Your 2017 Reading List

Going into the new year of 2017 I wanted to compile and share a list of books that I read in 2016 and pass it on.  Though most of these books are keeping with the theme of Campusparade and focus on collegiate ministry, a few may be a bit “tangential” but hopefully will make sense.  Most of the books listed have a link to a fuller exploration of their themes along with links to Amazon.  I also listed a few books that I am looking forward to reading in 2017.  I hope you will enjoy as many of these books as possible.  I wish you a Happy New Year 2017 in your ministries, and in your reading.

The Great Evangelical Recession

You Are What you Love

A Secular Age

How Not to be Secular

The Defining Decade

Souls in Transition

Collegiate Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture

Books that are not exactly just on campus ministry but are good reads

Great Christ Comet

Of Beards and Men

Anticipated Books of 2017

The Benedict Option

The Evangelicals

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation

benedict-optionWith the rapid realization by Christians that American culture is more like an adversary than an ally, church leaders, writers, pastors, and lay people within orthodox Christianity have begun to ask where does the American church go from here.  Though some like Russel Moore are more optimistic about “keeping Christianity strange”, others are more skeptical about the church’s days ahead.  One of those who remains skeptical is lay person, writer, and blogger Rod Dreher.  Known for his blog at The American Conservative, and his book How Dante Saved Can Save Your Life, Mr. Dreher believes that the church will face a continuing hostile culture which will force her to entrench for decades to survive the coming battle.  He takes the title for his book, as well as the concept for the church’s health, from St. Benedict of Nursia (480 AD-547 AD). In creating a rule to help the Church, Benedict also set in motion systems that would create institutions to preserve Western civilization during the coming Dark Ages. Thus the title of the book:  Mr. Dreher sees a coming Dark Age for the American church.

According to Mr. Dreher, he is not advocating “running to the hills to hide,” but a focus on ingraining a Christ-centered mentality in the church.  To do this, he contends that there must be some withdrawal from mainstream culture which is quickly moving away, if not against, the Church.  By withdrawing, yet being a faith presence within culture, he contends that the Church will reemerge at some future time to lead the culture back to Christ.  He is talking  a long view of the cycles of Christianity.  I personally think he is on to something that we Christians need to really ponder.

In a year when many evangelicals seemed to think that a Trump presidency would roll back the hands of the cultural clock, The Benedict Option will be an interesting, and perhaps, needed tonic to purge an overly confident evangelical church. Though I respect Mr. Dreher and appreciate his writings, I don’t know if I will agree with everything that he will say in  his book.  But I  do know that it will be one of the books that every serious-thinking Christian should be familiar with going forward.  I have already pre-ordered my copy.

 

The Benedict Option is due to be out March 14, 2017.

The Evangelicals

evangelicalsThough Newsweek called 1976 the “year of the evangelicals” we could certainly say that 2016 brought that title back up again.  The high usage of the word was due to the election year and Trump’s special relationship with evangelicals, as well as the sharp war of words within the Christian community about why an evangelical should or should not vote for him.  But evangelicals are certainly much more diverse than in 1976. Millennials are not the Moral Majority, and writers struggle sometimes whether to use Evangelicals or just evangelicals.  I contend that spelling matters.

It seems fitting then that, The Evangelicals:  The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald is coming out in 2017.  I have no idea where she is taking this book.  It may be totally a political foray.  It may include social mission.  It may ponder what is an evangelical.  Or it may be a dull diatribe.  I don’t know.  But given the saturation of the word in 2016, I think it would worth while to read what a well-known author who has won the Pulitzer Prize has to say.

Surfing the Waves of Emerging Adulthood

wave-1628850_1280People often refer to stereo when talking about sound and music, but not so often about sight.  Stereopsis is the enhancement of sight by using two eyes.  Having two eyes allows one to have depth perception that would not be possible with just one eye.  Looking at the college years and twenties through the lens of Souls in Transition and The Defining Decade helps us see emerging adulthood much more clearly.  Though the two works focus on the same subject, they are positioned from different angles which make stereopsis possible.

