Monday, May 26, 2014

Review of HEAVEN IS FOR REAL by Todd Burpo

I have to confess that I came to Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo as a skeptic. I'd heard plenty about the book and just as many critiques about the book, but I didn't feel I could really address the book without having read it myself. After reading it, I can clearly see that the Burpo family had a very tragic experience as Todd and Sonya Burpo struggled over watching their son hover between life and death. I read the story as a father of three young children myself, and I was angry over the doctor who misdiagnosed Colton Burpo and I related to how much the Burpos wanted their son to be okay. It's a sad and ultimately hopeful story as you watch God work through their tragedy to bring Colton Burpo out of the clutches of death. People loved the Burpo family and prayed for them relentlessly. The book also clearly lays out faith in the gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection as the way to be with God after death. So, as a first-time reader of Heaven is for Real, I will say that it is a compelling story about God's grace in tragedy.

That leads back to the question for which I decided to read the book in the first place. Do I believe that Colton Burpo went to heaven and came back? After reading it, I can't say that I do. Of course, I come to the story as a father of a five-year-old, four-year-old, and three-year-old. I've had the experience countless times of my kids saying something that I wonder where they got it. My wife and I will hear them repeat things we've said that we never knew they were listening in on. They have incredibly active imaginations. Now, if they started saying things about a visit to heaven, it would make me wonder where they were getting their information. But what struck me about the book is how quickly Todd and Sonya Burpo accepted what Colton, a three-year-old, said about heaven. I appreciated that Todd Burpo didn't want to ask leading questions that would draw certain responses from his son. However, many of the things that Colton says throughout the book are in response to questions by his parents. Colton says many things that are unverifiable and borderline unbiblical.

Colton says that people in heaven have wings. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that people will have wings in heaven. Of course, it doesn't explicitly say that we won't have wings, either. It's simply unverifiable whether what he said is true or not. Colton claims to have met his sister in heaven, a sister that his parents miscarried before he was born. The Burpos didn't know the gender of their baby, and they believe that Colton confirmed that the baby was a girl. Again, unverifiable. Possible, maybe, but he has a 50/50 chance of getting it right. Colton's revelations begin a few months after his experience in the hospital. Plenty of time for Colton to pick up information that his parents don't realize. Todd Burpo mentions Colton's Sunday school teachers several times, but never questions what things he may have learned about heaven from them that he was unaware of. 

I would never claim that Colton or his parents were lying about any of what is related in the book, but I think what Colton shares is the result of either his imagination, some very vivid dreams that he had while asleep in the hospital, or he really believes what he says really happened. There are some things that do seem odd about his story, but I think there are probably some alternative explanations for how he knew what he knew.

Many people treat the book as if it is dangerous. Though I think there are some theological issues that don't line up with Scripture, they're not major issues. Of course, the idea that people can go to heaven and come back has become a very popular one in recent years. This book is only one of many. However, I don't think the book is necessarily dangerous. The book communicates the gospel and gets people thinking about heaven. It could easily be a launching point for conversations about faith and what the Bible really teaches about heaven. 

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review of SMART MONEY, SMART KIDS by Dave Ramsey & Rachel Cruze

Title:  Smart Money, Smart Kids
 
Author: Dave Ramsey & Rachel Cruze
 
Publisher: Lampo Press 
 
What It's About: Smart Money, Smart Kids is about raising children to be responsible adults who handle finances responsibly and wisely.
 
Why I Read It: I've read Dave Ramsey's other books on finances. I have three young children, and my wife and I want to raise them to handle money responsibly. Certainly more responsibly than I have.
 
What I Liked About It: I've enjoyed Dave Ramsey's other books on money, and I was really interested to read what his daughter, Rachel Cruze, learned from growing up as Ramsey's child. I enjoyed reading her journey and her heart for helping others to raise their children to not be burdened by financial struggles. I loved the chapter on hard work. There's so much insight in that one chapter alone for raising responsible children, and it makes so much sense. The other chapters cover ideas that will be familiar to Dave Ramsey readers, but targeted specifically toward parents. Things like the envelope system, budgeting, and paying for college are helpful for imparting financial wisdom for your children. This is a book that I'll need to read through again and again to apply its principles. I'd recommend it to any parent of children at any age.

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Friday, May 16, 2014

Review of CHARIS by Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle has quickly become one of my favorite authors after reading Erasing Hell with Francis Chan and his book Fight. His latest book Charis looks at the biblical concept of grace in a way that many aren't familiar with. When we think of grace, we typically turn to the New Testament. Jesus Christ, after all, is the epitome of grace.

But grace didn't start with the New Testament. Sprinkle takes us on a journey through all of Scripture to show that God's grace has been active from day one. He shows that God has always been about using messy broken people to bring about his redemptive plan. Sprinkle helps us to see God's love at work even when we might misunderstand it as something completely opposite when we read some of the stories in the Old Testament.

Sprinkle is a profound biblical scholar who knows how to communicate the message of Jesus in a clear and profound way. Charis is a great addition to the many books that already exist about the topic of grace.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Review of AFTER THE END by Amy Plum

Juneau has lived her entire life separated from a world she believes was destroyed years ago. But when her tribe is suddenly taken, she discovers that the world is much bigger than she thought. On a desperate quest to find her family and bring them home, she encounters a boy her age named Miles who is more than happy to help as long as it serves his purposes. In a story about secrets and betrayal, Juneau must fight for what she believes in, even when everything she's ever known has been a lie.

