book review

Review of A Christian Survival Guide

Photo credit: Kregel Pub This week a writer friend, Ed Cyzewski, released a new book titled, A Christian Survival Guide. I had the privilege of getting a pre-release copy to review it, so here’s my review. I posted an interview with him earlier this week, so this is a follow-up to that post. At first, I thought, "do I really need to read this?" I’ve been a Christian believer for a few decades and done ministry most of my adult life. As I dove into the book, I found myself getting more and more drawn in by Ed’s writing style and content.

Ed has a great combination of genuine openness about his own struggles with faith, and self-effacing, sometimes biting humor. It makes what could be heavy reading into a thought-provoking exploration of some areas of faith that are difficult for many.EdCyz

Even the book’s chapter titles and subtitles are engaging. It starts off with “Prayer: A Still Small Voice for Big Loud Problems,” where Ed shares some of his issues with prayer shared by most of us. "Violent Bible Stories: Deliver Us from God?” is one of my favorites. Especially as we look at the world around us today, it’s relevant in both a personal and cultural sense.

“The Bible and Culture: Less Lobster, More Bonnets,” is another favorite of mine. It deals with literalism and culture in a humorous way. The book has two parts—Christian Beliefs and Practices. I like that there’s a practical, as well as, theological view of the Christian faith. In the practical part, issues such as sin, money, church community, evangelism, and the Holy Spirit are looked at.

Although I don’t struggle with the Christian faith in general, I appreciate the insight gained in this book. For those of us who have been believers a considerable time, it’s easy to get into a rut or become oblivious to what others may struggle to understand about God and faith.

This isn’t just a book for young believers. It’s a genuine look at the Christian faith, and questions or issues that get debated, yet aren't always discussed with openness and honesty. I believe Ed does that in this book.

He does not give trite nor clichéd answers. In fact, he makes a point of encouraging discussion and reliance upon God to gain answers. Ed doesn’t skirt difficult issues, but lays them out to consider, perhaps for some of us, in a new light.

I’m glad I read A Christian Survival Guide. It’s given me a fresh look at things I’ve set aside, and given me a new outlook about the faith struggles I once had. It’s also a good reminder of how to encourage others in their faith. Coupon Blogger ad 450x150

A Lifeline to Faith and Growth

What enables some to survive as Christians when so many others falter?

Would you like some guidance on hard to understand issues with the Christian faith, but without cliché or pat answers? I think there's a lot of people in that category. But where does that person turn? The Bible? Well, that's a great starting point, but what if you don't understand all that you read, or even get confused by what you do read?

There's a new book, just released this week, that doesn't resort to empty answers, clichés, relativism, or smug certainty. Does it answer every and all questions a person might have about God, faith, the Bible and what it says? No, but it gives you a starting point for thinking things through from a fresh vantage point.

Something new

This is something new for me and my posting—an interview. Originally, I wanted to do a "live" interview on Skype, but that will have to wait for now. So, this is a written interview, you know, like you see in magazines.

So... pretend you're reading a magazine at a dentist or doctor's office, and hopefully it will take away some of the anxiety that scenario brings up.

I'm interviewing Ed Cyzcewski, a freelance writer and theologian-for-the-times. The last description is my own, not Ed's, but I think it fits him. Ed speaks to issues of our times from both a theological and cultural framework.

Ed is married and the father of two children, the youngest is, well, really young, hence the need for a written interview.

Interview with Ed Cyzewski

TK– Ed, would you tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and how you got into writing Christian books?

Ed– Thanks for hosting me Trip!

I grew up Catholic, got "saved" in a Baptist church, and married into a charismatic family. I suppose it's not shocking that we've ended up in a Vineyard church that has a little bit of each. I never really knew what to do with myself, but in retrospect, I was always writing or journaling or reading. In searching for a "career," I settled on ministry because I at least liked the Bible. So I went to seminary, worked at a church, and realized halfway through that I'd made a huge mistake.

