Monday, April 30, 2012

Baroness by Susan May Warren

The time is the “Roaring Twenties.” Lilly and Rosie, cousins and young daughters of wealthy American families, are in Paris, seeing a bit of the world before marriage. Their lives have been planned for them – an arranged marriage then carrying on the family fortune and responsibility.
But that is not what the women want. Lilly wants to go back to the family ranch in Montana, not run the newspaper empire her mother runs. And Rosie pines for the lights of the increasingly popular silver screen.
The novel follows the decisions they make, often desperate to get away from their family and preplanned lives. Most of their decisions are poorly made, heartache and anguish following.

I have read several of Warren's novels and of them all, I liked this one the least. There is nothing lighthearted here. The decisions Rosie makes are heartbreaking. The trouble she gets herself into is deadly. Lilly likewise makes decisions that feed her sense of adventure but nearly get her killed. All the while, the families are in the background, ready to rescue the women from their erring ways.

There is a little bit of Christianity in the novel (a tent revival scene), but none of the characters came across as Christians nor did they find support for their troubles in their faith. I am assuming there will be a sequel as Lilly seems to be making a little progress toward a fruitful life but Rosie is as troubled and mixed up as she was at the beginning.
I did not find this a rewarding novel on its own. There is no uplifting aspect of faith. There is no “recognizing the error of my ways” followed by right decisions. It seems like the cousins fight against the best actions right to the end. I hope a sequel does redeem this book.

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning novelist of over thirty novels.  She is also a five time Christy award finalist, a multi-winner of the Inspirational Reader's Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award.  You can find out more about her and her books at  

I am taking part in a blog tour.  You can find out what others are saying about the book here.

Summerside Press, 367 pages.  To buy the book, visit your local Christian bookstore.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coming Apart by Charles Murray

If you think the rich are getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer, according to Murray, you're right. His thesis: “Our nation is coming apart at the seams – not ethnic seams, but the seams of class.” (269)
Murray identifies November 21, 1963 as a turning point in American history. This book is about the evolution of American society since that date, “leading to the formation of classes that are different in kind and in their degree of separation from anything that the nation has ever known.” (11) He is convinced that if this divergence into separate classes continues, it will end what has made America America. His primary goal is to recognize the ways in which America is coming apart at the seams. He focuses on white America so this coming apart will be understood as not an issue of race or immigration.
There is a new upper class that is different from anything the country has seen. They are the people who run the nation's economic, political, and cultural institutions. Murray designates the top 5 percent working in managerial positions, in the professions, and in content-production jobs in the media as the “new upper class.” (20) They have become increasingly isolated and that has been accompanied by a growing ignorance about the country over which they have great power.
Murray looks at the millionaires in 1963 and notes that there was not that much difference in their clothing, cars, houses, etc. from the middle class. Now the wealthy lifestyle is quite different from the middle class. He looks at the role of education in the emergence of the new upper class.
He notes that the new upper class consists of people born into upper-middle-class families and have never lived outside that experience. (100-1) The danger is that the people who have so much influence in the course of the nation have little experience with ordinary Americans. They make decisions based on their own lives, so much unlike that of the vast majority of Americans.
And everybody else? “In the years after 1960, America developed something new: a white lower class that did not consist of a fringe, but of a substantial part of what was formally the working class population.” (125) The size of this new lower class is increasing.
He investigates what he calls the “founding virtues.” He covers the changes in marriage and the breakdown of the family in the (white) working class. He notes the weakening of the work ethic. He reports on the changes in honesty, integrity, and increasing crime. He looks at the role of religion in society and the increase of nonbelievers.
In the final part of the book, Murray tells us why all this matters, reporting on the case for the ongoing collapse of American community, particularly in lower class white America. He relates this to deep satisfaction in life. (He is quick to point out the complexity of this issue.)
Murray also relates that adding in nonwhite information does not change the result. White America is not heading in one direction and nonwhite America in another. “The coming apart at the seams has not been confined to whites, not will its evil effects been confined to whites.” (277) He ends by pondering the future of America, looking at the current state of Europe along the way.
He includes many charts and statistical results, as well as several appendices with supplemental material on several of his conclusions.

