Introverts in the Church: Finding Out Place in an Extroverted Culture

The following book review, I think will be helpful to those who are in the church, and specifically to those in the church that have felt like they just don’t fit.

I have been heavily involved in ministry for a few years now, and it is undoubtedly a rewarding enjoyable job, but the fact of the matter is- it’s hard. At times the lifestyle seems to be a whirlwind of frenzied meetings, counseling, and emotionally-charged-busyness. And it was in the midst of feeling like this that I ‘Stumbled Upon’ a book by Adam McHugh called Introverts in the Church.

Let me start off by saying that for the longest time I have considered myself an extrovert, because I do well in crowds and tend to be talkative in a big group. However, this is a common misconception- (very simplified) an extroverted individual is someone who gets energy from being around other people, and an introverted person is one who recharges by being alone. Once I understood this, it became obvious that I was an introvert. The combination of this discovery, and feeling inadequate to do ministry due to the aforesaid feelings, I committed to using some of my Amazon.com gift card money and purchased McHugh’s book.

Here are few quotes that made me jump up and down with excitement, because it is precisely how I felt/feel about ministry in our culture:

“American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.”

“It’s as if the moment we surrender our lives to Christ we are issued a flashing neon sign that says “GO!” There is a restless energy to evangelicalism that leads to a full schedule and a fast pace. Some have said that, in Christian culture, busyness is next to Godliness. We are always in motion, constantly growing never expanding.”

“We (introverts) don’t avoid social situations like we would a trip to the dentist, but sometimes we avoid them like we might avoid exercise, because we lack the energy for it. Long periods without quiet refueling leave introverts feeling physically exhausted and emotionally hollow.”

I kept reading the limitless artillery of quotes like this and I was thrilled. I thought, “I’m not the only one!” I kept standing up from my recliner to hunt down my wife so I could read her McHugh’s words that so accurately represented my heart.

Introverts in the church helped me to understand, that I’m not bad at ministry, but that I am an introvert in a extroverted ‘business.’ It also helped me to understand that I can still be successful in ministry while offering helpful tips on how to construct a schedule that works well with my introverted-ness. The fact of the matter is- introverts function differently. We require serious amounts of time to collect our thoughts and process alone. And in a culture of church that posts billboards that say things like ‘When Christians rest they rust’ it can be difficult to do this. (By the way I really did see a sign that said that).

So if you feel out of place in ministry, because it seems so overly-busy, or if ministry-related meetings take discipline for you to attend,  or if the words “The Great Commission” make you cringe in guilt and shame, while simultaneously giving you crippling anxiety, please, please read this book.

For those that are concerned that McHugh will essentially advise introverts to retreat from community, you couldn’t be more wrong. He fully knows that community is essential, especially for introverts, and also places a high a value on the Great Commission, and offers helpful ways for introverts to approach our mandate that seems to be so difficult.

This one is a must read.

5 of 5.

Crazy Love… Crazy for reading it?

For some reason I haven’t been able to enjoy Christian books too much. I typically make it a rule not to read too many ‘popular’ Christian books. You know the ones that I’m talking about – they either have the word ‘revolution’ or ‘generation’ in them. Because to me, these books are volumes that keep restating the same thing over and over and over… it’s like the smoke alarm going off in your home… you get the message, no need to hear it again. And I’ll be honest, in some ways Francis Chan’s ‘Crazy Love’ doesn’t say anything new at all, and will most likely be a restatement of sermons you have been hearing forever.

But…

Chan has an ability to connect emotions with these truths. He goes beyond the neglect of the heart that some theologians and pastors seems to do, by using a keen gift to help these age old truths resonate deep within your spirit. Crazy Love is about looking at what Jesus says, and then painting a very basic picture of what the Christian life would look like for modern day Americans who want to be real with the words of our savior. Chan hits the nail on the head when he admits that we too often hear stories of people that are radically living for God, and we assume that they are some sort of super Christians who wear capes while taking communion and holding baptismal services every time they go to WAL MART. But the fact of the matter is: The Sermon on the Mount should be Christianity 101… ouch.

The book is very simply written and steers clear of any Christian jargon (this is a PLUS! Who the heck knows what ‘asking Jesus into your heart, accepting him, soaking, or ‘the anointing’ means anyway?) And each chapter is prefaced with an online video made by Chan that prepares your mind for the reading… I found that they were a fantastic way to keep me focused on the material and gave me food for thought throughout the day.

A quick word of warning: I very rarely will point out theological issues I have with a book, but… Chan is an advocate of ‘Lordship Salvation’ and thinks that a Christian must ‘prove’ their faith with good works, and that a disciple and a Christian are the same thing. For a response to why I think this is WRONG and HARMFUL check out a lesson I gave at church.

