[nick duffel]

thoughts on leadership, books, design + more.

BOOK REVIEW: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

512sCwtd+YL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_“People have never seen God until they see Jesus.” This is the primary assertion of Brian Zahnd in his book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. The subtitle is “The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News,” which sums up the tone of this wonderful book very nicely. Zahnd directly and poetically attacks the glorification of divine violence and the “weaponization” of scripture that have been the hallmarks of much of modern Christianity. As a cultural touchstone, Zahnd offers Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” If this sermon is at the heart of American revivalism, then should we be surprised at our current theological state, what Zahnd calls a “good cop/bad cop” view of God?

This book is very theological and well-reasoned. It has to be. Zahnd is sacrificing some very sacred cows, dealing with topics such as the reality of hell, the interpretation of Revelation, the wrath of God, non-violence, and penal substitutionary atonement theory. This are hot topics, and Zahnd speaks with a measured, loving, firm, and redemptive tone. A discussion of any one of these topics could fill multiple books—and those books are available—but Zahnd keeps things concise. This book reads like a manifesto, meant to break us out of our stupor and send us in new directions, thinking differently than we did before. We are forced to confront ideas that we have long held sacred.
Zahnd breaks into poetic verse, and builds beautiful metaphors. He restores the sense of subversive worship to the book of Revelation. He reminds us why the cross is such as powerful symbol of love. Zahnd’s view of God is uncomfortable—not because of his wrath, but because of the distressing depths of his love. One lucid statement lands like a punch to the gut: “Jesus didn’t die on the cross to change God’s mind about us; Jesus died on the cross to change our minds about God.”

This book is a must-read for every Christian. Even if someone disagrees with Zahnd’s conclusions and assertions, this book will still hold value. Its value is in the way it causes the reader to be doubtful of easy answers to complex questions, the way it questions our traditional approaches to evangelism (which have become ineffective), and the way it sends the reader, unsatisfied, on a journey for more understanding. I am truly grateful for this book.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

Old Testament References in the Book of Revelation

Revelation

Revelation 1

1:1 alludes to Dan 2:28-30; 2:45-47

1:4a echoes Exod 3:14; Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10; 44:6; 48:12

1:4b is a paraphrased allusion to Zech 4:2-7 and perhaps Isa 11:2-10

1:5 draws on Psalm 89:27, 37 (cf. Isa 55:4)

1:6 echoes Exod 19:6

1:7 is a composite of Dan 7:13 and Zech 12:10

1:8 is perhaps based on similar clauses in Isa 41-48 (cf. Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12)

1:10-11 carries the language of Ezekiel’s repeated experiences in the Spirit (cf. Ezek 2:2; 3:12; etc) and also evokes Exod 19:16, 19, 20

1:12 draws from Zech 4:2, 10 (cf. Exod 25; 37; Num 8)

1:13-16 draws predominantly from Dan 7; 10, but is apparently pulling from Isa 11:4; 49:2; Zech 4:3, 11, 14; Ezek 1:24, 27; 43:2 as well

1:17 follows the pattern of Dan 10:8-20 and echoes Isa 41:4; 44:6; 48:12

1:19 is composed, like 1:1a, with terminology from Dan 2

1:20 uses the expression “mystery” in the same sense as Daniel, the only OT book where it occurs

 

Revelation 2

2:7a is based on virtually the same wording found in the Synoptics, which itself alludes to Isa 6:9-11

2:7b alludes to Gen 2-3

2:10 contains an allusion to Dan 1:12-15

2:14 references the events of Num 22:5-25:3; 31:8, 16

2:14-15 continues the parallel with Balaam (cf. Num 22:23, 31)

2:17 references Exod 16:31-36; Num 11:7

2:20 references the events of 1 Kings 16:31-32; 21:25-26; 2 Kings 8:18; 9:22

2:23 alludes to Jer 17:10 (cf. Ps 7:9; 28:4; 62:11; Prov 24:12; Jer 11:20)

2:26-27 quotes Ps 2:9

2:28 alludes to Num 24:17

 

Revelation 3

3:4-5 points to Dan 11-12 with the imagery of “white robes” and the “book of life”

3:7-8 alludes to Isa 22:22 and Isa 45:1

3:9 contains a collective allusion to Isa 45:14; 49:23; 60:14 and Ps 86:9

3:10 may be alluding to Dan 12:1, 10

3:12 evokes Isa 56:3-5 (cf. Isa 62:2; 65:15) with the promise of being a pillar in the temple. Also, “the name of the city of my God” recalls Ezek 48:35

3:14 likely points to Isa 65:15-17 with the Divine title “the Amen, the faithful and true” as well as the concluding “the beginning of the creation of God”

 

Revelation 4

The whole structure of the throne room vision of chapters 4 and 5 corresponds to that of Dan 7:9-28.

