Posts filed under book reviews

Book Review: Sex and the iWorld by Dale S. Kuehne

tWorld – Traditional:   Marriage and the extended family were the relational foundation of the tWorld. It was constructed on a matrix of relationships of mutual obligations and responsibilities. Rich in relational fulfillment. Sexuality was not seen as a means fulfillment. Not to say all was wonderful. There was abuse and all sorts of relational hurt and alienation (35, 40).

iWorld – Individualism:   Relationships of obligation have been changed to relationships of choice. Sex is disconnected from marriage and procreation. Its value is romantic pleasure. It is appropriate if there is mutual consent (44, 74). “In an iWorld relationship it is up to each person to ensure that they are getting what they want, and if they are not, it is their responsibility to find it” (167).

rWorld – Relationship:   “Whereas the iWorld is a place in which freedom of the individual reigns, the rWorld is based on the belief that humans are made for relationship and that we find our deepest fulfillment not when seeking self-fulfillment but when living and engaging in the full constellation of healthy human relationships” (95).

“We are created to relate to God and one another, and our personal fulfillment and happiness depend on the health of those two relationships” (112).

Life is more than the physical and emotional. “To reclaim the totality of relational fullness we need to rediscover the . . . spiritual dimension of relationship”  (168).

Reflecting on this book, Kathleen Chavoor Bergen wrote:

As a first generation Armenian American who was truly raised in both the tWorld and the iWorld reading this book validated my frustration of both dichotomies. I took an honest look at how some of the bounded and oppressive ideals of the traditional world had moved me into a fuzzy or individual world. Through much introspection I have been confronted with the fact that both worlds are unsatisfying. The concept of an rWorld, especially in regards to sexuality has forced me to evaluate the purpose of sexuality. Kuehne states on page 150, “… humans are made for relationship and we crave love and intimacy more than anything else. The problem with sex is not that it is bad but that it alone cannot deliver fulfillment for which we yearn.” This is contrary to the belief of the iWorld.  The iWorld advocates for fulfilling your immediate physical needs outside of the realm of deep and true authentic relationships. I would like to advocate for the continual evaluation of what true rWorld relationships look like in ways that move away from bounded ideals. To me, they can easily become intertwined, especially in the realm of what is appropriate sexually. (From her book review for Discipleship and Ethics, Spring, 2015, used with permission.)

Posted on July 5, 2016 and filed under book reviews.

The Paradox of Generosity



The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose

by Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson


This book reports the results of a carefully constructed sociological study--including both quantitative and qualitative research. In the nine different categories of life investigated, generous people had greater scores of well-being—sometimes markedly so.

The conclusion of the book states: “In offering our time, money, and energy in service of others’ well-being, we enhance our own well-being as well” (224). As a sociological study the book is first and foremost an argument with research results to back up that argument. You may think, “makes sense to me. I do not need to be convinced.” Still, there are reasons to read the book. Even if you do not find the thesis surprising you may be surprised at the width and depth of the positive impact of generosity in the giver’s life. It motivates one to generosity, but also underscores the value of encouraging generosity in those we counsel, teach and disciple. It is not a “how-to” book, but it does provide some insights on how to increase people’s level of generosity.
The look into people’s lives is reason enough to read the book. The stories and examples from their qualitative research allows one to enter into the lives of the generous and the un-generous. The authors use short real-life examples throughout the book, but they also have a few long in-depth case studies of generous and un-generous people. There is much to reflect on.

I regularly think back to the description of one un-generous family—“Doug and Michelle Arnold” (120-133). What especially stood out to me was the intentionality of their ungenerosity. It is not that they happened to be ungenerous, they had principled reasons for their stance. In their logic everyone should take care of their own needs. Doug and Michelle did not ask for help, and reasoned that others should do the same—work and take care of their problems. The Arnolds made an exception for natural disasters--occasionally giving small donations. And it is not just in relation to money, but generous actions as well. They live as autonomously from their neighbors as they can—live and let live.
Doug and Michelle openly acknowledge that their purpose in life is to make enough money to have “the good life.” According to them the good life is having financial security and enough money to support a lifestyle of leisure with modest luxuries and perhaps a weekend home by the beach. Therefore for them it is counterintuitive to give either time or resources to others. Yet as they talk about their lives there is little sense of shalom or thriving. They make a combined $115,000, but the authors observed that the Arnolds, “clearly live in a subjective state of relative deprivation, imbued with a constant sense that there is not enough money for the things they need and want” (129).
The question that keeps coming up when I think of this couple is: how might I reach out evangelistically to them? I mean that in the traditional sense of inviting them to a relationship with Jesus, but also in a broader sense of the gospel—good news. They are so far from living as Jesus did. How might I invite them to follow the ways of Jesus and become people of generosity who love their neighbors? I ask that question out of concern for them—so that they may experience some of the well-being this book describes, but also out of concern for our society. The way they are living their lives is not good for them, their neighbors, nor our society as a whole.

Posted on February 16, 2016 and filed under book reviews.

I Once Was Lost


Book Review:

I Once was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus
By Don Everts and Doug Schaupp


There is much to critique about many evangelistic approaches. In my first months as a campus minister with Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship at Syracuse University I did a lot of critiquing of the methods of other Christian groups on campus. Then a mentor said to me, "fine Mark, you have good critiques of their way of evangelizing, but what are you doing? Do you have an alternative approach you are actually practicing?"

