Book Reviews

2014 Reading Report

Here is the 2014 reading report!stackofbooks200

The goal for the year was 50 books. I didn’t quite get there—there’s only 47 on this list, but I had an opportunity to review a couple of unpublished books…and if you count Llama, Llama, Nighty Night and the rest of the series, I got about 7,000 in…

Living and Longing for the Lord: A Guide to 1-2 Thessalonians  – Whitworth
Solid piece on 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Short, lots of application. Doesn’t answer every tough question as much as you might like, but gives you some good resources.

Practice Resurrection – Peterson
Eugene Peterson takes on Ephesians. Good material about maturing in Christ as a church. Peterson is always poetic and just puts things well.

Fit for the Pulpit: The Preacher and His Challenges – various
Would make a good textbook for “Preacher and His Work”-style classes. Generally good. Sometimes states the obvious a little too much. (We should be moral examples? Really!? Never thought of that!)

Soul Detox – Groeschel
Basically an updated version of Winkler’s “Heart Diseases and their cures.” Would make a great sermon series or class book.  Deals with deception, “septic thoughts”, bitterness, envy, and more.

Who Is Jesus…Really – McDowell
Basic, light apologetic for the person and nature of Jesus.

Muscle and a Shovel – Shank
I wrote a more thorough review of this one earlier. While there is good in it, I think it is overly simplistic and not what I would recommend in most cases.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Skloot
Fascinating story about the history of the most significant cell-line in research science, HeLa. I promise, the book is more interesting than that sentence made it sound. The book deals with the cultural and ethical issues that we still face in science research. This was good.

Republic of Plato – Bloom’s Translation
This was fun! Read for a classics course at Knox on Plato and Augustine. Almost made me wish I had been a philosophy major. Didn’t fill me with hope for politics, but made me appreciate the City of God more!

Worst Ideas Ever: a Celebration of Embarrassment – Kline and Tomaszewski
Goofy gift-book. Reading about other people’s failures kind of makes you appreciate your own. Who really thought New Coke was a good idea? This book tells you.

City of God – Augustine (selections)
For the Plato and Augustine course. Glad I was exposed to this. When you read it, it’s clear why it’s lasted so long!

How to Knock Over a 7-Eleven and Other Ministry Training – Cheshire
Way better than I expected. Creativity, passion, and teamwork in ministry. It’s neat to peak in on other teams and see what they’re doing. Gets outreach out of a box.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – Gladwell
Really thought-provoking read. Sometimes little changes create the “perfect storm” that influence an organization or society for the good. Great stories and thoughts.

Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount – Harris
Harris treats the Sermon on the Mount as, let’s say, a sermon from Jesus that we ought to pay attention to and take seriously. It was refreshingly simple and challenging. Kind of like the Sermon on the Mount…

The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II – Freeman
While the title uses more adjectives than should be legal, the book lived up to it. Incredible story I missed in history class about an Allied airlift operation to rescue downed airmen in Yugoslavia. I didn’t know anything about the troubles in that part of Europe during the war. These men were way braver than I’ll ever dream of being.

The Hawk’s Nest – Hawk
Daily devotional book. Great stories, weak applications.

On the Decay of the Art of Lying – Twain
Funny look at honesty and the lack thereof. Very Mark Twain-ey. Read this at the beach.

How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck – Stockman
Simple tips for doing a better job with vide. Useful if you ever dabble in video—even if it’s just your camera phone and Windows Movie Maker. Doesn’t assume tons of knowledge or equipment or budget.

The Giver – Lowry
I think we read this in eighth grade. Wanted to re-read before the movie came out. Still a book that makes you think!

When God Winks at You – Rushnell
A look at coincidence. Feel-good stories, but not much substance. Mainly a collection of coincidence stories that are attributed to God. Some of them felt a little stretched to me. Light on scripture ideas.

Galatians For You: For Reading, Feeding, and Leading – Keller
Good companion to the book of Galatians. It is as reformed and Calvinistic as they come, but even for a cranky Arminian, there was plenty to appreciate. He does a good job keeping an eye on the overall argument of the book.

