Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Paradox Lost by Richard P. Hansen

In this culture permeated with rational thought, we Christians might think we must understand everything, including God. I have read many books in the last few years where young pastors and theologians try to explain God to our satisfaction. What a refreshing book this one is, reminding us that God is a mystery. God is beyond our mental grasp even though He is with us. It is in the tension of paradox that Christians must live and it is a truth that has been lost.

Hansen wants us to explore biblical paradox and how it invites us to rediscover the mystery of God. How God's sovereignty and man's free will coexist is a mystery. We might refuse to think about it. We might concentrate on one truth or the other. Wrestling with this paradox ( and others) helps us gain a greater respect for the “otherness” of God, that His thoughts are so much higher than ours. He explores the paradox of the Trinity, that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, the Kingdom of God being present and not yet, God being transcendent and immanent, and many more.

When we do not keep the high and low in constant tension, we risk accepting a caricature of God; we miss the pure note of truth heard only when the transcendent and immanent vibrate together in unison.” Living in this tension is a part of the Christian experience. It is a mystery and we are to respond in awe and wonder.

I really appreciate this book. So many preach a problem solving God, a God that can be understood. Hansen wants us to embrace the mysterious God of the Bible. He quotes St. Augustine: “If you can comprehend it, it is not God.”

Some might find that this book requires deep thinking. The questions for reflection at the end of each chapter are not light. But Jesus used paradox to capture His audience and challenge their thinking. That's what Hansen has done in this book. Reading it will help you rediscover the mysterious God of the Bible.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Richard P. Hansen has been a pastor and professor at Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He has had articles published in a number of periodicals.

Zondervan, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Stranger in Medallion Loafers by Austin B. Tucker

I liked this adventure of teens Allen and Juan. They are next door neighbors and best friends. Their adventures begin when they see a suspicious person spreading a putty-like substance in the high school boiler room. They are quickly in the midst of an FBI investigation that involves danger and requires courage.

This is a good adventure for teen boys, especially ones who like flying. Juan's dad is a military pilot and the boys get personal flying lessons from him. The boys get into dangerous adventures, even after being told by authorities to stay out of the investigation. When they happen upon something suspicious, they just have to follow the suspect. Sometimes they interfere with the police and get in trouble but sometimes they find information the police have missed.

Christian faith is well presented in this story. The boys attend a Christian camp and the gospel is given. The boys have a close friendship and show great loyalty to each other. It was good to see how they relied on God when in danger.

This is a good novel for young teen boys who love adventure and are curious. They'll get a little dose of science and larger doses of adventure and faith.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Austin B. Tucker has served as pastor for more than 30 years. He now teaches online for Liberty Seminary in Virginia and Anderson University in South Carolina. He has previously published nonfiction books. This is his first novel for teens.

TBCN Just for Kids, 140 pages. You can buy a copy here.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rescuing the Gospel by Erwin W. Lutzer

As we approach the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation (October 31, 1517), Lutzer is concerned that the importance of that historical event is lost to many Christians. The fundamental beliefs of the Reformers are often ignored and the doctrines considered unimportant. “We forget,” Lutzer writes, “that the better we understand yesterday, the better we will understand today.” (xiv)

Lutzer has written a good introduction to the Reformation and its importance to us today. He reviews Martin Luther's life and spiritual journey. He looks previous attempts at reformation (Wycliffe, Hus), the state of the church at the time, the conflict in doctrine, the heart issue of sola Scriptura, the debates, the violence, etc. He has included chapters on Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Calvin, and the teachings of the Roman Catholic church today.

Included is a good discussion on “free will” and Luther's view of the bondage of the will. The unconverted do not have the freedom to choose to believe the gospel. They can believe only if God exercises special grace in that person's heart (God's sovereign grace). Lutzer points out that this was an important distinction because the Roman Catholic Church did hold that man was totally depraved - sick, yes, but not dead in sin. Luther held that man was spiritually dead and incapable of reaching out to God. “Thus, salvation is wholly of God.” (114)

Even though this is introductory in nature, I did appreciate the teaching on some of the finer points of the Reformation. Luther and Zwingli/Calvin had differing views on infant baptism. Lutzer has also included a good review of the burning of Servetus, putting it in perspective. He also covers the five points of Calvinism.

