A Brief Review on The Gospel According to LOST

As you may know, I review books fairly regularly. Most of them are sent to me for review. In this case, I bought this one, have not been asked to review it but I’m glad to.

Who is Chris Seay?
He’s the pastor of the Ecclessia Church in Houston, Texas and author of The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, The Gospel According to Jesus, and his latest title, A Place at the Table:  40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor

What I Liked – 

I think the best thing I can say is that it’s an excellent read for “serious but somewhat normal” LOST fans. To no fault of its own, it will disappoint the super-nerd LOST fan. You know the one who has a Mr. Ecko tattoo, convinced the spouse to name the twins “Desmond and Penny” and got the VW van in honor of Hurley.

Really liked the “patron saint” theme – planning on using a little of that in my sermon. Also, liked the artistic renderings of the LOST characters – well done.
In terms of spiritual value, I’m not expecting much from these types of books, however Chris does a fantastic job between being interesting, brief and insightful. Further, it’s very “sermon material” friendly. I know most of the audience are not pastors, but for those who are – bonus!

What I Wasn’t Sure About – 
I read it twice. Once right before Season 6 and again this week in preparation for a sermon in which I was mentioning LOST. I haven’t watched it since the finale so unfortunately, I wasn’t “there” with every reference (which points to the strength of the book by the way). But even not having recapped but having seen the finale, the book felt dated. I imagine Chris feels the same and would love to see him revise and update it. THEN, I would watch the series again and read it again. Win-win here :)

I think LOSTies in my Christian circles would really enjoy this. You can order a used copy through Amazon right now for less than $5.


My Review of Sacrilege by Hugh Halter – #SpeakeasySacrilege

I received a free copy of Hugh Halter’s new book Sacrilege from The Ooze Blogger program. As always, I am not required to write a positive review but only an honest one.

Summary from Hugh’s blog post:

“This issue – How are Christians to live in the World?” Said, more theologically… “What does it mean to live an incarnational life?’ Said, more practically…”What does it mean to become like Jesus?”

Sacrilege is about the Incarnational life of Jesus. In it, I expose Jesus as the least religious person you would have ever met, and show how his non-churchy ways and his absolute sacrilege with the scriptures, the Sabbath, sin, sinners, and a host of other kingpin issues, were exactly why people were drawn to him. But the book isn’t about Jesus. It’s about us.”
Read the rest here.

What I Liked
I really, really liked this book. I found that I resonated with it throughout the chapters.
Hugh is authentic, genuine and bold. But this is not a reflection from an interesting young guy with tattoos jaded by his first few years in ministry. Hugh has been in ministry and training others for decades, has survived ministry burn-out and has enjoyed a renaissance of calling. He speaks with wisdom from many painful experiences (again, I really resonated with him) and offers some clarity in an church conversation often marked by legalism and traditionalism (not to imply that the two go hand in hand).
He sounds like a great down-to-earth pastor, friend, father, husband type of guy (I was often moved by how he would talk about his son with epilepsy).
He’s inspired by Dallas Willard’s Divine Conspiracy
I like any book about missional-living that doesn’t actually reference the term. (This does not mean that I do not like those that do mention it, in fact, some of them are my favorite. But it’s an over-used term and Hugh does a great job contributing to the conversation without contributing to the overdose).
I could go on for a good while but I’m trying to keep these reviews short. I really enjoyed it and recommend it.

What I Wasn’t Sure About
I’d say, Peter Rollins is sacrilegious (in a good way). I loved what Hugh was doing throughout the book with this idea of sacrilege. Citing numerous times where Jesus’ behavior was considered “sacrilegious”, faithful disciples need to follow suit for the causes of the Kingdom. As mentioned, I liked his authenticity but I wasn’t always sure that what Hugh was talking about was actually sacrilegious (and I don’t think who I would identify as a true liberal would identify me as one, so I think it’s a legitimate critique).
I would have liked to see Hugh push it a little further and include more examples like flipping the “double-bird” to his neighbor who was flipping him off. I’m not looking for raunchy behavior, just wanted to see it live up to the expectation. By thew way, that example led to a good friendship that has allowed for much good. New tool for ministry … Hmmm.

