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.

 

Book Review: Practicing the King’s Economy

Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give

My Rating- Must Read

Level – Easy read, medium length

Summary
The book basically tries to answer the question of what would it look like if we worked, ran businesses, spent money/time, and gave money/time in a way that was entirely shaped by a Biblical World View. After the intro the book is broken into 12 chapters that are based on the six ‘keys’ to practicing ‘the King’s Economy’. One chapter will introduce the key and the next is a shorter chapter that gives examples of how that key works in the real life, with examples of people/organizations that the authors know.

The six keys are – Worship, this is about who we worship. Is it God or money and how does that look in the way that we give. Community, the focus here is about having a broad community of all types of people, particularly those from different economic classes. Work, why do we work and what is the point of work? Also, what does the Old Testament concept of ‘gleaning’ look like in a modern world? Equity, based on the command that their be no poor among us, this isn’t necessarily just about making sure everyone has money, but that every one has a job and kind provide for themselves (or help to give to others), even further, it is about making sure that those jobs are enough. Creation Care, this is about environmental stewardship. Finally, Rest, and this is a call to bring back the practice of Sabbath.

My Thoughts
I really enjoyed this book. It was probably the most thought provoking and in some way challenging book I’ve read in a long time. Sadly, it isn’t often you read a book targeted at a popular Christian audience that makes you think, even rarely does one challenge the way you should live.

I’ll get the two nit-picky things I didn’t like out of the way first. I didn’t really like the intro, and this was due to their misuse of stats that is a pet peeve of mine. In the intro, they are trying to show that we are richer now than ever, but more unhappy. Unfortunately, they use GDP per capita, which is a useless statistic, because it ignores income inequality and the fact that middle classes wages have been stagnant for decades. It also ignores cost like tuition and healthcare that have risen more rapidly than anything else. However, I don’t disagree with their premise, if nothing else, we are at least more materialistic than ever and constantly surround ourselves with distraction. Second, and I think this is more on the editors or publisher, they only ever refer to Jesus as King Jesus, and this is done to reiterate the title, and it is just awkward and I wish authors/editors wouldn’t do that.

No back to the good part, if you are modern American Christian, especially on the conservative or Republican side, this book will be a challenge. I’d suspect many hardcore Republican’s won’t finish this book as it challenge the assumption that making money is the most important thing in life. It also encourages people to pay living wages, which Republicans generally oppose vehemently. Of course, there are aspects that all sides of the political spectrum will like and dislike, which is a great reminder that neither political party works from a Biblical worldview and we ought not act like they do.

The first chapter, about putting God first and showing that by how we give should challenge the way we all handle money. American’s like to think of ourselves as generous, but in reality we give about 2.5% of income. The Community, Equity, and Rest were interesting chapters that should make you think, and if you take take it seriously, will affect your life. And of course, it should right? The Bible calls us to be different, and especially the chapters on Community and Rest are reminders of just how different we should look. The Creation Care chapter was good and I agree with all of it, I’m a big advocate of environmental stewardship. However, it was probably the weakest on a Biblical basis, and I’m not entirely sure it fit well with the rest of the book.

The best chapter, and worth the price of the book alone, is the Work chapter. For one, many of us, especially white-collar workers who have a lot of options, struggle with what work should look like in out lives, but the crazy part is gleaning. In the Old Testament, the Jews were not allowed to fully harvest their own fields. God required that they leave the edges unpicked so that the poor, widows, orphans, and foreigners would have something that they could eat. Obviously, we are not a majority subsistence agricultural community anymore. So the authors dive into what it could look like and the ideas are fascinating and in some ways pretty radical to the way we view life in America.

I don’t necessarily agree with some of their options, or at least the way that they would work out in most places, but they are thought provoking nonetheless. It is certainly something I’ve never thought about before, but it has been on my mind sense I finished the book a few weeks ago. If you really want to be challenged and forced to think and try to rethink the way we view the economy today, and how we should view it as as Christians, this is a book for you. It is probably my favorite so far of 2018, and is definitely a  must read book.

