Book Reviews

Book Reviews

As a learning community in the Evangelical Free Church of Canada we are interested in taking advantage of the insights, challenges, and encouragement that can be found in some great books that have been written recently.  With the amount of great material available, no one person can keep up.  So you will find here a collection of book reviews and recommendations from a variety of Free Church leaders – some of our top picks from the last year. We will keep adding to this list. We hope this will help you a little bit with your personal learning and equipping for ministry.

Featured Review

Wisdom From Babylon by Gordon T. Smith

Reviewed by Neil Bassingthwaighte & Bill Taylor

We are all too aware that the cultural landscape in Canada has changed dramatically over the last several years. Gone are the days when a Judeo-Christian world view was foundational to our cultural perspective. It seems that the church increasingly is being pushed to the margin. How are we as God’s people going to respond to these changes?… Read the full review here.

Book Titles A – M

A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing 

By Scot McKnight & Laura Barringer

Scot McKnight and his daughter both live in Chicago and have both attended Willow Creek for at least some of their time there. Which is why the pastoral scandals of a number of Chicago’s megachurches essentially gave rise to this book. Based on a study of scandals just like those in Chicago, Scot and Laura begin this book by talking about different kinds of church culture and the early warning signs of a church culture moving in a toxic direction. They paint a compelling picture of how it is precisely this kind of toxic culture that enables abuse and abusers to carry on unchecked. Needless to say, the front part of the book reads like a horror story.

Tov is the Hebrew word for good. That’s where the second chunk of the book spends its time. Scot and Laura talk about what a goodness culture looks like. They offer seven healthy habits that move churches toward a good culture. Interestingly enough, it is also those same seven habits that resist the key components of toxic cultures that enable abusers.

This is a timely book for all of us. I would suggest it is a “must read.” We have seen too many pastors fall and too many churches and ministries accused of covering up abuse. We would do well to heed the advice in this book by building “tov” culture that will be resistant                                                   to abusers and will allow the church to be the place of healing it truly can be.

Review by Neil Bassingthwaighte

Better Decisions, Fewer Regrets: 5 Questions to Help You Determine Your Next Move

By Andy Stanley

Stanley’s latest book is a worthwhile read for any involved in leadership, or in life, actually.  Like much of his writing, it is very accessible and practically profound.  Stanley challenges us to be intentional and careful in our decision-making by facing 5 key questions:

  • The Integrity Question: Am I being honest with myself… really?
  • The Legacy Question: What story do I want to tell?
  • The Conscience Question: Is there a tension that deserves my attention?
  • The Maturity Question: What is the wise thing to do?
  • The Relationship Question: What does love require of me?

Now that you have heard the questions you are not off the hook in reading the book.  In typical Stanley fashion, there are gems of insight scattered throughout that both clarify and validate his questions. It is worth the price in dollars and time to read it.  Only by reading through it will you catch some of his practical, but well grounded, wisdom.  As he says in the book itself, “…be a student, not a critic.  Critics look for reasons not to learn from what they don’t understand.  Students, on the other hand, are always learning.”

This book helps us learn how to make better decisions, but maybe even more so it helps us learn how to think well.

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Can I Believe? Christianity for the Hesitant 

by John G Stackhouse Jr.

Can I Believe? Christianity for the Hesitant is a winsome, humorous book that will challenge the reader to ensure that their life and beliefs match reality.  John G. Stackhouse has taught world religions for several decades, at a host of universities. His humble approach to navigating the challenges of religious pluralism is endearing, but don’t mistake his warm, relational, almost folksy approach to belief as lacking in academic rigour.  Stackhouse takes the reader on a disciplined intellectual journey that helps one not only clarify what a religion ought to explain about life, but also why Christianity excels at this when compared to other religions. Throughout, Stackhouse is fair to all religions, gracious in affirming doubts, transparent regarding the limitations of knowledge, and honest about how certainty and faith both feed into belief.

In his first chapter, Stackhouse wrestles with how to decide on a religion.  He highlights that religions are typically a creed, a code, and a community.  In chapter two, he focuses on Christianity.  Here his experience as a teacher of world religions serves him well.  Stackhouse argues that the heuristics of any religion revolve around four questions – What is real?  What is best? What is wrong? What can be done? – and eloquently shows how Christianity answers these:

What is real?  Creation is God’s intended home for those He made in His image and tasked with further taming it.

What is best?  Shalom: goodness and well-being, a fulsome peace that God built into His good creation.

