Posted in Book Reviews, culture, Faith

Book Review: Unashamed by Lecrae

I enjoyed reading (or rather, listening to Lecrae read) this book. It is a deeply personal account of the rapper’s journey to faith and his journey through faith. It is an autobiography of sorts, mostly focusing on how Lecrae came to faith and why he does “ministry” the way he does.

The book finally (hopefully) puts to rest why the rapper insists on being referred to as “a rapper who happens to be a Christian” instead of “Christian rapper.” You see, Lecrae’s relationship with rap and hip hop predates his conversion. What happened at his conversion, he explains, was a change of worldview, not a change of trade (or talent).

The best way he knew to express himself was through rap, and just because he became a Christian doesn’t mean he raps because he is a Christian. He raps despite being a Christian. It is a subtle difference, and many might miss it.

I admit that I am one of those people who miss that difference, because I don’t classify music (with lyrics) alongside other neutral vocations such as driving a bus. I believe that with music, unlike driving a bus, your faith is not just expressed in the kind of person you are while you do your work, it is also expressed in what you talk about (or sing/rap about). That’s why there is such a thing as “Christian rap” and no such thing as “Christian driving.”

Being a personal account, Lecrae does not shy from revealing gory details about his past failures. What stood out is the fact that his sinful life does not just precede his conversion, but includes his life after conversion. I was comforted by this, especially considering the many times I have found myself “sinning more” after my conversion than before. I relate to this one, Lecrae.

Even so, I couldn’t help but feel like Lecrae was defending himself in this book. He was succumbing to the pressure to “explain himself” and why he is the way he is. I am no judge of whether this was warranted, but I am grateful he did it.

I also couldn’t help but feel that, for someone whose mantra in life is about not living for people’s acceptance, by writing this book he seemed to still want us to “get” him, and, in a way, accept him.

The only significant doctrinal qualm I had with the book is in Chapter 10: Kicking Down Hell’s Door. Lecrae uses Matthew 16:18 to segue into why he feels called to reach the culture. He infers from Jesus’ words… “upon this rock I will build my church” that this is speaking about Jesus building the church “upon the rock of the culture”. Well, that’s quite a stretch and I didn’t buy it.

I believe the “rock” that Jesus is referring to is either the confession of Peter (you are the Christ, son of the living God) or Peter himself (what he symbolizes as an Apostle who confesses the Lordship of Jesus over and against the claims that Jesus was merely a prophet).

All things considered, this was a good read. I recommend it.

Posted in Book Reviews, culture, Faith

Book Review: How the Bible Actually Works

I regularly listen to Pete Enns and Jared Byas’ podcast The Bible for Normal People. The two hosts have carved out a helpful niche focusing on why Christians need to put off their overly mystical lenses when approaching the Bible. They acknowledge the difficulties that many Christians encounter when reading they Bible, and they do their best to respect the reservations many people have with the Scriptures.

enns_howbibleactuallyworks_hc_3d-1.pngOne may say that Pete Enns’ book How the Bible Actually Works: How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News is more or less a transcript of the entire podcast. In this book, Enns acknowledges that many people, Christians included, often find the Bible difficult to apply in their lives because it is “ancient, ambiguous, and diverse”.

Enns writes: “The spiritual disconnection many feel today stems precisely from expecting (or being told to expect) the Bible to be holy, perfect, and clear, when in fact after reading it they find it to be morally suspect, out of touch, confusing, and just plain weird.”

The author does not seek to defend the Bible against these apparent accusations. In fact, Enns himself finds and describes the Bible in the same manner. He acknowledges that it is an ancient book depicting an ancient and unfamiliar culture.

He also describes the Bible as ambiguous, with many Christians finding themselves unsure about what to do with some of its commands; and he also finds it diverse, meaning that there are apparent and “actual” contradictions between different parts of the Bible. Enns believes that the ambiguity and contradictions are not reasons to invalidate the Bible, they are a cue for us to take a different approach to how we read the book.

