Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Book Review

Coffee Shop Conversations by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher (Zondervan, 2007)

This book is divided into three parts:  the first argues that we can and should find ways to naturally talk about our faith in small talk and everyday life.  The second part talks about some essential tools that people can use when talking about faith with others.  And the third part argues that there are only a few things that we should actually be willing to die for theologically, and that the most important thing is to introduce people to Jesus.

Overall, I thought the book brought some really important points to the table.  Like the Finchers, I believe that in this post-modern world, it's a mistake to convey that people have to believe a certain list of ideas in order to become a Christian.  Instead, we need to introduce people to the Person of Jesus Christ--he is the only one who has the authority and the ability to call people to follow him.  And many of the things that the organized church has stood for and against have been things that don't matter or that we can't know for sure.  There is a lot of room within the Orthodox Christian faith for a whole spectrum of theologies and practices, and to tell our friends they have to believe just like us to follow Christ is both wrong and ineffective.

They also argued that we need to earn the right to speak into others' lives.  Specifically, they say that "the only time we have a right to talk with someone and introduce Jesus is when we’re certain we see them as equally human, broken, and in pain like us. . . .Until we open up to two-way giving and receiving, our acts of charity, whether they be donating, witnessing, volunteering, dining with an argumentative couple, listening to a troubled teen, or striking up a conversation with a woman at the library, will remain drive-by acts of charity."  In this way, they encourage us to see people beyond the way we label them and as people who are made in the image of God and who are valuable to relate to and learn from.

So overall, if you have a heart and passion for evangelism, I think it's probably worth reading.  However, if you're looking to gain a skill set to help you talk about faith with post-modern, post-Christian folks, I'm not sure this is a helpful resource, for two reasons.  First, although the book is filled with stories of how the Finchers have shared faith and challenged the philosophies of their friends, if you have no background in philosophy yourself, you would not be able to figure out how to lead conversations the way that they do.  They are able to identify a worldview and philosophy and meet people within that to share faith effectively within that context.  And though I believe that we can all learn to do this, the book does not go far enough in truly identifying philosophies and practically helping the reader to know how to respond.

Second, there is no discussion of barriers to faith that aren't intellectual or philosophical.  In today's world where people are increasingly making decisions based on how they feel rather than what they think, a book that does not speak to the emotional barriers people have to faith is of limited usefulness.  Sadly, this gaping hole in the book is absolutely typical of the current conversation around evangelism.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR 255.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

embracing suffering

Therefore we do not lose heart. 
Though outwardly we are wasting away, 
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  
For our light and momentary troubles 
are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, 
but on what is unseen, 
since what is seen is temporary,
 but what is unseen is eternal.  

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

If you've ever been "hard-pressed on every side" like Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:7, you'll understand the struggle not to lose heart.  But Paul says, again and again in so many of his letters, that we should not lose heart.  He consistently talks about finding joy in suffering, comparing today's momentary troubles with eternal glory and abundant life.

But when you're hard-pressed on every side, sometimes it's impossible to see beyond the moment.  When my 38-year-old roommate is literally groaning in pain for hours on end and there's no relief in sight and no hope for future healing, I must admit that I struggle to see anything else.  The abstract thought of life with Christ is so intangible in that moment compared to the solid wall of pain and suffering that's with me in that space and that time.

Paul talks about fixing his eyes on what is unseen, and while I cry out to God to give me that vision--to see what is unseen--it is not a vision that I have within myself.  It's not a vision I can create out of my own mind or even my heart.  I can't produce or imagine what a world free of suffering would even look like, let alone a world  filled up by the presence of God.

But this is what a life of faith looks like, isn't it?  It's a life that embraces humanity and struggle and suffering and invites Jesus into the darkest of places.  It's life that is renewed from the inside out, day by day, no matter what the struggle is on the outside.  It's a life where I know that no matter what the pain and suffering, Jesus is walking with me through it, and the Holy Spirit is interceding on my behalf.

Left on my own, the mere idea of an eternity that I can't see or feel right now would never sustain me through the circumstances surrounding my life.  But what I am finding in this place of suffering is the very real presence of God--not magically fixing all the broken places of life--but transforming me from the inside out and giving me a faith that is solid enough to give me abundant life in the midst of a world where death is mercy.