Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review of THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS edited by Bodie Hodge

THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS edited by Bodie Hodge is a book that seeks to get people back to what is true about Christmas, including the origination of the use of X-Mas over Christmas. The book features several essays about the elements of Christmas. The essays explore the virgin birth, where the Christmas holiday originated, and why December 25 is likely not when Jesus was really born.

The book interesting in the way that it explores what Christmas is about and where it came from. I don't really like the warfare metaphor of the book, but I understand where the authors are coming from. I think the essay on Santa Claus could have been better. Parents wrestle with what to do with it, but I think it's a little more complex than lying to children. It is a story we're telling to engage the imagination, but the wrestling has to be with whether or not utilizing the story is sinful deception and how we frame the story. The naughty and nice list, for example, is obviously the opposite of how the gospel works, so my wife and I eliminate that part of the story.

Overall, THE WAR ON CHRISTMAS is an interesting book to read during the holiday season.

Review copy provided by Master Books through Handlebar Publishing

Monday, December 23, 2013

Review of WHAT IS BIBLICAL THEOLOGY? by James Hamilton

WHAT IS BIBLICAL THEOLOGY? by James Hamilton is small book that has a ton of great insight in it. In the book, Hamilton seeks to illustrate the unifying structure of the whole Bible, clarifying what is meant by the term Biblical Theology

Hamilton looks at the symbols the authors of the Bible uses to communicate their story. My favorite part of the book is the way Hamilton shows that biblical theology is about each of the authors' perspectives upon redemptive history. They build upon one another, and they together tell one grand story. Hamilton walks us through the Scriptures to show how this one grand story is laid out.

I've read a lot of books on biblical theology, and this is definitely one of my favorites. For a short book, it reveals so much.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Photo Credit: Crossway

Review of WALKING WITH GOD THROUGH PAIN AND SUFFERING by Timothy Keller

There may be no better contemporary communicator of biblical issues than Timothy Keller, and in WALKING WITH GOD THROUGH PAIN AND SUFFERING, he tackles the problem of evil head on and promotes some deep thinking along the way.

Keller walks us through the historical ways people have dealt with the problem of evil. He shows how any method outside of the biblical perspective fails to account for the way the world actually is and that Christianity holds the most profound answers for why evil exists in a world created by God.

Keller leaves no stone unturned, and he wrestles with some of the most challenging issues related to the problem of evil. I've always believed in the free will defense, but Keller raises some questions about it that I have to deal with. I can't say that I'm abandoning it, but Keller's book is definitely challenging my thinking.

Ultimately, what Keller does well is illuminate the loving character of God and his commitment to finally make everything sad untrue. Keller's is a powerful look at suffering from a biblical perspective.

Review copy provided by Dutton Adult

Photo Credit: Dutton Adult

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review of RISKY GOSPEL by Owen Strachan

What stops us from taking risks in our pursuit of the Christian life? In his new book RISKY GOSPEL, Owen Strachan says that we stand in our own way, lacking the faith to follow God into whatever risk he calls us to. And it's not about being ultra radical in our walk with Jesus. It's about following Jesus in the places we find ourselves. It's things like leading our family as followers if Jesus and engaging our work with a heart of faith. It's having the courage to live boldly for Jesus wherever we go.

Strachan's book is good in the way that it challenges us to pursue Jesus wholeheartedly and the way Strachan relates personal stories throughout. It's clear he loves Jesus and wants others to as well. I'm finding a lot of encouragement from this book, and I think other Christians will also.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review of DIE EMPTY by Todd Henry

I loved Todd Henry's ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE, and it's a book I return to again and again. His latest book DIE EMPTY is about living the kind of life that, when we finally leave this world, we'll know we poured out our best. It's about getting the ideas we have out of our heads and make them a reality.  Dying empty is about not hanging onto our ideas and waiting for perfection before we execute.

Henry's book is great because he seems to genuinely live out the principles he lays out in the book. He talks about the three kinds of work we should be doing to be continually productice, and he gives practical tips for overcoming the natural tendency toward procrastination that many creatives experience.

Like THE ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE, DIE EMPTY is designed to encourage productivity, and it does a great job.

Review copy provided by Portfolio Hardcover

Photo Credit: Portfolio Hardcover

Review of THE HERO'S LOT by Patrick Carr

A HERO'S LOT by Patrick Carr is the continuing journey of Errol Stone and a kingdom that hangs in the balance over immenent death of its king. Errol is convicted for a crime that he did not commit, and he begins a mission to find an evil man named Sarin Valon. Errol's fate seems wrapped up in the fate of the kingdom. Who is he and why is he so important? Errol continues to grow as a character and in his relationships with other people.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed A CAST OF STONES, and I was equally excited about the sequel to the story. A HERO'S LOT has a great epic fantasy feel. Errol's character grew so much in the first book, it's interesting to see where the story takes him next. The circumstances and the whole story world that Patrick Carr has created really adds to the story and envelops me as a reader.

As this book is the second in a trilogy, it sets up for a final act that I'm very excited about. Patrick Carr has proven himself to be a really good writer who knows how to tell a great story.

Review copy provided by Bethany House

Photo Credit: Bethany House

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review of EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY by Michael Bird

There's no lack of systemic theology textbooks in the evangelical world, so why add a new one? With the recent resurgence in the last few years of a focus on being gospel-centered, Michael Bird's new systematic theology text EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY seems almost inevitable.

Bird covers theology from both a biblical and systematic perspective, and finds the unity of the Bible's story line and core message to be the gospel. That being the case, Bird delves into the core of the gospel, drawing from the Bible's overall narrative and communicating why a gospel-centered approach to theology is important.

The book is broken up into eight sections, and it is without doubt centered on the gospel, beginning with "The God of the Gospel" and finishing with "The Community of the Gospelized." All the important concepts you will find in a systematic theology are covered, though organized a little differently to fit the organizational paradigm Bird has built the book around.

The book includes plenty of illustrations and discussion questions throughout to get believers thinking deeper and drawing closer to the God of the gospel. A unique feature to this book that you won't find in other systematic theology books is Bird's use of humor throughout. It's a refreshing approach to what can sometimes feel like a dry subject.

As with any systematic theology, you probably won't agree with Bird on every point, but he'll get you thinking on the areas you find yourself in disagreement. EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY is a truly gospel-centered biblical and systematic theology that will be beneficial to any believer.

Review copy provided by Zondervan Academic and AcademicPS

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Review of BETTER by Tim Chaddick

Title: Better

Author: Tim Chaddick

Publisher: David C. Cook

What It's About: In Better, Tim Chaddick takes us on a journey through the book of Ecclesiastes and compares our world to what Solomon had to say. Ultimately, he makes a comparison between the wisdom of Solomon and the wisdom of Jesus and shows that Jesus is so much better than anything else we can find.

Why I Read It: I heard about the book on Twitter and it sounded interesting.

What I Liked About It: Chaddick is a pastor in Los Angeles where much of the culture we're surrounded by in the U.S. is shaped. I love the personal stories he shares and how he brings the ancient book of Ecclesiastes to life in our modern context. I love that the book is about Jesus being better and that Chaddick shows how Jesus is better by comparing and contrasting Jesus with real struggles we face. The structure of the book is helpful as he tackles actions, assets and aspirations. A book like this has the potential to feel like a cliche because of how much we go around talking about Jesus being better. This book doesn't fall into that trap. It was a fresh approach, and I didn't really find anything I didn't like about it.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review of A WALK ONE WINTER NIGHT by Al Andrews

A WALK ONE WINTER NIGHT by Al Andrews is a short tale about a man's wrestling with the meaning and atmosphere of the Christmas season. It's a story about a man so frustrated by disappointment that he takes a walk one night and encounters a nativity scene. At first glance, it's just a regular nativity scene, but then everything changes, and the man is faced with a truth bigger than can be captured in the scene before him.