4:3 combines references from Ezek 1:26, 28; 10:1 and 28:13 (cf. Exod 24:10; 28:17-20)

4:5 is patterned after Zech 4:2-3; 4:10

4:6a has Ezek 1:22 in the background

4:6b-8a continues to draw from Ezek 1 (Ezek 1:5-21; cf. Ezek 10:12-15; 10:20-22)

4:8b echoes Isa 6:3

4:9b echoes Dan 12:7

 

Revelation 5

5:1b evokes the imagery of Ezek 2:9b-Ezek 2:10, perhaps also merging Dan 21:1, 4, 9 with Isa 29:11

5:2 may contain further inspiration from Dan 12:1-13 (cf. Isa 29)

5:5 recalls Gen 49:9; Isa 11:1, 10

5:6 broadly refers to the OT Passover lamb while perhaps carrying specific reference to Isa 53:7

5:6 also references Zech 3:4 (cf. Zech 3:9; 4:2, 10)

5:7 echoes Dan 7:13

5:10 echoes Isa 19:6 and perhaps Dan 7:22b, Dan 27a

5:11 borrows language from Dan 7:10

5:12 combines 1 Chron 29:11-12 and Dan 2:20

5:13 may be a collective reflection of Exod 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Ps 146:6 (cf. Dan 2:38; 4:37 LXX)

 

Revelation 6

6:1-8 may have Zech 6:1-8 as its main OT background (cf. Zech 1:8-15)

6:7-8 directly alludes to Ezek 14:19-21 and possibly echoes Hos 13:8

6:10 alludes to Ps 89:5, 10

6:12-14 is heavily influenced by Isa 13:10-13; 24:1-6; 24:19-23; 34:4; Ezek 32:6-8; Joel 2:10, 30, 31; 3:15-16; Hab 3:6-11 (cf., secondarily, Ps 68:7-8; Jer 4:23-28; Amos 8:8-9)

6:15 quotes Isa 34:12 LXX (cf. Ps 2:2)

6:16 alludes to Hos 10:8 (cf. Hos 10:1-3; 11:2)

6:17 alludes to Joel 2:10-11

 

Revelation 7

7:2-3 holds Ezek 9 in the background

7:9 evokes the promise to Abraham and Jacob that God would multiply their descendants, “which shall not be numbered for multitude” (e.g. Gen 16:10; 32:12)

7:14 owes Dan 12:1 for the phrase “the great tribulation”

7:15 echoes Ezek 37:26-28 (LXX)

7:16-17 alludes to Isa 49:9-10 (cf. Isa 25:8)

 

Revelation 8

8:3-5 is modeled to a great extent after Ezek 10:1-7

8:4 refers to prayer metaphorically as Ps 141:2

8:5 may have Exod 19:16-18 in mind

8:7 is patterned after Exod 9:23-25 (LXX)

8:8-9 alludes to Exod 7:15-24

8:10 may extend the allusion to Exod 7 from vv. 8-9 (cf. Ps 78:44)

8:11 may allude to Deut 29:17-18

8:13 may allude to Hos 8:1 (cf. Jer 4:13)

 

Revelation 9

9:2 may have Exod 10:15 in view, where the locust plague is so great that it darkens the land (cf. Joel 2:2, 10)

9:4 may be an intentional contrast with Exod 10:15 (cf. Ps 105:33-35)

9:7-9 is based on the locust plague of Joel 1-2

9:8 quotes Joel 1:6

9:9 may make a partial allusion to Job 39:19-25 (LXX)

9:14 may contain echoes of Jer 46

9:19 echoes Job’s portrait of the sea dragon, the symbol of cosmic evil (Job 40-41)

 

Revelation 10

10:1 may reflect Exod 19:9-19 and Ezek 1:26-28, but the portrait of chapter 10 is based mostly on Daniel 10-12

10:3a may allude to Amos 3:8

10:3b may be based on Ps 29

10:5-7 is a direct allusion to Dan 12:7, which is a development of Deut 32:40

10:7 may also allude to Amos 3:7

10:9-10 is dependant on Ezek 2:8-3:3

 

Revelation 11

11:1 may allude to the measuring of the temple in Ezek 40-48

11:2 quotes Dan 8:13 (cf. Isa 63:18), combining it with Dan 12:7

11:3 may assume the law of Num 35:30 (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15)

11:4 is dependant on Zech 4:14 (cf. Zech 4:2-3; 4:11-14)

11:5 may echo Jer 5:14 (cf. 2 Kings 1:10)

11:6 alludes to 1 Kings 11 and Exod 7:17-25

11:7-8 carries language from Dan 7 (Dan 7:3, 8, 21)

11:11 echoes Ezek 37:5, 10

11:13 echoes Ezek 38:19

11:18 is patterned after Jeremiah’s announcement of the judgment of historical Babylon, and the contrasted blessing for the saints echoes Ps 115:13

 

Revelation 12

12:1 is based on Gen 37:9

12:2 carries a common OT metaphor representing Israel’s sufferings (e.g. Isa 26:17-18; 66:7-9; Mic 4:9-10; 5:3), yet these texts themselves were inspired by Gen 3:15-16

12:3 may carry an allusion to Ezek 29:3

12:4 alludes to Dan 8:10

12:7 is developed from Dan 10:13, 21 and Dan 12:1

12:8 is based on nearly the same wording from Dan 2:35

12:9-10 refers back to Gen 3:1, 14 (cf. Job 1:6-11; 2:1-6; Zech 3:1-2)

12:14 combines allusions to Exod 19:4; Deut 1:31-33; 32:10-15

12:15 may contain an allusion to Dan 9:24

12:16 echoes Exod 15:12

 

Revelation 13

The depiction of the two beasts in this chapter are based in part on Job 40-41, which is the only place in the OT that portrays two satanic beasts that oppose God.

13:1-2 is a creative reworking of Dan 7:1-7

13:3 reflects Gen 3:15

13:4 is based on Dan 7:6

13:5 is a collective allusion to Dan 7:6, 8, 11, 20, 25

13:6 alludes to Dan 7:25; 11:36

13:7a is based on Dan 7:8 (LXX)

13:7b-8a continues the dependence on Dan 7 by quoting Dan 7:14 but reversing it from the “son of man” to the “beast”

13:10 is a paraphrase combining Jer 15:2 and Jer 43:11

13:11 alludes to Dan 7:17 (LXX)

13:13 is an ironic echo of the ministry of Moses (e.g. Exod 4:17, 30; 10:2; 11:10)

13:14-15 echoes Dan 3

 

Revelation 14

14:5 carries an allusion to Zeph 3:13, which itself may be an allusion to Isa 53:9

14:8 echoes Isa 21:9; Jer 25:15-16; 51:7-8

14:10 echoes Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-18; 32:15 LXX

14:11 draws its portrait from Isa 34:9-10

14:17-20 is developed from Joel 3:13

 

Revelation 15

15:2 may contain an allusion to Dan 7:10

15:3a refers to the song of Moses in Exod 15:1-18 (or perhaps Deut 32)

15:3b carries language from throughout the OT, but particularly from Deut 28:59-60 LXX and Ps 110:2-4 LXX

15:4 recalls Jer 10:7, but Ps 86:9-10 is the basis for most of the language

15:7 may derive its imagery from Isa 51:17, 22

15:8 contains a collective echo to Exod 40:34-35; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron 5:13; Isa 6:1, 4 LXX

 

Revelation 16

16:1 carries an allusion to Isa 66:6

16:2 echoes Exod 9:9-11

16:6 echoes Ps 79:3, 10, 12

16:12 echoes Exod 14:21-22 (cf. Isa 11:15; 44:27; 50:2; 51:10)

