Parks: Mentoring Matters

Big_review_07212014 New York:  John Wiley & Sons.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As the father of three 20-somethings, I have frequently been torn between repressed anger, guilt, and a feeling of total inadequacy as a parent. Thanks to the influence of Sharon D. Parks, Big Questions; Worthy Dreams, I have found mentoring to be a reasonable response to my parenting situation.

Parks makes two points that clarify the mentoring task at hand.

The first point is her definition of a young adult. She asks: When does one cross the threshold into adulthood? The response of North American culture is ambiguous (4). Finding work and a spouse are still important, but the time required to become educated and increasing problem of downward mobility make it harder to become settled. The ambiguity and instability of the young adult situation in society are reflected in the greater challenge facing mentors, including parents.

The second point is reflected in her title. Young adulthood is a life-stage where the formation of meaning is particularly important. Parks writes: in the years from seventeen to thirty a distinctive mode of meaning-making can emerge, one that has certain adult characteristics but understandably lacks others (6).

The importance of challenging the young adult to take new faith steps is captured in her prescription–develop and expand a worthy, young adult dream. Parks writes: If the young adult Dream is to have mature power and serve the full potential of self and world, then it must be critically reexamined from time to time throughout adulthood (219). The role of mentors is to help the young adult craft, refine, and be true to this dream.

Parks writes Big Questions, Worthy Dreams in 10 chapters:

  1. Young Adulthood in a Changing World:  Promise and Vulnerability;
  2. Meaning and Faith;
  3. Becoming at Home in the Universe;
  4. It Matters How We Think;
  5. It All Depends…;
  6. …On Belonging;
  7.  Imagination:  The Power of Adult Faith;
  8. The Gifts of a Mentoring Environoment;
  9. Mentoring Communities; and
  10. Culture as a Mentor (vii).

These chapters are bracketed by a preface and various references at the end.  At the time of publication, Parks was an associate director at the Whidbey Institute near Seattle, WA [1].  She is now involved with an effort called the Leadership for the New Commons [2].  Formerly, she was with Harvard Divinity School and other noteworthy institutions.

The scope and depth of Park’s scholarship suggests that this book targets graduate students and professionals focused on counseling young adults. Most readers looking for advice on parenting are likely to find this book a challenging read. The gap between these two ready audiences suggests an opportunity for a follow up text focused on aid and comfort for the typical parents of young adults.

Footnotes

[1] http://whidbeyinstitute.org.

[2] www.newcommons.org.

Parks: Mentoring Matters

Also See:

Friedman: Families Matter 

Turansky and Miller: Hope for Parents 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

 

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Dayton’s Story of Pentecostalism

Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism

Donald W. Dayton [1].  2004.  Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen NJ:  Hendrickson Publishers [2].

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I stumbled on to Theological Roots of Pentecostalism during a visit to Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC [3] in 2006. Donald Dayton received an award from the faculty that day and he preached in the chapel on the many faces of Wesley. Later, I bought copies of this book and another of his books, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage.

Theological Roots of Pentecostalism appealed to me because I had recently become acquainted with a Pentecostal mission evangelizing Muslims. I was intrigued by the different style of worship and by the dedication of the evangelists that I met who were Pentecostals. I wanted to learn more about them.

Overview

Dayton raises 4 points that were insightful.

  1. The Four Square gospel is very different. He describes a Pentecostal as someone who sees Christ as savior, Baptizer of the Holy Spirit, healer, and coming King (173). A typical Presbyterian confesses Christ only as Lord and Savior.
  2. The Pentecostal reads the books of Luke and Acts with special interest (especially Acts 2). The hermeneutic used is devotional (23). Essentially, each verse should be read as if the words “in my life” were appended to it.
  3. The discussion of the Latter Rain movement was thought provoking. The basic idea is that the gifts of the spirit were especially prominent during the the Apostolic period and would also reappear in the latter days. The reference to Joel 2:28—And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29 ESV)—the recent active participation of women in ministry is accordingly taken to be a sign of the Second Coming of Christ.
  4. Dayton links the switch among American evangelicals from Post-millennial to Pre-millennial eschatology to a profound discouragement with following the Civil War. The approaching end was signaled, not by progress, but by decline (163). This transition is important in explaining the attitude towards evangelism and service that we see today. Those waiting to be raptured (beamed up) have less incentive to promote reform than those preparing the world to receive the coming King.

Christians owe a debt of gratitude to the Pentecostal movement which many people date to the 1906 revival on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California [4].  The Pentecostal movement began with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which touched all races, ethnic groups, and genders from its inception and it has spread worldwide.  If it were not for the Pentecostal movement, the number of Christians in the world would have declined in the 20th century, much like their numbers have in the United States.

Assessment

I enjoyed this book. Its take away points are likely to color my view of Pentecostals for a long time. I would recommend it to Christians curious about Pentecostalism and interested in the history of religion in America.

Footnotes

[1] Professor emeritus, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (www.Seminary.edu).

[2] www.Hendrickson.com

[3] www.WesleySeminary.edu.

