Book Review: What Would Jesus Post?: Seven Principles Christians Should Follow in Social Media, by Brian D. Wassom

What Would Jesus PostBrian D. Wassom tried to find a book that answered questions like, “Am I honoring God with how I use social media?” and, “What effect are these sites having on me as a person?” all from a Biblical perspective. When he couldn’t, he wrote What Would Jesus Post? In this short book he addresses “Seven Principles For Using Social Media” that he admits “are arbitrary ways of subdividing and explaining the one basic principle that underlies them all: ‘Fear God and obey his commands’ [Ecclesiastes 12:13].” The principles: 1) Think before you post, 2) To your own self be true, 3) Guard your heart, 4) Don’t miss the forest for the trees, 5) Don’t be a stumbling block, 6) Be a peacemaker, 7) Build genuine community. Wassom appropriately applies these (some secular or misapplied) statements through a biblical context to one more specific, encouraging readers to seriously consider how they interact with social media.

Wassom does not waste time or words. He’s concise and aptly applies scripture, life experience, and wisdom to his points. He makes no claim that his principles are exhaustive, but they are enough to get anyone thinking in a Christian manner before and during their interaction with social media. His observation that Christians are often the worst when it comes to political posts, often confusing their belief in an absolute truth and what they believe to be absolutely true, is spot on. This is the kind of honest dialogue one should expect, and the kind we should all have as we hold one another accountable in social media.

I thoroughly enjoyed What Would Jesus Post?, and would recommend it to anyone.

I received an e-book copy, which I found to be well done and easy to use.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: Muscle and a Shovel, by Michael Shank

Muscle and a ShovelI first want to address the form of the book Muscle and a Shovel by Michael Shank that I purchased. It is an e-book (Kindle) and the 5th edition. I purchased it for $9.99. It was strewn with typographical errors and poor grammar, had no table of contents or means by which to jump to chapters (there are 40, plus the following sections: introduction, epilogue, end notes, bibliography, and Bible verses used in each chapter), no links to end notes from where noted within the chapters, and missing end notes! I repeat: this is the 5th edition since its initial publication in 2011. Five editions in three years, and it’s still in this condition. Without having yet mentioned anything about the actual content, this is enough to see little care has been taken in editing and likely speaks to the quality of the work itself. It does.

My reason for purchasing the book is simple: I was asked to read it in its entirety no matter how I felt along the way, to take notes, and to then offer my thoughts concerning its potential use in someone’s “outreach ministry.” I was asked to not read anything about the book (no abstracts, reviews, etc.) beforehand in order that I might approach it without any preconceived notions or bias, at least as little as can be expected. So, that’s what I did (or didn’t, as the case may be). This is, however, a book review and not the place for me to express all my thoughts concerning the task I was given, though I will make a few notes to caution those who would consider reading it.

As a book, it appears to be a strange and disjointed, autobiographical narrative that preaches at the reader in an attempt to convince them to read the Bible in a way rather specific to a particular end of the spectrum within the Church of Christ denomination. (It is “about” Michael Shank’s conversion from the Baptist to Church of Christ denomination.) I found much of storytelling of daily life events to be mundane and distracting from the larger context of the book. Not only were they simply not written well, they often did not make much sense wherein they were placed. The text is unnecessarily long, and cutting much of this “storytelling” would make it much more tolerable.

However, there is still the issue of the way in which the reader is being preached to. There is constant repetition of the same Bible verses, and they are always typed out in their entirety every time. I understand the desire to print full Scripture references in a book that is intended to “teach,” but not every time, least of all the same ones. This could be trimmed and save a lot of room, again making the book a bit more tolerable. Using the King James Version of the Bible for everything is also not very helpful. Of course, it is still used by many churches who consider it to be “the authorized version,” which simply shows a lack of understanding the history behind that phrase and the number of errors found within the text. (Someone reading the book along with me needed, on numerous occasions, to go to another translation simply to understand what was being said.) There is great history and tradition behind the KJV, but it is horribly outdated and ought not be used by most for Bible study today, especially if they are new to Scripture.

The author belittles people he’s trying to reach and uses examples and exaggerations that make it appear as if all people within a particular denomination are exactly the same as that which is poorly described. Do they exist? Yes, just as they do within the author’s own denomination. However, saying someone is an idiot or needs psychiatric help, for example, simply because they do not read a verse the same way (usually because they disagree on how it is to be read based on preconceived notions of biblical interpretation handed down to them, just as with those in the Church of Christ) is self-defeating, especially when trying to convert the very people being insulted. Though the book attempts to refute that assertion, the point is made therein: “We (the Church of Christ denomination) are the only ones who read the Bible correctly, we are the only ones who know the truth of Scripture, and everyone else is going to hell, even though we state we do not make that judgment call because God is the final judge (but if you read and present the Bible like we do, it is the obvious conclusion).”