Paul for Everyone: Galatians (and 1 Thessalonians) – NT Wright
Good counter-point to Keller’s work on Galatians. New Perspective on Paul really shows here.

Moses: Freeing Yourself to Know God – Getz
Biography and lessons on Moses. Lots of application, but very quick to moralize a text and leave the ancient context. Still helps you see relevancy of Moses today.

Freakonomics – Levitt and Dubner
Economists “explore the hidden side of everything.” Interesting deconstruction of some common myths. Helpful in thinking about how to analyze problems and select solutions.

Love Does—Goff
Book of the year. Brimming with great stories.  Read this book. Now.

The Sticky Faith Guide for your Family — Powell
Suggestions and principles for putting your faith into practice at home.  Good material. Also reread the original Sticky Faith with our interns.

How to Speak to Youth and Keep Them Awake at the Same Time – Davis
Ideas for being relevant and interesting for youth.  Not bad, not great. (I got kind of sleepy reading it. Ironic?)

Autopsy of a Deceased Church – Rainer
Very short, quick read. I recommend all preachers, elders, and people heavily invested in a stagnant or declining church read this. Identifies a lot of what has gone wrong, hopefully, before it is too late.

Vanishing Evangelical – Miller
Calvin Miller is a favorite author of mine. He argues that the mainstream “success” of American evangelicalism is actually what has undermined its future. I think he’s right.

Unlikely Disciple – Roose
Roose follows his mentor (A.J. Jacobs) by making himself a human guinea pig. He’s an agnostic who enrolls at Liberty, one of the most conservative religious universities in the country. I didn’t expect much from this book, but he had more reasonable insights than I would have expected. There is benefit in seeing the “Christian sub-culture” from outside eyes. As a FHU graduate, Liberty had more in common with Freed than I might have thought.

How Do You Kill 11 Million People – Andy Andrews
Let me get this out of the way: this isn’t a how-to manual. (Hope you’re not disappointed!) How the decay of truth in politics leads the way to even greater problems. Did a good job describing the problem, but didn’t help much in terms of offering a solution.

Simply Christian – N.T. Wright
Wow. Wright identifies what everyone hungers for (justice, beauty, relationships, etc.) and shows how God works in these things. He talks about the simple story-arc of creation, fall, and re-creation. Excellent.

You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan
Christian couple’s marriage book, similar to Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage.” Trying to remind couples that their marriage is not their most significant relationship. Has a neat his/hers style of writing. If you like Chan’s style, you’ll like this.

When Mountains Won’t Move by Hawk
Jacob Hawk’s look at our response to suffering and pain. What do we do when things don’t go our way? Simplistic, but some helpful material and steps to deal with suffering.

Preaching with a Plan by Scott Gibson
How to construct a plan to move people in the direction of spiritual maturity. Good emphasis on the purpose of the plan.

Five Secrets and a Decision by Dale Jenkins
Simple book based on the author’s dad’s instructions to newly baptized converts. Short, simple, helpful.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Peterson
Peterson uses the Psalms of Ascent to help us think about a life of discipleship. A tough read, but worth it.

Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
We need grace. Grace is for those who need it, not the perfect. Encouraging read from an interesting life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons – edited by Robertson
Advent sermons from the life of Bonhoeffer. Interesting to see how he preached and wrote during some of the most challenging times in modern history.

Developing a Series by Jonathan Malm
Predominantly about the marketing and communication aspects of a sermon series. Some good ideas for getting your message out further.

Purple Ducks by Humek
A spiritual memoir that kind of reminded me of Blue Like Jazz. Main idea is that we all want to be included. Okay.

Bethlehem road: A Guide to Ruth – Whitworth
Great guidebook to the book of Ruth. Major focus on God’s providence during suffering. Best offering of Start2Finish books so far.

Simply Jesus by N.T.  Wright
Excellent, excellent, excellent. Helps set Jesus against the backdrop of the collision of Judaism, Rome, and the mighty acts of God. Must-read if you’re studying Jesus seriously.

