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Showing posts from 2012

The Searchers

The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt by Joseph Loconte
Drawing on everything from Rembrandt to Thomas Becket, historian Joseph Loconte retells the Emmaus road story with wit, wisdom and insight.  As Loconte focuses in on the elements of the story in Luke 24 he writes, “What follows is a layman’s reflection on the meaning of that exchange, a story of hope, despondency, and faith.  It is a story latent with insight for the believer, as well as the honest skeptic” (xxiv).  Yet, what I thought was most insightful at the beginning of The Searchers is the way Loconte describes the unsettling nature of the story, the way in which the men walking down the road were shaken to the core by the events they had just been a part of. 
In the startling passage where Jesus comes up to the men and walks by them, we find a very interesting phrase that Luke records, saying “but they were kept from recognizing him.”  Loconte makes a unique point here by writing, “Perhaps we can learn …

A Tale of Two Governments

A Tale of Two Governments: Church Discipline, The Courts, And the Separation of Church and State by Robert J. Renaud & Lael D. Weinberger
The separation of church and state is often a widely misunderstood and misapplied idea by media, the news, and people in the pews.  In their new book, A Tale of Two Governments, law graduates Robert J. Renaud and Lael D. Weinberger bring clarity to the issues revolving church and state and focus directly on church discipline.  In the introduction, the authors bring to the page the clear conception of separation of church and state by writing, “Separation of church and state, at its most basic, simply means that the church and state are separate and distinct institutions” (13).  This teaching is not the excision of God from the realm of civil government nor is it the state mandating a particular religious faith but identification that separate institutions have different goals and purposes.   Taking cues from history, theology and practical judic…

Handy Guide to the Greek New Testament

The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming by Douglas S. Huffman
In a mere 112 pages, Professor Douglas Huffman of Biola University has put together a supplemental guide to those with at least one year of Greek under their belts.  More than just a number of charts on verbal conjugations, this handy guide is a welcome addition to textbooks on Greek grammar.  As I went through this book, having taken Greek in seminary, I found this book as a helpful guide alongside Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics.  Rather than drumming on about particular grammatical issues addressed in the book, I aim to give three reasons why this book would be a valuable addition to your library.
The Concise nature of the Book At only 112 pages, this book is easy to carry with you if you are preparing sermons, studying passages in the Nestle-Aland GNT, or just wanting to brush up on your Greek.  More than the small stature of the book is the clear explanations Huffman g…

The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life

Fresh Air: The Holy Spirit for an Inspired Life by Jack Levison
Jack Levison, professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University is well known for his work on the Holy Spirit with is earlier book entitled Filled with the Spirit.  This new work, Fresh Air, is a monumental book that takes weaves together biblical teaching on the Spirit, pastoral application, and a forward sense of directing the reader to ask the right questions concerning the Holy Spirit.  With one foot in the Pentecostal tradition and one foot in the mainline traditional Methodist camp, Levison navigates the waters of the ecstatic and meditative elements of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, what I thought was most extraordinary about the book was Levison’s goal for his readers: “the spirit is in every human being, spirit is particularly present in social upheaval, the spirit inspires whole communities, the spirit drives the faithful into arenas of hospitality, and the spirit inspire ecstasy and restraint” (10).  Some of these po…

God with Dirty Fingers

The God of the Mundane by Matt Redmond (Kalos Press)
Have you ever wanted to call it quits at your job?  Have you ever wondered if God even cares for people like you who muster out a living working mundane jobs thinking that no one cares?  To these questions comes a mighty rush of fresh air from the pen of Matthew B. Redmond, author of the new book entitled The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People. Redmond narrows in on the focus of the book by writing, “The goal of the book was to comfort Christians where they were – to help people believe the mundane stuff matters” (1).    Yet, what I thought was even more insightful was not so much the goal of the book but the audience he had in mind, the stay at home mom and the man stuck in a job making him feel small.  Why?  More than anything, I’ve been in that situation and often find myself wishing Monday would not come so quickly.  I think Matt speaks for a whole host of men and women who often wonder if their…

The Deadline

Deadline by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn, popular Christian author of books like Heaven, The Treasure Principle and others has written a work of fiction with an eye towards murder mysteries. The book centers around a newspaper reporter named Jake Woods, who writes weekly columns on controversial and interesting subjects. He and his best friends are going to pick up pizza for their weekend party ritual when they crash into the side of the road, eventually killing Jake’s best friends Doc and Finney. What happens next points the novel in the murder mystery direction as Jake receives a note that this crash was not an accident but a planned murder.