For these reasons, and so much more, I would not recommend Muscle and a Shovel to anyone as a “good read.” In fact, it’s quite poor.

 

 

 

Now, since I’ve likely offended many in my Church of Christ tradition by saying these things, especially by calling it a denomination, I feel I must mention a few things I normally would not include in a book review.

The author notes how a few denominations came to be and why they are wrong but fails to properly address his own history. The Church of Christ (yes, big “C”) is not the only church of Christ (little “c”) as many purport. It is a branch within the history of Christianity and stems from men just as every other denomination comes from those who have influenced a particular direction or way of reading Scripture. In my opinion, there are two major blinding factors to those within the Church of Christ not understanding themselves as a denomination: 1) they simply redefine the word “denomination” in such a way that they intentionally exclude themselves, and 2) they are woefully unaware of their own history.

(Note: There are many who do not fall within the ignorance described here and remain within this particular tradition for numerous reasons, which I admire. In my own experience, I have been pushed away and described as an apostate and heretic for disagreeing with my tradition in its general narrowness of scriptural interpretation and exclusivity, and currently find myself living in an area that needs much more than the tiny [~20 people], local [20 minutes away by car] Church of Christ is teaching and offering—nothing—and have partnered with other Christian leaders in the area and lead a congregation in my home. I still don’t agree with denominationalism, which is why I do not fully associate myself with one (the Church of Christ), but I work with those therein and am still thankful for the good that has come from my Church of Christ heritage. In fact, when I’m visiting family and traveling, I still take my family to a Church of Christ.)

First, a denomination does not necessitate a central organization or governing body, but the Church of Christ has enough of a connection through hermeneutics, language, teachings, preachers, schools, and publications to be understood as having an unspoken (though loudly spoken) central governance that stipulates who is and isn’t “in” to fall within their own definition of “denomination.” They also have churches that fall within a wide spectrum, wherein not all believe the others are “in” (usually the more conservative, the more exclusive), just as is the case with many other denominations. Though they often claim that “church of Christ” is merely a descriptor and have concocted a theological doctrine by which it is a necessary descriptor, they certainly function as the “Church of Christ,” a denomination with a specific label.

(Note: The Church of Christ is not a cult, as some still purport, though it is generally so narrow in its approach to Scripture and other people that they alienate others who consider themselves to be [and are!] in the church of Christ, or any of the other names used for the people of God in Scripture that are more numerous than this single reference in Romans 16:16. Many are simply offended by the hijacking of this particular label by one denomination to the exclusion of all others from being associated therewith.)

Second, the Church of Christ came about as the result of Stone, the Campbells, and others desiring to get away from denominationalism and focus on unity in Christ and an emphasis on the written Word of God (the Bible). As with most denominations, the men by whom they were founded (or not!) did not intend them to be so, and they often spoke against it. However, just as with the Church of Christ, the further people were separated in time from these men the more they wanted to set up a particular system based upon their teachings (or twisted versions thereof).

The beginnings of the American Restoration Movement, of which the Church of Christ was a part, were by men who disagreed on much but agreed on Jesus, the Son of God, and a desire to get back to a New Testament example of living as the body of Christ. They disagreed on what the Church of Christ now considers to be salvation issues (names, labels, baptism, and the entity and function of the Holy Spirit, just to name a few), but they believed in unity in Christ and worked together to further the Kingdom of God, even in using different names and descriptors of the church but considering one another brothers and sisters (or sister congregations, as they are commonly known). This is the kind of unity for which many of us still strive, and it saddens me that many within the Church of Christ are not even aware of this part of their heritage and are actually opposed to it. However, this is what the author of Muscle and a Shovel speaks against. As a major debate in the history of the splitting of the Churches of Christ concluded on one end, it’s all right (good, of God) or it’s all wrong (evil, of Satan). This has been the trajectory for the Churches of Christ for some time, but many have begun to break away from this lie and are much more willing to listen to and journey with other believers in order that we may all become better disciples of Christ (another descriptor that turned into a denominational name “Disciples of Christ” within the American Restoration Movement and the other label used in its founding by Stone and Campbell).

