Below you will find reviews of books available in the BelPres Library. The reviews were written by volunteers and members of the Library Team. Did you read a great book lately or check out a great DVD?  Tell us about it!

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Crazy Love
by Francis Chan

If you want to be motivated in your faith, READ THIS BOOK.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  Instead, it is for Christians who want to get serious about their faith.  If you read between the lines, it may be the story of Frances Chan’s own spiritual journey from being a “tepid” Christian to one who is passionate about how he lives his life.  “Having faith often means doing what others see as crazy.  His passion shines through every paragraph of this message.

What is Chan passionate about, you ask?   One thing that grabs him is the Bible itself – God’s Word.  He reads it like it actually means what it says.  And he asks what would happen if we all read the Bible with equal sincerity and belief.  What do we do with the verse: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands?”  (1 John 2:3-4). There are more where this came from.  Chan encourages believers to move from complacency to courage, from being satisfied to surrendered to Christ.

But, he does give believers some latitude.  Rather than have us doubt our salvation, he grants that “in the midst of our failed attempts at loving Jesus, His grace covers us.”  That is a good thing, because there is certainly a learning curve in our journeys to get to the lifestyle Chan is talking about.  He is also passionate that we do not continue to be “lukewarm” Christians.  Lukewarm believers “do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty.”  Lukewarm believers “think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven.”  Lukewarm believers “will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give.  Do any of these hit a nerve?  They certainly did with this scribe.

Chan’s greatest passion seems to be for the poor.  A serious impact on his lifestyle was made during a mission trip to Africa.  He saw how poor the people were – how they lived a subsistence existence – and realized how his own family lived in such luxury in comparison.  Downsizing his house, despite his five children, was the only faithful response that made sense.  In 1 John 3:17, it is declared that “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  Giving is a natural answer to loving Jesus.  “As we love more genuinely and deeply, giving becomes the obvious and natural response.”   The basis of this response comes from Matthew 25:40.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  This verse expects us to treat the poor and the desperate as if they were Christ Himself.  This is crazy love!

Can we move from being “lukewarm” Christians to being “obsessed” by love for Christ?  “People who are obsessed with God are known as givers, not takers.  Obsessed people genuinely think that others matter as much as they do, and they are particularly aware of those who are poor around the world.”  “A person who is obsessed is characterized by committed, passionate love for God, above and before every other thing and every other being.”  This is Chan’s call to us – to become so obsessed with Christ that nothing else matters.  Will you hear the call?

Book reviewed by
Sue Neuman, Library Volunteer

I Shall Not Hate by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish

Disclaimer:  This review is not meant in any way to be a political statement, but merely an examination of the story and philosophy of the author.

Gaza is a horrific place.  A little sliver of land located on the mid-western coast of Israel and on the border with Egypt, it has known at least 60 years of destructive and demoralizing attacks.  Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Muslim, and his family grew up in this environment, but it was home for them.  He could have adopted the attitude of many of his neighbors – one of hatred and revenge.  Despite their lack of almost all goods and services, one thing that couldn’t be taken away was an education, so he studied hard both day and night to build a better life for himself.  As the eldest male of the family, he was also expected to work at jobs to bring in money for his family to live on.  Being successful in school and through a series of fortunate opportunities, he was accepted into medical school in Egypt, where he specialized in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

He met his wife and they eventually had eight children.  But this is a story of survival and hope in an area where the Palestinians were considered by the Israelis to be essentially persons without any rights or privileges.  They had lost their human identity and dignity through constantly being deprived of food, water, and even shelter.  They were basically prisoners in their own land, as Israel controlled the border and constantly harassed them, requiring countless documents in order to cross into Israel.  This process would take days or even weeks if the border had been closed for some reason.  Supplies were available just a short distance away, but not accessible.

Granted, the conflict between Gaza (Palestinians) and Israel is a two-way street, but Israel, with its tanks and larger offensive forces, had the upper hand.  During one particularly violent attack on Gaza, most of the buildings were demolished and Izzeldin lost three of his daughters.  Despite all of these tragic events, Izzeldin refused to hate the Israelis.  His education and philosophy had taught him that “hatred and darkness can only be driven out by love and light.”  “Anger”, he states, “spurs you to make a difference.”  “Out of bad comes good – the alternative is too dark to consider.”

Dr. Abuelaish continually talked with his children about peacemaking and sent several of them to a Palestine-Israel Peace Camp in New Mexico.  He also applied and was accepted on staff at a hospital in Israel where he used medicine as a bridge to peaceful relationships with the Israeli doctors and patients.  Izzeldin applied his belief that to live in partnership and collaboration was the answer to the perennial conflict and anger he was experiencing.  He built strong friendships with influential people in Gaza, Israel, and eventually all over the world as he shared his message of coexistence and justice.

As Dr. Abuelaish furthered his education in Belgium and London, his message of hope and a different future for Gaza spread.  Regular radio and TV interviews gave people a more accurate understanding of the suffering in Gaza than the governments were presenting.  So, Izzeldin continues his work today, which also includes equal rights, especially education, for girls and women.  His message has been so powerful that in 2009 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This book was especially eye-opening.  The Palestinians and Israelis both want peace, but their governments see the solution only in violence against each other.  It is up to the grass-roots movements to spread the message of justice and peace, even in the midst of their dire circumstances.  Dr. Abuelaish emphatically states and lives out his message that “all it takes for evil to survive is for good people to do nothing.”  How will we act in the face of injustice?

