Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’


Mini-Reviews #12

Okay, I’m back with mini-reviews, this time with three books I thoroughly enjoyed:

Loving the Way Jesus Loved by Phillip Ryken

I’ve heard many sermons on the famous “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13. It’s often read at weddings, quoted by people of all persuasions and motivations, and often misunderstood. But Phil Ryken, President of Wheaton College, approaches this chapter in a fresh new way. Taken from a series of message he preached while pastor of Philadelphia’s famed Tenth Presbyterian Church, Loving the Way Jesus Loves adds the life of Jesus as the backdrop to this chapter. And so with each characteristic of love, Ryken digs into the life of Christ and how he perfectly exemplifies this. What makes this approach so much richer is that you begin to treat the impossible demands of supernatural love as something Christ generates in you rather than something you must work hard to produce in yourself. Gaze on Jesus, Ryken seems to be saying, and you will see in him the perfect embodiment of love and will find the supernatural ability to begin loving this way.

I love Phil Ryken’s preaching and ministry. I love his gospel-centered approach and his easy, understandable writing style. This is not a book you will labor to finish. It’s not a book you’ll struggle to understand. I highly recommend it as you will begin to see love, not as some ethereal emotion, but as an act of faith.

Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden

Jonathan Edwards was someone I knew little about. Sure, I learned of his life while growing up in a Christian school and had some vague notion that he was a learned pastor/scholar. But I longed to know the man and what motivated him. He’s had such a lasting impact on the church and the nation.

Marsden delivers a well-written, in-depth look at Edwards, whose ministry may have shaped America more than we realize. Edwards perished before the American Revolution, but his intense piety and desire to see a nation shaped on Christian ideals may have sown the seeds.

Edwards was a pious, learned, devoted man. He held himself to very high standards and expected those around him to live up to them. He was not a man without flaws and sometimes his rigidity could descend into legalism and could be misunderstood by those around him. He was also not without his share of troubles, having been kicked out of his church in Northhampton and having to endure the death of a daughter. He also had a curious fascination with the end times, issuing specific apocalyptic predictions. I’m guessing these would be largely mocked in today’s evangelical church. He was also a slave-owner, a subject not given much treatment by Marsden, but broached recently by others such as Thabit Anyabwile.

At times I had to discipline myself to finish this book. Not because it was poorly written, but because the subject was so vasty and weighty. But I’m glad I finished it. It’s a worthy read. I came away in admiration for the discipline, the piety, and the awe with which Jonathan Edwards felt toward God. In spite of his flaws, his is a life worth emulating.

The Gospel for Muslims by Thabite Anyabwile

If you have a desire to see Muslim people come to faith in Christ, this is a book you must read. There seem to be two types of books published by evangelicals when it comes to Muslims. There are the sort of fear, war, and jihad type books that are full of apocalyptic fear and loathing. Much of the content of these are accurate–there is a threat of terrorism from radical Islam. Then there are the books which have a more missional intent, but are so deeply invested in encouraging the reader to learn Muslim doctrine as a way of evangelizing.

Thabite’s book is neither. A former Muslim, Thabite is now the pastor of 1st Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. He is a powerful, gospel-centered preacher. And this book reflects this. Thabite’s encouragement for the Christian with a desire to reach Muslims is twofold: don’t fear them, but love them, embrace them, seek their salvation and know the gospel of Jesus Christ well. The more you know the gospel, Thabitie’s argument goes, the better your chance of reaching Muslims. He also encourages hospitality and certain aspects of the gospel which force the Muslim to confront his own beliefs. I came away from this book encouraged that I, even I, could share Christ with Muslims.

This is a wonderfully written book, thoroughly soaked in the gospel narrative. You will want to read this book.




Book Review: Gabby Stick-to-It Day

Usually I review adult books here on the blog, but as the father of four young children, I occasionally like to review children’s books. Three of my kids are girls, so I’m constantly trying to introduce them to good resources that point them to Jesus. That’s why I love the resources put out by Sheila Walsh, singer, songwriter, and author. We especially enjoy the Gigi, God’s Little Princess DVD series. It helps instill in them the truth that God created them uniquely and loves them unconditionally.

Sheila’s latest book for girls is Gabby’s Stick To-It Day. It’s a light, beautifully illustrated storybook that shares the tale of a girl who has a hard time finishing things and an angel who observes. I love this story because it subtly reinforces the values of persistence and faithfulness in little girls, especially when their favorite tasks get hard.

It’s one more good book to add to your children’s library, one that will stand out, not simply for the values it teaches, but more importantly for the Jesus who loves them.

I highly recommend this book.


Mini Reviews #9

Thanks to my new NOOK, I’ve been on a reading tear lately. So here are two more mini-reviews:

The Cure for the Common Life  by Max Lucado

I appreciate Lucado’s unique gift at taking difficult concepts and making them easy for lay people to understand. In The Cure for the Common Life, Max shares a winsome, wise, and thoroughly biblical case for living a life of maximum impact. He encourages people to discover how God has gifted them, skills, abilities, opportunities, background, and leverage that for maximum Kingdom purpose. He grounds it in God’s desire to see His glory revealed in each of His children. He also uses specific examples of people who found their “sweet spot”, where their gifts, callings, and opportunities align with God’s purpose. What I like is that Lucado pushes replaces the cultural idea of “you can be what you want to be” and replaces it with “you can be what and who God wants you to be.”

Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler

I have wanted to read this book for some time and finally downloaded it to my Nook and read it during this holiday break. It’s a unique book in that it is a memoir of life in the Old Order Amish. Anyone who fantasizes about the seemingly simple and idealized life of the Amish will quickly discover the frustrations and heartbreak that occur when living under a legalistic, closed system.

What I particularly enjoyed about this, more than most recent memoirs, is that this is not self-serving and it is very fair. Wagler is honest about his parents shortcomings and the problems with the Amish faith, but he’s also very complementary about some of the noble and good things about their community. While we may reject their theology, there are many things to admire about the Amish and Wagler points those out. He’s also very honest about the disappointment and hurt he caused in his relationships. You might expect him to blame all of his troubles on the Amish way, but he really doesn’t.

I found it fascinating to learn how real Amish live. I was surprised at how different various communities can be from each other, in terms of their rules and ways of life. I was also surprised at how plugged in some of the youth are to pop culture, even though they are sequestered in the community. Perhaps the most poignant part of the book is the struggle Wagler (and most Amish youth) had in leaving the community and coming back. It was only when he found true salvation in Christ by grace did he realize there was a third way between the life of the Amish (which he perceived as the only way to God) and the outside world.

The only weakness I see in this memoir is that it seems unfinished. He ends abrubtly with the last time he left the community. I would have loved to known about how the next twenty years went outside, how he adjusted to modern life, how he met his wife, built his career. I saw on his bio that he attended Bob Jones University for a spell–how did he get from Amish to BJU? Perhaps the editors felt the book was too long, but I was waiting for more.

All in all, though this is a wonderful memoir worth reading.



My Favorite Books of 2011

I had the opportunity to read quite a few great books in 2011. Not quite as many (101) as my friend, Aaron Armstrong, but I read quite a few. Here are my top ten books. You’ll notice they are not necessarily all books that were published in 2011, but books I had the chance to read this year.

Unbroken by Lauren Hildenbrand

Lou Zamperini’s His life as told inUnbroken 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.

Bonhoeffer by Erik Metaxes

Bonhoeffer is a book I highly recommend. It is a weighty, important biography of a man used greatly by God. Bonhoeffer was unsuccessful in taking down Hitler, but his life has become an inspiration for Christian boldness, faith, and cross-bearing in the many decades since he was martyred.

I have a feeling that this is the book Eric Metaxas will be always be known for. His painstaking work has given us a great gift.

Also, I conducted a very interesting interview with the author here.

Just As I Am by Billy Graham

I’ve always wanted to read this book. I’m intrigued by the biographies of well-known evangelical leaders.This book gave me a newfound appreciation for God’s work in his life. I’m amazed at how God took the son of a dairy farmer and used him to bring millions to Christ, influence world leaders, and help usher in this era of evangelicalism.

The God Who Is There by D.A. Carson

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.

The Next Story by Tim Challies

 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. 

Dug Down Deep by Josh Harris

This may be the most readable book on doctrine available. It’s at times funny, honest, and personal. I would highly recommend it.

Spiritual Rhythm by Mark Buchanan

 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.

Bloodlines by John Piper

 This is a brave and important book, tackling head-first the issue of race.

Lions of Kandahar by Rusty Bradley and Kevin Maurer

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.

Deliver Me From Evil by Kathi Macias

Reading Deliver Me From Evil gave me a disturbing, up-close look at the horrific problem of human trafficking. Kathi Macias weaves a story of a young girl who was kidnapped from her San Diego area home and forced into sexual slavery; a girl in the Golden Triangle in Thailand. In this novel, Kathi shares the awful exploitation of young girls in excruciating, but appropriate detail. These are girls whose innocence and freedom and self-worth are bought and sold to the highest bidder by the most evil of men.

 Honorable Mentions:
These books were as great as the other ten, so I wanted to put them here:
Work Matters by Tom Nelson
Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson
King Solomon by Phillip Ryken
A God-Sized Vision by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge

Mini-Reviews #7

Okay, I’m back with another installment of mini-reviews. Today I review four books, including a children’s book and an older biography.

