My favorite books to review in 2013

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Yesterday I shared some of my favorite books to read in 2013 (many of which I reviewed). Today, I want to share a few of my favorite books to review.

(And no, this isn’t a case of “I just liked so many books I couldn’t limit the list,” as you’ll see in a minute.)

These are not all books I enjoyed, nor are they all books I’d recommend you read yourself. But all were books that challenged me in some way as I tried to figure out how to best review them, whether because of disagreements with the content or because the genre was something I’d never tackled before. Simply, they were some of the books that let me exercise my critical thinking skills.

So, with that in mind, here are the reviews I most enjoyed writing in 2013:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Why’d it make the list? Being familiar with Evans’ work, I knew I wasn’t likely to agree with her conclusions in the book from the get-to. But the challenge here was finding ways to articulate my disagreement in a way that would be helpful and appreciate the good points of the book.

One of my concluding lines was “On some points, A Year of Biblical Womanhood offers some extremely helpful insights. On others, though, it comes across as petty and juvenile,” so I’m not sure how well I succeeded there.

Mapping the Origins Debate by Gerald Rau

Why’d it make the list? While the book is a bit stuffy in its writing style (it skews academic), its subject matter is too important not to give careful consideration. I’ve seen attempt to present a balanced view of the major positions on human origins. Rau did a very good job of this, as well as pointing out the often overlooked role of our presuppositions in interpreting scientific data.

Clear Winter Nights by Trevin Wax

Why’d it make the list? Trevin’s book is one of the first serious attempts I’ve made at reviewing a work of fiction. In fact, it might actually be the first fiction book I’ve reviewed. And any time I need to start a review writing, “Clear Winter Nights is not an ugly book,” I think it means I had some thinking to do.

Does God Listen to Rap? by Curtis Allen

Why’d it make the list? Because controversial subjects require a lot of thought. Allen clearly worked hard to address the concerns about Christian rap from a biblical perspective and his arguments require careful consideration.

God’s Good Design by Claire Smith

Why’d it make the list? This book had almost the opposite problem of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Because I’m in agreement with the arguments made by the author, I still needed to figure out how to think through these with a degree of objectiveness. Again, not sure how well I succeeded there, so you’ll have to be the judge.

The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado

Why’d it make the list? Mostly because reviewing a book geared toward children is incredibly challenging. At the risk of being obvious, writing a book for kids isn’t the same as writing for adults. There’s more nuance you can include in a book for big people that doesn’t work well with little ones. Nevertheless, I think I stand by my conclusion: “A gospel-driven book, this is not; but it is an opening to a gospel conversation with your kids. And if that’s what Lucado set out to do, then he’s succeeded admirably.”

A Call to Resurgence by Mark Driscoll

Why’d it make the list? This was, far and away, the most challenging review I wrote all year for me personally. I found myself with a large list of concerns, as well as a number of things I appreciated about the book—which, in hindsight, actually were some of my concerns!

So those were a few of my favorite books to review. Although a number of them are books I’d probably recommend you not read, hopefully checking out the reviews will help you understand why I like the process of reviewing so much.

If We're Not Worth Saving…

…then why does God save anyone?

That’s been the question my review of Max Lucado’s latest book has been raising over at Amazon.

One commenter wrote,

I disagree with the view that “There isn’t anything in us particularly worth saving.” There is something in us worth saving. That is why he saves us. He sees his image. That is what he saw in Peter. That is what he saw in the adulterous woman. That is what he saw in John and the thief on the cross. We need Jesus because we have destroyed that image. He loves us greatly. He does see something in us.

And another

How sad for you that you don’t believe Jesus sees anything in you worth saving. If we are so completely worthless, why does He bother? For kicks? Just to show off His power? Of course not. He does it because He loves us and because we are ALL worth saving.

These two commenters—like all who would hold to that position—are obviously very sincere in their belief that Jesus saves because we’re worth it somehow. Maybe God sees Himself in us, so He feels He has to intervene, or we’ve got something good in us…

Now here’s the thing. I appreciate the sincerity of their belief; I also get why it irks them so much—it’s an incredibly offensive thing to say that none of us are worth saving in God’s eyes.