16:16 is likely evoking Ezek 38:21 and Zech 14:4, but Judges 5:19 is the main referent

16:18 echoes the Sinai theophany of Exod 19, and is also influenced by Ezek 38:19-22

16:21 alludes to Exod 9:22-34 and Ezek 38:19-22

 

Revelation 17

17:1 echoes Jer 51:13 (Jer 28:13 LXX)

17:3a makes an allusion to Isa 21:1-2

17:4 makes an allusion to Jer 4:30; 2:34 (cf. Isa 1:15-22)

17:6 uses the same metaphor as Isa 34:5-7; 49:26; Jer 46:10

17:9b makes an allusion to Dan 7:4-7

17:12 makes an allusion to Dan 7:7-8; 7:20; 7:24

17:14a uses the same phraseology as Dan 7:21

17:15 echoes Isa 17:12-13; Jer 51:13

17:16 echoes Ezek 23:25-29; 23:47

 

Revelation 18

18:1 alludes to Ezek 43:2

18:2 echoes the portrayal of Babylon’s fall in Isa 13:21; 34:11, 14

18:3 recalls Ezek 27:12 LXX (cf. Ezek 27:33 LXX)

18:4 is patterned after Jer 51:45 (cf. Isa 52:11)

18:5 echoes Jer 51:9

18:6 evokes Ps 136:8 (cf. Jer 27:29; 28:24)

18:7-8 echoes Isa 47:7-9

18:9 echoes Jer 51:8

18:10 is patterned after Ezek 26:16-18 LXX (cf. Ezek 27:33)

18:12-13 is based in part on Ezek 27:7-25

18:16 is patterned after Ezek 27:12-24

18:17b-19 is patterned after Ezek 27:28-33

18:20 echoes Jer 51:48

18:21 is based on Jer 51:63

18:22-23b alludes to Isa 24:8 and its context

18:23c-23d echoes Isa 23:9 LXX

 

Revelation 19

19:7-8 echoes Isa 61:10

19:13 contains an allusion to Isa 63:1-3

19:15 is based on Isa 49:2, and echoes Isa 11:4 and Ps 2:9

19:16 may allude to Gen 24:2, 9; 47:29

19:17-18 alludes to Ezek 39:4; 39:17-20

19:19 alludes to Ps 2:2

19:21 repeats the allusion from v. 15 to Isa 49:2 and Isa 11:4

 

Revelation 20

20:1-3 is based on Isa 24:21-22

20:4 is based on Dan 7:9-11

20:8-10 contains repeated allusions to Ezek 38-39

20:11 alludes to Dan 7:9; Ezek 1:26-28

20:12 combines allusions to Dan 7:10 and Dan 12:1-2

 

Revelation 21

21:1 echoes Isa 65:17; 66:22

21:2 echoes Isa 52:1b

21:3 echoes Ezek 43:7 and Ezek 37:26-28

21:4 alludes to Isa 25:8; 35:10; 51:11; 65:17

21:5 draws from Isa 43:19 LXX

21:6 alludes to Isa 49:10

21:7 alludes to 2 Sam 7:14 may be inspired by Isa 55:1-3

21:9-10 combines allusions to Ezek 43:5 LXX and Ezek 40:1-2 LXX

21:11 echoes Isa 58:8; 60:1-2; 60:19

21:12-13 echoes Ezek 40:5-6; 42:15-19; 48:31-34

21:15 alludes to Ezek 40:3-5

21:16 alludes to Ezek 45:2-3, and may also have 1 Kings 6:20 in mind

21:18-20 is based on 1 Kings 6:20-22; Exod 28:17-20; Isa 54:11-12

21:23 is based on Isa 60:19 (cf. Isa 24:23)

21:24-26 alludes to Isa 60:3, 5, 11

 

Revelation 22

22:1-2a combines Zech 14:8 and Ezek 47:1-9, but goes back ultimately to Gen 2:10

22:2b is based on Ezek 47:12 (cf. Isa 41:17-20; 43:18-20)

22:3 echoes Zech 14:11

22:5 alludes to Num 6:25-27

22:10 echoes Dan 12:4

22:11 echoes Dan 12:10

22:12a echoes Isa 47:11; Mal 3:1 (cf. Jer 6:26)

