Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review - Preaching by Ear: Speaking God's Truth from the Inside Out - by Dave McClellan with Karen McClellan

This is a book a good friend of mine already read to me in the pages of his life. In our day to day conversations and meals together he is open about his struggles and how the Gospel speaks to him. So when he preaches Sunday morning, I know he is retelling me how the passage of the day spoke to and changed him. He has read the text, he has wrestled with the text using all his hermeneutical skills. He is telling me the Gospel story from the inside out. This is one way to quickly summarize the book.

This book is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile read for those who do any kind of public speaking or teaching.  The author spends a good deal of the book developing the case that there is something unique about the sounds of the spoken word that resonates with the way the Bible was delivered by God and the prophets and Apostles.

The book is divided into two parts: Preparing the Preacher and Developing an Orally Based Model of Preaching. In Part One he introduces us to several key people active in teaching rhetoric; St Augustine, Aristotle, and Roman educator Quintilian. The premise being developed is that the written word is an efficient way of recording what was spoken, but that the written word has different purposes than the spoken word. Therefore, preparation for an oral presentation of the truth needs to conceived and grown in a different way than one would prepare something for reading. He presents this methodology in detail in Part Two.

In Part Two we are introduced to Jesuit scholar Walter Ong. Chapter’s 7 and 8 get down to where the rubber meets the road and the author spells out the method he uses for preparing a sermon.  Instead of the typical 5 step literary process usually used in sermon preparation, he proposes more time be spent recreating and verbalizing the flow of thought in the text for today’s audience. Significant time should be spent in internalizing the text for yourself and then attempting to articulate that insight for the audience at hand.  In some sense the sermon is not done until it is delivered, until the words are spoken and shaped in the context of a listening congregation.

I think the author is on to something. The most effective messages I have heard, are the ones where the preacher or speaker has really wrestled with articulating the flow of thought in the text itself, and was practiced in the expression of it. I would recommend this book to those who preach or are training to preach. And it would be a good read for a Bible teacher who does a lot of directed Bible studies. 

I received this resource for free from Weaver Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review – Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion by R. Larry Overstreet

This book is the ripe and delicious fruit of a well-crafted presentation of the need, value and practice of persuasive preaching. While it clearly is written for those who preach or studying to preach, I am sure it will be of immense value to anyone who is teaching the gospel in other modes.

Part of the well-crafted presentation is the structure of the book itself. There is both a one page Contents in Brief and a multipage contents in full that reminds me of many Puritan books I have read (e.g. Precious Remedies Against Satan’s devices  by Thomas Brooks– Banner of Truth edition). The conclusion to each chapter does a nice job of not only summarizing the chapter concisely, but tying the progression of the case he is making for persuasive preaching together.

Besides the many examples of different theories of persuasion in classical literature, he provides many biblical examples of those types. He adds the distinctively Christian element of dependence on the Holy Spirit for effectiveness of the sermon.

In Part 1 Overstreet discusses issues facing persuasive preaching, doing a nice job of setting the cultural context for the need of persuasive preaching today.

Five chapters in Part 2 do an excellent job of laying out the biblical support for persuasive preaching.

Structuring persuasive messages is the topic of Part 3. In the chapter detailing Motivated Sequence, I could not help but think of some of the methods taught today by Decker Communications ( which I have used quite effectively in persuasive speeches.  The chapter on Cause Effect also sounded familiar. It reminded by of the Fallen Condition Focus mentioned in Brian Chapell’s book on Christ Centered Preaching which is an approach used much by the preacher at the church I attend and has proven fruitful in convicting and converting people, producing a very active congregation where most members are exercising their spiritual gifts in outreach to the community. This call to action is one of the major objectives of persuasive preaching.  This section also includes chapters on the cause-effect and refutation structured sermons.

Part 4 is a useful discussion of the pertinent applications in persuasive speaking, discussing persuasion verses manipulation, The Holy Spirit in Preaching and The Invitation.

