The Social Church 

Book Review by 
Doug Hibbard

What comes to mind when you think of “the social church”? For many of us “good Baptist” folks, we think of ice cream on a Sunday night or potlucks for dinner. Maybe we think of the dreaded planning of wedding showers and baby showers.

Justin Wise has a different idea of “social” under consideration in his book titled “The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication.” He’s referring to the explosion of what is called “social media” in the recent decade and how that technology can connect people. His book is an effort to share his experience of developing digital strategies for churches. 

Wise admits in his introduction that this is not intended as a “how-to” book. Instead, this is geared toward explaining the “why-to” of social media and calling for more willing involvement by churches in the digital realm. Wise lays out the need for going where people are and connecting in that space. He explains how he started a Facebook page for his church and the pleasant surprise that it became a positive ministry involvement for the body.

To his credit, he acknowledges that objections to digital participation exist and deals with the some of them. It is in the realm of answering objections, though, that “The Social Church” falls short. Falling into the category of “digital native,” Wise envisions only theoretical or emotional objections to involvement with digital media. He does not address concerns that many smaller churches have, including time involvement and cost. His response to those who are on the other side of the digital divide, the generations who are not computer-savvy, is unfortunately dismissive. Alongside this, he notes readily that such media outlets as Friendfeed or MySpace have already flashed and gone, showing the volatility of social media, but considers churches that hesitate to enter the digital realm as abandoning it rather than watching for better opportunities.

The strength of Wise’s work is his admission in the later chapters that social media is no substitute for real presence and connection. This is valuable, as he has spent much of the book advocating heavy investment of time and resources in feeding the social media accounts of the church. Admitting the power of one-to-one live relationships, though, undercuts much of his advocacy of social media as a primary focus. Instead, social media should be a secondary help for actual relationships.

Does Wise’s “The Social Church” persuade? Not very well. He speaks with a certainty that will embolden social media advocates and may draw a few hesitant folks toward the social side, but this may well alienate the major objectors. Also, while Wise’s subtitle is “A Theology of Digital Communication,” he spends as much effort presenting marketing and technology information as he does scriptural information. Is it a helpful book? In a limited manner, yes. However, I would look elsewhere for a comprehensive guide for church social media.

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church in Almyra.


‘Called to Stay’

Book Review by 
Rusty Keltner

As I skim over the books in my library, I see that most of those books clearly fall into easy-to-define categories like preaching, reference, Christian living, spiritual disciplines and so on. Even though I use those books often, there is a very small part of my library that challenges me and cannot be easily labeled like the rest of my collection. “Called to Stay: An Uncompromising Mission to Save Your Church” by Caleb Breakey is a book that fits into that category. It is written to those who have already or are planning to leave the church, and it calls them to stay and become agents of change. Breakey’s book comes from his own personal experience as a believer who was tired of the church not living up to its calling.  

“Called to Stay” is easily divided into three sections. In the first, the author lays out clear biblical reasons for not abandoning the church. The first three chapters may be the best part of the book. They consist of some great arguments from Scripture and an introduction to the role of the infiltrator, a role that is referred to constantly throughout the book. Breakey encourages those who have been disenchanted with church to begin changing the church instead of leaving. He writes, “Investing in believers – no matter which spiritual stage they’re in – is a massive part of the great commission.”

The second section of the book is a practical, how-to guide to being an infiltrator. Breakey discusses the need to dig deep and get beyond the surface with other believers.  He gives a number of questions and ways to take average conversations in a deeper spiritual direction. In this section, the author also deals with the role of the Holy Spirit, praying and dealing with emotions. The infiltrator gets to know other believers better by gauging how they respond to four areas of the Christian life: love, obedience, trust and knowledge.  

In the concluding chapters, readers are told when they should leave the church and are encouraged to stay if their church does not meet those guidelines. At the end of each chapter, Breakey leads readers to an online video that discusses the chapter and invites them to have a discussion about the chapter with him and others through social media.

Overall, this book presents a great argument for staying in the church in spite of the flaws we so often see. While it is primarily written to the laity, pastors will also benefit from reading this book. Breakey did a great job of addressing a very current issue in the church from a biblical and practical standpoint.

Rusty Keltner is pastor of First Baptist Church in Corning. The Arkansas Baptist News welcomes book reviews from Arkansas Baptist pastors and church members on religion-based books, preferably published in the past six months. Reviews should be 350-400 words in length.


Story of ‘Jonah’ wows crowd with tech, relevant message

BRANSON, Mo. – To say the Sight & Sound Theatres production of “Jonah” is a dramatic and spiritually moving retelling of the biblical story would be an understatement.

A preview of “Jonah,” an original musical by the production company, was held for media and members of the Branson business and civic community March 21, one day prior to its official opening.

A press release for the show provides an accurate summary: “This epic production brings the familiar Bible story to life as the audience witnesses Jonah’s tribulation and God’s grace and enduring love.”

Sight & Sound Theatres is known for wowing audiences through the use of technology and elaborate sets – and the $3 million “Jonah” production is no exception.

A few highlights of the production include: 

- Special effects to create an underwater experience with glowing jellyfish, coral reefs and a gigantic fish.

- 71 set pieces, including the largest single set piece ever built by Sight & Sound – a 30,000-pound boat that is 50 feet long, 28 feet high and 50 feet wide (when the hull doors open).

- A cast of nearly 50 professional actors in elaborate costumes.