[4] http://www.AzusaStreet.org

Dayton’s Story of Pentecostalism

Also See:

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts 

Johnson: Prison Ministry in Brazil

Grams: Outpouring of the Spirit

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Bell: The Mirror-Moment Transition

Bell_review_20201216

James Scott Bell. 2014. Write Your Novel from the Middle. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Coming from a nonfiction background, one of the hardest concepts to implement in writing fiction is to develop a character arc. How exactly does your character grow through the experiences in your plot and why? This is not just a literary problem—many people wander through life never really confronting their issues and moving beyond them. Thinking about life as a transition with three stages, it is the middle stage when uncertainty and when the willingness to try new ideas reaches a peak. When I found a writing book focused on the character arc in the middle of a novel, it caught my attention.

Introduction

In his book, Write Your Novel from the Middle, James Scott Bell writes:

“My purpose in this book is to pop the hood and take a look at the engine, and offer you a way to build your own midpoint intentionally, so you truly can write your novel from the middle.” (29)

In the middle, Bell sees a mirror moment when his character realizes that death (physical, professional, or psychological) will be the result of failing to act and confront a weakness. This implies that the stakes are too high to ignore and rising to deal with the problem changes the character internally enabling the strength to meet whatever external challenge. This change is what the book is really about so authors need to focus on the mirror moment to craft compelling stories (28).

The Stakes

People change primarily when they have to. When you find something broken in government administration, there is usually a reason—insufficient information seldom explains the brokenness because smart people are involved. The same logic applies to personal flaws—people are flawed for good reasons, which is why knowing the backstory is important. Consequently, the stakes have to be high enough to make the fix worth the effort.

Bell writes:

“A great novel is the record of how a character fights with death. That’s right, death. Somebody has to be in danger of dying, and that someone is the Lead character … There are three kinds of death: physical, professional, psychological. One or more of these must be present in your novel if it’s going to work at the optimal level.” (8)

Physical death obviously grabs your attention. Professional death makes or breaks your lead character’s career. Psychological death is like the collapse of a romance or something so critical to the lead character that they will never be able to look themselves in the mirror again if they fail. With professional and psychological death, physical death is often lurking in the background (8-11). One way or another, the lead character looks in the mirror and realizes that life will never be the same again if they don’t overcome their flaw and move forward.

The Emotional Context

For Bell, a novel’s plot focuses primarily on external circumstances while the character’s emotional journey, the internal circumstances, motivate the reader’s willingness to tag along. The structure of this emotional journey he sees outlined in fourteen signpost scenes:

  1. Opening disturbance
  2. Care package
  3. Argument opposed to transformation
  4. Trouble brewing
  5. Doorway of no return #1
  6. Kick in the shins
  7. The mirror moment
  8. Pet the dog
  9. Doorway of no return #2
  10. Mounting forces
  11. Lights out
  12. Q factor
  13. Final battle
  14. Transformation (41-42).

The most important of these is the mirror moment because this is where the lead character finds the courage to carry on. Elsewhere he admits that the mirror moment is only part of a formal scene.

Bell describes his signpost scenes in terms of familiar movie scenes and how different styles of writers—pantsers, plotters,or tweeners—would approach the task indifferent genres (44-47). Outlining what Bell means by these signpost scene descriptors is sometimes obvious—e.g. opening disturbance—and more often not. The Q factor, for example, is an allusion to James Bond’s equipment supplier, code named Q, who provides spy gismos that latter help Bond escape some horrible predicament, functioning like a Deus ex machina, to save the day. By providing a Q Factor scene early in the plot, the latter use of the gismo seems less contrived, just part of the spy job description (43).

The Mirror Moment

The mirror moment ties together the pre-story psychology and the ultimate transformation, making the transition believable.

The pre-story psychology focuses a character flaw. This flaw has to be significant and affect both the lead character’s ability to function and be evident to other people. In the film, Lethal Weapon, Riggs is suicidal, which makes him a super cop, but it also scares everyone he comes in contact with. When he finds a reason to live, his mirror moment, he gives up his super power to become a real person.

Assessment

James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel from the Middle is a must read for novelists. Using famous movie scenes to outline his points makes Bell an entertaining and memorable read. His focus on the emotional journey of his lead character makes it more obvious what an author needs to accomplish to keep the interest of readers

Also See:

Bell, James Scott.  2004.  Plot and Structure:  Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot that Grips Readers from Start to Finish.  Cincinnati:  Writer’s Digest Books. (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2008. Revision & Self-Editing: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Finished Novel. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books. (review).

Bell, James Scott. 2009. The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. Cinninnati: Writers Digest Books (review).

Bell, James Scott. 2014. How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2015. Super Structure: The Key to Unleashing the Power of Story. Woodland Hills: Compendium Press (review)

Bell, James Scott. 2019. The Last Fifty Pages: The Art and Craft of Unforgettable Endings. Woodland Hills, CA: Compendium Press. (review).

