Thursday, December 17, 2009

Primal by Mark Batterson

Batterson says Christianity has lost its soul. He wants to get it back and attempts to do so by going to the primal truth of Christianity. Getting to the primal essence of Christianity involves unlearning and relearning everything we know.
Batterson says our problem is that we are not great at living the Great Commandment. "The quest for the lost soul of Christianity begins with rediscovering what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength."
Batterson looks at the four elements of this commandment. God has ordained passion, something that breaks your heart because it breaks the heart of God. We respond to God's creation with awe and a soul filled with wonder at the glory of God. "Loving God with all your mind means making the most of your mind by learning as much as you can about as much as you can." Loving God with all your strength means "expending tremendous amounts of energy for kingdom causes."
Batterson hopes his book will inspire his readers to do great things for God. He knows many of his readers have God-sized dreams within them.
The encouragement in this book may be just what it takes to get you to respond to that nudge of God.

I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review.
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Monday, December 14, 2009

40 Loaves by C. D. Baker

Baker has written 40 meditations, each around a question. A few examples include: Why am I uncomfortable with doubt? Why can't I overcome sin? Why am I afraid of death? Why am I confused about finding God's will?
Some of the meditations develop from Baker's discussions with fellow pilgrims while others originate in his own struggles. I could not identify at all with many of his questions. They seem to describe issues and questions I dealt with decades ago. It seems that writing this book may have been cathartic for Baker as he worked through some of his own issues.
I would not suggest this book to anyone who has been a Christian for longer than a few years. Baker's meditations frequently bring up issues that should be long gone in a believer's life. Then again, perhaps issues are brought up that the reader has never worried about - but will now!
Baker deals with each issue in about two pages when properly dealing with the concern would be a full length book.
Redeeming aspects of the book are the pithy questions and personal prayer at the end of each meditation. These might be used for group discussion.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The End of Christianity by William Dembski

This is a work of theodicy, a branch of philosophical theology that wrestles with the problem of evil. The essential question is, "If there is a good and all-powerful God, why is there evil in the world?"
This is a book for Christians by a Christian. Dembski assumes the Bible is true, that Christ was sinless and undeserving of the Cross and that the Fall was an actual event.
Dembski distinguishes natural evil (disease, hurricanes, famines, etc.) from moral evil (separation from God) and spends time on the origin of each.
Dembski inserts a new twist into the centuries old attempts to answer the problem of evil. In his discussion of old earth verses young earth argument, Dembski supposes retroactive effects of the Fall. He argues that Christians accept the retroactive effects of the Cross (salvation of Old Testament characters) so why not the Fall? The Fall could be responsible for natural evil occurring before the Fall in time (as we know it). "Accordingly, the Fall could take place after the natural evils for which it is responsible." (50) This concept allows the Christian to accept an old earth with animal and plant death in time before the Fall.
Another important point Dembski makes regards the intervention of God in human events. He argues, "...a world open to direct, real-time divine intervention could be empirically indistinguishable from a causally closed world that operates by unbroken natural laws, provided that God, from the start, is able to precisely arrange the unfolding of events." (121)
Dembski argument seems to allow the Christian to have the best of both worlds. He reconciles a traditional understanding of the Fall with a mainstream understanding of geology and cosmology.
I did not understand all of Dembski's rhetoric (I am a scientist, not a philosopher) but I think his work adds a new dimension to the "good God, evil world" question and is worthy of serious consideration.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick

Some of the most painful situations occur when one spouse desperately wants to fix what is broken but the other is stuck in a destructive pattern of behavior with no interest in changing.
Vernick encourages the hurting spouse to begin to see the marriage through the lens of God's eternal purposes. God's purpose is marriage is not the personal happiness of either spouse but that both would become more Christlike. God does care about our feelings but we must remember that true happiness is found in knowing Him and not in pursuing what we think will make us happy.
Vernick says that choosing to act right, even when we don't feel like it, is true obedience. It may be that God is putting us through a difficult period of training and we should not struggle against it.
That does not mean we are to be passive when our spouse does evil. We are to fight back but at the true enemy, Satan. Evil is overcome when we respond in ways that are godly, righteous and loving. Commitment to loving our spouses is learned and requires practice. True love is not some giddy feeling but a deep seated commitment to build up another to their God-given potential.
The prayers at the end of each chapter help internalize the ideas before God.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

