Friday, December 30, 2011

My Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2011

I read a lot of books in 2011. Most of them were really good, so it was really hard to pick my top 10, but here they are. Be sure to check out my Top 10 Fiction Books of 2011 also.

10. Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson (Bethany House 2011) EARTHEN VESSELS was one of the most interesting books I've ever read and one of the most thought-provoking. Anderson takes us on an exploration of the importance of our physical bodies to life and to our journey with God. The book explores the topics of sex, tattoos, homosexuality, death, and more. Everyone should read this book. (Read my review here)

9. You Lost Me by David Kinnaman (Baker Books 2011) As someone who has worked with the young adult age group in a church context, as well as someone in that age group, I found Kinnaman's findings insightful and incredible helpful to churches wanting to reach disconnected young adults, as well as helping them develop a faith that pervades all facets of their lives. Definitely a book to read again and again. (Read my review )

The Christian Faith by Michael Horton (Zondervan 2011) Horton's systematic theology is a moving exploration of the most important tenets of Christianity. It's a big book, but it's interesting throughout. (Read my review here)

7. Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan (Baker Books 2011) The violence in the Old Testament has always been a struggle for me, but Copan explores the issue and shows the love God extends toward humanity. If you've struggled with how God is portrayed in the Old Testament versus the New Testament, this is a book you'll want to check out. (Read my review here)

6. Innocent Blood by John Ensor (Cruciform Press 2011) This book is about the biblical stance on abortion, but it's also much more than that. INNOCENT BLOOD is a call for believers to stand up for the innocent and to protect human life. This is a very challenging book in that you may discover that you're pro-life theoretically, but pro-choice in practice. Ensor brilliantly explores the depths of God's care for human life. (Read my review here)

5. The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry (Portfolio 2011) Henry outlines a very practical creative process for generating ideas consistently and repeatedly. The ideas in this book are incredibly revolutionary if you're a creative. (Read my review here)

4. Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore (Crossway 2011) Jesus' temptations in the desert has always been one of my favorite stories about Jesus from the Bible, and Moore shows us how Jesus' temptations show us the pattern of our own temptations and how to defeat them. Moore's writing is fresh and transparent. This is a much needed exploration of the biblical battle against temptation. (Read my review here)

3. Quitter by Jon Acuff (Lampo Press 2011) QUITTER is about closing the gap between your day job and your dream job. Using his humorous wit, Acuff shows us how to discover the dream that's been locked inside of us and gives us great encouragement and practical advice on how to make our dreams a reality. QUITTER is an incredible book that I'll turn to over and over again. (Read my review here)

2. Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson (Crossway 2011) GOSPEL WAKEFULNESS is a beautiful look at what the gospel is to us when everything else in our lives is stripped away. Wilson reveals how the gospel comes alive to us like never before, producing greater love for the God who rescued us. I especially enjoyed the chapter on gospel-centered sanctification. This book is brilliant. (Read my review here)

1. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy & Kathy Keller (Dutton Books 2011) I love every book that Timothy Keller writes, so when I learned that he was releasing a book on marriage, I knew it would have to be incredible. Keller writes with amazing insight both into the biblical teaching on marriage and the culture of people he's writing to. Keller illustrates God's beautiful purpose for marriage brilliantly, and reading this book with a commitment to applying its principles will strengthen marriages and provide a strong foundation for singles looking to get married in the future. (Read my review here)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Review of CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM by F. Leroy Forlines

I've had an interest in the divine sovereignty/human freedom debate for a long time, and though I don't subscribe to either Calvinism or Arminianism because those systems each entail some beliefs I think are unbiblical, I'm always interested to read what their proponents have to say because it helps me to understand and sharpen my stance on the theological issues involved. CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM by F. Leroy Forlines is one of the best books I've read on the subject and is a clear, thorough, and compelling case for a specific branch of Arminianism that seeks to be as close to what Jacob Arminius himself taught called Classical Arminianism.

Classical Arminianism, like Calvinism, seeks to be faithful to what the Bible teaches, and this book does a great job at looking at many of the key passages that have to do with the divine sovereignty/human freedom questions. Because Calvinists are the ones most often writing books defending their views, CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM often reads like a defense against Calvinism more than a defense of Arminianism. Since this is expected based on the nature of the debate, it didn't bother me. I thought Forlines did an exceptional job of deconstructing many Calvinistic arguments.

Forlines presents a case based on the reality of created human personality and how persons interact through influence and response rather than cause and effect. He shows Romans 9 to be about individual election instead of corporate election, but also shows that the text doesn't require the unconditional election interpretation that Calvinists place upon it. He does this for several other passages as well, while also showing that these same passages are consistent with conditional election.

The book also includes some very illuminating discussion of the provisionary nature of the atonement and justification. The chapter on sanctification was one of my favorites. Finally, where I definitively part ways with Classical Arminianianism is the stance that it is possible for a believer to lose their salvation, though Forlines makes a very interesting and thought-provoking case for his position.

CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM is an excellent outline of what Arminianism as Arminius himself is. I have more in common with Classical Arminianism than I do Calvinism, and I appreciated Forlines very thorough treatment of the issues. Wherever you stand on the divine sovereignty/human freedom debate, this is a must-read exploration of the issues.

I received this book for free for review from Randall House

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Review of THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE by Timothy Keller

“There has never been a book on marriage like THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE.” This blurb on the inside dust jacket of Timothy Keller's latest book, co-written with his wife Kathy, is exactly right. Keller, using his usual use of words to communicate important concepts in fresh and stirring ways, elevates marriage to the place that the Bible elevates it.