Bell: The Mirror-Moment Transition

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Huff Thrills Christians

Huff_review_20210208

Andrew Huff. 2019. A Cross to Kill. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a nonfiction author my education as a fiction writer has often been tedious. When I asked how one picks a genre to write, the typical answer is to write what you read. When I asked how one learns the rules to follow in a particular genre, the typical answer is to read more. Ugh! A more complete answer might be that genre are defined by the demographics of their readership and the rules are defined by fantasies of that readership. Basically, readers want to see characters that look like them and plotlines that reflect their own challenges and temptations.

Outline of the Plot

Andrew Huff’s[1] novel, A Cross to Kill, is a Christian thriller. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor, John Cross, rescues a journalist, Christine Elizabeth Lewis, in Jordan who is held captive by the Alliance of Islamic Military (AIM) just as she is about to be beheaded livestream.

Cross is a contractor who undertakes nonlethal covert operations because when he became a Christian he could no longer undertake covert operations involving assassination, as he had previously. Between assignments, he has become a Baptist pastor and tries to live a quiet life in Mechanicsburg, Virginia.

After the Lewis rescue nearly turns lethal, he decides to give up the covert work and simply live a quiet life, but he can’t help thinking about her. Then, one day she shows up for Sunday morning worship at his church to thank him and they become acquainted. Things get complicated that evening after Cross gets ambushed by a Turkish hit squad that followed her to town to settle old scores presumably before moving on to bigger and badder things.

Background

A Cross to Kill is the first novel in Huff’s Shepherd Suspense series from Kregel Publications. Huff is both a novelist and a screenwriter as well as a pastor. He lives in North Texas with his wife and two boys.[2] Huff graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Religion from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia with a Master of Arts in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary.[3]

Assessment

Andrew Huff’s novel, A Cross to Kill, is a page turner that grabs your attention from the first sentence: “Millions of people would witness the murder of Christine Lewis, and not one of them could do anything to stop it.” (7) That is, not anyone except a mysterious Mr. Cross.

This is a book that draws you in and becomes your friend before we learn about Cross’ conversion and the life changes that he makes. I particularly enjoyed the local Virginia and Washington settings. This is good book for young people and those young at heart. If you like action thrillers, it is worth a look.

Footnotes

[1] @andrewjohnhuff.

[2] https://www.AndrewHuffBooks.com.

[3] https://familyfiction.com/andrew-huff-cross-kill.

Also See:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Blackaby: Spring is Around the Corner

Blackaby_11172014Richard Blackaby. 2012. The Seasons of God:  How the Shifting Patterns of Your Life Reveal His Purposes for You. Colorado Springs:  Multnomah Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“You have to know when to cut bait and when to go fishing.”

Whoever said it first was certainly a fishing expert. A good friend of mine, who is an obsessive fisherman that actually put himself through school working in fisheries, advised:  the time to fish is at twilight—morning and evening.  I never caught a fish with an artificial lure until the day I followed his advice.  Timing is everything if you want to catch fish.

Richard Blackaby’s book, The Seasons of God, builds on the basic premise of King Solomon (7):  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV).  Blackaby (3) writes:

This book explores something that involves getting your timing right for all you do and where you do it.  It’s about being free to really enjoy what you’re doing and where you’re doing—and to make the most of the experience.

Blackaby (13) reminds us also of the Apostle Paul’s observation that: at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6 ESV).

Blackaby (24-41) summarzes his observations about timing in a chapter entitled: Ten Laws of the Seasons of Life.  These laws are:

  1. Each of us experiences repeated cycles in life that are profoundly mirrored in the seasons we see in nature.
  2. These seasons are more than simply a metaphor for aging.
  3. Each season is unique and adds important dimensions to life.
  4. Our seasons follow a set order.
  5. Our seasons vary in length and intensity—and in what they require from us.
  6. The way we handle one season profoundly impacts how we experience the seasons that follow.
  7. We can—and often do—fail to recognize and understand our particular season.
  8. Understanding our seasons of life requires a vital, open, trusting relationship with God.
  9. We experience different seasons in different aspects of our lives.
  10. We are meant to thrive in every season.

This last point is terribly important—thriving is God’s will for our lives and his guidance is the key to making the most of each season (40).

The four seasons of life are taken from nature.  Blackaby (25-26) describes them as follows:

  1. Spring is about potential, promise, and possibilities.
  2. Summer is a time of growth and maturation.
  3. Autumn is the season of harvest.
  4. Winter is a season of winding down—withdrawal, retreat, and closure.

Problems (47) arise when we are impatient for the next season (season rushers) or refuse to give up the previous season (season graspers).  I am more prone to impatience—friends used to say that I was born 16 years old—but we all know someone who reports their age on their birthday as 29—again.  Getting stuck in a particularly happy season or particularly sad season seems to be a pattern repeated in many unhappy lives.

Blackaby’s book is written in 3 parts:  Embracing the Pattern, Embracing each Season, and Thriving in All Our Seasons.  These parts are composed of 29 chapters.  Chapters 6 through 25 are found in part 2 where Blackaby introduces a classification system:  4 seasons described in 4 areas of life.  The seasons are listed above; the 4 areas of life affected by the seasons are: your identity, your relationships, your roles, and your faith (58-60).  The first and third parts of the book introduce the subject, summarize the lessons learned, and suggest what to do with it.

