Archives For Book Reviews

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book here on Covenant of Love so let me give you the down-low. The following review is not meant to be a blow-by-blow analysis so that by reading my review you somehow don’t need to read the book. Quite the contrary, this review will offer highlights designed to peak your interest or save you time depending on whether you think, based on my review, if it’s worth a read. And that, of course, depends on if I’ve built a rapport with you. Do you trust me? My reviews are based on five stars. So without further ado…

UnknownThe Social Church

By Justin Wise
3.5 Stars (out of five)

In my experience visiting pastors for my job there seems to be a sense of reluctance to embrace the new media world among more of them than I’d care to even count. There is some amount of justification for their reluctance (or fear, I suppose would be more accurate). First, it’s easy for a minister who has built his or her ministry and career upon Sunday morning services and actually hand to hand engagement to see the irrelevance of social media. There’s also the fear that by putting him or herself online the pastor may be opening themselves up for trouble. And also there’s the shrouded wisdom that says, social media does more harm than good, so I’ll lead by example by abstaining from going on and hope my flock follows suit (newsflash: they won’t).

But the reality is, social media is the latest globe changer. Just as writing changed everything, just as the printing press changed everything, just as the Industrial Revolution changed everything, the internet (web 2.0) and social media has changed everything again. The only question is, will churches adapt the everlasting message to the new medium or will they refuse change and – for sure! – fizzle out. God’s Church universal will never fail, Justin reminds us, but individual faith-communities have and will.

The Good

In his book, The Social Church, Justin Wise makes a compelling case for why churches cannot not be online. This book is a call for heretics to rise up – not doctrinal heretics but the kind of heretic who knows that the only way for faith-communites to be effective are those who go against the tradition of tradition (“this is the way things have always been done“) in order to meet people where they are. The great commission applies to Facebook too. If your people are there; if the people you want to reach are there, you need to be there.

The book is incredibly helpful in its insights and the information it provides. For example, a recent study showed that 47% of those surveyed said they would not visit a church for the first time if the church in question did not have a website. And Justin reminds us that number is only going to go up. But not any website will do. It can’t be a website where your church sort of pukes up information-overload and text-overload. Your church needs a clear Big Idea and they need to communicate that Big Idea succinctly on its website. And your website needs to look good and be thought out, but it shouldn’t use “stock photos” because that will deceive people into false expectations when they visit. Your church needs a Big Idea and a website before it gets into social media because your website – the only social media avenue you own – is the “hub” of your internet activity. All of this and other great advice and direction are provided throughout the book.

I also found the chapter called “Looking for a Mouse” to be insightful in its direction on how to use social media. Here’s a hint: it’s not about sharing “Jesus Loves You” pictures all the time or constantly trying to get people saved. Justin encourages the 80/20 rule. Make 80% of what you share to be about your community – ask questions, start conversations, be apart of conversations, provide inspirational and uplifting thoughts and so on – and only about 20% of your shared content should be about your direct message, your events, your witness.

One more point I’d like to highlight is how Justin puts his finger on the reality that social media is real life. That’s hard for slow moving traditionalists to wrap their minds around. But it’s true. There’s no such thing as “the real world” and “the cyber world.” The cyber world is just as real as the real world. What you do online does have real life consequences (as my friend Ryan often says), but that’s because what you do online is just as real as what you do offline.

What Could Be Improved Upon

The book could have been better had Wise not spent so much time elaborating on his Lutheran heritage at the start of the book. I believe he could have gotten his point across better by touching on the relevance of his background without making some of the doctrinal assertions and elaboration that may very well turn off non-Lutherans (and in particular, Catholic churches) readers who would otherwise benefit from his advice. I also found that at times he rambled which annoyed me I must confess. But that just might be me. A third critique is that I wasn’t always sure who the book was written for. Was it directed to church leaders? That seemed to be the thrust of the book so, in my bookstore, I would put it in the leadership section. But at other times he seemed to be speaking to a wider audience the way you might find, say, a book in the spiritual growth section of my bookstore. For example, he has a chapter called “Looking for a Mouse” in which he deals with the right and wrong type of content to share on social media – or perhaps I should say, the right and wrong ways we share our content. It was a really good chapter for everyone, but I didn’t feel any call-back for leaders to take the reins.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend this book and frankly wish there were more like it. The Church has always been a slow-moving machine. We’re called to be the body of the radical Christ, but sometimes it feels like we’re the body of a slug. Thick-skinned, resilient but slow as molasses. Paul used the technology of his day – writing instruments – to reach more people and provide a “presence” and “community” even when he couldn’t be with them physically. Luther and the Reformers used the technology of their day – the printing press – to spread their message and God’s word rapidly across the Western World. We need to utilize the technology of our day for the greatest benefit for the Kingdom of God.

