The Hardmen (and women) – book review

From the same authors who wrote The Rules: the Way of the Cycling Disciple – in other words, the Velominati –  this book is, in effect a demonstration of the rules in practice within professional cycling.  In fact it is one rule (Rule Five) that drives much of this book, although Hardmen contains a concise list of the all “the Rules” as an appendix.

I loved it. You might expect this, given the religious language that peppers the Velominati output.   I’ve not found a link yet between Luther’s 95 theses and the Velominati’s 95 rules, but I bet it’s there somewhere.  But as with ‘The Rules’, the subtitle of this book has a spiritual nod:  the legends of the cycling gods.

It’s often laugh-out-loud funny.  Great for me; not so for my wife when I’m quoting lines from it when she was trying to get to sleep.    The language can be ripe, though – I didn’t quote those bits to her.  It seems to ride against the feel of our times, too:  there’s not much that’s feely-touchy to the book; it’s all about shutting up and letting your legs do the talking.  In Hardmen, quitting is most certainly character failure too.  Overall there’s a gritty machismo, albeit something also seen in a few female riders.

Like much cycling lore, the golden era of this book centres on the 1970s and 80s,  perhaps because it was a time of perceived – but not actual – doping innocence.   It splits riders into five groups, few of whom are the three-week tour specialists.  Of course Eddy Merckx is there, but no Anquetil or Indurain, and certainly no Armstrong.  The greater bulk are those whose results might not be so spectacular (Merckx notwithstanding), but those riders who would grind out a victory over a single day’s classic ride.  Drugs are not lauded, but neither are the riders condemned absolutely – Tyler Hamilton gets a mention for instance, as does Marco Pantani.

As ever there’s a gospel story here.  Books like this feel good because they recognise human culture for what it is: messy, but with a higher aim; grubby, but focused on some honourable glory.    The cycling gods here are human and fallible,  prone to character flaws and failure, but still loved and lauded.  It recognises that suffering is part of the whole story and through such suffering comes glory: “suffering is about taking care of ourselves mentally so we may be each a complete person”.  Redemption here is found in suffering, and that of the rider.  That may be true.  But one day, every cycling god has to climb off the bike one last time.  And where then comes redemption?


Book review: Church Planting is for Wimps, by Mike McKinley

I love this book’s subtitle: “How God uses messed-up people to plant ordinary churches that do extraordinary things”. It’s the literary equivalent of click-bait, because well I’m a bit messed up, and I’d like to do extraordinary things, so of course I want to read this!

The reality – rather assuringly – is that Mike McKinley isn’t particularly messed up and the church that God builds through his work isn’t particularly extraordinary. Of course, then the subtitle would be “how God uses average people to plant ordinary churches that do ordinary things”. And the reality for most of us is this is exactly who and where we are, and therefore this is a super read. It’s also a quick read – I got through most of it in 90 minutes in a coffee shop, and to be honest I’m using this review to capture the main points so that they last longer in my mind than the flat white I was drinking at the time.

Mike Mckinley joined Capitol Hill Baptist church as a young punk (the UK variety), and yet found a home with people who were culturally at another end of another spectrum. After some years working and in seminary, the senior minister, Mark Dever, asked him to go and plant another church as part of CHBC’s newly formed planting strategy. This was driven simply by the practical constraints of their building. Too many people for their building and nothing more spirutual than that.

The story is simply that of a young minister going through all the anguish, decision making and work that pretty much any church planter/invigorator must go through. He went to help an old and knackered church called Guilford Baptist rediscover the gospel and life itself.  Many questions arise, and McKinley uses his biography as his answer. Will it work? Am I the right man? What about the stroppy existing members of the church? How will it affect the family and marriage? How do we grow? What about evangelism?

Mike’s ordinariness, and his American take on self-deprecating jolliness is charming. Some of the book is laugh our loud funny – I love the image Mike paints of Mark Dever being in the Reformed Mafia, along with his “boundary issues”. Of course there are questions that McKinley never answers, but it was a helpful read – two or three of these testimonies are worth as much as any accomplished manual on church planting and revitalisation.

Three things strike me.

(1) The act of church planting and revitalisation is invigorating for Christians.  It makes us excited about faith in Jesus and so we talk about it- and ideally Him – to others.  That’s evangelism.

(2) As with pretty much any significant church growth, a good chunk of it comes from an unexpected angle; the work amongst the Spanish speakers was not something that was carefully envisaged in the early days.

(3) Most of all it reminded me that the truths for church plants/revitalisation are the same as for any churches – our job is the great commission: as we go, we are to make disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them to obey and follow Jesus. That’s it.

Seven things that ‘Everyday Church’ is, and one that it isn’t!

A review of Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis.

I don’t read every non-fiction book from cover to cover. Normally a book’s chief idea is presented about a third of the way in, and all the stuff beforehand is useful introduction, and ideas set out afterward tend to be helpful application. So I find most books run out of steam about two thirds of the way through and I often think “could have been a long essay instead”. Not so with Everyday Church. It’s an easy read and worth reading right to the end – the practical stuff is dotted throughout.

The title is a misnomer though – it’s really a number of things, but not particularly ecclesiology! There’s not so much about communion or the word, for instance. I suspect that the title is there mostly to link with Total Church, one of their previous books.

This is what it is though:
1. A really practical exposition of 1 Peter – that is it’s primary job, and the authors do that really well.
2. A helpful dose of cultural analysis – how ‘the’ church fits within currently society. Their analysis of the post-Christendom era is particularly helpful.
3. Practical guidance about how we can live well as a marginal minority in post-Christendom circumstances.
4. Thought provoking stuff about why old school evangelism probably won’t continue to work in the future.
5. A confidence booster, to help us avoid being subsumed into the surrounding culture or surround ourselves with wagons and shoot anyone coming near.
6. A great encouragement for developing and being part of seven-day-a-week Christian communities.
7. Really practical advice about how a small ordinary Jesus-focused community can be inherently evangelistic.
It’s a great read. Buy it here.