In the Epilogue is a discussion of four speeches of Mosses in Deuteronomy illustrating his Pastor’s heart and his means of persuasion illustrating the principles outlined in the book.

The Appendixes contain helpful analysis of Greek words and a sample sermon.

I received this resource for free from Weaver Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review – The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. Edited and introduced by Ryan M. McGraw

Ryan McGraw has done readers of religious books a great service in making John Owen more accessible to modern readers. He joins the ranks of at least two others who have successfully done this: R. J. K. Law and Kris Lundgaard.

This book is part of Reformation Heritage Books’ Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series which aims to address the shallowness and trivialization of God characteristic of evangelicalism today. This series presents lives of notable Christian with select passages from their works.

“Owen”, says series editor Ryan McGraw, “can show us how to know by experience what it means to be Reformed.”  This is important, as Reformed theology is not always recognized as placing a high value and emphasis on the role of Doctrine in informing our practical lives.  Through the use of selected parts of eight of John Owen’s writings, editor Ryan McGraw shows how Owen “wonderfully teaches us the practical outworking of the Reformed doctrines of Scripture and of God through the themes of public worship and the Trinity.”

I found the book helpfully organized. It begins with an historical introduction sketching Owen’s life – particularly where it influenced his views of worship and piety. The readings that follow are organized around three themes: Knowing God as Triune, Heaven-Mindedness and Apostasy, and Covenant and Church. The book ends with three appendices: Reading Owen, Owen’s Works by Year, and Books About Owen.

There is much to commend the book. The editor has updated some of the language of Owen and most importantly, added some paragraph markers making the flow of thought a little easier. The selections do serve as a nice introduction to Owen’s writings, as they are usually less than three pages.

The one thing that would have made the book more useful, is to include in Appendix C a third category of books about Owen. Adding an “Abridged or Paraphrased” category to the “Popular” and “Scholarly” categories already present would give timid Owen readers some better choices and encouragements to tackle Owen.  R. J. K. Law has written at least four very good and quite readable abridged and made easy to read books by Owen, including some quoted in this book.  Kris Lundgaard has also written two excellent books that unashamedly draw heavily on Owen. I have read his “The Enemy Within” but I know he also has written “Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Christ That Change Us” which draws on Owen’s “The Glory of Christ.”

Here is a suggested sequence for the reader who has never read John Owen.  Read Kris Lundgaard’s “The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About The Power and Defeat of Sin”, then read McGraw’s “The Foundation of Communion With God”. By then Owen will be a favorite food and you will have the motivation to tackle R. J. K. Law’ or perhaps Owen himself.

I received this resource for free from Reformation Heritage Books via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Music Album Review - His Kids United Christmas Vol 1

Even this 66 year old grandfather can find some things to like about this album. There is a nice mix of old carols with music and tempo I like, but also a really nice variety of music styles, some quite contemporary, that I find appropriate for the happy celebratory time that Christmas is. The mix of songs is aimed at children 5-14 years old, but really has something for everyone.

I like the saxophone in “All I Have to Give”. It fits so well, like the violin and viola in "Ashokan Farewell"  played in Ken Burn's PBS Civil War Series. 

I am not a fan of rap, but found some of the rap in “Light of Christmas” I liked and thought it was interspersed quite appropriately among the melody lines. Because it contains a nice range of music styles and mix of old and new music, along with four well done original songs, I would not mind listening to this album with my grandkids.

Here is the track list:

    1. Here We Come A-Caroling (Wassail Song)
    2. Light Up The World (feat. Jovany Javier)
    3. Jingle Bell Rock
    4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
    5. All I Have To Give
    6. Light of Christmas
    7. Jingle Bells
    8. No Better Holiday
    9. Away In A Manger
    10. Christmas Time Is Here
    11. I Hope This Gets To You
    12. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
    You can hear a sample track here

      Friday, October 3, 2014

      Review - Your Life With Christ by Rebecca Manley Pippert

      LIVE is a 5 session DVD course with participant workbook intended to help new Christians, non-Christians and confused Christians start and mature in the Christian life. This material is part of 3 sequenced courses with the titles LIVE, GROW and KNOW. The sessions on the DVD are downloadable from the web using the key provided in the DVD case. The download is not intuitive, as you must right click on the video stream to ‘save video as’ in order to download it.

