Book Review — The Very Good Gospel

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right by Lisa Sharon Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lisa Sharon Harper has one of the best calls to “SHALOM” I’ve read in quite some time. She is in the vein of Walter Brueggemann, who writes the introduction for her book.

Harper tackles the issue of the depth of the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t about individual salvation alone but the work to see God restoring what he has longed for in humanity all along: SHALOM. This isn’t about us getting saved so we can get to heaven. This is about us joining God again in his GLORIOUS work in this world. Through the work of the Gospel we can see shalom truly restored, but we have to get in our own spirits the understanding of the worth of ALL humanity and how Christ’s love can direct us in this work.

From regaining worth of self to relationships to genders to races to the physical world to the nations, Harper lays out the heart of God in each situation. It is an incredibly challenging read. One that I found refreshing for my spirit.

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Book Review — The Church as Movement

When it comes to team building beyond the silly exercises of doing an obstacle course together or having some “trust fall” experience go bad on you, there is the need to actually build a team. When it comes to building a church planting team so a church is built on the basis of discipleship, there is a need to have training in place that is more than the pragmatics of how a Sunday service will go. Read more

Book Review: My God and My All: The Life of St. Francis of Assisi

The Feast of St. Francis was this past Sunday in many liturgical churches. On the heels of Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S., it seemed a bit more meaningful, I am sure. I also was finishing up a reprint and updated edition of My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Elizabeth Goudge. The book was initially published in the 1950s. Plough Publishing updated the edition and I received a review copy from Handlebar Marketing.

The Feast of St. Francis is commemorated through the blessing of the pets. Francis was known for his communication to animals. It’s a bit sad, for me, that this is the main way we choose to remember Francis. He was a man who surrendered everything. He stripped himself, literally, to take up the call of following Christ. He learned to completely rely on the generosity of others and in turn became generous with what was passed through his hands.

He set up orders for men, women, and laity so all could follow Christ in simplicity. He was involved in one of the Crusades, trying to mediate between the Muslim and Christian armies.

The book is written in a novel style and is very readable.

It is a fresh reminder of radical obedience. Francis readily admitted that God would demand sacrifice of him beyond his capability, but that was where he found the strength of the Lord. It was in holy obedience he best found the presence of God.

A good reminder.

Book Review — The Art of Pastoring

The Art of Pastoring (Revised Edition) by David Hansen.

I have had the first edition of The Art of Pastoring on my shelf for several years and picked at it a couple of times, but never got into it for one reason or another. The revised edition allowed me a fresh look, and it is a look I have enjoyed. There are no firm answers in this book, and I have found in over 25 years of ministry that anyone claiming to have answers just hasn’t been in ministry long enough. Hansen sets the myth of “having all the answers” aside and just gives us real life stories.

Most of his stories come from his rural pastorates in Montana, but I found the stories applicable in my own urban setting.

The refreshing attraction to Hansen’s book is his incredible honesty. I found my story in this book.

When he describes his calling to ministry, he said his first desire was to be a history teacher.

“I had two options. I could be a history teacher; I couldn’t be a pastor. One was possible, the other was impossible. Since being a pastor was impossible, I decided to do that. I prayed: ‘Lord, being a pastor is impossible, so if you will be with me all the way to help me, I will be a pastor.'”

That is so similar to my own calling it was uncanny. I had grown up planning on being a historian or a journalist. When I was called into ministry on a student missions trip my senior year in high school, I was completely thrown off. No one else was surprised, but I was totally shocked. It was, to me, the impossible.

For those with a few years in ministry, this book is a great encouragement. For those going into ministry, this book is a MUST read. 

I teach in a college that has about half the students preparing for Christian ministry. They are fed dreams of megachurches. When I get any opportunity to pour into their lives in a practical level, I try to temper those dreams with the realities of living life in a much different way. It is a life that can be enjoyed

The Art of Pastoring (Revised Edition) by David Hansen was sent to me for review by InterVarsity Press. I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

Book Review: The Journey of Ministry

The Journey of Ministry: Insights from a Life of Practice is a book written from a wealth of experience. Eddie Gibbs takes us on a journey through his life in ministry. His life has varied from pastoral to missions to teaching in a seminary and it is wealth of experience from which to draw.

The book is formatted on single pictures that he develops into deeper, more nuanced thoughts in each chapter. The chapters are simple one word titles: “Walking,” “Dying,” “Hurdling,” etc.

But each chapter draws on that illustration and takes us into a deeper journey. In “Walking” it is the thought that in a life of ministry you don’t “lead” people in a military way. You walk with them. It’s a long journey. Do it together.

When he talks about “Dying,” one of the insights he draws from is learning when something in ministry should die. There are times when churches may need to legitimately close the doors and allow something they loved have a decent funeral so that something new can spring up. One of the most powerful experiences I remember in the life of a friend of mine was watching him lead his church through that exact process. The church spent a season of prayer together and they all reached the same conclusion: It was time to close the doors and allow God to do something fresh and new. It was a journey that was incredibly hard, but I watched my friend come through it with the power of the Spirit.

Gibbs’ gift as a teacher comes through in the writing. He gives wonderful personal experiences, but he is methodical and walks through each experience to teach specific ideas and give practical helps.

For me, it reads differently than hearing from someone who has pastored their entire career, but that doesn’t make it inferior to other books I am drawing from right now. It’s just a different style.

I find this a helpful book in my current stage of ministry, and I think it is useful for younger ministers to take Gibbs’ thoughts and learn from someone who has made a lifelong commitment to ministry. It is a wealth of information in a few pages.

This review is written without obligation to be “positive.” The book was sent as a review copy to me, compliments of InterVarsity Press.
The Journey of Ministry: Insights from a Life of Practice

Book Review: A Century Turns

A Century Turns is claiming to be the “third volume” of Bill Bennett’s work on American history. Many favorable reviews are calling a must read for high schoolers. I am not as quick to put it in that category. I am not as quick to put this book in the same category as his other two books on American history.

The first two volumes were much more objective. This book is far more of an analysis. Bennett is very much in the middle of many events that took place in the past 20 years and does not offer a dispassionate voice on these issues. This is more political commentary than history.

As political commentary for conservatives, I highly recommend it. It is a review of the past 20 years as you will like to remember it. I was amazed at just how much has changed in the past 20 years. The thought that I certainly wouldn’t be “blogging” 20 years ago, or “emailing”, or “surfing the net,” is incredible. Time and technology has accelerated.

What has also changed is the dispassionate view of history. There is a need to interject our own views, especially if we have lived through those events. This is Bennett’s viewpoint. It is not straight historical record, so I was disappointed in that sense. While I read the book as a “volume three,” since that was how it was advertised, I was quickly disappointed. For commentary, it’s a good conservative book. For history, it is disappointing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: “The Voice” New Testament

“The Voice” is a New Testament translation coming from Thomas Nelson.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This is a new translation that will eventually include the Old Testament. The translation work combines the work of scholars and artists. This translation has as its stated goal to be a work for ” a church in great transition.” What is different about this translation is they combine translation scholarship with the work of authors, musicians, and other artists to make a translation that is incredibly flowing and easy to read. They actually call it a “literary project.” The goal is to get people back into the Word of God.

The format is interesting. They will put in blocks of writing that help explain the text. It has a flow that makes it much more readable than a commentary, and it does a good job setting the context for the reader. They are also faithful to translation work, in that if they added phrases within the text that are not in the original languages, they italicized them so readers will know this is something just to help explain the text a little better.

It is also written like a movie script. Dialogue is set off by marking the person speaking at the beginning of the verse. It doesn’t really detract from the reading.

I am a translation junkie, but with our recent translation “wars” over the TNIV, ESV, etc., I was leery of looking at another translation. I was especially leery when I noticed some of the names (not translators) attached to the project. What theological damage they could have done to the text seems minimal at this point. I may discover it on another reading. The translators used are solid, in my opinion. For my own ministry, if I had this translation, it would be useful to give to people who had never read the Bible, or had a hard time getting into the story. This translation is helpful.

Book Review: Enjoying Prayer

One of my heroes in the faith is Calvin Olson. Calvin was a missionary to southern Asia for many years. When I knew him he was retired as a missionary and traveled throughout our state with our district superintendent to conduct monthly prayer and fasting days. Every fall prayer retreat before he passed away, you could find Calvin Olson there.

One of the last things I remember Calvin saying was this: “I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to prayer meetings.” The man loved to pray and you could tell. Talking to Calvin was like talking to God. I’m serious.

My friend, Kevin Senapatiratne of Christ Connection Ministries, has come out with a book that will help all of us become addicted to prayer meetings, and prayer. (Don’t try and pronounce that last name unless you are from Sri Lanka.)

Kevin’s book is called Enjoying Prayer: Launching Your God Adventure. It is completely accessible. Each chapter is short and its intentional. Read a chapter and try it out. It’s a good strategy. Kevin proposes different strategies to really make prayer real… and, well, enjoyable. He tries all kinds of crazy things in prayer. He even named his dog after a TV personality because he is praying on a consistent basis for that TV personality. What a way to remember to pray for someone! (I’ll name my hamster Paris.)

Each chapter concludes with a “Next Step Question” and a prayer idea. It’s a great work to help people launch into the JOY of prayer!

Does Capitalism Do Better With an Enemy?

There is a new book, among many to come, discussing the current financial collapse. This paragraph of the review stuck out to me:

Once upon a time in America and Britain, he observes, “the jet engine of capitalism was harnessed to the ox cart of social justice, to much bleating from the advocates of pure capitalism, but with the effect that the Western liberal democracies became the most admired societies that the world had ever seen.”

Then the Wall crumbled, and “the jet engine was unhooked from the ox cart and allowed to roar off at its own speed. The result was an unprecedented boom, which had two big things wrong with it: It wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t sustainable.”

He is talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall. It seems that the thesis is that capitalism was fine when there was a communist enemy because it forced capitalism to be “kinder.” The system of capitalism is designed to raise money and make money… lots of it. But when we battled communism as an ideal, there were things we did as capitalists that gave money to key parts of the world. We had more philanthropy and it was the envy of the world.

Now, without any “enemy,” capitalism just took off and the rich got richer and looked for ways to just keep getting richer. It’s an interesting thought. I’m not sure that is where the author is going, but it’s how the review sounds.