26 March 2014

Book Review: Life Together

Life Together (1954) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a short, densely packed volume of what life and Christian community should look like. This book was published in 1954, nine years after Bonhoeffer was killed by the Nazi regime. In it, however, our series of teachings on living with one another as Christians. He proclaims "Christian community is like the Christian sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim." One of the things that I really appreciated about this book was how he walks through the rhythms of the day. There's much to aspire to. He calls the Christian to gather in worship in the early morning for hymns, the reading of the word, and prayer. He also talks in a fairly detailed fashion about the importance of the Lord's supper, A sacrament too often ignored in many evangelical churches. I particularly benefited from his chapters on silence and solitude and confession and communion. It seems to me that Bonhoeffer has much to teach us modern-day evangelicals about what the Christian life can or should look like. I would highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Daughters in Danger

Daughters in Danger (2014) by Elayne Bennett is an important book. Bennett is the founder of the Best Friends Foundation and the wife of William Bennett, who has also written so effectively about morality.

In this book, Bennett addresses the dangers are young women are facing. We live in a society where young girls are increasingly sexualized and prone to risky behaviors. She identified several probable roots to this: The breakdown of the family, political correctness, and the dark side of radical feminism.

Weaving in tales from the media about violence in relationships, including some high-profile ones, she paints a picture that is concerning for young women, But she also proposes a way to address these concerns, citing many examples from her best friends program.

On the whole, I thought this was a good book. This book raises many cautions and I would like for parents and educators to hear these. There is a crisis with our youth and we frankly are not addressing send the foundational moral level. I did wonder if there were times where she overstepped, though. A friend and I were dialoguing about something she wrote:"In no known case do American youth who take their faith seriously, whatever their faith, indulge on average and more risky behaviors the new secular peers." This raises questions such as what does she mean by take their fate seriously or engage in more risky behaviors. My friend pointed me to a 2007 survey of 3400 teens by Mark Regnerus, a very competent researcher, which showed that Evangelical teams tend to lose their virginity slightly younger and are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners age 17. In other words, there are questions that linger.

Overall though, let me state again, this is an important book. If you have daughters, I would strongly recommend this book to you.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

24 March 2014

Book Review: The Gift of Being Yourself

The Gift of Being Yourself (2004) by David Benner is a useful little book for those interested in understanding themselves. Benner is a professor of psychology and spirituality who is interested in understanding more than just behavioral change. In this book, he explores John Calvin's dual maxim that as Christians we must come to know God and come to know ourselves. Although this book dedicates a chapter to the former as a necessary requisite for the latter, the majority of the book is committed to helping the reader explore issues of self understanding, which is best accomplished by knowing how we relate to God. In particular, there is a clear call to knowing yourself as one deeply loved by God. Once you realize yourself as one deeply loved, you can then begin to explore your true self--not the self you want others to see--but who you truly are.  This book provides some practical ways to begin this journey. It is readable, engaging, and important.

21 March 2014

Book Review: Dynamics of Spiritual Life

I saw Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (1979) on a few different reading lists of people I trust. This large book written by a church history professor is wide ranging in scope, but highly readable. Essentially, the author explores the history of revivals and spiritual renewal in the church and especially the "evangelical" church, such as the first and second great awakenings. He spent quite a bit of time discussing Jonathan Edwards, who was a catalyst in the first great awakening in America and a fine writer to boot.

I found this to be a theologically rich book covering a wide variety of topics such sotierology, eschatology, pneumatology, and eschatology but generally grounded in the history of the church.  Although addressing evangelicalism, he ventures more broadly into Roman Catholicism, Lutheran Pietism, and Reformed Puritanism to name a few.

There was much to commend about this book. I think it would be useful for church leaders to read even today to read and understand the dynamics of renewal. As a psychologist and one who is interested in the life of the soul, I found this book particularly sensitive to the role of soul care in the church. Lovelace does not commend a primarily exhortational method nor does he go so far as to wholly give way to modern forms of psychotherapy. In other words, his writings would seem to fit comfortably in the world of Christian Psychology, where I tend to identify myself. 

For the average reader, this book may be overwhelming. It is 455 pages long and he is prone to using technical terminology at times. If you are willing to wade through that, however, I think the extra work will be worth the reward.