Souls in Transition comes from a sociologist focusing on religion and early emerging adulthood, while The Defining Decade is from a psychologist looking at the twenties in general.  Souls in Transition is an academic work, The Defining Decade a self-help and motivational book.  But don’t be deceived, they both help us see emerging adulthood in sharper contrast.

If emerging adulthood were surfing on a bright sunny day off Oahu, then Souls in Transition would be bringing those relentless waves into focus.  Are the waves cresting?  How long is the tube?  Is the wind blowing offshore or onshore?  We just don’t see the individual surfer, but also the forces that propel that surfer.  Souls does offer some case studies that highlight individuals much as The Defining Decade does, but the real punch of Souls comes from its tables and charts.  We see the ocean.

Souls in Transition is the second in a series by Christian Smith who analyzed and interpreted the National Study of Youth and Religion which interviewed 13-17 year olds.  He released his first book, Soul Searching:  The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers in 2005.  Souls in Transition looks at third wave data he has gleaned more recently and specifically looks young adults from 18 to 23 years old, which meshes well with the traditional college demographic.   Dr. Smith wants to ask questions and these are the questions he asks:  “What do the religious and spiritual lives of American 18-23-year olds look like and why?  What are the social influences that shape people’s lives during these years? And how do people change or not change religiously and spiritually as they exit their teenage years and head into their twenties?”

Some of the answers we get are surprising:

*The religious lives of parents are one of the most powerful influences on the outcome of emerging adults.

*Teenagers are still more influenced by parents or other caring adults than peers

*There is little evidence for internal belief without external expression

*Attending college does not increase the chance of losing one’s faith

*Most emerging adults think nobody ultimately really knows what is true, right, or good

*Emerging adults as “sovereign individuals” lack conviction or direction

 

For all those pastors who have been saying the ultimate responsibility for a child’s religious education rests on the parents they are right.  But even if a parent cannot be there, some other adult’s involvement in the life of teenager is highly important for the religious outcome in the emerging adult years.  Teenagers and emerging adults need older adults as mentors and guides.

Perhaps some of the most perceptive writing about this observation comes in the section entitled The Cultural Triumph of Liberal Protestantism.  Here referring to the work of sociologist N. Jay Demerath, Smith relates how the decline of liberal Protestantism is actually a victory of their theology, since more and more emerging adults have no reason to care about religion.  Smith writes: “liberal Protestantism’s core values—individualism, pluralism, emancipation, tolerance, free critical inquiry, and the authority of human experience—have come to so permeate broader American culture that its own churches as organizations have difficulty surviving.”  Even though liberal Protestantism has all but imploded, it has won the theology wars by leaving a “who cares about religion” mindset with most emerging adults.

Though we have only skimmed the waves in this review, Souls is a profound book that every leader working with emerging adults should read. Its scope and magnitude go far beyond “college students” to seeing how waves are developed well out to sea.  Staff working with youth and parents would be wise to read it as well.   Coming in at over 300 pages, however, it is not the type of book most emerging adults will actually read.  What is where The Defining Decade come in.

If Souls helps us see with more clarity the waves pushing our imaginary suffer, then The Defining Decade by Dr. Meg Jay, focuses on the surfer, and the decisions he or she makes.  Is she turning left or right?  Is she about to wipeout?  What board is he riding?  Looking through the lens of The Defining Decade we see the twists and turns the surfer should make, hold our breaths as they shoot through the pipeline, and rejoice with them as they ride the really big ones.

Though not written from a religious perspective like Souls, there are echoes of the wisdom literature in this book.  Whether describing work, love, or the brain and the body, there is a much needed common sense attitude that comes through to the reader.  We can resonate with her advice saying, “The church has been saying this for years!”

The main theme of Dr. Jay, is that the surfer actually has to surf, and the earlier the better. After college, many emerging adults tend to just drift on their boards without actually standing up.  Dr. Jay wants to change that by lending her experience in counseling to any and all twentysomthings who will listen and realize that their twenties do in fact matter.