      A Leader’s Guide (downloadable) is helpful in organizing either a 90 minute or 60 minute class. It gives a good summary of the theme of each session. The session titles are:
      1.       How Do I Know It is Real? (based on John 20:19-31)
      2.       What is the Good News? (based on John 3:1-18)
      3.       Is It Worth IT?  (based on Luke 9:18-36)
      4.       A Time For Commitment? (based on Acts 9:1-19)
      5.       New Life in Christ. (based on John 15:1-13)

      About two-thirds of each session is devoted to bible study and discussion. The DVD is shown 3 times during the session, with the suggested sequence as follows
      •          Social Time
      •          DVD - Introduction
      •          Read Historical Context section of guide
      •          Bible Study
      •          Live What You Learn – a series of questions to help you connect with the bible lesson
      •          DVD – Following Jesus – Becky Pippert talks about the main themes
      •          DVD – Real Stories – People sharing the story of how they came to Christ or stories of the Christian life
      •          Praying Together.

      The Participant Guide has a section called ‘Going Deeper’ which is a fairly good section for use in between sessions, but not required for the study itself.  The Leader’s Guide would be a lot more useful if it had suggested answers to the questions in the Participant Guide. There are some useful resources for each session listed in the back of the Participant Guide.

      I think the course would be useful for the stated participants, but its value will depend a great deal on the discussion leader and his/her ability to answer the questions in the guidebook.

      I received this resource for free from The Good Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

      Friday, September 19, 2014

      Book Review - Can I Really Trust The Bible: And other questions about Scripture, truth and how God speaks

      This book is for either the person who trusts the Bible and can’t explain why or for the person who doesn’t trust the Bible and can explain why.  The book contains a clearly laid out, well-orchestrated line of thought with clear examples.

      For the first person, this book provides a nice framework for thinking about the reliability of the bible.  It claims to be God’s word (2 chapters), it seems to be God’s word (2 chapters) and it proves to be God’s word (1 chapter).  Using this skeleton to frame the answer to the question raised in the book title, a believer is able to remember and explain to an unbeliever why the Bible is reliable and trustworthy.
      The person who doubts the Bible is trustworthy likely has one or two reasons why. Is this case it is fairly easy to search through the book and find the reasons addressed. The author has put many of the common reasons people give for not trusting the Bible, in sidebars.
      While the book is very short (a small book with 81 pages), it really is substantial and fairly complete. I especially liked the section that explained why the Old Testament books and New Testament books are not in chronological order.  I don’t ever remember reading such a clear and concise explanation.

      Even if you already trust the Bible, this book is worth reading. It is a wonderful, short, concise and accessible introduction to the Bible and it’s reliability.  It is one of those books that has explanations worth memorizing and meditating upon.  If you were to read only one book on this topic, this is it.

      I received this book free from The Good Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

      Monday, September 15, 2014

      Book Review - A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ by Stanley Gale

      A Vine Ripened Life is a welcome addition to what is often only a mystical explanation of what it means to ‘abide in Christ’. It is a clear explanation of what it means to not only abide in Christ, but to bear abundant fruit.

      One of the most useful sections of Stanley Gale’s new book is found in Chapter 1 where he details the essence of abiding with Christ.  “Freedom from bondage to sin for development of the fruit of the Spirit is forged by union with Christ” says Stanley Gale. And that fruit is formed in reliance on the Holy Spirit who is now at work in you, as you focus on the person and work of Jesus Christ by spending time in his word, in prayer, and in fellowship with the Saints.

      In this reviewer’s experience, the topic of our union with Christ is often presented as only an objective reality. John Calvin once wrote "We must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us....All that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him" (Institutes, III.i.1).     In A Vine-Ripened Life, Stanley Gale makes it clear how abiding in Christ makes it possible to experience the subjective side of the reality of our union with Christ, bearing mature, abundant fruit that manifest itself in a distinctively Christian character.