10 Questions about Prayer Every Christian Must Answer by Alex McFarland and Elmer Towns
Covers lots of interesting questions: do we change God’s mind in prayer? What happens when prayers ‘collide’? Great questions, but the answers were a little weaker than I had hoped.

Now I Know by Dan Lewis
Now I Know More by Dan Lewis
Interesting trivia book(s) based on Dan’s daily email. Lots of fun “behind the scenes” stories. Short, simple chapters.

Simple Church by Rainer and Geiger
Guide to cutting “church clutter” and being intentional about making disciples.

 What are YOU reading in 2015?

Book Reviews

Book Review: “A ____’s Heart” by Jeff and Dale Jenkins

father'sThis book review is WAY late…but I hope it’s better late than never!

Dale Jenkins has put together several books that are designed to encourage. A Minister’s Heart and A Youth Minister’s Heart would make great gifts for anyone you know in ministry, or even as a “peek behind the curtain” before someone gets into ministry.

If memory serves, the first book (Minister’s Heart) originated in a chapel talk that Dale was putting together for ministry students. It walks through the ups and downs of ministry. You’ll laugh on some pages, get angry on some pages, and want to cry on some pages.

A Father’s Heart and A Mother’s Heart follow this same pattern. They’re short gift books with a thought and an illustration on each page. These books would make mother’s day or father’s day gifts—or maybe even a great joint gift for expectant first-time parents.

It’s hard to know how to review these except to say that they were designed to be encouraging, and they accomplish just that. With all of the discouraging junk going on in the world, you’ll be glad that you spent time with these.

The books are available on Amazon, but check with The Jenkins Institute to order in bulk.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Fit for the Pulpit: The Preacher & His Challenges

fitMost of our ministry training schools have a class along the lines of “Preacher and His Work.” I took it under David Powell at Freed-Hardeman. Brother Powell did a great job helping us understand some of the nuts and bolts of what daily life in church work would be like, but Fit for the Pulpit is the missing textbook that we really could have used!

Fit for the Pulpit is not a homiletics book or a how-to manual for preaching. It is an honest look the struggles that come with being a preacher. It highlights eleven areas that most ministers could use some guidance in. Time management, discouragement, family, criticism, money, and laziness are just a few of the topics. You can tell the book doesn’t pull punches! Failure in any one of these areas has been the ruin of many good works. This compilation is good preventive medicine that will help keep men serving in ministry longer and more effectively.

The contributors are all well-respected men in ministry who know what it’s like. They are direct about the real challenges ministers face, and they offer biblical, practical advice for how to meet these challenges head-on.

Church Leaders magazine ran a little article called “Ministry Isn’t For Wimps.” They are absolutely right. Fit for the Pulpit sets out to give a little bit of preparation for the obstacles, a little bit of cheerleading for guys down in the dumps, and a little bit of hope that the work is worth it and it will get better. Our brotherhood needs the encouragement these authors provide.

I definitely recommend the book for anyone considering ministry and those who are already in it. You never outgrow the fundamentals.  I’d also hope that our ministry training schools and internships would make this required reading! Kudos to Start2Finish Books for getting this tool out there!

Fit is available through Amazon and other sites.

Book Reviews

When Enemies Meet

War is awful. Everybody knows that, of course, but sometimes we forget.

I just finished Adam Makos’ A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II. All I can say is “wow.”

This is the story of two sworn enemies: American B-17 pilot Charlie Brown (seriously!) and German fighter ace Franz Stigler. As the book begins, we learn that Stigler is no Nazi. We meet him as a child who learns to love flying gliders. He’s a victim of circumstance: a Lufthansa pilot who was drafted into the war effort.

Early in the war, one of his squadron leaders asks him what he’ll do if he ever sees an allied pilot parachuting from a crippled plane. When Stigler didn’t have an answer, his commander said, “If you shoot him, I will shoot you.” Even in war, there is a higher call than the military. There is humanity.

Charlie Brown was a farm boy-turned-pilot who, on his first combat mission as pilot in command, found himself in the formation spot known as “purple heart corner.” It lived up to its name. German anti-aircraft fire and fighters tear his plane to pieces. His plane is badly damaged, barely flyable, with most of the crew injured or dead.

