“Don’t Stop Believing” by Michael E. Wittmer

Posted in book review, ChurchETHOS by Nathan Creitz on May 12, 2009

51VDd6LY8nLMichael E. Wittmer writes 1980’s rock and roll songs books that are rocking the establishment in more ways than one. His first book Heaven Is A Place On Earth has now been followed by his second book, Don’t Stop Believing. I’m suggesting that his next book be “Karma Chameleon” but somehow I doubt that will happen.

In the Introduction to “Don’t Stop Believing,” (from Zondervan) Wittmer begins to set the stage for providing a third way between the ubiquitous liberal vs. conservative divide. In fact, he changes the terms to postmodern vs. conservative. I was slow to accept his terminology because I feel like I’m both postmodern and conservative but as I continued reading I began to understand his methodology. In fact, the goal of the book is to come to a middle ground while shaving off the problematic tendencies of both liberals and conservative. I found that I was in agreement with what he was talking about and that’s why I somewhat identified with both categories.

As Wittmer defined his terms and described the postmoderns and the conservatives, I was struggling to recognize those he was describing. He contrasts the worst of the fundamentalist conservatives with the worst of the postmodern liberals and other than TBN and the Ooze, I just couldn’t get there. However, as the first few chapters rolled on I realized that he was highlighting the extremes to illustrate where each of us might be headed if we stray from right belief (orthodoxy) or from right practice (orthopraxy). He is dealing with a systemic problem that both camps seem to have. He did a great job of showing how we have the tendency to align ourselves with one or the other camp. The best way is to have right belief AND right practice.

Wittmer proposes a third way, and that third way unfolds with how we answer the following questions. For too long we’ve simply answered these questions as liberals or conservatives, but Wittmer encourages us to answer them as followers of Jesus who show their love for Him by obeying Him but by also believing in Him.

What are your answers to these questions?

Must you believe something to be saved?
Do right beliefs get in the way of good works?
Are people generally good or basically bad?
Which is worse: Homosexuals or the bigots who persecute them?
Is the cross divine child abuse?
Can you belong before you believe?
Does the Kingdom of God include non-Christians?
Is hell for real and forever?
Is the Bible God’s true word?

Depending on whether or not you are liberal or conservative you might answer those questions in many different ways. Wittmer does a great job of helping us find an anchor in Scripture and tradition but also in the world around us so that we can answer these questions with confidence.

This is a fun, easy-to-read, scholarly book. There are 166 pages of content from Intro to Epilogue, but there are an additional 42 pages of Notes. Don’t let that scare you; as end notes, they aren’t in the way as you read through the book the first time, but there is so much there that you will want to read this book again soon to explore the extra information the author has so meticulously included at the back of the book.

This is a pretty brief book review but I find it to be a well-written and important book and almost exactly what I want to say here at ChurchETHOS. So, I’ve decided to begin a series on it that will dedicate one post for each of the above questions. The series will be interrupted by other posts at various times but at the end I will include a follow up post that will include links to each post in the series. Also, I will be reaching out to the author to see if I can set up an interview with him through email.

Free Books

Finally, to show how much I’m behind this book, I want to give away a free copy. In addition to the free copy I’m giving away personally, Zondervan Academic has offered to give another eleven copies away to ChurchETHOS subscribers. So now I’m giving away twelve free books. Find out how here.

I hope you enjoy the book!


22 Responses

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  1. Eve said, on May 12, 2009 at 12.50 pm

    Looks like a great book, I am a subscriber and I will email you in a minute!

  2. Andrew Rogers said, on May 12, 2009 at 12.57 pm

    Can’t wait to read your series! Thanks for giving a book away, too!

  3. mikewittmer said, on May 12, 2009 at 1.20 pm

    Thanks for doing this, Nathan. Like you, I am a postmodern conservative. May our tribe increase!

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 10.46 am

      Thanks Mike, I hope to pick your brain after I’ve worked through these posts a bit more and had some discussion about the questions you raise in the book. Feel free to join the conversation here (and make sure I don’t mischaracterize your remarks :). Thanks for commenting.

  4. Eddie said, on May 12, 2009 at 3.19 pm

    Great idea, Nathan. I’ll assume you don’t want to go posting internationally, so I won’t enter, but I think I need to read it, so I’m off to my friend Mr Amazon.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 10.45 am

      Eddie – You are welcome to join the drawing as Zondervan has agreed to ship internationally. However, I understand if you want to get on over there and get a copy as soon as possible 🙂

  5. Paul said, on May 12, 2009 at 3.45 pm

    OUCH. Let me say again–ouch. Just when I thought I had disposed of some old DNA from long ago church policies, there yoiu go bringing up some very telling and insightful questions.
    I have stock answers for most, old but now replaced answers for some, and “I’ve got to think this through” on a couple more. The book would be an interesting read for sure.

    Thanks for the opportunity to possibly win and thanks for the well written article.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 10.52 am

      Hey Paul,

      Congratulations on winning the first of twelve copies of DSB. Thanks also for subscribing and being a part of the conversation on my blog. I would love to hear more from you after you’ve had a chance to read the book (or before). Care to share some of your “DNA” stories. I’d love to hear your thoughts as you process through the “I’ve got to think this through” category. Let us all benefit from your thinking!