In a world where marriage is often treated as something to be tried out and thrown away if left unsatisfying, Keller shows how marriage is actually an incredible gift to humanity and an important way for people to grow into the people God desires them to be. Marriage, though at times difficult, is meant to provide some of the greatest joy that two people can experience, as well as some of the most beneficial growth contexts.

Keller takes us on a journey through some of the most prevalent misconceptions about marriage and how important our perceptions are in how we approach marriage. Using the most important biblical texts on marriage, Keller shows us how marriage is meant to draw us closer to the heart of God and reflect the incredible love and sacrifice of Jesus. For marriage to thrive, Keller tells us, we have to put our inherent self-centeredness to death. In fact, self-centeredness is the number threat to a healthy marriage.

Keller shows us the power of grace, love, and truth in marriage as we learn to love someone who is really a stranger who we are discovering more and more of throughout the relationship. He shows how the biblical view of marriage is marriage as covenant, and he makes a compelling case for commitment and promise-keeping as a means to deeper love, stronger passion, and closer friendship.

I picked up THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE as a husband and as a follower of Jesus. I've been married to my wife for eight years, and I can say that she makes me better than I could be on my own. Desiring to always grow as a husband, father, and Christ follower, I found THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE to be insightful, biblical, and incredibly motivating to follow Jesus more and to pursue my wife even more.

Timothy Keller has been one of my favorite writers since I read his first book THE REASON FOR GOD a few years ago. THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE is an important book both for married couples and singles wanting a biblical and life-giving view of marriage.

I received this book for free for review from Dutton, a division of Penguin Books

Monday, December 26, 2011

Pursuing Your Dreams: A Review of QUITTER by Jon Acuff

For many people there’s a gap between what they’re currently doing for a living and what they wish they were doing for a living. Jon Acuff in his book QUITTER calls this the gap between your day job and your dream job. Acuff was once a chronic job quitter, never finding exactly what he was looking for. Until he decided to use his day job as the perfect opportunity to work toward his dream job, closing the gap between his day job and his dream job.

Acuff, who writes a funny blog about the idosyncracies of Christians called Stuff Christians Like, takes us on the journey of how he attained his dream job writing for Dave Ramsey’s company, and along the journey he gives some great advice on how people can grow to like a job you don’t love and to hustle your way toward making your dream job a reality.

QUITTER is packed with incredible insight on how to discover what it is you most love doing and how to get to the point where that is what you’re doing for a living. The only drawback to the book is that people who are creatively oriented, such as writers, will probably find this more helpful than other people who don’t feel led to a creatively-oriented job. I love writing, so I found the book to be great for pursuing that dream.

Still, QUITTER is encouraging to discover your dream and how to work toward it. Plus, Acuff is funny all the way through. It's definitely a book I'll turn to again and again.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Longing: A Christmas Short Story

christmas light #2

Imagine that you're waking up on the floor of a hospital hallway. It's completely dark and completely silent, except for the distant sounds of medical machines beeping. You have the distinct feeling that someone is after you.

You get up off the floor and pull out your cell phone to use as a light to navigate the darkness. You start going into all the rooms, looking for somebody, but you discover that the hospital is completely empty of people. Except for you and the person you suspect is after you.

You start running down the halls, desperately looking for an exit, but it seems like the halls are never ending. Finally, you find a door with an EXIT sign above it. You go through the door, but instead of finding yourself outside, you find yourself in the exact spot where you woke up in the hospital.

You try to stay calm. There has to be a way out of this. You're not sure that someone is after you, but you just have that feeling. You suddenly hear a beeping noise coming from your hand. It's your phone. Your battery is low. You only have a few more minutes before your light goes out and leaves you in the darkness.

You're ready to throw the phone against the wall in a fit of frustration when you hear the sound of someone moving twenty feet behind you. Instinctively, you know this can't be good. Your fight-or-flight reflexes take over and you're running through the hospital hallways again, hoping you don't run into a wall in the blackness.

You run for what seems like miles, and you finally feel that you might have gotten away, so you stop. You bend over, trying to catch your breath, listening for movement. Everything is silent once again. Your phone beeps again to tell you that it's almost time to say goodbye. You try to fight the panicky feeling rising up inside of you.

In the darkness, you're desperate for light, for something good in the midst of all the bad. Someone to rescue you. From what, you're not sure.

You shine your light all around you because you feel like you need to, and you stop because up ahead you see a person facing away from you, dressed in all black. The person is wearing a ski mask. They're not moving at all. This has to be who is after you. You know you should run, but you're sick of running. It hasn't gotten you anywhere.

You're suddenly overcome with this need to find out who this person is and why they're after you. So, silently and quickly you walk toward them and reach out to pull the mask off. As you're pulling it, the person turns around and you shine the light in their face. Actually, in your face, because it's you that you've just discovered is after you.

Suddenly you realize that the person after you is yourself, but specifically the person is the one thing that has always haunted you. More than just something you've ever done, but something you've always felt you've been missing that your soul desperately needs. It's the one thing that keeps you from being satisfied with life. It's the need for something to fill the hole inside of you. And now it's turned into a person with your face on it, and it's after you.

Suddenly the instinct to run kicks in again, and the person who is you begins chasing after you. The closer you get to yourself, the more you feel the burning longing inside for something you're not sure of, but you know is really good.

It's the one thing you need. It's the one thing that will stop you from being your own worst enemy. The one thing that will reconnect you to a love you're sure you've lost.

It has to be somewhere in this hospital. Because you can't get out of the hospital, and if it were on the outside, it couldn't help you. You could never reach it because the hospital won't let you out. But if it were on the inside, then there's hope. So you keep running, in complete darkness because your cell phone has finally died.

Every few steps you feel your own warm breath on the back of your neck from your pursuer. Your pursuer could just grab you, but it doesn't. It's taunting you. If only your one desperate Need could be inside the hospital for you to find. As that thought flows through your mind, a sudden burst of light appears up ahead. It's a spotlight, shining down on something on the floor.

