Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gospel-Centered Culture Transformation: A Review of FOR THE CITY by Darrin Patrick & Matt Carter

If your church were to disappear from your city or town, would anyone notice? Would anyone be impacted by it? The Journey church in St. Louis and the Austin Stone church in Austin are two of the most successful churches in America, led by two men whose hearts seem to beat for the hopes and dreams of God for the world and the cities they live in--Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter. And after reading their book FOR THE CITY, I'm convinced their cities would not only notice if their churches closed down, but the cities themselves would suffer from something vital and life-giving being taken away.

FOR THE CITY is a book about the expansive and restorative nature of the gospel to impact not only individuals but the very cultures that individuals are a part of. Patrick and Carter reveal the inspiring stories of how their churches came about and how their hearts were slowly worked on by God to position their churches to be for their cities. Through transparent and humbling confessions, as well as solid biblical insight, they illustrate the vital nature of a truly missional church to be on the front lines of meeting the needs of their communities, and therefore being gospel-centered agents of hope and restoration for their cities.

Whether you live in a city or not, this book is packed with profound insights about how to impact a church's community. The chapter on contextualization alone is enough to get a church moving in a great direction. Every church leader should read this book with a pen and highlighter in hand because you will walk away with a compelling vision for what the church could be.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dads Were Made to Be Courageous: A Review of Courageous (The Novel) by Randy Alcorn

Statistically, involved fathers are integral to the successful upbringing of their children. Yet so many fathers relegate the raising of their children to someone else, even when they live in the same house as their children.

The novelization of the upcoming movie COURAGEOUS by Randy Alcorn is the story of four Albany, Georgia police officers who are very good at their jobs, but not so great at being fathers to their children when they're off the job. Every day they spend cleaning up the streets of gang members and drug dealers. They discover a disturbing trend among the criminals they capture--None of them grew up with an involved father in their lives. Will their children be next?

When a heart-rending tragedy strikes in the life of officer Adam Mitchell, he's left with a heart full of regret about the kind of father he's been, and he begins a desperate search for how to be the best father he can be. The search takes him and his friends on a journey into the heart of God about what it means to really be a father and why it is so vitally important.

I've enjoyed the previous movies created by Sherwood Baptist Church (FACING THE GIANTS, FIREPROOF), but when I heard that Randy Alcorn was writing the novelization of it, I knew it would be a great read. The novel is gut-wrenchingly sad in places, yet so full of hope. It's clearly a Christian story, and it won't appeal much to anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus, but the book is an incredible and challenging call for men who are Christ followers and fathers of children to rise up and be the selfless and loving spiritual leader of their families.

Alcorn does a great job of capturing the story and taking us on a journey through the characters' heads. In true Alcorn style, there's one emotionally charged scene that takes place in heaven where Jesus is King.

I loved the resolution in the story that these men make to be God-honoring fathers, and it spurs me on as a father to my own children. After reading the story, I can't wait for the movie to come out. It will be an incredible source of wisdom and encouragement to fathers, and I'll encourage every Christ following father I know to check it out.

I received this book for free through the Tyndale Blog Network.

Review: Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling by John Huckins

We live in a story-saturated culture. People listen to stories, tell stories, and watch stories. How people see the world is often shaped by the stories we embrace. They're inherently influential, and because of that, they're an inherently powerful way to communicate life-changing truth. Jesus used stories and metaphors to communicate truth, and the Bible is one long narrative that communicates the most important truths God wanted to deliver to us.

Teenagers especially are shaped by our story-driven world, so Jon Huckins has written a great book on utilizing the power of story to communicate the life-changing truths of the Bible to teenagers called TEACHING THROUGH THE ART OF STORYTELLING. As I read this book, it reminded me that this is something I've been doing foe years in my own experience with student ministry.

Huckins does a great of showing why storytelling is important as a teaching strategy and walks us through the parable of the Good Samaritan to show us how Jesus used stories to communicate truth. He then walks us through the practical steps of how to develop our own stories, keeping our specific students in mind the whole time. Several of Huckins' own stories are included in the back of the book.

I love the idea of using stories to help make biblical truth a little more concrete in the minds of our students. I've been writing shorts stories as a small part of my message for several years, and it always seems to help. The only caution I would have for someone reading this book is to not get so caught up in the use of storytelling that we let our own stories replace students' interaction with the actual text of the Bible. Huckins talks about using the stories as a launching pad for discussion and even encourages the use of the Bible within the stories. It seems the author envisions discussion time being more about discussing the biblical text the story is illustrating, and this seems to be a great idea.

TEACHING THROUGH THE ART OF STORYTELLING is a great introduction for anyone working with teenagers who wants to learn how to craft compelling stories that illustrate the biblical truths they are teaching on.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan.

Review: Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian


It seems that Christians often treat the gospel as something only needed by unbelievers. When a person comes to faith, the thinking goes that the gospel has done its job, and now it is up to the believer to finish it by learning how to be better and do better. It's as if getting in is dependent on God through the gospel, but staying in is dependent is up to us.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian helps us to see the major flaw in that type of thinking in his upcoming book JESUS + NOTHING = EVERYTHING. The book takes on a journey to the heart of our idolatry in trying to find satisfaction in anything other than Jesus. We're all searching for something to give us meaning and satisfaction, but as Tchividjian takes us through the book of Colossians, he shows us that adding anything less than Jesus only leaves grasping for more. Jesus is all we need, and having him frees us from trying to earn God's approval.