Many people will want to skip straight to chapter 28:  With Joy Comes Laughter.  Here Blackaby talks about how to have fun.  How do you become a joy-producing person? (238)  Blackaby suggests house decorations (240), a chocolate fountain (241), a costume closet (241), holiday themes (242), and homemade movies (242).  Richard: please invite me to your home sometime!

Blackaby’s writing has been influential in my walk with the Lord.  Although I was exposed to Experiencing God[1] in my church, I actually spent more time with Hearing God’s Voice[2].  It was about a year later that I began to sense a call into pastoral ministry.  Blackaby’s The Seasons of God is a good holiday read and a thoughtful book anytime.  It may change your life.

Footnotes

[1] Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King.  1990.  Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Nashville:  Lifeway Press.

[2] Henry and Richard Blackaby.  2002.  Hearing God’s Voice.  Nashville:  Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Blackaby: Spring is Around the Corner

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

 
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Nouwen: Mastered by the Holy Spirit

Nouwen_review_20201208

Henri Nouwen.  2007.  The Selfless Way of Christ:  Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My first ministry as an adult in the early 1980s was a summer program for high school and college age students.  As my kids began graduating and taking up life as adults, I noticed a disturbing trend.  The majority of them—those not disciplined enough to stay in school to earn a professional degree—had to leave Northern Virginia because the cost of living was simply too high. I coined the phrase, downward mobility, to describe the generational schism this dilemma caused.

Introduction

Until I heard about Henri Nouwen’s book, The Selfless Way of Christ:  Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life, I had never heard anyone else use my phrase—downward mobility.  For Nouwen, downward mobility is conscious decision to resist the idolatry of a lifestyle focused on upward mobility (27) and simply to imitate Christ (38).  Nouwen writes:  The Holy Spirit leads us on the downward way, not to cause us to suffer or to subject us to pain and humiliation, but rather to help us to see God present in the midst of our struggles (47).  The Apostle Paul summed it up this way:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).

At one point, my church used this last sentence (I can do all things through him who strengthens me) as a tie-shirt slogan for our Vacation Bible School camp.  These words are powerful encouragement for those of us traveling the downward way.

Leadership Temptations

Satan tempts us daily to return to the path of upward mobility.  Following Luke 4, Nouwen (49) sees Satan’s three primary temptations in ministry as:

  1. The temptation to be relevant (turn stones into bread);
  2. The temptation to be spectacular (throw yourself off the temple); and
  3. The temptation to be powerful (rule as king) [1].

Relevance

This first temptation can be the source of a lot of pain.  Nouwen (50) observes:  Doctors can heal; lawyers can defend; bankers can finance; social workers can restructure; but what can you [as Christian,  minister, or pastor] do?  Our natural tendency is to fix things; not to trust in God’s transforming power.

Draw Attention to Ourselves

The second temptation is to focus on ourselves and serve our own needs for attention and acceptance.  Here we need to make space for God in our own lives so that he can use us to be present in the lives of the people around us (58).  Nouwen commends a life of intimate communion with God through the disciplines of solitude, silence, and prayer (59).  If our ministry is not about God, it will ultimately become tiresome and pointless.

Power

The third temptation is to be powerful.  Nouwen observes that:  Power can take many forms:  money, connections, fame, intellectual ability, skills (61).  We want to be in control.  To be a servant of Christ, Nouwen reminds us, is to be a [humble] friend of Christ (65).

Discipline

Nouwen observes that the tension between our vocation as Christians and these temptations is a lifelong challenge (69).  Discipline is required but:  The discipline of  the Christian disciple is not to master anything [like an athlete, student, or professional] but rather to be mastered by the Spirit (70).  Nouwen highlights these 3 disciplines:

  1. The discipline of the church;
  2. The discipline of the book; and
  3. The discipline of the heart (71).

Church

For Nouwen, a Catholic priest, the discipline of the church is to re-enact, to be, and to celebrate the Christ event.  Liturgical discipline focuses on the Christ event—God breaking into human history (73).  We must create time and space in our lives for God.  In this sense, the church is our spiritual director (74).

Scripture

The discipline of the book is for Nouwen necessarily an act not just of reading but of mediating on scripture.  The phrase, Christ is the word of God, is not just high rhetoric; Christ is the word become flesh (77-78).  We must chew the word (78).  The angel tells the Apostle John:  take and eat (Revelation 10:9).  It must become part of us.  Otherwise, the mere words of scripture will become an instrument of Satan (82).

Prayer

For Nouwen, the discipline of the heart is personal prayer (82). The discipline of prayer leads us unromantically, ceremonially to the heart of God (87). This is not about rewards, personal acclaim, helpful projects, or even inner peace (83); this not about personal revelations or sensations (89). Time with God strips all of this away. In prayer, our questions over time morph into our answers (87).

The point of each of these disciplines is, of course, to walk the path of downward mobility to preserver in resisting temptation.

