Book Review: Five Marks of a Man

Five Marks of a Man

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy, short

Summary
Just as the title says, the author lays out what he sees as the five distinctions of a man. They are that men – have a vision, take a minority position, are team players, work, and are protectors. The book is broken into sections for each mark, each of which is four to six chapters for a total of 24, plus a ‘how to read this book’, an intro, a conclusion, and finally what he calls an epilogue, but is basically a sales pitch for a camp he runs.

My Thoughts
Writing a book about what it means/is to be a man is problematic. It would be a life goal of mine to write a book for men, but first, I’m not a very good writer, and more important, I think it is basically impossible. Broadly speaking, there are two major errors that, as much as I hate to do this, generally fall on the liberal/conservative spectrum. On the liberal side there is a tendency to downplay or even dismiss the uniqueness of men (this is likely why there are few books from this side), which is neither physically, biologically, or Biblically accurate. On the conservative side you have a the hamming up of things like football, trucks, and Braveheart. While these are all things I enjoy immensely, they having nothing to do Biblical concepts. In reality, that is all marketing.

This book falls, obviously, into the later category. A few examples before I move on to what was good about the book: seemingly the ability to do push ups related to your level of manliness; apparently having a cat is feminine so he makes it clear that not only does he have a dog (which I guess is manly?), but that it is big (extra manly?); camping outdoorsiness also equals manliness (though he isn’t nearly as bad as Eldredge); and most egregiously, the shotgun out on the counter for the guy who wants to date his daughter. Good Lord help the insecurities of these men.

I cannot fathom feeling it necessary to bring my shotgun out when Sprout starts dating. What is the implication? That I want to scare you for some reason? That I will literally kill you? The dating(ish) chapter, in the ‘protector’ section, was so bad that I considered downgrading my rating. He goes on to say that later he took out (for a meal) a guy who wanted to date his second daughter. He talked with the young man about relationship and sex and his daughter, apparently. I find that a little weird, but maybe it is alright, except for one thing, there is no mention what so ever that he had any discussions with his son. Not even a parenthetical, ‘as I told my own son’. Nothing. No indication that he has ever discussed dating with his son. Now, maybe I’m too cynical and as it is a book for men, maybe it is implied that he did, but I don’t think so. That leaves me with two possible explanations, one, overly cliched writing on manliness stereotyped manliness lead him to just not include it in the book. Two, he proved various liberals, atheist, and other antagonistic to Christianity to be correct in that he only cares about the virginity/purity of his daughters and his son can do whatever he wants. This is incredibly problematic and frustrating.

Men, we have to do better than this cliched nonsense. When we do this we look like a bunch of jackasses. There is nothing Biblical about point a gun a teenage boy who wants to date your daughter, it makes you an idiot (check out our governor elect for more info). If you believe in tying sex and marriage together you need to talk to your own son as well as your daughter (her lady brain can handle it, I promise).

No, back to the review. While that particular chapter was garbage, or a terribly failed attempt, I still like the book for one very major reason – the entire premise is that the opposite of a man, is a boy. Yes, the Tome appears to fall victim to many cliches of supposed manliness, but he never contrast the masculine with the feminine. It is a terrible error for us today to think that what it means to be a man is to simply not be a women. With a three year old and two more on the way, I will need to buy a van. Recently, someone told me not to drive one, because women drive them. No, boys drive unnecessary trucks (what I had before my daughter was born), men drive what is best for their families and don’t concern themselves with what boys think they should drive. What women may do has nothing to do with it.

I really appreciate his focus on this aspect, because I think it is true. Now, I don’t think every one of his points lines up perfectly, or maybe some points just need a qualification. For instance, a man might often take a majority opinion, you don’t take minority opinions just because. So, maybe some clarifying language would be nice, if I’m going to pick some nits.

The strength of the book probably comes in the two sections on team players and work. Maybe the former being the best. He really challenges men to show affection to other men, to have close friends, and to connect with community. I believe that is something that is extremely important, especially in our disconnected world today. He shows how (basically after WW1), men stopped loving each other and bought into the lie of the ‘lone wolf’. He has a great point about wolves being pack animals and single ones would likely die quickly. But we believe that being men means being alone, and especially not sharing our lives with other men. This is clearly not even Biblically accurate (he points to David and Paul and the way they wrote about their relationships with other men). I was personally challenged in this section of the book, and I think others will be as well.