I love the Christmas season, and this book just feels like Christmas. It's a short book, and the colors of Christmas are splashed onto the pages throughout in a really beautiful way. The story is simple, but profound. I love the way the author forces us to look past the baggage that we often place upon Christmas to see what the first Christmas really was about. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have much to teach us through their experience, and Andrews brings that out through this book.

The book won't take long to read, and it is one that is both encouraging and challenging. I highly recommend this little book for the Christmas season.

Review copy provided by Worthy Publishing as a part of their First Look Program

Photo Credit: Worthy Publishing

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review of ALL YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT HELL by Steve Gregg

I've held to the traditional doctrine of hell as unending conscious punishment for as long as I can remember. But, like C.S. Lewis, I've also always hated the idea and wished reality was actually something different. Ever since Rob Bell released his book questioning the traditional doctrine of hell, it seems the struggle with what the Bible teaches about hell has become more and more apparent. While I've always felt more inclined toward the traditional view, I've been surprised in the last couple years to discover how much biblical evidence there actually is for conditional immortality.

Steve Gregg wrestles with these questions in his new book ALL YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT HELL. The book looks at three different perspectives on the doctrine of hell, and what is interesting is that he shows how those that hold to these views arrived at them because they genuinely believe the Bible clearly teaches them. The three views are the traditional view, conditional immortality, and Christian universalism. He presents us with some very difficult questions that we have to deal with if we hold to the traditional view, though not condemning it because it has been a major teaching of the church for centuries and many biblical texts can be read to point that way. But, he also shows that many texts that are taken to definitively teach the traditional view aren't as clear as we've been led to believe. This is where the evidence for conditional immortality comes in, and it is interesting. Finally, Gregg elaborates on a view called Christian or Evangelical Universalism. This view is distinct from straight universalism in that faith in Christ is the requirement for anyone's redemption. The difference is in the belief that God allows all people the opportunity post-death to respond in faith. In this way, hell is a means to burning away the evil in human hearts until they see their need for Jesus. This view is obviously the most hopeful, but I think it has the least evidence in its favor.

I'm not as definitively sure about the traditional view as I once was. This book does a good job presenting the evidence as well as the most common counterarguments for each of the views. It also does a great job of striving to show Jesus as the loving defining image of God and his character. The author doesn't present one view as definitive over the others, but humble wrestles with the implications of each.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Review of CATCHING FIRE: Movie Tie-In Edition by Suzanne Collins

POSSIBLE SPOILERS

For seventy-three years the Capitol of the nation of Panem held The Hunger Games, a violent fight to the death between the teenaged tributes from each of Panem’s twelve districts, as a reminder to never attempt to rise up against the merciless Capitol again. For each of the seventy-three Hunger Games, there has been only one victor. Until Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, in act of defiance against the Capitol, forced the Gamemakers to choose both of them as the victors. Now Katniss must convince the world that her act of defiance in the Games was driven by love for Peeta, or risk being the catalyst of rebellion against the Capitol. Everyone she loves is in danger. And with the punishment of participating in another Hunger Games with Peeta where only one can walk out alive looming over her, she must decide what is more important: surviving to fight the Capitol or keeping Peeta alive.

Suzanne Collins painted a world that revealed the darkest aspects of the hearts of humanity in THE HUNGER GAMES. In CATCHING FIRE, Collins continues Katniss’ story with the aftermath of Katniss’ decisions in the previous book, taking us deeper into a government system built on power, oppression and senseless killing, as well as deeper into the mind of a girl pushed beyond her limits with the fate of a nation and those she loves most resting on her shoulders.

I loved the first book. Not because of the senseless bloodbath that it depicts, but because it reflected a world desperately in need of redemption, and Katniss struggles, in a sense, to be a light in the darkness. I loved the second book even more. As the story progresses, it begins to feel like Peeta is the real hero of this story as he pours all of his energy into protecting Katniss even though she doesn’t know how she feels about him. It’s an incredible picture of unconditional love.

Collins does an incredible job of raising the stakes for the players involved. With the end of THE HUNGER GAMES, I wondered in what direction this story could go next and if it would be as captivating. CATCHING FIRE feels like you’ve been strapped in for a relentless gut-wrenching thrill ride where you’re desperately hoping the horror of it all can somehow be undone.

The villain becomes more present within the story in CATCHING FIRE as we’re given a closer look at the mysterious President Snow. The man is powerful, knows it, and will mercilessly destroy anyone who threatens that power. Collins gives a chilling description of a man who wears an aroma that is a mixture of roses and blood on his breath.

Nearly every chapter ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger, making it really hard to stop reading once you get to the end of a chapter. Once again, I loved the first-person narrative from Katniss’ perspective. Collins gives us some great descriptions of the world of Panem throughout so that imagining what it’s like is really easy. The end of the book will definitely leave wanting to get the next book and start reading immediately.

I love post-apocalyptic stories and I love trilogies. THE HUNGER GAMES Trilogy is quickly one of my favorites.

Review copy provided by Scholastic

Photo Credit: Scholastic

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Review of LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH by Tom Nettles

The 19th century English pastor Charles Spurgeon has been influential in the lives of believers and Christian leaders for as far back as Spurgeon's own ministry. Though I've heard him quoted many times in my life as a believer, I've never made myself familiar with the man himself and his work. 

Tom Nettles has provided a masterful biography/survey of Spurgeon's theology in his new book LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH: THE LIFE AND PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON. The book is over 700 pages long, and it is packed with well-researched exposition of the life and theological thought of Spurgeon. Nettles covers Spurgeon's background and rise to pastoral leadership, and throughout the book, he shows us the heart of the man who has influenced so many people and pointed people to the Christ he loved deeply. Spurgeon had a pastoral heart, and he was driven by a desire to see people saved. 

LIVING BY REVEALED TRUTH is an incredible resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the life and thought of Charles Spurgeon. It's not a book you can get through quickly, but it's one that any believer would benefit from.

Review copy provided by Christian Focus

Review of A NEGLECTED GRACE by Jason Helopoulos

My wife and I have three children under age five. We've been followers of Jesus for a long time, and we want to raise our children to know and love Jesus. A NEGLECTED GRACE by Jason Helopoulos is a book designed to help parents with one particular aspect of raising children to know and love Jesus: family worship. 

Family worship in the home isn't something we've practiced yet, simply because our children have been quite young, but I picked up this book because my children are getting older and my oldest is starting to ask spiritual questions. I want to lead my home well, and Helopoulos' book provides encouragement for seeing family worship as wonderful gift of God's grace to us. We may fail, and things might not always go well, but this can be a time where a family seeks intimacy with God together. 

It's a short book and one that I want to put into practice. It's a great resource for parents who want God's best for their children.

Review copy provided by Christian Focus

Monday, November 18, 2013

Review of SALVATION BY GRACE by Matthew Barrett

Matthew Barrett's SALVATION BY GRACE is definitely a thorough look at the Reformed doctrine of effectual calling and regeneration. Barrett takes us on a historical journey of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians over the nature of God's grace, what sovereignty entails, and what the Bible teaches about the order of salvation. He draws from both Scripture and theological thinkers throughout history to make his case for effectual calling and regeneration preceding faith in an individual.

He's careful to approach all of the Scriptural texts that are relevant to the discussion. It's clear that he desires to do what Calvinists have sought to do throughout history, which is to elevate God's glory and give people an accurate perception of who God is.

While I think some of the arguments for effectual calling are strong, especially in the way they're presented, ultimately I haven't been able to buy into the position because I don't think the textual evidence is airtight in the direction of effectual calling, and I think it presents a God who randomly chooses those he will save and those he won't. Obviously, I know the arguments that God isn't being capricious in his election, but I don't think they're very strong arguments.

