Capital Gaines – A Book Review

capital gainesChip Gaines is one half of the husband and wife team starring in HGTV’s Fixer Upper. For anyone who has seen the show before, the personalities of both Chip and his wife, Joanna, are on full display. Joanna is the calculating, strategic, and organized one while Chip has more of a tendency to fly by the seat of his pants. The combination of their personalities has led to the success of their business and their show, Fixer Upper.

In Capital Gaines, Chip gives his reader a window into who he is and shares some of how he’s become the person that he is today. Gaines shares his successes and his failures. He’s incredibly honest about his shortcomings and shares times when things could have gone significantly different than they did.

He tells of the origin of the wishbone scar on his forehead and how the event that caused it changed him and the decisions that he made for the future. He tells of the significant people who have shaped and formed his way of thinking, his work ethic, and his overall outlook on life. All the while he reminds the reader that he doesn’t believe in accidents, seeing God’s hand in many of the situations that he has experienced in his life.

Gaines highlights some of the differences between him and his wife, Joanna. His love for her and his family is especially evident throughout this book. In fact, towards the end of the book, he shares that he and Joanna are calling it quits with their show, Fixer Upper, after the fifth season. They want to spend more time devoted to their family, something I see as admirable.

As Chip Gaines shares the stories of his life and experience, he gives the reader the sense that he’s someone they could easily befriend. You almost feel as if you’re sitting on the porch of his Waco, Texas farm, sharing a beer or two with him as he spins his tales.

It’s easy to get a glimpse of Chip Gaines on Fixer Upper and imagine that he’s just the joker/cut-up of a guy who’s always looking for a laugh and who hardly takes himself or anyone else too seriously. While that’s a part of who he is, the wisdom that he shares throughout this book far exceeds what would be expected of the “class clown.” I particularly appreciated his chapter on creating a “team of rivals” as well as the chapter on being the “runway” for people who you lead and train.

Considering the political climate of the United States, Gaines’ chapter on creating a team of rivals should be required for anyone who runs for political office, who posts on social media, and who basically has any kind of interaction with another human being on a regular basis. He vies for working side by side rather than limiting our conversations to Twitter and other social media, for it’s there that we get to know each other and understand each other better. He shares that, “There is no chance for any of us to see eye to eye if we are unwilling to even look in each other’s direction.” He goes so far as to say that the broad and oversimplified strokes with which we paint perfect stranger is just plain ignorant. If people could stop and take to heart most of what he’s written here, I think we’d be a whole lot better off.

Gaines also shares about those who have acted as “runways” in his life, training him up and being examples of hard work for him. His desire is to be the same for everyone else in his life. He shares stories of training up employees through baptism of fire, saying that their learning will be far more significant and permanent because they had to figure things out for themselves rather than having him walk them through things one step at a time.

It took me a day to read this book. It was a fast and easy read, but so well worth it. Chip Gaines seems like an all around fun guy to hang around and definitely someone that you would want in your corner to challenge you, train you, and encourage you. The depth of who he is as a person comes through in Capital Gaines, he can go from making you laugh to challenging your way of thinking in his winsome and delightful manner.

If you want to understand Chip Gaines a little more than you can by simply watching Fixer Upper, pick up a copy of this book. You won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time at all, and you might just learn something from the insights that Gaines has shared here.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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Dispelling the Rumors

real artists don't starveIt seems that there has been a myth that has been perpetuated in our culture and many cultures. That myth is that real artists starve. In order to truly be successful as an artist, you need to have suffered for your art and struggled. Jeff Goins would disagree.

In his latest book, “Real Artists Don’t Starve,” Jeff Goins begins to tackle this myth one false claim after another. He begins to deconstruct the myth by offering the alternative to the myths that have been falsely embraced. Each chapter in the book tackles these twelve myths one at a time. Starving artists believe they are born, thriving artists know you become one. Starving artists work alone, thriving artists collaborate. Starving artists strive for originality, thriving artists steal from their influences. The starving artists work in private, the thriving artists practice in public.

