Category Archives: Books

Book Review: Junkyard Wisdom

junkyard-wisdomRoy Goble is my friend. The first day I met him, I hated him.

Ford Munnerlyn, Roy Goble, me - probably 1979 in Sunol CA
Ford Munnerlyn, Roy Goble, me – probably 1979 in Sunol CA

We met in 1977 as incoming freshman at Westmont College. He is a Giants fan; I bleed Dodger blue. One of the first things we did together was play catch. We have done a lot of things together since then and I no longer hate him (I really never hated him; we just irritate each other). All of that to say that I know Roy and therefore can say some things in this review that are first hand.

Roy is generous. An anecdote: we were each other’s best man. I married in July of 81; he in September of 81. We started our families at the same time. He went into Real Estate and I went into pastoral ministry, that is, he made money and I didn’t. Soon after the birth of our first born, Roy sent me a check for a significant amount of money (more than $20). After the second born, another check. After our third, another check. After the fourth, the standard amount + $500 with a note: “here is an additional $500, get fixed, I can’t afford this.”

Roy is smart. Roy is straightforward. Roy is bold. This is why I turn to him for advice when I need it – only a few times in my life –  and why I listen to what he has to say.

Those are all good reasons for you to read his new book: Junkyard Wisdom: Resisting the Whisper of Wealth in a World of Broken Parts.

Every person who lives in the US is wealthy on the global scale.  Roy writes for those of us who want to live lives that see beyond personal gratification and gain a perspective on how to be wise about how we manage the resources we have in abundance. Written in a direct, uncomplicated way Roy gives us a road map for maximizing our impact with wealth.

The story is told in ripple format, a modern take on ancient Hebrew chiasm. As Roy tells the story it ripples out from the junkyard to the ends of the world, he invites you to experience the ripples yourself. You can learn his lessons and apply them so that you too can fix some broken parts in our world.

Roy ends the book with apologies, as opposed to thanks, and here is a final apology: “I’m sorry this book can’t fully express the things Jesus has taught me. I tried my best, but only a few of the pages even hint at the amazing opportunities we will find if we dare to resist the whisper of wealth, tear down the walls between us, and begin loving our neighbor as God calls us to.”

I am recommending this book to all my friends who have money. That is you if you are reading this post.

Buy the book. Read the book. Share the wealth.


Roy wrote a guest post on this blog entitled The Riches of Grace.

You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google + or just call him, here is his cell phone number….555-555-5555.

Look up and involve yourself in some of Roy’s investments: Pathlight  – an educational enterprise aimed at reducing poverty in Belize and Jaguar Creek a place to stay in Belize and be filled with awe through a truly unique experience that adds positive value to  local communities.

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Must Read Book; Must Change Idea

Every Christian should read this book.  Not because it is the best written or most compelling, rather because it challenges a widely held opinion that is detrimental to global peace.  Arabs and Muslims are real people with real concerns, children, jobs, and rights.  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not representative of all leaders in the Middle East; Osama bin Laden is not representative of all Muslims in the Middle East and the world.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has written a book called “Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril.”  It is not the most compelling or best written book, but it is an important one.  I am not naive enough to think it is not a propaganda piece, but it provides a necessary beginning to balance the propaganda that overwhelms our media in the US with regard to the Middle East.

Maybe the most complex issue facing our world today is peace in the Middle East, specifically the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  This is the underlying issue behind our current battle against terror.  This is a must read book for every Christian because every Christian needs to begin to look at the broader issues in play in the Middle East and our blind allegiance to one party and our tunnel vision regarding reality in that complex arena needs a straight challenge from a reasoned voice. King Abdullah provides that voice and perspective.  He humanizes the “other” side in the Middle East;  he speaks for the moderate, reasoned Muslim.  Read the book.  Read all of it.  Then begin to listen to the rhetoric without the blinders and start to fact check the “propaganda” – obviously both sides see and portray issues their way.

