Thinking Out Loud

February 11, 2016

Book Mentions

Two titles you can share with people who wouldn’t normally read a Christian book.

Because of the popularity of the blog, I receive many books for which I’m not able to do a full review. Today I want to mention two of them, both of which would be suitable for giving away to someone outside your faith circle, as they’re both not preachy and just the right ticket to get conversations started. Both have brightly colored covers! Both have nine chapters.  Both are peripheral to the Christian Living section of the bookstore.

They are however both aimed at vastly different audiences.

Life's Too Short - David DarkLife’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious by David Dark (IVP)

Some chapters grabbed me right away, so I again committed the sin of reading things out of order. David Dark would maintain that everybody — no exceptions — has a religion of some type. The book is a series of essays relating to entertainment, literature, and popular culture in general and how these intersect with belief and faith. (I passed the Doctor Who-inspired chapter on to my wife to read, and we discussed the two episodes cited, which she has seen, but I have not.)

Dark is a professor — one of his courses is “Religion and Science Fiction” — at Belmont University. He meets his topic with wit and humor and yet enough substance to satisfy any student of philosophy or religion, or the skeptic who questions the place of faith in the modern world. Hardcover, 199 pages, releasing now.

Hands Free Life - Rachel Macy StaffordHands Free Life: 9 Habits for Overcoming Distraction, Living Better and Loving More by Rachel Macy Stafford (Zondervan)

Rachel Stafford is a mom to two girls and the author of the highly successful 2014 book Hands Free Mama and the blog of the same name popular with women. (Hands free means not holding on to the wrong things.) In this second book, she continues her style which is a mix of parenting stories told with transparency and self-help principles taught with conviction.

The sub-themes (3 chapters each) are Creating Lasting Connections, Living for Today, and Protecting What Matters. Each of the nine chapters also has three principles, and then ends with a “Habit Builder” to help moms live a life of significance. Paperback, 224 pages, released September 2015.

Click the book images to learn more about each title.

 

February 8, 2016

The Face of the Deep: A Refreshing Consideration of The Holy Spirit

Though I’m not usually at a loss for words, I have so many thoughts running through my head that I truly don’t know where to begin reviewing The Face of the Deep: Exploring the Mysterious Person of The Holy Spirit by Paul J. Pastor (David C. Cook, paperback, 2016). So we’ll do this one a little differently.

The Face of the Deep - Paul J PastorOverview: The Face of the Deep is a consideration of different passages in scripture which evidence the presence of the working of what we sometimes term ‘the third person of the trinity’ or simply ‘the Spirit.’ Arranged in two sets of seven chapters each, the first set is more focused in the Old Testament, the second in the New (though there is some overlap) with each chapter beginning in the narrative but with the aim of highlighting some aspects of what we usually term the work of the Holy Spirit. These sections are categorized as Seven Stars and Seven Lampstands, though it is made clear that the terms are not being applied in the traditional manner.

The writing style: The book is just over 300 pages long. Normally, I would consider that piece of information superficial, but I raise it here only to say that many sections of the book could easily have been typeset as poetry, bringing it to around 500 pages; such is the care that has gone into the writing. One endorsement said it better: “…the elegance of the prose befits its strange and beautiful subject.” 

A sample:

“If you want to build a ship,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Many theological understandings of Pentecost see it as some pragmatic extension of wood gathering. The “power from on high” that Jesus promised is perceived primarily as a means to an end–the evangelization of the world. The thinking is that in the face of a humanly impossible mission (making disciples and baptizing unto the ends of the earth), a divine resource is needed to carry out orders.

Of course Pentecost is power-giving. But its means of power is not just the transfer of ability or capacity, but the lighting of desire. It was an act of God that taught us to yearn for the vast and endless deep. More than the Spirit as some impersonal fuel for our “gas tanks” or a yes-man helper for missionary workers, God the Spirit, as an intimate in the souls of Christ’s people, as breath in the lungs, teaches us to yearn, to desire, to burn alive with holy passion. (p. 219)

Subjectivity: The book is far from a theological treatise on God’s spirit, rather, I was taken by the degree to which Pastor wrote himself and his life experiences into the story. Minus the more journalistic style, it reminded me so much of Philip Yancey, one of my favorite writers, whose works are equal parts theology and autobiography. Which brings us to…

Take a deep breath: I’m sure that somewhere mid-University I stopped inhaling books for good, but with this one I flipped the pages, held it close, and took a deep breath. Why on earth did I do this? Paul Pastor is from the Pacific Northwest and you are reminded of this every chapter. I could picture the forest, the rocks, the waterfalls, and I wanted to smell the trees. The book did not disappoint, though the publisher could might have anticipated this and helped me out a little more. The use of the word refreshing in today’s header was intentional. Considering the associations of wind and breath with God’s Spirit, I guess I was in the right zone.

