Archives For Book Reviews

This is a second post exploring chapter one of the book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  The chapter (“What about the flat tire?”) aims to set the tone for the rest of the book and Bell’s is dead-on.  In Bell-like fashion he introduces a series of probing questions asking his readership to think deeper about the issues at hand.  For example, on page 2, he says:

“Of all the billions of people who have ever lived, will only a select number ‘make it to a better place’ and every single other person suffer torment and punishment forever?  Is this acceptable to God?  Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish?”[1]

The point of the rows of questions is to get you to think about the larger questions like: What is heaven?  What is hell?  Who goes to heaven?  Who goes to hell?  Who decides?  Those are the larger questions at hand.  Bell is concerned that some people equate certain rituals and rites as THE process for getting into this place called heaven.[2] So do you say a specific prayer to get there or do you get baptized or does someone get baptized for you when you die which brings another question of where do those people go when they die?  All of these questions Bell introduces yet, and a big yet at that, he offers (at this point) no real answers.  On pages 6-7 I think Bell is on to something when he says that the problem with people who want to be “somewhere else” (escapist view of heaven) when they die is that leaves less concern about what we are doing right here and right now.  For instance, those who believe in leaving the world and going to heaven could care less about creation-care (environmental concerns, reforestation, etc.) because at the end of the day (or time) God is going to destroy this world and take us all up “somewhere else.”

Let me pause here and say that I believe this is too broad of an assumption on Bell’s part because there are many people I know who believe in creation-care who also believe that God will destroy this earth and start with a new one.  An analogy may help: Why sweep the floor if it is going to get dirty again?  Well, because it makes things better and you treat the floor because it has been entrusted to you.  I believe Bell is making broad assumptions at this point however, he does point to a deep issue that I believe we need to be concerned about: If God will destroy this earth then why should we bother taking care of it?

Bell also introduces the McLaren-like idea that people have been purporting different types of Jesuses all of which must be rejected.[3] I agree with Bell if what he means is that the Jesus that needs to be followed is the Jesus that comes from Scripture which comes from careful exegesis.

In the end, chapter one I thought was helpful in asking questions that perhaps we have ignored or, worse yet, we have assumed we understood.  Bell is right in that our eschatology informs our ecclesiology, christology and our soteriology.

What did I just say?

Bell is right in that what we think about life after death effects how we are the church but also it affects how we believe we get in the church.  Tough chapter…but filled with a bunch of answer-less questions…but a good chapter.

[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HaperOne, 2011): 2.

[2] Ibid., 5.

[3] Ibid., 7-9.  See Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007): 141-47.



Perhaps no book has created such a firestorm in evangelical Christianity than the book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  From unabashedly scathing reviews to uneducated praise this book has certainly received plenty of publicity (much to HarperOne’s approval).  I did a Google search with the query “Love Wins reviews” and 2.5 million results came up.  Granted, not every hit is a review of Rob Bell’s book but what that said to me is that the wide-spread attention this book has garnered means there is no need for “another review.”  Yet here I am offering my “two-cents” worth on the book perhaps even risking the same ridicule or uneducated praise that Bell has received.  That’s not the point.  I want to offer my perspective on this book for the readership who may not be privy to it otherwise.  My approach to this review is that I want to take each chapter and discuss it in 500-600 words or so offering my comment and, at times, critique.  I am trying to do this without reading what other people say about the book but instead wrestle with the book’s implications myself.  This will not be the opportunity for people to bash Bell nor mention names of others who have written reviews, conducted interviews or made comments.  My goal here is to, as Bell and every other author wishes, wrestle with the implications of the book with the voices of Scripture and Spirit acting as norm for the discussion.  If you want a more educated/scholarly treatise of the book please visit Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed with his first post, “Exploring Love Wins 1.”

My request for you is that you comment freely but doing so with Scriptures like Colossians 4:6 and Ephesians 4:15 in the back, front and middle of your mind.  I have seen a lot of hateful banter that I am afraid has given Christianity a bad rapport with the unchurched community.  If we continue to bite each other like this what does that say to those on the outside looking in?

