Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Jul
07
2011

Mini Reviews #3

Here’s another batch of mini-reviews, taking care of some books that have occupied my nightstand (and travel bag) this summer:

Lions of Kandahar by Rusty Bradley and Kevin Maurer

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, from cover to cover. It was a bit of a diversion for me as I usually read books on theology or Christian living or biography. I selected this book to review through Amazon Vine because I wanted to stretch myself a bit. Consider me stretched. What I love about this book is that Rusty Bradley, an active-duty Special Forces Commander and Kevin Maurer, an AP journalist, carefully take us through an epic firefight in Kandahar province. For someone who knows little about military lingo or strategy, this book was a delightful read. The authors were explanatory of situations, protocol, weapons, etc. It gave me such an appreciation for the men and women who risk their lives in places like Afganistan. I also appreciated the cultural sensitivity the soldiers demonstrate in fighting alongside the Afghan National Army. This is a thrilling, educational, and exciting read. My only caution is that, like most war books, there is some salty language.

Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman.

I picked this book up at the Gospel Coalition National Conference. As a preacher of the Word, I had great hopes for this book. I am grateful for the ministry of 9Marks, who co-published this book. Mark Dever and 9 Marks have done excellent work on church polity. Many pastors rely on their expertise and counsel.

I’m delighted to read books that spell out the powerful effects of gospel-centered preaching of the Word of God. So I agree with it’s premise. I believe it’s a needed book for our times.

But I must say that I was slightly disappointed in the tone that Leeman took at times. He took big swipes at the evangelical Church in America, leaving the reader with the impression that very few churches preach the Word, most are interested in attractional and hollow methods, and that only a select few get it right. This wasn’t helpful. Where Jonathan clearly spells out the theology and methodology of delivering the Word, the book was powerful and strong. But where Jonathan critiques other churches, the book is weak, in my view. Weak in that it seems to unnecessarily hammer churches who don’t do it exactly as he would have them do it. Believe it or not, churches may differ slightly in style, and there are many where the Word is not primary, but there are also many who faithfully preach the Word.

This may not have been the intent and perhaps this is only my opinion, but I felt the book would have been stronger had the author stuck to a positive prescription for advancing the Word in our churches, affirming the many pastors who labor weekly and encouraging churches big and small toward greater faithfulness to the Scriptures. Still this is a good read by a terrific ministry.

Politics According to the Bible - Wayne Grudem.

I was excited when this book came out, because knowing Grudem’s thorough style and reputation as a trusted teacher of theology, I was sure we would be getting a book that applied the Scriptures to today’s political issues.

In many places this is the case. For instance, Grudem’s chapter on capitalism is terrific, advancing the idea that in a fallen world, the best among flawed systems seems to be capitalism. He offers biblical wisdom from across the Scriptures. In many cases and in many issues, this is the case.

But I must say I was highly disappointed at the partisan nature of this book. I think it slightly mars what could be a powerful resources. I wish he would not have included a chapter on the current President. I felt he injected highly personal views here. I was hoping Grudem would have simply laid out the biblical arguments on the issues and let the reader decide. I was also disappointed that Grudem seemed to inject personal opinions in areas where the Bible is unclear, specifically immigration policy and other more gray areas. The title says, Politics According to the Bible. With Grudem’s considerable reputation as a stalwart of faithful evangelical theology, folks will assume that all he says here is straight from the Scriptures. In most places that is the case, but in some cases, especially at the end, you will see it is merely politics according to Grudem. I fear that those who disagree politically with the Republican Party might not consider this book because of its overt advancement of one party’s agenda. That being said, it is still a worthwhile resource, something I’m glad to have in my library and something I recommend every pastor purchase.

Jun
07
2011

Mini Book Reviews #2

I’ve slimmed down the stack of books on my nightstand lately. This is, of course, to make room for more books, right? Here are reviews of three excellent books I have recently finished:

Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore. We did this book as part of our Sunday Morning Men’s Bible Study at Gages Lake Bible Church and it provoked great discussion. Russell Moore gets behind temptation and testing, offering the devil’s work against Jesus during those forty days in the wilderness as the hope for Christians today. This book will get you thinking beyond the moralistic way we approach sin and instead offers a robust theology and gospel-soaked hope in living the cross-centered life. You can read my interview with Russell Moore here.

The Next Story by Tim Challies. This is a needed book for the digital age. Tim gives a thorough history and theology of the digital revolution. He presents life as it is without alarmism and without legalism. He also asks probing questions about what our technology says to us as a people. I highly recommend this book for those who live and work in the digital world. I suspect it will be a texbook in Christian colleges. You can read my interview with Tim Challies here.