What I resonated with about the book is that it spoke of the real life events that lead to damaged relationships caused by sin, divorce, and brokenness. Throughout the book, Jake is trying to figure how he can repair his relationship with his daughter, who suffers greatly at the hands of bad choices. Yet, knowing the right thing to do and doing it…

Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace

Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace by R. Larry Moyer
Bringing together the good news of Jesus Christ and the workplace is not an easy task to practice for many professing believers.  This book, Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace by R. Larry Moyer is designed to build up the confidence of believers in sharing the gospel with those whom they work with in a daily context.  Rather than focusing on a specific method or approach in evangelism, Moyer looks at the ways in which believers can communicate their testimony, life, and witness of the good news to others. 
I particularly thought that chapter 5 was very insightful because it dealt not only with the verbal message we send to others but the example of a life given over to following Jesus.  Moyer writes, “But what can’t be said on the job can sometimes be said off the job.  What gives us that opportunity is very often a Christian life well lived on the job” (48).  Consistently telling the truth, thinking about the …

live second

Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First by Doug Bender
The real aim of this book is to challenge people to put Jesus first in everything they do, say, and particularly, how they live and engage God’s world.  I think at the outset that this is a noble goal.  Not having read the first book, I Am Second, I was a bit unfamiliar with the whole philosophy beyond the movement.  Yet, this book, Live Second, is more of a devotional, taking a Scripture reading, adding a brief commentary on the passage and giving some points of prayer and action.  What is unique about this type of devotional is it’s connected to a QR code on most pages that sends you to a video related to the theme of the day.  Most of the videos are either by athletes, Christian authors, pastors or people in the pew.  I actually found the videos to be more enlightening and encouraging than the comments on the Scriptural passages in the devotional.  I don’t think this was always due to the fact that Bender was dull or not ins…

Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President

Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo

I enjoyed Guelzo's biography even more than Donald and Carwardine.  In Guelzo's account we find the tension in Lincoln's mind of a war that in governed by the control of God's providential oversight.  Yet, this kind of view partly taken from his hard shell Baptist upbringing does not bring much solace for Lincoln.  Guelzo does well to bring out the Whig political struggles and the political setbacks that Lincoln faced on a continual basis.

We also get personal insight from Lincoln's friends and public reporters on the background of his marriage to Mar Todd, her mental unhinging and the emotional toll Lincoln felt trying to care for her and their many devastating family experiences. Guelzo even brings out the ugly side of Lincoln, the side of him that is so concerned about political matters that he seems more interested in elections than his family.  We get a sense that Lincoln is much more human than many com…

Oliver Twist on Audio

Oliver Twist: The Parish Boy’s Progress by Charles Dickens (Focus on the Family Radio Theatre)
Oliver Twist is certainly one of the greatest works of literature written by Charles Dickens.  Telling the story of an orphan and his plight through the terrible world of abuse, poverty and near starvation, Dickens sheds new light for the reader concerning the state of London in the 19th century.  Often, in the book, we see those most apt to provide little Oliver with shelter, turn out to be those who want to capitalize on his poverty and lack of good family stock.  We get a glimpse of this misfortune through the character of Fagin, who as an overseer of pick pockets seeks to provide Oliver with a few good meals in turn for transforming him into a master thief.  This Focus on the Family Radio Theatre version of Dickens’ Oliver Twist is an extraordinary recording of a magnificent book.
What I enjoyed most about this audio recording of the book is the way recording particularly brought out th…

Bold as Love

Bold as Love by Bob Roberts, Jr.

Bold as Love: What can happen when we see people the God does by Bob Roberts, Jr.
Conversion and Christianity have for years between synonyms for a world religion that has at its heart the desire for all people to follow Christ.  Yet, in our desire in evangelism we have lost sight of loving our neighbors, treating them more like boxes on an assembly line waiting to be shipped out of the warehouse.  Pastor Bob Roberts Jr, no less a Southern Baptist, challenges readers in his new book entitled Bold as Love to meet Jesus’ challenge to love our neighbors head on.  Rather than operating with a conversion mentality, Pastor Roberts says that the Roman Road of salvation method will not do in our global culture, but a posture of listening, engaging and building relationships is the way through (13-14).  The challenge is all the more worthwhile when the founder of Saudi Arabia’s modern intelligence service, Prince Turki Al-Faisal pushes y ou to build relationship…

Fully Alive

Fully Alive by Ken Davis is a pointed look at living life to the fullest, a journey to not succumb to the temptation to give up on life. One of the goals of the book is to recognize the obstacles any person faces in life and to face them head on by examining what these obstacles are and to provide steps to get past them (36). Although this was helpful if you are not aware of your obstacles, the most helpful part of the book was the section becoming fully alive physically.