Overall, the book is pretty good. Most men will get a good deal of helpful info, though you can probably skip the section on protector, except the finance part. I also believe these books have to be graded on a curve, because they are so hard to pull off. The lazy cliches and over the top stereotypes are just too easy. With that in mind, if you have an interest in working with men or men’s ministry, area man, a husband, a father, or are raising a man it is worth putting on your list.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Fake or Follower

Fake or Follower

My Rating – Probably not worth your time

Level – Easy, short/moderate in length

Summary
This is another book that is hard to summarize. In her intro, the author tells the story of being confronted with what matters in life due to the death of her mother in law. Of course, on of those things is whether she is a legitimate follower of Jesus. The following 10 chapters really are more of a collection of loosely connected essays than a defense or story arc related to her title or thesis. This is likely more on the editors than it is in on the author.

Her first chapter, Refuse to Fake it, generally follows this idea and has very solid critiques of modern American Christianity. Other chapters criticize our ‘misplaced loves’ and overuse of social media versus actually living in community. Unfortunately, many of the other chapters seems scattered and disconnected, partially because the basis of much of what she wrote seemed to be autobiographical.

My Thoughts
I was torn on how to rate this book, and eventually lowered it as I tried to write out a summary. This is mostly due to the massive gap in theological agreement between us. She appears to be fairly far out on the Charismatic spectrum. In the book she claims to see visions and have dreams sent by God, including receiving direct revelation from God. This is problematic theologically that is beyond the scope of a book review, but it does seem to inform much of her thought in the book.

Another problem I have is her use of Bible ‘translations’. I had thought The Message was on of the worse one to use, but she also uses the The Passion, which I had never heard of. Neither of these are actually translations. The Message at least tries to convey the original thoughts; albeit in dumbed down/’modern’ language. The Passion is similarly a paraphrase, but instead of being written by someone who at least knows Kiona Greek, it comes from someone who claims Jesus came into his room and breathed the spirit on to him and he has ‘downloaded’ his version.

Though, as I said above, I do enjoy many of her points, especially on community and the kind of cultural Christianity that is prevalent in America, the theological implications and issues are too much to ignore. You could likely find most her salient points on her blog, or by other writers who similarly criticize and challenge us. Overall, the book probably isn’t worth your time.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Grace in the Valley

Grace in the Valley: Awakening to God’s Presence When He Feels Far Away

Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – medium length, reads a little slow

Summary
It is hard to summarize this book as it was not what I thought it would be. I was expecting more of an exposition of Psalm 23. I knew it wasn’t a true commentary, but this was pretty far off from what I had anticipated. The book is kind of a mix of autobiography, sermon, and exposition more or less on Psalm 23, but almost more focused on David, overall.

The book is broken into 11 chapter plus an intro and afterward. Each chapter is titled with what he plans to focus on and then correlates(ish) to a particular section of Psalm 23 (e.g. chapter 2, Does God Recognize You? and the Lord is my shepherd). 

My Thoughts
I’m not entire sure what I think about this book. Overall it was pretty good. There were some valuable insights and the writing style is solid, though he lacks conciseness. I would have preferred more exposition and less autobiographical details. While some related, others seemed shoehorned in. I had a few theological issues with some of the more Pentecostal aspects of his story, but that doesn’t cause the rest of the book to suffer.

