Book Review: Culture Matters by T. M. Moore

In Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement, T. M. Moore advocates that Christians in the 21st century can and must develop a consensus on how to engage culture. (Yes, Moore’s thesis is indeed his subtitle.) Throughout this work, Moore explores five people and/or groups in Christian history whose faith compelled them to participate within their cultures as agents of God’s kingdom. He then extrapolates principles from their approaches and suggests points of application for contemporary followers of Christ–sometimes even including a modern example of contextualization.

In Chapter One, Moore uses St. Augustine’s City of God to present a way that Christians can critique culture, surmising that Augustine was timely, principled, fair, reasoned, theological, evangelical, and a visionary. Chapter Two offers insights from Celtic artists in the Dark Ages on how Christians can forge new culture through art by making certain the message, knowing their media, adopting and adapting, communicating actively and clearly,accepting the challenge of innovation, activating the church, and serving the community. Moore interviews Phil Keaggy as a contemporary example of an effective Christian artist. John Calvin’s innovation in education constitutes the focus of Chapter Three, in which Moore emphasizes the utter necessity of educational reform, instruction must care for the whole person, and that learning must gain a new vision for “renewed selves and a renewed culture” (85). In Chapter Four, Moore assess Abraham Kuyper’s work in cultural reformation, highlighting Kuyper’s teachings that culture matters to God, sin corrupts culture, Christians are called to culture, culture is powerful, Christians must challenge culture, the need to pay attention to contemporary culture, and pursuing culture for the glory of God. Chuck Colson is represented as an example of how Christians can work to reform culture. Finally, Czeslaw Milosz’ poetic writings draw Moore’s attentions in Chapter Five on how Christians can speak prophetically into culture by sharing a message of transcendent truth; exploring everyday encounters and experiences; using questions, propositions, and persuasion; converting people to hope; communicating a transcendent metanarrative; and speaking faithfully. More shares the music of David Wilcox as a contemporary example of prophetic poetry.

Moore’s last chapter concludes, “parameters can be articulated and a variety of forums created to enable significant numbers of believers from all communions of the faithful to realize a common voice and stance toward the making and use of culture in all its forms,” (146). He then offers creative ways for Christians to gain consensus in their communities.

Overall, I agree with Moore’s premise that Christians need to actively work to create a consensus on how to engage our surrounding culture. I appreciated how Moore drew my attention to the work of faithful Christians throughout church history–some of which I knew nothing about. Other reviewers have suggested that a reader needs prior knowledge of these people before reading Culture Matters. I, however, disagree. Though I recommend reading this book slowly in order to gain the most from it, Moore’s explorations of differing cultural engagements provided a nice launching point for deeper study. Now, I am intrigued and desire to study some of these figures more. I also have gained a more perceptive eye to notice instances of Christian cultural engagement–whether beneficial or not–when I come across them in ordinary life.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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Book Review: Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach

After Caleb Kaltenbach’s parents divorced when he was a child, they both eventually came out as gay and entered into relationships with people of the same sex. His mother became a strong advocate for the LGBT community, so Caleb grew up marching in Pride parades and engaging in advocacy campaigns himself. He learned to despise Christians, because of how they treated the LGBT community during such events. While in high school, however, Caleb was invited to church and became captivated by Jesus. After a period of time, he chose to follow Jesus, which led him to study and revise how he approached LGBT issues. Now a Christian pastor, Caleb desires for Christians to engage LGBT peoples with grace and compassion while still holding to the orthodox teachings of Scripture.

Throughout Messy Grace, Kaltenbach weaves his family’s story in with the message of the Christian gospel. Nearly every chapter begins with a personal story that leads into a passage from Scripture, then concludes with another kind of practical connection pertaining to the focus of the chapter’s message. Kaltenbach also includes questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.

Overall, this book was rather underwhelming for me. I picked this book up, because I was intrigued by Kaltenbach’s own experience. Though Kaltenbach tells his story, he basically only tells a portion in order to set up his main point. It feels, at times, like a disconnected teacher who has to conclude every story by saying, “The moral of the story is…” I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it were only constructed differently, so that each chapter didn’t feel like a tempered sermon. I also would be more interested in a kind of biography or memoir about his experience rather than an instructional book for practical living.

