Book review: That Hideous Strength
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

That Hideous Strength A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups Publisher: Scribner Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes To render it in Lewisian fashion, one would be loath to give away the plot of such a fine specimen of literature. Not that Lewis would say this about his own work, you understand. That Hideous Strength is a modern classic, and this review ought not to divulge any of the plot twists and turns that make this almost 400 page book a simply enjoyable (and eccentric) story, not to mention the richness of its themes and allusions. Alongside Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra (originally titled Voyage to Venus), these three books comprise what has been come to be known as Lewis’ Space Trilogy, sometimes also called the Cosmic Trilogy. Speaking of space, I cannot quite figure out what Scribner’s cover illustrations have to do with the book, because the entire action of the novel takes place on terra firma – called Tellus or Thulcandra in the book. My HarperCollins UK cover features a rearing bear about to descend upon a white-coated scientist while colonnades tumble all around. Those of you who are allusively aware will note the echoes…

Book review: Living Gently in a Violent World
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Living Gently in a Violent World The Prophetic Witness of Weakness Publisher: IVP Books Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: No Intervarsity Press is publishing a new series of books called ”Resources for Reconciliation” that pair leading theologians with on-the-ground practitioners. For example, put a missiologist and a missionary together and let them write a book. Or an academic expert on world hunger together with a person leading a hunger-fighting organization. It’s a terrific concept. Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness is one of the first books in this series. It is written by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier. Hauerwas is a well-known theologian, and Jean Vanier is the founder of L’Arche, a community that emphasizes the importance of the disabled. L’Arche differs from other organizations by placing emphasis on communal life with the disabled, not merely work for them. Vanier’s organization is founded upon the belief that the weakest among us have something of spiritual and eternal value to offer us. Living Gently in a Violent World intends to challenge our presuppositions. In the introduction, John Swinton writes: “It is not the world of disability that is strange, but the world ‘outside,’…

Book review: Depression: A Stubborn Darkness
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Depression: A Stubborn Darkness Light for the Path Publisher: New Growth Press Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes Well-meaning Christians will try to explain how being a part of the Kingdom of God makes depression impossible for a believer.  They may say, “Depression isn’t part of the abundant life Jesus promised his disciples.  Depression isn’t mentioned as being a hallmark of God’s Kingdom.”  While that may be true, the complete rule of God’s Kingdom on earth is still future.  We still live under the curse of sin and death, and being God’s child does not make one impervious to it.  As Dr. Ed Welch mentions in his book, Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, even the whole creation is groaning as it waits for full redemption and renewal.  But we are not bereft of hope. In his Introduction, Welch, a counselor, faculty member and director of the School of Biblical Counseling at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, shares the main premise, purpose, and suggestions for using his book.  He is writing for both the depressed person and to the one who loves the depressed person.  Welch explains, “If you…

Book review: Christ and the Future
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Christ and the Future The Bible’s Teaching About the Last Things Publisher: Banner of Truth Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes Cornelius Venema’s The Promise of the Future, published in 2000 by Banner of Truth, has been hailed as the most important major Reformed study in biblical eschatology since Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future (published in 1972). It is not coincidental, I am sure, that Venema is a former student of Hoekema. The Promise of the Future was expanded from a series of articles serialized in The Outlook magazine. Now Christ and the Future is an abridgement of the original edition. The publisher says, “While [The Promise of the Future] has justly received acclaim from numerous reviewers, its size and weight may discourage the less experienced reader from taking it up and benefiting from its contents. The publishers, therefore, are grateful to Dr. Venema for kindly agreeing to produce this abridgement of his original edition, and are now delighted to offer it to a wider readership in this smaller, paperback format.” And, indeed, this volume, coming in at just over 200 pages, is far more accessible and far more likely to gain a wide readership….

Book review: Fasting
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Fasting The Ancient Practices Publisher: Thomas Nelson Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes It will be unfortunate, yet not surprising, if Fasting, the newest book by Scot McKnight and newest installment in Thomas Nelson’s Ancient Practices series does not sell well. Not suprising – because American evangelicals have shown little appetite for the practice of fasting. Unfortunate – because McKnight’s new book is one of the best treatments of this subject to find its way onto Christian bookstore’s shelves. Not too long ago, a seminary friend questioned my desire to fast during the season of Lent. When I asked him why he was opposed to the Lenten practice, he pointed to its lack of prescription in the New Testament as well as the possibility to take such fasting to extremes. My response? ”I don’t think that evangelicals are suffering right now from too much fasting.” Scot McKnight claims that one of the reasons why we have neglected this ancient discipline is due to an unhealthy view of the body. Philosophically, we grativate toward dualism, which would have us view spiritual disciplines as just that – spiritual. We then miss the biblical view of embodied spirituality – a…

Book review: The Deity Formerly Known as God
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