What could it be?

You run toward it, and as you get closer, you hear a tiny voice crying. You know that sound. You've heard it before, but this time it's much different. You seem to know that it belongs to someone bigger than you've ever known.

You reach the spotlight. You look down. The spotlight is shining down on a tiny baby boy. The baby is wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in what looks like an animal feeding trough. You look behind you and your pursuer is gone. The longing inside has also disappeared because the one thing you desperately needed came into the hospital in the form of this tiny little baby.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. -John 1:14

Photo Credit: Greg Lawler on Flickr

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My 10 Favorite Fiction Books of 2011

Here are the ten fiction books I enjoyed the most this year. From this list, it's not too hard to figure out who some of my favorite authors are. If only J.K. Rowling had written a novel this year.

10. Invasion by Jon S. Lewis (Thomas Nelson 2011) INVASION was just a really fun YA novel about teen heroes and alien invasions. I loved the comic angle in the book. I love trilogies, and this being the first in the C.H.A.O.S trilogy, I'm looking forward to seeing where this story goes. (Read my review here)

9. The Chair by James Rubart (Broadman & Holman 2011) This was the first novel by James Rubart. The premise of a guy coming across a mysterious chair allegedly made by Jesus was interesting, though I couldn't imagine the story being very suspenseful. Rubart delivered a page-turning story, filled with suspense and emotion and hope. I'll be checking out Rubart's other novels now. (Read my review here)

8. Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso (Realms 2011) This isn't a feel-good novel at all. In fact, it was quite disturbing. Yet it was a really great story about a daughter's deep love for her father, and as a father, I really loved that about this story. Dellosso knows how to use a dark tale to communicate spiritual truth. (Read my review here)

7. The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker (Center Street 2011) Dekker's story about a priest who takes the law into his own hands is a disturbing tale that exposes our desperate need for grace. As always, Dekker surprised me with an intense story reversal that I should've seen coming. (Read my review here)

6. Vigilante by Robin Parrish (Bethany House 2011) I've loved every Robin Parrish novel to date, and this one was no exception. I've always loved superheroes and especially origin stories, and this story is a great superhero story. I'd love to see Parrish follow up this story with another story about The Hand. (Read my review here)

5. 40 by Travis Thrasher (Faith Words 2011) I studied recording in college with the hope of being a producer someday, which never happened, so 40 was a fun novel to read because it was like an inside look at the music recording industry. Thrasher's creepy novel about a music producer learning that he wouldn't live past his fortieth birthday is all about how the choices we make shape our history. It's a bittersweet story about regret and the hope of a meaningful life. (Read my review here)

4. One Step Away by Eric Wilson (Bay Forest Books 2011) I had been wanting to read Eric Wilson's books for awhile. Finally, I decided to dive into his latest novel, and after reading it, I'm sure I've found another favorite writer and can't wait to dive into his other books. ONE STEP AWAY is a suspenseful story about a suburban family struggling to make ends meet who is suddenly left with more money than they could ever imagine. What seems like a blessing begins to look more like a curse. Someone wants them to suffer greatly, and the past is coming back to haunt them. It's a tale about the unexpected ways God works in the lives of people. (Read my review here)

3. Frantic by Mike Dellosso (Realms 2012) This book doesn't actually come out until 2012, but as a member of Mike Dellosso's Darlington Society, I got to read it early. It was definitely one of the best book's I've read this year. FRANTIC is supernatural thriller about a man trying to rescue a woman and her gifted brother from a madman. Little does he know that the rescue attempt will land them right in the middle of a disturbed serial killer's path. Dellosso's pace is quick, and the mounting suspense and mystery kept me turning pages until the end. This will be one of the best Christian fiction titles of 2012. (Read my review here)

2. Gravestone by Travis Thrasher (David C. Cook 2011) Travis Thrasher has grown to be one of my favorite storytellers because of his ability to embrace several different genres. This is the second book in his creepy young adult series THE SOLITARY TALES, and it is intense all the way through. My favorite television show was LOST because it kept me guessing all the way through. GRAVESTONE is like that. I can't wait to read the final two books in the series in 2012 and finish the journey with Chris Buckley as he discovers the hidden secrets of Solitary. (Read my review here)

1. Forbidden by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee (Center Street 2011) There was a lot of hype built around Dekker and Lee's collaboration on a new post-apocalyptic trilogy about a world where every human being is dead and doesn't know it. When I read it, there was no doubt that the story far surpassed the hype. I was a little nervous about the collaboration because, though I've enjoyed every Dekker novel, the collaboration novels didn't always feel totally Dekker. FORBIDDEN was a perfect collaboration. It was a moving beginning to an epic retelling of redemptive history. I can't wait for the final two novels out in 2012. (Read my review here)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fast-Paced Storytelling: An Early Review of FRANTIC by Mike Dellosso (Coming February 2012)


With those words written hastily on a crumpled piece of paper, Marny Toogood is thrust into a frantic rescue mission of a beautiful girl named Esther and her mysteriously gifted little brother William. What starts out as a desperate fleeing attempt from a violent madman named Gary turns into a full-throttle grasping for survival in the midst of a disturbing plot the reader will never see coming. Violent death has been following Marny his whole life, a curse that touches everyone he cares about. Will find Marny find the faith to be the hero and put an end to his curse, or will the violent and the crazy, the frantic thirst of death, claim Esther and William as well?

FRANTIC shows Mike Dellosso's growth as both a writer and a storyteller. It's easily the best story I've read by him and gets me excited to see what else he has in store. At times when I was reading FRANTIC, I felt like I was reading something akin to a Ted Dekker thriller. Dellosso continues to show that Christian writers can tell great, suspenseful, and sometimes dark stories that shine the light of Jesus into the dark places.

