Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review of The Twelve Disciples by Douglas Connelly (A Lifeguide Bible Study)


The Twelve Disciples: 10 Studies for Individuals or Groups
by Douglas Connelly
ISBN 978-0-8308-3147-0
IVP Connect
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I have a shelf full of small group bible studies. Some of them I have used with small groups. Many of them I have used to guide my bible study time. Still others have provided guidance and seeds for thought in developing a sermon series. Of all of the different studies, the largest collection of Bible studies comes from IVP, and of those studies that IVP puts out, the Lifeguide series takes up the most room. I like them because they are simple and straightforward for both personal and group study. I often supplement what is in the book with personal research, but the Lifeguide studies do a good job at guiding people through the topic at hand to be studied.

The Twelve Disciples discusses, if you have not guessed, Jesus' inner circle of followers that are often referred to as the apostles or the disciples. The author does 9 individual studies, and then groups three of the more obscure disciples in one lesson at the end of the series. What I like about the way the study unfolds is that it really focuses in on one Scripture or one event that is central to understanding that particular disciple, their unique gifts and abilities, as well as the struggles that they may have had to deal with. By the time you are done with the study, you will feel like you really know at least 9 of the disciples in a deeper way. In the process, you will also learn baby steps that you might need to take to be stronger in your discipleship journey by learning from the first apostles.

A worthwhile personal or group study resource.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review of Partnering with the King by John Hiigel



Partnering with the King: Study the Gospel of Matthew and Become a Disciple of Jesus
by John Hiigel
ISBN 978-1-55725-997-4
Paraclete Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I received this book a little while back, and I have been working my way through it ever since. I made special use of it during the Advent season and now through Holy Week. This has been especially valuable since this is "Year A" in the liturgical year, and thus the Christian year features the gospel of Matthew.

The thesis of this Partnering with the King, and it is not an original one, is that the gospel of Matthew is a guide to helping followers of Jesus understand the journey of discipleship is a disciplined, organized, and somewhat systematic way. Hiigel makes his point by sharing Scripture, and then writing a kind of devotional commentary about the text. The entries are easy to understand, and yet at the same time insightful both in understanding the text and what it means for us today.

Partnering with the King has a dual use. It could be used as a personal devotional or a study aide in working through the gospel of Matthew. In this case, the study guide in the back could be used to guide journal work and personal reflections. Since it only has 31 days it could be used through one month on a daily basis.

The text could also be used as a guide for study for a group. With 31 entries, it would be perfect to guide a group's study through a school-year schedule. The study guide would then become a discussion guide and lead people on a discipleship journey through the gospel of Matthew as a community.

Either way, with endorsements from luminaries such as Richard Foster, as well as friends that are former students, I will be visiting and revisiting this book often.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review of Aha! by Kyle Idleman



Aha!: The God Moment that Changes Everything
by Kyle Idleman
ISBN 978-0-7814-1049-6
David C. Cook Publishing
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This is, at best, a book about yielding oneself to God. Which is an essential part, and a true beginning to authentic Christian spirituality. I have read several books about seeking or having a divine appointment with God, and how it can change one's life. This book takes things a step further. It describes how people are transformed through an encounter with the living God.

Idleman says that these encounters  begin with an awakening to our need to be changed by God, followed by a brutally honest inventory of one's life. This honestly often leads one to the conclusion that without God's continuing intervention we will be stuck where we are at, and then finally taking action to make that transformation a reality by partnering with God to allow him to transform our very souls.

This is how many of us come to faith. But the truth is, in the life of believers that are sensitive to the life transforming power of Jesus Christ, this is a continuing cycle of discovery, rediscovery, and growth.

Although, there are times when Idleman comes across a little too simplistic and formulaic, I do like a lot of what he is saying, and would recommend this book to friends.

Book Review of the Briarpatch Gospel



The Briarpatch Gospel: Fearlessly Following Jesus into the Thorny Places
by Shayne Wheeler
ISBN 978-1-4143-7230-3
Tyndale Momentum
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Too often we treat God's grace like an entitlement instead of a gift. Often, when we have this attitude, we think we are entitled to have an easy, stress-free, and pain-free life. The problem with this line of thinking is that is both unrealistic, and it does not form us into the grace-grounded and Christ-dependent people that God is calling us to be.

