Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category


Friday Five Interview – Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner

Today I’m highly honored to have two distinguished men stop by the blog for this very special Friday Five interview. We’re less than two weeks before the midterm elections and so thoughtful people of faith on both sides of the political divide will go to the polls and help shape their government. So I thought I’d bring a little perspective to bear from two men who have been in the arena.

Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner are both veterans of Washington, D.C. and most recently the Bush White House. They recently released a fantastic new book, City of Man, published by Moody Publishers. You can read my review here.

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Book Review – City of Man

Younger generations of evangelicals are wrestling with the proper way to engage in the political arena. As a one-time political activist and now a pastor, I have personally felt the tension between radical engagement and radical withdrawal. At times I have felt Christians have been too passive and at times (lately), I have felt that Christians have been far too active.

Plus, American Christians have been afforded a rare historical stewardship. Few if any civilizations have had the opportunity to shape, change, and move their government in a way that we have. But just what is the biblical blueprint for involvement?

History has shown that when the church is too cozy with political power, it has abandoned its Christian witness and influence and has at times actually been the oppressor instead of the protector of the oppressed. GK. Chesterson said, “The coziness between the church and the state is good for the state and bad for the church.”

We’ve also seen the moral vacuum left when the church withdraws into itself. Slightly more than half a century ago, the Christian witness in Germany was so weak that Hitler was largely able to co-opt the Church for his own diabolical purposes.

So what is the proper balance? How can Christians engage their world?

This week I was delighted to receive a review copy of City of Man by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. Its part of a new series called, Cultural Renewal, by Moody Publishers. This series will be edited by Tim Keller and Collin Hansen.

If this first offering by Gerson and Wehner is any indication, this series promises to offer believers a robust, winsome, and scripturally sound basis for engagement.

City of Man is a short read, but it is well-written, thoughtful, and honest. The authors explore the depths and difficulties of civic engagement. They peruse history, flesh out the Scriptures, and ultimately provide a working outline for believers who seek to shape the world. What I most love is that it calls Christians to resolute action, but also discernment, integrity, and above all, a winsomeness that opposes policies, but not people.

In my experience with politically active Christians, I have found these traits to be largely lacking. We seem more content with filtering our worldviews through entertainment-based talk shows, ideologically-driven blogs, and snarky pundits. We’re tuned in more to Rush than the book of Romans, we’ve got more Hannity in us than Heaven, and we’re quick to generalize, stereotype, and alienate.

This book suggests Christians do not retreat, that they remain firmly active in shaping government and culture, but adjust their tone for greater effectiveness. I think this is an important book, a must-read for every believer. Here’s hoping it gets wide distribution and is accepted into the mainstream of conservative Christian political activism.


Book Review – They Almost Always Come Home – Cynthia Ruchti

Why is it that we have to lose something before we appreciate its value? Most importantly, why is that we have to lose someone before we appreciate their value? This is what I took away from the powerful debut novel by my good friend, Author Cynthia Ruchti.

They Almost Always Come Home is a tightly written mixture of smart humor and sober life lessons. From the very first page until the last, I was drawn into the lives of its very human characters.

I read quite a few books and many, while their subject matter is good, the writing is laborious. Reading becomes a discipline and a chore.

But They Almost Always Come Home is neither. Cynthia’s writing is so very tight, her word choice so delicate, like the painter who painstakingly chooses just the right shade for the canvas.

The pacing is perfect. It has neither the break-neck speed of a thriller, nor the tiresome plodding of some literary novels. Cynthia carefully and methodically walks you through the real-life struggles and adventure of a woman not only searching for her lost husband, but searching for her lost heart.

You will not only come away with a greater appreciation for the beauty of the Northwoods, you will look again at your own relationships and your own relationships, planting the seeds of selflessness and Christ-like love that help them blossom through the seasons of life.

I highly recommend They Almost Always Come Home as a delightful and captivating summer read.


Book Review – Surprised by Grace – Tullian Tchividjian

You don’t grow up in the church, as I have, without knowing, memorizing, and internalizing the story of Jonah. From the time I was old enough to do Sunday School, all through Vacation Bible School, Children’s Church, and on through sermon series, books, teen discussions, etc, I have heard Jonah’s life dissected in every which way.

