Ministry of Expansion Reviewed

There are two unique things about this review for me. First, I don’t believe I’ve ever been the first person to review a book on Amazon. Second, I don’t think I’ve ever done a book review where my rating has changed so many times for different reasons as has been the case with this book. (I bounced back and forth between four and five stars about six or seven times.)

The book is exactly as described. Some modern experts on Roland Allen write some chapters in the beginning to set up the context under which Roland Allen wrote his work. These are helpful in themselves, but I was immeasurably helped by listening to JD Payne’s “Strike the Match” podcast on this book before reading even these chapters. I suppose I’m like a lot of potential readers in that I read Missionary Methods St Paul’s or Ours to great benefit as a much younger Christian, but I wasn’t all that familiar with everything else going on around Roland Allen’s life and ministry. The podcast filled in the important details beautifully and I highly commend it to anyone wanting to get this book.

The book is set against the background of Roland Allen’s high church Anglican’s insisting that the only time communion could be served was in the presence of ordained priests. Allen objected to that because in many contexts there was such a shortage of ordained priests that to follow the rule would be to deprive genuine believers of the ordinances entirely. Allen seemed to believe the Anglican power brokers were motivated by fear and in J.D.’s introductory chapter he includes what is a helpful corrective for all of us seeking to prevent error by restricting ministry to a few men.

“We fear corruption and degeneration; when shall we cease to fear them? The roots of that fear are in us, and when shall we eradicate them, and how? There will always be cause for that fear, if we look at men. If we look at Christ, then, we may escape.”

According to Allen’s critique, the root cause of the problem is focusing on the people who could screw up the ordinances rather than the Christ who commanded they be practiced.

This is I think the cement that has me locked into a five star review. How often are we as 21st century church leaders motivated by fear and controlled by the idea that if we just restrict things enough we can prevent all error from the church. This is a ridiculously arrogant notion for if we claim to work to prevent error because of our love for the Church, does not Christ love His bride even more? Is He not also working to cleanse and purify her, which would include protecting her from error? The core concept of Allen’s previously unpublished work is communion, but the application is I think much broader than that. We could use his work as a necessary corrective for all sorts of restrictions we put on church life and ministry that are really just preferences rather than biblical commands. Many times there are logical reasons for these preferences, but when we cling to them as if they are commands we would do well to ask whether that is motivated by fear or by love for Jesus.

Many of the points brought up by Allen in his work remind me of something I heard Francis Chan say once. If we just had the Bible and no church traditions or structures, would we expect things to work they way they do today? I suspect the answer is no. This is the strength of Allen’s whole argument and especially his chapter 4 on The Practice of the Early Church. Are we really content to let the Bible be our guide? How ready are we to read the Bible for it to correct our views rather than to reinforce them? I was challenged on this point a lot.

The book is well written and easy to read. I finished it in a few days while on a business trip. I think it is a very useful resource for anyone who is really ready to challenge some presuppositions about extra-biblical restrictions we put on church life and ministry. Of course Allen’s primary motivation is to encourage his tribe to think about believers in distant lands and should apply it to how we serve unreached people groups and such, but I think it’s a mistake to end there. We should receive the book as a nudge to reevaluate how biblical our positions really are on all sorts of things (ordination, logistics of church gatherings, staffing models, church planting (and especially the fresh movement toward re-planting dying churches), etc.

And this is the reason I moved the review to a five star review. It is Allen’s commitment to practical theology. This book is not a theoretical exercise to him. He is looking at a real issue that was affecting real brothers and sisters in his day and applied theology to it. We have far too many books by far too many authors that talk about the truth of the Bible as if it did not meaningfully affect people for time and eternity. Allen deserves a lot a credit for tackling a topic that would have lost him favor with his high church Anglican peers because he was committed to look out for those without a voice in his circles.

Advertisements

Same Kind of Different Reviewed

Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore is not a book that made my reading list but I added it after a friend said he thought it might resonate with me. The book did resonate and I’m glad he suggested it.

The book started a little slower for me than I’d like in the same way that some good fiction books do. It just takes time to develop characters for you to enjoy them later. While this book is the account of a true story, the same is true here because the main characters are so different that you really need to see what brought them to the situation where they meet.

It’s basically a story of a rich art dealer who becomes a Christian and starts caring about the people around him. Foremost, he cares for his wife in a way he never did before and her faith led her to serve the homeless in Fort Worth, Texas. His commitment to support her vision ultimately changes his life as he befriends a violent, isolated homeless man (the co- author of the book, Denver Moore) and they go through good and bad times together.

