Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review: Meet Generation Z

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Baker Books, 2017. 219 pages. 

Overview of the Book
Meet Generation Z is divided into two parts, consisting of eight chapters total, with three appendices. 

Part One: The New Reality
1. A Seventh Age, the Second Fall, and the Rise of the Nones
2. Meet Generation Z
3. When Christ and His Saints Slept

Part Two: A New Approach
4. The Countercultural Church
5. Finding Our Voice
6. Rethinking Evangelism
7. Apologetics for a New Generation
8. Decisions

Appendix A: Gay Marriage
Appendix B: Mapping the Spiritual World
Appendix C: Why Believe in God? 

The Good
In my estimation, the real strength of Meet Generation Z is the first part: The New Reality. Here, White interacts with various statistics and sketches for us the current picture of where our culture is in regards to its social and religious perspectives. Surprisingly, while Generation Z is not religious, it is spiritually curious.

Generation Z, according to White, is made up of those born from 1995 to 2010. Essentially, Generation Z is made up of everyone presently under the age of 25. Generation Z is characterized by five traits: 1) Recession Marked, 2) Wi-Fi Enabled, 3) Multiracial, 4) Sexually Fluid, 5) Post-Christian.

Chapters two and three were, for me, the most helpful in the book. Here, White presents Generation Z. Generation Z is losing its childhood and innocence at a younger age than any preceding generation, it is highly influenced by the music industry, and is riddled by pornography.  Additionally, Generation Z's parents tend to be under protective and religiously unaffiliated.

The data presented here is excellent information that should interest anyone working in youth ministry. Every generation has its own quarks, and the information here orients the reader towards understanding where Generation Z is at. 

The Bad
White has a commendable and desirable passion to reach Generation Z. Unfortunately the means he prescribes to reach them are seriously deficient. He advocates that the Sunday gathering of believers be fundamentally changed towards reaching the unbeliever. White writes, "Yes, I know, many churches feel that both weekend services and small groups should be discipleship oriented. We disagree. The weekend service should be, a least for now, the front door of the church for outreach. As a result, it should crafted optimally for that outreach. That often means it is not crafted optimally for discipleship" (p. 152).  Everything in the service from the music played, the media used, the messages, and the dress should be oriented towards reaching the lost. 

This understanding of nature of church is fundamentally flawed. The church is the gathering of believers. The word for church, ekklēsia, means the called out gathering or assembly. The church is comprised of those who have been called out this world of sin (1 Pet. 2:9), called to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16 ) that are worthy of this great calling (Eph. 4:1). The church is the gathering of believers building each other up (1 Cor. 14:26; 1 Thess. 5:11) and pastors are those who are to equip God's people to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12). The church is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:17; Eph. 4:12; 5:30; Col. 1:24). This is not to say that unbelievers aren't welcome to attend the gathering of Christ's body, the church. But to orient the service for the unbeliever and not for the believer is ministerial malpractice. The Sunday gathering is for the building up of God's people. It is the responsibility of every believer to go out from the church and do the work of evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:18-20).

White's suggested correctives flow from his errant view of the church. He advocates that we should rethink evangelism, be cultural missionaries, skew young, target men, prioritize children's ministry, cultivate a culture of invitation, disciple your mission. While some of these methods can be helpful (targeting men and having an excellent children's ministry) some of them are downright silly. White actually suggests hiring young people and going to great lengths to have young people in prominent positions on the platform or as greeters--simply because they are young. If you want to attract young people, White argues, then feature young people. The biblical model is not the rejection of young people, but young people being examples of godliness (1 Tim. 4:12-13). The Bible certainly not exalt young people just because they are young. Instead, young believers are to be discipled by older believers (Titus 2:1-8). Intentionally portraying the church as young to reach the young is pragmatic in nature and wrong. 

Overall, I benefited from reading White's book. At Desert Heights Church, one of the hats I wear is that of youth pastor. My experience with Generation Z fits what White describes in the first part of his book. Where I profoundly disagree with White is how to reach them. At DHC, we are serious about expository preaching (explaining the biblical text). This usually takes the form of going through a book of the Bible verse by verse. We are often told by people that one of the main reasons why they stay is this commitment to the authority of the Bible manifested by verse by verse preaching. DHC Youth, which I oversee, is also committed to expository preaching. In the year and a half that I've overseen it, the youth group, made up of 13-17 year olds, has slowly grown.  These teens come because they are learning and growing in their faith. I have not expended any energy in trying to dress like them, or talk like them, or strain to communicate to them using  references of their culture. I have simply loved them and fed them with the Bible--which is the essence of pastoral ministry (John 21:15-19; 1 Peter 5:1-5). 