Tullian Tchividjian writes with passion and humility as he shares his own journey to discovering that JESUS + NOTHING = EVERYTHING, a journey involving a lot of heartache, yet a lot of hope as well.

The book is a great reminder of what the gospel is truly meant to accomplish in our lives.

I received this book for free from Crossway through NetGalley.com

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review: Disciple by Bill Clem


Becoming a disciple of Jesus is about integrating ourselves into the story of God, no longer as rebels, but as co-laborers with the hero of the story--Jesus Christ. DISCIPLE by Bill Clem is all about this integration, and it is an incredible exposition on what it means to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ.

Through an incredible use of storytelling Bill Clem introduces us to discipleship beginning with the overall biblical narrative as God's story where God is the primary character who has created human beings in his image to reflect his character, nature, and glory to the world. Clem takes time to show Jesus as the unrivaled hero of the story because the humanity created to image God has been marred by sin and is in desperate need of rescue, atonement, and transformation.

Clem shows discipleship as a return to imaging God, and he covers some of the main components of this imaging--worship, community, and mission. After revealing what each of these looks like for disciples in the story of God, Clem shows us several of the ways these elements are often distorted in a disciple's life.

The book closes with creating a discipleship plan and a challenge for disciples to be disciple-makers. As disciples image God in the world, the story of God spreads and rebels in the story are transformed into disciples.

Each chapter closes with a journaling activity through passages of the Bible. DISCIPLE is a great guide on what it means and what it looks like to be a genuine disciple of Jesus in the world.

I received this book for free from Crossway through NetGalley.com

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: Lit! by Tony Reinke


People have been communicating profound truths through written words for thousands of years. Countless books grace the shelves of libraries, bookstores, and homes throughout the world, and while not all are good or should even be read, many give readers great insight into the world around us and the Creator behind it all. LIT! A CHRISTIAN GUIDE TO READING BOOKS by Tony Reinke is a call to Christ followers to take up the discipline of reading great books to experience truth in profound and engaging ways.

Reinke separates books into two categories:
1. The Bible, and
2. All other books
For the Christian, the Bible mist be primary, and we must let it shape our worldview so that we'll have the discernment to recognize truth that should be embraced in books that we read and reject error anything that might pull us away from the heart of God. Reinke makes the case that truth isn't engaged only in Christian books. "Book reading...is an invitation to commune with God," Reinke tells us, and the opportunity to commune with God can be found in all sorts of books.

Reinke tackles how our sinful spiritual condition affects how we read and how the gospel reshapes our perspective. He gives some great guidelines on how to read both non-fiction and fiction books.

One of the best chapters on the book covers developing priorities on what we read. As a voracious reader, I know I needed to read this section. I also loved the chapter on writing and highlighting in books in order retain more of what we've read.

The book is written to inspire reading in those who don't like to read, although people who don't like to read may not even want to pick this book up. Still, if non-readers can read through this book, there's plenty to inspire a lifetime of reading. The book is great for those who already enjoy reading, and it will help them to be more discerning and more efficient in their reading.

I received this book for free from Crossway through NetGalley.com

Review: UNTITLED by Blaine Hogan

The blank page stands as a world of exciting possibilities for creative people. It can also be a source of paralyzing intimidation. Will what I create be any good? Will it make a difference? Can I make the ideas in my head a reality? Will I have what it takes to finish?

Whether you're a writer, an actor, creative director, or any other type of artist, Blaine Hogan's new book UNTITLED is for you. Hogan takes us on a journey through his personal creative process, sharing transparent personal stories along the way that have shaped his process.

As a pursuer of all things creative, I loved this book. As I read, it seemed like I was highlighting more in the book than I wasn't. If I had to summarize the main point of the book, it would be that creativity is hard work and creators must be committed to doing the work. "It's execution that separates the amateurs from the pros," Hogan says. This is great encouragement to rise above the fear of the blank page and finish the project we've started.

Hogan gives us some great strategies for coming up with ideas and suggests that we should be taking time to put words to paper everyday. I loved his guiding principles of surprise, delight, remove, restrain, and constrain. He also boils down the goal of creativity to moving people.

My favorite part of the book is when Hogan uses Plato's story of The Cave to illustrate the creative process as the hero's journey carrying life-changing truth into dark places. Part of the journey for the creator is to make sure your own soul is healthy before you can help others to be healthy. Ultimately, creativity is about reflecting the creative nature of God and telling stories that stir people's hearts for the eternal.

There's so many profound insights into the creative process in this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who struggles with finishing what they've started or beginning in the first place.