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

Top post of the first half of 2018

I noticed many other bloggers do something like top post/most read of X year or the more prolific ones do a top of the month, or even week. I always kind of wondered how they knew, and that’s when I discovered the depth of the stats pages blogging platforms provide. I brought this up to Mrs. MMT and she thought it was stupid…that I didn’t know this was a thing. To be fair, she is an accredited PR professional, and my desire in life is to be a monk, but with sex, and fishing, and college football. Wait, where was I?

So I dug into my stats, and up until a few months ago, my most viewed overall (and winning by far and away for most views the day it was posted) was the time almost two years ago that I hosted the 2016 August Biblical Studies Carnival. That has since been passed by what is also my most read post of 2018 so far. My top five most read of 2018:

  1. Book Review: Sapiens
  2. Book Review: The Imperfect Disciple
  3. Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man
  4. Book Review: Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life
  5. Tie – 10 Year Anniversary; Book Review: Four Views on Hell; Book Review: Darkness is My Only Companion

Why these posts? I have a few ideas, we’ll start from the bottom. Interestingly, Darkness is the only book review to make the list that I actually posted this year, so it’s probably there just due to recency. Similarly, Anniversary was post two weeks ago, and probably brought more of my Twits than book reviews due to the pictures of me and the Monday Morning Wife. Not sure about Four Views, other than Hell is weird and people have questions about it. Feels pretty cool that people found me from that.

My guess is that Imperfect, and the two disciplines books were popular searches due to Lent. I’ve already stated, I don’t know how to do Lent, but I do have two thoughts to help. First, you are probably looking up Lent because of fasting. I’ve heard nothing better than this Theocast podcast on fasting. Their idea that it isn’t necessarily about giving up food (Protestant view), but more about reclaiming time is fascinating. Second, if you are deciding which book to read, I can help. Imperfect is not about spiritual disciplines, but is still awesome and you should read it, and I’ve already written a post about why you should read Godly Man over Christian Life (though, if you are a woman, it’s still a better book).

So, this brings us to Sapiens. Why? Well, my stats pages tell me the terms searched that led people here, and basically, it was people searching for a ‘Christian review’ of the book. I was shocked/proud to find out that if you google this, I’ll be one of the top 5 or so (it changes) links shown. That’s really cool, but people were probably disappointed in what they found. I didn’t write a ‘Christian’ review in the sense people were probably searching. I mean, I am a Christian and I did review the book, but I think what people were look for was a Christian response. So, as a man of the people, I plan to write a Christian response to this book based solely on my guess what people were actually questioning (off the top of my head, it’s evolution).

Two final thoughts – I do Advanced Review Copy book reviews for a few publishers, but of the six book reviews that have brought the most readers this year, only one (Imperfect, from Baker Books), was one of these. Second, the May 2018 Biblical Studies Carnival is up over at 5 Minute Bible.

That’s it, those are my top five as of June 1, 2018. I plan to do an end of the year post for the most read of 2018, so stay tuned I guess. Thanks everyone who reads or follows me and I apologize in advance to anyone who found my by accident. I’ll try to do better next time.

Book Review: Real Love in an Angry World

Real Love in an Angry World: How to Stick to Your Convictions without Alienating People

My Rating – Put it on your list

Level – Quick, easy read; short book

Summary
A good, quick summary of this book is somewhat hard to do. Bezet’s main idea is that there are unhappy people out there who are mad and/or judgmental towards Christianity. Additionally, these people come from both ends – those opposed to Christianity, and Christians (or at least those who would call themselves as such, like Westboro Baptist) themselves who think your Christianity isn’t good enough. He spends a little time on Christian who have drifted away from historic Christianity, i.e. denying the validity of the Scriptures, miracles, etc. However, most of the time is spent on the two more angry sides, the non-believers and judgmental believers (for instance, he relates a story of taking his wife to see a Celine Dion in Vegas, and losing a few church members once they found out he was in Vegas).