Check out parts 1 and 2 as well if you are interested.

Overall, Crazy Love was an enjoyable, challenging book that didn’t ‘teach’ me anything, but got me to take a closer look at my life and ask myself: What am I doing right now that requires faith?

3rd shelf of 5.

More from the Heretic: Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis

“The Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

Cool quote right? Who is going to disagree with this? But let’s face it, the line comes from a book by Rob Bell- Velvet Elvis, and the very name of the author is going to produce some serious controversy regardless of his opinions or theology. I found myself reading with the same lens: I was desperately searching for the heretical claims of Bell in order to wag my finger at his trendy poetic book. I was gritting my teeth imagining him tapping away at his macbook pro, with his black rimmed glasses, sipping french press coffee, and wearing a scarf with a t-shirt. After my wife talked some sense into me, I understood that I needed to remove my agenda from the reading, and just investigate what it is that this rising star in the realm of Christianity really has to say. Then it started to dawn on me that people with skinny ties and Toms shoes can have something valuable to say. (Are you guys picking up on my unnecessary bitterness?) Lo and behold, his points that are buried in (almost) stream-of-consciousness writing, and difficult metaphors- are actually pretty good.

The book is difficult to summarize as a whole. Its subtitle is ‘repainting the Christian faith,’ but it is done by targeting about 7-8 different issues in his chapters that Bell calls “movements.” I’ll try my best to give you the pop of each movement in a sentence:

1. JUMP: Our beliefs should be flexible and capable of changing and evolving just as we are as a people and as a culture. Cool quote: “Doctrine is a wonderful servant and a terrible master” (25). WARNING: Bell will use the word trampoline in this chapter about a thousand times.

2. YOKE: Living for Jesus is like becoming the yellow part of an egg. (Just kidding) The bible is a living book; any ‘bible based teaching’ is someone’s interpretation, and our interpretations should be susceptible to change and growth. Cool quote: “Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of what it means to actually live the scriptures” (50).

3. TRUE: The truth of God is found throughout the entire world, and not just confined to ‘Christian’ experiences. (I think this is the best chapter… oops… movement in the book)

4. TASSELS: The plan of God through Jesus goes beyond forgiveness –  it is restoration.

5. DUST: Jesus believes in us, and we are actually capable of being like him despite how unqualified we seem. He has an awesome illustration here about being covered in the dust of your rabbi. The imagery is following Jesus and following him closely.

6. NEW: We are new creations that should live in the identity of how Jesus sees us, and not in the sinful ways we see ourselves.

7. GOOD: The body of Christ and the church is something that is good, and we should strive to be the original body and church that God had in mind.

Velvet Elvis is a good book to read that is worth your time. I think the overall message is great. Bell wants Christians to migrate away from a rigid harsh faith that has beat people down –  Christians and non-Christians alike for centuries. He wants to broaden the scope of how we see truth, and to live life in a way that really replicates that of Jesus and not just a garbled interpretation of scripture. Good stuff.

But frankly, I’ve never cared much for his writing style. It is still impossibly cool, and too postmodern for my taste. And I always feel like his reasoning is flawed. In one point in the book Bell argues that Jesus actually gave us authority to have different interpretations of scripture:

“Notice what Jesus says in the book of Matthew: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

“What he is doing here is significant. He is giving his followers the authority to make new interpretations of the Bible. He is giving them permission to say, “Hey, we think we missed it before on that verse, and we’ve recently come to the conclusion that this is what it actually means.” And not only is he giving them authority, but he is saying that when they do debate and discuss and pray and wrestle and then make decisions about the Bible, somehow God in heaven will be involved. Jesus expects his followers to be engaged in the endless process of deciding what is means to actually live in the Scriptures.”  (p. 50)

What? Where in the world did that interpretation come from? Jesus isn’t talking at all about interpreting scripture differently. And it seems to me that Bell’s ultimate aim when it comes to doctrines and dogmas is to foster discussion about what the meaning of scripture really is. Discussion and debate that sharpens and changes our beliefs is great, but I can’t get the continual emphasis that Paul places on knowing doctrine and truth out of my head as I read the book. Of course it will be our particular interpretation of truth, but it should be sought out none the less. It seems that Bell often will throw the baby out with the bath water. He nuances truth in such a way that to me almost makes it seem relative to each person. And he always comes to these conclusions by unlocking a mysterious Greek or Hebrew word that has had a hidden concept for centuries. I just want a reference, something that shows me where these ‘concepts’ come from. They’re really cool but Bell would have to admit that they will dramatically challenge a great deal of Christian traditions. A footnote or two on these translations would be sweet.