22:12b is an allusion to Isa 40:10; 62:11

22:14 picks up Isa 60 and Gen 3 again, and perhaps includes Ps 118:20 also

22:15 may echo Jer 8:10; Ps 101:3; 101:7-8; Mal 3:5

22:16-17 echoes Isa 11:1 and Isa 55:1

22:18-19 echoes Deut 4:1-2; 29:19-20


AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: “More Than Rivals” by Ken Abraham

9781633899551How is this book not a movie yet?  This is the question I asked myself over and over again as I read More Than Rivals by Ken Abraham.  This is the story of two star high school basketball players, one white and one black, living in Gallatin, Tennessee.  Gallatin was one of the last towns to desegregate their schools, and this process was fraught with tension.  The rivalry that develops between two schools that are set to merge, Gallatin High and Union High School, centers around the two star players.  These players, who were childhood friends, are suddenly shouldered with “representing” the dignity of their respective races, and a championship basketball game suddenly becomes much more than just a game.

The beauty of this book is in its characterization.  There are elements of a coming-of-age tale, and the importance of the faith of both boys is emphasized.  It is obvious that Abraham did his research into the town of Gallatin, which really becomes a character in the story more than a setting.  The underlying racism of the townsfolk is contrasted with their Southern geniality—these are people who would rather things stay as idyllic as they believe them to be.  There are hints of ugliness that Abraham prefers to let emerge through conversation and implication.  Beneath the surface isn’t just racism, but classism, trauma from the Vietnam War, sexual tension, dark ambition, poverty, divorce, anger, abuse, and violence.

Every once in a while, Abraham zooms out to give us the big picture, commenting on the civil rights movement or the efforts of desegregation—even giving us a glimpse of chilling school board meeting.  But these glimpses only serve to show the reader how cloistered Gallatin has remained, by the choice of its townsfolk.  The coming collision is inevitable, the loss of innocence both necessary and painful.

This is an inspiring story because it demonstrates to the reader how confused we humans can be and how important character has been and will be in addressing our darkest problems.  For the most part, Abraham doesn’t vilify the racists of Gallatin, because the racists are us.  We would love to escape to a small town and pretend that the greater problems of the world don’t exist—but the problems of the world exist in us.

I highly recommend this book.  However, there are two things that bothered me about it.  First of all, the n-word is used multiple times, and the audiobook version has these bleeped out.  I’m not sure why this was done, since Abraham obviously wanted this in the book to reflection of the underlying racism of the community.  Also, the final chapter has a maudlin feel that left me feeling let down after the powerful conclusion that precedes it.

Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street!) does an outstanding job on the narration of the audiobook version.  He affects different voices for the different characters, and an effect is used on his voice whenever he is mimicking a radio broadcast.  This was a very fun book to listen to.  Here’s hoping a movie is coming soon.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

BOOK REVIEW: “Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father”

9780399580000-600x857The United States of America had a difficult birth.  That seems to be the main message behind Jonathan Hennessey and Justin Greenwood’s graphic novel Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father.  I typically avoid graphic novels with a historical, political, or biographical theme.  Lately, however, I have found myself more drawn to these.  Alexander Hamilton is all of these (historical, political, biographical) in one.  My fear is that this excellent book would not be widely read or respected because it is a “comic book.”  That would be a shame, because this book sheds light on the primary tension that faced a young United States, and it is a tension that we should still be aware of today.

That tension is encapsulated in the question, “How powerful should the government of a nation be?”  Many of the Founding Fathers might qualify as anarchists by today’s standards—they had just gotten rid of the king’s rule and “taxation without representation.” The efforts of Federalists like Hamilton served to centralize government at a critical juncture in history, possibly saving the new nation from early extinction.  George Washington trusted Hamilton, and history was made.  However, Hamilton staked his reputation on his Federalist efforts, and he paid the price socially and fiscally.  So this is the story of a man who gave it all for his nation.