Being in my mid-sixties, I've lived through this period Murray has investigated. I knew that America today was not the America of my teens. Murray has helped me understand the change and what it might mean for the future. If you are at all interested in the current state of America, how we got here, and what it might mean for the future, you need to read this book.

Charles Murray is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  He is the author of several books.  He and his wife live in Burkittsville, Maryland.  Read more about Murray here.

Crown Forum, 407 pages.  Publisher information.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Named by God by Kasey Van Norman

It took Kasey a long time to get it. She splashed in the shallows of Christianity for decades. She became plagued with questions and doubts. “How is it,” she writes, “that this devoted Christian girl from East Texas who sang in the church choir and led small-group Bible study suddenly found herself tossing back a bottleful of Xanax to end it all?” (ix)
Kasey has written this book so we may no longer just talk about a life filled with hope and peace, but actually live it. That we might live not as victim but as victor. That we would strip away our masks. That a passion deep within our soul would be ignited. That we would no longer wade in the shallows but plunge into the deep end with the Lord.
She takes us through the journey, down the winding road of our past, seeing its potential to make us stronger people of God. We hit the rest stop of the present, keeping our focus on God. We feel the brisk wind of the future, God inviting us into his plans.
She shares her own story – raped as a teen, promiscuity following, hospitalized for an eating disorder, cutting herself, living a life of hypocrisy. She realized that it was not what was done to her but her reactions to them that were important. Her mistakes in the past did not have to determine her legacy. As with David, “God can give you a new legacy and allow you to pass on a blessing, not a curse, to the next generation.” (39)
She helps us understand the pain from our past and why God allows it. “What I have learned along the way … is that it is better to know God than to know the answers!” (55) She takes us through the steps of letting God heal our hurts. Then she works on the present and how God will still love us in the midst of our failures. She pays particular attention to how Satan can deceive us and what to do when we sin.
The last section of her book is on the future. We can look to the future with hope. She reminds us that the path to maturity is not an easy one. She encourages us to not be complacent, remembering, “there is nothing sweeter in this world than an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.” (219)

Kasey Van Norman is the founder and president of Kasey Van Norman Ministries in College Station, Texas. She and her husband with in Texas with their two children.

Read the first chapter here.  
Find out more about her ministry here.
Visit her blog, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
Tyndale House Publishers, 223 pages.

watch on

I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Darkroom by Joshua Graham

Graham has crafted a novel with intense action from start to finish.
Xandra Carrick is following in her father's footsteps. He was a photographer embedded with the army in Viet Nam. What he saw there he has kept hidden for 35 years. Xandra is a well known photojournalist for a national newspaper. She has traveled the world, photographing the anguish of humanity in turmoil.
The novel opens as Xandra and her father go back to Viet Nam to spread the ashes of her mother. She has taken with her the old film camera her father used all those years ago. Back in New York, she begins to develop the film. As each print of the Viet Nam landscape emerges, she sees momentary images. Death.
She is stunned, overwhelmed by what she is sure her father saw and photographed. She experiments with the camera, taking photos of the park near her apartment. When she develops the photos of the park pond, she momentarily sees a body.
Then the nightmare begins. When she attempts to anonymously report the possibility of a body in the pond, the police come to her and shortly arrest her for the murder.
The situation only gets worse. A senator, running as an independent, will stop at nothing to assure he is elected president. That includes keeping hidden the slaughter he condoned in Viet Nam. Xandra quickly rises to the top of his list of those needing to be silenced – permanently.

This novel has intense action, nearly continuous. At times I had to tell my self to breath – it's only a novel. This fast paced novel has political intrigue, strained family dynamics, and romance. It explores the horrors of war along side that of a warped man bent on political power. It touches on the supernatural, the move of the Spirit revealing truth through visions. Will the truth somehow be brought out to the open before evil quenches it entirely?

