Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blog Tour Review of THE GOSPEL CALL AND TRUE CONVERSION by Paul Washer

The gospel of Jesus is the most important message the world has ever received, and it is one that Christians are called to spread everywhere they go. The problem is that Christians don't always accurately communicate what is meant by the term "gospel" in the Bible. Paul Washer seeks to lay out the gospel and its implications for our lives as clearly and weighty as possible in his book THE GOSPEL CALL AND TRUE CONVERSION. 

This book aims to counteract an idea that many people submit to, assuming that it is faith in Jesus, which Washer calls easy believism. Washer outlines God's desire for people to be in relationship to him, our desperate brokenness, and what Jesus did to save us. He then shows what the proper response is to this good news, which is genuine faith. Washer shows that real faith results in an authentic conversion. A person who believes in Jesus will experience and exhibit life change. 

THE GOSPEL CALL AND TRUE CONVERSION is a challenging book about a very important message. People can't afford to not exercise genuine faith in what Christ has done. This book looks at what gospel looks like when it really takes effect in someone's life.

Review copy provided by Reformation Heritage Books through the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour review program

Photo Credit: Reformation Heritage Books

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Blog Tour Review of IS GOD ANTI-GAY? by Sam Allberry

Rating: 5 out of 5

Homosexuality seems to be one of the most divisive moral issues in the world today, and it seems that Christians don't know how to approach the issue when they encounter someone who struggles with it. In fact, God's view on it is hotly contested from both sides. It's a very real issue, and I'm thankful that a pastor named Sam Allberry has chosen to speak wisdom into this area in a concise and clear way in his book IS GOD ANTI-GAY?

The great thing about this book is that it is written by a Christian who honestly struggles with the fact that he experiences same-sex attraction. He shows that homosexuality can be a very real temptation for people. However, he recognizes that people are responsible for how they respond to their temptations. Allberry goes to Scripture to lay out clearly that homosexual practice is sin, but he's also quick to show that Jesus died to rescue people from their sin and give them strength to say no to their temptations. Though Allberry shows that the Bible leaves no room for same-sex marriage, the strength lies in the fact that we're called to love people. Hate doesn't save anyone. People who are adamant about same-sex rights will only be convinced by an affection for Jesus that is greater than their temptation. It's that way for all of us in whatever area we struggle with. God loves deeply and desires redemption for everyone,  and it is God's kindness that leads us to repentance.

Allberry's book is an incredibly helpful resource for people to understand what those who struggle with same-sex attraction go through and how to love them as Jesus does.

Review copy provided by The Good Book Company as part of a Cross Focused Reviews blog tour

Photo Credit: The Good Book Company

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review of DID THE DEVIL MAKE ME DO IT? by Mike McKinley

Rating: 5 out of 5

Mike McKinley explores some of the most common questions people have about Satan and demons in the short little book DID THE DEVIL MAKE ME DO IT? McKinley states upfront that the Bible doesn't provide us with a detailed sketch of everything there is to know about the devil. However, drawing from many clear passages of Scripture, McKinley is able to provide a basic outline of what we can know about the devil.

He begins with the devil's origin. Though the Bible doesn't tell us explicitly about the devil's origin, there's plenty of implicit clues to tell us that the devil was an angel created originally good by God. This angel turned his heart against God and many angels followed him in his rebellion. I found intriguing McKinley's discussion of the Isaiah 14 where we get the name Lucifer. I too have struggled to see this as an explicit reference to Satan's rebellion.

McKinley provides some clarification on what the Bible describes as demon possession. He also shows the ultimate power that God has over Satan as well as Christ's defeat of Satan on the cross. We're shown how the devil works in the world today and what his goal is.

DID THE DEVIL MAKE ME DO IT? is a short and therefore clear guide on what the Bible teaches about Satan and his demons. This book will encourage believers to trust Christ in his defeat of the devil and to rest on God's provision in the midst of world so heavily influenced by the evil heart of the devil.

