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Jeff Alan, Anchoring America: The Changing Face of Network News (2003). If you want to learn more than you ever wanted to know about television news anchors, read this book. If you want to learn about American history during the past sixty years or so through the camera’s lens, read this book. If you want to try to identify what is going to happen next in broadcast news journalism, read this book. I learned a few things, but this book was not really my cup of tea. But it was a Christmas present, and I’ll read just about anything, so I read it.

Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (2005). This is basically a Christian worldview book written by a young pastor of a huge church riding the wave of the emerging church movement. Bell’s preaching schtick comes through the book loud and clear—he likes youthful tones and metaphors, likes to stretch or even shock peoples’ thinking, writes with an abandon that he thinks or makes you think has never been done before, all while genuinely yearning to know God authentically and live out his Christian faith in a truly high impact mode. The best sound bite in the book is “Christian makes a great noun but a terrible adjective.” Very thought-provoking comment. Bell seems to embrace a culture or even reader based approach to hermeneutics as opposed to a Scripture based approach, but it’s frankly hard to tell. He opens discussion on doctrines like the virgin birth, asks truly off the wall question (again, apparently to make people think) but leaves the reader wondering exactly what he believes—or more, where he’s going.

Joan Biskupic, Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became Its Most Influential Justice (2005). In what will likely become the standard work on Justice O’Connor’s years on the high court, this book not only details how she became the influential swing vote but also how she evolved from conservative to moderate. This is an interesting political and legal biography encompassing some of the most controversial issues facing the nation in the past twenty four years. The author holds a law degree but has developed a career as a journalist, court reporter, and editorialist, so she can read the law and she can write. Recommended reading if you want to understand the law behind episodes of “Law and Order.”

Nina Burleigh, The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America’s Greatest Museum (2003). This biography details the life of a very strange man and an even stranger family. James Smithson’s estate left the equivalent of $50 million to the United States of America, a country in which he had never set foot, to start a museum in his name that would further the knowledge of mankind. Thanks to Smithson’s interest in learning, to his poignant desire for respectability, and to his largess, the Smithsonian Institution is today the most extensive and remarkable museum in the world. This book also lauds John Qunicy Adams, crediting him with almost single-handedly protecting and preserving Smithson’s estate until such time as sufficient other individuals joined in a desire to fulfill the dying man’s wishes. Adding to the weirdness of Smithson’s life is the story of his illness, death, and burial in Italy, followed several decades later by a visit by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell, the wealthy American inventor and his reluctant but supportive wife who rescued Smithson’s bones from their precarious seaside grave and brought them to America. You’ll not likely see a movie about James Smithson, so you’ll have to read the book, especially if you like real life trumps fiction stories.

Billy Crystal, 700 Sundays (2005). I’ve referenced this book and Grisham’s in an earlier blog. Suffice it to say here, the story of Crystal’s immigrant Jewish heritage, his family’s very early influence upon the development of Jazz via their New York City record shop, and Crystal’s talent as a comedian and entertainer all create a fairly stimulating read. But Crystal’s insistence on repeatedly using the worst of vulgar language robs the book of moral strength in what might otherwise be an engaging story of family love and endurance.

Michael K. Deaver, A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years With Ronald Reagan (2001). An interesting insider’s view of the Reagan personality, politics, and phenomenon. Many interesting tidbits like Reagan’s speaking trick: As a 70 something, he could not read his cue cards, but he did not want to wear reading glasses and, thus, appear older. So he wore his contacts, popped out the left one just before he spoke, developed the ability to read the cards with his left eye, looked at the audience with his right eye, all the while looking younger and more vigorous to his rapt listeners. Deaver is a loyal friend and supporter whose own legacy is forever intertwined with his boss, so this is a kind interpretation. But Deaver does speak knowledgeably about some of Reagan’s weaknesses and misjudgments. For anyone who liked Reagan or his conservative “revolution,” this is an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

John Grisham, The Broker (2005). Grisham’s stock in trade: legal fiction. An excellent novel about a wayward Washington, D.C. lobbyist that makes you think Jack Abramoff was the model for Grisham’s protagonist. Very well written. Timely. Free of sex scenes and generally free of language. Just a good read.