When Stigler finds the straggling B-17, he prepares for an easy kill—the kill that will certainly earn him the coveted Knight’s Cross. He’s fighting now to avenge the death of his brother and father in the war effort. This is a simple and easy kill, until Stigler notices that the wounded B-17 doesn’t fire back. As he closes in on his target, he realizes the extent of her damage. Through the gaping holes in the plane, he can see the crew huddled together providing medical care. He could see the destroyed tail gunner’s turret. His commander’s instruction to heed a higher call came to his mind. He was unable to destroy this B-17, as it was little more than a flying parachute at this point.

Stigler’s actions were high treason. He aided the enemy. Brown’s crew was confused and haunted by the actions of this strange German Me-109.

I won’t ruin any more of the story for you. There are plenty of surprises I haven’t spoiled. Here’s where the book shines: it reminds you of the awful human cost of war. It is a touching reminder that humanity, even in her darkest hour, has hope. This book is definitely worth your time.

What’s even neater is this: these two meet each other after the war, and video exists from that first meeting. I’m embedding it below!

(PS – I was able to download the audiobook for free thanks to the Tennessee READS Program!)


Book Reviews

Book Review: The Derision of Heaven

Daniel is, without question, one of the most difficult books of the Bible. Michael’s decision to move it to the top of the list of his companion guides to scripture will be a great relief to many Bible students who are struggling with the existing material on the book.

The book is like its predecessor: Epic of God. It isn’t a commentary or a quarterly. It’s a companion to help you as you work through the book. It excels in “keeping the main thing the main thing.” He deals with the familiar, tried-and-true Vacation Bible School stories in a way that is fresh. He encourages you to dig beyond the surface. In the latter sections of the book, Whitworth helps us approach apocalyptic literature with the sanity that’s so often missing from treatments of the text.

Derision is highly readable but not “light.” It’s heavily foot-noted and well-sourced. Whitworth interacts with a great number of scholars and shares some of their best pearls of wisdom. He is especially timely in his treatment of responding to persecution or times of God’s perceived silence. In difficult interpretive spots, Whitworth offers several options and suggests the most plausible. He reminds readers not to be unnecessarily dogmatic and to make sure that the forest doesn’t get lost in the trees.

I can absolutely recommend Derision to you as a high-quality guide to Daniel. I hope that it causes a much-neglected book to recapture a place in pulpits, classrooms, and homes. Thank you, Michael!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Why They Left

YeakleyWhy They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ by Flavil R. Yeakley Jr.

We all know people who have left our fellowship. Some have left for various denominations; some have abandoned the faith altogether. It is a trend that is at its worst among college aged and twenty-something members. It’s not a unique problem to our fellowship. Others have written about the general disconnect we’ve had with this particular age group. (I recommend You Lost Me by Kinnamon.)

Yeakley writes from many backgrounds. He’s effectively a combination of sociologist/psychologist/stats guy/minister. You can tell that he is a messenger who has been shot plenty of times. I’d guess a full 15% of the book is spent in caveats. I’m pretty sure he says “I’m not advocating doing theology by vote…” at least three times in the book.

We tend to get defensive when we’re faced with unpleasant facts. Doctor, are you calling me fat? Minister, are you saying that I’m failing to reach the young people? How dare you!

I wish that Yeakley would have spent less time trying to convince people that won’t listen that he’s telling the truth. The people who want the disclaimers are seldom satisfied with disclaimers…so don’t feed the trolls! This is really a minor gripe, though. Ignore me and move on…

Yeakley is even-handed when dealing with the issues raised. He recognizes that the individual and the congregation can share blame when someone falls away. He’s not interested in playing a blame game. He is interested in helping you and me make our congregations better places. How can we take away excuses? He helps us to be aware of any stumbling blocks we might be putting in the path for others.

There were two broad categories of reasons people left: the first was neglect, conflict, or misunderstandings. The second was doctrinal disagreements and misunderstandings.