Enns believes that the way of Wisdom was always followed by the people who wrote and read the Bible in ancient times. He uses several “contradictions” in the Bible to show how wisdom dictated different commands for different situations, even making room for commands that contradict one another (e.g. Proverbs 26:4 & 5).

According to Enns, all this ambiguity and diversity should discourage us from the reading the Bible as a rule book set in stone; and we should be willing to adapt and sometimes abandon passages that no longer serve the purposes of Wisdom.

“The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rule book for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” he writes.

I agree with the author’s exhortation to Christians that they should apply Wisdom when reading the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is not a mere rule-book. Neither is it an instruction manual. The Bible is an ancient book and I personally find some of its commands ambiguous, confusing and even contradictory. The Bible may be a light to our path, but it is useless to us if we read it with our eyes closed. We should indeed apply Wisdom when reading the Scripture.

The main thing I struggled with while reading this book is Enns’ definition of this “Wisdom” that we are to apply when reading the Bible. The closest he comes to explaining this “Wisdom” is when he says we are not only to read the Bible, but also to read the culture, read the present moment and then discern how best to adopt, adapt or abandon a given Biblical passage.

The problem I find with this approach is that it is no different from any reasonable approach to any other work of literature.

When I read a book such as The Chronicles of Narnia, common wisdom (and just general reasonability) tells me that lions can’t speak and there are no magical mirrors at the back of wardrobes. Common wisdom tells me that it is bad to judge people by their race or size; it is better to share; and it is sometimes good to give others the benefit of the doubt. These are aspects of wisdom that life and experience teaches all of us — though we are not always attentive students.

So what, then, is the point of the Bible if what is written there is no more trustworthy or authoritative than the limits of my own judgment and Wise reading? And what does the Bible even mean when it distinguishes the “Wisdom of God” from the “wisdom of man” (James 3:13-18)?

When I say that Biblical passages about slavery are no longer applicable today because society has evolved and we now understand that it is wrong to own another human being, isn’t that just the common wisdom of the age? Am I not just aligning with the times? What role has the Bible played in showing me how to think about slavery if the only lesson is that the Biblical writers were slightly more progressive than the surrounding cultures?

After all, there were many other ancient thinkers who didn’t ascribe to the Judeo-Christian teachings and yet proved to be more progressive than their surrounding cultures.

While I appreciate the author’s effort in bringing the Scriptures down to earth and encouraging a more thoughtful and authentic approach to the Bible, I feel he has done little to make a case for why I should give the Bible any more attention than other works of literature. The author has brought the Bible down to earth and left it there.

If “how the Bible actually works”  is how any reasonable person would work in any given situation, then what is the point of ascribing to Scripture? If the Bible is no more than a case study on how to apply the wisdom that we already possess, why should anyone opt to be a Christian instead of simply being a humanist?

By reading this book, I found myself less confident in the faith I have in Christianity, even as my approach to the Bible became more enlightened. I am not sure whether this is ultimately a good or bad thing for someone who confesses to be a Christian and strives to be faithful to the God revealed in the Bible. Wisdom leads me to believe that it is not.

Posted in Book Reviews

Favorite Quotes from ‘Love Bila Regrets’

I thought I should share some of the quotes that stood out for me as I read John Musyimi and Mark Ambundo’s book Love Bila Regrets. Find my review of the book here.

On the point or end-goal of a dating relationship:

“Christian dating does not always lead to marriage; however, it must only be pursued in the context of movement towards marriage.”

On why a man should be very clear about his intentions when considering dating a woman:

“[Jesus] is absolutely clear to his bride – the Church – about His love for her, His commitment to her and His plans for her future. The church is never in the dark on these matters.”

On how a wife is to “actively” submit to her husband in marriage:

“In marriage, the call to submission for the wife is not one of passive waiting around for the man to do everything; rather it is joyful and intelligent submission. She participates fully in all issues. Though the final decision rests with the husband, it is not without input from the wife.”

