Review: You Are Us

You Are Us, Gareth Gwyn. Austin: River Grove Books, 2023.

Summary: An account using case studies showing how self-understanding and inner work allows individuals to become leaders in healing polarized relationships.

It seems we are in a time of unprecedented polarization around politics, racial and sexual identity, religion, and socioeconomic status. Often, we feel these divisions are so deeply embedded, the wounds and grievances so great, that bridging those divides seem impossible. Gareth Gwyn, the founder of Let’s See Labs, an organization that develops media on various platforms and offers workshops “that facilitate sociocultural transformation” through work with individuals who become leaders in transformative cross-cultural relationships.

Gwyn traces our polarized relationships to the experience of inner trauma that often draw us into social identities of reaction in which we blame the pain on “them.” We act out of our trauma, even while being disconnected from it. Transformation results when a person, often in the presence of unconditional acceptance, is able to recognize the inner wounds and traumas that have led to looking at the world through a lens of hate and “us versus them.” The book uses several case studies (accessible as online videos through QR codes in the book) to show this transformative process. For me, the story of Scott, a former KKK member deeply alienated from his own family, who had a transformative encounter with a black man at a rehabilitation center, was the high point of this book, leading to a process through which Scott experienced inner healing and became a reconciliation leader.

The book moves from our inner healing to a posture of responsiveness that claims the freedom over our emotions and the choices of action in response to them. Recognizing our own worth, we recognize that of others. We face how we have contributed to polarities, even to our own victim status, while fully grasping both the role of the other and developing awareness of that person’s own wounds. We gain freedom both to embrace and move beyond our identities.

My only struggle with the book is that the author assumes a familiarity with the vocabulary of “inner work” which may feel like in-group jargon or “psychobabble” to some. Some explanation or translation of this terminology might help more effectively make the important case this book makes to a wider audience.

Gwyn’s book seems to illustrate an important idea articulated by Fr. Richard Rohr that, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” The cover art represents this transformation. It reads, “You Are Either With Us or Against Us.” As people do inner work dealing with their pain, Gwyn believes that we see how the other is actually “us” leading to the beginnings of bridging divides.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Speakeasy

Review: Having the Mind of Christ

Having the Mind of Christ, Ben Sternke and Matt Tebbe. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press/Formatio, 2022.

Summary: Looks at the changed paradigms one must understand to experience deep and lasting change in our lives.

If one is thoughtful at all about one’s Christian life, we grasp that somehow, this means becoming more like Christ in our attitudes, dispositions, and behavior. In short, it means change, even radical transformation in our lives. Catechesis, spiritual disciplines, and faithfulness in the ordinary are all a part of it. The authors of this book contend that along with these good things needs to come a transformed perspective–new paradigms, new ways of thinking grounded in how God engages with us in Christ.

The authors identify eight axioms that reflect this new way of seeing. In fact, they liken them to corrective lenses, that bring reality into focus for us. The eight axioms are:

Axiom 1: God Is Love, So It’s All About Love
Axiom 2: God Is Always Present and at Work
Axiom 3: God Is Just Like Jesus
Axiom 4: God Meets Us in Our Messy Reality
Axiom 5: God Cares About (All of) It More Than We Do
Axiom 6: God Does the Same Work Through Us and in Us
Axiom 7: God’s Love Always Reckons with Power
Axiom 8: God Transforms Us Through Embodied Participation

On the face of it, none of these statements seems earthshaking. Yet there is a certain “bluntness” in these axioms and fresh insight in the chapters that elaborate them that makes this come alive. For example to talk about God being love takes the authors into the idea that our lives are meant to be lived in loving communion with God–all the time, in all the ordinaries. For God to be always present and at work means we don’t have to persuade God to be working but to look for that presence and work. God doesn’t “show up.” He’s already there. I love the symmetry of God doing through us in the world what he is doing in us, but also recognize how we try to separate that work, bottling it up in us or trying to do in the world what we are not allowing God to do in us.

Perhaps the most challenging chapter is the one on God’s love always reckoning with power. The authors make the point that “God’s love is not powerblind.” They point to examples in the ministry of Jesus in which he recognizes power, redistributes power, and redefines power. They write:

“God’s love in Jesus works inside the current system of power to bring equity and justice to the marginalized and oppressed, while at the same time seeking to subvert and upend the current system of power that created the conditions for inequity and injustice to begin with. In other words, God’s love doesn’t simply put new people on the top of old oppressive hierarchies. God’s love seeks to topple the unjust hierarchies and show us how to live together in love, practicing justice and peace with one another to establish communion-in-love with one another and God” (p. 123).

Each chapter includes with an experiment of trust to help integrate the new paradigm into our lives. As the book concludes, the authors invite us into active trust, defining belief as acting as if something is true. They propose a cycle of compassionate awareness toward what is happening in our lives, bringing what we see of ourselves into creative alignment with what we see in the gospel and discern the lies we’ve believed and the truth to which we are called, culminating in cooperative action with God involving our embodied lives and relationships.