Shayne Wheeler invites us to trust God in the difficult moments and periods of our life, and to trust him as we enter into the thicket of pain, heartache, and struggle. Furthermore, he encourages believers to take their own faith into those not-so-ideal places and friendships within which they work and live and play.

I enjoyed this book because it is about living our faith authentically in the places in our own lives and in our world where there might be the most darkness. It is in those places where Christ's light shines most clearly, and Christian faith becomes most practical and real.

Book Review on the Pleasures of God

The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God's Delight in Being God
by John Piper
ISBN 978-1-57673-665-4
Multnomah
Reviewed by Clint Walker

John Piper has written extensively on many topics. Most notable, however, is his book Desiring God, which lays out the case for what he calls "Christian Hedonism". The book was a brilliant text, if for no other reason, than because it lays out a case for a joyful, loving Calvinist worldview. Basically, Piper makes the argument that the holy life and the God-obedient life is also the most pleasurable way to live. I read it in college and LOVED it.

Later, Piper released The Pleasures of God. In this book he makes the argument that God has a great delight in being himself and enjoys and takes pleasure in the world he has created. Well-written and well-researched, the text makes the case for God being the most joyful being in the universe. Furthermore, The Pleasures of God argues that God lives and creates FOR his own delight.

The book is organized. Each chapter takes this same thesis from a different angle. The end of the book has an extensive study guide as well as a thorough Scriptural index. Agree with Piper or disagree with him, this book will make you think.

I still have to do more thinking about the book. I agree that God is ultimately joyful, but also believe that part of God's joy is not being self-centered or self-seeking. And, although the text occasionally makes effort to make these clarifications, in order to make it's point well, the point is often overstated. Having said that, I am not sure I would be smart enough to win an argument with Piper regarding what I am saying, nor would I want to try.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review of Making Spiritual Progress by Allen Ratta


Making Spiritual Progress


Making Spiritual Progress: Building Your Life with Faith, Hope and Love
by Allen Ratta
ISBN  978-0-8308-4405-0
IVP Books
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Making Spiritual Progress is an interesting book, and not quite what I expected. A lot of what I read about spiritual growth has what I would call more of an "organic" twist to it. In other words, it talks about how to grow people in their faith honestly and naturally and led by the mysterious hand of the Holy Spirit. This book is much more of a system and method of spiritual growth. I am still trying to wrap my mind around it, and decide if I buy this neat little system for spiritual growth, and for understanding human motivation.

Ratta believes that what motivates a person's heart and life is what rules their life. That makes sense. He says, basically, that the key to helping people grow is teaching them to be motivated by the right things, and then right living with flow out of the character motivated by the Spirit. He describes the key motivators of the Christ-centered life as faith, hope, and love. And Ratta believes that world revolves around the "isms" stunt Christlike formation by motivating us with the wrong things: namely hedonism, materialism, and egoism. In Scripture this is worked out through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:16). As he says, "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life are not your ordinary garden-variety evils....they are spiritual conditions of the heart. They each motivate a world of behaviors" (p. 51).

Making Spiritual Progress is nothing if not hands-on. The next part of the book describes a regimen of spiritual disciplines and exercises for spiritual growth that help to address the heart through training it to be motivated by better, more godly things. The final section of Making Spiritual  discusses how the vital virtues that Ratta advocates can be perverted and/or misunderstood.

The thing I struggle with in this book is whether the whole description of the spiritual life is to clean and neat for describing the way soul work really happens. In my life, growth is often messy and ugly, and not nearly as simple and straight-forward as Ratta describes.

What this does describe, in its own way, is what Dallas Willard describes as a VIM approach to growing souls. It gives people a vision, intent, and means to be transformed. And that is a very good thing.


Book Review of the Jesus Prayer by John Michael Talbot



The Jesus Prayer: A Cry for Mercy, A Path of Renewal
by John Michael Talbot
ISBN 978-0-8308-3577-5
IVP Formatio
Reviewed by Clint Walker

I first became aware of John Michael Talbot through his music. When I was growing up, his albums often graced the shelves of Christian bookstores alongside the works of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. Somewhere along the road of his evangelical singing career, he discovered some of the spiritual masters and ancient spiritual disciplines, and this discovery in turn led him to embrace the Catholic stream of Christian practice.

