Archives For Review

 

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
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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.

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A Basic Building Block of
Real Community

A Review of 

Praise the Lard: Recipes and Revelations from a Legendary life in Barbecue
Mike Mills / Amy Mills

Hardback: Rux Martin / HMH Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Andy May

 

Legendary barbecue pitmaster Mike Mills and daughter Amy Mills team up to deliver unto us a heavenly smoker’s cookbook revealing some of the best kept secret recipes in barbecue.  But more than that, peppered between the detailed recipes, Mike and Amy’s stories unveil the best of what small town America has to offer: the values of community, family, work, and faith. Amy and Mike share generations worth of wisdom, experience, and a gold mine of creative recipes.  As the original “slow food” movement, Mike and Amy emphasize that barbecue is more than just producing delicious and creatively crafted food, it’s also a basic building block of real community.  As friends and family gather, for whatever occasion, the sights, smells, and slow pace of smoking meat provide an opportunity be reminded of the important things in life. Barbecue is sharing, barbecue is hospitality, barbecue is risk, barbecue is hard work, barbecue is love.

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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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What We Talk About When
We Talk About Family Values

 
Review of

More Than Words: 10 Values for the Modern Family
Erin Wathen

Paperback: WJK Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Emily Zimbrick-Rogers

 

I began reading Erin Wathen’s family spirituality book, More Than Words, on a plane flight across the country, overhearing a conservative Christian college student try to evangelize her seatmate. She talked a lot about “proof” for God, Truth and right and wrong, why post-modernism was bad, going on mission trips, and her large family. I then finished the book while parked next to a car with a pro-life bumper sticker.

More Than Words, a short but illuminating book, prompted me to think about what “family values” are and what they should be, in dialogue with Scripture, experience, and community. Wathen, author of the popular blog Irreverin on the Patheos Progressive network, and senior pastor of Saint Andrew Christian Church in Kansas City, enters the current discussion on “family values” from a particularly progressive, or Christian left, angle. Wathen proposes that progressive churches and individuals do have family values, which she names as compassion, abundance, Sabbath, nonviolence, joy, justice, community, forgiveness, equality, and authenticity. Wathen elevates values based in inclusive love and hope that enable deepened connections with family, faith communities, and our neighbors. She contrasts these values with what she names as conservative “family values”—exclusion/racism, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, and violence (2).

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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
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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.

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Withholding Maps?

 
A Review of

Worship in the Way of the Cross: Leading Worship for the Sake of Others
John Frederick

Paperback: IVP Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Kirk Cowell

 

One day, while driving with my wife in the mountains of southern New Mexico, I had a moment of inspiration. My grandfather was famous for taking off down roads he had never seen before, eager to discover some homey restaurant or uncrowded woodlands. On a whim, I decided to emulate him. I turned off the main highway onto a road that seemed to go more-or-less the direction we needed. In those pre-GPS days, we were taking a risk, but for a short while, my spontaneous move worked wonderfully—we passed several gorgeous waterfalls we would have never glimpsed from the highway. But then the road turned the wrong direction. Pavement turned to gravel, then dirt, then mud. My little pickup bogged down, then stopped. As I opened the door and stepped out to assess the situation, Sandy asked, “What do we do now?” “All I know,” I said, “is that we are spinning our tires and home is somewhere off that direction. I don’t know how to get there from here.”

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Do Not Harden Your Heart
 
A Feature Review of 

The Listening Day:
Meditations on the Way

Paul Pastor

Paperback: Zeal Books, 2017
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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).

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