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Posts from the ‘book review’ Category

Book Review: The Name Quest

downloadThe Name Quest, by John Avery, is a well-written, exhaustively researched manuscript on the various names of God found in the Bible. Although Avery digs deep into the Scriptures, there is nothing stuffy or erudite about his approach. On the contrary, his prose is both personal and easy to digest.

Avery does more than simply regurgitate information. Because he focuses on the characteristics of God and our relationship with Him, the author draws the reader into the very heart of God. For example, when discussing God as the God of Daniel, Avery beckons, “As we walk through life’s challenges, each one is a new opportunity to know God better. What will people learn about God’s nature from your relationships with Him?”

Many times, Avery reveals the limitless care that God demonstrates to us. For instance, God is the God of Comfort, and He is our Helper, Comforter, and Advocate. Avery states, “He meets us where we are and comforts us.”

Avery often shares personal stories as a testimony to God’s character.  For example, he explains the care of God by relaying a difficult experience he had at school and the way God showed him favor. He said, “God soothed me with a sense of his presence.”

Avery describes the person of Christ as being woven in four threads: Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, and The Suffering Servant. He says that Jesus “linked messiahship with service and suffering”, thus redefining kingship. Avery substantiates this by quoting Jesus in Mark 10:45: “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The Name Quest would be appropriate for personal or group study. It is full of encouragement and life-giving words for all of us. Avery ends his book with the tone existent throughout—by challenging us to be transformed into the image of God. I cannot think of a more fitting goal.

Book Review: David and Goliath

David-and-Goliath_Malcolm-Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants is Malcolm Gladwell’s latest effort at helping people understand the world around them. As in his previous books such as Outliers and The Tipping Point, Gladwell draws upon psychology, business, history, and his penchant for storytelling to describe how the world is not what it seems at first glance.

Gladwell frames the book with the story of David and Goliath. He retells the story to describe how the odds were seemingly stacked against David, a humble shepherd, who decided to fight Goliath, a superhuman trained in various combat styles and armed with heavy weapons. As we know, David won the battle in short measure because he used his knowledge and skill to his advantage. Gladwell makes the point, “effort can trump ability.”

Gladwell uses several examples to illustrate how people born to difficult circumstances can rise above their challenges in spite of their limitations. In fact, they may succeed even more than people without these challenges. For example, Gladwell wrote about Brian Grazer, the successful film producer. Grazer was born with dyslexia and did not do well in school, but he intentionally worked on his skills of negotiation and persuasion to his advantage. Gladwell observed, “Dyslexia—in the best of cases—forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant.”

Gladwell also discovered that many successful people had lost their fathers at a young age. He cites one study which revealed that 45 percent of successful people had lost their fathers before age twenty. Another study showed that 67 percent of prime ministers lost a parent before the age of sixteen. Gladwell stated, “the question of what any of us would wish on our children is the wrong question, isn’t it? The right question is whether we as a society need people who have emerged from some kind of trauma—and the answer is that we plainly do.”

The author’s thesis goes against conventional wisdom. Successful people come from all walks of life. However, people with outwardly crippling disabilities or potentially devastating setbacks may indeed succeed in spite of their weaknesses. They are motivated precisely because of their perceived lowly station in life. They defeat Goliath at his own game.

Gladwell summed up his book thus: “so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine. “

 Thoughtful, relevant, and inspiring.

★★★★☆

 

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Pastrix: Book Review

Pastrix

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, is an autobiographical look at Nadia Bolz-Weber’s journey of faith. Nadia is a paradoxically tattoo-decorated, swearing Lutheran pastor of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints Church.

What I like most about Pastrix is Nadia’s authenticity and transparency. She talks about her own struggles growing up in a fundamentally conservative church, and then losing her faith while battling with addictions for many years. Through her slow journey back to Christianity, Nadia developed a stronger, deeper, more profound faith that oozes from the pages of this book. Along the way, she shares some spiritual truths she has learned. For example, when writing about our relationship to God, Nadia says, “We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.”

Nadia also wrestles with the age-old question of suffering. Why do people suffer? And how can they find relief? Nadia shares from her experiences:

“There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus—Emmanuel—which means ‘God with us.’ We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.”