The biggest flaw in the book was likely that he failed to meet his subtitle. His central argument is that the valley and green pasture may be the same place. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his argument. Regardless, he doesn’t really address God feeling far away, unless you think that bad things happening and God feeling far are perfectly correlated, instead of each happening independent of each other. Further, I think the book lacked both focuses on grace and the ‘awakening God’s presence.’ Overall, the book was alright, the strength being when he did dig into the Psalm, but he didn’t make that the focus or majority of the book. The content didn’t really match the title/subtitle, which in his defense might have been the editors fault, so it wasn’t quite what I wanted, but it could be worth it, if you are looking for something.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Faith for This Moment

Faith for This Moment

My Rating – Must read

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary
The premise of the book is that the US has changed, we are now a post-Christian nation, and so the question that we currently face is, what do we do about it? He points to a turning point (this moment) in his life, and one he thinks had a larger effect on the nation. To him, things changed after the Pulse nightclub shooting back in 2016. He specifically mentions an NPR interview with a local Orlando pastor, who has asked ‘how do Evangelicals respond to his crisis when it is clear politically that Evangelicals are anti-gay and pro-gun.’ Apparently the pastor had no answer. I suppose you could quibble with the anti-gay statement, but perception can become reality, a notion only made stronger with the 81% support of (self identified) Evangelicals for President Trump.

After the Intro, where he points out how proudly nonreligious Portland is, McKinley spends his first chapter discussing this moment as well as other broader trends in US culture. The following 12 chapters answer his question of what to do now. He compares modern Christians in America to ancient Jews in Babylon. That is to saw, we are exiles, which means that we will not fit nicely in to current norms of society. He challenges us to embrace this notion and spends a few chapters each on things like giving, Sabbath, vocation, and hospitality which on the one hand will will differentiate us even further, but on the other, are all commands from God for us to follow.

My Thoughts
I was originally going to rate this book a little lower, but as I wrote the summary, it made me realize how potentially important this book could be; if for nothing else than an intro into thinking about ourselves differently. In the age of political Christianity, where a large number of self described conservatives look solely to government for their source of comfort and strength, McKinley challenges the efficacy of these practices. On page 24 he states, ‘from gay marriage to gun control, these efforts have backfired.’ He goes on to point out the ways in which this is true as well as the lasting impact of the ‘Culture Wars.’ He comes back to this in a later chapter and discusses the fact that our efforts have gone here instead of teaching people the Bible and for this reason, ‘people have put down the Bible, and picked up self-help books.’ He doesn’t discuss this idea too much further but the sad fact is that this has had a double impact as self-help and inward, selfish focus have come back around and are now effecting the church more than the Bible.

A final thought I liked as he challenges political Christianity is in his chapter titled ‘Babylon.’ He discusses empires and the power of nations and reminds us that in the Bible the might nations (Babylon, Assyria, Egypt), where never the good guys. Instead, they were used, by God, to punish his people. This should make every Christian, especially those of us who pursue political power for the sake of Christ, to stop and think for a few moments. I think his challenge to Christian norms of political power might alone be worth reading the book, but if not (or if you are already there) the remainder of the book serves as a valuable intro practices that will help us live out our life in exile.

Many Christians haven’t even heard of some of the practices he touches (mentioned above), and certainly only a few really follow them well. Vocation might be the trickiest topic, especially for a generation who’s idea of career has become so converted. There are many other books to dive deeper into this topic if your interest was piqued. His strongest chapters were on hospitality, some Christians probably fail at most, and Sabbath. Really focusing in on Sabbath and rest and separation is cultural norms is an idea regaining prominence recently; I’ve seen few different books dive a little into it.

My only critique, really, is that the intro was too short. As someone born and raised in the South, I would’ve liked to hear a little more about the life of a Christian on the other end of the spectrum, the Pacific Northwest. Overall, I think it is an interesting, if short, book that hits on some big topics, from our interaction with our current moment, the concept of exile, and reforming some of the ancient practices of God’s people. The breadth of ideas and challenge of this book make it a must read.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Welcome to Adulting


Welcome to Adulting: Navigating Faith, Friendship, Finances, and the Future

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy read

Summary 
Adulting is a book about approaching young adulthood from a Christian perspective. The book is broken into five sections, Adulting – with a Purpose, Like a  Boss, with Friends, Fearlessly, and Forever; with each section having one to three chapters. The second section hits on topics like money/budgeting and choosing a career, while the third going into Friends, but also repairing relationships and marriage.  The final section is basically a presentation of the gospel.

My Thoughts
I think I might be just outside the age for the target audience for this book. I have been married, had a budget, and work in my career field, all now for more than 10 years. I could have used the career counseling section more like 15-20 years ago, but if I’m honest, I was probably too young/immature then to even listen. I am already a fairly practical guy, so I was already following some of his tips earlier on in life, but I think the one that would have been the most impactful is the chapter on community.

Community versus friendship is an interesting concept. The fact that it is based on intentionality and not affinity is challenging. I am just now coming around to the idea. The first ‘community/small group’ in which I participated, we were basically all the same person. The one I’ve tried to build over the past two years now is quite different, a pretty big range in education and income, and, most challenging, an age range of over 40 years.

The ‘with Purpose’ section of the book really serves as the intro and the strength of the book comes in the practical steps in the next three sections. Section four was unexpected Pokluda touches on worry and recovery (both overcoming addiction and putting issues in your past behind you). The only chapter I felt that was a little week was the final one. He acknowledges as much in his opening paragraphs of the chapter. His goal is to point us to Christ and the focus of eternity, which makes sense as he is a pastor. However, the chapter was just a little too long and didn’t quite flow/match the rest of the book.

I also suspect most people reading it, already know (again, something he acknowledges). He probably felt he couldn’t pass the opportunity, just in case, which is commendable. Overall, I thought it was an interesting book. It is one I would definitely recommend to people just out of college or starting ‘adult’ life, or for any pastors/mentors out there who know people in this group. It is a solid mix of practical and theological/spiritual and is thoroughly Biblical throughout.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: 12 Faithful Men

12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy read; short book

Summary
I have to admit that I just skimmed the title of this book and didn’t read the subtitle. I was expecting a basic short biography of 12 men, but the subtitle says it all. This book is about pastors and their particular struggles in life. The book is a collection of essays written by 12 different men, only one of which was one of the editors. The first chapter is about Paul, and also functions as something like an intro to what the book is trying to accomplish. The other 11 men/chapters are John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, Andrew Fuller, Charles Simeon, John Chavis, C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Janani Luwum, and Wang Ming-Dao.

My Thoughts
If you are wondering if the ‘J’ in J.C. Ryle is for John, the answer is yes. That means that half of the book is about people named John. I have no idea what Janani means in Swahili, but, it’d be pretty funny if it translated to John (the was John Calvin is actually named Jean). I feel like there was a missed opportunity to go full John here. I’m mostly joking, if anything I wish it had been expanded a little more across time and the world. I appreciate them covering two more modern Christians from other countries (I guess non-English, as most of the guys are). I hadn’t heard of either of these two, nor did I know who Simeon or Chavis were. I thought I new Fuller, but I was getting him confused withe other Fuller, founder of the seminary.

Overall, I thought it was pretty interesting. I’m already pretty familiar with Paul, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon, but this book definitely makes me want to grab a biography, and learn more about Spurgeon, Bunyan, and especially Newton. Personally, while reading this book, I was going through my own time of suffering as well as studying unanswered prayer at church, so this fit in well, and was at least some level of encouraging.

This book would benefit most people who are struggling in their faith, but especially pastors. That really seems to be the target audience. Though, as the book is written by 12 different authors, you have varying degrees of focus. It was probably a mistake to attempt an intro and snippet on Paul. The book would have benefited more from either a dedicated intro, or a chapter more focused on being an intro that used Paul as an example and then perhaps another pastor (obviously needs to be another John, Knox perhaps?) if they want to keep the 12 angry men play on words thing going.

If you like history or biography, it is also a worthwhile book. It is a short enough book that is easy to read and will encourage you in your faith; so it is probably a book most people should put on their list. If you are a pastor/elder/deacon, I’d say it is a must read.

* I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Activate

Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups

My Rating – Probably Not Worth Your Time

Level – Easy read, moderate length (reads quicker than its 300 pages)

Summary
The subtitle pretty much sums it up, though I’d quibble with the ‘new’ part. Activate is Searcy’s system for running/managing small groups. The book is broken into two parts, The Activate Mindset and The Activate System. The former is his attempt to ‘challenge’ existing ‘beliefs’ on small groups and is broken into four sections (all of which begin with Rethinking Small Group) Methodology, Structure, Strategy, and Leadership. Each of these is broken down into chapters which he calls Big Ideas, of which there are 12.

