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