Category Archives: Book Reviews

Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered (Growing in Christ through Community) | Book Review

Wilhoit’s approach is very academic feeling, but still very enlightening when I think about Christian Spiritual formation.

The book flows around four relationship experiences: Receiving, Remembering, Responding, Relating. Within each segment, Wilhoit reminds us of God at work in and around the relationships in our lives.

Receiving: we receive the Grace of God which grows faith within us.

Remembering: this is the grounding or the roots to the whole Christian life. Remembering is about the focal piece of our new identity as saved people, saved by the Grace of God through Jesus.

Responding: this is the expression of faith within us. It’s something that is like a blooming into action. It’s fostered and active.

Relating: this is where being-formed people continue to connect with others. This piece is all about seeking spiritually enriching community and opportunities for expressing love to others.

The most helpful pieces from the book were the twelve “Community Spiritual Formation Corollaries:”

  1. “All persons are formed spiritually. It may be in either as positive or negative direction. This formation may involve the cultivation of virtues that promote trust in God ans foster social compassion or may leave persons wary, self-protective, and unable to promote the welfare of society” (p.17).
  2. “Christian spiritual formation: (1) is intentional; (2) is communal; (3) requires our engagement; (4) is accomplished by the Holy Spirit; (5) is for the glory of God and the service of others; and (6) has as its means and end the imitation of Christ” (p.23).
  3. “The gospel is the power of God for the beginning, middle, and end of salvation. It is not merely what we need to proclaim to unbelievers; the gospel also needs to permeate our entire Christian experience” (p.29).
  4. “Christian spiritual formation seeks to foster a joyful apprenticeship in which we learn to live out the great invitations of Jesus, especially those concerning the life of prayer and love” (p.45).
  5. “The fertile field for formation is in a community genuinely aware of the depth of their sin and the reality of their spiritual thirst. True formation requires that the community deeply understands that they cannot cure the sickness of their souls through willpower alone” (p.63).
  6. “Our soul-thirst is powerful, and it makes all of us idolaters. The Bible sees idolatry as a universal problem. Communities have a unique way of embodying a corporate pride that blinds them to forms of idolatry. Also, faith communities can challenge idolatrous practices like racism in ways an isolated Christian seldom will” (p.76).
  7. “Worship filled with prayer and praise and opportunities for confession, repentance, receiving the sacraments, hearing and giving testimonies of God’s activity, and learning/challenge is the most important context of community formation” (p.86).
  8. “‘Be subject to one another our of reverence for Christ’ (Eph. 5:20). Submission, restorative discipline, and accountable spiritual leadership are ancient formative practices that mark healthy formative churches” (p.90).
  9. “Christian spiritual formation should always be more than the teaching ministry of the church, but never less. True formational teaching is compressive, deeply orthodox, healthy, and anointed by the Spirit of God” (p.139).
  10. “True Christian spiritual formation forms Christians with a deep identity and engagement with the church worldwide” (p.156).
  11. “Evangelism is an essential part of spiritual formation. Evangelism, as people are called to faith in Christ, is the initial act of Christian formation. The act of evangelism is a powerful means of formation for the believer who reaches out in love to share the good news” (p.167).
  12. “Conflict has a unique way of forming us. In conflict our natural patterns of defensiveness arise, and in this vulnerable place we can experience much growth as we lean that Jesus’ teachings are so sensible” (p.174).

With these concepts in the front of my imatination at the moment, I wonder what my move is. I’m also wondering what moves God is already in the process of doing in and around me and within the lives of others around me.

As I skim through the book looking over my highlight streaks and notes, I see this line from page 75: “Christian spiritual formation is not primarily about programs or techniques, but it is first and foremost about an approach to life.” That sentence sums up all twelve corollaries and four relationship that this book is all about.

…spiritual formation isn’t a class experience but an approach to life that is about receiving new life from God, remembering this new life’s cause and call, responding to this new life invitation by following Jesus as we’re recieving the ability and faith to do so, and relating with others in this lifestyle and being sent out to relate to all others in need of new life from God through Jesus.

The Disciple Making Church: From Dry Bones to Spiritual Vitality | Book Review

I think author Glenn McDonald did some good work on this writing. His take on growth is a lot different than other books I’ve read about Christian spiritual formation or discipleship — for better and worse.

For better: Glenn’s perspective gets at the pastoral heart of spiritual formation: “How am I called to be an agent of God in the transformation of these people?” He writes his stories and metaphors with a sermon-like feel, almost predicatbly so. I always felts another analogy coming around the corner.

