Well, it was a good run.

book shelves book stack bookcase books

Nearly two and a half years, and now… it’s done.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you might have noticed something missing this past Tuesday: There was no review.

Since arriving at my new congregation, I’ve been able to read and review a book every single week. And last week, it came to an end. I failed to read a book this last week.

Honestly, it’s been a lot longer than that. I go through spurts of reading; sometimes I’d have reviews lined up three months in advance. Sometimes I’d be reading and posting a review that same day. But now, my lead has ended. (more…)

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: Words Kids Need to Hear

Words Kids Need to Hear
by David Staal

Parents are vital in the lives of their children, and what they say can transform a young life forever. What are the words kids need to hear from their parents? How can parents effectively convey those messages? How do you keep from going too far, because there’s always that pesky need for balance? In Words Kids Need to Hear, David Staal lists seven phrases every child needs to hear.

This book is filled with good, practical advice. It shows parents the need to ask their children for forgiveness. It points out that children need to know they’re treasured. It reminds that parents need to actually say, “I love you.” I agree with each of the seven phrases Staal picked out, and the reminder to do so is well-taken.

Staal also takes time to show how each phrase can be practically integrated into family life. I appreciated those parts of the book, offering many ideas on how to say “no” or “I believe in you.”

I found his balancing “Words of Caution” to often be a bit too short, though. Parents do need to actually say “I love you,” of course. But if the parent loves the child so much that the child becomes an idol, that love has become a sin that will damage both parent and child. More words of warning to show the proper balance would have been appreciated.

So, yes, there are definitely positive aspects of this book.

But. (more…)

Review: Move Toward the Mess

Move Toward the Mess: The Ultimate Fix for a Boring Christian Life
by John Hambrick

Jesus wasn’t boring. If he was, he wouldn’t have had the following he had. If Jesus was boring, the religious leaders would not have sought to kill him. So why is it that so many Christians are bored in their faith lives? John Hambrick tackles this challenge, pointing to grace from God and grace to our fellow humans as a stunning answer.

Overall, this book is pretty solid. I appreciate Hambrick’s repeated stress that we are forgiven in Christ, and that motivates us. He includes a chapter on guilt, showing that it should not be our motivator. We don’t do anything to gain forgiveness, after all! “God is bigger than the mess. And that confidence enables us to invest in things like self-control. It’s not so we can earn God’s favor. It’s because we already have it” (64). (more…)

Review: Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther

Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther
by Gerhard E. Lenski

Who was Martin Luther? What should a child know about him? This short book from 1935 gives a brief sketch of Luther’s life aimed at schoolchildren. It walks through his childhood, entrance into the monastery, combat against indulgences, stand at the Diet of Worms, the establishment of the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s death.

Here, let me sum up for you: Don’t give a child this book. Don’t give it to an adult, either.

First, though the book is entitled Stirring Scenes from the Life of Luther I wasn’t stirred at all. In fact, I found the narrative to be pretty severely lacking. This isn’t simply a matter of the book being older; one of my favorite fiction series is The Wizard of Oz and its thirteen novel sequels which all predate this volume. The tone felt like a pastor who’s used to teaching seminarians trying to give a children’s sermon. He might claim he told a story, but all the kids would say all he did was talk about something, not tell a story! (more…)

Review: The Wit of Martin Luther

The Wit of Martin Luther
by Eric W. Gritsch

Martin Luther wasn’t just used by God to restore the Gospel to Europe; he also had a cutting sense of humor he used in the pulpit, in his writing, and in person. In The Wit of Martin Luther, Eric Gritsch talks about the sources of Luther’s humor, how he used it, and shows a great many examples from throughout Luther’s life.

I want to enjoy this book. I found the writer’s presuppositions got in my way, though. Let me give some examples: “It seemed as if Satan had his way with the church – Luther’s favorite way of describing evil, or something that goes wrong” (2-3). Luther, as far as I know, meant the literal devil or one of his servants, a demon, who literally attacked him in the spiritual realm. It wasn’t just a “way of describing evil.” What this tells me is that the writer doesn’t seem to want to let Luther speak for himself.