Assessment

I return to Nouwen’s writing periodically as a personal reminder to make time and space for the Holy Spirit in my busy life.  Reminders are imperative for me.  The fact that Nouwen abandoned a comfortable life as a Harvard academic in 1986 to work with special needs individuals in a D’Arche community gives his advice on downward mobility unique credibility.  Spirituality is not a hobby-horse of convenience; it is a life commitment.  I commend this book to your own reading and mediation.

Footnotes

[1] Also see:  Henri Nouwen.  1989.  In the Name of Jesus:  Reflections on Christian Leadership.  New York:  Crossroads Book.

Nouwen: Mastered by the Holy Spirit

Also See:

Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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White: The Second Fall

White_review_20201203

James Emery White.  2004.  Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day.  Downers Grove.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Walking through the bookstore at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary [1] in Charlotte, NC a book by James Emery White caught my eye. The title was: Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Being a serious guy, I bought a copy.

White begins with a proposition: mankind has suffered not one but two falls. The first fall occurred when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. A second fall occurred when modern society turned its back on all notions of transcendence, including God (18). The mantra of the naturalist has become the watchword of the age: nature is all that there is. If it cannot be empirically verified, it does not exist (47). By the processes of secularization, privatization, and pluralization, White argues that we have come to a time when Christianity is treated as a preference fit for private discussion only within the walls of one’s own house.

White’s book is organized into 7 chapters:

  1. The Second Fall,
  2. The World that Lives in Us,
  3. The City of Dreadful Delight,
  4. Deeping Our Souls,
  5. Developing Our Minds,
  6. Answering the Call, and
  7. Aligning with the Church.

He apologizes up front for writing a mile wide and an inch deep (15). He need not have apologized: the hardest part of problem solving is arriving at a clear definition of the problem. For White, spiritual anemia (78) is the pressing problem of our age. We are lukewarm in our faith, in part, because we do not know what we believe. To deal with this problem, White commends the spiritual disciples of prayer, study, and worship.

Of these, the most interesting is worship because he views each Christian as called to treat his vocation as an act of worship. White writes: The Reformation idea of vocation follows from the monastic vision. Luther, himself a monk, was clearly familiar with the monastic conviction that all tasks needed to be offered as worship of the living God (116). This view flies in the face of society’s picture of worship as a Sunday morning activity confined within the walls of a church. Rather than being religious entertainment, worship defines who we are.  Here is our identity in Christ.

Christ calls us to ask a question of every moment of every day: to what purpose has God called me to this particular time and place? In the words of the Apostle Paul: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23). If we answer this call, every moment of every day has purpose. If God is present in our lives, we can perform a ministry of presence in the lives of those around us.

A writer’s packaging matters. Even if a writer rambles a bit, my rule of thumb is that a book is worth the time if I find myself quoting from the book and applying its lessons in my life. Two passages from Serious Times come to mind.

In the first passage, White cites a story by Walter Truett Anderson (57) that is helpful in highlighting the distinctions among modernists, postmodernists, and deconstructionists—three important worldviews today.

Three umpires have a beer at the end of the day. The first one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way they are. The second one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way I see them. The third one says there are balls and strikes and they are not anything until I call them. The first umpire is a modernist who believes in (unconditioned) objective reality. The second umpire is a postmodernist who believe that reality is conditioned on our perspective of it. The third umpire is a deconstructionist that believes that reality is conditioned on who is in charge.

This story sticks in my mind because I can put faces to each of these umpires.

The second passage is his highlighting of the broken glass theory of criminologists James O. Wilson and George Kelling (158) [2]. The idea is that crime is contagious. It starts with a broken window and spreads to an entire community. Cleaning up trash, graffiti, and broken windows and minor violations of law, New York City substantially reduced crime in the 1980s. For those of us who grew up scared to walk the streets of New York, this reduction in crime was a big deal. After reading White’s account I suddenly found ammunition to argue for cleaner kid’s rooms in my household and greater attention to detail in the office downtown. The broken glass theory has a familiar ring: I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:45). Small stuff matters.

Serious Times helped define my writing focus on Christian spirituality over the past seven years. It is a serious read for serious people.

Footnotes

[1] www.GordonConwell.edu

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory.

White: The Second Fall

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McEvoy Outlines Tragedy

McEvoy_review_20210109

Sean McEvoy. 2017. Tragedy: The Basics. New York: Routledge.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Life in 2021 is full of tragedy. The classic image of postmodernity is a collage in which random objects are strung together, but individually have nothing to do with each other. The idea that one’s life should express unity and purpose is counter-cultural. More typically one sees students living hedonistic lifestyles and then wonder why job recruiters shun them when they wash out or graduate. Suicide. Drug overdoses. Pandemic parties. Gender confusion. Willfully out of touch with themselves, God, and others many eschew all sources of meaning in life focused only on the eternal now. And their lives are tragically short.

