Excellent resource for parents: A review of The Christian Parenting Handbook


Parenting is not a formula. Too many authors try to make it seem like it is, and too often parents are looking for the formula. In The Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life, Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller realize that it isn’t a formula, but they have succeeded at developing clear principles and organized them in a manner whereby any parent can quickly find the help that they need. I would recommend that parents read this book together. The short chapter format makes it a good tool to read together and discuss how you can apply the ideas in your family.

 

Turn your eyes to the east: Review of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

I just finished reading Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (IVP Books (Kindle edition): October 17, 2012). The authors Randy Richard and Brandon O’Brien make compelling argument for considering our cultural bias as we read the Bible. I’m trying a new way of summarizing books below. I hope that you find it helpful for understanding what I read and the big takeaways.

Focus

The most powerful cultural values are those that go without being said.

Implications

  1. Modern readers don’t know what cultural biases they read into Scripture.
  2. Modern readers miss what ancient writers assumed but did not specifically state.

Highlights

The authors have an interesting discussion about the issue of mores. Mores they defined as those things that are not rules explicitly but implied in the cultural behaviors of people. The authors make the point that we confuse mores for biblical principle. For example, sexual sin is a bigger focus of our culture then am the economic sin.

The authors go on to make a point that we miss a key element of leadership. That is that the patriarch that would lead the family of God. Further, even in business relationships were more influential in the interaction. In the biblical world the business interaction a patrons and clients different than today. Their interaction were tied to relational expectations, not contractual agreement that modern western readers may expect. The patron has certain obligation to his clients while the clients at the same time had an obligation to serve the patron. These obligation were often for a lifetime rather than for a term.

Just as we don’t understand the relationships of the Bible’s world, we don’t understand some of the language. That has resulted in a missing the key New Testament understand that growing in discipleship is not just about avoiding sin, but also putting on righteousness. As a result, churches in America and the West tend to focus more on avoiding sin than on being righteous people.

I was particularly interested in the discussion about leadership. In this part the authors talk about the fact that in the Bible leadership is not a value. In fact is often seen as a vice. People who desire leadership are often arrogant. Rather the Bible focuses on being followers. There is righteousness and being willing to follow not just Jesus but also follow the right authorities and people with in this world–that includes non-Christian authorities.

Finally, the author spends time discussing the focus of the Scriptures. We can to read through an individual eye. You is often translated or read as singular, but in the Bible it’s often meant to be plural. As a result, we tend to think that God’s promises are made to individuals, so as Christians we think he’s making the promises each to each of us. Instead, we should see that he’s making them to a group whether that be Israel or the church. This can lead to a selfish reading of the Word.

Key Quotes

“[R]emember biblical interpretation is a crosscultural experience and to help you be more aware of what you take for granted when you read. (Kindle Locations 199-200).

Unfortunately, modern Western exegetes often define patronage-a key element of first-century Roman society-using forensic language. We describe the relationship between a patron and a client as contractual, like a business, rather than as familial. (Kindle Locations 1766-1767).

Leadership. How would you rather be recognized: as a leader or a follower? For many Westerners, the term follower connotes a weakness of character, as when a person cannot resist peer pressure but “goes along with the crowd.”…As much as our culture pushes us to be leaders, the Bible urges us to become followers. (Kindle Locations 2045-2047 & 2050-2051).

With the double-edged gift of Gutenberg’s printing press, the process is often reduced merely to writing-reading. Now we read the Bible alone in our homes. This allows a communal process to become individualized. Worse, one can own the Word of God (meaning a book), rather than hear the Word of God, which is usually a communal act.(Kindle Locations 2178-2180).

Recommendation

This is an important book for many in the church. It might be more academic than the typical churchgoer is used to reading, but I would suggest it for most adults. It will confuse many as it turns our western thinking on its head. Many will want to debate the authors. They are addressing things from an angle that is fundamentally different that many are used to. That’s OK. I hope that readers will think about it and consider the next time they are reading our culture into the text rather than reading through the culture of the Bible’s authors.

The uncomfortable Blue Parakeet can make you think

Recently, a good friend complained to me that a particular Bible discussion didn’t help to clarify the particular issue in his mind. He said, “I walked a way less sure and more confused.” My response was “good.”

Over the recent years I have become more comfortable with the idea that God is too big for us to know with clarity. Without a doubt, we are to strive each day to know him better than the last day. We are to study his word (the Bible), listen to expert comentaries, and discuss it in faithful groups of Christians. These are important steps for the follower of Christ and will facilitate spiritual growth.

We cannot expect that Christian growth means that we are less confused, that we know God more perfectly, or that our study will raise much of anything but more questions. Karl Barth (pronounced bart), a Swiss, Neo-orthodox theologian who valiantly battle liberal theology in the early to mid-1900s, called this dialectical theology because he believed that too much of God was paradoxical and unknowable to the human. Barth’s point was that the best answer to a theological question was the next best question.

