review

Review: Putting Amazing back into Grace

Putting Amazing back into Grace
by Michael Horton, Foreword by J. I. Packer

Grace is boring. The Gospel doesn’t work. We need something new! Something that actually connects with our lives!

Well… no. In Putting Amazing back into Grace, author Michael Horton shows that grace is exactly what is needed by showing how amazing it really is. He goes in depth, starting before the creation of the world and demonstrates how amazing God’s love is. He digs into the utter depravity of man and leads us to ever deeper wonders as we gasp out how amazing God’s grace is.

This book is amazing, except when it’s not. Horton’s Christless Christianity is a book I highly recommend. It diagnoses the problem that many modern American churches have: there is no Christ there. Here, Horton digs deeper into the Gospel. I was ready to love this book. Except Horton is a Calvinist, and that leaning is on full display. (more…)

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Review: Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things
By Alex & Brett Harris; Foreword by Chuck Norris

Teens have been deceived. The teenage years aren’t the time to party and be kids. They’re the launchpad for the rest of your life. “The teen years are not a vacation from responsibility… They are the training ground of future leaders who dare to be responsible now” (13). In Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris explain why so many teens have bought the lie and how they can make a difference – by doing hard things. Join the rebelution.

For what this book is, I’m pretty impressed. Two teens (nineteen when they wrote the book) talk about how low expectations have shackled their age group, and how to get past it. They talk about how the entire idea of “Teenage years” is so new, and in the past people the ages of thirteen and older were adults tasked with very adult responsibilities… and they changed the world. They share the stories of Clara Barton and George Washington. They point to how we often live up or down to the expectations put before us. (more…)

Review: The Foolishness of Preaching

The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel against the Wisdom of the World
by Robert Farrar Capon

How can a preacher preach? What is the foundation of a good sermon? What steps can a preacher go through to make sure he has a great sermon? In The Foolishness of Preaching Robert Capon teaches his method for creating good sermons. In part one of the book, he emphasizes that for a sermon to be good, the preacher must first be passionate about Jesus. In part two, he takes a look at the mechanics of forming a good sermon. In the end, he reminds readers what preaching is all about.

Capon gives some fantastic advice in the book. For instance, he insists that a preacher must simply listen to the Word and proclaim it faithfully. “I don’t have to like it; I just have to hear it. Nobody made me the boss of the Bible – and I bridle at people who make themselves bosses because the Boss himself strikes them as too bossy” (77, emphasis in original). In that vein, he reminds that most listeners in the pews really don’t want to hear what God says. But, in response, “You were not sent to spout opinions they can dismiss. You were sent to proclaim the sharp, authentic Word to them – the Word who isn’t NutraSweet. Tell them that no preacher worth his or her salt ever turned the Gospel into a trademarked substitute for the authentic sweetness of Jesus’ death – and that you’re not about to risk it yourself” (134). (more…)

Review: Being Lutheran

Being Lutheran
by A. Trevor Sutton

So… why are you Lutheran? Why aren’t you Lutheran? What’s the big deal with Lutherans? In Being Lutheran, A. Trevor Sutton walks through what being Lutheran isn’t… and what it is. He confronts the stereotypes, notes when Lutherans have failed to be what they say they are, and lays out what it’s all about.

I was nervous when I got this book; I’ve seen a lot of Lutheran chest-thumping about how great our church is. At the same time, Sutton wrote the excellent Why Should I Trust the Bible so I thought I’d give it a try. And… this book is worth it. Right in the introduction he writes, “Being Lutheran is about following Jesus. A Lutheran’s primary identity is in Jesus, who has claimed you as his own, given you new life through the waters of Baptism, and invited you to come follow him” (xix).

This is no catechism. If you want to know what Lutherans believe in a systematic way, go read Luther’s Small Catechism. But this book tackles some great perspectives on what Lutherans are. The first part of the book looks at what we aren’t, and the first chapter is all about how we aren’t closed. Sutton talks about how Lutherans share the Gospel with anyone. As I read, I feared that he was painting too pretty a picture. Then he has a lengthy section talking about imperfections: “I would be a liar if I told you that Lutherans have perfectly maintained open access to the Gospel. We have not. Although we hate to hear it, Lutherans are sinful folks prone to closing the Gospel. At times, we have defied our own heritage. On occasion, we have willingly closed the Gospel to groups of people” (18). He maintains this pattern throughout the book: This is what Lutheranism is, and here is where we have failed to in fact be Lutheran. I can think of a number of people that should read this – both those disillusioned with their own Lutheran congregations to be reminded of what Lutherans are meant to be, as well as those who have forgotten what Lutherans are meant to be. (more…)

Review: Joseph

Joseph: Forgiving Brother
by Lyle L. Luchterhand

Joseph’s story is one of the most arresting in Scripture. He’s been the focus of movies and musicals and not a few kids’ specials. Who was Joseph? What did he do? This book tells the story of his life, from his earliest days all the way until his bones were buried in the Promised Land hundreds of years after his death.