The God Who Is There by D.A. Carson. Carson is a world-reknowned scholar from Trinity International University. He’s a scholar’s scholar. So you might suspect this to be a tough-to-read treatise from an academic mind. Instead, Carson writes with heart and thoughtfulness, tracing the storyline of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. This is a great book for those who wonder how the Old Testament fits into the New. Carson clearly presents the “one big storyline” of the Bible. This would be a great book both for new believers and those who have known Jesus for a long time.

 

Apr
28
2011

Mini Book Reviews

I’ve been reading a lot lately. Here are two mini-reviews of two rather excellent books:

A God Sized Vision by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge.

I loved this book for many reasons. It’s a novel idea–to present a basic history of revival. Revival is a subject I had little knowledge of, other than being part of “revival meetings” at times. What Hansen and Woodbridge describe are historic movements of the Spirit upon a nation or group of people. What I love is that they don’t whitewash the warts of the leaders in each movement, they chronicle the excesses of movements, and they generally put forward the idea that revival in a country is something that God decides to do when He decides to do it. But, as people of God, it’s something we should pray for. This book really inspired me to pray harder and longer for revival in our midst. I’m challenged by the fact that revival isn’t for those people “out there” who we think need to change but it happens first among the people of God.  I highly recommend this book. It’s not too long, it’s wonderfully readable, and it will inspire you to greater depths of faith.

Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan

I received this book to review as part of my involvement in the Amazon Vine program. When I saw that it was available, I immediately snatched it up, even though I already had a stack of books in the que. I’ve always enjoyed the work of Buchanan, pastor of New Life Community Baptist Church in Duncan, British Columbia. I’ve read other of his books, such as Your God is Too Safe and others. He’s a profound thinker and an amazing writer. He’s the rare pastor who can articulate good sound theology . . . and write well. Spiritual Rhythm explores the spiritual concept of seasons. Mark’s assertion is that if we are to be fruit-bearers, we must understand the concept of seasons of spirituality. He then mines Scripture and shares powerful truths for each season of life. He’s also painfully honest without being melodramatic. And as a master wordsmith, he doesn’t waste a word. I find myself soaking this book in a chapter or two at a time and then thinking deeply about each section. Mark talks biblically and with doctrinal precision about subjects such as sin, repentance, and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, and church involvement. I highly recommend this book. It was a terrific read and a boon to my spiritual life.

Mar
26
2011

Unbroken – The Remarkable Story of Louie Zamperini

I just finished an extraordinary book, Unbroken, by the immensely talented Laura Hillenbrand. I’m not sure what is more remarkable–the improbable life of Louie Zamperini or the improbability of Hillenbrand writing this story. She suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, a debilitating illness that leaves her confined to her bedroom most days.

Somehow she managed to bring the story of Louie Zamperini to the attention of modern readers through the wonderfully written Unbroken. Louie lived several lives. He was first a no-good rascal of the Great Depression, known for stealing, pulling pranks, and causing much trouble. Then he harnessed his energy into marathon running, becoming one of the fastest runners in American, setting many records and becoming quite the popular athlete. But soon war reached the United States and with it, swept up America’s finest.

Louie then puts himself fully into his career as a B-24 bombardier. He and his crew excelled at their missions. But after surviving a near-fatal tangle with the Japanese Zeroes, Louie was sent out on another mission, this time to rescue down pilots. But after embarking in an unsure and unfit plane, they met with disaster as the plane crashed. Only Louie and two of his mates survived. What follows next can only be described as remarkable endurance and survival. Louie and his friend (the third guy eventually passed away while at sea), drifted for 47 days and thousands of miles. They eventually hit land, only to be captured by the Japanese.

For the next 27 months, Louie Zamperini endured the unthinkable torture and threadbare existence that defined the life of a prisoner of war. Unbroken takes us through every excruciating detail with precision and tension. It’s amazing how much abuse the human body can withstand and still hang on to life. Louie Zamperini, more than anyone, reached the limits of human endurance.

But the battle wasn’t over for Louie. He came home, fell in love, and married. But the nightmare of his POW experiences haunted his dreams. He turned to alcohol, which alienated him from his wife and other family. His life was a downward spiral. That was until he was convinced to go to a crusade held by a young evangelist from North Carolina named Billy Graham. At the Los Angeles revival, one of Billy Graham’s first, Louie Zamperini became a follower of Christ. Immediately his life changed.

Now Loui has spent the last several decades sharing his story, pursuing forgiveness for his captors, and mentoring young lost men. His life as told in Unbroken is a powerful story, a reminder of the sovereignty and grace of God in the life of one man, lived during one of the most ominous periods of world history.

