Book Review: Season of Heartbreak by Mark Gregory Karris

unnamedIn Season of Heartbreak: Healing for the Heart, Brain, and Soul, Mark Gregory Karris seeks to lead readers through the process of grief after a breakup with a romantic partner. Karris divides the book into four parts: 1) Grieving Processes, 2) Grieving Pathways, 3) Grieving Practices, and 4) Grieving Ponderings.

Overall, I found this book intriguing and sound. From the start, I was very impressed with his use of legitimate research. I wasn’t expecting to find a strong bibliography when I picked up this book, but Karris uses numerous peer-reviewed journal articles along with a variety of credible authors and sources. I appreciated Karris’ fuller perspective on grieving well, which requires more than mere prayer. Never once does he assume anything close to a “just get over it” or “forgive and forget” posture, but rather he consistently conveys compassion and affirms that every person’s process of grieving and mending is unique and occurs at its own pace. Karris’ theology is orthodox and he includes a broad collection of spiritual thinkers and authors. In addition, Karris writes at a swift pace, so I didn’t feel bogged with lengthy chapters; it’s a fairly quick read.

Though I find Season of Heartbreak to be a worthwhile resource, it has two setbacks for me. First, some of Karris’ writing and phrasing is incredibly cheesy. He must be the kind of preacher who always has three points that either all rhyme or start with the same letter (just reference how all of the four parts start with “Grieving” plus a word that begins with “P”). Unfortunately, such consistent banal language–though not entirely deleterious–detracted from the substance of Karris’ content for me as a reader. Second, I can’t see myself strongly recommending this book to someone who has recently experienced a breakup. I think it might be more useful for those desiring to support someone else through the suffering of a heartbreak, but I can’t imagine many of the students I work with being interested in reading this during tumultuous times.

In the end, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars. The content is solid, but some of the writing style felt trite compared to the depth of its matter.

** Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman (2nd Edition)

61ujeUL48bL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_To be honest, I wasn’t excited about reading this book when it arrived at my door. For years, I’ve been inundated with pleas to evangelize with challenges to incessantly invite people to church or use a simple, guaranteed type of formula. These forms of evangelism have been largely ineffective for me, and I’ve grown tired of them. I’ve chosen instead to invest my life in deeper discipleship, all the while feeling a bit guilty for not focusing on the beginning steps of starting a person on the journey.  Then I picked up Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did (Second Edition) by Randy Newman. Not only was the physical feel of the book (it’s the kind of book that just feels good in your hands and makes you want to read it, which I’m sure fellow bibliophiles can fully admire and appreciate with me), but I was enraptured from the very first pages of the preface.

Randy Newman talks about evangelism in ways that I’ve been thinking about for several years now, but haven’t heard anybody else express in the same way. As Christians, we need to first and foremost value wisdom as we engage with others. I initially encountered this concept in written form through Miroslav Volf’s A Public Faith, yet now I got to read what this concept of living the wisdom of Christ in our interactions with others could look like in evangelistic conversations. Newman communicates this excellently by sharing principles on how to engage then providing numerous examples of how the principles may look in practice. He never shares things as a formula to memorize, but rather as principles we can embody and learn to contextualize. Each spiritual conversation with an unbeliever is unique, so he invites readers to also provide a unique and personal response. I absolutely loved how Newman’s content and communication style helped me to think outside of the box for my own friendships. Throughout reading this book, I’ve been reflecting on past conversations and relationships where Newman’s approach could have been much more useful. I’m now excited to adopt many of his ideas in future conversations.

