Wednesday, May 22, 2013
I’ve really enjoyed the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, and David W. Pao’s contribution on Colossians and Philemon is another great edition to the series. Colossians is an interesting letter that deals with a major error cropping up in the Colossian church and focuses a great deal on Christology. Pao looks at Paul’s authorship and handles the text in a way that draws out Paul’s Christological focus throughout the letter.
Colossians is one of my favorite books of the Bible to go to over and over again, and the part about faith, hope, and love near the beginning of the letter is one that I especially love. Pao shows how foundation hope is to love and faith. The commentary also handles Paul’s famous Christological hymn, describing what Christ as firstborn means. Pao’s handling of Philemon presents Paul’s letter as a lesson on how relationships change in light of the Gospel.
The layout of the series is helpful to each commentary, especially the theological applications after each section. If you’re working through either of these books, this commentary is a great place to get your questions answered.
Review copy provided by Zondervan Academic
Photo Credit: Zondervan
In THE GOD-SHAPED BRAIN author Timothy R. Jennings presents evidence that reveals how a person perceives God affects their brain in either constructive or destructive ways. Specifically, he looks at the effects of two models of how God is often perceived. Jennings presents a fear-based God who is constantly waiting for people to fail in order to punish them in his anger, and he rightly shows that viewing God this way is destructive to the part of the brain where our rational decision-making capabilities reside. On the other end of the spectrum, Jennings presents a God of love. This God loves people and wants to heal them from their destructive sinful nature. This God is never angry at people for the things they do because he understands that their sinful nature is beyond their control and he just wants to love them and help them. This perception of God helps the part of the brain where our decision-making capabilities reside. Jennings describes how the brain works, drawing on some incredible findings in the field of neuroscience. The brain’s plasticity and ability to be rewired by our behaviors is outstanding and a testament to God’s incredible creativity in designing the human brain. Jennings seeks to help people to have an accurate perception of God and shows how this rewires our brains for good.
I got really excited when I read the description of this book, so I wanted to read it as soon I could. By the end of the book, however, I was greatly disappointed. To be sure, Jennings presents a lot of helpful insights and his heart is clearly in helping people to get better. But the book seems to try to paint a God more in the image of the one in Jennings’ imagination than the one the Bible describes. Jennings shows that fear hurts the brain. It makes sense. And it would be easy to draw the conclusion that God wouldn’t do things that intentionally cause fear because he doesn’t want to harm our brains since he designed them to respond in that way. I get it. However, the Bible presents us with a God who is very often fear-inducing. Jacob in the Bible even once refers to God as the “Fear of Isaac.” The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Sure, we’re told time and again not to fear, but that is because if we trust in God he is for us. If we make God our enemy, we have much to fear.
Jennings resorts to reinterpreting countless passages of Scripture to say what he believes they say. For example, he repeatedly tries to explain away God’s anger by looking at passages where God says he’s angry and trying to show us why that doesn’t mean what we think it means. I think he’s right in some areas about the actions of God in anger because I don’t believe God is a divine thrower of temper tantrums. But I think if God says he’s angry, I think he means that he’s angry. Who are we to try to explain that away as if we think we’re God’s public relations agent?
Jennings wants to show that God doesn’t produce fear, but story after story in the Bible shows us a God who does things that produce fear in human beings. He tries to explain this away as well as God being so loving that he’s willing to be misunderstood. But according to Jenning’s research, God being misunderstood is very damaging to the brain.
Finally, because the traditional view of hell doesn’t fit the perception of God that Jennings is trying to present, he opts for a view of hell that’s as unclear as Rob Bell’s. He seems to be advocating a form of annihilationism, but it seems that he could possibly be supporting a form of universalism in which everyone’s sinful nature is eventually burned away. I wish I could believe in annihilationism, but the biblical evidence doesn’t seem to support it, and the biblical witness certainly leaves out the option of universalism.
I think Jennings is right to want to obliterate the view of God as an angry tyrannical hateful ruler of the universe because I believe God is ultimately loving. I also believe that God is misunderstood and that we have to use our minds to understand what he is saying to us. How do you explain the effects of fear on the brain? I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say, but I think there’s probably a lot more going on than scientists have currently discovered about the human brain. I support the heart behind THE GOD-SHAPED BRAIN, but I can’t support all of the theological conclusions of it. Being a book review, I can’t adequately wrestle with every issue in the book. That would require a book in itself. But readers should read with a critical mind.
Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press
Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press
Friday, May 17, 2013
WHY CITIES MATTER by Justin Buzzard and Stephen Um is an insightful, thought-provoking, and stirring book about the role of cities in God’s creation. Buzzard and Um are both pastors in major cities, so they speak as practicitioners and, as you’ll come to see throughout the book, men who love the cities and people they serve. The authors look at cities, what they are, why people flock to them, and what vital role they play in the world we live in. Then they look specifically at the role of the city in God’s redemptive plan for the world, and this part is incredibly enlightening.
I hadn’t thought much about cities before reading this book, but this book opened my eyes to the way culture is shaped both in and by cities which are made up of people. Cities present incredible opportunities for redemptive purposes, and the authors show how to contextualize the gospel in the midst of the city.
WHY CITIES MATTER is an important book, and I found it to also be a very exciting book. The authors paint an incredible picture of what God is doing through people gathered in cities, and it will likely make you want to be a part of what God is doing.
Review copy provided by Crossway Books
Photo Credit: Crossway Books
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Second Edition Coming November 2013
REWRITE by Paul Chitlik is a step-by-step guide for screenwriters to take the first draft of their screenplay and greatly improve it. Chitlik states that screenplays often go through several rewrites before a final draft is achieved. He gives some very practical tips on how to make this process effective.
Chitlik covers two types of story structure and what types of stories they fit best - 3-act structure and the mythic structure often associated with Joseph Campbell. He then outlines how to develop your story's characters. I loved the chapter on the emotional relationship in the story. There's a chapter on effectively eliminating pages from your script to tighten the story without losing any of the most vital parts. Each chapter has assignments for you to work on as you're reading so that ideally you're completing a rewrite of a script in the course of reading the book. There are ample examples from well-known movies throughout go illustrate Chitlik's points.
REWRITE is invaluable resource for writers to tighten their scripts and make them better.
Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions
Photo Credit: Michael Wiese Productions
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
I’ve always been an introvert, and I’ve always been aware of it. It’s been a frustration because as an introvert I find it hard to be influential, and yet I have this driving need inside of me to do something that impacts people. On top of that, I’m raising a little girl who is also an introvert, and I want to help her avoid some of the frustrations I grew up with. It seems like in the last few years that the world has been realizing the presence and potential of people with introverted personalities. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was a powerful book and easily my favorite of 2012. Jennifer Kahnweiler, an extrovert ironically, has contributed some important insights on the inherent influential strengths of introverts and how to hone them and use them to be influential without trying to be someone else. Her new book is QUIET INFLUENCE. Kahnweiler identifies the influential strengths of introverts as:
Taking Quiet Time
Thoughtful Use of Social Media
She devotes a chapter to each one, but also does a great job of describing how the strengths work together. There’s an opportunity to measure the level of each of your strengths, and there are practical steps to take to help strengthen the ones that aren’t as strong as they should be. Each chapter has some helpful stories that illustrate introverts in influential action. As an introvert, I wouldn’t say that I was unaware of these six strengths, but I do believe the book to be helpful in encouraging introverts to be who they are and not feel the pressure to be an extrovert. QUIET INFLUENCE should help introverts communicate effectively and influentially.
Review copy provided by Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Photo Credit: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
If you want to be a communicator of ideas that spread widely and quickly, there's no better book that I can think of to help you package your ideas for sharing than the aptly titled CONTAGIOUS by Jonah Berger. Berger is a marketing professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Using a lot of research about the spread of ideas, Berger uncovers six characteristics that are likely to contribute to an idea's spreadability. They are:
Berger shares stories throughout the book that serve to validate the ideas he presents for contagious content. An idea or product doesn't have to have all the characteristics to be contagious, but the more it has, the more contagious it is likely to be.
Some of the stories in the beginning were really surprising about the decisions people make and why. You'll likely run into many concepts that seem counterintuitive, but the book definitely helps to understand how to tap into human nature to make ideas more contagious.
I think CONTAGIOUS could be a very contagious resource for communicators and marketers. It was definitely a book I learned much from and enjoyed reading as well.
Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster
Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster