Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review of PERSPECTIVES ON ETERNAL SECURITY Edited by Kirk MacGregor &Kevaugn Mattis

Photo Credit: Wipf and Stock

Whether or not a believer in Jesus can lose the salvation given to them has been a controversial topic for hundreds of years. There are many passages of Scripture that seem to speak clearly to the affirmation of eternal security, while other passages seem to indicate that apostasy, or falling away, is possible. It can be very confusing, and it has caused many divisions in church history. For the record, I personally believe that eternal life is truly eternal in that once it is given, it cannot be lost. But I was interested in reading other thoughts on the subject.

PERSPECTIVES ON ETERNAL SECURITY is a collection of essays on the topic of eternal security edited by Kirk R. MacGregor and Kevaughn Mattis. The essays, all affirming the eternal security of salvation, look at some of the key passages of the Bible that speak to the reality of eternal security. The arguments are compelling and illuminating. Eternal security as taught in the Gospel of John plays very prominently in the essays. The topic is also looked at from the angle of philosophical theology, and there's even an exploration of John Calvin's formulation of eternal security in the perseverance of the saints.

While the essays included argue the reality of eternal security well, I wish that the essays would have focused more on dealing with the passages of Scripture that seem to point in the opposite direction. However, the book is still a great resource for those wanting to know more about why so many affirm eternal security.

I received this book for free for review from Wipf & Stock

Ultimate Reality Through the Life of Jesus: My Review of KING'sCROSS by Timothy Keller

Photo Credit: Dutton Books

C.S. Lewis had a way of communicating some of the most foundational aspects of faith in Jesus in ways that were fresh, illuminating, and clearly connected to the real world Christ followers live in day in and day out. Lewis was an important thinker and writer, and though he's not with us, he's inspired countless authors. Timothy Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is one such author who continues to be a voice like Lewis to illuminate the important things of faith and show how incredibly relevant Christianity is to our lives. But perhaps “relevant” isn't the right word to use. The idea of Christianity being relevant often communicates the idea that we have to make Christianity fit with our lives, as if it isn't naturally something that concerns our lives. We often come to Christianity, trying to make sense of it according to our uniquely individual lives. But according to Keller in his book KING'S CROSS, we make sense of the world and our individual lives by looking at the life of Jesus. It's us and our lives that need to be made to conform to “ultimate reality” as found in Christianity.

In KING'S CROSS Keller takes us on a breathtaking journey through the Gospel of Mark and shows how the story of Jesus makes sense of our world. Because God created the world, it only makes sense that the world's story would only make sense in light of the story of Jesus. From the ultimate reality as a dance of the three persons of the trinity to Jesus' claim to divinity in forgiving sins to the beginning of all sad things becoming untrue with the resurrection of Jesus, Keller explores some of the key moments Mark recorded in the life of Jesus. KING'S CROSS brilliantly communicates our desperate need for God's forgiveness and redemption and shows how the death of Jesus truly makes sense as the necessary path for Jesus to take in reconciling us to God. Keller does a stellar job at exposing our inner motivations and revealing Jesus as the cure to our self-centeredness.

I love how Timothy Keller seems to have his heart's affections drawn completely toward Jesus and that passion bleeds through the pages. Keller's writing makes much of Jesus, and any reading of Keller should inspire greater love for Jesus and a greater hunger for communicating with God through the Bible.

I received this book for free for review from Dutton Books

Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Review of TRANSFORMATIONAL CHURCH by Thom Rainer & Ed Stetzer

How does your church measure success? For many churches, success is measured by the attendance numbers on Sunday mornings or attendance at any of the church's many programs. But this isn't a great standard of measurement because the Bible calls churches to make disciples, and attendance at a program or a worship service doesn't automatically mean that those in attendance are disciples. You can fill up a whole room full of people in a church sanctuary, and all of them could be as far away from Jesus as possible. In this case, attendance can hide the spiritual deadness of the members of the church.

Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer suggest a different way of measuring church success in their book TRANSFORMATIONAL CHURCH. They picture measuring success in a church as a scorecard. For churches that measure success by the number of people participating in its programs, Stetzer and Rainer suggest a new scorecard. Using the Bible as their foundation, they see the church as the context in which people experience God-initiated transformation. In fact, the church is meant to be a community of people who are being transformed by their relationship with Jesus.