The author’s name: What is usually trivial must be addressed here. Paul was my Wednesday Link List editor at Leadership Journal for over a year, but in days prior, I had dismissed it as a pen name. After all, this was the same publication that gave us the unlikely Url Scaramanga, “adjunct professor of interdisciplinary pseudonymology,” so I felt I was on safe ground. Not so. As the back cover blurb states, “His last name is either providence or coincidence.” (You can hear him do some real pastoring at this link; fast forward to 9 min. mark.)

What I learned: It wasn’t so much that this book introduced new information as much as it brought a number of a-ha moments as I was reminded of things I had heard before but never deeply considered or tied together. Finishing the final chapter, I immediately flipped back to the beginning and started all over, having now better appreciated the full rhythm and cadence of the book.

Bonus cuts: Each chapter features full page iconography by artist Martin French. (View them online.) At the end of the book, Pastor and French annotate each of those. Normally, I skip over illustrations — that’s not true, I usually don’t even see them — but this forced me to go back over each and read the descriptions, which was part of my decision to start the book a second time. (I’m now in chapter five!) There are also some questions for group or individual discussion. 

Conclusion: Five stars. Borrowing yet again from another endorsement, “Thank you Paul J. Pastor for writing the book I didn’t know I needed…”

 


Thanks to Martin at David C. Cook Canada for allowing me to review this great book.

Previously at Thinking Out Loud:

Link: Paul J. Pastor on Twitter.

January 25, 2016

Appreciating the Wisdom and Knowledge of N. T. Wright

I realized this weekend that I need to honor a promise to do this review, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion, even if I haven’t come close to finishing.

However, I am also well aware that by requesting an academic book for review, I am officially in over my depth, which partially if not fully explains why I am still only about a quarter of the way through its 378 pages. My reason for wanting a closer look at this book was singular: A fascination with the author’s intellect and wisdom.

N. T. Wright - Paul and His Recent InterpretersN. T. Wright‘s Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress Press, 2015) is actually a sequel to another volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and one of several concerning the Early Church apostle which forms his Magisterial series.

It’s specific purpose is to flesh out the teachings of a handful of Bible scholars from other generations while at the same time paying specific attention to where these stand in relationship to some of the more recent views about Paul which have occurred in our own time.

So the book falls into a category somewhat parallel to literary criticism that we might call theological critique. (Maybe they do call it that… remember, I’m in over my head.) There are however sections which would be more accessible to the lay-reader, provided they had overcome the $39 price point for this academic paperback.

For example, he begins with the conjecture as to what we might think if Paul’s writings had just been located in a type of Dead Sea Scroll discovery. We would see that he writes much about ho theos — the god — and this requires of us to wonder (a) What this divinity has done, and (b) What it is intending to do.

He then notes that Paul’s writings have been shelved in the area of Biblical studies whereas his writings have truly impact a vast array of categories such as Ancient History, Middle Eastern Culture, Politics and Philosophy to name a few. But with his writing simply shelving Paul under “Religion” limits the scope of his full impact and runs the risk of doing what the BBC in his own country does, placing religious writings in the same realm as fiction.

These moments were among the more accessible to me, and there are similar moments as I press through the book, but as I continue further, I realize that the primary prerequisite for reading this work ought to be some familiarity with the writers under the microscope; names familiar to academics and theologians but not to the average browser in the Christian book shop, or most readers here.

Still, I am struck by the mind of N.T. Wright and his authority in this particular area of study and New Testament studies in general. (His initials are so appropriate.) We need his voice to be heard, especially at a time when modern scholarship is deconstructing so many of the New Testament’s epistles and leaving people confused as to what Paul actually said or meant.

 

January 12, 2016

Book Review: The Looney Experiment

Nested among the advance reading copies from Zondervan last fall was a book for younger teens. I kept wondering why it was included, but after a conversation later into the year I flipped through the book and formulated a plan.

So today, I bring you a guest reviewer (who I don’t think I’ve met) who is in the same grade as the student in the story, and has a similar first name to the author. I guess it was meant to be!

The Looney Experiment by Luke Reynolds
Zonderkidz, 2015, Hardcover, 208 pages

reviewed by Lucus Wood

The Looney ExperimentAtticus is a young boy in middle school. He is a target for the school’s bully. He likes a girl that doesn’t really know he’s there. Because of the fighting his dad has left his family and Atticus feels confused and angry. Atticus’s teacher leaves to have a baby and they get a supply teacher named Mr.Looney. Mr.Looney seems to show up with Atticus’s dad out of the picture and helps him stand up to the bully at school. He stands up for himself and he makes life better and he goes on to be happy.

I really liked Mr.Looney. He is probably one of the funniest book characters that I have ever read about. Mr Looney has a wacky personality and is very wise though he makes his points in the strangest ways possible. He was my favorite character hands down. My favorite part was when he was jogging around the class room.

My thoughts on this book are: Amazing! Having a crazy teacher in a book is my favorite part of fiction books. I would recommend The Looney Experiment to others because it contains lots of laughs and a valuable life lesson. I enjoyed this book even though I thought I wouldn’t like it. I hope the author will write a sequel. (If he does, I’d love to read it.) I wonder if this book reflects the author’s childhood?  It was a great book and I will definitely read it again.


Read more about the book at Zondervan.com
See what other reviews are saying at BookLookBloggers.com

January 4, 2016

Christianity’s Diminishing Influence: What if We Were the Refugees?

In eight years of blogging I’ve repeated many articles but this is the first time I’ve ever repeated a book review, especially one that appeared only 12 months prior. But as I was looking at these Pew Research stats, especially the one showing Christianity and Islam having relatively equal numbers in the year 2050 (based on current projections) I realized we are about to witness a massive paradigm shift.

This book is therefore very timely, but without the fear-inducing sensationalism of mass-appeal titles.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework? How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

December 28, 2015

For Those Who Preach, Teach

Filed under: books, ministry — Tags: — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am
There is always a danger for anyone who is dealing with a lot of Christian material — Bible study and reflection or sermon preparation — that a familiarity can develop so that the text becomes something to study and comment upon, rather than the wisdom of God that must be applied and obeyed daily.   The discovery of a wonderful truth can tempt the preacher or writer to sermonize about it rather than apply it:  We can become those who challenge God’s people with God’s Word, rather than allowing it to impact us first.   Paul encourage the Philippians to “put into practice” what they have learned.   Elsewhere James paints a bizarre word portrait of a man who sees, on looking into the mirror, that some changes need to be made…but then he walks away without changing a thing.

–Jeff Lucas

Originally a British Church planting pastor, Jeff Lucas is a well-known author and speaker in the UK and author of the Life With Lucas devotional bi-monthly magazine.

December 27, 2015

Review: 100 Names of God Daily Devotional

Filed under: books, reviews, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:25 am

It seems appropriate somehow that Rose Publishing, the company that manufactures over a hundred laminated pamphlets and related charts and videos should also be the publisher of a devotional book which is equally informative.

100 Names of God Daily Devotional - Christopher D Hudson100 Names of God Daily Devotional by Christopher D. Hudson is a padded hardcover book with a hundred two-page spreads that at first look like something that could get really technical, but is in fact filled with application that really relates to the common person. It’s best described as Our Daily Bread meets Greek and Hebrew word study.

For each entry there is a keynote scripture, a devotional study that runs most of the two pages, a challenge, a prayer, and some related scriptures for further study. In the back, there is an index of themes which also connect to the word used as the devotional title for that day, its Strong’s Concordance number,  another reference to the key scripture, and whether or not it’s a New Testament or Old Testament word.

While this would make a nice gift, you’d want to read it yourself before giving it away; but at that point you might yourself wanting to hang on to it for reference. (Maybe you should buy two!) While there are other Christian books currently on offer which also deal with the names of God — a quick search with a wholesale book warehouse turned up over 50 — I found this particular approach very accessible. 

