Prepositions that Matter

Book Review.

I read quite a few books each year. In some seasons of my life it seems like every author is saying the same thing, or is rehashing an old topic for a new generation – seems to be one of the downsides to so much reading over so many years. Those seasons in my reading/learning life tend to end when the Holy Spirit speaks refreshingly through an author to remind me of significant things. Thus it has been with “with: Reimagining the Way you Relate to God” by Sky Jethani.

Jethani uses several prepositions to explain the postures we tend to take in relating to God. He writes that we live under God, over God, from God, for God, or with God and concludes that “living with” is best. The others all are deficient in that they are usually driven by fear and/or control. He deftly defines each posture in the introductory chapter, then more fully develops his thoughts in subsequent chapters before making a strong, reasonable case for living in communion with God as paramount.

Of significant interest is his contention  that many Christians tend to unreflectively default to living for God or living under God. These postures sound good, but often come up short, leaving a believer worn out, or burned out, and often wondering whether they truly love God or are loved by Him. Living for God is often turned into a means of gaining God’s pleasure but with significant consequences if we fail. Living under God often turns into figuring out the techniques “blessed by God” that will bring the greatest success, but life, of course, rarely follows the rules.

Jethani is an interesting and intelligent writer. This book is quite accessible to all and will challenge all. I found myself reflecting deeply and was moved out of a season of lassitude in reading and relating. Highly recommended reading.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.



Book Review. Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity by Mark Batterson.

There seems to be surge of Christian books about getting back to the basic roots of faith without using words like “getting back to the basics of the faith”. I guess titles like Primal (or Radical) seem more interesting and sell better to today’s reader.

That snipe aside, Primal was more of a disappointment than I expected. Yes, the author makes some good points and builds the book on a great premise– the great commandment – which he labels the “primal” commandment,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30)

He also builds his case with some scripture references, and more than a few good stories, anecdotes, and illustrations that, more often than not, become the foundation of the message, than the Scripture itself. Many of these stories recount the experience of the author. I know I’m in a minority here, but books like this tend to be fluffy and tasty, but provide little long-lasting sustenance. The concept is good, but, for me, it came up just a bit short. Primal is an interesting read, but not quite a primer on basic faith that would truly impact one long term.

It is also surprising that a book about a quest for the lost soul of Christianity, there would be little talk of true salvation, repentance, the cross, and the sovereign grace of God which provokes Godly living.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Need More to Survive

SerengetiBook Review: Surviving Your Serengeti – 7 Skills to Master Business and Life by Stefan Swanepoel.

Along the lines of Patrick Lencioni, Stefan Swanepoel attempts to bring clarity to business, management, and life by drawing out a fable or story that provides a metaphor upon which to hang insights about life principles. In this attempt the story is built around seven animals of the African plains – each of which is assumed to bring wisdom to our “survival” in life circumstances.

I wanted to like this book but found myself frustrated by the thin story line and the contrived circumstances. Gary Smalley did a more effective job with his assessment tool built around Lion-Otter-Beaver-Golden Retriever metaphors in that it makes sense and he provides means of assessment rather than mostly subjective conjecture. And while the author does supply “7 skills to master business and life” he barely develops them in any useful manner. The reader could skim the titles and have most of the gist of the book, though there are a few interesting insights into the African animals that might be missed.

NY Times best seller on the cover? I’m not sure how that could happen since the book was just released. I’d truly recommend Lencioni’s works as a better read and use of funds. It’s not a bad book, just a bit thin on real help or guidance for a real world.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Average Joe

Book Review: Average Joe: Gods Extraordinary Calling to Ordinary Men by Troy Meeder.

I’ve written previously about the penchant of Christian communicators to tend towards extolling the virtues of the extraordinary highly committed Christian. Sometimes it seems that pastors only share stories of dynamic encounters, or exciting situations. Rarely will you read, or hear, about living a Christian life in the midst of the mundane daily routine that rarely changes – the place where most of us live.

Troy Meeder attempts to change this with some success as he seeks to encourage what he calls “average Joes” to faithfully follow Christ daily because God often calls ordinary men and women to “do his most important work”.  These are people who work diligently, maintain their homes, mow the lawn, love their wives and kids, etc. They serve Christ as they can, mostly in seemingly small ways, yet their impact is often powerful in the lives of others.

The book is mostly collection of stories of how Joes the author knows have made such an impact. The stories are interesting and Meeder draws out some appropriate metaphors and biblical lessons. In the main, he makes a solid case regarding the value of ordinary men. I appreciated the subtle underscoring that the extraordinary one is, in fact, God. It is his calling that is worthy and great.

The included study guide includes well thought-out questions that will add depth to “ordinary” men’s discussion groups.