Reviewed by Sue Neuman, Library Volunteer

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

The year is 1897. Anna O’Brien, a map librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., is living her dream job.  A spinster and introvert, almost a recluse, she has no further plans for her life but to be a loyal employee and faithful friend to Neville, whom she has known since grade school.  Her only outside interest is to follow up on the confusing last letter she received from her father, a research scientist aboard the USS Culpeper, before he disappeared.  Little does she know what is in store for her.

The Map room was located in the same building as the Senate and senators often stopped by to research maps related to upcoming bills. Such was the case with Luke Callahan, a Senator from Maine and one of the most eligible bachelors on the Hill.  Luke was a rising star in the Senate until he lost his temper with the Speaker of the House and was demoted from the Budget Committee to the Fisheries Committee.  He spent many of his valuable free hours reading poetry in the Library of Congress. When he was identifying some of Maine’s oyster beds in the Map Room, he met Anna and experienced that elusive “love at first sight”.

This book is more than just a love story, however. It is a window into the politics and power in late 19th century Washington DC.  Both Anna and Luke get caught up in a system that rewards cronyism and punishes independent thinking.  After all, they represent a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people…”  As Anna delves into the mystery of how her father’s ship disappeared, she finds that military facts sometimes need to remain hidden, not corrected.  Her diligence and obstinacy in solving the ever-deepening enigma puts her employment in a precarious position.  Will the higher powers use their authority to silence her?

Luke, fights a battle of his own as he struggles to regain his status on one of the prized committees. But, learning the politics of back-scratching is a hard lesson to employ.  Not until he reaches rock bottom does he yield to the system that requires give-and-take to successfully run the machinery of the Senate.

Where does faith enter into this story? At significant times, especially as relating to Anna’s and Luke’s relationship, Anna calls on the love of Jesus to overcome important decisions or obstacles.  Luke is usually the object of her tests of faith and we see the power of this faith to conquer whatever difficulties she faces.  This is not a “preachy” book, as Anna mostly lives out her faith by example.  Her faith is contagious and effective as revealed by the ending.

Beyond All Dreams is an easy read and a good historical fiction story.  It will transport you back to an era of carriages, camaraderie, and political intrigue.  These are our ancestors who cared as deeply for the United States as we do today and fought hard for the freedoms we enjoy.

Reviewed by Sue Neuman

All the Places to Go by John Ortberg

All the Places to Go…How Will You Know?
By John Ortberg
248.4 ORT

What do Dr. Seuss and God’s will have in common?

 

“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose…
Oh, the places you’ll go!…
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.”

This sounds very much like decision-making and God’s will.  At least John Ortberg thinks so.

So, here we have yet another book on God’s will. What makes it different from all the others?  This one is fun to read and easy to digest.  Each page is sprinkled with quotable phrases that can be recalled at a moment’s notice and will be influential for a lifetime.  For instance: “Open doors never exist just for the sake of the people offered them.  They also involve the opportunity to bless someone else.”

Ortberg uses the metaphor of the Open Door throughout the book, leaning heavily on Revelation 3:20 “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Open doors are the pathways to life’s great adventure.  “An open door is an opportunity provided by God to act with God and for God.”  He doesn’t guarantee that the journey will be easy or even successful, but that others will be blessed by our efforts.  We are part of His larger plan and God uses even our imperfect selves to accomplish His purposes.

God desires us to be “Open Door” people who listen for His knock, open the door, and respond to His invitations on a daily basis. The average person makes about seventy conscious decisions a day – that’s 25,550 decisions a year or 1,788,500 decisions over seventy years.  Most of these decisions will seem small, but only God knows the eternal impact each one will have.  God desires people of wisdom who step out in faith, unafraid, and full of excitement for what lies ahead.

What a relief! God doesn’t have just one set of choices that we must discern in order to be in His will.  He is a God of choices.  In fact, “God loves to give choices because choices develop our character.”  We can sometimes even make the wrong choice, but if we have a right heart, God will still bless our efforts.  Being aware each day of all the choices and decisions will open doors that we would never have imagined.  Is your default response set on saying “yes” to God?

Two copies of this book are available in our BelPres Library: one for individual use; another a small group format with a DVD and Participant’s Guide.

Book Reviewer: Sue Neuman, Library Ministries Volunteer

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo

Heaven is for Real
by Todd Burpo

Reviewed by Sue Neuman
June, 2016

It helps if you’re a Christian – being assured that God is on your side, even and especially in the hardest of times. It’s scary though, to put your ailing young son in His hands and not know the outcome. He’s so vulnerable, yet so trusting. In fact, he’s trusted you all his life – why wouldn’t he trust you now? And you? Do you even trust yourself when life or death decisions need to be made? What to do but get down on your knees and give the dire situation to the One who holds all of you in the palm of His hand.