Yeakleys chapters on neglect and fellowship are excellent. He tells some funny stories that hit close to home—one of a church that is ready to disfellowship everyone who hasn’t been around in a few years. The deacon finally asks, “How will they notice?” The elders reverse course—attempt to actually engage in fellowship with these people—and surprise, surprise, they restore almost everyone. It’s a great reminder about the solution to many of our problems.

The doctrinal chapters are well handled, too. He outlines the objections that many have to some of our positions (divorce, evangelism, women, music, etc.). In each chapter, he looks at the complaints about the issue (your church hates women!), looks at the range of teaching in churches of Christ (women can do anything to women can’t do anything), and then usually suggests that most congregations he knows of are doing a better job than his survey would indicate. Unfortunately, my experience has been that many of the churches I’m familiar with have held some of the extreme positions. I hope that’s changing.

Yeakley’s book is worth your time. I’d give it 4 stars. If you’re church leader, it will help you understand what’s going on in the congregation and in the community. It might even make you aware of some ways that you’ve been hurting people even while acting with good intentions. It would be nice if the survey pool were larger and if he spent more time was spent with the data. Yeakley spent a little too much time explaining his doctrinal positions and neglecting the overarching question of “why.”

Book Reviews

Abraham Curriculum Review

Logos Bible Software recently provided me with a copy of “Abraham: Following God’s Promise: a Total Church Curriculum” to review. This is a new product offering for them, and a new style of product designed for a whole-church experience. Two similar products have followed, studies of Jacob and Joseph in the same manner.

Here’s the TL;DR version in advance: I love the concept, execution, and content. My main reservation is a question of how this would work in my congregation. I’m not sure I understand how this product fits in with the significant portion of my congregation that doesn’t have a tablet or even a computer. More on that later. If that’s not an issue for your congregation—go for it! The technology is a major component of this product.

First: the content. “Commentary” isn’t the right word for this presentation. “Curriculum” might give you the wrong idea of a Sunday School book that has a two-page lecture and then a dozen questions to answer. I’d label this product a “congregational guide.”

They have included all sorts of tools to help make this as fully integrated as possible for the whole church. There is a sermon “bumper” video, weekly videos to introduce to small groups, outlines, bulletin graphics…pretty much everything you can imagine in terms of in-house promotion and tools, except for a digital deacon dressed up as Abraham inviting people to services.

Another feature I like is the inclusion of magazine-style sidebars or block quotes. These often come in the form of “Quick Bits” and “Quick Tips” that add helpful word study or cultural details. These have the effect of helping us learn to do a better job of Bible study. They really drive the reader towards paying attention to context. That’s great.

There are a few other digital details that are really worth noticing. Any scripture reference in Logos (or Faithlife) is just a click away. How many times have you just skipped right over the references in a book because you were too lazy to look them up? I imagine this new format will cause people to be much more likely to read those cross-references.

The graphics that are included are excellent. They’re in a sort of info-graphic style, similar to the ones offered in the High Definition Commentary series. I think they’re great visualizations of biblical concepts. One of my favorites has Abram taking a step across a bridge made out of the word “Faith.” That really gets the point across!

Logos-backed software also has plenty of opportunity for note-taking. There are blanks for students to fill in their answers, and commonly-highlighted passages are lightly underlined. As a minister, I think it’s helpful to see what is catching people’s attention. Occasionally, it will help you see that people are latching on to only part of a significant idea. It’s a big help.

While I doubt many will use the bibliography (“Further Reading”) at the end of each chapter, for leaders who are preparing, this could be a great resource. These seem geared to helping unpack more difficult ideas in each week’s reading.

Having written all this, it occurs to me that I’ve said very little about the writing and the quality of the commentary itself. That slant alone shows you how much of a game-changer I think this format of a tool could be for churches. (Personal note: I’m dreaming of a day where instead of having “pew Bibles” and hymnals, we’ll have “pew tablets” so that everyone can tap together to material like this!)