99 Ways to Increase Your Income by Frank Martin

This is a very timely book. Martin gives great suggestions. Some of his suggestions are innovative while others are just common sense.
The reader is asked at the beginning of the book to take time to understand the current financial conditions and then establish a budget. Goals are to be written out with the first being to get out of debt.
There are many suggestions as to how to cut expenses.
There are ideas on how to get ahead at work (and get a raise).
If you just need a little extra cash, there are ideas for that too, even if you have to work from home.
Martin rounds out the book with ideas for saving and investing.
Martin ends his book with wise advice for all: be generous and be content.
Any one of the ideas in this book is worth the price (under $6.).
This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Press.
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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith

The subtitle of Meredith’s book is “A History of Fifty Years of Independence.” It is a sad history. The atrocities recorded in this last century would seem better placed centuries ago. Corrupt leader after corrupt leader tells the story. They were concerned with their own accumulation of wealth and slaughtered those opposed to them.
I wish I would have thought to add up the figures. A million killed under this ruler. Then 250,000 killed by that ruler. Then two million killed in the other tribal war. On and on. It seemed every chapter contained another so many hundred thousand killed.
Chinua Achebe is quoted early in the book: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the failure of leadership.” (221) And that could be said of almost every country. “By the end of the 1980s, not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office.” (378,9)
The warfare continues as in 1998 Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war in which 100,000 died. “In 2000 there were more than ten major conflicts underway in Africa.” (679)

Meredith’s conclusion: “In reality, fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa’s prospects are bleaker than ever before.” (681) Africa is a region where school enrollment is falling, life expectancy is falling, and the economic output of the entire continent is less than that of Mexico.
It would appear that Western assistance is the only answer. But Meredith notes that Africa has received far more foreign aid than any other region in the world (more than $300 billion), but with no discernible result. Will more money solve the problem? Meredith notes, “But even given greater Western efforts, the sun of Africa’s misfortunes…presents a crisis of such magnitude that it goes beyond the reach of foreseeable solutions. At the core of the crisis is the failure of African leaders to provide effective government.” (686)
Decades of corrupt rulers have ravaged Africa. What is its future?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Treasured by Leigh McLeroy

We can know a person by what he treasures. Combining vignettes of her own life with biblical stories, McLeroy shows how God meets our needs through items He treasures.
God heals our pain and shame with the fig leaf He treasures. He assures us of new beginnings with the olive leaf of hope. Even when we are sent from a familiar place, God nourishes us with Hagar's water skin. We know that God's plan goes beyond our loss with Joseph's bloody coat. We are encouraged that God looks on the heart (and not our resume) as evidenced by David's harp.
McLeroy closes the book with her own collection of treasures. She encourages her readers to assemble their own treasures. She has included questions for personal reflection and group discussion.
The retelling of biblical stories at length may be a bit much for Christians well versed in the Bible. The strength of the book, I think, is the end section. The full impact of McLeroy's idea will only come to the reader if there is reflection on what is treasured and action taken to journal or otherwise record the meaning of those treasures.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

God Gave Us Love by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Little Cub and Grampa Bear are out fishing and explore the meaning of love. Grampa explains that anytime we show love, we are sharing a bit of his love. We don't always feel like loving others but when we choose to do so, it is the right thing to do. God gave us love so we could see the goodness in others. God shows his love to us in many ways and there is nothing we can do to make him stop loving us.
Bergren's book for young readers is a very positive story about God's love and excludes the idea of God finding displeasure in some of our actions.
The new artist for this book is Laura J. Bryant. Her work is not as pleasing as the previous artwork by David Hohn.
This book was sent to me for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren

Little Cub now understands that God, not Santa, invented Christmas so he and Mama Bear go out to find Him. They find God at work in a variety of ways in nature. God is the great giver of gifts and Santa is only a reminder of that fact.
With art by David Holm, this is a delightful explanation of Christmas and Santa's relationship to it. This book is suitable for young children.
This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah Press.