Category Archives: Books

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 BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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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.


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.


Common Sense Fiction?

Book Review: The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity by Andy Andrews

The bottom line. You’ll find some interesting philosophy, some history that you might find surprising, and very little clear biblical truth. If you are like me, you’ll appreciate the attempt at meaningful fiction yet you’ll be frustrated with the attempt.

This is a work of fiction, but Christian fiction should reflect biblical truth in some way – especially when it purports to engage with the vital principles of life and society. A wealthy man who is known for his wisdom and sagacity garnered from a previous “time travel journey” is summoned by the archangel Gabriel to lead a summit of great historical people. The group must discover the one solution, expressed in two words, that will save humanity from dire consequences. The bulk of the story is built around the interaction of the historical figures sharing their thoughts about the situation. They ultimately come to the “correct” solution, but to be honest, I never felt that that would not happen.

In some ways, The Final Summit seems more like a Patrick Lencioni fable where the story is clearly contrived to make a philosophical and practical point. I felt that the point made was mostly platitudinous rather than significant.

Andrews includes just about every “good guy” in history in his heavenly scene. No one specifically mentions God, and the worldview seems to be a bit inclusive of all spirituality and human effort. There is a significant theme of human effort with little comment on the grace and sovereignty of God. There is much talk about the weaknesses of mankind, but the fundamental truth of sin and rejection of God absent.

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


What’s Next for Christians

coverBook Review: The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith by Gabe Lyons.

As a cultural observer, especially an observer of Christianity, Gabe Lyons provides insight into a slice of Christianity that he wishes to affirm. These Christians he tells us are from a broad spectrum – as the flyleaf says – “evangelicals, mainline protestants, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and others” who are finding a new way of being Christian. A way that he calls Restoration.

As an observation The Next Christians is helpful and encouraging on many levels. I appreciate the reminders that we are no longer living in a Christian culture that is informed by Christian values and a deference to the church. America is post-modern, post-Christian, and pluralistic. The analysis of how Christians tend to interact with current culture is also helpful and seems spot on. There are two major groups. Separatists tend to fall into three groups: insiders, culture warriors, and evangelizers. Culturals tend towards blending in or being philanthropists.

Lyons discerns that there is a new generation of Christians which he labels “restorers”. Restorers he says, “have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace justice and love.” The bulk of the book is Lyons unpacking what this means in six contrasts. Restorers are:

  • provoked, not offended
  • creators, not critics
  • called, not employed
  • grounded, not distracted
  • in community, not alone
  • countercultural, not “relevant”

As Lyons develops these they are compelling. I found that I agree with most points – especially those having to do with authentic and genuine love that engages with the world in a redemptive manner. The call for Christians to get beyond pragmatic methodology is helpful as well.

But there is something just a bit unsettling to me (and this will probably get me listed as one of the dated, not-“next”, Christians). Restorers want “Christian” to mean something different than it has meant, something that is defined more by cultural engagement, rather by doctrine. At least that is not a well developed theme. That said, I really believe that The Next Christians is encouraging and helpful; very much worth reading if one keeps in mind that there is true doctrine. And that doctrine needs to be at the forefront .

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.


A Chesterton Primer

Book Review: Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton, by Kevin Belmonte.

Most Christian readers know of G.K. Chesterton. I’m sure that few of those readers have actually read much of his work – a category into which I fall. Having read Belmonte’s book I now feel that I have a basic introduction to the man and his work. The biography is really more of a primer. As stated in the Author’s Note, “Such is the aspiration of this book: to introduce a life and legacy that should be better know. It does not in any way aspire to be a comprehensive or definitive study.” Belmonte achieves his aspiration. The book seems to be an excellent overview of his life and work.

As a Christian reader I, like many others, knew his book Orthodoxy, at least by reputation and isolated quotes. I also knew of his influence on C.S. Lewis. Defiant Joy helped to expand my limited knowledge of a remarkable writer and literary critic and understand that he was a “whole” man with a world view that was big enough to include writing and thinking that wasn’t distinctly about God in a manner that honored God completely.

At several points Belmonte demonstrates the unique character of G.K.C. (as he was often called). I particularly appreciated the insights into Chesterton’s ability to be great friends with those men with whom he disagreed. Given some of the personal vitriol among Christian theologians and bloggers today, this is something to long for.

C. S. Lewis was deeply affected by G.K.C., The Everlasting Man in particular; something that Lewis regularly acknowledged. Belmonte says,

“Moreover, Lewis’s affirmation of Chesterton’s influence upon him is one supreme reason, among many, as to why Chesterton the apologist matters today. As an apologist, he helped to give the world C.S. Lewis, perhaps the most influential Christian apologist of all time” (p. 234).

If for no other reason, I’d encourage Christian readers to engage with the thinking of G.K.C. and Belmonte’s Defiant Joy is a good place to start.

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


More Than Rest

Book Review: Sabbath: The Ancient Practices, Dan B. Allender

This book captured my attention mainly because one of my intentional pursuits has been to practice the principle of sabbath and rest – especially after reading Gordon McDonald’s Ordering Your Private World in the mid-1980’s. Allender seeks to “build a case for delight by looking at the Sabbath as a festival that celebrates God’s re-creative, redemptive love.” He holds that the Sabbath is to normally be a day (but not necessarily a particular day) that involves four key components, or pillars: sensual glory, rhythmic repetition, communal feasting, and playfulness. These concepts fill the first part of the book. He moves on to some thoughts on the purpose of sabbath as it might be practiced today in part two; and some thoughts on what we might do with Sabbath time in part three. This is not a complete theological study of the topic but rather one writer’s reflections and practice.

I appreciate some of the thinking that the author brings to this topic. The reminder that at some level Sabbath is about enjoying and delighting in God and his creation was much appreciated. The idea of playfulness and holy sensuality is intriguing. His choice of quotes and references to other writers and thinkers is broad and usually helpful. The call to consider Sabbath as more than merely a day off (Eugene Peterson calls it “bastard sabbath”) is a needed rebuke.

For those who like “lyrical” writing (back cover “marketing hype”), this will be a good read. I found it to be a bit confusing with logical thoughts being obscured by metaphor and jumbled theology. Not necessarily wrong (and it seems to be by design); it was just distracting to my thinking process. There is also a fairly regular stream of therapeutic talk which is provocative, but not always seeming to be on point.

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