Summary: One more book in the continual stream of literature about God's love, Elyse Fitzpatrick writes...moreFor all other book reviews, check out my blog.
Summary: One more book in the continual stream of literature about God's love, Elyse Fitzpatrick writes a commendable but ultimately flat work on the Gospel's implications for our lives. She doesn't say much wrong but doesn't say much interesting, either.
Strengths: A major problem with current Christian literature is pacing -- too long or too bloated -- and had the popular Elyse Fitzpatrick hired a more prudent editor, this could easily have been a classic. I wish the book had cut the entire first half, because everything after is vivid, honest, and convicting. Alas, we have instead a work bloated by a protracted first half that reads like a Reformed Calvinist's instruction manual.
The first few chapters certainly had great one-liners and refreshing reminders of the Gospel. Elyse's passion for the Bible is obvious and sincere. She is a strong writer. She does not dance around sin or wrath or the atonement. There's also a great section where she allows selected verses from the Old and New Testament to tell the story of Jesus. It's a creative, breathtaking section that illuminates how powerful Scripture is no matter how often you read it.
But it isn't until the second half of Fitzpatrick's work -- conveniently titled Part Two -- that she begins to speak grounded wisdom that isn't airy or lofty. The first half is made dull because of so much "fortune cookie" language about God's love. The very attempt to personalize Jesus inadvertently turns him into a New Age hippie. But the second half actually describes a biblical Jesus that I would absolutely serve and praise. It's almost worth slogging through the earlier writing.
Weaknesses: The entire book sometimes comes off as a guilt trip, because the questions meant to probe our spiritual lives end up being un-nuanced and too easy to answer. Like when a cop pulls you over, there's only so much you can say that leaves little room for real introspection.
Fitzpatrick also seems to confuse her audience; she appears to be writing to veteran Christians, but her constant recaps of the Gospel are much too condescending. If she is speaking to new Christians, then she uses too much Christianese for anyone to understand.
Her heavy reliance on Tim Keller and Reformed theology, while not a bad thing, makes the book feel copy-and-paste, like a best hits record. I sensed a little from here and there, almost to the point of plagiarism.
Bottom Line: I really, really wanted to like this book. But so much of it is hindered by stylistic errors that I can only halfheartedly recommend it. Elyse Fitzpatrick is definitely someone I would seek for counseling or mentoring, but her work here is somewhat of a missed opportunity. (less)
Steve Wright is onto something here, but beats a dead horse so badly that it looks alive from the twitching of his unrelenting beatdown.
The ratio is...moreSteve Wright is onto something here, but beats a dead horse so badly that it looks alive from the twitching of his unrelenting beatdown.
The ratio is about Ten to One: Ten complaints for every One solution. He never stops saying there's a problem with youth ministry. We get it. By chapter four when he offers a way forward, he still keeps hammering that there must be change. This doesn't let up to the final page.
His solution (when he's not whining) is a family-oriented youth ministry that involves parents as the main disciplers of the students. It's a sensible approach -- that is, for an American white suburban church in an upper-class neighborhood. Wright's idealistic tone with endless resources and eager parents feels like most Christian books: written to a hip, young, fresh-faced, white audience. So he ignores bills, the economy, sickness, disorders, crime, and a plethora of childhood issues.
He only acknowledges that youth games and secular media have overtaken young people, or rather rich, white young people. This insensitivity makes Wright's methods a near-fantasy. In the final chapter, when he shares testimonies of parents discipling their kids, I kept thinking that most of these "outings" and "gifts" cost money. More money than the neighborhood I work in.
He has tons of methods. At least four dozen steps. In chapter seven he confesses that all these tips might be overwhelming, so his remedy? More methods.
There's also nothing about multi-ethnic churches where language barriers hinder family involvement. Or high crime areas. Or low income families. Or multi-generational homes. Just a lot of complaining.
Wright obviously cares about student ministry. His heart is in the right place. His idea of a family-oriented youth is both biblical and practical. I was excited to start this book and took away at least several wise nuggets: prayer, communication, planning. I'm sure if I sat down with Wright, he would be able to answer many of my concerns (without complaining).
Yet I can't help feel this is a one-size-fits-none sort of book. A missed opportunity. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, but that poor dead horse eventually needs a burial. (less)
Summary: A call to faith-filled values back in the political square, Indivisible may come off as a conservative checklist of Right-Win...moreFull review here.
Summary: A call to faith-filled values back in the political square, Indivisible may come off as a conservative checklist of Right-Wing ideologies, and while there are certainly such far-right views, we hear two gentle voices that are passionate about Christian-American ideals.
Strengths: I've always been extremely uncomfortable with two topics: Money and Politics. It feels like the church always degrades itself when it comes to these two areas because the church has constantly failed when it's tempted by either. Talking politics in the church never goes well for very long, and many will either ignore it in the pulpit and the pews or will rally for a particular issue at the expense of genuine discourse. To say it plainly, the church is too turned on or too turned off by the political realm. But at some point, we do need to talk about it. The political machine will keep running amidst our denial or relish, and we must get involved somehow.