Young Colton Burpo, was a typical four year old, fighting monsters with swords by day and listening peacefully to Bible stories in his bed at night. His parents were devout Christians – His father Todd a pastor. One sister completed this idyllic family. The much anticipated summer vacation to visit relatives, however, turned into a nightmare that would forever change their perspective. Colton came down with what was at first thought to be the stomach flu. When the symptoms persisted though, he was taken to the local hospital where a series of misdiagnoses almost cost him his life. Rushing 3.5 hours back home to their local hospital, Colton’s life hung in the balance. The healthcare workers didn’t let the family know how bad his condition really was. When he was finally diagnosed correctly, surgery was called for, and two weeks of inpatient care ensued.

Fortunately, Colton healed quickly at home, and the family’s returned to their normal routine. But Colton’s life had been forever changed. Conversations became punctuated with observations about heaven, as if this were an everyday occurrence. What does Jesus look like? Were there animals in heaven? Who sits at the right and left hands of God the Father? Ask Colton. He knows more than just facts, however. He trusts Jesus and is not afraid of dying. In fact, he is looking forward to seeing Jesus again. He even reassures an elderly man that heaven is an exciting place and that Jesus is waiting for him. Colton becomes a little evangelist. One thing he learned in heaven that he told his parents over and over again is that Jesus really loves little children. He said this so often that it had a profound effect on Todd’s church’s Sunday School program.

And what were Colton’s parents thinking all this time? At first they weren’t sure if they should believe him, but they were soon convinced by three scenarios. One, his observations about Jesus and heaven checked out 100% with the biblical text. He even recalled things that his father knew he hadn’t been taught. Two, he was so spontaneous. Why would he be making these conversations up? There was no reason not to believe him. Three, he recalled events that happened in the hospital between his parents and between his parents and God, while he was in the operating room. That blew them away!

Without giving too much of the story away, after reading this book, you should surely believe that Heaven is real. Trust is again employed: Trust that Jesus answers prayers, trust that the Bible is authentic, and trust that a little boy can experience heaven and live to tell about it.

The Invisible Girls by Sarah Thebarge

Book of the Month
The Invisible Girls – A Memoir
by Sarah Thebarge

Book Reviewed by: Sue Neuman
7/2015

Growing up a fundamentalist PK (preacher’s kid), Sarah had developed a sense of God as being punishing and severe. Otherwise, she led a relatively normal life up until her early twenties – undergraduate and graduate degrees from two Ivy League schools, an upwardly mobile job as a physician’s assistant, a growing desire to write, and a boyfriend. She was studying journalism at Columbia University when her life took a drastic turn which undermined the next few years of her life and challenged her faith. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately had a double mastectomy followed by chemo and radiation treatments. Her image of God was confirmed.

As Sarah struggled through the therapy, her expectations for healing declined at every recurrence. Being a PK, she turned to God and wondered where He was and why He had allowed such a travesty to be inflicted upon her in the prime of life. “I’ve decided that either God doesn’t exist, or He’s terribly angry with me, or there’s something I’m missing about His character that lets Him love His children but allows them to suffer at the same time.” God brought friends to comfort and encourage her, but they were slowly leaving town or even dying. She was now experiencing losses too devastating to comprehend. Her parents flew in to help wherever they could, but no one can actually experience the full extent of an illness except oneself. Would this nightmare ever end?

Interwoven between chapters of Sarah’s sickness is the account of an incident which seems only attributable to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. She has moved to Portland, Oregon and is riding the MAX (light rail) when she befriends a Somali woman (Hadhi) and her five young daughters. Predictably, the littlest girl makes the first move and by mid-trip, is snuggled comfortably in Sarah’s lap. Before they disembark, Sarah asks for Hadhi’s phone number.

Discovering that their husband/father had deserted them shortly after they arrived in the United States, they had become invisible – no one knew of their existence or desperate needs. On Sarah’s first visit to their apartment, she finds them eating moldy bread dipped in ketchup. They had no income, were threatened with no heat, no lights, no phone, and eviction. Also lacking were any sort of social skills and education. As Sarah addresses these seemingly impossible situations, they become very close friends. The girls light up her life as much as she lights up theirs.

If Sarah’s breast cancer story is one of faith reaching its lowest point, then the friendship with the Somali woman and daughters becomes the adventure that returns her to faith in the living God. Sarah concludes:

Love will cost you dearly.
And it will break your heart.
But in the end, it will save the world.

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Amanda Hudson

Book Review
Coffee, Tea and Holy Water
Author: Amanda Hudson

Book Reviewer: Sue Neuman
6/2015

What does one think about while working as a barista – between shots of espresso? If you are Amanda Hudson and have grown up in the church, you meld the two together and think about the seemingly infinite number of coffee flavors representing the diversity of the church. She, being a normal sort of Christian, wondered what other normal sort of Christians were like around the world. How was worship similar and different? How did they interact with non-believers? How did the culture impact their faith? These were just a few questions that, as it turns out, were only the tip of the iceberg of what she discovered about global Christianity. “Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water is an honest, humorous, and heartfelt account of someone trying to understand our brothers and sisters from all corners of the world, while constantly urging us to reexamine ourselves” -Seth Jones- Co-founder of One Life International

So, Hudson got out a map and figuratively tossed a dart to determine where her journeys would take her, deciding finally upon Brazil, Wales, Tanzania, China, and Honduras. Before embarking, she tells us we need to know several things about her (we all carry baggage of one kind or another): She doesn’t like tea; she is deathly afraid of needles (the pre-trip vaccinations left her trembling); her personal comfort need is for air conditioning; her favorite food is scrambled eggs; and if she could only read one book of the Bible, it would be either Isaiah or Romans. Now, according to this list, Hudson should probably not have stepped out of her bedroom, but being the adventurous person that she was, she threw caution to the wind and flew off to Brazil.