In true Stetzer and Rainer style, TRANSFORMATIONAL CHURCH gives statistics and many examples of churches that are transformational. The authors cover important elements of a transformational church, such as leadership, dependence on prayer, an environment of worship, and community. They offer hope of being a church that is measured by changed lives.

TRANSFORMATIONAL CHURCH says much that should be common sense by now, but it's still important. It covers much of the great ideas Stetzer and Rainer have written about in the past. Ultimately, the book is a call to be the church God had in mind.

I received this book for free from Broadman and Holman through NetGalley

Friday, January 27, 2012

Created For Community: A Review of COMMUNITY by Brad House

We were created for community. The triune God who is essentially community created humanity in his image to live in and grow in community. Realizing this, many churches promote small groups for their members to be intentional about providing a context for genuine Christian community. Small groups are a great idea, but how do you do it, and do it effectively? What does the ideal community look like? Brad House paints a picture of a transformational concept of community in his aptly titled book COMMUNITY.

In COMMUNITY House reveals that we're called to live in community with other believers not primarily as a way to keep members connected to a church, but because it is a response to the incredible grace that God poured out on us collectively as the body of Christ. House begins to present a model of community groups that takes the spiritual journey of its members very seriously. He proposes that community groups serve the three purposes of discipleship, pastoral care, and mission. In this way, House is essentially describing small churches within a larger church. I especially like the idea of pastoral care being provided by one's small group.

COMMUNITY suggests ways for community groups to impact whole neighborhoods and to be incarnational within the community's context. Community groups become a place for people to grow in their faith in Jesus, be taken care of, and carry the grace of Jesus to the world. Because community is something all people strive for, whether they believe in Jesus or not, House's strategy for community groups becomes an attractive picture of what being a part of the tribe of Jesus is like.

COMMUNITY is a great resource for churches wanting to do small groups effectively and transformationally. The examples from Mars Hill church throughout give hope and insight on how to put the book's ideas into practice.

I received this book for free for review from Crossway Books through NetGalley

Writing & Living Authentically: A Review of WORDSMITHY by Douglas Wilson

Photo Credit: Canon Press

The key to a great writing life is living a life that's worth writing about. This is one of the many reminders about the writing life that Douglas Wilson gives in his short and insightful book WORDSMITHY. There is an inherent temptation for some writers to live almost exclusively inside your own imagination. After all, it's pretty interesting up there. But genuine art has to connect with real life. It's our real-life experiences that inform the many creative ideas for our writing. So Douglas Wilson calls writers to live an authentic life, learn from it, and let it inspire story ideas.

Wilson offers a total of seven practical and helpful tips for the writing life …
1. Know something about the world
2. Read
3. Read mechanical helps
4. Stretch before your routines
5. Be at peace with being lousy for a while
6. Learn other languages
7. Keep a commonplace book

After a brief introduction of the seven tips in the introduction, Wilson begins to unpack each of the tips by giving us seven sub-tips. Knowing something about the world is about living the authentic life. Wilson echoes what perhaps the world's most well-known writer Stephen King says about the writing life in telling us to read a lot. In fact, Wilson encourages us to read a wide variety of books because even the things that we don't remember shape us and inform our personal writing style. Wilson also echoes King in telling us to write a lot. The more a writer writes, the better he gets.

WORDSMITHY is about growing and improving as a writer. Wilson writes with a very personable style as one who clearly practices what he's suggesting. WORDSMITHY is a short, but incredibly helpful guide to becoming a better writer.

I received this book for free from Canon Press

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Review of THE ADOLESCENT JOURNEY by Amy Jacober

David Kinnaman exposed the widespread inadequacy of many church youth ministries in his book YOU LOST ME. His research revealed that youth ministries struggle to develop teenagers into adults who know how to integrate their whole lives with their faith in Christ. Because of this, teens often become young adults who see their faith and church involvement as irrelevant to their lives. Youth ministries are often focused on being relevant and program-heavy, while youth pastors are rarely encouraged to take issues of practical theology seriously enough. Having been a youth pastor as well as an outside observer, it seems like church youth ministries are often focused on keeping teens entertained and kept out of trouble, while giving all the standard “Christian” rules to live by (i.e. don't cuss, don't drink, don't have premarital sex, and don't hang out with those who do). While some teens find a transformational relationship with Jesus during their stent in youth ministry, we've all seen far too many students graduate from the church at the same time they graduate from high school.