Michael Shank uses the often expressed hermeneutic of “speaking where the Bible speaks, and staying silent where the Bible is silent” by way of looking at the New Testament through “commands, examples, and necessary inferences,” but fails, as many do, to show in the Bible (!) where these hermeneutics may be found about how to interpret itself! Why? This is what has been handed down through tradition but is understood to be “the way” (the most logical and right?) in which Scripture must be interpreted. This hermeneutic defies itself, but it is unquestioned. Therefore, though I may fully agree with some of what is expressed in his book, I cannot (must not!) agree with the way in which much of it concluded, especially when several issues addressed (the use of instruments, the plausibility of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, et al.) are approached in ways I find to be out of context (a phrase often used in the book) and the side on which someone lands on these “issues” (issues to many within the Church of Christ) is used to condemn someone.

As an example of consistency, I present the often used passage of Ephesians 5:19 that is used to say using an instrument in worship to God is evil. Those within the Church of Christ who hold to these narrow hermeneutics and expressions thereof must, out of necessity and fear of condemnation, sing with their heart (not vocal chords!) because that’s what Paul says, and it must be done in unison (melody!) without harmony! The Eastern Orthodox tradition continues to sing in unison for many reasons, but the basic ancient tradition thereof and its means of maintaining unity are two big ones. If the Church of Christ is going to call upon history to express a split in the church over the use of instruments, it must also contend with an even earlier split by way of the introduction of a single voice of harmony. The four-part (or more) harmony the Church of Christ so adores and finds so beautiful (how is that any less emotional and entertaining than the way others describe the use of instruments?) is evidence of an expression of division in history that it claims as evidence for not causing division and being “right” with Scripture. It is utterly inconsistent, and that is an issue that must be addressed. I absolutely love a cappella singing (that’s still “music,” by the way, brother Michael), and it’s how we often sing in my church; however, I cannot make it an issue that it is not because the “issue” comes by way of faulty logic and hermeneutics (Muscle and a Shovel uses a lot of basic “logic” jargon).

There are a plethora of things I feel must be addressed within Muscle and a Shovel by anyone reading it or desiring to use it for outreach, but I hope what I have written here has demonstrated my reasons for dissuading others from reading and using it. There are plenty of other resources out there for the good found within Muscle and a Shovel that I would recommend rather than have someone read this unnecessarily lengthy and frustrating book that would require a lot of hand holding, explaining, and correcting along the way. I actually find the book to be dangerous to the spiritual growth of others in their relationship with other believers. In the language of the KJV, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). Though I do believe it was the author’s intent, I do not find this book to demonstrate love.

 

Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy as we continue to search out His truth and live unified in His Kingdom. Forgive us of our ignorance and infighting as we strive to love you and one another more. God bless us, every one.

Why Soccer Hasn’t Risen (and Won’t) in the USA

This is an opinion paper based solely upon my own cross-cultural experiences and observances. If you have any data to support my hypothesis, I’d be glad to hear/read it! If not, I suppose I’ll listen to/read that, too …

 

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is in full swing, and team USA isn’t too shabby in its current standings. It even looks like they’re going to, unexpectedly, make it into the second round! But it seems most conversations, at least in my circles, surrounding team USA are about how much the nation doesn’t know or care about soccer. Sure, news outlets are always talking it up and encouraging further interest in the sport, but we all know it’s just filler until the next “top story” about someone rescuing a cat or something.

Big name players, if they can be called that in the US, try to promote the sport by hosting training camps and speaking up when given the opportunity, but it doesn’t seem to increase interest in the sport among the youth of the nation. Even the big move of the English heavy-kicker David Beckham and wife Posh Spice…I mean, Victoria…to Los Angeles hardly made a dent in the sport’s popularity. If you knew who he was, you were already a fan; if you didn’t, you probably still don’t…or you’re buying his underwear from his post-retirement business.

If you love soccer, you’re probably going to try and get your kids to love it, should you choose to procreate; and if you don’t love, you may let your kids play in AYSO or some YMCA after-school special to let them run off some energy and get more use out of that mini-van. But those who love soccer find it difficult to convert others, and soccer-moms/dads don’t encourage it beyond adolescence. Simply put, soccer fandom in the USA lives and dies with soccer fans having babies. Wow. I just said that.

