Archive for category: Book Reviews (Page 2)

Life Without Ed review

19 May
May 19, 2017

life without edLife Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too, by Jenni Schaefer, is a powerful book detailing the author’s struggle with recovery. What makes the tenth anniversary edition particularly interesting to read is that she has added additional thoughts. Where she originally wondered if she would ever truly beat her eating disorder, ten years later, she is able to proudly declare her full recovery and offer hope through her experience to others that it is attainable.

While she does write about the methods she used to pursue recovery, the real strength in her book are her inner narratives. Like many who fight eating disorders, she personified her disorder as Ed, the inner voice driving her to devastating self image and decisions regarding health. As she documents the inner conversations, the struggle between her eating disorder’s views on her image, how she should live, what success looks like, and the reality of the destruction it was waging on her health. She writes that “eating disorders are about constant self-criticism, loss of self-esteem, and unrelenting perfectionism” (Kindle location 433). Seeing the constant, overwhelming presence of these thoughts in all interactions and aspects of life, begin to help the reader to understand the impact an eating disorder can have on an individual.

Her co-author, Thom Rutledge, is a psychotherapist and brings authority to the methods and approaches discussed in the book through Jenni’s experience. Having said that, my impression is that this book is not so much about communicating approaches to counsel those pursuing recovery – it is far too complex an issue with far too many variations for someone to be equipped to that degree from this book. Instead, this book is an essential tool on two fronts; for the individual struggling with an eating disorder it helps them to see they are not alone and there is hope. They will see their struggles, their thoughts, and story echoed in Jenni’s struggle, thoughts, and story. And secondly, for the family member or caring friend of someone dealing with an eating disorder; it is an essential look into what this experience is like and is a great resource in helping build understanding, or at the very least, how better to be supportive.

Jenni’s story is an important one, and her added reflections ten years later only add to its power. I certainly recommend it to anyone impacting by eating disorders – which honestly, at this point in our culture, is everyone – whether they realize it or not. We all are connected to someone battling this issue.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve

04 Jan
January 4, 2017

lost world of adam and eveJohn Walton followed up his book, The Lost World of Genesis One (my review is here), with The Lost World of Adam and Eve, an exploration of Genesis 2-3 and human origins. Walton is the professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College (he had a similar position at Moody Bible Institute previously) and a widely recognized expert on Genesis. I found his first book fascinating; this was one was certainly as well, but also quite provocative in its proposals.

He spends the first few chapters summarizing the thesis of his first book; articulating both the critical need for understanding the culture and ancient writings from the time period Genesis was written, as well as his theories reconciling science and faith in such a way that they can complement one another rather than be at odds. From there he builds a series of propositions regarding Genesis 2-3 and the origins of humanity. He builds off the idea that Adam and Eve are both literal individuals as well as archetypal, he makes the case that the description and creation of the Garden of Eden was language that describes sacred space, or a temple, and therefore Adam and Eve functioned in a priestly role for a possibly already existing humanity from which they were called. Ultimately, God’s creation was about order, an order that Adam and Eve disrupted by eating the fruit and essentially positioning themselves as gods (much like Satan looking at God’s throne and believing He could take it), with Christ’s eventual arrival about restoring order to creation.

While Walton clarifies he is not necessarily espousing this view (a safe statement for a professor at Wheaton), he does argue that there is room to believe what he proposes without compromising scripture or faith. For me, the most provocative proposals regarded Adam and Eve serving in priestly roles together (not one over the other), as well as the idea that humanity had already come into existence over time, from which Adam and Eve were called out of it (as Abraham was called out of humanity to father the Jewish race, and Jesus was called/sent to bring order). He writes, “just as God chose Israel from the rest of humankind for a special, strange, demanding vocation, so perhaps what Genesis is telling us is that God chose one pair from the rest of early hominids for a special, strange, demanding vocation” (p. 177).

Ultimately, part of Walton’s motivation in attempting to reconcile faith and scientific evidence is the reality that one of the more cited reasons for young people and adults leaving faith is feeling forced to chose between science and God. He closes his book with this thought: “Think, then, of our children and grandchildren. When they come home from college having accepted some scientific understanding about human origins that we do not find persuasive, are we going to denounce them, disinherit them and drive them from the doors of our homes and churches? Or are we going to suggest to them that there may be a way to interpret Scripture faithfully that will allow them to hold on to both science and faith? Can we believe that such a path does not represent a compromise that dilutes the faith but rather one that opens new doors to understanding that the next generation may find essential even though we find ourselves paralyzed on the threshold?  Let us pray together that we can chart a path of faithfulness and stop the hemorrhaging.” (p. 210)

Overall, Walton’s book is packed with insights, thoughts, ideas and concepts that I will be wrestling with for a while. His expertise on ancient near eastern culture and literature is fascinating. While some of his ideas are more controversial than others, he definitely challenges the reader to look at Genesis, creation, and Adam and Eve with new perspectives. The book is both intellectually challenging as well as approachable to the casual reader. Definitely something worth reading and exploring.