Davis does not approach the issue of weight and health from a do this and you will lose weight mentality. Rather, he focuses in on the fact that being healthy allows for you to more fully glorify God and be full alive about all of life (40). More than this, if our goal is to get to a certain size, we are making a goal that is too small, for after we accomplish that goal there is nothing else. Instead, learning to be committed daily to live fully to God's glory, we can become healthy in a long term sense. I think…


Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic

Many already know the story of Nick Vujicic, being born with no arms or legs.  Rather than focus on his past, this book Unstoppable focuses on how faith increases our motivation for action in the world without regard for what the world thinks of us.  What I really enjoyed about his book is the way Nick took the experiences of defeat, difficulty and failure and turned them around to serve people and God.

Early on in the Matters of the Heart chapter, Nick tells the story of him falling in love with Danae, now his wife.  He writes, "The powerful yearning of the heart is one of the most essential human needs.  Yet when we look for love, we open ourselves not only to being loved, but also, unfortunately, to being hurt" (50).  Nick took the risk and was hurt at times after seeing Danae for the first time, wanting to find our more about her, and then being stymied on the second connection as she had a boyfriend.  As the conversation went on, Nick found …

Mercy's Hands and Feet

The Weight of Mercy: A Novice Pastor on the City Streets by Deb Richardson-Moore
Is she crazy?  Has she gone off her rocker?  These questions came to mind early on in this wonderful book entitled The Weight of Mercy by Deb Richardson-Moore.  Going from the limelight of journalism to the grimy, maddening world of ministry to homeless men and women at Triune Mercy Center is quite a change to say the least.  Yet, as the story unfolds in the book, Moore is confronted with the widening scope of God’s mercy among people who were addicted, abused, and who brought upon themselves much ruin.
Early on in the book, Moore writes, “On most days, I felt I’d stepped into a funhouse.  It was a surreal place, in which Butch and Deloris – the two people I most depended on – sniped and whined and, I was sure, spoke disparagingly of me to the homeless people we served” (46).  Butch would continually yell at Pastor Moore and want to shorten up the hours for caring for the homeless.  Yet, through all this…

Catholic Spiritual Practices

Catholic Spiritual Practices: A Treasury of Old and New Edited by Colleen M. Griffith and Thomas H. Groome
The great advantage of a collection of essays like these is that they reveal the both the meaning and practice of the spiritual practices in a concise manner.  The disadvantage of this book and books like these is you only get a little taste of the subjects considered which only gives you an appetite to discover more works on the various subjects.  Initially, what I really enjoyed about his book is that it illuminated some Catholic practices that I thought obscure from my Protestant understanding, or, I didn’t really know how the practice connected to the concrete expressions of everyday faith.
Commenting on the modern disconnect between the terms ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ Colleen Griffith writes, “A spirituality that is disconnected from religious tradition is bereft of both community and history; it has no recourse to the benefits of a larger body of discourse and practice, …

Cut to the Heart

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp
Deep sadness and a powerful sense of relief came to me after reading Paul Tripp’s new book entitled Dangerous Calling.  The sadness of knowing that I minister often, even daily, out of a supreme sense of my own worth, estimated by my own accomplishments without regard for the connection I have with others.  Yet, this sadness of realizing my own sick selfish pride was not without a dose of relief, a feeling and thought that what I am clutching onto is rubbish in the sight of a Redeemer who loves me, died for me and pursues me with his love.  No, I wouldn’t say this book was good in the sense of making you feel a certain enjoyment as if basking in entertainment.  I would say that this book is great because it takes the surgeon’s scalpel and digs down into the marrow of our self-congratulatory nature and brings to the surface the awe, majesty and glory of God in relationship to a bleeding Savior…

Muslims and the Good News

Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? By Tom Doyle with Greg Webster Pastor Tom Doyle, full time missionary in the Middle East and Central Asia has spent over 11 years spreading the good news of Jesus Christ among Muslims.  In his time in ministry, he has witnessed many Muslims who had specific dreams and visions of Jesus.  Despite the Muslim rule of law in many countries that says that if you convert to Christianity, death will be your end, many Muslims are pursuing Jesus after having these powerful dreams of him.  Yet, as Pastor Doyle attests, Jesus is awakening Muslim culture in powerful ways.
One of the great things about this book is that you get a glimpse of Muslim people getting glimpses of Jesus through dreams in many different countries.  The book is divided by chapter but also by country, chronicling the work of God in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria.  We get a sense of the difficult situation in these Middle East countries through Doyle’s …

