist are certain there is a god when asked. I think it is something like 14% when the question is asked of self-identified Agnostics. Likewise, there are a number of self-identified Christians who say it is impossible to know if God exist. Due to this, I do think church attendance will continue dropping with the Zs and whatever comes next, but the core of the devout won’t change too much.

I like his definition of Z better than some of the others I’ve seen. Other have them starting in 2000 or even as late as 2005, and I think his focus works a little better. More importantly, there is a difference between them and the millennials, just as there was between X and boomers, and SIlent and Greatest before them. The first half of this book is good for anyone looking for a brief primer on the upcoming generation. The book as a whole is important for Christians to understand the changes that are coming, especially pastors and youth workers. Anyone in this latter group should make reading this book a priority.

*I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. See more here.

Generational Theory

Tomorrow I will have my first book review up in quite some time. It is called Generation Z, and is basically an overview of the upcoming generation, how they are different, and what our actions/reactions should be as Christians.

Before I do that, I wanted to do a breif summary and some thoughts about generational theory as I feel like it is talked about a lot in the media and church right now – especially as it pertains to so-called ‘millenials’. I’ve also recentyl heard a podcast about boomers and there seems to be daily polls about the current generations. So, it was a post I was already thinking about, and then this book came and here we are.

What generations are around right now?

Greatest – basically anyone over 90, they lived through the Great Depression and fought in WW2. Also known as GI generation. They are the parents of the Boomers as the came back from the war, and popped out a record number of kids (the boom) during the great economic expansion and strengthen social safety programs.

Silent – Born in 30, basically didn’t do anything. Don’t take this as being harsh, but it is the reality. Mostly because there are just very few numbers of them. They are basically those too young to go to WW2, but not Boomers. Their time is short, and their numbers are excessively small due to the depression and especially the war (average age of the infantry in WW2 was 25).

Boomers – children of Greatest. They started during the post-war boom and depending on whom you read, ended in the early to mid-60s. This is a massive population, the largest ever (at the time) that spanned two decades. People argue over the stopping point (though everyone considers 1946 to be the starting point) and many (such as me) advocate seeing this as two different groups.

X – Children of Silent’s. They followed the boomers (whenever you finish them) to anywhere between 1978 and 1984. They are much smaller than the Boomers for one because they occupy a short timescale but mostly because they are children of the diminished Silent.

Millennials – Children of boomers, grandchildren of Greatest. Also known as ‘Y’ and Echo-Boomers. They start wherever you stop with ‘X’ and continue on to anywhere between 2000 and 2005. This is now the largest generation in history, first because they are the children of Boomers, but also because (taken to the fullest extent) they span 27 years from 1978 to 2005, which is obviously a terrible measure and they should also be considered as two distinct groups (more below).

Z – Children of X and Millennials. Born sometime around the Millennium (which means the name Millennials really makes more sense for them). Also known as i-Generation and Homeland Generation. They are born when you finish Millennials (though often much earlier, White puts it at 1993) to anywhere between 2012 to the current crop of children right now. The lines kind of blur here, and I think that is a good thing.

When I was in college and grad school a little over 10 years ago, and the issue of demographics came up, there was a focus on the ‘echo boomers’. These were basically us, the college students at the time, people born in the 80s to maybe early 90s, we were the children of the original Baby Boomers (echo boom, get it?) Kids in the 90s to early 2000s were often listed as “i-generation”, basically the generation that grew up with i-pods, phones, pads, etc. they were also (so as not to tie them to a product) referred to as the ‘millennials’, those born around the time of the millennium. The original idea of millennial was closer to what many call Z now. However, Straus and Howe consider Z (Homeland to them) to be from 2000 to now, making it two distinct groups.

Overall, we were often put together as the commonly referred to ‘Y’, but most demographers so the issue with have a Y generation follow X, mostly that the next would be Z, then you are out of letters. Partly because of this, the more trendy ‘millennials’ took over as the name people (especially the media) used. I’m honestly not sure why Echo-Boom never took off, other than technically an echo is quieter.

Likewise, some have split the boomers into two groups. For a great primer on this check out the podcast – Stuff you should know – What’s the Deal With Baby Boomers – the split them into the following:
1946-1955 – Leading Edge Boomers
1955-64 – Shadow Boomers (also knowns as Generation Jones)

Leading Edge are what you think of when you think 50s childhood. Those who were the young children of the GIs with the ‘idyllliac’ life as portrayed by politicians. The Shadow are known as the Jones (as in, keeping up with the Joneses) or even the ‘Me’ generation due to their focus on consumerism. This is the group most know for rapid consumption and selfishness.

