Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: I Am A Follower

Book Review: "I Am A Follower - The Way, Truth and Life of Following Jesus," Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012. 288 pages.

Leonard Sweet is the E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism at Drew University (NJ), a Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Fox University (OR), and a weekly contributor to sermons.com and podcast "Napkin Scribbles." He has authored numerous articles, sermons and close to fifty books.

In brackets on the lower corner of the cover of Sweet's book is this line: "It's never been about leading." This sums up the main theme of the book. Leonard Sweet is not a fan of the leadership or church growth movements in the church and writes this book, seemingly, as a counterpoint to those trend. It is a warning to those who would break Christian leadership and church growth down to a series of principles and best practices. He begins by drawing attention to the video below as a modern parable of following Jesus.

As I read this book, I must admit I wrestled with a lot of what he was saying. I have gleaned a lot from the church leadership movement and, as a confession, even have my own leadership blog. In spite of that, I tried to read with an open mind, respecting Sweet's reputation. I'm glad that I did.

While I would have preferred a less polarizing approach - not everything taught in Christian leadership circles is wrong - I thoroughly agree with his presupposition that all of us are called to follow Christ. Each of us are called to simply follow Him, wherever He may lead, and whatever it may cost. As he says, "The longest distance in the universe is the distance from zero to one." (p.9)

As a scholar and, at heart, a poet, Sweet creatively builds his case that the problem in the church is not leadership, but discipleship. It's not about leading, but following; not about learning principles, but laying down rights. He does this in three major sections.

Via: The Way - This speaks of being on the right road; to join with Christ in a life-long journey of His choosing. He writes of how we in the church have often made Christianity about a decision rather than a lifestyle, and compares this with the reality of the early church. Jesus' way is much different than any other before or after: Jesus calls us to leave all and follow Him, anything less is compromise.

Verita: The Truth - This section deals with Jesus' exclusive claims to truth. In a world of tolerance and relativism, Jesus speaks the truth that all other claims to truth must bow to His ultimate truth. Each of us must lay down our claims and our preferences, whatever they may be. "The distance to the cross is the same for each of us. The distance to the tomb and the cost of getting there are different for each one of us." (p. 153)

Vita: The Life - I liked this section the best. It speaks of incarnational living. What does it mean to allow Christ to live in and through us? It also speaks of the challenge in the church to make disciples, not simply attenders. "First followers live a life of risky and sticky faith. As they live their Jesus story, they also dream a Jesus world and help launch it into being." (p. 206)

Each section includes a study guide for use with group discussion.

He concludes with an epilogue which refers to another video, which can be viewed by clicking on this link. His point in sharing this is that a Christian's life ought to reflect the joy that comes from the privilege of living life with Jesus Christ. We get to do this together, and that's a good thing. "The greatest developmental task of life is to discover your song and sing it ravishingly to the glory of God." (p. 258)

I did enjoy this book, although I feel that some of the criticism of the church leadership movement is unwarranted and unnecessary. Any church leadership conference that I've attended has taught that Christian leadership is, first and at its heart, servanthood. Paul said, "Follow me as I follow Christ." I believe that this is the gist of what Leonard Sweet is trying to express. Where church leaders have abandoned this follower-first principle, Sweet is dead on in challenging them. This book is a great reminder to be sure that I'm not doing my own thing in Jesus' name. The agenda is His to set; not ours.

Related Articles:
Book Review: The Last Christian On Earth
Book Review: "The Harbinger"
Book Review: "The Me I Want To Be"
The Manhattan Declaration
What Is a Christ-follower?



Monday, October 01, 2012

Motion 312: Point - Counterpoint

It was Thomas Edison who said: “Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”I think we need to change that.

I enjoy all kinds of different news outlets: magazines, television, radio, the web. I even like a good civil debate every once in a while. I also like to read from different perspectives, if only to try to understand people better. I have found, however, that a great many people only get one side of the story. In light of that, I decided to start something a little different on my blog, something I'll call "Point - Counterpoint." 

In these blogs I will post links to articles on the same subject from 2 or 3 different perspectives. Please note that I do not necessarily endorse the articles presented. (If I endorsed all of these divergent opinions I'd be worried for my mental health.) What I would like to do is to try to give you a sampling of the writing from a broad spectrum of viewpoints.  

The first subject will be the distinctively Canadian brouhaha over Bill 312, recently defeated in the House of Commons. This has been the matter of a great deal of debate in Canada, much of it from people with no idea what the Bill says, or what the law currently states. So we'll begin with a presentation of the Bill itself. Here it is in its entirety:  

"That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

that the membership of the special committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the membership report of the special committee be presented to the House no later than 20 sitting days after the adoption of this motion;

that substitutions to the membership of the special committee be allowed, if required, in the manner provided by Standing Order 114(2);

that the special committee have all the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and

that the special committee present its final report to the House of Commons within 10 months after the adoption of this motion with answers to the following questions,

      (i)            what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?,

   (ii)            is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?,

 (iii)            what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?,

 (iv)            what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?"  

The following are three articles written from different perspectives. 

The first is by Heather Mallick of the Toronto Star: Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney wants MPs to decide when human life begins

The second is by Monte Solberg of the Toronto Sun: A discussion we cannot discuss. 

The third is by Monique David of the National Post

Quebec media toes the pro-abortion line in denouncing Ambrose

Full disclosure: I have strong opinions on this subject and have written on the topic a number of times. Your opinions are welcome.

Related Articles:
Motion 312 and the Quest for Justice 
Why the abortion issue won't go away 
Canada Now an Abortion Destination
No Justice in Canada for the Unborn