The Case for Christ Movie Review

The-Case-for-Christ-1  Yesterday, I had the incredible privilege of seeing the brand-new movie “The Case for Christ.”  To be honest, I was a bit skeptical before going to see it.  Of course, I believe in the resurrection of Christ and all the scientific data proving that He was a real person, that He lived and died, and also that He is Lord and Saviour.  However, I was a bit more skeptical of how they were going to pull it off.  Lee Strobel is a brilliant mind and an incredible thinker.  He is a great person to read if you are interested in scientific data, and logical reasoning.  But, I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily the kind of person you would rush to for Saturday afternoon amusement, I was wrong.

The new “Case for Christ” movie is an incredible conglomeration between a documentary and a life-story.  I believe it fits well into the category of “docu-drama.”   The story unfolds Strobel’s life as a former ardent atheist who was shocked and upset when his wife, Leslie, became a Christian.  Strobel set out to prove her faith null and void in the attempt to “win her back.”  Yet, in the process, Strobel discovered that there was overwhelming evidence for Christianity and became a Christian himself.  The movie focuses primarily on his testimony and progression to the faith, however, not without adding in some of those extra punch arguments that would be sure to convince even the hardest skeptics.

Later on that day, I attended a Good Friday musical production at a local church and picked up a free copy of “The Case for Easter.”  Although I am quite familiar with the name “Strobel” I have to admit, I have never read any of his works, but the movie definitely made me interested in finding out more.  So when I got home I immediately began reading and just finished the book a few hours ago.  Strobel’s work is once again filled with strong evidence that the crucifixion indeed happened, that Jesus did die, and that the best explanation for His disappearance is that He was raised to life.  Yet the real clincher for me is the way it impacts the way I see Christ.  I have heard about the crucifixion for years and I am well aware that it is a horrendous process to go through, however, hearing how Dr. Robert Stein, a leading forensic pathologist describes the ordeal really puts Christ’s love into perspective for me.  It is truly a sacrifice that none of us are able to compute because likely none of us would be willing to endure it.  And yet Jesus did, not for His friends, but for those who were “far off” and “enemies” of God (Ephesians 2:13).

Even though the movie and the book were both amazing, my only concern is that many atheists have simply closed their hearts and minds to these very arguments.  I do find it encouraging and refreshing to see that even people trying to prove Christianity wrong often end up believers (including C.S. Lewis), but still for some individuals no amount of evidence will steer them towards Christ.  They have determined not to believe, and they are not interested in anyone trying to convince them otherwise.  Strobel’s work is a great engaging message for anyone willing to “spar” with claims of truth, but to do so, I think there still has to be a significant amount of curiosity.  Something that simply isn’t there in the “truth is relative” day and age.

Nevertheless, I applaud this new work and think it is a movie that will likely help other Christians formulate and articulate their own thoughts and arguments better.  I also am elated that in the last few months two blatantly Christian films “The Shack” and “The Case for Christ” have hit the theatres.  We often do not get many Christian films out and that two were released almost simultaneously is a great blessing.

Our world is still very much going in the direction of post-modernism and a disinterest in the Christian faith, however, the fact that Christian movies are now hitting Hollywood a bit faster does leave me with a bit of a question.  Is it simply a mere coincidence or might there be something deeper?  Is it simply that Hollywood jumps on Christian films at Easter, or might it be, that deep down people are crying out to fill this spiritual void and are willing to go to any length to find it – even if that include a bag of popcorn in one hand and a can of soda in the other?

Book Review: Hand In Hand With God: Witnessing on the Way (By: Flora L. Williams)

410vyEVkMCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_When Flora Williams suddenly found herself trapped in a Mexican tour bus, her sunny vacation plans turned to shock and horror within mere minutes.  What started out as a terrific getaway, soon resulted in months of hospital stays, doctor’s appointments, and a life-changing disability,  Flora, an independent and active woman involved in church ministry, professorship, and music, soon found herself having to adapt to her many hobbies and interests using only one arm.

Flora’s story is a testimony of God’s love and faithfulness even in the midst of trial and tragedy.  Despite some initial depression and questioning, Flora’s ability to see the bigger picture and maintain a strong faith in God is a great witness to many who find themselves in similar circumstances.