My one complaint--substantial complaint--with White's book is his minimization of the ordinary, God-prescribed ways of church ministry in favor of over-contextualization and pragmatism. We can and should expend much energy in reaching the lost, but it is God (John 6:44) through the power of his Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17) that will grow his church (Matt. 16:18). Generation Z like every other generation preceding it, will be reached not by man's innovation or creativity but by ordinary churches using the ordinary, God-ordained means of growth (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 10:14-20; 1 Cor. 1:18-25). Christ will build his church and nothing, including the gates of Hell, will prevail against it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

President Donald J. Trump

A New Beginning
January 20th, 2017.  Inauguration Day. Today is a day to celebrate. Today is the day where the forgotten, American worker received the representation he so longed for.  Today is the day where power was returned to the people.  Today is the day when globalism died and American nationalism was reborn. 
The Day Everything Changed
In 2012, Barack Obama was well on his way to fundamentally transforming America. The world was on fire. The economy was in shambles and the middle class was being crushed to death. Thousands of working men and women had seen their hours  and wages cut, been laid off, and lost their homes. When Barack Obama easily defeated Mitt Romney, every conservative across America felt the sickening blow of a clear, crushing defeat. There was a finality to it. The Republican leadership and party became a party of non resistance, then disappeared from relevance. Conservatism was dead.

On June 16,2015 everything changed. 

Donald Trump, the New York billionaire businessman, entered the race. His announcement speech was electric and sent shock waves across the country. Trump thrashed the politicians ruining the country, expressed disgust at the state of the economy, made illegal immigration a prominent issue, and vowed to make America great again. 

From that first speech throughout his entire campaign Donald Trump has campaigned on an America first platform. America's border would be secure. America's military would be strong. America's economy would recover. His political ideology moved past traditional conservatism to American nationalism. 

Trump descended from his New York City penthouse on the top of Trump Tower to be a man of the people. He is the populist billionaire fighting for the common man. He is tough. He is brash. He doesn't hold back. He tells it exactly how he sees it. He is a scrapper. He is what Mitt Romney never could be. For years, Republicans have wanted real change and strong leadership; and that's exactly who they got in Donald Trump. He was the conservative's dream candidate. He was the candidate that we had been waiting so long for.

Immediately, the media attacked him with the standard playbook used against Republicans: Trump is a racist! Trump is a sexist! Trump is a bigot! But none of it stuck. The political establishment, both Democrat and Republican united against him. But the more they spoke, the higher he climbed. Americans were feeling nothing less than rage against the political class that was hurting them. Purist conservatives offended at Trump's character flaws and failure to pass their litmus tests for conservatism vowed to vote #NeverTrump. But they failed to understand that the drastic reforms required the bull dog, crass, steel-spine personality of a Donald Trump. Mitt Romney would never build a wall, eradicate ISIS, or even threaten tariffs. The #NeverTrump movement would prove to be as irrelevant as the GOP under Obama's term. The louder these groups shouted, spoke, and protested the higher Trump ascended. There would be no stopping him. 

One by one, Donald Trump knocked out the other 16 Republican contenders and secured the nomination. With Mike Pence by his side he entered the General Election against political elitist Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump could not be any more opposed to each other. The 2016 General Election was a contention of contrast: globalism vs. nationalism, the status quo vs.  change, the continued empowerment of the political class vs. the welfare of the common man.

On election night, the man who had never held a governmental office, the political maverick, the billionaire populist astoundingly defeated Hillary Clinton. The world was stunned. No one gave him a chance, the polls showed Hillary with a commanding lead over Donald, and the pundits predicted an easy, dominating victory for her. But the agony of the American worker was unaccounted for. The factory worker, the coal miner, the roughneck in the oil field--all were forgotten. Politicians, Democrats particularly, promised to go to Washington to fight for these workers, the backbone of America. But these were lies, nothing more than empty campaign promises. Instead of fighting for the common man politicians passed crushing trade agreements like NAFTA which did unaccountable damage to the working class. Higher taxes and regulation stacked upon regulation knocked these people off their feet and they suffered greatly. On November 8th, 2016 there would be a reckoning.  As the blue strongholds of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania went to Trump, the reality of the anger and hardships that the common man felt was realized. The election of Donald Trump was nothing short of a whole sale retaliation against Washington. For the first time in a long time, a private citizen, non politician, man of the people was going lead the nation.

Real Hope and Change 
Barack Obama campaigned on hope and change. The nation was swept up in optimism. It was a new America. Once the fanfare ended, though, things got ugly. He failed miserably. All across the country the cumulative policies of Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama came crashing down on the heads of the common American worker.