However, like I said before, Bell does an excellent job at detecting the shortcomings of the church, and his challenges of these failures make Velvet Elvis a good one. But his logic, writing style, and interpretations of scripture knock down the book to the 3rd shelf out of 5.

Love Wins: Rob Bell the heretic universalist…maybe

Well, I read it. Love Wins by Rob Bell has been a hot button topic for awhile now. Controversy tends to surround

Bell, and his latest installment in his impossibly cool line of books has given rise to an uproar in the Christian community. The subtitle: ‘Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person who has Ever Lived’ almost makes you hold your breath in tension (Uh oh… he’s going to talk about that?). The twittersphere was exploding with commentary on their opinion of Bell and his book, calling him a universalist, a heretic and any other degrading thing you can possibly imagine (and all of this done without even reading the book… yikes). In my opinion this wasn’t a good move for people who want to discredit Bell because all of the controversy has just made me and the rest of the world want to read the book. So after reading, what was my take? Does Rob Bell believe in hell? Is he a universalist?

In all fairness, the book really isn’t about Bell developing a theology on hell. Nor is he trying to make a statement on hell’s existence. Yes you can conclude (by traditional definitions) Bell is a kind of… mini… universalist, and yes he does deny the existence of an eternal hell(in an extremely ambiguous way that is impossible to tack down). But his real aim is to alter the way we approach the gospel. Bell argues that the gospel is good news and ultimately about the love God has for everyone on earth. And honestly who can’t jibe with that? When you have statements like:

When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather that joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity.

You aren’t going to find many who disagree with this. But is this conclusion only reached by changing our doctrines and dogmas?

The problem is, Bell diverts from the typical ideology of hell in order for the Christian story to be ALL about love. Bell would prefer to define hell (and heaven for that matter) as a place we create here on earth as a result of our actions instead of a place of eternal suffering and punishment away from God. Because how can a God that eternally punishes people be loving? It is a classic anthropomorphic argument (that means he’s ascribing human attributes to God) that attempts to rid God of any characteristics that would seem cruel or unloving if they were credited to humans.

One of the main things that I don’t like about Bell’s books is not his applications for Christians in his books, they are usually awesome, but his logic to get to these particular points always seems so flawed to me. His books, including this one, will have over extended metaphors, wild interpretations of scripture that seem to go beyond what the story is really trying to communicate, and my least favorite, he seems to know all these Greek and Hebrew words that have hidden meanings and concepts that unlock secret messages that have been concealed for centuries. And all of these words conveniently exclude any references or sources that show any evidence for these beliefs. For instance: Bell says that Jesus often used the word “heaven” and was simply referring to God. If this is true, cool. But I’ve never heard it, and you have no sources to validate your claim.

I love the fact that he wants Christians to separate from solely preaching turn or burn type messages, that’s good. (Even though it has worked in the past… see Jonathan Edwards and Jesus) But I don’t think the solution is to change our theology, that’s not the problem. There can be an eternal hell and a loving God. How it works… I’m not to sure. But I’m ok with these two seemingly contradictory elements to hang in tension on this side of eternity.

The book itself, in my opinion really isn’t that good. It has fragmented arguments and tends to ramble and repeat itself. If you enjoy his style give it a shot just to see what all the controversy is about. You’ll have to once again get past

Rob Bell’s

unbelievably…

Dramatic..

Writing.

But the book certainly won’t hurt your faith. It made me want to emphasize God’s love more to others I come in contact with, which is of course a great thing. As always with Bell’s books, go for the application he is getting at, they are almost always great, just disregard a big chunk of the poetic but sketchy arguments he uses to get to the point.

2nd bookshelf of 5.

Rob Bell: Jesus Wants to Save… Christians?

“Jesus wants to save our church from the exile of irrelevance.”

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden is a cool looking book. Let’s face it, the way Bell packages everything he puts out makes you go: “Oooooo neato!” With its hip lime green pages and mysterious puzzle cover, you are almost obligated to take it off the shelf and have a look at it. But does its attractive appearance reflect the content within the pages?