Bloodlines, Race, the Cross, and the Christian by John Piper

This is a profound work by the gifted theologian. I know there are a lot of Piper-files, who soak up all of his books. I haven’t been one of those, though I respect his impact on the body of Christ. There are also quite a few who dislike Piper, because they dislike his Calvinist theology. I’m not one of those either.

Regardless of you are on that spectrum, you would be wise to read Bloodlines in its entirety. This is a brave and important book, tackling head-first the issue of race. I suspect this book will have a wide impact, because Piper’s largest sphere of influence is among conservative, mostly white, evangelicals. I believe it may got a long way toward racial reconciliation.

There are three things I like about Bloodlines: First, it is profoundly gospel-centered. Piper grounds his views of race on the gospel story. It is his motivation for writing the book and it is where he finds the solutions for racial problems. Second, Piper is intensely personal, offering his own Southern upbringing and previous racist tendencies as a test case of what the gospel can do in a man. He is not speaking as an enlightened finger-pointer, but as a man whose on a journey with Jesus to love his fellow brother more deeply. Third, Piper leans neither left or right, black or white. He has read widely from perspectives on all sides, knocks down falsehoods in every camp, and charts a biblical, gospel-centered way forward.

I came away, as a young, white, conservative evangelical with a broader understanding of racial reconciliation as laid out in Scripture. I felt the chapter on intermarriage is worth the price of the book itself. It’s a book I feel every pastor should have in his library.

The Prodigal Comes Home, My Story of Failure and God’s Story of Redemption by Michael English

This book came out almost four years ago, so why read and review now? Well sometimes I like to read books that are older that perhaps I wanted to read in the past but never had the chance. The backstory is that my wife and I attended a Gaither Homecoming a few weeks ago and I heard Michael English share his story of redemption live. I had the chance to meet Michael afterword. There was something about hearing his story that provoked in me the desire to hear more about it beyond the news clips and assumptions and gossip I’d heard when his issues were in the news. So while my wife was using the restroom at the concert during intermission, I used the Amazon app on my iPhone to buy a used copy of the book. Then I read it in a couple of days.

What I found in English’s story was far different than I expected. When Michael fell from grace in the 90’s due to an affair with another singer, I reacted with the typical mix of judgement and anger. I castigated all of contemporary music as one big fraud. Then when he continued to make the news with arrests and other behavior, that added more weight to my opinion. So when his book came out in 2008, I sort did an eye-roll. Whatever, now he wants to sing again? When Bill Gaither asked him to rejoin the Gaither Vocal Band, I wondered if this was a good idea.

But hearing Michael sing–my wife and I typically watch the Gaither homecomings–and now seeing him life has given me a different perspective. Michael seems genuinely humbled and grateful for his second chance and his life is a picture of God’s amazing grace.

So I began reading this book with fresh eyes. And I was surprised by the content of the book. This is not a man giving excuses for his behavior, this is a man genuinely repentant, humbled, and full of grace. He is surprisingly candid about his poor choices. offers no excuses or justifications, and is thoroughly sorry for the people he hurt. He’s also very honest about the trappings of being a Christian celebrity and how easy it is to hide your real self.

It’s a gut-wrenching read in many parts. Michael spares no detail in describing his journey through addiction to prescription drugs. He talks of the ups and downs, the fits and starts, the depths to which an addict plunges in his quest to satisfy himself.

This is a wonderful book, a remarkable story of God’s pursuit of his children, through the mire and the muck. It’s a beautiful story of God’s great grace in restoring what sin destroys. I highly recommend it.

The Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R.C. Sproul and T. Lively Fluharty.

This is a wonderfully-written, beautifully illustrated children’s book. It tells the 500-year old story of Martin Luther’s book,  A Simple Way to Pray. Apparently, Luther wrote this book to answer a question his barber had about his prayer life. It’s a great read for children in that it gives the family a great model for prayer–praying through the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and The Ten Commandments. And yet it is a tremendous read for adults as well.

I am always looking for substantive books to read to my children. We enjoy the silly ones, of course, but books like The Barber Who Wanted to Pray are always creative ways to instill Scripture and character into our kids. I also liked the fact that this book includes all three–Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and Ten Commandments in the back in case parents want to begin helping their children memorize.

This is a beautifully illustrated, well-written family discipleship tool. Highly recommended.


Mini-Reviews #5

Another batch of mini-reviews:

Raised Right by Alisa Harris

I have mixed feelings about this book. For one, I’m always a bit jaded by memoirs from people who are young. Alisa Harris is 26 years old. On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it puts a personal touch, a face, on a generation of evangelical involvement in politics. Alisa Harris tells how she moved from a doctrinaire right-wing zealot to someone more moderate, even liberal in her politics. She correctly points out hypocrisies in evangelical conservative politics and how the church’s mission gets lost when it seeks power. However, there is a tendency for Harris to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject every conservative plank, something I’m not willing to do. She seems to be a person still in process, searching for the right mix of activism and faith. Still, it’s a good, if not sometimes tedious, read. I appreciate her willingness to listen and to appreciate her Christian heritage, honor her parents, and earnestly seek the mind of Christ. For every politically-minded young evangelical processing politics and Scripture, this is an important read. Then I strongly suggest City of Man by Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner.

