The Books I Love

Brother Maynard tagged me back on the 16th with a “meme” that floats from person to person, this one about the books we read.

So here are my responses:

1. Total number of books I own / have owned:
I’m nowhere on par with the great Brother Maynard…I recently dumped a bunch of books when I moved my office to another part of the basement. So now I estimate the number to be around 800-900.

2. Last book I bought:
Christianity and the Postmodern Turn: Six Views, edited by Myron B. Penner
I have aquired an insatiable desire to learn about how postmodernism and Christianity will interact in the coming years. This book offers the insights of six scholars who, I hope, will deepen my understanding of different views as to what has happened and will happen to Christianity because of the postmodern turn.

3. Last book I read:
Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
(see my previous post)

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:
Interestingly, two of mine made it on Brother Maynard’s list as well...
These books, in order of appearance in my life, radically transformed the way I viewed my Christian existence:
Desiring God by John Piper
The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey by Brian D. McLaren
Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God by Michael E. Wittmer
Out of the Question… Into the Mystery by Leonard Sweet

5. Two major books when I was a kid:
I can think of one:
The Invisible Man by Ray Bradbury
Especially the short story “The Man” in it, which tells the story of Jesus arriving at a distant planet right before a rocket lands with Earthmen in it. The conceited captain of the ship is ticked that there is no fanfare for the first Earthmen landing on the planet, but the people are simply not interested because somebody more impressive arrived before them.
I was not a Christian as a child, but this story always fascinated me.

Thanks, Bro Maynard for the meme.



Shalom is the Way it is Meant to Be

Recently, my wife and I bought a tapestry from Ten Thousand Villages (a fair trade store with goods from third world countries). It featured the word "PEACE" in several different languages around the outer edge with a nice design in the middle. I love that concept: PEACE ALL AROUND THE WORLD. Sounds like what Jesus is called--the PRINCE of PEACE.

I've read many books that made the biblical teaching of SHALOM a central theme. Mike Wittmer's Heaven is a Place on Earth shook my world. Then there was the manuscript Scot McKnight invited me to be a reader on, interacting with it and adding my two cents - Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us was so insightful. Of course, there was the excellent books by Cornelius Plantinga Jr., including Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living.

This last book teaches that the grand "meta-narrative" that is true (as opposed to the other meta-narratives that destroy life and are used to manipulate others) is the biblical one of CREATION, FALL, and REDEMPTION.

"The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets called shalom. We call it "peace," but it means far more than just peace of mind or cease-fire between enemies...(it) means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight--a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, all under the arch of God's love. Shalom, in other words, is the way things are supposed to be." (pp. 14-15)

"Evil is what's wrong with the world, and it includes trouble in nature as well as in human nature. It includes disease as well as theft, birth defects as well as character defects. We might define evil as any spoiling of shalom, any deviation from the way God wants things to be. Thinking along these lines, we can see that sin is a subset of evil; it's any evil for which somebody is to blame...All sin is evil, but not all evil is sin...all sin is culpable evil...Sin grieves God, offends God, betrays God, and not just because God is touchy. God hates sin against himself, against neighbors, against the good creation, because sin breaks the peace...God is for shalom and therefore against sin." (p. 51)

"The whole natural world, in all its glory and pain, needs redemption that will bring shalom. The world isn't divided into a sacred realm and a secular realm, with redemptive activity confined to the sacred zone. The whole world belongs to God, the whole world has fallen, and so the whole world needs to be redeemed--every last person, place, organization, and program; all 'rocks and trees and skies and seas'; in fact, "every square inch,' as Abraham Kuyper said. The whole creation is a 'theater for the mighty works of God,' first in creation and then in re-creation." (p. 96)

The way it is meant to be!


The Books They've Assigned Us

Here at Staff training for the CCO, we are taking two graduate-level courses on doing college minsitry. I'm excited about the required texts. Check them out:

The Drama Of Scripture: Finding Our Place In The Biblical Story by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.
I started reading this one last night. With the emergent emphasis on the narrative of Scripture, this book seems up the right alley. The authors are very influenced by NT Wright and Lesslie Newbegin, with their emphasis on our understanding the dramatic storyline of the Bible.

Engaging God's World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.
My friend Miche said he was reading a Plantinga book--I was wondering if this was it. This book is about the concept of "shalom" as the key to understanding the overall framework of the story of Scripture (Creation, Fall and Redemption). He then seeks to apply that to our vocation or calling as Christians to serve others for their good so that they can be invited into God's Kingdom.

Evangelism Outside the Box: New Ways to Help People Experience the Good News by Rick Richardson
Richardson is the National Coordinator of Evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. Publisher's Weekly says of this book, "Here, [Richardson] provides a heartfelt challenge, offering an excellent analysis of postmodern thought as the current milieu for evangelism and a brief introduction to many useful resources for practical application." I'm all over that!

Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students: A Guide for Youth Workers, Pastors, Teachers & Campus Ministers by Richard R. Dunn
Dunn was a professor at Trinity when I attended there (in the Christian Education/Youth Ministry Dept). He is now pastor at Fellowship Evangelical Free Church in Knoxville, TN (one of the cutting-edge churches in the EFCA). His insights into reaching high school/college students will, I would guess, be very helpful.

Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
Emerson and Smith seem to argue that though evangelicals have been seeking to create racial reconciliation, we will always fall short because we do not look at the problem more holistically--they say that evangelicals have a piecemeal approach to social justice: we emphasize individualism and free will, and therefore we are predisposed to believe that most racial problems can be solved if individuals will only repent of their sins. They call white evangelicals to more sociological involvement and working toward eliminating inequities in economic policies.

The Measure of a Man by Martin Luther King, Jr.
King's theological underpinnings of his political and social philosophy of nonviolent activism. Shame on me for having not read anything by Martin Luther King before!

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene H. Peterson
I read this book 10 years ago in seminary in Chicago (my discipleship group under Dr. Mike Bullmore read it together, and I read it with my future-wife Linda while she was still in Ohio, as a long-distance way to connect spiritually with each other). Peterson's prose are outstanding, and each page contains challenge after challenge to Christian discipleship as he walks us through the Songs of the Ascents (Psalms 120-134).

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart
I've actually taught classes with this as my main text book, so it is very familiar to me...except that Fee and Stuart have updated the book recently, especially in light of recent scholarship on the role of narrative in Scripture. So (rats!!), I guess I had better read this one too!!


Arrived at CCO Training

It's an exciting time...Having arrived here in Beaver Falls, PA at Geneva College with 40 other new staffers.

We met each other for the first time, ate dinner, and Dan Dupee (the President of the CCO) spoke to us, telling us about the "gifts" that we will both receive and give during these 6 weeks as we interact with each other and our trainers.

We also received our sylabus of the coursework we'll be taking.

I'll let you know on the next post the eight great books that we are required to read!


"Portnoy"? What About "Spiritual Formation"?

I thought this was funny.

I was checking the Webtrends Web Report for my website, vanguardchurch.com.
One report tells you how people found the website through search engines.
Number one search phrase: The Google Search for “Mike Portnoy” (494 searches, accounting for 19.74% of the total).
Number two: “spiritual formation” (74 Google, Alta Vista, Yahoo, and MSN searches, accounting for 2.42% of all the searches that ended at my site).

At least my “Social Action” and “Emerging Church” pages were accessed almost as many times as my “Prog Rock” page!

Church Growth people talk about “side doors” into churches (outreach events, community resource offerings, etc., that get unchurched people connected with the local church). I guess my “side door” at vanguardchurch.com is Progressive Rock and the guy you meet at the door is the best drummer in rock music—Mike Portnoy.

Not a bad month, though. I had 7,703 visitor sessions in May.


A Neo-Kuyperian Assist to the Emergent Church

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), the founder of a school of thought known as neo-Calvinism or Kuyperianism, was a pastor, theologian, newspaper editor, and politician in the Netherlands. I first heard of him five years ago when I was candidating for an associate pastor position at a Christian Reformed Church. The name was shelved until recently when I became interested in doing ministry with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. The CCO’s model for college ministry has been shaped by the neo-calvinism of Kuyper.

A former dorm floor friend from seminary days, Vince Bacote, now teaches at Wheaton College and has become an expert on Kuyperianism (His latest book is entitled The Spirit In Public Theology: Appropriating The Legacy Of Abraham Kuyper). He presented a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society and then again at Covenant College called A Neo-Kuyperian Assist to the Emergent Church (which I have published at my website). In it, he talks about how Kuyper’s ideas about Common Grace can help the missional emphasis of the Emergent Church.

Bacote writes,

Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace is incredibly helpful because it allows us to remember a basic tenet of the Christian faith: “the Savior of the world is also the Creator of the world” (Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 173). Christ does not merely have significance for the believer’s soul, but also for “[his] body, for the visible world, and for the outcome of world history” (Kuyper, 172). If we miss this point, we run the risk, as Kuyper points out, of living in two different worlds, only one of which is directly tied to our Savior. Suddenly scholarship, drama, literature, business, law, politics, etc., are all unholy disciplines.”

Bacote calls this notion a possible “assist” to the Emerging Church. This could be a helpful piece of the puzzle as emergent-types try to figure out how the church can reach out to the 21st Century world around them.

As Brian McLaren said in the Worship Leader Magazine article on the Emerging Church
“The focus [is] on God’s kingdom coming down to earth, so God’s will is done down here—in our neighborhoods, workplaces, schools and even churches—as it is in heaven…People who are blessed to be a blessing, blessed not to the exclusion of others, but so that we can be a blessing to others. If we get that straight - blessings will flow to the unchurched, blessings of evangelism, and blessings of compassion, justice and peace too.”

