Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

What is God like? Is he the angry, violent God that we read about in the Old Testament? Or is he the picture of a loving, compassionate Father that we see in the New Testament? In Brian Zahnd's Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Good News, a pastor tries to correct Christians' false views of God. The book is named after revivalist Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon for a reason; this sermon that had a profound impact on American evangelicalism also influenced how many American Christians view God today—an angry God.

The initial concern that readers may have is, "But God actually commanded genocide, didn't he?" Zahnd excellently avoids falling into heretical traps such as Arianism, Marcionism, and Gnosticism. He is careful to jump to far conclusions and uses Scripture to back up his points. Without ignoring the passages of Scripture that show God's angry side, he unpacks a Christological argument for how the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ finally closed the book on God's history of violence, replacing it instead with pure, true love.

For those looking to more fully understand God's nature, this is an excellent place to start. It is theologically packed yet not exhaustive, serving well as an introductory text. Perhaps we can all step away deeper in love with the God whose loving embrace holds us together.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Blogging for Books program.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire

Ever wonder what an award-winning Bible translator does on a Sunday morning? As Kingfishers Catch Fire (WaterBrook Multnomah, 2017) is a collection of Eugene Peterson's sermons and musings from his years as a church leader. Subtitled "a conversation on the ways of God formed by the words of God," this anthology of Peterson's homiletic hits seeks to develop our spirituality in a way of deeper holiness. This book is organized around a canonical structure, almost like a pseudo lectionary. It is as if we are invited into Peterson's church for front-pew seats on a Sunday morning service, eavesdropping on what he has to say to his congregation.

The initial impression—wow! Peterson is warm, didactic, and authentic as he interprets and applies the Scriptures. This book is targeted toward seminarians and pastors, but it can easily find a resonant audience from laypersons. A valuable resource for personal spiritual formation that, with God's help, can spill into how we shape those we shepherd.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of the Blogging for Books program.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Real Artists Don't Starve

The proposition of Real Artists Don't Starve (2017, Thomas Nelson) is intriguing. It begins with a shocking discovery about Renaissance artist Michelangelo. While he may be seen as the stereotypical "starving artist," he was actually paid a fortune for his murals on the Sistine Chapel. This led author Jeff Goins to the conclusion that being an artist does not mean succumbing to the "Starving Artist" mold. Instead, he contrasts this with the "Thriving Artist" of what he calls the New Renaissance. The book presents practical principles for becoming an artist who thrives, embracing countercultural mentalities of creativity.

Make no mistake—this book is not a how-to on starting a work from beginning to end. Rather, Real Artists Don't Starve presents a method, a mindset in which to enter a creative process. As a musician, composer, and graphic designer, I benefited from many of these ideas that I often saw as wrong, such as that "stealing" is a good thing. This book does have a self-help vibe to it, and its publication by a Christian organization hints at the betterment of life promised by the Gospel. Overall, this book is an excellent read for existing artists who want to go deeper in their craft.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

In an updated version of his groundbreaking work, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (2017, Zondervan), award-winning author Pete Scazzero outlines ten problems that arise from spiritual immaturity and provides biblically based remedies. The thesis is simple: It's impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. His explanations are succinct, easy-to-read, theologically correct and scripturally rooted. This book comes highly recommended for those in all positions—from top-tier leaders to the average layman.

Scazzero melds psychology and theology as he uncovers the causes of spiritual immaturity. Step-by-step illustrations illuminate his concepts. He also uses a variety of illustrations, from popular culture to the Bible. Questions for reflection and a prayer at the end of each chapter provide an excellent immediate application of the principles. This book would be excellent for small group, leadership development, or discipleship courses. Overall, all could benefit from reading Emotionally Healthy Spirituality—it is of no surprise that this is a bestseller.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review: NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible

The NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible (Zondervan Kidz, 2017) is a full-color, illustrated study Bible for the young explorer. With over 700 illustrations, photos, maps, and infographics, this Bible also features a one-column layout and a ribbon marker. There are study notes on the sidebars and allow space for annotation. Overall, this is an excellent Bible for young readers.

The text is the NIV, not the easier-to-read NIrV, and the commentary does use more advanced language, so parents should be cautious to present this to older children. The many colors and engaging graphics are sure to captivate children. The study notes are deep, insightful, easy to understand, and accurately bring to life much of the ancient text. Furthermore, the Bible gives insight into the cultural context, in particular the archaeological and geographic circumstances surrounding particular passages, which serve to add validity to the events mentioned in the text. The introductions to each chapter provide a simple overview that answer key questions (ie. "Who wrote the book?" "What do we learn about God in this book?"). A combination of illustrations, photographs, and graphics provide eye-popping ways to interact with the text.

This is an excellent Bible to introduce children to explore and discover the truths hidden below the surface and comes highly recommended.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Review: Giving It All Away...and Getting It All Back Again

In David Green's practical quasi-memoir, Giving It All Away...and Getting It All Back Again: The Way of Living Generously (Zondervan, 2017), the CEO and founder of Hobby Lobby reflects on a lifestyle of trusting God through financial and legal troubles. The master business leader tells of the famous Supreme Court battle involving the company and ruminates on a life that trusted God with the resources he has been given.

This book, however, is not about his personal struggles so much as it is a theological discussion of generosity. Applying the doctrines of God's sovereignty to a corporate setting, Green offers practical advice on becoming a generous steward of God's resources. Green argues that this radical generosity has a boomerang effect that, if we are responsible to God's creation, his providence will spill into our lives.

Giving It All Away is a fantastic read for those who want to learn from a Christian businessperson on the integration of faith, work, and economics and comes highly recommended.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: The Gospel According to Paul

The Gospel According to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017) is an exciting exploration of Paul's version of the Gospel. Written by respected scholar and theologian John MacArthur, this book carefully analyzes some of Paul's most famous passages and interprets them to point to the heart of the Good News. In an age in which many are in need of hearing the Gospel, this book comes at no more opportune time.

MacArthur gives clear answers to questions such as: What is the Gospel? How do we know we have it right? How should we spread it to the world? MacArthur is clear in his argument, biblical in his support, and this book serves as an excellent reference to laypeople and scholars alike. There is also an extensive index and four appendices giving an in-depth discussion to the theology of the atonement. One should be careful, however, to note that MacArthur's theology is not ecumenical; his Calvinist leanings definitely play out in his interpretation of soteriology. Nevertheless, The Gospel According to Paul is a biblically based exegesis and defense of the Gospel, and I highly recommend it to all.