Indivisible is almost an introductory course on conservative values. The authors instantly tackle the idea of "conservative values." God is neither a Democrat or Republican, nor does He advocate public policies in the Bible. But of course, certain conservative values overlap with biblical ones, and not all public policies can be deemed right. At least some must contradict Christian principles. So both "liberals" and "conservatives" must submit to Scriptural authority, not a self-identifying manifesto.
The book is careful not to automatically subscribe to traditional conservative thought "just because," and this is where it becomes a much more relatable, fleshed out work than the shrill cries of picketers. There are also solutions offered in every chapter which makes this work much more than just a list of Far-Right complaints.
Any work on politics with strong convictions will be immediately divisive. I admit I'm not heavily versed in many of the issues, so a work like this was daunting: I approached with little enthusiasm and more of an open-minded curiosity. But James Robison and Jay Richards write with a crisp, clear-headed voice, always espousing their views with sound reasoning and biblical truth. They are sensitive to the people involved yet never soften their tone.
Many times Robison and Richards present their views with an eye for all angles. Any time I almost expected a simplistic argument, they would turn a corner into practical, meaningful discussion. Case in point: Their chapter on immigration was unexpected. They are greatly sympathetic towards immigrants. There is a difference between illegal immigration and the immigrants themselves, and we often don't make this distinction. Their stance against illegal immigration is obvious, but they are pro-immigrants and seem to want our borders to be accessible. Neither a mass deportation or a mass amnesty are reasonable solutions.
If your knowledge is slim on the free market, government policies, and how to really help the poor, then you'll find a lot to learn here. You may not agree with everything written, but the information is well researched and easy to read. Again, anyone set in stone about politics will not readily come to the same conclusions -- perhaps even be angry about some of the views -- but you cannot deny that Robison and Richards have a loving heart for people.
Weaknesses: Every chapter ends with "What Should We Do?" and I wish some of the offered solutions had been longer than a page. They do offer some pragmatic everyday wisdom for even those who are not so involved (like me). Some of the solutions are also a bit too philosophical or psychological, spoken with over-idealistic zeal.
I'm sure someone much smarter than me can also tell the other side of the story, as Robison and Richards usually stick close to one side. They champion capitalism and the free market as the best option available for the economy, but I wonder how they would attempt to fix the corruption that has caused our American market to collapse.
Bottom Line: Whether you're interested in politics or not, Indivisible does a thorough job of connecting faith with values without telling you what to believe. Never condescending nor crass, James Robison and Jay Richards ultimately love God and love people. As with any political view, you may find yourself disagreeing on smaller semantics, but here we're offered a nuanced breakdown of our nation's largest problems with solutions looking forward. This is a solid guide on how the Bible informs our political inner-culture.
Disclaimer: I was given a promotional copy of this book by the DeMoss Group for review purposes. I was not obligated to write a positive review.
Summary: Mark Driscoll, the pastor of megachurch Mars Hill of Seattle, and his wife Grace write an hones...moreFull review here. The following is an excerpt.
Summary: Mark Driscoll, the pastor of megachurch Mars Hill of Seattle, and his wife Grace write an honest, detailed, gripping, and at times explicit work on the troubles of marriage. While overly practical and less spiritual than expected, Pastor Mark and his wife have written tough words for the prideful and healing words for the hurting. Most of all they have written truth that no other pastor would dare to venture, which is both the book’s best strength and most glaring weakness.
Strengths: Mark Driscoll spells controversy because of his unequivocal expression, uncompromising views, and his colorful use of language. He makes fart noises in his sermons, got busted over preaching on oral sex (essentially telling Christian women to use it as a lure for their unbelieving husbands), was publicly lambasted by John MacArthur (one of the five Big Johns, including Piper, Calvin, the Baptist, and the Apostle — so you know it’s serious), and is called a chauvinist by both lesbian atheists and evangelicals. We get it: he’s the vulgar, brash, older brother that puts you in a greasy headlock and gives you purple nurples.
But there’s no doubt the man preaches the Gospel, proclaims sound doctrine, and has a brilliant mind for practical theology. Regardless of tactics, he has once again written a clear-headed, straightforward work on marriage that is so unlike any Christian fare it’s bound to grab your attention, fart noises and all. One thing is most obvious in his writing: Pastor Mark is a pastor and loves people. He does the dirty task of writing what no one else will say, and while it may feel gratuitous, it’s true that no one else will say it. So he takes on the thankless duty of speaking to reality about as real as you can get.
Most effective in the first half is Mark Driscoll’s treatise on marriage as friendship, as he covers historical ground on views of marriage and points out the neglect of biblical passages on friends. This is a refreshing chapter that I also had the privilege to hear him preach at the Love Life conference, and it remains perhaps one of the strongest, more timeless chapters of the book. In this chapter and all throughout, you sense Pastor Mark’s loving heart as a shepherd, his years spent hearing hundreds of hurting stories that must have overwhelmed him beyond human capacity, and there’s a plea-like tone in his appeal for families to make it work.