My final takeaways:

  • Messy Grace is most beneficial for Christians beginning the process of learning to engage LGBT communities. Kaltenbach writes, primarily, for Christians who need their worldview shifted because of their predisposition to reject LGBT peoples. Thus, for someone with zero LGBT friends or someone who needs to start with their first book on the subject, I think Kaltenbach’s is an excellent choice and would be a real winner.
  • For Christians who have been immersed in studying how to care well for the LGBT community, this book is mediocre. Kaltenbach does not say anything new, nor does he go very deep. Though I did not glean a whole lot personally, I’m glad I read it, so I know what other laypersons may be reading and can recommend a starting point for beginners.
  • Though I consider the book just okay, I AM very interested in the video series that Kaltenbach is releasing for small groups. The preliminary videos I’ve seen appear to be well-produced and dig deeper into the topic. You can find this series here:

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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*A special thanks to Waterbrook Press for giving me a complimentary copy of Messy Grace in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey

Caleb Breakey has a clear passion for the local church. In Called to Stay, he writes to Christians experiencing frustration with their churches who are tempted to abandon the Church altogether. Coining the idea of “infiltration,” Breakey charges Christians to stay with their local churches, working with the community to cultivate health and flourishing. Each chapter highlights an aspect of infiltration–such as building unity and relying on the Holy Spirit–that believers should embrace as they seek to contribute to the good of their local church.

I so wanted to love this book. As an associate campus pastor at a Christian university, I often work with young adults who struggle to fit into local church communities. I was hoping that Breakey would write clear and compelling material, so I could recommend this book to students. Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed. Though Breakey has good starting points, he often launches off with explanations that lack depth and clarity. Not only do Breakey’s points fail to develop well, his poor writing style obfuscates the message he seeks to convey. This becomes especially apparent in obscure allegories that Breakey uses, acting as if they shed brilliant light on his subject, when in actuality, they create more confusion and… well, just overall oddness. Breakey also uses excessive numbering of points and lists in each chapter, which make his main ideas more complicated. Though he tries to make the book practical–and I admit, there are some helpful points–many of his ideas lack meaningful contextualization or maturity. Even the term “infiltration” seems too militaristic to me for what he’s challenging Christians to do.
As a side note: I was bothered by Breakey’s lack of gender-inclusive language. Not only does he always refer to pastors with male pronouns–which at least makes sense if he’s complementation–he also uses almost all male pronouns for generic examples of church-goers. With at least 50% of church members being female, he should have put more intentionality into including them.

After reading this book, I think Breakey seems genuine and his love for the Church is pure. He’s the kind of guy, I imagine would be fun to have coffee with. His book, however, I cannot recommend.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars


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Book Review: More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger

In More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, Jeff Shinabarger challenges readers to define how much is enough in their lives. Since we live in a culture of unlimited wants and desires, we are constantly driven to acquire more material goods while others live in poverty. Shinabarger asks readers to consider what they own that is actually excess–maybe more clothes than they need, transportation, or even ways that they use their time–and enter into an Enough Experiment. In an Enough Experiment, the experimenter chooses to give away some of their excess to benefit those that are in need. Throughout the book, Shinabarger weaves in stories of people who creatively met needs by giving from their excess, which encourage readers to get creative themselves. The last chapter is dedicated to helping readers find the right experiment for them that can be implemented successfully.

More or Less is an eye-opening book, unlike anything else I have read. Shinabarger seems to be incredibly innovative (just check out which he created), while he also has an ability to unleash the creativity in others. Many books talk about sacrificial giving but hardly even mention how we can give well out of our abundance–and not just with money! Shinabarger’s ideas are extremely practical and entirely rooted in community. The first step to becoming generous is to befriend people who have needs. When the people who we love are in need, it fills us with a deep desire to help meet the need. We are not generous because we have to be. We become generous because we want to be.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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** I received a complimentary copy of this book from David C. Cook through in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Becoming A Ripple Church by Phil Stevenson

In Becoming A Ripple Church: Why and How to Plant New Congregations, Phil Stevenson explores the theology and methodology of being a church that multiplies through church planting (aka daughtering other churches). Stevenson divides the book into three sections: 1) Why Parent Churches?, 2) Preparing to Parent Churches, and 3) How to Parent A New Church. This book deals with “parent churches” and how to multiply a healthy church, rather than how to plant churches from scratch. Stevenson also primarily appeals to the perspective of a parent church and how to multiply well, though he does give suggestions and insight into leading a daughter church.