The book is broken into nine chapters that kind of bounce around on different topics. Everything from picking our battles to loving your neighbor (and just who is your neighbor) to then loving you enemy, to a little bit of history on the Bible. He touches on politics a number of times, but not necessarily specific topics or policy points, mainly just that Christians can disagree with each other while still be Christians, and Christians can disagree with non-Christians while still showing love and understanding. I don’t know how long he has been working on the book, but as it was published near the end of 2017, I assume it is at least partially motivated by the rise and election of Trump.

My Thoughts
Overall, it is a good book. Bezet is a good writer, very personal, and I thought, very humorous. I struggle with exactly who should read this book. For most Christians, it is probably worth your time to read, especially because it is so short. It reads quickly and is funny, his points on how to listen to people and how important it is to really listen, and his continual emphasis on the need to truly love others, are great reminders and points weakness for most of us. I especially like his point about loving others being the second great commandment. He points out that on the liberal Christian and non-Christian side, there is often the comment that we just need to love each other because that is what Jesus said and that is all we need. Bezet rightly points out, this is the second great command, this first is to love God. Part of that love means being faithful to God and His Word.

While all is helpful, I think the best use could be for those Christians on the extreme end of the non-loving judgmental side. Those who are the most angry and often express hate. The problem is, of course, I don’t think the people who need it the most would actually read it, and if they did they’d likely just disagree. I guess you never know how the Spirit will move some people, but I remain skeptical. Either way, it might be helpful for you to recognize some issues in your life, and if you see some of these issues in others, it might help you in reaching out to them and helping them to show the love of Christ, while retaining the love for God.

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

Book Review: On Pills and Needles

On Pills and Needles: The Relentless Fight to Save My Son from Opioid Addiction

My Rating: Put it on your list

Level: Easy, moderate length (250+), but reads quickly

Summary
A detailed summary of the book is difficult to do. The subtitle more or less says everything you need to know about the book. Van Warner writes a first hand account of watching is his son struggle with addiction to opioids, starting as a teenager and extending through his mid twenties. The book is broken into 25 broad chapters that generally follow a chronological pattern of thought, but not always. There are a few bits of information regarding the pandemic that is the opioid crisis, but these are mostly scattered throughout the narrative of his son’s life. If you seeking answer to the problem, or even just the ‘Christian response’ (the publisher is Baker Books, after all), you will not find any in this book. However, if you are somehow lucky enough not to know anyone with this addiction, it is worth the read, if for nothing else than to gain an understanding of what happens, what addiction look like, and the impact of family and friends of the addict.

My Thoughts
Van Warner is a great writer in a narrative sense, and I found myself compelled to keep reading this book just to see what happens next. It is an emotionally enthralling book, and if you have normal level of empathy and emotions, it is likely you will not get through this book without crying multiple times. That being said, be aware that there is little else to this book than the story of his son. I’m not really sure what I expected when I ordered it, but there isn’t really any resolution or response to the issue. No ‘warning signs’ or way to prevent this from happening. Nothing along the lines of, how to help those hurting or what we should do as a church. All of  which is fine, it is clearly not the intention he had in mind while writing this, but be aware if that is the type of book you are looking for.

Outside of the lack of resolution, the only thing I didn’t like about the book is the typically evangelical hypocrisy of being anti-government, while blaming the government for not doing enough. While he rightly attributes the initial problem to the Pharma Companies, specifically the one that falsely claimed Oxcy was non-addictive, he does lament the government hasn’t done enough. He also point out that Florida is ground zero of the crisis, with an astonishing 93 of the top 100 opioid prescribing doctors working there. Of course, FLorida is notoriously lax in government regulation and I’m sure this and the low tax (meaning less government) environment is partly what brought him there from New York. He himself doesn’t necessarily rant that much against government in his book, but it is odd to read from the perspective of evangelicals, knowing that most of us are heavily pro-business and anti regulation, inexplicably claiming that the free market couldn’t lead us astray, and then, when they inevitably do, we wonder why the government didn’t help. Those critiques are a little past the realm of this book review, but if you become aware of them while reading, it tends to gnaw at you.