Here are some statements from King Abdullah’s book:

“Some people in the West and Israel like to portray [the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians] as the continuation of a centuries old struggle.  They are wrong.  It is a relatively recent conflict, rooted in Jewish immigration into Palestine in the early twentieth century.”

“The settler population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem stood at around 265,000 at the time the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993.  The number had risen to about 365,000 in 2000, and to over 400,000 in 2003.  This growth was a reflection of the fact that Israel never stopped building in the new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a politically incendiary move…also a clear indication that Israel was not committed to a two-state solution.”

“Speaking in the name of God can all too easily serve as a justification to suppress debate.  Putting yourself on a moral and spiritual pedestal allows you to condemn any challenger as morally bankrupt.  And this absolutist view becomes dangerous when it is combined with politics.  Suddenly, your political opponents become not merely people with differing values and ideas about how to organize society, but enemies of God.”

“…resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is in the national interest of the United States, Europe, and the rest of the international community.  The Palestinian issue is of paramount importance to more than a billion and a half Muslims across the world;  as such, it truly is a global issue.  Many men of violence use the Israeli occupation of Arab lands, especially East Jerusalem, as a rallying cry…Terrorist organizations exploit the legitimate frustration of Muslims over the failure to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories…it is imperative that we resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to deprive these extremists of one of their most potent appeals.”

That’s the must read book, here is the must change idea:  “Christians are on the side of Israel by default.”  It is time to challenge this widespread but fallacious idea.

Many Evangelicals equate support of Israel with a mandate from God and that the land of “Israel” belongs to Israel by divine decree, for all time.  These convictions are theologically questionable and ignore 1900 years of history.

Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are covenant promises.  They remain intact as long as the covenant remains intact.  The argument of Jesus and the New Testament is that the Old Testament Covenant with the nation of Israel has come to an end.  The new covenant that God makes with Israel is not political or geographical in nature, rather it is a covenant that is based on the work of Christ and includes not only believing Jews, but is extended to believers of all the nations.  It’s geographic focus is not on the land of Palestine, but on the globe.  It’s political focus is not on national Israel, in fact it has no political component.  Verses like:  the one who curses Israel will be cursed, the one who blesses Israel will be blessed refer to the ancient covenant made with Israel and have no connection, logical or theological, with the present nation of Israel.

That doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have claim to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  It just means that we don’t view them as superior to Jordan, Syria, Egypt or the Palestinian people.  The Christian view is not to back Israel because God backs Israel, rather it is to back Israel as a nation of people who have needs for economic, political and religious existence in a state of their own.  The same goes for Palestinians.

As a result of this blind allegiance Christians have been exploited by politicians in the US and Israel. Our naivete has contributed to the continued inability of the parties in the Middle East to achieve a real and lasting peace.  We need to admit that it has and begin to use our voice to influence change here and abroad.  It is time to change our ideas about the present state of affairs in the Middle East.

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Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich. Eric Metaxas.

Loved this book.  Bonhoeffer is a champion of the faith.  He grapples with believing in a very difficult context at a very young age.  He does the unthinkable and stands up to every conceivable authority structure in his life.  Challenging the church as he knew it when it went awry and conspiring to kill a truly evil man in Adolph Hitler as leader of the Third Reich.  Bonhoeffer is truly a good read.  I was inspired by his courage and faith.

One of my favorite sections of the book:

“This is how Bonhoeffer saw what he was doing.  He had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not reactive.  It had nothing to do with aavoiding sin or with merely talking or teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets.  It had everything to do with living one’s whole life in obedience to God’s call through action.  It did not merely require a mind, but a body too.  it was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny.  it was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a a life lived in a knd of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom – that was what it was to obey God.”  p. 446

“Bonhoeffer talked about how the German penchant for self-sacrifice and submission to authority had been used for evil ends by the Nazi’s; only a deep understanding of and commitment to the God of the Bible could stand up to such wickedness.  “It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.”  Here was the rub; one must be more zealous to please God than to avoid sin.  One must sacrifice oneself utterly to God’s purposes, even to the point of possibly making moral mistakes.  One’s obedience to God must be forward-oriented and zealous and free, and to be a mere moralist or pietist would make such a life impossible. ” p. 446-447