Who I Think It’s For
Those that want to think about the missional church movement from a pastoral, down-to-earth perspective without all the fancy terms but without losing the solid and practical insight.
Perhaps those in traditional churches who have no idea/interest of what the term “missional” means but know what their expression of church-life is lacking the beautiful danger that Jesus modeled.
I could see a small group sitting down with this and discussing it over a month or two. He’s got helpful illustrations, makes excellent points and a sound thesis.

In Conclusion
As a believer of plurality, I don’t think all pastors should be like Hugh, but I certainly wish there were more. In my decade of ministry, I’ve met a number of pastors who were “rough around the edges” but some of them were “rough around the soul” too (and every so often I fear that I may adding to that number – and so may God keep my heart broken). For those that have not read the dangerous/controversial/love-filled Jesus, this book will eye-opening and maybe even paradigm-changing. For those that have, will be grateful for guys like Hugh telling the messy story of Jesus with the story of their own messy lives.

You can order it here.

Check out his blog – http://hughhalter.com

And watch this video of Hugh describing his new book


My Review of Why Men Hate Going to Church

Note: I have received this book from the Book Sneeze Blogger Program of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I am not paid for my reviews nor am I required to give a positive review (only an honest one).

David Murrow has released an updated version of his best-selling book, Why Men Hate Going to Church. Most of the content has been revised and he’s added content. In short, his point is that most churches offer a feminized version of Christianity, thereby alienating a significant population of the men.

From the Publisher:
“It’s Sunday morning. Where are all the men? Golfing? Playing softball? Watching the tube? Mowing the lawn? Sleeping? One place you won’t find them is in church. Less than 40 percent of adults in most churches are men, and 20 to 25 percent of married churchgoing women attend without their husbands. And why are the men who do go to church so bored? Why won’t they let God change their hearts?

David Murrow’s groundbreaking new book reveals why men are the world’s largest unreached people group. With eye-opening research and a persuasive grasp on the facts, Murrow explains the problem and offers hope and encouragement to women, pastors, and men. Why Men Hate Going to Church does not call men back to the church-it calls the church back to men.”

What I Liked:
Among the strengths of the book is how David sets up the more recent history of men in the American church.
Though I took the title to be hyperbolic, I wasn’t sure if the author could deliver on explaining why men hate going to church – Murrow has a good thesis and develops it well.
It’s been a while since I’ve read anything about men in the church that expressed sensitivity to how we/they felt. Murrow does a solid job with this because this is very autobiographical for him.
The stats – as usual, stats are helpful.

What I Wasn’t Crazy About:
The stats, as usual, the stats are not always helpful. ;) (You know stats can only tell part of the story.)
The Lamb of God Jesus versus the Lion Jesus was theologically “odd” to say it politely.
Though one of the strengths of the book is his thesis, I felt there was an over-simplification on some points of his argument.
The generalizations of why men don’t go to church imply that the men in the church are feminized. That simply is not true for a significant population of Christian men who are in the Church.
Really wasn’t sure of these suggestions of how to get men to like church. Some are just ideas for a better church in general, I’m not sure how some of these were gender-specific.

Who I Think It’s For:
This book is helpful to me in my current ministry as we are rethinking our approach to men’s ministry. It’s not a game plan though, I see it more as a conversation starter amongst the ministry staff. Understand that the book is not arguing for a men’s ministry approach but more about how the church could minister to men. (Which is more helpful for us since we are among those who are trying to reduce the number of “silos” we have).
Obviously, there is a wide audience for a book like this but I’d like to recommend this to church elders. I can see (and would recommend) an elder board reading this together and prayerfully seek and implement ministry ideas to serve the men in the congregation.

You can purchase it here.

