Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Short Answers to Big Questions about God, the Bible & Christianity by Clinton Arnold & Jeff Arnold

We Christians are to be thinking people and sometimes we need resources to help us. The authors have written this book to help fill in those areas where we need clarity in our thinking.

They start with basic questions about trusting the Bible. They cover loads of topics, such as believing God is good, the supernatural, the destiny of man, the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Jesus' return, and many more.

The authors have limited their answers to a few pages, even though books have been written about some of these issues. The idea is that these answers are not exhaustive but are more springboards for further investigation. There are books listed in For Further Reading so the topics can be explored more deeply. There are also Discussion Questions listed at the end of each chapter.

Potential readers should be aware that this is a very general and introductory collection of questions and answers. For example, when investigating the claim of possible errors in the Bible, they address the issue in general, not looking at any specific issues.

Salvation is clearly explained so the book is suitable for someone investigating Christianity. There are places where the authors expect readers to accept the Bible as truth so those answers are suitable for readers already Christians. There were a few of discussions I especially appreciated. One was a very good teaching on the Trinity. Another was the explanation for the formation of the canon. Another was a balanced and well presented look at the return of Christ, not giving a particular view of the timing of the rapture, but covering the various possibilities.

Some of the questions surprised me, such as the role of emotions in our Christian life. The authors talk about the “dark night of the soul,” something usually discussed in more advanced books. But the authors have selected the questions because they themselves have been asked these questions over the years. So the book does not deal with just theology but questions of life, like happiness and purpose. They have an excellent discussion of what it means to be “in” the world but not “of” the world. And they tackle hard questions, like unanswered prayer.

I recommend this book to new Christians or those investigating Christianity. You'll get some good answers, some questions to stimulate your thinking, and some suggestions to investigate further.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Clinton E. Arnold is dean of Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is the author of many books and is the editor of the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary.
Jeff Arnold is a high school English and logic teacher in Downey, California. A former youth pastor, he is the creator of Unleashed, an intensive training camp that equips Christian teens to share their faith. He also trains new believers in the basics of theology.

Baker Books, 368 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry

This is a WW II novel with a captivating twist. I really liked it.

Roger Greene was shot down over Nazi Germany in 1943. He was taken prisoner and became part of a bazaar experiment. Called the Methuselah Project, an eccentric scientist injected Roger and six others with chemicals and submitted them to treatments.

Roger was the only one who survived. He's lived for decades in a basement cell. And he has never aged. He's been lied to by his caretakers and believes the war is still going on, although at somewhat of a stalemate. The only thing that has kept him from going crazy is the Bible he reads.

After some 70 years of captivity, one of his caretakers turns sympathetic and
there is a chance for an escape. But could he ever be free or would the organization holding him captive hunt him until they could take him out? And when he meets a woman who offers to help him, how does he know he can even trust her?

This is great fiction. We have bazaar experiments going on in the last months of the Nazi regime. We have a secret organization of Nazi war survivors who hid their experiments, and Roger, from the Allies. That organization continues today with nefarious intentions and operatives in several countries. And Roger, even if he could escape and get free, how could he ever convince anyone he was nearly a hundred years old, looking like a young man?

The characters are well done. Roger is a well crafted guy out of the forties. He talks like one and acts like one. The gal he meets is a well crafted character too. She is a little naive about the secret organization her uncle has convinced her to join, but she has a good heart.

There is lots of action in the novel. I liked the way the plot developed, as the narrative goes back and forth from WW II to today. Barry has made a conspiracy organization and a bazaar experiment into a believable and very readable story. I highly recommend it.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Rick Barry is the author of a previous WW II novel and over 200 articles and fiction stories. He is the director of church planting ministries at BIEM, a Christian ministry operating in Eastern Europe. He lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find out more at http://rickcbarry.com.

Kregel Publications, 312 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Vendetta by Lisa Harris

I like a well written police procedure novel and this is a good one.

This is the first novel about Nikki Boyd. She's with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on the Missing Persons Task Force. She signed on for the investigative work nearly a decade ago, after her younger sister was abducted and never found. She is called in to head the task force when a teen goes missing.

Harris has given us a good mixture of police work, psychological insight, and just a hint of romance. Nikki is driven to find the missing teen as she battles with her memories of her sister's abduction. But then the current case takes on a twist when a photo of the terrified teen is uncovered – just like a photo of her sister was left. Could it be the same person, silent for ten years? Is her own life in danger?