Dr. Jay reminds emerging adults about key guides for life:

*Identity capital is important and needs to be cultivated early.

*That prudent life choices in one’s twenties sets the stage for success in later life

*That too many choices can lead to paralysis

*That who you marry is one of the most important decisions in life, and no one in college teaches you how to decide.

*How commonalities and similar likes help sustain a marriage

*That couples who live together actually have more of chance of divorce after marriage.

Those in collegiate ministry can use these books to help them zoom in or pan out to see the particular student or wave as needed.  Souls in Transition can be used to help build an integrated ministry from teenager to early emerging adult.  The Declining Decade makes a good book for an individual emerging adult to read by herself, and to help parents, grand-parents, and lay leaders understand the zeitgeist of mellinnenials.

Putting these two books together helps us see a way forward for ministry with emerging adults:

*Churches need to be coaching parents on how to mentor their children in religious development

*Transmission by participation needs to replace transmission by entertainment

*Mentoring needs to begin early and continue through early emerging adulthood

*Evangelism must be done beyond the church walls since most emerging adults aren’t interested in coming to a church service

*Ministries can reach emerging adults in their brokenness and indecision through incarnational ministry that is passionate, directional, and healing

These two books work well together helping to balance the tendency by some who think a self-help book can solve any problem, or those who think everything is determined by sociological factors.  As Christians we know that God has given us personal choice and a mandate to follow him, yet readily admit that God remains sovereign.  In reading these two books, we are reminded of this tension of sovereignty and choice:  of the crash of the wave, and the use of a board. Let’s do our part in reading these books to be the best surfing coaches, lifeguards,  oceanographers, and weather forecasters we can.

 

The Great Evangelical Recession

the-great-evangelical“First money drains, then power drains” said a commentator on the similarities of the United States and the British Empire.  Who would have thought standing outside Buckingham Palace during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 that in 50 years Great Briton’s money and power would be in mortal decline.   By 1997 one of her most iconic colonies, Hong Kong, would be returned to communist China.

John Dickerson’s book The Great Evangelical Recession, reminds us that “when money drains, power drains”.  Though the British Empire, or any empire for that matter, cannot really be compared to the Church of Jesus Christ, it certainly can be compared to the cultural expressions of the local church in the United States.  And in the United States the foremost model of ministry is based on money.

In his chapter entitled “Bankrupt” he makes a strong case for the sea-change in giving that will force a crisis in the evangelical church.  The good news is that it will not happen tomorrow.  The bad news is that it will be within the next 15-20 years.

Dickerson lists four major reasons why this financial crisis will happen: dependence on dollars in the American Evangelical church; the trend of overall decreased giving; the death of the biggest giving generation; and the unpredictabity and unreliability of the ensuing generations.

Dependence on Dollars in the American Evangelical Church

Though not many churches can tell you how many disciples they have produced, they can certainly tell you their budget numbers.  The American church is awash in money.  Unfortunately, that has led to models of ministry that are dollar-driven.  When the dollars dry up, the ministry will collapse.

The Trend of Overall Decreased Giving

Though the combined giving of the American Evangelical church is greater than the GDP of Iceland, recent problems in the US economy have only exacerbated a slow trend in decreased giving to support churches and ministry.  One of the alarming trends is the continued decline of those who actually tithe.  According to a Barna report, only 5% of evangelicals actually tithe a full 10% of income.

The Death of the Biggest Giving Generation

This decrease in giving is only going to accelerate with the death of the Greatest Generation and the greying of the Baby Boomers.  According to studies cited by Dickerson, donors aged 65 years old and older give 46% of total donations to ministries.[1]   That is a staggering number.  They are carrying a heavy burden and deserve huge respect from us.

The Unreliability and Unpredictability of the Ensuing Generations

Unfortunately, each year this generation is moving toward extinction.  Who will replace them?  According to Dickerson, no one.  If something does not change drastically, the next generation will not pick up the mantel.  Citing a study from Purdue University, Dickerson points out that the Baby Boomers are not giving the same about as their parents did at comparable ages.[2]  In other words, when the Baby Boomer reach (and many are now) in the 65 age group, they are not giving as much as the previous generation.