Introduction

When I found myself musing over a tragic character in a novella that I am working on, I wondered how best to develop this character more fully. I looked for a craft book focused on writing tragedy. Finding none, I turned to Sean McEvoy’s book, Tragedy: The Basics, who writes:

“This book will consider different theories of tragedy, but won’t offer one of its own … What tragic works of art have in common is that they deal with death, grief, and suffering, both physical and psychological … tragedy has a crucial role to play in how we cope with, and try to make sense of those things which cause us most distress and which are the sources of our deepest fears.” (1)

Based on this understanding of tragedy, the focus of my second book, Life in Tension, on the spiritual tension within us, with God, and with others could almost be considered a work on tragedy by another name. McEvoy[1] focuses on tragedy as a drama performed on the Western stage, consistent with his teaching at Murray Edwards College in Cambridge, UK.

Organization

McEvoy writes in six chapters:

  1. Greek and Romans: Classical Tragedy (5-42)
  2. When the bad bleed? Early modern English tragedy. (43-84)
  3. Neoclassicism, Restoration tragedy and sentimentality (85-97)
  4. From hero to victim: Romantic tragedy and after (98-112)
  5. Modernism and tragedy (113-141)
  6. The survival of tragedy (142-169)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an introduction, and followed by a conclusion, glossary, references, and an index. Judging by the number of pages devoted to each period, McEvoy’s focus is clearly on the classical period.

Greek Drama as a Religious Event

Perhaps one of McEvoy most startling revelations about tragedy is one of his first—Greek drama was a religious ritual. He writes:

“All the ancient Greek plays which have survived were performed in Athens at the great annual festival in honour of the god Dionysus, who was the god of wine and drunkenness, but also of the theatre.” (5)

He goes on to show the civic role played by Greek tragedies:

“The Theatre of Dionysus, located on the southern slope of Athens citadel, the Acropolis, had a similar layout to both the Assembly and the law courts, and at the end of threes days of tragic performances the audience would also vote.” (6)

The social location of the theatre was formerly to shape public opinion among the prominent citizens, all of them men, who ruled the city and attendance was required. Those who could not afford the entrance fee were granted a waiver (6). The theatre therefore functioned as a hybrid among a media outlet, a movie theatre, and diversity training.

Importance of Tragedy in Philosophy

Philosophy functioned as religion in pre-Christian Greece even as it functions as a secular interpreter of religion today. McEvoy writes:

 “Hegel believed that it was only in certain periods of historical transition hen new forms of consciousness arose that genuine tragedy can be written.” (26)

Calling tragedy an art form is almost to miss the point, from Hegel’s perspective. The observation that Karl Marx was the great student of Hegel in the modern period suggests how influential this perspective remains.

Assessment

 Sean McEvoy’s Tragedy: The Basics provides interesting insights into the role of dramatic tragedy as a shaper of and mirror of cultural change. The observation that notable philosophical commentators—Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche—all took great interest in tragedy got my attention. McEvoy may also get yours.

References

Hiemstra, Stephen W. 2020, Life in Tension: Reflections on the Beatitudes Revised. Centreville, Virginia: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.murrayedwards.cam.ac.uk/fellows/dr-sean-mcevoy.

McEvoy Outlines Tragedy

Also See:

Vanhoozer Confronts Dualism Dramatically. Part 1 

Vaughn Argues a Clear Case for Writers 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

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Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership

Plueddermann_review_20201126

James E. Plueddemann.  2009.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As you exit the parking lot in my home church, a sign reads: you are now entering the mission field.   Few years back on a Sunday morning Evangelist Hussain Andaryas (www.HeSavedMe.com) cited the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and said:  because you would not go across the seas to bring Christ to your brothers and sisters, God has given you a second chance.  Now, they live across the street from you.  Now, will you go?  Each of us, if we lead at all, must now lead across cultures.

Introduction

In his book, Leading Across Cultures, James Plueddemann cites Geert Hofstede and likens leadership like learning to play an instrument and likens leadership across cultures as like learning to play several instruments (11).  For Plueddemann:  A missionary is anyone, from any country, who leaves home in order to proclaim the gospel, usually in another culture (13).  For Plueddemann, a Christian leader focuses, harmonizes, and enhances the gifts of others for their own growth while cultivating the kingdom of God (15).

From Everywhere to Everywhere

Plueddemann summarizes the challenges of multicultural leadership with a slogan—from everywhere to everywhere (25).  Mission challenges include short-term missions, church-to-church partnerships, leadership development strategies, and working under leadership of another culture (25-27).  Short-term missions, for example, imply that missions are undertaken with little or no experience with either missions or the cultures involved.  Clashes in culture are often therefore immediate and unexpected.  For example, the American assumption of “equal partners” is foreign in most of the rest of the world where the usual assumption is a senior and a junior partner (26).

Cycle of World Missions

Plueddemann envisions a cycle of world missions composed of 5 steps:

  1. Pre-evangelism,
  2. Evangelism,
  3. Church planting and nurture,
  4. Leadership development, and
  5. Partnership (48).