      In chapter 2 Stanley Gale talks of the discipline of the Father and how not to make light of it. He spells out how to recognize it, value it and heed it.

      Using personal stories and many biblical references, the fruit of the Spirit is detailed in chapters 3-11. There is an additional chapter on humility and the book ends with a very helpful chapter on grace.

      I’ve read other books on Abiding in Christ, including Andrew Murray’s classic work. In comparison, I find this book easier to relate to and more engaging.  I’ve marked this book up so much – I need to purchase one to give away!

      I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

      Wednesday, August 6, 2014

      Book Review - healed at last: separating Biblical Truth From Myth by Scott Blackwell

      Unknowingly perhaps an author makes his book much more useful than the purpose for which he writes.  And that is what makes this book so valuable even if you are not particularly interested in the age old debate about whether God heals miraculously today or not.
      I found the book helpful in illustrating the usefulness of Biblical Theology over Systematic Theology, where the bible’s storyline of redemption affects the way we understand how to answer the question of miraculous healing.  In a carefully orchestrated way, Blackwell lays out the story of God’s redeeming a people that provides the appropriate context for answering the question.   The setting is cosmological rather than the American culture of individualism.

      His section on Basic bible boundaries and rules provides a very helpful reminder that he will approach the answer to this question using careful exegisis, hermeneutics and homiletics. He even tells us in plain language what these terms mean.

      In a loving way he makes clear the difference between Pentecostal/charismatic and reformed evangelical thought on this issue and addresses the difference.

      In answering this much debated question Blackwell is to clear about underlying assumptions, makes clear the context for answering the question, makes clear what bias he has, elaborates on relevant personal experience and makes clear the methodology for arriving at an answer.

      Near the end Blackwell says:
      “ My hope is that this small book might encourage … those who undergo great personal struggles, and help them recapture and redirect their focus so that they might once again testify that God’s grace is perfectly sufficient and his power made perfect, even through our weakness”

      This he has done by reminding us our hope is ultimately on the sovereignty of God and the work on our behalf of Christ on the cross and the certainty of our salvation that will be complete at the last day.  The book ends with that great quote from 1 Peter 1:3-9.

      Wednesday, June 11, 2014

      Book Review: Basil of Caesarea: His Life and Impact by Marvin Jones

      This is one of the most difficult books I have had to read in a long time.  It was difficult primarily because of my unfamiliarity with world history and the subsequent difficulty in knowing the position the characters play, and partly because of the way the book is laid out.  The book is not chronological or linear, except in an iterative way.  Not having a detailed table of contents made it difficult to see the development of thought and the flow of the book.

      For these reasons, I would suggest reading a hardcopy of the book, rather than with an eBook reader.  I found the eBook version hard to reread previous sections and keep track of where I was in the general framework of the book. Below is my attempt to give a rough outline that might prove helpful to those reading the book.

      1.       Basil’s life: An overview
      2.       Conversion and theology
      a.       Salvation
                                                                                 i.      Asceticism
                                                                               ii.      Asceticism, Arianism and the church
                                                                              iii.      Theological development(Homoiousios, Homoousios and Hypostasis phases)
                                                                             iv.      Bishop Basil
                                                                               v.      Marcellus
                                                                             vi.      Marcellus, Athanasius, and Basil
      b.      Pastoral Public Ministry
                                                                                 i.      Ministry of the Word
                                                                               ii.      Worship
                                                                              iii.      Preaching
                                                                             iv.      Continuing Theological Development
                                                                               v.      Reward in heaven
                                                                             vi.      Basil’s contribution to Evangelicalism (The Scriptures and the Church)
                                                                            vii.      Theological Development
      3.       Solace in the desert
      a.       Intro
      b.      Saint Anthony, the Anchoritic monk
      c.       Pachomius, the Coenobitic monk
      d.      Monastic trip
      e.      Monastic reform
                                                                                 i.      The rationale for coenobitic reform
      f.        Basil’s contribution to Evangelicalism
                                                                                 i.      Holiness in the church
                                                                               ii.      The moral Rules and the Large Asceticon
      4.       Development of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
      a.       The Nicene Creed
      b.      The Arian resurgence
      c.       Athanasius’s contribution to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit
      d.      Didymus the Blind
      e.      Contribution to Evangelicalism
      5.       Basil’s Contribution to the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
      a.       Arianism in the Late 360s
      b.      Basil’s On the Holy Spirit
      c.       Prepositions and deity
      d.      Council of Constantinople
      6.       Basil’s Hexaemeron
      a.       Allegory versus literal
      b.      The witness of the Hexaemeron
      c.       Richard Lim’s theory
      d.      The Content of the Hexaemeron
      e.      The sovereignty of God
      f.        Six literal days for creation
      g.       Creation instantaneous and ex nihilio
      h.      Young earth and evolution
      i.         Contribution of the Hexaemeron
      j.        Contribution to Evangelicalism
      7.       Basil Speaks Today
      a.       Ecclesiastical contributions

