Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review of I STILL BELIEVE by Jeremy Camp

Rating: 5 out 5

I became a fan of Christian music artist when I was a teenager in youth ministry. In a world of Christian music where everything seemed to sound the same, Jeremy Camp stood out as unique. I was aware that Camp had gone through some real personal tragedy when his wife died of ovarian cancer not long after they had married. His music reflected both an acknowledgment of life's deepest pains and a God who steps into our pain to bring comfort.

I STILL BELIEVE is Camp's memoir chronicling his beginnings in a home where his parents found faith, to struggles in his youth, to finding his calling in music and meeting and marrying his first wife Melissa, to Melissa's tragic battle with cancer. From there Camp reveals his journey with God to heal from Melissa's death, continuing his musical calling, and finding love again and starting a family.

Camp's story is encouraging because of the comfort he found in his relationship with God. I STILL BELIEVE is a great journey through Camp's story.

Review copy obtained through the Tyndale Blog Network

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review of THE STORY OF THE VOICE by David B. Capes

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Rating: 5 out of 5

The Voice translation of the Bible is an interesting approach to presenting the Christian Bible in a way that strives to both preserve the ancient words originally written and the writers' literary styles and communicating those words and thoughts in smooth meaningful English. A team of artists, scholars, and writers came together to develop this unique Bible translation. I had an opportunity to review The Voice New Testament last year and I loved the literary style and the screenplay dialogue format of it.

THE STORY OF THE VOICE by David B. Capes takes us on a journey of how The Voice translation came to be. Starting with Chris Seay's vision of creating retelling of the biblical narrative that was accessible to people who were unfamiliar with the Bible. This led to a several year journey of The Voice coming about in parts beginning with the last few chapters of John's gospel. Capes tells us about the key players involved, which I found interesting because it's a diverse mix of people, some of which I don't agree with theologically. The translation philosophy of contextual equivalence is presented and illustrated, as well as why some things were translated the way they were.

THE STORY OF THE VOICE is a great look at the heart behind The Voice translation. I haven't had a chance look at the Old Testament, but I did really enjoy the New Testament. I would describe the translation as a combination of translation and commentary with the explanatory notes throughout, both within the text and in blocks outside of the text. I wouldn't recommend it as your only translation. The book mentions several perceived weaknesses of other translations and how The Voice fills those voids. However, I think it's best to read The Voice beside another translation. I think they'll greatly complement another.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through the BookSneeze Reviewer Program

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review of READING COMICS by Douglas Wolk

Rating: 4 out of 5

Comics and graphic novels are a really interesting storytelling medium. I've always particularly enjoyed the superheroes of comics. READING COMICS by Douglas Wolk is an entertaining and informative book for comic lovers. Wolk writes on the history if comics and what makes them appealing to people.

While the first part of the book covers the theory behind comics and their history, the second part of the book is the most interesting. The second part of the book delves into specific comics and their creators, presenting them in a review type of style. While I recognized the likes of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and Grant Morrison, many of the others presented an introduction to some artists I wasn't familiar with.

READING COMICS is a fun book if you're interested in a broad view of comics throughout the course of their existence.

Review copy provided by Da Capo Press

Review of IF GOD IS GOOD by Randy Alcorn

Rating: 4 out of 5

I think few people are free from the struggle of reconciling a good and loving God with the existence of evil and suffering. IF GOD IS GOOD by Randy Alcorn tackles many of the questions brought about by the struggle. Alcorn has been one of my favorite authors, so I was very interested in reading his take on what is one of the thorniest subjects in the world.

The book is good in that it reveals the utter failure of the non-theist to adequately solve the problem of evil. Alcorn also shows how God can and does bring good out of the suffering that people undergo. He delves into how God utilizes suffering specifically in the process of maturing a believer in Christ. He also brilliantly shows God's two eternal solutions to the problem of evil in heaven or hell. Hell makes sense in light of the problem of evil if Christianity is true.

While I appreciate Alcorn as an author, I didn't find his arguments for compatibilist free will convincing. He argues it well, but I think one of the implications of compatibilism is that God can't genuinely offer salvation to all if he only enables a select few to even be able to respond to that offer. I also struggle with embracing the greater good theodicy that states that God allows only evil that he can bring about a greater good from. This seems to make evil necessary to God accomplishing the good he wants to do.