Goin’s use of story is one of the most compelling things about this book. Using stories from George Lucas to Steve Jobs, Dr. Dre to Michelangelo, and John Lasseter to Sam Phillips, Goins tells stories of people who emphasize his points about real artists in this book. These people took risks, owned their work, fought hard, and eventually came out on top. The examples that Goins uses are stories of grit, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that begin unraveling and busting this myth.

“Real Artists Don’t Starve” calls for a New Renaissance to take place. Goins urges his reader to build a life that allows them to keep creating. Find ways to get your art out there. Take time to enhance it, grow it, refine it. Find communities in which you can share your art and have others share with you. Look to those who have influenced you and incorporate those influences into what you do.

All of Goins’ advice is sound. He not only uses the stories of other people, but he uses his own as well. He shares about his experience of gaining confidence in his abilities and his skills to achieve the status that he has today as a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. Part of that rise included failures but it also included influences and patrons, those who believed in his abilities so that he could believe in them himself.

If you have struggled with your career and have avoided your passion because you were afraid you would starve, give “Real Artists Don’t Starve” a chance. It may just give you the encouragement you need and propel you to make some choices in your life that will bust the myth that real artists starve.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Of Mess and Moxie – A Book Review

of mess and moxieIt’s always slightly awkward reading a book for which you are not the intended audience. Jen Hatmaker can make one feel even more awkward about this. At times, it can feel almost like eavesdropping or voyeurism, peaking behind the curtain and getting a glimpse into the secret lives of women. The nice thing is that Hatmaker generally doesn’t play into those feelings and allows her readers, regardless of whether or not they fall into her target audience, to feel as if they were meant to be there all along.

In her latest book “Of Mess and Moxie” author and speaker Jen Hatmaker vamps on the things that have made her so successful. She speaks of motherhood, of getting old, of the church, of family, of fame, of her passions, and so many other topics that resonate with her readers. In some ways, her books seem to be the equivalent of a “Seinfeld” episode, they’re about nothing and everything all at once. I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Jen Hatmaker is raw and honest. Some people don’t like that. When she says “bless your heart” you know exactly what she means. She’s always been that way but she’s being refined. In her rawness and honesty, she can admit that she hasn’t always taken the best approaches. She admits that she doesn’t do anything half way, she jumps in head-first, giving her whole self to whatever it is that she’s embracing at the moment. She’s not afraid to stand for what she believes in and also not afraid to admit that there have been times when she’s not always gotten it right.

Through the words of the introduction and first chapter of “Of Mess and Moxie” the reader can hear her angst and frustration but also her tenderness and compassion. She’s experienced a lot in the past few years. Her public declaration in support of same-sex marriage didn’t win fans in evangelical circles. I am sure that she’s still facing the repercussions of her evolving stance and there seems to be some lingering sting within her words.

There are moments when her sass seems to be getting the better of her. There’s a fine line between being sassy, being funny, and being a winsome communicator. Most of the times Hatmaker holds that tension well but she seems to cross the lines a few times. While her honesty and candidness are admirable, there are times when she seems to be trying too hard to gain the affection of the edgy crowd by her choice of words. Words are powerful and once they’re out there, you can’t take them back.

In all her sass and sarcasm, Hatmaker has a way of connecting with women (and the occasional male reviewer like myself or curious male sojourner) in such a way that reading her books feels more like a conversation on a couch, covered with your favorite blanket, snuggled up in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or whatever your hot beverage of choice. Hatmaker makes her readers feel less alone, verbally hugging them and letting them know that there are others out there whose experiences may mirror their own. She never really toots her own horn and her self-deprecating humor deflects the fame that many try to pin on her.

