Archives For *Ultra-brief Reviews*


Just thought I’d mention a few books here that might be of interest to our NACC friends and others.

Erasing Hell - Francis ChanOne of the main speakers for NACC, Francis Chan has a new book out that will be interest to many, I’m sure…

The new book, Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things We’ve Made Up (co-written with Preston Sprinkle), is described by Publisher’s Weekly as a refutation of “the Christian universalism that purportedly pervaded Love Wins, Rob Bell’s book on hell published earlier this year.”  Well, I’m not sure that we’ll be reviewing it here, but might be of interest to some of our evangelical readers.  [ Buy Now: ]

Also possibly of interest to our NACC friends is Tim Cooper‘s new book Awestruck: Life-Changing Encounters with Jesus (Wipf and Stock 2011).  Cooper is pastor of Momentum Christian Church in Lexington, KY, a new church plant there.  Awestruck is a collection of sermon-like stories that help us re-think what it means to follow Jesus.  [ Buy now: ]

And finally, I am starting to read Alan Hirsch‘s newest book The Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure and Courage (co-written with Michael Frost).  As a member of an urban church that has seen countless people sucked into the “adventure” of urban living only to pull out several months or years later, I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical — risk and adventure, it seems, can only take us so far; what do we do when the adventure dies down and we’re left with painful realities of day-to-day life? BUT, I really appreciate Hirsch’s work and look forward to seeing where he goes with this book.  Watch for my review in the near future.  [ Buy now: ]


Two New Books on Early Christianity

What’s With Paul and Women?
Unlocking the Cultural Background to 1 Timothy 2
Paperback: Ekklesia Press, 2010.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Commentary on the Gospel of John
(Ancient Christian Texts Series)

Theodore of Mopsuestia
Hardback: IVP Academic, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ]

Jon Zens’ newest book with the Seinfeld-esque name What’s With Paul and Women? offers a brief, but pointed critique of the literal and superficial reading of I Timothy 2 that understands that passage as saying that women should categorically never be able to teach men in churches.  Zens, who is editor of the engaging and long-thriving periodical Searching Together, does a wonderful job here of confirming my intuitions (and I suspect those of others as well) that Paul’s instruction was contextual – for the church in Ephesus in that time – and not universal.  Many objections that might be raised are identified and delicately dismantled.  This clear and thorough treatment of this passage is essential reading for anyone who has questions about the place of women teachers in the church, or for anyone in dialogue with those who doubt that women should teach.

The newest volume in IVP’s Ancient Christian Texts Series is Theodore of Mopsuestia’s Commentary on the Gospel of John.  Before I picked up this volume, Theodore was not a figure with whom I was familiar, and there is good reason why Theodore’s name is not a familiar one: in the mid-sixth century, more than a hundred years after his death, his writings were condemned as Nestorian and thus heretical and were in large part destroyed.  However, as described in the book’s introduction, the latest scholarship (and specifically variant versions of this text that have survived the centuries) calls into question Theodore’s condemnation as a Nestorian.  Since the Nestorian controversy centered on the nature of Christ’s person, this commentary on John’s Gospel gives us a excellent vantage point for exploring Theodore’s position, and for broadening our own perspectives on Church History, reminding us of the reality that historical situations – even within the Church – are almost always more complex than what we learn in our basic historical introductions.


Ultra-brief Reviews of

The Whole Youth Worker:
Advice on Professional, Personal, and Physical
Wellness from the Trenches
Jay Tucker.

Paperback: Loving Healing Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]


Healthy Meals for Less:
Great-Tasting Simple Recipes
Under $1 a Serving
Jonni McCoy.

Paperback: Bethany House, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

I don’t know much about youth ministry, and I’m a little cautious about segmenting the Church up into age groups, but I was intrigued by a recent book that crossed my desk The Whole Youth Worker by Jay Tucker.  Recognizing at the outset that youth ministry can be grueling (as well as rewarding), Tucker offers advice on how youth workers can remain sane and their work, sustainable.  He even goes so far – and this was particularly striking – as to explore how the health (especially diet and exercise) of the worker is intertwined with his/her work.  If only, we all as ministers and priests of Jesus Christ would reflect upon how of our bodies affects the Kingdom work that we do.  Tucker is to be commended as well for his theological emphasis on the Church as the place where youth ministry occurs (versus parachurch ministries).  There was a fair amount of material here that didn’t sit well with me or at least made me raise my eyebrows, but Tucker’s holistic focus and ecclesiological firmness make this a good book that should be read by youth workers everywhere.