- A script that is uplifting, entertaining and full of adventure, all while offering a powerful and timely message.

“Jonah” premiered in 2012 at the Sight & Sound theatre in Lancaster County, Pa. The production broke all previous attendance records, as it was seen by more than 850,000 people during its one-season run, according to the production company.

As Jonah’s adventure takes him through a terrible storm, an enormous whale hovers over audience members – encompassing practically the entire lower level of the huge Branson theatre.

Soon, Jonah finds himself in the wicked empire of Nineveh and faces numerous struggles while learning to trust the Lord.

“Sight & Sound has always offered shows for the whole family, but ‘Jonah’ is perhaps our most family-friendly script ever,” said Josh Enck, chief creative officer for the production company. “Children are familiar with the story as a favorite from Sunday school and really enjoy the immersive quality of the show.”

Sight & Sound Theatres, founded in 1976, is the nation’s largest Christian theatre company, according to a press release. While it is a ministry, the company is not affiliated with any external organization or any particular church denomination. It is a family-owned and operated, for-profit organization that accepts no charitable support.

 “Jonah” will run from March 22 through Dec. 31, 2014. More information is available at

– Arkansas Baptist News staff review


God’s Story, Your Story

Book Review by 
George A. Peters Sr.

With use of modern Bible translations, his family’s personal Christian practices and his church pastoring events, Max Lucado shows how God’s story in Jesus became and continues to become alive when people truly turn to Him.

The chapter “You Know Satan’s Next Move” is a great eye-opener for the tricks that devils and demons use to divert and destroy Christian testimony and deeds. Another chapter describes how God’s voice became real for people in the Bible and becomes just as real for people in our day and time.

Lucado describes the miraculous power of Jesus’ death and atonement on the cross, using illustrations from biblical times, as well as modern times – all equally touching.

The resurrection power of Christ, both in His first confrontations with people, and in present-day times, could not be more effectively described.

Our human weaknesses and tendencies to drift to self-sufficiencies – rather than to fully depend on God’s supernatural power – are honestly and revealingly described.

The chapter “Power Moves In” begins with the unforgettable transformation of Peter “from wimp to warrior in 50 days.” The author compares the birth of electric power for the masses and the lack of understanding people had to grasp the new “electric” asset they had with the role and power of the Holy Spirit in peoples’ lives. A couple of very honest, yet difficult, personal experiences of the author are given to show how we may need the Holy Spirit’s personal guidance in our most down-to-earth living.

The spread of God’s story in the Book of Acts is compared to the 90-pound golden retriever of Lucado and wife, Denalyn, and how the dog was trained to recognize their home’s open and shut door system by a combination of signals to entrances and exits.

Paul and Silas had to learn about the closing and opening of doors by God in His guidance and directions to share His story. So also we must learn the same principles.

Another chapter describes Paul’s early years – in vocational training, Scriptural teaching, acquisition of language skills and Roman citizenship – as a graphic illustration of the truths of the Bible verse Romans 8:28.

In closing chapters, Lucado writes about the Second Coming, the resurrection of believers and victories over disease and death. One moving story was about the Lucado daughter, Sara, and her grandmother – Max Lucado’s mother, Thelma – both graduating at the same time. At the moment Sara was receiving her high school diploma to the cheers of their family, her grandmother was graduating at the same moment – to glory in heaven! Seventy-six years separated the two family members, but they were graduating at the same moment.

After Lucado’s final chapter, another writer has a brief discussion and action guide for each chapter, should a person or group wish to follow it.


Teach the Text Commentary Series

Book Review by 
Doug Hibbard

Commentaries. They are the heavy box in every pastoral library, the bent shelf in the church library and the power tool of the Bible student. Like any power tool, the commentary can be overused by those unwilling to do the hard work themselves or underused by those afraid of the power. Commentaries come in a variety of styles, with some being academic and technical but impractical and others being devotional and inspirational but shallow. 

Why, then, should you add the Teach the Text Commentary Series to your overladen shelves? Let us consider R.T. France’s volume on the Gospel of Luke as an example of the series. Other volumes, like Romans by Ouachita Baptist University’s C. Marvin Pate, are available and follow a similar format.

First, France’s Luke is written with the teacher in mind. Rather than subdividing the text into traditional chapters, France breaks the Gospel of Luke into teachable segments. This results in 65 sections examining the context and culture of the passage and providing insights on how to teach the material.

Second, France’s Luke assumes the reader has a Bible of their own. Rather than reprint the entire text of a passage, the space is used to examine the text. This recognizes the various translations in use and allows for the teacher or pastor who works from the original languages as well. 

Third, France’s Luke is full-color. I understand why previous generations of book publishing were monochromatic, but with the advent of computer-based printing, the use of color is a reasonable expense. There are shaded boxes to highlight key themes and sections. Then there are full-color photos of artwork, archaeology and architecture that illuminate the theme of the text.

Fourth, France’s Luke refers the reader to teaching illustrations for each segment of text. These may be taken from literature or music, from history or personal life, but they all suggest ways to help the teacher clarify the major message of the passage.

In all these, Luke and other volumes of the Teach the Text series do some of the teacher’s heavy-lifting, but not all of it. A good balance is struck between providing background information, linguistic comments, inspirational ideas and then leaving the reader to compile this material with other sources, all to support the most important thing: teaching the text of Scripture. This makes the Teach the Text series a recommended resource for pastors and teachers.

Doug Hibbard is pastor of First Baptist Church, Almyra.