Michael Medved, Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life (2004). Medved tells how it’s possible for an irreligious, liberal, Yale-educated young Jew to migrate to traditional Judaism, political conservatism, and a position as one of the leading conservative voices in the nation. Even aside from the political story, Medved has lived a very interesting life. His recollection of his immigrant elders, hitch-hiking literally tens of thousand of miles while in college (he provides you with an exact count), going to school with Hillary Rodham Clinton and a host of other now notable individuals, experience as a movie critic, and very early success as a writer with subsequent television appearances make for rather engaging reading. Beyond this, Medved makes a compelling case for conservatism, American patriotism, and appreciation for a country where anyone with talent, drive, and a willingness to work enjoys boundless opportunities.

John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox (1959). Real history written as political biography. This is a long, thorough, sometimes ponderous book. But you will not find a source better prepared to deepen your knowledge and understanding of this intriguing and truly brilliant figure who spanned the Colonial Period through the Birth of the Nation through its earliest days. If you are not serious about history, stay away from this book, but if you’re game, take the plunge. No matter how much you’ve read about the War for Independence and human nature, you’ll still learn something from this book. In the end, it will heighten your awe about what clearly was an exceptional and a providentially blessed period in all of history.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

Christian pollster George Barna says, “Local churches have virtually no influence in our culture.” When I first read this statement it stopped me cold, right in my tracks, a total focus while I tried to get my mind around the implications of what Barna was saying. Could this possibly be true? And if it is, what does it mean? If churches are no longer influencing culture, what is?

In his new book entitled Revolution (Tyndale, 2005), George Barna describes seven dominant spheres of cultural influence: movies, music, television, books, Internet, the law, and family. Then he says culture is also subject to several second tier influencers: schools, peers, newspapers, radio, and businesses. You’ll notice that the church is not listed.

According to Barna, in year 2000, 70% of American adults interested in faith matters looked to the local church for information. By year 2005, this number dropped to 30-35%. In 2000, alternative faith-based communities provided faith information to about 5% of the population, while five years later this number jumped to 30-35%. Meanwhile, in 2000, 20% of American adults turned to media, the arts, and culture for information about faith, while in 2005, the number of adults seeking faith information in media, the arts, and culture increased to 30-35%.

In other words, in the new millennium, the church is rapidly losing its once powerful influence upon culture, while corresponding increases are taking place in alternative faith-based communities and media, arts, and culture. People are beginning to look outside rather than inside the church for cues on how to live out their faith in everyday life.

These statistics evidence a rather astounding shift in American worship patterns, credibility and authority imputed to institutional religion, and willingness to seek faith information in a variety of new media sources. If you acknowledge the reality and significance of these trends, it suggests at least these considerations for the local church:

-- the church needs to engage the culture not run from it,

--the church needs to learn more about current culture, including values, worldviews, and trends,

--the church needs to learn how to communicate within current culture—in other words, learn how to share “the old, old story” in perhaps “new, new ways,”

--the church should work to equip Christian people with the ability to lead and transform current culture, not just follow it,

--the church needs to learn new media, drama, the arts, video and audio, computer gaming, the Internet, and more for God’s glory,

--the church needs to learn to share its methods with and through excellence or excellent techniques (methods), because fervent piety without excellence is no longer effective.

I am not for a minute suggesting the Church should change, dilute, or hide, its biblical message. I’m not saying all churches need to be the same, be progressive and “non-traditional,” be “hip,” or in any other way simply forget generations who continue to learn in established forms. These generations still need access to established forms of worship, so that these people may continue to learn, grow, and serve the Lord.

I am saying that if the Church or local churches ignore cultural trends, Barna’s statement will be realized. If you do not believe this, look at European countries where churches have been silent, culturally irrelevant, or non-existent for years.

I think Barna’s statement is downright scary. I don’t think I want to live in a culture where the biblical church has no influence on culture. That’s one reason I work in a Christian university, in part because I think the rationale for Christian higher education is stronger than ever. Christian universities like Cornerstone University graduate men and women whose biblical worldview has been developed and sharpened, who have been given an excellent preparation in their field of interest, who understand the culture in which we live, and who wish to influence that culture for the cause of Christ.

We need not be afraid, because God is Sovereign over change as well as history and tradition. But we do need to be active, even proactive. We need to live out our faith. We need to help and to lead our churches toward greater cultural impact.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.