In her book THE ADOLESCENT JOURNEY, Amy Jacober elaborates on this current state of youth ministry and offers hope and encouragement for a better way. Specifically, Jacober reminds youth ministers that their students are on a journey of individuation and finding their identity. They can find that identity in Christ, or they can find it unsatisfyingly in the world. Youth ministry is about the ministry of reconciliation that God has called all believers to. It's about joining God in his reconciliatory work in students' lives.

Jacober walks us through some important findings in teen psychological development, the role of culture in identity formation, as well as issues in practical theology. She makes a great case for the importance of the Christian community in identity formation.

THE ADOLESCENT JOURNEY is about developing teens into young adults who have their identity clearly formed in Christ and make a transformational impact on the world.

I received this book for free for review from Intervarsity Press

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Does God Allow So Much Evil: My Thoughts on GOD, WHY THIS EVIL? byBruce Little

Any time spent observing our world quickly reveals that much evil takes place in our world, and much of it seems pointless. The question is, why does God allow all this evil? For several hundred years, many people have relied on something called the greater good theodicy. A theodicy is an explanation of why God allows evil. The greater good theodicy states that God only allows an evil to occur if he can bring about a greater good from the evil. Under this theodicy, every act of evil serves a purpose in the sovereign plan of God. The greater good theodicy is meant to be comforting to people as they try to find the greater good for which God allowed any given evil to occur in their life or the life of someone they love. However, if God only allows an act of evil to occur to bring about a greater good, then logically the evil act itself was necessary in order to bring about the greater good. Unless God could have brought about the greater good without the evil act occurring and just doesn't, the greater good theodicy unintentionally makes God dependent upon evil in order to bring about something good. No orthodox Christian believes that God needs evil in order to bring about good. So the traditional greater good theodicy fails to account for why God would allow evil.

This is the point that Bruce Little makes in his book GOD, WHY THIS EVIL? Little explores the different formulations of the greater good theodicy throughout history and exposes the inherent weaknesses in each of them. He makes the compelling case that the greater good theodicy actually does more harm than good in explaining why God allows evil. For example, if God allows an evil act in order to bring about a greater good, then by trying to stop the evil act, are we not trying to impede a greater good that God is trying to bring about? And isn't God's command to actively fight evil a command to actually work against what God is trying to accomplish through the evil?

After exposing the weaknesses of the greater good theodicy, Little suggests a new theodicy to describe why God allows evil. Little calls this the Creation Order Theodicy. Little stands firm in the camp of libertarian freedom, to which I agree with him. Within the Creation Order Theodicy, man is free, but in his freedom he introduces evil into the world and commits evil acts. According to Little, God allows these evil acts not primarily so he can use them to bring about a greater good, but because he is honoring man's free will to choose evil acts. Of course, God does sometimes use evil to bring about something good. However, it's the attribution of it being a “greater” good that is the problem. How is that measured? If God only allows an evil act to occur that he can bring about a greater good from, what does that say about God's power and character? If the good is only greater as a result of the evil, then isn't the evil act both necessary and in some way good because it's necessary to bring about a greater good? If evil is necessary for good, then this logically makes God the author of evil. Could the all-powerful and sovereign God not bring about a “greater” good without the use of an evil act? It seems quite clear that he could. So the greater good theodicy doesn't give us a good or even biblical answer for why God allows evil.

