Review of “Stories: How Mennonites Came to Be”

The other day I finished reading Stories: How Mennonites Came to Be by John D. Roth.  It’s one of the best church books I’ve ever read–it definitely deserves re-reading.

In order to avoid the common mistake of telling the Anabaptist story by starting in the sixteenth century, Roth opens up by relating the story of Jesus and His first followers, and summarizes the first three centuries of the Christian faith.  He then moves to the conversion of Constantine, the Roman emperor, and explains why that was a defining moment in the history of the church.

Roth provides an overview of the next thousand years, then explains the events of the Protestant Reformation.  Only then does he introduce the Anabaptist-Mennonite chapter of the story.  Indeed, only against the background of the early church, the Catholic church, and the Reformation can we really understand Anabaptists as the reformers of the Reformation.  Only in this context can we see the striking parallels between the early church and the sixteenth-century Anabaptist movement, and between the sixteenth-century movement and the position we find ourselves in today.  (The parallels with today’s Mennonite church can be seen in various periods all throughout the history of the Anabaptist movement.)

As I continued reading, I was really appreciative of the scope Roth uses to tell the Anabaptist-Mennonite story.  It really is unique!  He gives us the how and why of Anabaptists’ break with the Protestant reformers, gives a straightforward account of their persecution (neither exaggerated nor understated), and explains the scattering of the Anabaptist-Mennonite church across the globe and how this dispersion has affected the faith.

Consistent with the insight and depth of the book, Roth brings us up to the present day (very present–the book was published only 10 months ago) and helps us understand what impact our past has on our present and our future.  He explains the trademarks that distinguish Mennonites from other Christians and helps us to see them as the framework for understanding the future path of the church.

I won’t get into the details of Mennonite history and theology here, since this is just a review of the book and not a retelling of it.  But I strongly encourage you to check it out for yourself.  It’s a very informative, well-written, sensibly organized, fascinating handling of the Mennonite story.  It’s an easy read, but thought-provoking as well.  Several times I was struck by Roth’s insight and had to put the book down to reflect on the powerful truths he illuminated.

Whether you’re intimately familiar with the Anabaptist-Mennonite story or have never even heard of it, this book would be a great place to learn more about this amazing chapter in the story of God’s dealings with people.

Published in: on September 29, 2007 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  

“Facing the Giants”

On Saturday, Carolyn and I watched Facing the Giants.  Yeah, I know–what kind of Christian waits so long to see this movie? Oh well.  If it makes you feel better, I did see part of it back in February.

The movie has a really good storyline and some good dialogue.  Unfortunately, much of the acting wasn’t that great.  But if you approach it with the awareness that the movie was made by a church and not by a Hollywood studio, it’s forgivable–it has enough redeeming qualities to make up for it.

There were five aspects of the movie that really made it worth watching, and even re-watching:

(1) It’s a real Christian movie.  Too often, Christians are guilty of getting all hyper about a movie that’s merely acceptable.   We use words like “wholesome” or “family friendly.”  But that’s like getting excited because the new puppy you got for your kids doesn’t bite their heads off–nevermind that it doesn’t actually play with them.  This film, however, is a legitimate Christian movie.  It doesn’t have a “positive” message–it has a Christian message.  And I love that.  The characters pray, read their Bibles, and actually use Jesus’ name–respectfully.

(2) Some unexpected twists in the plot keep the viewer engaged.  There are at least a couple times when I found myself thinking, “Aw man, I thought it was gonna work out!  I guess they’re just trying to keep it ‘realistic.'”  And then a new twist would come, and it would work out after all.  The ending is somewhat predictable, but how the characters get there is not predictable.

(3) The main character actually grows and changes through the film.  This isn’t a Cinderella story.  It’s not bad-stuff-happens-to-good-guy-but-then-good-stuff-happens-instead.  The guy’s not even likable at the beginning of the movie.  Sure, lots of stuff is going wrong.  But stop being so whiny and grumpy!  As God works on the circumstances, however, He also works on the guy’s character.  By the end of the movie, he’s a real hero you find yourself pulling for.

(4) Inspirational moments.  This is one of the movie’s greatest strengths.  Some films just kind of move along and everything works out at the end, but they never really grab you, never really inspire you to anything.  But Facing the Giants has more than its share of inspirational moments; not just “feel good moments,” but scenes that are actually inspiring.  Watch the scene where Brock drags a kid down the football field and you’ll see what I mean.

(5) The Bible turns out to actually hold the missing key.  So often we mistakenly assume that the Bible has answers for spiritual issues, but for “real life,” we need to look elsewhere.  This movie is about football–what in the world could the Bible possibly have to say about that?  Everything, we find out.  I love the way this movie shows that Scripture really is the key to a fulfilling, God-filled life.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, I’d definitely recommend this film in spite of some less-than-stellar acting.  Not all of the acting is bad, by the way.  And its redeeming elements more than make up for what’s lacking.

Published in: on September 17, 2007 at 1:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Darren’s Thoughts On Andy’s Book

Darren Plummer, a church planter in College Park, recently reviewed the latest book by Andy Stanley, still hot off the press.  I haven’t read it yet and I know you’re all anxious for a review of it, since Stanley is the best preacher and best writer of books about ministry, so I figured I’d point to this review until I devour the book and tell you all about it here.  Besides, Darren and I have very similar tastes.  He’s even a Dallas Cowboys fan!  Anyway, you can check it out here.