Overall, I appreciated the basics that this book provides. Becoming A Ripple Church is written in a simple style and could easily be read in a few sittings. I was more interested in learning about church planting outside of other churches, but Stevenson presented a clear and helpful proposal for the need for all churches to multiply themselves into plants, which was interesting nonetheless. I will certainly keep this on the shelf for future reference. I recommend this book as a great start for churches that are considering expanding themselves. Though it should not be the only book or resource that one uses on the subject, it is a practical resource for ideas about how to vision cast and create a church planting plan. Plus, Stevenson includes a great list of resources for future study.

I also want to say thank you to Phil Stevenson for writing with intentional gender inclusion! This is one of the few books I’ve read recently that did not only refer to ministry leaders as males. Thank you for including women as church pastors and leaders!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


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**A special thanks to Wesleyan Publishing House for a complimentary copy of this book. I was not asked to give a review, but did so anyways!

Book Review: Altared by Claire & Eli

Before reading Altared, I was expecting a book about dating. What I got, however, was a book about discipleship. In the first few chapters, Claire and Eli (who are using pseudonyms), set up the premise of the book by describing an American Christian culture that is “marriage-happy.” Marriage-happiness means “1) having an inordinate preoccupation with marital pursuits, sometimes at the cost of other Christian priorities commonly seen in evangelicals. 2) A giddiness stemming from all things related to marriage.” They describe the problem of this approach by beginning with their own experiences. Throughout Altared‘s 13 chapters, Claire and Eli weave the tale of how they met and began dating into chapters that dig into Bible, theology, and church history.

Throughout the process of reading this book, I began with loving it, then thinking it was so-so, to really enjoying the last half. Part of my confusion came from the extreme contrast in writing styles. When Claire and Eli are sharing their own story, the writing is clear, poetic, and easily enrapturing like a fiction novel. But as soon as they delve into Scripture and theological points, the writing becomes more like reading dense and dry-er theological writing. While I loved the first chapter or two, because it was heavy on their personal story and easy to read, I dreaded the sections that felt preachy–rather than engaging–to me in the next few chapters. After setting the book down for a few months, I picked it up again and read the last half in one sitting. Because I knew more of what to expect, I really enjoyed this last section.

Overall, this book needs to be viewed as a discipleship resource with a story weaved into it. It’s so different from other relationship books that it can’t really be viewed in the same genre of writing and style. This is a book to get people thinking about the benefits of singleness–which I really appreciated!–rather than a “how to” book on being single, dating, or finding a marriage partner. With the right expectations going into it, it’s a really enjoyable read!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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* I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Stir by Mindy Caliguire

In STIR, Mindy Caliguire advocates for a change in local churches to support discipleship transformation through relationships rather than programs. Caligure describes three stages in spiritual transformation: 1) Learning together, 2) Journeying together, and 3) Following together. When believers begin their spiritual walk with Christ, they need highly directive relationships with other believers who are farther along than them, but as they move from stage one, to two, and to three, they begin to need highly discerning relationships. Many churches experience little discipleship because they attempt to aid believers’ transformation by throwing programs and curriculum at them. Rather, churches need to reset their approach and cast vision for intentional relationships that foster growth. Caliguire not only gives instruction for how to identify which stage people are in, but she also gives practical advice for how to be the one directing and discerning in these relationships.

While reading this book, it became as much of a devotional read to me as it was informative. During one of the chapters, the Holy Spirit connected with my heart that I’ve been in a season for the past year and a half that I hadn’t realized. Personally, it’s made me pray more for close friends to truly share my life and heart with. I also appreciate that Caliguire emphasizes the need for growth and transformative discipleship to take place our entire lives. Mature believers need relationships that keep them going just as much as new believers do. From the perspective of a Discipleship Pastor, this has caused me to ask the question, “In the discipleship structure of our church, how can we make it less about curriculum and more about connecting people in Christ-centered relationships?”.

This book is a quick read and good for getting the conversation started. It would be a great book to give to lay leaders (or staff) who are involved in leading any sort of community groups in your church, such as small group leaders.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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** I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan through in exchange for an honest review.