Looking at the overall giving patterns and trajectory of demographic paints a bleak future for the American church financially.  However, one must also understand that this outlook is focused on a model that is based on dollars.   In his chapter titled Solvent, Dickerson outlines several responses that the church can pursue to counter these trends.

Hybrid Ministry

These ministries are ones that require fewer dollars but produce more results.  As Dickerson says “Hybrid ministries don’t require as much money because they’ve been careful about output (building and other overhead costs), and they also have an alternate energy source (nonpaid staff).

Conservation

In this section Dickerson asks a great question:  “If you knew your salary would be cut in half in the next fifteen years, would you take out a thirty-year mortgage that you can barely afford?”  It is a question that all ministries need to ponder.  If giving is going to nosedive, then shouldn’t we begin to pull back on long range purchases?

Preparation

Preparing the next generation is a huge task to combat the falling giving rates.  But part of the problem is not that there is no money in evangelical hands, but that they are not giving it.  According to a financial report, US evangelicals represent less than 20 percent of global evangelicals yet hold around 80 percent of world-wide evangelical wealth.  The money is not being passed around to impact more people.  To change this situation, as well as the decline in giving, ministries will need to be preparing mature believers now for future giving.

Abandon

Lastly, Dickerson reminds us that tithing is at an all-time low.  To correct this problem, ministries will need to teach, promote, and highlight tithing as a biblical norm, not just an anomaly present in one generation.  Rather than try to recreate a generation that gave out of a cultural norm (and still fell way short of full-scale tithing), Dickerson states that ministries must raise radical disciples that are willing to tithe and produce other disciples that are willing to tithe.

Is Dickerson saying that dollars are not important?  No, he is not.  But he is saying that new models of ministry can be started that do not focus on dollars as the foundation of ministry.  Rather these new models will follow on discipleship.

So, what kind of adjustments does your ministry need to take?

How does your church or ministry feel about bivocational staff?

Would your ministry be willing to have self-funded staff that solicit funds from their social and family networks?

Would your church postpone building in order to create more cost effective small groups that meet in homes?

How are you going to reach the next generation with a model that focuses on discipleship rather than dollars?

First dollars drain, then power drains.  This may be true for earthly empires, but thankfully the Church of Jesus Christ, the greatest Empire ever, is based on discipleship.  On this Empire, the sun never sets.

Of Beards and Men

Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair, by Christopher Oldstone-Mooreimg_3316

 

Ok.  It really has nothing to do with collegiate ministry.  But hey, we all know that beards and collegiate ministry go cheek to cheek.  In working with scores of collegiate ministers and collegiate church planters, the vast majority of them have some form of facial hair.  So, since so many of us are sporting beards of some sort, I decided to let you all know about this book.  Besides, the author does cover a lot of religious issues and events, believe it or not, while covering the topic.  And don’t scoff at the idea of a book about beards.  It’s a Phi Beta Kappa recommend read.

The author helps us understand that the clean-shaven standard look started with Alexander the Great in an attempt to have an eternal, youthful, god-like look of Achilles and 4th century BC portrayals of a beardless Heracles.  At the young age of just twenty-two, Alexander was at the right period in his life to attempt the likeness.  Why Greek artists were shifting to beardless depictions of gods in the 4th century will be up to you to find out with further reading.

Ever since Alexander, the clean-shaven look has been the standard in the West for more than two thousands years except for four periods of time:  mid-way in the Roman empire, during the high Middle-Ages, during the Renaissance, and during the mid to late 19th Century (think Civil War generals).  For those who are interested in theology and Christian history, you will find the material on the battle over the “inner beard” and Jesus’ beard most interesting.  Why do Catholic bishops almost never have beards, and Orthodox priests almost always have them? You will discover that beards were an excommunicable offence for Catholic clergy until 1917, (though Clement VII did grow a “penitential beard” after the sack of Rome by mercenaries in 1527).  Protestant reformers, by contrast, embraced beards as a sign of their theological differences with Rome.

