Thinking Out Loud

May 4, 2014

Books Worth Reading…

Whenever we roll into a new month, I always look back on things published one year prior, to see if any of them deserve a re-look. This time around, I was struck by some books we were reviewing a year ago…


I don’t want to toss out cheap superlatives like, ‘Best book I ever read,’ but 24 hours after finishing Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron, I definitely feel that this is one of best written books I’ve ever read. With equal parts contemporary ecclesiology, church history, and Italy travelog, You can practically taste the Italian food. Chasing Francis is an excellent work of fiction that’s more about facts than fiction.

Chasing FrancisSome explanation is necessary. For me, this book fits in with the type of fiction that I’ve been attracted to over the past few years; what I call Socratic dialog. Think Paul Young in The Shack and Crossroads, Andy Andrews in The Noticer and other titles, David Gregory in the Perfect Stranger trilogy; books that use story as a motif for teaching.

But the publisher, Zondervan, didn’t see it that way, identifying the advance copy I received in the Christian Living category and avoiding the category thing entirely on their website….

[continue reading here]


Much as I hate to admit it, while I’ve been aware of him for many years, this week was the first time I finally got around to reading one of the more than fifty books by R. T. Kendall. The American born author and pastor is best known for being the pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel where he succeeded the likes of Glyn Owen, G. Campbell Morgan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

R. T. Kendall - These are the Days of ElijahThe book I asked to review is These Are The Days of Elijah: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things (2013, Chosen Books) which was compiled from a series of Sunday evening sermons given at Westminster in 2000-2001; and if those Sunday night sermons were this good, I can only imagine what his preaching was like on Sunday mornings.

The book is an exposition of the story of the prophet Elijah. That said, you would expect the book to rest firmly in a Old Testament setting, but it’s as though Dr. Kendall can’t complete a paragraph without reference to a New Testament character or narrative… 

[continue reading here]


Cold Case ChristianityEvery decade or so a great work of apologetics appears which breaks the boundaries of the discipline and reaches a wider audience. Josh McDowell did it years ago with Evidence That Demands a Verdict; Frank Morrison with Who Moved the Stone? and more recently Lee Strobel brought a large audience to the discussion with The Case for Christ series.

Enter former Los Angeles County homicide investigator J. Warner Wallace and his book Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. (2013, David C. Cook). Like Strobel, Wallace was a skeptic turned believer, and like McDowell, Wallace leaves no stone unturned in his study of the reliability of scripture, from obscure passages to those central to core doctrine.

The book is divided into two parts, the nature of cold case investigation — and this case is 2,000 + years old, and the particular evidence that the Bible offers…

[continue reading here]

February 14, 2014

Pastrix: A Book for a Select Audience

The very first word in Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber is an expletive that cannot be printed here, and it is, I warn you, but the first of many.

PastrixThat said, Pastrix earns my highest recommendation, provided of course we’ve made clear the question, ‘recommended to who?’

Such is the nature of the contradictions in the book, and in many ways such is the nature of the contradictions that define (or undefine) the tall, tattooed, female Lutheran pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints, aka HFASS.  And yes, you’re allowed to — and they do — pronounce it half-ass.

The book is a random collection of biographic memories in a loose chronological sequence that sometimes act merely as springboards for some sermon extracts. You get the feeling that Nadia would have been more comfortable producing a book filled with some of her unique sermon insights, but the publisher no doubt felt some back-story was necessary, at least the first time around.

I have two takeaways from reading the book.

First, Nadia is a very wise person who unfortunately made some very unwise decisions early in life, but decisions that are redeemed in the unique voice her past gives to her present. Was writing this particular book using a very edgy, street vocabulary wise? A future Nadia might rethink it, but it does create a product unlike anything else that has crossed my desk before. She creates a meeting place in print where seekers and skeptics can join the sexually ambiguous in their quest for truth. She is, like other Christian writers, paving a road to the cross, but it’s a back route that few travel.

Second, it’s evident that Nadia has now, and always had, a pastor’s heart. Her calling to ministry is evident at different stages of her life — even in her darkest moments — and is perhaps more evident than dozens of other pastors I know who, granted, don’t drop the f-bomb as often. Her flock aren’t the type of sheep that would make it into an award-winning photograph, but they’re her sheep, and she is doing her best to shepherd them and truly grieves if one falls by the wayside.

