Review: Sustainable Young Adult Ministry – making it work, making it last by Mark DeVries and Scott Pontier

One of the church’s persistent cries is “we are losing the young people.” This book is a thoughtful, honest and practical response to reaching out to young adults.

DeVries and Pontier structure the book very simply – the first six chapters take you through the six common mistakes the church makes when trying to reach young adults. Two of the mistakes are especially prominent in my own church tradition – Mistake # 2 is to change the worship style; Mistake # 3 Expect the youth director to do it. With each Mistake the authors help you frame an understanding of why church’s try and do this (often with  good intentions) and why ultimately it does not work.

There are then six chapters (called paradox chapters) on how to reach out to young adults. They are called paradox chapters because they advocate doing things which you would thing are the opposite of what you should do. An example is paradox #5. It is often the mistake of a church to try and provide multiple options for young adults to make connection easy so that they do not need to make a big commitment because we believe young adults tend to have a mentality that lacks commitment. Yet paradox #5 says – respond to lack of commitment by asking for more. How? The authors write “Strangely, the young adult who has no time for thirty-minute optional Bible study actually might give ten hours a week to a compelling vision they believe in.” Are we scared to ask young people to give a bigger commitment because we assume they will say no because our perception is that they lack commitment?

Another paradox which the authors explore is that if you want to reach young adults….then take your focus off young adults! Their reasoning though is very sound – the focus should be reaching our communities, and ultimately the world. The more effectively we do THIS, the more likely young adults will be drawn in.

If your passion is for young adults to be reached by the church and more accurately, brought to faith in Christ, and you are looking for a quick fix on how to do this then this is not the book for you. DeVries and Pontier give you a LOT of food for thought, practical and achievable suggestions and a road map which, if followed, will take months, even years – not just to reach young adults – but to reach communities for Christ which in turn will draw in young adults.


Review: The Old Testament in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic by Christopher J Wright

It is extremely hard to produce an accessible  introduction to the Old Testament that will not, on the one hand, be too flimsy and weak, lacking in anything substantive in terms of understanding or on the other hand too much to read for the non academic Christian. Christopher Wright has managed to straddle these two issues with The Old Testament in Seven Sentences.

In a masterful way and in 162 pages, Wright tackles and explains seven ‘hinges’ upon which the Old Testament moves, Creation, Abraham, Exodus, David, Prophets, Gospel and Psalms and Wisdom. Writing in a clear and engaging way Wright takes you through each chapter outlining the key issues to know.

As a pre-introduction to studying the Old Testament’s themes, and without the dense forest of technical theology found in the weightier tomes of Old Testament Introductions, this is an invaluable resource.

Highly recommended for the beginner in Old Testament studies and for those wanting a re-fresher on it’s key themes.

Review Storm of Fire and Blood by Taylor Marshall

I tend not to read fiction. I usually find novels frustrating and to be frank, I do not want to do the work of having to plough through 10, 20 or 30 pages ‘getting into’ a novel. When I do read fiction it is always a historical novel – but even then, with the best of writers, I usually give up fairly quickly.

Which is why Taylor Marshall’s trilogy has been so surprising for me. His first two books, The Sword and Serpent and The Tenth Region of the Night were the first novels I read through in their entirety in many years. And the third book, Storm of Fire and Blood, is no different. These books have captivated me and I hope that Taylor Marshall will continue to write such stories in the years to come.

Set in the early church period of the fourth century, Storm of Fire and Blood does not just have a captivating story which grabs you from the opening lines; or wonderfully rich and engaging dialogue which often has a delightfully humorous undertone; or complex and deep characters with whom you will feel the full gambit of emotions, joy and laughter, frustration and anger. Most remarkably, Marshall takes you into the life of the fourth century. You feel yourself walking in the cold of Britannia or experiencing the smell of the fish in the docks of Myra. You are drawn into this incredible yet deadly world of the Roman Empire and the early Church. This is truly historical fiction – in the midst of an entertaining and gripping story you are engaging with and learning about the real people of this period.

Storm of Fire and Blood follows the exploits of Jurian / Georgius and his friends Agapius, Menas and Sabra and their adversary Casca. Marshall does a wonderful job weaving multiple stories together from Jurian in Britannia to Sabra in Cyrene to Casca their nemesis. The backdrop of the story is spiritual warfare. The Emperor Diocletian is about to unleash persecution upon the church but underlying the physical persecution is the spiritual evil of the enemy who hates those who profess Christ as Lord. How does the Church of Christ stand in the face of evil and persecution, danger and death? This is the core of the story – and in the answer you will see bravery, deep faith and trust in God even in the midst of overwhelming opposition. And oh my, the ending will leave you stunned.

Finally, I want to mention Nikolaos. He is one of my favorite characters in the book. Nikolaos is mysterious. He appears just as people need him. He is peaceful, he is joyful, he is generous and he loves and trusts the Lord Jesus even when in danger. He is a true Saint and this character radiates peace. Whenever he appears in the book I would physically become peaceful.

As a pastor of an Anglican Congregation I have frequently recommended to my congregation the previous two books in this series – and Storm of Fire and Blood will be no different. A perfect Christmas present.