Book Review: Gospel Centered Youth Ministry

21 Mar
March 21, 2016

youth ministry guideThe Gospel Coalition’s new book, “Gospel Centered Youth Ministry,” is a great resource for youth leaders and volunteers. Fourteen different authors each contributed to put together a book that sets out to address both the theological depth of the gospel and student ministry, as well as give practical ways to live that out. Where so many youth ministry resources tend to skew either only into the practical, or only into the theological, this is an exciting merging of the two.

The book is split into three sections; (1) Foundations for a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, (2) Practical Applications for a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry, and (3) The Fruit of a Gospel Centered Youth Ministry. I appreciated the progression of the book; each of the authors were tasked with chapters that fell under those broad headings, building over the course of the book a great overview of a gospel centered youth ministry.

It is a strong work; the authors have done their research, cite their sources, and take an academic, yet very approachable methodology to their writing. They cover a wide range of topics, giving strong presentations on the underlying theology supporting their views before diving into the practicalities of living it out. Definitely a great resource for youth leaders; also a great training tool for student ministry teams and interns.

The Lost World of Genesis One

02 Sep
September 2, 2015

lost world

At  the recommendation of two of the former pastors from my church, Pastor Bo Matthews and Pastor Bill Parsons, I grabbed a copy of John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One.” Walton, an expert on the book of Genesis, attempts to propose an approach for reading and understanding chapter one of Genesis, one of the more fiercely debated portions of the Bible. He outlines eighteen propositions towards a literary and theological understanding of the passage. A large part of his approach centers on the idea that our best way of approaching the passage is NOT with our 21st century cultural and scientific leanings, but instead to understand how people in general understood and approached the cosmos 3500 years ago (approximately when Moses wrote Genesis), and how that would have shaped their understanding of Genesis one. Here are two of the key quotes that really resonated with me as I started reading it:

Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity. (page 20)

If God were intent on making his revelation correspond to science, we have to ask which science. We are well aware that science is dynamic rather than static. By its very nature science is in a constant state of flux. If we were to say that God’s revelation corresponds to “true science” we adopt an idea contrary to the very nature of science. What is accepted as true today, may not be accepted as true tomorrow, because what science provides is the best explanation of the data at the time. This “best explanation” is accepted by consensus, and often with a few detractors. Science moves forward as ideas are tested and new ones replace old ones. So if God aligned revelation with one particular science, it would have been unintelligible to people who lived prior to the time of that science, and it would be obsolete to those who live after that time. We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood. (page 18)

I was a history major in college. My approach to scripture has generally been shaped by that influence, which makes sense. And in reality, there are three types of writing that primarily shape scripture: poetry, history, and prophecy. Because of that, as our knowledge of history outside of scripture grows over the centuries, it tends to confirm what we read in scripture – of course. Scripture is in part history, so man’s historical discoveries should confirm the authoritative history that God inspired. But the debate about Genesis one in particular, and science in scripture in general, is a separate issue. It is looking at scripture as something that it was not intended to be. Does that mean all science in scripture disagrees with our scientific knowledge today? Of course not, but that does not mean it was intended to communicate what we sometimes try to read into it.

Ultimately, Walton makes the case that Genesis one is more about assigning functions than it is anything else. For example, the purpose behind labeling the light day was defining its role as a portion of time. This lines up with much of ancient thought that was more focused on role and function than material origin. Function defined existence and value.

Towards the end of the book I began to feel that Walton was dragging out the argument longer than he needed to. He made his most powerful statements when he focused on culture, understanding, limits of language, writing style, ancient culture and cosmology, etc. Some of his propositions later in the book seemed to focus more on the issue of whether or not science could address the issue of God and it seemed unnecessary to me. The historian in me loved the bulk of his propositions that focused on putting ourselves in the sandals of the original readers and how they would have understood Genesis one. Regardless of that, however, this is a must read. Walton has effectively proposed a thought provoking approach to understanding Genesis one that reconciles scripture and science in a powerful way.


