Review – Just Like Jesus by Max Lucado

I received an electronic version of this book free in exchange for a honest review.

There’s not too much I can say about this book, other than Max Lucado continues to do an excellent job. Those familiar with Lucado’s writing will find another inspirational and moving work. In the course of twelve chapters and a conclusion, Lucado takes a look at our hearts and how we can become more like Jesus. As a seasoned writer and pastor, Lucado encourages the reader to take a look at their own hearts in light of the heart of Jesus. He reflects on how the reader can cultivate their hearts to be more like Jesus. Lucado shows his heart as a pastor as he attempts to pull his readers into a greater devotion to become more like Jesus.

At times the book encourages while at other times it challenges. Whether encouraging or challenging, Lucado does so with humor and always with love. In the end, he calls the reader to fix their eyes on Jesus and finish the race well.

The book was well written with plenty of illustrations. It is not a difficult book, but it is a pleasure to read. The study guide at the end of the book is helpful for individual or group study. I recommend this book to those individuals or groups who want to strengthen their devotion to Jesus, so that their heart might become more like his.

Review – The Heart of Religion

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I received the electronic version of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The authors have taken on quite a task. Through qualitative and quantitative statistical methods they seek to understand the impact of experiencing divine or godly love has on benevolence. The quantitative survey served to determine what categories had impact on benevolence. The real treasure, however, is their use of qualitative interviews to put “meat” onto the skeletal bones of the survey data.

The book does not focus on organized religion such as denominations or organizations, but rather “lived” religion which the authors believe, at the source, lies an inner experience of love that provides the impetus for religion. The book is appropriate for wide range of individuals from social scientists to laypersons. While each group will find items of interest, because of its wide audience, there could be disappointments as well. The authors mention that when they shared drafts with people, the scholars wanted it to be more academic and the non-scholars wanted it less academic. Yet, whether scholar or not, people wanted to read the rest of the book, a desire with which I concur.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in how divine love “plays out” in someone’s life. This is a scientific work. The survey data was enlightening, but the interviews and the exemplar’s stories were able to give insight into how one, empowered by divine love, views his or her life and lives in response to that love.

There’s a lot I could say about this book. While there have been religious surveys in the past, this is perhaps the first one to truly look behind the data. There were surprises and confirmations. What I appreciated the most was the authors commitment to digging under the surface of assumptions to understand what happens in a person’s life when they experience divine love. One of the great takeaways for me was their heuristic of “The Process of Participating in Godly Love” which, I believe, could be used to undergird a mentoring or discipleship process. At the very least, the heuristic gives insight into how one’s life is affected by godly love.

I did have some struggles while reading the book. The authors sought to discover “how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love in  a Christian context and then attempt to express that love to others through benevolent acts.” Yet, many times I felt the accounts of the exemplars were more from outliers than normal everyday Americans. The exemplar’s whose stories were told ran complex and extensive ministries, put their lives or livelihoods on the line, or were instrumental to social change. I wanted more data from everyday people who were trying to live life and how divine love impacted their benevolence.

I started wondering if that wasn’t part of the point. When someone’s life has been overtaken by an experience of divine love they do become an outlier. Their lives are turned completely upside down. They become somewhat consumed by love which is lived out in ministry to the world. Or, perhaps they authors believed that looking at exemplars gave greater insight into the effects of godly love than the live’s of non-exemplars would have. In all fairness, the authors did mention several times that the book represented a small part of their research. With the size limits of the book, it would not be possible to include data from all of the individuals interviewed.

Because of the extensiveness of the findings the authors had to choose to focus on a small part of the results, choosing to focus on those more pentecostal (as a worldview rather than denomination). I would have liked to see a broader address of other non-pentecostals and perhaps even faiths other than Christian. Given the choice to focus on pentecostalism, I found it interesting that at least one of the authors had already written several books about pentecostalism. It doesn’t seem that was the reason for the pentecostalism focus, but rather that those more pentecostal, or open to experience of God’s spirit, also tend to experience godly love more often.

As it stands, the book is over 300 pages (with endnotes), so including more data, more interviews, more stories, would have made the book too large. I, for one, look forward to seeing more results from this research.

One surprise was how this book has caused me to reassess some of my prejudices and piqued my interest in alternative expressions of Christianity. The book contains enough statistical data that to plumbs its depths would take more than a single reading. I thank the authors for their work and pray for their continued success and insight.

Review – Mystery of God by Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall

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I received the electronic version of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

There will be some who will not like this book. They will give it low ratings and pontificate about watering down the gospel or how the authors are wrong on one point or another. They might even say the book is dangerous. There will be some whose minds and eyes are closed and believe they have figured out God and have God in a nice package that can be studied, dissected, and controlled.

The reason why some will not like this book is because Boyd and Hall strike at our pride in believing that we have or even can know God completely. They address God’s incomprehensibility and transcendence choosing to focus on the mystery of God while recognizing and hold tight to God’s revelatory nature. Mystery serves to remind us, that God is God and we are not. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and even our best thought about God pales in comparison to his glory. It is a good book and I believe an important book.

There are two main sections. The first section discusses the need for mystery in our theology. The authors do a wonderful job in moving their readers from an introduction to mystery through a historical account of mystery and then finally to a place where mystery can be utilized as one thinks theologically. The second section outlines how mystery can help in understanding several, apparently, paradoxical (some would say contradictory) theological issues such as the Trinity, God’s sovereignty and humanity’s completely freedom to choose, Jesus as both human and divine, the why and how of prayer (if God knows all things, why should I ask or tell him anything?), and finally, how Christians can learn from others.