I heartily recommend this book. It will give you greater appreciation for the men of World War II who endured incredible hardships and made untold sacrifices to build this country. More importantly, it will renew your faith in the sovereignty of an Almighty God, who rules in the affairs of men.

Feb
23
2011

Book Review: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

It’s hard to imagine a more complex study than the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. After more than a half-century after his death, the debate still rages about his life. Was he a committed evangelical motivated by the gospel to resist the Nazi regime? Or was he noble, yet a dedicated liberal theologian, a skeptic of the orthodox positions of the Christian church?

Stepping into the breach is the extraordinarily talented biographer, Eric Metaxas. Metaxas, whose work on William Wilberforce was widely praised, seems to have a thing for the lives of counter-cultural, Christian reformers. Bonhoeffer, like Wilberforce, resisted the prevailing social trends in the church and in the culture, standing up to injustice, regardless of the cost.

Bonhoeffer is a weighty book. It’s not a light read and while Metaxas tackles his subject with verve and tight, interesting prose, he presents a rather comprehensive account of this man’s life. Much has been written and said both about Metaxas’ work and Bonhoeffer. I’d like to just share a few of the things I learned while reading this magnificent biography of this extraordinary life:

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Feb
08
2011

Book Review: John Bunyan by Kevin Belmonte

One of my favorite hobbies is reading biographies. Recently I had the opportunity to read and review Kevin Belmont’s excellent biography of John Bunyan. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wholeheartedly recommend it. Here is my review:

Beside the King James Version of the Bible, few works of literature have had the impact of Pilgrim’s Progress. It has influenced world leaders, artists, authors, poets, and playrights. And today it continues its legacy, sharing the powerful allegory of a sinner’s spiritual journey toward Heaven.

But who is the man behind this magnificent classic? Who is John Bunyan? Kevin Belmonte shares a fresh history of Bunyan as part of Thomas Nelson’s wonderful series, Christian Encounters. Kudos to Thomas Nelson for producing the biographies of impactful Christians to a new generation and kudos to Belmonte for producing a readable, rich treatment of John Bunyan.

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Dec
17
2010

Friday Five Interview: Sally Lloyd Jones

Image of "Sally Lloyd-Jones"She is the author of (in my opinion) the best Children’s story Bible on the market, The Jesus Bible Storybook. You can read my review of this here. Sally Llloyd Jones is a British children’s book writer based in the United States. Sally was born in Uganda and was raised in East and West Africa. She has written numerous children’s books including, The Ultimate Guide to Christmas, How to Get Married, and Baby’s Hug-a-Bible.

Sally has graciously taken time to be interviewed for my weekly Friday Five.

1) Share your journey—how did you find your calling as a children’s book writer?

When I was seven I was given a book. I couldn’t put it down. It was Edward Lear’s THE COMPLETE NONSENSE.

Things have not been the same since.

I had no idea you could be that silly in a book. I didn’t know it was allowed.

And it had all these crazy drawings in it and loony limericks that looked liked something I could try. And so I did. (My poor friends and family.)

That’s where it all began.

Later, in my first job as an editor in children’s publishing, I wrote the stories and poems to go inside their board books (they couldn’t afford to pay a “real author”). But that kind of writing didn’t count, I decided, I had my eye on picture books and harbored a dream of one day writing one—but I thought you had to write in a special way and sound like a picture book writer sounds. But I didn’t know what that was—let alone how to do it.

And then my nephew was born and I had a real child to write for. I stopped trying to sound like a children’s book and began just writing like I’d talk to Harry. And that got me back to the place where I’d begun—with Edward Lear and what he did so brilliantly: just be him on the page.

That’s what I think it means to “find your voice.” I started to just write what made me laugh. Or cry. And that’s when doors opened and I got my first picture books published.

I’m the luckiest person in the world because I have the best readers in the world. Children will go with you. They’re up for it in a way that we grown-ups sometimes aren’t. It’s a privilege and a responsibility.

2) The Jesus Bible Storybook is a powerful book and unique in that it sees Jesus in every big story of the Old and New Testament. Explain you’re process for putting this together.

One time I saw this guy doing scrimshaw. I asked him, as he was carving a whale on a small piece of ivory, how long it took him. He looked up, paused and said, “About 5 hours and… 35 years.”

In a sense, your whole life goes into whatever you do. It’s taken my whole life so far putting it together that the Bible is not a collection of individual stories teaching us moral lessons that if we follow we can get God to love us, but a wonderful true story of a God who loved us so much, that he stepped out of heaven, came down and rescued us.