The effects of the economy's collapse have not been foreign to me. I've seen friends and family have their hour's cut, their salaries slashed, lose their jobs and their homes. The democratic policies have crippled the oil and gas industry. It's been hard to watch so many suffer so greatly.

For years, I've longed for a Trump presidency. In 2011, in the midst of non existent GOP, Donald Trump was figure of resistance against Barack Obama. He publicly flirted with the idea of running against Obama in the 2012 election. My hopes got high at the possibility of a successful businessman in the oval office.  Ultimately, however, he decided against a run and the Republican party nominated an abysmally weak Mitt Romney.  Trump continued to critique the president, and continued to be a figure of resistance.  During these four years he was slowly building a platform to stand on during the next election race.

It's hard to express the excitement I felt on June 16th, 2015 when Trump finally entered the race. Before and during his campaign I've been an enthusiastic, unapologetic supporter of him. Against many conservative friends of mine, I was not at all bothered by his less than traditional, strictly-conservative propositions. His populism and American nationalism was far more appealing to me than his meeting a litmus test for conservatism.  

In early October, I found myself in New York City. Being the enthusiastic supporter I was I visited Trump Tower and was blown away by its sheer grandeur. The success he had experienced is on full display in the elegance of Trump Tower. This successful leader is what America needed to be great again. Later in October I had the amazing experience of seeing him speak in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wearing my crimson Make America Great Again hat, I stood with thousands of other people inside an airplane hanger and eagerly awaited him. Here were gathered a diverse crowd--Whites, Mexicans, and Navajos. The media's narrative of Trump's supporters being made up of white supremacists was grossly exaggerated. The place went crazy when his plane literally pulled right up to the hanger and he came out to speak to us. He spoke about draining the swamp, strengthening our military, building a wall along the border, and he committed to us that he would not allow governmental regulations to continue to hurt the oil and gas industry. The Yuuuge crowd, and the enthusiasm they had communicated a tantalizing possibility--Donald Trump could possibly take New Mexico. This was a solid blue state, that Democrats didn't even have to campaign in to win. And while he ultimately failed to take New Mexico (thanks to Gary Johnson), the possibility was a foreshadow of a reality that would surface on election night where some traditionally blue states would go red.  The next week, in my hometown of Farmington, New Mexico, I had the honor of meeting his son, Donald Trump Jr.  I shook his hand and expressed my gratitude for the Trump family's willingness to face the venom of political exposure. 

On election night I was filled with glee as it became increasingly apparent he would win. I never doubted him for a second. I knew he would win. I was convinced for years that Donald Trump would win if he entered. When Pennsylvania was called and word broke that Hillary Clinton had conceded to him it became official. Donald J. Trump was elected to be the 45th President of the United States of America. It was exhilarating, gratifying, and vindicating to see him descend the steps to victory surrounded by his family to cheers of his supporters. My heart was filled with joy and I felt tears in my eyes as my years of wanting Donald Trump to be my president finally came to fruition. 

Donald Trump isn't perfect. Not even close. He is a very flawed man. I don't, for one second, believe he is a Christian. But he has had my support from before he even entered the race because I believe his populist, nationalist political philosophy wed to an alpha male personality is exactly what is needed to restore America to national, global and economic greatness. Donald Trump is the combination of populist, nationalist politics and the grizzly, courageous personality to implement those polices. He is the anti-Obama.

Donald Trump didn't need the salary, he's a billionaire. He didn't need the status, he's a celebrity. He didn't need the criticism, he's an accomplished businessman. Donald Trump fought to become president because he loves his country and wants to make her great again. Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the United States has filled me with great hope for and has me expecting real change for our country. Donald Trump represents the post-ideological traditional politician.  He is a new breed altogether. He is not a liberal. He is not a conservative. He is a populist, American nationalist. He is going to restore our country to global respectability. He is going to build up our defense. He is going to use his power to protect the American worker by gutting crushing regulations, keeping American companies in America, and cutting taxes. 

It's a great day for America. The power has been taken away from the political elites and returned to the people.  For me, this journey to see Donald Trump being sworn into office has  been years in the making. I cannot wait to watch Donald J. Trump make America great again.

Image Credit: NBC News


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Book Review: Unlocking the Bible

Jeff Lasseigne, Unlocking the Bible: What It Is, How We Got It, and Why We Can Trust It. Baker Books, 2016. 315 Pages. 