If you want to think seriously about generational theory, these two interdivisions of the two massive groups is helpful. For one, you may have two different generations in the same ‘generation.’ I (’84) and my nephew (’98) by almost all accounts we are both millennials. However, he is my sister’s kid, and cousin to my daughter, quite literally the next generation in our family. Also, his life experience is quite different. He doesn’t remember 9/11, whereas it is a defining event for people my age. He doesn’t know pre-smart phone, let alone pre-ubiquitous cell phones. He basically only knows the Obama administration. The list could go on, and on.

Similarly, early boomers like my dad (’47) have a very different life/worldview that later boomers like my mother-in-law (redacted). My dad served in Korea and all my uncles went to Vietnam. They all remember JFK being shot; that was of the defining events for them. For Mrs. MMT’s family, who are generally about 10-15 years younger, they think more about events in the 70s, the stagflation and energy crises leading up to Reagan.

So, all that is a long way of saying that the generation stuff you hear about so often now is way overblown and generalized. I kind of laugh when I hear a colleague who isn’t even 40 talking about the problems with millennials. Millennials are much older than media portrayal for one, but they also encompass over 75 million people born in a time spanning 3 decades (about 23 years on average), five to six presidents, and countless different economic situations. Again, I finished grad school in ’08, meaning the Great Recession was a defining part of my life (like the depression for my grandparents), my nephew was 10.

Finally, I’ll point out that these lines aren’t perfect. For instance, my sister is an X. Some people with large families may have children that cross lines, or if someone was married very young, their children may fall into the next group. I think generally speaking, the time period in which you grew up is the best indicator, due to being shaped by the culture, and if someone is in some of the blurry edges, they are probably best classified by their parents’ generation. If you noticed, it was quite cycle. Greatest were shaped by the depression and war, then came their children who were shaped by war (but not a major recession/depression due to the law passed by their parents, which they would later repeal), their children are then affected by 9/11 another set of wars and the Great Recession. Likewise, you have the Silent, which is small and kind of off, who then have the ‘X’s who are also small and in a lot of ways, a reaction against the corporatism and greed for the second wave of Boomers. Now, their children and Millennials and whatever is next are all getting blurred together. Part of this is really just how ill-defined my generation is, but also because paths are less traditional. It isn’t men graduating high school then going to trade school/college/military, getting married at 22, then have their first kid within 2 years. That is how you end up with Mrs. MMT and I without question being the same generation (we are less than 6 months apart), but my dad was 37 when I was born, where as her mom was early 20s. Or my nephew who is closer to me in age than he is to my daughter because my sister was 19 when she had a kid and I was 30.

An importance thing in understanding how the church reacts going forward is seeing how history is repeating itself. The Echos, like me (80s) are already known for being more frugal and rediscovering things like cooking and sewing, the same way our grandparents were. While the people just now interring the workforce down to middle schoolers are rejecting the consumerism and self-centeredness of the second half of the boomers (much like ‘X’). While there is a mix of people in the 90s that grew up in the expansion and mirror those boomers in their sense of entitlement and expectations for life.

I’m not as pessimistic about the changes in the next generation as others may be. They will be more diverse and more liberal, but that has been true in every generation. Probably the biggest difference, and the one that does bring them outside of these generational patterns is that they are not growing up a majority Christian culture. I think White does a great job addressing this in his book. So, there is that, I’ve already written much more than I had originally intended, but it is one of the topics I geek out on, so I hope you liked it and that it was helpful

Updates

Alright everybody, I have finally had some time to write again. I just finished my classes last week. The past month was crazy with final exams, final case studies, and final papers. It ended up being a lot more work than I thought. I’ll have an up date and review of the courses/CCEF in general up soon, as well as where I cam going from here.

Tomorrow I am will have a short post up about generational theory in preparation for my review of Meet Generation Z that will be up on Wednesday. I’ve been fall really behind in reviews, and will hopefully have at least one a week up for the next two or three months. Here are the books that just Baker Books has sent to me review over the past 3 months. The stack on the left is the books I need to read, the stack in the middle is books I’ve finished reading, and the stack on the right is what I’ve reviewed. So, falling behind. I’ll try to do better next time.

In the mean time, it is Biblical Studies Carnival time for April already. Go check it out over at Theologians, Inc.