The book resonated with me on a few levels. The title explains one, namely that every person we meet is basically the same as us. Race, economics, jobs, etc. don’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. I first found this to be true in counseling. The temptation when you’re meeting with someone who has destroyed their life or ruined their marriage or got hooked on drugs or porn is to look down on them, but in God’s eyes we are far more alike than we are different. Bringing this to my ministry life has helped me and those I’m serving have a more natural relationship as we pursue Jesus together.

It also hit me because of our church planting experience. While it’s true that we are all more the same than we are different, our experiences and cultures do matter. One of the things that Denver points out in the book was that all the questions Ron asked made him (and the other homeless) suspicious of them. (They asked “Who wants to know the name and birthday of homeless drunks except the CIA?) It’s a major cultural difference because middle class people, especially white middle class people, tend to use questions as a way to show interest. It’s a contrast in cultures that anyone who works with those of differing racial or economic backgrounds has to factor into his or her approach.

Whenever I read a book with religious overtones that doesn’t claim to be theology I always have to check my theological discernment radar at the door and just try to appreciate the book for what it is. I had to do that a couple times in the book but found I could do it in a way that didn’t compromise the main story of the book or make me love the main characters any less. I would love to meet either of these two guys in real life and look forward to meeting them both in Heaven whenever the Lord chooses to call us to himself.

Overall, I would give the book a very high recommendation. The story is told from both points of view with candor and humor. The chapters don’t exactly alternate but without counting pages I’d say it’s 60% Ron and 40% Denver so you get an excellent sense of both these men and what makes them tick. I heard there was a movie made and I’m not sure if I should be excited to see it or dread the way they could ruin the story.

Putting imagination to work

I woke up last night following a nightmare of my family being caught in a tragedy. It was one of those vivid ones where you are sure it was real for some time even after waking up. Usually my reaction to these situations once my mind is calmed down is to figure out the fastest way back to sleep, but last night the Lord directed my thoughts to those people who have endured my nightmare in real life. I prayed that God would give me more vivid nightmares if that’s what it took to help me imagine the lives of those struck with great suffering better than I do now.

Imagination seems to be one of the least used tools in the lives of Christians I meet. Those who use imagine God working in mighty ways are often cast aside as unrealistic or idealistic. People routinely respond to the tangible circumstances of the world as if they are the most real things in the universe when the Bible says that the things that are most real are the things we cannot see with natural eyes (2 Cor 4:18). Contrary to this thinking, the throughout the scriptures show us that imagination is a powerful force that can be used either to boost self-confidence (Prov 18:11, 1 Cor 8:2) or confidence in God (1 Cor 2:9, Eph 3:20).

There are several passages in the Bible that use the word “imagine” or “imagination” but we should think more broadly than that. Perhaps one of the best words to use as a pivot point for applying imagination to the Christian life is the word “consider.” When Jesus instructs his hearers to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Matt 6:28-29), he intends that we use our imagination. How did the lilies get to be more beautiful in appearance than even the richest and most opulent man who ever lived? We’re supposed to imagine the level of detailed care involved for God to have planned out and then executed his plan to make these flowers so beautiful so that we can truly appreciate God’s wonderful care for his kids who are often tempted to be anxious.

When the apostle Paul says “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11), he means for us to use our imagination. We are to imagine what it would look like if we were truly dead to sin and it had no control over us because of the life of God in us. What specific things would we stop doing? What specific things would we start doing? What would an ordinary day in my life look like? Imagine it and then go use the faith God supplies to live like that.

When the author to the Hebrews says “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3), he means for us to use our imagination and make a comparison between how Jesus suffered mistreatment and how we suffer it. We are supposed to wonder what it was like for him and what was his motivation and his fuel. It’s only after we use our imagination to get a fuller appreciation for what it was like for the creator of the universe to be abused by his own creation that we gain the fuel and motivation we need in the gospel to prevent weariness and a desire to quit.

As we train our imagination to work for the Kingdom rather than for our flesh, we receive other benefits as well, especially in how we might live out the one another commands. An obvious place to start is Hebrews 10:24 where we are commanded to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Imagination is our helper because not everyone we know will be stirred up in quite the same way that we are. Think about your friend, spouse, child, or parent. What kinds of things do they pursue? What is it that they love? What motivates them to act under normal circumstances? How could you present a current problem or need to them in such a way that the gospel’s demands of them are more vivid than they would be to a generic person? Creatively loving, encouraging, admonishing, comforting, serving, and even forgiving one another begins with a godly use of imagination. That’s what I hope my vivid nightmare will produce in me as I try to comfort those who are dealing with situations I have not faced in real life.

We are not supposed to read the Bible like we read the newspaper. Be creative about using your imagination with the Scriptures. It will help you to grow in love, grace, and discernment more than you can imagine.