For Plueddemann, pre-evangelism involves both caring for people’s physical needs and their eternal needs through medical help, humanitarian relief, schools and development programs (51). Evangelism Is bringing people to Jesus and sharing the gospel:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV; 52).  In discussing the need to plant churches, he writes:  Evangelism without discipleship is like giving birth and then leaving the baby in a dumpster.  Newborns can’t live more than a few hours without the help of a family (53).

Role of Leadership Training

On leadership, Plueddemann observes that:  Jesus taught and healed the sick, but his lasting ministry came from the training of the 12 disciples.  Leadership development was also at the core of Paul’s evangelism (55).  Leadership development naturally leads to partnership because Plueddemann observes:  mature churches are characterized as self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing (56).  It is indeed ironic (and a bit embarrassing) to see former mission partners now sending missionaries to North America.

Dr. James E. Plueddemann  is Professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [1] in Deerfield, Illinois just outside Chicago. Leading Across Cultures is written in 12 chapters divided into 4 parts, including:

  1. Multicultural Leadership in the Worldwide Church,
  2. Leadership and Culture,
  3. Contextualizing Leadership, and
  4. Global Leadership in Practice.

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue (7-8).

Clearly, there is not time to summarize all that Plueddemann has written.  However, I will never forget his comments specifically about culture.  He defines two concepts—context and power distance—which bear summarizing.

High and Low Context Cultures

Citing Edward Hall’s book, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor Books,1976), Plueddeman high-context and low-context cultures.  In a high-context culture, information is passed informally with very little being communicated through formal speech.  What is important are the atmosphere of the room, the sounds, smells, facial expressions, and body language.  This is the norm in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East.  In low-context cultures the opposite is true.  People pay attention to what is explicitly said.  For example, people remember ideas, but forget who said them.  Highly expressive forms of speech are valued in high-context cultures and viewed with skepticism in low-context cultures (78-79).  In low-context cultures, speaking the truth face-to-face is valued; in high-context cultures, relationships are more important and difficult conversations take place through intermediaries (81).

Power Distance

Leadership always involves use of power so attitudes about power are culturally important.   Plueddemann cites a study by Robert House (and others) called Culture, Leadership, and Organizations:  The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (London: SAGE Publications, 2004) which defines power distance as: the degree to which members of an organization expect and agree that power should be shared unequally (94).  In a high-power distance culture, everyone agrees that leaders should have more authority, respect, and status symbols (fancy cars, expensive clothes, and so on).  In low-power distance cultures, leadership is more participatory and leaders are expected to act like a peer and have a minimum number of perks (95).

Attitudes about the role of context and power distance can be dramatically different not only internationally, but between ethnic and age groups within a society.  This is, in part, why pastors are sensitive to the style of dress and musical preferences when speaking at new churches.

Assessment

Plueddemann’s writing on leadership in a cross-cultural setting is insightful.  His writing is filled with personal accounts, particularly focused on his time as a missionary in Nigeria.  However, keep in mind that he writes primarily for the seminary student and professional missionary.  The growth of North America as a mission field, however, widens the number of professionals who need to take his counsel.

[1] http://divinity.tiu.edu/academics/faculty/james-e-plueddemann-phd.

Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

 

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Bonhoeffer: Follow After Christ

Dietrick Bonhoeffer, The Cost of DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig Pub 1937).  Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth.  New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book [1].

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Who do you follow after?

Belief follows obedience (57).  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship was the first book of theology (other than the Bible) that I remember reading as a young person [2].  It was a tough read in eleventh grade, but I remember one thing:  grace is not cheap.

Introduction

Bonhoeffer wrote:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate (44-45).

The Apostle Paul put it this way:  we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The title in German is Nachfolge which means follow after.  It is often translated simply as disciple.

Historical Context

Americans are mostly unaware that Adolf Hitler became the democratically elected chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933 (Metaxas 2012, 138).  It was later that he seized the title of Führer, which means leader in German.  Bonhoeffer distinguished himself as an early opponent to National Socialism and spoke in a radio broadcast about the limits of leadership only two days after Hitler’s election.  Bonhoeffer said:  A good leader serves others and leads others to maturity (Metaxas 2012, 142).

Nachfolge was written in the years that followed (1933-1937) as a rebuttal to the false leadership embodied in the idea of führer.  The disciple stands under God’s authority which the Führer denies.  Still, Bonhoeffer was a leader in the Confessing Church.  Nachfolge is quietly addressed to the Confessing Church (e.g. 53), which stood apart from Hitler’s Reichkirche (official German Church) [3], and is not addressed to society more generally.  In standing in opposition to the führer principle, Bonhoeffer needed to define Christian leadership.  He wrote:  Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer (91).  Bonhoeffer was very aware that Jesus also lived during trying times and was also persecuted by corrupt religious leaders.

Organization

Although Nachfolge is often interpreted through the lens of cheap grace and discipleship, these topics consume less than a third of the book (5 of 32 chapters).  Nachfolge reads like a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.  It divides into 4 parts:

  1. Grace and Discipleship;
  2. The Sermon on the Mount;
  3. The Messengers; and
  4. The Church of Jesus Christ and the Life of Discipleship (9-10).

