Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review of HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED by Paul Tough

HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED by Paul Tough is a book about what factors contribute to a child growing up to succeed in life. The book starts by looking at what it looks like for children not to succeed. Tough is a journalist, and he introduces us to a variety of people whose stories are heartbreaking because of the factors and conditioning they lacked in early childhood that contributed to some very difficult circumstances later in life. I found it very interesting and alarming as a parent the effects of stress on children.

Tough’s book goes on to reveal that success is based less on school-based learning of information than helping children to develop the character to put their learning into practice. There’s plenty of scientific data revealed throughout the book, as well as stories to illustrate the book’s main points. Children need environments created for them that will help their character development. Character will help children endure in areas that information and skills may not.

I think this book is really important and should be read by parents and educators. Children deserve to have people in their lives who are committed to investing in their development and shaping of their futures. HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED will help to give people a vision to strive for, as well as steps to take to get there.

Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Photo Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Thursday, May 23, 2013


I've become increasingly more interested in the thought of Jonathan Edwards recently, and the reason is Kyle Strobel. JONATHAN EDWARDS'S THEOLOGY: A REINTERPRETATION is a new book by Strobel that dives deep into the writings of Jonathan Edwards to illuminate exactly what Edwards believed and taught. Strobel explains in the introduction that Edwards's beliefs have often been misunderstood, and he seeks to cast light on these misunderstandings and bring some much-needed clarity. He does this by exploring Edwards's writings, often comparing their chronology. He shows that a close reading of Edwards's writings reveal development in his thought as he was writing.

Strobel looks at Edwards's thoroughly trinitarian thought, exploring Edwards's explanations for the personhood of the members of the trinity and the "personal beatific delight" of the trinity. Edwards grounds the rest of his theology in his theology of God's trinitarian nature. Strobel shows Edwards's development and how many have misunderstood his stance. Strobel, after giving us a clear and thorough look at Edwards's trinitarian theology, goes into other areas of Edwards's theology. This gives us some important thoughts on the end for which God created the world, the nature of heaven in Edwards's mind, redemption, and religious affections.

Strobel's book is heavy reading that both requires and generates much thought. Because Edwards grounds his theology in a robust biblical conception of God's trinitarian nature, reading the book not only provided intellectual stimulation, but an awe of who God is. 

Review copy provided by Bloomsbury

Photo Credit: Bloomsbury


Romans 9 is one of the most debated passages of Scripture because it is often used to propose that God unconditionally elected what individuals he would save before the foundation of the world. The flip side of this is that God unconditionally chose whom he would not save and sentence to hell forever before the foundation of the world. This is the common interpretation of Calvinism. I remember the first time I read Romans 9, and I was disturbed by what I was reading because that's exactly what it seemed to be saying from my reading of it. I can understand why someone would come to that conclusion. But, like many people, I also came to believe that if Romans 9 really reads that way, it doesn't paint a very good picture of God. It paints a picture of God that doesn't match up with the God who says he desires all to be saved. But Romans 9 still remains as a very confusing passage of Scripture.

In his book PAUL'S USE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ROMANS 9:1-9, Brian Abasciano takes a close and careful look at this confusing passage and illuminates what Paul intended when he wrote it. Abasciano does this by recognizing that Paul alluded to passages of the Old Testament to make his argument. He shows that Romans 9-11 form a unit and are the theological conclusion to what he has been saying in the first 8 chapters of Romans. In this passage Paul is seeking to show how God's promises to the Israelites in the Old Testament haven't failed. He shows how Paul used the Old Testament in verses 1-9 to show how God is just in rejecting Israel as a nation because of their unbelief. This leads to a thorough look at the passages that Paul alludes to in their original Old Testament context. He then shows the ideas Paul is trying to communicate by using these passages.

Romans 9 in Abasciano's view concerns God's election of corporate entities, specifcally those who place their faith in Christ. The book looks critically at John Piper's exegesis of Romans 9 and seeks to show God as the gracious pursuer of all people, but the savior of only those who believe, those identified in the Bible as the elect.

This book is an important exegetical look at Romans 9, and anyone wrestling with these issues should spend some time reading this book.