Much blood has been spilled in church splits, heresy trials, and raging debates over issues that are, in the end, not that essential.  (Rob Bell, Love Wins, x).

I wanted to put the book down but I couldn’t.  I wanted to find a reason to dislike the book but I couldn’t.  What happened instead of engrossing myself in yet another self-help book disguised in Christian verbiage I discovered a refreshing (authentic) picture of what a Christian life could/should look like.  Mark Batterson’s Soulprint is a book about the possibilities of serving God in a way that is not superficial but vibrant and real.  I found myself underlining an important phrase on just about every page of the book.  Here are my favorites:

  • “All of us start out a one-of-a-kind originals, but too many of us end up as carbon copies of someone else” (p. 13).
  • “Every past experience is preparation for some future opportunity.  God doesn’t just redeem our souls.  He also redeems our experiences” (p. 22).
  • “Most of us wait to do something wrong until no one is watching, and we wait to do something right until someone is watching” (p. 72).
  • Quoting a popular saying…”If you is who you ain’t, then you ain’t who you is” (p. 102).
  • “Sinful self-deception may be the only unlimited capacity we possess.  So I’m no longer surprised by sin.  What does surprise me is the person with the rare courage to confess” (p. 121).

Batterson’s main template for the plot of the book comes from the story of David.  With the finesse of a maestro he weaves through the story of David sharing lessons and probing the biblical text to show how David serves as the standard of righteousness for humans to follow.  Batterson invokes the attention of the reader by inviting us to participate in the biblical text as we move from story to story, thought to thought.

The book does have some idiosyncrasies that are not cumbersome to the reader but, in my opinion, did take away from the book itself.  First of all, like most preachers (me included), Batterson has the tendency to infuse trite sayings into his writing.  “Fulfill your destiny” and other cheesy sayings at times could have been avoided as it had the tendency to reduce discipleship to a cute saying.  Batterson also tended to allegorize much of the Davidic material which may or may not have been the thrust of the text.  For example, when talking about David dancing and stripping his robes (2 Samuel 6:20-22), Batterson made the comment that we too must strip our robes (symbolically…of course :)) to unleash who we really are.  That sounds great but may not have been the original thrust of the text.

Overall, the couple of weaknesses I have does not outweigh the incredible impact this book has had in my spiritual life.  It is not only a quick-read but it is a must-read.  You will not be disappointed.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

I just finished reading The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister and thought that overall it was an excellent book.  Chittister is a s a Benedictine Sister of Erie, PA and has authored well over 40 books.  I have read Wisdom Distilled from the Daily and was highly impressed so naturally I was more than elated to read this book.  In The Liturgual Year Chittister seeks to show how the seasons and movements of the year actually unite followers to the work and mission of Jesus Christ.  Each successive season allows us to be in touch with who were are in relation to whose we are.

The purpose of the liturgical year is to bring to life in us and around us, little by little, one layer of insight after another until we grow to full stature in the spiritual life.  (p. 21)

She organizes the book in a way that draws attention to seasons, moments and movements within the life of the Christian (i.e. Advent, Easter, Sunday’s , etc.).  The way that Chittister writes is engaging and every page turned a quote that was thought-provoking and worthy of mention.  The book was helpful to me since it opened new possibilities for me to concentrate on participating with the death and burial of Jesus Christ.  However, Chittister seemed to assume too much on the reader’s knowledge of liturgical seasons.  Sometimes I was left aloof with some of the jargon that many of the Catholic readers would already know and understand.  I also thought she should have given more of a historical treatise of the liturgical year and how that shapes and formulates the present practice.  Other than those two objections (minor at best) I thought this book was needed for much of the evangelical community in an effort to concentrate more on the movements of worship instead of the rote practices each period of worship brings.  I recommend this book to ministers, educators and the well-read Christian on the pew who desire more out of worship and discipleship.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Rarely do I read a book that captivates me to the point where I cannot put it down.  It was 11:05pm last night and I was on page 115 or so…I finished the book at 1:30am this morning reading about 120 pages in the process.  The book encapsulates themes of redemption, reconciliation, providence, suffering, theodicy and hope all in a narrative told by two men who come from very different backgrounds. 