Pastrix will appeal to people who match, demographic for demographic, the people who attend HFASS, or potential converts. People on drugs. People who sleep around. People who commit crimes. People who Jesus loves. People who Jesus died for. Future brothers and sisters you might find yourself sharing eternity with.

I do need to declare a conflict of interest here: My wife and I are fans. I featured her here a few years ago as her reputation started to go national. I download each new sermon as it appears on her blog, and track the printed text as we both listen to the audio. We’re not doing some ministry watchdog thing, waiting for her to trip up doctrinally, but with each sermon we’re always in awe of how theologically orthodox she is.

I begged the people at Jericho books for a pre-release copy of this book and had just about given up when I discovered a book had been delivered wedged between two 20-inch square pieces of cardboard. That never happened before. It seemed fitting, somehow. It’s a book that will certainly occupy a place on my bookshelf, but it will have to be a spot where my conservative friends won’t see it. Then again…


Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint is published in hardcover by Jericho Books an imprint of Hachette Book Group. Both Send the Light, one of the largest wholesale Christian book distributors in the U.S., and CBD, an online consumer book vendor consider this title too hot to handle.

October 28, 2013

Book Non-Review: Selling Water by the River

I’m really grateful that the exposure of this blog — while nothing compared to some of the über-bloggers — has allowed me to be so bold as to ask publishers for review copies and get a favorable response. It’s sure an improvement from the pre-blog days when I would simply buy the books and then review them on the newsletter from which Thinking Out Loud emerged.

Selling-Water-by-the-RiverJericho Books is a division of Hachette Book Group, a large publishing concern which has been making increasing inroads into the Christian publishing market, including signing some pretty big names to their Faithwords imprint.  Hachette, or HBC, is a big deal. They probably get a lot of requests for review copies, so they simply ignored me — several times over — when I asked to preview Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

So I was several chapters into a copy of last year’s Selling Water By The River by Shane Hipps — a copy which fell off a truck, so to speak — that I realized this was also a Jericho title that I couldn’t really give a full review to under the circumstances.  So I’ll be brief, and let some others do the heavy lifting.

Shane Hipps first appeared on my radar with a book called Flickering Pixels that he wrote for Zondervan. Then, he was named associate pastor at Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI, but didn’t let his name stand for the lead pastor job after Bell headed west.

I’ve never been totally sure where Hipps fits in on a liberal-conservative theological continuum that proves challenging when mentioning him or people such as Bell and Peter Rollins or even Brian McLaren. My tendency is to want to put people into a box, and Hipps has confounded me a few times. Reading Selling Water By The River, I see some amazing insights into the message of the gospel, not to mention some absolutely great apologetics in the form of analogies and stories that help define the Christian message.

But then I’m never 100% sure what the subtext is; what he means by “Some Christians believe that…” Does that include Hipps himself? The book is bewildering in many ways. One reviewer said,

While I enjoyed this book it isn’t cohesive. It feels like (and I’m pretty sure it is) a collection of sermons or lessons that have been edited and assembled with a loose theme in a semi-logical order. There are a lot of individual moments of wisdom here, but no big kicker. As a result the book leaves a pleasant vague impression, but no lasting impact on me.

Still another reviewer correctly observed:

Hipps has a gift for disentangling the beautiful way of following Jesus from the centuries of cultural and institutional baggage that so often obscure that way.  Hipps contrasts Jesus (the “river”) with Christianity (which he likens to selling water by the river)–insisting that it is the former, not the later, to which we should give our devotion.

however, I grow concerned at the pejorative possibilities where the institutional church is linked to selling.

Yet one more reviewer notes this dichotomy in the book and is very precise in articulating the issue the book raises:

…Herein lies the hierarchy of Shane’s epistemology; experience is less fallible that logic, and is more trustworthy. I’m not sure I totally agree with this hierarchy, but that’s how he navigates this transition from rigid theological dogmatism to real and authentic spirituality (though he probably doesn’t want to use that word).  He says, “[Jesus] wants people to experience God’s love, rather than just think rightly about it.” This is profoundly true and vitally important, but I don’t think that we need to jettison belief into the realm of purely cognitive thought, I think that belief and even disciplined theological reflection can be though of as part of the experience of God, even if it means at times commanding our deeply felt experiential presuppositions into subordination to logical clarity.