One of the highlights of Flora’s book for me from a purely disability theology angle is her chapter entitled “Journey Through the Land of People.”  In this section, Flora describes two different common response to her injury: paradox and paradise.  In the paradox stage, Flora discovers that people often choose to respond to someone “differently-abled” (to use her preferred terminology) with shock, pity, curiosity and uncertainty.  She also mentions that in this phase people consider her “super-human” or rush in to provide “service.”  Conversely, in paradise people act out of humility, love, and service.  Flora writes, “Along the way, I met people with a kindred spirit, accepting me as a whole person, simply, honestly, connect without judging, accepting me as I was.  They were seeing my internal spirit not my external loss.”  Although I have severed as a disability advocate for the past four years, Flora’s explanation is helpful in providing us with the invaluable perspective of someone differently abled.  This is a chapter I will refer to again and again in my own work in the field and would encourage other advocates to also become aware of.

Flora’s book is genuine and sincere.  It does not sugar-coat the harsh realities and difficulties facing people with disabilities (both from breaking away from societal norms and prejudices as well as the increased complications of more practical tasks).  However, it also provides hope and support for those with physical disabilities by encouraging us to learn new methods of adaptation.

Although Flora’s book is a wonderful personal story and a great witness to her faith in God, my only caution would be surrounding some of the more graphic details she shares about in her writing.  Flora describes in great detail the accident and accompanying medical appointments.  This is helpful in aiding her story by providing a greater context of her reality and helping us enter in to her struggles.  Nevertheless, for someone with a more sensitive disposition, the details can become quite unsettling and uncomfortable.  Therefore, this book should be read with caution and shared only with those who are willing to hear the truth for what it is.

I highly recommend Flora’s book both for individuals with disabilities as well as caregivers, friends, family members, and community activists.  It is a book I believe belongs in every church library and wherever the message of disability inclusion seeks to be shared widely.  Thank you, Flora, for allowing me to enter into your story and your life.

Flora’s book is available at: https://www.amazon.ca/Hand-God-Witnessing-Way/dp/1424121477  and at https://www.abebooks.com/9781424121472/Hand-God-Witnessing-Way-Williams-1424121477/plp

Chicken Scratch By: Kelly Chripczuk (A Book Review)

14725505_1313635401989049_6036972711710161119_n   What do chickens have in-common with the day-to-day reality of family life, courage, and compassion?  What can these seemingly unintelligent animals really teach us about conviction, love and loss?

In Kelly Chripczuk’s brand new book “Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk, and Poultry” she recounts her experience as an active mother of four, a pastor of a thriving congregation, and a chicken farmer.  These pages are filled with the raw honesty of the ups and downs life throws at us, but are also graced with a sense of pastoral wisdom and humour.

Throughout her book, Chripczuk invites us to journey with her as she makes new discoveries, rekindles old ones, and ultimately falls into a rhythm of life that promotes balance and well-being.  Through her own search for what is right, she encourages her readers to find grace and strength in the sacred and in the secular, in the marvelous and in the mundane.

Chripczuk writes:

This book started as a journal, a commitment to pay attention and write as often as I could during the first thirty days with our new flock. I wrote nearly every day from the first of May to the first of June, 2016. I paid attention to the way life with the birds intersected with my own life and family life. I watched the way I behaved with the birds and how I thought about them. I listened to my life and discovered the questions I would have to answer and decisions I needed to make to be able to embrace a life I love. Not all of my writings made the cut and much in the form of details and explanations were added later.

 I watched the chickens, watched myself and listened for the nudge of God in the intersections of my life. And while I don’t often write directly about God in the pages that follow, I’m convinced that the presence of love, grace and joy on these pages means God is here just as clearly as God is there in the longings, confessions, hopes and angst of the Psalms. I’m still in love with that brown eyed boy and this past spring the world was again blooming fresh and green around us. Sleeping creation woke from its winter slumber and I stood for a while at the crossroads of love and risk where heaven and earth meet, waiting, watching and giving witness.

What is the most completely crazy thing your heart is calling you to do at this particular moment?  It might be an action or a career path that everyone around you discourages you from.  There might be plenty of external (and even a few internal) opinions and viewpoints that are pressuring you to change your focus and direction.  But just like Chripczuk discovers, finding a path that we love and then gaining the courage to continue down that road makes our lives so much more vibrant and interesting.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, funny, easy-to-read book but also one with a lot of depth and that will challenge you gently, I highly recommend “Chicken Scratch”!

Today is the official launch date for Chicken Scratch: Stories of Love, Risk, and Poultry By: Kelly Chripczuk (one of my fellow MennoNerds).  I was given the honour and delight of receiving an advanced copy of her writing in exchange for a fair and honest book review.  I was under no obligation to write a favourable review, although I highly enjoyed this autobiographical account.  Any and all opinions herein reflect my own beliefs and are not representative of any of the blogging communities I am affiliated with.  If you are interested in reading more of Chripczuk’s writings, please check out her personal blog at: http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.ca/

The Beautiful Not Yet (A Review of Carrie Newcomer’s Latest Book and CD Album)

carrie-newcomer-tbny_-albumpage   Recently author and song writer Carrie Newcomer released a new book filled with poems, prayers, speeches, and lyrics from her latest album “the Beautiful Not Yet.”  Newcomer’s work could not have come at a better time in my life.

Recently, I have been going through a significantly painful transition.  I’ve had to leave a job and way of life that I’ve loved being part of for the past 3 years in order to embrace the unknown.  With no knowledge of what’s next it’s easy to become discouraged, discontent, and depressed.  Listening to and reading Newcomer’s work has been a breath of fresh-air and allowed me to shift my focus.

Newcomer whose spirituality deeply encompasses the Quaker values of peace, solitude, and simplicity, offers loving, honest reminders of God being present in the secular and the sacred, the marvelous and the mundane.  Her writings portray an honest sensitivity and deep emotional connection with her readers as she ventures into issues of aging, ill-health, and transition.  We joyfully join her in her gardening metaphors and marvel at her artistic grace in explaining painful daily realities.  Newcomer sings with a rich, strong acoustic-jazzy voice with poignant lyrics and smooth vocal energy.  Her work is profound not only as poetry but as prayerful artwork – a tapestry of taize, a dance of delight.

I was given a complimentary copy of Carrie Newcomer’s work with no obligation to write a review (whether positive or negative) about her work.  Yet, I can honestly say that this CD is one of the few where I listened to it multiple times, pausing and rewinding just to get the full feel of her words.  I hope you will also consider getting a copy for yourself and seeing the wonders that this album can bring to your heart and the strength it can bring to a weary soul.

For more information about how you can get a hold of Newcomer’s materials please visit: http://www.carrienewcomer.com/

Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (A Book Review)

sbl10-pic2_compact  The following is a personal review on the book: Women & Leadership By: Malcolm Webber (Strategic Press, Bentham, Indiana, 2007 ).  The following views are my own taking into consideration Webber’s writing and referencing him often.  I have not been commissioned by Webber to write a review or to post any blog on his material; so any recommendation on my part is completely voluntary. 

Well, I never thought this would happen, but I have finally found a book about male headship in ministry that I thoroughly agree with, appreciate, and embrace.  Malcolm Webber is actually the senior pastor at the church I attended for young adults when I was a seminary student in Indiana.  I only met with him once, but I remember he gave me his book, “Women & Leadership”, when he heard I was studying to be a pastor…and for whatever reason I never opened it until just now (I was probably scared of it pointing me away from my studies).  Now that I’ve read it, I realize that it doesn’t invalidate my studies at all, it just proves more and more why we need more women to study the Scriptures, but also why we need more men to take up their God-given and God-ordained position as leaders within the church.  Webber’s style is both highly theological and practical.  He’s given consideration to all of the major Biblical texts about women in leadership (both from the Old and New Testament) and he’s arrived at a fair conclusion that I think we can all agree with.

Here are a few points I have taken from this excellent, easy-to-read, and yet well researched book:

  • Men and women are created different yet equal. A man’s role as head of the family and of the church is suggested to us throughout Scripture.  This does not have anything to do with inferiority, but rather with a proper structure that best employs stability.  When a husband or male pastor is doing his Godly work, it is a joy for a woman to submit, not a burden.
  • That being said, women should minister and lead to the fullest extent of their divine callings.