What is the fundamental thing to look for in a potential mate?

“Look for an individual who is growing in Christlikeness.”

On delaying sexual gratification until marriage:

“Refuse now to engage in what will later rob you the beautiful experience of marital intimacy with the love of your life. Wait, preserve, persevere.”

On pursuing intimacy with God as a way to deal with lustful and impure thoughts:

“[Pursuing intimacy with God] is the ultimate antidote to lust.”

On the need for accountability and pursuing our growth in the midst of Christian community (church):

“How can character be developed outside the feedback. Correction, rebuke and even confrontation best found within authentic Christian community? People in such a community are like rough pebbles flowing down a river, knocking against each other thus smoothing each other out as they go along.”

On the importance of focusing on our relationship with God more than our relationship with our mate:

“One’s ability to relate healthily is born out of a robust walk with God who consistently affirms and strengthens self-identity.”

On how Christ uses relationships to shape  us and grow us and refine us:

“[Christ] uses relationships to refine our character; calling us to speak the truth in love, admit our short-comings and learn from our past failures.”

And finally, to those of us who may be tempted to use “that’s just the way I am” as an excuse to be less loving in a relationship:

“We are not slaves to our personalities. Every Christian has an obligation to subject his or her personality under Christ because in Him we are new creations.”

 

Posted in Book Reviews, Faith

Book Review: Am I Truly Saved? by John Musyimi

I have been a Christian for almost 15 years now, give or take. The thing is, I am not always sure I am a Christian. I am also not sure if the first time I raised my hand and “gave my life to Christ” was really the time I got “born again.” I am not even sure if the second time I did it was the one… or the third time I did it.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have doubts. Something tells me that most of you are doubters too, secretly. Yet that does not worry me as much as the fact that many of us can be so sure that we are saved.

But should we be so sure? Can we?

John Musyimi believes we should, and w can. But he also believes that not everyone who is sure they are saved, is saved. Our certainty must have the right basis, and Musyimi sets out to show us that basis.

In his second book (or his first booklet), John Musyimi, a pastor at Mamlaka Hill Chapel (when he wrote the book), lays out a six-point diagnostic tool that Christians can use to check “whether you are in the faith”. He appeals to his namesake, the Apostle John, for a guideline on how we may gain assurance that we are “really” and truly born-again.

Now, I think what Musyimi is attempting to do in this booklet is quite dangerous. It may easily go either way. Many teachers who have set out to assure Christians of their salvation have ended up increasing the doubts of those Christians, and those who’ve sought to reduce those doubts have ended up shipwrecking the faith of their hearers.

There’s no denying that this is a dicey topic, and one that must be approached with utmost care and wisdom. Fortunately, John Musyimi does just that, to the best of his ability.

The six tests mined from 1 John are real gems:

  1. Obedience – if you are truly saved, you will keep God’s commandments.
  2. Affection– if you are truly saved, you will love the brothers.
  3. Separation – if you are truly saved, you will have decreasing love for the world.
  4. Faith – if you are truly saved, you will believe in Jesus Christ.
  5. Holiness – if you are truly saved, you will experience increasing victory over sin.
  6. Spiritual – if you are truly saved, you will show evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t make the cut. Not on all the six tests. I seriously flunked on test number 2 (affection). I struggle with affection for the brethren. Most of the time, I just don’t like to be bothered. I really have to “push myself” to care, and that is just how it is… at least for now.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Furthermore, it’s not that I am doing so well on the other tests anyway. And this is where Musyimi’s booklet proved quite helpful. What if we fail the test? What if we realise that we don’t always obey, we don’t love as we ought, and our battle against sin often seems like a losing one?

Thankfully, Musyimi anticipates those questions, and that is why he is careful to approach the tests with a subtlety that might be missed by most. Throughout the manual, you will find such statements as “inclined to” (help brothers)”, “decreasing love” (for the world), and “increasing victory” (over sin) just to name a few.

