Archives For *Brief Reviews*

 

One of this week’s best new releases

 
 

Here I Am: A Novel
Jonathan Safran Foer

Hardback: FSG Books, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 
 

Here is a clip from our review by Amy Neftzger
that will run in our next print issue:
(SUBSCRIBE NOW and don’t miss this issue).

Love is integral to life and this idea is prevalent throughout the novel. In most cases love is a struggle for us as we figure out how to best love our spouses, children, parents, and others. As part of finding his identity, Jacob attempts to learn how to give and receive love. He wrestles with this, just as we all do, and he tries in his imperfect manner to reason out the best way to demonstrate love, knowing that that intent and perception may be two very different things. Eventually he comes to the conclusion that without love each of us will die. However, each of us will also die with love, but not all deaths are equal. Love won’t make anything last longer than it should, but love is essential. We all need it and it impacts the quality of our lives, as well as how we perceive our own deaths.

Listen to an NPR interview with the author:

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Reducing Suffering Where We Can
 
A Review of
 

Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith
S
arah Withrow King

Paperback: Zondervan, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]
 
 
Reviewed by Alisa Williams
 
 
As someone who was raised in a large Christian community that actively promotes the virtues of vegetarian and vegan diets, I was intrigued to learn about Vegangelical. I’ve been vegetarian my entire life – raised by parents whose faith led them to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle in early adulthood, and King’s premise that “animal stewardship is part of a holistic ethic of Christian peace and justice” is I something I wholeheartedly agree with.

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Tiptoeing Into Ancient Spiritual Formation

 A Review of 

Transformed by God’s Word—Discovering the Power of Lectio and Visio Divina
Stephen Binz


(icons by Ruta and Kaspars Poikans)
Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 

Reviewed by C.S. Boyll

 

Catholic Bible scholar and speaker Stephen J. Binz, in Transformed by God’s Word—Discovering the Power of Lectio and Visio Divina, persuaded me to do something in Bible meditation that I’ve never done before. But, before I confess to what I did, let’s discuss Binz’s transformative possibilities for lay readers, both Catholic and Protestant.

I hope the Latin words Lectio Divina and Visio Divina don’t put off readers because of unfamiliarity.  Lectio Divina or “sacred reading” is simply meditating on a Bible passage with attentiveness to what the Holy Spirit desires to form in one’s heart and mind. Binz writes, “Rather than keeping scripture at a safe analytical distance, this formational reading leads us to personally encounter God through the sacred text. It opens us to personal engagement with God’s word. We involve ourselves intimately, openly, and receptively through what we read. Our goal is not just to use the text to acquire more knowledge, get advice, or form an opinion about the passage. Rather, the inspired text becomes the subject of our reading relationship, and we become the object that is acted upon and shaped by scripture. Reading with expectation, we patiently allow the text to address us, to probe us, and to form us into the image of Jesus Christ.”

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Entrusted Time.
 
A Review of

Aging Matters: Finding Your Calling for the Rest of Your Life
R. Paul Stevens

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2016
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
 
Reviewed by Carolyn Miller Parr

 

 

“I have a serious proposal to make. We should work until we die.” So begins Part One of Aging Matters by R. Paul Stevens (11). This thesis may startle or even anger folks who are looking forward to retirement or those who are enjoying newly gained leisure to travel or play more or just run after grandchildren. But it may comfort others who fear retirement as a loss of self, those who are asking, “When I’m no longer a [pastor/lawyer/corporate officer — fill in the blank] who will I be?” Their only question is How can I keep working?

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Experiencing  the Now-But-Not-Yet
of God’s Kingdom

 
A Brief Review of 

The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World
Sandra Maria Van Opstal

Paperback:  IVP Books, 2016.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Leslie Starasta
 
 

In her most recent book The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World, Sandra Maria Van Opstal presents a convincing case for why diverse or multicultural worship must become normal and expected in our churches rather than reserved for special events.  Van Opstal does so using biblical evidence, leadership resources, engaging metaphors and her own personal experiences as a worship leader and trainer.

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I have been on the road for the last couple of weeks with my Slow Church co-author John Pattison, talking with churches throughout the southeastern U.S. about that book and my new book, Reading for the Common Good.  It’s been good to get the new book into people’s hands and to begin conversations about it.

Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish
C. Christopher Smith

Paperback: IVP Books, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle

 

I am deeply grateful for these great reviews of the book that have been posted within the last couple of weeks. Here are some clips (with links to the full reviews)…

Joe Johnson:

“Working for the flourishing of churches, neighborhoods, and the world cannot be done without the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, and I think it’s a reasonable proposal to argue that reading is an important means by which the Spirit works. Reading for the Common Good makes a very interesting case for the communal importance of reading and conversation, and it paints a portrait of what local church life can be like that is well worth pursuing. I recommend it.”
[ Read the full review ]

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The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

 
A Review of 

Spiritual Sobriety:
Stumbling Back to Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad

Elizabeth Esther

Paperback: Convergent Books, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Kristin Williams
 
 
I didn’t want to be moved by Elizabeth Esther’s new book, Spiritual Sobriety.  I started reading it with a little notebook beside me, thinking I could keep track of all the ways I disagreed with what Esther was saying.  I don’t have a story of what Esther calls “good religion gone bad” and I didn’t even think I believed a person could be addicted to religion.  It sounded a little hokey to me so I was prepared to find a lot to dismiss and nothing I could relate to in this new book.

Then I read the first chapter and kept seeing myself.  Elizabeth Esther spends the first chapter defining spiritual sobriety and, in large part, the definition revolves around what it is not.  She describes her first religious high, the first time she asked Jesus to live in her heart and how she wanted to keep experiencing that high and so she asked Him into her heart again the next day.  She kept seeking that high in many of the same ways I looked for spiritual highs: knowing all the answers, winning “sword drills” in youth group and surging forward at the decision time of conferences and concerts.  She, and I, used God for how He made us feel and also, perhaps, for the blessings we were sure He would pour out on us because of the displays of devotion that we offered God.

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The Tough Work of Living a Story

A Review of 

One Ordinary Sunday:
A Meditation on the Mystery of the Mass
Paula Huston

Paperback: Ave Maria Press, 2016
Buy now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Callie R. Feyen

 

Paula Huston was one of my first writing teachers, and without a doubt, the toughest. I would send her pages and pages of gorgeous description, witty dialogue, and hefty characters and she would send them back with comments like: “No conflict!” Something needs to happen.” “Dig deeper.”

I didn’t want to write conflict. Conflict made me uncomfortable. I wanted to write what I knew, and I didn’t trust that I’d be able to resolve an essay or a story if I brought up a problem. However, under Huston’s mentorship, I slowly began allowing space on the page for conflict, and learned to endure and eventually enjoy coming to the story and looking at it again and again. I believe I am a better writer after studying with Huston, but it wasn’t until I read One Ordinary Sunday that I considered looking at and embracing conflict as a spiritual practice.

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I wrote brief reviews of the following books that were released in the last couple of weeks:

by C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books

 

The Very Good Gospel:
How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right

Lisa Sharon Harper
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

A rich depiction of the flourishing life God intends for creation!

Many Christians, especially in the Evangelical tradition, are quick to identify with the gospel (i.e., good news) of Jesus. But why exactly is it good news that God’s kingdom is coming on earth as it is in heaven? This is the question that Lisa Sharon Harper sets out to answer in her superb new book THE VERY GOOD GOSPEL. Focusing on the scriptural concept of shalom, a Hebrew word that is often translated as “peace,” but is much broader than our typical understanding of peace, Harper explores the fullness of the shalom that God intends for creation and why it is indeed good news. The very good news is that God desires us to have shalom with God, shalom with ourselves, shalom between the genders, shalom with all creation, shalom for broken families, shalom in the midst of racial injustice, shalom between nations, and more.

This is a very accessible book (and it includes reflection exercises to help readers engage with it), and it provides one of the richest depictions of the flourishing life God intends for creation. Lisa Sharon Harper will undoubtedly stir our imaginations with her case for why the gospel is extraordinary news!
 
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Paul’s Office

 
A Review of 

The Louder The Room The Darker The Screen: Poems
Paul Ebenkamp

Paperback: Timeless, Infinite Light, 2015
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]
 
Reviewed by Colin Chan Redemer
 
 

“The Louder The Room The Darker The Screen,” as a phrase, reminds me of the adage, “empty vessels make the most noise.” The book of poetry by Paul Ebenkamp, despite its title and noise, is hardly an empty vessel. Rather it is stuffed with playful language, humor, and unlooked-for depth. I seriously enjoyed it even though I’m not the type of reader to describe anything as a “saw-wave feed of resonant channels” as Elaine Kahn does of this book on the back cover. Rather, I’m the kind of reader who uses a common adjective to emphasize my pleasure at reading. If you’re more of a Joe-six-pack reader, grab this book, skip the back cover’s artsy blurbs, and jump right in.

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