Book Review: Reading God’s Word Today

Reading God’s Word Today, by George Martin, is a clear, thoughtful, and eminently readable book on getting the most out of spending time reading Scripture.  Though brief (less than 200 pages), it is by no means short on substance.  Though written from a Catholic perspective, it is one of the few books, besides the Bible itself, I sincerely wish I could place into the hands of every Christian, Protestant and Catholic alike!

The book is divided into two parts, the first providing a model for how to read Scripture and the second focusing on how God reveals himself to us through it.  Martin is quick to point out that Scripture is to be read in the Christian life devotionally–that is, as part of the ongoing, daily conversation between the Christian and God.  The point to spending time daily in God’s Word is not to check off boxes on a reading plan or read through the entire Bible in x number of days.  Instead, we are reminded of the importance of taking our time meditating on the words of Scripture, mulling over them that we might not only understand what we read but that we might truly hear God’s voice speaking to us through them.  The approach Martin outlines is the classic, time-tested Christian practice called lectio divina (holy reading), which consists of four parts:  reading, understanding, listening, and praying.  The point, as he succinctly writes, “is to help Scripture ‘come alive’ for us.”

The second half of the book discusses the proper understanding of Scripture as the Word of God revealed to humanity.  Martin explores God’s use of inspired human agent in the process of divine revelation and how the Bible consequently revels God to us and recreates us, by the power of the Spirit, into his people.  In this section, he anticipates some common questions and objections about the origin of Scripture, discusses the necessity of understanding the background and cultural setting (especially of the Old Testament), and points out how the infant church was impacted by both Jesus’ teachings and the writings of the Apostles.

This little work is a very practical, wonderfully helpful book and a gift given to the body of Christ from Martin’s pen.  Every believer at every stage of their Christian life would benefit from reading this book…and then reading it again later on to be reminded of its great truths.  As a Christian, this book reminded me of the great treasure we have be been given by God in the Holy Scriptures–I read it, marked it, and re-read it.  As a chaplain, this is one of the books I hope to be able to make available to all I encounter from day to day, whether Protestant or Catholic.  As a parent, besides Holy Scripture and our Catechisms, I will definitely work through Reading God’s Word Today with my children that their understanding of God’s Word might be deepened.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Reading God’s Word Today for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Cathlic store online. For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

I receive free product samples as compensation for writing reviews for Tiber River.

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Book Review: The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

With the recent growing interest in Evangelical circles of liturgical practices from the larger Christian church (as evidenced, for example, by the Nelson’s Ancient Practices series of which this volume is part or the publication of Tyndale’s Mosaic NLT Bible), Sister Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year provides an excellent introduction to the history, practice, and significance of the Christian liturgical year.  As she points out early on in this work, “The liturgical year is one of the teaching dimensions of the church.  It is a lesson in life.”  With this understanding in mind, she proceeds to discuss the development through history of the liturgical calendar and how its observance can be used as a teaching tool to challenge us to increasingly model our lives on the life and walk of Christ.

After exploring these preliminary items, Sr. Chittister takes the bulk of her book to look in some detail at each of the major seasons and holidays in the liturgical year–all of which, of course, center on the primary celebration of Christianity, Easter.  More than just describing the historical facts surrounding each church season or feast, Sr. Chittister continually challenges us, by God’s grace, to be truly changed by our annual journey through the life of Christ–transformed through our worship that our lives might more clearly mirror our Savior’s.  Two chapters at the end of the book on saints and Marian devotion will meet with resistance from those of us in Protestantism.  While I certainly do not agree with Roman Catholic theology on these points, I did find the discussion helpful if only to better understand the teaching of the church in these areas.

In sum, for those unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar, The Liturgical Year will provide a welcome introduction to its riches.  For those whose observance of the church calendar may have devolved into mere rote, this book can provide a re-energizing and necessary Christocentric focus to our worship.









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Book Review: The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns

Back in early July, the folks at Thomas Nelson were kind enough to send me a review copy of Richard Stearns’ new book, The Hole in Our Gospel.  It has taken me this long to read and review it, not because of busyness or some other excuse, but because Stearns (the President of World Vision U.S.) is a powerful writer who truly made me consider the complacency that has long plagued American Evangelical Christianity…the complacency that has all to often plagued me in my Christian walk.  His penetrating look at the living out of a truly biblical Christian faith begins in the Introduction, where he writes:

The gospel itself was born of God’s vision of a changed people, challenging and transforming the prevailing values and practices of our world…What if each of us decided with renewed commitment to truly embrace the good news, the whole gospel, and demonstrate it through our lives–not even in big ways, but in small ones?