What is wrong?  Sin and evil was brought into the world by humans who wanted to be god – who wanted to make a name for themselves.

What can be done?  Here Stackhouse summarizes the great Christian narrative of what God has done, what is being done, and what will ultimately be done.

I also loved his testimony regarding the challenge of teaching Hinduism and Christianity.  One of the problems with teaching Christianity is that, while there are many strange teachings and odd features, many have glossed over or tried to simplify these.  I appreciated Stackhouse’s admonition that we need to make Christianity “strange again.”

In the final two chapters, Stackhouse discusses why so many, from the early church to nearly two billion people today, have believed that Christianity explains best the four big questions.  He then moves to the classic reasons given (such as the problem of evil) that inhibit some from believing.  Along the way, Stackhouse mixes scholarship with engaging story.  He challenges widely held assumptions like “all religions are the same!”  He is honest about the so-called “scandals of Christianity”, such as Jesus’s claims about Himself and salvation being available only through Him.  He gently nudges the reader to be humble – perhaps realistic? – regarding our limited ability to advise God and the foolishness of questions such as “Why didn’t God just…?”  In the end, he leaves us with the syllogism: Jesus is good; Jesus is God; therefore, God is good.

This is a well-written, sensitive book that is equally suitable for skeptic, seeker, or committed believer. It rightly focuses on the strangeness of Christianity. It leads the skeptical reader to judge well between religious options. And for the believer, it strengthens our faith, encouraging us to follow Jesus anew.

For a related book and another great read, check out Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World by Paul M Gould.

Reviewed by Bill Taylor

Collaborating with the Enemy:  How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust

by Adam Kahane

Thesis:  We live in a complex world and so problems tend to be complex.  One way that we respond to this is by “enemifying” those who we disagree with or who undermine our solutions.  Different approaches should be employed to address differing realities. Stretch Collaboration will be key.

4 Ways of Dealing with a Problem (all are appropriate depending on the situation):

    1. Collaborate  (if we have power to fix the problem)
    2. Force (if we have power to fix the problem)
    3. Adapt (if we don’t have power to fix problem)
    4. Exit (if we don’t have power to fix problem and adapting is unbearable)

Challenge:  Conventional Collaboration is useful for addressing simple problems in the context of a simple-centered community that is on the same page in terms of vision, mission, and desired goal, and for which there is a hierarchy of authority.  Most problems today are, however, complex in the context of holonic structures that are more like a network of autonomous individuals/groups who have radically different opinions re: the problem, the solution and goals.  Getting these people “on the same page” (as per conventional collaborative processes attempt) is impossible and counterproductive, producing a mere chimeric consensus that masks real views of the antagonists.  Hence, Stretch Collaboration is a 5th way of addressing problems.

Solution:  Stretch Collaboration.  This depends on 3 shifts:

    1. Embrace Conflict and Connection via alternating between power and love.  Power used to assert what is sacred to you, but love to reestablish unity between antagonists
    2. Experiment a way forward by using dialoguing and presencing, not merely using downloading and debating.  The key is to seamlessly flow between the types of listening and communicating,  and to encourage all four.  This generates multiple solutions that can be experimental options.
    3. Stepping into the game.  This means that leaders do not sit on the outside as directors (getting the participants to get “it done”) or spectators (watching participants “sink or swim”), but we rather co-create a better future with other participants by moving toward rather than away from our “enemies”.  This means that I change me (and my approach) and do not look to change my “enemy”.

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High

By Patterson, Grenny, McMillian , Switzler

As Christians aspiring to be salt and light in our neighbourhoods and examples of unity and love in our faith communities, one of the primary skills needed is the ability to engage constructively in conversations that have a high probability of developing into conflict.  We’ve all been in a place at one time or another when a situation or the words of another person elicited a deep fight-or-flight response in us, to the point that we find it difficult to respond well in the moment.  We seem to live in a world bereft of people with the skill to know how to talk through their differences.

The book Crucial Conversations helps to bring understanding to those moments when we engage with others on topics that matter deeply to us.  Many of its suggestions come simply from observations of people who seem to be able to handle hard conversations well, and going to the root of what enabled those good outcomes. The book offers practical and constructive guidance on engaging in conversations in ways that bring out the best in others and in ourselves. It helps us to feel safe and to better understand what we really want out of the conversation, and it moves us through a clear conclusion to a resolution of tensions through understanding. Although not a faith-based book, it is used in many Christian organizations to teach people to see themselves and others more clearly when deeply felt                                                   opinions and conclusions leave us at odds with others.

