Is It a Lost Cause? Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that I failed to do a monthly list on my watching/playing habits the past month. While I somewhat enjoyed doing it, there were a number of issues with it that I didn’t like and I am going to try to go to a more one at a time examination of books, movies, or video games that I am currently engaged with. My hope is to address them shortly after reading or watching them so that I can give my thoughts as clearly as possible.

So that leads us to the subject of this post Marva Dawn’s Is It a Lost Cause? Having the Heart of God for the Church’s Children. As I’ve admitted in my monthly reading posts this book has been a struggle to get through for me. It is not because of my inherent disagreement with Dawn on the principles that she espouses, but it is more that while her theory and concerns are things I can agree with, her practical solutions just fall flat for me on a regular basis. I feel though, that I am getting ahead of myself and I should get into what the book is about.


The title of the book may have you thinking that it is about how to do activities or programs in the church better, but it isn’t. The aim of Is it a Lost Cause? is much deeper and looks to strike at the heart of the matter rather than the outward¬†trappings. Dawn’s center of focus rests on the idea of those who claim to be following and claiming Christ to be an alternative parallel society to the “principalities and power” of the world. While that focus is not necessarily one I would disagree with, they are rather vague ideas. What does an alternative parallel society look like? It is often in these details that I find myself disagreeing with Dawn.

Let’s start with what I do agree with. It is always so easy to point out the disagreements, but I’d rather start with the focus on what I do agree with her about. The main idea that I agree with is the church functioning as a community that is focused on Christ. What does that look like? One of the first principles that Dawn gives on this matter is that we must reject the improper focus on individualism. If you have a group of people all focused on themselves then a true community is never able to be established. Our faith is not meant to be a solo path, but I agree with Dawn that many people seem to try to do it alone or at least within their own family unit. Her call is that we be connected as community and for that community to be involved with the development of each other and of children, even if they are not your own.

Now this commitment brings out a number of challenges that Dawn highlights. Are we willing to wrestle as a community with texts of scripture that challenge us? Are we willing to give and receive admonishment from those around us in the community? Are we willing to have people in our community that we disagree with and can practice humility and reconciliation? Are we willing to have people in our community that reflects the diversity of our local makeup? Is the community involved in sharing their gifts and talents in the life of the congregation and the life of the local area for Christ’s sake? Are the leaders equipping and challenging people to be willing to go towards service instead of being served?

Currently, community has become somewhat of a buzzword, but I think that Dawn does a good job of presenting the real challenges and difficulties that real community entails. It is no completely idealistic view of community and how easy it is, rather it is a look that says real community takes work, but it is a work that is worth it. These aspects of Is it a Lost Cause? are challenging, but they are a challenge that I feel we need to face.

Now while developing such a community is indeed part of this parallel or alternative society, she believes that there are other challenges that we face from what is in our culture. These challenges are the ideas of avoiding suffering, materialism, focus on entertainment, information overload, violence and sexuality. These are all topics that I feel need to be addressed, but I often found myself at odds with her practical suggestions on how to face these challenges.

With that said, it is probably time to get into some of the problems of I have with Dawn’s book. I guess one thing that bothers me about this is that she puts a lot of focus on education and behavior. She tends to propose a view that says if we teach and model certain things to our children and do not expose them to negative influences in culture that we will have children that follow in the faith. While I don’t believe this is a bad thing, I don’t know if it is true. Perhaps it is just because I do not come from a Christian family that I view things this way. My commitment to following God and serving Him isn’t based off of my education growing up or my avoiding certain influences.

I guess I feel that a lot of the focus ended up on behavior, and to me the danger there is religiousness. An ability to look very good and moral, but not necessarily being connected to God or really seeking after Him. I got that vibe from the two or three times where Dawn mentions that she doesn’t own a television and that nothing would change her mind. I’m okay with that being the position she has, but she mentions it a good number of times and while she tries to say it is okay if one is different, the time she talks about the topic doesn’t really leave you the idea that she is okay with people watching TV, because she finds nothing worth watching on it. While I do believe behavior is an aspect of our walk with Christ, I don’t think it is the only one, after all we can’t behave our way into the Kingdom of God.