In a similar holistic vein, the recent book Healthy Meals for Less: Great-Tasting Simple Recipes for Under $1 a Serving by Jonni McCoy appeals to our pocketbooks as it makes a case for healthier diets, nixing the excuse that we cannot afford the costs of eating better.  I imagine that there are a number of similar cookbooks available (for instance, it reminds me of one of my favorites, Doris Janzen Longacre’s classic More-With-Less Cookbook), but it was particularly interesting to me that this cookbook was published by the fairly conservative publisher, Bethany House.  McCoy offers us many tasty recipes here, providing a cost-per-serving figure for each one; this serving cost will likely need to be taken – pardon the pun – with a grain of salt, but it does provide a means to compare the relative cost of recipes within the collection.


Ultra-Brief Reviews

The Jesus Paradigm.
David Alan Black.

Paperback: Energion Publications, 2009.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

The World I Imagine:
A Creative Manual For Ending Poverty and Building Peace.
Debbie Jordan.

Paperback: Outskirts Press, 2008.
Buy now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

David Alan Black’s The Jesus Paradigm is an excellent little book that calls us back to the way of Jesus.  Toward the end of the book, Black summarizes its trajectory: “we are not called to be Americans.  We are not called to be Baptists. We are not called to be Republicans or Democrats. We are called to be foot-washers” (136).  Drawing heavily on the Anabaptist tradition of theology throughout, Black makes a convincing case that God’s people are in need of a radical transformation.

Debbie Jordan is a skilled and visionary writer and her recent book The World I Imagine: A Creative Manual For Ending Poverty and Building Peace offers us a fine vision of the world at peace.  The strength of this work is its imagination, its capacity to foresee a world at peace.  Such a vision is essential to peacemaking.  Unfortunately, the book while long on imagination, falls short in its prescriptions for how we should move toward this end – in other words as a “manual.”  This idealism resounds perhaps most loudly in the chapter on universal healthcare.  While the idea of everyone receiving the care they need is undoubtedly one facet of peace, Ms. Jordan has seriously underestimated the contentiousness of this issue (which, of course, has flared up in recent months) and the power wielded (for instance, by insurance companies) in resistance to this idea.


Ultra-brief Reviews
By Chris Smith

The Green Psalter: Resources for an Ecological Spirituality.
Arthur Walker-Jones.

Paperback: Fortress Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Small Footprint, Big Handprint:
How to Live Simply and Love Extravagantly
Tri Robinson.

Paperback: Ampelon Publishing, 2008.
Buy now: [  ]

 The Green Psalter by Arthur Walker-Jones is a new book from Fortress Press that probes the Psalms for a deep wealth of “resources for an ecological spirituality.”  The Psalms have long served as the backbone of Judaic and Christian worship, thus it is quite fitting as we worship a God who is reconciling all creation to have our attention turned to the broader ecological themes that have been latent in the Psalms since they were originally conceived in the ancient Israelite people.  There are strong themes of peace, justice and liberation here; perhaps the most striking chapter was the final one on ecojustice in hymn psalms.  Of these psalms, Walker writes: “From an ecological perspective, these psalms are significant because they identify God with creation, and creation is alive, active, interrelated, and has an intrinsic worth and a voice” (134).  If you long to more holistic forms of worship in the church, then you will want to be sure to find a copy of this book and study it well!

Despite its hokey title, Tri Robinson’s little book Small Footprint, Big Handprint: How Live Simply and Love Extravagantly is an excellent book with which to initiate conversation about a more holistic faith in Christ – it even has discussion questions at the end of each chapter!  While the sections on lessening our footprint were very good, especially the ones on reducing the complexity of our lives, the one on the “big handprint” (i.e., “making a lasting positive impact”) seemed to be very individualistically focused and raised a whole bunch of tricky theological and ethical questions about service and impact.  This would be an excellent book for striking up a conversation among those who haven’t though too much about the significance of HOW we live as Christians, especially in a Sunday school class or bible study group.


Ultra-brief Reviews
By Chris Smith

The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity and What We Can Do About It.
Les Leopold.

Paperback: Chelsea Green, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture.
Larry Samuel.

Hardback: AMACOM, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The Seven Faith Tribes:
Who They Are, What They Believe and Why They Matter
George Barna.

Hardback: Barna Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ ]

Those of you who have listened to William Cavanaugh’s insightful telling of the story of the recent financial collapse will find a similar story told in more detail in Les Leopold’s The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity and What We Can Do About It.  Leopold deftly weaves the tale of how corporate financiers created products such as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO’s) and Credit Default Swaps (CDS’s) to artificially generate profit for themselves and set the nation’s (and the world’s) economy on a crash-course.  Leopold’s critique of the financial system here is excellent, but he is repeatedly unwilling to critique the widespread greed and unsustainable expectations for profit held by investing individuals and organizations.  He concludes the book with two chapters of “proposals Wall Street won’t like,” which are rooted in a much more sensible economics and leave the reader with much to ponder.