Published in: on August 8, 2007 at 7:00 am  Comments (3)  

Skin by Ted Dekker

Last night I finished reading Skin, the most recent novel from Ted Dekker.  Another well done Dekker thriller!  Dekker is a  very interesting writer for several reasons, but one of the most unique things about his writing is the way it evolves so rapidly from one novel to the next.  I never know what to expect!

That was especially true with Skin.  It just didn’t go the way I expected.  For starters, I was pleasantly surprised because the book description makes it sound like a rehashing of House, a novel that Dekker recently co-authored with Frank Peretti.  I liked House, but I wanted Skin to be its own novel.  It definitely was.

The story begins with five strangers thrown together in a small town through highly unusual circumstances.  In the midst of a massive storm, a serial killer strikes–and keeps striking.  For some unknown reason, he begins targeting this group of five and draws them into a twisted homicidal mind game.

That would be enough groundwork for a thriller, but Dekker takes it further: reality itself seems to begin playing games with these five young men and women as the story takes on a Twilight Zone quality.  As the truth gradually reveals itself, we discover along with the characters that real truth lies just beyond the skin of this world.

One of the best things I like about Dekker is that he’s a master teller of modern-day parables.  That’s really what his stories–especially the ones from the past two or three years, which are quite distinct from his earlier novels–are: parables.

I’d definitely recommend Skin, but with a strong warning: it is not for the faint of heart!  The violence in the book would make it difficult for a movie version to escape with anything less than an R rating.  But if you can stomach that (it’s gross and violent, but not excessively graphic), you might find Skin to be one of those novels that genuinely affects the way you perceive the world around you… and the world within you.

Published in: on July 18, 2007 at 8:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Chicken Cheesesteak at Rayne’s Reef

Mmm.  Just want to give everyone a heads up on the best chicken cheesesteak in town: A couple days ago Carolyn and I stopped in for lunch at Rayne’s Reef in downtown Berlin (for those of you beyond Maryland’s Lower Shore–we’re talking Maryland, not Germany).

Usually the chicken cheesesteaks I get around here have a skimpy amount of this thinly-sliced meat that you just have to take on trust as actually being chicken.  And the best you can do with it is soak it in mustard, ketchup, and hot sauce.

Not so with Rayne’s Reef!  They grill chicken (real, identifiable chicken, not shredded into oblivion) and use delicious provolone cheese.  And to top it off, they have some excellent hot peppers nicely ground to spread on top.  I don’t know what kind of hot sauce they have (they brought it in a little plastic cup) but it was the perfect complement.  Oh yeah–and there was more than an ample amount of chicken and cheese in that bad boy!  Mmm.  I’m drooling on myself as I write this.

I don’t even know how to describe the flavor of that chicken cheesesteak!  It certainly didn’t taste like convenience store food, like most other chicken cheesesteaks I’ve had.  It had its own unique, zesty, totally satisfying flavor.  One warning: All this tasty stuff thrown on top of one poor little sub roll makes the roll a non-factor.  I’d suggest eating it with a fork and knife, or you’ll only succeed in making a mess, because this dealio is packed!

Published in: on July 11, 2007 at 8:21 am  Leave a Comment  

My Mic Sounds Nice, Check One…

Lately I’ve had several people ask me what we use to record our worship services at CrossWay Church.  The equipment is simple, sounds great, is only a hundred bucks combined, fits easily in a pocket, and plugs right into the computer to upload.  If anyone is interested, here are links to the two pieces we use:

The digital voice recorder, which runs on AAA batteries, can be found here.

You can click here to check out the mic.

Published in: on July 9, 2007 at 4:11 pm  Leave a Comment  


Last night Carolyn and I saw Riverdance at Wolf Trap.  I’m not one for all that dancing stuff, but it was really, really cool.  (Every time I see one of those dancer guys leap 12 feet in the air, I just can’t help thinking that he should be playing basketball.  But anyway…)  Some of the stuff just wasn’t my thing, like the Spanish lady who waved her arms around and twirled her skirt.  Or the shirtless guy who rolled around on the stage.

But most of it was simply amazing.  The technical precision of the dancers shows the kind of remarkable feat (pun intended–sorry) that people can accomplish with years of intense training.  It kind of makes me wonder what other kinds of things we could accomplish if we apply that same kind of tenacity.

Two parts of the performance were the coolest.  One was when a couple black guys came out dressed like tap dancers from Harlem in the 1920s.  They had jazz music playing as they danced with a very free-spirited, expressive style.  Then some Irish guys came out dancing very Irishy to a fiddle.  The two groups went back and forth seamlessly, alternating not only the dancing but also the music.  Then both styles of music and both styles of dancing blended as they all went at it.  It was so impressive.  It was also pretty funny, because a few times the black guys imitated the Irish dudes–it was hilarious!

The other coolest part, which occurred several times, was when most of the dancers were all out on the stage at the same time.  The sheer power of their perfectly synchronized movements was awesome.  The thunder of their feet moving rhythmically to the music–at times altogether replacing the instruments–was stirring.  They did some other things I can’t even begin to describe, but it was impressive.

There have been times when I wished I was one of those people who “get” fine art.  But I’m not.  Those fine art people might have appreciated Riverdance on a more artistic level than I did, but I don’t think they could have enjoyed it more.  If you ever get a chance to catch this show, I definitely recommend it!

Published in: on June 18, 2007 at 8:32 am  Leave a Comment