Hennessey doesn’t sugarcoat or glorify the Founding Fathers.  He lets them be human, showing all their improprieties and foibles.  What does it mean for key pioneers of liberty such as Jefferson and Washington to own slaves?  What about the man, Hamilton, who founded the national bank and led the nation out of debt, yet was fiscally irresponsible with his own money and died with enormous personal debt?  Another key irony involves the “necessity” of gentlemen to engage in the barbaric practice of dueling whenever their honor is at stake, leading to tragic, needless death.  Hennessey allows these tensions to remain and doesn’t fight against them—he lets them be part of our history like they should be.  Why do we feel the need to deify these imperfect men?  Maybe the evidence of Providence that we seek is in the knowledge that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights emerged from the efforts of very imperfect men who often reviled, yet respected, one another.

This is one of the graphic novels where the art takes a backseat to the writing.  This is a shame because Greenwood’s art is stylish and expressive.  The art takes a backseat because Hennessey is fond of the lengthy discourse, which often overwhelms the page.  His writing is superb, but practically renders this book an “Illustrated Life of Alexander Hamilton” rather than a graphic novel.  This is likely because this book intends to make political commentary and not just be a narrative biography.  I can appreciate that.  And sometimes the art manages to engage the writing for ironic effect.  For example, a wide shot of Jefferson’s mansion depicts black slaves hard at work while Jefferson declares America to be an “undiminished sanctuary of liberty.”

I highly recommend this book, even for those who don’t typically read graphic novels.  Hopefully books like this will continue to elevate the medium in the minds of readers, even if this particular example leans more toward the “novel” than the “graphic.”

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

BOOK REVIEW: “Insight” by Tasha Eurich

Insight-Cover-nytInsight, by Tasha Eurich, is the self-awareness manual we didn’t know we needed.  We didn’t know we needed it, but it turns out we do—desperately so.  As Eurich herself points out in chapter one, “self-awareness is the meta-skill of the twenty-first century.”  So rare is this skill, and so powerful a determiner of success in both business and relationships, that we cannot afford not to develop it.  Eurich defines—really, hacks the definition of—self-awareness, convinces the reader why it matters so much, and then gives pages of practical application.

The “definition hack” mentioned above is really the key point of the book: that there are two parts to self-awareness.  There is internal self-awareness, which has to do with seeing yourself clearly, and there is also external self-awareness which is knowing how other people see you.  You can have one of these two parts without having the other.  According to Eurich, this explains how there can be an increase in business books calling for greater Emotional Intelligence, self-awareness, etc. but a general decline in these skills across the board.

The first half of the book focuses on roadblocks to self-awareness and on internal self-awareness.  A critical point in the first half is the inadequacy of introspection to help us discover ourselves.  “Thinking isn’t knowing,” Eurich points out.  She offers tried-and-true—and often counterintuitive—ideas for really seeing and understanding yourself clearly.  One section, about the power of self-compassion, was transformative for me, and I believe it could help many others.  Listen to this: “The problem is not being aware of yourself but loving the person you find out you are.”  Powerful.

That said, I benefitted even more from the second half of the book.  Eurich transitions to talk about external self-awareness, which is painfully elusive to so many of us because we are reluctant to tell each other the truth.  She offers page after page of helpful wisdom, and much of it is counterintuitive (a common theme).  The book offers many assessments that are sure to provide many “wince moments” and insights into our own blind spots.  There is also a section dedicated to building self-aware teams that on its own is worth the price of the book.  Finally, Eurich tackles the subject we all hoped she would: How do I deal with the unaware leader that I work for, and can they really change?

All throughout the book, Eurich writes with a playful, yet authoritative tone.  At times, I laughed out loud, and other times I found myself getting emotional.  She isn’t afraid to tell less-than-rosy stories about herself.  Her conclusions and insights come from very thorough research, but she never comes across clinical or dry.  In short, she seems to be the perfect author for a book like this.

I highly recommend this book, and I hope and pray it ends up in as many hands as possible.  It needs to be read, and widely, because the more who read it, the better off our world will be.  Did I just say this book could make the world a better place?  Yes I did.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: “The Imperfect Disciple” by Jared C. Wilson

9781683665793In his book The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together, author Jared C. Wilson sets out to write a discipleship book for the rest of us.  His assertion is that too many discipleship books are written for people who have it all together, or at least are good at making it look like they do.