Expectations in one hand and eager curiosity in the other, she arrived in Natal (pop. 800,000) and was met by her host, an American pastor. Being shown various parts of Brazil by a diverse collection of Christians, and without giving too much of the story away, she experiences a worship service in which a young girl dances with uninhibited joy (she wonders if this is actually Christian), encounters the surprising influence of the spiritist (occult) beliefs, hears testimonies that have saved many, and observes heart-breaking squalor. Yet, the Christian church is an intricate part of their lives and the Word is alive as they zealously read it. Read the rest of the book to follow Hudson’s further encounters with Christians in the other countries she visits.

“Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water” contains easy-to-read stories that, at the same time, challenge us to look beyond our trusty group of friends and cozy neighborhoods. Jesus is as diverse as His world-wide church and is not confined to our American picture of what a normal Christian looks like. Normal Christians are unique and worship a unique Jesus, yet we are all united by one God. To God be the glory.

AUTHOR – Amanda Hudson
Amanda Hudson is a writer and world traveler living in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a journalism graduate of Auburn University and former Alabama native. Hudson has written for numerous publications, including Southern Living,Purepolitics.com, Motivation Strategies magazine, and The Auburn Plainsman. In her spare time, Hudson enjoys reading, photography, coffee, travel and SEC football.  She currently attends Crosspoint Church in Nashville.

A Faith of Her Own: Women of the Old Testament by J. Ellsworth Kalas

A FAITH OF HER OWN; WOMEN OF THE OLD TESTAMENTJ. Ellsworth KalasBook Review by Marisa Pacchiarotti  

In this short book, J. Ellsworth Kalas selects twelve women from the Old Testament (some who have entire books named for them, and some who are known only through a single verse) and takes a chapter for each to recognize the significance of these characters. Kalas asserts that even a single verse is representative of an entire life. He maintains the value of all their stories: “The Bible, that most honest of all books, tells their stories with candor and love and sympathy and understanding. And as we read their stories, we know more about who we are and still more about the kind of persons we’d like to become.” (viii)

 

Each woman that Kalas features receives a chapter, and while there is little correlation from chapter to chapter, each section stands whole and contained on its own. Kalas follows the women in the order they appear in the Old Testament: Eve, Cain’s wife, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Ruth, The Ladies Chorus who supports Naomi, Abigail, Huldah, Esther, and a nameless servant to Naaman. What I came to appreciate most about Kalas’ selection, is that he gives equal importance to the “famous” women—Eve, Esther, etc—and women only vaguely referred to in the Bible—Cain’s wife and Naaman’s servant. In this way Kalas shows that even these women have lessons to teach, goodness to highlight, and lives no less worthy of being recognized.

 

At first I was skeptical about a book meant to tell the honest and admirable stories of women—it could simply be a reiteration of the famous stories readers already know. I was happily and most assuredly mistaken. Kalas opens each chapter by setting a factual scene in a clear and loving way, yet finishes each chapter with poetic beauty and statements of truth that the reader may glean from each woman’s story and relate to their life today. In his chapter on Deborah, Kalas makes this all-encompassing statement, which perfectly illuminates the reason this book is worthwhile:

“She was a woman of great faith, and she was fearless. Her culture was not one in which women were expected to lead, but Deborah forgot that she was a woman and because she forgot it, the people did too. In this, she became more of a woman, not less of one. Because whether we are woman or man, we need always to know that we are, first and most important, human beings.” (82)

 

J. Ellsworth Kalas has worked and served as an esteemed member of Asbury Theological Seminary for 20 years. For 38 years, he has served as a pastor for the United Methodist Church and has written over thirty books, including the New Testament version of this book, Strong Was Her Faith.

 

The more I read, the more I appreciated and enjoyed reading A Faith of Her Own, and I look forward to reading Strong Was Her Faith as well. In terms of the way Kalas approaches this book as a whole, there is no better way to conclude, than with a poetic insight that is, perhaps, the most admirable part of his writing:

 

“You don’t have to be a dreamer or a romantic to believe that important things may be happening in inauspicious times and places. All you need is a little knowledge of history.” (98)

The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

The Case for Faith: Lee Strobel. Reviewed by Cheryl DePra

THE CASE FOR FAITH

By Lee Strobel

Reviewed by Cheryl DePra

This book is a literal God-send for those of us who are desperate for the critical, researched evidence necessary to “prove” God’s existence and reality in our lives.  In The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel offers up a wealth of historical evidence through interviews with noted doctors, scientists, philosophers, and religious scholars in an astounding work that courageously tackles the major concerns that both Christians and non-Christians struggle with in their journey toward faith in God.