      b.      Theological contributions

      Overall I found the book quite helpful in understanding the importance of knowing the struggles that are behind the very concise, precisely worded creeds left to us by our forefathers in the faith. In addition, I found the excellent discussion of monasticism and asceticism quite helpful and relevant to the issues now facing the church.  One of my favorite quotes from the book (Kindle location 1301-1302)
      “Again, Basil seemed to reject the isolationism of the monastic movement simply because his devotion to the Scriptures compelled him to think ecclesiologically.”

      I received this book for free from Christian Focus via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

      Sunday, June 1, 2014

      Book Review: Active Spirituality: grace and effort in the christian life by Brian G. Hedges

      In a progression of fictional letters, author and pastor Brian Hedges explores the tension between grace and effort in the Christian life.  In this way Brian helps a fictional Chris understand the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as he seeks to grow in his walk with God in the midst of temptation and discouragement.  I thought the book started out a bit slow, but by the third chapter, I was hooked.

      One of the striking features of the book, is Brian’s use of solid Christian fiction and nonfiction to help illustrate the many scripture references he uses.  For example, in the chapter on backsliding, after carefully laying out the scriptures in which God reminds us to remember his saving acts, Brian uses the memorable story of Jill seeking the lost prince of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair.  In this, and other chapters are frequent uses of Paul Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress, several of C.S. Lewis’s books, excerpts from John Owen, John Newton, J. I. Packer, Leland Ryken, Charles Spurgeon, Octavius Winslow, William Gurnal, Gordon Fee, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, Augustine, William Bridges, John Calvin, D. A. Carson, and many others. He also uses Baptist and Presbyterian church standards and hymns.

      In no way do these other illustrations get in the way of or take away from the impact of scripture. The illustrations taken from literature serve to add weight and clarity. Brian is quite pastoral and not wooden, shallow or dry. The letters have the feel of good literature, in that they evidence progression in the emotional life of Chris and his relationship to the letter writer Brian. They realistically deal with the ups and downs of the Christian life and thus serve as an encouragement to us who need assurance.

      The book has two very useful bookends.  The first chapter is an opening letter to the reader explaining how the resurgence of Reformed theology has increased the awareness of the extent of grace not only in beginning the Christian life, but in living the Christian life.  While he applauds this, his experience has been that this truth can seem to dismiss the necessity of effort in continuing as a Christian.  In laying out the definition of doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, he explains perseverance as requiring both grace and effort in order to find our place in heaven.

      The last two chapters contain more detailed information on the sources he quotes.  Many of the works noted in the Bibliography should be on the new Christian’s reading list, and contain both old and new works well worth reading.

      Are you struggling with assurance or the relationship between grace and effort in the Christian life? Then this book is one you should read.