Reviewed by Rich Peachey

For the Life of the World: Theology That Makes a Difference  

By Miroslav Volf and Matthew Croasmun

… academic theology ought to be, but today largely isn’t, about what matters the most – the true life in the presence of God.”  

With that, Volf and Croasmun open up this treatise on the purpose for, and need of, theology.  Both come qualified to speak into this issue, as Croasmun is an associate research scholar and Volf a well-respected Professor of Theology. Their premise in this book is quite simple; they believe that “the purpose of theology is to discern, articulate, and commend visions of flourishing life in the light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.” Their concept of a flourishing life describes a tripartite structure: life going well (the desirable circumstances of life), life led well (the good conduct of life), and life feeling well (the states of contentment and joy). They suggest that higher education has often slipped into helping students live the kind of life they want rather than helping them discern the kind of life worth living and wanting. The distinction is not insignificant.  

They spend some time describing the crisis of theology as well as providing a picture for a renewed theology that is “biblically rooted, partristically guided, ecclesially located, and publicly engaged.” It is a fairly robust picture. They call theologians then to align their lives with the flourishing life in Christ on which theology should be focused. They also provide a more detailed vision for that flourishing life, in large measure by considering Paul’s description of the Kingdom (righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit).   

This is a fairly dense read, but by no means unreadably so.  There are nuggets of insight throughout that speak into the impact of theology. I found it extremely refreshing to read this call to course-correct theological study coming from one who lives and works within those halls. The study of theology is relevant and beneficial, but only as we make it serve the right purpose.  Such theology will make a difference. While directed in large measure to academic theology, it is relevant as well to those working in the church, as we too can get lost in the deliberations of theological minutia and forget that our study of theology is to lead people to the flourishing life that God desires and designs for his people.  

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness

By Michael Card

Michael Card brings together his artistic and scholarly sides in this easy-to-read, but deeply devotional little volume. Michael has spent years grappling with a word in the Old Testament that he believes is key in defining and demonstrating the character of God: Hesed.

Hesed is not, however, an easy word to translate. Its meaning is so rich, broad, and sweeping in the original language that several English words take its place. Yet this word occurs nearly 250 times in the Old Testament.

Michael helps the reader see how this word broadens our understanding of who God is and how he acts. He looks at how people’s lives were shaped by the God of Hesed, and what the implications for us are, as we serve a God of Hesed. In our day and age, when there are so many distractions and idols all around us, reading a book that draws our focus back to the core character of God is life-giving. This book does that in spades, and to me, goes even one step further: because of the devotional nature, and the beautiful writing, it opens our hearts once again as we are impacted by the immense and incomprehensible love of God.

Reviewed by Neil Bassingthwaighte

Know What You’re For

by Jeff Henderson.

Jeff Henderson is a pastor, but also an entrepreneur and speaker. His insights flow from, and were tested in, both the marketplace and the church. In this little gem of a book he calls us, whether we are marketplace or church leaders, to refocus our organizations and our work. His thesis is simply that if we want to see growth, we need to be sure about who we are “FOR.” If we are truly FOR our customers, members, team, or community, we will thrive. He talks from experience about what happens when you build an organization around who you are FOR.  He peppers his exposition with stories that support his rich insights.

In unpacking what it looks like to have the right “FOR” focus, he touches areas like social media, meetings, vision, and even how to build a digital community. The book is worth the investment just for the chapter on social media, as he encourages us to use media as a telephone, not as a megaphone, for dialogue more than for monologue.

Henderson makes a strong case for community and relationships, something that translates well for the church.  He says that “without community, you’re a commodity.”  And the strength of that community is what will build the strength of the organization.  In fact, he argues that “a brand is no longer what it tells consumers it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” In thinking about ministry, this means we focus on the people not the organization for its own sake.  It seems so simple, and yet….

Henderson’s word is timely, and while not exclusively for the church, it is more than applicable to the church, in both perspective and application.  A worthy read.

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Lead Like a Shepherd

by Larry Osborne

This is another Larry Osborne classic that should be required reading for every pastor. I admit to loving this little book. I teach leadership at a Bible College, and I will no longer talk just about servant leadership, but also embrace the biblical picture of shepherd leadership. The two are not in conflict; in fact, Jesus uses both descriptions, and so should we.

Osborne draws our attention to some of the unique characteristics of shepherd leadership. He divides this teaching into five key areas, each one peppered with stories and examples that bring his lessons to life.