Jonah is the preacher’s favorite “don’t-rebel-or-you-will-face-God’s-wrath” text. But often, in our desire to zing the rebel, we miss the very heart of the story of Jonah.

This is why I was so wonderfully captivated by the majestic presentation of the book of Jonah by one of my favorite pastors and authors, Tullian Tchividjian.  Tchividjian approaches the story Jonah from the perspective of the Gospel, seeing Jesus on every one of its pages.

The real message in this short prophetic book is not about how angry God is when we rebel, but how merciful God is to pursue rebels and to extend grace to the most heathen. God’s grace isn’t just big enough for self-righteous God-followers like Jonah, but it’s also big enough for the most despicable of peoples.

Pastor Tullian uses the Gospel as your guide, walking the reader through every aspect of Jonah’s epic life story, leaving no stone unturned. He adds color by tracing history’s rendering of this story, both in literature and in art. The book reprints some of the most famous Jonah paintings and sculptures.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year. I highly recommend it. If you want your faith to be challenged, you’re grace expanded, and you’re appreciation of the gospel to grow, pick up Surprised by Grace. Then, pass it on to a friend.


Nice Review of Crash Course

My good friend, Charles Stone, has written a wonderful review of Crash Course:

Although my kids are well beyond the teen years, I wish I could have given them this devotional when they were kids.

You can read the rest of the review here.


Book Review – 5 Ministry Killers by Dr. Charles Stone

What if you could give a pastor truth serum and ask him what ministry is really like? Behind the plastered-on smile and steady handshake are often men of God who struggle with depression, burnout, disappointment, and sin.

And yet, God continues to call ordinary men to the most extraordinary position as shepherd of God’s people. As a young and learning pastor myself, I’m humbled by the opportunity to stand in God’s place and speak the Word to His people. What a holy, humble, and high calling.

One of my good friends in ministry, Dr. Charles Stone, has written a powerful new book, 5 Ministry Killers. Charles rips the mask off of the ministry and reveals the heart of what it is like to be a pastor, going in depth into five areas that rob the joy and steal the fruit of a pastor’s ministry.

Stone compiles research from respected evangelical polling centers such as Lifeway Research, Barna, and Christianity Today. He combs through the research and layers it with his own personal experience—20 plus years in the ministry.

Rarely have I read a pastor so willingly vulnerable, eager to share his struggles and how God has carried him through.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At time the research arrested my attention. Other times I was forced to close the book and reflect and pray over my own flawed motivations. And the entire time I was challenged and strengthened by the book’s humble wisdom.

I highly recommend 5 Ministry Killers to any pastor, whether you’re like me and you’ve been in the pulpit only 2 years or you’re a grizzled veteran of church life. And you don’t have to be a pastor to benefit. I highly recommend church boards and key lay leadership read 5 Ministry Killers.

Kudos to my friend, Dr. Charles Stone, for a well-written, well-researched, and well-lived book.

Note: Click here to read a Friday Five interview with Dr. Stone that will officially post on June 18th.


Tea with Hezbollah

I was given the opportunity to review Tea with Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medaris. The following is my review:

If you have read any of Ted Dekker’s novels, you are aware that you won’t ever pick one up and find a normal read. Ted probably has one of the most imaginative minds in all of evangelical literature. Some of his work, especially his latest stuff, has tended to the dark side and has turned off some evangelical readers. Nevertheless, Ted is a first-class writer and an excellent wordsmith.

So when I was given the opportunity to review his nonfiction work, Tea with Hezbollah, I jumped at the chance.
It’s an interesting read. On one level, it’s a remarkable sort of travelogue into the world of some of America’s feared enemies. Ted interviews leaders in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Cairo, Syria, and Palestine. He met with leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, and many of the most influential Muslim clerics in the world.

I came away with a profound sense of the complexity of the Arab world. It’s a world too many Americans and too many Christians sort of put together in a caricature as “radical Islam,” as though every single Arab and every single Muslim is dangerous and a terrorist. That is a paper-thin assessment.

Ted does well to dive into the complexities of Islam and also the struggles of Christians who live in Muslim worlds. To his credit, Ted doesn’t claim to be an expert in their theology or in their culture. He’s merely an observer and a scared one at that.