My favorite Bonhoeffer quotes from the book:

“It is much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying.  Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”

“If you board the wrong train it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”

“Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed along with several others for their part in the conspiracy to kill Hitler at Flossenburg Concentration Camp at dawn on April 9, 1945.  A plaque at the site reads: “In resistance against dictatorship and terror, they gave their lives for freedom, justice, and humanity.”  Bonhoeffer was 39 years old. After witnessing Bonhoeffer’s death, the Flossenburg doctor reported:  “In the almost fifty years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

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Casual Sex with God

Some things need to be said in an extreme manner.  Many Christians are having casual sex with God.

I got a late start on the reading of the Shack, really thought that it was an innocuous work of fiction.  But since I have read it, reviewed it, and talked to people about it,  more needs to be said.  I also have been reading some articles on worship and worship music.  Much of the criticism of both the book and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is similar, and valid.  There is a common element that needs pointing out.

In the Shack, the main character Mack is a seminary graduate and the author has him pondering the following after he finds a note left by God in his mailbox:

“Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training.  In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course.  God’s voice had been reduced to paper, and even that paper had to be moderated and deciphered by the proper authorities and intellects.  It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerner’s access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia.  Nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book.  Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that guilt edges?” (end of chapter 4, pages 65-66 in the paperback version)

This statement seems to be a major theological point in the book (I think that although it is a work of fiction, there is some theological axe grinding going on).  Apparently “Mack” didn’t pay attention in seminary.  Even the most cessationist perspective would distinguish between ongoing revelation and God’s means of ongoing communication. Most evangelicals would tend towards a fully closed canon, and allow for some measure of ongoing interaction and contact with God that ventured beyond simply reading the Bible.  The attack on formal training, sound exegesis as our foundation for truth (canon), and the necessity for gifted teachers and authorities in the body are slipped in here as an unassailable part of Mack’s experience, which is the new authority.

In the foreword the author in a not so oblique way, and with a oddly fundamentalist attitude, tells us all he is not interested in any sort of critique of his work, which I found oddly contradictory:

“A couple of final disclaimers: Mack would like you to know that if you happen upon this story and hate it, he says, `Sorry…but it wasn’t primarily written for you.’  Then again, maybe it was.”

Both of these statements reflect  the new epistemology that has begun to make its way into the church:  It is true if it makes me feel good.  If it makes me feel better, then it is true.  If the facts get in the way of my feeling better, there must be something wrong with the facts so let’s ignore them.  This is different than a previous epistemological problem in the church  that is similar but not the same, that is, the attitude that says I don’t care about the details just tell me what to do.  At least in the latter attitude, there was an acknowledgment of truth content back there somewhere, I just don’t need to know the details, a kind of taking my car to the mechanic pragmatism.

The sentiment I get from people who like the Shack is reflected in this statement is that I really don’t want to be corrected or challenged about the statements in the Shack because I liked it, it made me feel good.  And so with Christian music, it doesn’t really seem to matter what the content of the song is, it just needs to make me feel good.  And so it comes full circle, these attitudes then attach themselves to what the people in the body take from the church:  only that which makes them feel good.  Everything else is indispensable or debatable, not on solid doctrinal or biblical grounds, rather on purely emotional and individual grounds.

Now I understand this need we have for a good feeling.  I think peace is a good feeling, love has good feelings attached to it, security is a good feeling, harmony with my wife is a good feeling and feelings in general are important and not peripheral to life, nor to my relationship with God.  Evangelicals have underemphasized and diminished the importance of feelings in many areas including worship.  Sometimes I should feel the burden of my sin, the elation that comes with the joy of salvation, and everything in between when we encounter the Creator.

The problem with the Shack, and inane Christian songs like “Your Love is Extravagant” is that they aim for the feeling without regard to the truth content which necessarily distinguishes our books and songs as “Christian”.  One of the criticisms of CCM is that it views Jesus as my boyfriend (there is even an acronym now “JIMBee” songs: Jesus is my Boyfriend).