The Creation Order Theodicy states that God created the world with certain parameters or boundaries, so that man is free to the extent that he doesn't impede what God is ultimately trying to accomplish in human history. In other words, God planned out the world in such a way that he knows exactly where he wants the story to end up, but he allows humanity to have a significant level of freedom to make genuine choices, including evil choices, and the parameters act as boundaries in which God sovereignly and infallibly protects his divine plan. So God can allow the horrible evil of Herod slaughtering the innocents of Bethlehem because that is Herod's choice, but he won't allow Jesus to be there among the innocents because Jesus must live to be the savior of the world. Obviously, this isn't much more comforting than the greater good theodicy because it means that God allows an evil, but for no purpose whatsoever other than protecting one man's freedom to choose. It should be noted that God hated the slaughter of the innocents more than us. But that causes us to ask why he didn't stop it. He obviously was active in protecting Jesus, but why not the other little boys?

The Creation Order Theodicy has its flaws, but I land squarely with Little on the negative implications of relying on the greater good theodicy. The Creation Order Theodicy, I think, is a step in the right direction, but it still leaves us with God allowing evil with no good explanation of why. Little believes that this world, from beginning to finish, is the “best possible world” because God only does his best. However, if this world with all of its history of disgusting and alarming levels of evil is the best possible world, then it means that God was compelled to make the broken world we live in. He had no choice otherwise. Little appeals to a theological concept called middle knowledge, which attributes to God a deliberation of all the actions every single potential person would take under any set of circumstances and taking this into account to select the world history he will actualize. Though there have been many compelling cases for middle knowledge, I'm not sold on the evidence that God actually possesses this. One of the assumptions Little rests on, along with middle knowledge, is that God could not create a world of genuinely free creatures that at least one person didn't choose to do evil. But I think God who is all-wise was perfectly capable of creating a world of free creatures that would not choose evil. But that's not the world God created, which leaves us with more questions. Why did God create a world where evil was possible?

People often turn to Romans 8:28 in support of the greater good theodicy, but Little rightly points out that this only accounts for the evil actions being worked out for good for Christians. It doesn't account for evil across the whole human spectrum.

I think Little does a great job of showing the inadequacy of greater good theodicies, and he makes an important contribution with his Creation Order Theodicy. When it comes to why God allows evil, I think God has structured the universe in such a way that free beings, demons and humans, make free choices that have serious negative effects in our world. God promises that someday the evil will be over. Until then, the Scriptures frequently call upon God's people to actively stand against evil.

That leaves us with just as important of a question as why God allows so much evil? Why do we allow so much evil?

GOD, WHY THIS EVIL? is an important book to explore the difficult questions surrounding the existence of evil in our world.

I received this book for free for review from Hamilton Books

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How God Relates to the World: My Review of GOD WITH US by K. ScottOliphint

K. Scott Oliphint, in his new book GOD WITH US: DIVINE CONDESCENSION AND THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD, tackles the difficult theological question of how an eternal and infinite God interacts with a time-bound and finite creation. Specifically, the book looks at the attributes of God as revealed to us in Scripture.

How do we reconcile the Bible saying that God is unchangeable, but also giving us several examples of God changing his mind? Or reconciling God having exhaustive foreknowledge with the stories of God “learning” something he seemingly didn't know before, such as in the story of Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac? Some theologians wrestle with these questions and finally come to the conclusion of viewing God from an open theism framework, that God doesn't know the future choices of free creatures and that God is changed by the actions of people. Oliphint shows how this isn't an option the Bible leaves open, yet he understands the difficultly with the questions presented.

Oliphint proposes that the key to God's interaction with his creation, as well as a biblically orthodox explanation of seemingly contradictory attributes of God presented in Scripture, can be found in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The incarnation is the pinnacle of God's “condescending” and taking on attributes and properties that he would not normally have apart from creation. Oliphint calls this God's covenantal attributes because in creating God covenanted to condescend to interact with his creation. The incarnation is the clearest example of this as God relates to humanity as a human being, but Oliphint makes a compelling proposal that all of biblical history up to the time of the incarnation features God's condescending to genuinely interact with and react to human beings by taking on human-like properties. This does not change God's essence, but it explains how God can genuinely relate to humanity in a way that seems lacking in the essential divine attributes at times.

Oliphint goes even further by suggesting that the Son of God has been the one revealing the triune God from creation onward and that the incarnation is the climactic culmination of this revelation. The book explores God's independence and essence in a way that inspires awe at the great God who has graciously and mercifully covenanted to condescend to relate to us.

