Category: Books

Book Review – The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings


Interested in networking and engaging with others who are passionate about young adult ministry? Anabaptism, the Next Generation is a learning forum on ministry with young adults being hosted at Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, IN April 17-19. Speakers include Chuck Bomar, Josh Brockway, Jeff Carter, Dana Cassell, Russell Haitch, Tara Hornbacker, Steve Schweitzer, Laura Stone, Dennis Webb, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. For more information and to register, go to

Bethany’s upcoming young adult forum is an event I am very excited about. As one who has been active in young adult ministry for the duration of my young adulthood thus far, I am always looking for others who share my passion and want to engage biblically and critically about the issues currently facing the Church – particularly from a young adult voice.

In addition to engaging in conversation, reading has been an important tool that has aided my ministry. Having sojourned with Quakers and, now, Brethren, I would like to think of myself as fairly simple. My book collection – and yes I mean real paper books – would tell a different story. I love books!

One book I have become especially fond of recently is The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings by Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, & Abbie Smith. You can purchase the book here. The book, written from the perspectives of a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething, compels churches to move the finish-line of early Christian discipleship past 18 years old and calls for meaningful, intergenerational relationships as the answer to the “slow fade” of young adults leaving the Church.

In what I would consider the heart of the book, chapters three and four, we’re introduced to three ideas which serve as our framework for engaging with young adults: wonder, discovery, passion. Bomar writes of his two young daughters and how imaginative they are. He remarks on how as we get older our sense of imagination seems to fade. Western Christianity is often uncomfortable with how magical and mysterious our God is but, Bomar asserts, we must recapture “this sense of wonder in our own lives[1].”

As we get older, we become surer of ourselves and the world around us. As time goes by, we can even get rigid in our understanding. Young adulthood, though, is anything but rigid or certain. A person’s twenties are all about discovery.

Not only is this a time dedicated, largely, to cultivating self-awareness, it is also a time full of many transitions: high school to college, high school or college to the workforce,  single to dating, dating to engaged, engaged to married, childless to a parent, and the list goes on. I think the transitory nature of young adulthood is another major reason why embracing discovery is so important. Young adults are not only discovering who they are, they are discovering how to successfully live into these various seasons or stations, of young adulthood.

This season of discovery should never end, according to Bomar. “Too many don’t want to admit this, but embracing our identity in God is never done. …The choice is always before us. Are we willing to remain teachable and continue moving toward discovery[2]?”

Also, as many get older, passion becomes “a faded memory, forgotten like teenage love and letter jackets. …At some point maybe we thought we could impact the world, but now, well, we’ve resigned such childlike thinking[3]” writes Smith. This definitely hits home with me.

As a young pastor, I often have my energy and idealism scoffed at by elders in congregations. People get set in their ways. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the phrase “well, that’s how we’ve always done it.” People frequently see my and other’s idealism as foolish and naïve.

This is particularly the case in my interactions with Baby Boomers – understandably so, however, as they grew up during a time when outspoken idealists were killed at places like the Lorraine Motel and Ambassador Hotel.  Sharing one’s passion for new ideas takes vulnerability. Even so, doesn’t the call of the gospel necessitate vulnerability? It is a summons to die, after all. But, that’s for another blog post.

Toward the end of the book, Bomar writes an appendix called A Note to Ministry Leaders. If you didn’t already know Bomar, you learn more of his story here. He was the college pastor at Cornerstone – the southern California church planted by Francis and Lisa Chan – when the college age ministry grew from nine people at a barbeque to over nine hundred meeting at the church each week.

While the “ministry looked great from the outside,” Bomar writes, he began to question what he was doing and came to discern that they needed to shift their focus from programs to relationships.[4] He lays out the following necessary steps for ministry leaders seeking to successfully engage young adults: Define success by relational connection; Help older believers embrace their responsibility; Invest in families; Value difference in a healthy way; Allow college-aged people to have a voice.[5]

Slow Fade is full of valuable advice and is sure to get you thinking. I, for one, am a verbal (linguistic) learner. It is not enough for me to simply read a book. I have to process what I’ve read through more words – via speaking. That’s always better when others are involved in the conversation. So, please take time to converse here on the blog. We shouldn’t have to wait until next weekend to start engaging these topics and addressing these concerns. I look forward to responding to your comments here and to seeing you at Anabaptism, the Next Generation at Bethany April 17-19.

Shayne T. Petty, Contributing Editor, is an emerging missiologist currently serving as Associate Pastor for Outreach & Discipleship at Potsdam Church of the Brethren in the Southern Ohio District. He is pursuing an M.Div. in Intercultural Ministry, Evangelism & Missional Leadership at Bethany Theological Seminary.