Lutzer wants readers to be familiar with the Reformation and its elements. He also wants readers to understand that we face a situation today similar to the time of the Reformation. Luther opposed people who said they heard from God but whose teachings did not go along with the Bible. Lutzer says we must still rescue the gospel today from fraudulent ministries, liberals, cults, etc. Sola Scripture (Scripture alone) is still the issue.

I recommend this introduction to the Reformation to those who are not familiar with the historical event and its importance today. Christians who have diligently studied church history and theological issues may not find anything new here. Nonetheless, I found it a good review as we come upon the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Erwin W. Lutzer has been the senior pastor of Moody Church in Chicago for thirty-six years. He and his wife live in the Chicago area.

Baker Books, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Shaman's Fire by Sandy Cathcart with Diana Shadley

Cathcart has given us a graphic novel of spiritual warfare taking place in southern Oregon among the Klamath people. The soul of a young woman is at stake.

This is a very interesting novel about the ways of Native Americans, especially when they become Christians. There are many visions and supernatural experiences in the book, both within a Christian experience and from that of the dark side. Many of these experiences may be foreign to evangelical Christians.

The Native Americans incorporate their traditional ways in worshiping God. Ghostdancer, for example, claimed to be thoroughly Native and thoroughly Christian, doing the dances to honor the Creator. On the opposite side is a healer who has left the old ways and gone bad. He has been taking money to cast spells and is deep into the black arts. He is good at offering what a person wants in order to draw them into the bondage of evil. Lies are freely told.

The spiritual warfare is graphically portrayed. There are many manifestations of the spiritual realm, from both God and the devil. There is also the use of drugs for mystical experiences. There is some good discussion about the ability of the shaman, the healer gone bad. Ghostdancer says, “He has no power other than Creator Yahweh allows.”

While the spiritual experiences are foreign to me, I found this to be a very interesting book. Besides the spiritual aspect, I learned about how the Native Americans were treated, even within the last century. The only aspect of the novel I found disconcerting was the change in point of view. One character is in the first person perspective, another is in the second person, and the rest from third person. Cathcart was consistent in this by keeping one perspective per chapter, but I did not like it.

I would recommend this novel to those interested in how Christian faith is experienced by Native Americans. They seem to live much more attuned to the spirit world than most evangelicals do.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Sandy Cathcart is an award-winning writer, photographer, and artist. She grew up on the stories of her Cherokee great grandmother, a healer in the Red Rock, Arkansas area. Because of these stories and her involvement with Native Americans, she believe in restoration and transformation through giving worth to a people who offer valuable ways of worshiping Creator, the God of the Bible. She and her husband are active outdoors people. They live in the High Cascades of southern Oregon. You can find out more at http://www.sandycathcartauthor.com/.
Pastor Diana Shadley is affiliated with the Kahnawake Band of Mohawk, First Nations, Quebec, Canada. She married a member of the Wasco and Klamath Tribes. She and her husband became ministers. She teaches and encourages worship of the Creator (Jesus) the way He created each individual, incorporating language, dance, instruments, songs and story telling.

Needle Rock Press, 346 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Worth Living by Mary DeMuth

Maybe you're like DeMuth who had a preoccupation with her worth. It stemmed from having been raped by a teen when she was only five years old. For years she believed she was worthless.

She writes that, “As long as I could stay on the treadmill of perfect performance, I could live with myself, feel somewhat loved...” (23) She thought about suicide. Then Jesus came into her life when she was fifteen. That began her struggle to understand “God's wildly audacious love” for her.

She learned the nature of the lie she had believed. She learned how to replace the lie with the truth. She shares what she has learned in this book. We are reminded that God radically transforms hearts. She reminds us that it will be a battle. “Changing our mind about our worth is spiritual warfare, plain and simple.” (31)

The lies are identified, such as thinking our worth is tied to our production, to our past, or to perfect behavior. She also tackles lies about weakness, security, and beauty. With insight, she provides practical suggestions for action, such as verses to remember. She illustrates her principles with stories from her own life and from the Bible. Each chapter ends with questions for reflection or discussion and a written prayer.