The Touchstone edition includes a forward by Bishop G.K.A. Bell who knew Bonhoeffer personally and worked with him (in England) to coordinate the opposition to Adolf Hitler during the Second World War.  It also includes a memoir by Gerhard Leibholz, a Jewish attorney who was also Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law.  Let me turn to summarize these 4 parts briefly.

Grace and Discipleship (35-101)

The problem posed by cheap grace arises because God offers grace to the sinner, not the sin.  Cheap grace whitewashes sin and insults God’s mercy.  Bonhoeffer wrote:  Costly grace was turned in cheap grace without discipleship (50).  This is to confess Christ as savior, but not as Lord.  Worse, it inoculates the aspiring Christian against true faith (54).  By contrast, the disciple is called by Christ (63) and adheres to Christ (59).

Bonhoeffer wrote that only those who obey can believe (70).  In other words, for Bonhoeffer there is no such thing as a seeker Christian—we are called or not—and suffering is the badge of a true disciple (91).  Suffering and rejection mark Christ as the true Messiah; the disciple shares in his master’s fate (87).  Bonhoeffer famously wrote:  When Christ calls a man, bids him come and die (89).  We gain our identity as individuals through Christ’s call (94).

The Sermon on the Mount (103-197) [4]

If Bonhoeffer had been an individual opposed to Adolf Hitler, then he could have ended his book with Part 1–Grace and Discipleship and escaped from Hitler’s Germany to spend the war working as a professor in the United States. In fact, in 1939 his escape was arranged for him in the United States where he spent 26 days mulling this alternative over.  But Bonhoeffer was not an individualist; he could not cut and run.  Instead, he returned to Germany to face his true calling (Metaxas 2012, 321-346).  The remainder of the Nachfolge addresses the role of the disciple at work and in the community [5].

Bonhoeffer begins his analysis of the Beatitudes by laying out the participants:  Jesus, the multitudes, and the disciples.  Bonhoeffer wrote:

Yet there will be enmity between them right to the bitter end.  All the wrath of God’s people against him [Jesus] and his Word will fall on his disciples; his rejection will be theirs (106).

Therefore, Jesus blesses his disciples (106) calling them salt and light.  The problem of the church, our church, is the failure to be salt and light (118).  The touchstone of the church, in Bonhoeffer’s words:  simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it (197).

The Messengers (199-221) [6]

Jesus’ disciples function as under-shepherds to Jesus, in part, because bad shepherds lord generally over the flock (202).  In Matthew 9:36, Jesus cites:

So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. (Ezekiel 34:5 ESV)

The remainder of this chapter in Ezekiel focuses on the attributes of bad shepherds.  In this context, the disciples function as evangelists who are charged to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and confirm their message by performing signs—miracles, exorcisms, and raising the dead (Matthew 10:7-8; 207).  They are to depend on hospitality being accredited as disciples by their poverty (209) and by their suffering (215).  As under-shepherds, they are also to expect opposition from the bad shepherds.

The Church of Jesus Christ and the Life of Discipleship (223-304).

As the called out ones of Christ (271), how do we understand our call?  Bonhoeffer writes:  There was no other way for them [the disciples] to know Christ, but by his plain word (226).  Consequently, Bonhoeffer sees child baptism as an abuse of the sacrament because baptism cannot be repeated and no faith is present (235).  More generally, the church becomes visible through the preaching of the Word, baptism, and communion (251).  Radical transformation of the church takes place as we all stand equally before the radical call of Christ (256-258).  Restoration of the divine image is impossible for us but becomes possible when God becomes like the image of man as He does in Jesus Christ (299).

Assessment

Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge poses a challenging question to the church.  How does the church be the church in the midst of obvious persecution?  Before the Gestapo began hauling dissenting pastors off to concentration camps and drafted others into the Machtwehr (army), the Nazi worked to co-opt the church into a vision of the church cast by Nazi dogma and political needs. The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934 (Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung) helped articulate the framework of the Confessing Church and met the most egregious Nazi efforts in forming the Reichskirche, but more was needed.  In some sense, Nachfolge was Bonhoeffer’s efforts to explain to himself what God required of him.

Who do we follow after?  We are to be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1; 304).

Footnotes

[1] http://imprints.simonandschuster.biz/touchstone.

[2] When I entered seminary, I read it again; now having graduated from seminary this is my third reading.  This is the only book, other than the Bible, that I have ever read three times.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reich_Church.

[4] The Sermon the Mount is found in both the Gospel of Luke (Luke 6:20-49) and the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 5-7).

[5] The remainder of Nachfolge is in some sense the beginning of a journey on the road to another book, Life Together, which chronicles Bonhoeffer’s work with an underground seminary in Hitler’s Germany. Life Together was completed in Göttingen, Germany (a university town where I also studied) in 1938 (Metaxas 2012, 312).

[6] This chapter focuses on Matthew 9:35-10:42 (199).

References

Metaxas, Eric. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—A Righteous Gentile versus the Third Reich.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.

Bonhoeffer: Follow After Christ

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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