Review of the Heart of the Story by Randy Frazee

I was asked to review this book by the publisher earlier in the fall but unfortunately between moving, a new baby, and the misplacement of numerous boxes, well, here I am. In any case, I am not required to give a positive review, only an honest one. And even though I’m considerably late in posting, I’m generally heartless about these things and I feel zero guilt so again, these words will be honest.

From the Publisher:
The Heart of the Story will help you see God’s Word in a new and inspiring light. In the Bible’s seemingly disconnected stories you’ll discover one grand, unfolding epic—God’s story from Genesis onward, and your own story contained within it. To understand the Bible, says author and pastor Randy Frazee, you need bifocal lenses, because two perspectives are involved. The Lower Story, our story, is actually many stories of men and women interacting with God in the daily course of life. The Upper Story is God’s story, the tale of his great, overarching purpose that fits all the individual stories together like panels in one unified mural. In 31 chapters, The Heart of the Story will open your eyes to God’s master-plan unfolding in the lives of the Bible’s characters—and in your own life. Discover the heart of God’s Upper Story, and the joy that comes as you align your story with God’s.”

Who I Think It’s For:
I really think it’s for long-time Christians who have been unclear how the narrative of the Bible works.
It’s also for those who may have never picked up the Bible before. Frazee does an excellent job of introducing the context of the story without watering it down.
[Read more…]

Review of God Behaving Badly by Dave Lamb

Note: I have not been asked to review this book by a publisher or by the author. Like all reviews, these are my sincere opinions.

I was pretty excited to see Dave Lamb had written God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? in the InterVarsity Press book catalog. Dave was one of our profs at Biblical Seminary and everyone in our cohort thoroughly enjoyed his class and teaching style. He’s academic with the just enough “normal” and missional (among other things) made it a good class. This book is a natural expression of his teaching style and sincerely, I really enjoying reading it.

Here is the publisher’s summary:
“God has a bad reputation. Many think of God as wrathful and angry, smiting people right and left for no apparent reason. The Old Testament in particular seems at times to portray God as capricious and malevolent, wiping out armies and nations, punishing enemies with extreme prejudice. But wait. The story is more complicated than that. Alongside troubling passages of God’s punishment and judgment are pictures of God’s love, forgiveness, goodness and slowness to anger. How do we make sense of the seeming contradiction? Can God be trusted or not? David Lamb unpacks the complexity of the Old Testament to explore the character of God. He provides historical and cultural background to shed light on problematic passages and to bring underlying themes to the fore. Without minimizing the sometimes harsh realities of the biblical record, Lamb assembles an overall portrait that gives coherence to our understanding of God in both the Old and New Testaments.”

[Read more…]

My Review of Why God Won’t Go Away by Alister McGrath

I received Why God Won’t Go Away – Is the New Atheism Running On Empty? by Alister McGrath book from Book Sneeze. As always, I am not required to write a positive review but only an honest one.

According to the publisher, here is the summary from the publisher, Thomas Nelson:
“The rise of the new atheism, which includes the manifestos of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, has created a public willingness in today’s marketplace to talk about God and religion. Yet the debate up to this point has focused largely on rebutting the new atheist critique of Christianity. Why God Won’t God Away moves into new territory by challenging the new atheism on its own grounds.”

Who It’s For … [Read more…]

My Review of Resonate’s The Gospel of Matthew – God With Us

I was asked to review this commentary from Likewise Books which is a line of InterVarsity Press. As always, I am not required to write a positive review but an honest one.

What Is It and What Makes It Different From Most Commentaries?
The Gospel of Matthew – God With Us written by Matt Woodley is the new commentary in the Resonate series which is a commentary set. This series is trying to balance academic scholarship with culturally relevant illustrations, stories and ideas to connect today’s preacher with today’s audience. This is definitely a welcomed and long-overdue endeavor.

I chose to review Chapter 12 which includes the healing on the Sabbath, the sign of Jonah and the healing of a demon-possessed man.