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

Photo Credit: The Good Book Company

Review of SAVING EUTYCHUS by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell

Rating: 4 out of 5

SAVING EUTYCHUS is a book on expository preaching by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell. The title of the book is taken from the story in Scripture when Paul preached for so long that a boy named Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of a window and died. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. The authors aim to instruct preachers to preach God's Word in such a way that people are engaged rather than bored.

The authors focus in finding the Big Idea of a text and building the sermon around it. They give some helpful tips on how to preach the gospel from the Old Testament. There's a short chapter on the actual delivery of a sermon. Probably one of the most practically helpful concepts in the book is about improving from critique. The authors offer advice on how to take criticism well. Finally, the authors walk us through the actual development of a sermon.

SAVING EUTYCHUS is a short and accessible book on being a better and more engaging communicator of God's Word.

Review copy provided by Matthias Media through Cross Focused Reviews

Photo Credit: Matthias Media

Review of FAITH AND CREEDS by Alister E. McGrath

In FAITH AND CREEDS, Alister McGrath looks at the "big picture" of Christianity and shows how it is not only a system of beliefs that one looks at, but looks through as well. Christianity makes sense of the world we live in. It helps us see things for what they really are, McGrath says.

The book takes a particular look at the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds. This includes their purpose, their benefit, and their origin. He argues for the usefulness of creeds in helping believers to unite under the core beliefs they share as believers.

The style of the book is vere reminiscent of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, and, in fact, McGrath includes many quotes from Lewis' writings. He also includes many personal stories. The book serves as a great introduction to Christianity and serves to show how Christianity affects how believers perceive the world they live in. It's a short book and a very enjoyable read.

Review copy provided by Westminster John Knox Press

Photo Credit: Westminster John Knox Press

Review of THE VIOLENCE OF SCRIPTURE by Eric Seibert

The Old Testament has been a struggling point for Christians for a long time because of its violent imagery throughout. The Old Testament portrays violence committed both by humans and God. Probably the most troubling examples of violence are the ones by humans that are either divinely sanctioned or divinely approved. The slaughter of the Canaanites is the one I struggle with the most.

In his book THE VIOLENCE OF SCRIPTURE, Eric Seibert argues that the Old Testament has a troubling legacy of inspiring violence and unethical treatment of human beings. He suggests that the Old Testament must be read in a way that is nonviolent. This requires, in his view, reading the Bible critically and rejecting any views that violate our moral sensibilities. Basically, he believes that the OT is in contrast to Jesus and all that he taught. If the OT gives us an image of God that doesn't match up with Jesus, then we reject it. He argues that for several violent events in the OT, such as the Canaanite slaughter, that there are certain textual clues that point to the even having not actually happened and the author actually standing in critique of it. Seibert gives several strategies for reading the OT nonviolently.

While I appreciate the author's desire to face this issue head-on and present God in a nonviolent light, I think his approach is deeply flawed. Paul believed that all Scripture was inspired by God. That means even the violent texts we find so disturbing. If we can read Scripture and assume that all the areas that don't line up with our moral sensibilities should be rejected, then there is no solid standard by which we can trust anything that the Bible communicates. We know what God is like from what is contained in the Bible. THE VIOLENCE OF SCRIPTURE seems to be applying an external standard for what God is like and rejecting anything in the Bible that doesn't fit that standard. Unfortunately, the external standard doesn't exist. We know what God is like from the Bible.

The violence of Scripture bothers me, but I don't think this book solves the problem. But I will say that it opens readers eyes to areas of the Bible that are often downplayed or sugar-coated. Though I disagreed with the book, I found it making me want to read the OT more, and that is a good thing.

Review copy provided by Fortress Press

Photo Credit: Fortress Press

Review of THE CATALYST LEADER by Brad Lomenick

I've been a follower of the Catalyst movement for some time, though I've never been to one of their conferences. Brad Lomenick is clearly a capable and competent leader, and he distills much of the principles that have lead to his success as a Christian leader and developer of leaders in his new book THE CATALYST LEADER. I was excited about this book when I first heard about it, and I couldn't wait to dive into it.