This is another book in the God’s People series that I’ve generally enjoyed. And this volume in the set has some great choices. For instance, it starts when Joseph is a boy and his father is preparing to leave his grandfather. I enjoyed setting up Joseph’s life from that beginning point instead of picking up when they were settled back in Canaan. I also greatly enjoyed the presentation of the promises that Joseph had been taught; what God had promised his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father. That has been a strength of this entire set, pointing out how the people of the Old Testament trusted God’s promises and looked forward.

There were some… interesting choices made as well. For instance, the book rightly presents Joseph as seventeen years old when he is betrayed by his brothers and sold as a slave. He wasn’t a little boy, as often presented in story books. However, the book revers to this seventeen-year-old as a “little boy.” I… don’t get it.

While all the information is correct, the book stumbles a bit narratively. Certain passages feel more like a history report than a story or a dynamic retelling of actual events. Much of that could have been avoided by making things “present tense” rather than occurring in flashback. For instance, a chapter begins with Joseph thrown in jail, and them the cause for his jailing is told in flashback, “He had done X” instead of just telling the story.

Which means thus far, this is the weakest book of the series. Despite that, it’s still well worth the time for grounding Joseph within the story of salvation, tightly connecting him to his father Jacob as well as trusting in the promises of the Savior yet to come. If you’ve enjoyed the others in the set, don’t skip this one.

Review: For Young Men Only

For Young Men Only : A Guy’s Guide to the Alien Gender
by Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice with Shaunti Feldhahn

Girls are weird. Maybe you’ve noticed. And they’re even weirder when you and they are teenagers. Just strange. Maybe if someone talked to a whole bunch of them and explained what they said in normal words – you know, like the words guys use – there’d be hope. Well, good thing that Jeff Feldhahn and Eric Rice wrote this book! They interviewed 1,000 teen women and wrote their findings here, lining up several ah-ha! moments.

First off, I’ve loved every book in this series and I highly recommend them. For Men Only and For Women Only helped me, personally, in both my marriage and in my professional life. I didn’t even know this particular book existed, and when I saw it I snatched it up. Did it stand up to the good ratings of the others?

Mostly! (more…)

Review: The 10 Minute Bible Journey

The 10 Minute Bible Journey
by Dale Mason; foreword by Ken Ham

The Bible is a big book and it can be hard to wrap your arms around it. In The 10 Minute Bible Journey, Dale Mason takes the reader through 52 bite-size chunks that gives the “big picture” of Scripture. Each lesson is two pages of text and one page-size picture, and each lesson shows how these events connect directly or indirectly to Jesus. By the time the reader finishes the book, they should have a good idea of how the Bible fits together, to equip them to read the entire Bible on their own.

With a few caveats (one of them pretty major), I am going to highly recommend this book. It does a good job compressing the narrative of Scripture and showing how everything fits together. It keeps pointing to Jesus as the central person of the Bible, constantly directing the reader to him. While some of the lessons are little rocky in just how they present the information, many of them are compelling. The lessons on Jesus’s birth in particular are very well written, even grabbing me (who, you know, kinda know that story pretty well!). I appreciated the highlighting of Jesus throughout. (more…)

Review: Ready to Return?

Ready to Return? The Need for a Fundamental Shift in Church Culture to Save a Generation
by Ken Ham with Jeff Kinley; Research by Britt Beemer

Why have so many 20-somethings left the church, and what will it take to reclaim them? How can we make sure that 20-somethings that remain don’t disappear? This book uses research to show what went wrong and what the church can do about it.

…or so the back of the book claims. (more…)

Review: Little People, Big God

Little People Big God: Stories of Little People in the Bible Used by a Big God to Impact Their World
by Woodrow Kroll

There are some big names in the Bible: Moses. David. Peter. Paul. These are massive heroes! But what about the little people? In this book, Woodrow Kroll takes a look at thirteen “little people” from both the Old and New Testaments and shows how God used little-known people to accomplish big things.