You can follow Blaine Hogan on his blog

I received this book for free from the author for review.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Review: With by Skye Jethani

If people are supposed to find comfort in relating to God, why do so many people approach God and find themselves completely dissatisfied and disheartened? Skye Jethani, in his new book WITH, suggests that many people have been inoculated to the gospel by the posture they've learned or inherited to approach God. WITH walks us through the most common primary ways that people have taken in approaching God, and Jethani reveals that the most natural thing human beings do is try to control God and rid themselves of the fears our world produces. While this is true of all people, Jethani's focus is on Christians' views of God and the all too common experience of a faith that leaves us feeling more afraid and frustrated than feeling alive. Using the prepositions of OVER, UNDER, FROM, and FOR, Jethani illustrates the primary ways Christians approach God.

· Life under God sees God as someone who needs to be appeased by our morality so that he'll bless us.
· Life over God sees him as the impersonal force who created the principles for us to live by to be successful and sees the Bible primarily as a how-to book.
· Life from God sees God simply as the giver of good things.
· Life for God sees what we do for God as the only way to make God happy with us. While there is good in each posture, each of them as primary are really a means to attempt to manipulate and control God to lessen the chaos and fears of our lives and earn God's approval.

The problem is that none of them actually accomplish what they've set out to do. People are left not sure what to do because most don't approach God intentionally trying to control God. But there is hope because there is a fifth posture in approaching God--Life with God. Life with God realizes that God loves and delights in us and wants to be with us. It's only in being with God that our fears are lessened and we find our greatest joy and satisfaction in our relationship with God.

This was one of the most thought-provoking non-fiction books I've read this year and Jethani's biblical insights are a great resource to helping Christ followers experience a relationship with God that is truly satisfying and transformational. As I read through each of the approaches to God, I could think of times in my life when I had approached God in such a way. Times when I've viewed God in a utilitarian way rather than pursuing God himself. Each of these times left me completely dissatisfied.

If I had any reservation about the book, it would be that someone might come away from the book with a diminished sense of God’s expectations on our lives and the severity of our sin, though the author does try to shy away from that implication. I also wish there was more practical recommendations on how to engage the Bible at the end, in addition to the prayer exercises.

I thought the book was very thought-provoking and would be very helpful to Christians struggling with their view of God.

I received this book for free from Booksneeze.com

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: God Wins by Mark Galli

Popular pastor and author Rob Bell shocked the evangelical world with his latest book LOVE WINS. Through his often cryptic writing style, Bell questions the traditional view of hell, and suggests instead that in the end God's love wins over the hardest of hearts. In fairness, I haven't read LOVE WINS, so I can't speak much on what the book actually says, though I've read several in-depth reviews that outline Bell's arguments. Bell has been labeled a universalist by many conservative Christians, though he rejects the term. From what I've read LOVE WINS isn't really conclusive on Bell's views about hell because Bell's style is more about asking questions than making assertions.

One of the benefits generated by the controversy surrounding LOVE WINS is that many have begun to reexamine what the Bible actually says about hell and God's relationship with humanity. GOD WINS is journalist Mark Galli's well thought out and respectful response to LOVE WINS.

Galli unflinchingly engages with the content of Bell's book, graciously pointing out the points where he agrees with Bell. Of course, the points of disagreement are many, and Galli tackles the questions presented by Bell with biblical integrity. He launches into the discussion by examining the nature of our questions. Some ask questions from a standpoint of faith and curiosity about God's ways, and others ask questions from a standpoint of arrogance, trying to push God to give us assurance when we find the evidence to believe him lacking.

Galli does a great job of taking us on a journey of God's nature and how we're reconciled to him. The chapter on heaven shows us where Bell's perspective falls short. Heaven isn't solely about enjoyment for the sake of enjoyment. Heaven is about being with God. A heaven without God as central is a man-centered figment of a fallen humanity's imagination, and the gospel is better news than that.

Galli rounds out the book by discussing what the Bible says about hell and why universalism is actually bad news.

GOD WINS is ultimately about God as lover who has died to rescue humanity from the horrors of hell and reunite us to himself. Along with Francis Chan's ERASING HELL, GOD WINS is a great resource for people struggling for answers over the question of hell and a loving God.

I received this book for free from Tyndale House through NetGalley.com

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: 40 by Travis Thrasher

It's nine months before your fortieth birthday, and an angel named Matthew has just informed that you will die on your birthday. What do you do? This is nightmare that Tyler Harrison in Travis Thrasher's latest novel 40 is thrust into. He's a moderately successful music producer who is largely unhappy with the way things have turned out in his life. Thanks to the fear-mongering preaching of his dad on the horrors of hell growing up, Tyler has spent his life running from God. Now he's faced with terrifying visions of himself dying in various ways at various times in his life and looking back on a string of broken relationships and deep regrets about the life he's lived. With months left to live, Tyler must decide what it is he believes and who he's meant to be in the final moments of his life.

I loved this story, and it was definitely one of Thrasher's best. I especially loved the ode to Thrasher's previous novels on page 382. Thrasher has an incredible talent for plunging a reader into the world of his character. In this case, that world is the world of a music producer, and I loved journeying with Tyler in this respect. The way the story twists near the end is brilliant.

40 is a gritty story about regrets and the implications of the choices we make, for good or bad. It's about evaluating our lives and closing the gap between who we are and who we should be.