[1] The Slow Fade: Why You Matter in the Story of Twentysomethings: David C. Cook (May 1, 2010), 50-52.

[2] Ibid. 53

[3] Ibid. 55.

[4] Ibid. 112-114.

[5] Ibid 115-121

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Spring into Some New Books


With the cold weather upon us, there are few things better than laying out on the couch with a new book. Fortunately for us, the publishing world knows this all too well! The catalogs are full of new and interesting books. Here are just a few that might interest Brethren, Anabaptist, and Neo-Anabaptist readers. If you are interested in review these or any other titles contact Brethren Life and Thought through the homepage. The contact email address for the book review editor is at the bottom of the page.

Reading for Preaching

Reading for Preaching-The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists

by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

From Eerdmans- “In Reading for Preaching Cornelius Plantinga makes a striking claim: preachers who read widely will most likely become better preachers.”

A recipient of Christianity Today’s 2014 Book Award





The Nonviolent God

Nonvioent God

by J. Denny Weaver (Eerdmans Publishing Co)

From Eerdmans- “This bold new statement on the nonviolence of God challenges long-standing assumptions of divine violence in theology, the violent God pictured in the Old Testament, and the supposed violence of God in Revelation. In The Nonviolent God J. Denny Weaver argues that since God is revealed in Jesus, the nonviolence of Jesus most truly reflects the character of God.”





Old Testament TheologyOld Testament Theology

by R. W. Moberly (Baker Academic)

From Baker- “Leading Old Testament theologian Walter Moberly probes what is necessary to understand and appropriate the Hebrew Bible as a fundamental resource for Christian theology and life today.”








John: Believers Church Bible Commentary

by Willard Swartley (Herald Press)John

From Herald Press- “The book of John shapes Christian identity, invigorates worship, and implants eternal hope. John’s gospel defies description, marvels Swartley, professor emeritus at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.”

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A Preacher’s Review of Joshua: Believers’ Church Bible Commentary by Gordon Matties (Herald Press, 2012).

Reviewed by Frank Ramirez

A few years ago when I was the junior partner, with Christina Bucher and David Leiter, co-editing the book The Witness of the Bible Scriptures for a New Testament Church, I was cornered at Annual Conference and angrily scolded for doing any such thing. The Old Testament, I was told, was antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

Needless to say, stories from the Book of Joshua were Exhibit Number One. That was the case not only with this one per

son, but with several others over the years, whenever I admitted my enthusiasm for the Hebrew scriptures. Never mind the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the thunder for justice from the prophets, the slight of hand by the Chronicler (Now you see Bathsheba, now you don’t!), or those pesky lions in Daniel’s den – it usually gets back to Joshua when it comes to all those Marcionists who have no patience with the thick half of the Bible.

So I picture all those Mennonite and Brethren scholars the day they handed out the assignments for the Believers Church Bible Commentary series, hanging back when, echoing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, someone said, “So who wants to write about Joshua? Anyone. Joshua? Joshua? Sixth book of the Bible. Joshua?”

Well I don’t know if Gordon Matties, professor of biblical studies at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, volunteered, felt the call, or was drafted, but his commentary on Joshua is an exceptional tool for enthusiast and Old Testament skeptic alike. This volume is not only a valuable tool for pastors who may have to address the rare lectionary texts from Joshua every three years or so – it is a well-crafted apologia for an essential part of the canon, the pivot between Torah and the Deuteronomic history, and a powerful part of our family history we dare not ignore.

One quote, in particular, encapsulates the necessity for challenging ourselves and others with this Biblical book. Referring to some of the horrors described in Joshua 10 Matties writes:

I suggest that we live inside the conversation generated by this text, not inside this text alone. The text is part of a conversation within which the church wrestles, argues, and challenges. It is a text of terror that we dare not emulate; yet if we re

fused conversation with it, we run the risk of repeating the violence of which the text tells (247).

Matties encourages us to wrestle with the very different pictures of ethnic cohabitation, conflict, and accommodation presented not only between Joshua and Judges, but within Joshua itself. He also refuses to restrain the arc of this historical narrative into an archaeological straight jacket in order to bring us on board.

God is the central figure of the book, while Joshua, who only truly becomes “servant of Yahweh” after a long life of service, is revealed as one who receives the instruction of God, but is willing, such as in the mistakes made in what the author presents as the humorous encounter between the Israelites and the Gibeonites, to improvise and compromise.