The System is also broken into four sections – Focus, Form, Fill, and Facilitate. Again, each of these is broken into further chapters, each one being a step or guiding principle to the subset of his system.

My Thoughts
I picked this book because I am a small group leader, though not one that would fit his definition, and I also thought it could be helpful for our Community Pastor, who is a little newer in his role. The title is a little (unintentionally) misleading. I thought it was going to be the groups that were being activated, made stronger, more engaged, etc. However, activate is the name of his system for signing people up for groups. I guess it is people you are activating.

Overall, I was disappointed in this book. To be fair, maybe it was revolutionary 10 years ago, when it was originally published. That’s when I finished grad school, got married, and first attended a church that did small groups. My church in high school had Sunday School, so there weren’t small groups. My current and former church do not have Sunday School, and instead work entirely with small groups. So, all of his ideas in the Mindset part of the book might have been new then, I don’t know how groups were typically run prior.

That being said, many of the ideas he proposed as being the prevailing thought really seemed to be strawmen. I seriously doubt anyone pastor believes that sign-ups should be complicated (compared to his ‘big idea’ that they should not). Now, many pastors may not put much effort or thought into sign-up and they end up being unnecessarily complicated, but that isn’t how he presents his arguments.

The second part of the book, the System, is fairly interesting and has a many good points and practical steps. However, this is only true if your small group fits his definition, which is a group that meets 10-12 weeks to study a specific topic or read a particular part of the Bible. My church offers these, but also offers deeper groups that stay connected for years, as many other churches have and are often called home or community groups.

So, if you have the topical side, his ideas for roll out, launch, and general marketing principles are great. The authors clearly have a good mind for marketing a practical actions steps for achieving goals. I think most pastors could learn a few things, or least use this to augment their current system. If you are looking to change, relaunch, or start this type of small group, this book would be one of the few that would be worth grabbing and reading before putting together your strategy. This is particularly true if you are a seeker church or a very large church.

Now to the problems, this book really left me with a strange feeling. I’m sure the authors are caring pastors who have come up with a system that they think is the best and are genuinely excited to get it out there to everyone else. Everyone knows people like this, those high energy endlessly positive people, that’s how I imagine these authors. However, I don’t think it translated to the written form. Far too much of what is written comes off as a sales pitch. It doesn’t help that Searcy markets his other books eat least once a chapter or so, and tells you to go to his website on every other page. At points it started to seem like an infomercial.

I’m a cynical guy, so in an attempt to see the positive, I went to his website thinking maybe he put everything out there. While there are few free downloads, most of the site is selling his other books or his ‘coaching’ services and subscriptions. Honestly, it is a bit off-putting. There is little discussion in the book of making disciples, but much about growing numbers, both total and participation percentage. Two particularly egregious sections come in the book on page 93 where he states that the best investment you can make in your staff is to hire him for small group coaching and again list his website. The second is on page 147 where he lists the different types of leaders – group leader, team leaders (who manage a number of group leaders), and group coaches (who manage a number of team leaders). He lists the requirements of each of these people and under group coach he states they must have ‘an unshakable commitment to the activate system.’

Again, I don’t know these people, and I’m fairly confident they are just pumped about their system, but much of the book rubbed me the wrong way. It was just far too much of a sales pitch, that included what seemed like upselling. Like I said, there are parts I think you can find helpful if what you are doing matches their groups and you have the same goals/type of church as them. However, if you don’t fit nicely in or you already have fairly successful groups, this book is probably not worth your time.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: I’d Rather Be Reading

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life

My Rating – If you have time

Level – Short, easy

Summary
It is hard to summarize this book other than it is about loving books and the impact books can have on your life. Each of the 21 chapters is basically a short essay (maybe former blog post) about a different topic related to reading and being a book love, such as – organizing your bookshelf, working for bookstores, and recommending books to other people, etc.

My Thoughts
While the essays are funny, witty, and (to me) pretty relatable, I wish there was a little more coherence to this book. There is no real build or order through the chapters. Some stories are repeated, sometimes more than once, as the book is little more than a collection of essays. The chapters are quick and funny, but sometimes leave you wanting. For instance, she has a chapter on organizing your bookshelf that has some funny observations, but no actual practical help. In her defense, that may not be her intention, but as my personal physical book collection approaches a thousand, I’m looking for suggestions.

