Review: The Ragamuffin Gospel

The Ragamuffin Gospel
by Brennan Manning

The Gospel is only for the hopeless, for those who are ragamuffins. In this book, Brennan Manning brings hope to the hopeless, pointing to Jesus as the God who died for those who could not lift themselves up. Using a tender approach, Manning shows that the Gospel exists for the broken.

Not long ago I read The Wisdom of Tenderness by Brennan Manning and quite enjoyed it. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Rich Mullins lately, who loved this book of Manning’s. It’s been sitting on my shelf, so I thought I’d give it a read. (more…)


Review: Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
by C. S. Lewis

Orual raises her younger half-sister Psyche when their father the king finds more important things to do, like ruling their nation. Disaster strikes, though, and Psyche is the scapegoat. She must be sacrificed to the god of the mountain. She is left chained to the Tree for the god to come and destroy. Or maybe marry. The priest isn’t entirely sure which it will be, or if it is somehow both. Orual sets out to save her sister and discovers that the god has indeed taken her in, shown her love, but forbids her from ever seeing his face. Well, that’s what Psyche says… Orual cannot see the mansion she claims to live in. Orual does everything she can to save her sister from these supposed delusions… but are they delusions? Or is Orual the god’s plaything?

OK, so this isn’t the normal kind of book I review here. I felt like reading some C. S. Lewis, and I had never read this novel. I figured it would end up being like his Science Fiction trilogy or the Chronicles of Narnia, where fiction is used to teach about Christ. Well, this kind of is like that. Kind of. (more…)

Review: Jesus Freaks

Jesus Freaks
by dc Talk and The Voice of the Martyrs

The Church has always been persecuted. This book collects the stories of dozens of men, women, and children throughout the history of the Church, from Stephen, the first martyr whose story is told in Acts, until the 1990’s, when this book was published. Christians being imprisoned and killed from the ancient Middle East to 1500’s England to Cold War U.S.S.R. To modern China – and the book tells their stories. The stories range from six pages to half a page, meaning each one is bite-sized. Mixed in with the stories are commentary, quotes from Christians through the ages, and Bible verses. The book concludes with a list of modern nations persecuting Christians, as well as tips on how to help.

I bought this book when it was new and shiny on the shelf back in 1999. I started reading it at the time, but had to set it down. My old bookmark is still in it, in fact. I couldn’t handle all the stories of persecution. The narratives are written with strength, not shying away from the pain involved for those who stand on Christ. That intensity remains now as I read it through to the end, but now that I’ve been tempered with far more maturity than I had back then, I see some issues with the book (more…)

Review: Middle School Ministry

Middle School Ministry
by Mark Oestreicher & Scott Rubin

Middle school is crazy. Is it best to treat middle schoolers like elementary students when it comes to church education planning? How about treating them like high schoolers? Or do we just lock them up until the hormones calm down a little bit? In Middle School Minsitry, Mark Oestreicher and Scott Rubin tackle the subject head-on, arguing that middle school may be the most crucial time in a person’s life, spiritually. It’s a time when they start asking big questions, and it’s essential that the church be there to help them ask questions, value them as people, and show them Jesus. The book divides into two parts. Part one outlines the changes a middle-schooler is going through physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how all of those changes affect them spiritually. Part two then goes through how to set up a middle school program, including setting up what to talk about, how to get volunteers, and how to treat the dangerous beasts known as parents. Throughout, both authors bring up both humorous and very serious examples showing what they’re talking about, wider evidence to back them up, and interviews with ministers who specialize in middle school ministry. (more…)

Review: Hard Sayings of Jesus

Hard Sayings of Jesus
by Joel C. Seifert

Some things Jesus said are fairly easy: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Sometimes, though, he said some things that are… difficult. “Buy a sword!” “Hate your mom!” “Unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees…” What do we do with those hard sayings of Jesus? If we value all of the Bible as God’s Word, we need to wrestle with these difficult passages. In this book. Joel Seifert walks through many of the most difficult things Jesus ever said and explains them, using context, culture, and appropriate translations to connect Law and Gospel to modern readers.