I don’t think we need to think of religion and belief in such negative terms. Even if the establishment of the religious institution is not what Christianity is about, certainly our experiences with God in the contexts of community and solitude can be thought of as religious–of an authentically holistic kind of religion. It’s misleading and it might even be arrogant, in light of hundreds of years of church history, for us to come on the scene today and say, “religion, I have no need of you,” as though we somehow exist outside of religion…

(be sure to read the rest of this one!)

And then there was this essay by Karen Spears Zacharias, which I’ll let you read in full.

So… it’s complicated. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t get a proper review copy of that one. (Nadia’s book, which they probably won’t send this late after release date, is no doubt equally complex.)  I’ll leave the last word to WIllow Creek’s Aaron Niequist:

As you can tell, this book is going to push some buttons.  Fundamentalists will scream as Shane pokes holes in Christianity’s claim to have a monopoly on the Truth, and post-modern, “spiritual but not religious” people will resist his high view and trust in Jesus Christ.  But I think that anyone who makes everyone uncomfortable might be on to something.

I’m not saying that I agree with every single word in “Selling Water By the River”, but here’s why I loved the book and am recommending it to you

(If anyone at Jericho Books wants to make a friend, you know where to find me!)

October 10, 2013

Mark Batterson Goes All In on Newest Book

Of the three books I’ve read by Washington, DC pastor Mark Batterson, All In  is the best one so far. The call to wholehearted surrender to God is reminiscent of another Zondervan bestseller, Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan. The book re-introduces a term that was often the theme of sermons in a past era: Consecration, as in “Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to Thee.”

All In - Mark BattersonThough Batterson isn’t one to quote song lyrics, another fitting one here might be “I have decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.” It’s a book about buying a one-way ticket to wherever God would have you; of giving yourself to Christian service without an escape clause or a backup plan.

Mark Batterson’s writing style is more sermon-like than conversation-like inasmuch as his books show the evidence of carefully considered strategy as to which chapters ought to contain which elements of his research. To be more precise, All In is equal parts:

  • Stories and examples from history or quotations from historical figures; not all of which were necessarily believers.
  • Illustrative examples forming allegories from nature, or sports.
  • Contemporary stories of people who’ve made the news, or obscure people who have connected with Mark through National Capital Church.
  • Old Testament stories.
  • New Testament stories and teaching.

While not wanting to go off too far on a tangent here, this is a How To example of how to write a Christian book, keep it interesting, and give it applicable substance.

So how is my life different after reading this book? I think that some teaching we are exposed to through Christian books and podcasts can have an instantaneous effect, but that more often, certain truths ‘stick’ through the applying of layer upon layer of repetition. This is stuff I need to be reminded of; including examples I need to hear for the first time. The ideal of the Christian life is a life lived in abandon to God.

I think the highest recommendation I can give this book is one that will sound strange out of context: All In is a very disturbing book!  And that’s just what Mark Batterson intended.  

>>>Watch the book trailer at YouTube

A copy of All In was provided to Thinking Out Loud by HarperCollins Canada, the distributor for Zondervan in the frozen north.  Thanks, Mark H.  The book is also the basis for a small group DVD curriculum. For the trailer for that product, click here

For a previous review here of The Circle Maker click here.

July 20, 2013

We’re All Gay Now

In Acts chapter ten, Peter has a vision of many types of animals that the Jews considered unclean.

13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

You can read the whole chapter here.

The purpose of this story is to show that God is about to usher in something entirely new, what theologians might call ‘a new dispensation,’ or specifically ‘the Church age,’ or a time of transition from law to grace, from First Testament to Second Testament.

The 2013 edition

The 2013 edition

Adam Hamilton invokes this passage in his book When Christians Get It Wrong. The book was first issued in 2010 by Abingdon Press. Book and music publishers often talk about “throwing it against the wall and seeing if it sticks.” This book didn’t stick the first time, despite the popularity of Hamilton — who we profiled here the same year — as an author and conference speaker.  So it’s back again with a new cover.

On page 83 of the new edition, we read Hamilton’s take:

Along the way Peter had an epiphany. He suddenly understood: The rules are changing! … So even Peter, who spent three years with Jesus himself, struggled with the Bible and with a God who seemed to be saying that what was written in the Scripture and what the people had interpreted might not actually be God’s will.

That’s the takeaway. The rules are changing. He says this in a chapter devoted to the Church’s response to homosexuality as one of the things we’ve gotten wrong. Now, you’re not going to read many Evangelical Christian blogs that are as compassionate toward the gay issue as this one. Yes, this is an issue that the capital “C” Church has messed up and that some among our numbers are continuing to mess up. I agree with the core premise of Hamilton’s book, and its attempt to find some way to let a broader population know that we know we’ve dropped the ball on some issues.

