book review

Review: Domesticated Jesus

Domesticated Jesus
by Harry L. Kraus Jr.

We’ve domesticated Jesus. We’ve made him a small, tame god that’s not able to protect us. We’ve made ourselves big and him small. But a domesticated Jesus isn’t worth our praise. He’s not worth our time. And here’s the problem: The real Jesus isn’t small. He is a mighty God that does protect us! In Domesticated Jesus, Harry Kraus looks at this abomination we commit ever day of our lives, who Jesus really is, and what we can do about it.

What I thought I was getting: A book that would look at how we domesticate Jesus, show us how Jesus isn’t domesticated, and that the real Jesus is so much better.

What I got: A book that touches on how we domesticate Jesus, and how we can make sure we don’t domesticate him in our lives. (more…)

Review: Peter

Peter: Bold Disciple
by Stephen M. Luchterhand

Peter walked on water. He denied Jesus. He was the rock. He was the leader. He lived with Jesus and knew him so well. In Peter, Stephen Luchterhand walks through the big moments of Peter’s life that we know about from Scripture, showing him for the sinful man he was who learned to depend on Jesus.

While Luchterhand’s prose style didn’t overly arrest me, his descriptions and settings are effective. In particular, his retelling of Peter walking on water worked very well, as well as Peter’s initial call. Writing Peter’s life story in such a small space presents a challenge: Do you pick highlights, or do you try to tell everything quickly? I think Luchterhand chose well by picking highlights to focus on, while giving some good summary statements for “the other stuff.”

The book did leave an effect on me, though. I think next summer I’ll be doing a sermon series on Peter! He is a fragile stone, and we can learn much from how Jesus treated this brash and broken man. Luchterhand is not afraid to show Peter’s sin and point to how Jesus reached out to him and forgave him.

If you’re looking for a quick primer on Peter’s life, this is a great book to grab. Go for it!

Review: Echo

By Jonathan Fisk

Christianity isn’t something you do. It’s not something you try to become. It is something that has been done, and that truth echoes through eternity. In Echo, Jonathan Fisk takes the reader through the core truths of Christianity, these truths that echo through all of history. He lays out the Ten Important Things About Being Creation, the Three Elements of the Gospel, the Five Results of the Gospel, and the Seven Edges of Christian Holification. Through it all, he shows how this is unbroken truth worth repeating – again.

First off, if you read through those numbers – 10 things, 3 things, 5 things, 7 things, and you happen to have grown up in a household that used Luther’s Small Catechism, you might realize what this book really is.

First, Fisk walks through the Ten Commandments. Then he walks through the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed. Then he walks through the five elements of the last article of the Creed. Then he walks through the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

However, don’t think this is a boring book. This is not your average catechism class. (First off, while he does address the Sacraments, that’s not the focus of the book.) (more…)

Review: Never Forsaken

Never Forsaken: God’s Mercy in the Midst of Miscarriage
by Kathryn Ziegler Weber

I wept over this book.

Nine women tell the stories of their miscarriages. Each chapter features a different woman’s story with a different focus. One chapter talks about dealing with the question, “Why?” Another talks about shame. Another talks about dealing with your own sins in lashing out while grieving. Another talks about how to talk about miscarriage with others. Every chapter ends with an excellent three-paragraph summation and an in-depth Bible study that takes the reader deeper. The book holds several appendices as well, including a worship service memorial for use by grieving families, Martin Luther’s words to parents of stillborn children, and suggestions for further Bible readings and prayers.

If you are a pastor or in charge of a church library, you need to get this book for the use of your members who face this trial. If you are a parent who struggles with grief from a miscarriage, I highly recommend you read this book. (more…)

Review: Master Criminals

Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Master Criminals
by Jonathan Schkade, illustrated by Gleisson Cipriano

The Bible isn’t all sugar, spice, and everything nice. There’s a lot of stories in God’s Word that shows how dark this world can be. In Master Criminals, Jonathan Schkade takes some of the biggest stories of crimes in the Bible and takes an honest look at them. He retells each story in modern language, asks thought-provoking questions, and shows ties to other sections of Scripture. Every chapter ends with a section asking, “Why is this in the Bible?” and some “Extra Features” that usually connect the events of the chapter with works of fiction or events in history that may be of interest to the reader.

This is a companion book to Gory Deaths. While I don’t know which one comes first, I can tell you I think I liked Gory Deaths better. Master Criminals is still excellent, please don’t get me wrong! But I think if I were giving gifts or lending books out, I’d start with the other one.

That said, Schkade’s choice of criminals is, well, choice. He starts with Adam and Eve as the murderers of every human who ever lived, and then moves on to Cain and Abel. But he also includes a number of people that many readers might not be familiar with, such as Athaliah or two women who committed cannibalism in Israel. He also includes some people who were accused of wrong who weren’t doing wrong, such as the three men thrown into the fiery furnace, and Jesus himself. (more…)

Review: Just Keep Going

Just Keep Going
by Sarah H. Nielsen

For about a decade, Sarah H. Nielsen’s son Ted walked in dangerous ways. Years later, she found out he fell into drugs at the age of twelve and didn’t emerge from that shadow for nine years. Just Keep Going is a series of devotions Nielsen wrote based on her journals written during those dark days, addressed to mothers of troubled teens. Each devotion is two or three pages and concludes with a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer of entreaty. Through the book, Nielsen reminds the reader that it is not her job to save her child; it’s Jesus’s job.

