Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the first book that I've read within a day in a LONG time. Let that speak for what it's worth. I would also like to add, however, that just because I was able to read it fairly quickly and that in itself lends as a witness to the readability and intrigue of said book, it does not necessarily reflect my agreement with all of the material presented. That being said, I firmly believe that this is a book that most Christians (if not all) should read, not because what he said is necessarily completely true (though Zahnd believes it to be so and does a decent job backing his reasons for believing that) but simply because the subject matter is a HIGHLY important one.

What Zahnd presents in "Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God" is a conclusion of his personal journey as a Christian/minister from the first time encountering the famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" to today. Beginning with a direct challenge with the widely popular view of an angry, wrathful God, he weaves through a conversation with Biblical texts, historical theology, and church tradition to produce an intriguing and thought provoking contribution to the Christianity today.

By challenging the reader to interpret and filter what we read in Scripture through the lens of Jesus Himself, Zahnd comes to a picture of God that is vastly different from what was portrayed in Jonathan Edwards' famous sermon (and thus many theologians and pastors since). Overall Zahnd did a nice job collecting his thoughts and conclusions and presenting them in a logical, easy to follow progression through the course of the book. If I have one major criticism of his progression (other than some of his conclusion), I felt that he digressed a little from the main premise of his book in chapters 7-9 (dealing with parts of Revelation specifically), and thus could have condensed those 3 chapters more into 1 or 2.

Chapters 4 & 5 were BY FAR my favorite chapters to read, chew on, and wrestle with (Titled 'The Crucified God' and 'Who Killed Jesus?' respectively). Even if one were to end up disagreeing with everything he presents in these two chapters, Zahnd's conclusions and 'paper trail' for how he arrived at those conclusions are worth reading, exploring, and contemplating.

The chapter on hell (chapter 6) presents his conclusions on eternal punishment and how one might end up in either heaven or hell. From what I understand (and as always, I could have misunderstood), I would venture to say Zahn ends up on the spectrum close to the position re-made popular by Rob Bell not TOO long ago, though with some pretty significant differences (i.e. Bell- eventually Jesus redeems everyone... a Christian Universalist view made originating with Origen (ironic, huh?); Zahnd- Since God is love and the invitation of love is never retracted, one can still respond to that love even after death just as much as one can scorn and reject that love after death. In other words, only you can keep yourself in hell by continuing to reject love and as long as you do so, there you will remain.)

Some of the 'theological structure' that Zahnd builds regarding Scripture seems a little flimsy/suspect at times due to some perceived inconsistencies and 'weak' spots. This is simply my opinion and impression based upon what I feel you'll arrive at if you take EVERYTHING he says to the absolute end.

In conclusion, did Zahnd change my mind today? No. Did he give me things to ponder and think about as I read Scripture and grow in my relationship with Jesus? Absolutely. At the very least, I'd say Zahnd was successful in one of the main motives of which he set out to achieve. After reading 'Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God', you have to at least take a moment and rejoice how loving and awesome our God is.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene H. Peterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First off, even though I own another book or two by Peterson, this is the first one that I've actually been able to read for a little bit so far in my life. Right off the get go I'll admit that this book wasn't quite what I expected, though that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is not so much a 'BOOK' as a collection of sermons that Peterson has preached over the many years of faithful service in the ministry. While that wasn't what I was expecting when I requested to read this book, it did turn out to prove useful as a devotional type book.

If you're looking to read this book from cover to cover in a sitting or two, you might be able to do it, but I certainly was not. It's rather lengthy (since it contains numerous teachings from such a long ministry). On top of that there are many parts that I encountered that were a little 'weird' to read, though probably wouldn't be if it were preached or taught audibly (someone who tells you different modalities don't matter, I would argue doesn't quite know what they're talking about, haha).

If you are looking for a fantastic book to use as a daily devotional or as a daily personal time book, then I would strongly recommend that you at least CONSIDER looking at this one. He also conveniently divides the book up into various 'eras' of the Bible, i.e. the various parts include a part on Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John. One of the things that I really love about Peterson's book for this purpose, is the fact that he is very purposeful at pairing passages from the Old Testament with the New Testament in his sections dealing with Moses, David, Isaiah, and Solomon (as an Old Testament guy with a New Testament degree, that excited me).