That’s pretty much it, a short review for a short book. I do wonder why Baker published it. Not that the book shouldn’t have been published, but Baker tends to have a ‘Christian’ focus on books. That’s not a knock on Bogel, I certainly don’t think Christians should read only Christian books, I’m just genuinely curious as to their criteria for publishing.

For someone trying to become more involved in reading, you should probably pass on this book. You won’t get too much in the way of choosing a book or finding a reading system. On the upside the wife finds the cover of the book to be very ‘cute’, so we’ll probably put it somewhere as decoration.  If you are an avid reader and book collector and are looking for something this could be worth your time.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: When God’s Ways Make No Sense

When God’s Ways Make No Sense

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Easy, relatively short (~230)

Summary
This book is mostly about unanswered prayer. We pray for certain people or events, and sometimes God does not answer that prayer, but instead takes our life (or others) in different directions. To us, that makes no sense. The book tries to answer what we do when this happens.

There are 19 chapters, plus an intro and concluding thoughts. The chapters are grouped together in four parts – When God’s Ways Make No Sense, What Then? Three Stories, Three Answers; When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Tremble! Why? What? How?; When God’s Ways Make No Sense: Trust in God’s Unthwarted Sovereignty; When God’s Ways Make No Sense: Three Parables.

I really dislike the use of the book title in each chapter; it seems really unnecessary and redundant. Part One looks at the three stories of Jonah, Paul, and Habakkuk. Part Four retells Part One with modern day reactions. Part Two takes a look at our two responses, as Crabb sees them, which is to tremble and to trust. Part Three takes a bit of a detour into providence and sovereignty, which is probably necessary in a book about God’s plan, especially when we disagree with it.

 My Thoughts
I wish I could rate this book a 4.5, because I think some of the questions Crabb discusses are necessary for all Christians to seriously consider, but some of his analysis isn’t quite there for me. Much like Yancey’s book on Prayer (my review), it challenges Christians to really be discerning and ask hard questions, but I’m not sure either take you much farther (though, that is a great place to be).

Early in the book, Crabb makes reference to Romans, where Paul discusses sin and how he seems unable to stop sinning. That is an interesting aspect to unanswered prayer that I have never considered. Have lost two friends just last year to addiction, I would have liked to hear more about this. However, that is the last mention of personal sin as far as unanswered prayers. That’s too bad, it is an understandably difficult topic. What makes less sense than prayer to God to be delivered from temptation, only to fail? Instead the book moves mostly to the familiar realm of pain, suffering, and failure. I love this quote, and I think Crabb really hit on how Christians feel if they are being honest:

God I know you are good, but what good are you? In struggles with no answer, or when his ways make no sense, we wonder what good God is for us.

It really sets the tone for the book – the honesty, the struggle, the questions – and I’m glad that a esteemed leader in the Christian community is willing to write about them in this way; and these are clearly issues he is struggling with currently.

Part Two is probably the strength of the book. That is where you have to look honestly at events in your life and how the unfold in ways that are not according to your plan and you have to wonder what God is doing. Likewise, Part Three looks at our response and delves Biblically into what God says about suffering and general pain in our lives. Though, I’m not sure why he felt compelled to make up his own term, unthwarted sovereignty, that is somewhat between a slight misreading of Calvinist sovereignty and open deism. It’s almost more of a rebranding (attempt) of God’s sovereignty; maybe some people will find it helpful in understanding God’s ways.

The only part I didn’t really like was the second of his stories/answer/parable in Parts One and Four, when he discusses Paul. In Part One, he does a little exegesis of the three Biblical narratives of people he things exemplifies ways we respond to God when we don’t like what he is doing. Though they were insightful and Biblically sound, I feel like his point on Paul missed. Or rather, his point was good, but Paul didn’t really show it the way he might have thought. His point is that Paul distorted and denied God’s word. Obviously we do that today, and I suppose you could say that Paul did, but that is all before his conversion. I just don’t think you can make a strong argument about a Christian response from a non-Christian.