This is a book that helps me imagine alternatives to the methods I critiqued.

The pragmatic side of me loved this book. It is not just theory; it contains a lot of “how to’s” illustrated with examples. The part of me that has grown skeptical of formulaic “how to” lists did not react too strongly because the practical emphasis of the book is rooted in a very different paradigm of evangelism. In large part that is because it is based on careful observation of and listening to people who have converted. I had hoped for thicker narratives of these people. The subtitle of the book mislead me, but actually it is exactly right. The book is not so much about postmodern skeptics, but it is the lessons learned from them. The thesis of the book is that “one trick” evangelism does not work well because it treats all people as if they are in the same place. 

In essence, for example, it is of no use engaging a person as if they are a seeker if they are not even curious about Jesus. I thought the first threshold was especially important, moving from distrust of Christians to trust a Christian. The other four thresholds were: 2. Moving from complacent to curious, 3. Moving from closed to being open to change in their life, 4. Moving from meandering to seeking, and 5. Crossing the threshold of the kingdom itself.

I appreciate that they emphasize the importance of an actual call to take this last step. Many, I think, are hesitant to make an explicit call. In part out of reaction against the “one trick” packaged evangelistic techniques, and in part because of how it goes against the grain of our tolerance-as-supreme-virtue-society. Yet, if we are going to move people from fuzzy to centered they do need to turn to the center at some point. Calling for conversion feels much different in their approach because it is not seen as the goal of every conversation with a non-believer. If the person is only at threshold two, don’t make the call of threshold 5. It is a short book (132 pages), easy to read, many illustrative stories, and includes not just description of the stages, but also suggestions on how to engage non-Christians at each stage.

On one hand, by emphasizing process the book takes away a lot of the un-natural, uncomfortable, alienating feel of evangelism. On the other hand by identifying thresholds and calling Christians to work to lovingly help people move from one threshold to the next it maintains the evangelistic imperative that often seems to get lost when the emphasis is on process rather than on one-time contact evangelism focused on “praying the prayer.”


Posted on January 1, 2016 and filed under book reviews.

Lost in Transition

Book Review

Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood

by Christian Smith

Sociologist Christian Smith and collaborators did in-depth interviews with more than 200 teenagers and published Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Seven years later his team did follow-up interviews and published two books: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults and Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood.

The latter book paints a disturbing picture of the results of hyper individualism, consumerism and moral relativism. The book focuses on five areas: confused moral reasoning, routine intoxication, materialistic life goals, regrettable sexual experiences, and disengagement from civic and political life. It is the book that awoke me to the need to address not only bounded group religiosity, but also its opposite—a fuzzy approach. I encourage you to read the book with an openness to how the Spirit may awaken you to new initiatives and approaches called forth by the realities presented in the book.

The book displays the inability of many emerging adults to articulate moral justification for their actions. I agree with some critics who state that Smith may have confused the ability to articulate a moral position with the ability to practice a moral ethic. Recall the villagers of Le Chambon in Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, who when asked why they took such risky actions to save Jews from the Nazis, had little to say beyond, “how could we have done otherwise?” Moral reasoning is not the only, nor necessarily the key reason we act as we do. Narratives shape us; we imitate those we look up to; and we are shaped by cues of those around us. So, in terms of this website, to say that someone cannot offer a moral argument for something does not necessarily mean they practice a fuzzy group approach to ethics. To be able to coherently defend a moral position is of value, and I share Christian Smith’s concern over the erosion of this ability. But I am not persuaded it is the central issue he makes it.

Nevertheless, the book is important and valuable. It takes us into the lives of many young adults, and through their own words they graphically portray many destructive and painful results of a fuzzy group approach to life. Read it to get a feel for and better understand those living out of this approach, and to sense the imperative of offering a life centered on Jesus as an alternative.

Posted on December 9, 2015 and filed under book reviews.

Living into Focus

Book Review:

Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions
- Arthur Boers

The title captures well what the book is about. It is well written, a good mix of personal reflection by the author, examples from his life and the lives of others, and insights from thinkers like Ellul and Borgman. The author brings big ideas of cultural criticism down to practical, day to day issues and habits of my life. I use quotes from the book in a few different D & E classes and have added chapter seven as a reading for the course.

A few memorable quotes:

“We have allowed our technology to outrun our theology” - MLK Jr. (69)  

“The issue is not technology itself but the reality that we often do not reflect on how we are affected and formed by our use of it.”

“Machines grow quieter, but we use more of them and so add to the noise. Devices are increasingly energy efficient, but we employ so many that we end up using more power than ever. While computers and online connections get faster, the time we spend on them keeps going up. The better we are at responding to e-mail, the more we are inundated by it.” (70)

“Too often our interactions with technology follow a predictable trajectory: because it is available we use it, then we think it is normal, and finally we expect or even demand that others employ it as well.” (71)

“People must be taught not to want leisure but to desire possessions.” - Henry Ford (144)

“When unclear about fundamental priorities, urgency becomes the default position.” (192)

I encourage you to read the book and, as I did, look for one or two new things to integrate into your life. Small changes can have big impacts on the whole.


Posted on November 23, 2015 and filed under book reviews.