Final 100 Word Reviews

Jesus Manifesto is officially released tomorrow. It's been endorsed by everyone from Ed Stetzer to Shane Claiborne. It's a call to restore the supremacy and sovereignty of Christ. It's co-authored by Len Sweet and Frank Viola, which is itself fascinating. This book reminds me of Spurgeon's words: Christ "is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him...Blessed is the ministry of which CHRIST IS ALL." A timely message. You can find out more at the book's website.

ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church is the latest book from Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The goal: "to reinstate the central role of Jesus in the ongoing spiritual life of the faith and in the life and mission of God's people." Len Hjalmarson worried about the danger of Christomonism after reading the book; Alan Hirsch responded. This is a similar book to Jesus Manifesto. What does it say that the church needs to be reminded to focus on Jesus?

David Platt's new book Radical has been getting lots of press: Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung, and J.D. Greear have all blogged about it - not all of it positive. The author, David Platt, returned from visiting an underground church overseas to his large American church. He writes:

I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what is radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We were setting for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is about abandoning ourselves.

Don't read this book if you don't want to be challenged. I found this book refreshing and challenging. It's a good kick in the pants for North American Christians. I'd recommend it, along with Kevin DeYoung's review, which should help with wrestling with the ideas raised in this book.

Sharon Fawcett spent nine years suffering from serious clinical depression. She endured 80 weeks as a patient in psychiatric wards, more than 100 electroconvulsive treatments, and 20 antidepressant medications. In Hope for Wholeness, she tells her story and explains the spiritual roots of depression, which are sometimes overlooked in favor of medical and psychological treatments.

It's a raw and important book. Even if you don't agree with everything she says, we can all learn from this book. We need to do a lot better job of understanding depression in our churches.

Don't read Ain't Too Proud to Beg if you're in a rush. The Lord's Prayer is only a few sentences, but this book is over 250 pages. It's not so much an exposition of the Lord's Prayer as it is a messy walk through the prayer as it relates to life. It's a slow read, but it promises a lot if you invest some time and allow it to guide you in your prayer life.

I like to keep a copy of In Case of Armageddon, Break Glass on my desk. The title sure gets reactions. The book is written by a "regular guy" who believes we've missed the point of Revelation. It's not meant to help us predict timelines; it's meant to shape how we live now. He's right on and he does a good job of demystifying Revelation. I had a couple of minor quibbles - nothing to do with eschatology - but I can think of a friend who would love this book. I plan on passing it on.

Heaven Misplaced: Christ's Kingdom on Earth is another book by pastor and provocateur Douglas Wilson. It's about the end times - but it's not one of those books. Wilson argues against the common pessimistic view of the end of this world held my many Christians: that the world will get worse and worse before it gets better. He introduces a view he calls "historical optimism." I don't exactly share his view, but I'm closer to his view than you'd think. If you've only ever heard the Left Behind version of the end times, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

Is Francis Chan the new Rob Bell? This isn't exactly a Nooma film, but it's close. Crazy Love DVD is a day-in-the-life of Chan, in which he stops to teach us from his book Crazy Love. It's meant as a ten-part group study and includes discussion questions. It's a little gimmicky but the content looks good - as long as you're okay following Chan from the moment he gets out of bed to when he shuts out the lights for the night.

Church on the Rocks is written by Canadian Richard Oostra. He's visited hundreds of churches and has observed that some things are seriously wrong in today's church. This book comes in three sections: a description of what's missing, a list of the changes that we need to make, and next steps. His hope is for change and revival. There are some important warnings in this book. Not a fun read, but a good corrective to fad-driven ministry.

Now for something completely different: The 4-Hour Workweek. This book is part gimmick, but don't write this book off too quickly. The section on elimination alone is worth the price of this book. And I was surprised how easy it is to outsource tasks through sites like elance.com. Read this book for what it is, but if you get past the hype, there's some good stuff here.

A final note: I love reading books. One of the dangers in accepting books for review is that you stop reading the books you choose in favor of the books that end up in your mailbox.

I'm still going to review books here, but I plan on being a lot pickier in the future. I'm definitely going to try to keep the pile a bit shorter.

Even More 100 Word Reviews

You can tell I'm trying to clear my backlog of books waiting to be reviewed. Here's another batch. There's one more batch waiting.

I'm saving a couple of books for later so I can review them at greater length. I'll get those reviews posted sometime in July.

Not the Religious Type is written by Dave Schmelzer, a Vineyard pastor in Boston. He wasn't always a pastor; he was an atheist until his college years. This book is more spiritual memoir than an apologetics textbook. It's an easy read, and Schmelzer makes it even easier with his humor and humility. I can see giving this book to a friend, although I found myself wishing for the gospel to be more prominent in this book. This could be a good book to give out with a more robust book like Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

At first glance, The God Who Smokes: Scandalous Meditations on the Face seemed like it was trying too hard to be edgy. But then I read Trevin Wax's review and realized that I should give this book a chance. I'm glad I did. This is a book that refuses to domesticate God. The author appreciates the good that's come from the emerging church, but he also pushes us to move beyond its weaknesses. It's a book that combines good theology and good writing. I'll be returning to this book. Recommended.