Not That Big a Jolt

Book Review: Jolt: Get the Jump on A World That’s Constantly Changing by Phil Cooke.

On the one hand I want to endorse this book. On the other hand, I feel it falls a bit short of being the book that I’d recommend to a Christian wrestling with change. Jolt is not a bad book overall. There are some great quotes and solid principles that can be implemented. Cooke is obviously successful, and has some excellent thoughts on what it takes to adapt to a changing world, yet this book is more a collection of somewhat related essays, uneven in quality,  designed to motivate more than truly equip. As someone in the midst of significant change, I was a bit encouraged, but I can’t say I was “jolted”.

I appreciated a number of his thoughts:

  • Recognition that there are some things that can’t be changed.
  • Ignoring reality is not a wise strategy.
  • A discussion of the power of perception.
  • The encouragement to stop letting fear control our choices.
  • Change is inevitable and often difficult, but as Kathleen Norris writes “disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future.”

I was bothered by two assumptions:

  • Cooke tends toward the mechanistic view of life and change; i.e., “Make the right choices, take the right steps and you will succeed.” From a humanistic stance this might be somewhat understandable, but to leave God out of the worldview mix is a somewhat odd for a Christian book on change (at least that used to be odd). His suggestions are generally helpful, but as a Christian in the midst of significant change I would hope for something a bit more biblically sturdy, with the understanding that sometimes (usually) Christian living is not about tips and techniques for success, but struggle and frustration that develops character.  There is a chapter on the power of faith, but the object of faith seems somewhat ambiguous.
  • Everyone is special if they want to be and that we all can be successful, creative, and significant. I’ve written about this before – not everyone is “special”. Some of us are just ordinary or average. And that is OK.

So. Jolt is not a bad book. You might find it helpful, but I found it to be more of a mild bump.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Radical

Book review: Radical by David Platt.

The subtitle of this book captures the essence of Platt’s challenge: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. In that vein, the author, a pastor of a large, four-thousand member congregation in Birmingham, Alabama joins a host of other writers who have similarly approached this topic. Unlike other books I’ve read, Platt seeks to provide, not only a critique, but a map for believers to follow in changing their own attitudes. Platt writes about why he wrote Radical:

I am on a journey. But I am convinced it is not just a journey for pastors. I am convinced these questions [that he has regarding the American cultural view of Christianity] are critical for the large community of faith in our country today. I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe. And I am convinced we have a choice.

His main thesis seems to be that we have missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable; replaced it with the American dream rather than God’s call to sacrifice for the sake of the larger Gospel mission.

There is much to commend in this work":

  • Platt is clear that many in our churches may think they are saved when they are not; many have been told that mere intellectual assent to Jesus is all that is required, but “after that we need not worry about his commands, his standards or his glory. We have a ticket to heaven, and we can live however we want on earth.” He’s not teaching a works-based salvation, but rather the gift of grace that involves the gift of a new heart, desires, longings … and that should have a great impact on how we live and serve.
  • He writes that, contrary to the Gospel and biblical Christianity, we have made ourselves the object of our faith. Today when we look for a church we now look for what fits me and my family. We have changed the message to be “God loves me, period," however the message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him-his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness—known among all nations.” We are not the end of the gospel; God is. This emphasis on the foundational sovereignty of God is refreshing.
  • Throughout the book, Platt reminds us that when we are enmeshed in a culture we tend to form blind spots about how that culture is impacting our faith. This is especially true when it comes to the concept of wealth and poverty in America, and in most American churches.

Radical might be an uncomfortable book to read – especially for those in wealthy congregations, but it is worth the effort. Platt will make you think, and, if you don’t buy his plan for challenging our cultural presuppositions, you will have to consider how you, or your church, might become more biblical. 

41-0dIit3XL__SS400_Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Normalizing Sin

Russell Moore nailed a significant, but subtle, issue in his post today. I think that it is worthy of much deeper reflection – especially the way we tend to “normalize” pride and diminish genuine Christian humility. His post is an excerpt from a new book. These two paragraphs called me out:

Most of us know that pride and status-hunger are character flaws, but we rarely see the satanism of pride in our own situations. Part of that is because of how fallen humanity normalizes pride. We grow accustomed to thinking of self-exaltation, at least to some manageable degree, as a “normal” part of leadership and drive.

In Christian ministry self-promotion and egotism are rewarded because the more a Christian crows about his superior prayer life or his cutting-edge research or his ability to grow churches or movements, the more an audience tends to believe it. Genuine Christian humility, by contrast, often seems mousy or non-assertive by contrast. When so many leaders are proud, it becomes very difficult for the Spirit-convicted psyche to discern, “Am I prideful, or am I a leader?”