Ron Hall is a white Texas man who finds success very quickly in selling expensive paintings and soon builds a 7-figure portfolio and while it seems everything he touches turns to success the opposite is true for his failing marriage. 

Juxtaposed with Ron’s success is Denver’s tragedy.  Growing up in the racial and oppressive cotton fields of Red River Parish Louisiana Denver dreamed of things bigger than himself but every time he turned the corner something unfair beset him.  So he ran away from the sharecropping slavery of the Bayou to the homeless streets of Fort Worth, Texas.  Little did he know a sweet lady by the name of Deborah Hall would soon unite him to Ron Hall and both would begin a journey that is nothing short than God-sent. 

This book is addictive and all true and a story that needs to be heard by people across the board.  It highlights false preconceptions about the homeless and testifies of the amazing power of relationships that restore marriages, churches and a broken community.  I highly recommend this book…

Once a month I am going to do what I call a “Book Spotlight” which is my attempt and providing a resource for you to look at that you may not have been privy to otherwise.  I will say that most of the time these books are not written from members of the churches of Christ but with many things like that you have to eat the meat and spit out the bones (you have to do this with some COC material as well).  The book I recommend this week is a book by Vicki Courtney called 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter.  This is not a deeply theological book as it is geared towards mothers conversing with their daughters.  I picked it up for two reasons: 1) it was on sale and, 2) I am raising two daughters (as it stands) and have influence on many more of my sisters in the youth group.  So it interested me immensely.  Here are the 5 conversations parents (specifically mothers but I will be involved as well) should have with their daughters:

You are more than the sum of your parts.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. 

Sex is great and worth the wait. 

It’s OK to dream about marriage and motherhood. 

Girls gone wild are a dime a dozen—dare to be virtuous.

 Aren’t those amazing?  I don’t want to get into the specifics of what she speaks about because I want you to read the book yourself (I have it in my library so ask me for it).  This is a quote worth writing: “It’s tough to raise a girl in today’s culture.  The basic premise behind these conversations is that they are ongoing conversations.  They should start when your daughter is young and continue through the years.  You don’t stop talking when she starts pulling away or rolling her eyes.  In fact, you step them up.  And you pray, pray, pray, and lean on God for strength, wisdom, and discernment” (p. 3).  I recommend this to any parent who wishes to help their daughters navigate the tempestuous seas of 21st century culture in order that they discover who they are and, more importantly, whose they are!!!  I dedicate this article to the girls in the Main Street Youth Group who continually impress me with their desire for God.  I also dedicate this article to the most beautiful girls in this world: Amelia and Madelyn.  You are beautiful beyond measure and realize how much Daddy loves you!!!  Girls, “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (Prov. 31:29-30).  “Father, protect them.  In Jesus’ name, Amen!”

Have you ever read a book before and you felt like God just kind of plopped it in your lap and said, “READ THIS”?  As you know, I have been going through some depression of sorts and did not have the energy to read anything.  This book was required for a graduate class I am taking and it turned out to be a blessing in my life.  Wayne Cordeiro is a “pastor” of the New Hope Christians Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii where 14,500 people attend every Sunday.  He has written numerous books (The Divine Mentor, Doing Church as Team) and is a frequent guest speaker at many leadership conferences. 

The book is simple in that he seeks to tell his story of burnout and depression which led him to the choice of whether he was going to fight it or give up.  Instead he chose to go to a monastery for semi-retreat and find out who he was so that he could come back, as he would later put it, “hungry.”  Consider this gem: “Without wise and hungry leaders, a church’s endeavors will flatline.  Then they end up with lots of programs that do nothing but suck the life out of a ministry” (p. 188).  So for the sake of his personal growth, for his family and for his church he had to be intentional in formulating who he was as a minister.  I found the sections on “causes of depression” and “symptoms of depression” to be tremendously helpful in categorizing some of what I had gone through. 

