July 1, 2018

Following the Spirit & Beyond Defeat

Our world is a hostile environment for disciples of Jesus Christ & Great ambition, and unfailing Christian faith.

Stephen Chavez & Lael Caesar

68 1 6 0Following the Spirit: Disciple-making, Church-planting, and Movement-building Today, by Peter Roennfeldt, Signs Publishing, Warburton, Victoria, Australia, 2018, 311 pages. Softcover, US$9.99 (Kindle edition). Reviewed by Stephen Chavez, Adventist Review.

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Our world is a hostile environment for disciples of Jesus Christ.” If that sentence (the first sentence in the first chapter) isn’t enough to create a little urgency in readers’ minds, they need a reality check.

Since the dawn of the twenty-first century the religious world has seen epic changes. Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, materialism, Atheism, and secularism have invaded mainstream society. Christianity, while still a powerful force around the world, has seen its influence decrease markedly in Europe, North America, Asia, and the South Pacific.

Still, the author of Following the Spirit rightly observes that first-century Christianity not only survived but thrived. What was its secret? Its followers were inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The world inhabited by the earliest Christians is not so different from the one we inhabit today. What we need, according to Peter Roennfeldt, a former pastor, mentor to pastors, and church-planting specialist, is to examine the five different stages of growth described in the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles. They are: (1) Preparation: An Expanded Vision, (2) Foundations: Witnessing in Jerusalem; (3) Participation: Scattered to Samaritans and Gentiles; (4) Leadership Multiplication: To the Ends of the Earth; and (5) Movements Multiply.

Then in 26 guides (not chapters) the author carefully examines the 28 chapters of the book of Acts, explaining and highlighting the cultural, religious, and economic conditions encountered by those early believers. It is fascinating reading. The material is scholarly (including thorough annotations), but is also eminently readable: you don’t have to have a degree in religion to understand it.

Like Roennfeldt’s previous book, Following Jesus, Following the Spirit is interactive. Each guide has application questions designed to stimulate conversation about how the principles described can be made practical in everyday life. It is an ideal tool for Sabbath afternoon or midweek small-group Bible studies.

In the appendices of Following the Spirit the author observes that the book of Acts is still being written. As long as Christians are motivated by the Holy Spirit, there will still be acts of the apostles (those who are sent).

68 2 4 7Beyond Defeat

By James E. Johnson Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, 2001, 288 pages. Reviewed by Lael Caesar, Adventist Review.

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Book reviews (or audio or video reviews) are usually for introducing readership to possible new sources of information, inspiration, edification, and even entertainment.

I was introduced to James E. Johnson’s autobiography, Beyond Defeat,  as one of those books that you cannot put down until you are through with reading it. I wonder now if it will ever be through with me, this book about indomitable will, great ambition, and unfailing Christian faith.

Twenty-four untitled chapters find their bookends in Chuck Colson’s introduction and Randy Maxwell’s parting note entitled “The Story Continues.” Finally, two pages, entitled “Outstanding Accomplishments,” follow Maxwell’s bookend and list 21 firsts in Johnson’s life, including dramatically remarkable milestones he was told would be impossible to attain, sometimes by individuals who promised to make them impossible for him to attain.

Suggesting its significance for him, Johnson lists first among his “outstanding accomplishments” being the first African American to become a commissioned warrant officer in the United States Marine Corps. Reading the list is reading an outline of his life story, noting the breakthroughs he achieved by daring, determination, intellectual and social gifts and, spiritually, a faith he calls “Word Faith” in the God who has promised to move mountains and who keeps His promises. Most of Washington, D.C.’s prayer breakfasts today owe their beginnings and existence to James “Johnny” Johnson.

Johnson’s story develops against the singular backdrop of his larger-than-life father, who lived to be 104, and passed when he did only because he refused to have a gangrenous leg amputated: having gone through life with two feet, he would die with his two feet. To the end of his father’s life, Johnson would seek out his counsel or recall his wisdom at crucial turns. The book succeeds in much the same manner as Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime succeeds for him: for Noah, it is an ode to his mother, and for Johnson it is an oblique yet mighty confirmation of his father’s strength. In keeping with his 21 years as a marine and his years of service as assistant secretary of the Navy, Johnson has decorated the opening page of each of the 24 chapters as well as Maxwell’s afterword with the picture of a Joint Service Commendation medal.

The book’s almost 300 pages overflow with narratives on a scale of their own, a scale determined by the exceptional character of Johnson’s dad, a man for whom there was no circumstance whatsoever that could constrain him to accept a handout, hate his abusers, compromise his God, or skimp on his generosity to the world.

First published in 1978, the book contains updating, through Maxwell’s note, “The Story Continues,” that recounts how Johnson found and eventually joined the Adventist Church, through the influence of such wonderful Christian individuals as Paul Glen and Martin Weber. If the manuscript deserves criticism of any sort, it may be this: its recounting of the author’s near-death experience remains as told in 1978 when Johnson still believed it possible to meet and communicate with departed loved ones. Modifying that account or recognizing its perilous implications should certainly have been part of an update that shows God’s providence in guiding Johnson into clearer understanding of the truths of Scripture and into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Such a clarification is not to be minimized. But there is enough valuable insight, inspiration, edification, and even entertainment in this story to justify contacting your Adventist Book Center and requesting your own copy.

Stephen Chavez & Lael Caesar
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