Review copy provided by Bloomsbury

Photo Credit: Bloomsbury

Review of the Audiobook of THE NEXT GENERATION by Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley is one the most well-known and respected church leaders in America, and he's known specifically for his leadership capabilities. In his book THE NEXT GENERATION LEADER, Stanley outlines the characteristics he believes that emerging leaders need in order to be most effective. He outlines five key characteristics:


Personally, I think that his section on Competence is the most helpful part of the book. Stanley believes that for leaders to be their most effective selves, they need to be focused on the things for which they are most competent. People are wired differently. Some people are better at some things and terrible at others. Next Generation Leaders delegate the things for which they are not competent. This not only frees them to do the things they are good at; it gives other people the opportunity to do things they are competent at.

The other characteristics are important as well. It's important to communicate clarity in the midst of uncertainty. We have to have courage to do the things we are called to do as leaders. We need people wiser than us helping us to develop further. And we need to live lives of character.

I listened to the Christian Audio audiobook version of this book, and I had hoped that Andy Stanley was the one reading it, but he's not. Having listened to Andy Stanley many times, I didn't feel like the reader of the book quite matched the voice of the book, but it was still good. Stanley is a great thinker and a great leader, so I would recommend this to anyone who serves in a leadership capacity.

Review copy provided by Christian Audio

Photo Credit: Christian Audio

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Photo Credit: FRET12 Productions

When I started learning how to play guitar, I read a ton of guitar magazines. Every month I would grab the newest guitar magazine and start learning new techniques to play. This was essentially how I learned to play. As I look back I realize that probably 90% of my learning was from the teaching of guitar instructor Troy Stetina because many of the lessons I went through in those guitar magazines were written by him. I since learned that Stetina is one of the foremost guitar instructors in the world when it comes to learning how to play well with both speed and control.

I was really excited when I saw that FRET12 Productions released a guitar instructional video called TROY STETINA: THE SOUND AND THE STORY. This video truly shows how incredible of a guitar instructor Stetina is. I love how the DVD begins with different guitar players and instructors sharing their thoughts on Stetina. The video features Stetina in front of a stack of Marshall amps, holding a Paul Reed Smith guitar, with some really great lighting in the background, making the video itself very visually appealing.

Stetina gives some really helpful tips that are vital to beginning guitar players. He focuses on learning correctly. A lot of guitar players want to learn how to play fast, but as Stetina points out, they develop sloppy habits that they need to eliminate while playing slow that will only get worse when they speed up. He teaches how to develop control while playing slow and slowly speeding up. The goal, Stetina says, is effortlessness in your playing.

Stetina teaches many different concepts, such as picking techniques, trills, bending, not relying on mechanical shapes, using the metronome effectively, creativity and composing, and a ton of others. Throughout, you’ll learn how to isolate problem areas and create exercises to overcome those areas. You’ll be told to practice things slowly and accurately before building speed.

The Story part of the DVD focuses on some of the players who have learned from Stetina, as well as giving us an inside look at Stetina’s creative process in the studio. This makes this video a step above because you’re learning how to really make music and not just learning how to play guitar really well. Finally, the video closes out with some guest lessons from Michael Angelo Batio, Eric Friedman, Bill Peck, and my personal favorite, Mark Tremonti.

As you listen to and watch Troy Stetina play, you’ll be amazed and driven to learn more. THE SOUND AND THE STORY DVD gives you the great opportunity of learning guitar from one of the greatest instructors out there. I can’t recommend it enough.

Review copy of the DVD graciously provided by FRET12 Productions.

Check out the video at  FRET12 PRODUCTIONS

Review of The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament on Colossians & Philemon

I’ve really enjoyed the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, and David W. Pao’s contribution on Colossians and Philemon is another great edition to the series. Colossians is an interesting letter that deals with a major error cropping up in the Colossian church and focuses a great deal on Christology. Pao looks at Paul’s authorship and handles the text in a way that draws out Paul’s Christological focus throughout the letter.
Colossians is one of my favorite books of the Bible to go to over and over again, and the part about faith, hope, and love near the beginning of the letter is one that I especially love. Pao shows how foundation hope is to love and faith. The commentary also handles Paul’s famous Christological hymn, describing what Christ as firstborn means. Pao’s handling of Philemon presents Paul’s letter as a lesson on how relationships change in light of the Gospel.
The layout of the series is helpful to each commentary, especially the theological applications after each section. If you’re working through either of these books, this commentary is a great place to get your questions answered.
Review copy provided by Zondervan Academic