But the book is not just trivia.  Along the way Mr. Oldstone-Moore brings up issues that will stop and make you think. What is the purpose of beards?  Do they protect?  Do they attract mates (most research shows short stubble the most attractive to both men and women)?  Are beards required by God?  Do they represent male superiority, or a beast within that must be tamed?  And for us doing collegiate ministry the main question must be “why beards now?” Is the spike in campus ministers sporting beards a theological shift of some sort (a Reformed resurgence?) or just the mirroring of broader trends?  Are ministers with beards more “effective” on the campus?

Finally, if you are wondering if we have entered a fifth beard phase, Mr. Oldstone-Moore says the jury is still out. Though there are many men sporting facial hair of some sort, he is quick to point out that no U.S. president since Taft has had facial hair.  The last nominee for president from either party with facial hair was Thomas Dewy (he wore a mustache) who lost twice in 1944 and 1948.  Union members do not have a right to wear a beard, and corporate American still seems to abide by Alexander’s mandate.

I think you will find this book an interesting read no matter your thoughts, or lack thereof, about beards.  You will certainly learn from reading this book, and will come away realizing that in Western history beards were, and continue to be, much more than just “fashion statements.” At $27 it is a bit pricey, but I was able to find a copy at my local library.

Jacob Deshazer: A Great Forgiver

 

deshazerThis December 7th as many in the United States and around the world mark the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there are many stories of heroic actions by servicemen and citizens that could be remembered. However, I would like to point to one that shows how God can take bitter enemies and do wonders.  If you are looking for a story of redemption coming out of a tragic event this is it.

After the initial shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States launched a surprise attack on Japan in retaliation.  The men who flew in the planes attacking Japan would not have enough fuel to return, and so had to bail out or land in China.  One of the men who bailed out after bombing Japan was Jacob Deshazer.  Jacob was quickly captured by the Japanese army and held as a POW for 40 months.   Jacob was beaten, starved, and put in a camp that seemed like the pit of Hell.  But after almost two years in captivity, Jacob was able to read a few books, including the Bible.  Jacob read the Bible over and over during that time.  Though held in a prison, he found salvation when reading Romans 10:9.  Jacob confessed Christ, found hope, and became a new man.

Though Jacob was well-known after the war as a survivor of the Doolittle raid and a famous POW, his most amazing action was forgiving those who imprisoned him and returning to Japan as a missionary after the war.  He traveled the country speaking to large crowds and telling his story and preaching the Gospel.

hawaii-025

Fuchida’s picture at Pearl Harbor across from the Arizona 

Perhaps, however, it was his tract I Was a Prisoner of Japan, that won his most well-known convert:  Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of the squadrons which attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th, 1941.  After becoming a Christian, Captain Fuchida would go on to become an evangelist in Japan reaching his own countrymen.  At times Jacob and Mitsuo would appear on the same stage preaching to Japanese crowds amazed at this turn of events.

 

Only God could take a man who had every natural right to hate the Japanese and turn him into a missionary who could forgive his enemies.

If you are wondering what this has to do with campus ministry, I guess you could say it has nothing to do with it; but on the other hand you could say it has everything to do with it.  Sharing the Gospel on campus is often about crossing lines to “those people” who don’t always like us, who are different from us, or who we do not like.  But if we are going to reach the campus with the Gospel, we will need to see “hostile” areas as the fruit for the future Church.  No one thought on December 7, 1941 that Mitsuo Fuchida would one day become a Christian evangelist.  But God knew.

Your students are missionaries to the whole campus.  Send them out to find the least expected future evangelist.

See a short 8 minute clip of Deshazer in his own words here

If you would like to read more about Jacob Deshazer check out this book from YWAM publishing.  Jacob Deshazer: Forgive Your Enemies

YWAM has a whole series on missionaries which you can view here