Though much of this book came about because of Nielsen’s struggles with her own child, we get far less biographical information than I would have expected. Nielsen keeps the focus on the reader and their relationships with their children and with Jesus. I came to appreciate that aspect of the book, though I had expected the process to be far more story-based.

Much of what Nielsen writes points to Jesus in beautiful ways. One of the main themes of the book reminds readers that it is not up to them to save their children. Jesus paid for them. It is up to him to soften their hearts. I greatly appreciated that emphasis.

On the other hand, there’s an equal emphasis on the free will of humans to choose God. I’m sure that flows from Nielsen’s background, but so often it means that she tortures herself over trying to get her son to choose Jesus rather than focusing on the means of grace that God uses to create faith.

There’s also a strong current of mysticism, where Nielsen talks about listening for God’s voice. To be sure, she is in the Bible a lot and displays a pretty good knowledge of Scripture, but she also mentions hearing God speak to her. This is a dangerous heresy that can lead a lot of people astray. I’m glad she’s got her Bible knowledge; she needs to depend on that.

Which means that this book has some beautiful gospel moments, but it also has some blatant false theology. I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep the book yet. For those who are struggling, there really could be some fantastic help and encouragement. On the other hand, because the false doctrine is so strong that I would be reticent to actually hand the book over.

Either way, you can make your own decisions here!

Review: Live a Jesus-Centered Life

5 Things You Can Do to Live a Jesus-Centered Life
by H. R. Curtis

You have seen how good Jesus is, that he loves a sinner like you. You rejoice that he died for your sins and has risen from the dead. But now you want to go deeper. How can you live a Jesus-centered life? H. R. Curtis tackles that topic in this excellent, short book. He encourages readers to go to church, go read, go pray, go work, and come home. He offers practical ways to do all the above, shows why they work, and how you can keep going when you fail.

I love that this book opens up with a very solid explanation: This is not how you get to heaven, and you don’t help by doing any of these things. All this is reaction to the fact that “It is finished!” Throughout both Law and Gospel are emphasized, too.

The book is also very practical. For instance, it walks through different ways to read the Bible in the “Go Read” chapter, and talks about how to experiment to find out what works best. The book also recommend a number of resources to go deeper.

In the “go to church” chapter, the book assumes that your congregation uses traditional liturgy. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it may make some difficulties depending the home congregation of those reading the book. That said, it explains why the classical liturgy can be so useful. I’m still not a “high church” type person myself, but this section is still very useful.

The “go read” chapter I found especially helpful. It talks about how to get a grip on the “big ideas” of Scripture, and how that help you understand what you’re reading as you dig into the Bible.

Now, the book has a definite audience: People who already know the basics of the Christian faith but want to go deeper. I would not hand this book to someone who was brand-new to the faith. It makes too many assumptions for knowledge level. That said, if someone does know the basics and wants to go deeper, the book is a home run.

I’m glad to have it on my shelf. Check it out if you want to know how to better live a Jesus-centered life!

Review: Savor, Sip, and Drink Deeply

Savor, Sip, and Drink Deeply
by Deb Burma

Ever notice how a lot of people love coffee? There’s so many varieties and ways to drink your coffee! In Savor, Sip, and Drink Deeply, author Deb Burma uses coffee and coffee culture as illustrations to draw us closer to Christ. We see that he has poured us an overflowing cup that we can indulge in!

I expected this book to be cute and light. It’s billed as “A Bible study for women,” and my experience of such things are usually, unfortunately, fairly shallow. I’m happy to say that while this book is indeed cute, it’s not shallow!

Burma talks about cups and how we fill them,using this as illustrations of how we fill ourselves. Do we use “bad beans” of sin or bitterness, or are we filling up on God’s good promises? We want our coffee mugs cleaned out; do we see that Jesus has cleaned us out? There are so many coffee blends; God has given each individual unique blends of personalities, talents, and opportunities.

In each of the seven chapters in the book, Burma presents at least five “mini” devotions with a lot of biblical meat. However, as the illustrations run throughout, nothing gets overly heavy. I think this would be an ideal Bible study to start a women’s group with for that reason! There’s also a recipe for a coffee-related item at the end of each chapter, as well as ideas for service projects.

I could tell the book was definitely not aimed at me, but as I’m hardly a woman, that doesn’t surprise me. However, if someone wanted to start a women’s Bible group, this is one of the books I’d gladly encourage her to check out!

Review: The Problem of Suffering

The Problem of Suffering: A Father’s Hope
by Gregory P. Schulz

Greg Schulz’s daughter was buried three days before what would have been her first birthday. His son died at fourteen. In The Problem of Suffering Schulz offers his heart. He shows that there are no easy answers, but there is comfort. He shows that in this world, there is real pain. And through it all, he points to Christ.

The foreword (written by Harold Senkbeil) says that this book will change you.

It did. (more…)

Review: Internalizing the Faith

Internalizing the Faith: A Pilgrim’s Catechism
by J. Brandon Burks

A catechism summarizes the confession of a church in a simple form that can be memorized and passed down easily. In Internalizing the Faith, J. Brandon Burks presents a Reformed catechism to teach the youth of his church body and reinforce the beliefs of those who already know their faith.

Burks has written a pretty good encapsulation of Reformed theology here. The book is slim, to the point, and generally clear. I appreciated the format. Burks presents one hundred seven questions, most with one-sentence answers. Each answer has one Biblical reference with an endnote. The endnotes present a paragraph for each question in the main body of the book. Each paragraph has a number of biblical references and books for further reading. (more…)