Other than as a devotional, it's still a decent read, but not one that I would necessarily move up to the top of my 'to-read' list.

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review: The Grand Weaver

The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our LivesThe Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives by Ravi Zacharias
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again, I enjoy reading Ravi's books. The more I become familiar with his writings and I hear him speak, I find myself hearing/reading some of the material again in a different context, yet it still proves refreshing. In this book Ravi set out to talk about how we can live our lives in God's design/will/plan. I found it impressive, and a little difficult for me to retain at times, how he weaves apologetically potent material into the book. That also might not completely fair as I was listening to this book via audiobook while mowing the lawn over the course of about a month. Overall this was a pretty decent book. It probably won't go down as my favorite book he's written, but still worth checking out.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was able to check out the audiobook version of this novel from my library and listen to it via the Overdrive app while traveling home from just over a 2-week ministry trip this month. It was a pretty good story, but had some slow points in the book. What I enjoyed most about this book was the extra detail and story plots that it told that helped bridge some of the gaps and also add more detail to what you see in the movies (Episodes II, III, and Rogue One). You learn A LOT more about the Erso family, Krennic, Tarkin, and even Saw Gerrera. You get to see each of their roles during the closing months/years of the Clone Wars, the birth of the Empire, and all the way up to the point where the Rogue One story picks up. I think it's certainly a book worth reading/listening to, especially if you find yourself interested in the Star Wars story/universe.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: Has Christianity Failed You?

Has Christianity Failed You? Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy reading/listening to Ravi's work. I had begun listening to this a while back, but recently found the time to finish it while mowing (at least a 2 hour process with a push mower, haha). Overall this is a pretty solid book, especially for its subject matter. I'm not going to take the time to cover his points or anything like that but simply recommend who I think would benefit from this book. If you have ever wrestled with the though that maybe your faith and this thing called Christianity has failed, this book is for you. If you've questioned whether or not another 'faith' system other than faith in Christ is more true or helpful for life, I would encourage you to give this work a glance and wrestle through the arguments presented. Finally if you find yourself in conversation with anyone who fits in the previous two categories, this is a read/listen that would you might greatly benefit from in trying to present and guide another through the implications of a life with vs a life without faith in Christ. Aside from exploring the implications of both in this book, Ravi also takes the time to respond to one or two of the leading/popular alternative worldviews that people find themselves a part of after leaving/considering a faith in Christ. As with the other Ravi books that I've read/listened to, his writings are deep and really should be read with 'active reading' (i.e. take notes and the time to think through what he's writing!). This is certainly a book that I want to provide for our campus ministry as a resource for our students to wade through and process the question and implications thereof of the question so many people today seem to be wrestling with, "Has Christianity failed me?"

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review: The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker

The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker by Brad Lomenick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall this is probably one of my favorite books on leadership that I have read (granted that number is still relatively small). There are parts of the book that might be 'common knowledge' for anyone in a leadership position or have read other leadership books, however one thing that Brad Lomenick does with this book is compile everything in a memorable and easy to read manner. I remember talking with my wife about parts of the book and ideas that he gave well after I had read them (which is a big deal for me, haha). I would recommend this book for people in leadership positions, even for the simple reason of refreshing and being encouraged in the responsibility you have as a leader.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: The Hum of Angels: Listening for the Messengers of God Around Us