As a Christian, I find Strobel’s book immensely useful not only as a reaffirmation of my own convictions, but as an indispensible resource of evidence-based truths when faced with the invariable opposition to faith that is so pervasive in our modern, secular world.

Set up chapter by chapter as objections to the most common concerns of nonbelievers (“Evolution Explains Life, So God Isn’t Needed,” “A Loving God Would Never Torture People in Hell,” “Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence”), Strobel offers compelling reasons why we should believe—and exposes the wellspring of proof for why we can’t allow ignorance, complacency, and self-righteousness to steer us away from our innate attraction to Jesus.

For anyone who struggles with doubt, who seeks to reaffirm the reality of God in his life, or who simply has a handful of skeptical friends, sit yourself down and drink deeply of the cup that confirms the claims of Christ.  Case closed.

Covenant Marriage by Gary Chapman

Covenant Marriage: Gary Chapman. Reviewed by Cheryl DePra

COVENANT MARRIAGE

By Gary Chapman

Reviewed by Cheryl DePra

Covenant Marriage is a must for any individuals who are considering marriage, are married, or know a couple that is married.  More than just a first-rate, Biblical guideline for how to root your marriage lovingly and enduringly in Christ, Chapman’s book reveals how we can nurture strong marriages by tackling two big obstacles: intimacy and communication.  Chapman outlines the tools necessary to ensure clear communication and deep intimacy with a balanced, practical voice that resonates with both men and women.  Chapman persists in questioning if daily time to really talk with and listen to each other is a priority and a reality and not merely an aspiration that is drowned out by soccer games, early morning meetings, laundry, and business trips.  With a 50% divorce rate, even amongst Christians, we need to bring our marriages back to God’s standard.  Chapman reminds us of servanthood, confrontational love, confession, and forgiveness as necessities in a covenant and in a marriage.

With very practical tools, Chapman sends starry-eyed newlyweds and crusty couples on the same mission—to realize God’s unconditional love for each one of us through His covenant with us…and live that same covenant promise in our own marriages and relationships.  There is no turning around; with few exceptions, Chapman outlines marriage as God intended it, bound by steadfast love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).  So love boldly—encounter Christ’s covenant with us through Covenant Marriage.

Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk

Glittering Vices: Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. Reviewed by Cheryl DePra

Glittering Vices

By Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung

Reviewed by Cheryl DePra

I must admit, my initial draw to this edition of the Monvee collection was the rather sparkly cover design emblazoned with the word VICES. I was curious about how this seemingly archaic list of vices had anything to do with my life in the 21st century (aside from wondering if literally judging a book by its cover is a vice), and noted how charged the word vice has become in our society–what exactly does it imply? Sin? Weakness? I immediately discovered that the author knows a thing or two about her history, and writes with a captivating voice of authority.

Historically, the vices have fallen out of favor for a number of reasons, primarily because they are associated with religious zeal, traditionalism, and a sense that they are not based in scripture. DeYoung clearly states what they are and are not, reminding us that the vices do have significant spiritual implications that cannot and should not be trivialized. As Rev. Terry Tripp recently preached, self-awareness and God-awareness are crucial to the cross-life, and DeYoung reveals how these vices initially arose out of philosophical discussions on Christian virtues that bring one into a deeper sense of the divine.

Understanding the origins of this tradition opened up to me a world of better self-awareness: where am I falling short of the holy and righteous life to which God calls me? The author takes each vice and turns it around and around in her hands until no side is left unexamined. She spells out clearly how one can diagnose where his pride might be overrunning his life and how to keep it in check.

“Why do we prefer to garner glory for ourselves, rather than letting God’s glory shine through us?” DeYoung asks in the chapter discussing the vice of vainglory (glory seeking). If you have ever once asked this question of yourself or another, I would highly suggest reading this intriguing look at what could be considered a much needed revival of a Christian-oriented self-improvement tradition.

The Language of God by Francis Collins

The Language of God: Francis S. Collins. Reviewed by Robert C. Davidson, M.D.

The Language of God

By Francis S. Collins

Reviewed by Robert C. Davidson, M.D.

The Language of God is an important contribution to the ongoing discussion, and too often polemical disagreement, over the relationship of science and religion.  The well reasoned theme of this book is that there is no conflict, but a close alliance.  And it is written for the average reader.

The author is the leader of the Human Genome Project, one of the greatest scientific accomplishments ever. He is probably the foremost geneticist in the world, as well as a strong Christian.  His depth of knowledge, clear writing, charming wit and ability to translate complex science into easily understood terms, all merge to form a compelling book.  It was named the Book of the Year by Christianity Today in 2007.  He is currently the Director of the National Institute of Health.

One of the many highlight of this book is Collins’ poignant story of his conversion from atheism to Christian faith.  As a young physician he observed how well Christians dealt with suffering and serious medical problems, and influenced him to study theologians like C.S. Lewis.

In this comprehensive and readable book, Collins explains key subjects relating to science and religion: clash between world views of science and faith; great questions of human existence; origin of the universe; the lessons of DNA and the human genome; faith in science; faith in God as in Genesis and in the life and times of Galileo and Darwin.  He compares atheism and agnosticism with his compelling reasons for faith.  Collins virtually shatters the arguments for creationism and Intelligent Design by describing how both ignore the advances of science of the last 150 years.