GOD WITH US is written from a Calvinistic Reformed perspective, and while I found a few things I disagreed with, I still found much more to agree with as a non-Calvinistic Reformed reader. This is an important book in the realm of theology proper and Christology. Oliphint gives much to consider and much to build upon. And overall, the book makes much of Jesus.

I received this book for free for review from Crossway Books

Monday, January 16, 2012

Guide to Publication: My Review of THE FIRST 50 PAGES by Jeff Gerke

Any fiction writer who aspires to be published someday has to become the kind of writer who keeps a reader engaged from page one. This is especially important when trying to get your manuscript read by an acquisitions editor of a publishing house. They read a lot of proposals, so you want yours to stand out. THE FIRST 50 PAGES by Jeff Gerke is the perfect resource for someone wanting to be a published novelist. Gerke shares what he knows about making the first fifty pages the best that they can be.

Gerke covers so many great things in this book such as connecting with your reader, creating a likable protagonist, using beats to ground dialogue, showing versus telling in your writing, three-act structure, and how to use a prologue. The first fifty pages of your story should be optimally designed to draw a reader in so that they will continue the journey with you until the end. Gerke shows how this starts with the very first line and the very first scene of your story. He shows how to introduce your characters and your hero's inner journey, as well as fleshing out the hero's normal story world to begin the story in.

THE FIRST 50 PAGES communicates a lot that I've already read before, but Gerke includes a lot great examples of what he's talking about from well-known movies and novels. I've also read a lot of other writing stuff from Gerke before, so it's familiar, and his advice has already been incredibly helpful in my own writing already. It's a great book that's very practical.

I received this book for free for review from Writers Digest Books

Friday, January 13, 2012

Winning the Inner Creative War: My Review of THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS by James Scott Bell

A few years ago I picked up a book on writing fiction by James Scott Bell called PLOT AND STRUCTURE. For the last year and a half I've been writing a novel in my spare time with the hopes of being published someday, and Bell's book has been very helpful in the writing process, as has many others. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who aspires to write a full-length novel because it explores what a best-selling novel's structure and plot design requires so clearly, and it gives exercises to put into practice at the end of each chapter.

Writing can be a frustrating passion at times, as I've read from several of my favorite authors. While it may be the thing you love the most, when it comes down to actually sitting down and writing, the creative pressure you put on yourself can be daunting. Suddenly, something you love becomes something that's trying to take the life out of you. Yet, as a creator, you have something you want to get across. Call it a burning message that has to be told. Sometimes creativity can feel like an inner war. That's why I appreciate another book by James Scott Bell aptly titled THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS. Bell is a full-time novelist who spends each day entering the war of his creativity, and this book contains some of his best advice on winning the inner creative war.

THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS contains many practical tips on how to develop motivation for writing each day, how to develop a voice and style that is uniquely you, and even how to pursue publication. The book is written in 77 clear and concise chapters. Some examples of the practical insights included are how to write a killer proposal, what an agent wants from an author, and developing a credo as an author. If you're a writer, chances are you struggle with the inner creative war. If that's the case, THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS is a great book to help win the battle.

I received this book for free for review from Writer's Digest Books

My Review of THE GREAT BOOKS READER Edited by John Mark Reynolds

THE GREAT BOOKS READER edited by John Mark Reynolds is an incredible resource for getting into some of the classics of literature that have shaped the thought of Western Civilization. The book contains excerpts from the writings of some of the greatest thinkers, such as John Calvin, Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and John Locke, among many others. In addition to the excerpts, there is a brief introduction to each excerpt, followed by a brief essay about each writer from respected theologians and Christian thinkers.

Any Christian who wants to be well-read should get this book. Because it brings together the writings from so many different authors, readers will be exposed to so many great thinkers.

While the book only contains small excerpts from each of the authors, ideally, readers will be encouraged to pick up the full writings of the authors excerpted. For example, while I'm not a Calvinist, I enjoyed both the excerpt from John Calvin's INSTITUTES and Russell Moore's essay, and I'd really like to read the full INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION. The same with Augustine and Aquinas and so many others in this book.

THE GREAT BOOKS READER is a wonderful collection of writings that will stir your imagination and intellect, as well as introduce you to some of the greatest thinkers the world has ever known.