Read a sample chapter I posted yesterday at Christianity 201.

December 20, 2015

New Bible Edition Highlights O.T. Christological Passages in Blue

Filed under: bible, books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am
Page sample of NLT Jesus Centered Bible. Print bleed through from previous page is at no extra charge.

Page sample of NLT Jesus Centered Bible. Print bleed through from previous page is at no extra charge.

With The Jesus Storybook Bible providing children with insights as to how the Old Testament narratives point toward the coming of Jesus — so popular it necessitated the recently released adult version, The Story of God’s Love For You — it was inevitable that someone would pursue this at a deeper level looking at the entirety of the O.T. text, not just selected stories.

While I don’t have a relationship with Group Publishing that I do with other publishers — they did not supply a review copy — I had a rather cursory look at this edition of the New Living Translation on the weekend, and was reminded of this again watching the preview video which pastor Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House in Greater Toronto included in the middle of a Sunday sermon two weeks ago. (Link is to full sermon, click the video below to source.)

The printing of key texts in blue letters — highlighting more than 600 passages in the Old Testament pointing to Jesus — is mentioned in the video almost as an afterthought, and I thought they could have done a better job of showing page samples, but for what it’s worth, here’s the trailer.

Learn more at this link to Group Publishing.


Published: September, 2015 1410 pages
Translation: NLT
Hardcover 978147073404 $24.99 US
Turquoise Imit. 9781470722159 $34.99 US
Slate Imit. 9781470726881 $34.99 US
Related youth ministry resources also available; though the Bible itself is not, strictly speaking, a youth-only product.

December 17, 2015

Book Review: Stuff Married Guys Need to Know

Filed under: books, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am

As a reviewer who is also involved in the retail side of publishing, I am too aware that books for men can be a tough sell. Generally speaking, it’s not a well performing category, and so when a men’s interest title arrived in a stack of review books, I placed it near the bottom of the pile.

But then I decided to take a second look. Dude’s Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well (Nelson Books, November 2015) is written by St. Louis pastor Darrin Patrick with substantial contributions from wife and coauthor Amie Patrick. It’s Darrin’s 4th major release and a sequel to Dude’s Guide to Manhood.

The thing that struck me about this book right away was the subject material covered. I dove right in to some sections immediately, and now I have to confess I’m working on a more sequential reading. These are the chapter titles:

  1. Dude's Guide to MarriageListen
  2. Talk
  3. Fight
  4. Grow
  5. Provide
  6. Rest
  7. Serve
  8. Submit
  9. Pursue
  10. Worship

I immediately identified some areas where I have failed as a husband. When we got married, the minister that did our wedding noted that it’s customary to do some marriage counseling with couples but because we both grew up in the church, he felt we “knew all this stuff” and it wasn’t entirely necessary.

Still, I wish he’d bored us to death by repeating some of it anyway. When opportunities later presented themselves to take a marriage retreat weekend, we were usually too busy to take the time, or too poor to pay the cost. A resource like this one would have helped.

This book was well-researched, and Biblical principles were well-integrated. I saw one review that said “The Dude’s Guide to Marriage says nothing new…” but I disagree. I felt this material was fresh and the topical assortment provided much food for thought. I found chapters 5 and 9 the most personally beneficial, but your mileage may vary.

I liked what one reviewer said, “This is not just another ‘marriage book’ to check your box guys… this one pokes you in the eye.” Another wrote, “This may have been the most enjoyable and practical book on marriage that I have ever read.”

I have to admit I skip the individual/group (or in this case couples) discussion questions when reviewing a book, but several readers mentioned these as the high point of each chapter. I went back, and to my surprise the questions were rich in terms of the possibilities for husbands and wives to share their hurts, their blessings and their hearts.

This one is a keeper.


Read reviews of breaking Christian titles at Book Look Bloggers. Click on “Browse Reviews.”

December 12, 2015

Worst Christian Book Covers of 2015

As end of year book lists go, lately this has become the only one to which I look forward. Did one of these hit #1? Or was there one that was worser? (Yeah, not a word; but fits in context.) Click this link to Englewood Review of Books, and start the countdown of the top 15. See also the links to previous year’s winners.

Worst Cover 2015 #12Worst Cover 2015 #14Worst Cover 2015 #3Worst Cover 2015 #extra

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