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.
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.
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.
Here are some short reviews for books that have been sitting in my review pile for far too long. I'll have a few more of these reviews this week, most of them a hundred words or less. One of the reviews below is a little big longer.
Lost and Found asks, "Who are the young unchurched, and how can they be reached with the good news of Jesus Christ?" The book comes in three sections. First: who younger adults are, and what they think about God. Second: the needs of the younger unchurched. Finally: some churches that are reaching younger adults. Some interesting facts. For instance: "Younger folks are generally less 'fed up' with religion than older unchurched people." Section wrap-ups are helpful. I sometimes got lost in the statistics. Recommended for church leaders who want to reach the younger unchurched.
Through the Storm is the inside story of the family of Britney Spears, written by Lynne Spears, the mother. I heard there was going to be more to this book than it would appear, but There wasn't. It's not a bad book exactly, but it's just what you would expect. I don't think it's worth the time.
I'd prefer that this type of book wasn't written. More importantly, I wish that this type of book wasn't published by a Christian publishing house like Thomas Nelson. This is the type of book that used to make me cynical when I worked at a Christian book store. It feeds into our celebrity culture and to our shallowness. Don't get me wrong: I'm sure Lynne Spears is a wonderful person. But we are far too trite in wanting to read all the details of a celebrity family's life.
Michael Hyatt, publisher, gave four reasons why they chose to publish this book, and concluded, "I am proud that we published this book." I wish I hadn't have listened. The fact that I'm reviewing this book is also a cautionary tale for bloggers who choose to accept free books for review. Think before you accept.
Who Owns the World is a fascinating book that explores who owns land in every country and territory in the world. A fun book to flip through. It turns out that Queen Elizabeth II owns a sixth of the entire land surface on Earth - but that's because she technically owns all of Canada and Australia. This book is more than fun facts. Only 15% of the world's population lays claim to land. Could too much land in the hands of too few people be a leading cause of poverty?
Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions came from a web experiment: allow people to post questions to a church website, and then to vote on the top questions. It covers issues on birth control, predestination, sexual sin, and dating. Classic Driscoll: blunt, clear, irreverent. If you like Driscoll, you'll like this book.
Praying With the Church is a helpful book that introduces the practice of praying at regular hours - ancient rhythms that would have been known to Jesus, and that are known throughout the world. Most of us are not happy with our prayer lives. This book provides some structured help without becoming legalistic. If you're not familiar with praying the hours, I recommend this book.