Letters to a Young Preacher by Calvin Miller

What would it be like to sit at the feet of a seasoned, successful, wise old pastor? Well every young preacher gets that chance by reading Letters to a Young Preacher. This book is a rich and wonderful read, filled with powerful and thought-provoking insights and reflections. Calvin Miller is more than a preacher. He’s a masterful storyteller and writer, whose words lift off the page. In this book, he’s extremely candid and skillfully critiques movements on all sides of Christianity, offering homespun advice to the young and green pastor. What I loved about this book is how he affirms the average pastor of a small church. He pushes the pastor away from seeking his own success and encourages him to get his hands dirty in ministering to God’s people. At times this book was deeply convicting to my own soul. I think every young pastor should read this.

I did have one minor irritant in this book. No work, however beautiful, is perfect. Miller loathes the mega-church and he seems to loathe famous pastors. This is a thread throughout the book that at times can be jarring. Most of his insights on mega-churches are spot-on, but I’m not willing, like he, to assume every single famos pastor is disingenuous and self-seeking. That aside, this is a jewel of a book. Get it and read it.

Dug Down Deep - Josh Harris

This book has been out for a while and I’ve wanted to read it. I hadn’t had the chance until now. This is a fantastic book, a readable, humorous, honest book on doctrine by pastor and author, Joshua Harris. This is less of a polemic and more of a personal story of Josh’s journey to loving and embracing doctrine in his life and ministry. He has coined the phrase, “Humble Orthdoxy”, which is to hold the truths of God firmly with a posture of awe and humility.

You will enjoy this book because Josh Harris is a fantastic writer with a pastoral heart and a love for the gospel.

This may be the most readable book on doctrine available. It’s at times funny, honest, and personal. I would highly recommend it.



Mini-Reviews #4

Here is another batch of reviews for books I’ve recently read. Not all are recently published. Some are a few years. Still, I think they are good and relevant today:

Just As I Am by Billy Graham

I’ve always wanted to read this book. I’m intrigued by the biographies of well-known evangelical leaders. A couple of months ago I was in our newly reorganized church library and saw this on the shelf. I pulled it down and began reading. What a treasure it was. I have always known Billy Graham as, well, Billy Graham, famous evangelist. The zenith of his ministry was well before I was born. This book gave me a newfound appreciation for God’s work in his life. I’m amazed at how God took the son of a dairy farmer and used him to bring millions to Christ, influence world leaders, and help usher in this era of evangelicalism. What I like about this book is that Billy is very candid about his ministry and his shortcomings. I think it would do younger folks to read this book to get a sense of God’s work in this remarkable man.

The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

After reading Just As I Am I immediately purchased The Preacher and the Presidents, which expands on Billy Graham’s influence over U.S. Presidents from Truman until George W. Bush (the book was written before President Obama took office). I love U.S. History, especially Presidential history, so this book scratched that itch. What was interesting about The Preacher and the Presidents is just how involved Billy Graham was in American politics, especially in his early days. At one point there was a serious draft movement to get Dr. Graham himself to run for President. He steadfastly refused, knowing God had called him to ministry. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t heavily involved in influencing politics and policy, especially in the early years. Looking back, he views much of his involvement as a mistake and in later years disciplined himself to being simply a trusted confidant of the Presidents. What is so moving about Billy Graham’s work with each leader is his trustworthiness. He was the guy they were down, when someone passed away, when they needed spiritual leadership. Billy Graham put himself in a position to minister spiritually to these men, who often felt isolated and alone in the White House. And he shared Christ and led most of them to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We can only praise God for this aspect of Dr. Graham’s ministry and perhaps Christians today can emulate his kindhearted love of even the most despised politicians.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

I’m not sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, it’s a work of staggering literary genius. Cron writes like a poet. HIs prose is so beautiful and tight and rhythmic. And his raw telling of a life growing up with an alcoholic father is a powerful read for young fathers today. I found myself, at times, weeping at the aching hole in Ian’s heart left by a Dad who wasn’t a Dad. It motivated me to be the kind of father my children need and to be grateful for the good father my own dad was.

That having been said, I wouldn’t draw too many theological conclusions from Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me. There are passages where Ian’s experiences in church smack of extrabiblical emotionalism. And those who deny the Catholic and Episcopal doctrine of transubstantiation–the communion wafer becoming literal Christ–will be uncomfortable.

Still, this is a worthy book to read, if only for the story and the beautiful way in which Ian retells his childhood. It could be a challenge to every man to ask God to give him the grace to be the kind of hero his family needs.


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.