My only disappointment of this book came in the second section. Divided into three sections, Newman’s book explores in Part 1 Why Ask Questions?, in Part 2 What Questions Are People Asking?, and in Part 3 Why Aren’t Questions and Answers Enough?. Though I highly enjoyed Part 1 where Newman lays out his principles and appreciated Part 3 where he addresses the limitations of this approach, the chapters in Part 2 appeared out of date. I imagined that the purpose of creating a second edition was to update the original content of the book to become more timely for today’s social issues, but it seems like the editors were lazy and didn’t account for all of the changes that have occurred in our culture since 2004 when the original book was published. This lack of update was highly apparent in the chapter on homosexuality. While the publisher may have made minor edits, the majority of sources cited are now over twenty years old. Only two suggested readings were included that have been written after 2004. Considering how much literature and research has been published in the last decade, it’s a real shame that neither the publisher nor author found it beneficial enough to include anything new. With such a polarizing issue in today’s culture, this chapter needed to be entirely rewritten rather than only minimally edited. What worked in 2004 does not work in 2017. Age throughout the book also showed in the types of illustrations and stories used. Whether another story about September 11th or a reference to the old reality television show Elimidate, a significant number of stories failed to be relevant to the current cultural landscape. If nothing else, they could have changed Al Qaida to ISIS. (Sorry, if that’s a low blow, but hopefully you see my point.)

Overall, I’d recommend Part 1 of this book to all of my Christian friends, also informing them that if they read Part 2 to take everything with a grain of salt.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Link to Book

* A special thanks to Kregel Publications for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Transformed by Christy Wimber

unnamedAfter reading Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life, I feel a bit ambivalent about it. As a pastor who has grown up in the charismatic/Pentecostal tradition, I know firsthand the weak spots of our tradition. Too often, the obstacles that our practices create for faith remain overlooked and ignored. I was hoping Christy Wimber would draw attention and provide insight into these struggles. While she strongly addressed issues such as valuing talent over character, the type of communication in the book demonstrates another missing element in the discipleship structures of many Pentecostal/charismatic churches–intellectual development.

Wimber seems like the kind of person I would love to have coffee with; heck, I’d probably even love going to her church! She seems to exude much wisdom and have a naturally mothering/mentoring presence. This book, however, has many typos, an ambiguous outline, and does not cite necessary sources. Her points–many of which are good!–get lost in lengthy chapters that feel like either many transcripted sermons mashed together or a rambling blog post. This book would have benefited from a strong editor and more time invested into making the writing clear and focused. Thus, I imagine that I would have enjoyed this book when I was a teen without any theological education who had not read much yet. Hence, the source of my ambivalence: at a younger stage in life I may have enjoyed this book, but now it wasn’t really worth my time.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars because I think it may be helpful for others. Overall, I believe in Wimber as a follower of Christ and respect her leadership. I admire her commitment to the Church and fostering maturity within believers. May God continue to move powerfully within her ministry to transform His people into the image of Christ.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Blog Tours in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book Review: Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James

Malestrom-cover-art-borderAs a female pastor, I have a lot of experience thinking about how women are negatively affected by patriarchy–particularly in the church. With Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World, however, Carolyn Custis James cogently articulates the negative impact that patriarchy also has on men. James explores both the biblical text and the contemporary world, studying the plight of men contrasted with the flourishing that comes when men and women participate together in the Blessed Alliance designed by God for humanity.

James’ primary research for Malestrom focuses on the stories of men in Scripture, including Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Barak, Boaz, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus, and Paul. Each of these men had to battle the malestrom, which James’ describes as “the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons,” (18). Through each of their stories, these men find freedom as they break the pull of their culture and participate in the mission of God in the world by partnering with their sisters in the faith in a Blessed Alliance.

For readers wanting more practical solutions to resisting the malestrom, that is not the direct aim of this work. Rather, James brings our attention to discover the currents in our world that entrap men, into which we need to live and proclaim the freeing gospel of Christ. Malestrom is a book to alert our minds and senses to become aware of the problem. It has certainly done such for me and filled me with greater conviction to contextualize the gospel in a way that matters for men who are stuck in the current confines of our culture’s ideals.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Find out more about the book here.

