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Entries in Book Reviews (32)


Do you need to be refreshed?

In between Greek pronouns and Hildegard of Bingen (the subject of my term paper in Church History) I managed to read and thoroughly enjoy Shona and David Murray's book Refresh. I've reviewed it today at Out of the Ordinary.

Here is a snippet from the opening: 

OverwhelmedExhausted. Depreessed. Panicky. Stressed. Burned out. Broken. Paralyzed. Drowning. Empty. Recognize yourself in any of these words? Maybe in all of them?  
You're not alone. These are the most common words I've heard Christian women useing to describe themselves and their lives. 
Whatever happened to the words peaceful, calm, joyful, content, quiet, rested, refreshed, and fulfilled? Wouldn't you like to exchange the second set of words for the first? 

Click here to read the review.

This was an encouraging and helpful book. I would definitely recommend it. 


Book Review and Giveaway - The Happy Christian

People love extremes, Christians included. At one end, we have the prosperity mind set that says a lack of happiness is a sure sign of a lack of faith. And then there is the other end that sees Christianity with every negative possible. In David Murray's book The Happy Christian, a balance is struck between those two extremes. While this book does not promote the power of positive thinking, it does promote the reality of a positive faith in Christ.

Murray sets out in this book to combat what he sees as a ramptant negativity in the world, a negativity which has invaded the church. The subtitle for the introduction is "The Happiest People in the World." And so Christians ought to be. Given what we have in Christ, we have cause for rejoicing.

Murray points out that we are what we think:

A positive faith produces a positive life; a negative faith, a negative life. That shouldn’t surprise us. King Solomon wrote, “As a person thinks in his heart, so is he.”

We are what we think and believe. 

In ten chapters, Murray provides formulas for putting a positive faith into practice, dealing with areas such as the media, our salvation, how we look at the future, extending grace to the world, giving praise, giving finances and time, our work, and celebrating diversity.

Murray has done extensive research about the habits of happy people in general. Many of his findings look at how unbelievers change their thought patterns and attitudes to exhibit more happiness. He returns to the point often that if those who are outside of Christ can be happy, how much more should we as Christians be happy? Have we not a precious hope that brings happiness? Murray challenges us in this book to look at our faith in the positive, not always the negative. He does not turn a blind eye toward or excuse sin, but he encourages us to remember that the truth of how much we have in Christ, which should evidence itself in a positive faith.

I particularly liked his chapter "Happy World," where he talks about common grace, which he refers to as "everywhere grace." I, myself, tend to look at the world without seeing the grace everywhere. Sometimes, we as Christians look at those outside of Christ as interlopers into our domain, and we look look at them with a miserable glance. We ought to be looking for signs of grace wherever we can. We don't ignore sin, but neither do we ignore the evidences of God's grace whever it can be seen. I appreciated his comment about our reluctance to patronize services from unbelievers, insisting that "Christian" services, etc., are more virtuous:

Sometimes Christians and churches may decide to buy a certain good or service from a company simply because it is a Christian company. The product or service may not be the best, but it has a Christian owner. That’s faulty thinking, thinking that results from failing to understand God’s everywhere grace. If God has enabled a non-Christian to make the best product or provide the most efficient service, we should gladly buy from him or her and regard it as God’s grace to that person and to us. 

The fact that unbelievers can excel in their work, produce beautiful works of art or music, or counsel someone who is hurting is evidence of grace, and we ought to rejoice in that. I believe it would help us show more love toward those who don't believe.

I really benefitted from this book. I tend to be someone who sees the worst-case scenario before I see the benefits. It was a challenge for me to think about how that can inadvertantly make it seem like the Christian life is dire and gloomy. This was a refreshing, encouraging read.

The only thing I didn't like is that the Scripture passages which were the foundation of the arguments were relegated to the footnotes rather than included in the text. I'm sure the publisher has reasons for this, but I would rather not have to flip to the back of the book to find the reference. It was a minor thing, and did not really detract from the content.