From this starting point Stearns, who has traveled around the world encountering poverty, disease, malnutrition, neglect, and a host of other horrors at a degree few of us can imagine, challenges the Church universal, and especially wealth and resource-blessed American Evangelicals, to live out the social implication of the gospel in a completely Christ-centered way.  In a way that resonates with my own disappointment with many conservative Christians, he bemoans the fact that we have largely left social ministry to theological liberals and demonstrates why this not need and should not be the case.  He spends much of his book describing the sheer magnitude of social issues around the world–the very same ones addressed by Jesus in the Gospels–before showing how easily we could make a tremendous impact on the world in the name of Christ.  Unlike many similar books championing social causes, Stearns is unapologetically Evangelical in his approach and places the gospel at the center at all times.  Also, unlike many similar books, Stears’ writing caused me to open my eyes to the reality faced daily by countless millions around the world, truly reflect on the complacency that has worked its way into my own life, and challenge me to try to make a difference in my own neighborhood and across the globe.  Any of us who have grown comfortable in our Christianity would benefit greatly from Richard Stearns’ brutally honest, powerful, and Christ-centered call to live out the faith we profess.  His message needs to be heard.

Book Review/Summer Reading: Dreamhouse Kings series

dhkThe dog days of summer came early this year to southeast Texas and with them came requests from family and friends for summer reading recommendations.  If you or your teens are looking for a series of fantastic thrillers, let me wholeheartedly recommend Robert Liparulo’s Dreamhouse Kings series.  These books follow the cliffhanging, time-traveling adventures of the King family after they move to a new house in a new town, only to find the home contains eerie portals to other times and places.  What should pose great adventure for the King children turns quickly to terror as a trespasser from one of the portals kidnaps their mother…beginning one of the most harrowing rescue missions ever!

I have previously reviewed and recommended House of Dark Shadows.  Recently, I have finished up Watcher in the Woods and Gatekeepers, Liparulo’s second and third releases in the series, and recommend those with equal enthusiasm.  Liparulo writes with lucid, dramatic prose and fashions stories that draw readers in to his fantastic world.  After finishing up each book in little more than a day, my wife asked if I thought the reading too easy for our twelve year-old daughter.  My reply?  “You don’t read  Dreamhouse Kings books quickly because they are too easy but because they’re too hard…to put down!”

While you may get through these books in rapid succession, that is no cause for concern, because the next book in the series, Timescape, is due for release July 7th!

timescape

What could be better than all this?  Well, there are two more volumes (at least) in the works and rumors of a movie!  Read all the latest news about this series at Robert Liparulo’s DHK blog.

Book Review: In the Footsteps of Paul by Ken Duncan

In the Footsteps of Paul is a breathtaking collection of photos chronicling the life of the Apostle Paul.  Through his camera lens, Ken Duncan has traveled through Israel, Turkey, Greece, and other locations to give readers a stunning glimpse into the places where Paul lived, worked, preached, and traveled.

The photos in this work are magnificent and are a real gift to visual learners like me who can easily imagine the Apostle traveling along Roman roads and sailing from beautiful Grecian harbors.  Photos of ancient frescoes and churches show us early Christian renderings and memorials to the events in Paul’s life.  Modern cityscapes and aged ruins connect the past to the present.

Some have criticized the text and quotes that are interspersed from page to page, and I personally have mixed feelings about them.  The quotes from Scripture corresponding to a given location or event provide a great visual to link biblical accounts with a real-world location.  In my opinion, however, the “inspirational” quotes don’t contribute much to the overall work.  That said, the text in this book is really quite secondary to the beautiful photographs that are its main focus.

In short, this spectacular gift book has taken up residence on our coffee table and has created a regular time of adventure, learning, and conversation for our children and guests.  I recommend it heartily for anyone wanting a glimpse into the real-world locations that made up the life and labors of the Apostle Paul!

Book Review: Helping Those Who Hurt by Barbara Roberts

robertsHelping Those Who Hurt: A Handbook for Caring and Crisis is a purse/backpack/satchel-sized treasure trove of practical, biblical information for reaching out in the name of Christ to those in very difficult situations.  Barbara Roberts, the author, has more than two decades of experience in crisis ministry and offers readers concise and wise counsel for ministering in a variety of crisis situations, including: hospital visits, death/dying, aging, relationship problems, addiction, and abuse.  Potential readers should not let the books small size mislead you–this book is jam-packed with practical information to help you understand what the troubled individuals are going through as well as godly, Christ-centered advice on how to reach out and provide care.