This book succeeds because Wilson speaks on a raw, blue collar level, but with the theological chops of a seminary professor.  He is both painfully honest about his failures and scholarly in his theological musings.  He has a contagious passion for the message of the gospel—he wants this message front and center—and he reminds the reader why this all matters so much in the first place.  It all matters because God loves and values people—messy, distracted, petty, wandering people.

Wilson begins every chapter with a metaphor, comparing the gospel to things like a burning ember or a well-worn book.  His goal is to lead the reader to understand the gospel on a visceral level, and not just an intellectual level.  When Wilson shares from his own life, he is uncomfortably honest about his shortcomings, struggles, and failures.  He is very funny, and his humor is often self-deprecating.  This also demonstrates to the reader that the gospel is something Wilson lives, not just something he believes or teaches about.

The biblical story he uses to frame this gospel treatise is the controversial, touching conversation recorded in Matthew 15 between Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  Is Jesus being mean by calling her a dog, and why does she respond this way? Wilson holds the reader in tension with stories like this, bravely confronting the failure in himself and all of us, while emphasizing the glory of Christ.

I believe the greatest praise I could give this book is that it makes the gospel of Jesus Christ look really, really good.  I believe that was Wilson’s goal.  One standout chapter is entitled, “The Revolution Will Not Be Instagrammed,” with the subtitle, “When You Think Church Would Be Better Without All the People.”  This chapter is one of the best visions of church life I have ever read or heard.  As a church leader, my soul was encouraged.  Also, the last chapter, “Lurv Wins,” stands alone as a beautiful essay on the unfathomable love of God.

Highly recommended.

Steven Roy Grimsley does a great job of narrating the audiobook version.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

BOOK REVIEW: All These Wonders by The Moth

04BOOKBURNS-facebookJumboAll These Wonders: True Stories About Facing The Unknown, a collection of stories from The Moth radio program, is a generous gift of a book.  Through these stories, originally told in front of a live audience and now captured in written from, we come to know the storytellers intimately—and we get a better understanding of the human experience as a whole.  Stories are precious because of this universal truth: through the story we get to know the teller.  As Neil Gaiman puts it in the foreword, “Honesty matters.  Vulnerability matters.  Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything.”

I am thankful for this book.  I am grateful to the 45 storytellers who had the courage to stand on a stage and tell their story.  They come from a variety of backgrounds: artists, scientists, humanitarian workers, spies, refugees, authors, actors, and more.  There are moments of real, raw emotion where I cried, and other moments where I laughed out loud.

I “met” people in these stories that I never would meet otherwise, and their experiences and viewpoints challenged me greatly.  Even if I disagree with a worldview, it’s impossible to disagree with someone’s story of their experience.  This book taught me to listen to others better; people that I encounter on a day-to-day basis.  I learned to value stories more, and to take the time to hear them.

Having said that, I make this declaration: reading this book might just make you a better human being.  Highly, highly recommended.

Please Note: This book was gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Chazown by Craig Groeschel

9781683662556“Everyone ends up somewhere in life, but very few end up somewhere on purpose.”  That is the main premise of Chazown by Craig Groeschel.  “Chazown” is a Hebrew word that means “vision” or “dream,” and is used by Groeschel to describe that purpose for which God created you.  The book Chazown is meant to be a guide for discovering that ultimate purpose, and fully living in it.

Chazown is not a long book, and it is composed of several very short chapters, giving the book a quick, fun, effervescent feel.  Groeschel’s light-hearted and approachable writing style only adds to this particular pathos.  He comes across as a trustworthy guide, and when dealing with topics as touchy as life-direction and identity, this is probably a good thing.

Groeschel points out that every person’s chazown is discovered where their core values, spiritual gifts, and experiences overlap.  He then turns his attention to the practical: how do you live out your chazown?  Five “spokes” are identified that need to be in place for successful living of a chazown.  These are areas where we must “succeed small in order to succeed big.”  The five spokes are: relationship with God, relationships with people, finances, health and fitness, and work.

Chazown succeeds as a self-help book in two ways.  First, it isn’t really a self-help book as much as a call to draw near to God and listen closely in order to find life purpose.  Unfortunately, this activity is foreign to many believers and many live aimless lives as a result.  Second, Groeschel is able to be systematic and comprehensive without coming across as constrictive and clinical.  His outline for discovery and execution leaves room for people to “move around” as they work to discover their unique design.