Jeff Lasseigne has written a one volume introduction to the Bible. The book is arranged in two main parts: 

Part One: The Big Picture
This section really serves as a great overview of the Bible. Here, Lasseigne tells us the story of how we got the Bible and why we can trust it. This is simple, straightforward information that could be found in any reputable Bibliology. Lasseigne's targeted audience, though, isn't for scholars or pastors, but the laymen who probably won't be reading a systematic theology textbook.  Following this theology section, Lasseign shifts to surveying the Old and New Testaments and the period between the Testaments.  I was especially impressed with Lasseigne's ability to clearly and concisely explain the story line of the Bible.  One of the most helpful aspects of Unlocking the Bible is that Lasseigne will pause and explain pertinent, perennial issues that trouble believers.  For example, in his Old Testament survey, Lasseigne answers the question of how Old Testament believers were saved, or what role does the law have in the life of the believer. Following the survey, Lasseigne writes on how to study and teach the Scripture--hermeneutics and homiletics.

There are Seven Chapters in this first section:

1. How We Got the Bible
2. Why We Can Trust the Bible
3. Understanding the Old Testament
4. The Sounds of Silence
5. Understanding the New Testament
6. How to Study the Bible
7. How to Teach the Bible

Part Two: Books of the Bible 
This is exactly how it sounds. Every book of the Bible is treated covered with a few pages each. Each book is arranged the same way: 
  • Important Information (Author, Theme, Category)
  • Fascinating Facts (Unique facts about the book)
  • Quotable Quotes (From scholars, pastors and writers on the book covered)
  • Notable Notes (Additional information about the book)
  • Christ Connections (How Christ can be seen in the book). 
Jeff Lasseigne desired to write a introductory volume that gives us a sound big overview of the Bible. He has succeed. This book is excellent. It is especially helpful for new believers or believers who have no idea what the Bible is about, and how it fits together or where to start reading.  This is a very basic and effective one volume resource to unlocking the Bible. 

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review: Greek for Everyone

A. Chadwick Thornhill, Greek for Everyone: Introductory Greek for Bible Study and Application. Baker Books. 2016. 252 Pages.

In Elementary Greek, we were told that being able to read the New Testament in its original language,  Koine Greek, would be like going from watching TV in black and white to color. While I loved the idea of studying New Testament Greek, I soon discovered how little equipped I was to engage. Greek was extraordinarily difficult. I struggled. Reading a book like Greek for Everyone before I formally studied would have tremendously helpful.

A. Chadwick Thornhill has written Greek for Everyone to meet a real need not only for college students, but for every student of the New Testament who wants to enrich their study--a introductory volume to Koine Greek.  The book is written at a popular level. It is comprised of 18 short, readable chapters, two appendices and a glossary of key Greek Terms: 

1. Language, Learning, Koine Greek, and the Greek Alphabet
2. The Big Picture of Language
3. Phrases, Clauses, and Conjunctions
4. Resources for Navigating the Greek New Testament
5. Introduction to Greek Verbs and Nominals
6. Nominative, Accusative, and Vocative Cases
7. Genitive and Dative Cases
8. Articles, Pronouns, Adjectives, and Prepositions
9. (Independent) Indicative-Mood Verbs
10. (Independent) Imperative-Mood Verbs
11. (Dependent) Subjunctive-Mood Verbs
12. (Dependent) Greek Infinitives
13. (Dependent) Greek Participles
14. Back to the Big Picture
15. Comparing English Translations
16. Bridging Context
17. Word Studies
18. The Grammar of Theology (Putting it All Together)

Appendix 1: "Your Turn" Answers
Appendix 2: Greek Paradigms
Glossary of Select Greek Terms

Each chapter ends with vocabulary words to memorize. This makes learning key Greek words manageable--by the end of the book the reader may be surprised with how much vocabulary he has under his belt! As well as vocabulary, Thornhill includes a "Your Turn" section where he has the reader apply what he has learned, which is a very helpful exercise. 

Reading through Greek for Everyone, I was impressed with Thornhill's ability to clearly instruct his readers in the basics of the language. I was also surprised to see the wide range of material covered in such a concise volume. Thornhill not only offers us suggestions as to how to study Greek, teaches us the mechanics of the language, but also show us how it applies with a discussion of English translation philosophies, interpretation, and exercises like word studies which help in the understanding of a text. 

A Chadwick Thornhil wrote Greek for Everyone for the purpose of teaching his readers how Greek works and how to use it for better Bible study. He has thoroughly succeeded. Greek for Everyone is a solid one volume introduction to Koine Greek. This work will not make someone a Greek expert but it will orient them to the language enough to understand Greek at a basic level. It lays a solid foundation for further study. Greek for Everyone is a volume I would recommend to anyone looking to further their biblical study skills by getting a taste of Greek. This volume would be especially helpful for undergraduate Greek students to read before formal study. Additionally, reading through it has helpfully freshened up my Greek. I highly recommend this fine work. 

Rating: Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five 

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255