The 90-Day Fitness Challenge (review)

06 Jan
January 6, 2013

parham bookBack in 2010, former Biggest Loser contestants and inspiring Christian speakers, Phil and Amy Parham released a book called ‘The 90-Day Fitness Challenge.’ They had asked me (as well as a bunch of others) to write a blurb for the inside cover, which I was excited to do after I read their book. Anyway, I was looking through it the other day, saw my blurb and realized I never posted it, so here it is:

Being on the Biggest Loser was one of the most significant times in my Christian life. God designed and desires us to be spiritually and physically healthy, and the impact on our lives is huge. Phil and Amy Parham are the only ones to have put into writing what so many former contestants now know – that weight loss, pursuing health, and becoming the person God intended us to be is not just an exercise program, but a faith journey as well. As a pastor and weight-loss group leader, I love that The 90-Day Fitness Challenge is a complete program, tying together amazing teaching and resources on changing to a healthy lifestyle while honoring and involving our Creator. This is THE book to get for individuals or groups looking to change their lives for the long term!

If you want to grab a copy, you can find it here.


A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media (review)

05 Dec
December 5, 2012

So far I am loving the new ‘Simply for Parents’ line of books from Simply Youth Ministry. This particular one, A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media, by Mark Oestreicher and Adam McLane, is one that I have been looking forward to for some time now. It is a much needed primer on social media to help parents guide their children through our changing world.

At only 72 pages, it is SHORT … but this is actually one the book’s strengths. From my experience, many parents are overwhelmed with all of the technologies their children seem to know instinctively, but this book is able to package solid, practical advice in a very non-intimidating package. Based on a seminar McLane has been teaching for some time now, he and Oestreicher walk parents through the basic forms of social media (both online, like Facebook & Twitter, and portable devices, like cell phones). They do a good job of painting the risks and the benefits, as well as great advice on how to communicate with your child in a way that points them towards wise usage.

The authors do a fantastic job of writing in a way that’s approachable both to the parent with no experience whatsoever in social media and the parent who is very immersed in it. Clear, simple explanations are done in such a way that I found myself taking notes to help with my own communication on the topic to parents. I loved the advice on social media usage, interacting with your teen online, how to set safe boundaries, and how to be a part of guiding them into being wise adults in this arena.

All in all, in this day and age this is a MUST for parents. Short, so it’s a quick read. Full of critical information directly impacting their children (whether they realize it or not). And at a great price. Personally, I think it’s great for parents of adolescents, but it’s an even stronger tool for the parents of pre-adolescents. Thinking through this topic BEFORE your child starts asking for a cellphone, Facebook, Instagram, etc., is a far better place to be than scrambling with decisions on the fly. My intent is to order a stack of them to have available for parents to purchase at my church. You can find the book in physical and Kindle format here, or at the Youth Cartel.

Man of Vision

05 Dec
December 5, 2012

I recently read Man of Vision, by Marilee Pierce Dunker. It’s the story of her parents, specifically Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. Ultimately, it’s a tragic story of a man so focused and driven by the mission that he ends up losing his wife and family along the way.

The book description reads,

Rarely is anything accomplished for the Kingdom of God without a very real spiritual battle proportionate to the magnitude of the work being done. God honored the faith of Bob and Lorraine Pierce by enabling them to give birth to two ministries – World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse – that have reached around the world and literally transformed the lives of millions in the name of Jesus. Consequently the personal warfare they faced was unusually intense and vicious. To talk about the thrilling, positive things God did in their lives without showing the satanic attacks and wilderness experiences they went through would present a distorted picture of how God works. For nothing of any real value or lasting significance comes without a price.

As a pastor’s kid, I appreciated the challenge it must have been for Marilee, Bob Pierce’s daughter, to write such a candid book. While celebrating the amazing accomplishments for God’s kingdom, she also gave the reader intimate looks into the troubled and painful experience that was their family life. Ultimately, what it boiled down to was an incredibly unhealthy balance between ministry and family. On the one hand, he accomplished so much good, but at the same time his own drive for control and his singular vision tarnished that legacy. If I’m honest, there was a lot in the story I identified with, which had me reacting to his bad decisions more strongly than most readers probably would.

I did have one disagreement with the author; it almost seemed as though she attributed the great family cost to the reality of the great ministry achievement. In other words, because Bob Pierce did so much, it was inevitable that he would fall prey to great spiritual attack. While I agree there must have been tremendous spiritual struggle, it was his fallen, sinful nature that brought about the destruction. It was NOT an unavoidable price that had to be paid to accomplish such good. Either way, it was a story that started with such hope and vision that ended tragically. Definitely a story all ministry leaders could learn and benefit from.

#GoingSocial by Terrace Crawford

18 Oct
October 18, 2012

I just finished reading Terrace Crawford’s new book on using social media in ministry, #GoingSocial. It’s a great book, and while it’s just under 200 pages, it’s a quick read – I did it in one sitting.

