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Five Books (or so) That Have Helped Shape My Life
by Envoy Roy Snapp-Kolas


I was raised in a Pentecostal/ Fundamentalist environment that included a strong emphasis on Dispensational theology with a focus on the imminent rapture of the Church.  This belief (along with the “fire” that would come with the baptism of the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues) was to fuel a desire to witness to the lost and wait for the soon return of Christ.  In the 1960’s Chicago area where I grew up, I was interested in baseball (the Cubs) and girls, so I was pretty convinced on at least a few occasions that the rapture had come and I had been left behind.  Most of my neighborhood friends were either Catholics (definitely not rapture material) or mainline Protestants (did not believe the Bible) so I was for sure hanging with the wrong crowd if I wanted to be raptured.


In high school I was still interested in baseball and girls, but for some reason was not as worried about the rapture.  After high school I enrolled at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Pentecostal/Evangelical school that, while still quite conservative, was more liberal than the church in which I had been raised.  I majored in psychology with a plan to pursue a career in the behavioral sciences.  I went through a period of agnosticism/atheism as I wrestled with why the Christian faith (or what little I knew of it) had little to say about contemporary problems of the 1970’s like racism, poverty, the Viet Nam War, etc.  Towards the end of my undergraduate program it was recommended I read Ronald J. Sider’s book, Rick Christians in an Age of Hunger (Intervarsity Press 1977).  Dr. Sider walked through the biblical text to reveal how much of scripture is devoted to the issues of wealth and poverty.  I basically knew bible stories from Sunday School: Old Testament heroes, the life of Christ (but mostly from the Gospel of John), something about the rest of the New Testament (particularly the Pentecost account in Acts 2) and possible End Times’ scenarios.  Dr. Sider laid out how much of the prophetic tradition concerns social issues and that the call of Christ is directed towards material as well as spiritual poverty:


The mission of the Incarnate One was to free the oppressed and heal the blind….The poor are the only group specifically singled out as recipients of Jesus’ gospel.  Certainly the gospel he proclaimed was for all, but he was particularly concerned that the poor realize that his good news was for them. (pg. 66)


Ron Sider’s book, as well as other readings in the area of social concern, motivated me to consider pursuing a different career path than the behavioral sciences.  While I graduated with a BA in psychology, my interest was now in biblical and theological perspectives on social justice, so I enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in the Fall of 1980.  Fuller was still in the evangelical camp at the time but was more open to discussion from differing theological traditions.  I used most of my electives to take courses in Social Ethics, Ethics of Bonhoeffer, Sociology of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, etc.  I read much from Anabaptist writers, including John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 1972).  Yoder attempted to show the teachings of Jesus are rooted in nonviolence and that nonviolent resistance is a legitimate expression of a Christian approach to social justice.  True believers are called to resist nonviolently those “powers” that seek to usurp the authority of Christ and undermine the advance of the Kingdom of God:


The believer’s cross is no longer any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension, the bearing of which is demanded.  The believer’s cross must be, like his Lord’s, the price of his social nonconformity.  It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost. (pg. 97)


I now thought of myself as a pacifist, began to volunteer at a homeless shelter near the Seminary, and did an internship with an interfaith organization that was interested in the repressive violence going on at the time in Central America.  This internship motivated me to read more widely in the then popular field of Liberation Theology.  Liberation Theology attempted to provide some biblical warrant for the revolutionary movements taking place in Central America (definitely not pacifistic).  From this perspective, the overall message of the bible was liberation and Jesus provides the seed for all true revolutions.  Liberation theology was heavily dependent upon Marxist sociology to provide a “hermeneutics of suspicion” to the biblical text (i.e. suspicious of any biblical interpretation that was personal [and thus supportive of the power status quo] rather than political/revolutionary).  Through this internship I was also able to travel to Nicaragua to observe the Sandinista revolution up close (or so I was told).  We were able to travel as far north as Jalapa near the Honduran border, staying with peasant families where running water and electricity had only recently been made available.  Interestingly, the church that was best attended (and not sympathetic to Liberation Theology) in Jalapa was Pentecostal.