The concepts Glenn wrote about are keepers. Disciples are people who are being mentored, are mentoring someone, are being nurtured in a community of believers, and are being sent to a community. These are preceeded by knowing your Lord and knowing who you are as a saved individual with a saved people. These concepts are the main piece of the book. The latter half speaks about the character of a disciple as someone who has “a heart for Christ alone,” “a mind transformed by the Word,” “arms of love,” “knees for prayer,” “a voice to speak the Good News,” and “a spirit of servanthood and stewardship.”

The worse… Glenn’s concepts are golden but his book lacked, in my opinion, the drive or “how to” to get there. I read a lot about the character form to aim for, but what is the calling or journey to arrive in that place? I suppose this is where his concept of the six relationships comes in and that we are shaped by those relationships. I agree with that. God is all about relationship. I also realize that the “how to” of getting there isn’t our drive or ambition but the hands of God at work through relationships. …but my mind keeps returning to the spiritual disciplines. What role do they play?

(When I say “How to get there,” I mean that Glenn doesn’t walk us through what study or prayer or service or other things might look like – he sort of just says we need them and sends us out in what I felt to be a kind of blind treasure hunt.)

The main spiritual formation driver from Glenn’s book was the impact of time in Scripture. All of the relationships mentioned were immersed in the pages of the Book as the source of identity for the disciple.

In conclusion, Glenn’s book pieced the spiritual disciplines in the guidance of the Bible and in the arms of all kinds of relationships. There’s no room for solo flying. Formation happens in relationships.

Is this livable? I think so. Is this book a guide for me in thinking about spiritual formation? Yes.

Now, how might my congregation live this out? How can we draw people into these kinds of relationship that Scripture (and Glenn) both write about?


Tell It Slant | Book Review

Eugene Peterson is the kind of guy I want to be like someday (Heb. 13:7). His words are a poetic wisdom, his pace in life seems to take every beautiful sight in as a new gift of God – not busied (although life has a lot of things to do), not trying to make himself look impressive, not concerned with flash. Real.

Peterson’s latest book, Tell It Slant, is his latest in his Spiritual Theology series – conversations on connecting the ways we think to the ways and practices of our lives. Tell It Slant gets at the way we use words in stories (first half of the book) and prayer (second half).

The greatest part of Peterson’s book is how he has a conversation with the reader about the way Jesus used stories and prayers. Jesus took time to tell stories and those stories of his weren’t really designed to offer a philosophical truth or dogmatic — they really seemed geared to invite the listener to be a participant in the dawning Kingdom of God. (Of course the stories still contain truth, if you’re worried about that.)

On prayer, my favorite phrase is the concept about the words we use when we talk with God don’t have to be some kind of alternate language than the words we use for talking with friends, family, or for grocery lists. Prayer isn’t some kind of magic spell that depends on word order and timing. It’s relational, personal, speaking and listening…

I really recommend this one from Peterson, especially for those in the ministry who spend a lot of time with words and prayer.

Youth Ministry 3.0 | Book Review

The times they are a changin’…

This book was very helpful in my ministry – it taught me a bit about the historical landscape of youth ministry, so much that I just have never heard before but shapes where we’re at today.

Mark, the author, writes us through three eras of youth ministry and a bit on how ministry worked in each era. Youth Ministry 1.0 (Era 1): 1945-1960’s. Youth Ministry 2.0: 1970’s – 2000. Youth Ministry 3.0: Today. (See the chart below for a few phrases from the book.)

My $10 word (about the cost of the book) was affinity. Affinity: together, acceptance, love expressed, communication, relationship, I’m with you/you’re with me, God’s with us/we’re with God.

Here’s the brief history in a box:*

Youth Ministry 1.0 Youth Ministry 2.0 Youth Ministry 3.0
Youth Culture Fixation Identity Autonomy Affinity
Cultural Influence on Youth Ministry Language and Topics Models and Success Contextualization
Key Themes Evangelism and Correction Discipleship and Creating a Positive Peer Group Communion and Mission
Driver Proclaimation Programs Not Driven, but Present
Theme Verse Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 28:19-20a Acts 2:44-46a, John 17:18

I think Mark has a great concept going here. I believe many of our ministries are still focusing on putting on a good show — we’ll, anyone can find a great show anywhere these days, many of us take the show with us on our phones or iPods. What we’re needing is the experience of communion with people, with God — all wrapped in Jesus. This will drive us to mission. This will drive us to seek to be contextual, not follow models of ministry, but instead to spend more time in prayer, discerning the call of God for us and our people.