In another example of not understanding Luther, the author writes, “Luther knew that everything depended on a consensus on ‘justification’ – it was not yet on the ecumenical card in the serious game for Christian unity. It would take almost half a millennium to produce a ‘Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Lutherans and Catholics’” (27). That joint declaration ignores what justification is and restates it in such a way that it’s no longer justification – at least not in any way Luther would recognize it. (more…)

Review: To Africa With Love

To Africa with Love
by E. H. Wendland

In 1962, Pastor E. H. Wendland was commissioned as a missionary to central Africa. This book, published in 1974, sums up his theology, methodology, and missiology. It talks about the difficulties and blessings of preaching Christ in a changing culture and a sometimes dangerous place. The back of the book includes a number of short stories of things that happened to him and fellow missionaries as they sought to preach the Gospel.

I’m honestly disappointed in this book. I feel that perhaps Wendland was tasked to write a book about his time as a missionary, and he was given instructions in what to include. Rather than go deep in any area, this book feels like it’s an inch deep in vast waters. None of it is bad. None of it is false. And yet, I feel like I didn’t get to learn a whole lot, nor that he went in depth in any one thing.

Now, it may be that since I’ve already received training and have experience as a pastor, much of what he wrote was old news. Perhaps a layman reading this book would find it the perfect depth. I confess that. Yet, throughout, I wanted more information on pretty much any one subject. Wendland often will talk about generalities, but often seems to refrain from specific stories to illustrate. I do understand the need to be careful about what you share, but it made much of it harder to grasp. I find as I think about my reading that I recall his specific stories at the end of the book much better than most of the text! (more…)

Review: The World’s Last Night

The World’s Last Night and Other Essays
by C. S. Lewis

In this collection of essays, C. S. Lewis addresses a number of topics in thoughtful, witty, and direct ways. Lewis talks about the possibility of life on other planets, why no one seems to like the doctrine of Final Judgment, and has Screwtape (of The Screwtape Letters) propose a toast. Taken together, this quick read will lead readers to deeper thoughts about culture and our reaction to what God says.

After the last few books leaving me… unfulfilled, I wanted to read something that would likely leave me at least thoughtful, if not edified. I also wanted something fairly quick to read. I devoured the book in two days, but easily could have done it in one if I’d wanted. The essays average less than twenty pages each, making the reading swift. And it’s C. S. Lewis, so while I won’t agree with everything he writes, he’ll at least get me thinking.

And this volume delivered. (more…)

Review: The Lay of the Lord

The Lay of the Lord

by Christopher Yokel

The true story of Jesus’s life remains an epic full of emotion, unexpected twists and turns, and tragedy and triumph. Sometimes its familiarity makes us forget, though. Christopher Yokel recasts the gospels as an epic poem, recapturing our wonder at what Jesus has done. Beginning with the announcement of John’s impending birth to Zechariah and ending Easter evening, the book walks with Jesus and leads us to gasp again at the story we have known for so long.

This book has power. I would not give it to a newbie Christian or someone who isn’t Christian unless they were the type of person who likes looking deeper and looking up allusions. It is filled with poetic shadows and illustrations and mentions that I understood, but would fly over the head of someone not familiar with the history of salvation. Scapegoats? Moriah? Fig trees? (more…)

Review: A Fragile Stone

A Fragile Stone: The Emotional Life of Simon Peter
by Michael Card

Who is Peter? Who is this man that so many Protestants ignore and Roman Catholics revere? If we strip away the myth and the tradition, what does Scripture say about him? In this book, Michael Card walks through what the Gospels, Acts, and Peter’s letters say about him. When he steps into imagination, he informs the reader, though that happens seldom. We see Peter as brash fisherman, growing disciple, fallen man, and the person Jesus used to help shepherd the church in its early years. Card highlights several times Peter said, “No!” to Jesus, and what they reveal about Peter. And in the end, he shows that Peter is a stone… just like we are, stones forming the building of the church.

I’ve enjoyed Michael Card’s music for a few years. His Unveiled Hope is fantastic, and I have a piano arrangement of “New Jerusalem” from that album that I’ve used numerous times in worship. He employs his poetry and musical talent to share Jesus. Card also wrote the excellent A Violent Grace that I recommend to just about anyone who’s looking for a good devotion book. With all that, I entered this book with high expectations.

For the most part, those expectations were met. (more…)