What exactly does this mean?  Well, it can mean a few different things depending on what God has called the woman to do:

  1. Scripture (both in the Old and New Testament) affirms women in all sorts of various roles. While it is uncommon for a woman to be in a top position of power (one example of this being the judge Deborah), women have served in a variety of other capacities including as counsellors, guides, teachers, and deacons.  Occasionally, in the Scriptures and in early church history, women have taken the lead but this is almost always the exception, not the norm.  Furthermore, even in a case like Deborah, the socio-historical context of the day shows us that this was not the ideal.  Deborah stepped in to serve because men were not taking their proper authority and rule – it was not the best case scenario, but she followed God’s will because it was either having a female leader or having no leader.  Deborah actually encouraged Barak to step up to his God ordained role, but unfortunately, he seemed to be unwilling to do so fully (by the way there are several interpretations of this.  I actually wrote a seminary paper on this story, so I know at least 4 or 5 interpretations ranging from very liberal and feminist to very conservative and male headship orientated).
  2. The idea that a woman can only lead other women or children, is often taken out of context. Most Biblical passages do not suggest this (except for a few classic examples of proof-texts).  Rather, women are affirmed in many areas of leadership except for top-level leadership.

How Do We Find the Balance?

The women in leadership issue is a diverse and extremely tricky one within the life of the church, and one often fuelled with passion and emotion on either side of the debate.  We meet “liberal” churches that discourage a distinction between men and women stating that we are all equal; some even suggesting that churches that follow male-headship are hierarchical, patriarchal, and even oppressive.  These churches may even suggest that a woman must be liberated from the command to submit to her husband perhaps even stating that this design was simply brought about because of sin and was not God’s original intention: rather God created men and women as equal and thus we are all permitted to do the same things.  Conversely, we meet “conservative” churches that proof-text 1 Timothy 2:11-15 stating that a woman has no right to preach or lead in any capacity  except to women and kids.  So who’s right?

Well, Webber has some good logic:

Churches which promote egalitarianism may rob men of the opportunity to lead the family and the church as they should and may push a woman into a leadership position she is unprepared or unqualified for…BUT churches that see only males as “worthy” of leadership can often lead down the slippery slope of male domination, authoritarianism, and female passivity.  When this happens women can easily become bitter and enraged and thus be robbed of using their God ordained skills and interests for the higher good of the church and the Kingdom (Webber, 16).  Later on, Webber follows this statement up with another helpful comment: “The Bible contains both teachings and examples of women ministering and leading to the fullest extent of their callings in God.  A church that denies women the opportunity to minister has robbed itself of at least one-half of the gifts and callings God has provided.” (32)

All this to say: we should guard against either extreme.  A church too focused on the differences misses out on all the wonderful ways women can enrich worship and church life (whether or not she is preaching).  A church too focused on the similarities, forgets that God created men and women different but equal and that diversity can be our strength rather than an oppressive driving force.

What does this mean practically?

  1. Men should be encouraged to step up and lead. Rather than denying a woman the opportunity to lead, we should seek to urge men to “fill the vacuum that had previously been left by men not fulfilling their God-given leadership roles.” (Webber, 54).
  2. Rather than solely focussing on what the role of a woman in the church is, we should ask what the role of both genders is and how both men and women can fill the needs of the church. Webber states, “Instead of worrying about ‘what I can or cannot do,’ our concern should be ‘what has God called me to do?” (51)
  3. Webber asks the question: But what if a woman is called to a top-level leadership position? His response: Well then, she better go do it! (51)  He then adds a follow-up question: what if the woman is wrong and she is not actually called to pastor?  His response: Men are just as liable to hear their calling incorrectly as women and we should apply the same standards in either case: to lovingly nurture and correct this person, gently guiding them back to the Truth and helping them find ways of discerning their actual calling.  After all, we cannot place God in a vacuum (although His original and ultimate design is for men to lead with authority and love, we cannot deny that for whatever reason in God’s good purposes He has sometimes made exceptions to further His plan within a given context).

Malcom Webber’s book is one example of a thoughtful, tactful, Scripturally and theologically sound resource; however it is only one book and one interpretation.  I’ve stated my own views on numerous blogs, but my views are constantly being formed and shaped as I become more informed and aware of the vast literature available on this topic.  I’ve recently compiled a list of books on this topic from either perspective and will likely be blogging reviews as I unfold each one.  In all things, my hope is that whether you are male or female, you are seeking to serve Christ to the best of your abilities, being faithful to His calling and guidance on your life, and ultimately asking yourself how you can best minister and evangelize to bring many other lost souls into His grace and mercy and for His good Kingdom purposes.