Recently I’ve been a part of a bible study that has been taking a closer look at Matthew, and a theme that has been blowing my mind is how the first book of the New Testament is designed to point to Jesus as a fulfillment of the Old Testament. It does this by quoting prophetic passages, but also drawing parallels to the Old Testament. Something that has excited me the most is the idea of Jesus being the 2nd Moses. Let me explain as briefly as possible:

Jesus wants to Save Christians

Pharaoh attempts to kill Israelite males that could potentially threaten his kingdom, thus Moses and his family must find a way to dodge the malicious intent of Pharaoh. This succeeds because Moses is the deliverer of the Israelites who will lead them out of the oppressing slavery of the Egyptians. This draws a striking similarity to Jesus and his family fleeing the massacre that Herod authorizes to kill newborn males. This is to preserve the deliverer of God’s people not from physical slavery, but from the slavery of sin.

So once I heard from a trusted friend that Rob Bell’s newest book dealt with similar stuff, called: New Exodus Theology. I decided that I had to pick it up despite my opinion of Velvet Elvis and Sex God which I thought were OK at best. But Bell and Golden’s ‘manifesto’ argues that Jesus’ death on the cross was a liberating event that sets us free from any form of empirical rule. For the Israelites in the first exodus it was the rule of the Egyptian empire- for Christians today, it is not only freedom from sin but liberation from any oppressing force. And its here where the book gets a little bumpy. It becomes one of those hold your breath moments because you know you’re saying something controversial that is going to upset some of your readers.

Bell and Golden make the argument that Americans are an empire-like nation that draws resemblances to Egypt and Babylon. The similarities are primarily in our sense of entitlement and lack of aid given to those who are crying out for justice. Then, in classic Rob Bell fashion, he slams us with his overarching point: that THE CHURCH is essentially the agent God is using to liberate the captives from irrelevance and the consumerism of America, while aiming to end the oppression everywhere else in the world. It is quite a compelling argument whether you agree with it or not, and will undoubtedly cause you to take a closer look at your own views of God and country, and your role as a functioning member of the body of Christ.

Ultra Conservative Christians beware – if you think Christians should hold the bible tucked under one arm while waving an American flag in the other, this one is going to rub you the wrong way. Bell and Golden unashamedly bash consumerism, marketing, materialism, entitlement, the war in Iraq, and George W. Bush (and conservatism for that matter). I encourage you, if you read the book, to look beyond the political argument Bell and Golden make, and focus on what you can do as an individual as a response to the book. The staggering statistics will undoubtedly give you a sense of guilt and the feeling that you are sucking away the earth’s resources while others are dying around the world. But perhaps this isn’t such a bad idea… It is softened by Bell, admitting that guilt doesn’t do anything, but knowledge aids the situation.

The writing is typical of Rob Bell- he writes EXACTLY how he talks. And there are odd isolated double spaced paragraphs with no indention, and often only one sentence or one word per line.

I think he uses it…

Because he thinks,

It

Is

Dramatic…

Nevertheless, Bell’s unorthodox methods of writing read like a sermon and cultivate a sense of drama that feels like a JJ Abrams TV show. I’m not so sure I agreed with his logic or his oversimplification of worldwide events in light of the scriptures, nor do I like how far he extends the ‘exodus’ metaphor. But I certainly think there is a ton of truth in this book that will challenge any reader to become the body of Christ that Jesus truly meant us to be. The one thing I can never get past with Rob Bell’s book is the fact that the $20 item only takes 2 hours to read. It’s a decent work, but I would only pick it up if it’s laying on the shelves at Half Price Books.

Shelf 3 of 5

The Magician’s Nephew (Nostalgia, Narnia, and New Worlds)

This Sunday morning before church I woke up slightly earlier than usual with an idea. I was feeling quite nostalgic for some reason- you know that kind of day- a make pancakes and watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Boy Meets World kind of morning. And despite my initial desire to trudge along in my current enjoyable fiction endeavor, I was convinced to put the book down and pick up an old favorite: C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew. It is a classic book that I knew would not only be a quick read, but a real joy, and a deeply satisfying adventure to cure those spontaneous nostalgic cravings that sneak up on us from time to time.

Most know the tale of Digory Kirke and Polly who, while exploring the row of terraced houses in London,  stumble upon Digory’s magician uncle who has created rings with the power to transport humans into other worlds. Through Uncle Andrew’s deception, he drives the comical, bickering pair to puddle-hopping into different lands, meeting evil queens, and finally stumbling upon the creation of Narnia. Lewis’ voice in this installment of the Chronicles of Narnia seems so much more playful than it’s companions, and had me laughing aloud thinking about how well Lewis understood the mind of a child. This time around I particularly enjoyed the witty arguments between Digory and Polly:

Narnia Falcor Nostalgia

It’s all rot to say a house would be empty all those years unless there was some mystery.” (Digory)

“Daddy thought it must be the drains,” said Polly.

“Pooh! Grown-ups are always thinking of uninteresting explanations,” said Digory.