Still, Alcorn writes with a pastoral heart and has much wisdom and encouragement to give. I appreciate him putting his time into such an overwhelming subject.

Review copy provided by Waterbrook Multnomah

Review of CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS by Douglas Groothuis

Rating: 4 out of 5

Some find Christian faith more difficult to believe than others. Before I came to faith in Jesus and even afterward, I was one of the people who needed to be convinced by some really good evidence. Fortunately, I had access to some great books that carefully and thoughtfully defended the faith. Though I didn't have it at the time of my journey toward faith, CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS by Douglas Groothuis is one of those types of books.

This thick book contains all of the best and most logical arguments of why belief in a Creator God and specifically the God of Christianity makes sense. After some helpful discussions on worldview as a preliminary before getting into the evidence, Groothuis launches into some arguments for belief in God such as the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the fine-tuning of the universe. The book also discusses intelligent design against Darwinian evolution. Then the book looks specifically at Jesus, defending his historical existence, the incarnation, and his resurrection.

The last part of the book covers common objections, of which the problem of evil I found to be the most interesting. This was the only area of the book I didn't feel provided an adequate defense as it embraced the greater good theodicy. Groothuis also proposes compatibilism as the correct and biblical model of free will. While I don't agree with his assessment entirely in this area, I did feel he made a concise and good argument for it.

CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS is a solid resource for anyone wanting to know how to defend the Christian faith.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Review of HANDY DAD by Todd Davis

Rating: 4 out of 5

I love being a dad and I love doing fun and creative things with my kids. That's why I was excited about HANDY DAD by Todd Davis. HANDY DAD is about creating memorable experiences with your kids where you're spending quality time with them and teaching them at the same time.

The book features 25 projects for dads and kids to do together, ranging from super easy, to afternoon projects, to weekend endeavors. With the step by step instructions for each of the projects, the book provides se really fun projects to tackle.

A paper airplane, which is one of my kids' favorite things to do, is one of the easier projects and takes little time. Some other cool projects that I want to tackle in the future when my kids are older are the zip line and the go cart. It's a great book with a lot of great things to do, and I'm glad I got a copy. The only downside is if you don't have the tools a project requires, you're out of luck unless you want to spend the money on the tools.

Overall, it's a great book for deepening the relationships between dads and their children.

Review copy provided by Chronicle Books

Review of MONSTERS IN AMERICA by W. Scott Poole

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

It seems that human beings have always had a certain strange obsession with mysterious supernatural horrific creatures or monsters. Shows like The Walking Dead and the Twilight series are a case in point. So I was really interested in a book that focused specifically on this obsession with monsters and what may lie underneath it. MONSTERS IN AMERICA by W. Scott Poole is an interesting take on the subject as it focuses on American obsession with monsters. In fact, MONSTERS IN AMERICA is strangely a book about American history.

Poole traces American history through its monsters. America's monsters read like a reflection of America's most corrupt moments.

While the concept of tracing America's history through its monsters is an interesting one, I think I would have enjoyed an exploration of humanity's obsession with monsters in general with more of a focus on the current landscape of monster obsession around the world. But that wasn't the focus of this book. Still, it's an interesting read as Poole speculates on the real-life conditions he believes have spawned America's monsters.

Review copy provided by Baylor University Press

Review of THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM edited by Robert G. Clouse

Rating: 4 out of 5

The millennial reign of Christ is an interesting area of theology because it's one that seems to be greatly misunderstood. And no one really knows who is right. THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM edited by Robert G. Clouse from InterVarsity Press presents the four common ways theologians throughout history have interpreted the description of Christ's millennial reign in Revelation 19.

I've always had a discomfort with the dispensational premillennialism view because if its sharp distinction between Israel and the church and the church being almost a Plan B for God because of the Jews' rejection of him. Historic premillennialism in this book takes that sharp distinction away, but I still struggle with the idea of an intermediate reign of Christ on earth with resurrected believers and nonbelievers who haven't died yet before Christ's final reign in the new heavens and new earth. Though I must say George Eldon Ladd's essay in the book presents a good case for the historic premillennialism view. Postmillenialism is unconvincing.