I received this book for free for review from Bethany House

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creativity in the Bible: My Review of WORD PICTURES by Brian Godawa

I love reading a book that drives me back to the Bible, wanting to read it more and with an eye for something specific. WORD PICTURES by Brian Godawa is one such book. Brian Godawa is a Hollywood screenwriter and a Christian writer and speaker. Because I love stories and creativity, I was really interested in a creative professional's look into the most creative elements of the Bible. WORD PICTURES is an exploration of the 70% of the Bible that is made up of stories, metaphors, imagery, and other creative elements, and shows how God as Creator has chosen to communicate to people with both propositional truth and imagery and storytelling. In fact, the majority of the propositional truths in the Bible are located in the midst of narrative. Propositional truth appeals to our intellect; imagery appeals to our hearts. God wants to affect both in us to draw us closer to him and transform us into a reflection of the image of Jesus.

Godawa chronicles his personal journey from being convinced that propositional truth was the only way to interact with God to understanding that God communicates in a variety of creative ways, and all of these are used throughout the Bible. He looks at the way Christians have typically pitted word against image in communicating truth and shows how the Bible doesn't place word above image, but uses both to communicate. Of course, words are often required to elaborate on the meaning of image, but this merely shows that great communication requires both. Just think about how much more something captures your attention when it is illustrated with a story or image. For example, in the Bible Nathan tells David a story to paint a picture of his sin rather than just confronting him with it.

Godawa also shows how the use of storytelling, metaphor, symbols, etc. is a subversive way to interact with culture and expose people with the truth about Jesus. His exploration of Paul's encounter with the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill in Acts 17 was my favorite part of the book.

WORD PICTURES is very theologically orthodox, and it is a fresh look at God's communication to us through the Bible. It's one of the best books I think I've ever read, and it will be one I'll go to again and again.

I received this book for free for review from Intervarsity Press

My Review of Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

Luther has a serious problem. He wants to be a good person, to love his wife and daughter well, but something dwells inside of him that is very much a part of him that has little self-control or care for others. Luther is a werewolf, but not the kind you would usually think of. Luther is a man whose spiritual dark side takes a very tangible form of a werewolf, and he's desperate for transformation, for something to kill the werewolf inside. Along with Matt Mikalatos, a mad scientist, and an android, Luther goes in search of a cure to lycanthropy. Specifically, he's heard that being a Christian will change him, but he's never seen Christianity that really changes anyone. During their surprisingly hilarious journey, they discover zombies who have the appearance of being alive, but are actually dead, and vampires who take from others to survive. They have to find the cure quickly because a werewolf hunter is on their trail to kill Luther.

Matt Mikalatos, who is one of the main characters of this story, is also the real-life author of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD CHRISTIAN. Though movie monsters abound in this story, it's actually a funny satirical look at Christianity and what the truly transformed life looks like. Though funny, Mikalatos, through the voice of Luther, explores what popular Christianity often presents as life-changing and conveys a desperate longing for Jesus and true transformation. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD CHRISTIAN touches on struggles that all Christians face and strives to bring hope in the midst of our inner darkness.

The story is compelling throughout, due to the ridiculous turns it takes, and it's a quick book to read. It's a great commentary on the nature of Christian transformation.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My Review of CORRIDOR by Robin Parrish

Troy Goggin, on the night before his seventeenth birthday, wakes up in a massive and mysterious structure he later learns is called the Corridor. A million questions race through his mind. What is the Corridor? Who built it? How did he end up there? In the Corridor Troy is led through a series of rooms that are both mentally and physically challenging, as well as life-threatening. His guide through the Corridor is a voice inside of his head that belongs to a mysterious girl named Victoria. Each room is harder than the last, as he tries to find the exit before either the floor falls out from beneath him, fire consumes him, or some other catastrophic threat to his life. The only way out is to run, and the only way to discover the Corridor's secrets is to make it to the end. Will he survive or will the people he loves never know that he died in the Corridor?