Weaknesses: The second half, unlike the first, reads more like a broad sword than a scalpel. I wonder if Pastor Mark would let his own daughters read it. Though he says several times that the knowledge presented here must not be abused, this could have been emphasized a bit more. He doesn’t exactly relish in the knowledge and there’s no sense that he’s saying it to “keep it real,” but he could have been more sensitive to invite people into the world of sexual dysfunction. There are descriptions and terms here that may awaken the unwitting, and despite his disclaimer that we’ll have to face it sooner or later, in that case he could have eased us in with less bombardment.
This is also such a practical handbook that Pastor Mark hardly ties into the Gospel or the Bible as well as he could. Many times I asked myself, Why should I do this? Where as Sacred Marriage and The Meaning of Marriage had an overarching theme of the Bible stamped all over its pages, Real Marriage has a very tenuous connection with Scripture. So often it comes across as legalism.
Bottom Line: Not quite a mainstream book and not quite Christian, Pastor Mark and his wife have still written a truthful work on the complicated matters of marriage and sexuality. The strongest parts here are Grace Driscoll’s incredible insight and Mark’s focus on friendship, both well worth the purchase. More sensitive readers can read the second half with a heavy filter of discernment, or just skip it. I couldn’t easily recommend this book to a youth group or even many singles, but it’s a practical tool for the hurting, confused, misinformed, and weary. I’d much more recommend Pastor Mark’s current sermon series on marriage. (less)
This is a shortened review. For full review click here.
Summary: Dr. Ravi Zacharias writes a searing, incisive work on the New Age movement that has inv...moreThis is a shortened review. For full review click here.
Summary: Dr. Ravi Zacharias writes a searing, incisive work on the New Age movement that has invaded every facet of Western American thinking. Taking to task two well known proponents, Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, there are no minced words as Dr. Ravi utterly upturns many of the preposterous assertions given by nebulous, exploitative, "Oneness" religion endorsed by the two celebrities. We also find that such strange religion has been endorsed by us, an unwitting generation fooled by foolish claims.
Strengths: I was almost taken aback by the force of Dr. Ravi's barbs against the New Spirituality. Had I not known that Dr. Ravi is one of the world's most compassionate evangelists today, I may have mistaken some of his writing as aggression. But I sense his urgency: he is fighting for the truth, as many of us today live in a blind fog of capitulation to relativism. Dr. Ravi's no-nonsense clarity by itself will knock most readers out of their reverie, quickly exposing how many strange lies we have believed.
The opening chapters may take time to settle in since Dr. Ravi hits the ground running. While at first I sensed almost a "conspiracy theorist" vibe in the way he approaches visual media and celebrity antics, I was soon on board with the many concrete examples Dr. Ravi offers of our deteriorating times. When he begins his attack on relativism is when the book takes off and continues soaring. It's something we've always known but never confront: that a self-referential starting point for morality leads to inevitable chaos and greed. As always, Dr. Ravi has such a clear-headed voice with a rich vocabulary that at times it will take you several moments to breathe it in. If you're used to reading some of what passes for literature today, particularly "Christian literature," be ready for a serious undertaking.
There are not many kind words for Deepak Chopra, a self-proclaimed mystical guru who has combined quantum physics, Christianity, and Hinduism into a hybrid mess of self-help programs. I suspected no real malice on Dr. Ravi's part here, as he only points out what many others simply will not: that Deepak Chopra is a profit-driven hack. His contradictory ideas, amassed fortune, one-size-fits-all religion, and upside-down ideas about Jesus reveal an opportunist who has unfortunately taken some Christian churches by storm. Just reading excerpts of Chopra's work without any extra explanation was cringe-inducing.
For Oprah Winfrey, it appears Dr. Ravi is much kinder. He presumes that success may have taken Oprah down a fork in the road where she has abandoned Christianity for a safe, believe-all mentality. Oprah is much a product of today's New Spirituality as she has shaped it herself, still using the name of Jesus but perhaps for profitable reasons. I felt a sincere compassion here for Oprah, as often success is harder to deal with than pain. Dr. Ravi makes note of this in one of the best chapters of the book, "The Ties That Bind," in which pleasure and pain reveal our need for something more than chants and chimes and daytime television therapy.
Weaknesses: For a book called Why Jesus? I was hoping for more of him. The last couple chapters, Dr. Ravi makes him the spotlight, but some of this is rushed and pieces feel missing. While the affront on New Age is well done, the exposition of Christ himself is left a bit wanting.
There are also times, as with his last book, that Dr. Ravi spins some complex concepts that may lose you fast. I tried my best to read slowly through the more verbose sections, but could only conclude that Dr. Ravi is a much, much smarter man than I.
Bottom Line: This is an excellent work on a subject that must gain more awareness. We live in a time now where values are easily compromised, vulgarities are the new normal, and the weight of relativism makes relationships impossible. Dr. Ravi Zacharias' clear, hard-hitting approach is at times a freight train and other times a precise scalpel, cutting away to the true heart of the matter. We must ask ourselves the tough questions of identity and purpose without numbing ourselves with mantras and oils and safety. I highly recommend it to those who are seeking Truth amidst so many "truths."