While I'm not a Calvinist, I did enjoy this book. I appreciate Barrett's desire to be biblical. The only other negative I came away with is Barrett's lumping of all non-Calvinists under the label of Arminian. If you want to know the ins and outs of the Reformed doctrine of effectual calling, this is the book to read.

Review copy provided by P&R Publishing

Review of the MESSIAH : ORIGIN Graphic Novel by Matt Dorff and Mark Arey

A new graphic novel from Zondervan seeks to illustrate the life of Jesus while remaining completely faithful to the biblical text. MESSIAH: ORIGIN was illustrated by Kai Carpenter with the exact words of Scripture making up the dialogue and storyline of the book. These words and their flow into a cohesive narrative for the graphic novel were adapted by Mark Arey and Matt Dorff.

This book covers the months leading up to and the thirty years following the birth of Jesus. The story Zachariah, Mary's visit to Elizabeth, the birth of John the Baptist, as well as the early ministry of John the Baptist are all included. I wasn't a big fan of the artwork throughout, but the book is an interesting concept. I enjoy the way the creators of the book seek to make the Bible's story come alive in a visual way.

Though the book doesn't explicitly state it anywhere, I assume the book is the first in a series. If that's the case, I can't wait to see the rest of the Scripture's adaptations into a visual narrative. This book would be a really good way to get people focused on the meaning of Christmas this year.

Review copy provided by Zondervan as a part of BookSneeze

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Review of CALLED TO STAY by Caleb Breakey

A Christian church can be one of the most dysfunctional places to be in the world. Many Christians have been wounded by those inside the church. The easiest thing to do is leave. Research shows that many in the Millennial generation have done just that.

Researchers have been putting out book after book, trying to describe the reasons why the Millennials are leaving and how to get them back, but Caleb Breakey offers a unique voice aimed at those who have left. Breakey asks people to consider that, despite a church's dysfunction, God might be calling them to stay in their church for a very specific purpose.

CALLED TO STAY is about believers being infiltrators of the deep and transforming love of Jesus in the church's that have either wounded them or frustrated them by their lack of focus and intentionality toward the outward mission of Jesus.

Infiltration is about recognizing the flaws and sometimes deep dysfunctions in a church and humbly using the truth of Scripture and the love of Jesus to combat it. It's about choosing to love the church because Jesus loves the church. Infiltrators realize their own flaws, but are committed to loving Jesus and want to see more for his church.

Breakey gives all the biblical reasons why God would be calling people to stay in their church instead of leaving. He gives a picture of what an infiltrator looks like and the steps to take to be one. Most refreshing is what Breakey shares about his own journey. I'm a Millenial myself, and I've experienced some of the deep frustration that a church full of imperfect people can cause. I've also felt the frustration of being one of those flawed people and feeling like I couldn't change anything.

Breakey's book is an encouraging read and a deeply challenging call to be more for our churches than what we often are. I can't recommend this book enough to anyone who wants to see a biblical picture of the church and its individual members become a beautiful reality.

Review copy provided by the author

Photo Credit: Harvest House Publishers

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review of CUT TO THE CHASE edited by Linda Venis

CUT TO THE CHASE, edited by Linda Venis, is a valuable resource that takes readers through the process of writing a screenplay for a movie. It's full of helpful information, and the best part about the book is that it's written by writers who teach at UCLA's Extension Writers' Program.

Each chapter is an essay by one of these writers that focuses on one aspect of the screenwriting process. This lends credibility because you're learning from the people who have taught some of the best film writers out there. Learn how to go from concept tp rough draft. Then learn the value of rewriting and making your story truly unforgettable. Learn about the actual mechanics of writing a screenplay and how the film business works.

I've read a lot of books on screenwriting. This one is unique in its approach.

Review copy provided by Gotham Books

Photo Credit: Gotham Books

Review of INSIDE THE ROOM edited by Linda Venis

I've always loved the way some television shows have been able to tell a really great story. Shows like Lost, Smallville, Once Upon a Time, and Supernatural have been some of my favorite storytelling experiences. I've always admired the writers of these shows for their ability to build on a story week after week.

INSIDE THE ROOM, edited by Linda Venis, is a virtual film school in book form for those interested in the process of television writing. The book is broken up into chapters written by writing instructors at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. The book looks at how the process of television writing works and the specifics behind different types of television shows. It gives aspiring writers the steps to pursue to get their foot in the door as a television writer.

I really enjoy this book for its focus on television writing. I also appreciate the credibility provided by the authors who dedicated their wisdom to it.

Review copy provided by Gotham Books

Photo Credit: Gotham Books

Friday, November 15, 2013

Review of PREACHING: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY by Jason Meyer

PREACHING: A BIBLICAL THEOLOGY by Jason Meyer is a unique book on preaching in that it focuses on an overall biblical theology of preaching, looking at the delivery of God's Word through human authors throughout history.

I love the extended metaphor Meyer uses throughout the book of stewards and stewardship of God's Word. He expounds the different paradigm shifts of the stewardship of God's Word in the Bible. He's also concerned with showing that the Bible always ultimately points to Jesus. The Bible records the establishment and fall of many stewards. Jesus is the only one without a fall narrative. He's the hope we're depending on.

Meyer makes a great case for expository preaching, but also shows how topical preaching can be used well and faithfully. This is a great book for those who feel called to be stewards of God's Word.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Blog Tour Review of SINGULARITY by Steven James

In SINGULARITY, the follow-up to Steven James' thriller PLACEBO, Jevin Banks is on the hunt for someone who killed a gooe friend in the middle of a stunt. While most believe it was an accident, Jevin is convinced there is much more to it. He's soon drawn into a plot of incredible evil with a familiar foe.

Steven James is an outstanding storyteller, and I've been impressed by his ability to weave an intricate plot around concepts that had to have been thoroughly researched. This book takes a look at brain science and technology meant to help quadriplegics. The technology has been hijacked by a ruthless villain, and Jevin and his team must uncover the mystery behind what is going and stop it before it's too late.

James has a tendency to write stories that are quite gritty. This book is no exception. He paints evil in the blackest of colors.

SINGULARITY is yet another great story from Steven James, and if you enjoy it, you'll wait eagerly for whatever James comes up with next.

“Available November 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.”

Review copy provided by Revell Books

Photo Credit: Revell Books

Friday, November 8, 2013

Review of INNOVATION'S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET by Larry Osborne

INNOVATION'S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET by Larry Osborne is all about uncovering the reality that innovations usually fail. This is important to know because innovators need to be ready to abandon an innovation if it's a failure to move on to another innovation. 

Osborne seeks to show leaders and innovators what to do in the midst of and after an innovation fails. The book also seeks to show some characteristics of people who are serial innovators. These are the people that are strategic and flexible, and who know where to apply themselves when it comes to innovation. The book is about how to grow as an innovator, embrace the dirty little secret of innovation, and get on the path toward your next innovation. 

The book is relatively short, which is good if you don't have a lot of time to focus on reading about innovation when you want to be doing the work of innovation.

Review copy provided by the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review of CONTENT RULES by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman

Title: Content Rules

Author: Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman

Publisher: Wiley

What It's About: Content Rules is about developing content that will engage readers, listeners, and viewers through blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, and more. 

What I Liked About It: The authors share why quality content development is vital to the way people engage with information in today's world. They help content developers to think through their audience and write in a way that speaks the language of those you're trying to reach. Their content rules are helpful and they're communicated in a fun way through visuals. They provide some strategic questions to work through in order to define who you are as a content developer and who it is you want to reach. After laying out the foundational elements of developing content, the authors then focus on the specific mediums you'll write for, such as blogs, ebooks, and videos. The book closes with some real-life success stories of content that has worked. This is a great book for online writers who want to write better content.