Dellosso's pace in this story is remarkable. I love his short chapter lengths that almost always end on a cliffhanger. Just when you think you're going to put the book down at the end of a chapter, curiosity gets the best of you and you just have to find out what happens next. If the goal is to get readers to keep turning pages, Dellosso has really hit on how to make it happen.

The suspense and mystery keep mounting further and further throughout the story. At times it reminded me of the TV show LOST, which was great given that LOST was really great and emotionally stirring storytelling.

Like LOST, I couldn't help but love the characters in FRANTIC. Each of them seemed to have a past that they were both running from and being shaped by. Marny is an unexpected hero, and you really start to sympathize with all the heartache he's experienced in life. Esther is a strong heroine who loves in the face of incredible hate. William is a picture of innocence and faith in the midst of impossible odds. Then you have the antagonists. Gary is deeply disturbed, yet even his past breeds a measure of sympathy from the reader. There's one more villain to the story, but the reader will want to discover that on their own. I'll just say that I didn't expect what the story turned into.

Additionally, Dellosso's descriptions really created a vivid image of what was going on in the story in my mind. I knew this was true because a few days after reading a scene in the book I was reminded of something I had seen on TV earlier in the week, only I couldn't remember what it was. But I could clearly picture whatever it was. I finally realized that it wasn't something I had seen at all; it was the scene I had read in FRANTIC.

FRANTIC was a story that starts out as one thing and gradually grows into something else entirely. I absolutely loved the progression of this story. If you love a story that keeps you guessing until the end as it seeks to draw you closer to the heart of God, you'll want to check out FRANTIC. Then you'll want to check out Mike Dellosso's other novels as well.

FRANTIC doesn't come out until February 2012. As a member of Mike Dellosso's Darlington Society, I got the opportunity to read it early. I'm grateful I did.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Review of The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook edited by J. Daniel Hays & J. Scott Duvall

The original recipients of each of the texts in the Bible had an important advantage that we in the twenty-first century don't have: they lived within the context these texts were written. This included social customs, the presuppositions of the audience, and the historical background of the audience among other contextual realities. Since we don't share their context and probably many of their presuppositions, it might be difficult sometimes to understand exactly what the biblical author was trying to convey through the text. However, because the Bible is meant to be God's way of communicating to us as it was to the original audience, it's important for us to learn what God was saying to them in order to understand what God is saying to us. Serious Bible study requires getting into the minds and contexts of the original biblical audience. 

The BAKER ILLUSTRATED BIBLE HANDBOOK is an incredible resource for understanding the world in which the biblical texts were written. The book is divided into three parts:

Part 1-God's Story. This section covers the Bible's grand narrative and an overview of each of the books of the Bible. The book overviews cover the book's setting, outline, main features, articles on important issues, it's place in the overarching biblical story, and applicational points. For example, the idea of covenants is very important in the book of Genesis, and there's an article discussing covenants. This section of the book also covers overviews of the main sections of the Bible, as well as a historical overview of the inter-testamental period. 

Part 2-How the Bible Came to Be. This section covers topics such as the inspiration of the Bible, selection of the canon, preservation of the Bible, translations, etc.

Part 3-Digging Deeper into the Bible. This section is immensely valuable because it guides the reader on how to actually study the Bible with the goal of applying it to everyday life. This section includes a special look at the literary genres used in the Bible. There's also a look at archaeology and the Bible, and a look at the suggestion by some of Bible codes contained in the Bible.

Throughout the book, there are visually captivating photos, charts, and maps that help the handbook come alive.

The BAKER ILLUSTRATED BIBLE HANDBOOK is a vastly helpful resource to any student of the Bible. It's been a welcome addition to my growing collection of Bible study resources. Pastors, Bible study teachers, theologians, and anyone who just wants to learn more from the Bible will benefit from this book. It's without question the best Bible handbook I've come across.

I received this book for free for review from Baker Books

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Celebrating the Light & Hope of My Little Girl Who Turns Three

My little girl turns three today. Three years have passed by in a blur. Sometimes I really wish I could pause this forward progression of time whenever I want because I know where this is headed. Lucy is going to keep growing older. More independent. And it's not slowing down.

Three years ago I held her tiny fragile little adorable self in my arms. Lindsey and I did everything for her. Now, she wants to do so many things on her own. It's incredible for Lindsey and I to discover more and more who she's becoming and being a part of shaping that.

Lucy brings light and hope into our lives. We're so blessed to be her parents. We love her so much.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Review of The Christian Faith by Michael Horton

THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: A SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY FOR PILGRIMS ON THE WAY by Reformed scholar Michael Horton is a systematic theology text that reads like an epic exploration of the nature of God and his revelation of himself to humanity. Horton takes a refreshing approach to systematic theology by showing how the Bible is a story or Drama about God and his creation, and out of this Drama our Doctrine is lifted and embraced, leading to Doxology and finally to Discipleship. Systematic theology is about isolating and expounding the important doctrines of Scripture individually so that a person can study a particular point of doctrine more fully by bringing together everything the Bible has to say about it. This can get really dry very quickly. Horton, however, does a great job of structuring his systematic theology as if he's taking us on a journey through the Bible's compelling narrative to reveal the crucial and, for us, life-changing plot points along the way. Horton contrasts the biblical worldview with history's most prevalent alternative philosophical worldviews. He also interacts with some of history's greatest thinkers and shows us the historical development of each of the doctrines covered.

