Archives For *Featured Reviews*

 

A story that will challenge your life
and how you live it.

 
A Feature Review of
 

 Blythe: A Novel
John E. Kramer

Paperback: Freedom Forge Press, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle  ]
 
 
Reviewed by Michael Jahr
 
 

In the spirit of Pilgrim’s Progress or Till We Have FacesBlythe draws readers into an unfolding human drama while gradually revealing broader insights into the human condition. It is an allegory that serves as a warning and a message of hope.

Blythe, the eponymous protagonist, is beautiful, winsome and an accomplished artist. Beneath this facade, however, is an inexplicable, gnawing emptiness she suppresses through painting, nightly parties and the affection she receives from others, particularly her handsome beau, Aaron.

Continue Reading…

 

Singing The Lord’s Song
in Our Homeland

 
A Feature Review of

Bowing Toward Babylon: The Nationalistic Subversion of Christian Worship in America
Craig M. Watts

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by James Matichuk
 

This review originally appeared on the reviewer’s blog.
Reprinted with permission. 
*** Visit his blog for many other insightful reviews!

 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is living water for our dry, thirsty souls. Nationalism poisons the well.  For citizens of the Kingdom of God, our political, national affiliation is not the most significant thing about ourselves. And yet, America has a long history of co-opting Christian language and worship for nationalistic, political ends.  Craig Watts, the pastor at Royal Palms Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Coral Springs, FL,  probes the reality of American Civil Religion that has permeated our churches in Bowing Toward Babylon.

Several practices of American civil religion have permeated Christian worship in US churches: The placement and honoring of American flags in the sanctuary, celebration of national holidays, the singing of patriotic songs, etc. Watts makes the case that, “rather than being innocuous practices, expressions of nationalism in worship constitute manifestations of misdirected worship that lead to the spiritual malformation of worshippers” (11). In other words, the symbols and story of America (or any nation) is at odds with the Christian story, where Christ calls a new humanity from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Drawing a long prophetic tradition, Watts calls America, Babylon— a metaphor for an empire or nation where God’s people are tempted to succumb to majority practices and the worship of national gods.

Continue Reading…

 

Seeking Reunion for Christ’s Sake
 
A Review of
 
Catholics and Protestants:
What Can We Learn from Each Other?
Peter Kreeft

Paperback:  Ignatius Press, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
 
Reviewed by Joseph Johnson
 
 

I should probably blame my interest in ecumenism on books. Reading theology introduced me to the voices of genuine and deeply learned men and women living out their faith in a wide variety of Christian traditions, and while I happily worship as part of a United Methodist congregation, I know my spiritual life wouldn’t be the same without the writings of Catholics like Thomas Merton, Anglicans like N.T. Wright and Rowan Williams, and Presbyterians like Eugene Peterson, just to name a few. This experience has given me a deep-seated appreciation for the depth and breadth of common ground shared by believers of all stripes—whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—and it’s made me rather wary of works that exhibit more sectarian tendencies, arguing either explicitly or implicitly that only certain parts of the Church are “real” followers of Jesus.

Given all these things, it’s understandable why I felt a spark of excitement upon finding out that Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft was working on a book exploring the question of how Protestants and Catholics can learn from one another. In terms of structure and style, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other? is inspired by Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, and it shows (117). Kreeft is a gifted communicator, writing in a direct style that for the most part stays away from overly-technical theological language.

Continue Reading…

 

Engaging the Deep Memory of Our Faith

A Feature Review of 

Retrieving History: Memory and Identity Formation in the Early Church
Stefana Dan Laing

Paperback: Baker Academic, 2017
Buy Now:  [  Amazon ] [ Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Garet D. Robinson 

 

One of the greatest tragedies in history are the forgotten stories, people, and events which have shaped our world. Over time, it seems history books fade almost as fast as memories. Whether this is from the erasure of the so-called victors, or disappearance from steady rushing waters of time, events and stories can be forgotten. When Stefana Dan Laing looks at the history of Christianity, she shares the concern that its formative thinkers and writers are being lost. In Retrieving History: Memory and Identity Formation in the Early Church, Stefana Dan Laing sets out recover these forgotten for patristic texts and remind evangelical Christians of their importance. Holding a PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serving as assistant librarian at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Houston campus, Laing is well positioned to lead this inquiry. Retrieving History is a short text, coming in at just under 200 pages, and is published by Baker Academic and is a volume in its Evangelical Ressourcement series that seeks to draw present day wisdom from church history.

Continue Reading…

 

Remembering our Ancestors in the Faith
 
 
A Review of 

The Great Athanasius: An Introduction to His Life and Work
John R. Tyson

Paperback: Cascade Books, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]
 
 
Reviewed by Gregory Soderberg
 
 
John Tyson is Professor of Church History at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and is the author of ten books, including Faith, Doubt, and Courage(Wipf & Stock). His new book on Athanasius of Alexandria (296 – 373) is a welcome addition to the on-going effort by scholars to describe and assess the remarkable bishop who stood contra mundum (“against the world”) in his defense of what he believe the Bible clearly taught about the nature of Jesus Christ. Tyson remarks that this book began as his own attempt to understand Athanasius more fully, but he continued to pursue it because “Athanasius is not as well known among contemporary Christians as he deserves to be known” (vii).  Opinions on Athanasius range from calling him the “great Athanasius” (from a funeral oration for Athanasius by another early Christian bishop and theologian, Gregory Nazianzen) to a “gangster” (from Timothy Barnes’ 1993 book, Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire). Nor is this simply a modern, or post-modern, perspective. Charges against Athanasius, “including abuse of power and authority, along with sorcery, were so well known in the fourth century that they are even reported by the secular Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus” (xii)! So, who was the real Athanasius? Tyson navigates the ancient sources and the best of contemporary scholarship to present a nuanced, and ultimately more human, portrait of one of the most influential figures of Christian history.