I always tell people that apologetics doesn’t mean anybody is apologizing for anything, but in this case, someone is apologizing.

So Hamilton takes a view of science that is pro-Evolution theory; a view of world religions that leans toward inclusivism; a view of human tragedy and suffering that detaches God from such breaking news stories and somewhat absolves Him; and a view of homosexuality that emphasizes the need to love everyone.

To repeat, there is some wisdom in trying to meet people on level ground; to have discourse without being adversarial; to be seeker-friendly instead of seeker-hostile. I have had so many views challenged over the past few years — heaven, the rapture, women in ministry, etc. — and I’ve been so thankful that I wrote my doctrines and beliefs on these secondary issues in pencil and not indelible ink.

But where I part company with this book is where he forces the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10 to speak something into situations it was never designed to address. It panders to the postmodern mindset that truth is relative and that doctrines are “subject to change without notice.” So yes, the last few years have seen accelerating change in the Church on various issues, but this is not to imply that God is ushering in a new dispensation today.

The 2010 edition

The 2010 edition

Peter’s vision is a microcosm of the “before / after” transition that begins at the cross of Calvary. A new era has begun. This is where the Jewish story that we call The Old Testament is about to open up into a new act that introduces a much larger cast. It’s not a blanket verse that allows for what was inappropriate yesterday to be acceptable today. I didn’t get that memo. Are we all gay now?

In other words, while I might agree with some elements of Adam Hamilton’s approach and be more gay-friendly to his conclusion than you might think; I don’t believe you have to twist scripture to get there. Just state your opinion and tell your stories.

But that’s not the real reason I don’t like this book. I just think that at (barely) 114 digest-sized pages, it’s a rip-off at $14.99 US. And if it didn’t perform the first time, maybe there was a reason.

January 17, 2013

Review: Tyler Blanski – When Donkeys Talk

Donkeys Say the Darndest Things

When Donkeys Talk - Tyler BlanskiNormally I choose the books publishers send here, so when an advance copy of Tyler Blanski’s When Donkeys Talk arrived from Zondervan in the mail unsolicited, even though I was aware of his blog and have linked to a couple of  his articles, I set it aside. However curiosity got the better of me and I started reading, and then I did something I have never done: When I got to the last page, I turned back to chapter one and started reading it all over again.

There is something infectious about this  book. I want to say that Tyler Blanski is the new Donald Miller, but that would raise questions about the whereabouts of the old Donald Miller. Suffice it to say there are many similarities. Technically, this is not Blanski’s first book; he has a previous title which I’ve seen and recall is mostly poetry, and one other title beyond that. But this title with a major Christian publisher establishes him as a breakout author to watch.

How do I summarize this book? It’s about exploring the world of Biblical imagery and narrative where donkeys can talk* in a world dominated by science and logic and reason that donkeys cannot speak. Blanski may claim to be a humble 29-year-old house painter from Minneapolis, but there’s no hiding his academic labors in medieval studies, and so he looks at Christianity through the lens of how people in ancient times understood science and how they understood and practiced faith.

But he does this in the context of stories of interactions with his friends and acquaintances, many of whom are on a different plane when it comes to belief and God.  As a result, each chapter of the book has a different spiritual temperature, and each varies in its allusion to Biblical chapters and verses.

The characters in Blanski’s personal stories  constitute the Miller-esque element; I feel I know these people. And how can a book which seems so casual — almost random — in its approach to faith also be such a valuable snapshot of church history? Somehow he pulls it off.

The book also contains several references to Christmas, which left me wondering why Zondervan held this back for a January 22nd release. There are some thoughts here that I hope to remember to use as a resource when December rolls around.

The full title is, When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity. I would argue that the use of ‘rediscover’ here might precludes what I could consider this book’s best application: As an introduction to Christians and Christianity for seekers, skeptics and scientists, especially those in the under-40 demographic.

*See the story of Balaam in Numbers 22.

>>>Win a copy of When Donkeys Talk! Leave an inspired comment (!) about an experience you’ve had where a donkey spoke to you, or something similar (like “Why I’d really like to win this book”) followed by (US) or (Can), and our friends at Zondervan will send out a copy to one Canadian and one American winner from comments we select on Monday!  