The book has several great points, such as Horton's topical divisions focused on the roles that God plays in the drama of redemption. The book also looks at theology through the lens of God's covenant relationship with creation, as well as with an emphasis on the trinity in theology. Some of the high points for me were the discussions of the Creator/creation distinction, the incarnation, the already/not yet aspects of the kingdom, the theories of the atonement.

Horton is a Reformed theologian with a Calvinistic bent, so there were a few points of doctrine that I disagreed with him on, such as the view that foreknowledge entails foreordination, God's decree of all things that occur in history, his views on effectual calling and particular redemption, regeneration preceding faith, among others. Horton also appeals to the revealed/hidden will in God paradigm, which states that God's revealed will can be disobeyed, but his hidden sovereign will always occurs infallibly. The incoherence of this point can be illustrated by looking at David's sin with Bathsheba. God's revealed will was that David not commit adultery with Bathsheba, but since God ordains all things, his hidden sovereign will was that David commit adultery with Bathsheba. Holding on to this paradigm causes more problems than it solves because it reveals God to be internally divided, willing something to occur that he doesn't will to occur.

I also found it interesting that Horton subscribes to an amillennial view of the the millennial kingdom, though his discussion of it is thorough and well articulated.

A couple other points of disagreement is his nonliteral view of the six days of creation and infant baptism.

However, despite the few points where Horton and I part ways on our views, I found THE CHRISTIAN FAITH to be an insightful and illuminating text on the greatest doctrines of Scripture. It's a great resource for anyone wanting a more narrative approach to systematic theology. Ultimately, the goal is to draw closer to the triune God who is the focus of theology.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Review of Biblical Greek: A Compact Guide by William Mounce

When studying the New Testament, few things are more valuable than learning Biblical Greek, and William Mounce's BASICS OF BIBLICAL GREEK is one of the best textbooks on the market for learning the language. Students of Biblical Greek will quickly learn that there is much to remember to be skilled at reading and translating Biblical Greek. Unless you're actively using Greek studies on a regular basis, it can be very easy to forget much of what you've learned, such as noun paradigms, cases, verb forms, sentence structure, as well as many of the Greek words themselves.

William Mounce has put together a small companion book for the student of New Testament Greek, BIBLICAL GREEK: A COMPACT GUIDE. This guide condenses much of the most important things to remember from a Biblical Greek grammar book and puts it in a helpful refresher format. The book includes all the Greek grammar fundamentals, plus a helpful Greek lexicon at the back.

The book is truly compact and will easily fit into someone's pocket. It's perfect to carry around with a copy of the Greek New Testament. Students of Biblical Greek will definitely want to get a copy of this book.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Encountering the Landscape of Our Souls: A Review of Winterland by Mike Duran

Some of the best stories I've read are when spiritual realities that typically can't be interacted with through the five senses take on very physical and interactive manifestations. That's what I loved about Ted Dekker's Circle Series. But this can also be terrifying. Imagine interacting with the landscape of your mind's worst fears, deepest regrets, and most chilling propensities to do what is evil. The result for a lot of people might be a post-apocalyptic landscape that looks a lot like the story world of Mike Duran's latest novella WINTERLAND.

In WINTERLAND, a young woman with a scarred past named Eunice Ames is thrust into the horrifying landscape of her dying mother's psyche after an automobile accident. Eunice finds herself in a world that looks like it has clearly been ravaged by a violent war, and this is the result of her mother's memories and regrets. She meets a mysterious man named Joseph who says that she was brought her to fight for her mother's soul before she becomes the queen of Winterland, left without hope in a hell of her own making. As they journey down a highway in Winterland, they come across three interesting characters who represent three of Eunice's mother's deepest dysfunctions-a deformed grub man named Mordant, a self-righteous reverend named Ames, and a mysterious and creepy little girl named Sybil. These must be dealt with before Eunice's mother dies, or the consequences will be more than anyone can bear. Will Eunice find the courage to fight her mother's demons even as she discovers her own?

I've been following Mike Duran's blog for awhile now, so when I heard about WINTERLAND and the opportunity to get it for free, I jumped on it quickly. The story is a fast read and will definitely keep you reading until the end. The strength of the story is in Duran's vivid description of his story world. As I read, I couldn't get this very clear picture of what Winterland looked like out of my head. I kept thinking of the landscape of WAR OF THE WORLDS as I read, only darker and more disturbing.

The story is definitely creepy. There's a particularly disturbing scene where Eunice encounters a manifestation of her dead grandmother. The creepiest part of the story, though, is the introspective nature of it. You start to wonder what the landscape of your mind would look like if the intangible parts of you suddenly became a very tangible world. What darkness lies within us that we would never want anyone to see?

Mike Duran has a knack for getting people to think, and that's important in a world where we often become numb to being introspective about ourselves. WINTERLAND does a good job of jolting a reader out of indifference, much like Jesus did with many of the things he said. The journey of Eunice in WINTERLAND is a terrifying journey similar to the journey we all need to take to shed light on the darkest areas of our lives where we need to experience life-altering redemption.

I received this book for free from the author

Friday, December 9, 2011

God's Astronomical Grace: A Review of Indescribable by Louie Giglio & Matt Redman

We are incredibly small and insignificant. The universe is more massive than any of us can fully comprehend, and the earth we live on in is a very small speck in the midst of it. The Bible tells us that God created the universe and that the heavens "sing" of his glory. If we stop and look, one question should quickly come to mind, "How could we possibly think this universe is about us?" 

In INDESCRIBABLE, speaker and pastor Louie Giglio and worship leader Matt Redman take us on a breathtaking exploration of space to help us grasp and consider the power and size of the God who created our vast universe. Using some remarkable findings in astronomy, as well as awe-inspiring photos of the universe's most astounding wonders and the words of Scripture, Giglio and Redman point to the God of the universe who, despite our smallness and seeming insignificance, took on flesh to be near us and lavish us with his "astronomical grace." 