In short: Don’t read this book. It is VeggieTales: it tells the history competently, but it’s all moralism and no Christ. It’s all “do this” and no “it is finished.” In fact, over and over again it states that all God wants is for us to do our best: “God keeps good records. His rewards are commensurate with our faithfulness in service. He is perfectly just and eager to advance us; He is looking for loyalty and obedience” (76). “[Micaiah] did what God asked, and that’s all God expects of any of us” (107). “What does Jesus expect from you? Just do what you can. That’s all Jesus asks” (141).

What’s the big deal? Instead of pointing me to Jesus, it points me to me. It drives me on. It is works righteousness disguised with a veneer of Christianity. It doesn’t show that these “little people” were sinners forgiven and loved by God. It doesn’t show them motivated by God’s mercy and grace. It lifts them up as examples that we should be like. All that will do is drive me to either pride at my accomplishments or despair that I’m not good enough.

On top of that, the book does seem to lead to a theology that says, “If you obey, God will give you an abundant life:” “To enjoy the abundant life that Christ intends for us, however, we have to live life God’s way” (20) Again, that’s junk. Jesus himself promised we would have trouble in this world. Our comfort is not an abundant life; it is Jesus, who knew suffering for us, to give us peace with God and a home in heaven.

The book does give a few positive messages. For instance, it does insist that even if the world never recognizes us, God sees our service. Using these little-known people as an example, it shows that we are valued by God. “Outside God’s Word, their names may appear only in Bible trivia games, but more important, they are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27). While they may not be known among men, they are known by God (John 10:3). And they have left a heritage that is of value today” (10). This is a good message… but it’s not worth the poison of the other messages here.

Do you look to find value? Read again how far Jesus went for you, and remember he did it for the joy set before him. You are valued by God, but not because of your service. You are valued because of Jesus’s service. And that means your value doesn’t depend on your actions – and that’s a comforting thought.

52 Books in 52 Weeks

I have an addiction to ink. I take it in until it overflows and pours out of me. Maybe you’ve noticed.

The beasts line my shelves, breathing at me, tempting me with their covers and their words strung together with such artistry. The beckon with their pages and urge me to take them in.

And for this last year… I have. Oh, have I!

Starting May 24th, 2017, and continuing every week since then, I’ve been able to read at least one book a week with the eye of improving my ministry, either through digging deeper into God’s Word or improving an ability or becoming more knowledgeable in some related subject. Apparently it started with Chivalry and has continued and will continue weekly at least until August, since I’ve already written enough reviews to last until then.

It has been a trip. I’ve read some real dreck. I’ve also read some books that are amazing. Then again, I’ve read some real frustrating volumes. Some have been quick reads; others took me much, much longer.

And I’ve enjoyed it. By forcing myself to post reviews here, I’ve kept up my reading. I’ve learned. The percentage of books I own that I’ve actually read has grown! Basically, by being public with what I read, I’ve forced myself to keep going and think a little more critically about what I’m reading. What am I getting out of this? What would someone else get out of this?

Another benefit of this last year has been an increase in my reading speed. Some things still take me longer; I’m currently reading a Michael Horton book that I can’t breeze through so much. However, other books I can finish within a day pretty easily. I did it with The Ragamuffin Gospel and each of the God’s People series has taken me about a half hour. I appreciate being able to wrap things up so quickly!

Reading so much has also let me read much more widely than I might otherwise. I was able to read a book on the craft of preaching (review forthcoming!). I tackled the Lutheran Confessions. I read about the Jewish Trinity and technology and justification and so much more! I tried to take in a myriad of subjects from myriad sources, and I think I did pretty well there.

But… all things must come to an end.

I’m still going to be reading this next year, of course. No addiction can let me off that easily! But instead of trying to keep up a weekly posting schedule for reviews, I want to tackle some deeper books that will simply take me longer to read. Maybe because I’m so far ahead, it’ll still end up being a weekly review. Maybe not. But I’m not going to force myself to read that quickly, at least for the next year. After that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll try reading 52 books in 52 weeks again!

In the meantime: What do you do to continue growing in your abilities? Do you try to keep to a schedule, or do you have a goal? If you read, do you try to mix it up with different topics, or do you keep to one sub-genre?

With whatever you read, I hope you’re blessed by it!