I found Anthony Hoekema's essay the most interesting from an amillenialism perspective. Though I'm not sure i would interpret the entirety of Revelation the way Hoekema does, his interpretation of Revelation 19 gives me a lot to think about.

I love the structure of four-views books, and THE MEANING OF THE MILLENNIUM is no exception. This book will give you a lot to wrestle with.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Review of COLD-CASE CHRISTIANITY by J. Warner Wallace

Photo Credit: David C. Cook

Rating: 5 out of 5

I came to faith in Jesus when I was sixteen. When I was eighteen, I became a skeptic. I came to the conclusion that nothing about the Christian faith could be true. I wrestled in misery with what felt like the world falling out from underneath me. It everything about Jesus wasn't true, what was the point of life? I felt purposeless without someone divine to give me purpose. Then I was introduced to a book that defended Christianity by Lee Strobel. By the time I finished his book THE CASE FOR CHRIST, I felt like I was alive again to a God who had never left me, and now I knew the evidence that pointed to his reality. COLD-CASE CHRISTIANITY by Christian and homicide detective J. Warner Wallace is a new book that looks at that evidence from a new and insightful angle. Wallace was once a skeptic. After using his skills as a homicide detective to test the Gospels' validity as eyewitness accounts, Wallace was convinced that Christianity must be true and that Jesus must have been who he said he was.

COLD-CASE CHRISTIANITY was written to give others the tools and knowledge to text the validity of Christian faith. Wallace begins with ten foundational principles we need to assume to reach an authentic conclusion to our search for answers. These are things like examining our presuppositions, looking at circumstantial evidence, and weighing the evidence. Then he gets into the heart of the book, which is examining all the available evidence for the New Testament's validity. Wallace reminded me once again why I've decided to trust the message contained in the New Testament about Jesus.

I loved the chapter about outside sources corroborating the internal witness. Can all of this be definitively proven beyond all doubt? No, but the evidence, as Wallace shows, makes the most sense if what the New Testament records is accurate and true.

COLD-CASE CHRISTIANITY is a great book for two types of people. The first is those who struggle with doubt and are looking for an in depth exploration of the evidence. The second is those who need the tools to explain the evidence for the Christian faith's validity to skeptics.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review of WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? by Mark Driscoll

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Rating: 4 out of 5

In his new book WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, Pastor Mark Driscoll seeks to help people understand their identity both in and out of Christ. In fact, Driscoll states that Christians not having a good grasp of their identity in Christ is the source of so much of a Christian's troubles when it comes to dealing with temptation, navigating relationships, having purpose in life. Throughout the book Driscoll gives us a picture of what a natural man without Christ finds their identity in and contrasts this with the beautiful image of the believer's identity in Christ as Paul described in his letter to the church at Ephesus. Each chapter looks at a specific aspect of our new identity in Christ and the implications of that in our lives. One of the areas I really appreciate Driscoll addressing in this book is the subject of idolatry and how it is the most prevalent problem that human beings struggle with. In fact, all sin is some form of idolatry. Driscoll also addresses the wonderful aspects of our new identity in Christ, such as our reconciliation with God and man, the fact that God hears us in Christ, the astounding thought that God appreciates us, and that we are saved and forgiven. Above all, the book is about Jesus and what he has done for us.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE reads like a man's journal through the book of Ephesians and Driscoll some life-altering insights and illustrative stories throughout. Our identity in Christ is vitally important and this book tackles it in a way that makes sense and inspires action.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Photo Credit: Opus Books

Rating: 5 out of 5

I've always been a fan superheroes and Batman particularly. I love Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY. Nolan is one of the most creative filmmaker's out there and seems to really know how to tap into the human condition. Of course, he hasn't worked alone. Writers David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan helped Nolan shape the Batman trilogy into a fantastic story of not only Batman, but the city he has sworn to protect.