This brings me to my book review on Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet (Zondervan, 2008, 240 pages). (I provided this link for your convenience should you like to read the book. I read the Kindle version.) McKnight is a thoughtful, seasoned Bible scholar who teaches at North Park University in Chicago. In The Blue Parakeet, McKight examines how we should read the Bible, particularly the difficult passages. I’ll let you read the book to discover why it is named so.

McKnight, by his own reasoning, is an evangelical scholar. There are many with a more narrow interpretation of evangelical who wouldn’t agree, because many evangelicals will only identify with others who subscribe to specific set of doctrine. This doctrine is often narrow in interpretation and broad in scope.

One point that many evangelicals will struggle with the Blue Parakeet and McKnight, is that he is in many way post-modern. He makes a strong argument that the Bible must be read as a story (not a fiction story) and applied according to the context of the reader. He argues that too many want to read the Bible as a list of laws, morsels of blessings, an psychological inkblot, a puzzle, or examples of Maestros. I will let McKnight explain those.

McKnight, on the other hand, believe the Bible is God’s story from begining to end, with each book being the author’s telling of the story at a particular time to a particular people. The challenge then is to read the Bible with an understanding of that time and people, and learn what that means to today and to the people you live among. This is not easy. It is more work than the other ways we can read the Bible. It also means that two people in two different places may draw different interpretations, particularly with respect to a passage’s application.

At this point, I’m sure that many of my Christian friends are getting uncomfortable. That is alright. I was too, and I think that it is that discomfort that drove me to read the rest of the Blue Parakeet with an open, but discerning mind. In the end, discernment is the crux of McKnight’s book. Everything in the Bible must be discerned with the Holy Spirit and nothing is settled.

This post is already too long, but there is more I would like to say about these matter. I hope to do so in other posts. Let me just conclude by saying that as I read the Blue Parakeet, I felt uncomfortable. I still do not agree with every point he makes, but I can tell you that I also began asking a lot more questions about my God, myself and my understanding of what it means to know God. I was driven deeper into my Bible, and, while I developed more questions, I believe that the depth of my questions is growing. I believe this book has helped me to grow as a believer, too.

Review of The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani

The Divine Commodity by Leadership Journal editor Skye Jethani (Zondervan: 2009) is a green vegetable book, not a dessert book. It doesn’t taste good, but it is good for you. You won’t be happy that you read it, but you’ll be better off. Skye Jethani will challenge your comfortable way of doing church. He will push you to consider your faith more than your religious out workings. He destroyed any chance I had of enjoying Christmas like in the feel-good way it has always been.  Jethani does all this using a wonderful comparison of the church and van Gogh paintings. It’s a creative, well-written book, and as such a easy book to read. It’s not an easy book to consume.

Community, Gospel and the Word: a Review of Total Church

I found Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis (Crossway Books, 2008) to be a wonderful and challenging book. There are some aspects of theology that I would disagree with Chester and Timmis. But that might be the reason I’ve been so challenged to contemplate how this book should impact my life.

Chester and Timmis are the co-founders of the Crowded House in Sheffield, UK. The are proponents of smaller, more intimate church communities developed predominately through church planting.

I really respect the belief that the church is at its core Gospel Centered and Community Centered. (Although I do wish they would have found a better way to word that because you really can’t have two centers.) What I took out of this book is that with everything that we do in the church or in our lives (which are really the same thing if you are to follow Jesus) should be considered with respect to missionality, truth in the Word and how it relates to the community of God. I appreciate the movement away from the individualistic mindset of modern evangelistic church toward a theology of community.

I’m not sure I would connect this theology as tightly with Calvinism as they do. They do this implicitly, not in any direct statement. More by quoting Calvin as the authority in key arguments. In the end, it seems to me to be closer to a heritage of the anabaptist. I’d suggest contemplating this alongside Stanley Grenz Theology and the Community of God.

As a result of reading this book, I’m doing more research on the theology of community as developed by Grenz, William Klein and the Crowded House. Also, I will be challenging my church staff to re-consider the theology of all of our church programs and visional work. My goal would be to assure that we are developing as a Gospel community ourselves.

I would also love to see our next step moving toward planting. How exciting would that be.

Full review of Intuitive Leadership

I just finished reading Intuitive Leadership by Tim Keel. I’ve hit on some point about this book before. In final analysis, I’d say that this may not have been the best book for me to have read. It’s not a bad book, but it left me wanting some things that it didn’t deliver and with a few things that I didn’t really need.