I found Larry Samuel’s new book Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture to be a disturbing complement to Leopold’s work.  Samuel traces the history of America’s über-rich class (which he notes is the “first mass-affluent class in history”) over the course of the twentieth century.  Samuel’s work is fascinating as a cultural history, but it also illuminates – albeit without much reflection – the ubiquitous American desire to enter into this elite class of the richest, a reality that Leopold seemingly wants to avoid discussing.  One of the most intriguing themes in Rich is Samuel’s exploration of how the wealthiest class reconciled their fortunes with Christian faith.  Essential to this justification was the concept of “stewardship,” and the story that Samuel narrates here resonates nicely with Kelly Johnson’s critiques of stewardship in her recent book Fear of Beggars (Eerdmans 2007).

And now for something completely different…

George Barna’s recent book The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe and Why They Matter tackles, in the typical demographic fashion on which we have come to expect from the Barna brand, a religious and political assessment of the broader American culture.  The book, premised on the question “What will it take to restore our country to greatness?” is lacking in serious reflection on – e.g., on questions like what is “greatness” and why should the United States aspire to it and at what cost?  The nationalism that undergirds Barna’s work might work well for selling books especially in a time of apparent national crisis, but it does little to nurture (and arguably is at odds with) the trans-national Kingdom of God that has been secured in the death and resurrection of Jesus and is now breaking into and transforming the world.


An Ultra-brief Review of
Cuss Control:
The Complete Book On How to Curb Your Cursing
James O’Connor.

Paperback: iUniverse, 2006.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

One of the most peculiar books to cross my desk in the last few months is James O’Connor’s CUSS CONTROL: THE COMPLETE BOOK ON HOW TO CURB YOUR CURSING.  I was intrigued by O’Connor’s exploration of why we swear and what it means.  As followers of Christ, we should be concerned with controlling our tongues and not being coformed to the way of the world, but these tasks are much bigger than eliminating cussing.  Indeed, a legalistic elimination of swearing can quickly become a moralistic sort of whitewashing that addresses external behaviors without dealing with the twistedness of the heart (“out of which the mouth speaks”).  Thus, despite the fine work on the social meaning of swearing, I find that O’Connor’s arguments against swearing are not particularly convincing.


Ultra-brief Reviews of

The 24-7 Prayer Manual:
Anyone, Anywhere Can Learn to Pray Like Never Before
Pete Greig and David Blackwell.
Paperback: David C. Cook, 2009.
Buy now: [ ]

Learn to Study the Bible.
Andy Deane.
Paperback: Xulon Press, 2009.
Buy now: [ ]

By Chris Smith.

The 24-7 Prayer Manual by Pete Greig, is a helpful how-to guide for churches and para-church groups that want to start a round-the-clock prayer ministry.  Since I first heard about the 24-7 prayer movement several years ago, I have been intrigued by the idea.  This book is a good introduction to the why’s (briefly) and the how’s (primarily) of 24-7 prayer.  This movement is a powerful, embodied reminder of our call to be a people formed by “praying without ceasing.”  However, from this manual, I never really got a clear sense of the end of 24-7 prayer, and there were some hints of an instrumentalism (praying in order to “get”) , which is just as dangerous as the similar instrumental  to fasting that Scot McKnight denounces in his most recent book.  If you are unfamiliar with 24-7 prayer, you should check out this book or Greig’s earlier work Red Moon Rising: How 24-7 Prayer is Awakening a Generation, but if you are wanting to start a 24-7 prayer room, this book is what you will need to read.


Andy Deane’s Learn to Study the Bible offers 40 different techniques “to help you discover, apply, and enjoy God’s word.”  Deane presents these methods in clear simple terms with which most readers could connect.  However, this book is very much about personal Bible study, and leaves little room for the church’s corporate reading and interpretation of the Scriptures, which as Stanley Hauerwas and others have noted is the primary way in which Scripture was intended to be read.  If you want to read and study the Bible on your own and are having trouble getting started, this is a fine book for you.  But please, please understand that personal Bible study should be secondary to reading scripture in community with God’s people.


Ultra-brief Reviews – Tuesday 16 June 2009.

Once a Runner (Novel)
John L. Parker, Jr.

Hardcover: Scribner, 2009
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Prince Pehlay’s Wonder-full Alef-Beit.
Mimi Fine.