Review copy provided by Wiley

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review of A REASONABLE RESPONSE by William Lane Craig

I've been a fan of the work of William Lane Craig for several years, and I've benefited greatly in my pursuit of Christ through his ministry. I love the area on his website where you can ask him questions, and I've had the privilege of having him answer on a podcast.

His new book A REASONABLE RESPONSE is an interesting one in its approach. It is a compilation of questions made to Dr. Craig and his responses. I love this book because of the way it shows the questions Dr. Craig is answering, which gives the answers some added context. I love the way Dr. Craig engages with his readers. There are also some helpful comments to the side by the editor that draw attention to particularly helpful arguments made throughout the book.

The topics covered range from God's relation to time, the historicity of Jesus, and arguments for God's existence, as well as many others. A REASONABLE RESPONSE is a great apologetics resource, especially if you're fan of Dr. Craig.

Review copy provided by Moody Books

Photo Credit: Moody Books

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review od PAUL AND JUDAISM REVISITED by Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle tackles the relationship between Paul's and the teachings of Judaism. Specifically, Sprinkle looks at the relationship between divine and human agency in both Judaism and Paul's letters and how Paul is influenced by Judaism's teaching.

Sprinkle shows two perspectives in the Old Testament. One of these perspectives leans heavily on human agency in salvation; the other leans heavily on divine agency. He also looks at the influence of the Dead Sea Scrolls on Paul's theology. Paul's theology highlights God's initiative in salvation.

This isn't so much a book about the debate over divine sovereignty and human freedom as it is about exploring where Paul got his ideas and where he departs from the Judaism of his day. The book also serves to provide a rebuttal to the New Perspective on Paul. It's a theologically deep book, and, as such, requires a lot of thought akd wrestling with the content. Sprinkle is an outstanding communicator, though, and adds much to the discussion.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Review of THE PASSIONATE INTELLECT by Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath became one of my favorite authors after I read his biography of C.S. Lewis. In his book THE PASSIONATE INTELLECT, McGrath continues to show me why he has become one of my favorite authors.

McGrath argues that the Christian view of reality is the most coherent and intellectually stimulating view of reality that there is. No other viewpoint stands beside it. He argues for a discipleship of the mind that helps believers love God with their minds and engage in helpful converaations with those who hold other viewpoints.

I love his concept of "mere theology" The book reminds me much of reading a C.S. Lewis book in the way that it gets me thinking and appreciating the truth of Christianity more. I highly recommend this book.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review of Crossway's GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION BIBLE

Crossway's GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION BIBLE is a new study Bible that focuses less on the details of verse-by-verse study, and more on large chunks of the Biblical narrative and how it relates to the gospel.

The Bible's text is the ESV translation, while the notes at the bottom are written by some of today's best-known biblical communicators. The notes seek to draw out the gospel from every book of the Bible. Additionally, as the Bible's title suggests, the notes focus on the gospel's implications as people encounter ot through reading the Scriptures.

If you're looking for an in-depth study Bible, Crossway's ESV Study Bible is the better choice. However, this is a good Bible for a broad sweep of the Bible's overarching story and message. I love the hardback design and the text format as well.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review of JESUS>RELIGION by Jefferson Bethke

Jefferson Bethke became popular when his video about hating religion but loving Jesus went viral. While his video sparked some controversy, many people resonated with his thoughts on following Jesus and being authentic when it comes to Christianity.

Bethke’s new book JESUS>RELIGION tackles the subject of authentic Christianity head-on. Bethke shares his personal journey to discovering who Jesus is and how he is so much more than what we’re often told. Bethke never claims to have all the answers, and I love his humility throughout the book as he gives us a glimpse into some of the rough spots in his background. Overall, JESUS>RELIGION makes much of Jesus. The book shows how the Bible’s overall narrative is all about Jesus.

Bethke’s book is a call to abandon empty religion that strives to earn God’s approval and embrace the free gift of God’s finished work instead. It’s a great book that I found intriguing all the way through. Christians could learn much from the message Bethke is trying to get out there.

Check out Jefferson's book at jesusisgreater.tv

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review of INFINITY RING: THE TRAP DOOR by Lisa McMann

Friends Dak, Sera, and Riq are still traveling through time to repair the breaks that the SQ have caused throughout history. Now, they find themselves in the 1800s in the United States. The three get caught up in the Underground Railroad and their adventures wrestle through the issue of slavery in America.

The Infinity Ring series is an interesting take on getting middle grade kids interested in history, and I think it does a good job of it. This story in the third book THE TRAP DOOR by Lisa McMann takes the narrative into a different place, which makes it more authentic. The kids in the story have to wrestle with some very real issues. Dak is still looking for his parents. Sera is still feeling Remnants of parents she never had. Riq has to deal with the issues surrounding his African America background in 1850s United States. 

Because each story is written by a different author, I know it has to be a challenge to maintain the same style and voice for the characters across each novel. There are a few noticeable differences, but, overall, I think the authors do a good job of keeping the story unified with one voice. I'll be interested to see what awaits the characters in the upcoming stories and how the authors continue to build on each other's stories.

Review copy provided by Scholastic

Photo Credit: Scholastic

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review of LET HOPE IN by Pete Wilson

LET HOPE IN by Pete Wilson is a great book about how to live in light of our past. Most people have things in their past that they wish weren't there. Mistakes they've made. Experiences they wish they never had. Wilson states that if the past is still impacting your future, it's not the past.

Wilson's book is a call to live with hope because God is able to do the impossible. We can have hope for a better future even if our past is full of brokenness. The book illustrates Wilson's point using Scriptures and stories of real-life people who have experienced the joy of hope in Jesus. 

This is a great book on how to transform pain into something good instead of transferring it onto other people. Wilson writes with a pastoral heart and shares from that heart, making this book a truly authentic call to embrace the hope that God has for each of us.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review of THE EYE OF MINDS by James Dashner

The VirtNet is an incredibly realistic virtual reality gaming world, and Michael is one of the best gamers there is. The realism has begun to get out of hand, however, as people inside the VirtNet begin taking their lives. These people claim an expert gamer named Kaine is trapping people inside the VirtNet. A powerful organization known as the VNS wants Michael and his friends, Bryson and Sarah, to help hunt down Kaine and lead them to him. They soon find out that the game is no longer just a game.

James Dashner's THE EYE OF MINDS is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine trilogy, and it is an intense and compelling beginning to the series. The ending to the book was completely unexpected, and I wish I had the second book in my hands right now.

The story world Dashner has created with the VirtNet was difficult for me to get into at first because I wasn't sure that there were any real stakes involved with a gaming world where when you die, you wake up to play another day. That's not the way the story world turns out at all, and I wasn't prepared for what the stakes really were for Michael and his friends. The story is much bigger than a story about videogame-obsessed teenagers. The concept of Dashner's story is brilliant and incredibly executed.

Michael is the main character, and we spend a lot of time getting inside of his head. This is really important for how the story progresses. Sarah and Bryson make the perfect best friends for Michael and their interactions with him make the story so much better than it would be without them.

Kaine is the antagonist of the story, and he's definitely not the villain you expect as you're nearing the end of the story. Kaine may be one of the most terrifying villains I've ever read about because of his background and what makes him who he is.

THE EYE OF MINDS was one of the best books I've read this year. James Dashner is gaining a substantial following and for good reason.