Overall, I think it is an interesting and challenging book. I think anyone who has ever wondered why God’s ways often don’t make sense should read this. This is certainly a must read for those who believe, like I once did, that you can’t question God’s ways. Similarly, people who come from a moralistic or health and wealth gospel view of God, need to read this book. However, for those who have moved passed this, you won’t get as much new thought, and definitely no definitive answer. But that is our lot in life, right? We will likely never understand why some things happen. For now, we keep praying, keep reading, and continue to seek understand. If unanswered prayer is one of those questions for you, this is a book to add to your list.

* I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith

50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide to Understanding and Teaching Theology

My Rating – If you are looking for something (if you’ve read other Systematics then pass)

Level – Fairly easy read, longer (400 pages) and a bit repetitive

Summary
This book is a mix of things – an intro to Systematic Theology, a teaching guide, and reference book to broad theological topics. Allison writes from a broadly Evangelical Protestant perspective. The author has broken the book into eight parts – the doctrines of the Word of God, God, God’s Creatures, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Salvation, the Church, and Future Things. Each part has varying numbers of chapters, giving you 50 total.

As the subtitle states, the point of the book is to be a guide to understanding and teaching theology, and this leads to a somewhat unique structure to each chapter. It starts with a one or two sentence summary, then bullet points of the main themes, and a list of key scriptures. The largest section of each chapter is ‘understanding the doctrine’, which is broken into three sections – major affirmations, Biblical support, and major errors. After this is ‘enacting the doctrine’, which is basically what the doctrine looks like in our lives, followed by ‘teaching the doctrine’ which includes discussion points as well as a teaching outline. Each chapter ends with a list of resources, however only three Systematics are listed.

My Thoughts
I’ll start out by saying I realize this is an ambitious book, attempting to be both an intro to theology as well as a teaching guide to Systematics.  As an intro, I think Allison does an adequate job. Most full books on theology pass the 800 mark, many going in to the 1,200-1,500 range, if not multiple volumes, so I appreciate his attempt to condense it to about 200 pages or so. Unfortunately, it still manages to feel too redundant. Part of this is due to the structure, having a summary and bullet points then the body, but I think the publishers must have had the intent to make each chapter stand on it’s own, as opposed to building on each other. This forces him to refer back to chapters (or state future points) and the points get repetitive. On the other hand, this is also a great way to learn and internalize the content, which may well have been the goal.

As a teaching guide, I think this could come in handy. The teaching outline presented at the end of each chapter appears to be quite helpful. The book could also function as a quick reference if you have other Systematics you like to use. If you broke out the teaching portions, you might end up with a 125-150 page book, which would likely be worth it on it’s own. If you are looking for something to help you teach theology to other, and you are already familiar and have other books, I think this book would be worth a look. However, as far as a book to study theology on your own, you are probably better off finding something else.

I’ll end the review with a couple theological points and issues regarding the book. First, the main reason I can’t really recommend the book as a way to begin deep study into theology, is that he does argue much with counter points. He lists them as errors, but doesn’t really state how/why others believe this or what their proof-texts necessarily are. If you are really trying to learn at a deeper level, you need to know more about the errors than just that they are errors.

My other problem, and I think this is worse, is that while trying to keep the book geared toward a broader theological level, he gives positive info an different theologies, some of which are completely incompatible. Certain points of Reformed and Arminianist theology cannot both be true. One of them has to be an error, and it is strange that he did not take a stand (though as you read his ‘Biblical support’ it is clear at times where he falls). Likewise, he lists all the points of Dispensationalist theology as equal to Reformed and other historic views of theology. While refusing to call this an error, he does come down on other things, such as calling Annihilationism a heresy. This is especially odd as he wrote a text book on Historical Theology and knows well that support for Annihilationism has much, much deeper historical roots that theologies such as Dispensationalism. I find it odd the doctrines for which he will take a hard stand, will promoting whole theological systems that are wholly incompatible with each other. It is a major failure of the book and one of the reasons I cannot recommend it as much as I would like. You’d be better served by are larger study that looks at points and counterpoints of each doctrine/theology or a study that takes a strictly orthodox view.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.