      I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

      Wednesday, April 30, 2014

      Book Review - Bible Revival: Recommitting Ourselves To One Book by Kenneth Berding

      Note: Since writing this review the website mentioned ( is now complete! It leads you through a 12 week program that will not only qualify you as biblically literate, but will also train you to recite the storyline of the whole bible. Visit the website and view the free videos, music and other free resources rather than reading the book reviewed. The program is suitable to do as a family. A suggestion: use it as a ready-made Family Worship/Devotions. It is best for Junior High to Senior Adult, but can easily be adapted for younger children.

      I grew up at a time when most people knew some basic facts about the bible.  My parents could expect almost anyone I encountered to remind me how my behavior was not in line with that required by the God of the Bible.  But that day is long gone.  Kenneth Berding has written a useful resource for the church to supplement efforts to increase Bible Literacy. It is a book “about learning, living and loving the Bible that would teach and stir the hearts of our people” says author, Professor and church elder, Berding.

      This book lays out the underlying spiritual causes of the present predicament of Bible Illiteracy. As such, it is not a devotional book, nor a how to interpret the Bible book, nor a book about the doctrine of Scripture.  It is a book that makes a case for hearing, valuing, understanding, applying and obeying the scriptures. Each chapter has a “Digging Deeper” section that uncovers the spiritual issues related to the topic. Kenneth Berding closes each chapter with a prayer and questions quite suitable for small group bible study or to gauge your own understanding of the chapter.

      He follows these chapters with two helpful appendices, one on memorizing the scriptures and another making an announcement of an upcoming Bible Fluency program to be released by Weaver Press in the summer of 2014. 

      Here are the topics of the 6 chapters.
      Chapter 1 – Hearing the Word.  How little this generation knows about the Bible and the underlying causes.
      Chapter 2 - Valuing the Word. The origin of our underlying distrust of the Bible.
      Chapters 3 and 4 - Understanding and Applying the Word.  Why we struggle to understand and apply the bible. He provides a framework for how to do so.
      Chapter 5: - Obeying the Word.  Here he addresses sentimentality, avoidance, the opinion that I have the right to decide and the possibility that one is still not at peace with God.
      Chapter 6: Speaking the Word. Berding issues a call to not only read, learn and obey the bible, but to talk about it regularly with each other.

      The book is quite readable, well laid out and has the right amount of personal stories as illustrations. His use of scripture makes his arguments convincing.  I would not hesitate to use this book as a starting point for developing a bible fluency program for yourself or your church.

      I received a free copy of this book from Weaver Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

      Wednesday, April 9, 2014

      The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

      I just finished a  wonderful memoir written by a gracious and intelligent author. This was a wonderful read and break from my normal genre. There are a number of reviews on Amazon

      I most certainly would rate this one high. I grew fond of the Dad and wish that he had the tools to deal with the issues underlying his addiction to alcohol.  My emotions were like water in a bathtub when entering or exiting; sometimes great admiration for his sensitivity and creativity but swamped by depth of sorrow for his cluelessness or choice to ignore the needs of his family.

      Here was a family that homeschooled without calling it that.

      Saturday, March 8, 2014

      Book Review: Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

      A very ill 10 year old grandson, a father approaching his 90th birthday and the upcoming Good Friday and Easter Holidays made me eager to gaze upon the mystery and meaning of Christ’s death. In that readiness, I was not disappointed as I read through Pastor Anyabwile’s new book.

      I am a frequent listener of sermons, so I felt quite comfortable reading this collection of sermons reworked as meditations. Throughout the book, reference is made to numerous scriptures, reminding us of the unity of the history of redemption that exists from Old to New Testament and providing that much needed pause to gaze upon the necessity of the Christ’s death, the abandonment of God, the death of death, the resurrection and the way of knowing how these things are really true for us personally.

      I thought Pastor Anyabwile does a particularly good job in chapter 2 of making relevant to today’s readers the acts and words of Jesus at the time of his death and resurrection.  Using the part of the armed forces creed that says “Leave no man behind”, he shows how we are taken home by God’s willingness to go to great lengths to bring members of his family to heaven.

      This book is not for the reader antagonistic to the Christian faith. It does not attempt to convince, as much as provide good meat to chew on and be nourished by. And much as a good meal brings refreshment and new strength to a hungry body, these meditations will help bring solid hope and clearer definition to what death is and what it is not.