Nevertheless, I'd always wanted to write a book. It was that annoying pipe dream: "I've always thought it would be cool to publish a book." I had no idea how much work it would be, not did I know how emotionally taxing it would be. However, when I gave up on the ministry as a career, I started looking into writing full time. My seminary degree helped me get started into Christian publishing with my first book Coffeehouse Theology.

Questions

TK–  How much do you think your eclectic background plays a part in your writing, and was there anything in particular that prompted or stirred you to write, A Christian Survival Guide?

Ed– One of the key messages of the Survival Guide is the broad range of beliefs among Christians that speak to many different people with varying experiences and backgrounds. I see the diversity of belief and practice in Christianity as a real asset for survival. Having seen Christians thrive as Catholics, Baptists, and charismatics, I'm hopeful that person who finds liturgy constricting can find life in a church like my Vineyard. However, the person who finds my Vineyard chaotic will perhaps find life in the order of liturgy.

A Christian Survival Guide doesn't aim to shut down conversations or to fully answer questions. Rather, I'm pointing people in several helpful directions so that they can seek God in their communities. This is a book for people who feel stuck or at a dead end. They need to know that there are so many answers and options within the various Christian traditions.

TK– Ed, I've enjoyed your humor throughout the book, which prompted a couple of questions for me. So, this a two-part question...

In light of the difficulty of these topics, which chapter or topic was the most difficult to work on and why?

Ed– The chapter on suffering (Is God Late?) was really tough because it's hard for me to imagine God sitting back and watching horrible things happen that he has the power to prevent. I am not a Calvinist, so I don't believe God orchestrates every tragedy in the world. I believe in free will, and I believe that God imparts his Holy Spirit as a way of changing the world relationally, from the ground up.

So while I struggle with the thought of God watching suffering unfold, I think God's solution is a grass roots, relational path to change. I want a quick fix. When I shout, "God, why aren't you doing anything?" God turns that question around. "Good question, Ed. I gave you my Spirit. Why aren't you doing anything?"

Was there any chapter or topic that was easier or more fun to write than others?

Ed– The chapter on the Bible and culture, (titled Less Lobsters, More Bonnets) has been on my mind quite a bit lately, and teasing out the quirky ways we apply the Bible selectively proved to be both fun and challenging to write about. I mean, if we're honest with ourselves, following the New Testament "literally" would result in a church planting manual that depends on sending letters and preaching short sermons. We all know from Acts that preaching a long sermon killed someone.Dealing with the inconsistencies of strict biblical literalism is like shooting fish in a barrel.

A brief summary

TK– I know you cover this in your introduction to the book, but would you give us a brief summary of your primary hope for those who read, A Christian Survival Guide?

Also, who do you hope will read it [other than everyone, because that's a no-brainer (lol)], and what kind of feedback have you gotten so far, good or bad?

Ed– This book intends to help Christians who are struggling with doubts or feel unable to move forward in their faith. However, I've found that most Christians have questions simmering in the back of their minds, but they've been avoiding them for fear of what they'd find. This book attempts to address both the doubts and struggles of the first group and the pressing questions of the latter group.

I don't set out to give neat, final, conclusive answers. Rather, it's a book that starts a discussion and helps people take the next step. In fact, many of these readers, I think, would put the book down immediately if I started offering, neat, tidy, and definitive answers. I've also heard from people who left the faith and found my book helpful to begin exploring a return.

All that to say, people who love old school apologetics and who believe the Bible provides simple, definitive answers for all time will really, really hate this book. I already have a one-star review on Amazon, and while I have not read it, I presume this person found my book too wishy-washy and prone to compromise.

Wrapping things up

TK– Ed, I really appreciate you taking time out for this interview since I know you're busy with your writing, and life with a young family. So, tell us what else you've written and what you're working on now. Also, are there any special offers connected to the releasing of, A Christian Survival Guide?