If you like political intrigue and high suspense, this novel is for you. It will capture you early on and not let you go until the last page.

There is a discussion guide included.

Joshua Graham has written other novels, some under a pseudonym. He was winner of the 2011 International Book Awards. Read more about him and his works at I will certainly be watching for his next one.

Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), 368 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Monday, April 23, 2012

40 Questions About The End Times by Eckhard Schnabel

Schnabel lays some ground wok for his book in the Introduction. (The two pages of term definitions are great.) First, the primary text is the New Testament. “In other words, the prophecies of the Old Testament must be integrated into the framework of New Testament prophecy.” (11) Second, Jesus said no one knows the day or hour of his return. Third, early Christians believed the “end times” began with Jesus' coming, death, and resurrection. Fourth, early Christians believed Jesus might return during their lifetime. “This means that the apostles interpreted biblical prophecy … concerning the end times as either fulfilled or as about to be fulfilled in the near future.” (12) Fifth, the same principles of interpretation we apply when we study the other parts of Scripture must be followed when we study prophecy.
With this informative Introduction, Schnabel addresses the 40 questions. The first ones are general.
The next section of questions deal with the future of the church. He shows that the period of the “great tribulation” belongs to the period between Jesus' first and second comings. Therefore, “Christians do live through the period of great distress or tribulation.” (77) (He dismantles the “pre-trib” view.)
Next he covers the future of Israel. Schnabel systematically goes through all of the Old and New Testament Scriptures on the subject. His conclusion regarding Rom. 11:26 may surprise some. “What is clear … is the fact that Paul does not speak of a future of Israel in nationalistic or territorial terms.” (126)
He next covers the return of Jesus, first noting the events before his return. He investigates the Antichrist, 666, the beast, the harlot, Gog and Magog, Armageddon, etc.
He ends with why we should care about the end times.

Schnabel is careful to cover every Scripture on each subject, at times looking at the original language. He reviews the possible answers to each question, evaluates them and then gives his own conclusion. He ends each section with a summary and reflective questions.

Schnabel has done excellent research, presenting all sides of an issue with clarity. The writing is such that general readers will have no difficulty with this often confusing subject. This is a great book for anyone who has been asking questions about the end times and is looking for answers.

Eckhard Schnabel is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Kregel Publications, 352 pages. Publisher product page.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Off Target by John Noe