Spiral Bound Paperback: Pomegranate Productions, 2008.
Order and More info: [ HERE ]

By Chris Smith.

I was super-excited to see that Scribner has brought John L. Parker, Jr.’s novel Once A Runner back into print.  This cult-classic novel of runners everywhere, had two previous printings (one in the 70’s and one in the late 80’s) and was in super-high demand (I sold a used copy on amazon last year for over $130!).  The essence of the novel is captured in its proclamation: “Quenton Cassidy was a miler.”  Soren Kierkegaard famously noted that “Purity of Heart is to will one thing.” For Quenton Cassidy, that one thing was the quest to break the four minute mile.  Once a Runner, is the raw tale of one runner’s determination in the face of a host of challenges.  This novel will be most appealing to runners, but the running life and running culture it describes has a lot to teach us about focus and determination.

In previous school years, I have enjoyed teaching biblical Greek to elementary students in our church.  The possibility of teaching Hebrew, however, never crossed my mind.  Never, that is, until I recently received a copy of Mimi Fine’s excellent workbook Prince Pehlay’s Wonder-full Alef-beit.  Complete with CD recording of its two instructional songs, this book is a superb and engaging resource – written from a Judeo-Christian perspective – for introducing the Hebrew alphabet to children.  Stepping letter-by-letter through the Hebrew alphabet, Fine uses puzzles and traditional matching/fill-in-the-blank-type challenges to introduce and reinforce the memory of the Hebrew letters.  Prince Pehlay’s Wonder-full Alef-beit is a wonderful place to begin teaching the Hebrew alphabet to yourself, your children or others!


Christ In Y’all: Following Jesus into Community.
Neil Carter.

Paperback: Ekklesia Press, 2009.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

“From the Fields of Boaz”
CD by Dede

Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

Why Don’t They Just Quit?
Joe Herzanek.

Paperback: Changing Lives Foundation, 2007.
Buy Now: [ Amazon ]
Accompanying DVD –  Buy Now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Chris Smith.

I was excited when given the opportunity to review Christ in Y’all: Following Jesus into Community by Neil Carter.  The title, of course, is a reference to the fact that many of New Testament references to the pronoun “you” are actually plural and not singular, a difficulty of the English language, which has been exploited too often by the individualism of American Christianity.  Carter writes about a new way of being Church based on his experiences as part of a church that meets in homes and shares life together on a day-to-day basis.  This vision of Church, and the theology which undergirds it, is appealing to me, and I think it poses a necessary challenge to the religion of most American churches.  However, in the end Carter cannot contain his opposition to traditional churches: “It took me awhile to admit that ‘body life’ cannot survive long within the traditional church setting because these two things are antagonistic to each other” (168).  I understand the place where Carter is coming from, and in a sense I was there at one time, and there are things about churches as institutions that undoubtedly pose challenges, but I believe there is great harm in such an adamant rejection of traditional churches.  Here at Englewood Christian Church, a very traditional church that has been in the same Indianapolis neighborhood for almost 115 years, we have a similar vision of seeking the ‘body life’ of God’s Kingdom together on a daily basis.  Thus, in a way, we are a counter-example to Carter’s statement quoted above.  I won’t say that this way of existing as a deeply-rooted church community within the institution of a traditional church is an easy one, but I do believe that it bears witness to the patience, love and commitment of the ways of Christ that abandoning the institution (and the people deeply invested in that institution) would not.

Along with the above book, I was sent a copy of a cd entitled by “From the Fields of Boaz,” recorded by Dede.  I’m not much of a music critic, so this will be brief.  The songs seemed to have well-written worshipful lyrics – you got to love a writer that digs into the book of Ruth for images of devotion and commitment.  The singing and instrumentation seem to be well-done, though were not exactly my taste, and seemed to be fairly typical of the worship-music genre.

Joe Herzanek’s recent book Why Don’t They Just Quit is a basic, helpful guide for families of those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions.  Herzanek, a former addict himself, has devoted his life to counseling people with addictions and their families.  The book addresses a broad range of questions about the nature of addiction and recovery, and does so in short easy-to-digest chapters written in plain, straight-forward English and interspersed with relevant quotes from all sorts of pop culture icons. And just in case there was a term that you didn’t understand, there is a glossary in the back of the book!  Herzanek has a chapter that addresses the spiritual dimension of recovery, but it goes off as pretty generic and leaves one wishing for a deeper exploration of the place of the faith community in the recovery process.  There also is an accompanying 90 minute DVD (sold separately) which features a “Roundtable Discussion” about issues related to addiction and recovery.