However, as sincerely held as this belief might be, it’s also sincerely wrong.

Nowhere in the entirety of Scripture are we told that God saves us because we’re worth saving. We’re actually told the opposite. [Read more…]

Book Review: Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

Title: Outlive Your Life
Author: Max Lucado
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

Some time ago, I was in the president’s office at a Christian NGO and noticed a new book on his desk. Making conversation, I asked, “What’s that one about?” It’s about the Christian’s responsibility in areas of poverty and injustice, he said. I made a mental note and determined to give it a read.

A couple weeks later, I began to read Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado. Over the course of 16 chapters, Lucado loosely examines the first twelve chapters of Acts in an attempt to show readers how they “were made to make a difference” in the lives of impoverished men, women and children around the globe.

Christian books on social justice and caring for the poor are tricky things. There’s a tendency to turn a God-honoring act into “God’s mandate” for the Christian life. A false gospel based around our work, rather than Christ’s work on the cross.

So where does Outlive Your Life land?

A weird place.

First, what did I like about this book?

Lucado is a very fast-paced writer; his style is easy-going, light and conversational. The plus side of this is that it makes this book a very quick read. The chapters are short (usually no more than about 4-5 pages) and you can breeze through it in a couple hours.

Lucado’s use of illustrations from everyday life help makes his subject matter come alive. He generally portrays himself as a bit of a goober, so you get the impression that he’s just a regular guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time (but when he puts his pants on, he sells hundreds of thousands of books).

When it comes down to the content, I greatly appreciated chapter 15, “Pray first; pray most.” This section in particular was a strong reminder of the importance of prayer and why everything we do, if we are followers of Christ, should be saturated with prayer.

Additionally, I did appreciate the idea behind the chapter, “Don’t write anyone off.” There’s no one that God can’t save—so why would we write off anyone as “unsave-able” when God is capable of doing more than we can imagine? After all, He saved Paul, who persecuted the Church & murdered Christians and used him as His instrument to spread the gospel throughout Asia Minor, and into Rome.

Now, having said that, there is a lot that concerned me about Outlive Your Life.

Some of it’s just goofy, like a strangely graphic description of a temple guard on page 78 (that I’m not entirely sure is historically accurate) that wouldn’t seem out of place in the movie 300. There’s some creative speculation into biblical stories in an attempt to engage readers… But there’s also this prevalent notion that sound doctrine isn’t as important as actions and working together for the common good. [Read more…]

Book Review: Fearless

Title: Fearless
Author:Max Lucado
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Can you imagine a life without fear?

That’s the question posed by Max Lucado’s latest, Fearless.

It was with some trepidation that I dug into Fearless. The last time I read one of his books, it was painfully squishy—big on feelings, light on content. And I honestly expected another squishy book about how we’re all snowflakes and God loves us with a love not unlike sappy teen romance  (this does show up—once—when Lucado writes about how “[God] can’t stop thinking about you!” in chapter 2).

What I got instead was a book that actually provides the answer to overcoming our biggest fears: Jesus. Over the course of 14 chapters, Lucado emphatically states that it’s only when we take our eyes off of Christ that fear overcomes us, and it’s only as we focus on Him that we have the ability to overcome fear.

I was impressed by Lucado’s boldness in the final two chapters.  He (rightly) names someone as a false prophet, and he gives a great definition of false teacher: One who fails to direct his or her listeners to Jesus, maximizing the role of humanity at His expense.

That’s a huge deal, and a much needed reminder for all of us today to be, in his words, “doctrinally diligent” (p. 155).

He also boldly asserts that there is one healthy terror that we need: The Fear of the Lord. Many of us lack this, and instead have created a god-of-our-own-imagining, who won’t call us out for our sin, who will only pat our heads and tell us things will be okay, but has no power. Instead, we need to embrace the God of the Bible, our fears are less powerful. Because “[w]hen Christ is great, our fears are not” (p. 169).

Bravo, sir.

So, the real question: Would I recommend Fearless?

Particularly on the strength of the final two chapters, I would. It’s a book that, ultimately, directs people to Christ as the true answer to overcoming fear. It’s not a perfect book (none of our books are, after all), but it’s one that I believe many will find profitable.

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca