Books on making Apprentices of Jesus

Must Reads

Forgive and Forget:
Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve

I Want to Believe But I Can’t:
Why Our Kids Are Leaving Church

Other Books

The Blue Parakeet:
Rethinking How You Read the Bible

The Five Languages of Love
The Five Languages of Apology

Just Do Something:
A liberating approach to God’s will

Living into the Answers:
A Workbook for Personal Spiritual Discernment

The NIV Application Commentary Series

The Three Colors of Love/The Three Colors of Ministry

The Blue Parakeet
Rethinking How You Read the Bible
Scot McKnight

Zondervan, 236 pages Hardcover
Rating: 3 stars

If you are looking for dazzling new insights into reading the bible move on. It is a good read and the first part seems to promise a new (relational) perspective on reading the Bible. Yet, when all is said and done, this is just McKnight’s platform for advancing the same old arguments about women in ministry (and telling his own theological journey to these conclusions). While I have come to very similar conclusions as McKnight through a different path (“I’m fer it” to paraphrase Calvin Coolege) I find the end result of McKnight’s reflections dissatisfying.

Part of that lies in a rather cavalier chant about the church saying “that was then, this is now” to dismiss things we don‘t do anymore “like circumcision” basically boiling down all exegetical work to defining cultural differences and dismissing things from other cultures. Personally, I believe that even the holiness laws of Leviticus have deep relevance today, though we do not practice them. The issue isn’t a cultural difference, but that these display a principle regarding faithfully following Jesus that we can discern and apply today. “Contact me if this isn’t evident to you.”

McKnight also tends to talk about his students agreements or disagreements with Paul over the issues covered. My question: “So what?” I don’t expect your college students to agree with God 100% of the time. McKnight notes that his students feel caught between putting off sex for “1 to 2 decades” or marrying young or just writing their own morality. He then imposes the idea that all sex is “marital” “that is, constituting a marriage”. Such reasoning may help a student reconsider sex, but is fraught with exegetical fallacies. There are some basically good advice on not idolizing or absolutizing The Bible. Beyond that, this is just a run of the mill book with no “Rethinking” in it.

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Forgive and Forget&58;
Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve
Lewis B Smedes

HarperSanFrancisco (Haper-Colins), 151 pages paperback
Rating: must buy

This is a classic. If you have not read and recommended this book to Christians struggling with the issue of forgiveness, you have lost a great opportunity. In this small volume (and it can be read in one sitting) Smedes walks us through very important concepts (forgiving vs. excusing) and grounds us with a concrete measure on whether or not we have forgiven someone (“Can I truly wish them well?”) and includes a process for making the transition from resentment to well-wishing. No other book of any length covers this subject so well.

I will note that I have found an explicitly biblical process which meshes with Smedes’ process in Luke 6:27-28

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The Five Languages of Love
Gary Chapman
The Five Languages of Apology
Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas

Northfield Publising, both available in Hardcover or paperback
Rating: 4+ stars

Though these two volumes are meant for married couples, the information and reflection in each easily translates into congregations and members. I have used both to preach the essentials of “love your neighbor” and “love one another”. Furthermore, I have begun to think that many of our unresolved conflicts in churches arise when one side sincerely wishes to express their love or apology, but since the other side is “hearing” in a different language, the expression gets “lost in translation”.

Each volume emphasized that we all have our native language of love and apology. It is important to recognize our native languages but also use the languages of those with whom we want to express our love or seek forgiveness from/ask repentance of.

For love they list these:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

For Apology the list is:

  • Expressing Regret
  • Accepting Responsibility
  • Making Restitution
  • Genuinely Repenting
  • Requesting Forgiveness

While Chapman and Thomas note that they learned these languages through observing clients, they provide sufficient biblical grounding to allow these to be preachable. (If you can’t figure out how, contact me.)

Two great insights arise between these two books.

  • First Insight: we need to learn the most important language of the other person before we can expect them to “hear us”.

    I am very fortunate that my first two languages of love are (in order) Physical Touch and Words of Affirmation. My wife’s are Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. This makes it easy for us to )hear( each other. However, I am a really bad Receiver (and giver( of Gifts which makes me a person not apt to send cards, remember birthdays, etc. Fortunately for me that is my wife’s last language also (so she doesn’t want presents). However, that means that those in the congregation who are huggers (physical touch) find me very warm while those who are gift receivers see me as more a cold fish for not sending Christmas cards.

    Even more seriously, my wife and I agree in our 1st Language of Apology (Taking Responsibility). However, on our 2nd Language she wants Genuine Repenting (my worst language) while I want Making Restitution (her worst language). So every time I mess up she wants a plan for not doing it again while I’m busy trying to make it right. Meanwhile, when she’s at fault, she has already set up a future contingency while I just want her to make it right. We have to work hard to keep this straight. Imagine what happens in a congregation where there is conflict not only of ideas/actions, but also of languages of love/apology.

  • Second Insight: while you may not need to speak all 5 "love languages" in a particular situation, it is essential to follow through on all 5 "apology languages".

    This gives a congregation a clear guideline for when they have thoroughly repented of a sin to both God and man. Giving people such clear understandings of the basic doctrine of repentance is essential to growing forgiven-and-forgiving churches.