Now, Talbot ministers through music as well as with more traditional means. Based out of a hermitage in Arkansas, he travels around the world calling people to a deep, authentic, commitment to Jesus Christ as their Savior.

This book guides us into the tradition of praying the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is from Scripture, and the most developed tradition of practicing the contemplative method of praying "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner" as a way of deepening one's spiritual life comes from the Orthodox Tradition. I, like John Michael Talbot, have been intrigued by the book "The Way of the Pilgrim" from the Orthodox tradition.

Praying the Jesus Prayer is not easy. But it is a powerful way to learning the nature of unceasing prayer. Talbot takes the reader through the prayer word by word, deepening our understanding of what we are praying by meditating on every word in the prayer. This will help the reader be more grounded in what they are praying.

The book is short, testimonial, and powerful. I will keep in my library of spiritual formation resources for quite some time.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Book Review of the Breast Cancer Support Partner Handbook by Judy C. Kneece






Breast Cancer Support Partner Handbook: Tips for Becoming An Effective Support Partner
by Judy C. Kneece
ISBN 978-1-886665-3
Published by EDUCARE INC.
Reviewed by Clint Walker

Now on its eighth printing, this book has become the standard in resources for those who offer care to those suffering with breast cancer. First published 18 years ago, it has guided many in the journey of supporting their friends and loved ones through the breast cancer journey. The Breast Cancer Support Partner Handbook is full of helpful, insightful, and well-researched information.

As I have read through parts of this book, and skimmed others, I am impressed with its layout, it attention to details, its graphics and tables to communicate content, and its wisdom. Not only are readers given health information for dealing with the diagnosis and addressing treatments, issues regarding coping, mental health, and sexuality are discussed.

The one thing, however, that is off-putting about this book is that it looks like it is designed for women. And, while I do believe there are a number of breast cancer patients that do have female support partners, I would be willing to bet there are a large number of husbands and children of people with breast cancer are male. And, most men are not going to want to carry around some book with a bunch of flowers that has a cover that looks like an advertisement for Summer's Eve.

Having said that, this would be a great book for support partners, friends, and even breast cancer survivors. If for no other reason than to look up odd and difficult relationship and behavioral issues with those with breast cancer and ask, "Is this normal?," and find out that it is.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Book Review of Bringing Sex Into Focus by Caroline J. Simon

Bringing Sex into Focus

Bringing Sex Into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity
by Caroline J. Simon
ISBN 978-0-8308-3637-6
IVP Academic
Reviewed by Clint Walker

This short and readable little book attempts to deal with the intersection of Christian ethics and human sexuality in a wise, succinct, and highly intelligent way. For the most part, Caroline Simon succeeds in her effort that she put forward in Bringing Sex Into Focus, challenging readers to think and process issues in human sexuality in a thoughtful and winsome manner.

Simon begins her book by proposing six "lenses" that people view sexual behavior through. Two of these views are explicitly Christian: understanding sexuality as expressive of covenant and as a procreative act. Other ways of viewing sexuality are often held by Christians, but are less explicitly Christian, and at times work against a world view that lifts up the Word of God for the authority of what is ethical. Such "lenses" include: a romantic lens, the plain-sex view, the power view (which is many ways is an argument against the plain sex view), and and expressive lens (my sexuality is a way of expressing my individualism and identity).

The rest of the book addresses how people live out their sexuality, both in relation to Christian ethics, and in relation to these other lenses as well, and how those behaviors demonstrate healthy and/or unhealthy and holy and/or  unholy ways of living out one's sexuality.

Simon begins with tackling what most Bible-believing Christians believe are the channels that healthy sexuality should flow through. Namely, virginity and chastity outside of marriage, and fidelity and the becoming of "one flesh" from within the boundaries of marriage. After this, she tackles some more controversial expressions of human sexuality such as flirtation and homosxuality. Then she tackles what she calls, "deficient" views of human sexuality.

Simon writes well, and gets her readers to think. She has clear convictions, and expresses her conclusions as times, but always with a class and grace that will be appreciated by the reader.

This is a book I will keep on my bookshelf and refer to from time to time for several years.