What I Liked
I think it does live up to its hope of being cultural relevant. As I read and flipped through other parts, I liked the movies that were mentioned, the songs that were quoted and the other references I came across. I know of no other commentary set using current cultural references as it engages the text. This matters to me because I spend a great deal of time contextualizing my messages to my audience and this is helpful (but of course not designed to be a substitute for the exercise).

Cultural references include:
popular movies like The Fellowship of the Ring and Avatar
references to current events – like the Iraq war.
popular (and some living!) thinkers like Tim Keller, Phillip Yancey, Wendell Berry, C.S. Lewis, and Dr. Seuss

I liked the size of the book. It saves space by not quoting each Scriptural text. The layout is clean and uncluttered too.

What I Would Have Liked to See
My only real critique at this point is that I would like for the commentary sections (and therefore the book) to be longer. My chapter did engage the text sufficiently, however a few others seemed a bit light and I felt that I didn’t get enough background and context overall. For what it’s worth, generally, I use three commentaries (sometimes more if the passage is “tricky”) but I think the true test for your commentary is if you only had enough room in your bag for one, which one you take? Well for me, it’s still going to be The New Interpreters Set which are huge and heavy but if I had a little more room in the bag, i’d squeeze this in too (Assuming Tom Wright’s Everyday Series was already in).

Which brings me to contrast it with Wrights’ series. Wright offers numerous personal anecdotes and generally, I can’t really use them. Not only because I’m not British but if we are honest, many of his are dated. Please don’t report me, Wright fans are similar to the Hauerwasian Mafia, only more passive aggressive but I digress. While I may end up preferring the Resonate Series illustrations more, Wright’s series offers more biblical context and background for the text. That said, I suspect Woodley realized this and this is the among the reasons he quotes Wright’s Everyday Series extensively.

Who I Think It’s Helpful For

I imagine the target audience is people like me – X’ers and Millennials who are teaching present-day pre/post-Christian audience.  I do think it’s also helpful for Boomers too who may want to update the messages they’ve had prepared for years.

It’s definitely worth checking out, this volume is under $15 and certainly worth the price – you can get it here and I will likely order the John Commentary (When Love Comes to Town) by Paul Lois Metzger and Ecclesiastes by Tim Keel in to be released in 2012.

Other bloggers who have reviewed this as recent as today include:

Ben Sternke – Great thinker with a great looking blog.

David Phillips – I love his tagline is “faith in a post-everything world”

Jesus Needs New PR – Matthew Paul Turner – The one and only.

Review of Brennan’s Manning’s Memoir, All Is Grace

I was asked to review Brennan Manning’s new  memoir All Is Grace by the publisher, David C Cook, and as always, I am not required to give a positive review but an honest one.

It’s easy to love this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a memoir (Eugene Peterson’s Pastor is on the to-read shelf and I need to get on that). In Brennan’s case, it helped that I already liked his work, but I think when available, memoirs are an excellent place to start when you are coming to someone’s work late. (I remember reading books on Luther, Wesley and Lewis before reading their work, made a world of difference for me). My suggestion is that if you have never read/heard of Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel or Abba’s Child to read All Is Grace first,

Most of my readers are fellow Protestants and I’d like to encourage that our reading include those outside of our tradition. A few Catholic thinkers come to mind (Henry Nouen, Peter Kreeft) and Brennan Manning is an excellent choice.

It’s difficult for me to imagine someone entering into the priesthood. I’m sure some have a hard time imagine why anyone would want to go into the ministry at all but the Catholic priesthood is a difficult one for me to understand. Even more complicated, Manning entered just after he was finished with the Marines (yep, he enlisted, not drafted prior to college). In fact, soon into his priesthood training, he resolved it wasn’t for him, then as he was waiting to tell the head priest he was leaving, he prayed the stations of the cross and changed his mind again. Reading him tell the story was beautiful.