The author doesn’t explain away tensions and contradictions within the book. In this way Joshua is quite like life. The peopl

e are to keep themselves pure, for instance, yet Rahab and others (including Caleb) are revealed as outsiders who become insiders. There is bloody warfare, yet the author insists it is not at its heart a conquest book, but a book of hope in the midst of darkness. The Book of Joshua reflects the best in us and the worst in us. And there is always hope, always a way out of the box that threatens to constrict and restrict us.

Matties grounds the book in our world, calling up stories and images from his own experiences in churches, the books he’s read, and from movies he’s seen. The Road Runner and Bugs Bunny, Apocalypse Now, the haka practiced by New Zealand rugby teams before an important international match, the scouring of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings, Veggie Tales, Bob Dylan’s “You’ve Gotta Serve Somebody,” and old Mennonites insisting “Es steht geschrieben,” (“It is written”) are cited in turn, as is the relatively new translation The Common English Bible, all to good effect.

On a personal note, as one who has always been awed and attracted to the encounter between Joshua and a Divine Other in 5:13-15 (I think I wrote an article for Messenger titled “Who Goes There?” on the subject decades ago), I especially enjoyed Matties’ willingness to let the mystery be.

The BCBC like all commentary series has better and worse volumes. This is one of the very good ones. I highly recommend it for p

ersonal study and sermon preparation. And since, as I’ve mentioned, the lectionary selections from Joshua are few and far between (you can preach about being strong and courageous from the first chapter and how you and your house are going to serve the Lord in the last chapter, and that’s pretty much it), perhaps this book will inspire some Brethren and Mennonites to preach a summer series on the book.

Matties’ dissertation Ezekiel 18 and the Rhetoric of Moral Discourse was published by the Society of Biblical Literature. He has contributed to The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, and has published articles in church periodicals and contributed essays to collections.

Frank Ramirez picture

Frank Ramirez has served as a Brethren Pastor for thirty-four years, and currently serves the Everett congregation in Middle PA. He and his wife Jennie share three children and three grandchildren, and enjoy travel, gardening, and totally different programming. Frank is the author of several books including The Love Feast, Th

e Meanest Man in Patrick County, and Brethren Brush with Greatness.

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A Year of Biblical Womanhood: A Review


By Dana Cassell

Rachel Held Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is getting a bunch of press, which I’m glad about. There’s a lot of predictable internet bickering going on, a lot of posturing and arguing and name-calling, some pointed and snarky responses and some responses full of grace. Some of the evangelical crowd is yelling about the book being a “mockery” of the Bible. Even some more progressive, neo-evangelicals and emerging Anabaptists are pretty inhospitable to the idea – though I’m not convinced they’ve actually read the book OR much of Rachel’s blog.

Honestly, I find most of that conversation silly. I don’t come from those circles where women in leadership is still an all-consuming and contentious subject. I’m not really invested in arguments about women’s roles or what biblical womanhood may or may not be. I like the book, and I like Rachel, not because she’s a woman or because she’s writing about women but because a) she’s funny and b) the way she incorporates an online community into her writing is fascinating and phenomenal.

When I say funny, I mean: laugh-out-loud, guffawing in the middle of the studiously quiet Starbucks kind of funny. Rachel is self-effacing in ways that I can identify with, she references everything from Anne of Green Gables to Arrested Development, and her ability to play off the mad-dash contemporary pop culture against the molasses pace of down-home Dayton, Tennessee is delightful. A scene near the beginning of the book in which Rachel attempts to purchase cipollini onions in an East Tennessee Wal-Mart nearly knocked me off my chair.

But what really intrigues me is the way that Rachel has been able to create space on the internet for real, sustained, honest conversation among people of widely varying theological stripes…and then somehow incorporate that communal discussion so gracefully into her in-print writing.

First: the blog. Rachel’s blog is built for conversation. I’ve been involved in several online blog-based initiatives meant to spark discussion, and none have been uber-successful. Whether we skewed the pieces too theological or aimed them at a too narrow audience, readership was high but participation was very, very low. I think people are often hesitant to participate online because of the dangers of being misinterpreted and because they’re wary that any conversation on the internet will devolve into name-calling and triviality. Surely, the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter debate has not eased anyone’s mind on that front.

But Rachel somehow creates and nurtures space that is meant to be about interaction, and healthy, productive interaction at that. The comment sections are long and encouraging – people actually engage the substance of one another’s comments. There’s very little snarking back and forth at one another.

The content itself is carefully planned and directed by readers. She regularly hosts guest writers in an “Ask A…” feature, where readers submit suggestions for the guests as well as their particular questions. The space has hosted funeral directors, transgendered Christians, Mennonites, messianic Jews, feminists, pagans, Pentecostals, and nuns, to name a few. Readers ask honest questions, and writers answer with openness and grace. Real conversation!