Collins appeals to believers to consider science in light of their spiritual views and the grandeur of  the creation; and to scientist to ask what barriers hinder their seeking harmony between the two world views.  The Language of God is a remarkable accomplishment in literature, science and religion.

A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren

A Generous Orthodoxy: Brian D. McLaren. Reviewed by Emily de Vries
A Generous Orthodoxy
by Brian D. McLaren
reviewed by Emily de Vries

 

I was drawn to this book out of a personal fascination with the varying denominations that make up the larger body of the church in North America. The cover caught my eye with McLaren’s lengthy extended title “Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/calvinst, anabaptist/anglican, methodist/catholic, green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished, Christian.”. A flip-through of the text showing it to be pleasantly unscholarly, I purchased a copy and studied it during a train ride from Detroit to Seattle last fall. I was not disappointed! Brian McLaren has produced a highly readable, engaging- and actually quite detailed- description of the denominational traditions, including both Protestant and Catholic groupings. He discusses the overarching themes present in the history of each tradition, some specifics about prominent historical founders and leaders, and the strengths inherent in each interpretation of Christianity.

McLaren’s descriptions are positive, loving, and clearly written with a spirit of reconciliation and celebration. Methodists may find themselves feeling a little short-changed- his analysis of the Methodist church essentially states that the denomination and Wesleyan spirit have become an interesting historical footnote- but his description is otherwise very complementary. Readers may also find themselves stretched by his inclusion of “Green”, “Missional” and “Emergent” movements, for while they are each legitimate trends within the contemporary church, they are relatively new (or newly resurrected) terms that are rapidly evolving in meaning and understanding. McLaren himself writes as a leader in the Emergent movement, but this title is not one in which the Emergent movement itself is defined in detail (though frequently referred to).

Another strength of the book lays with McLaren’s opening discussion of The Seven Jesuses I Have Known, which is a cross-denominational comparison of the emphases placed on Christ’s teachings and death. Some might find the generalizations controversial, but McLaren carefully notes early on in the text that these are his experiential descriptions as a pastor and author, not necessarily the synthesis of detailed church history or theology. Indeed, in that approachability, this book shines for an introductory or non-scholarly title on the topic at hand. I would highly recommend it to any reader seeking a moderately detailed account of the strengths of each piece of the larger church body. I would recommend it instead of, or before, trying to tackle Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water, also a fine title on this subject but much more densely written. If in your day-to-day travels you find yourself intrigued by the different names and identities of churches in your neighborhood, you will enjoy this title. If you volunteer in an inter-denominational organization and meet Christians from various church traditions, you will be enriched by reading how the Holy Spirit infuses each with unique strengths.

Alpha Cookbook

Alpha Cookbook: Alpha USA. Reviewed by Elaine Hendrickson
Alpha Cookbook
by Alpha USA
reviewed by Elaine Hendrickson

 

If you have ever attended an Alpha Course you know that food and fellowship are important parts of this wonderful introduction to the Christian faith. The Alpha Cookbook is a collection of tried, true, and tested, award winning recipes from Alpha Canada. Section One has recipes in quantities to serve 10, 30, or 100. The recipes for 10 would serve a family several meals, or your family plus guests, or your family and a family “in need” of a good meal. These recipes are delicious and worth sharing.

Section Two offers 12 menu suggestions. How does Alpha Beef Stroganoff with noodles served with tossed salad with Alpha vinaigrette, bread or rolls, and Gingerbread with butterscotch sauce sound? This is a sample of menus from simple to festive. The book also contains some shopping and cooking tips. Also included is an excellent extensive list of equivalents, helpful for cooking in any quantity.

Check out this great cookbook for your personal use, or enroll in an Alpha course and enjoy some delicious food, fellowship, and faith building sessions, or join the Alpha cooking crew for some fun cooking experiences.

God's Politics by Jim Wallis

God’s Politics: Jim Wallis. Reviewed by Jen Fukutaki
God’s Politics
by Jim Wallis
reviewed by Jen Fukutaki

 

The cover of this book contains the quote, “Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” Sounds like a neutral stance with equal dollops of blame for both U.S. major political parties, right? I have to admit, however, that I approached this book with a cynical and sharp eye for any “leaning”, one way or another. I also have to admit that while I didn’t agree with every opinion offered in this book, I found it to be well-balanced in its attacks on both major political parties without covertly supporting either one or the other. In a nutshell, God’s Politics hammers home these key messages:

  • The “Right” has hijacked the language of faith and argued that God’s way is their way.
  • The “Left” has largely ignored faith and pursued an unrealistic separation of religious values from morally grounded political leadership.
  • Government should be more accountable to the key values of prophetic religious traditions (e.g., pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-environment, etc.)

The author, Jim Wallis, speaks with authority. He is the founder of Sojourners — a nationwide network of progressive Christians working for justice and peace — and is the editor of Sojourners magazine. While he does tend to explain, extrapolate, and exhaust each of the book’s key messages to the nth degree, most readers will likely feel that he has taken many of the complaints and ideas about the current political parties, including their strengths and weaknesses, and created valid and substantial arguments toward improving each. Will they listen to this “new vision for faith and politics in America”? Read the book and see what you think!