Review copy provided by Delacorte Press

Photo Credit: Delacorte Press

Review of BUT I SAY UNTO YOU by John G. Reisinger

In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, he made several statements that were meant to contrast either the Mosaic law itself or the Pharisees interpretation of it. Theologians are divided on what exactly Jesus meant, but John Reisinger in his book BUT I SAY UNTO YOU seeks to simply let the Bible speak for itself in this passage, and as he shows, what Jesus meant couldn't be clearer. The problem, Reisinger says, is that people often come to the Bible with certain theological presuppositions. Specifically, Covenant Theologians and Dispensationalists come to this passage with their theological construct already in place, and their theological construct doesn't allow the most basic interpretation shine forth. 

Reisinger looks at the words of Jesus and shows that it's most clear that Jesus was contrasting the Mosaic law. He's careful to point out that Jesus wasn't saying the Mosaic law was wrong, but that he brings a new and higher law. The Mosaic law wasn't the highest expression of God's moral law. The law of Christ, as revealed in Jesus' teaching and the teachings of the apostles, is the highest expression of God's moral law. Reisinger shows that Jesus quoted the Old Testament laws themselves, and then he said, "But I say Unto You..." This means Jesus was contrasting the Mosaic law and presenting a better law under a New Covenant. The Mosaic Law was meant to be the moral obligations under a theocracy in the Old Covenant for the nation of Israel. But the Mosaic Law was never meant to be permanent. God was moving in the direction of revealing his highest law based on grace and love.

I loved reading this book. I've never wrestled much with what Jesus meant in the Sermon on the Mount, but when I've studied it, this is the direction I've always felt it pointed. Thanks to the work of John Reisinger and A. Blake White, I've developed a deeper appreciation for the New Covenant. I highly recommend this book.

Review copy provided by New Covenant Media

Review of ABRAHAM'S FOUR SEEDS by John G. Reisinger

Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism both make mistakes in how the Old and New Testaments relate by imposing an external system upon the Scriptures. John G. Reisinger, in his book ABRAHAM'S FOUR SEEDS, seeks a third way, one that starts with the Bible's as its foundation. Reisinger sees how we answer the question of who Abraham's seed is in Scripture as vitally important to how we understand the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. He shows that Bible reveals Abraham to have four seeds: the natural seed, the special natural seed, the spiritual seed, and Christ the unique seed.

Reisinger comes from a New Covenant Theology perspective, which means that the Old Covenant made to Israel was fulfilled in Christ, and the promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Abraham's spiritual seed, nee covenant believers.

Reisinger writes with clarity and reveals the pitfalls of the two systems. He handles the Scriptures with integrity, allowing them to speak for themselves.

Review copy provided by New Covenant Media

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review of STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson

When a large explosion in the sky called Calamity gave some human beings on earth supernatural abilities, it was the hope of many that the Epics, as they came to be known, would use their abilities for the good of the world. They envisioned a world of real-life superheroes. But the opposite happened. The Epics only cared about themselves and some took the opportunity to use their power to dominate humanity. On the day that Steelheart, one of the most powerful Epics, turned against humanity, a young boy named David witnessed his father murdered by the Epic who would turn all of Chicago into his own steel empire. Years later, the sun no longer shines in the dark and oppressive city now called Newcago. David remembers the day his father died, and he's determined to join up with a group called the Reckoners to hunt down and kill Steelheart. David remembers something else from that fateful day. No one else knows about it. David saw Steelheart bleed.

STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson was one the best novels that I've ever read. The concept was brilliant, and Sanderson pulled it off so well.

First of all, the fact that there are no good Epics was intriguing, as well as the questions it raises in the story. Did Calamity only give evil people abilities, or did receiving abilities make these people evil? Steelheart is a compelling villain who sees himself as a god. The other Epics are just as interesting, and I can't wait to see where Sanderson takes this story in future books (I believe it's supposed to be a trilogy).

David knows he's seen Steelheart bleed, but he doesn't know exactly what it was that weakened Steelheart. He just knows that in the moment of being face-to-face with Steelheart, it'll all come back to him. It's this tenacity and overconfidence that drives him to pursue his goal at all costs, including the safety of his new comrades in the Reckoners.

STEELHEART is a brilliant twist on the superhero story concept. I couldn't stop reading once I started, and once I finished, I wanted so much more.

Review Copy provided by Delacorte Press

Photo Credit: Random House

Monday, September 23, 2013

Review of AGAINST THE GODS by John Currid

I've always had an interest in the Old Testament and how God is presented in it. For that reason, I was interested in reading John Currid's new book AGAINST THE GODS. While it isn't exactly what I was expecting from the title, it does give incredible insight on the relationship between Israel's Scriptures and the writings and myths of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.

Currid knows the OT very well, and he knows the ANE very well. He looks at the similarities between events recorded in the OT alongside similar stories in other cultures. He argues for the Bible's stories as authentic and their taking of a polemical stance against the false gods of other cultures.

The book is short, and it's only an introduction to polemical theology. This was my first exposure to the concept, and I found it quite interesting. The only drawback to the book is that it raised a lot of questions in my mind for which there were no answers in the book.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Photo Credit: Crossway Books

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Review of THE DOCTRINE OF GOD by John Frame

THE DOCTRINE OF GOD by John M. Frame is the second volume in his Theology of Lordship series, and it is a thick volume exploring theology of God, his character, and his attributes as revealed in the Bible. Frame seeks to fill a void left by the Reformers by outlining a clear doctrine of God. The core of this book is the concept of God as Lord, and specifically as Covenant Head of those who submit their lives to him. The book looks at the actions of God as recorded in the Bible as revelations of God's Covenant Headship.

A big chunk of the book is about God's creation of the world and how human freedom and responsibility fall within God's creation. Frame takes a deterministic view of God's sovereignty, arguing that God's foreknowledge of all events is based upon his foreordination of those events. He rejects libertarian freedom and gives some strong arguments against it. An interesting discussion he delves into is the concept of middle knowledge to reconcile human freedom and God's sovereignty, but ultimately he rejects the concept as Molinists such as Willaim Lane Craig propose it. 

Overall, I think readers will benefit from much that Frame outlines in the area of Theology Proper. However, I'm a believer in libertarian freedom, so I think Frame's foreknowledge-based-on-foreordination reduces God to the ultimate Creator of evil. I don't find his arguments against libertarian freedom unconvincing, though I do think his criticism of middle knowledge is one that proponents of that view have to honestly face. Outside of those criticisms, I appreciate the work Frame has put into exploring what the Scriptures reveal about God and his action in the world.

Review copy provided by P&R Publishing

Photo Credit: P&R Publishing

Review of TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER: CLASSIC EDITION by Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey has been known as a man who has helped guide many people out of financial debt to reach a place finances are managed responsibly and successfully. Thomas Nelson has just re-released the Classic Edition of Ramsey's book TOTAL MONEY MAKEOVER. 

In this book, Ramsey seeks to uncover the money myths and false perceptions people have had that have led them to great financial stress and, sometimes, financial ruin. The first part of the book is about showing you that you have a problem. However, you may be picking this book up because you're already aware that you're struggling financially. This part may feel very repetitive after awhile if that's the case. 

The real benefit of this book is the practical guidance Ramsey gives for getting out of debt. He gives advice, such as saving a thousand dollars first-thing and begin paying off debt through a debt snowball. Learn how to save for retirement, pay off a mortgage, and save for your children's college. This is a great book for learning how to be financially fit, and it's one that I would recommend to anyone.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review of THE SECRETS OF DYNAMIC COMMUNICATION by Ken Davis

Ken Davis is a great communicator. He's funny, and he knows how to keep an audience engaged. In his new book SECRETS OF DYNAMIC COMMUNICATION, Davis outlines the steps he takes to make sure he's prepared to give a dynamic presentation every time he gets up to speak. The book gives some important direction on finding focus in your presentations. You need to have focus if you want your audience to walk away remembering what it is you talked about.