Reading this book and viewing the photographs should cause anyone to feel small and in awe of such a massive God. Giglio and Redman do a great job of communicating on a subject they're both clearly passionate about. The pictures are incredible, though I wish they were color photographs. There is a version of the book in color though.

Not everyone is interested in astronomy, so I can't say that just anyone would love this book, but it's certainly a great conversation starter and a way to point to God's incredible love for us.

I received this book for free for review from David C. Cook

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Review of On Divine Foreknowledge by Luis de Molina (translated by Alfred Freddoso)

If God knows that I am going to tell a life-shattering lie tomorrow at 1:03 p.m., and God has foreknown this since before the universe was created, then when tomorrow at 1:03 arrives, given that God know for certain that I will tell this lie, is there any possibility that tomorrow at 1:03 I won't tell the lie? If, because of God's infallible foreknowledge of the event of my lie, there is no possibility of my refraining from telling the lie, then is my action free? Does God's foreknowledge insure that my sin will take place? These are complex questions that I have wrestled with, and people throughout history have as well. These questions fall under the realm of the scope of God's providence over the world and where human freedom fits within that, if it does at all.

Sixteenth century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina sought to devise a system that affirmed both man's libertarian freedom (the power to choose otherwise) and God's meticulous sovereign control. He did this by proposing that God's knowledge was of three different types and that God's knowledge came in three logical (not chronological) moments.

The first moment, Natural Knowledge, comes logically before God's creative decree. This knowledge consists of all possibilities. For example, in God's natural knowledge, he knew that it was possible for Adam to not sin in the garden. He also knew that it was possible that he would. These were both possibilities of what Adam "could" do.

Skipping ahead, the third moment is known as God's Free Knowledge. This is God's perfect knowledge of every single thing that will happen in the universe that God created, and this knowledge comes logically after his creative decree. For example, God knows that Adam "will" sin in the garden.

Between these two knowledge moments Molina proposed a moment called Middle Knowledge. This knowledge consists of free choices that a creature would make under any given circumstances. For example, God knows that if he placed Adam in the garden, Adam "would" sin, but if placed under a different set of circumstances, Adam "would" not sin. Either way, Adam's choice would be freely made. This knowledge comes logically before God's creative decree. So God surveys all the free choices that free creatures would make and decides to create the world in which all the circumstances that would bring about the free choices of free creatures that also lined up with his perfect will. Once he creates, the script is set and human history will flow exactly as he wanted it to, and human freedom remains intact. In this model God exercises his meticulous sovereignty using his exhaustive omniscience.

Molina outlined this system of God's knowledge in Part 4 of his CONCORDIA, and philosopher Alfred Freddoso has completed a great translation of Part 4 ON DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE. Molina was a deeply intellectual thinker who, by looking at certain ideas communicated by Scripture, created a way that affirmed both meticulous sovereignty and genuine libertarian freedom of humans. However, the concepts can be difficult to understand. Freddoso gives a detailed and informative introduction to Molina's thoughts, the context he worked from, and helps us to understand the foundational framework that Molina devised in Parts 1-3 of the Concordia. Freddoso discusses important concepts such as future contingents, divine concurrence, and God's supercomprehension, as well as dealing with criticisms of Molina's concept of middle knowledge. He also includes points of commentary throughout Molina's text.

While I don't subscribe to Molinism myself, Molina's ON DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE is an interesting read, and it does seem that Molina was on to something concerning God's knowledge of future conditionals that may be helpful in devising a solution to the divine sovereignty/human freedom dilemma. Another helpful look into Molina's thoughts is Kenneth Keathley's book SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY.

I received this book for free for review from Cornell University Press

The Key to Boosting Creative Productivity: A Review of Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

"Ideas are worthless if you can't make them happen." Creatives tend to love the idea side of creativity to the neglect of the execution side. As a creative, I understand the energy that can be drawn from coming up with multiple great ideas, yet having those ideas never leave the comfort of my mind to interface with the real world. After all, when our time begins to be consumed with execution of our ideas, where does that leave room for coming up with new ideas? So we create, create, create all inside of our minds, but no one gets to experience what we've created because it still lives as merely an idea.

What if Steve Jobs hadn't executed on his ideas? Or Henry Ford? Or J.K. Rowling? They all had great ideas, but, more importantly, they made their ideas happen.

Scott Belsky is a creative who understands the need for creative people to develop new habits of acting on their great ideas. His book MAKING IDEAS HAPPEN outlines an effective process for creatives to put flesh onto their ideas. The book focuses on harnessing the areas of organization, collaboration, and taking the lead. The book encourages killing ideas and spending more time acting on ideas. A team approach to creativity helps to refine our ideas to make them better.

Easily the most valuable part of this book is the section on organization where Belsky describes the Action Method, a productivity strategy that would be useful to anyone. This section alone would help me to put more flesh on my ideas. The section on self leadership is equally valuable to making ideas happen.

This book is without question one of the most practical books I've come across. This book is also great in combination with Todd Henry's THE ACCIDENTAL CREATIVE to boost creative productivity for those who struggle with it.

I received this book for free for review from Portfolio

What's an idea that you really want to make happen right now?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Becoming the Next J.K. Rowling: A Review of Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks

With the success of Harry Potter, the Twilight saga, the Hunger Games trilogy, and a host of others, it's clear that young adult novels resonate with many people, and not just the young adults for whom they're intended. YA novels seem to be more fun and imaginative than many stories intended for adults. I loved Harry Potter novels and hated when they were over. I've only read the first Twilight book, but it was easy to see why Stephanie Meyer is able to draw readers in to an epic story of love and good versus evil. The Hunger Games trilogy is on my list of books to read. Another great YA series is The Solitary Tales by Travis Thrasher. So it's clear to see that YA fiction is a mainstay in the reading world.

