Category Archives: Book Review

World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life

World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our common Life by Marvin Olasky

World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our common Life by Marvin Olasky

In today’s contentious political environment where reason, sound inquiry, and critical thinking seem to have been overwhelmed by name-calling, shouting, and protests, Marvin Olasky offers a breath of fresh air in World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life.

Olasky, the former editor of World Magazine, offers 58 of his columns from 1997-2016 for our consideration. His reasoning and arguments remind me of the home school debate league our son participated in, where debaters were required to understand both sides of the issue. He suggests how we as Christians might understand and discuss current political issues, usually offering information or facts that were new to me.

A Variety of Topics

Through these columns, Olasky suggests a thoughtful Christian worldview, loosely organized into several broad categories including Basics, Changes, Institutions, Causes, and Conclusions. He covers such topics as abortion, the constitution, education, transgenderism, immigration, and more, and suggests how we might approach these issues. Some of his essays are twenty years, yet I was surprised how current his thinking was.

While this is an interesting read, it is probably more useful as a reference book. The Table of Contents is somewhat helpful, although many of his chapter titles don’t make clear the topic. But it is refreshing to read thoughtful commentaries on political and worldview topics.

 

 

Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach

Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach by Dr. Bryan Maier

Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach by Dr. Bryan Maier

In the Christian healing arena, forgiveness has become a staple. Whether you are doing Sozo, Thoephostic, Immanuel, or HeartSync, a standard question is, “Have you forgiven….?” It’s a great question and often releases healing into deep places that have remained stuck for years. The standard thinking is that the offended or abused person can forgive, regardless of the actions of the offender and even if the offender hasn’t repented. In fact, even if he’s dead. Many people find healing through this process. In this model, forgiveness is usually defined as releasing a legal obligation or transferring the debt to God. Once the debt is released, the offended person can move on, whether the offender asks for or receives the forgiveness or not.

A Different Approach

Dr. Bryan Maier offers a different take and an interesting perspective in Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach . Maier says that forgiveness must be rooted in the forgiveness of God, and that since God requires repentance, so must we. He puts the onus on the offender to repent and outlines a lengthy process of verifying the validity of the repentance and this puts all the cards in the hands of the offended. She is not required to accept the apology, but the offender is required to bide his time and continue reaching out. And by extension, if the offender is dead and can’t repent, it seems to leave the offended in a rotten position of never being able to forgive. Maier doesn’t spend much time on this, but it does beg the question. He also suggests that forgiveness is essentially unrelated to healing.

I was intrigued with the parallel to God’s forgiveness. True, he does require repentance. And if we don’t repent, we aren’t forgiven. That makes sense. But as a person who had to forgive a dead offender, I found real problems with Maier’s model. How would I release him since I wasn’t even aware of the abuse until years after he was gone?

This is dense and thoughtful book. Maier makes and documents his points well. I would recommend it to those working in healing and ministry. You may not agree with him, but he will make you think.

 

 

 

 

The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible

The Beginner’s Gospel Story Book by Jared Kennedy (illustrator Trish Mahoney)

 

I’m so excited! Litfuse just sent me The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy (illustrator Trish Mahoney) to review. As a grandma of preschoolers, I’m always looking for books that don’t just tell bible stories as “fairy tales” unrelated to anything else, but rather books that connect the whole story of redemption from start to finish. This is one of the latter. There are several reasons I love it.

Focus on Promise

This book focuses on promise, tracing God’s perfect promises in 52 stories from the Old and New Testaments. In each story, one key truth is highlighted in boldface type. It isn’t always at the end of the story, but can be found anywhere. This makes a fun game for the kids – find the promise! Each story ends with a question to discuss with the child, often a question focusing on Jesus–even in the Old Testament. Salvation and the Holy Spirit are frequent. The book skips those parts of the stories that kids might have a hard time understanding. For example, it doesn’t tell that Moses killed an Egyptian. It just says that Moses went away.

Gorgeous and Educational

In addition, vividly colorful illustrations and fun elements can teach colors, counting, opposites, patterns and object recognition. These are not obvious, so the reader can look for them or not, depending on the child’s interests and level. Each story is six to eight pages, with simple language, short sentences, and lots of action words and onomatopoeia. The paper is thick and glossy. It’s gorgeous! The book is large, boasting more than 300 pages (which may make it a little heavy for a preschooler to hold by herself). The stories are very abbreviated – perhaps too abbreviated for the target age. But most preschoolers will enjoy this book. I sure do!

 

Creating a Spiritual Heritage

A Spiritual Heritage: Connecting Kids and Grandkids to God and Family by Glen & Ellen Schuknecht

As a mom and grandma, one of my primary goals in life is to make sure that my kids and grandkids are not simply following Jesus, but really following Jesus. That they have a faith that sticks in times good and not so good. This seems to be more of a challenge with each passing year. Not only does the culture create increasing obstacles, but even defining what following Jesus means in today’s environment seems to be a moving target. Even more challenging is how we as older adults speak well into the lives of our adult kids and grandkids.

Glen and Ellen Schuknecht offer a plethora of good information in their new book, A Spiritual Heritage: Connecting Kids and Grandkids to God and Family. They are involved in discipleship and family ministries at Veritas Academy in Manchaca, Texas and have made a deliberate commitment to daily build a spiritual legacy in their family. This is done more by dozens of small actions and rituals rather than by one grand thing.

Glen says, “These little things are what allow your precious kids and grandkids to fall asleep safe in God’s arms and wake up knowing they are part of something big and special.” He encourages us “through careful prayer and intentional conversation,” to “build a legacy of faith that will sustain your kids, your grandkids, and all your future generations throughout their lives.” That’s a goal I can subscribe to.

But the Schuknecht’s don’t just spout platitudes and sanctimonious words. They offer practical tips and examples in every chapter. And while their family seems to be one of those Norman Rockwell paintings, they offer examples of other less idyllic families they’ve worked with using their conversational coaching RITE formula: Relate, Inspire, Teach, Equip. Finally, each chapter includes one or more “Quick Tips” sections that summarize their points.

While much of this book is common sense and while some who have been Christians a long time might say, “I knew that…,” I found enough good ideas to consider this book a good investment. For those who are new to the faith or who grew up without strong family bonds, it’s a must-have.

Thanks to Kregel Publications for inviting me to review this book.

Fiction Friday! Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes (The Isaiah Cadre) by Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus

How do you maintain your faith in times of unexpected trouble or trauma? Especially when it hits you out of nowhere. And what if the trauma has long-lasting effects—perhaps for the rest of your life? Would you still be able to trust God?

Beauty For Ashes: Isaiah Cadre, Book 1 (Isaiah Cadre Series) is the first of a series by my friend, Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus. It chronicles the story of Kelly, a student at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in 1981. She is an MK (missionary kid) and in love with Matt, a PK (preacher’s kid). She is also part of the Isaiah Cadre, a group of dorm mates who have committed themselves to God and one another.

The book starts off a little slowly, but sets the stage well for an idyllic college experience, deep friendships, and young romance. It gives context that will be important later. And then the unthinkable happens and in a moment, Kelly’s world is shattered. Her faith is tested. Her love is tested. Even her friendships are tested.

The book offers a realistic portrayal of the way many people handle sudden trauma. It especially demonstrates how trauma affects a normally logical person, and how shame can distort one’s thinking.

I highly recommend this book. I loved it even though it’s not  my demographic. It’s well written, fast moving, and thoughtful. The author offers discussion questions for personal use or better yet, for a book group. Or even for a cadre. And best of all, it’s free on Kindle!

 

Do You Want to be Transformed?

Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life by Christy Wimber

Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life       by Christy Wimber

For those of us who are serious about our faith, the idea of becoming transformed is always a priority. We’re always looking for the next step in our metamorphosis into Christlikeness. That’s why I was excited for the opportunity to review Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life by Christy Wimber (Kregal). I was eager to learn what John Wimber’s daughter-in-law would add to my Christian walk. Her chapter topics increased my enthusiasm: what Jesus said yes to, mercy, renewing the mind, identity, grace, and calling. She identifies transformation as a journey, not a destination and focuses on deliberate, sacrificial choices as vehicles for transformation. All good ideas.

Unfortunately, the book fell short of my expectations. I think there were some good ideas in it, but they were often lost in a rambling narrative that would have benefited from a strong editor. Her writing was not tight and she often didn’t choose the best words or phrases to make her arguments. Her points were weakened by redundancy and rambling. Callout boxes didn’t reinforce or repeat important concepts. They were simply the next sentence, with little reason for being set apart. There were few stories or examples – just narrative. And while she offered some good theories, there was little in the way of practical “how to.” The result was a book I was not eager to return to and few memorable points.

I would love to see this book rewritten and re-edited. It’s clearly a concept needed by today’s Christians. But sadly, this edition doesn’t cut it.

Brave is the New Beautiful

Brave is the New Beautiful:

Brave is the New Beautiful: Finding the Courage to Be the Real You by Lee Wolfe Blum

Life is hard. It seldom goes like we planned. Bad things happen to good people. Life comes crashing in — or oozing in. And we’re expected to be brave?

As Americans, we want easy answers, quick resolutions. As Christians, we want Jesus to wave his magic wand and make it better. The reality is, answers are seldom quick or easy or perfect. The big question is then, what do we do? How do we react or respond? How do we find hope in the midst of the hopeless?

Lee Wolfe Blum is brave. And beautiful. As a therapist in an addiction and eating disorders program, she explores what it means to be brave, facing her own demons and telling the stories of other women who have faced theirs. In the process, she makes it clear that while there are no easy answers, there is Jesus. But not just the “right answer” Jesus. No, the real, gritty Jesus who meets us in the mess.

Blum weaves her own story of burnout and her resultant quest for wholeness with the stories of other women in a gracious and gentle way. But this is not the typical namby-pamby “isn’t Jesus sweet?” book that I so often review. Blum tells raw, authentic stories of vulnerability laced with faith. Her writing is beautifully crafted, but not every story has a happy ending. Some don’t even have an ending. Just like in real life.