Great movies don't just start as visuals on a screen. The screenplay is the foundation of any movie. Opus Books has compiled the screenplays for all three Batman movies into THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY: THE COMPLETE SCREENPLAYS. I've always loved writing, and I love seeing how words on a page become something incredible on the screen. Having seen all three movies, reading the screenplays was like replacing the movie in my mind. The visuals described in the scripts came to life in my imagination. The writers of the movies told a great story of Batman's origin in the first film, a raising of the stakes in the second film, and the standard all-bets-are-off anything goes kind of situation in the third film. It's truly a hero story, and I love that it was a story about the people of Gotham city. It seemed like Gotham was as much a character as Batman in the story.

Included in the book is a great interview with writers at beginning that tells how the story evolved into a trilogy and some storyboards for some of the key scenes in each film, further illustrating how the words on the page evolve into the visuals we see on the screen. Batman fans will love this book, and I think aspiring screenwriters could learn much from this book as well.

Review copy provided by Opus Books


Photo Credit: Random House

Rating: 5 out of 5

THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO PENCILLING COMICS by Klaus Janson is a great book for fans of comic books and especially those interested in drawing comic books. Pencilling is the first stage in comic book making before moving on to inking, coloring, and lettering, so this a foundational text for anyone wanting to learn how to draw comic book characters and settings.

What I loved about this book is the time the author took to really break down the drawing process, especially for comic book art. From explaining the standard tools an artist needs to have, to showing how to draw faces and human anatomy, to understanding perspective in your drawings, to composition, angles, movement, etc, this book is a fun guide to learning how to draw well.

Because several of my favorite comic heroes are from the DC Universe, it was fun to see examples of heroes like Batman and Superman used throughout the text. THE DC COMICS GUIDE TO PENCILLING COMICS is a trustworthy resource for learning how to become a comic book artist.

Review copy provided by Watson-Guptill

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review of WINNING THE STORY WARS by Jonah Sachs

Rating: 4 out of 5

In WINNING THE STORY WARS Jonah Sachs explores the role of storytelling as a marketing tool. First, he looks at the dark side of storytelling in what he calls the broadcast era. He shows how marketing trends during this era focused on creating a sense of inadequacy and introducing a miracle cure to that inadequacy. He shows how these types of marketing ploys don't work anymore because they rely on what he calls the five sins of storytelling. A focus on inadequacy was more about selling a product and making money than it was about promoting human flourishing.

Now, in what Sachs calls the digitoral era, modern myth makers are all about human flourishing, creating narratives that give hope and meaning. Sachs outlines how to create these types of narratives in the second part of the book.

WINNING THE STORY WARS is a book about marketing, but it is also a book about living in a way and telling the types of stories that inspire hope and positive change. It's a great elaboration on the idea that those who tell the best stories shape the future.

Review copy provided by Harvard Business Review


Rating: 5 out of 5

DIGITAL PAINTING FOR THE COMPLETE BEGINNER by Carlyn Beccia introduces the world of creating visually stunning images through digital painting. The author begins with her love for art and her method of teaching it to the reader.

The book covers methods for the two top digital painting programs Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. The book does a great job of introducing the workspace of these two programs. The book covers many important topics related to digital painting, such as scanning images in to be colored, color management, using a tablet for drawing and coloring, isolating areas of a painting for editing, and much more. After walking the reader through digital painting basics, Beccia provides several tutorials for the reader to dive into and put into practice.

DIGITAL PAINTING FOR THE COMPLETE BEGINNER is a great introduction to digital painting and I look forward to developing my skills as an artist through digital painting.

Review copy provided by Watson-Guptill

Review of HEAVEN by Randy Alcorn

Photo Credit: Tyndale House Publishers

Rating: 5 out of 5

When people think about heaven, they often think about a place that doesn’t really sound that exciting in light of the idea that it’s supposed to be paradise. Images of floating on clouds, playing harps, and singing for all of eternity for many sounds more like hell than heaven. All of this was blown to pieces first when I read a book by Ted Dekker called The Slumber of Christianity, then after reading a book by the man who wrote the foreword to Dekker’s book. That was my first introduction to Randy Alcorn and his groundbreaking book HEAVEN.