Nadia writes a lot about grace, because an understanding of grace is what changed her life. She writes, “God’s grace is not defined as God being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is when God is a source of wholeness, which makes up for my failings.”

Nadia started her church to minister to people who are struggling with many of the things she experienced firsthand. She writes that she wanted a place “where no one had to check at the door their personalities or the parts of our stories that seemed ‘unchristian’”. She adds, “I was called to be a pastor to my people.”

Pastrix will challenge your thinking. Because of Nadia’s liberal use of language, it is also not for the faint of heart. But it is a refreshing look at God’s redemptive grace that gives hope to all.

★★★★★

Take a look at Nadia Bolz-Weber preaching in New Orleans.

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Killing Jesus: Christian Book Review

Killing Jesus

Killing Jesus, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, was written to describe the events in the life of Jesus. It is apparent that the authors conducted many hours poring over the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in retelling the story. Some secular historical sources are also cited. However—perhaps because I am already very familiar with the life of Jesus—I found the story to be limited in scope.

The book reads a little like a narrated Bible, except that the authors pick and choose which gospel details to include and exclude, leaving the reader with an incomplete picture of the story.

A few extrabiblical sources are utilized to describe the background setting for the life of Jesus. The information is good, but the events seem disjointed from the rest of the text.

For example, the events surrounding Julius Ceasar forty years before the birth of Jesus are interesting in a historical context, but are not particularly pivotal to the story. Further, especially at the beginning of the book, the story bounces from present to past events without explanation.

Major details from the story in Killing Jesus are often neglected or ignored. For instance, there is little mention of the miracles of Jesus, which are performed to show him as being accredited by God (eg. Acts 2:22).

The claims of Jesus to be the Son of God—deity—are also seldom acknowledged. Although it is true that there is a “messianic secret”, or request by Jesus to keep his true identity under wraps (especially in the gospel of Mark), the book focuses little time discussing his deity or even the validity of it.

Additionally, the significance of the cross is not discussed. To followers of Christ, the cross symbolizes sacrifice, forgiveness, hope, redemption and grace, to name but a few of its deep theological meanings.

On the cross, the authors of Killing Jesus only mention two of the seven statements that Jesus made. This seriously discounts many of the truths regarding the motivation and character of Jesus.

After the death of Jesus, the narrative moves very quickly, simply glossing over his resurrection, which is of course central to the Christian faith. His last days and final teachings are ignored altogether, which give Christians the Great Commission.

To their credit, O’Reilly and Dugard make a strong case for Jesus and his disciples having the last Passover meal on the Thursday before his death, instead of Friday. And, they also cite substantial evidence that Jesus lived to be 35 or 36 years old, instead of the normally accepted 33.

Killing Jesus contributes to the understanding of Jesus in a historical context, but simply leaves out too much about who Jesus is, what his mission was, and what his life means to his present day followers.

★★☆☆☆

Real: Christian Book Review

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If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus? This is the question Jamie Snyder asks in Real: Becoming a 24/7 Follower of Jesus. Snyder takes us on a personal, spiritual journey in answering that question. Being a Christian is risky, says Snyder. “The reality is, when you choose to follow Jesus, when you build your life on your faith in him, you are most likely going to be led to places you would rather not go.” Living a risky life is not natural, he says; rather, it means “loving the unlovable, forgiving the unforgivable, and sometimes doing the undesirable.”

Snyder is not only Scriptural in his approach; he makes his points with directness and humor. He said that he grew up with many rules. Among them: do not wear church clothes out to play—wear your Sunday best. The problem, he says, is that this focus compels people to make the Sunday morning worship time the only worship time in the week.

Snyder doesn’t hold back. He challenges us to act out our faith daily. For example, in a discussion about loving others, Snyder asks us to “identify whom you struggle to love and find a way to love that person or group of people.” Further, we should look for people to love every day. Snyder says, “To love like Jesus loves is to love everyone: irresponsibly, recklessly, foolishly, endlessly, indiscriminately, and intentionally.”

The book has reflection/discussion questions and a summary prayer at the end of each chapter, making it appropriate for groups or personal application. If you are looking for a well-written, thoughtful book that will help you take an honest look at yourself spiritually, pick up a copy of Real.

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