Here I’d like to offer you some advice based off my experience working in a bookstore, seeing self-published books arrive on the shelf from time to time, and now having published my own book. A lot of this comes right down to taste. So take it with a grain of salt.

Continue Reading...

The Bible SaysHave you finished reading your copy of Wright’s “little” 1500+ tome, Paul and the Faithfulness of God?  Don’t rush. It seemed when this opus magnum came out bloggers everywhere raced “read” and “reviewed” it in like a week or something. Sorry, but it’s hard for me to take those reviews seriously in this instance. A book as massive as that needs to be worked through and savoured and enjoyed and critiqued carefully. You can’t rush it.

But by June you might need a little break. No problem. Have a little reading candy with his latest forthcoming book: Surprised by Scripture, set to be released June 3.

Though the current cover mockup (above) implies that it will be called “The Bible Says,” it seems Harper has settled on “Surprised by Scripture,” though the cover for that has yet to be designed. My guess is you just change the words and you’re good to go.

Anyways. I think this book will be somewhat different from most of Wright’s previous work in that he turns his attention (at last) to hot button issues among Evangelicals and seems to give his blunt opinion – even making a case – on contemporary controversial subjects including:

  • Why it is possible to love the Bible and affirm evolution
  • Why women should be allowed to be ordained
  • Where Christians today have lost focus, and why it is important for them to engage in politics—and why that involvement benefits everyone
  • Why the Christian belief in heaven means we should be at the forefront of the environmental movement
  • And much more

The subtitle says it all: Engaging Contemporary Issues.

From Harper Collins website:

Helpful, practical, and wise, Surprised by Scripture invites readers to examine their own hearts and minds and presents new models for understanding how to affirm the Bible in today’s world—as well as new ideas and renewed energy for deepening our faith and engaging with the world around us.

No doubt about it. N.T. Wright is a writing beast!

In 2011 Kevin DeYoung wrote a little tract titled “Why our church switched to the ESV.” I could only think if two reasons why someone would write and publish a tract of that nature (available also in PDF for wide distribution).

1. To defend a decision against criticism. But I doubt anybody much cares what translation of the Bible DeYoung’s church uses. His own congregation didn’t much care as the switch from NIV to ESV went “without controversy.”

2. To influence others to make the same decision. This seems to be the main purpose, and so we’ll consider its merits.

DeYoung wisely reminds us that many English translations sufficiently communicate God’s word, but that not all translations are considered equal. Because his church switched from the NIV to the ESV, the bulk of the booklet is made up of carefully selected text comparisons between those two translations.

It should be noted in passing that since his church made the decision to switch before the new NIV2011 edition, most of the comparisons use – with one notable exception – the NIV84.

In his carefully selected booklet of NIV-ESV comparisons DeYoung seeks to show that

  1. the ESV is more literal (“essentially”);
  2. that it is more “transparent” (allowing more room for the reader to interpret);
  3. the ESV engages in less “over-translation” (in his estimation the NIV adds words unnecessarily);
  4. the ESV engages in less “under-translation” (the NIV avoids theological terms);
  5. the ESV is more consistent in translating a Greek or Hebrew word or thought in any given context or book;
  6. the ESV retains more of the literary quality of the Bible;
  7. the ESV requires much less “correcting” when preaching;
  8. the ESV better translates 2 Timothy 2:12 than the NIV2011 (in contrast, here, to NIV84).

Anybody moderately versed in the Bible can hold two translations up and compare selected verses to show why one is better than another. The average reader will not have a counter-comparision book on hand which is why she or he should read a book like this with caution.