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Review of THE GOD-SHAPED BRAIN by Timothy R. Jennings

In THE GOD-SHAPED BRAIN author Timothy R. Jennings presents evidence that reveals how a person perceives God affects their brain in either constructive or destructive ways. Specifically, he looks at the effects of two models of how God is often perceived. Jennings presents a fear-based God who is constantly waiting for people to fail in order to punish them in his anger, and he rightly shows that viewing God this way is destructive to the part of the brain where our rational decision-making capabilities reside. On the other end of the spectrum, Jennings presents a God of love. This God loves people and wants to heal them from their destructive sinful nature. This God is never angry at people for the things they do because he understands that their sinful nature is beyond their control and he just wants to love them and help them. This perception of God helps the part of the brain where our decision-making capabilities reside. Jennings describes how the brain works, drawing on some incredible findings in the field of neuroscience. The brain’s plasticity and ability to be rewired by our behaviors is outstanding and a testament to God’s incredible creativity in designing the human brain. Jennings seeks to help people to have an accurate perception of God and shows how this rewires our brains for good.

I got really excited when I read the description of this book, so I wanted to read it as soon I could. By the end of the book, however, I was greatly disappointed. To be sure, Jennings presents a lot of helpful insights and his heart is clearly in helping people to get better. But the book seems to try to paint a God more in the image of the one in Jennings’ imagination than the one the Bible describes. Jennings shows that fear hurts the brain. It makes sense. And it would be easy to draw the conclusion that God wouldn’t do things that intentionally cause fear because he doesn’t want to harm our brains since he designed them to respond in that way. I get it. However, the Bible presents us with a God who is very often fear-inducing. Jacob in the Bible even once refers to God as the “Fear of Isaac.” The Bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Sure, we’re told time and again not to fear, but that is because if we trust in God he is for us. If we make God our enemy, we have much to fear.

Jennings resorts to reinterpreting countless passages of Scripture to say what he believes they say. For example, he repeatedly tries to explain away God’s anger by looking at passages where God says he’s angry and trying to show us why that doesn’t mean what we think it means. I think he’s right in some areas about the actions of God in anger because I don’t believe God is a divine thrower of temper tantrums. But I think if God says he’s angry, I think he means that he’s angry. Who are we to try to explain that away as if we think we’re God’s public relations agent?

Jennings wants to show that God doesn’t produce fear, but story after story in the Bible shows us a God who does things that produce fear in human beings. He tries to explain this away as well as God being so loving that he’s willing to be misunderstood. But according to Jenning’s research, God being misunderstood is very damaging to the brain.

Finally, because the traditional view of hell doesn’t fit the perception of God that Jennings is trying to present, he opts for a view of hell that’s as unclear as Rob Bell’s. He seems to be advocating a form of annihilationism, but it seems that he could possibly be supporting a form of universalism in which everyone’s sinful nature is eventually burned away. I wish I could believe in annihilationism, but the biblical evidence doesn’t seem to support it, and the biblical witness certainly leaves out the option of universalism.

I think Jennings is right to want to obliterate the view of God as an angry tyrannical hateful ruler of the universe because I believe God is ultimately loving. I also believe that God is misunderstood and that we have to use our minds to understand what he is saying to us. How do you explain the effects of fear on the brain? I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say, but I think there’s probably a lot more going on than scientists have currently discovered about the human brain. I support the heart behind THE GOD-SHAPED BRAIN, but I can’t support all of the theological conclusions of it. Being a book review, I can’t adequately wrestle with every issue in the book. That would require a book in itself. But readers should read with a critical mind.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Photo Credit: InterVarsity Press

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review of WHY CITIES MATTER by Justin Buzzard and Stephen Um

WHY CITIES MATTER by Justin Buzzard and Stephen Um is an insightful, thought-provoking, and stirring book about the role of cities in God’s creation. Buzzard and Um are both pastors in major cities, so they speak as practicitioners and, as you’ll come to see throughout the book, men who love the cities and people they serve. The authors look at cities, what they are, why people flock to them, and what vital role they play in the world we live in. Then they look specifically at the role of the city in God’s redemptive plan for the world, and this part is incredibly enlightening.

I hadn’t thought much about cities before reading this book, but this book opened my eyes to the way culture is shaped both in and by cities which are made up of people. Cities present incredible opportunities for redemptive purposes, and the authors show how to contextualize the gospel in the midst of the city.