Ed– I have written several other co-author books, including The Good News of Revelation with Dr. Larry Helyer. It's a brief commentary on several themes of the book that asks what we can learn from Revelation today if we read it through the eyes of its original readers--readers who actually saw it as good news. I also write short fiction to introduce each chapter and to help undo some of the misconceptions we've gotten from the Left Behind books.

I've also recently published a book called Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from Those Who Doubted Jesus that asks what kept people from following Jesus and whether the same things could be obstacles to our faith today.

This week a bunch of my other books are on sale for $2.99 on Kindle, so this is a great time to pick up a bundle of books for the price of one.

Thanks so much for hosting me at your blog. I'm really grateful that you took the time to ask about my books!

All the best, Ed

TK– Hey Ed, it was my pleasure to host you on my site, and hopefully we can do a face-to-face interview in the future!

I trust your book will help people who are either adrift or struggling to keep their head above water with their faith. I think you did a great job addressing issues that just don't get talked about enough in a genuine way.

_______________________

I do hope you'll give Ed's book a read, especially if Christianity is a puzzle or frustration for you.

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The Road Trip That Changed the World

Photo credit: jrwoodward.net

Paradoxes exist throughout life within our world. They can be traced back to a fateful day in the first garden on earth. The day the first humans ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2;17; 3:6).

Mark Sayers, in his book The Road Trip that Changed the World, gives great insight into a polarizing paradox. We all contend with it, but probably don't understand it. Too many are unaware it exists.

What is the dilemma?

Mark Sayers does a great job of bringing awareness and understanding of a present dilemma within the church. What is it? The impact of secularized culture on the theology and practice of the Christian faith, particularly in America.

This secularization began in earnest following World War II. Sayers tells us theologian Elton Trueblood spoke of it coming in his book, The Predicament of Modern Man (written in 1944). Sayers says, "Trueblood feared that as the West secularized, it would attempt to retain the morals of Christianity, yet detach itself from faith. ...a new kind of believer would emerge, one who did not need Church or a faith community, but instead who followed a self-constructed form of religion."

This issue has been addressed by many, yet the problem persists. Sayers helps us understand how it developed and what its impact is at present. This is expressed in the subtitle of the book, The Unlikely Theory That Will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and Most Importantly, Yourself.

"...a new kind of believer would emerge, one who did not need Church or a faith community, but instead who followed a self-constructed form of religion."

Two roads

The book begins with the story of two road trips across America. These road trips are tied to two authors with two very different perspectives on the cultural direction of postwar (WWII) America. Mr Sayers does a great job drawing the reader into the story.

The book is divided into two main sections. These can be summed up by the first two chapters of each section—"A Tale of Two Roads" and "The Road Home."

The paradox of secularism and the Christian faith is developed with surprising parallels and contradictions in the first section. It begins with a road trip and ends at the Cross. This road trip travels through the life and writing of Jack Kerouac, American culture, and the church.

Mr Sayers does a great job drawing the reader into the story.

The Road Home

The "Road Home" starts the second section offering a simple way back out of secularism and into genuine faith. The book ends with the poignant story of Takashi Nagai, a survivor of the initial atomic blast that devastated the city and people of Nagasaki, Japan.

Sayers reminds readers of the choice each believer faces. One choice is the popular road of a shallow form of personalized Christianity. The second and better choice is the road that leads to a deep faith, devotion to Christ, and community of believers who embrace the Cross.

Every believer must choose between the shallow road or the road that leads to a deeper faith

An important read

I read this book during my recent travel to the Philippines. It captured and held my attention well, and I look forward to reading more from Mark Sayers.

It is an important read for any believer, especially those unaware of this dilemma of secularism and faith. It is a must read for those committed to a faith that transcends and transforms culture.

What road are you traveling on?

Is yours a personalized Christian faith, or a deep faith rooted in relationship with Jesus and His church?

I highly recommend The Road Trip that Changed the World, by Mark Sayers.

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.