Why is soccer so popular in most every other nation in world? It’s part of the culture, and it has been for a very long time. You don’t need a reason to love soccer; you just do. You grow up with a nation, a league, and a team. You play before, on the way to, during, and on the way home from school, and then you play some more. Anywhere there is relatively flat ground (emphasis on the “relatively”) and a ball (any ball will do…or anything you can kick will do), there is soccer (real football) to be played. It can be “played” virtually anywhere, and no special equipment is required. Casual play is not determined by equipment, space, or spacing rules; simply kick a ball between a couple predetermined objects on either side of the available space and you score. But you can’t slow down. The sport builds on non-stop action and well-rounded athleticism, which also encourages a healthy and fit body.

The most popular sports in the USA focus on short bursts of energy separated by mandatory down time, fouls, disciplinary action, and strategizing, often with the stopping of a game-clock, if there is one at all (I’m looking at you, baseball). Sure, soccer has its fair share of penalties and posers pretending to be hurt to keep the ball dead, but other than a possible few minutes being added to the clock, the game goes on. If you go to a soccer game, you can expect to be out in less than two hours from start to finish, including a break at halftime! The USA likes high scoring games (bigger is better), and soccer matches often end scoreless or very few goals. A goal equals one (1) point, and “0–0” or “0–1” doesn’t look like much. (Perhaps applying an arbitrary number of points (seven?) per goal would work better for the American mind. Maybe “0–7” looks better.)

The USA also likes athletes who are narrowly focused: heavy-hitters (fat or thin), immovable walls (it doesn’t matter if they can walk very far), those who can move really fast in a straight line (they don’t need to be dexterous), and the like. Of course, there are exceptions, but this seems to be the preference. You don’t need to be “healthy” or well rounded to be a great athlete in the USA; you just need to do one thing REALLY well, and most often not even for very long—there are always breaks to be had.

Breaks: we like our time-outs! We like to see the clock stop, but I think what we really enjoy is manipulating time, the game, and the other side in our favor. (Perhaps that speaks to a bit more than I’ll mention in this post.) We don’t have much respect for, “You have ‘x’ amount of time to do the best you can. Go.” We want it our way, right away. And if someone wronged us, we want to make sure it’s checked, double checked, and righted (instant replay) because we’re American and we’re entitled to our rights! (Has an instant replay amendment been added to the Constitution yet? That’s probably a bit too “Big Brother” for now; maybe in the next generation.)

Let’s take a time-out of our own for a moment. American media pushes agendas and the popularity of most things. Being spoon-fed is such a part of American culture now that people rarely use their “freedom of speech” to express their true preferences. They often wait to be told what their preferences are, and then they repeat the popular expression because…that’s what you do. Marketing is a booming and quite profitable business in itself. It is evident when one takes a look back in time at television and radio shows of the past, for example, and compare the times between commercials as they were then and now. We are inundated with advertisements—being told what we like, want, and need. Okay, time-in.

When we consider that most of us get our sports entertainment via some form other than actually being at the live game and the aforementioned big business of marketing, it’s no wonder we like our sports with a lot of pauses! These provide ample opportunity to push something else in the consumer’s face. In fact, being at the game does not guarantee immunity! I was at a baseball game last week (don’t ask…) and I can’t count the number of audible advertisements and images of something to buy on walls and the big-screen (apparently the away team were a bunch of Girl Scout cookies because those were the pictures that were shown next to their names). You can cram a lot of advertisements into an American sporting even. A lot.

Soccer defies and denies competition with itself. You cannot pause for a commercial break for at least forty-five minutes (halftime), and with as few great scoring moments that occur during the games you don’t want to get up to grab a snack or hit the bathroom. Come prepared or risk missing the big moment. It’s that simple. You know what you like, want, and need during a soccer game? Soccer. It’s that pure.

So, to the point, why hasn’t soccer risen (and won’t rise) in the USA? Answer: Companies that present soccer games can’t suck every possible penny out of the viewer, and that doesn’t work with capitalism. That’s just not American. To start, the only way to make big money is through merchandise, and you can’t sell merchandise without creating a culture that desires it, and that culture is not going to be created because it can’t make money because… You get the idea. Until we can learn as a society to enjoy something for itself without an outside force telling us what to enjoy and how to enjoy it, Americans will forever keep soccer confined to obscure homes, pubs, and the occasional mini-van-driving suburban communities that like to watch their kids mosh in centerfield.

 

I look forward to your nasty responses. Love me.  :)

Book Review: NIV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, by Jack Hayford (Executive Editor)

NIV New Spirit-Filled Life BibleFirst and foremost, this is a review on the book as put together by the editors, not on the NIV translation or the Bible itself.