Most of the time, I feel as if I could hang out with Jen Hatmaker and have a decent conversation. We might become fast friends. Occasionally, when we hit points of disagreement, I wonder how those disagreements would play out in conversation. Hatmaker is pretty clear that she values the Bible and loves Jesus. Her relational personality can make it somewhat difficult to separate out her emotions and feelings from some of the hot-button issues that she’s chosen to engage.

She has experienced for herself the “me too” factor that most of her readers most likely experience when they read her books. That place at which they arrive when they realize they are not alone but are joined by a whole tribe of women who have shared the same experiences and emotions that they have. She does a masterful job of communicating that and doing her best to recruit others to that tribe.

Jen Hatmaker makes her readers want to come back for more, over and over again. She’s easy to read, she’s funny, and it’s abundantly clear why she’s been labeled “the sound bite queen” as she’s quotable and Tweetable! Hatmaker spreads out four chapters of “How To’s” throughout the book. They are hysterically funny, enough to have had me laughing out loud in the middle of a crowded Starbucks. Whether you agree with her or not, there’s no denying that Hatmaker can keep her readers engaged.

I enjoyed “Of Mess and Moxie.” Hatmaker seems to be a modern day Erma Bombeck. There is nothing theologically astounding in here. Her simple observations of faith and family and all of the things you encounter on this journey called “Life” are insight enough. She has the gift of encouragement and I would be hard-pressed to believe that any woman feeling a little beat up in the midst of her situation or circumstances could easily find comfort here in Hatmaker’s words.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Slaying the Giants

goliath must fallAnyone who has attended Sunday School for any length of time is most likely familiar with the story of David and Goliath. David, the young shepherd boy, is on an errand to deliver something to his brothers who are in the army. He hears Goliath taunting the army of Israelites and can’t get over the fact that this Philistine giant is disrespecting the God of the Israelites. David talks to King Saul, who offers for David to wear his armor which is way too big, but eventually, David faces Goliath with only his shepherd’s sling and five smooth stones. Goliath’s confidence is in his strength while David’s confidence is in the strength of God.

Many people read this story and put themselves in the place of David, suggesting that they are the ones who are supposed to conquer their own giants. In his book “Goliath Must Fall,” author, speaker, and pastor, Louie Giglio, suggests that WE are not David in the story, but God is. We don’t fight our battles ourselves, but God fights them for us. In fact, it’s God’s strength that propels us and in order to see true and lasting change in our lives, “we need to understand our dependency on the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Our change is more about trusting and less about trying.”

Giglio suggests that most of us don’t struggle with hundreds and hundreds of giants, but really with five big giants: fear, rejection, comfort, anger, and addiction. The bulk of “Goliath Must Fall” deals with these five giants and the ways that we can battle them.

Words are important, as are titles, Giglio says, thus the name of the book. It’s not that Goliath WILL fall or that Goliath HAS fallen, but Goliath MUST fall. In other words, our giants will not fall in the future at some designated time. Our giants haven’t been conquered even though Christ has won the battle. Instead, in order for us to really live a life of freedom in Christ, our giants MUST fall. It has to happen.

Giglio presents all of this with a sincere honesty. In fact, having recently read Giglio’s other book “The Comeback,” I thought that this book was more honest, real, and even raw. He does not present giant-slaying as something that we do on our own nor does he try to convince the reader that difficulties and hardships won’t exist in our lives. God may just set up a table for us in the presence of our enemies. That table represents God’s provision to us, even as we face and sometimes fail against our giants.

Throughout the book, Giglio continued to return to the story of David and Goliath, giving background information about David. He focused on many of the aspects of the account that can often be overlooked, especially when we jump to the Sunday School version of the story. I was glad to be reminded of the richness of the biblical account of David.