WHY CITIES MATTER is an important book, and I found it to also be a very exciting book. The authors paint an incredible picture of what God is doing through people gathered in cities, and it will likely make you want to be a part of what God is doing.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Photo Credit: Crossway Books

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review of REWRITE, Second Edition by Paul Chitlik

Second Edition Coming November 2013

REWRITE by Paul Chitlik is a step-by-step guide for screenwriters to take the first draft of their screenplay and greatly improve it. Chitlik states that screenplays often go through several rewrites before a final draft is achieved. He gives some very practical tips on how to make this process effective.

Chitlik covers two types of story structure and what types of stories they fit best - 3-act structure and the mythic structure often associated with Joseph Campbell. He then outlines how to develop your story's characters. I loved the chapter on the emotional relationship in the story. There's a chapter on effectively eliminating pages from your script to tighten the story without losing any of the most vital parts. Each chapter has assignments for you to work on as you're reading so that ideally you're completing a rewrite of a script in the course of reading the book. There are ample examples from well-known movies throughout go illustrate Chitlik's points.

REWRITE is invaluable resource for writers to tighten their scripts and make them better.

Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions

Photo Credit: Michael Wiese Productions

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: QUIET INFLUENCE by Jennifer Kahnweiler

I’ve always been an introvert, and I’ve always been aware of it. It’s been a frustration because as an introvert I find it hard to be influential, and yet I have this driving need inside of me to do something that impacts people. On top of that, I’m raising a little girl who is also an introvert, and I want to help her avoid some of the frustrations I grew up with. It seems like in the last few years that the world has been realizing the presence and potential of people with introverted personalities. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was a powerful book and easily my favorite of 2012. Jennifer Kahnweiler, an extrovert ironically, has contributed some important insights on the inherent influential strengths of introverts and how to hone them and use them to be influential without trying to be someone else. Her new book is QUIET INFLUENCE. Kahnweiler identifies the influential strengths of introverts as:
Taking Quiet Time
Engaged Listening
Focused Conversations
Thoughtful Use of Social Media
She devotes a chapter to each one, but also does a great job of describing how the strengths work together. There’s an opportunity to measure the level of each of your strengths, and there are practical steps to take to help strengthen the ones that aren’t as strong as they should be. Each chapter has some helpful stories that illustrate introverts in influential action. As an introvert, I wouldn’t say that I was unaware of these six strengths, but I do believe the book to be helpful in encouraging introverts to be who they are and not feel the pressure to be an extrovert. QUIET INFLUENCE should help introverts communicate effectively and influentially.

Review copy provided by Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Photo Credit: Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Review: CONTAGIOUS by Jonah Berger

If you want to be a communicator of ideas that spread widely and quickly, there's no better book that I can think of to help you package your ideas for sharing than the aptly titled CONTAGIOUS by Jonah Berger. Berger is a marketing professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Using a lot of research about the spread of ideas, Berger uncovers six characteristics that are likely to contribute to an idea's spreadability. They are:

Social Currency
Practical Value

Berger shares stories throughout the book that serve to validate the ideas he presents for contagious content. An idea or product doesn't have to have all the characteristics to be contagious, but the more it has, the more contagious it is likely to be.

Some of the stories in the beginning were really surprising about the decisions people make and why. You'll likely run into many concepts that seem counterintuitive, but the book definitely helps to understand how to tap into human nature to make ideas more contagious.

I think CONTAGIOUS could be a very contagious resource for communicators and marketers. It was definitely a book I learned much from and enjoyed reading as well.

Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster

Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review: A CAST OF STONES by Patrick Carr

Errol Stone is a drunk. Chased constantly by a tragic past, Errol lives each day to drown out his memories with ale. No one would ever suspect he would ever be someone important, but that’s all about to change. The kingdom he lives in is in trouble. The king is near death, and he has no heir. The implications of the king dying without someone to take his place are dire, threatening to unleash an ancient evil that will destroy everything. But there are some who have a plan. The new king will be chosen by a religious group known as the readers. The readers cast lots to tell the future, and they will reveal the kingdom’s new leader. But something mysterious is trying to stop them at all costs. When Errol discovers that he himself is a reader, it puts him on a path that will change him and the kingdom. Who will he become?