Those of us who are critical of mindless material, material that ignores truth content as it strives to elicit a response, find ourselves having to defend our posture.What is disturbing to me as a pastor is that this sort of valid criticism is often ignored.  We are told that we just need to relax, no one is getting hurt.

For me, it is like having casual sex with God. We woke up the next morning, rolled over and asked:  By the way what is your name?   It really doesn’t matter what his name is, I just like feeling good.  My apologies for saying it in such a way that seems to be in the same tradition as the things I am criticizing, just being shocking is not a guarantee of accuracy either.  Many seek to be heard by being provocative.  I hope that I am not simply being provocative with this post (although I know that the title is provocative, and potentially offensive), but that it also is an accurate assessment and critique, spoken in a way that will be heard by people who so easily dismiss criticism of their “feelings”.

What is so disappointing is that truth content and sound doctrine are  not contrary to the production of good feelings, or the accurate production of conviction, which would include emotions.

Our relationship with God is sometimes described in the Bible by using the sexual relationship as a model.  The Church is the bride of Christ.  If we understand the Song of Solomon as more than a marriage manual or love poem between two humans, then the metaphor of physical intimacy paints for us a parallel to the intimacy that we desire in our relationship with God.  As such, “casual” would not be a term we desire to describe our relationship with God.

By definition, casual sex is sex that is not linked to the intimacy of relationship.  In order for relationship to be truly intimate, it must be accompanied by knowledge.  That knowledge must be personal and accurate.  Foregoing the pursuit of knowledge reduces the level of intimacy and causes our relationship to move more toward the casual which ultimately is unsatisfying.

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The Shack, Pt. 2

First, here is Ben Witherington’s review of The Shack (pretty sharp guy).

Ben Witherington is a worthy critic who gives a mostly positive but cautious review of the book. If you have read the book and are not theologically trained, I would almost insist that you follow up your reading with a healthy critique like the one from Witherington.

The Shack is a book by William Paul Young, I enjoyed the book, for the most part. It is a good read, hardly a classic like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (sorry Eugene), in fact some parts are downright embarrassingly trite. At one point Young has Jesus mouth the words “True that” like some beer commercial “I want to sound cool” guy saying “what’s up?” for “wassup?”  Young has God saying the same trite things that some pastors say when people are confronted with the devastation of sin and evil. God is recreated in his pastoral image. When I hear my words, frail human pastor, in the mouth of God, I am disappointed. The picture painted of the divine in the Shack is often simply a reflection of the author’s theological position, and often not a very good position at that. And that is where the huge challenge lies in the undertaking of a book like The Shack. His vision of God ultimately disappoints. It is like watching your favorite book put into movie form; that isn’t how I pictured it. The Shack does engage some great topics that Christians don’t normally talk about, like the Trinity, and addresses some heart tugging issues like the real problem of evil in the life of the main character, Mack. Continue reading The Shack, Pt. 2

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Reading Calvin

Some people believe that Calvinists are not Christians.  Odd.  Calvin may have been the greatest Christian mind given to the church.  His Institutes are worth reading, and they are not easy, so it may be easier to read with others.  Here are two websites that are moving through the Institutes this year, both in audio format and in print.  Challenge your mind to some deep thinking.

Douglas Wilson at Blog and Mablog

Princeton Theological Seminary

ht: Between Two Worlds; Douglas Wilson

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Beyond Me

Here is a great book for your personal reading pleasure or for your small group or Sunday School class. Kathi Macias‘ book, Beyond Me, keys on part of the gospel’s impact on humanity; a movement past a focus on self to a focus on others.

Kathi writes well, she is engaging, well researched and provocative.
Kathi also attends our church (Yeah) further solidifying our claim to the best kept secret in the Inland Empire.

Kathi has written 22 books and helped with a myriad of other books.  She is the author of “The Train of Thought Writing Method” which is a book for beginning writers.

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