Category Archives: Book Reviews

Hugh Halter’s Sacrilege: Book Review

Living in Littleton, Colorado I had the privilege of watching and hearing about the ministry of Hugh Halter, Matt Smay and the Adullam Community. To some in the Denver area, Hugh and his band of renegades were labeled as heretics, but their community was reaching those outside the church like no other church. Having read Hugh and Matt’s earlier books, Tangible Kingdom and And, I was excited to pick up Hugh’s newest book, Sacrilege.

I read most of the book during my monastery experience which made me feel a little sacrilege. In Sacrilege, Hugh explores how Jesus challenged the religious assumptions that people held and how these same assumptions hinder the church’s influence today. Read the rest of this entry

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2011 in Review: Books, Music, Movies and Television

This being the time of the year when we reflect on the past year in the rear view mirror, I thought I would reflect on my favorite media choices.

Books

  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – Having worked for Apple Retail and hearing stories of what it was like to cross paths with Steve, I was excited to read what he was really like. He was a flawed human being like all of us but in spite of those flaws he was a relentless genius.
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – I just devoured this trilogy over the holidays. It tells the story of Katniss, who is an angst teenage girl who is thrust into the spotlight of competing for her life in a post-apocalyptic world. I can’t wait for the first movie in the series coming out in March.
  • Weird by Craig Groeschel – Hillary and I love Craig’s honest, practical and biblical wisdom. This book was no exception. In Weird Craig challenges Christians to go against the lifestyles of those around us and live like Christ even if it means being weird.
  • The Restless Heart by Ronald Rolheiser – My counselor recommended anything by Rolheiser and this book was definitely thought provoking and soul stirring. Rolheiser dives deep into explaining the soul stirrings that we all have to connect with others and ultimately God.

Music

I’m only including full albums because I firmly believe that artists should be judged by their full albums not just one catchy song that gets radio play.

  • Gungor (Ghosts Upon the Earth) – by far the most innovative and beautiful worship music I have heard in a long time
  • Civil Wars (Barton Hollow) – a group that features a former CCM artist and a Johnny Depp look alike just has to be good
  • Mumford and Sons (Sigh No More) – thanks to Spotify I haven’t had to buy this album yet but once I get the cash I’m springing for it
  • Coldplay (Mylo Xyloto) – the song Paradise is so addictive I keep coming back again and again to listen to the full album
  • The National (High Violet) – The National is my soundtrack for deep thought moments while I drink coffee

Movies

  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – you can’t go wrong with former Pixar director Brad Bird in charge of this movie
  • The Way – Emilio Estevez’s beautiful description of the spiritual journey is well worth seeing
  • I Am – Tom Shadyac’s documentary journey of finding out what’s wrong with our world and how we can fix it
  • The Beaver – I love stories of redemption and this one had an interesting connection to the real world as Mel Gibson played the role of a depressed man trying to find himself
  • Ides of March – this rather depressing and hopeless take on politics played into my current view of selfish, people pleasing politicians who deserve to be unemployed

Television

  • White Collar – my brother-in-law works on the show and we love the intrigue and team dynamics of this show about a FBI agent and “former” white collar criminal working together to solve crimes
  • Parenthood – though Sarah Braverman annoys the heck out of me and I play with my iPhone during scenes with her in it, Hillary and I still love the family dynamics and raw emotion of this show
  • Friday Night Lights – we miss our favorite coach and long for the small town life of Dillon
  • Modern Family – we are in danger of giving up on this show as most of the characters are venturing toward the extremes of their archtypes

The King Jesus Gospel

Why do young people who once made a decision for Christ no longer follow Christ in their adult years? What was the “gospel” they were preached? What is the original Gospel contained in Scripture?

Scot McKnight’s new book “The King Jesus Gospel” gets to the heart of what the Gospel is all about. I’m definitely going to have to pick this one up.

Healthy Sexuality: Talking to Your Kids about Sex

Whether we like it or not, our children already are learning about sex from their friends and classmates. Even our six year old daughter learned the word “sexy” from her kindergarten classmates. As parents we have to step in and educate our children about a healthy view of sexuality even at a young age. If we hold off on “The Talk” until late elementary, we are way too late.

Hillary and I knew when our daughter came home from school saying the word “sexy” that we needed to start talking about healthy sexuality with her. The problem was that we didn’t know how to start the conversation. We have always appreciated the wisdom and practical insights that author and speaker Jim Burns brings to the table. So when we heard that he developed a whole series of books to help parents talk about healthy sexuality, we knew we had to get them.