I decided to pick up A CAST OF STONES by Patrick Carr because it looked like an interesting fantasy novel from a Christian perspective. I didn’t know what to expect, but as I read, I grew to love this story. Errol’s character undergoes an incredible transformation throughout the story that really made this into a hero’s journey. The story is filled with action, as well as many suspenseful moments that kept me turning pages to find out what will happen next.

The stakes in this novel are great, and Carr does this brilliantly as he reveals his back story through dialogue as the story goes along. The descriptions helped me to imagine the world the story takes place in and the characters and creatures within it.

A CAST OF STONES is the first book in a trilogy, and as a story on its own, it is a brilliant redemptive story. But also as the first book in a trilogy, I’m left wanting more. I have a feeling this story is going to get better and better, and Patrick Carr will be an author I look forward to from now on.

Review copy provided by Bethany House Publishers

Photo Credit: Bethany House

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: C.S. LEWIS: A LIFE by Alister McGrath

If I were to write that C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and that his writings have shaped my thinking about God and the nature of the world we live in, I wouldn't be saying anything that countless others haven't already said. But how did C.S. Lewis become so popular? How did he become a voice that speaks into the lives of so many people about the Christian faith for so many years after his death? This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, and Alister McGrath has given us a compelling narrative and rare look into the life of Lewis in C.S. LEWIS: A LIFE. 

My first introduction to C.S. Lewis was in college when I was required to read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for a class I was taking. I enjoyed the story, but it would be a few more years before I really grew to appreciate the story and the series as a whole. Lewis became a favorite of mine when I decided to pick up Mere Christianity a few years ago. I love to think, and Lewis got me to thinking. The book made so much sense of so many things that I felt like I wanted to say myself. As I continued to read more and more of Lewis’ works, I always felt like I was reading the works of someone who understood the way my mind worked. I was intrigued when I heard that Lewis came to faith as a result of a conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien. All of this combined to make Lewis a compelling figure in my mind. Where did all this come from? 

That’s where McGrath’s book comes in. McGrath takes us on a journey from Lewis’ early beginnings in Ireland, through his development as an Oxford scholar, to his embracing of theism and then Christianity, to his rise as an apologist and author of popular works, to his complicated relationship with Joy Davidman, and finally to his death. Throughout, McGrath carefully intersperses where Lewis’ major works fall into the timeline of his life, including the possible driving forces and the implications of each. The book almost reads like a novel, revealing the hinge moments in the life of Lewis that shaped him into the man who would write such great Christian works, such as The Screwtape Letters, The Problem of Pain, and The Ransom Trilogy

One of the aspects of the book that I loved was the period of time focused on Lewis’ career at Oxford. I always knew that Lewis taught at Oxford, but McGrath’s book shows how foundational this was to Lewis’ life and thought. I also loved reading about Lewis’ relationship with Tolkien and his part in the success of Tolkien’s most famous work, The Lord of the Rings. I was left saddened however by the turn in Lewis’ and Tolkien’s relationship in the end.

McGrath’s book cleared up so much that I didn’t know or realize about Joy Davidman and Lewis’ complicated relationship with her. Joy Davidman was an interesting character in Lewis’ life, and I didn’t realize the impact she would have on him and the motivations that drove her in the beginning. I loved McGrath’s comparison between the similarities, yet different perspectives, of The Problem of Pain and A Grief of Observed.

McGrath clearly did an extensive amount of research to write this book, reading everything that Lewis had written, including all of his surviving letters, in chronological order. McGrath compiled a history of Lewis’ life based on all the evidence he could find, and one of the interesting aspects of the book is his critical look at the dating of Lewis’ conversion, challenging Lewis’ own dating for it. I have to say it seemed convincing. 

C.S. LEWIS: A LIFE is without question the best book I’ve read so far this year, driving me to want to go back and read Lewis’ works, including the ones I haven’t read. If you read this book, I think you’ll be pulled that way as well. Throughout the narrative, we meet so many people who impacted Lewis’ life: his father, his brother Warnie, the mother of a childhood friend Mrs. Moore, Owen Barfield, Arthur Greeves, Tokien, Davidman, and so many others. Therefore, if I had to some up the impression that I came away with from the book, I would have to say McGrath’s book is about the relationships in Lewis’ life and how they shaped him for better or worse. I can’t recommend McGrath’s biography of C.S. Lewis enough.

Review copy provided by Tyndale House Publishers


Photo Credit: Tyndale House