I am often asked about what I am reading. I shall use this page to let you know my thoughts, both favorable and unfavorable, on the books I am reading. I am a slow reader so this will not be a very dynamic page. The most recently read and reviewed books will be at the top. Peace, Pastor Bruce
Not all book my reviews are going to be glowingly favorable. That is the case today; I am reviewing a book that I am not recommending. I recently read Getting the Garden Right by Richard C. Barcellos. I studied this book with a group of pastors who meet once a month. This is the fourth book we have finished since I arrived in Arkport in February of 2017. This book, like the other three books before it, is focused on the distinctions between and definitions of Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology and Progressive Covenant Theology. The book is a theological workout, but the workout is very focused. It is kind of like going to the gym and only working on one muscle group.
There were two discussion threads in this book that I found informative. First, there was the rich discussion on whether or not there was a Covenant of Works that governed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Second, there was the discussion as to whether or not Christians are obliged to observe the (a) Sabbath. Our group did a video tele-conference with the author to discuss points in his book that were difficult to grasp or with which we strongly disagreed. He is a very thoughtful Bible scholar and argued for his position with grace and deep regard for the authority of Scripture.
Devotions for a Sacred Marriage: A Year of Weekly Devotions for Couples by Gary Thomas. I usually avoid recommending books I haven’t actually finished reading. I am making an exception for this book., because I really do not wish to wait an entire year to share my enthusiasm. Dede and I are going through this book together. As the title suggest, we cover just one devotion a week. Each week seems to bring a different spiritual lens for inspecting one’s own inner motivations and thought processes that can either gum up or bless the marriage relationship. One chapter I especially enjoyed reminded the reader that his or her spouse is God’s adopted daughter or adopted son and to treat them accordingly, or the Father would be displeased. Dede and I both read the same chapter at about the same time, but we do not read it out loud to each other. We often discuss the chapter, but sometimes we just comment on whether or not we agreed with its premise or found it thought provoking. Each devotional is a mere three or four pages long. Like all devotionals, it is impossible to get a lot out of them if you do not genuinely put something into them. But, if you approach each chapter with a relaxed and open mind, this book may be a great help in bringing new found tenderness and understanding into a marriage relationship.
To be honest, Dede and I have given this book away to our adult children and the feedback we have received so far has been less enthusiastic than my own. So, it may not be a great gift for millennials.
I really enjoyed Eric Metaxas’ book “7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness.” Eric Metaxas writes in an easy to read manner, for which I am very grateful. I think I most enjoyed and was most inspired by his mini-biographies of William Wilberforce and Jackie Robinson. Before reading these mini-biographies, which included one on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I had read Metaxas’ full length biography of Bonhoeffer. I appreciate how Metaxas recast the large biography into 23 pages of mini-biography. It gives me confidence that each of the mini-biographies are well considered and well crafted. The other persons covered in this book are George Washington, Eric Liddell, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson. The story on each of them was inspiring and memorably written.
Rowan Williams’ What is Christianity? is a booklet more than a book. It opening chapter is a useful lens on how non-churched people might see the culture of Christianity. If you choose to read and reflect on this booklet, it will say more than if you scan it for powerful declarative statements.
The author organizes his subtly made argument around the idea that Jesus inaugurates his earthly ministry in the Gospel of John with a question and then an invitation: “What do you seek?” (John 1:37) and “Come and see” (John 1:39). This question and invitation is the beginning of spiritual wisdom today, just as they were two thousand years ago.