17 March 2014

Book Review: The PAPA Prayer

The PAPA Prayer (2006) by Larry Crabb provides a description of a method of relational prayer.  Crabb, who admits early in the book, that he has written little about prayer in the past, indicated that for many Christians, prayer is often difficult. Much of our prayer is focused on ourselves or asking for requests to be filled. Crabb encourages the reader to back up and focus more upon the relationship with God.  The letters in PAPA are an acronym for:

Present yourself to God without pretense.
Attend to how you are thinking about God.
Purge yourself of anything blocking your relationship with God.
Approach God as the "first thing" in your life.

Crabb takes the reader through a reasonably detailed description of what he means by each of these things and how it looks in action.

On the positive side, Crabb is right that prayer is difficult for many Christians. Furthermore, I think he is correct that too often we downplay the importance of relationship in our prayers. Our "first thing" is relationship with God.  All other things may be added, but our relationship with our Papa is primary.

My fear is that, like other books on prayer, this may not have the intended effect. On the one hand, Crabb tries to clarify that this is not a model or magical roadmap to vibrant prayer, but as he writes about it, it is hard not to get that feel.

If you want to learn more about relational prayer, this is probably a really good place to start and I believe all of us can grow in learning more about how we relate to God. 

15 March 2014

Book Review: Sacred Rhythms

As one who does most of his reading in the reformed tradition, I tend to prefer books that are more cognitively driven. Indeed, some of the new reformed folks seem to discourage the more emotional or mystical writers.  However, Sacred rhythms: Arranging our loves for spiritual transformation (2006) by Ruth Haley Barton was recommended by a colleague of mine who I consider an important mentor, so I took a chance.

Barton is a spiritual director who helps people on their spiritual journeys. In this book, the author helps the reader to explore some of the spiritual rhythms that may help order our spiritual lives. Although there are many spiritual disciplines she could have explored, she focused on: solitude, scripture, prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, and sabbath.

Every time I read a book like this I get challenged to look at my own "spiritual rhythms." Last fall, for example, I read The Attentive Life by Leighton Ford, another book that challenges one to think through their spiritual journeys.  In Barton's case, I particularly appreciated her description of the Lectio Divina, which is a specific way of reading and approaching Scripture. I am drawn to this method, but I fight against my tendency to want to make sure I am covering enough ground when I read. Ken Boa's description of the Lectio has also been challenging for me.

The chapters this time through that I most resonated with, however, were 5) Honoring the Body, and 6) Self-examination. These are often less discussed in other books on the disciplines. In particular, her recognition of embodied spirituality is an underheard message in modern Christianity, where we often lean toward gnostic tendencies. 

As with any book that veers outside of your typical line of thinking, this one challenged me in ways too.  I found myself wondering exactly where she was going at times, but for the most part, when I stopped to "listen", she would get to a place where what she was making made sense.

I would recommend this book to those interested in learning about things to put into place that might help order it in a Godward fashion.

14 March 2014

Book Review: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

 I saw on Amazon that at the time of this writing, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (2014) by Nabeel Qureshi averages 4.9 out of 5.0 stars. Over 100 people have already rated this recent publication and 95% of them rated it as a 5/5.  I found that rating improbably high, so when the opportunity to read this book for myself arose, I happily accepted.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a story of a man's journey from Islam to Christianity. Qureshi was raised in a devout Pakistani Muslim family where Islam was absolutely central to what they did and how they lived. Qureshi's parents were well-versed in the teachings and practices of Islam and they were devoted to passing these teachings and practices on to their children. In this book, the author provided an autobiographical account of his life beginning in Islam and his journey to Christianity.  

There is much to like about this book. Qureshi wrote respectfully about Islam. In fact, I learned more about Islam from this book than I have in other things that I have previously read or encountered. He was able to provide a first hand, insider's account of what Islam actually looks like and teaches. He did some without animus or antagonism. 

The author also treated us to his wrestling with the truth of Christianity and the difficulties with Islam. Through a four year period, he engaged in challenging and difficult conversations with people he came to trust, most notably his friend David, who figures prominently in the book.  Qureshi is no intellectual slouch, finishing college in the top 1% a year early and then graduating from medical school. He applied his fine tuned intellect to exploring both faiths in depth. 

Most importantly, though, I think this book provides a window into what apologetics and evangelism look like in the context of real relationships. So many apologetics books are antiseptic, but real life is gritty and there are real consequences to changing worldview. Qureshi dealt with those changes and shares with his readers the joys and the pains associated with that.  

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a remarkable book.  I will happily add my 5 star rating to all of those that already exist. 