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I Want to Believe But I Can't:
Why Our Kids Are Leaving Church
Karyn Henley
Karyn Henley Resources - 2007, 95 pages - paperback
Rating: 5 stars

Don't let the length or the publisher (herself) put you off. If you want to understand why Christian youth drop out as they become teenagers, read this. Henley puts her finger on the poor methods we use in discipling our children. We provide poorly for those standing in the midst of the post-modern desire for relationship and the teenage yearnings to be known, to explore the world and to have their questions engaged and answered honestly and in depth. This short book will explain why a Sunday School "good enough" for us has not been "good enough" and will not be good enough. She calls us to developing deep relationships with our children and staying with them (one or two people over time in close consistent mentoring relationships). Buy it. Read it. Live it.

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Just Do Something:
A liberating approach to God's will
Kevin DeYoung

Moody, 124 pages - paperback
Rating: 4 stars

Are you tired of whiny college age Mosaics/Millennials trying to “find themselves” and “God’s will for their life?” So was Kevin DeYoung (pastor of an RCA congregation near a university). And so Kevin wrote this book. Don't expect a detailed and exacting study of finding God’s will. “For that, see Decision Making and the Will of God, Multinoma Press”. Instead, DeYoung has written a short, highly readable, highly accessible book telling these whiners that God wants them to get on with their lives. A Mosaic, himself, he is deeply in touch not only with biblical truth and the wisdom of his grandfather’s generation, but also with the many asorted pitfalls of his generation. It“s cheap. Give it away for those graduating from college.

Living into the Answers:
A Workbook for Personal Spiritual Discernment
Valerie K Isenhower and Judith A Todd

Upper Room Books, 2008, 125pages, paperback
Rating: 3+ stars

Spiritual Discernment appears to be a growing field of interest and investigation, especially among those who (like me) have grown tired of parliamentary church government and Roberts rules of order. It seeks to hear the voice of God as it is spoken in a variety of ways - both ethereal (the still quiet ineffable voice) and in daily experiences and conversation. Isenhower and Todd make it clear that this is not an excuse to "follow your heart" or do “whatever feels right”. They make clear that there are times when Discernment should not be used:

  • We already know God’s commands (that one choice is a sin).
  • We are in an emotional crisis (we cannot quiet ourselves enough to listen to God with interested dispassion)
  • We try to “discern” for someone else (we love them and have a wonderful plan for their lives – codependence)
Isenhower and Todd provide a guided process for discernement. Sometimes I found that worksheet portions of the book get tedious in the detail. Yet, for the novice in discernment, I suppose these extra questions and step-by-step instructions will be helpful. Of course, this is a book on personal discernment, and therefore does not directly address the process a church board or ministry team might use. It will provide an alternative way for individuals to listen to the voice of God rather than rely on "their own wits" to make critical decisions.

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The NIV Application Commentary Series
Various authors
Zondervan, Hardcover
Rating: 5 stars

SIMs must be mobile, even if we are tethered. And frankly, even if we always maintain a single home office, most preachers have way too many useless commentaries collecting dust. It is, therefore, my great pleasure to heartily recommend the NIV Application Commentary [NIVAC] Series. Many pastors to whom I have introduced this series tell me that one volume of the NIVAC on a given book can replace 5 other commentaries they have on their shelves. Zondervan has done an excellent job of drawing fine scholars of a (mostly) Reformed bent who not only help us understand the text as the original readers/hearers would have, but step beyond that to learn how to apply the text today. The most surprising volumes I have read so far (and yes, I read all the way through each) have been Esther and Ruth (Judges/Ruth), both of which altered my fundamental understanding of these two books about significant women. But all of the volumes I have read have been highly informative and often insightful and inspiring. As with all the commentary series this one has some unevenness of value. (I am presently working through Psalms – vol. 1, and finding it a bit pedantic.) Still I cannot recommend this series highly enough. If you only buy one commentary series (and all pastors face the temptation of book-lust/greed/idolatry) then by this one.

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The Three Colors of Love
The Three Colors of Ministry
The Three Colors of Spirituality
Christian A. Schwarz
ChurchSmart Resources, (no publication date) paperback
Rating: 4 stars

If you want a practical yet sophisticated tool to help a person grow deeper in their service to God, you can do much worse than these two workbooks. Schwarz, one of the founders of Natural Church Development, would humbly beg you to remember that he sees his work as “a” tool to church health, not “the” tool or even “the best” tool.

With that as the caveat, this represents the next level. In an attempt to integrate the Trinity in with Gift-Oriented Ministry/Spiritual Gifts (3 colors of ministry), Loving Relationships/The Fruit of the Spirit (3 colors of love) and Passionate Spirituality/Personal Experience of God (3 colors of Spirituality) Schwarz gives us an imaginative approach to these subjects. (There are 5 more on the way reflecting the 5 other NCD Quality Characteristics) Even if you find his approach speculative and maybe a bit contrived the workbooks are an excellent way to help Christians integrate more fully the meaning of who God made them and how they, therefore, can serve Him best.

Using his usual German-analytical approach to the subject (including survey analysis and norming the results) Schwarz asks us to distinguish the members of the Trinity as Creator, Redeemer, Empowerer. And he associates each member with different sets of attributes (such as: Justice, Obedience, Grace or Wisdom, Commitment Power). By doing this they allow each of us to see if in our Christian life we are maintaining a balance. Are we too oriented to the Spirit and so lose our moorings in God's wisdom and Christ's obedience? Perhaps we are too focused on fairness and truth (Father and Son) to be much bothered with politeness (the Spirit).

Use these books judiciously. And the price tag will keep them from being used otherwise. Still, they stand head and shoulders above other more subjective tests and treatments of these subjects.

For a stand-alone explanation the the NCD “Three-Colors” approach, see The Three-fold Art of Experiencing God on the NCD book review page

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