One of my favorite excerpts from the book is “The story of Jesus…is not just an epiphany – a revelation of glory and no more – and it’s not just a commandment or a set of instructions dropped down from heaven. It’s a manifestation of radiant beauty that lands in our world in the form of a profound moral challenge, because it’s a revelation of active love that dissolves fear.” (p.52)
David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church …And Rethinking Faith (BakerBooks, 2011) is an excellent read. Kinnaman with Aly Hawkins do a tremendous job of using data and anecdotes to explain the struggle that churched-millennials have with the formal established church. True to his Barna Group background, Kinnaman relies on statistically significant facts to inform his expressed opinions, but only after interviews with large numbers of individuals corroborate causal relationships. The book is spiritual, thoughtful, easy to read and actionable. I found this book to be enormously encouraging. The punchline line for me is that millennials are not “failed Baby Boomers.” Millennials are vastly different from Baby Boomers and in many ways are closer the values of the Gospel than the established church they are abandoning. The Body of Christ would be greatly strengthened if we could find a path(s) for welcoming, celebrating, empowering millennial Christ-believers and their perspectives on how to authentically live out Christ-centered lives of faith in the modern culture.
Stephen Wellum and Brent Parker’s Progressive Covenantalism. This book was used for a book study by a group of about 14 local pastors. Apart from that group, I cannot think of a single person to whom I would recommend this book. The book has many contributing authors, all weighing in on the debate between Convenantalism and Dispensationalism. I do not generally find this theological debate of sufficient pastoral importance to devote so much time to it. The book was hard to grasp, mainly because most of the contributing authors advanced their arguments through allusions to the work of other writers, who have devoted themselves to explaining/debating Covenantalism and/or Dispensationalism. Since I was unfamiliar with the referenced authors and their arguments, I usually missed how the discussion was being set up and contextualized. That said, worship with my fellow pastors was fantastic and I learned a lot from them on the debate topic, even if I did not learn it from the book directly.
May McNeer and Lynd Ward’s John Wesley. This is a truly excellent book written for thoughtful youths. It’s about 100 pages and has excellent artwork. It is historically rich and very inspiring. I greatly enjoyed reading this book and feel as though I learned and experienced a lot through it. I have purchased a copy to share with children of the church. I highly commend it.
Sam Storms’ Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life has been an excellent read for me. The book is intended for people just like me. That is to say, the book is intended for people who believe that the Holy Spirit probably operates today much in the same way the Holy Spirit operated in the Book of Acts, but who do not have rich first hand experiences of Holy Spirit empowerment to corroborate that understanding. The book is Scriptural, theological, and richly anecdotal. It offers practical advice and is full of cautions of how things can go badly when human weakness and error enter in. It has a reverence and candor that make it a most pleasant educational read. I recommend reading this book before praying for Holy Spirit led revival. Since I DO recommend praying for Holy Spirit led revival, I recommend reading this book.
Carl Medearis’ Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships, is a bit of a God-sighting for me. In the Fall of 2016, I found myself dwelling on the recent spree of terrorist attacks conducted in the name of Islamic jihad. I developed a rather negative heart towards the religion whose name was being used to justify these evil atrocities. One Sunday morning, before worship, I felt a conviction that God was displeased by my negative heart. That very Sunday morning, at church, my friend Robyn was selling Medearis’ book in the back of the sanctuary (gymnasium). Robyn is a friend of the author and commended the book to me. The book was a blessing in changing my heart. My thoughts have not been altered very much, but how I hold those thoughts sure has. If you are feel convicted about how you think about Muslims, I commend this book for your consideration.
Steven Tracy’s Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse is a powerful book for group discussion. It is one of those books that comes with DVDs and workbooks and is intended for a group of students with a commitment to the program and to each other. The group works best when the facilitator is both a gifted individual and has already been through the course at least once. I went through an abbreviated program in the Summer of 2016. It was heart wrenching to be surrounded by so many people I knew and cared for who had suffered terrible abuse (usually sexual abuse but not only that). I have come to the opinion that our churches must be filled with people who have been viciously victimized and who bravely managed to put a veneer over their scars to keep other people from seeing their wounds. Sadly, the veneer does not support healing, and so they often find themselves living perpetually wounded and wounding lives. This book and study is not for the faint of heart and it should probably not be read in isolation. That said, this book if a powerful resource for those who need healing from abuse or who wish to aid someone in their healing.