The book is filled with one-liners and (since he is a preacher) illustrations that will only help you develope who you are as a leader. He advocates finding PRD’s (personal retreat days) and that every 7 years a minister should take a 2-3 month sabbatical which is interesting when you look at the tendency for burnout among ministers in the churches of Christ.  He also assists you in the right ways to think and the wrong ways to think.  Focusing on what is important will only help a minister release what is not important (faulty expectations and ministering to those who are way too “needy”).  It is not a deeply theological book as you will not find many doctrinal issues discussed as he gears it mostly towards assessing who you are and how to prevent yourself from spiritual apathy. 

I leave you with this quote: “Your greatest source of motivation is finding untapped potential yet within you.  You see, your future is not what lies ahead of you.  It is what lies within you” (p. 205). Purchase Link ($13.59)

Pick and Choose

October 16, 2009 — 7 Comments

I want your opinion on something that is controversial in the churches of Christ so please feel free to comment on it.  A book that has probed my thoughts more than any other book has in a long time is Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet.  It is a book designed to help readers rethink how they should read the Bible.  Really it is a book on hermeneutics.  I will not get into much of the discussion but here is a few select quotes:

Furthermore, it is my belief that we-the church-have always read the Bible in a picking-and-choosing way.  Somehow, someway we have formed patterns of discernment that guide us.  (McKnight, Blue Parakeet, 122)

When we see how we actually live, we have two choices: either become radical biblical literalists and apply everything (and I mean everything), or to admit that we are “pickers and choosers.”  (123)

So here is my question: “Can we avoid the fact that we pick and choose in a certain manner?”  “Is it enevitable?”  Can we really believe the old adage, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” in all circumstances?  I am open to your thoughts.

Chew on this for a little while! 

Whenever we pick up the bible, read it, put it down, and say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble.  The technical term for that is “proof-texting.” 

Ellen F. Davis, “Teaching the Bible Confessionally in the Church,” in The Art of Reading Scripture, Eds. Ellen F. David and Richard B. Hays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003): 16. 

Good quote from an interesting read.

I am reading an interesting book entitled Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesuswhere the authors (see above) make the claim that the background for the New Testament is not, as some purport, chiefly Greek or Aramaic but Hebrew.  They say that the difficulty understanding some of the sayings of Jesus (e.g. Luke 23:31; Matt. 11:12, et al.) lies in the fact that they are Hebraic idioms.  They claim that “the entire New Testament can only be understood from a Hebraic perspective” (p. 4).   Two more quotes stand out to me:

“It cannot be overemphasized, that the key to an understanding of the New Testament is a fluent knowledge of Hebrew and an intimate acquaintance with Jewish history, culture and Rabbinic Literature” (p. 16). 

(Quoting William Sanford LaSor in 1982):  “With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it now seems highly probable that the language Jesus spoke was Hebrew and not Aramaic” (p. 20).

 This book is very helpful in setting the background for the “why’s” of jesus’ sayings and appropriating the correct context.  It is also a bit frustrating because only a few pages are devoted (pp. 82-128) to addressing the words themselves but the bulk of the book concentrates on giving evidence for a Hebraic Reading of the New Testament.  If you are interested in Backgrounds of Christianity then this book is for you. 

I am not convinced of their thesis that I have to understand Hebrew to understand the New Testament (or even their hypothesis that 90% of the New Testament is seen through the lens of Hebrew [p. 5]).  I think he does not give enough credit to the Hellenistic background that Paul addresses.  Yes, we can look at Paul and say that he had a Hebrew training but clearly Paul is embedded in Greek culture in his travels in the book of Acts. 

I do recommend this book to anyone who has had formal training in seminary and especially to those who have done language studies.