But there are actually reasons within DeYoung’s own booklet to which the observant reader should be cautious of DeYoung’s argument, even without a counter-comparison book on hand. Continue Reading…

TORN – Pt. 2

Derek Ouellette —  March 25, 2013

In part 1 I offered some reflections on the first half of Torn: Rescuing the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. Today I’ll offer some reflections on the second half of the book and in part 3 we’ll look more closely at Justin’s arguments for the biblical permissibility of gay sex.

Whereas in the first half of the book Justin comes off as clearly confused about what to do about his situation as he seeks help from nearly every possible avenue. Help to change his orientation. Only to discover near the end of the midway point that change of ones orientation is unlikely.

Justin is gay. No doubt about it. He is also an evangelical Christian with a Baptist background. No doubt about that either. The only question remains is what to do with those two facts.

Many Christians who discover they are gay either spend a lifetime trying to find a way to change themselves – with almost every instance being a complete failure, or they leave the church and embrace some type of stereotypically gay lifestyle.

Justin realized that the first option was not really an option for him. He saw the effects ex-gay ministries had on gay Christian men, and it wasn’t good. But he loved Jesus and the church too much to abandon it. Yes Justin was gay. But Justin was always just Justin. Sexual orientation aside, Justin believed keynote traditional evangelical doctrines. He wasn’t about to go liberal just because of a sexual orientation that he had no control over. Continue Reading…

I picked up this book quite by accident while visiting a Christian bookstore in another city, and saw it there on the shelf for only $3. How could I resist! When I arrived home I decided to crack it open and peruse the essay on amillennialism by Robert Strimple, the view I am most drawn to. In short order I found myself pulled into the conversation.

In my opinion Strimple makes one of the best succinct arguments for amillennialism available. In this brief essay he hits every major artery in the discussion, and with clarity as well as craft, makes a compelling case for the amillennial view.

AMILLENNIAL SUMMARY

His arguments flow something like this.

1. We must follow the New Testament in its interpretation of the Old Testament promises.

If the New Testament interprets Israel as embodied in Jesus, we need to follow that. If the New Testament interprets the promises of “land,” and “Canaan” and “Jerusalem” in terms of a global fulfillment, we need to follow that. If the New Testament interprets the people of God (Israel) as Jew and Gentile together, we need to follow that. Etc. The point is, the Old Testament eschatological prophecies find their fulfillment in Christ. Nowhere in the Old Testament is a millennial kingdom of Christ taught. Rather, the promises in the Old Testament are said to be “everlasting,” nowhere are the promises said to be merely a thousand years. Continue Reading…

I just reached the half-way point in Torn: Rescuing the Gays-vs-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. I’ve read a few reviews and talked with a few friends and so I’m pretty confident I know where Justin is going in this book. I’m pretty sure he will be arguing that it is okay to engage in gay sex and have gay unions. But so far in the book he has not gone that route. So far he has mostly defended himself against the onslaught of ill-informed Christians who can’t seem to separate gay activity from gay orientation.

When I discovered last week that Torn is not being actively recommended to evangelical bookstores by its suppliers, I reacted in shock. I believe – at this interim – that Torn is the most important book I’ve read on the subject of homosexuality and the church. I think, if we were to cut the book off at where I am at in it, that every evangelical pastor and church leader ought to read this book. Yes, it’s that important. I also think anybody interested in this discussion – which is to say, everybody who has an opinion about homosexuality and the church – needs to read this book. Continue Reading…

Everyone of us have books we’ve started but never completed. Usually book reviews are on books that reviewers have completed, and for good reason. But if you trust my reviews, wouldn’t you be interested in why I might not have finished a book? So this year I’ve decided to include incomplete books to my roster of book reviews, beginning with this one.

Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases
Peter Haas
(Kindle . Paperback)

When this book came across my desk I began to read the introduction which I found funny and whimsical. So I took it home and began to read it. In the end, however, I didn’t finish it. Before I get to why not let me offer some props.

Pharisectomy is about overcoming legalism. It is clearly targeted for “churched” folk, people who are definitely not of the Frank Viola, Matthew Paul Turner, George Barna type. It is not terribly written. Anybody who has found themselves in legalistic churches or may be struggling with legalistic tendencies themselves may want to read this book. I won’t be the judge of whether or not it could be of some use. After all, I didn’t read the whole thing.