Noe believes that Christianity has been tamed, that culture has triumphed. “The vast majority of we Christians today have been led astray, dumbed down, and pulled off target by our own leaders.” (238) Our current form of Christianity is far from that of the early church. He addresses 18 areas he believes the church is “off target.”
In a blog of this length, I'll only go through a few of the 18 issues, noting Noe's position as well as some of my own thoughts.
He notes that the kingdom of God is no longer taught when it should be central in our worldview. It follows that the gospel preached today is just partial. What should be preached is a “kingdom-oriented-salvation-coupled gospel such as Jesus was presenting...” (59)
Next, Noe reports what the Bible really says about hell: nothing. (66) Gehenna is not hell, he claims. (68) He writes, “Given the paucity, if not total non-existence, of scriptural support for the orthodox, traditional, and modern-day doctrine and understanding of 'hell,' we must reconsider this mainstay of Christianity as not being part of God's plan of afterlife punishment and/or redemption.” (75) He does note that God's justice and wrath are real but questions if they are retributive or restorative. While he does not make a final conclusion on hell, elsewhere he says of heaven, “...a hierarchical heaven is where some, many, most, or all will spend eternity.” (206)
He tackles the “last days.” “These 'last days' and end times, “ he writes, “were not a 19-centuries-and-counting extended period. Without exception, they literally refer to that 1st-century time frame in which the New Testament writers were living, there and then.” (78) “According to the Bible itself and prior to A. D. 70, the gospel was preached to all nations and to the world.” (85) The “last days” were not the last days of earth or human history. They were the last days of biblical Judaism and the first days of the church.
Parallel to this, Noe advocates a worldview of a world that never ends. He says there are three different entities in the Bible called “heaven and earth.” “One 'heaven and earth' would never pass away. Another had already passed away. A third would soon pass away and be made new.” (26) “The 'heaven and earth' that would never pass away is the physical creation (Gen. 1:1). The one that had already passed away was Babylon in the 6th century B. C. (Isa. 13:1,13; Hag. 2:6-7). The third one that would soon pass away and be made new was Old Covenant biblical Judaism (Deut. 32:1; Isa. 1:2-3; 51:13-16; Heb. 12:26-27).” (26)
I have to admit, that is where Noe lost me. And this was only page 26 of a 239 page book! I looked up those verses and, yes, heaven or heavens and earth are mentioned in those verses. Other than the Genesis passage, to say these references indicate Babylon and Judaism are called “heaven and earth” are such a stretch, even I cannot reach that far!
About the “second coming”: “The Bible says nothing about a 'second coming' or a 'return' of Jesus Christ. Nor do the historic creeds of the church.” (91)
Interestingly enough, I am also reading a book I'll blog a review of tomorrow. In it the author writes, “Jesus will return because the Bible says so.” (40 Questions About the End Times, p. 247) Reference is made to Acts 1:11 (“This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”). Doesn't “come back” have the same meaning as “return”? There is also reference to John 21:22,23 where Jesus Himself says he will “come back,” twice. Noe does not address these two passages in his book. And the historic creeds? Noe says they say nothing about the “return” of Jesus. Yet the Apostles Creed (referenced to in a letter dated A.D. 390), the Nicene Creed (A. D. 325), and the Athanasian Creed (used by churches since the sixth century), all speak of Jesus ascending to heaven and affirm that He will come again.
Noe says Jesus came in judgment, “on the clouds,” around A. D. 70. But that wasn't the so called “second coming.” Noe writes, “The biblical and historical facts are, Jesus is not coming back ever because He never left – as He said (Matt. 28:20b).” (93) Jesus is now present, Noe claims. There have been and will be many “comings” of Jesus – the manifestation of Jesus into the life of an individual, group, or nation. (95)
Jesus never left earth? Noe does not address Scripture that says Jesus is in heaven, such as 1 Thess. 4:16 (“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven...”). Noe himself writes elsewhere, “...we must also recognize that the divinely determined mission of Jesus – his leaving heaven, coming to earth, and going back to heaven - ...” (122) But he also writes, “Yet Scripture declares He never left, is here with us right now in our midst...” (126)
On evil: “Shockingly for some, Scripture, clearly and plainly, presents evil as part of God's plan for this world. Moreover, it also teaches that God is the origin of evil.” (206) “But evil and sin are two different things. And God is not the origin of sin. Big Difference.” (207)
On heaven: Heaven is a gift. “But how we spend eternity there will be determined by our good works on this earth during this life. … Hence, how we live this life determines our next life – our status, privileges, provisions, levels of reward...” (226,7)

Noe writes, “My primary goals in this book is to encourage both believers and nonbelievers, alike, to take a serious new look at Jesus Christ in his unveiled and revealed contemporary form. I believe this higher and greater perspective will ring true and stir you on to higher and greater heights of faith, worship, and obedience.” (120)

That was not the case with me. I found Noe's book very confusing. I didn't like the format of the book, with bullets and so many very short sections. I didn't think he did a good job proving his points. He conveniently left out Scripture passages that opposed his views. If one is going to write a work that goes against orthodox, evangelical Christianity, then one's scholarship must be impeccable. That is certainly not true of this book.
I do enjoy reading books that challenge my thinking. But I like a well presented argument, well supported by Scripture. I don't enjoy reading books that leave me unsure of what the author was trying to communicate, as was frequently the case in this book.