I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

11 March 2014

Book Review: Joy For the World

Greg Forster's Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence & Can Begin Rebuilding It (2014) is a must read for Christians. Last year, I had the privilege of going through a Christian worldview program, the Centurions program. As a part of that program, I was required to read several books and I will be heartily recommending this book to them.

In this 322 page book, Forster seeks to be an encourager to the church, specifically as we engage culture. He offers some appropriate pushback on the sometimes dour approach we Christians take to dealing with culture, providing a fresh perspective.  As Tim Keller wrote in the foreward, "Greg Forster's important and practical new book helps Christians think out how to engage culture" (page 13).

Forster opens his book explaining why the joy of God has change potential. He described how the joy of God changed his mind, heart, and way of living, leaving me asking what does he mean by joy of God?" He answered: "when I talk about the joy of God, I'm not talking about an emotion. I mean the state of flourishing in mind, heart, and life that Christians experience by the Holy Spirit" (page 23). Forster's description of the joy of God brought to mind Neal Plantinga's concept of shalom discussed in his book Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, another must read book.

His opening chapter, "Christianity and the Great American Experiment," was worth the price of the book in my opinion. It was readable, informative, and engaging. He wades through minefields, such as the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation...or not.  In this section, his wise discussion of the foundational importance of freedom of religion is crucial in the time and place in which I live, 21st century America.

Forster calls Christians to be involved with and engaging society, manifesting the joy of God. Forster was right: "if we we focus on intentionally cultivating social transformation only inside the church building, we are failing to cultivate discipleship in 98 percent of our lives" (page 80). Unfortunately, this message is sorely lacking in most American churches.

After issuing a call for joyful cultural engagement, Forster explores how the church might accomplish this in several different areas of our lives ranging from doctrine and worship to sex and government. This book is wide ranging in its scope, but it kept me interested as a reader. I fear that some people will reject this book out of hand due to its long chapters and overall length, but please do not let that deter you.

Though I have read hundreds of books over the last few years, there are only a very few that I consider must reads.  Joy for the World will now be on that list and that is especially true if you are drawn to books like Not the Way It's Supposed to Be, Culture Making by Crouch, or any of the works of Tim Keller, Chuck Colson, or Francis Schaeffer.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway Publishing Beyond the Page book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

10 March 2014

Free book on apologetics

Today, Amazon has featured, for free, J Warner Wallace's Cold Case Christianity. Wallace is a former cold case detective and now Christian apologist who works for one of my favorite ministries, Stand to Reason. 

04 March 2014

A video about teenage depression

Here is another winner from David Murray. 

Pray for Larry Crabb

This week, a blog post came through from New Way Ministries written by Rachael Crabb, Larry's wife. He has a busy schedule coming up including leading a week long School of Spiritual Direction (that I am scheduled to go to).

Rachael writes,

Dear Prayer Partners,

It has been a long time since you’ve received a Prayer Initiative from NewWay—here is a short, very important one. I wanted to update you about Larry’s latest bout with the gastrinoma/cancer that has settled in his liver again—3 tumors in the liver, two in one lobe and 1 in the other lobe so no invasive surgery! If he had to go under the knife it would be three separate surgeries, with time between each for the resections to be restored. We did not want that invasion but love how God made us, a liver can regrow!

All this has lead up to Tuesday, March 4th, when Larry will have one of the newest procedures done by an interventional radiologist. Dr Stangle will go thru the groin into the liver with a catheter of chemo and inject it into the liver. The doctor trained at Mt Sinai in NYC in this fairly new treatment and said side effects are minimal (out of several 100 Dr S has done he has had 2 patients lose their hair (picturing Larry bald for a time is not a pretty sight). We are hopeful that unseen lesions will be wiped out and kept at bay for a bit with this concentrated chemo (the doctor also told us that he will always have this cancer and it’s not if it will return BUT where it will return). I guess after 17 and 1/2 yrs of dealing with this off and on we are realizing that we are involved in a unseen story being told all around us and are grateful.

A longer prayer initiative will be coming–we have a very busy schedule coming up for NewWay in the next several months (the doctor also told us that Larry needs a week after this procedure to recoup, so we’re giving him 2 weeks before he hits the road running on March 19th) We also like including the many prayer needs and praises you send to us. Know we are grateful for friends who hold up our arms!

With gratefulness to a BIG GOD,
Rachael for Larry and the little team

Pray for healing, but above all that God would be glorified.