This is a helpful book not only for young believers but for those who have been following Jesus for some time. We easily take our eyes off God and make it about what we need, ought, or should do. Did you notice that each of these axioms begins with God as the subject who acts? Having the mind of Christ is having a mind centered on who God is and what God is doing in the world and with us, and in light of that, our only sensible response of loving, trusting, and acting in faith. And in that is the transformation we long for.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: Transfiguration and Transformation

Transfiguration and Transformation, Hywel R. Jones. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2021.

Summary: “Transfiguration,” referring to Christ and “transformation,” referring to the believer translate the same Greek word, metamorphosis. This work explores both why the difference and what the connection is.

Metamorphosis. This Greek word is used to describe both what happened to Jesus on the mountain with Peter, James, and John and what happens in the believer as the become increasingly like Christ. We say Jesus was “transfigured” while describing what happens to believers as “transformation.” In this compact but carefully argued book, Hywel R. Jones explains both the distinction and what the significance may be that the same word is used.

The first half of the book considers the transfiguration of Jesus. He looks at the setting, as a hinge point at the end of the Galilean ministry and the journey to the cross. He considers this both in terms of its historicity and as revelatory of the one fully God and fully human as the incarnate Son. Jesus’s divine nature is revealed in all its splendor without destroying his humanity. His careful exegesis looks at the significance of the kingdom in all three accounts and the successive scenes of the transfiguration, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the interruption of Peter and the Father’s word. Finally, this leads to its purpose–to prepare both Jesus and his disciples for his death, that his self-abasing death and the exaltation of God are one thing in this one human-divine person.

The second, and longer, part of the book discusses the believer’s transformation, inaugurated in our regeneration to new life through the Spirit of God and increased through our ongoing sanctification as we behold the glory of Christ, as our minds are renewed, and as we are recreated in the image of God. Finally, we experience transformation perfected in our glorification, where we become like Christ, purified of all sin and raised as Christ was raised in new, glorified bodies.

Hywel R. Jones summarizes the essence of the difference and connection of these two experiences of Christ, and of the believer as follows:

The transfiguration of Christ shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it. The transformation of the believer shows how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human. This is the ultimate metamorphosis that is compatible with Christian truth.’

Hywel R. Jones, p. xvi.

In Christ, his full divinity was revealed through his full humanity. For the believer, we are not nor will be divine, but are rather being formed into fully human but utterly accurate reflections of what God is like in Christ. Neither the divine nature of Jesus or the divine image of God in human beings diminishes the humanity of either.

Jones gives us a study that both reveals the glory of God in Christ and the glorious transforming work God in Christ Jesus has begun in us , is continuing, and will bring to perfect completion when we see Christ. Against scholarship that diminishes the glorious deity of Jesus to emphasize his humanity, Jones portrays the Son to be listened to, whose glory would be revealed in suffering. And for those of us who wonder if there is hope for us muddling sinners, he offers hope rooted in the work that began in our conversion, is continuing day by day as we keep looking at Christ, and will be gloriously completed. We see both the greatness of Christ, and in that greatness, the greatness of our destiny, all captured in that one word, metamorphosis.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Learning Cycle

learning cycle

The Learning CycleMuriel I. Elmer and Duane H. Elmer. Downers Grove: IVP Academiv, 2020.

Summary: The Elmer’s propose a five level process for learning that is not a transfer of information from the teacher to the student but the transformation of the life of the learner.

Most all of us remember cramming for an exam where we learned the information we needed just long enough to take the test. A week, maybe even a day later, it was gone. Part of the problem, according to the authors is that we often consider learning only a cognitive process, engaging our minds. Drawing on recent findings in neuroscience, the authors propose a learning process that engages the mind, the emotions, and our actions.

They propose a five step or level process, all build around the idea of recall, the remembering the information, and building on that:

Level 1: Recall–I Remember the Information. They look at how learning involves short, working, and long-term memory. Critical is getting to long term through rehearsal. One of the tools they talk about is the “memo to self,” a short note on one meaningful idea from a presentation. In this section, they also discuss lectures that transform. A key point is realizing that attention peaks at 10-12 minutes and then declines (a good time a change of pace, such as discussion or an exercise) and then rises again (a good time for summation). They offer a number of ideas for vibrant, memorable lectures and dealing with cognitive overload (like being the last speaker of the day).

Level 2: Recall with Appreciation. The aim here is for the learner to value the information. This introduces the affective aspect of learning, how one feels about the content of the learning. This happens in a setting that is safe, with a teacher that is credible, and where the learning experience is positive and self-affirming.