I've been a fan of Robin Parrish's novels since his first book RELENTLESS. Parrish has a rare knack for coming up with epic story premises and executing them with precision. Parrish's newest novel CORRIDOR is right up there as another example of his incredible storytelling ability. Parrish calls this a Mythworks novel, a brand based on his story approach to creating not only a great story, but a whole compelling mythology behind it. There's always something spectacular going on behind the scenes in a Robin Parrish novel, and CORRIDOR is no exception.

CORRIDOR is rare in that there are only really two main characters throughout the course of the story, and Victoria is mostly represented by only her voice. Parrish does an incredible job of mounting the suspense with a small cast of characters. It also gave the opportunity to get to know these two characters really well, especially under the difficult situation Troy finds himself in with Victoria growing to care for him and really wanting to help him survive.

The rooms, each represented by a color, in the Corridor pit Troy against some truly insane tasks. The first room he wakes up in is a giant room bathed in blinding white light. Without seeing, he has to crawl through the room to find the exit as the floor around him is crumbling and falling into an abyss. Each room becomes much more difficult and life-threatening, especially with the amount of physical injuries he suffers along the way. It's a journey unlike any other, and the questions about the Corridor's origins and purpose mount as the journey progresses.

The whole story had the feeling of the TV show LOST for me, which isn't surprising because Parrish used to write a blog about LOST that I used to read weekly. Troy's snatching and placement in the Corridor, the insane tests, Troy and Victoria's building relationship, and the story's surprising mythology all gave me that LOST feel. It was refreshing and reminiscent.

The ending of the story was spectacular. It was bigger than I imagined would be coming, and while Parrish closed the story with a clear ending, he left the possibility of it being the first of a trilogy. I would love to see Parrish continue this story, especially in light of where it ends. The story is also a beautiful exploration of the themes of love and sacrifice.

The book is currently available in eBook format, and the price is great at $2.99. It's a quick read as well. It's also Parrish's first foray into young adult fiction, and I think it will appeal to that demographic very well, but it also has great crossover appeal. It would be great if everyone would grab a copy of this book and check it out because it would make a phenomenal trilogy. The more copies sold, the greater the chances of that happening, so check out CORRIDOR, and be sure to check out Parrish's other novels as well.

I received this book for free for review from the author and was not required to give a positive review

Prayer Changes Everything: My Review of THE CIRCLE MAKER by MarkBatterson

In the first century BC, in the midst of a drought that threatened to destroy a generation of Jewish people, a Jewish sage named Honi changed everything when he believed that praying to God was their last and only hope. Honi drew a circle around himself in the sand and prayed to God that he wouldn't move from the circle until God sent rain. Like Jesus' parable of the persistent widow, Honi was committed to pursuing God as the only source of help and hope. After more than a year without rain, as Honi stood and prayed in the circle, raindrops began to fall. God had answered Honi the circle maker's prayer.

While this story doesn't originate from the Bible, National Community Church pastor and author Mark Batterson uses this legend as the launching point for his newest book on prayer, THE CIRCLE MAKER. I had been looking forward to reading THE CIRCLE MAKER for several months because I've been reading Mark Batterson's books for awhile. His book WILD GOOSE CHASE is a fascinating look at the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Batterson is a compelling communicator with an infectious belief that the things that God did in the stories of the Bible are still happening today.

One of Batterson's impeccable talents is the ability to both come up with and communicate a story that perfectly illustrates the point he's trying to make. As you read a Batterson book, it becomes very clear that he lives life to the fullest and finds great satisfaction in pursuing Christ. THE CIRCLE MAKER is another example of Batterson's strengths. He writes not merely as a theorist, but a practitioner of everything he's trying to say in the book. In a nutshell, the book is about our desperate need to develop an intimate relationship with God that is marked by persistent and faith-filled prayer. Using examples both from his own life and the life of his church, Batterson shows the power of prayer to make a life-altering impact in the way people live their lives.

THE CIRCLE MAKER is mapped out in three movements:
Dream Big
Pray Hard
Think Long

I love how Batterson connects prayer to dreaming big, and that our dreams for what life could be for ourselves and others should expand as we journey with God through prayer. We should be desperate praying for things that only God could accomplish. Our expectations for life should increase because of our prayer times with God.