When I was 6, I went to a Sunday school that was very strict and seemed to me to be all about rules. I hated it. But I am grateful for it now—without it I wouldn’t remember what it feels like as a child to see God as a strict rule giver who is never pleased with you. That Sunday school fueled my passion behind writing the book: I want children to see that the Bible is not mostly a rulebook—it’s most of all a story. And it really isn’t so much about them and what they need to be doing—it’s about God and what he has done. Rules don’t have power to change you. But a story can.

The other crucial piece, of course, is the ministry of Dr Tim Keller. He is the first person I acknowledge in the book because I could not have written this book without God leading me to that church, and to Tim’s ministry and to every Sunday listening to the Gospel of Grace preached.

3) As I read it to my children, I’m amazed at how every big story of the Bible connects to the story of Jesus. We don’t often teach our children the stories this way. Do think the traditional way has led to a sort of fragmented view of Old and New Testament?

Definitely. You hear people saying, Let’s just read about Jesus and stick with the NT. As a child I thought that. But he is in the OT—all the way through. And seeing him there—it melts your heart. And it also shows you the Father’s Heart. You see the sacrifice, the depth of his love for us, the incredible richness of the story. No wonder angels never tire of it and can’t stop wondering at it and long to look into it.

The subtitle of The Jesus Storybook Bible is “Every Story Whispers His Name” because the Bible is all about Jesus. Both the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus himself said so.

4) Are you finding adults are enjoying the Jesus Bible Storybook as well?

Yes—and it was nothing I, or anyone else, expected. And at the same time it has me saying, “Of course!”

Of course God would do that. Of course he would blow us all out of the water and do something we never imagined. Of course he would use little children to lead us. (Of course he would—he has such a high view of children!) Of course he would use a humble children’s book to do something profound. To speak to parents as well as children; to help pastors preach; to be a set text in literature classes and theological classes; to speak to college students, to teenagers, to couples in their devotions; to be the book Japanese business men are studying before work; to be a tool for sharing the gospel on missions trips, with English as a second language.

It’s thrilling and humbling and a huge honor—and I give him all the credit.

5) If you had one message you’d like parents, influencers, pastors, children’s ministry workers to send to the children they teach, what would that be?

I wouldn’t presume to tell pastors or parents or teachers or ministry workers what to do. But from what I’ve seen, I think for children—whose lives are so filled with rules—what they need most from us is Grace, what they need most to hear from us is that they are loved by the one who made them—with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. And He has a plan for each of them that only they can do. He needed them. Here. Now. And they are part of his great and glorious story.

Dec
07
2010

Book Review – The Jesus Storybook Bible

THE JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE: every story whispers his name, ILLUSTRATED BY JAGOIt used to be that finding the best children’s Bible was hard, because there are so many wonderful and good ones on the market. But that’s no longer the case, since Sally Lloyd Jones released, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

This book has been highly recommended. I first heard of it on Josh Harris’ blog. So a few months ago, my wife and I bought a copy for our children. Immediately I realized why many pastors and theologians recommended it. It’s simply brilliant.

What I love about The Jesus Storybook Bible is how Sally Lloyd Jones weaves the message of Jesus in every big story. This is where it is a wonderful resource, even for adults. With few notable exceptions, we typically read the Bible narratives as isolated stories with real-life applicable truth. That’s good, but Sally rightly points to Jesus with every story. And this makes this book a very valuable resource. It trains our children, from an early age, to see the Bible not as a collection of differing books, but as one unified whole, with the thread of redemption coursing through its pages.

And beyond the redemptive value, Sally Lloyd Jones is a writer of immense talent. She takes the stories of the Bible and brings them to life with perfect prose. She elevates each character so that reading one story before bedtime becomes an escape into the world of the Bible, rich with dialogue, intrigue, and color. And yet, she stays remarkably faithful to the orthodoxy of the Word.

I’m not sure there is another resource out there like this on the market. The Jesus Storybook Bible should be on the bookshelves of every parent. I’m excited to see the impact of this book on the next generation of children.

In preparation for a future interview, the author, Sally Lloyd Jones has sent me a copy of the Deluxe Edition of the Jesus Storybook Bible. This is a beautifully illustrated hardback with an audio version, narrated by the wonderful voice of David Suchet, who plays Hercule Poirot in the incredible British film adaptation of Agathe Christie’s series of novels. My wife and I have personally enjoyed this series so when we listened to the narration of The Jesus Bible Storybook by Suchet, it added an even greater dimension to Sally’s masterful writing.

Helpful Links for this book:

http://www.sallylloyd-jones.com/welcome.html

http://www.jesusstorybookbible.com/index.php