      Each chapter is followed by a set of questions I found quite helpful for seeing if I understood the chapter and for practice in articulating the contents. These questions would make good questions if using the book for small group discussion.

      I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review

      Thursday, February 13, 2014

      Book Review - Prophet On The Run: A Devotional Commentary on the Book Of Jonah by Baruch Maoz

      I was not disappointed in the reading of this short devotional commentary on the book of Jonah. So many commentaries tend to much moralization of the stories, completely missing the more important and larger themes present in the story.  This commentary does a good job of placing the story in its appropriate place in the history of redemption, foreshadowing a greater prophet to come who will extend salvation to all nations.

      Since this is a devotional commentary and not a study commentary, the reader should not expect detailed discussion of words and issues scholars would find interesting.  Rather the reader will find appropriate material about the context, a careful observation of what the text says, and then appropriate comments on the meaning of the text, which is supported by numerous cross references to New Testament passages.  These New Testament cross references then serve to help bridge the gap between the original audience and what meaning God intended for us.  The author’s good application questions peppered throughout the text will prove helpful to the reader who takes the time to meditate on the text and honestly answer the application question.

      Since the author’s stated goal for the book is “to give the reader a graphic sense of the message of the book of Jonah, taking into account the particularities of the Hebrew…” he provides his own translation of the book. I think this adds to the value of the book and helps the author achieve his goal.

      I found the format of the commentary helpful. Following a discussion of the verses in each chapter is a helpful summary, a prayer based on the chapter and then some discussion questions.  So we don’t miss the big picture, the author has final summary questions for the whole book.

      I received this book for free from Shepherd Press via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.

      Saturday, January 25, 2014

      Book Review - Stepping Out In Faith: Former Catholics Tell Their Stories

      Edited by Mark Gilbert

        Mark Gilbert choses eleven former Catholics to tell the stories of their spiritual journeys to find peace with God.   While all of the stories are of people who left the Catholic Church, Mark Gilbert’s purpose is not to disparage the Catholic Church, but to show what errors of doctrine keep people from finding peace with God and to show how many people have found that peace.  In fact, some of the stories express appreciation for certain experiences they had within the Catholic Church.  One example of this is when story teller Alex Morbelli says “As I read and discussed God’s word with the others in the group I realized how important my Catholic upbringing, which had given me an understanding of many important truths, actually was.” She then goes into some detail about what she already knew and believed about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

      The titles of each story reveal the key weakness or need in a person around which their story of finding healing in Jesus Christ’s finished work becomes possible. These titles are:
      •     When everything else is gone
      •     Confident in God’s love
      •     A wretch like me
      •     The ultimate fresh start
      •     Letting in air and light
      •     Words of eternal life
      •     Authentic church
      •     No more fear
      •     Learning to trust
      •     A retired Catholic
      •     Certainty for eternity

      Each story explains in the story tellers words, how he/she came to see the impossibility of pleasing God through good works.  These are stories of substance and written in such a way that people can easily identify with them. There is enough variety in the circumstances to make each story interesting, yet there is a unity to the stories that helps tie them together in a way that accomplishes the author’s purpose of helping Catholics not yet at peace with God, to find the way to that peace.

      The strength of this book is the way in which Mark Gilbert accomplishes his purpose.  Each story is quite believable, not written in an academic way yet not trivial and provides enough detail for the reader to identify in some way with the storyteller. He bookends the stories with an introduction and a final chapter titled “Call to Action”, which gives the reader a sense of closure to the task Mark Gilbert set out to do and a gentle call to seek God out.

      Some may find fault with the writing of some of the storytellers. Not all of the stories are polished, but I think that adds to the author’s ability to convey the depth of change that has occurred in ordinary people and validates the message of the book.   He is letting real people tell real stories. 

      Also, for this American reviewer, the fact that many of the stories have Australian slang adds charm to the book.

      I received this book for free from Matthias Media via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.