Why was Athanasius so important? “In the days before the great Christian creeds were developed and while Christianity was still a minority religion in the Roman Empire, Athanasius laid many of the theological foundations that would become Christian orthodoxy” (x). Furthermore:

Athanasius was one of the chief architects and most persistent defenders of what would come to be accepted as the standard and orthodox understanding of the relationship of God the Father  and God the Son. His writings on the Holy Spirit also helped pave the way for a truly full  Trinitarian theology, and his use of and passion for Holy Scripture contributed significantly to  the closing of the New Testament canon (ix).

 

Continue Reading…

 

Developing the Bible and Faith
Through Story

A Feature Review of 

What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything
Rob Bell

Hardback: HarperOne, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [ Kindle ]

Reviewed by Josh Morgan

Books on the Bible are a dime a dozen, with some worth even less than that. Much ink has been spilled on the nature of the Bible and interpretations of various passages. Often, these books are either overly academic, unrelatable to many readers, or intellectually unsupported.

Rob Bell’s latest text, What is the Bible?, is none of these things. In his book, Bell tackles a variety of Scripture passages in order to better help us understand the fundamental nature of the modern Christian Bible. In short, Bell actually answers his book’s titular question with its subtitle: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything. The Bible is intended to transform our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions through a variety of narrative methods in order to better respond to the world we live in.

Continue Reading…

 

A New Sort of Evangelistic Pamphlet
 
A Review of 

Reunion: The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints, and Sinners
Bruxy Cavey

Paperback: Herald Press, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]   [  Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Fred Redekop

 

I like Bruxy Cavey. I have heard him preach at his church (The MeetingHouse) in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. In the church, where I was pastor for 25 years, we sometimes used his podcast sermons for our bible studies. His church has raised much money for work in Africa, bringing great hope to people. He has been a great teaching pastor for the MeetingHouse model of being church.

Re(union ) is his newest book. It is published by Herald Press, the publishing arm of the Mennonite church. The book is a longer evangelistic pamphlet. The book is biased toward for the reader to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord. With this orientation, it is like the four Gospels of the New Testament. They are written for the readers to believe in what the writers have written.

Continue Reading…

 

Encouragement in the Struggle

A Feature Review of 

The Light Is Winning: Why Religion Just Might Bring Us Back to Life
Zach Hoag

Paperback: Zondervan, 2017
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Leroy Seat.

 

The present day often seems like a rather discouraging time for many Christians. Those who are in the “moderate” camp are embarrassed by many of the things conservative evangelicals say and do. But the moderates are also unhappy with the way many of the progressives/liberals deny or downplay some of the most central aspects of the Christian faith. Additionally, many of today’s Christian denominations—whether conservative, moderate, or liberal—seem to be in decline.

This new book by Zach Hoag, who self identifies as “an author, preacher, and creator from New England,” speaks a word of hope into these discouraging times through sharing his own story and some ongoing theological reflections.

Continue Reading…

 

Do Not Harden Your Heart
 
A Feature Review of 

The Listening Day:
Meditations on the Way

Paul Pastor

Paperback: Zeal Books, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]

 

Reviewed by Madeline Cramer

 
 

In moments of uncertainty or indecision in which my inner dialogue resorts to a state of frantic, chaotic anxiety, my spiritual director used to calmly remind me that it was time to be still, observe myself, and “take a long, loving, look at the real.” Perhaps the objective of Paul J. Pastor’s The Listening Day, could be best described in the advice that she bestowed upon me. Each of the book’s ninety-one pages contains a daily “meditation” not unlike those practiced by the early monastic church fathers. As Pastor says, they are to be, “read…slowly—no more than one entry a day,” prayerfully, and with a quiet mind (xiii).

Continue Reading…

 

Who is the Holy Spirit?
 
A Review of

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life
Michael Horton

 
Hardback: Zondervan, 2017
Buy Now:  [ Amazon ]  [  Kindle ]
 
 
Reviewed by Alicia Brummleler
 
 
Recently, while discussing the final paper for her senior Faith and Culture class, my daughter posed a question that I think many Christians have wondered at different points. Mom, what is the role of the Holy Spirit?

Often, there is an ease and comfort with which we discuss the role and attributes of the Father and the Son. But when we mention the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves, well, pausing and perhaps struggling to find the right words to describe who he is. As Michael Horton, the author of Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in the Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life (Zondervan, 2017) aptly acknowledges, “Who exactly is the mysterious third person of the Trinity? Why does he seem to posses less reality or at least fewer descriptive features than the Father and the Son?” (13).

Continue Reading…