The book is well thought out and written. Each chapter builds on concepts and arguments given in earlier chapters, so it feels like the authors are taking you on a journey. The destination seemed to be the possibility of Christians learning about God from non-Christian religions. I believe it will be the last chapter that will cause individuals the most disdain, but it also seems it is where the authors want Christian theologians to arrive. Some may not make it that far. Some will not like the conclusions the authors draw about what may be viewed as essential beliefs and theological stances.

I encourage readers to finish the book out and give the authors fair hearing. Near the end of the book they do give some warnings, dangers, and cautions. They are not encouraging one to move outside of orthodox faith, but to recognize that God, in God’s essence is transcendent. They are encouraging humility, not only in our spiritual life, but also in how we think about God and what those outside our “camp” might have to say.

I highly recommend this book. It was enjoyable to read. The authors are versed in philosophy, theology, and the history of the church. Their discussions are well thought out and they take time to address potential questions and concerns. The book also brought me to places of worship as I contemplated how far God is beyond me, but how he is also close to me. It caused me to be thankful because God has revealed himself in Jesus. It also brought me expectant anticipation of growing in knowledge, grace, and humility as I seek him.

Book Review – Sent

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I received a pre-release Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is much to like about this book. It is the story of an American family living “the dream” who is called by God to give it all up to move to a different country and culture filled with people living a different religion in order to help with disaster recovery after a tsunami. Hilary Alan recounts the fears, struggles, joys, and blessings of the adventure God called her family to. The Alan family are a faithful and faith-filled family. Because of that, they hear God’s call and they obey.

Throughout the book Hilary Alan uses her experiences to drive her understanding of scripture and God’s purposes for Christians. Alan shows the power of the gospel and how it can break into lives, even the lives of strict Muslims. She also reveals the power of God to work in the life of a family that fully embraced the American dream and how they discovered God’s dream is bigger than they ever imagined. It is a wonderful story of faithfulness, sacrifice, and genuine love.

While there is much to like, I also had some uneasy feelings as I read her story. I believe the source of my uneasy feelings is unmet expectations. This was a book about a family who traded the American dream in order to follow God’s greater purpose. This created a set of expectations for me. I will mention three expectations that weren’t quite met:

1) I expected that Alan would have written from a more family perspective. While she did discuss her family, the book seemed to be mostly from her perspective. I’m not sure how her husband felt about everything, but I learned about her perspective on her husband, what he was going through, and very little about his work. For some this will not be a problem. However, I kept wanting to know a bit more about her husband’s perspective.

2) I expected that she would dive deeper into internal struggles that a new culture brings. She does recount struggles of uprooting family and moving to a new culture. Yet, I did not sense there was any time where she felt she had ‘missed it’. I would think there would be times of great and deep confusion as cultures clashed. Instead, she seemed to know what to do and when to do it. Perhaps this reflects how deeply culture is imbibed. As an American, I’ve become sensitive to how we seem to always believe we have the answers to anything we come up against, even believing we know more (or better) than those who are native to the culture. I expected more of a deep questioning of the American way of thinking and doing.

3) I expected that they lived in southeast Asia more than three years. I’m not sure that three years is not enough time to mentally move out of one’s culture. I think this is the main source of my uneasiness. I expected that this book was by a family who had moved to southeast Asia to stay and it recounted their struggles as they grew to appreciate a new culture, while seeing the flaws of the old culture. Three years is quite a while to live outside your home culture, but I’m not sure it is enough to truly understand the culture.

Given the nature and story of the book, I feel bad for my mixed feelings. Again, there is much to like and enjoy about this book. The Alan’s spent three years overseas.Their faithfulness should be recognized and imitated. Yet, three years is not enough to fully understand or perhaps even appreciate a foreign culture. Perhaps acknowledging their time there, while at the same time, recognizing there was much more to learn about the culture may have helped.

I do recommend this book, because it is an honest account of an American family who heard the call of God to a greater purpose. God continues to invite each of us into adventures of his kingdom. They might not look like the Alan’s adventure in southeast Asia, but the Alan’s journey of faithfulness and answered calling is one we can and should discover for ourselves.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Review – Devotions on the Greek New Testament

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As I make my way through this devotional (I received a pre-release electronic copy in exchange for an honest review), I find myself thinking, “I need a devotional like this.” I simply love this devotional. Part of why I like it so much has to do with my desire to keep my Greek language skills. Keeping my Greek skills has not been easy. At this point, my ability to use Greek is mixed at best. I am not a close to being a Greek scholar, but I am able to keep up with most commentaries that use Greek. I am not able to read the Greek New Testament without a lot of help and I struggle with Greek grammar. I certainly can’t read Greek well enough to gain insight into the Scripture. This devotional cultivates my desire to dive into the Greek New Testament and, concurrently, deepens my understanding of the text and my life of faith!

This devotional uses Greek in order to enhance one’s devotional understanding of the text rather than just gain more technical information. To reach such a goal the authors explain the, sometimes technical, grammatical details and issues, but they do so in order point out what English translations sometimes miss. The result is seeing passages with new eyes and also discovering how one can use Greek to recast familiar passages.

I highly recommend this devotional to those who are familiar with Greek and are interested in using Greek to give insight into Scripture and also strengthen their faith. This would be an excellent resource not only for pastors, but for students of the Greek New Testament as well. Each of the fifty-two readings gives insight both into the text and how one might approach the Greek New Testament devotionally. Various New Testament Greek scholars contributed to this work, so it is not the work of one or two authors. The only suggestion I would make is to have a closing prayer for each of the devotions, pulling the theme of the day’s (or week’s) reading into the prayer. I would also like to see more resources like this because it illustrates how Greek can be made practical and can deepen one’s faith and understanding.