But how does an writer approach crafting a YA novel that will resonate with people like the books mentioned above have? Literary agent Regina Brooks has taken the guesswork out of creating a compelling YA story in her book WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS. Brooks' book is an informative exploration of the genre, as well as a step by step guide on how to write a story that appeals primarily to a young adult audience.

The book is really a standard how-to guide on writing a novel, but the insights on young adult novels specifically make this a great read for writers interested in the genre. Brooks tackles all the main topics you would expect, such as plot, characters, dialogue, setting, etc. She even covers how to get an agent, which is especially helpful for anyone who is serious about getting published. She does q great job of helping writers get into the world and minds of young adults. The books contains many great exercises to put the author's insights into practice.

WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS is an easy read, but really valuable to any writer interested in writing YA novels specifically.

I received this book for free for review from Sourcebooks

A Review of Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

After his parents die in a head-on collision, sixteen-year-old Colt McAlister has been thrust into a world where deadly and freakish creatures are very real. A world where hidden gateways all over the world connect to other worlds where creatures such as Big Foot come through to inhabit our world. Most people don't realize what goes on underneath their noses because a top secret organization known as CHAOS protests the world from violent alien invasions.

But something is coming. Colt's parents weren't killed, they were murdered. And someone is hunting Colt and his friends for the information that his parents died to protect. Will Colt survive the mounting war between creature and humanity, even as he tries to live a normal life of going to school and falling in love?

Jon S. Lewis has written a gripping, fast-paced, and adventurous young adult novel with INVASION. The science fiction element lessened the appeal of the novel for me at first, but the storyline drew me in quickly, and Lewis handles it in a way that keeps it interesting. Though it's obviously a major element, the story is really reminiscent of a comic book hero's journey. In fact, I read that Lewis is a writer for DC Comics, so comic book lovers will probably enjoy this story.

The main characters of the story are enjoyable, and you really feel like you get to know them. I'm especially interested to see more of Colt's journey as a hero. Lewis does a pretty good job of taking us into the world of a high school student. One area of improvement that I noticed was the lack of emotional depth that Colt seems to experience as a result of his parents' death. It was also odd that Danielle as a sixteen-year-old conveniently knew how to hack into the computer system of a major company. The reader will have to suspend disbelief on that part.

Overall, INVASION is a fun novel to read and a great introduction to an even bigger story that will be continued in Lewis' followup ALIENATION.

I received this book for free for review from Thomas Nelson through

Sunday, December 4, 2011

God is Innocent: A Review of If God, Why Evil? by Norman Geisler

People have always wrestled with the amount of evil that plagues our world, especially in light of the idea of a loving and perfect God governing the universe. If God is good, then why is there so much evil? Why doesn't he stop it? I've wrestled with these questions as much as anyone. The world is messy, and much of it seems so random sometimes. But if God is good, then there must be a reason evil exists that doesn't make God out to be the cause of it.

Norman Geisler explores these questions in his book IF GOD, WHY EVIL? The book is surprisingly short for a book that explores such a controversial topic, but it works as a concise treatment that anyone can understand. Geisler rightly points out that evil exists because God granted both the angels and human beings with genuine free will. Genuine free will meant that the possibility of choosing to reject God was very real, and unfortunately both Satan and Adam and Eve chose to exercise their freedom to reject God. The result has been a widespread and persistent evil that is still the result of human beings and demonic beings exercising a genuine free will toward evil. Of course, those from a compatibalist view of freedom will find Geisler's appeal to libertarian free will disatisfyjng.

Geisler uses logical arguments throughout the book. His writing is clear and easy to understand. It's a very quick read.

My only discomfort with the book was Geisler's appeal to a "greater good" theodicy, which is probably the most prevalent view of why God allows evil. Obviously God can and does bring good out of evil events that happen. However, does God actually need to allow the evil in order to bring about a "greater" good? Doesn't that imply that evil is necessary for good to happen? Of course, no one who appeals to the "greater good" theodicy believes that evil is necessary. I think the book would have been better had it wrestled with this particular area a little more.

Geisler also has a great chapter about the fate of people who don't hear the gospel. There's also a critique of the book THE SHACK at the end.

IF GOD, WHY EVIL? is a concise look at the problem of evil. There are probably better books out there that look at the problem of evil more in-depth, but this book is good for those who want an easy read on this difficult subject.

I received this book for free for review from Bethany House.

Why do you think God allows evil?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Become Indispensable at Whatever You Do: A Review of Linchpin by Seth Godin

I picked up LINCHPIN by Seth Godin because several of the books for creatives and leaders I've read quote him extensively. Godin is an incredible visionary thinker, and his gift seems to be rethinking how things are done. Specifically, in LINCHPIN, Godin rethinks how people are to survive and thrive in their careers.

In the economy we live in, unemployment is high, so it often seems like everyone is looking for a job. It's difficult to stand apart from all the others who are searching for a way to support their lives and families. For the most, in this type of system, everyone is replaceable. There's always someone else who can do what you do. And replaceability often translates into low pay.

Ideally, everyone would love the opportunity to make a living doing something they love and are gifted at. Something that is uniquely them. Godin's book suggests that the future of employment belongs to those who make themselves indispensable, becoming irreplaceable. This is done by injecting your heart and passions into what you do.

The book is divided into chapters that contain several mini essays, which is to be expected from an avid blogger such as Godin. This format makes the book both easy and enjoyable to read.

The part of the book I resonated with the most is the call to tap into our natural creativity. Godin mentions that all people are naturally creative, but public education often chokes it out of them. That's something I hope to avoid with my own children.