I liked the fact that Keel poses a different kind of leadership book from those analytical, linear books that are so often published. The problem is it left me wanting something that I’m not so sure I can have: freedom within an established organization to create in the way Keel prescribes. There are some good principles that can be applied to established churches, and I’ll address those later, but it will really be difficult to get away with pushing those principles beyond a basic level.

While those principles are there and as exciting as they may be, I also found myself frustrated that the creative church movement has to tie itself so closely to certain things that to me are negatives. How many times does Keel refer to the great value of the monastics and escaping to monastic communities? Monastics, to me, are a sign of failure in Church. Some monastics were running from a very broken church; others were running from a very broken world. One could argue that we have in North America both a broken church and a broken world. Still, I don’t think escaping to an experiential community is at all the answer that the Bible gives us. I would instead love to hear creative people discovering God in creative ways among the broken piece of both church and world.

I like Keel’s points of creativity that should be kindled in the church: in leadership, in worship, in theology. I love the thought of creative people taking leadership of the church. We are still stuck in a world were safe leadership is considered godly. Wouldn’t God rather leaders push the envelope? Isn’t he in control in the end?

I love the thought of the church living in paradox and theology being more a matter of “I don’t know (yet)” than a fix system to never deviate from. I think our practices and services should highlight this paradox.

I also love Keel’s desire to get rid of the old idols of the church. I know that I am tempted by the idol of ministry that he talks about. Many people use the church and symbols of God as idols just as the Keel point out that the Ark was used before the Israelites.

Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that Keel doesn’t create some new idols along the way. To me monasticism is often an idol of experience and community. Similarly, I think if creativity for the sake of creativity is not kept in check, the thrill of doing something new can also become an idol.

In the end, I wonder if this is a book that should not have been written. Keel pronounces great frustration over other church movements that are successful and then copied because of there success. He says that he doesn’t want people to copy him instead consider their own context. That’s good, but I think human nature and the nature of leaders is to copy that which is written up as a success. Heck, didn’t Hybels say in his book Rediscovering Church that people should try to copy the Willow Creek model? Still, copying Willow Creek seemed to me to be Keel’s biggest struggle with the Evangelical Church, or at least its leaders.

I’m not sure how to get this message out, but when a leader writes a book describing how he found success, people are going to try to copy. Then again, maybe leadership is about causing success, and, after all, are there really that many intuitive leaders out there? I guess time will tell.

Review of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck

What was the difference between Michael Jordan and John McEnroe? Why do some people see only failure in themselves and others while other people can see only potential? Why are even positive labels in schools an ultimate hindrance for the individuals who receive them? Dr. Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University says that both positive and negative labels come from the same mindset as held by those who see failure in all and people like John McEnroe, who become caught up in the reasons that others are holding them back. Dwecks research is outlined in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, New York: 2006).

Dr. Dweck has discovered two mindsets that affect the success of individuals, one for the better and one for the worse. The open mindset reward effort over achievement. It recognized each individual, whether it be on the sports field, in the family or in academic study based on their own personal goals and how hard they work at conquering those goals. The open mindset goals would be effort based, not based on meeting standards or receive accolades.

The closed mindset, on the other hand, creates standards for all people to meet, such as test scores or trophy counts. Those who quickly achieve those standards are labeled smart or athletic or well behaved. Those who struggle to meet standards are label academically challenged, or nonathletic or a behavioral problem.

Who do the labels hurt? According to Dr. Dweck, labels hurt everyone. Those who are labeled unable are hurt as well as those who are told that they are specially gifted to meet the standard. Why? The “unables” are hurt because they are in a sense told, they will never match up to the “ables”. The “ables” are hurt because they will identify themselves according to the things that they are supposed to do well. Once they fail at those things one of two reactions will result. The first reaction is self-defeating. They will have to redefine themselves. When they were once good at the activity, they will now have to admit they are not good. The second reaction is more defensive. Rather than admitting their own failure, they will blame others for their poor showing.

Dweck identifies the bigger problem with the second group. Once a child is placed in a special group they tend to develop an attitude that everything should come naturally. They stop working as had a development which set them up for eventual failure. The failure is very difficult to take because it is tied to their identity.

As a result, Dweck argues against the creation of such programs as gifted and talented classes or special sports leagues because they are used to rate natural ability rather than extraordinary effort. Likewise, she advocates against harsh punishments for failure of meeting standards, including some behavioral standards.

From a Christian point of view I can see many benefits in teaching an open mindset. Still I see some portions of this work that Christians would tend to object to. First, Dweck’s anti-corporal punishment bent has long been a beef of many Christians after all doesn’t the Bible say “spare the rod and spoil the child?” There is a point that Dweck can push this issue too far, still as a children’s pastor I have see that too often punishment, in general, and more particularly corporal punishment are dealt too quickly to specific groups of people. To often parents want to see their children all living to a standard of behavior thus punishing any behavior that doesn’t meet that standard. To offend I see parents labeling their own children as behavior problems and miss the growth moment and value that these children bring to the world, the family and the church. While I don’t advocate never applying corporal punishment, some parents result to it too quickly and for the wrong issues.