This sense of graceful community comes through in the book. Rachel writes about sharing the experience of her writing project with blog readers. She tweets for help in the kitchen, asks her readers about tips for baking challah, and surveys the blogosphere for perspective on motherhood. It is clear, reading the book, that while the hard work of writing (and experimenting: Rachel is definitely the one who slept in a tent during her period, abstained from cutting her hair for a year, and called her husband “master” for a month.) were done by one person, the authorship of this book is shared.

I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, literarily or theologically. But I like where it’s headed. I like that we can use technology to open space for communal conversation and discernment. I like that a book can be written together: not by committee, but by community. I like that this book and this blog are places where multiple voices not only get heard, but are engaged, regularly. I like that when I tweeted about guffawing while reading, Rachel saw it immediately and re-tweeted so that my experience of reading alone in a coffee shop was transformed into a shared celebration. I like that, as we Brethren say, discernment comes through scripture-read-in-community, and this book is an example of both creation and experience done just that way.

And in some strange, meta-level twist of the Spirit’s movement, I think that’s exactly the point that Rachel was trying to make: no work of art is pure and singular. Not even the Bible, revered as it may be, is a monolithic monotone dictation from God. It is a collection, a conversation, a squawking cacophony of voices that don’t really make sense until we agree to create some space for them to speak to one another in grace. Maybe that’s what the canon is, maybe that’s what the church is, maybe that’s what we are to be about. Thanks to Rachel for clearing away some of the clutter and getting the discussion started. Eshet chayil! Woman of valor!

Dana Cassell serves as Minister for Youth Formation at the Manassas Church of the Brethren in Manassas, Virginia, as well as Staff for Ministry Formation in the Church of the Brethren Office of Ministry. She blogs at Authenticity.

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The Anabaptist’s Will, The Pietist’s Heart & The Lover’s Gaze


[Part 3 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 1 is here and part 2 is here.]

by Scott Holland

I’m writing my rather tardy contribution to the Brethren Life and Thought Blog on Easter weekend, a time when many Christians celebrate the bodily life and resurrection of Jesus. We are reminded at Easter that unlike the Greek philosopher Socrates, who faced his sentence of capital punishment with a calm, welcome acceptance as the cup of poison hemlock was placed in front of him, Jesus, the Jewish rabbi, resisted his death with the anguished plea, “Father, if it is possible remove this cup from me.” For Socrates, the body was the mere prison of the soul. For Rabbi Jesus, the body and the book and the beloved world were imagined as united in God and thus believed to be blessed by God.

James Smith’s marvelous book, Desiring the Kingdom, offers his readers a well integrated philosophy of God, world, self and others. As a philosopher schooled in both classical theologies and Continental philosophies, Smith offers us a theology of culture in which the heart, head and hand cannot be pried apart in naming ourselves and rendering God’s name in history. This theology of culture makes four important moves: First, it offers an anthropology of humans as embodied actors rather than thinking, theorizing, talking heads. It prioritizes practices rather than ideas or doctrines. It looks at these cultural practices through the lens of worship, liturgy and ritual. Finally, it offers a culturally engaged rhetoric and practice of antithesis without being against culture.

Working out of the best of the Reformed tradition, Smith critiques the rationalism so dominant in the academy and public life by offering a more holistic understanding of the human person as “a desiring, imaginative animal.” However, Smith’s project doesn’t merely replace the thinking head of rationalism with the believing body of the Christian. Indeed, in James Smith’s theological vision, the human is more than a reasoning, believing, narratological animal; the human being is also a longing, loving actor in a blessed, broken world. In this vision, we are offered a robust understanding of the narrative and performative constitution of the self.

Professor Smith trained at Villanova University, a school where classical Augustinian Christianity dances with postmodern, phenomenological and Continental philosophy. Desiring the Kingdom brings these rich intellectual and spiritual traditions into both implicit and explicit conversation with the Reformed view of theology and education. Much like Smith, I trained at a school known for blending a Catholic analogical imagination with Continental phenomenology: Duquesne University. For a window into how our theologies nicely intersect see my How Do Stories Save Us?.2

Brian Gumm’s blog suggests that James Smith’s work might resonate with my “The Pietist as Strong Poet.” Indeed it does. In that piece I accent the Pietist’s epistemology of the heart and theopoetics of desire as a corrective to received theological and philosophical orthodoxies. With James Smith’s satisfying book open on my desk let me reflect briefly on the “The Anabaptist’s Will, the Pietist’s Heart and the Lover’s Gaze.”