I give him enormous credit for traveling where few will go. I mean many Christians won’t even go to Israel, where it is much safer than some of the places Ted traveled. But we ignore that part of the world to our peril and I think it does a great disservice to the Body of Christ if we marginalize those areas as being unreachable or unlovable.

So I recommend Ted’s book as a beginning education on the complexities of the Middle East. However, there was a thread that ran through this book that bothered me greatly as an evangelical Christian who holds to the truth of Scripture.

Ted’s entire thesis is that the three major religions–Muslim, Jewish, Christian struggle to practice the words of Jesus, which are to love your neighbor. He claims many times that these radical words are why they killed Jesus. But this is really not faithful to Scripture. Jesus was killed because HE claimed to be the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Jesus was killed because Jesus laid down his life for the salvation of mankind’s sin. Jesus died for the Gospel. Not to be a Gandhi-like figure that would sit everyone in a wonderful circle and make sure they got along. In fact, Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but a sword.

Ted also seems to think here is symmetry between the world religions. A creeping universalism courses through this book. If you read this, you might easily come away thinking that all religions have merit, all are valid paths to God.

Lastly, I think his diagnosis of the world’s root problems is simplistic and, I might say, unscriptural. True, Christians have done things in the name of Christ that are horrific. Christians have committed atrocities. But the root problem of the world is sin, began in the Garden and continuing to weave its destructive path through history. And the world hates Christianity, primarily because Jesus predicted we would be hated. Not because there is something wrong with our faith or because we haven’t been nice. The solution for the world’s ills is the Gospel and the future for the world is peace, but only the peace brought when Jesus, the Prince of Peace returns.

So do I recommend this book? I do actually. Not for its theology, but for the incredible insights Ted and Carl bring to the Arab world. Christians ought not to be caught up in irrational hatred of certain people groups, no matter how easy and humorous that is. We should be compelled by the love of Christ to see these people won over with the Gospel. We should be active in building up the faith of Christian brothers and sisters who suffer in these lands.

So read Tea with Hezbollah, but read with Biblical discernment.


A Ruckus at the Back of your Bus

I just finished a powerful new book written by my friend, Pastor Bill Giovenetti. I highly recommend it. Here is my full review:

How to Keep Your Inner Mess From Trashing Your Outer World

Bill Giovanetti

Monarch Books

Every person has a cast of ugly characters riding in the back of their bus. If you’re not careful, they’ll consume and control your life.

That’s the premise of a refreshing book by author and pastor, Bill Giovanetti. Bill is pastor of Neighborhood Church of Redding California.

The characters Bill describes—Inner Saint, Inn CIA Agent, Inner Legalist, Inner Idiot, Inner Flirt (his list covers just about every sin)—together they make up your Inner Mess. And Giovanetti makes the case that the reason Christians fail in taming their Inner Mess is because they have the wrong prescription.

Writing in a humorous yet to-the-point style, Giovanetti systematically lays out a Biblical course for allowing Jesus to control the inner life.

As a lifelong church brat, accustomed to living by lists and working out my sanctification in my own power, I found this book to be refreshing and empowering. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a work that so accurately and biblically fleshes out the inner life.

A few times I actually closed the book and sat straight up, thinking through conclusions and theology that I’d never before considered. For instance, Bill says that we wrongly strive for WWJD—What Would Jesus Do. When we try to do what Jesus did, we fail, because only Jesus could do what Jesus did. The better way is to allow Jesus to live through us and allow His grace to flow through our lives.

Every day, Giovanetti says, we wake up to a battle. But it’s not the battle we think. It’s not a battle against sin or even against our flesh. It’s the battle inside that says “Christ can’t do something in me.” In other words, the key to living out the Christian life is to have a bigger faith and it’s that faith that releases the grace that empowers our lives.

He encourages us to build up our soul by immersing ourselves in the Word, in community with like-minded believers, and in Biblical preaching. All that serves to build a muscular faith, a faith that works.

I highly recommend this book for its clear, practical, sound teaching on the inner life of a believer. You won’t finish this book thinking you have to do more, be more, say more. You’ll finish it realizing that Jesus Christ really can do a work in and through you, despite the ugliness of those characters at the back of your bus.