In addition to this immediately helpful information, Ms. Roberts provides over twenty pages of bibliography, organized by topic, to give readers additional resources for study and preparation.  With the multitude of books out there on counseling and caregiving, it is hard to overestimate how valuable this listing can be.  While not familiar with every book in her list, it appears she has given us a fantastic listing of counseling’s “Greatest Hits” from a conservative, Evangelical perspective.

As one who has counseled in hospital, local church, and military chaplaincy settings, this is one book I highly recommend for vocational and lay counselors alike.  Even those who would not consider themselves “counselors” could benefit greatly from Helping Those Who Hurt, using it to prepare themselves to be used of God to provide words of comfort, encouragement, and hope to those in crisis.

Book Review: Reclaim Your Dreams by Jonathan Mead

ebookdreamcover-194x300For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jonathan Mead, he blogs at Illuminated Mind and is a regular writer at the insanely popular Zen Habits.  In his own words, “My purpose here is to explore the uncommon side of things that is often overlooked by the typical, mainstream approach.  Illuminated Mind is about finding freedom from what we’ve been conditioned to think will make us happy.”

Jonathan is a thinker and a questioner in the best sense of the word…one who is neither content with the status quo nor content to accept what anyone tells him at face value.  One of my most cherished theology profs once told me, “For every one book you buy that you know you’ll agree with, buy at least two that you know you will challenge you.”  For me, Jonathan Mead is one of those fellows who is both immensely enjoyable to read and simultaneously guaranteed to challenge.  Though we share fundamentally different worldviews, as far as I can tell, I love to read his writings and use his ideas as a springboard from which to do my part and shake up the status quo from time-to-time (my boss might read ‘time-to-time’ as ‘always’…but that’s a matter of perspective, I guess!).  With those thoughts in mind, I naturally jumped at the chance to read and review his recent ebook, Reclaim Your Dreams:  An Uncommon Guide to Living on Your Own Terms.

Though he never comes right out and says it, Jonathon Mead is a classic existentialist, interested in challenging authority and the status quo; following his dreams wherever they might take him; and in general, ‘suck[ing] out all the marrow of life.”  Thoreau, Whitman, Emerson, and Kierkegaard would be proud of their faithful disciple.  While that might put off some of the regular readers of this blog, since Dead Poet’s Society is one of my favorite movies of all time…the former existentialist in me got really excited over this book and agrees wholeheartedly with many of Jonathan’s points, even if I don’t presently agree with all the finer points of his philosophy.  For example, some might be uncomfortable with his unashamed questioning of authority, but there certainly is nothing wrong, in principle, with a genuine, humble quest for the truth and desire to find a better way of doing things.  If we find out that those we question are right, great.  If not, we continue our search, being careful not to disregard the answers we’re given just because they clash with our personal desires.

If I could sum up the point of this book in two short thoughts it would be–your life/job/vocation doesn’t have to look like society tells you it should…define your dreams and go for them!  In an age when so many are trapped in the pursuit of productivity and the culture of the cubicle, Jonathan rightly recognizes that much of life’s joy is found in the journey.  As he writes, “Too often we let the fear of the unknown keep us from taking action, so we follow the herd where things are comfortable and predictable.”

Many of Jonathan’s frustrations will be all too familiar for those in corporate America, which largely seems immovably fixed in its ways and its culture of “the way we’ve always done it.”  Instead of being lemmings blindly following those who have gone before us, he challenges us to define our dreams, our purpose, our values and then relentlessly pursue them…all the while passionately enjoying the journey and not simply focusing on the goal at the end of the road.  In order to break free of the routine, Jonathan provides a multitude of practical exercises designed to get readers to think beyond any self-imposed limits, walk through the process of understanding / defining our dreams, and making those dreams reality.  His writing is not some divorced-from-reality motivational work, however, he is clear that living out your dreams is both risky business and hard work–both of which are instrumental in avoiding lives of “quiet desperation.”

In short, whether or not one subscribes to the philosophical worldview embraced by Mead, there are many gems in this ebook that can be put to good use by anyone seeking to clarify and then follow his or her dreams.  It is, to use his own words “a permission slip to be ridiculous…[and] an invitation to dream.”  Check it out here on Illuminated Mind.

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