You can find out more about John and his ministry: and

You can buy this book through Amazon

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Eyes of Justice by Lis Wiehl and April Henry

The saga of The Triple Threat team continues fighting crime – only this time it is against one of their own. Cassidy, the TV crime reporter is brutally murdered. Her gruesome body is discovered by her friends Allison, a prosecutor, and Nicole, an FBI agent, when Cassidy fails to join them for dinner.
All of the evidence points to Rick, Cassidy's violent ex-boyfriend. Rick is a cop and Allison and Nicole are not sure justice will be served. Both are reprimanded for meddling in an investigation that is not theirs.
As Nicole and Allison continue to pursue the case on their own, the evidence against Rick begins to look to convenient and they wonder if he was set up. Hampered by their bosses, Nicole and Allison hire a quirky private investigator, Olivia. (She is so quirky I had to look up the meaning of neurotypical.)
And then the unbelievable happens. It looks like someone is out to murder Allison. Will Nicole and Olivia uncover the murderer's identity before he kills every member of The Triple threat team?

If you have not read the earlier novels in this series, you may be a little puzzled at first but the authors have included enough background material that you can certainly enjoy this novel on its own. This is a pretty fast paced novel with continuous action. There is lots of blood, so if that bothers you, this novel is not for you. The Christianity in the novel is subtle but there.

I love a good mystery, and this is a good one.

See more about Lis Wiehl and her books at

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 320 pages.

I received an egalley from the publishers for the purpose of this review.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush

This is a very well written autobiography of an admirable woman.
When she sums up her years in the White House, she notes she had helped restore five historic rooms and had worked on redecorating the cabins at Camp David. She helped renovate the Press briefing Room and updated the Cabinet and Roosevelt rooms. “In the White House, George and I had hosted over fifteen hundred social events; many were to award medals or honor accomplishments or great moments in American arts and literature. With Jim Billington I had started the National Book Festival, which now draws some 120,000 visitors each fall, and I had worked to combat illiteracy worldwide. I had done what I had hoped to do: I had worked to be a good steward of the White House for our nation. Every day, even the difficult ones, had been a privilege.” (423)
It was inspiring to read about her life as a teacher and librarian, then meeting and marrying George at age 30. Her love for literature was evidenced by her establishing the Texas Book Festival. Her compassion is seen in her work for women in Afghanistan.
Granted, she does defend her husband regarding some of his unpopular decisions but is very honest and objective about the difficult role of President during times of unanticipated tragedy.
This book was a delight to read.

Scribner, 456 pages.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Honest to God by Josh Weidmann

Josh was stunned when a professor declared that honesty was not an end in itself but a means to our own transformation. He began to be honest – honest with himself, with friends and with God. He began to see change.
He invited others to radical and unflinching invitation to be changed. His goal was to find the answer to the question: “When people are honest with God, can it really be a catalyst to life-alteration?” (11)
He began to see that the honesty of a willing heart can allow God to remove, replace, and restore. Being totally vulnerable before God may be painful, but it is transformational. He found that authenticity before God leads to greater intimacy with Him.
He shares his own journey to honesty. He felt the fear of being exposed. He saw people being honest – for attention.
He realized honesty must have the goal of transformation. “When you are truly honest to God, it is impossible to stay the same.” (25)
When you are honest, you don't have to hide. “The purpose of being honest with God: to be taken from our embarrassing nakedness and be clothed in Christ's perfection.” (34)
Are you afraid of God's reaction when you're honest with Him? You'll find His forgiveness.
Are you mad at God because you feel you have been wronged? Tell the truth about your anger to the only One who can do something about it.
Are you so ashamed you want to hide? Go to Jesus and let Him carry your load.
Josh knows there are roadblocks on the way to being honest with God and he suggests good ways to deal with them.
Josh knows it is so much easier to pretend we are something we are not. But God is already aware of everything about us. “...[W]e can rest assured our admissions and confessions do not surprise Him. Rather, it is by these very things that we experience true transformation in the areas we try to cover up the most.” (95).
Josh reminds us that there is nothing we can do to receive God's grace and nothing we can do to make Him take it back. “Grasping the totality of God's grace is an essential step in learning to be honest with Him.” (120)

“Honesty is the means by which you move out of hiding and become free to enter into deeper communion with your Creator than you ever though possible.” (130) Do you desire that? Are you willing to live honestly before God and man? Do you want to trust God completely, be open with Him and commit to never compromising your honesty?
Reading this book will be a great encouragement on your journey.