Likewise, he blames ‘bureaucracy’ for his son spending two months in county jail, while he supposed to be transferred to another county jail. All this happens in context of his sons possession and intent to distribute charge being dropped. Being dropped. He doesn’t seem to realize how lucky he is that his son is well off and white. Poor people and minorities don’t tend to have felony drug charges just ‘dropped’, but instead spend years in jail.

I’m hesitant to leave that in for just a book review, but the author does seem to be misguided often. Regardless, his story is revisiting, if lacking insight in to solutions. I have a colleague whose son is currently in the grips of heroin addiction, after starting with Oxcy. The things the author writes about, the stories, the pain, the interactions with counselors and police, could have come from her. There is a shocking amount of similarity. I’m sure that is the same for many others out there. If you are looking for a story to help you internalize the crisis, this is a must read. It is probably helpful for anyone in pastoral ministry, counseling, or youth/child workers. There isn’t a list of things that parents/teachers can look for as far as signs of drug abuse, but there are gleanings from the detail of his story. For those with any interest in the epidemic that is currently among us, this is a book you need to add to your list.

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

Book Review: Talking with Your Kids about God

Talking with Your Kids about God: 30 Conversations Every Christian Parent Must Have

My Rating – If you have time

Level – Easy; reads quickly, moderate length (just under 300 pages)

Summary
The title of the book is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t really a parenting or family book. This might be just because I have a three-year old, but when I see ‘kids’, I think children under 10 and skew even younger. This book is really a basic apologetics intro that can also be used with maybe high schoolers or fairly knowledgeable middle schoolers. There are discussion questions after each chapter, broken in to two parts ‘open the conversation’ and ‘advance the conversation’. The former could be used for middle school or newer Christians, the latter for high school, but also for discussion in a small group or other Bible Study. Very few people have much knowledge of apologetics, and this book would likely be new to most parents, let alone ‘kids’.

The 30 conversations are grouped into five equal parts – the existence of God, science and God, the nature of God, believing in God, and the difference God makes. There is an introduction to each part, then the six topics of conversation. Each topic is then summarized in ‘key points’, followed by the ‘conversation guide’ which consist of ‘open the conversation’, ‘advance the conversation’, and ‘apply the conversation’.

My Thoughts
As stated above, this isn’t really a book for kids. Maybe the first two parts would work to discuss with middle schoolers, but the discussion questions certainly seem more advanced. Those two chapters seem to be the strength of the book, as far as a parent is concerned. As parent, it would be worthwhile to read through these, so that you can know the discussions to have with your children as the move on through school and start to learn about so-called conflicts with the Bible and belief in God. I can’t really see reading through this book or using the advanced conversation questions with a child that is first learning of the conflict, but reading through as a parent, it would be a good reminder of the conflicts they will face and if you’ve never learned much in the way of apologetics, this will certainly move you in the right direction.

Maybe I’m underestimating people too much, but I think this book is much more suited to a small group/Sunday School/whatever you call it, discussion than something to read with children. In that sense, I can’t really recommend this for parents, but I think it is worth checking out as a group leader. The book is fairly basic, but I just don’t see that enough adults have ever learned these ideas, so you need to start with them first. Especially the part, ‘the nature of God’, as this moves out of apologetics and into more of a systematic theology.

Two other criticisms I have are that the existence of God, is a pretty good over all part of the book. There are convincing arguments of the existence of a God, but Crain never steps into the realm of the existence of our God, the God of the Bible. Which leads to the most glaring omission in the book, the Bible. There is no major section devoted to ‘the truth of the Bible’ or ‘how do we know the Bible is true’ or something else along those lines. For me, this is where apologetics or knowledge of God has to start.

One surprising strength of the book, is the final part, ‘the difference God makes’. Again, this really lends itself to a discussion group, as it more or less a group of discussion about the impact our knowledge of God should have in our lives. I really enjoyed this section and will likely use it, if not the whole book, with the group that I lead.