I was intrigued by the concept of After the End by Amy Plum from the moment I read about it. This isn't your typical post-apocalyptic novel because you have a character who thinks she's living after the destruction of the world only to discover that she's been lied to. And, of course, the question is why. That question and many others drive this story ever forward. I started reading the book and in two days I was finished because I felt like I couldn't put it down.

This is very much a journey story. Juneau travels a great deal to try to find out the truth, and some of the truth she discovers is more heartbreaking than the initial discovery that her family's been lying to her for her whole life.

I haven't even mentioned Juneau's weird ability to interact with nature. It's interesting, and it's necessary for the plot of the story because she uses it a lot.

I was a bit disappointed with the end of the story until I found out it was part one of a series. I look forward to reading the rest of the story when it comes out next year.

Review copy provided by HarperTeen

Monday, May 12, 2014

Review of THE TRUEST THING ABOUT YOU by David Lomas

The Truest Thing About You by David Lomas is a book that looks at identity and seeks to show people where their identity can most accurately be found. The book starts with some assumptions. These assumptions are that we have many names or titles for ourselves, identities that we claim for ourselves. Some we're proud of; others we're ashamed of. But we assume that these are the things that define us.  The problem for most people is that our identities are where we find value. And that value is usually placed upon us by those who accept and embrace our identity. But if we can't muster up an identity that brings value, then we're hopelessly lost.

Lomas shatters this problem by drawing us into the pages of Scripture to show us where our identities should be found. He says that all of the identities that we claim for ourselves might be true, but there is an identity that is truer. It's an identity that overrides and sometimes cancels out all the others.

The Truest Thing About You is an exploration of God's love for us in creating us and his pursuit of us to shape us into the beautiful images he created us to be. It's about facing our brokenness and finding wholeness in relationship with Jesus. Lomas writes with passion and transparency, which makes this an encouraging read and a joyful one because of the message it proclaims. For anyone struggling with issues of identity, this is a worthwhile book.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Friday, May 9, 2014

Review of KINGDOM THROUGH COVENANT by Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum

Title: Kingdom Through Covenant
 
Author: Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum
 
Publisher: Crossway Books
 
What It's About: Kingdom Through Covenant is a thorough biblical exploration of the covenants God has initiated throughout history and how they tie the Old and New Testaments together.
 
Why I Read It: Though I didn't realize it at the time, I was a dispensational Christian from the time I place my faith in Jesus until I started investigating the claims of dispensational theology myself. I was a huge fan of Left Behind and was sure that was what the Bible taught until I looked closer. Then I discovered Covenant Theology and found just as many concerns with it as I did with Dispensationalism. When I heard about Kingdom Through as a middle position between the two, I was intrigued.
 
What I Liked About It: I love this book. As someone who has studied theology on my own for many years, this is one of the most groundbreaking books on biblical theology I've found. Gentry and Wellum make an incredible case for what I know as New Covenant Theology. I love their exploration of the covenants, showing Christ to be the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel. The authors carefully lay out their hermeneutical method and the whole book bears this out. Though they disagree with the theological constructs of both Dispensational Theology and Covenant Theology, they disagree respectfully as well as show what each view gets correct. I read this book and feel that it makes much of Jesus and God's overarching plan for humanity. It beautifully ties the Old Testament to our Christian faith. When it comes to books on theology, this is one I would definitely recommend. It is long and complex, but the subject matter deserves such a thorough treatment.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Monday, May 5, 2014

Review of SCREENWRITER'S COMPASS by Guy Gallo

Title: Screenwriter's Compass
 
Author: Guy Gallo
 
Publisher: Focal Press
 
What It's About: Screenwriter's Compass is a book about writing a screenplay with particular focus on the character dimension of a story.
 
Why I Read It: I love screenwriting, and this book's subtitle, Character as True North, got my attention.
 
What I Liked About It: This book covers a lot of different aspects of screenwriting, and while it's about character, it talks about so much more. I was surprised to learn about treatments and adaptations in this book. The book presents its information in small little chunks, which makes it a great read a little bit at a time. There's important info about screenplay structure. The part I loved the most was the section on revision. There's so much practical advice in this section that will make you a much better screenwriter. It discusses writing better dialogue, descriptions, and much more. It's a really helpful little book on the craft of screenwriting, and I would recommend it.

Review copy provided by Focal Press
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Review of ALTERNATIVE SCRIPTWRITING by Ken Dancyger & Jeff Rush

Title: Alternative Scriptwriting
 
Author: Ken Dancyger and Jeff Rush
 
Publisher: Focal Press
 
What It's About: Alternative Scriptwriting is about the traditional structure of writing feature films and manipulating that structure for more alternative types of structure.
 
What I Liked About It: This book is, ironically, a good education on traditional storytelling structures. Of course, in order to show how those structures can be manipulated and restructured, the authors want readers to understand the structure they're working from. This book gives a lot of information on genres and the tropes found in each genre. The book frequently makes the case for alternative scriptwriting throughout, but, in the end, I didn't feel like it sufficiently outlined how to form alternative structures of storytelling.

Review copy provided by Focal Press
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com