I think this book works best as a focused call-to-action.  Groeschel’s purpose is to get the reader moving and working for the expansion of the Kingdom of God.  But he isn’t content just to call the reader to action; he wants movement with purpose and direction.  I recommend this book for any and all who have yet to find their “sweet spot” in the Kingdom.  Read this book, and go find your chazown. 

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: “I Am N” by The Voice of the Martyrs

9781633897052.jpgAs a Christian living in America, stories of Christians being violently persecuted always seem to have an other-worldly quality.  These things don’t happen now, do they?  These stories seem to belong to another time, and another place, with Colosseums or Nazis.  And that is why the ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs is so important, and why we who live in the West cannot let our brothers and sisters suffer alone and in silence.  I Am N, a collection of true stories of Christians facing persecution Islamic Extremists, is just the wake-up call we need.

This book is all about finding love, grace, courage, and hope in the most unlikely of places.  I found myself examining my own level of faith in Christ and commitment to Christ as I heard these stories.  I was driven to prayer for the persecuted church, and compelled to worship of God for his incredible faithfulness.  The most impacting stories were those of believers who were tempted to retaliate because of the violence against them, and yet they chose instead to respond with grace and love.  How often do I retaliate for offenses that are so much smaller than these?

I highly recommend this book for all believers.  We need to hear these stories, and we need to stand in solidarity with the persecuted church.  Our understanding of the world is often painfully small, and this book is designed to shatter our safe perceptions of faith while propelling us into deeper levels of devotion.

Marco Prentice and Amara Delaney do an outstanding job on the narration of the audiobook version.  I recommend experiencing this book in audiobook form because the narration is so well done.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: People of the Second Chance

firebrand_21.jpgOne of the keys to encouraging vulnerability in another person is the willingness to vulnerable yourself.  For many of us this is doable, and yet we have invented an imaginary line of “appropriate vulnerability” that seems to say, “I am ok being this vulnerable, but beyond that is too much.”  In People of the Second Chance, Mike Foster argues that real thriving only comes when we embrace the darkest and most uncomfortable parts of our story.  And then he boldly crosses the “appropriate vulnerability” line and models how to embrace embarrassment, shame, awkwardness, failure, and pain in a way that allows God to redeem it—unimaginably—for good.

To be clear, these are not the typical confessions of an author or speaker trying to “emotionally connect” with the audience.  This is some really raw stuff.  There were times I literally squirmed as I read, feeling embarrassed for Foster, only to find myself completely amazed by how he speaks of God’s unconditional love.  Foster seems to be a man growing more at ease with his failures and his painful story, quick to  bring them to God so that the relationship can be that much deeper.  What a powerful example!

Foster also includes examples in the book from the stories of others.  Many of these are people that Foster has met through his organization, also called People of the Second Chance.  One particular story that impacted me was that of Heavy, an incarcerated man for whom Foster and some others threw a “prodigal party.”  Foster speaks lovingly of this hardened man, and then he turns his attention to the dignity-stripping environment of the penal system.  His critique of this broken system is made more credible by his ministry to those inside.  He speaks of others who are tackling this same system and he challenges the reader with, “We will never change the world by doing things that make sense.  Societal and religious norms must be pushed to the brink of absurdity sometimes in order to move us forward.”  Foster champions the restoration of dignity on an individual as well as systematic level all throughout the book.

Along the way, Foster also ventures into other dark territories including abuse, the comparison game, judging others (with an amazing bacon analogy), and depression.  I can imagine this book setting so many people free by becoming a manifesto for imperfection in a society that is uncomfortable with this level of vulnerability.  Will we trust God—and others—enough to courageously admit our imperfections, and create a culture around ourselves where others can do the same?

I highly recommend this book, particularly to those in the helping professions that would regularly encounter those with deep hurts.  However, I would say this book is meant to be ruthlessly applied to ourselves first, and I certainly have benefited from Foster’s raw wisdom.

Foster does a great job narrating the audio version of his book.  I cannot imagine anyone else narrating a book so intensely personal, so I am glad he did it himself.

Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.  More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.

A physical copy of this book was also gifted as a part of the Blogging for Books Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work.