Crawford does a great job of introducing the concept of using social media for ministry, the value in doing so, and the cultural relevance. He also does a great job of tackling some of the concerns people have that hold them back. The book is ideal for people with little to no social media experience or knowledge, as he carefully walks people through how to start using the major social media outlets out there.

He also gives some great practical advice on how to take advantage of the many outlets out there; blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. I actually found myself putting down the book as I was reading it to make some immediate changes to some of the social media outlets our student ministry uses, and then jumping back into the book.

I liked his writing style; easy to read, good pacing, informative but written in a way that those inexperienced wouldn’t be intimidated. At the same time, as someone who has been using all of those tools for years, I still felt like there was some solid advice and direction for me to act on as well. I came away from it feeling good about how we’ve been using Facebook for our student ministry and Twitter, but with a lot of great thoughts on how I could be more effective with YouTube – I’m definitely missing some opportunities there.

All in all, #GoingSocial is a must have for church leaders. It’s a great book, and one that I will be passing on to the other leaders in my church to take a look at. You can find it at the best price here.

College Ministry From Scratch (review)

17 Aug
August 17, 2012

While on vacation I checked out Chuck Bomar’s book ‘College Ministry From Scratch: A Practical Guide to Start and Sustain a Successful College Ministry.’ If you’re not familiar with Bomar, he’s kind of the college ministry expert in the ministry world at the moment.

I actually liked the book for several reasons:

  • It’s not intimidating. It’s not short, but it’s definitely not as long as his ‘College Ministry 101‘ book. In other words, I can see myself handing this to volunteers and seeing them use it.
  • I love that the first half of the book really condenses a lot of his teachings from College Ministry 101. It gives a great overview of the basics of college ministry, the vision and heart behind it, and the urgency/importance of it.
  • The second half was incredibly practical with a lot of step by step guides walking the reader through various pieces of college ministry.

Whether you’re a veteran college ministry leader or a rookie, this really was an all around valuable book to have. We’re currently in the midst of some leadership transition in our college ministry at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church and at this point I’m planning on getting a bunch of copies to give to leaders to help equip them going forward, as well as get us all on the same page.

So, to sum up: Fantastic book. Easy to read. Great balance of big picture purpose stuff as well as hands on practical ideas and tools.

Sustainable Youth Ministry

16 Aug
August 16, 2012

Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries has had the most significant impact on me as a youth pastor since I read Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields thirteen years ago.

Over the last year and a half I have read through it twice; the first time simply to check it out. By the end of it I knew there was more to take and away and apply from it then I could possibly remember on my own. I grabbed the Kindle version and reread it, highlighting my way through and using the Kindle print function to end up with about 14 pages of highlights and notes, as well as a two page checklist of how I’m going to apply the principles in the book to the youth ministry I’ve been called to.

Basically, DeVries gives the administrative and foundational tools needed to set up a youth ministry structure designed for longevity and sustainability. I love that he acknowledges from the outset that most youth pastors, by virtue of the gifting necessary to connect with teens and families tend to not be wired in ways needed to manage the significant and often times unexpected administrative side to student ministry. Because of that, he approaches it in a very easy to understand style, walking the reader step by step through recruiting, training volunteers, building teams, delegating, setting up a structure that enables growth and longevity independent of the personalities. He teaches the reader how to create key documents, vision statements, how to set goals and revisit those goals. He also gives valuable insight on the budgeting process, staffing needs and ratios to students, and more.

To be honest, it was a lot of the critical tools and lessons I needed to be able to speak the language of the professionals that fill my church.

All that to say, I’ve been setting into motion a lot of the lessons I’ve learned. I’ve been in conversation with my senior pastor about it as I’ve been developing goals and he’s excited about the directions we’re headed in as well. In short:

  • We’re restructuring our volunteer teams in a way that will better prepare us for growth and help us do what we’re currently doing better
  • We’ve been finalizing work on various control documents (job descriptions for volunteers, vision statements, covenants, org charts, seven year teaching plans, etc)
  • Setting realistic and specific goals for this year, the next three years and the next five years

A lot of what is being applied is below the surface and not necessarily immediately noticeable. But the long term effect should be profound and I’m excited about it. One of the advantages of having my senior pastor on board is the prospect of bringing Mark DeVries organization, Youth Ministry Architects, out here in the next couple years to do a comprehensive evaluation of our progress and give us direction on how we can continue to become a sustainable youth ministry. He likes the goals and the value of what we’re pursuing, and voicing the intent for an evaluation now helps prepare the budget needs for it to happen down the road.

All that to say, if you’re in youth ministry and you haven’t read Sustainable Youth Ministry yet, it’s a must.