Moody Publishers, 164 pages.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Quit Going to Church by Bob Hostetler

We understand that we don't practice our faith the same way as Jesus or Paul. We have adapted the way we “do church” because we live in a different day and age.
But,” Hostetler asks, “what if we've done more than that? What if the form of Christianity commonly practiced by us and by most of the Christians around us bears little – if any – resemblance to the way of Jesus and the kingdom he came to earth to usher in? What if we've missed the boat...? What if we've misunderstood – even misrepresented – what it means to truly follow Jesus?” (12-13)
This book is about identifying and correcting the ways we have departed from the way of Jesus.
Hostetler urges us to quit going to church. (16) After looking at the early church in Acts, he writes, “If my relationship with God consists of 'going to church,' I need to quit that. I need to 'quit going to church' and start following Jesus.” (22) He continues, “So I urge you: quit going to church – and start being the church.” (22)
He continues: quit saying your prayers. (Jesus wants us to keep company with him.) Quit reading your Bible (the way you read a book). (The Bible is for relationship with God.) Quit sharing your faith. (Share your life of living faith.) Quit tithing. (He owns one hundred percent.) Quit volunteering. (Devote yourself to your spiritual gift.) Quit being nice. (Be authentic and bold in following Jesus.) Quit helping the poor. (Unite with them instead.) Quit fellowshipping. (Party instead.) Quit trying to be good. (Turn your eyes on Jesus.) Quit enjoying worship. (True worship isn't about you or what you enjoy.) Quit living in the center of God's will. (Relax. Give thanks for everything, that's God's will for you, 1 Thess. 5:24.)

Hostetler has done a great job of comparing how we Christians live today to what Jesus has asked of us. He tackles head on many of the accepted ways we do Christianity and jars us with the picture of what biblical Christianity should be. It is a very though provoking book.
If you want to take a serious look at how you are living your Christian faith and compare it to what the Bible mandates, you must read this book.
Unfortunately, there are no discussion questions in the book. It would make a very good choice for a small group to read and contemplate.

Bob Hostetler is a writer, editor, pastor, and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His twenty-seven books have sold over three million copies. He is a co-founder of Cobblestone Community Church in Oxford, Ohio. He and his wife have two grown children. See more at his website:

Leafwood Publishers, 222 pages. See or visit your local Christian bookstore.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cuts Like a Knife by M. K. Gilroy

A serial killer is in Chicago, brutally murdering beautiful women.  But a tough detective, Kristen Conner, is one of Chicago's best assigned to the crimes.  The police team make their way through reams of information as this is not the first city the murderer has visited.  The investigation stalls and it looks like Kristen may be targeted as the murderer's next victim.

This is a great debut novel with a tough female police detective.  I am always a bit cautious of a male author writing a novel with a female lead character.  Kristen may be a little tougher than your usual policewoman, but not beyond being believed.  Her father was a cop and she grew up into the police role.
Check out Gilroy's website,, to see that he has been in the publishing realm for decades and decided to finally write a book himself.  He crafted this one as character driven.  The reader gets to know Kristen as well as she wants to be known.  She is a woman with anger issues and difficulty establishing an open and honest relationship.
Kristen's brother-in-law is a preacher and Christianity is a big part of this book.    Kriste struggles with her trust in God as she tries to stop the murderer before he harms her.

If you like police detective novels and won't be bothered by some bloody scenes, this is a great one!  It's a bit long but every bit of the story is essential.  It kept me reading late into the night, a sure sign of a well written novel.  I'll be watching for the sequel. 