  6. Michael Goodwin said, on May 12, 2009 at 5.01 pm

    Hey Nate…. great first post! I look forward to the rest of the review for the book! I am now a subscriber of your site and have just emailed you!
    Also, I have a site as well….check it out if you have a chance!

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 10.50 am

      Michael – Looks like a great blog after reading through a few of your posts. Thanks for subscribing. I would love for you to stay involved in the conversation here. I value your insight.

  7. prof penguin said, on May 13, 2009 at 4.03 am

    Nice set of questions…’Postmodern Consertative’ is one of my favourite hybrid expressions.
    As a fan of Journey (oh, the metaphors are almost unending with this one), your post really caught my attention. This book has surely been waiting to be written since the advent of Tony Blair and the ‘discovery’ of postmodernism, period.

    Unlike Eddie (a colleague of mine) i’m not socially engraced enough to say don’t post me a copy…nevertheless, as a gesture of goodwill, I could easily find you a US address, should one of the totally random and non-prejudicial choices wind up being me.

    The professor. (My email address contains my real name)

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 10.55 am

      Hey Prof – I also like Wittmer’s use of “postmodern conservative” because it brings together right belief and right action / Christ and culture into one definition. My conservative side won’t allow me to abandon my beliefs in the face of culture and my postmodern side won’t allow me to sit on a high throne of theological purity.

      As I mentioned to Eddie, Zondervan has agreed to post internationally so you will be in all 12 of the drawings 🙂 Thanks for being a part of the conversation!

  8. Mark|hereiblog said, on May 13, 2009 at 9.12 am

    Looks like a good book! I think much of evangelicalism could use another view. Jesus’ view.



  9. Toby Stefani said, on May 13, 2009 at 6.58 pm

    This is a really great topic. I was raised in a conservative family and church. But later I started to question many things and ended up in a similar situation like the author. Looking into single topics and forming my believe by what the bible says about them individually. The only problem with it is that you disagree with the two mayor groups and you don’t belong to any of them.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 10.57 am

      Toby – Thanks for your thoughts. Good for you for questioning and seeking God more fully. I don’t see any problem in not being a part of one of the groups. Jesus often walked the road less traveled and as followers of him we sometimes have to as well. Hang in there, and thanks for joining the conversation.

  10. Wes said, on May 14, 2009 at 11.15 pm

    Thank you for this review. It introduced me to a book I might have otherwise overlooked.

  11. Melodie said, on May 15, 2009 at 7.48 pm

    I’m very interested in hearing more about thr concept of post-modern conservatism. I notice orthodoxy and orthopraxy are two important terms for you in your posts. I’ve not thought out it in those terms, but I think that these are important terms to consider. Looking forward to hearing more.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 16, 2009 at 11.11 am

      Thanks Melodie – I can’t remember now if Mike used the terms “orthodoxy” and “orthopraxy” in his book or not. I’ve been using them for quite awhile. At my former church in Boston we had a statement of faith but we also had a statement of practice and a statement of “pathos”. I drafted it in terms of logos (belief), ethos (practice or habits), and pathos (passion)

      Thinking through all of that played a small part in my choosing a name for this blog about 6 or 8 months ago. I call it ChurchETHOS because I want to help churches develop right practices and behaviors that are in sync with our orthodoxy. We often have stated beliefs and actual beliefs. The stated beliefs are what we say we believe and the actual beliefs are what we actually believe based on how we act.

      You can read more about this on my post What is ChurchETHOS? but for now suffice it to say that ethos has to do with orthopraxy. Ethos simply means the habits and customs of a group or an individual. It’s the word we get ethics from. It’s “the way we live.” Someone can believe they are following Christ but they might fellowship with believers once a month. That’s divorcing orthodoxy from orthopraxy. But ethos, pathos, and logos were also terms that Aristotle used to describe the effectiveness of an orator or speaker. The speaker might bring about change in a hearer if he had enough of these qualities. Were his words believable (logos), was he believable (ethos), and did he really believe it (pathos). These three things had to do with his message, his reputation with the listeners, and his passion about the subject. ChurchETHOS takes all these thoughts together about ethos and that’s what I try and write about, the reputation and the believability of the church, and also our own customs and ethos as we seek to practice our beliefs correctly to the glory of God.

  12. Karla Meachem said, on May 17, 2009 at 6.08 pm

    Hi Nathan!

    The sub-title of the book really grabs at my heart – “Why LIVING LIKE JESUS is not enough” – POWERful all by itself…I’ll be pondering that statement alone for awhile.

    I, for one, will be very excited to ‘hear your heart’, as you share a series of posts on this book!

    Thanx again for sharing!!! Appreciate you letting me know.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 17, 2009 at 7.43 pm

      Thanks Karla,

      I agree, it is a great subtitle and an important reminder. In fact, I don’t know if we can really live like Jesus if we don’t believe he is exactly who he says he is. He’s not just another guru to take advice from. Faith and works…it just makes sense.

  13. Warwick said, on May 17, 2009 at 11.33 pm

    I’m commenting for the chance to win a copy of this book.

    If I don’t win it, I’m going to go out and buy a copy, because what you’ve described in reviewing the book seems to be the struggles I’m working through inside my head at the moment.

    • Nathan Creitz said, on May 20, 2009 at 1.21 pm

      Hey Warwick, what are some of those thoughts inside your head? I’m sure we would all benefit from thinking out loud together. Thanks for reading.

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