Beyond this I just found some of her practical solutions as not really addressing the issue at hand. Like in the chapter on consumerism she talks about how she doesn’t think that Christians should teach their children about Santa Claus and commercialize when we celebrate Christ’s birthday. I can understand these concerns, but her solutions just didn’t seem to make much sense to me. One suggestion was to replace Santa Claus with the Christ Child as the one who delivers gifts. I think I’d rather keep Santa than turn the Christ Child into some gift delivering persona. It just seems like a reduction and false use of Christ.

The other idea she presented regarding getting rid of the commercialism of Christmas was to give gifts on alternate holidays, like Epiphany or the Festival of St. Nicholas. To me changing the date really doesn’t matter, you’re doing it to replace giving gifts on Christmas and it is therefore still Christmas that results in the exchanging of gifts. This is not to say she doesn’t give some good options, but that they are just very hit or miss.

Another aspect of the book that doesn’t set well with me is that Dawn has a decided anti-technology streak. Again she tries to say that she doesn’t view technology as a negative, but often that is said after she has a number of paragraphs on the negatives of technology. She may be trying to be unbiased, but those attempts just don’t ring true to me. I don’t see how someone can call things a waste of time and full of filth and truly say that she doesn’t view it as inherently bad and something that should be completely avoided.

I guess what gets me is why she hits on technology so hard. I somewhat understand it, but at the same time the things she presents as alternatives are not necessarily inherently good either. I’m sure that there are many books that are full of things that are not family friendly. Reading is also a very anti-social activity often. I say that as one who grew up loving to read and still does. It may be an act that uses and develops intelligence more than TV, but even reading has its negatives. Sports and the even the arts can become selfish ventures where it is more about becoming the best at the expense of others rather than fostering true community. To simply label these things as good and technology like TVs and computers bad seems neither fair nor very accurate. I honestly wonder what she thinks about such things now, this book was written in 1997, and in the past 15 years things have only progressed with technology.

Lastly, I guess I just get a vibe of the old times were better from the book. Or maybe if it isn’t that, it is the idea that Dawn had the ideal upbringing as a child and that all parents should follow that example. I don’t think that she believes this possible, but I felt that it was there at times. There just seems to be the idea that if we didn’t have TV or computers, or things like that then there would be more children who grow up to become Christian. There are negatives to the introduction of new technologies, of that I have no doubt, but I do feel that there are positives as well. Is technology or television a replacement for parenting? No, but neither is it something to be avoided at all costs either. I imagine that there were those who didn’t follow the Christan faith even before television, and that there will continue to be those who do not as well.

So these are my final thoughts on Is It a Lost Cause? As I said at the beginning I thought the book had good principles and challenging thoughts, but it just rubbed me the wrong way in places. I won’t say that I enjoyed reading the book. However, I will say that it is the kind of book that needs to be read even if it isn’t enjoyable. It will probably challenge you at least on one level if not more. I don’t always think that Dawn represents the subject she tackles completely unbiased or always at the right angle, but I would say that it seems her heart is definitely in the right place.

Books of June: Not Much New

Well here we are at the end of another month, and I must admit I haven’t read that much this month. Basically I’ve finished one book, started another (fiction that isn’t a picture book), and I’m slowly working through about three other books as well. I’ve decided that I’m only going to post pictures and links to the book, if the book is new, so if you’re interested in continuity then I’ll refer you to last month’s list of books here.

Of the books that I’ve been in the process of reading, the book I’ve finished was Searching for Home by M. Craig Barnes. Having commented on it the last two lists, I’m not sure I have much more to add to it. It was a good read and one that wound up good for discussion. If the idea or concept of seeking for ones home is something that resonates or your are interested in I’d say to give it a read. It will make you think about how the concept of home relates to our walk with God.