The content is appropriate. It is neither dryly academic nor patronizingly popular. It’s written at a simple level, yet difficult concepts are dealt with. The authors seem to have a keen sense for keeping the main application the main thing, sort of in the school of Stanley’s one-point-preaching. They don’t fall into the trap of being simplistic, however. They invite the student into deeper thought and research. The digital tools they provide make that more likely than ever.

Overall, this is a high quality product. I don’t feel that it’s right for complete congregational usage in my particular context. We just have too many people in the rural areas that don’t interact with technology at all. For those who do, however, I think this may be one of the best small-group products developed in my lifetime, and I hope it will cast a shadow over future church curriculums for a long time to come.

Book Reviews

Review: Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive b Dr. Howard Hendricks

I’m late to the game on this book. I stole it in a preachers’ Dirty Santa Gift Exchange in 2011. I finally got to dig into the book a few weeks ago.

Hendricks offers seven “laws” of teaching in a helpful acrostic: teacher.

The Law of the Teacher: If you stop growing today, you stop teaching [effectively] tomorrow.

The Law of Education: How people learn must determine how you teach.

The Law of Activity: Maximum learning is always the result of maximum involvement.

The Law of Communication: To truly impart information requires the building of bridges.

The Law of the Heart: Teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart.

The Law of Encouragement: Teaching tends to be most effective when the learner is properly motivated.

The Law of Readiness: The teaching-learning process will be most effective when both student and teacher are adequately prepared.

Hendricks challenges you to consider how you could improve in each of these areas. As a teacher, challenge yourself to continuously refill and refuel. Make sure that you’re thinking about the people you’re working with—and not just imagining clones of yourself. Give people an opportunity to prepare and to invest. That investment will pay off in the end.

The book is short and quick—less than 150 pages. I’d recommend a copy for every teacher in your organization!

If you’d like to see the video lectures on which the book was based, you can watch them here:

Or if you’d like to see a slideshow presentation overviewing some key concepts, here’s one I found online for your viewing pleasure:

Seven Laws of Teaching from J C
Book Reviews

Book Review: Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God by Joshua Harris

It’s no secret that the church doesn’t enjoy the position of societal respect she once did. Joshua Harris argues that despite the constant comments of critics, the church matters. She has not been perfect—but she has never stopped being the bride of Christ, and that is reason enough to pay attention to the church.

Harris regularly quotes John Stott, John Piper, and many modern reformed authors to try to paint a picture of the church’s real beauty for today.

As a minister, I see the book as strong in calling us to be what the church is supposed to be. Instead of giving up or griping, let’s grow into the image of God. Let’s be what God has planned for us to be.

This book would have a good place in the young adult curriculum of a church to help present a case for the value of the church. A key weakness is that it probably won’t (and can’t) be heard by those who are alienated from the church by the church’s failings. It is a book written for insiders—but maybe it can help the insiders from becoming outsiders.

Overall – I think the book is worth your time. (PS: I did get a  free reviewer copy…)

Book Reviews

Book Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church

I read Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow in February. It’s now April, and I’m finally reviewing this book. Besides my usual procrastination, there is a reason for my delay: this book is worth thinking about.

I was skeptical at first. I expected this to be nothing but gender stereotyping and excuse-making. Murrow does rely a bit heavily on gender-based stereotypes, but he didn’t miss the point. Everything we do communicates something, regardless of our intent. If our building is messy, it communicates to a guest that we might not care about the facilities, that we don’t take care of things, or that we don’t have the time or resources to devote to cleaning. The real reason might have been that the janitor got sick and we didn’t find a replacement, but that’s not what is communicated.

Murrow suggests that the typical church communicates almost exclusively feminine values. When the Bible presents two counter-balancing ideas, the church has a bias towards the feminine. Which gets more pulpit time? The lion of the tribe of Judah or the lamb of God? Does our average song service communicate that Jesus is a conquering king or a compassionate friend? Murrow includes a “man-friendliness” test online. One of his questions is, “If you replaced ‘Jesus’ with any other name, how many  of your songs last Sunday could be a top-40 pop love song?” It’s not hard to imagine how this affects men.

This book is absolutely worth your time. It will help you evaluate the tendencies of your congregation to skew towards the feminine at the expense of your men.