Alcorn acknowledges the ill-conceived perceptions people have about heaven and show where these ideas fall drastically short of the biblical description of God’s dwelling place. While most people think that heaven is beyond our imagination, Alcorn does an extensive exploration of the biblical text to show that God has given us an incredible amount of description about what our eternal destiny will be like if we follow Jesus.

One of the first things I came to realize from reading HEAVEN was that the heaven people go to now when they die isn’t the place they’ll be forever. Alcorn calls the present heaven an intermediate heaven. After reading it, I thought, “How could I have missed this when the Bible makes it so clear?” Alcorn then describes the extent of God’s redemption, which includes all of his creation. Earth’s redemption is necessary to God’s plan. God created the earth to be inhabited by people, not to be destroyed in the end. If God did away with the earth and carried his followers to heaven forever, then the devil will have won in a sense. While sin has made our world unfit for an eternal home, the Bible descries God renovating and restoring the earth in the end. The final chapters of the Bible describe heaven as a beautiful city coming down to earth and coming to dwell with his people forever in a sinless restored earth. I was floored by this, and yet it’s right there on the pages of Scripture.

The rest of the book answers questions about what the Bible specifically says our eternal state will be like in a helpful question and answer format. Some details we of course can only speculate about because we don’t have all the answers, but drawing from Scripture, Alcorn describes an eternal state with God that is anything but boring. It’s incredible and, though I want to continue living the life he’s given me on earth, I am excited about eternity and the opportunities God will give us there.

If I were to pick a top 5 books of all time that I’ve read, HEAVEN would easily be in that list. Few books have encouraged me and enlightened me more. I’ve since read several of Alcorn’s books and he’s become one of my favorite authors. Every Christian needs to read this book. It’s the best resource on the Bible’s theology of heaven.

Review copy provided by Tyndale House Publishers

Review of BRASS HEAVENS by Paul Tautges

Photo Credit: Cruciform Press

Rating: 5 out of 5

Prayer can be one of the most faith-challenging aspects of being a follower of Jesus. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t experienced the discouraging feeling that their prayers have gone unheard by God. I’ve had times where I’ve prayed for what feels like relentless prayers, and God just doesn’t seem to answer.

BRASS HEAVENS by Paul Tautges is a short book from Cruciform Press that tackles this issue. Tautges acknowledges that there are times when it feels like we are praying to “brass heavens” and God doesn’t seem to hear us or respond. In the book, Tautges seeks to paint a picture of God as one who hears, but give us some very real, very biblical reasons why our prayers may go unanswered.

He covers six reasons why God may not answer: pet sins in our lives, unresolved conflict that produces broken relationships, religious sins, husbands failing to honor their wives, stubborn pride, and God sometimes testing our faith. Obviously, our own behaviors can affect God’s willingness to answer our prayers and sometimes we must change. Other times we simply have to trust that God is trying to grow something in us through the testing of our faith.

BRASS HEAVENS isn’t an easy book to read because you’ll be confronted with the ways you may hijack God’s work in your life. However, it is a much-needed message for believers that God hears and wants to answer our prayers.

Review copy provided by Cruciform Press

Review of HOW TO DELIVER A TED TALK by Jeremy Donovan

Rating: 5 out of 5

HOW TO DELIVER A TED TALK by Jeremy Donovan is a great resource for those who love watching TED Talks and want to know how to communicate their ideas as clearly and compellingly as TED Talk speakers do.

My favorite TED Talk as a person who loves creativity and storytelling is J.J. Abrams talk on the Mystery Box, with Susan Cain's talk on the power of introverts being a close second. TED Talks present important ideas, and Donovan has written this book after studying many TED Talks to understand the elements that make them work.

The book gives some direction on what types of topics and the types of speakers TED is looking for. Although TED Talks are given by many well-known people, anyone with a great idea well-told has the potential to be a TED Talk speaker. Donovan devotes several chapters on how to develop your talk, refine it through adding humor and visuals, and working on your actual delivery. A catchphrase is your idea simply and memorably states in just a few words, and Donovan walks you through how to develop this. You'll learn how to craft the body of your talk with an introduction and conclusion. Storytelling is also an important element that the book covers.

I'm also seeking ways to better communicate my ideas, and HOW TO DELIVER A TED TALK is a helpful look at the techniques of some of the world's best communicators.