One of the best parts about this Pure Foundations series of resources is that they provide resources to start the conversation with young children. We read the first book, God Made Your Body, to our daughters who are six and four. This first book is designed for children ages 3-5 and starts the conversation about sexuality by talking about how boys have penises and girls have vaginas. It also talks about how dads and moms “make love” and that is how the process of having a baby is started. Some parents might feel uncomfortable saying the words “penis” and “vagina” with their kids but I think it is important to call it what it is and provide a place for open conversation early on. Honestly, it made me uncomfortable to say those words but I would rather my girls hear those words from me before they hear it from their friends.

That same night I also read our oldest the second book in the series called How God Makes Babies, which is written for children ages 6-9. I joked with Hillary in the past that she would be the one to have “The Talk” with our girls. I wasn’t real excited to talk to our girls about sex. Before I knew it, I was having “The Talk” with Anna as we read through the book. This second book in the series is more frank about moms and dads having sex. I appreciated how Burns talks about the sacredness of sex within marriage even in a book for children. As we read Burns’ description of the act of sex, Anna asked me, “How does the man make it fit in the woman? Does it take surgery or something?” At that point I knew we were really having “The Talk” and I had to make sure that I didn’t laugh, but handle her question honestly.

Another section of How God Makes Babies that I really appreciated was when Jim Burns talks about how our private areas are not meant to be touched by anyone except for doctors or parents while taking a bath. In this day and age, our children need honest conversations on topics like this for their protection. Hillary and I have been working hard to talk to our daughters about how parts of their body are meant to be covered because they are special.

I would highly recommend this Pure Foundations series to parents out there who want to start the conversation on healthy sexuality. For parents of children in middle and high school there are two other books specifically for those age groups. Purity Code is written for middle school students and their parents. Accept Nothing Less is written for high school students and their parents. Jim Burns also wrote a parent companion book to this entire series called Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality.

Here is a brief video of Jim Burns explaining this Pure Foundations series.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWXKe6YM7ck%5D

Getting Naked

Picture from cover of "Getting Naked"

I am an addict of whatever Patrick Lencioni, the founder of The Table Group, writes and says. Lencioni is devoted to organizational clarity and effectiveness and I believe the church has a lot to learn from his ideas. Though the church is not a business, we do manage people, teams and ideas so principles from the business world can and should inform how we manage. We view and analyze these principles through the lens of Scripture to see which ones contain God’s truth.

Patrick Lencioni’s new book “Getting Naked” is focused on overcoming three fears that threaten customer loyalty. I love Lencioni’s method of telling a fable and weaving in his principles throughout the story. Then at the end of the story he explains these principles more in-depth. Getting Naked follows Jack Bauer (not of 24 fame, but the same name) as he studies a small consulting firm that his management consulting company, Kendrick and Black, has acquired. Jack learns that this smaller company has some interesting and mind boggling principles that fly in the face of his training and experience. He immerses himself in this acquired company and finds out that his company has a lot to learn from this smaller, yet more effective consulting firm. As Jack reports back to his company on the experience, he develops a model that explains why this acquired company retains its customers’ loyalty so much better than his own company. Read the rest of this entry

The End is Here: Love Wins Ch. 8

The end is here. This is the conclusion of my review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins but by no means is it the end of my theological journey on what the Bible says about the afterlife. Bell raised some thought provoking questions that I honestly don’t want to deal with but I know I need to struggle through.

Chapter 8 in review

Bell begins his last chapter telling about his conversion experience as an elementary school student where he prayed “the prayer” with his parents. Though there is a temptation to deconstruct earlier experiences like this and discount them, Rob cautions against this first response. He explains, “Whatever words you find helpful for describing this act of trust, Jesus invites us to say yes to this love of God, again and again and again.” Bell also talks about the importance of repentance and dying to ourselves so that we can be alive with Christ now. Our focus should be on being alive with Christ and his love now, instead of focusing totally on living with Christ in heaven. Read the rest of this entry