UPDATE 1/22/13 — Picking a Canadian winner was easy, so Kristy, we’ll be contacting you for your address!  Katrina, you’re our U.S. winner, and no, it wasn’t a “names that start with K” thing.  Both of you should receive an email from me to get your mailing address, so look for it as it filled with words evocative of spam. Like really, if I got an email that said “Congratulations you’re a winner!” I’d probably trash it.

November 18, 2012

A Must Have Resource for Bible Teachers

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (p. 25)

If you know anyone who is responsible for teaching the Bible in Children’s ministry, youth ministry, small group leadership; or someone who is simply wanting to get it right when it comes to their parenting responsibility in leading their family in their daily devotions, The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible by John Walton (Crossway) is an essential resource.

John Walton, professor at Wheaton College and his wife Kim Walton, a longtime curriculum user, developer and evaluator work through 97 Old Testament narrative stories and 77 New Testament stories in light of: Lesson focus, Lesson application, Biblical context, interpretive issues,  background information and mistakes to avoid.

It is the final section for each entry — mistakes to avoid — that is where this book shines. Too many times we’ve been subject to teaching which put the emphasis in the wrong place, missed the greater context, or simply went off down the rabbit trails of story details.  Often these misguided teaching foci proliferate or are passed on from church to church or generation to generation.

This is a book to keep on your shelf as needs arise. It deals exclusively with narrative passages; for example, in the New Testament, there are no entries after the book of Acts except for the lone one that covers all of Revelation.

Because it’s a Bible reference product, you might not read it sequentially, although you certain could take that approach.  But as a reference tool, I didn’t attempt to read it all; the copy I have is actually on loan; and the publisher is one whose products are not likely to cross my desk.  The Bible Story Handbook was published in 2010  and retails in paperback for $24.99 U.S.  It’s a great gift for a Sunday School teacher, youth pastor, or anyone with love for teaching the Bible to kids, teens or adults.

 

October 25, 2012

4th James Rubart Novel Boldly Goes Where Few Have Gone

I may never pray the same way again. Seriously. And all this from reading a work of fiction. As in, a made-up story.

Soul’s Gate is the fourth novel from James Rubart, author of Rooms, The Book of Days and The Chair; and he continues to excel with each new release.

For this book, he digs deep into the unseen realm(s) of the battles ordinary people wage each day against invisible spiritual forces. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood,’ right? In so doing, Rubart has brought to market a story that rivals the original in this genre, Frank Peretti’s landmark title, This Present Darkness from the late 1980′s. (C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters notwithstanding.)

But this is not fantasy. The book revolves around four people whose lives are not that different from yours or mine. Yes, there are things that take place that I believe Rubart would say exceed possibility — such as inferred from the title — but his take on praying with great, expectant faith is also down-to-earth and practical. Life application fiction, if you will, though I suspect the phrase is already copyrighted. It definitely can change your prayer life.

Reviewers often mention the page count of a book — 372, if you need to know — but this is a book that adds value with every single page. During the first few chapters I was already given ideas to process, and am considering restarting at chapter one once my wife is finished.

There is also a very strong Christian presence in each situation and character and the narration places a high value on scripture. This is the book you hand to someone who wants to know what a work of Christian fiction looks like; what makes it distinct.

My only concern is that after accepting a review copy I discovered this is the first in a series of Well Spring novels. A series. Something I swore I would never do, especially as someone for whom non-fiction, doctrinal books are dominant on my shelves. ‘I will read this first one,’ I told myself, ‘and then move on to other writers.’ By the half-way mark, I decided such was not the case.

I’m hooked.

Soul’s Gate will resonate well with Christian readers, but I wouldn’t stop there, as the book may work well with people who enjoyed that other popular Christian fiction title from last few years which also featured a cabin on the cover. If you know what I mean.


A copy of Soul’s Gate was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Thomas Nelson and is available in paperback wherever good books are sold.

For some other reflections I had after reading this book, click over to this article at Christianity 201.

August 31, 2012

Reviewing: The Reason by William Sirls

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:47 am

This is actually the third blog post here devoted to this book, with this one constituting my actual review. I attach a lot of significance to this book’s release as it combines elements used by a number of authors in the past five years in a single volume.

I’ll mention some similarities to The Shack in a moment, but one similarity that exists outside the pages itself is the fact that neither The Shack nor The Reason were ever intended to be seen by a larger audience. Wm. Paul Young wrote the former for his kids with the initial “print” run being a dozen copies. Photocopies really. William Sirls wrote the latter and submitted it to Westbow, a self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson, Inc (TNI) to be available in print on demand, until it was read by a TNI receptionist who had an eye for good writing.

Sirls is an unlikely author. As covered here earlier, “…Sirls, who began writing a novel in 2004, shelved his story after he made the decision to turn himself in to authorities and spend 29 months in federal prison, convicted of wire fraud and money laundering. While in prison, Sirls began to understand what it meant to have a true relationship with God. Inspired by his developing faith, Sirls picked up his original manuscript and began creating a spiritual backbone to his novel.

Like The Noticer by Andy Andrews, and So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore by Jake Colsen (pseud.),  William Sirls’ book contains a character who seems to have unusually deep insights into people and events both past, present and future. Is he more than what he appears to be?

Like the currently popular Rooms, The Book of Days, and The Chair by James Rubart, The Reason contains a continually advancing plot, a good mix of male and female protagonists — nice to see more fiction men can enjoy — and supernatural occurrences.

Like The Shack, this book, The Reason contains a crisis or if you will, a “great sadness.” Or several. Not to mention several characters in a crisis of faith.

And like all of these, The Reason uses a fair amount of “Socratic dialogue” to give the complete work a didactic or teaching value without compromising considerations of plot and characterization. There is enough character balance that the tough questions of life are addressed in a manner that isn’t preachy or ‘churchy’ resulting in a book that could be given — or should be given — to people outside the faith family.

The ultimate message of believing faith in The Reason probably answers as many questions as it creates new ones. I certainly couldn’t stop reading this book, and I suspect it will be among the top ten Christian titles heading into the fall season.

An advance copy of The Reason was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Thomas Nelson/Graf-Martin

August 24, 2012

Steven Furtick: Start Small, Dream Big

Somewhere early on in the book Greater: Dream Bigger, Start Smaller, Ignite Gods Vision For Your Life Steven Furtick comments that where his first book – Sun Stand Still — invited people to “pray audacious prayers,” in this book he wants to invite people to “live audacious lives.”

I say “somewhere” because normally when I read a book to review here, I grab a half sheet of white paper — which also acts as a bookmark — and as the reading progresses, I note different words and phrases that I want to incorporate in the review, and I also note page numbers for excerpts at my other blog.  That process fell apart with Greater; I just kept reading and reading and before too long I had a completed book and a blank sheet of paper.

So now what to write?

Greater is based on the life of the prophet Elisha, who asked his mentor, Elijah, for a double portion of all that Elijah had and did; which is remarkable when you consider Elijah on Mount Carmel, and the fact we know that story but can’t always quickly recite an Elisha story. But Steven Furtick argues that certainly Elisha did receive a greater portion.

Three things stand out to me on reflection, and in the absence of more detailed notes.

First of all, I continue to gain respect for all that Steven Furtick has accomplished and is doing at Elevation Church in Charlotte. He shares more of his personal story in Greater but does so in a way that relates to those of us who haven’t started a megachurch lately. While some of us spent our teen years rocking to Top 40 radio, Steven went to work playing and replaying sermon audio of great classic preachers, learning every nuance and cadence of their teaching. You sense that this is a unique person for whom God had a unique calling; yet at the same time he writes to the average person whose job may not seem as spiritual and may not be as high profile, and to those who may not currently have a job at all.

Second, while my mom enjoyed Sun Stand Still, I was much more aware this time around of a writing style that would strongly connect with a reader in their thirties, twenties or even teens. (Greater doesn’t need a youth edition; the book is the youth edition!) Christian book readers, meet your next generation author. But Furtick also bridges the generations that will read his book; when he speaks of an experience as a young man burning his (secular) CD collection, he stops to remind his younger readers that by burning he doesn’t mean duplicating.

Finally, Steven Furtick has the ability to extract a teachable moment from absolutely anything. I’d mention a few, but they’d all be spoilers… Okay, one:  Have you ever been at a football game where a referee’s ruling is sent ‘upstairs’ for a second opinion? An announcement over the public address system begins, “Upon further review…”  Well, as they say on Seinfeld, in this book, “that’s an episode.” Analogies like that stick with you and come back to you in the moment you need that extra shot of faith.

Greater releases in hardcover in the U.S. on September 4th, and in paperback in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

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