As Vince Bacote says in his paper, “The doctrine of common grace can provide the emergent church with a significant theological rationale for Christian participation in every area of society.”

Emergent Leaders Respond to Criticism

Our Response to Critics of Emergent

By Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Spencer Burke, Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Andrew Jones, Chris Seay

"...We offer this in response to recent criticisms, with the hope that it will cause some to better understand us and others to find hope in a document that they can sign on to..."


This statement may hopefully open the floodgates of communication.

New Staff Training

Sorry I haven’t blogged for awhile. I’ve been busy doing a lot of home projects before I leave home for six weeks.

Yep, you read that right. For my initial training with the CCO, I will be at Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA) for six weeks. They have graciously allowed for me to come home most weekends to be with my wife and kids!!

As I soak in the training, I will post here my thoughts on what I’m learning.


Evangelical Leaders Backing ONE and Writing to President Bush

Hat tip to stephen shields over at emergesque for this.
It's an e-mail that Rick Warren is sending out in support of the ONE campaign. Check it out:

I have a simple request -- but it could determine whether millions live or die.

You’ve probably read in the papers about “The ONE Campaign: To Make Poverty History” that’s been endorsed by a wide coalition of folks from all across the faith and political spectrum. Helping the hurting is something we all want to do.

I’ve never been involved in partisan politics -- and don’t intend to do so now -- but global poverty is an issue that rises far above mere politics. It is a moral issue … a compassion issue … and because Jesus commanded us to help the poor, it is an obedience issue! He told us to do all we can to alleviate the pain of our brothers and sisters: “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40, NKJV)

That’s why
John Stott, Billy Graham, and many other evangelical leaders are joining me in lending our names and prayers to this campaign. I deeply believe that if we as evangelicals remain silent and do not speak up in defense of the poor, we lose our credibility and our right to witness about God’s love for the world: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17, NIV)

We are blessed to be a blessing to others, and certainly America, as the most blessed nation on our planet, has the greatest obligation to help those who are stuck in poverty around the world. Last month, I was in Kenya and Uganda, and then in Rwanda where the average income in that nation is 67 cents a day! Imagine trying to raise a family on that.

If you were hopelessly in debt, with no chance of ever getting out of debt -- or even your children getting out of debt -- you’d despair. But if someone cancelled all your debts -- as the Bible commanded Israel to often do -- you’d have the hope of a new future. The poor aren’t asking for a handout -- they just need a hand up!

This summer, at the G8 conference, our nation has a historic opportunity to lead the world by showing a visible and significant commitment to the fight against global poverty, hunger, and disease. In early July, President Bush will gather together with leaders from the world’s eight wealthiest nations in Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss these very issues -- especially in Africa.

We all grieved when 250,000 lives were lost in the tsunami in Southeast Asia. But there is a health tsunami of that proportion in Africa every 12 days!

What can we do? For the past two years, I’ve had 4,500 of our Saddleback members quietly testing a prototype of our global P.E.A.C.E. Plan in 47 countries. It is a strategy for small groups in churches to show compassion. Once we have the template perfected, we’ll share it with every church that’s interested.

But there is something much simpler that you can do right now: Join me and other evangelical leaders in an open letter to President Bush that encourages him -- with our support and prayers -- to take specific, measurable actions to fight poverty, hunger, and disease at the G8 summit. Below is a copy of the text of this open letter we’re sending.

All I need you to do is e-mail me back at
rick@peace.gs giving your name and title, and I’ll add your name to the list. Also you can visit www.one.org for more information.

If you can send a copy of your signature (preferably in a jpeg format) to add to the bottom of the letter, that would be great, but don’t let that delay your response. We'd rather hear from you now.

Thanks in advance for showing your compassion for those suffering from disease, hunger, and poverty.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush,

· ONE billion people around the world live on less than ONE dollar a day;
· The US government spends less than ONE percent of its budget on fighting global AIDS and poverty;
· Americans are uniting as ONE across political and religious divides to support action to overcome the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty.

At the G8 leaders meeting on July 6th we urge you to:
· Help the poorest people of the world fight poverty, disease, and hunger at a cost equal to just ONE percent more of the US budget on a clear timetable;
· Cancel 100% of the debts owed by the poorest countries;
· Reform trade rules so poor countries can earn sustainable incomes.

We urge you to lead an historic deal with other nations to help Africa and the poorest nations overcome global AIDS and extreme poverty. Together as ONE, we can Make Poverty History this July.


U.S. Faith Leaders


DA Carson on Moody Radio Tonight

For those in the Emerging Church conversation, and who have access to a Moody radio station, tonight’s “Open Line” (9PM Eastern) will be of interest:

June 3, 2005
Understanding the Emerging Church
On tonight’s OPEN LINE, Dr. Don Carson joined Wayne Shepherd to help us understand the “emerging church” movement. He assessed the theological views and some weaknesses and criticisms, and recognized the strengths of this movement.

The program has been placed on the audio archive from MBN.