I highly recommend this book to Christians struggling with their worth. This book will give you practical steps to get you on your way to knowing and living in the worth you have in Jesus. DeMuth's prayer is that this book “starts a revolution of a renewed sense of worthiness for many people.” (127)

You can download an excerpt here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Mary DeMuth is a former church planter in France and the author of more than thirty books. She lives in Texas with her family. You can find out more at www.marydemuth.com.

Baker Books, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, May 27, 2016

They Were Christians by Cristobal Krusen

Krusen has compiled several profiles of Christians who have had a great impact on the world.

Each profile is introduced and concluded with personal memories from Krusen, revealing the impact the individuals have had on his own life. He emphasizes how their faith gave meaning and purpose to their lives.

Some of the people profiled are familiar, such as Lincoln and Nightingale. Others were unknown to me, such as Dunant, instrumental in forming the Red Cross. And some were a complete surprise, such as Chiune Sigihara, a Japanese diplomat in the Japanese consulate in Lithuania during WW II. He defied his government by issuing papers that allowed many Jews to escape to safety. Some might be a little controversial, such as Frank Pais, a Cuban revolutionary.

John D. Rockefeller Sr. might be considered unusual too. His business practices were certainly questioned but he was a generous man. He gave half of his fortune to charitable causes. He felt his ability to accumulate money was a gift from God. He also felt it his responsibility to use that money for the good of his fellow man. (199)

The personal nature of Krusen's choice of people is highlighted in Frederick Douglass, a slave who became a vocal abolitionist. Krusen relates at the beginning of the profile how he and his girlfriend, being a biracial couple, were turned away from a church in Austin, Texas in 1973. He concludes the story of Douglass with his own experience in 1981 of being in a church in New York City where people of all colors were praising God.

I found that the quote from Florence Nightingale seems to sum up the determining factor in these lives. “Why, oh my God, cannot I be satisfied with the life that satisfies so many people.” (67)

This is an interesting collection of profiles of people who, because of their Christian faith, have had an impact on the world. Some might find the selection of people covered limited. Krusen's writing style is personal and engaging, making each profile worth reading.

You can download an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5.

Cristobal Krusen is a screenwriter, film director, and author who has lived and worked in Latin America, Australia, and the United States. In 1988, he founded Messenger Films, a nonprofit film production company. He studied English literature at Harvard University and film and television at NYU and the Art Center College of Design. He currently lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Baker Books, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

The Rector by Michael Hicks Thompson

This novel is packed full of suspense, great characters, a believable plot, and stimulating theological discussions. This may be the most interesting novel I have read in ages.

The action takes place in a small town in Mississippi in the 1950s. Our heroine is Martha, owner of the small town newspaper and one who rents out rooms in her home. The action begins when the rector of the Episcopal church in the town dies. It is thought to have been a heart attack, even though the man had been young and in good health.

There are many vacant pulpits in the denomination so the people of the small church prepare themselves for the wait. Martha is surprised when a priest comes to her door and asks about rooms. He is the new rector. He settles into his role but before too long, Martha senses there is something not right. She is determined to find out what it is.

I really liked Martha. She is a tenacious woman. She is determined to find out the truth about a number of events in their town. I was amazed at how she “arranges” people and things to uncover the truth.

Martha considers herself a delivery person for God's judgment. She is not after revenge as she knows that is God's responsibility. In fact, there is an event in the plot showing that human revenge can go horribly wrong. Martha is more of a path maker, giving the police a clear way to find the guilty person and exact justice.

I loved the theological discussions in the book. There is lots of biblical truth shared in the context of good dialog. There is even an exploration of why God allows evil. It is not preachy at all. The theological discussions flow naturally within the plot structure.

I highly recommend this mystery novel. It is well crafted with great characters. I was leery of a male writing a female lead character but was happily surprised and pleased with the result. This novel is more than a mystery, however. It is a clever allegory, highlighted by the ending.

There is a free six week reader's guide (study guide) available at www.TheRectorGuide.com. This novel would make a great choice for a reading group. There would be much to discuss.