* A special thanks to Zondervan Academic for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Professional Reader

Book Review: Churchless by George Barna and David Kinnaman

411460

After graduating from college in 2012, I entered into a pastoral staff position at a local church. After a few weeks of sitting in the Sunday morning worship services, I suddenly realized that I had zero interest in inviting my unchurched friends to visit. It’s not that our church or worship gatherings were bad, per se, but rather that I knew we were missing the felt needs of unchurched people in our community. Over the past five years, the disconnect between my experience on Sunday mornings and my interactions with unchurched friends seems to be ever-growing. It’s clear to me that our Americanized ways of “doing church” are simply no longer cutting it as we try to engage those both near and far from Christ in the world around us. In Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them, George Barna and David Kinnaman help churchgoers make sense of why we’re unable to reach our neighbors.

In fourteen quick and simple chapters, Barna and Kinnaman explore the qualities that make churched and unchurched people both similar and distinct. The authors affirm most peoples’ experiential knowledge like “the younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is” (17) and provide statistical analysis to prove their claim, yet they also insert new ideas that churched peoples can easily skip over, like the facts that churchless people are more willing to participate with a local church in community service than in a worship service and that single adults constitute one of the largest demographics of churchless people. To conclude the book, Barna and Kinnaman commit the final chapter to presenting some practical steps local churches can make to better reach churchless people in their communities.

Overall, I really enjoyed this work from the Barna Group. I underlined a ton, wrote lengthy notes in the margins, and have brought the information into many conversations with friends. As a person looking into church planting, Churchless has become an invaluable resource material aiding my research. Not only was Barna and Kinnaman’s research informational, it has also been spiritually formative for me as I have prayed while reading and feel even more convicted and compelled to reach beyond the four walls of my local church. After reading just the first chapter, I wrote:

I’m more convinced with this chapter that our churches will be more influential and transformative when they:
1) actively invest in the development and healing of their local communities,
2) prioritize deep, meaningful, and thriving relationships as the center and heartbeat of their communities of faith, and
3) critically engage what it means to follow Christ holistically.

I think that sums up my experience with the book pretty well.

My only somewhat negative critique is that the latter half of the book starts to feel fairly redundant. Regardless, the quality of the content and clear presentation through infographics make this a book that every pastor and church leader will benefit from reading thoroughly.

My final rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Link to Churchless Book

* A special thanks to Tyndale for providing a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Culture Matters by T. M. Moore

In Culture Matters: A Call for Consensus on Christian Cultural Engagement, T. M. Moore advocates that Christians in the 21st century can and must develop a consensus on how to engage culture. (Yes, Moore’s thesis is indeed his subtitle.) Throughout this work, Moore explores five people and/or groups in Christian history whose faith compelled them to participate within their cultures as agents of God’s kingdom. He then extrapolates principles from their approaches and suggests points of application for contemporary followers of Christ–sometimes even including a modern example of contextualization.

In Chapter One, Moore uses St. Augustine’s City of God to present a way that Christians can critique culture, surmising that Augustine was timely, principled, fair, reasoned, theological, evangelical, and a visionary. Chapter Two offers insights from Celtic artists in the Dark Ages on how Christians can forge new culture through art by making certain the message, knowing their media, adopting and adapting, communicating actively and clearly,accepting the challenge of innovation, activating the church, and serving the community. Moore interviews Phil Keaggy as a contemporary example of an effective Christian artist. John Calvin’s innovation in education constitutes the focus of Chapter Three, in which Moore emphasizes the utter necessity of educational reform, instruction must care for the whole person, and that learning must gain a new vision for “renewed selves and a renewed culture” (85). In Chapter Four, Moore assess Abraham Kuyper’s work in cultural reformation, highlighting Kuyper’s teachings that culture matters to God, sin corrupts culture, Christians are called to culture, culture is powerful, Christians must challenge culture, the need to pay attention to contemporary culture, and pursuing culture for the glory of God. Chuck Colson is represented as an example of how Christians can work to reform culture. Finally, Czeslaw Milosz’ poetic writings draw Moore’s attentions in Chapter Five on how Christians can speak prophetically into culture by sharing a message of transcendent truth; exploring everyday encounters and experiences; using questions, propositions, and persuasion; converting people to hope; communicating a transcendent metanarrative; and speaking faithfully. More shares the music of David Wilcox as a contemporary example of prophetic poetry.