Overall, a pretty good book. I’m not sure it met the stated goal of discussion with kids. Catechisms are still probably the best thing for that. However, I do think it would work really well as an intro to apologetics, a basic primer on the knowledge of God, and could open up great discussion on the impact this knowledge has on our lives. With the ‘key points’ and ‘discussion guide’, I think this book could be repurposed into an interest group study.

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

Book Review: Called to Create

Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk

Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Easy, moderate length

Summary
The book is basically an argument that all Christian are called to create in come way or another. For the hypothesis to work, Raynor needs to play around with definitions and stretch a little bit to make everyone ‘fit’ the mold. He considering entrepreneurship to be equivalent to creating, and defines it as ‘taking a risk for a general good’. I have a few issues with this definition and his attempt to expand the meaning to cover all forms of creating, but he does make good arguments as to why Christians should work and are called to do so.

The book is broken into four parts – calling, creating, challenges, and charge – of three chapters each with a short intro chapter. At just over 200 pages, it is a ‘medium’ length book but reads pretty well. He gets a little overly repetitive, especially with certain phrases, such as, ‘called to create’.

My Thoughts
I wanted to like this book more, and overall thought it was pretty good, at least at pushing people to work and having a good understanding of the ‘Christian’ view of work, but disagree/dislike two major aspects of this book. First, unfortunately, I think the whole premise of this book, as far as the way to argues his point, is misguided. You do not have to be ‘called’ to create; you can just go create. God doesn’t have to ‘call’ you to start a business, you can just do it. Raynor is obviously a gifted and brilliant entrepreneur, but he doesn’t have to backdoor theology into it.

He somewhat touches on this a bit in his chapter about pastors/missionaries. He pointed out what Luther did during the Reformation as far as saying all work in meaningful and pastors aren’t better other people simply by virtue of their profession. I think this is an issue again in our time, at least among Christians, that people hold up pastors as ‘holier’ or better than other. I actually heard someone ask a lady the other day, what she did to have two of her (three) sons become pastors. The lady said that she didn’t do anything and seemed somewhat surprised by the question, because in the question was the implication that the goal of parent is to raise a pastor or that all other careers are less important. The corollary would mean that she failed with the third son.

Back to the book, while that chapter is great and important for our time, he contradicts the sentiment by writing the rest of the book. I’m sure many people feel ‘called to create’, but maybe some other just like paint, and enjoy it as a hobby. Or maybe some people, as he talks about business owners often, just want to work for themselves.

Related to that, and my second issue with the book – his definition of creating and entrepreneurship. It is very much in the American ethos to see business owners as great and noble, they are the job creators, risk taker, the backbone of our economy; except that almost none of that is true. I’ve never seen a survey of business owners that even listed ‘create’ jobs as a reason to start a business. The number on response to why someone started a business is basically control/lifestyle. People want to be their own bosses. I know that the only reason I’d ever start my own business is so that I wouldn’t have to work 7-5 for someone else. His definition of entrepreneur includes ‘for the general good’ almost no private business are started for this reason. People either thing they can offer a new or better product or want to make a lot of money, if not for the reasons above.

So, I think his whole basis is off, so much so, that he has to circle back and try to inject theology into it. He calls God the ‘first entrepreneur’ to justify everyone else needing to be one. There is no way God meets either part of his definition. God did not create for general good, but for His own glory. Likewise, He did not take a risk – God is all-knowing (omniscient) and all-powerful (omnipotent). By definition, He cannot ‘risk’ anything.

All that said, if you are an entrepreneurial type person, or perhaps a creative person who is thinking of maybe a side hustle or career change, this could be an interesting book. There are cool stories and interviews with people who have started businesses and non-profits. His theology on work is great. Overall, you will get hyped reading this book because the author is such a positive and enthusiastic writer. This is especially true if you are techy or looking into new ways of doing non-profits (in which case, you could look even more in to Charity Water). However, if you are like friends of mine – she writes songs because she likes writing songs, he runs his own business because he wanted to work for himself – I’m just not sure it is the best for you. To me, his entire hypothesis is off-base and ill-defined, however, as I said above, if you are already wanting to start a business and just want some encouragement and are looking for something to read, this is probably a good book for you.