Brave Is the New Beautiful: Finding the Courage to Be the Real You reads smoothly, but I wouldn’t call it an easy read. It moves deeper with each chapter and offers hope without guarantees. Just like real life. It will be a resource in my ministry. My only complaint is that she wrote it for women only. I would love to give a book like this to many men who are also facing tough stuff. Who also need to be brave.

 

What an Open Heaven Means to You

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel by John E. Jonson

When reading the gospels, do you ever wonder what it’s all about? What it means to you? If those stories from so long ago really have any impact on your life today? I think if we’re honest, we all feel that at least on occasion.

John E. Johnson tackles these questions in his new book, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel.  In a conversational, almost irreverent tone, he takes thirteen of Jesus’ conversations with others in the Gospel of John and explains how in each, Jesus is demonstrating what an open heaven looks like and what difference it made to His hearers and to us.

Contemporary and Scholarly

Johnson weaves his language between 1st century commentary and 21st century vernacular, reminding the reader that yes, this applies to you. He takes pages out of today’s headlines with mentions of elections, human needs, and the #NeverJesus crowd. And he inserts his reader into the narrative with, for example, Jesus asking the disciples “what food stores remain open” or the disciples recognizing that “even at thrift store prices, there is not that much money in the deacon fund to cover the need” of feeding five thousand adult males, not to mention the women and children. Blended into this very real, very contemporary narrative is excellent scholarship, many quotes, and precise documentation.

Applies to Real Life

So what does an open heaven mean to an ordinary person pursuing splendor? I found myself engaged with Jesus, the human, the one who faced common everyday needs and opportunities in his setting which strangely had a lot in common with my setting. This book took Jesus from “way back then” to right now, from “I wonder how this applies to me” to “Wow, that’s just like my life.” More than any commentary I’ve read, Under an Open Heaven gave me actionable concepts. In addition, application questions at the end of every chapter helped to extend the concept of an open heaven to my everyday life.

This book is readable and penetrating. Well worth your time.

Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control

"Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible" by Shannon Popkin

“Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible” by Shannon Popkin

What do Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, and Miriam have in common? According to Shannon Popkin, they are all “Control Girls.” And what is a “control girl?” It’s a girl (or woman) who, one way or another, believe that it is good, right, or necessary to take control. They take control over their husbands, their kids, their circumstances, and try hard to control God. Their motives and methods are different, but the result is always the same – tragedy.

In Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, Popkin has taken a topic I’ve seen little written about and tackled it well. She is an excellent writer, skillfully blending solid biblical study with personal examples. She goes deep by lesson 2, which I appreciated. And every lesson was peppered with good strategies, penetrating application questions, and depth I seldom see in a women’s book. Great job for her first book. You’ll want this book for yourself, your women’s group, or for someone you love.

My only complaint about this book is that she aimed it squarely at and for women. Sure, we need it. But her points are equally pertinent to men, and I’m sure she could have found a half dozen men to write about. I would love to use a book like this for a co-ed Bible study or in ministry with male clients. But hey, let’s get the women in line and pray for the men!

 

Waiting for Wonder

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God's Timeline by Marlo Schalesky

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline by Marlo Schalesky

Full disclosure: Marlo Schalesky is not only a friend, but also one of my favorite fiction authors. She and I attended the same seminary, although not at the same time. I’ve know her for many years and have watched her live out an amazing Christian life. But I must say, Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline is a giant leap forward in her writing. In this book, Marlo has combined her remarkable fiction skills with her academic prowess – a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. That may sound like an odd combination – and it is. But Marlo pulls it off with aplomb. The result is an engaging read, peppered with historical and theological facts. And then she tops it all off with personal application and challenging questions.

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timelineis the story of Sarah. I’ve heard many sermons and read a few books on Abraham, but few on Sarah. Who was she? What was her world like, and how did she navigate it? How did she respond to being essentially a pawn in Abraham’s drama? How did she manage the twenty-five year wait between the promise and the fulfillment?  And so what? Why do I care?

A Compelling and Scholarly Saga

Marlo weaves a compelling saga, laced with insights from scholarly authorities. Her theme is, of course, waiting – and finding God in the wait. Imagine being infertile and then in your old age, being promised a son. A son from your womb! Imagine the roller coaster of emotion as month follows month, year follows year with no son. Imagine the frustration of being a woman in that culture, a woman whose husband leaves home, family, and a good life behind and becomes a nomad to chase a promise from his God. His invisible God, by the way. Did Abram really hear God? Is this invisible God really able to pull off his promise? If so, what is taking so long?

Admit it. Sarah’s story is all too often our story. Sarah’s wait reflects our seemingly endless wait. Sarah’s flimsy faith and attempts to help God out – well, yeah…..

This book is well worth the read. It’s an excellent devotional and would also be a meaningful book for a small group.

Marlo Schalesky’s ‘Waiting for Wonder’ Giveaway (12/6-1/23)

Waiting for Wonder Marlo Schalesky

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