The NIV New Spirit-Filled Life Bible may be loosely described as a study bible with devotional leanings. It contains short excerpts in devotional style (usually no more than a few sentences in length) scattered throughout that pertain to one of eight “clusters” on specific topics chosen by the editors (as a whole noted as “Kingdom Dynamics”). Most of these are written by different people; only a few authors have multiple and/or co-authored entries. Several essays of varying subject and length that tend to be more in the “study bible” vein are also included. There is a list of 550 terms (called “Word Wealth”) used in Scripture with provided definitions—these are “hit & miss” in their accuracy or clarity. The “Truth in Action” sections for each book provide “truths” found within sections of Scripture and the “action” on the part of the reader that is intended to follow. Also, as is typically included in most Bibles, are cross-references for verses.

I received an “e-book” copy of this book and cannot speak to the size, heft, and ease-of-use of a hardcopy. The layout of the e-book works well with its thorough linking and cross-referencing to other places within the text, all of which I tried functioned properly; however, any text of this size and “page hopping” does not have the same ease and flow of a hardcopy. As a systematically used text, it functions well; as a text to be simply read and browsed, as many do with the Bible, it is clunky and ill-fitting.

I chose to review this particular book because of the title and accompanied description on BookLookBloggers.com, which reads, “Find the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible. Jack Hayford, founding pastor of The Church on the Way, has led a team of anointed scholars to produce the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible. This outstanding resource offers a fresh look at the Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit. This Bible addresses important issues of Spirit-filled living in the context of solid biblical scholarship.” I assumed it was going to be a study bible that traced the Holy Spirit and the workings thereof through Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. I was mistaken in my assumption. As a whole, its predominant agenda and trajectory is that of promoting a Pentecostal/Charismatic, dispensational, and premillennial eschatological perspective . It does not exclude other perspectives—they are sprinkled around—nor do the editors present information as if all other perspectives are “heretical” or any other descriptors thrown by many at those who disagree with themselves. In no way is there any tracing of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture by way of notes, essays, or other means, which leads me to think the description I read to be a bit misleading. Perhaps I should have checked out the church noted therein to get an idea of where it might be going—I still haven’t, as I see no need to do so.

In as much as I do not share the same Pentecostal, dispensational, and premillennial views as those espoused therein , I would not recommend this book to others. I did not find it very helpful, it was a little too “light” for a “study bible,” and did not have enough substance, in my opinion, to be a “devotional bible.” For those parts that I believe would be beneficial to other readers, I would simply point them to other resources to use in tandem with studying whichever translation of Scripture they choose. However, I applaud those involved in this book’s editing in that they can appreciate others’ perspectives and believe we are all sincerely trying to follow the same triune God and that we can be unified in Him even in our differing interpretations and understandings of Scripture.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks

Enter the Water, Come to the TableJohn Mark Hicks has been a brother, mentor, and one-time travel companion of mine since my time at Lipscomb University.  Few academics impress me as much as John Mark in their ability to retain so much information, recollect it without aid, and express it in a way that is fitting for any given audience. (In the loving words of a fellow professor, “We hate him because we all know he can teach all of our classes and probably do it better.”) His website, johnmarkhicks.com, hosts a wealth of information, and I’m not sure where he finds the time to blog as much as he does!

Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation is indicative of John Mark Hicks’ ability to unify differing perspectives by way of addressing their preferred semantics and expressing them in a more cohesive and understandable manner. Some themes and terms specific to this book that fall into this practice are baptism, communion (the Lord’s Supper), sacraments, and eschatology. No matter where you fall on the Christian theological spectrum, there is something to be gained by reading Hicks’ perspective; you may even discover similarities with others that were once thought to be differences over which separation was worth the fight!

In his latest book, Hicks aptly pulls his readers into the biblical narrative and shows them how both baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been and are expressed from the beginning of creation to the renewal of all things in the new creation (the new heavens and the new earth), demonstrating their far reaching influence and importance in and on the lives of God’s people. Rather than summarize or provide bullet points that may be found therein, I simply encourage you to get a copy and read without any preconceived notions as to that with which you may or may not agree.

For readers of this blog in my more immediate geographical location, what Hicks extensively describes as “bringing back the table” has been demonstrated in our house church (Durough House Communion), with fewer specific formalities, since January 2012. For those interested in learning and experiencing more about bringing back the table in communion, feel free to contact us!

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”