I would recommend “Goliath Must Fall” for anyone who has struggled, is struggling, or will struggle, which means pretty much all of us. Giglio presents his message with encouragement, humor, and honesty. His classification of the five types of giants that we all face seemed spot on as well. This book is a great reminder who is fighting our battles and who is walking alongside us as we face each of our giants.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Imperfect Disciple – A Book Review

The Imperfect DiscipleOn the last page of “The Imperfect Disciple” Jared Wilson writes, “I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that makes us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed.” And if we start with the ending, reading this page first, it really gives us a synopsis of “The Imperfect Disciple.”

Wilson’s sub-title for the book is, “Grace for people who can’t get their act together.” He reminds the reader throughout the book that discipleship is not just working harder, better, or more efficiently. We can only get to where we need to go through Jesus, not through our own efforts. Jesus is not looking for people who have it all together, Jesus is actually looking for people who can’t get their act together. It is those of us who don’t seem to be able to get our acts together that understand better that we are unable to get to where we need to get on our own.

Jared Wilson shares stories from his own experiences in ministry as he walks through what discipleship really can look like. We cannot simply manage our sin and think that’s enough to make us good disciples. In fact, if all we are doing is sin management, then we’ve missed the gospel and the essence of discipleship as it goes so much further than simply outward appearance and action. The essence of discipleship and the gospel penetrates to our hearts and souls, changing us from the inside out. That kind of change is not something that we are able to achieve on our own and the harder we try, the more frustrated we will become.

We cannot think that discipleship is all about us fitting God into the nooks and crannies of our lives. But Wilson says, “…God owns all of life, and worshiping God means we must revolve around him, not us. So God shouldn’t be confined to his own compartment in our schedule. Jesus does not abide in his assigned time slot; we abide in him.”

Wilson explores sabbath rest, worship, and other key areas of the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ. He challenges those of us who think we can achieve and encourages those of us who feel like we will never measure up. While there was nothing here that was earth shattering to me, Wilson’s writing style and delivery made this book a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for encouragement after having tried to measure up to impossible standards, the message of grace that is presented here could be salve for your soul and encouragement for the way forward.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What Is Reformed Theology? – A Book Review

what-is-reformed-theologyR.C. Sproul has become such a staple in the world of reformed theology that it’s hard to even think about the modern world of reformed theology without uttering his name. The seminary professor, pastor, and founder of Ligonier Ministries has written more than ninety books and can be heard regularly on the radio program Renewing Your Mind.

“What Is Reformed Theology?” is a primer on reformed theology. Whether you are new to reformed theology and want to have your questions answered or you are a veteran who simply wants to be sharpened and give yourself a refresher, this book is a valuable resource. While there are times that Sproul’s language and explanations may lose the casual reader, he doesn’t spend an awful lot of time lost in academic language. The subtitle of the book is “Understanding the Basics” and that’s what Sproul seeks to do, show the reader the basics of reformed theology.

The book is divided into two parts: The Foundations of Reformed Theology and Five Points of Reformed Theology. Both parts of the book are also divided into five parts. The first part points to the essentials and foundation of reformed theology, as Sproul describes them, the foundation stones on which reformed theology was built.

Sproul leads the reader through chapters on the God-centered aspect of reformed theology, on the centrality of Scripture, on the centrality of faith and justification to our salvation, to the supremacy of Jesus Christ as prophet, priest, and king, and the three covenants that are also central to reformed theology (giving it its nickname of covenant theology).

The second half walks through the five points of Calvinism. Sproul is quick to point out that these five points were not developed by Calvin himself but by his followers in response to the followers of Arminius. While Sproul shares the acronym TULIP for these five points, he also adds language which he finds more helpful, accurate, and reliable, again pointing out that the TULIP acronym was created reactively.

This second half of the book certainly labors along at times. It feels a little more exhaustive than the first. At times seeming as if Sproul is reiterating his point to a fault rather than simply moving on. Having met peers and colleagues who consider themselves three or four point Calvinists, I could see how this section of the book could give the reader more difficulties. But Sproul’s thorough explanations make for a good apologetic of the validity of reformed theology.