After I graduated from Fuller in 1985 I got married, joined the United Church of Christ (the most liberal Christian church in the United States) and went on staff at the soup kitchen/homeless shelter where I had been a volunteer.  The church became a sanctuary for Central American refugees and housed the homeless shelter where I worked.  This church was very active in most politically progressive causes of the time.  The church also struggled with the usual issues that face churches: attendance, budget shortfalls and pastoral strife. 


In the late 1980’s I read Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon (Abingdon Press 1989).  This book argued that Christians were not so much to be involved in politics but to witness to the new politic of the Kingdom of God inaugurated through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus through the local church:


We argue that the political task of Christians is to be the church rather than to transform the world.  One reason why it is not enough to say that our first task is to make the world better is that we Christians have no other means of accurately understanding the world and rightly interpreting the world except by way of the church.  Big words like “peace” and “justice,” slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what “Jesus Christ is Lord” means, they will know what peace and justice means, are words awaiting content.  The church really does not know what these words mean apart from the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth… It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible. (pg. 38)


Hauerwas and Willimon advocated for a “confessing church”:


The confessing church… calls people to conversion, but it depicts that conversion as a long process of being baptismally engrafted into a new people, an alternative polis, a countercultural social structure called church.  It seeks to influence the world by being the church, that it, by being something the world is not and can never be, lacking the gift of faith and vision, which is ours in Christ.  The confessing church seeks the visible church, a place, clearly visible to the world, in which people are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God. (pg. 46)


I continued to work with the homeless/marginalized in a variety of secular settings through the early 1990’s, having two sons and moving on from the United Church of Christ to the somewhat less liberal United Methodist Church (where my wife is an ordained elder).  Eventually, I was laid off from one of these secular agencies and began again to look for work in the field of social services.  After many months I was hired to start a program for homeless veterans by…The Salvation Army.


The Salvation Army encouraged incorporating spiritual programming into social services ministries, something that had been discouraged at the secular programs of which I had been a part of previously.  So, I tried to offer spiritual programming on a voluntary basis at my government-funded residential program for veterans.  Since I was the one with the seminary degree it seemed natural that I would be the one to offer this programming.  I quickly found out, however, that the liberal theological perspective that I had adopted was far removed from the experiences of the men and women that would attend a bible study I tried to facilitate.  This resulted in a two/three year re-exploration of my theological perspective.  I was invited to take the men to a Promise Keepers event in Los Angeles and became convicted of how I was living as a husband and father.  In July 1997 I was asked to find out about something from England called the Alpha Course by attending a training at a local church.  At that training I had a powerful Charismatic experience.  I thought I had put all of that behind me in becoming seminary trained and focusing more on the social implications of scripture.


Six months later I started a ministry (that would later become an Outpost and then a Corps of The Salvation Army) that would attempt to integrate recovering men and women veterans from my homeless program into a worshipping community.  The model for this would eventually come from the inner city missions organization, World Impact, and a book written by Keith Phillips entitled Out of Ashes (World Impact Press 1996).  World Impact argued for a multiplication of churches planted in the inner cities of the world that could be cross-cultural, multi-racial and committed to developing “indigenous leaders.” (pg. 101)  I became convinced that I was called to plant a Salvation Army ministry for recovering people that would train up indigenous leaders (i.e. recovering people) to influence the next generation of recovering people for the growth of God’s kingdom in the inner city area of greater Los Angeles.  This ministry would definitely incorporate addressing the social situations of the people (poverty, oppression, racism, etc.) but not neglect the call that individual salvation comes by “grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”


I initially struggled somewhat to find a examples for this type of ministry within my own organization.  The Salvation Army’s Mission Statement includes the words “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name…” but I had discovered that something had evolved over time that could be called the “Corps side” and the “social services side.”  The Corps’ focus could be spiritual ministry and the “social services” would be more focused on the material issues of poor persons seeking our help.  This divide could be even more pronounced in government-funded residential programs run by The Salvation Army, including my own.  I became convinced it was possible to integrate the worshipping and serving aspects of The Salvation Army and decided to be dedicated to making that happen in my program and Outpost.