Here’s why I put it down.

First, I felt like the author had a lot to say about himself and his “rebellion to glory” story. Remember back when Rob Bell wrote Velvet Elvis and in it he talks about how he founded Mars Hill and that whole success story? Well it seems that Haas attempts to do the same thing only he doesn’t do it right. Don’t ask me for specifics. It just felt like his account was more ego-driven.

Second, I found that the author, for all of his “rebellious” vibe, very much bought into the whole “church” thing. Meaning he seems somewhat stiffed at the whole “we may not go to a church but we are the Church” movement. Continue Reading…

C.S. LEWIS – A LIFE: ECCENTRIC GENIUS. RELUCTANT PROPHET.
Alister McGrath
5 Stars (out of 5)
Kindle . Hardcover

Do we really need another book on C.S. Lewis? If such a book were to be written it would have to do several things.

  • It would have to take advantage of the recently published hundreds of personal letters of C.S. Lewis, including a document that recently come to light previously unknown recommending Tolkien for the Nobel Prize – see below.
  • It would need to shine new light on old assumptions.
  • It should be well written and engaging.
  • It would need to be timely, like say, written 50 years after Lewis’s death.
  • Finally, it would need to stand apart by breaking new ground in a vital area of Lewis’ life.

Fortunately McGrath’s new biography does all of these and more.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of C.S. Lewis back in 1963. So we have an exciting opportunity to take a fresh look at a familiar face, and I think no book will have accomplished this more by the end of the year, than Alister McGrath’s (except, perhaps, his second one on Lewis also coming out this year). Continue Reading…

THE CREEDAL IMPERATIVE
Carl R. Trueman
1.5 stars (out of 5)
Kindle . Paperback

I have developed somewhat of a longing for more of the rich Tradition of the Christian faith. I was raised in a low Pentecostal denomination and no church I’ve attended with any frequency has utilized much of the deep symbols, smells or creeds of the faith. The only possible exception is my current church which has the Apostles Creed in our Sunday morning bulletin.

In The Creedal Imperative, Carl R. Trueman has set out to make a case for why Christians should pick up and begin using the Creeds again.

Trueman begins by attempting to analyze the cultural trends that he believes have created an anti-creedal environment. These include a devaluing of the past, a suspicion of words as a trustworthy form of communication, antiauthoritarianism and the fear of exclusivism. Continue Reading…

Top 5 Books of 2012

Derek Ouellette —  January 1, 2013

Although there were no books reviewed on Covenant of Love in 2012, there are some books that I read this past year which I’d like to recommend.

BEAUTY WILL SAVE THE WORLD BY BRIAN ZAHND

 

 

Question: how will beauty save the world? Answer: the cruciform. The paradox of the cross is that in all it’s grotesqueness, it is simultaneously attractive and alluring. In this remarkable book Brian challenges the church to become beautiful, to use art and creativity and to rise above war, fighting, old apologetics. I loved this book. For any person who would self-subscribe to what Roger Olson calls “postconservative,” this book belongs as a part of their essential collection. (paperback . kindle) Continue Reading…

Valerie Tarico is a former fundamentalist Christian who holds a PhD in Psychology and is the author of The Dark Side: How Evangelical Teachings Corrupt Love and Truth. Her chapter in The Christian Delusion is titled Christian Belief through the Lens of Cognitive Science.

I really enjoyed this chapter. Not because it said or proved anything that might convince me that Christianity is wrong – it doesn’t attempt to offer such proof – but because it explains how humans cognitively experience what is usually called the supernatural. Once again I find myself in a place where I feel that the target audience of this book are fundamentalists Christians and their apologists. Nothing in this chapter would lead me to replace Christianity with atheism, but someone like my mother who often falls back on “I just know that I know” may be made to doubt her faith (though with anyone who has an “I just know that I know” philosophy, it’s doubtful that anything could be said or written to cause them to question their belief, whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Physic, alien abductee or your everyday superstitious person. You just can’t argue with a knowledge that depends on itself; “I know that I know”).

The chapter deals with various aspects of the science of human cognitive as it relates to religious experience: Continue Reading…

Everybody likes free stuff, so I thought I’d share this with you while simultaneously helping out former CEO and current Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Michael Hyatt (because, hey, I’m a nice guy).