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

Book Review: Loving My Actual Christmas


Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Short, easy book

Summary
I think the best summary of this book comes from the subtitle of the intro chapter – A Recalibrating of the Season. That would be the Christmas and Advent seasons, both the secular and Christian aspects. Her goal in writing this is to help people get past the over commercialized, hectic and stressful parts of the American Christmas season. She advocates doing an Advent devotional/study to help ground you in the Christian aspect.

So much so, that the majority of the book is her going through the four weeks of advent, what she did that week in actual life and what she did as far as reading, studying, and being thankful.

She finishes up the book with a conclusion that is about half as long as the entire book, because there are so many sub parts – scheduling, finances, relationships, and logistics. This is where the book takes a turn from reflection to more practical tips.

My Thoughts
I wasn’t really a fan of this book, not because it is poorly written or has a bad message or anything of that nature. The main issue – I’m quite far from the target audience. She is one of these busy Christian women with four or five kids that is heavily involved with a number of things and is constantly stressed. I’m a father of one, and overall pretty chill guy. I don’t really relate to the pressure and stress of mom bloggers with multiple active kids.

If that is you, then this will probably be a great book to help ground you for the holidays. Another thing I didn’t know when I requested this book, it is a spin off of her other book – Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me. So, to be fair to the author, had I known about this book, I would have known more about her writing and audience and likely wouldn’t have requested this book. However, judging by the other reviews, had you read that book and enjoyed it, then you will also like this book.

I thought her reflections on the Advent devotional were interesting, and more importantly, it will help introduce some people to the concept of Advent. Most American Evangelical churches do not use a liturgical calendar, which can be very helpful in keeping your mind focused on Christ throughout the year. So if nothing else, if readers decide to start an advent devotion for themselves or a tradition with the whole family from reading this book, then it will have been a great success.

Finally, her concluding thoughts were very practical and useful. If you are the target audience, they are also probably pretty helpful in reminding you not to go to wild and over-schedule yourself too much, both time-wise and financially. Overall, if you fit in this category and are looking for something on the topic of handling the season, this is probably a good book for you.

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

Book Review: The Way of Hope

The Way of Hope: A Fresh Perspective on Sexual Identity, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Church

My Rating – Must Read

Level – quick, easy read; short

Summary
The book is broken into 10 chapters, each more or less representing different phases in Fisher’s life story. Mostly written as an autobiography of her life and journey from fundamentalist church, through homosexual relationships and considering a sex change operation, back to church and struggling to understand it all. Woven throughout the book are suggestions on our response as a church to same-sex marriage and identity issues, based on things she has seen go right and go wrong.

Outside of the 10 chapters that are the core of the book, there is the typical intro and then, at the end (obviously), there is an epilogue that consist of three brief interviews with her mom, her dad, and her ex-wife that are really just incredible. She ask her mom when she suspected she was gay, talks to her dad about her parent’s divorce, and discusses the pain of her own infidelities with her ex-wife.

My Thoughts
Probably the only critical thing I have to say about this book is that the subtitle is wrong. For me, there was nothing in this book that offered a ‘fresh perspective’ on any of her topics. However, her more intended audience might be more of the fundamentalist, don’t discuss sexuality type people she describes in her book that made up her church, family, and small town.

Other than that, the book is great. Her writing style is fantastic – fasted-paced and kind of erratic, funny, and very open and honest. While she does quote quite a bit of scripture and state clearly that homosexual activity is wrong, that isn’t really the point of the book. She isn’t trying to convince anyone to change or offering a theological and biblical defense of the viewpoint from scripture. With the book being mostly about her mixed with her personal writing style, you, instead, feel like to get to know her.

Even more importantly, you get to understand where she is coming from, and, to the extent you can, what she went through. I think this is really the strength of the book. Proximity to issues changes your view, or at least your reaction to them. Extremely conservative Christians in rural areas or small towns, might not have many opportunities to engage with gay people. So, it is easier to ostracize, from a distance. The way she writes this book, someone could read it and start to feel that proximity. Someone could put a face on an issue and at least try to understand.