God as Spirit in Judaism

Breath of Life: God as Spirit in Judaism by Rabbi Rachel Timoner
Reading the title of this book is quite puzzling to me, seeing to it that I find glimpses of God as Spirit in the Old Testament as pointing to the coming of the Messiah, yet I had not thought much about this theme.  Rabbi Rachel Timoner helpfully puts into perspective what is meant by God as Spirit in Judaism by dividing her book into three sections: Creation, Revelation and Redemption.  At the beginning of the book, she takes time to explain what is meant by both the terms ‘God’ and ‘Spirit.’  She writes, “Judaism’s primary innovation was its understanding that God cannot be reduced to any thing we know-not a body, an object, or a natural force” (xiv).  The poetic expressions and prophetic voices that reference God’s body are understood as metaphor, helping us to relate to God rather than describing who God is.  Part of the difficulty in seeking to describe God as Spirit is that by saying God is spirit might actually r…

Journey to the Kingdom

Journey to the Kingdom: An Insider’s Look at the Liturgy and Beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox Churchy by Father Vassilios Papavassiliou
Having never set foot into an Eastern Orthodox Church I was a bit intrigued by the title of this book.  Growing up in my childhood in a Roman Catholic Church, I was aware of the similarities in both the Roman and Eastern churches.  Yet, I was not aware of the rich liturgy, iconic usage and focus on the journey to the kingdom of God that we find drawn out in this book.  The destination on this journey is none other than the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Trinity which finds it purpose in the Eucharist (9-10).  Early on in the book, Father Vassilios explains that both Christianity and the Divine Liturgy are separate from the natural world in that they require a perspective from the inside to fully grasp their meaning. 
What was most enjoyable about this book on the Orthodox faith was the clear presentation of certain concepts or practices in the ch…

The Bondservant's Life

John Brenner Chandler in his book The Bondservant's Life aimed at a very large task of providing a foundation for understanding prophecy and calling people into a deeper knowledge of God. Although I applaud the book for encouraging readers with some basic principles of the Christian faith, from hermeneutics to adoption, I found the books' aim disappointing. At times, we get a dose of apologeics (p.231ff) on topics like the Sabbath and Christmas, and at other times we get explanation of biblical texts (p.314)like Jesus' high priestly prayer.

Chapter 8 on the role of the law was good in that Chandler wrote about the law's use in ancient Israel as a guardian and as promoting the way life should be conducted (Ten Commandments). Later on in the chapter he recognizes that the law produces death for those today by pointing out the futility of their own strivings after perfection (Chandler relies heavily on Luther here, 156). Furthermore, Chandler helpfully locates the law with…

Hope for Those Drowning

Walking on Water by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt
Depression and anxiety wreak havoc in the lives of those sitting in the pews and those who have never graced a church with their presence.  The real benefit of this book is the lack of Christian sentimental mush that so often accompanies books on depression, but rather, instead, this book offers a common sense look at the effects of very real people struggling with these things.  As many people know, Tommy Nelson is a nationally and internationally known pastor who preaches and teaches on a regular basis for Denton Bible Church and also puts together the ever popular Song of Solomon teaching series.  The other author, Steve Leavitt is a Christian counselor who recognizes the power of anxiety and depression in his own life and in the lives of those whom he counsels. 
In the first chapter of the book, Tommy Nelson tells his story of being hit with the startling truth that he was going through severe anxiety and panic attacks.  Tommy be…

The Wisdom of Chesterton

Kevin Belmonte, having ploughed through the Chesterton landscape before in book form, has edited A Year with G.K. Chesterton: 365 Days of Wisdom, Wit, and Wonder. The unique thing about this book is that it gives a good snapshot of Chesterton's writings from many different facets. At one point, Belmonte draws from a passage which Chesterton writes, "This world and all our powers in it are far more awful and beautiful than we ever know until some accident reminds us....If you wish to realize how fearfully and wonderully God's image is made, stand upon one leg. If you want to realize the splendid vision of all visible things-wink the other eye" (4). Chesterton has a unique way of dealing profoundly with the most common of objects, including aspects of the human body, and relates them to God's design in the world. Belmonte goes to great lengths to provide us from Chesterton's own writings the splendid worldview of a man who was both poetic and uniquely articulat…

Creeds for Life

The Creedal Imperative by Carl Trueman

The mantra “No Creed but the Bible” has been common among pastors who seek to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching but remain misguided in their attempts.  On the scene comes Carl Trueman, professor of Church History at Westminster Seminary, seeking to bring a breath of fresh air by writing a book on the importance of creeds.  The unique aspect of this book is the way Trueman orders his writing on the creeds; one, he begins with the cultural case against the creeds, moves to the foundations and early church teaching on the creeds and then brings together concepts of usefulness and doxology in light of the classic Protestant creedal formulations.  Why does he order the book this way?  By focusing on the issues of the past, language and the authority of institutions (church), Trueman builds a bridge between the countercultural nature of these concepts in relationship to creeds and the voice of opposition that we find even in the church regarding the…