I appreciated his honesty concerning his what I would describe, an almost loveless upbringing, particularly, his relationship with his mom. If you don’t read till the end of the book, you missed it – moving, powerful, Christian.

I appreciated his forthrightness on his falling in love (he was a celibate priest!) and getting married, and sadly, his divorce. I think most would find inspiration by how honest he was in telling these stories. Should I live to see my seventies, I hope I can be as honest.

And lastly, I was quite interested in how he dealt with his alcoholism and related issues as he was managing his speaking career. I am inclined to think that he left a few pieces out there (and I suppose that is implied when he says in the beginning, “This is not a tell-all”) but I couldn’t help but wonder about a few more of the details of how he was able to maintain his itinerant speaking. Undoubtedly there are countless Christian speakers/musicians that are able to control their demons for their talk/performance/etc. but it’s been my experience that these types of “cover-ups” are maintained by a handful of people. Which leads me to the what I think the real tragedy of his life was – although Brennan had people around him, some that even confronted him, he was so good at eluding their accountability and he had some enablement.

Given all that, this book is not about a talented man that got by and was able to look back at his life and be humble, repentant and thankful that God used him to touch so many lives  – It’s much more than that. It’s a true testimony of a man who desired to be devoted to God but was insistent on sabotaging himself and the will of God at every turn. Brennan seems to know two things in his life: Despite his talents, he is his own worst enemy, and two, he knows he must cling to the grace of God to get him through – hence the title, All Is Grace. If you could only be convinced of two things, I’m not sure you could find something better.

Again, it’s a beautiful easy read and I hope you can grab a copy.

Review of Max Lucado’s God’s Story (Well, More Like a Review of the Experience than the Book)

So I was asked to review the new Max Lucado book, God’s Story, Your Story. I haven’t read a Lucado book since 1997. In those days Max Lucado quotes were overplayed from the pulpits like the way Adele is streamed on the radio. They’re both good, millions says so – but when something/someone gets so overplayed, it loses its worth.

I don’t really know what the author/artist is supposed to do about that. Add to the mix, around the same time, I was reading Dallas Willard and CS Lewis; I simply haven’t had any interest in Lucado. Still, you can’t avoid him. His face is always on the cover of something from a CBD catalog to even Bible Study Magazine (within the same year, they went from NT Wright to Max Lucado. Who knows, I might be next? By the way, it’s a great magazine – only $15).

Now here’s the thing, I have no doubt that Lucado is an amazing pastor and a serous student of Scripture so know that I have no interest in judging that. But if we are being honest, we know that his writing is extremely inspiration-based and very 101 Biblically. In my humble opinion, I think it’s time for him to write a book that has some theological teeth to it and I thought this was going to be it so when I was asked to review it, I admit I had some expectations.

God’s Story is another book in the Scripture as narrative trend going through the Church. Everyone is talking about narrative and story – perhaps the best of this theme is Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Places – What I Learned While Editing My Life.

In all honesty, I love the idea of story and how our story fits into God’s greater story and into each other’s story – absolutely love it. I also love that mainstream Christianity is contextualizing the Biblical narrative and trying to avoid being too individualistic and seeking to be more community oriented. This is among the aspects that drew me to the emerging church conversation 8 years ago. For about a decade now, they have been talking about narrative (and meta-narrative). The emergents are like the Winklevos’ but not nearly as good-looking. Mark my words, one day Max and friends are going to pop a book out called The Brand New Christians! or Preaching Redefined but I digress.

So enter in Max Lucado, Randy Frazee and the many featured in CBD. First, welcome to the conversation! I fear that sounds condescending, but I mean it more in the sense that it’s the first time we’ve been in the same room for a while. I also appreciate how we’re reframing how we are talking about the Gospel. I plan on blogging on this another time but since I had your attention, thought I’d mention it.

But about Max’s God’s Story – here is my quick summary.  As with all requests from the publisher, one is never required to give a positive one, only an honest one.