Overall, this is a very helpful book. Sproul has a way of explaining things in a more pedestrian way rather than being overly academic. This will be a helpful resource on my shelf when I need my own refresher on some of the specific explanations of reformed theology and the reformed tradition. While I am not sure that this will convince any skeptics to the validity of reformed theology, Sproul’s explanations will certainly help to reinforce those who have already embraced reformed theology as a way of seeing God and the world he created.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Unparalleled – A Book Review

unparalleledWe live in a world where anything goes when it comes to beliefs. It’s okay for you to believe in what you believe as long as it works for you and doesn’t negatively impact me. The problem when we embrace this is that we can quickly devolve into people who lack any real conviction, who aren’t quite sure what they believe, and who don’t legitimately think for ourselves when it comes to our beliefs.

In the area of beliefs and faith, Christians have always spoken about the uniqueness of their faith. When confronted with the idea that all paths lead to God, Christians will swiftly respond by saying that Christianity is unique as it stands in the lineup alongside all of the other major world religions. Jared Wilson takes this idea a step further in his book “Unparalleled” by saying that the uniqueness of Christianity is also the thing that makes it so compelling.

Out of the gate, Wilson writes that, “Christianity has never made converts primarily by winning arguments but rather by capturing hearts.” Although this book falls into the category of apologetics, Wilson isn’t out to win arguments, he is convinced that the truths of Christianity will be as compelling for others as they have been for him. He writes with a style that doesn’t beat down, but gently leads along.

Throughout “Unparalleled” Wilson hits on some of the main, unique tenets of Christianity. He writes about the Trinity, the three persons of God, speaking to their uniqueness and how the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit give us a better understanding of our own human need for connection and intimacy.

Wilson writes of the uniqueness of Jesus, asking the question as to whether the God of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is the same God. He arrives at the conclusion that, “…to worship God at the exclusion of Jesus is to worship another god altogether.” For those who are seeking to be more inclusive, this conclusion will not be very appealing. Wilson goes on to write, “If one does not affirm that Jesus is God, one does not worship the same God as Christians.” It is through the uniqueness of Christ that we understand the essence of Christianity and the salvation that is offered.

We are all created in the image of God, and that, Wilson says, should impact the way that we look at others. Not only should it impact the way that we look at others, but is should also impact how we treat others as well. He writes, “Human life is sacred because God created it in his own image.” But Wilson is quick to point out, acknowledge, and confess that, “There have been too many prominent examples of professing Christians treating others as less-than-human.” In other words, while this is how we should act and view others, we certainly don’t always get it right. I appreciated this admission and the humility behind it.

Wilson covers the idea of grace, salvation, and the end of all things. He speaks to the impact of sin in this fallen world and the fact that salvation within Christian theology is something that comes from outside of ourselves. This external salvation is a unique concept compared to most other major religions who teach of a salvation through the efforts of the individual.

At one point, as Wilson writes about the brokenness of humanity, he writes, “The worst storms I have faced in my life have not occurred outside of me but rather have been found inside of me.” While I think I understand what Wilson is getting at, I’m not sure that I can completely agree with his statement. Yes, I can attest to the fact that, oftentimes, I am my own worst enemy, but in my own life, there have been significant storms that I have encountered that have occurred outside of me. These storms are a result of living in a fallen and broken world, there was no individual cause for some of them, and I would argue that they didn’t happen inside of me.

There is nothing in “Unparalleled” that is groundbreaking or new to me. Wilson has an engaging writing style and he gets his points across with clarity. While I was reading the book, I kept wondering to whom the book was written. Was it written for believers in Christ, those who are already convinced? Was it written to those who need to be convinced? It seems that it could be beneficial for those who are searching, not yet having come to the conclusion that Christianity is both convincing and compelling.