Review: The Crown by Joanna Stafford

During Henry VIII’s reign there was the dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry dissolved and shut the monasteries of England because of the corruption that was inherent at the time. Monks and Nuns lived in luxury. Monks often had mistresses and children. One of the side benefits of the closing of the monasteries was that the English Crowns treasury was filled with the wealth the monasteries had amassed. The dissolution of the monasteries took place in three stages – the smaller monasteries were closed first, then the medium sized monasteries and then the larger monasteries.
This novel is set during this period and begins in 1537. A novice Dominican nun from Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford defies the rule of enclosure and leaves the Priory to go to London. Her cousin is to be burnt at the stake. However while in London events lead to her being arrested and being confined to the tower. She is then interrogated by the Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner (Bishop Gardiner became the Archbishop of Canterbury in Queen Mary’s reign and he was the man who condemned Thomas Cranmer to death). Bishop Gardiner has Joanna’s father and threatens his life unless Joanna goes back to Dartford Priory and unearth an ancient (and supposedly powerful) relic – the Crown of Æthelstan – which the Bishop believes will stop Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Æthelstan was King of the Anglo-Saxons from 924 to 927 and King of the English from 927 to 939.[c] He was the son of King Edward the Elder and his first wife, Ecgwynn. Modern historians regard him as the first King of England and one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings. Æthelstan was one of the most pious West Saxon kings, and was known for collecting relics and founding churches. His household was the centre of English learning during his reign, and it laid the foundation for the Benedictine monastic reform later in the century. No other West Saxon king played as important a role in European politics as Æthelstan, and he arranged the marriages of several of his sisters to continental rulers.
The Novel follows Joanna’s attempts to find this relic.
It is written by a Catholic author and so you will find that her sympathies lie against Henry VIII. She is critical of Anne Boleyn who makes a b rief appearance in the novel.
But despite the catholic bias regarding the history of the time, it is a wonderful suspense / murder mystery. The writing will grab you and draw you into a fascinating period of time. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will be reading the other two in the series over the summer.

Review: Finding The Holy Spirit in The Stained Glass Window: The Charismata in The Anglican Tradition by Dr James Guthrie

Dr Guthrie’s book, which was his Doctor of Ministry Thesis, is desperately needed in the Anglican Church in North America and for Anglican’s in general in the West. As he states at the beginning of the book, “The Anglican Church in North America needs a renewed sense of the charisms (or gifts) of the Holy Spirit, especially those listed in 1 Corinthians 12, to be at work in ministry contexts and congregations.” Notice the words ‘renewed sense.’ This book is not about trying to introduce the gifts of the Holy Spirit into an Anglican context but about re-discovering the work of the Holy Spirit within Anglicanism. Many would not associate the charismatic gifts with a liturgical church. And this why Dr Guthrie’s book is so important. It is a theological, historical survey of why Anglicans SHOULD expect the gifts of the Spirit to be not simply operating in a liturgical context – but that it should be normative because the gifts of the Spirit have been evident throughout it’s history. The tragedy is that many Anglican’s have ceased to expect the gifts to be present in the Church.

If you an Anglican I highly recommend you read this book – it is thorough, easy to read and fascinating. If you are not an anglican this is a valuable source of historical theology to help you understand the Anglican Church – it’s roots and it’s spiritual heritage.

Review: A Pastoral Rule for Today by by John P. Burgess, Jerry Andrews , Joseph D. Small

Forming a ‘Rule of Life’ is often seen as Catholic and / or Monastic and is not something many Christian’s consider. Even with the rise of Celtic Christianity, the idea of living under a rule of life is not often seen as beneficial of useful. Anglicans have toyed with the idea but again, for many, it seems too catholic to take seriously.

This book argues that a rule of life can and indeed does enhance our Christian walk – it can help provide discipline and it can allow us to grow in a steady pace knowing our goals and providing safe boundaries which we set in place to keep us focused on the Lord.

What is meant by a rule of life? A rule of life would be to determine that you would not speak to anyone else before you spoke to the Lord every morning. Or that you would not eat breakfast before praying. Or that you would, every evening at 7pm, switch off all your devices and spend 40 mins in quite study of the Bible. Each of these is a ‘rule’ of life. You set a boundary and determine to make this boundary a habit for your life.

Forming habits of not just regular prayer but set times that you schedule into your daily life is important. The same is true for reading the Bible. But a rule of life can help in other areas.

A Pastoral Rule for Today’ by Burgess, Andrews and Small uses figures from Church History such as Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John Calvin, John Wesley, John Henry Newman and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to show how a rule of life is areas such as friendships, holiness of life and how we speak and use words are all valuable. How can these became part of a rule of life? Maybe by setting aside one day a week to make friends with neighbors either through inviting them over for a meal or going somewhere with them. Or you may decide you want your words to bring life and not death and so you form a habit to pause before you respond or speak to people.

Not only are you treated to some history and insight into who these men were but the authors point you to how these men can show us the benefits and usefulness of a Pastoral Rule.

The final chapter of the book is a suggestion, guide or template (you decide) of the nuts and bolts of establishing your own contemporary rule of life.

Setting firm, spiritual, and godly boundaries into our lives and making them life habits is so valuable and I commend this book to you.

America’s slow slide to another civil war!

The battle which now rages between the Right and Left here in the States is heading towards a civil war – and I am not just talking ideology.

The reason WHY Trump won the election was because of the New York Times and the Washington Post. Their vitriol and anger against Trump raised up opposition that saw Trump win the White House. Not only did the country ignore these ‘great’ newspaper institutions, showing that their opinion no longer shapes the country – but the democrats lost the House as well. Literally the Democrats could not beat a man who had no political experience and questionable ethics!!

This has led to over a year of ‘incensed’ anger against Trump. Every attempt has been made to undermine the President of the United States – all because they could not believe they lost.

With Democrats and progressive supporters ditching intelligent debate and instead are now employing these tactics in opposing those on the Right, it can only cause more damage to this country. It is incredible that the left cannot see that their behavior is mobilizing opposition. A militant, aggressive left will create a militant aggressive right which will then turn very nasty. If the Left continue to demand that their agenda and their agenda alone must go forward that all other beliefs must be squashed – they will push the Right to respond – and maybe push this country into a civil war.