These are POSTURE phrases, not POSITION phrases.

The author, like the Bible, is aware that he is addressing men, not machines. We change, and the best change is a growth kind of change. The proof of our salvation is not in where we are in the journey but in which direction we are facing (heading), and Musyimi is careful to point this out.

One last thing, what if we find out that we are facing the wrong direction? What if our love for the world is increasing while our love for the brethren is decreasing decreasing? Is this a valid reason to throw in the towel and say goodbye to this “salvation thing”?

Absolutely not! It turns out that this realization is one of the best news you could have received all your life! As Musyimi puts it, realizing this deficiency in your life is actually “a sign of God’s mercy upon you!”

Get your hear examined today. Your life may just depend on it.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Love Bila Regrets

I have been in a dating relationship for almost six months, and Lord willing, I will be getting married some time later in the year (Update: I have been married for two years now, and a father of one). I thank God for my relationship, largely because I have experienced His grace, mercy and loving care in ways that I could not have imagined.

Being in a committed relationship has taught me a lot, especially how to die to self; it has taught me that God placed me on this planet for so much more than my selfish pursuits and pleasures.

So when I came across this book, Love Bila Regrets, I read it with mixed feelings. I was a bag full of regrets. My past is decorated with all the mistakes and bad choices described in this book: I have asked girls out without thinking about marriage; I have shunned accountability in my dating relationships; I have dated people who mocked my faith; I have indulged in sexual sin… you name it. I’ve been through it all.

I am not proud of it. Of course, every sin and mistake is highly regretted. If I had to do it all over again, I would still regret it. Yet, in some strange twist of fate, I also find myself looking back at that past with gratitude. God has used my bad dating decisions to define and refine me into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. He has grown me in spite of me.

Reading through the nine chapters of the book by John Musyimi and Mark Ambundo was like a scary trip down a dark memory lane. I winced as I read some of the hypothetical examples they shared. They were not so hypothetical for me.

I am grateful that God has seen me through my numerous failures and I am now in a relationship that honors Him. For those who are still contemplating the delicate dance of dating and hopefully marriage, you will be disappointed if you read this book as a “how to” guide to biblical dating.

It is not a how-to guide. It is more of a “who to” guide to dating — not talking about who to date, but who to be when getting into a dating relationship. First, this book will cause any young man or woman considering a relationship to step back and seriously consider their relationship with God. That’s why even though the book’s tagline is “Biblical guidelines for love and relationships”, a more appropriate tagline would be “Biblical foundations for love and relationships.”

The ideas in the book are radical for any young person navigating the 21st century dating scene. To begin with, the authors make it clear that dating is about marriage. It is not about your emotional needs or your social capital. Dating is about marriage, and marriage is not about us, but about the gospel.

The authors could not have put it any clearer: “Christian dating does not always lead to marriage; however, it must ONLY be pursued in the context of movement towards marriage” (Emphasis mine). The authors then outline how a man and a woman should go about approaching these treacherous waters of Christian dating. The chapters on the man’s and the woman’s role, and the ones on maintaining purity and emotional fraud struck a close nerve for me.

There’s so much to be gleaned from this timely book, but I’ll save that for your own reading. John Musyimi and Mark Ambundo have done an excellent job, and I am not just saying this because they are my friends. Read the book for yourself and you will not fail to see and feel the pastoral care behind every sentence.

The book is formatted more like a personal study work-book than a typical paperback – with study questions at the end of each chapter and plenty of space for scribbling as you read along.

I was really refreshed re-assured by this book. I could not have written a better book – not that I have written any book. I am grateful to God for such a faithful work by these two brothers. I will definitely be purchasing several copies for friends and disciples that I know will benefit from the content. Thank you, Mark and John, for showing up for such a topic as this.

Click here to read some of my favorite quotes from the book.

To get a copy of the book (retailing at only KSh 350), please visit the Ekklesia Afrika page for more details.