Davis presents his SCORRE method for fleshing out your focused idea into a full-length presentation. He also gives advice on how to deliver in a way that keeps an audience engaged.

Any communicator would benefit from reading Davis' book and putting what he teaches into practice. It's a pretty short book, so it should be a quick read before sitting down to work on your next presentation.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review of UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL THEOLOGY by Edward W. Klink III, Darian R. Lockett

When it comes to "biblical theology," there are varying opinions on exactly what that term is describing. There have been varying approaches to biblical theology, so it's important to grasp the different ways this term is understood. UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL THEOLOGY by Edward W. Klink III and Darian R. Lockett seeks to shed some light on the confusion presented by doing biblical theology. The authors begin by tracing the history of the term itself, then outline five ways biblical theology has been approached. The five ways are:

Biblical Theology as Historical Description
Biblical Theology as History of Redemption
Biblical Theology as Worldview-Story
Biblical Theology as Canonical Approach
Biblical Theology as Theological Construction

The authors spend each of the chapters breaking down each of the models of biblical theology. The concepts that are broken down for each of the models are the same in each chapter, which is very helpful for study. The authors use a specific theologian for each model to show their adherence to the approach. The models differ in how much they appeal to either the academy or the church. 

I've always been interested in biblical theology, but I didn't realize the varying opinions of what biblical theology was until I picked up this book. This book does a great job of outlining the similarities and differences between the approaches and is great for readers interested in theology and study of the Bible.

Review copy provided by Zondervan Academic through AcademicPS

Photo Credit: Zondervan Academic

Friday, August 23, 2013

Review of JUDGES FOR YOU by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller garners a lot of respect from many people in the evangelical community for the way that he takes biblical concepts and applies to real life. In JUDGES FOR YOU he tackles one of the most difficult books of the Bible, one that we would be hard-pressed to find any sign of hope in because of its content. The book of Judges records a dark time in Israel’s history when everyone did what they wanted, and Keller says that this couldn’t be more relevant to our modern times.

Keller draws the ultimate hope out of this dark book. The book is obviously full of flawed people, and Keller looks at those people, but he shows that in the book of Judges there is only one hero. It’s not Samson. It’s not Gideon. It’s not Deborah. God is the hero of this book. Keller shows God moving in the midst of his flawed people, and it’s an incredible picture.

JUDGES FOR YOU is a perfect book for personal Bible study or for use with teaching others. It’s not a technical commentary on the book of Judges, but it does provide some great insight.

Review copy provided by the Good Book Company through Cross Focused Reviews

Photo Credit: Good Book Company

Review of CHRISTIAN HISTORY by Alister McGrath

CHRISTIAN HISTORY by Alister McGrath takes readers on a journey through the history of Christianity from its inception to modern day. McGrath is quick to point out that this book isn't simply a history of the church, but a history of Christianity, its development, and its impact throughout the various cultures human history has gone through.

The book looks at the spread of Christianity into various areas. The spread of Christianity is of particular interest, and the way that McGrath writes is compelling and, almost as if you were reading a novel, keeps you turning pages. Another area of significance is the period of the Reformation and time leading up to it, as well as the implications following it. I enjoy how McGrath paints a picture for us of the cultures he is describing.

CHRISTIAN HISTORY is a great introduction to the story of Christianity and its spread over the last two thousand years. I don't know of a writer who handles the subject of Christianity's history better than Alister McGrath. This book, ideal for seminarians but also for the non-professional Christian, is an incredible resource for helping Christians understand where our faith comes from, how it has developed and spread and survived as long as it has. Ultimately, this book is a great picture of the story of God working to advance his kingdom in the midst of broken humanity.

Review copy provided by Wiley-Blackwell

Photo Credit: Wiley-Blackwell

Review of HISTORICAL THEOLOGY by Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath has a significant way of taking theological topics, which could easily be dry and unengaging, and make them leap off the page. His way with words makes him one of the best writers to go to in the areas of theology and the relationship between science and faith. In HISTORICAL THEOLOGY, McGrath brings his writing skill to the area of the development of theological thought throughout Christian history.

McGrath begins with an overview of the different ways to approach theology with emphasis on the importance of historical theology. While theology comes from a study of what the Bible teaches, some of the foundational doctrines within Christianity weren't spelled out explicitly in the pages of the Bible. Concepts such as the trinity were wrestled with by various theologians for the first couple hundred years of Christian history before the orthodox doctrine we know today was officially landed on.

McGrath's book traces the key theological developments of Christian history. He covers four periods: the Patristic period, the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the pre- and post-reformation periods, and the modern period from 1750 to today. He discusses the key theologians of each of these periods and the theological developments that took place. An especially helpful part of the book is the case studies at the end of each section.

HISTORICAL THEOLOGY is a great book for seminary students or any just interested in theology. McGrath covers a lot of material in a relatively short book, and he keeps it interesting throughout.

Review copy provided by Wiley-Blackwell

Photo Credit: Wiley-Blackwell

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Review of FIGHT by Preston Sprinkle

FIGHT by Preston Sprinkle is a frustrating and challenging book. It challenges many of the assumptions that some Christians have when it comes to things like violence, war, self-defense, and the death penalty. I've never had any strong opinions about these issues. At least that's what I thought until I started getting pretty far into this book.

Sprinkle looks at the issue of violence throughout Scripture, and despite the often violent context of the Old Testament, Sprinkle effectively shows that nonviolence is God's ideal for people in the world, especially those that follow him. He shows the very radical nature of loving our enemies as Jesus did. This challenges the idea that it's okay to kill in self-defense or kill the attacker that's breaking into your house to kill your family. I couldn't help but get frustrated as I read what the Bible clearly points to. But I do come away believing that we have a responsibility to fight to prevent evil as much as we can, and I think this means stopping a killer with nonlethal means. It raised the question for me of it would be considered violent to shoot an attacker in the leg or the shoulder or some way that disarms him, but doesn't kill him.

The book faces some very difficult questions, and I'm glad Sprinkle had the courage to face them head-on and with Biblical integrity. You might not agree wity everything he says, but every Christian should read this book to at least engage in thr conversation.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Photo Credit: David C. Cook

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review of THE JUDGMENT STONE by Robert Liparulo

In THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE, Robert Liparulo told a thrilling story of immortal vigilantes who believed they were doing God's will by killing sinners. Now, in THE JUDGMENT STONE, Jagger Baird, the protagonist of THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE, must face a new, more ruthless group of immortals called The Clan. The Clan hates God and want nothing more than to cause him pain. Enter the Judgment Stone, a piece of rock broken off of the original Ten Commandments broken by Moses. The stone reveals a blue beam radiating from Christians praying to God, and gives the Clan ample opportunity to cause God pain by killing his faithful. Jagger must find a way to stop the Clan.

I loved the first book in this series, and Liparulo has created another compelling premise with this book. Jagger learns to deal with his own immortality, but struggles with a deep need to protect his wife and son. The Clan is an interesting and formidable antagonist. The book also looks deeper into the back stories of some of the most interesting characters of the first book.

Robert Liparulo knows how to tell a thrilling story that wrestles with deep questions of faith. THE JUDGMENT STONE is another great page-turner by a great author.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review of BOUNDARIES FOR LEADERS by Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud is one of my favorite writers when it comes to leadership. His insights are incredible. In his newest book BOUNDARIES FOR LEADERS, Dr. Cloud draws from some important insights in neuroscience. Cloud seeks to help leaders be great leaders of people and be intentional about tapping into what drives people to do things.

Cloud talks a lot about the responsibility of leaders to shape the culture of the organizations they lead, and this requires interacting with people in our organizations in ways that drive them to give their best. Leaders need to foster unity among their people and inspire people to action. If leaders want results, they must do what it takes to drive healthy environments that produce results.

