What does it mean that God dwells with us and invites us to dwell with Him? These are the questions Richard Foster explores in a slender volume with the subtitle Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation.
J.I. Packer nails the book's strengths and its weakness in his blurb on the back: "mild on sin but firm on grace." Foster emphasizes God's gracious work and the Christ who is "patiently at work to lead us in gradual and humble steps through all the twists and turns and successes and failures of our lives." Foster generously finds in a variety of Christian traditions insight into the Christian life: "How narrow our vision would be if we limited it only to our own understanding!"
During their work with Intervarsity, Everts and Schaupp saw a pattern to the experiences of "postmodern folks as they come to faith." They call those steps "thresholds": from distrust to trust and from complacent to curious; from closed to change to open to change; from meandering to seeking; and finally, crossing the threshold of the kingdom. They describe people at each threshold.
Particularly helpful is their discussion of how to provoke curiosity about the gospel. Although many Christians might be comfortable giving answers, they show that Jesus was a master of asking good questions: "Let's ask intriguing questions that help our friends think about life from angles they have never considered."
You may have noticed that Christians are talking a lot about narrative and story. That can be a good thing, but it can cover up fuzzy thinking about crucial doctrinal issues. James Choung explains the importance of narrative in evangelism as he reduces the broad narrative of the Bible to its basics and illustrates it with simple line drawings: People are "designed for good," "damaged by evil," "restored for better," and "sent together to heal."
Choung's broad-brush approach hides important detail. He reduces the gospel to one phrase-"The kingdom of God is near"-and glosses over the importance of the cross: "You're used to one version, but there are others. . . . The work of the cross is way too big to be explained by one theory."
Several years ago Laura Sessions Stepp wrote Unhooked, a heartbreaking book about the campus sexual hook-up culture. Stepp ignored the role of religion in student sexual ideals and behavior.
Donna Freitas' book takes on that subject directly. She surveyed and conducted in-depth interviews with students from seven schools-evangelical, Catholic, non-religious private, and public. With the exception of those at the evangelical colleges, students' vague notions of spirituality offered no help in navigating dangerous sexual waters. She describes a soul-deadening campus culture, where professors and administrators fail to encourage an atmosphere that promotes healthy spiritual formation.
The academic nature of Sex & the Soul sometimes gets in the way of its storytelling, but those interested in campus life will find much to ponder.
Donna Freitas includes interviews with several evangelicals that show a troubling tendency to think that sex is "the worst of all sins." One described feeling guilty after kissing his girlfriend: "I feel that I'm going to run out of grace." Another young man told Freitas: "In every sexual act, shame is in company with it, so God becomes less of a loving God and more of a God that hates you because you make a mistake."
One wishes that those students understood grace as does evangelist Greg Laurie. His memoir, Lost Boy (Regal, 2008), provides snippets of his unstable life with an alcoholic mother who married and divorced many men, his teenage drug abuse, and his conversion through the ministry of Calvary Chapel's Chuck Smith. It is too cursory to be a great memoir, but it testifies consistently to God's grace in saving sinners.