Many Christians may also balk at the idea of eliminating the gifted types of programs. I don’t know of any Biblical reason for this, but many conservative Christians demand that we stratify children, assume that stratification is based on hard work, and fear that unifying the children in academic and athletic programs is a slide to socialism. I don’t thing this is the case. Unfortunately, most academic, artistic and athletic programs base their grouping, not on individual effort, but on early signs of “ability”. We create these programs way too early in the lives of the children and measure things that are not consistent with how much work an individual will be willing to put into developing. I’ve seen children as early as 6 years old be placed on special athletic teams because they are a head taller than others. This isn’t the exception unfortunately. This is the truth behind how these decisions are made.

I don’t think that Dweck takes personal bent out of development decisions all together, and we do need to consider how each child is specially designed. Eventually, children who are good in math need a math program that can help them develop, but not at the expense of those who are more or less average. Eventually, children will need different athletic fields to address their sports development, but not based on early detection of “natural abilities” (often read physical development). Rather, children who want to play baseball day-in and day-out should have a field so they aren’t bored or frustrated with those that show up once a week just for fun.

Moreover, I think Christians can find some usual guidance in this book, particularly with regard to spiritual development. The closed mindset is going to look at a specific quality that a child has to determine their value. Too often, in the church, we do this by rating how well a child is behaved while the adults teach or pray, how many verses they can memorize, or how many friends they bring to our church programs. This ignores that some may sit quietly through the prayer time while their minds drift off, while others wiggle and squirm as the try to process the value of prayer. We rejoice when Johnny finished all his verse memorization long before the rest, but need to investigate what value Johnny received from those verses. Or we get frustrated when Sally fails to recite any verses word perfect, but miss the attempt that she makes.

In general, we need to look at the whole person in spiritual development, not the surface. We need to move beyond labeling children as good or bad and work to make all of them better.

Another thing to keep in mind is that spiritual development is often affected by the athletic, artistic and academic labels we give children. These labels will often make children feel that they are good without considering their spiritual growth. More organically, often receiving the honors to be in these special programs or on special teams restricts them for the time they need to work on spiritual matters. Moreover, it creates a pressure for all families to work harder to make sure that their children receive these honors, at the expense of spirituality.

One last interesting side point that I gained from Dweck’s book has little to do with the text. The point comes in the title of two sections. One is titled, “Parents (and Teachers): Messages About Success and Failure;” the next is titled, “Teachers (and Parents): What Makes a Great Teacher (or Parent)?” These tell of Dweck’s wise view of parents. That is, their role is to teach their children well. The Bible makes it clear that the parent is the primary teach of a child. If parents rely on the the teachers to do the job the child will not be properly prepared. When parents take seriously their role as teacher and learn about how to to the tasks involved, children will have the best resources they need for achieving all the God as in store for them.

Review of Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Happiness is an elusive thing. Not that it is difficult to find happiness, but it is difficult to define and pin point what brings happiness. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness (Vintage Books, 2005) make as case that, as the title indicates, it is very difficult to predict what will bring happiness into the life of an individual. Even when something has brought happiness to a person in the past, a later attempt at finding the joy may not come with the same results.

Happiness is dependent on many factors. Every person will find differing amounts of pleasure in different stimuli. Ever stimulus will have a different affect on a given individual depending on other factors. One might remember an event as more or less pleasurable long after the event has passed than when they were experiencing the event.

In the end, Gilbert proposes that there is only one marginal way to predict what will bring happiness. He proposes that when options arise, an individual can look to others who are currently more advanced in experiencing event and see to what level they feel they are happy. This he admits is a marginal predictor of personal happiness, but best option available.

I chose to read this book because of an interesting interview I had heard with Gilbert. I’m not sure that the book lived up to my expectation; It didn’t bring to me the happiness that I predicted. Actually, my disappointment is less about happiness and more about utility. I’m not sure what to do with all the data that he provides in Stumbling. I’m not sure that his conclusion bring any great value to me or to those that I would love to teach on this subject. Really, his main point is that you don’t know what will make you happy, until you are happy, is difficult to do anything with.

Further, as I set out to do this project, I was less concerned with what would make people happy for a moment, but with what kind of life long choices cause people to reflect back and say, “I’ve lived a joy-filled life.” If you trust Gilbert, nobody can really do that without misrepresenting there own experiences.

However, maybe that is the point that I can take away from this book. If we seek temporary happiness, we may ore may not be happy in the longterm. We need to look beyond the products and activities that promise to make us happy, and choose to look forward to the greater things in life as God is our guide to true joyfulness.