Hyatt is giving away a whopping $375.98 worth of resources that will be of particular interest to potential authors, leaders, bloggers and other people who feel they have a message to get out and don’t know how to in this noise filled world.

But of course there is a catch. See Michael recently published a book he hopes to make it to the New York Times Bestsellers list. So he’s giving away a pile of stuff including

  • The Platform Video Jumpstart Series
  • Why NOW is the Best Time to Be an Author Video
  • How to Write a Winning Book Proposal (Audio Recordings)
  • Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal eBook
  • Writing a Winning Fiction Book Proposal eBook
  • eBook versions of his new book, “Platform”

to anyone who purchases his new book, Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World, by the end of Friday, May 25, 2012.

Here’s how to get the free stuff:

  1. Buy the book anywhere (online or at a physical bookstore)
  2. Email a copy of your receipt to gifts@michaelhyatt.com
  3. Confirm your email address.

That’s it. For details go click here.

I have the book before me as I type and I can assure you, it is a great book filled with bite-sized yet heavily potent content. There are some 60 chapters in the span of a little over 200+ pages for this beautiful hardcover book. Just looking over the chapter title gets me excited. I expect to learn and apply many of the techniques, wisdom and knowledge that Hyatt provides in this great resource. But for an aspiring author I’m looking forward to going through the many resources he’s giving away as well.

Only a few days left to qualify for this one time offer. Have fun.

And while we’re on the subject of free stuff… Amazon is giving away an eBook copy of Messy by A.J. Swoboda at the writing of this post… Description on Amazon reads:

Christianity is messy. Unanswered prayers. Painful choices. Unresolved regrets. But there is good news: God works in the mess. He gets a kick out of these disturbing, disorderly moments because in these moments, we learn to trust Him. What if we all trusted Jesus? How would the world look different? How would we look different?

Looks good.

David Eller is the “natural born atheist” in this book. His cooperation is to inform the reader that the writers of this volume have not come to write it out of “revenge for having been victimized by a deceptive religion, but a burning desire for the facts.” Eller is the assistant professor of anthropology at the Community College in Denver.

Eller’s chapter, “Chapter 1: The Cultures of Christianity”, builds upon the premise laid down by Loftus in the Introduction. Eller aims to

“show how the concept of culture reduces Christianity into just another cultural phenomenon, operating by the same processes and yielding the same results as any cultural phenomenon. One of the key qualities of culture is diversity; there is no such thing as ‘Christian culture’ but rather ‘Christian cultures’; indeed no such thing Christianity but rather Christianities.” (p. 26)

The point Eller wants to make is that because people are not normally argued into Christianity, they cannot usually be argued out of Christianity. In other words, for Christianity to convert a people group, it must first convert and adapt to said people groups culture. These people become Christians because Christianity has become the cultural norm, the dominant worldview, and not because they’ve been presented logical, coherent arguments for and against it. When those arguments are presented which inevitable decisively disprove Christianity it matters little to a people who have embraced it as a cultural assumption. Continue Reading…

John Loftus is the author of Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity; he’s the founder of www.debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com and the general editor of The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails. I haven’t read his other books, but one quickly gets the sense that Loftus is on a crusade of his own.

In the Introduction he makes a surprise assertion:

“We can already predict the effect this book will have. What typically happens in every generation as Christians are forced to confront skeptical arguments against their beliefs is that instead of giving up their faith, they reinvent it.”

Immediately I get the sense that the ethos of the book is set according to the tone of reverse psychology. The writers of the book quite naturally hope their book will succeed and that Christians will read it and “give up their faith.” But the idea that has been strategically planted in the believers mind is this: Christianity cannot stand up against the arguments of the skeptics, so it reinvents itself (i.e. it clasps at any loose straws it can) in order to survive, if for another generation. In other words, either accept the infallible proofs offered up in this book or bow to the whims of blind faith like the psychics, ghosts hunters and superstitious peoples of the world. And what Christian wants to fall in that category?

The author goes on, then, to offer many examples of how Christianity has reinvented itself to survive against the “onslaught of skeptical arguments.” Here are some of the ways Christianity has reinvented itself to survive: Continue Reading…