Or how about this one?

And if you want me to come back, hadn’t you better say you’re sorry?” (Polly)

“Sorry?” exclaimed Digory. “Well now, if that isn’t just like a girl! What have I done?”

“Oh nothing of course,” said Polly sarcastically. “Only nearly screwed my wrist off in that room with all the waxworks, like a cowardly bully. Only struck the bell with the hammer, like a silly idiot. Only turned back in the wood so that she had time to catch hold of you before we jumped into our own pool. That’s all.”

The Magician’s Nephew, though traditionally (since the 1980’s) placed 1st in the chronicles of Narnia Series, was actually published 6th, and after another read it is easy to see why. As you’re unraveling the tale you see the origins of different enigmatic elements within the land of Narnia: where does the lamp post come from in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? How does the wardrobe actually have the ability to bring the Pevensies into Narnia? Why is professor Kirke so willing to believe that the land of Narnia is real?

The riddles presented throughout the books are satisfied in The Magician’s Nephew, and I would argue that it should be read sixth because the reader will experience the excitement of understanding the compelling world of Narnia that so effortlessly draws you in to its adventures.

Lewis (as always) has a power to make you feel the longing of something that I can never quite put my finger on. Maybe it’s adventure, or the simplicity of childhood, or the purity of a Narnia character that I long for, or perhaps the way Lewis communicates theological ideas with such an unmatched emotional force through his creative fiction. Whatever it is, the Magician’s Nephew makes for a great read that will always be on the highest bookshelf I have.

God of the Possible by Gregory Boyd

God of the Possible by Dr. Gregory Boyd was a difficult read for me. It is a theological book that challenges the traditional view of God (mostly my ideas) and argues for the ‘open view of the future.’  It was difficult for me, not because the writing was poor or that the logic was faulty, but the exact opposite. This was an easy-to-understand book that took me awhile because I had to put it down so frequently to think about the ideas that were being presented. (Mainly because he launched an arsenal of WMD’s on my theology).God of the Possible

Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, and taught theology for 16 years at Bethel University in Minnesota. He is undoubtedly a smart dude. If I was being gut-level-honest, prior to reading this book I would have just assumed you called it, ‘an introduction to what bad theologians think.’ Pretty arrogant huh? But, lately the idea of the ‘open view of God’ or the ‘open view of the future’ has gained some traction with close friends. I wanted to investigate for myself what the theology was all about, honestly expecting to better refute the ideas once I learned them.

In a nutshell, the open view argues that the future is partly open – that means it includes BOTH possibilities and certainties. An open theist, in their opinion, is NOT arguing against God’s omniscience (this was my primary misunderstanding). They instead will argue about the nature of reality and the future, which is why the theology is also called ‘the open view of the future.’ This view says that God knows ‘all things that can be known’ but the nature of reality prohibits God from knowing the future exhaustively.

I know what you’re thinking, and believe me, I’m thinking it too: But God knows ALL THINGS past, present, and future!

Gregory Boyd argues that the ideas of God knowing all things exhaustively, God functioning outside of time, and being COMPLETELY unchanging, are ideas that have transferred over from classical Greek philosophy, namely Plato. Boyd refutes classical theological notions of God foreknowing all things and predetermining every outcome by pointing to the overwhelming amount of times that God relents, repents, changes His mind, and reacts to human behavior. These examples in the classical/traditional motif are described as ‘anthropomorphisms’ or the attribution of human characteristics to God. And for some reason that explanation has never quite jived with me… maybe in a couple of examples I can understand – but dozens and dozens of times seem too much to write it off as a human way of understanding what God is doing.

I’m not at all saying I’m buying into these ideas but it has certainly launched a search for me to investigate why I believe what I believe… are my beliefs rooted in scripture, or are they derivatives of teachings and hand-me-down notions of God that have been around for hundreds of years? Our view of God should always be drawn from the conclusions that we extract from the Word of God, as opposed to blindly believing what is said by people we respect (that is not to say these traditions are wrong). My opinion of people who adhere to the Open View has dramatically changed… It is not a dumb theology that ignores logic and scripture, nor is it based solely on emotional arguments. It really does raise a great deal of questions for me that I need to answer. And if anything, it helped me to see again that our disagreements with our brothers & sisters over doctrines and dogmas do nothing to either of our positions in the body of Christ. We are still family.

God of the Possible is a great read that utilizes powerful rhetoric. And despite what conclusions I may come to, it made me think about the nature of God all week, and then some – something I believe a 5 point Calvinist or an intense Open Theist would agree is a good thing (I hope). And for that reason, I would put it on the 4th bookshelf out 5.