The other books that I’m still wading through are Is it a Lost Cause? by Marva Dawn; Conflict & Community in Corinth by Ben Witherington III; and King’s Cross by Tim Keller. It is not that any of these books are bad, I’ve just not been going through them very fast. With Is it a Lost Cause? it is more that the subject matter is challenging and therefore not easy to read very fast. It also doesn’t help that while I agree with her principles and concepts behind her chapters, I tend to disagree with her practical examples. I guess one could say it isn’t a book I enjoy reading, but one that I find is helpful almost because it challenges me and I disagree with parts of it.

Conflict & Community in Corinth is more of a commentary and well it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that it is slowing going to read through one of those. Lastly, King’s Cross is a book I’m reading for my small group and only read a chapter a week. So while I’m traversing through them slowing they are all good for various reasons. This all leads to the one new book of the month and that is:

The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – While I’ve heard of this book for a decent amount of time, what actually got me interested in actually reading it was the movie that came out about 6-7 years ago. I had watched it, heard that the book was better (isn’t it always?) and became interested in reading the book.

I’m not very far in the book, but it is a pretty enjoyable read. The basic premise is that Earth is going to be destroyed in order to make room for a hyperspatial express route. The thing is only one “man” knows this is about to happen, because this “man” Ford Prefect isn’t really a human, but an alien stranded on Earth and researcher for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. On the day he learns of this planned destruction he tells one of his human friends, Arthur Dent and the two of them survive the destruction by hitchhiking on one of the ships that is demolishing earth. Thus begins a journey throughout the universe.

I’m not sure I have too much more to say at this point. It should be noted though that this is the collection of all five novels by Douglas Adams. Since I’m only a handful of chapters into the first book of five, there is only so much to say. However, I have found the book to be amusing. It doesn’t take long to realize that this book is more than just a piece of fiction and pokes an elbow or two into the ribs of society while at it. So far nothing has seemed to outdated, but I could see that this is an area that maybe won’t fit the best today. We shall see.

So that is what I’ve read and am currently reading. Maybe next month will have more new books. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Books of May

Another month has gone by and it seems like it just started. I didn’t get through as many books this month as I did last month. Partly because a couple of books I’m going through are a little tougher for me to read through faster so it slows the pace down a bit. So here are the books that I read in May.

Finished:

1. Jesus Freaks by dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs – The only serious book that I got through this month. I’ve already written some of the thoughts that arose from this book here. This is basically a book on those who have suffered for their faith in Christ. It ranges from the times of the early church clear until the late 1900s. The only reason it doesn’t go further than that is because it was published in 1999.

It was a good read in the sense that it challenges your own faith. It causes you to ask would I be able to go through the experiences that the people in the book did for their faith? Would I be able to love the people who caused my sufferings? A more relevant question is am I even willing to love those who do not agree with me or who look down on me due to my faith? If there are those who can love and wish good for those who tortured, imprisoned, and killed them then shouldn’t I be able to love those around me no matter how they view me? Thinking about questions like these made the book worth it. Was it something that could only be done by this book? No, but it is a book that looks on the lives of those who suffered or died for following Jesus.

It does get a bit overwhelming reading story after story of people dying and suffering for their faith. Not to belittle or trivialize their sacrifices, but it doesn’t make for pleasant or enjoyable reading. It is good to know and hear such stories, but I don’t think I would ever find such stories enjoyable to read. Another nitpick I have with the book is that it doesn’t always distinguish when some stories are based off the best information we have. Some of the stories we have of the deaths of the twelve disciples are not as substantiated as others, so I wished they let that be known a bit better. As I said though this is a nitpick and I know it is. If you’re looking for a book on martyrs that spans a wide length of time then this would work well. There may be more recent books that have tracked these stories into the 2000s, but I’m just not sure.

2. Mal and Chad: The Biggest, Bestest Time Ever! by Stephen McCranie – This book is nothing but a for fun book. It is a book based off a comic strip that I first found online at malandchad.com. He started online and then when he got the chance to be published he shifted to doing these books. The book revolves around two protagonists: Mal, a child genius who is trying to hide how smart he is; and Chad, his faithful dog who can also speak like a human.