BOUNDARIES FOR LEADERS is another great leadership book from Dr. Henry Cloud. It is one that anyone who sees themselves as a leader of people should work their way through.

Review copy provided by HarperBusiness through BookSneeze

Photo Credit: HarperBusiness

Review of THE IN-BETWEEN Audiobook by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins has come a long way as a writer. From building a dedicated audience through his blog to writing two books, his story is one to learn from. In his newest book THE IN-BETWEEN, Goins shares much of his story, as well as an important insight he has learned from the various threads that make up his story. People seem to always be after the next big thing. We live for the big and important events in our lives. This makes sense, but Goins suggests that it's not in the big moments that we're shaped into who we are. It's in the in-between moments. The moments of waiting. These are the moments that we're always so quick to rush by. We hate waiting. We want to get to the next big thing. But Goins suggests that we need to slow down and learn to appreciate the in-between moments. These are moments that shape us, sometimes much more than the big events in our lives.

To make his point, Goins shares several snapshots of his life. These are examples of in-between moments in his life. He paints these pictures of times that he often would have wished he could have rushed through, but discovered that he learned much from these moments. He shares stories of traveling, meeting and marrying his wife, waiting the birth of their son, his grandfather's death-bed conversion to Christ, and many others. They're great stories that he tells very well.

I've been following Jeff Goins' blog for a couple years now, and THE IN-BETWEEN is a great opportunity to learn more about what drives him and the wisdom he brings to the table. If you find yourself being all about the big events in life, this book will encourage you to slow down and learn from the in-between moments.

Review copy provided by ChristianAudio.com

Review of ZEALOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH by Reza Aslan

ZEALOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH by Reza Aslan is definitely a controversial book. Aslan seeks to reveal the "historical Jesus," whom he believes is a completely different and much more accurate figure than Christianity's Jesus the Christ. Interestingly, Aslan recounts his conversion to Jesus the Messiah as a teenager before discovering what he came to believe was the historical Jesus. Once this happened, Aslan returned to Islam. Aslan's interest in Jesus didn't end, however. Aslan has spent his life studying religions, and this book dives deep into the world Jesus inhabited.

The book is controversial because it proposes a lot of perspectives on the life of Jesus that have largely been rejected by Christians and other New Testament scholars. He makes the claim that there is "no evidence" that the Gospels were written by who they are traditionally attributed to or even written within the first century. He goes on to say that there is "no evidence" for many of the events that are attributed to his life. Aslan sees Jesus as a zealous revolutionary who got himself killed just like many other self-proclaimed messiahs of the first century. The problem is that many New Testament scholars and Christian philosophers have presented compelling evidence of Christianity's validity, including the authorship of the Gospels and the date of their composition. The work of William Lane Craig has been very illuminating in this regard. Aslan loses credibility when he claims there is "no evidence" for what Christianity proposes for the life of Jesus.

People could see this as an attack on Christianity and take offense at it. Or they could engage with it and discover some things about the world Jesus inhabited. While some of Aslan's arguments make a lot of logical sense, given the time I've spent studying the works of those who have looked into the evidence before him, I'm not convinced ZEALOT paints an accurate picture of who the real Jesus was. However, I did find the book a very interesting read, and I felt that I learned much about the violent first-century Jewish context that Jesus was in.

Review copy provided by Random House through NetGalley

Photo Credit: Random House

Review of AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE by Erwin McManus

Erwin McManus is probably one of the most innovative church leaders in the world. McManus has a clear love for people and helping them to connect with God in a way that changes their lives and helps them to tap into their unused potential. In AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE, McManus paints a picture of what the church is meant to look like. Having read many books on church leadership and culture, McManus' book is easily my favorite. I love his heart for innovation, the stories he shares, and his vision for a church that honors God and exists as a movement that impacts the world.

One of the most helpful parts about the book is McManus' focus on the culture or ethos of a church and how that ethos is shaped. He gives some great guidance on how to be a cultural architect. His chapter on change in the church is extremely helpful. McManus embodies an incredible trust in Jesus to bring about change in people, and AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE is about creating the environment and stepping back to watch God do his work.

AN UNSTOPPABLE FORCE is an outstanding book on shaping a Christ-honoring church that sees people as incredibly loved by God. I can't recommend this book enough.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Photo Credit: David C. Cook

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Review of FORMED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD by Kyle Strobel

Kyle Strobel has given us some incredible insight into the thought and teaching of theologian Jonathan Edwards in his recent books on him. In his latest book FORMED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD, Strobel gives us an accessible and practical look into the specifics of Edwards' spiritual disciplines. The book looks at Edwards' thoughts on spiritual formation, as well as his approach to his own role in his sanctification.

Strobel suggests that modern-day Christians can learn much from Edwards' spiritual practices in their own pursuit of being formed more and more into the image of Christ. He pursues important concepts in the work of Edwards, such as the role of our affections, spiritual disciplines as a "means of grace" in our walk with Christ, and the importance of self-evaluation as we pursue becoming more like Christ. Strobel then looks at some of the specific spiritual disciplines Edwards put into practice.

FORMED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD seeks to make Jonathan Edwards accessible, as well as allowing Christians to draw on the wisdom of someone who made it a practice to walk with God intentionally. Kyle Strobel has given us another great book on the work of Jonathan Edwards that acts as a practical guide in helping us draw nearer to Christ.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review of COVENANTAL APOLOGETICS by K. Scott Oliphint

I've always been interested in Christian apologetics. I get energized by the scientific and philosophical arguments for the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. COVENANTAL APOLOGETICS by K. Scott Oliphint takes a different approach to apologetics that is a helpful reminder of what defending the faith is all about. This approach starts with the authority of Scripture and a firm belief that how God describes reality is the way things really are. Christianity is true, and any other worldview that an unbeliever seeks to create is an illusion. Oliphint argues from Scripture that all people instinctively know God, but unbelievers suppress this knowledge. Our goal as Christian apologists is to help others see that Christianity is true and no other worldview measures up to the way reality really is.

While I still have an appreciation for evidential apologetics, I think Oliphint's approach is one that more people need to put into practice. It's putting faith in God as creator and trusting that what we propose to unbelievers is genuinely true. Oliphint's book breaks down what covenantal apologetics actually looks like in the context of real-life conversations with unbelievers. 

COVENANTAL APOLOGETICS is an important book in the area of apologetics and will be a great help for people to make a biblical defense of Christianity to unbelievers.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Photo Credit: Crossway Books

Review of THE LAW OF CHRIST: A THEOLOGICAL PROPOSAL by A. Blake White

How do Christians relate to the Old Testament Law? Are we required to obey all of it? Part of it? To understand the relationship between believers and the Mosaic Law, we have to have a clear grasp of what the Bible is communicating through the concept of covenant. A. Blake White approaches the question from a New Covenant Theology perspective in his book THE LAW OF CHRIST: A THEOLOGICAL PROPOSAL. New Covenant Theology seeks to let the Bible speak for itself and avoid the errors found in Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology. 

White launches into a thorough study of how the new covenant instituted by Christ affects how Christians live in relation to the Old Testament Law. He shows that the new covenant is truly a new covenant and not a renewal of the Mosaic covenant. He shows that Jesus came to fulfill the Mosaic Law and give a new "law" by which new covenant believers are to live. Because we aren't under the old covenant, we aren't under the law that is tied to that covenant. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't some overlap between what Paul referred to as the Law of Christ and the Mosaic Law. White is very helpful in showing how God's "natural" law was partially and temporarily reflected in the old covenant law and more fully in the new covenant law of Christ. The Law of Christ in the new covenant includes the indwelling Holy Spirit who helps us obey.