The Hum of Angels: Listening for the Messengers of God Around Us The Hum of Angels: Listening for the Messengers of God Around Us by Scot McKnight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Starting off, Scot McKnight has become one of my favorite authors to read over the past 8 years. It all started when I picked up his book "The Jesus Creed" as an optional read for a class, but ended up just reading it for fun during a summer. That being said, I have read a total of 4 books that he's authored (including this one). Overall 'The Hum of Angels' is a decent read. It's not my favorite book that I've read by McKnight, but it's certainly not 'bad' by any stretch of the imagination. As he did with his book 'The Heaven Promise" McKnight sets out to look at the subject at hand (in this case, angels) from an informed and Biblically-backed perspective. I did find myself not fully convinced by a few of his conclusions in the book, but nothing that I would say I have to stop reading him altogether for. (The specific incident that I'm thinking of is him concluding that the angel present in one narrative in the O.T. [which is identified as THE angel of YHWH] is the exact same as an angel that presents itself in another narrative in the O.T. [which is identified as AN angel of YHWH]. Can these angels be the same one? Sure. However I'm not convinced that they necessarily HAVE to be. I know I'm splitting hairs here, but I figured if I were to create the most helpful review about this book, I should include it in my review.)

Overall, I would say this is a solid effort contribution to an area of study that can super weird, super fast. I personally haven't read any other books that have been specifically written about angels, but I can say that I'm thankful that this is the first one that I've read. As I mentioned earlier, with his balanced and conservative approach to the subject matter, McKnight's 'The Hum of Angels' has positioned itself as an excellent introductory book that anyone seeking to study angles more in depth or simply become a little more informed, should give it a read.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's OK to not go to a Christian college!

One of the things that I'm trying to do more purposefully here in 2017, is work on at least one area of skill development or personal development each and every day (other than on my day off). I'm currently reading through a leadership book by Brad Lomenick, one of the main guys over at Catalyst. (How this applies to the title of this post, you'll see in a second.)

Since the very beginning of my time working in the field to which God has called Emily and me, one of the most distressing and saddening things is how many churches (sometimes inadvertently) 'excommunicate' or ostracize those youth in their congregations who make the decision to attend a 'secular' college rather than a Christian one. This past school year, just prior to the start of school, I saw on a Restoration Movement minister's Facebook page ministers talk about how we should take time to pray and support those students who are about to begin their semester at one of 'our' Christian universities. (Of course I couldn't simply let that pass without saying something, so I did so in the most loving and kind way that I could.) However the fact remains, I believe this post reveals an issue that is troubling and that has resulted in some drastic implications/consequences for our students who make the decision to go somewhere else other than a Christian university. From serving in campus ministry, I see many students who have grown up in youth groups and plugged into the 'typical' American church programs make the decision to simply walk away from the faith in which they had been raised. A lot of times, this is a result of their own lack of discipline, spiritual depth, etc. Yet I think the truth that a lot of congregations today would like to ignore, is that we very much so carry a part of the blame in this. What am I talking about? I believe it's rather obvious. By emphasizing our 'pride' of those students going to 'Christian' universities over non-Christian ones, we've effectively removed a support structure (even if it's just perceived by the student as removed) for those who choose the non-Christian college route. While working up in PA, this was one of the BIGGEST sought after things of why students got plugged into things such as sororities, fraternities, and why they looked anywhere and everywhere for a new support network.

 If you ask me, I believe that in reality, the students who enroll in non-Christian universities need our support even more than those who enroll in Christian ones. Now don't hear what I'm NOT saying. I still think that students who go to Christian universities need our support, but we shouldn't neglect those who feel God's calling into a career that requires them to study and train at a school other than a Christian university. Even the simplest of things can help combat this feeling of 'non-support' that these students deal with. For example, the next time your church decides to send care packages to your college students, DON'T FORGET THE ONES AT NON-CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS! (Not getting a care-package while hearing that your buddies at the Christian college got one communicates that you don't really care about them whether you mean that or not.) Another way to think about the importance of supporting these students is to think about it this way. While students who enroll in Christian universities are often training to be the next preachers, ministers, and pastors of our churches, it is the students who come out of non-Chrisitian universities who are (primarily) becoming the elders of the church of tomorrow. I firmly believe the 'church' today needs to stop only rewarding and supporting students who are obeying God and pursing their calling into vocational ministry (enrolling in only Christian universities), and start ALSO rewarding and supporting students who are obeying God (in arguably a more risky way) and pursuing THEIR calling into a field where they are going to be missionaries in their own right.