The only drawback of the book is that it all sounds great, but actually putting all of it into practice is seems very risky. Godin, of course, addresses this. As I was reading, it just seemed like there's not a lot of people who even have the opportunity to become indispensable in their job, which is probably why entrepreneurship is becoming so popular.

LINCHPIN is a great read and will definitely get you to think about how you can uniquely contribute to whatever you're a part of.

I received this book for free for review from Portfolio

What do you do to be indispensable in your career?

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Journey to Better Storytelling: A Review of The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

Joseph Campbell was a man who studied the stories throughout history and across cultures and discovered that these stories have always had many common elements that make them powerful stories that resonate with people on an emotional level. Campbell noticed a common pattern among stories that he dubbed The Hero’s Journey. Take a look at some of the movies you love most or the books that you’ve enjoyed most, and chances are you will notice the elements of The Hero’s Journey. Story Consultant Christopher Vogler realized the incredible opportunity for writers to tap into The Hero’s Journey to ensure their stories are the best that they can be, so he adapted the findings of Jospeh Campbell specifically for writers in his book THE WRITER’S JOURNEY.

THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, like its name implies, takes writers on a journey through human psychology and storytelling to give writers the tools they need to get their stories off the ground. While written primarily for screenwriters, the book is helpful for writers of all types. The amazing thing about the writer’s journey or the hero’s journey is that it’s really a reflection of the path all human beings take to undertake anything that is truly important to them.

One of the common elements of many stories are the archetypes or common character roles of the story. For example, the hero or protagonist of a story usually has someone who fulfills the role of mentor to encourage the hero to take the next step of the journey. Vogler explores the common archetypes in a helpful way, using examples of characters in stories we all know. Vogler also spends several pages taking us through each point on the hero’s journey, showing us the importance of each point and how they function in a story. One of the most valuable parts of the book is the abundant story examples used throughout to show how the hero’s journey is so prevalent.

THE WRITER’S JOURNEY will be a helpful book for anyone who wants to undertake the journey of crafting a compelling story. While the hero’s journey seems to lend itself mainly to mythic structure and stories about heroes, the elements are really present in all types of stories, and thus can be used and adapted for any kind of story. This is definitely a book that I’ll return to over and over again in my own personal writing journey.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions.

A Review of The Future of the People of God by Andrew Perriman

Paul’s letter to the Romans contains some of the most stirring words in history, yet these words are often understood in different ways by different people. For example, whole theological systems find some of their greatest support from this single letter, while opposing theological views see in this letter the complete opposite of what their opponents see. Paul’s letter to the Romans has been one of my favorite books of the Bible to turn to for a long time. When I sit down with the Bible, and I’m not sure exactly what I’d like to study, I turn either to one of the gospels or the book of Romans. Having read several books about Romans, I was interested in reading a book called THE FUTURE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD by Andrew Perriman.

Perriman argues that Romans is primarily an eschatological text concerning how people are to survive the coming judgment of the nation of Israel and the pagan nations of the world represented most clearly by the Roman Empire. This reframes many of the texts in a way that is different than commonly understood. For example, Paul’s quote from Habakkuk in Romans 1:17 is more about being faithful in the midst of the wrath of God that is coming upon the nations than it is about personal saving faith in Jesus Christ as most evangelical Christians understand it. Perriman seeks to immerse the reader into the thought world of Paul and first-century Judaism by taking an extensive look into the literature of extra biblical sources such as 1 & 2 Maccabees and Wisdom of Solomon, among many others. He suggests that Paul’s focus wasn’t on final judgment and redemption of people, but actual historical events that would occur in the near future. The end goal is to show that God judged the nations and vindicated himself over the pagan gods of the nations when Constantine declared Christianity as the religion of the empire.

While THE FUTURE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD is well researched and contains many quotes to support Perriman’s conclusions, as well as clearly articulated, I can’t say that I agree with his interpretations of key passages that have been the foundation of orthodox Christianity for two thousand years. It’s certainly an interesting read to see what someone else may come away from Romans with.

I received this book for free for review from Cascade Books.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Chair With The Power to Heal?: A Review of The Chair by Jim Rubart

Corin Roscoe is living in the shambles of a broken relationship with his brother Shasta. Obsessed with brushes with death through extreme sports, Corin is desperate to dull the pain and guilt of a betrayal against Shasta that took place ten years ago, a tragedy that has left his brother in a wheelchair with no hope of walking again. Corin is also the owner of an antique furniture store, and one day a mysterious old lady shows up with an old chair she claims was built by Jesus Christ. After a couple people experience miraculous healing after sitting in the chair, Corin begins to hope that the chair can fix his brother and their relationship. But someone is desperate to have the chair and will stop at nothing to get it and wield its power. Will Corin survive and bring healing, or will everyone he loves be killed over one mysterious chair?

THE CHAIR by Jim Rubart was an emotional story about the nature of faith and the surprising ways God desires to bring healing into our lives. When I picked up THE CHAIR, I wasn’t expecting a story about a chair built by Christ to be very suspenseful, but I found myself being drawn further and further ahead in the story by the events that were unfolding. Rubart does a great job of creating a very complex character in Corin Roscoe and really getting us into his head. I was also surprised by how much I actually liked the character of Pastor Jeffries and his motivation for wanting the chair.

The story is certainly suspenseful throughout. There are a few times where certain conflicts seemed to be wrapped up rather quickly and easily, and some of it was a little predictable, but neither really took away from my enjoyment of the story overall. The way the story wraps up is surprising and some readers may find it disappointing, but Rubart communicates a powerful message with his story. I’ll definitely be checking out Rubart’s other books.

I received this book for free for review from Broadman and Holman through NetGalley.