Great Women of the Christian Faith by Edith Deen

Great Women of the Christian Faith: Edith Deen. Reviewed by Jen Fukutaki
Great Women of the Christian Faith
by Edith Deen
reviewed by Jen Fukutaki

 

If you have ever felt the need to connect spiritually with and educate yourself about some of the most inspirational women of the Christian faith, you will find what you need in this book. Author Edith Deen, who also wrote All of the Women of the Bible, put together this collection in 1959, and its examples of Godly living and devotion remain as vibrant today as they were then. Great Women of the Christian Faith contains “full studies of 47 spiritual leaders and concise sketches of 76 other women from many times, countries, and denominations” (including early Christian, Catholic and Protestant, Quaker, Shaker, Mormons, Christian Science, Salvation Army, and many more). Some of these women were martyrs; others were mothers, sisters, wives, or advisors to influential Christian men; some were nuns, mystics, pioneers, or missionaries — but all had unshakable faith and devotion to God and Christ.

You may never have heard of Perpetua (one of the first women martyrs of the church), or known of the role played by the mother of the first Christian emperor of Rome, or heard about the wife of Martin Luther, or been aware of China’s Christian “mother.” Their stories and many more are contained in the pages of this awe-inspiring book. Great Women of the Christian Faith (published by Harper & Brothers, New York, 1959) can be found in the FPCB library. I, personally, loved this book so much that I hunted down a used copy on the internet (the title is currently out-of-print) and bought it for myself.

How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot

How We Got the Bible: Neil Lightfoot. Reviewed by John Nelson
How We Got the Bible
by Neil Lightfoot
reviewed by John Nelson

 

I found Dr. Neil Lightfoot’s book very informative and fun reading. If you like history, science, and have an interest in how the Bible progressed into its current form, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. How We Got the Bible will take you on a journey through human history intertwined with Divine revelation.

The story of the Bible begins with the story of writing itself. The Bible is actually a collection of books, originally written in three languages using a variety of ancient writing techniques. The book discusses these many media. The earliest New Testament books were probably written on papyrus, but around the fourth century AD parchment had replaced papyrus as a more durable and transportable writing surface.

The oldest complete copy of the New Testament in Greek, the Sinaitic Manuscript, was discovered in a monastery near Mount Sinai in the late 1800’s. It dates to the second century AD. The story of its discovery would make a great “Indiana Jones” episode. Today, the Sinaitic Manuscript, written on parchment scrolls, resides in the British Library.

By the second century, the Greek manuscripts had been translated into Latin since it was the language of the Roman empire. The most influential Latin version, known as the Latin Vulgate (meaning it was written in a “commonly accepted” form of Latin), was made in the fourth century by Jerome. It became the standard of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. It was the first important book printed on the Gutenberg press, and remains today the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church.

Martin Luther copied the New Testament from Greek into the common German language in 1521. At the same time, William Tyndale led the struggle to create an English translation also based on the original Greek, rather than the Latin Vulgate. These translations along with the availability of the printing press put the Bible in the hands of the masses and removed the control the Roman Catholic Church had on Biblical interpretation. This contributed to the Reformation, putting both Luther and Tyndale’s lives in jeopardy.

Their work inspired many other translations, culminating in the early seventeenth century with the well-known King James Version. Since that time, many new translations have been made. These have built on new sources such as the Sinaitic Manuscript and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Today’s NIV and NRSV translations are considered the most accurate representations of the original Old and New Testament books.

In addition to providing a detailed account of the complex journey our current Bible has made over the past two centuries, Dr. Lightfoot’s book answers fascinating questions such as “How have errors gotten into the New Testament”, “How did some books become part of the Old and New Testaments and others were left out”, and “How have biblical manuscripts been lost and rediscovered”. These make this edition of How We Got the Bible inspiring and enlightening.

This 209 page book should be a must read for anyone interested in the Bible.

The Quotable Lewis

The Quotable Lewis. Reviewed by Jen Fukutaki
The Quotable Lewis
by edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root
reviewed by Jen Fukutaki

 

To say that C.S. Lewis is “quotable” is like saying that a puddle contains drops of water. Both are absurd understatements. In fact, The Quotable Lewis demonstrates that virtually every book, speech, and letter that Lewis wrote contained quote after incisive quote of insight and wisdom. Lewis’s early years as an intellectual atheist and his subsequent “rational” conversion to Christianity prepared him to speak about arguments regarding God and Christianity with the authority of one who has hidden under every rock, entertained every doubt, and fought wholeheartedly against God, only to ultimately accept Him and become one of Christianity’s greatest advocates. Rare indeed is the person whose mere quotes warrant a 627-page book full of alphabetically arranged topics covering every aspect of Christianity and the human condition. C.S. Lewis is just such a person. The reader of Lewis’s quotes can only marvel that he has faced all of our shared doubts and hardships and not only been able to so ably articulate them, but also to provide well-reasoned answers to life’s biggest questions. Lewis is quotable indeed.