I really appreciated Consuming Jesus by Paul Louis Metzger, so I was glad to get a copy of Exploring Ecclesiology, authored by Metzger and Brad Harper. This book uses the Trinity and eschatology as two theological lenses to discuss issues surrounding the church, such as worship, sacraments, spiritual gifts, structure, culture, and mission. This is a book that takes the church seriously and deals with some of the major issues facing the church today. I'd recommend this book for pastors who want to wrestle with their theology of a church in a way that will translate into practice.

You've probably heard of Experiencing God, which was all the rage a decade or so ago. This revised and expanded edition supposedly has some seventy percent of its material newly written. I'm sometimes concerned by the subjectivism and pietism in this book. The idea of joining God in what he's doing can be helpful, but at best it needs to be qualified. We don't always know what God is doing; he's sometimes at work when it doesn't seem that much is happening. I found Mike Wittmer's post on this book helpful. Lots of good in this book - but I have some pretty significant concerns as well.

Hungry for Life addresses the problem of global imbalance. It also outlines a biblical picture of a compassionate church, and describes the core changes necessary for transformation. I found the book most challenging when it addresses how the church uses its money internally. "We have lost our mission to transform the world around us and have replaced it with the mission of trying not to lose those we already have." It asks some tough questions of Christian leaders. Not an easy book to read, and you may not agree with all of its arguments, but it's a worthwhile book to study.

If God Disappears is about nine faith wreckers: issues like the problem of evil, our tendency to live as rugged individualists, living according to our own rules, struggling with the church, and more. It's not a book for skeptics as much as it is for believers who are wavering in their faith. It's readable and full of helpful, biblical guidance. A good book for any of us who find ourselves drifting from God.

A Time to Mend

Next week I begin a three-month sabbatical. That means that this week is insanely busy. Preparations need to be made. There are so many details - and yet the end is in sight.

I find that as I approach the sabbatical, it's easy to continue to think in terms of my ordinary routines. A sabbatical can easily become a different kind of rat race in which the same idolatries go unchallenged, and in which the same need for productivity continues. My sabbatical will not be an idle time, but it will be time for a different kind of work. It's the type of work that does not always have productivity as its goal.

Love this quote by Abraham Joshua Heshel:

...the Sabbath is not an occasion for diversion or frivolity; not a day to shoot fireworks or to turn somersaults, but an opportunity to mend our tattered lives; to collect rather than to dissipate time. Labor without dignity is the cause of misery; rest without spirit the source of depravity.

More excellent quotes on sabbath can be found here.

More 100 Word Reviews

This is possibly the longest I've had a book sitting on my desk waiting for review.

Living Spirituality is written by Gregory Laughery, who lives and teaches at the L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Laughery attempts to capture the popular quest for spirituality and shape it, emphasizing the need for Scripture and the Holy Spirit. He does a good job of taking major Christian doctrines and explaining how they shape our spiritual lives today. Applying doctrine so that it shapes life is desperately needed. This is a good book, but I found myself wishing I could have heard Laughery teach the contents of this book in person at L'Abri. I have the sense that the book doesn't fully capture his voice.

Tending to Eden is a book about environmental stewardship for God's people. I know that half of you tuned out after reading that sentence, but you shouldn't. It's an important theme. If you're still with me, you may have more doubts when you see that Brian McLaren wrote the foreward. But hold on. The book provides some theological justification for creation care. It spends most of its time on issues like deforestation and globalism. But it also talks about the need to share the Gospel and see hearts and lives transformed, realizing that we can save the environment but still lose our souls.

I have questions and issues - about confusing the role of Christians with the role of the church, for instance - but overall I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Let's not leave this issue to the Christian left. See Plant with Purpose for more.

Putting Jesus in His Place makes the case for the deity of Christ. The book is simply solid. It deals with a complex subject, and yet it's clear and readable. It's split into five sections:

Jesus shares the honors due to God.
Jesus shares the attributes of God.
Jesus shares the names of God.
Jesus shares in the deeds that God does.
Jesus shares the seat of God’s throne.

This is my favorite type of book. It makes good theology clear and relevant, and it's anything but dry. You couldn't pick a more important subject. Get this book. Highly recommended.

A Primer on Worship and Reformation runs only 72 pages. The author, Douglas Wilson, proposes that true change begins, not with a process or an idea, but through faithful worship. Wilson confronts problems such as cheesy and threadbare worship and pietistic individualism. He believes that the contemporary Church is in pathetic condition - not because we lack the right techniques, but because we have sinned our ways into this condition. When Wilson says that we need to repent, "specifically of our man-centered gospel and our man-centered response to that gospel," I add a hearty amen. Wilson is a gadfly. May his tribe increase.

When Answers Aren't Enough is written by Matt Rogers, pastor of a church at Virginia Tech when 33 students died in the Virginia Tech massacre. It's a series of meditations and reflections on tragedy, and how we can experience God when the answers don't satisfy. It explodes some shallow Christian cliches and makes room for struggling in pain. It reads like a messy set of reflections under some broad theological categories rather than a structured treatise. In that sense, it reminds me a little of the psalms. If someone you know is struggling and needs more than theological answers, this book may be useful.