You can watch the book trailer here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Michael Hicks Thompson was raised on a small farm in Mississippi. He claims to know a thing or two about strong Christian women, alcoholic men, and Jesus. He graduated from Ole Miss, served in the military, then received a master's degree in mass communication from the University of South Carolina. He and his wife live in Memphis, Tennessee. They have three grown sons and four grandchildren. You can find out more at www.michaelthompsonauthor.com.

Shepherd King Publishing, 370 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Becoming a Prayer Warrior by Elizabeth Alves

This is a reprint of an earlier book by Alves. It is a great introduction to prayer from the charismatic viewpoint.

She covers the basics of prayer, such as what it is and why Christians should pray. She reminds us of the priority it was in Jesus' life. “Prayer is entering into relationship with God so we can determine His will in the matter and call His will into existence upon the earth.”

She explores what prayer does and includes suggested formats. She covers how to pray, when, and why. She helps readers understand the different kinds of prayer, including samples and guidelines from Scripture. She has a good section on how to hear from God, paying particular attention to the Holy Spirit and to journaling.

She has an extensive teaching on the essentials of spiritual warfare, including a good section on the armor of God. She covers each of the weapons of warfare, including praying in the spirit and fasting. She reminds us of the ministry of intercessors, to watch and pray.

This is a great introduction to prayer from the charismatic viewpoint. She includes examples from her own life, the lives of others, and the Bible to illustrate the principles of her teaching. She has a good section on unanswered prayer too.

It is a practical book. There are suggested outlines for prayer near the end of the book. She includes suggested daily prayer priorities and actual suggested prayers. That makes this book a great one for new Christians (or older ones) who need prompts to begin an effective prayer discipline.

Alves believes God has chosen to work through people. “Prayer makes a way for God to act sovereignly on earth.” “Heaven waits for those of us on earth to pray for things to happen.” I'm a strong believer in the sovereignty of God (that He does not need man's permission to act) and was disappointed in that part of the book. I was glad to read, however, that Alves encourages readers to find verses to apply to each need, making sure to be praying in agreement with God's will.

This is a good book for charistmatic Christians. They will find good guidelines to enhance their prayer life. Because of the soft view on God's sovereignty, I would not recommend the book to those of the Reformed persuasion.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Elizabeth Alves is an international speaker on prayer and hearing God's voice. She and her husband founded a ministry in 1973 and Alves is now president of Increase International. She founded a school in 2002, committed to mobilizing Christians in prayer. She is an adjunct teacher at Christ for the Nations in Dallas, Texas. She is also a affiliated with prophetic ministries. She is an ordained minister. She and her husband live in Bulverde, Texas, They have four daughters, seventeen grandchildren, and an increasing number of great-grandchildren.

Chosen Books, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sister Eve and the Blue Nun by Lynne Hinton

This is the third book in the Sister Eve series and it is not the best one of them.

Sister Eve is not a strong female character in this novel. I don't remember her being so clumsy in the previous books. Every time she is startled she drops something, breaks something, or pulls out an electrical cord. She even managed to lose her phone out of her jeans pocket. She lies a great deal in this novel too. The ease with which she lied was a bit disconcerting for her being a nun.

And then there was the constant repetition of information. First we would read about an event. Then Eve would rethink the event. Then she would retell the event to someone. I have to admit, when I saw that an experience was being gone over yet another time, I did skim through the paragraphs.

I don't like it when suspense comes because of stupid actions by the main character. That happened in this novel, especially after Eve “lost” her phone, it having fallen out of her pocket. I like it when suspense arrives because of the clever nature of the villain, rather than by fault of the heroine.

That being said, there were some parts of this novel I appreciated. Eve is back at her old monastery to attend a conference about a Sister Maria. This nun resided in Europe but experienced bilocation in that she appeared to Native Americans in New Mexico. There is a move to have her become a saint and there is some information at this conference that would help that process. A murder occurs before the conference starts and Sister Eve is determined to find the murderer.

It was interesting to learn about this spiritual possibility. In that sense, this novel has a definite Roman Catholic bent, more so than the earlier novels I think. Eve herself has a supernatural experience that is definitely in the Catholic realm.

There were also great descriptions of the area. Eve would often remind herself of what she knew about a person or place. Through her thoughts we would learn some of the religious history of the area.