Rabbi Paul: Bruce Chilton. Reviewed by Jerry Rettig
Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography
by Bruce Chilton
reviewed by Jerry Rettig

 

 

Many believe that the Apostle Paul changed Jesus’ message into something that it was not and so divorced the later Church from its earliest beginnings. This book puts to rest such thoughts. Yet it explains in clear, readable language the revolution Paul brought to the understanding of early Christians as they struggled with questions such as, “To whom is this message of Jesus sent? To Jews only or to gentiles, also?” The revolution Paul brought about consisted of these two thoughts: 1) Jesus’ message was for all peoples, not just Jews, and 2) those gentile converts to the faith need not become Jews (e.g. by being circumcised) in order to be acceptable to God. This was astonishing to the Jerusalem Jews, Jesus’ own disciples who struggled with the thought that only circumcised Jews could become members of the faith. William Barclay, in his Commentary on Ephesians writes the following:

“Into his [Paul’s] life had come the revelation of the secret of God. That secret was that the love and mercy and the grace of God were meant not for the Jews alone but for all mankind. When Paul had met Christ on the Damascus road there had come to him a sudden flash of revelation. It was to the Gentiles that God had sent him. This was a completely new discovery. The basic sin of the ancient world was contempt. The Jews despised the Gentiles as worthless in the sight of God.The Greeks despised the barbarians-and to the Greek all other nations were barbarians in the ancient world the barriers were complete. No one had ever dreamed that God’s privileges were for all people. It was Paul who made that discovery. That is why he is so tremendously important-for, had there been no Paul it is conceivable that there would have been no world-wide Christianity and that we would not be Christians today.”

Paul’s importance in the history of our faith is reviewed in great detail in Chilton’s book as he writes about Paul’s conversion experience. He also devotes a considerable amount of space discussing the connection between Peter and Paul and the meaning of Peter’s vision in Joppa. Peter discovers, also, that what God has created ought not to be called unclean. Peter then accepts, in part, what Paul has discovered. The good news is not just for the Jews of Jerusalem but for people all over the world. But some disciples from Judea insisted that all believers including Gentiles had to accept the covenant of Circumcision. The author then describes the great meeting in Jerusalem described in Acts— in 46A.D. as “the most vital that has ever occurred in Christian history (page 139). And then further, the author asserts James’ decision after that council as “the most important decision ever handed down in Christian history” (page 141). The author proceeds with Paul’s ever more radical idea that Israel could be defined in a completely new way by baptism into Christ. The book is a thrilling ride through the ancient world of Paul’s life and the struggles he encountered in explaining his version of what it means to be a Christian. The portraits of Tarsus, Antioch, Jerusalem, the Temple, Peter and James are painted with great detail. The lives of the poor citizens of the Empire who flocked to hear Paul’s message, lives consumed by simple acts of survival under the oppression of the Romans, are sketched with an understanding and sympathetic ear to the real transforming power of his message of hope and liberation. This is a book that needs to be read and reread many times to appropriate all that it contains. It is a gem. Paul’s message ultimately insisted

“that Christ transformed the whole of humanity. No Christian thinker before or since has thought on so cosmic a scale, linking God’s Spirit to humanity’s and both to the transformation of the world. The picture he conveyed of what it meant for even small groups of believers to meet together involved them in a literal reshaping of the universe. The same Spirit that made the world, hovering over the face of the primeval waters and descending upon each believer at baptism, infused the meetings of every congregation, joining Paul’s spirit and Jesus’ power in the judgement that would free the world of its old shape and give it new form.”

Strong Women, Soft Hearts by Paula Rinehart

Strong Women, Soft Hearts: Paula Rinehart. Reviewed by Penny Meisel
Strong Women, Soft Hearts
by Paula Rinehart
reviewed by Penny Meisel

 

Last fall, this excellent book was selected by the Mothers’ Fellowship as our study book. In the tradition of John Eldridge, this book especially for women, tells us that God is calling them-in their heart of hearts-to follow him on the unpredictable, but exhilarating journey of life. This book, written in 2001 and published by W Publishing Group, will help you listen and say yes to that call to become the strong, wise, loving, and fulfilled woman you were always meant to be. Paula Rinehart is a professional counselor working out of Raleigh, North Carolina. She has also been a speaker at women’s’ conferences and retreats for more than 20 years and has authored four books. The book is full of captivating stories of women she has counseled and from her own life.

The paperback book is formatted into twelve chapters. There are thoughtful and compelling study questions after each of the chapters. Each chapter is packed with thoughts and suggestions that challenge and help a woman grow more spiritually mature. It is not an “easy read”, but is well worth the effort needed to read it carefully and apply it to your own life.

I particularly liked this book because it felt like it was written just for me. Rinehart’s thoughtful comments, examples and observations ring true. The book uses Scripture in an intelligent applicable way. There are many literary references. Here is a quote from the first chapter:

“The underlying premise of this book is that we must have our hearts intact in order to make the journey of life well. We must have access to the inside stuff-the longings, desires and dreams and vulnerabilities that make us who we are. God placed those in us. He means for us to live from the heart. It’s the place where we first hear his voice and respond.”

This is in contrast to us drifting into a preoccupation with efficiency and performance-as though our lives were mostly to do with doing and duty.

So go check this book out, find a big comfy chair, and embark on this journey of the heart.

Library Book Review