Worthy Publishing, 460 pages.

To read more about M. K. Gilroy and why he wrote this novel, check out his website: 
See the publisher's product page here.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

When conditions are right, a fire can sweep through an area. Ross believes that conditions are coming together for a viral move of God in this generation. Global challenges, the economic crisis, cultural moral decline, technology – are bringing us to the point where the flames of God can spread with the Spirit's force.
Ross attempts to both develop and document how the church in the West can set the stage for a viral movement. He gives as an example the early church where the gospel spread like wildfire. “If we are ever to see a viral movement of the Spirit in the West, we need to recapture the spirituality and mind-set of our first-century brethren.” (xxvi)
He reviews the elements of viral Jesus movements, including the issues of stability and control.
He has a good review of how the early church functioned and ministered before it came under human organization. He shows how church buildings, hierarchy of leadership, etc., brought the church to the point of no longer practicing apostolic ministry.
He covers the various revival movements and why they did not go viral. He also describes the sustained viral movement in China. “What we are seeing in China is the most rapid and robust movement of the gospel in the history of Christianity.” (113) He notes the characteristics of the Chinese church: no buildings, no trained workers, no wealthy, evidence of supernaturalism and suffering.
He discusses the practical aspects of a viral Jesus movement, such as discipleship, church planting, and viral evangelism.
He writes, “In the biblical worldview, Jesus has to be the Lord of the way we gather as a church and the way we do ministry. He has to be Lord of every single thing we do, even the way we think. It is not merely a correct doctrine. It is a way of life. Only then, when we get the Greek philosophy out of our worldview and practice and start actually following Jesus as Lord, will we see a sustained viral Jesus movement once again in the West.” (56)

Ross and his friends long to see the gospel sweep through the West. However, he writes, “We will not experience a viral movement of the gospel in the West until every Christian is equipped and willing to participate in the Great Commission as missionaries.” (184) If every Christian must be equipped and willing to participate, then I think we won't see it anytime soon. If Ross had said fifty percent of Christians must be equipped and willing, I would have more hope.

In general, I agree with Ross, longing to see the gospel spread like wildfire. I do disagree with him in one area, however. I agree that we must have Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered sharing of the faith. (187) I disagree with his guarantee that such Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered sharing of faith will “be 100 percent effective in evangelism 100 percent of the time.” (184 and 191) In studying the life of Jesus (who was completely Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered), I see where even He was not 100 percent effective 100 percent of the time. Many turned away from Him or left Him. We must be realistic in our evangelism work. If Jesus did not win every one over, neither will we.

Ross Rohde is a house church planter and house church planting coach in the San Francisco Bay area. A missionary for nearly twenty years, he has worked as a consultant and speaker on the effects of postmodernism on the European church. He and his wife are parents to three daughters and grandparents to four grandchildren. You can follow Ross on Facebook.

Passio (Charisma House Book Group), 217 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester

Jesus spent lots of his time eating and drinking. That was an indication of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners. “In the ministry of Jesus, meals were enacted grace, community, and mission.” (14)
Meals should be an integral part of our Christian life. In this book, Chester shows how meals embody God's grace and give form to community and mission.
The early church met in homes, around a meal. It was not that sometimes they had lunch, or food before or after the meeting. “There meetings were meals.” (51)
“When your church family gathers together as a group of needy people and shares food with Jesus at the center and with Jesus as the provider, you glimpse God's coming world right here, right now.” (61)
Every time we eat we celebrate our dependence upon God. Fasting reminds us that we are dependent upon God for our physical satisfaction. Chester has an excellent section on God's intention for food and how we use it for other reasons.
Meals are a great way to talk to friends and neighbors about your relationship with Jesus. Evangelism does not have to be the task of “experts.” “...[M]ost people live in the ordinary, and most people will be reached by ordinary people.” (91) We have to eat. Three meals a day are opportunities.
“God created the world so we might eat with him.” (138) The future holds in it a great feast.

