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PLUS: N.T. Wright’s apologetic and Donald Hilliard’s take on African-American church growth principles
Postmodernism 101
Author: Heath White
Publisher: Brazos Press
File Under: culture

Ideal reader: Undergraduates and seminary students as well as curious pastors and lay leaders who want to think intelligently about postmodernism and its consequences for the contemporary church.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (4); Insight (5); Theological Depth (5); Readability (4).

Core message: A self-described "professional philosopher," author Heath White is a 30-something university professor of philosophy who clearly speaks with authority to the issue of postmodernism and its role as an influencer of both the church and culture at large. Among White's more salient points is his observation that postmodernism as a philosophy is here to stay and that it is the pressing responsibility of church leaders to address it with an attitude of faith and love rather than one of fear and loathing.

Summary: The book thoughtfully compares and contrasts the three major worldviews of premodernism, modernism and postmodernism. Premoderns do not accept that anything true and knowable is something people can reach consensus about. Meanwhile, moderns reject that there is no present consensus, nor foreseeable consensus, on the big questions of human life. Finally, postmoderns dismiss the idea that the big questions of human life have answers that are true and knowable.

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Though White states his primary purpose for the book is to describe and explain postmodernism, he admits that a secondary goal is to offer some advice to fellow believers about how to respond to some of the challenges postmodernism presents.

In the book's opening chapter, titled "Why Read About Postmodernism?" White suggests that the root of the various reasons to learn about postmodernism is "the culture is changing, and postmodern ideas are driving the change."

White identifies three main concerns that thoughtful Christians have when they confront postmodernism and consequently addresses the corresponding reasons to learn about it. For those with a moral concern, learning about postmodernism teaches them how to combat it. For those with an evangelistic concern, learning about postmodernism helps them evangelize the culture. And for those with a theological concern, learning about postmodernism helps them rediscover what Christianity is all about, according to White.

The insightful questions for further thought after each chapter and suggestions for further reading provide a template for readers beyond the text. Regardless of where one is on the theological continuum, Postmodernism 101 offers readers thought-provoking analysis of this worldview and attempts to provide useful wisdom for the inquiring minds among us.

Quote: "Postmoderns are as anti-authority as any modern, perhaps more so. But they lost the faith that sustained modernism, the faith that human reason could deliver answers and find solutions to the great questions of human life."
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense
Author: N.T. Wright
Publisher: HarperCollins
File Under: apologetics

Ideal reader: This book is for anyone grappling with the philosophical questions concerning life's meaning (or, those who minister to such individuals). Also, those who want a firm grasp on the continuity of the Christian message will benefit greatly.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological depth (5); Readability (4).

Core message: Wright eloquently makes the case that the common longings for justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty are clues that there is a personal Creator. Further, this Creator has created a good world that has been sullied and degraded by the rebellion of its viceroys, the human race.

Undeterred by the rebellion, the Creator has redemptively brought about New Creation. The New Creation is characterized by people who have acquiesced to the Creator's gracious salvation and offer Him loving obedience. The culmination of this New Creation will be a new earth and heavens.

By cogently comparing three models of deity, Wright leads his readers to the conclusion that the Creator's identity is revealed in the Christian Scriptures. The Creator is Israel's Yahweh, made known in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Summary: Your friend tells you he is going to write a book of apologetics and Christian theology that will—in 240 pages—answer satisfactorily how it is that the Christian faith is reasonable, then go on to explain the continuity of the Christian message across the two testaments, before winding up with explanations of the Trinity, baptism, the canon of Scripture and life in the Spirit. You avert your eyes from making contact with his. You shift your weight uneasily. You know he is biting off more than he can chew. Unless, of course, your friend is the Bishop of Durham, England, N.T. Wright.

One is tempted to say that this book—sure to become a classic—is Wright's magnum opus. Simply the ability to elucidate such critical philosophical and theological themes in short compass would earn that praise. However, Wright already has a magnum opus. The bishop, 57, is best known for his multi-volume work on the New Testament, Christian Origins and the Question of God. It is a work of first-rate scholarship that has earned much acclaim.

But, as he has shown in Simply Christian, Wright knows how to distill the fruits of scholarship for a popular audience. He has done the same in his commentary series, The New Testament for Everyone (written under the name Tom Wright).

There is not a lull in the book—no dissatisfying sections. There are very high moments, though. In the chapter on beauty, the Anglican Wright will have Pentecostal readers coming out of their seats shouting. A sense of worship will be stirred as he deftly explains the Incarnation. And all should marvel as he unpacks the genius of the biblical narrative.

The rich texture God's wisdom calls for the reading and writing of many books (Wright has penned more than 40 himself), but a person who might be exposed to just one Christian tome would be well served by this one.

Quote: "Christian spirituality combines a sense of the awe and majesty of God with a sense of His intimate presence. This is hard to describe but easy to experience."
Reviewer: Jon Rising

Church Growth From An African-American Perspective
Author: Donald Hilliard, Jr.
Publisher: Judson Press
File Under: church growth

Ideal reader: This book is tailor-made for ministers, more specifically pastors. Any person in ministry who is interested in church or ministry growth would find this book ideal.

Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (4 ); Theological depth (4); Readability (5).

Core message: Focusing on the recent popularity of the megachurch in African-American society, the author first debunks the myth that "bigger is better" and lays the foundation for the accurate assessment of true church expansion by explaining the relationship between spiritual maturity, numerical growth and financial growth.

Summary: Bishop Donald Hilliard Jr. is the pastor of Cathedral International, a 6,000-member church in three locations. Defined as a megachurch, the phenomenal growth from 125 members to his present membership was indeed the impetus behind Hilliard penning the book, Church Growth From an African-American Perspective.

Many pastors will find his pastoral viewpoint quite relevant—especially when he urges pastors to reveal their true reason for desiring church development. He encourages pastors to seek godly reasons for growth and not to desire to be a "mover and shaker in the Christian community."

Hilliard specifically outlines a 10-point biblical model for church growth using scriptural references. Urging pastors to prepare for increase, he says that preparation must include the three Hs—humility, hunger (for God) and hope—and that churches can't fall into the "bandwagon syndrome," using the same plan of growth that worked for another church.

Vision is discussed as is the importance of clearly articulating the vision to church members. Other relevant points such as the significance of biblical preaching, a powerful prayer life, tithing, holy living and dynamic worship are a few of the elements he mentions as fundamentals of a growing church.This is a personal writing for the author and he uses practical examples which help to bring many of his points home.

After laying the foundation, Hilliard details practical dimensions—purposeful prayer, prophetic preaching, powerful worship, pertinent ministry, and practical Christian education—for success. He also highlights the different ways churches can grow, from by multiplication (growth by planting satellite churches) to church planting.

Quote: "As I searched for God's direction for ministry, I received a very simple formula. God said, 'Love them, lift them, liberate them.' "
Reviewer: René Williams

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