The first section relates to “spiritual leadership.”  Here he addresses the question of who is qualified to serve as leader.  He challenges the priority of the concepts of being “called into ministry” and the “full-time ministry” picture.  His picture of spiritual leadership is robust and honest. He talks about how spiritual leadership is hard work – and examines some of the realities we face that make it so difficult.

Here are a few thought provoking quotes from this section:

  • “I’ve never had a desire to force non-Christians to live like Christians. And I’ve never had much angst over the legalization of sinful behaviour.  I’ve always tried to take my cues from the early church.  They didn’t seem too worried about the decadence and immorality that was legal and prevalent within the church.”
  • “A final challenge that makes spiritual leadership difficult today is the hyper privatization of spirituality. Most free-agent Christians aren’t looking to be discipled; they’re looking to be affirmed and encouraged. They’d rather have a cheerleader than a coach.”

In his second section Osborne challenges us to “Think like a Shepherd.” He provides a fairly broad look at the unique shape of shepherd leadership and what makes it is important for the church. It is not a weak and mild leadership, but a strong leadership that is rightly focused and properly expressed. In the process of walking us through this, Osborne challenges us with insights like these:

  • “No one makes their kids do things they want to do. We only have to make them do the things they don’t want to do.  Every shepherd has to occasionally make his sheep do something they don’t want to do.”
  • “There are always going to be some things you will have to do but on one will understand.”
  • “A good shepherd adapts to the weaknesses and limitations of his flock even when those fears and limitations are unfounded and frustrating. Angry shepherds, disgusted and dismayed by the shortcomings of their sheep, don’t advance the cause of Jesus.”

Serve with Enthusiasm is his third section. It provides some encouragement for pastors in the midst of the struggle, helping us set our hearts again in the right place.

In his fourth section (Lead by Example), Osborne integrates the model of servant leadership.  Again, a few snippets of insight to whet your appetite:

  • “Servant leaders don’t relish or demand the symbols of authority.”
  • “Servant leaders find their ultimate joy and status in helping others.”
  • “Leaders who fully grasp their identity in Christ can do things and put up with slights an insecure leader can’t handle. They don’t feel belittled or demeaned when they have to change some proverbial diapers, or are taken for granted.”

In his final section of the book he talks about the need to “Take the long view.” Here you will find encouragement to continue on, calling us to patience and persistence.

In a mere 166 pages Osborne provides a great primer on the kind of leadership God desires and expects.  In characteristic Larry Osborne style, the reading is easy but packed with sage, yet down-to-earth, counsel.  He not only paints the right picture, he helps provide us with a road map to move that direction.  And it feels like you are having a chat with friend.  Buy it.  Read it.  Give a copy to a friend.

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Leading from the Second Chair: Serving your church, fulfilling your role, and realizing your dreams

By Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

All of us at all times are in a position of leading others and of being led by others.  When we are not in the “first chair” of leadership, we experience some paradoxes of empowerment and freedom along with the constraints of deferring to those who lead us.  Many of us struggle with this dynamic in various relationships in life.  Some individuals live their lives “on hold” with the belief that they will never really be able to fulfill dreams or fully express their God-given passion for ministry until they are “in the first chair.”

Leading from the Second Chair is a book primarily about church ministry; however, the relational paradoxes and the resolution of relational dynamics suggested here apply to a number of settings where roles or positions dictate a need to defer.  Though the primary illustrations and application are focused on the relationship between senior and associate pastors, this book offers practical advice for healthy, respectful interactions in any setting where roles call one individual to defer to the other. It explores how power differential, differences of priority, and personal aspirations can be navigated with grace and honesty.  The book also helps to dismantle some of the tension that roles can fuel, and draws ministers in varying roles into true partnerships.

Reviewed by Rich Peachey

Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind

by Charles R. Swindoll

Chuck Swindoll, a pastor, lecturer, and writer, has always been a favorite of mine. I have heard him personally a number of times and have always been refreshed and challenged. One of his books that is a favorite of mine is “Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind.” Although published back in 2012, its words have particular meaning today as we walk through this current pandemic. I find something I’ve read in the morning entering my mind several times during the day, depending on the particular circumstances I’m currently in. The reading for each day is not long but is always relevant, challenging and encouraging, all at the same time. I think the Psalms will become more alive for you as you read Chuck’s thought-provoking words and encouragements for each day.