Lomenick shares his beginnings and the journey that led him to becoming the leader of Catalyst. I didn't even know that Catalyst started out of John Maxwell's leadership group. Lomenick begins to break down the qualities that really effective Christian leaders have in common, and these are qualities based on research. The qualities of effective leaders are:


Really, I get the sense throughout the book that being an effective leader is about being a person of strength of character. Lomenick gives plenty of personal examples that illustrate the qualities he's proposing throughout. The only negative I found with the book is that with all the personal examples Lomenick gives, it often felt a little like he was putting his own back for his accomplishments. I suppose that's the nature of sharing your story though if you've been successful, and I should say that he did share plenty of personal leaderships failures as well.

Overall, I believe this is an excellent leadership book designed to equip leaders to be change-makers. Lomenick clearly knows what he's talking about, and I'm grateful he's taken the time to put his leadership insights into this book.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review of A PEACEABLE HOPE by David J. Neville

The New Testament paints an interesting picture of Jesus. It is one that is at times seems to conflict. Jesus' teachings focus on love, peace, and nonviolence. Yet Revelation and certain parts of the gospels seem to show Jesus returning at the end of history as a violent avenger. How do we reconcile these two images of Jesus? A PEACEABLE HOPE by David J. Neville attempts to deal with this problem.  Specifically, the book's aim is to challenge the Bible's seemingly violent eschatology.

The book looks at the four Gospels, Acts, and Revelation. Neville shows how some places seem to promote a violent eschatology, while others seem to promote a peaceful eschatology. I found his exploration of Matthew interesting in the contrast between Jesus' straight-forward propositional teaching and his parables. Also interesting is Luke's primarily peaceful focus of eschatology. Neville treats John's Gospel and the book of Revelation as written by two different authors. I was surprised by this because I've read the evidence for both books sharing the same author.

Throughout the book, the author acknowledges the clear complexity of a New Testament that envisions a peace-promoting Jesus coming back in vengeance, and he so while hanging on to several of what he calls "treasure texts" that seem to refute this idea. While I don't agree with all of the author's conclusions on how to approach the biblical text, I deeply appreciate the author's wrestling with this issue because it is one that I wrestle with as well. I think it's important that we face it head-on because our biblical picture of God is vitally important. A PEACEABLE HOPE sheds much light on the complexity of the issue.

Review copy provided by Baker Academic

Photo Credit: Baker Academic

Review of THE BIG STORY by Justin Buzzard

Many books have been written that recount redemptive history, so it would seem that we don't really need anymore. But then a guy named Justin Buzzard, who has previously written on men dating their wives and pastors a church in a city known for innovation, releases a book called THE BIG STORY: How the Bible Makes Sense Out of Life. Though this book is another recounting of redemptive history, Buzzard's voice and heart for the gospel and people make it one of the most refreshing explorations of the overarching salvation story.

Buzzard shows how this story is all about Jesus. It's about the world he made and what he's done to rescue it. Buzzard realizes that we all live out a story, and it's the big story of Jesus that gives our lives meaning and direction. By integrating ourselves into the Jesus story, we live out better stories. By focusing on the Jesus story, we give people hope that makes sense of their individual stories.

I've enjoyed Justin Buzzard's writing ever since reading DATE YOUR WIFE, and this book further shows that he is a gifted communicator with a vision for seeing people come to Jesus.

Review copy provided by Moody Books

Photo Credit: Moody Books

Review of CRAZY LOVE: Updated Edition by Francis Chan

Francis Chan's book CRAZY LOVE takes its title from the incredible idea that the perfect and holy God of the universe would love us. It's an insane thought, and yet it's true. Chan is a humble and gifted communicator, with a solid commitment to letting the Bible guide his theology and his life.

The beginning of the book paints a picture of this God who pours his crazy love on us. Throughout the rest of the book, Chan seeks to show us what our biblical response to God's love should be. In relying on the teaching of Scripture, everything Chan says is a challenge to the comfortable Christianity that most Americans are used to. He challenges the idea of following Christ without offering him our best. I know I'm frequently guilty of offering up leftovers to God, and this isn't what I want from my life.