The Deity Formerly Known as God Publisher: Zondervan Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes God created people in his image on the sixth day, and every day since, people have returned the favor. Jarrett Stevens opens his book The Deity Formerly Known as God (ostensibly an update of J.B. Phillips’ classic Your God is Too Small) with this provocative quote from Blaise Pascal because he wants to help smash some of the negative images we have created of God and replace them with constructive ones. Stevens organises the book into two parts. In the first he attempts to smash bad images of God, and in the second he attempts to help create some good ones. The destructive images he identifies are: the cop around the corner, the sweet old man, the cosmic clot machine, the talent show judge, the all-you-can-eat buffet, and your parents, only supersized. With a background in junior high ministries, Stevens mixes his theological concepts with much humour and many practical insights. His writing is warm and relates to a wide audience (it is not just for the young). He identifies some very negative images of God, and shows how they can be very harmful…

Book review: A History of Pastoral Care in America
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

A History of Pastoral Care in America From Salvation to Self-Realization Publisher: Wipf & Stock Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes About every ten-to-twenty years a defining text is written in the rather unique genre of the history of pastoral care and counseling. In 1953, John T. McNeil penned the classic A History of the Cure of Souls. Eleven years later William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle gave us their excellent work Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective. In 1987, Thomas Oden authored Classical Pastoral Care, Vol. 3, “Pastoral Counsel.” In 2007, this review’s author wrote Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction. E. Brooks Holifield, professor of American church history at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, has spent a lifetime studying, researching, teaching, speaking, and writing in the same genre. With Abingdon Press in 1983 (re-released by Wipf & Stock in 2005), he authored A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization. Clebsch and Jaekle, McNeil, and Oden wrote broad histories of soul care, while Kellemen focused on African American soul care. Holifield tackles the challenge of a comprehensive history of pastoral care in American religious history. His…

Book review: Real Church
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

Real Church Does it exist? Can I find it? Publisher: Thomas Nelson Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes Real Church, the latest book by counselor, speaker, and prolific author, Dr. Larry Crabb, relates his earlier writings to the local church. Reading Real Church is like reading Understanding People, Inside Out, Connecting, and Soul Talk and asking, "What might a church look like if it were based upon the life and ministry concepts contained in these works by Larry Crabb?" Dr. Crabb writes in his typical deeply personal, reflective style. In fact, he was motivated to write the book by his realization that "in most Evangelical church services I’ve attended, my hunger for truth that transforms, for love that liberates, is rarely satisfied" (p. xiv). Given his personal quest, in Real Church Crabb seeks to answer one central question, "What church would compel me to attend?" Crabb’s Vision Quest In answer to that question, Crabb provides an extended introduction in which he sketches his four visions (what we might call his "Four Marks") of a captivating, biblical church. A Church of Spiritual Theology: Truth That Has the Power to Change Lives. A real church is a ragtag assortment…

Book review: In the President’s Secret Service
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

In the President’s Secret Service Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect Publisher: Crown Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: No The dust cover for In the President’s Secret Service proclaims, "Never before has a journalist penetrated the wall of secrecy that surrounds the U.S. Secret Service. … After conducting exclusive interviews with more than one hundred current and former Secret Service agents, bestselling author and award-winning reporter Ronald Kessler reveals their secrets for the first time." It may be true that no journalist has penetrated that wall of secrecy until Kessler. The problem, though, is that while this wall of secrecy broke down enough for him to write a book, it remained in place enough that he was not able to cite or document what he discovered. Hence we have a book, a bestselling book, that is crammed full of unsubstantiated assertions. Now this is not to say that Kesller has just fabricated what he presents as fact. But any historian worth his degree will balk and know that little that Kessler says has any historic value. In the President’s Secret Service is, in a sense, two books. On…

Book review: CrossTalk
Book Reviews / June 26, 2017

CrossTalk Where Life and Scripture Meet Publisher: New Growth Press Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team Available on Amazon Recommended: Yes The publishers aptly promote CrossTalk with the phrase, “An antidote to ‘take two verses and call me in the morning.’ ” For far too long, some segments of current pastoral ministry and modern biblical counseling have practiced the idea that there is a simplistic one-verse, one-problem, one-solution method to every counseling and relationship issue. Michael Emlet’s training as a family physician and as a seminary professor seamlessly equips him to teach a much more robust approach to changing lives with Christ’s changeless truth. In CrossTalk, he investigates the intersection of biblical truth and people’s lives by exploring how we understand people biblically and how we use the Bible in biblical counseling. Speaking the Truth in Love We have many books about how to interpret the Bible, but few address the topic of how to relate truth to life–how to connect Scripture to struggles. Or, if they do, they focus on the pulpit ministry of the Word–preaching and teaching, and not on the personal ministry of the Word–biblical counseling, one another spiritual friendship, and personal spiritual direction. Emlet teaches us how to…