I would recommend this series to readers who like a novel centering on relationships more than mystery. I would suggest reading the previous novels as I found Eve a stronger character in them.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

You can also read my reviews of the earlier books in the series: Sister Eve Private Eye, The Case of the Sin City Sister.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Lynne Hinton is a New York Times bestselling author. She has a Masters of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She has served as a chaplain with hospice and as a pastor of United Church of Christ congregations in North Carolina. She and her husband life in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can find out more at www.lynnehinton.com.

Thomas Nelson, 336 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Progeny by Tosca Lee

This novel is sort of a cross between an international thriller and fantasy. There are lots of twists and turns in the plot, many characters who turn out to be someone other than I thought, and a foundational reason behind it all that generally eluded me.

The main character is a young woman, Emily, who has just had her memory erased. She's the descendant of a serial killer who lived hundreds of years ago. As the novel progresses, we find out more about who she is and why she went through the process of memory erasure. There is a plethora of characters that come across her path. Someone is out to kill her and it is hard to know which are the bad guys or good guys. In fact, some bad guys turn out to be good guys and vice versa. There is a plethora of locations in Europe, many underground.

The character development of Emily is rather odd. Since her memory was erased, we only get to know who she is as others tell her who she was before the procedure. This happens in fits and starts. As an individual, sometimes she is very brave and other times she does stupid acts. I did not come to like her at all. The development of the other characters was odd too as many turn out to be someone other than they portray. Many do not stay around long enough to have any character developed anyway.

I felt some of the events in the novel were odd. The group that Emily has managed to gather around her hide out in a European city and attend underground celebrations at night. They all wear costumes and get high on their own somewhat supernatural abilities. I am not sure those events actually moved the plot forward. Near the end of the book, places are visited that did not seem to really contribute to Emily's pursuit of the item she is to find.

I do not understand the point of the novel. At the end it becomes abundantly clear that there will be a sequel. So maybe this novel did not have a point. Maybe that will come in a later book. When I finished the novel I felt the same way I did with some of Ted Dekker's novels. I could not identify an allegory or a subtle lesson.

If you like to read international suspense just for the suspense, you may like this novel. If you like a plot that takes you to many obscure eastern European cities, you may like this book. If you are willing to wait for the sequel for much of it to make sense, you'll do well to read this novel.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Tosca Lee is a New York Times bestselling author. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and children. You can find out more at http://toscalee.com/.

Howard Books, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Wicked Disregard by Barbara Ann Derksen

This is the third book in a series. I have not read the earlier books and found this one to be quite confusing. Much happened to Christine, the main character in this book, in those earlier books. The events are alluded to but there is not enough background material included in this book for enjoyable reading on its own.

Christine is the main character but that is not her birth name. Apparently her parents were killed twenty years ago and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. Even after finishing the book I still did not understand the reason for a name change.

Christine is in the business of finding lost kids. The reason is alluded to, apparently stemming from events in the previous novels in the series. This rescue involves child trafficking. There is quit a bit of action and some suspense in the plot.

Christine was a puzzling character for me. Not having read the previous novels, why she does what she does, why she is so attached to her dog, and much else about her was a mystery to me. She is apparently the owner of her father's company but that remains shrouded in mystery too. She visits the board of directors for the first time in this novel. Why she hasn't been involved in the company the twenty years since her parents' death is another mystery. How the company managed to continue with a missing owner is a mystery too.

There is some some suspense in this novel as Christine's life is in danger. Again, that apparently originates in previous novels. I found it interesting that her friend, Jeremy, actually does much more of the serious rescue work in this novel than Christine does. We are tantalized by the possibility of a romance between these two in a future novel. That highlights the strong Christian message in the novel, including a salvation experience.

This novel really emphasizes the horrors of child trafficking. Some sensitive readers may find some of the scenes gruesome. I also found some distracting grammatical errors (such as “for … and I”).

If you can pick up a book in the middle of a series and not be bothered by missing the information in earlier books, you may like this novel. I do recommend reading the earlier books in the series before tackling this one.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Barbra Ann Derksen has written 19 books in a variety of genres. She and her husband have four children and nine grandchildren. You can find out more at www.barbaraannderksen.com.

EaglesNest Publications, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.