After my last… disastrous… book, I thought I’d read something fast, easy, and from a source I knew I could trust to not lead me astray. I have to say, I greatly appreciated this little volume. And make no mistake, it is little – a paltry eighty pages! Yet there’s a lot of good in it. (more…)

Review: The New Vintage Family

The New Vintage Family
by Drenda Keesee

Everyone seems to want vintage things these days. Hipsters are after old treasures. Antiques are still sold all over! So… why not the vintage family? Does it still work in this world? In The New Vintage Family Drenda Keesee shows how the “vintage family” that God commanded way back when not only works, but it far preferable to most modern families.

Except… don’t.

Don’t read this book. Don’t buy it. Stay away. (more…)

Review: Death by Love

Death by Love: Letters from the Cross
by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Jesus died on the cross to take away your sins. If you are Christian, this is a truth you hold close to your heart, because it is the ultimate comfort. Yet the cross is so much richer than that. In this book, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears explore various aspects of Jesus dying for you, examining it as though it were a multi-faceted gem. Every chapter, Driscoll introduces a person he knows, outlines their problem, and then in a letter to them shows how the cross is the answer to their problem. Then, Gerry Breshears steps in after each letter to answer some of the more technical questions about the theology examined in each chapter.

In general, this book is solid. Every chapter looks at the cross of Christ using a different theological picture: justification, redemption, propitiation, atonement, reconciliation… the list goes on. What makes this book excel though is that it’s not a dry theological text; every chapter begins with a real person struggling in real ways, and Driscoll excels in showing how the cross is the answer to what they need. (more…)

Review: What Good Is God?

What Good is God: In Search of a Faith that Matters
by Philip Yancey

Does God matter? I mean, sure, Jesus died and all that, but does any of it matter today? If God is real, we should see him and his followers doing things that matter in this world, right? In this book, Philip Yancey investigates ten different places where Christians have made a difference. For each place, he writes a chapter of background, and then presents a talk he gave at each location. Places vary from a convention for former prostitutes to Mumbai during terrorist attacks to a Bible college he graduated from. In each place, he asks: Does God matter?

Yancey wrote the excellent Where Is God When It Hurts?, and as such I was eager to read this book.

Sigh. (more…)

Review: UnChristian

UnChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity …and why it matters
by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

Barna Research asked over 50,000 people who aren’t Christians what they thought of Christianity. This book is the result of the research. It highlights the most common responses, as well as what proper responses are. The most common responses were: Hypocritical, Conversion-Focused, Antihomosexual, Sheltered, Too Political, and Judgmental. After some introductory chapters, lengthy chapters focus on each word, giving ample time for those outside Christianity to explain what they mean and why they say it. Each chapter then concludes with reactions from Christian leaders. The book then wraps up with a summary chapter pointing the way ahead.

There are two bad ways this book could have gone. It could have wrung its hands saying, “Look how terrible it is for the church! We need to change the way we do everything or we’ll be forgotten!” It could also have brushed off the complaints: “Clearly these people have no idea what Christianity is, so we need to double down on what we do.” Instead, it walks a narrow middle ground: “If this is their perception, we need to deal with it. And is this an opportunity for us to do some soul-searching? Are their perceptions accurate?” And rather than turn to popular opinion, the book urges us to turn to Christ to see the way to go.

I appreciated the balance a great deal. The book take a look, for example, why Christians are regarded as “hypocritical,” giving several examples of why outsiders view Christians that way. It then warns that outsiders will never understand Christians fully, as they do not know Jesus. And then – gasp! – the book asks the reader to evaluate their actions in the light of Christ, and rather than do what a congregation might want, see what Jesus would do. (more…)

Review: The Social Church

The Social Church: a Theology of Digital Communication
by Justin Wise

Well, the digital revolution arrived. If you’re reading this, you’re online. (Unless someone printed out this review for you…? That’s kinda weird.) But… a lot of churches haven’t joined the revolution yet. They’re afraid, in large part because when you join social media, you can’t control the narrative anymore. People can… talk back. They can leave reviews of your church. And what if they say something wrong?! Wise’s book addresses churches in this book, talking about the necessity of digital communication and social media interaction. He talks about good ways to use social media, things to watch out for, and ways that social media will highlight the bad side of far too many congregations. In the end, he encourages churches with some great guidelines to use.

Overall thought: Though Wise mangles the Gospel, he gives some very good worldly wisdom on how and why to use digital media in ministry. (more…)