White's book includes many footnotes, which shows the incredible depth he's gone to in his research to be faithful to the Scriptures. After reading this book, I understand our relation to the Mosaic Law better and feel I have a better appreciation for how God has worked in the world throughout history. There are still some implications I need to wrestle with when it comes to New Covenant Theology, but I highly recommend this book as a study in the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.

Review copy provided by New Covenant Media

Photo Credit: New Covenant Media

Review of THE NEWNESS OF THE NEW COVENANT by A. Blake White

Throughout the redemptive history recorded in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, covenants made between God and humanity seem to be a driving force for the story's narrative. But how are Christians to approach the idea of covenants? In THE NEWNESS OF THE NEW COVENANT, A. Blake White explores each of the covenants that God made in history as recorded in the Bible. He shows how each of the covenants made toward Israel were ultimately pointing toward a new and life-giving covenant that would be ushered in by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

White espouses New Covenant Theology, which avoids the errors made by dispensationalism and covenant theology. He shows how there is both continuity and discontinuity. Most of all he shows God as the loving pursuer of people that he is through the new covenant. White's book shows God working in history, progressively revealing his plan to humanity until the moment Christ walked on the scene. It shows God as one who makes promises and keeps them, and it shows God as one who keeps promises in a way that our finite minds couldn't comprehend.

I'm just exploring New Covenant Theology for the first time, and I'm finding White's writing to be compelling, helpful, and most of all, an arrow pointed toward Jesus. I highly recommend this book as an exploration of the biblical covenants.

Review copy provided by New Covenant Media

Photo Credit: New Covenant Media

Review of THE BELIEVER'S GUIDE TO THE MULTIVERSE by David Williams

David Williams takes a humorous and helpful look at the intersection of faith and science in his book THE BELIEVER'S GUIDE TO THE MULTIVERSE. The book is an exploration of some of the findings in quantum mechanics that point to the possibility of many parallel universes running alongside our own. Rather than seeing this as an evidence against the existence of God, Williams sees this as a glaring evidence for an all-powerful Creator.

Williams spends some time explaining what the multiverse is, and then he very compellingly shows how the existence of the multiverse could possibly solve many of the tensions we find in the Bible, such as the tension between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. The book gets a bit technical in places, but the style it is written in makes it a very refreshing read.

I don't know that I believe that there is a multiverse, nor do I agree with all the conclusions he makes, but this book definitely presents a lot for me to think about. I also like the multiple conclusions at the end geared toward the different readers who might read this book.

Review copy provided by Shook Foil Books

Photo Credit: Shook Foil Books

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Review of FEARLESS by Mike Dellosso

A nine-year-old girl named Louisa suddenly shows up in the middle of a house that's on fire and rescues the man inside. She has no idea how she got there and no recollection of where she came from or who her family is. Jim and Amy Spencer, a couple coping with the miscarriage of their first child only months before, reluctantly take the girl in while local police try to piece together her back story. Louisa is no ordinary girl. Somehow when she prays for God to heal someone, God actually listens. The whole town wants a piece of the mysterious power she seems to have, and they'll go to incredible lengths to get it. As all this is going on, a serial killer is on the loose in Virginia Mills, and it won't be long before Louisa's ability draws the attention of the killer. 

FEARLESS is a new thriller novel by Mike Dellosso. I've read all of Dellosso's book except for The Hunted. With each story, I find I'm more and more drawn in by Dellosso's storytelling ability and grasp of human nature in a struggle with God. FEARLESS was a relentless story, both emotionally and in its action. The killer is a psychopath bent on bleeding respect out of his victims. Louisa is a mystery, an almost-perfect child, and the interaction between her and Jim makes you wish she really was his daughter. Amy's struggle with loss brings up the questions we so often struggle with in a world where bad things happen even though God is good.

The story ties several threads that run parallel throughout the length of the novel, and I thought Dellosso did an excellent job with this. For awhile I thought the identity of the killer was quite predictable, yet Dellosso still surprised me in the end with something I failed to see as i was reading. The end comes with much heartache, yet the story ends beautifully. I love a story that leaves me feeling hopeful, and this one did.

If you've never checked out a Mike Dellosso novel, this is a great place to start, and his other novels are great as well.

Review copy provided by Charisma House

Photo Credit: Charisma House

Review of ETERNITY by Randy Alcorn

Jesus told a story about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus that has become very well-known in the two thousand years since he told it. The story is of the two men dying and the nature of their existence after death. The story has much to teach us, and author Randy Alcorn has tapped into the storytelling medium of the graphic novel to draw out the implications of this story.

ETERNITY is the first graphic novel by Alcorn. In it he expands the story Jesus told and highlights some of the key points we can take away from it. But the story isn't simply to teach. It's a captivating story, and with the incredible visuals throughout, I found myself wrapped up in this story. It was almost as if I was watching a movie. I loved the way Alcorn connected this story to an event in the ministry of Jesus and how Dives, the rich man, died. Of course, we don't know that is how it happened, but it's an interesting speculation.

I've been a fan of Alcorn's work ever since I read his book Heaven, and ETERNITY brings some of the key ideas from that book to life in a very visual way. Overall, I think this book would be a great way to introduce anyone to the concept of a biblical idea of the afterlife. And it's a great book to get people excited about Jesus and the place he prepares for those who follow him.

Review copy provided by Kingstone Comics

Photo Credit: Kingstone Comics

Review of SOFIA THE FIRST by Cathy Hapka

SOFIA THE FIRST by Cathy Hapka is a colorfully illustrated children's book based on the popular Disney Junior television series Sofia the First. The book is an adaptation of the show's story showing how Sofia became a princess. Sofia is a normal girl until her mother marries King Roland. Suddenly, Sofia is a princess in a vast kingdom, but she doesn't know the first thing about being a princess. Though she hopes her new stepsister Amber will help her, Amber struggles accepting the new family members who have been thrust into her life. When something goes wrong and freezes everyone at a welcome ball King Roland was throwing to welcome Sofia to the family, Sofia finds help from a surprising source-Cinderella. Cinderella encourages her as a princess and gives her advice on how to deal with Amber.

My daughter loves Sofia the First and adores this book. She's four years old and loves the Disney princesses, and this show and book are great in that they are aimed toward more toward her age. The book is a quick read and great to read to my daughter before bed. It's a cute story that teaches important lessons on being caring and giving people second chances.

SOFIA THE FIRST is a great book for little girls and a great introduction to the stories in the television show.

Review copy provided by Disney Press

Photo Credit: Disney

Review of HOLY WAR IN THE BIBLE from InterVarsity Press

Like many Christians, I've always found many parts of the Old Testament to be quite disturbing. It's a truly violent book, and it covers the history of a people who often seem to be led by a violent God. The Old Testament is often one of the biggest hurdles for a skeptic to get over. It seems like there have been many books that seek to address this issue. HOLY WAR IN THE BIBLE from InterVarsity Press is one of those books. I picked up the book because Paul Copan is one of the editors, and I've greatly appreciated his work on properly interpreting the Old Testament. 

This book looks at the issue from many different perspectives. For example, how have the violent texts of the Old Testament inspired violence by Christians in events such as the Crusades? Can the wars in Israel's history be properly called "holy wars"? Do the biblical texts endorse the use of violent action by believers? There are also the questions of whether or not to take the Old Testament texts as authentic pictures of God. Personally, I think the Old Testament is an accurate depiction of Israel's history with God, but we must be careful what we deduce about God just from these texts.

Not all of the authors in HOLY WAR IN THE BIBLE are in agreement, but the book is a good exploration of the issues involved. Christians often live as if the Old Testament is irrelevant, but it's important to face the difficulties head-on and hopefully come to understand the God who the New Testament describes as "love" better.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press