I did much reading in Salvation Army history etc. and talking to long-time Salvationists that had a similar interest to help understand this tension between the “social” and the “evangelistic” and how it might be bridged.  I was assisted in this by reading Phil Needham’s Community in Mission: A Salvationist Ecclesiology (The Salvation Army 1987).  I asterisked the following statement from Commissioner Needham as I read it in his book:


The Church gives witness to the gospel primarily in two ways.  These can be described as evangelism and social action.  Both are concerned with facilitating the transformations which the reality of the Kingdom makes possible.  Evangelism is concerned with transformation on the personal level. Evangelism is an announcement of the Kingdom’s presence and an invitation to accept citizen status.  Social action is also an announcement of the Kingdom’s presence, but in this case by supporting and participating in the social change for which that presence calls.  Without both ways to witness, the proclamation of the gospel is hindered.  Evangelism without social action is a flight from the world and refusal to accept the reality of the Kingdom’s transforming presence in the midst of this world which God loves.  Social action without evangelism is a flight from the personal depth of the gospel and refusal to take seriously Jesus’ unmistakable command to his followers to become “fishers of men.” (pg. 62)


But if that was not challenging enough, there was also this I asterisked:


It should be clearly understood, however, that evangelism and social action are more than the ways in which the Church carries out its mission in the world.  They are also expressions of what is taking place within the fellowship of believers-in-the-peace.  They are not merely charitable acts toward those who are outside the fellowship.  Rather, they are the “overflow” of Christian caring within the fellowship…The mission is the external expression and sharing of what is happening internally. Otherwise it is merely charitable works on behalf of outsiders.  Evangelism and social action are the refreshing and renewing overflow of the life of the Church.  In carrying out its mission, the Church is actually embodying not so much what it thinks it should do, but what it is. (pgs. 63-64)


My time with The Salvation Army since reading this has been to somehow bring these words into reality in my ministry context. 


I have been aided in this by thinking through my Charismatic experience and how it informs my ministry.  I read Glory on Your House by Jack Hayford (Chosen Books 2002).  The Charismatic experience is foremost about increasing passion for worship:


It began to well up in my soul. Chabod—the Hebrew word for “glory…” The weight, worth, value and splendor of God—that is, of His Person, nature and being—are of inestimable worth. (pgs. 170-171)


The weight of God’s glory is the only worth that can bring true self-worth.  The weight of God’s glory is the only wealth that can bring true abundance.  The weight of God’s glory is the only force that can tip the scales and turn the tide of human circumstance from emptiness to fulfillment.  (pg. 175)


I have also been aided in my ministry by returning to, and reclaiming, Christian doctrine as the necessary boundary for living out the Christian faith in this increasingly pluralistic and relativistic culture.  Not everything the culture calls loving is actually so, nor is every belief that supposedly puts one on the “right side of history” necessarily consistent with scripture or orthodox Christian belief.  As a Wesleyan-Arminian, I have been helped on doctrine by Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger E. Olson (Intervarsity Press 2006).  Olsen argues that Arminian theology is a consistent Protestant expression of scriptural teaching on sin and salvation and that nothing in Arminian theology mitigates against upholding the pre-eminent Protestant understanding of Christ’s work on the cross as substitutionary atonement.


Salvation Army officers and ministry leaders are more than pastors, but pastoring is an important aspect of our calling.  After years of evangelizing, discipling, doing pastoral care, etc. in my ministry contexts, and sometimes concluding that not much headway had been made, I was encouraged when I read Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor (Harper One  2011).  This book can be a Spirit-fueled shot in the arm to remain faithful to one’s calling, do the regular tasks of praying, studying, counseling, preaching, etc. and realize that this is holy and noble with a longer history than our short lives.  And, on the subject of preaching, of all the books I have read on preaching, none describes the preaching task better than Timothy Keller’s book, Preaching (Viking 2015).  I wish I had been able to read that 20 years ago when I was just starting on this preaching journey.



Worship the Father extravagantly, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Evangelize the lost.  Proclaim the good news to the poor and oppressed.  Establish outposts of the Kingdom that incarnate the love of Christ.  Uphold the authority of scripture and sound doctrine.  Preach Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of the world.









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