 What prompted me to write all of this and finally get it out of my head so others can read it, you ask? Well, it was a small blurb I read in Lomenick's book, that when I read it confirmed (once again) all of what's been bothering me for so long. I'll conclude and challenge you with this:

"When the time came to begin looking at colleges, I was naturally drawn to Christian colleges. I figured if I anted to apply my love for God to my full-time job, I needed to go into the ministry. Though I didn't fell called to work in the church world, I wasn't going to let go of my commitment to live out my faith vocationally. A Christian college seemed like the most natural next step. For months, I struggled with this decision. My mind was torn between what I believed I needed to do in order to follow Jesus and what I felt in my heart God was pushing me toward. One day, I woke up with a startling realization: I didn't need to become a minister to follow Jesus. The stress of the decision miraculously lifted off of my shoulders and I decided to attend the secular university I felt God was leading me to. Though I had accepted that the pastorate wasn't for me and didn't yet know where I'd end up, I felt confident that I could bring my faith to bear on any career."

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Review of 'Resident Aliens'

Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian ColonyResident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony by Stanley Hauerwas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a phenomenal book, and I can't help but marvel at how good and relevant it is even though it was published back in the 80's. I first heard of this book (and bought it) back when I was a sophomore in undergrad. It was an optional supplemental reading for my ethics class. I didn't really read it then, but because it had such high marks, I've had it on my 'to-read' list for quite a while. I REALLY like the concept that the authors take up and that reflects in the title, that we as Christians need to start living as we are meant to. We are resident aliens, living within a 'Christian colony' while here on this earth. In a nutshell, in addition to dealing a little with ethics theory and the like, this book very strongly deals with church and culture relations.

While I took my good 'ole time reading this book (mainly because I got sucked into other books or had to read/study other stuff for ministry), I remember liking and underlining a number of different places to come back and check out later. From the parts that I read just recently to finish up the book, I was able to remember some of the material that came earlier. Overall, what the authors attempt to do with this book, is challenge the 'safe' way of pastoring/ministering by many clergy, while at the same time encouraging laity to step up in their faith. I'd say this is an excellent book to read for any person in ministry. There are times where I didn't think the book was SUPER engaging, yet there were other parts that kept me turning the pages to even get through those times. This book served as an encouragement for me while serving in campus ministry.

I'm hopeful I'll be able to take away some of the challenges and encouragements that the authors issue here, and use them to spur me to be more faithful in my calling as a campus minister and in turn be more effective in mentoring and discipling the students that I engage with on a consistent basis.

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Review: In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars by Mark Batterson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I remember first hearing of this book back when I was in college from a friend saying I should read it. When I learned that it was being rereleased and updated this year and saw that I had an opportunity to request a copy to review, I figured it was time that read it. Overall, I'd say the book isn't too bad. There are parts that I really like, and there are parts that I don't. The main premise of the book is centered around Benaiah and 1 Chronicles 11.22ff, specifically utilizing the account found here of Benaiah chasing a lion into a pit on a snowy day and killing it (hence the title of the book). From here, Batterson's message centers around facing opportunities in front of us (that often appear as lions) as Benaiah would, head on and fully abandoned.

For the parts that I really like, I love Batterson's encouragement for people to take more risk in their lives. Here in America, we as Christians play life too safe often times. We settle for the status quo, we allow culture to tame us down, and we often times (as Batterson believes) miss out on some of the great things that God has planned and wants to do in/through us. In terms of what I didn't care for as much, there are many times in this book that I feel Batterson will 'take a little liberty' with a passage of Scripture. I'm not saying this in terms of him blatantly misusing Scripture, but there are many of this conclusions on passages that seem a little forced (or at the very least those aren't the likely first/only conclusion that a person would derive from a text.)

Overall I think the message of this book is nothing new, but (as is the case with a lot of things) still needs to be heard and shared today. I encourage you to read this book if you are debating about a major life/ministry/etc. change. It might not necessarily give you answers to your questions, but it does provide helpful encouragement to pursue God and take risks, pursuing what He's calling you to.

Mark Batterson has a writing style that is highly engaging and very easy to read/follow. I haven't read any of the his other books, but I do look forward to checking them out (I currently own All In, Circle Maker, and The Grave Robber).

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