It would probably be easy to start comparing to another more well-known boy and animal duo Calvin and Hobbes, but I’m not sure the comparison fits entirely. Of course I’m not versed enough in Calvin and Hobbes to give definitive ways they are different. It seems to me though that even if some of the premises are the same that they are enough different for my tastes.

For this book the various scenarios center around an assignment where the kids in Mal’s class have to write an essay on what they want to be when they grow up. This lead to Mal trying out various occupations to see if he likes them. Like being a a diver by shrinking down and going diving in the sink or figuring out if he’s interested in digging up dinosaur bones by going back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The stories are fun, lighthearted, and can even have a good little nugget of seriousness to think about if you so choose.

I’ve enjoyed this series, and what is best is that you don’t even have to buy this to get a taste of Mal and Chad. Going to the website allows you to read all the comics that the creator produced before his shift to book format. If you like what you see there, the books are more of the same. If you don’t like it, then don’t go into these books expecting something different.

In-Progress:

¬†1. Conflict & Community in Corinth by Ben Witherington III – Basically this is a commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. It’s a decently thick book and as one could imagine reading through a commentary isn’t exactly fast work. It is a book that I’m reading through to see if it is worth keeping from Seminary. So far it has been pretty good. As the subtitle says Witherington deals a lot with some of the sociological aspects of Corinthians as well as their use of rhetoric.

Overall it has been good so far, but it is definitely one of the reasons why I didn’t get through more books this month. I tend to read it in little sections at a time so I don’t get too bogged down. This is definitely a book for study and not just leisurely reading. I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t done with this by the time next month rolls around.

2. Is It A Lost Cause? by Marva J. Dawn – This has been another book that I’ve been going through slowly. For some reason Marva Dawn and I just don’t entirely get along. Perhaps it would be better to say that we have a love-hate relationship.

The main idea of her book is how to raise Godly children in a world that will be against such things. She asks is it a lost cause in this day and age to attempt such a feat? All in all this premise isn’t a bad one, and I do think Dawn asks good questions. However, I’m not sure I agree with where she comes from, the first chapter seems to lament the behavior of current children more than it does the lack of a Christ centered existence.

The other thing that gets mixed thoughts is that she seems to come down pretty hard on the idea of “relevance.” I understand this to a point, we can easily become too worried about relevance and not enough about the substance of God’s word. However, we can all too easily be focused on God’s word and not on how to effectively have people understand within our current culture. Maybe some of these concerns will be addressed, but I remember having mixed to negative feelings for this book when I had to read it for seminary so I’m not sure if it does change too much. We shall see where I land.

3. Searching for Home by M. Craig Barnes – This is still on my list from last month since I only read one chapter a week. It continues to be an enjoyable book though. While the emphasis in on where home is, and he would say that it is with God, he really hits on a lot of related topics. The pain of the journey home; how we can know we need to go home but do nothing; even how does our ultimate journey with God affect the choices that we make in our lives.

He handles these topics well. Not that he gives pat answers or comprehensive solutions, but presents these topics in a way that almost recasts ones perception of looking at the topic. Like the chapter on choices challenges the notion that there is one choice that God has for us for our lives and if we don’t figure that out we’re settling for second best. In this idea we have to choose what is right for God to give us His best. However, Barnes says that we have already been given God’s best in His Son Jesus, and that maybe God doesn’t always care as much about what job we have or where we move to as much as He cares if we’re connected to Him and living wherever we are and whatever we do for Him.

Add in the fact that he often finds some way to lightly connect his chapters to Dante’s Divine Comedy and it makes for a very interesting read. I should be done with this for a final verdict next month, I only have like three more chapters so it should be done by the end of June.

So these are the books of May. You may wonder where King’s Cross is from last month. Well the truth is it didn’t get read at all this month. My small group was invovled with something else this past month and didn’t read it. It should be making a return next month though as well. Also if you want to you can track what I’m reading more than once a month since I started a Goodreads account. So if for some reason this is interesting for you, my profile is here.