Moore’s last chapter concludes, “parameters can be articulated and a variety of forums created to enable significant numbers of believers from all communions of the faithful to realize a common voice and stance toward the making and use of culture in all its forms,” (146). He then offers creative ways for Christians to gain consensus in their communities.

Overall, I agree with Moore’s premise that Christians need to actively work to create a consensus on how to engage our surrounding culture. I appreciated how Moore drew my attention to the work of faithful Christians throughout church history–some of which I knew nothing about. Other reviewers have suggested that a reader needs prior knowledge of these people before reading Culture Matters. I, however, disagree. Though I recommend reading this book slowly in order to gain the most from it, Moore’s explorations of differing cultural engagements provided a nice launching point for deeper study. Now, I am intrigued and desire to study some of these figures more. I also have gained a more perceptive eye to notice instances of Christian cultural engagement–whether beneficial or not–when I come across them in ordinary life.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

51ZvuiPZLYL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Book Link

Book Review: Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach

After Caleb Kaltenbach’s parents divorced when he was a child, they both eventually came out as gay and entered into relationships with people of the same sex. His mother became a strong advocate for the LGBT community, so Caleb grew up marching in Pride parades and engaging in advocacy campaigns himself. He learned to despise Christians, because of how they treated the LGBT community during such events. While in high school, however, Caleb was invited to church and became captivated by Jesus. After a period of time, he chose to follow Jesus, which led him to study and revise how he approached LGBT issues. Now a Christian pastor, Caleb desires for Christians to engage LGBT peoples with grace and compassion while still holding to the orthodox teachings of Scripture.

Throughout Messy Grace, Kaltenbach weaves his family’s story in with the message of the Christian gospel. Nearly every chapter begins with a personal story that leads into a passage from Scripture, then concludes with another kind of practical connection pertaining to the focus of the chapter’s message. Kaltenbach also includes questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter.

Overall, this book was rather underwhelming for me. I picked this book up, because I was intrigued by Kaltenbach’s own experience. Though Kaltenbach tells his story, he basically only tells a portion in order to set up his main point. It feels, at times, like a disconnected teacher who has to conclude every story by saying, “The moral of the story is…” I think I would have enjoyed this book more if it were only constructed differently, so that each chapter didn’t feel like a tempered sermon. I also would be more interested in a kind of biography or memoir about his experience rather than an instructional book for practical living.

My final takeaways:

  • Messy Grace is most beneficial for Christians beginning the process of learning to engage LGBT communities. Kaltenbach writes, primarily, for Christians who need their worldview shifted because of their predisposition to reject LGBT peoples. Thus, for someone with zero LGBT friends or someone who needs to start with their first book on the subject, I think Kaltenbach’s is an excellent choice and would be a real winner.
  • For Christians who have been immersed in studying how to care well for the LGBT community, this book is mediocre. Kaltenbach does not say anything new, nor does he go very deep. Though I did not glean a whole lot personally, I’m glad I read it, so I know what other laypersons may be reading and can recommend a starting point for beginners.
  • Though I consider the book just okay, I AM very interested in the video series that Kaltenbach is releasing for small groups. The preliminary videos I’ve seen appear to be well-produced and dig deeper into the topic. You can find this series here: https://www.cityonahillstudio.com/messygrace

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

51jQNBI+W3L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Book Link

*A special thanks to Waterbrook Press for giving me a complimentary copy of Messy Grace in exchange for my honest review.