Level 3: Recall with Speculation. A learner who retains and appreciates the information then takes the step to consider how they will use the information. It involves visualizing how one might use the information in one’s life. This involves connecting new information with past content and thinking about how it may be incorporated in one’s life. It might mean adding, modifying, eliminating or strengthening a behavior.

Barriers to Change. Before moving to changed behavior, it is important to identify barriers and how to overcome them. They discuss the Reasoned Action Approach, which identifies the specific beliefs that control why and when we change our behavior and how convinced we are that the change will be beneficial. They then propose several learning tasks to overcoming barriers: the memo to myself again, role playing, accountability relationships, avoiding dangerous contexts, managing negative thoughts, and depending on Scripture and prayer.

Level 4: Recall with Practice. This is where one begins to change one’s behavior. It is important to recognize that practicing new behaviors may be uncomfortable at first and learning that at worst, we can’t do a new behavior yet. It takes time and repetition, dialogue and discussion in a community. This may be done through simulations, skill-training with practice, and the alternation of practice and debriefing, consolidating what is learned.

Level 5: Recall with Habit. This is moving beyond learning to act out a new behavior well to do that behavior consistently, where learning becomes habit. Habits involve a feedback loop of cues, routines, and rewards that we continue to practice long enough that we don’t give them conscious though. The authors discuss replacing bad habits with good ones and the importance of “keystone habit,” a small change that leads to other habitual changes. The author illustrated this with using the sound of a gecko to cue prayer.

While this learning cycle is useful in many learning settings, the authors, both committed Christians apply this to learning Christlikeness as habit becomes or forms character. They argue that no part of the learning cycle should be neglected if this is to happen:

  • Overemphasis on recall or remembering can incline people toward hypocrisy.
  • Overemphasis on valuing or emotion can incline people toward instability.
  • Overemphasis on barriers or obstacles can incline people toward paralysis.
  • Overemphasis on speculation or transfer can incline people toward inaction.
  • Overemphasis on practice or changing can incline people toward activism.
  • Overemphasis on habit or consistency can incline people toward empty routine.

The authors give us a biblically informed, and scientifically grounded approach to learning that transforms. I appreciate this, because the true aim of all education is the formation and transformation of learners in some way. Even more, the form of education that is Christian discipleship is far more than acquiring biblical knowledge, or even emotional dispositions toward the Christian faith and life. Unless truth transforms our thoughts, affections, and habitual actions toward Christlikeness, discipleship is just a bookshelf full of books, a notebook full of notes and a head full of ideas. The Elmers argue that so much more is possible, and shows the way for those who teach, and those who learn.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: The Steward Leader

steward leaderThe author of this book caught my attention in the third paragraph of his first chapter when he wrote:

“Here is the confession: in my roles as a leader I have been mostly wrong.”

He goes on to describe the trajectory of his career and reputation and observes that the point wasn’t a trajectory of greater responsibility and reputation. It was rather in following Jesus in becoming a leader of no reputation. Fundamentally, he contends that what matters most is transformed character through one’s encounter with God, where one’s greatest desire is to be accounted trustworthy by God, to be a steward of God’s trust. Then one is ready to lead.

The first part of this book lays the foundations for this steward leadership. He traces the work of the Triune God from creation of humankind as stewards of creation to the fall where we act as owners through our redemption and the call to godly stewardship.

He goes on to talk about the freedom of the steward leader, and this, I found, was one of the highlights of the book. Very simply, it is the freedom of trusting and obeying God in our relationship with Him, ourselves, others and the creation. An old chorus says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” Leaders who live like this are happy and free.

Finally he contrasts being a steward leader, which is about character with other theories of leadership including transactional, transformational and servant leadership. He urges docking the “ship” in leadership that focuses on practices and focusing on transformed character that results in trajectories of leading.

The second part of this book elaborates what transformation looks like in a leader’s relationship with God, oneself, others, and the material world. He then describes “trajectories” of leadership rooted in these transformations. He looks at both the implications for the people and the organizations one leads. Such leaders prioritize relationship with God and living out of one’s call and gifting and empower people and organizations to do the same.

One other critical idea that recurs through this book is that steward leaders are not owners and that the great temptation leaders face is to forget this. Owners are self-reliant and shallow, they consider a vision theirs and resist change, they use others, and exploit the creation.

This book proposes a new model of leading. The idea of a steward is comprehensive, addressing the leader in relation to God, self, others, and the world. The author also gives a number of examples from his own leadership journey to illustrate what it means to be a steward leader. At the same time the book seemed a bit conceptual. Perhaps the next step that would be helpful in developing this model would be to highlight organizations led by steward leaders and committed to developing them. I hope Rodin will consider a follow up book along these lines.

R. Scott Rodin proposes a new approach to thinking about leaders rooted in an old biblical idea–the steward. His focus on character rather than charisma, and on transformation rather than technique, is a welcome departure from bulk of leadership books.