 

 

 

Book Review – Undiluted By: Benjamin Corey

book-front-for-patheos This article is part of a blog tour for the new book by fellow MennoNerd, Benjamin Corey, entitled Undiluted.  You can find all the articles in this blog tour by going to http://mennonerds.com/undiluted-mennonerds.  The book was received free of charge from the publisher under no obligation for a favorable review.

When did you become a Mennonite? When did you start embracing Anabaptist ideals? These are two questions that I still struggle with today. On one hand, I could argue that I became a Mennonite at 16. That’s how old I was when I stood before the church, had my witnesses vouch for me, and decided that I would be part of this specific denomination. I had finished my discipleship classes, had been regularly attending a Mennonite church by that time for about a year and a half, and was almost entering into my junior (grade 11) year of high school at the Mennonite school literally across the street. However, the truth is, my quest to Anabaptism actually was a lot longer than that and nowhere near as cut and dry. It involved lots of twists, turns, and the occasional bump. The truth is, I really became an Anabaptist once I started attending Tyndale. To this day, I don’t think Tyndale – a largely evangelical and somewhat charismatic school – has any idea how much they shaped me to embrace not only a true view of Christ but also a true view of Anabaptism.

This is part of the reason why Benjamin Corey’s book Undiluted really stood out to me. Corey is a fellow Mennonerd blogger and an author with a deep passion to see the North American church relive its true identity – becoming counter-cultural rather than laizze-faire. Using a simple, yet delightful approach, this book presents its readers with challenging queries and honest searches to finding out who the God of the Bible really is.

For too long, outsiders have looked in on the Christian church and found it to be lacking. Accusations come from all sides that the church is too rigid, too formal, and too full of themselves. Individuals on the margins are finding the church to be exclusive, inaccessible, and boring. The culture is deeming the church to be gay-bashing, women-hating, and Islamophobic. But what did Christ actually intend for the church to become? He intended it to be built upon tradition but not enslaved to it. To be a community of believers with Christ at the center who out pour their lives in love and service to one another and to those who don’t believe. He anticipated an active, messy faith, not a placid, easy one.

Corey is a brilliant and accessible author in that he is able to combine personal experience with practical theology and to make it accessible for all levels of readership. His book is fast-paced, hard to put down, and yet bears the marks of one not ashamed to be real about the questions the church has left them with. It is an enmeshment of popular theology with old school ethic; the evangelical rootedness of Christ being at the center, the only true Lord, but the Anabaptist ideals of service and mission rather than simply evangelization.

There is something in this book that everyone can relate to. Whether you are finding your small group to be too surface-level and dream of deeper connections, you are a seminarian who is moving out of your denominational bubble and into a more transdenominal/ecumenical setting and it scares the daylights out of you, or you are someone who has left the church because they cannot accept where you are right now in your stage of life – this book is for you.

This book is written for the doubters as much as for the seekers. For the discontented as much (if not more so) than for the complacent. It is a challenge, a warning, and a signal to the contemporary church that if we want to thrive and burn long-term we are going to have to readjust our vision, our praxis, and our spiritual climate. It is a book that has the potential to be somewhat unpopular in a day and age which wants to do away with true Christianity and instead to embrace spiritualism. It is also a book that begs to be taken seriously.

It is easy for us as Christians to hear these sermons repeated over and over again at church – in one ear and out the other Sunday to Sunday. Corey’s book does not allow space or time for this. Instead, he challenges his readers that just like Christ humbled Himself, so, we too are also called to a life of service and action. There is no other way. Either you’re in or you’re out and if you’re going to be in then you’ve got to be in all the way.

Thought-provoking, straight-forward, and practical I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5 and would recommend it to anyone studying ministry, currently involved in ministry, or a dissatisfied pew sitter on Sunday morning. I hope you will all go out and buy yourself a copy, but more importantly, I hope you will take the lessons and warning provided by Corey to heart as we strive to build up the Kingdom of God here on this earth.