Reviewed by Dwight Johnson

Book Titles N – Z

The Liturgy of Politics : Spiritual Formation for the Sake of our Neighbor

By Kaitlyn Schiess

Kaitlyn Schiess grew up as a self-described military brat, who in her formative years was deeply immersed in conservative culture. She went to Liberty University, where she was on the university debate team. She is now furthering her education at Dallas Theological Seminary. You would think, given the political climate in the United States, that she would automatically lean Republican. However, that’s partly what this book is about – how politics can become an all encompassing formational and partisan story, if we let it.

Early in the book Kaitlyn lays out some of the false gospel stories that are at play in partisan politics as we see them. She then challenges those by calling us to the true and bigger gospel story that we have in Jesus. Yet she takes that even a step further. She asks, “How does that true and bigger gospel story shape our political identity?” If you think she walks away from politics to do that, you are wrong. It is her firm belief that pretty much everything we do is political in nature to some degree or another. Instead, she lays out a framework for seeing the calling and mission of the people of God as doing good for the sake of our neighbor. She spends a good deal of time grappling with the Old Testament prophets’ calls to the nation of Israel to do just that. And then she moves to the practices of the church, and shows how they ought to form us around this same desire to love God and neighbour in a way that motivates us toward political action for the good of our community.

This deeply refreshing read will remind you of who really is King, and how our King calls us to live out his “eschatological embassy” in these days here on earth. If you have been asking how in the world do I, as a Christian, live in this politically-divided world, this book is for you. If you are a church leader who is struggling to know how to help your church walk through the current political quagmire, this book is definitely for you.

Reviewed by Neil Bassingthwaighte

The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World

By Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky

Heifetz and Linsky define Adaptive Leadership as “the act of mobilizing a group of individuals to handle tough challenges and emerge triumphant in the end.”  More specifically, they, along with Grashow, have provided a handbook for navigating leadership and its challenges in a complex and changing world.  Though written over 10 years ago, the relevance and practical application of this material is as appropriate today as when it was written, and will continue to be so for years to come.

In a very readable presentation, the authors articulate how adaptive leadership enables a leader to thrive. They describe how adaptive leadership builds on the past rather than jettisoning it, that it relies on diversity, that it takes time, and happens often through experimentation. Adaptive leadership works with the DNA of an organization — displacing, reregulating, and rearranging it. Thus leadership in adaptive challenges will generate loss, but they help us understand how and when that can be a good thing.  The perspective on leadership, change, and loss is alone worth the price of admission for this read.

With this larger framework the authors unpack a series of steps necessary for successful adaptive leadership.  The first of these steps is diagnosis, beginning with diagnosis of your system or culture, then of the adaptive challenge before you, and finally of the political landscape in which you are working. They articulate the process of diagnosis with profound insights, great examples, and practical steps to take on the journey.  This format makes the book more than just a reference text, but rather more like a very helpful roadmap.

After helping us diagnose the system, they walk us through the challenge of mobilizing the system by making healthy interpretations and interventions, and help us understand what it means to act politically in a helpful and appropriate way.  Part of mobilizing the system includes orchestrating conflict,and building a culture that is effective with adaptive change.  Again, their wisdom, examples, and next steps are insightful.

But their insights go beyond the corporate, as they then turn their attention more specifically to the leader, helping us understand our own systemic nature and what that means for our organizations and our role in those organizations.

Throughout their presentation are numerous golden gems that make the book worth reading simply for those individual takeaways.  For example, as they talk about the leader’s role in adaptive challenges, they make profound observations about how a good adaptive leader needs to move away from predictability so that others cannot neutralize his/her leadership.  In their challenge to diagnose the political landscape, they help us understand some basic steps that will aid in the successful development and rollout of any adaptive response to a challenge.

At the end of the day, as they walk us through the practice of better understanding our organization, ourselves, and our challenges, and then leveraging the strengths and opportunities each provides, they are giving leaders an amazing tool for successful navigation of the significant challenges we face in a changing world.  Their insights are applicable to all organizations (big, small, profit and non-profit organizations alike) and all leaders. Anyone interested in being a leader that is effective in a challenging and changing world should read this book. This is exactly why you will hear these authors and this book quoted so often in many leadership discussions. This work is foundational, but also extremely practical and readable. There is additional benefit if you can read it together with other key leaders on your team.