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Holland, Scott. How Do Stories Save Us?: An Essay on the Question With the Theological Hermeneutics of David Tracy in View. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and Louvain: Peeters, 2006. []
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In place of (non-)sacraments: Re-enchanting the Brethren


[Part 2 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 1 is here and part 3 will be up next week!]

by Brian R. Gumm

A few weeks ago I wrote a post for the Anabaptist Missional Project blog entitled “The Sacrament of Mission,” which attempted to take key points of James K.A. Smith’s somewhat recent book – Desiring the Kingdom  – and explore its implications to Christian mission. My choice of title was there (and is here) a playful jab at the Anabaptist tradition which raised me, being as it is a mostly non-sacramental tradition for its five centuries of existence in various expressions.

While the Schwarzenau Brethren have long practiced the beautiful biblical-mimetic ritual we call “Love Feast,” there’s been the insistence that such practices – like baptism – are “ordinances” from Jesus. So we do them primarily because Jesus told us to, not because they have some “mystical” or “magical” power. Combined with a free church “priesthood of all believers” ecclesiology and liturgical practices, Vernard Eller could look at high church sacramental traditions in his book, In Place of Sacraments2, and pejoratively describe them as “commissaries,” dispensing with mystical goods and services. Better than all that, Eller described the (surprise!) free church model which he called the “caravan” approach to practices like the Lord’s Supper and baptism.

While honoring the good historical reasons that Anabaptists opted out of sacramental traditions (to their own peril, initially), appreciating much of Eller’s positive work in In Place of Sacraments, and being happy in our contemporary circumstances as a believers church tradition, still I wonder: Should we reconsider our bad attitude about the sacraments? In our desire to avoid magic-thinking, is there a way in which we’ve swung too far the other direction and depleted our social imagination as Anabaptists worshipping and serving a crucified and resurrected, therefore living, God? Have we thrown the genius of narrative-shaped ritual out with the sacramental bathwater?

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Eller, Vernard. In Place of Sacraments. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1972. []
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Ascetic Christianity: Brethren Dress and Smith’s Cultural Liturgies


[Part 1 of a three-part series on James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation.1 Part 2 is here and part 3 is here.]

by Joshua Brockway

James K. A. Smith has written an accessible and insightful discussion of practices and the Christian faith. Smith turns to consider practices and liturgies as foundational for the ways we act in the world as Christians thus challenging worldview understandings of Christian education and formation,. Rather than discuss these practices in ideological terms Smith defines these liturgical practices as “a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy, a pedagogy that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and ‘aim’ our love toward the kingdom of God.”2 Yet, Smith is clear that liturgies are not just proprietary to the Church. All cultures have within them liturgical practices which aim a person’s desires towards some other ultimate end end.

Brethren, however, have not been warm to the language of liturgy. Following many other Radical Reformation traditions, we have come to define our worship as “Free Church” and our theology as asacramental. These moves are rightly understood as reactions to the clericalism of 16th and 17th century Europe. Yet, the effect has been that we are not attentive to the ways rituals and liturgies shape our actions. Smith’s work, on the other hand, makes very clear that the question is better framed not by a rejection of liturgy, but by asking which liturgy defines us.

  1. Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009. []
  2. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 33 []
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Coming Up…


Now that the series from the Young Adult Forum is complete, here is what’s up next.

This week we will be starting a seriers of reflection/responses to Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith.  Smith is Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. He has written a number of books and weighed in on topics such as hermeneutics, Radical Orthodoxy, Post-Modernism, and Calvinism.

So why engage Desiring the Kingdom? Simply stated, too many theologians, philosophers, and psychologists have shown that what we think has little to do with how we live. We might know a lot of things, or even for that matter believe, certain things, but those beliefs are often contradicted by our actions in the world. This is especially true in the ways Christians have approached education. Smith comments on this reality near the end of the book:

To be blunt, our Christian colleges and universities generate an army of alumni who look pretty much like all the rest of their suburban neighbors, except that our graduates drive their SUVs, inhabit their executive homes, and pursue the frenetic life of the middle class and the corporate ladder ‘from a Christian perspective.’1

Our next three posts then will engage Smith’s insightful work. These posts will come from Joshua Brockway- director, spiritual life and discipleship for the Church of the Brethren; Brian Gumm- licensed minister in the Church of the Brethren and graduate student at Eastern Mennonite University’s Seminary and Center for Justice & Peacebuilding; and Scott Holland Professor of Theology and Culture and Director of Peace Studies and Cross-Cultural Studies for Bethany Theological Seminary.


  1. James K. A. Smith Desiring the Kingdom, 219 []
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