Harris has given us a good female protagonist. I like the way Nikki's character is developed. We are privy to her troubled thoughts but not enough to detract from the action. The secondary character in the book Tyler. He had been married to Nikki's best friend who died a year ago. Nikki and Tyler talk quite a bit about guilt as both feel somewhat responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. I trust that is just setting the stage and both of them will move forward in the next novel. There is a hint of romance between the two, something I look forward to seeing develop.

I always like to learn something new when I read a novel. This time it was about hiking in the Smoky Mountains. I also learned about how easy it is to fake an identity on social media sites for the purpose of attracting teen girls. That aspect of the novel is a wake up call to parents of teens.

The only aspect of the novel that makes it less than perfect was the suspense near the end. I loved the build up. I was surprised at the identity of the bad guy. The resolution of the suspense I thought was just a little unrealistic, too convenient. But that was a minor flaw in an otherwise great book. I recommend it to those who like suspense with a strong female protagonist.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Lisa Harris and her husband live near the Indian Ocean in Mozambique where they work as church planting missionaries. She is a Christy Award winner and the winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel for 2011 from Romantic Times, having authored nearly thirty books. You can find out more about her at http://www.lisaharriswrites.com/ and follow her blog at http://myblogintheheartofafrica.blogspot.com/.

Revell, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Generational IQ by Haydn Shaw

You've heard the cry that the church is dying. Shaw says the future can be bright but we need to increase our understanding of what's going on – increase our generational intelligence.

In the first half of the book, Shaw gives us information on the generations. He identifies them, gives us the basics of what they believe, shows how the time in which they were born shapes them, and reveals their strengths and temptations.

I am impressed with this information. I now have a much better understanding of why those of younger generations behave as they do. As an older Baby Boomer, I've got some insight as to why Generation Xers are cynical and skeptical. I have a much better understanding why Millennials are so confident and see morality so differently than I do. I understand the “emerging adulthood” phenomenon and why twenty-something young people are still living at home.

The second half of the book builds on the information Shaw gave in the first half. He helps parents know how to engage their prodigal children. He has very good insights and suggestions about those leaving the church and cohabiting, for example. Then he explores what the generational information means for the church. He assures us Christianity will not disappear but he also identifies the challenges the church is facing, such as the way outreach is done. He has good suggestions for reaching young people and helping them think through intellectual challenges. He also includes ideas for older people, such as when their church becomes something they no longer like.

I am impressed with the understanding and insight Shaw has concerning generational differences. I know from my own family experience that he is right on. I knew the younger generation was different and now I know how and why. I also have some good ideas about initiating conversation with them, that is, listening first.

Shaw has presented lots of great information in this book to help us understand the generational differences. He admits he does not have all the answers. But he does have some good ideas to start the dialog. I highly recommend this book to parents, pastors and church leaders who want to understand generational differences. It would be great for young people too, as it will help them understand the older generations.

We all need to increase our generational intelligence and this book is a good place to start.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Haydn Shaw is a leading expert on understanding generational differences. He has worked with more than a thousand businesses, nonprofits, and governmental organizations. He is a full time speaker and consultant for FranklinCovey, specializing in leadership, execution, and personal productivity methodologies. He and his wife and their four teenagers live in Illinois.

Tyndale House Publishers, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The End of Me by Kyle Idleman

If you feel you are at the end of yourself, Idleman says that's a good place to be. That is when Jesus becomes real in your life.

His book is divided into two parts. In the first part, he explores how we come to the end of ourselves. The rest of the book is about putting ourselves into the best position to be used by God.

Idleman looks at four beatitudes that put us on the path to real life. He writes about brokenness – the way to wholeness, mourning – the way to happiness, humbleness – the way to being exalted, and authenticity – the way to being accepted.

Then he shows how Jesus fills us when we are empty. He uses stories from the Bible to illustrate how Jesus is willing to do that. Idleman also looks at what prevents us from being filled, such as failing to ask, feeling unworthy, and thinking it is too late. He also writes about our attempts to fill our soul with things that do not fit.

This is a pretty good book on getting to the point where we have nothing left. He has great stories (many about himself) and biblical illustrations as well as good exposition of Scripture. His chapter on humility is great and worth reading the book.

The only thing that makes this book less than perfect is Idleman's quirky humor (you just have to read the footnotes). He's a funny man. But as I imagined a devastated person reading this book, hoping to find God's way out of the depths he or she is in, the humor seemed inappropriate and something that reduced the seriousness of the rest of his book.

I recommend this book but if you are really at the end of yourself, skip the humorous footnotes and just read Idleman's serious and encouraging part of the text.

Food for thought: “Dying to myself and reaching the end of me is meant to be a daily decision and a daily demonstration.”

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Kyle Idleman is the teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is an award winning and bestselling author and frequent speaker at conferences. He and his wife have four children. You can find out more at http://kyleidleman.com/.

David C. Cook, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

True Worshipers by Bob Kauflin

Kauflin encourages us to see worship “as our highest goal, our loftiest aim – the great purpose of our existence.” There is no higher goal than to revel in our great and awesome God. But what does that mean? Right now. Today. Sunday.

He reminds us that true worshipers worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). That is worship springing from a sincere heart and lining up with the truth of God's Word. We can only do that through the work of Christ. He emphasizes our inability to worship God unless He draws us by grace and reveals Himself through His Word.

The essence of worship, Kauflin says, is exalting God in our hearts and actions. He suggests a good way to begin is to remember that God exists in every situation. Right now. He also writes about the importance of gathering in community to worship. He wrote quite a bit about music too, why we sing, why we must sing. He also covers what we are to expect when we worship, including edifying one another. He ends the book with worship in heaven.

I like the way Kauflin has given us the essentials of worship. He could have written a longer book, he says, but wanted something that covered the questions he has been asked over the years and the areas where he has seen Christians struggle. I like how he clarifies when worship happens. It is not just something on Sunday morning. It is to be the totality of our lives.

This is a good introduction to worship, what it is, how we do it, and why we do it. I highly recommend it to those who want to make worshiping God their highest goal.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Bob Kauflin is a pastor, songwriter, worship leader, and author with thirty five years experience. After pastoring for twelve years, he became the director of Sovereign Grace Music. He is currently an elder at Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife have six children and a growing number of grandchildren.

Crossway, 176 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Power That Changes the World by Bill Johnson

Christians sometimes concentrate on heaven but Johnson reminds us that we are instructed to pray that God's will be done here, now. He encourages us to be a transforming influence on our community.

Some Christians think that influence has to be through politics or business. Johnson believes we should bring the Kingdom influence to every reach of society. Each of us has daily opportunities for transforming influence. That influence comes from intentional living.

He shares how the church he pastors has been instrumental in transforming the attitude and value system of their city. “Success in God's eyes is seen in the impact the message of the Kingdom has on how people think and live in my city, region and nation.” They found that the more they served their city with no agenda other than that the Lord be glorified, the more the city opened up to the message they carried.

This is an encouraging and convicting book. I realize that many Christians have not learned about God and His Kingdom well enough to influence themselves and the community in which they live. Johnson has very good suggestions about basic attitudes we are to have towards those in the community. One that struck me was valuing people before they are converted. Every individual has been made in the image of God and has been given gifts by Him. That attitude of honoring others is an important first step to influence.

This book is a great challenge for us to impact our community. We can carry the blessing of God to others. We can share the gifts God has given us with others. We can reveal the nature of God to others. If that is what you would like to do, this book will encourage you.

Food for thought: “My assignment is to bring heaven to earth through my prayers and acts of radical obedience.”

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Bill Johnson and his wife are the senior leaders of Bethel Church in Redding, California. They have three grown children and nine grandchildren.

Chosen Books, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Chosen? by Walter Brueggemann

This book is by no means a scholarly look at the subject. It is more Brueggemann's feelings on the situation with some Scripture investigation and then a study guide as a springboard for discussion.

He notes that he championed the idea that Israel needed to be a nation but is now having second thoughts about their national behavior. There has been indifference toward the human rights of Palestinians. The way Israel is behaving, Brueggemann writes, they are not making a good impression as “God's chosen people.”

An unconditional one-sided support of Israel is not the way to move forward in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One must realistically look at the political situation if there is ever to be a solution.

He explores how one reads the Bible and the meaning of Israel as “chosen.” Sometimes it looks unconditional while other times conditional (as in Exod. 19:5). With respect to the land, “...we may conclude that the land is given to Israel unconditionally, but is held by Israel conditionally.” Looking at the various verses in Joshua, he concludes, “Thus, the land is given, the land is taken, and the land is losable.” This is evidenced in the exile, the return, then losing the land again.

He also questions whether today's Israel is the biblical Israel. He gives reason to conclude, “It is simply not credible to make any direct appeal for the ancient promise of land to the state of Israel.”

The strength of this little book is the study guide, set up for four sessions. I have seen many Christians unconditionally support the state of Israel without really thinking through the issue and the human rights actions of the Israelis toward Palestinians within the state. Reading this book and discussing the issues may be a good way to bring some reality thinking to the situation.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Walter Brueggemann is William Marcellus McPheeters Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. You can find out more at http://www.walterbrueggemann.com/.

Westminster John Knox Press, 114 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.