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Thriving in Babylon

by Larry Osborne

While written in 2015, Thriving in Babylon reads like it could have been written today.  Osborne uses Daniel’s story to teach us about living in a “fast changing and godless society.” He suggests that Daniel is not an adventure story, nor is it a prophecy manual; Osborne writes, “Whenever we turn the bulk of our attention to deciphering the obscure, we tend to miss the obvious….”  He sees in Daniel’s story that Daniel “found a way, in a culture far more wicked than anything we face, to glorify and serve God with such integrity and power that kings, peasants, and an entire nation turned to acknowledge the splendor of the living God.

It all starts with a grasp of something we can too easily forget when caught in the backwash:  God is in control of who is in control. “How big is our God?” he asks.  Daniel’s answer is encouraging.

But, as always, Larry is a realist.  He talks about the reality of, and proper perspective in, difficult times.  What does it mean when it seems like the bad guys are winning? Larry suggests that we generally draw the wrong conclusions and look for the wrong results.  He then suggests three big needs (again based on what we see in Daniel’s story):

  • Hope. Osborne talks about hope killers like conspiracy theories, myopia, amnesia, and political bandwagons – some very relevant words for our time.
  • Humility. Osborne’s discussion includes issues like credibility and spiritual warfare.
  • Wisdom. In this final section, he engages us with the power of perspective, and even challenges us by talking about compromise and fear.

There is so much more he provides in his very readable easy-going style.  He never comes across as a preachy know-it-all, but rather a fellow sojourner who has learned a few lessons along the way that he is willing to share.  Here are few snippets to further pique your interest:

  • “It’s easy to obey God when we agree with him. But that’s not really obedience. We haven’t learned obedience until we do what he says despite our doubts, confusion, or concern that his way won’t work out.”
  • “Without perspective, everything gets blown out of proportion. We catastrophize. The loss of privilege becomes harsh persecution. Opposition becomes hatred. And every legal or electoral setback becomes cause for anguish and despair. In short, we evaluate and extrapolate without putting God into the equation.”
  • “If we claim to be followers of Jesus, there’s never a good reason for panic. God loves a mess. After all, it takes a mess to have a miracle.”
  • “The fact is, if we’re unwilling to treat godless leaders with respect, we’ll have no chance of influencing their decisions and actions.”

So, if you want some solid encouragement, and direction, for your heart in the midst of chaos, pick up this read.

Reviewed by Terry Kaufman

Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age

by Gordon T. Smith

PDF Version of Review

We are all too aware that the cultural landscape in Canada has changed dramatically over the last several years. Gone are the days when a Judeo-Christian world view was foundational to our cultural perspective. It seems that the church increasingly is being pushed to the margin. How are we as God’s people going to respond to these changes? What kind of leaders do we need to help us navigate through this new cultural landscape? These are precisely the key questions that Gordon T. Smith, President of Ambrose University in Calgary, grapples with in “Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the Church in a Secular Age”.

The first half of Dr. Smith’s book helps a reader think through their response to the changing culture. In this section he explores several different responses: adopt secularism, the monastic retreat (promoted by Rod Dreher in the Benedict Option), the culture war response (which seems to be rampant currently), and finally the “faithful presence” response. Having done a cursory exploration of these four responses, Dr. Smith then asks us to glean wisdom from a variety of voices to help us evaluate these responses. He looks at exilic and postexilic prophets. He spends time listening to the early church. He hears from historic minority churches in other parts of the world. Lastly, he listens to theologians that have traveled this path before us in Central and Western Europe. Then he returns to the four responses to determine which one engages the current culture in the most Christ-like and effective manner.

Having laid that foundation, Dr. Smith moves to exploring how leaders can help the church respond well. He focuses on some of the key competencies necessary for leaders: to create environments where people can be formed as people of God and live out of their identity as they engage in culture, to be taught the wisdom necessary to navigate this new context, and to carry out mission in a 1 Peter 3:13-16 manner. He encourages leaders toward broader kingdom engagement and being a non-anxious presence in a deeply fearful world.

This little, 180-page, volume is jam packed with incredible wisdom, for such a time as this. It is highly accessible for pastor and lay person alike. It also comes from a fellow Canadian, who reflects our Canadian context better than many of the American writers currently grappling with this topic.

Considering not only the slide towards secularism, but also the level of discord and division that we are currently embroiled in; we need to respond well as God’s people. We desperately need leaders who are equipped to bring the church together in Christ centered unity and guide it forward to engage in mission well. This volume provides help for doing precisely that. May we open our ears for the “Wisdom From Babylon”.

Reviewed by Neil Bassingthwaighte & Bill Taylor

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