It is easy to just say, being gay is wrong, and you should chose that. Reading her story (or hearing someone else’s), you see it isn’t that simple. I hope that more people that have that view will read it and see the struggle that gay Christians have. That instead of judging and condemning, we need to love them and help (if we can) them in their struggle.

Finally, those last three interviews at the end were just crazy to me. Obviously, her mom was one of the those people who would rather cut off contact with a gay daughter, but they have since reconciled. Her ex-wife has also made it back into a church, one connected with the one fisher attends. The interviews alone make this book worth the price, add in the personal tone of her spiritual and emotional journey and changes and this is definitely a must read book.

Book Review: Choosing Donald Trump

Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him

My Rating – Must read

Level – Quick and easy, short book

Summary
The subtitle of the the book pretty much sums up what it is about. Conservative Christians were angry and put there hope a man Mansfield calls ‘an unlikely champion’. If fact that is the first section of the four sections of the book.

This first section has two short chapters about the (then) current political situation and how Trump fit into it. The second section, called ‘the backstory’, is basically a 65 page biography of Trump. The third section, ‘the appeal’, get to why Christians would even be interested in someone like Trump. This is probably the most informative section, with chapters on the Johnson Amendment, Obama, Hilary Clinton, and voters who felt like the found a political voice only in him. The final section, ‘Prophets and Presidents’, where Mansfield dives into the interaction of prophets with kings in the Old Testament and then contrast that with the pastors around Trump today.

The book also includes a short intro and epilogue and an interesting ‘Trump in his own words’ section which is a collection of a few of Trump’s speeches about religion.

My Thoughts
I wasn’t sure what his book was going to be when I saw it on the list from Baker*. I don’t know who Mansfield is or whether he is a supporter or not, and I thought the book might be a bit apologetic for Evangelicals. Instead, it really is just a straight look at the situation. He doesn’t try to paint Trump as the terrible person, nor does he try to portray him in this great light that would explain why Evangelicals could vote for him.

One of the more interesting aspects of the book was the detailing of Trump’s admiration of Evangelicals, or at least preachers. He is somewhat famous now for staying up late and watching cable news, but apparently 20 years ago he stayed up late watching TV preachers. He seems infatuated with their charisma and influence on people. You get the impression that his outreach to Evangelicals maybe wasn’t just a political move, but him actually trying to ‘do good’ so to speak. It was almost like his pushes for ‘religious liberty’ and repeal of the Johnson Amendment are his good works, his attempt to earn some salvation. Honestly, I felt like had Trump met a different strain of American Christianity first, he could just as easily gone a completely different way.

That is actually a really disappointing idea, as this particular charismatic/Pentecostal/fundamentalist strain doesn’t necessarily line up with what he personally believes, but they are on the TV the most, so he sought them. He asked them what he needed to do, and they laid out, at least, the religious wing of his agenda. I really believe that had it been the liberal side, he’d be pushing refugee resettlement and environmentalism, or the reformed side, maybe sex-trafficking and racial reconciliation. He might not have even run as a republican. Anyway, for now that is just an interesting exercise in alternative history.

The biographical part of the book was fascinating. Mansfield did a great job distilling 70 years of this man’s life into just why/how he reacted to the religious vote the way he did and how he doesn’t really fit. The early chapter about Trump’s speech at Liberty University and his commentary on that are great insights.

Finally, I enjoyed the last part of the book where he delves into the famous pastors who supported Trump, their hypocrisy as it came to his morality versus their previous statements about Bill Clinton, and then how the tripped all over themselves to either excuse his behavior or explain why it didn’t matter. There was an interesting survey of all the Old Testament and historical figures different pastors have compare with Trump.

If you are a huge Trump supporter and think he was chosen by God to be the perfect leader of the United States, this book may not be for you; unless you want to be challenged in your thinking. However, if you are opposed to Trump, or politically left, or maybe not opposed but just confused, like me, as to how he garnered so much Evangelical support, this book is a must read.

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