To those who believe in Christ and accept the claims of Christianity, Jesus is unparalleled, as is the salvation that he offers. If you are in a place of searching, needing to be convinced of Christianity’s claims, this might give you an overview or a snapshot of these claims. There are far deeper and more exhaustive books on the claims of Christianity that may serve you better, but for a basic overview, this might work. It’s not a must read, in my opinion, and anyone who is seeking something more academic may best be served elsewhere.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Finding God in the Hard Times

finding god in the hard timesIf you’ve spent any time around churches that sing contemporary songs over the past several years, chances are that you’ve heard Matt and Beth Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name.” With a focus on God’s presence and provision in both the good times and the bad times, the song takes its refrain from the book of Job, the biblical account of a man who lost everything and still held on to his faith and trust in God.

 

Having both experienced difficult times in their lives, Matt and Beth Redman have written this book (previously released as “Blessed Be Your Name”). Detailing the difficulty of the circumstances that easily crowd out our thankfulness, the Redmans write, “At times, painful life circumstances seem to obstruct our view of Him and His goodness. But we have seen the form of the Lord many times before – in life and in Scripture – and know Him to be as good and as kind as He ever was.” Redman says that worship is a choice, and it’s a choice that we need to make, regardless of whether the sun is shining or if the clouds are endlessly gray.

 

The Redmans don’t shy away from engaging the subject of dealing with difficulties in life. They share of their own experiences that caused heartache in their own lives, but they also remind the reader that worship is a choice that we make always, in good times and in bad. While difficult times will come, we also need to celebrate and be thankful during the good times. Our trust in God cannot be circumstantial and based on whatever circumstance we find ourselves. We need to remember his promises and hold on to what we have seen him do in the past.

 

The reader is reminded that things won’t always turn out the way that we would like. Sometimes, our prayers for healing won’t be answered. They write, “In His infinite wisdom and kindness, God may well purpose to bring us healing. But perhaps we will have to wait awhile to see our situation changed. Or perhaps we will never be healed this side of heaven. And if we are not, God hasn’t become any less wise of merciful.” These words are reminiscent of the words of the Hebrew boys before they were cast into the fiery furnace. While they trusted God to save them, they were still willing to believe even if he did not save them.

 

The book offers a helpful reminder of the hope that we need to have in Christ as well. While others may grieve as if death is the end, Christians grieve differently. Loss is marked with hope. They write, “Outside of Christ, many a memorial service or funeral is a groping in the dark – a heavy cloud of grief with no clarity as to what lies beyond it.” The hope of the resurrection should comfort those who are in Christ. Not that it eliminates the loss and pain that is felt, but through the grieving and restoration, we need to remember that this is not the end.

 

Still, we also need to remember that God is God and we are not. There will be times when we will face difficulties without understanding, when the answers are nowhere to be found. The Redmans write, “Yes, there are some things we will never understand while we walk upon this earth. There comes a time when we simply have to submit to the mystery.” As we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah, God’s ways are not our ways, his ways are higher and we may never understand them on this side of eternity. It’s a tension with which we may need to wrestle at some point, a tension that feels uncomfortable, yet which is important for us to understand.

 

The book is composed of just five chapters. It’s not a long book or a difficult read. It seems designed to allow for the reader to quickly move through it, something which is important during the difficult times that we may face. The chapters follow some of the lines of the Redman’s song. Each chapter includes questions for reflection at the end. There is also a discussion guide for small groups included at the end of the book. These are helpful for anyone who wants to use this book as a springboard into a deeper study.

 

Having gone through some difficult times of my own and having experienced some significant losses in my life, I very much appreciate the Redmans’ book. They don’t candycoat the subject or try to over-spiritualize difficulties. They are honest and yet pointed in dealing with the subject of hard times in life. This book is a good resource and source of encouragement, a book that could easily be shared with a friend or loved on going through difficulties without feeling as if you are burdening them with a big book full of heady theology. There’s enough here to bring comfort but not so much that a grieving or struggling person will feel weighed down at the thought of reading it.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)