Christians and Boring Parties: Love Wins Ch. 7

I can't believe churches actually have signs like this

I had a law teacher in high school who would never tell us what he thought about a given subject and it really annoyed me. I just wanted hear what he believed because I respected his opinion. But for whatever reason, he wouldn’t come out and give us his opinion. I guess he was training us to think. In this chapter I really wanted Rob to clearly state his opinion on hell but he dodged a clear answer. I know some hate this, and I do sometimes, but it has actually caused me to think about what I believe about hell. A clear answer would not have helped me wrestle with doubts and ideas about God that don’t seem to line up. This is one of the reasons why I think Rob’s books should be read in community instead of isolation so we can learn and dialogue with each other. Read the rest of this entry

Jesus, Rocks and Weed: Love Wins Ch. 6

Chapter Overview

Rob Bell begins his sixth chapter telling a story of a man he met who came to know the Lord in a very real way while smoking pot. In the midst of smoking pot in his home, this man felt a deep sense of love that literally knocked him to the floor and his only option was to accept this love and become a follower of Christ. Bell then weaves in the story of Moses striking a rock and water coming out to quench the thirst of the people. He makes the point that Paul makes later in the New Testament that Jesus was present in the rock (1 Cor. 10). God uses a variety of means to draw people to himself. Read the rest of this entry

Eminem and the Cross: Love Wins Ch. 5

The cross is everywhere. Rap musicians, basketball players and celebrities sport cross necklaces and tattoos. Even Eminem wears a cross necklace. Rob Bell begins his fifth chapter titled “Dying to Live” talking about how familiarity with the cross can make us think we know what it is.

He brings us back to the original listeners of the New Testament who were steeped in the sacrificial system. To these original listeners, the idea that Jesus was the final sacrifice would have rocked their world. He then walks us through the other ways to view Christ’s death on the cross.

  • Reconciliation – Christ’s death brought about peace between us and God
  • Justification – Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins so we could go free
  • Victory – Jesus’ death destroyed death and evil
  • Redemption – Jesus’ death redeemed what was lost
Each of these views of the atonement has a basis in Scripture. Bell argues that the early Christians looked around their culture for examples and metaphors of what Jesus’ death meant. Rob writes, “The point, then, isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a ‘correct’ or ‘right’ one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors.” In a sense they are all true.
Bell then moves on to deal with the resurrection and makes the point that “this death-and-life mystery, this mechanism, this process is build into the very fabric of creation.” This really isn’t a new concept. When we eat plants we are eating something that is dead and yet it gives us life. He also brings up the fact that the gospel writer John includes 8 signs in his book up until Jesus’ death. Then in the garden, the eighth sign occurs when Jesus rises from the dead. Rob says that this eighth sign happened on the first day of the new creation. And it happened in a garden which connects it back to the Garden of Eden. Bell writes, “John is telling a huge story, one about God rescuing all of creation.”
Bell ends the chapter by talking about Eminem and how he might have stumbled on this same truth of dying to live. Rob writes, “Is that why he wore a cross around his neck? Because we all want new life. We want to know that the last word hasn’t been spoken, we want to know that the universe is on our side, we want to know on Friday that Sunday will eventually come.”
What Metaphor is for Us?
As I read through the various metaphors in Scripture that described what Jesus’ death accomplished, I wonder which one works best for our culture. I have wondered why some concentrate so much on Jesus’ blood when in our culture this metaphor doesn’t quite connect. The emphasis on the blood would have meant so much more for Jews living under the sacrificial system. So how should we talk about what Jesus’ death accomplished to those around us in suburban/urban America? I am not totally convinced of one yet but I do know this emphasis of death and rebirth to life or what I would call redemption connects with some. This is why I love movies where the hero hits bottom, learns an important lesson and rises from the dust. There is something there that relates to people and their story.
Which metaphor do you think is best for our American culture? What resonates with people?

Does God Get What God Wants?: Love Wins Ch. 4

Preface

I have been reading various reviews of Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” and most of the reviews bring up valid criticisms. What frustrates me is the air of intellectual supremacy that these reviewers hold over Bell. They speak to him as though he is a high school student asking questions that aren’t supposed to be asked. They quickly jump to Bible verses that show that Bell is a universalist and in need of salvation himself. Where is the grace and love that we should be offering our fellow believers? It is far too ironic that the title of the book is “Love Wins” and Rob is not feeling any love from those inside the walls of the church.

Is there a way that we can disagree yet show each other the love and grace that Jesus calls us to? I am frustrated because many of the reviewers are pastors and those in spiritual leadership. I know it is hard but there has to be a better way. Can love win within the church? I would recommend Scot McKnight’s ongoing review of Rob’s book as a model for how we can engage in a loving way.

Read the rest of this entry