Who It’s For
My friends who hate to read.
My friends who find themselves mentally drained at the end of the day and don’t want anything heavy but want to read something uplifting.
My friends who are new to the story of Christianity. Truth be told, I could see myself buying this for two people in particular.

What I Liked
It’s very readable. I mean very readable.
Max is pretty like-able too. He appeals to my “everyday” man very well.
The excellent illustrations he is known for. He’s like the Ichuro Suzuki of illustrations, his batting average is consistently solid.

What I Didn’t Care For
My review has already been slanted so I’m going to mention one – I wasn’t really crazy about the “If I was the devil chapter”. Some good thoughts there about the tyranny of the urgent and so forth but we have The Screwtape Letters and so this just reminded me how unoriginal this chapter was. Even worse, were the jabs at the devil” with lines like “But I’m not the devil so good for you and take that Satan”. Doesn’t Jude say not to mock the devil?

If you are keeping up with this blog, my new church is going through a 40 week “journey” through the narrative of the Bible. And honestly, I’m pretty excited about it. As alluded to, I feel like I’ve been talking about the Bible in this way for quite a while, and if I may, every so often it feels good to have the rest of the church talking about what me and my friends have been talking about. Or maybe I can put it this way, every once in a while, it feels good to here the Arcade Fire on mainstream radio and every now and then it’s good to have the one and only Max Lucado play a hand at the table with me and my friends. I can already feel the illustrations forming from within my soul.

Feel free to comment on Max’s new book, on his others or on my thoughts – you are always welcomed.

My Review of Radical Together by David Platt

I received a copy of Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God for review. I am not required to give a positive review but to only post my honest thoughts.

What’s the Book About?
“Writing to everyone who desires to make an impact for God’s glory—whether you are an involved member, a leader, or a pastor—Dr. Platt shares six foundational ideas that fuel radical obedience among Christians in the church. With compelling Bible teaching and inspiring stories from around the world, he will help you apply the revolutionary claims and commands of Christ in fresh, practical ways to your community of faith.” (From the Publisher).

Who is David Platt?
“Dr. David Platt, 32, is deeply devoted to Christ and His Word. David’s first love in ministry is disciple-making—the simple biblical model of teaching God’s Word, mentoring others and sharing faith. He has traveled extensively to teach the Bible and church leaders throughout the United States and around the world. Atlanta natives, he and his wife, Heather, made their home in New Orleans until they were displaced by flooding following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (more) …”

What I Liked
I love that David Platt is a Southern Baptist mega-church pastor who is completely opposite of to that caricature. For my north-eastern friends, I’m not sure we can possibly understand this but from my own limited experience (which includes getting married by a man affectionally called Brother Bob in a southern Baptist church … and then taking my new bride across the Mason Dixon line like I was in the General Lee being chased by Roscoe P Coltrane. Anyway, I digress … ;) I love what Platt is saying in light of his context.

I never reviewed his first book, Radical because I felt that it was dated in light of the Ron Siders, Shane Claibornes, Will Samsons, the Emergents, the Missionals and many others. But I did agree with the idea of abandoning the pursuit of the American Dream in light of pursuing the hope of the Kingdom of Jesus. These are excellent books for entry points to the missional church conversation.

This book may be even easier than Richard Stearn’s The Hole In Our Gospel because it’s only a third the size and very reader-friendly. I feel Multnomah said, “David, write a book for busy church people that never read but are interested in seeking God’s purpose in the world.”

I like how Radical Together confronts entitlement and encourages the reader to seek mission and community in Christ.

As with a few books I review, this too, would be an excellent small group resource (There’s a discussion guide already included).

What I Wasn’t Crazy About
I don’t have much critical to say here. Though I would prefer something a bit more challenging, if I am being honest with myself, in my personal application, there’s enough to be challenged by here. I think the Radical series is fulfilling its objective. As mentioned, it’s a great entry point to the missional church conversation.

If you are looking to understand what some of the more progressive and younger evangelicals are talking about when it comes to social justice and Kingdom-living, this is a good place to start.