There is much food for thought in this little book. (Pun intended.) It is definitely worth reading.

Crossway, 138 pages.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Need You Now by Beth Wiseman

Darlene and Brad were concerned about the safety of their children so they moved their family from Houston to a small town, taking over the fixer-upper farm left to Darlene by her grandparents. The adjustment is difficult. Brad has a long commute. The kids have a difficult time adjusting to their new schools.
Darlene gets to know their neighbor, Layla, a middle aged woman managing a ranch by herself. Brad recognizes Layla as a movie star who left the Hollywood scene several years ago. As Darlene and Layla form a tentative friendship, Layla's hurt over the suicide of her bipolar teen-aged daughter comes to the surface. Layla is mad at God for the loss of her daughter and the marriage that could not be held together.
Darlene's own world begins to fall apart when she finds out that her middle daughter is a cutter, using a self-damaging way of coping with stress. The tension in her own the marriage increases. Then, when she overhears Brad's end of a phone conversation, she wonders if he is having an affair.

Darlene struggles with her relationship to God. She struggles with her feelings toward an attractive man who is obviously attracted to her. She feels she has lost the support of her family. Who can she turn to? Even God seems far away.

Wiseman has written a great novel that kept my attention through to the end. The plot is thought provoking. Who would I turn to if my world fell apart? How would my relationship with God be affected? Would I question God's will? Would I accuse Him of punishing me with the circumstances?
I learned about cutting and how many teens are turning to it as a means of using one pain to distract from another. Darlene had taken a job (another source of tension in the marriage) and works with a high-functioning autistic girl. So I also learned about autism.
Wiseman's characters are well done. I easily identified with their hurt and subsequent questions about God and His will for their lives.
The end of the novel might require you keep some tissues nearby, but don't worry, there is also glorious hope.

Thomas Nelson has made the first half of the novel available in e-book format for just 99 cents. You can go here to find out more. The entire novel will be available mid-Arpil.

Beth Wiseman is a noted author of novels about the Amish. This is her first contemporary setting. I do hope she writes more in this style. She was an award winning journalist when, through a personal crisis in her own life, her faith was so strengthened her agent suggested she write a Christian novel. She left journalism behind in 2008 to become a full-time writer of Amish fiction. She was the 2010 INSPY Award winner, 2011 Carol Award winner (American Christian Fiction Writers), and the 2011 Inspirational Readers Choice Award Winner.
To find out more about Beth and watch a video showing why she wrote this novel, go to her website:

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 320 pages.  Publisher product page.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Downfall by Terri Blackstock

In this, the last of Blackstock's Intervention Series, Emily has been free from drugs for two years and is in college. Emily, her mother, Barbara, and brother, Lance, had all moved to Atlanta to be close to Kent.
One morning, as Emily starts her car to drive to college, Lance spots smoke under the car. Emily escapes the vehicle but a bomb, taped to underside of the engine does great damage.
Then Emily finds out that a murdered woman is the wife of one of the men in the rehab place where she had worked. She recalled hearing the husband and another man talking about killing each other's wives, just like in a movie they were watching.
What follows is a wild ride for Emily. She tries to warn the other man's wife and when that wife is murdered, Emily is a prime suspect.

In A Note from the Author, Blackstock says when she had started writing the Intervention Series a few years ago, she had come through a long journey with her own daughter who had addictions. The mother in this series was based on her own experiences and emotions as she tried to help her daughter.

This is a good novel showing the struggles young people have with the temptations of drugs in our society. Emily is portrayed as a strong person, finally coming to terms with her past and she hurt she caused others. Even though she is still immature in some ways, she has made her stand on drugs and does not waver. The novel does well in portraying the constant battle young people must go through to stay sober.

Even if you have not read the earlier books in this series, you will still enjoy this one. Blackstock has included enough back material that you would not be lost at all in following the character's story.

Zondervan, 304 pages. Go to the publisher's product page to read about Terri Blackstock and watch a video. You can also go to for more information.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.