Showing that prayer isn't a magic formula to merely get what we want, Batterson encourages us to pray hard and persistently as the Scriptures teach us. Persistent prayer for something exposes whether or not our desire for it is selfish or something God is encouraging inside of us. Sometimes God takes a long time to answer some of our prayers. It's in those times that we shouldn't give up, but be persistent.

Finally, in the section Thing Long, Batterson reminds us that prayer in Scripture isn't just about us. We're trying to impact the world both now and for future generations. This part resonated with me as I think about my own children and their future. Batterson encourages readers to pray circles around their children, and it's something I want to commit to.

THE CIRCLE MAKER is marked by so many other great insights, such as making our prayers specific, setting God-glorifying life goals, and journaling our prayers. Batterson is the king of inspiring one-liners. There's so much to quote from this book, such as our need to pray as if it depends on God and work as if it depends on us. That's a great insight on putting flesh on the faith of our prayers.

Aside from the sense that Batterson may sometimes over-spiritualize some Scripture passages, THE CIRCLE MAKER is a brilliant and inspiring call to pursue God relentlessly through prayer.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Grace-Driven Heart Transformation: A Review of LICENSED TO KILL: AFIELD MANUAL FOR MORTIFYING SIN by Brian Hedges

Christians who are saved from their sin through their faith in Jesus still struggle with the power of sin in their lives. For many believers, it's as if they're a walking contradiction. They know their faith in Jesus should mean a life less defined by sinful behavior and more by faith in and love for Jesus, yet they sense a certain pull toward sin inside them on a daily basis. Christians know that this pull or temptation needs to be dealt with, but how?

Brian G. Hedges takes us on a quick journey through the Bible's teaching on defeating sin in his new book for Cruciform Press called LICENSED TO KILL: A FIELD MANUAL FOR MORTIFYING SIN. Following the pattern of puritan theologian John Owen, Hedges explores what the Bible says about our indwelling sin nature and the Bible's definitive prescription for “mortifying” or killing sin. Because sin is a serious offense against God and a detriment to our drawing closer to him, our sin must be dealt with extreme seriousness.

LICENSED TO SIN is a quick read, but as a “field manual,” it's designed to walk a person through discovering their sin, understanding why their sin needs to be put to death, preparing for mortification, understanding God's grace in our pursuit of killing sin, and the actual practice of mortifying sin through meditation and prayer. Hedges writes with a sincere humility of someone who puts what he's suggesting into practice. LICENSED TO SIN points back to Scripture again and again as the source of hope for genuine freedom from sin.

With any great book on Christian heart transformation, it's always good to see the gospel clearly the driving force behind what we're trying to do. LICENSED TO SIN is definitely about grace-driven transformation. Because it's concise and easy to understand, I'd recommend this for any believer because putting sin to death is serious business and the call of every believer.

I received this book for free for review from Cruciform Press

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Influencing People for Good: A Review of ENCHANTMENT by Guy Kawasaki

To make any kind of significant impact on the world requires influencing the hearts and minds of people, which will ideally shape the actions those people take. Anyone who wants to change the world has to start with one person and change the world one person at a time. Changing the world requires deep interconnectedness and the formation of a tribe of people all seeking to change the world. It can't be done alone, nor should it.

Guy Kawasaki's latest book ENCHANTMENT is about influencing people. Specifically, it's about the strategies we as individuals can take to be effective influencers to the people we interact with everyday. It's about getting people to dream about the same things we dream about, so that we influence people to make those dreams a reality. It's about providing something that will better the lives of other people, and therefore move in the direction of changing the world.

Kawasaki covers basic yet integral topics such as achieving likability and trustworthiness, formulating your ideas so that people will care about them, and overcoming resistance. He even includes a couple of helpful chapters on how to effectively use social media in our pursuit of influencing people.

ENCHANTMENT is an easy read, as it is concise and clear. It's aimed primarily toward business professionals and entrepreneurs, but would be equally helpful to someone in a church context since Kawasaki is covering basics of human interaction. I'd say that ENCHANTMENT is a modern version of Dale Carnegie's HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE. It's packed with great wisdom on how to be a person who is well-liked and known to care about people.

I received this book for free for review from Portfolio, a division of Penguin Publishing