CRAZY LOVE is picture of what biblical Christianity looks like when people offer their all to the God who gives us crazy love. It's a call for radical life change. Chan and his family lives this out, a reality he describes in the final chapter if the updated edition of the book. Chan has written one of the most compelling explorations of what the Christian life should look like for his followers.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Photo Credit: David C. Cook

Monday, July 8, 2013

Review of ECHOES OF EDEN by Jerram Barr

Jerram Barr has written an excellent treatment of the Christian's approach to the arts in his new book ECHOES OF EDEN. Barr explores the Bible to show that human beings, believers and unbelievers alike, were created to be sub-creators in the image of God. This means that all people have the ability to create in a way that reflects something of the character of God. 

Barr looks at the biblical responsibility of the Christian artist, as well as how to discern good art. He even looks at some of the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. Lewis is quoted quite a bit throughout, and, as a fan of the Harry Potter series, I really appreciated his treatment of it. There's even an appendix at the end discussing Rowling's decision to suggest that Dumbledore was homosexual after the book series was finished.

I picked up this book because Timothy Keller had high praises for it, and Keller is one of my favorite authors. The book does not disappoint. It's a great book for Christians and anyone interested in the overarching themes of art and literature throughout history, with a particular focus on how art has reflected the redemptive history initiated by God.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Photo Credit: Crossway Books

Review of THE HONEST TODDLER by Bunmi Laditan

I started following Honest Toddler on Twitter last year because I found so many of the Tweets funny and hitting close to home. My wife have three young children, and it quickly felt like with one of our children that these Tweets were coming straight from our own lives. When I saw that there was going to be a book called THE HONEST TODDLER, I knew I had to pick it up. The author is Bunmi Laditan, and the Twitter feed is based on real scenarios of raising her own toddler.

The book is hilarious. It's written as s guide for parenting from a toddler's perspective. The Honest Toddler has tips for what to feed your child, how to respond to loud outbursts, and much more. It's written in small chunks with plenty of exaggerated humor throughout that will make you think, "Did my toddler write this?" I especially loved the letters from parents that Honest Toddler responds to.

This is definitely a great book to bring some laughs to parents of small children. It's also great for putting a humorous spin on the struggles that parents face as parents of toddlers.

Review copy provided by Scribner

Photo Credit: Scribner

Review of CREATING INNOVATORS by Tony Wagner

CREATING INNOVATORS by Tony Wagner is a book for parents and educators who want to be intentionally invested in helping the next generation be successful. Wagner shows that the world we live in is one in which people who want to be successful must learn to solve problems in innovative ways. The book explores what it takes to raise up future innovators.

I appreciate this book because it makes the case for innovation as a vital value in society. I'm a parent of three children, and I want my children to grow up to impact the world in great ways.

This book will be helpful in the hands of educators because it shows how schools often work against teaching students to be creative. Wagner includes a look into the lives of young innovators and what shaped them to be that way. The book also includes QR codes for videos that supplement the content of the book.

Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster

Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster

Review of THE REAL WIN by Matt Carter & Colt McCoy

THE REAL WIN by pastor Matt Carter and NFL quarterback Colt McCoy is a call for men to be leaders in the areas of their lives where it matters most. Both men share some personal struggles as well as practical ways they've pursued in trying to be the men that God has called them to be. The authors establish what genuine success looks like for a man from a biblical perspective after looking at some of the common goals that men try to find their gratification from.

Many people will probably pick up this book because of Colt McCoy. I've never been a big football fan, but I have been listening to Matt Carter on podcast for several years. However, it was interesting to see the struggles that McCoy deals with and see the pursuit of biblical manhood from that perspective.

This book is a serious challenge to men. I wish that many of the things communicated in the book were things that I didn't need to hear because I was already doing them. That just wasn't the case. I appreciated the call the authors present for men to lead their families well and to love their wives first. This is a great book for men, and its message is one that needs to be pursued by all men.

Review copy provided by Waterbrook-Multnomah as part of their Blogging for Books program

Photo Credit: Waterbrook-Multnomah