Thomas Nelson has generously allowed me to offer a free copy to a lucky winner. If you are interested in getting a free copy of this book, and you live in Canada or the United States, please leave your name in the comments. A first name and a last initial should suffice in the event that two people with the same name enter the draw. I will announce the winner on February 17th, a week from today, and you will receive the book from Thomas Nelson directly.

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If you pre-order the book before February 24, you are entitled to some free resources. Click here for more details.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for their generosity in providing me with this book in exchange for an honest opinion.



You Can Pray - Book Review

Do you struggle to pray? Do you feel bad because you struggle to pray? Do you get easily distracted and wonder why you just can't focus? You're not alone. Prayer is something that is as easy as opening our mouths or directing our thoughts heavenward, but it can be a struggle.

Chester's book, You Can Pray is founded on the premise that we can pray. There is no mystery to it, and any weakness is more about our heart than the actual activity of praying. Chester points out that any prayer is a good prayer if it is motived with the right heart. The Father loves to hear us pray. He wants us to pray. The problem starts with our own weakness. 

The book is divided into three parts, "Why Prayer is Easy (How We Pray)," "Why Prayer is Difficult (Why We Pray)," and "What We Pray." Every chapter is rich with Scriptural foundations. That is what I loved the most about this book. Throughout, Chester provides passages of Scripture to reflect upon, and at the end of each chapter, there is a prayer based on a Scripture passage. In the third section of the book, Chester examines the Lord's Prayer as a model of praying, and gives examples of how to apply the various petitions of the Lord's Prayer to our particular circumstances. Chester even suggests praying with an open bible, because, he queries: "How else are we going to know what to pray for?" 

I really appreciated how he dealt with feeling that our prayers are unanswered. After reminding the reader that sin is not always the reason for unanswered prayer, he encourages the reader to examine his heart:

The really important thing to realize is that it's not God who's holding us at arm's length. We're holding God at arm's length. That's why he feels distant -- because we're either pushing him away (by harbouring sin in our hearts) or hiding behind a mask. If God feels far away, then examine your life.

Chester writes with a warm, pastoral tone. It was not a cumbersome read, but it definitely got me thinking about my own prayers. Chester is a pastor, and he comes across like one. Sometimes, that is what we need most: to have someone come alongside and shepherd us. It is evident that Chester has a heart for people, and a heart to see God's people find intimacy in prayer. This book would make a great gift, and Christmas is coming. There's still time to get one! 

Even people who have been Christians for a very long time occasionally struggle to pray. Through various seasons of life, it can be more difficult. Sometimes, we just don't know what to pray, and that can trip us up. Tim Chester's book reminds us that we can pray. His reminder that our prayers don't have to to be eloquent or polished was a reminder I needed myself. Initially, I wasn't going to review this book, because I really don't like reading digital books. To my delight, I was given a paper copy of this book. I am very thankful to have been able to read this book. It was a refreshing encouragement to me, and one of the best books on prayer I've read. 

I was given this book free of charge in exchange for an honest opinion. I am grateful, as always, for P&R, for supplying good books.


The Story - Book Review

I'm always excited to see good bible study resources for teenagers. While I worked with youth ministry, it was always a burden on my heart for kids to get as excited about Scripture as I was. Jon Nielson has written a resource I'm really excited about.

The Story is a 365 day devotional for teens and young adults. The subtitle is "The Bible's Grand Narrative of Redemption." Nielson's goal with this devotional is to introduce to students the entire scope of the bible, the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. I think this is a brilliant idea. I know for myself, understanding how individual portions fit into the larger story has been invaluable for my own study.

Nielson breaks down the account of Scripture into five acts: Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Samuel, David to Exile, Exile to Jesus, Jesus to the End. Each day contains a portion of Scripture, usually a chapter of a book. There is commentary and application to follow. Day 1 to Day 243 cover Old Testament readings, and the remainder are in the New Testament. While entire books of the Bible are not covered, major themes are covered, enough to give the student the big picture, as well as encouragement to read the whole of the book. The only books he does not have readings from is I and II Chronicles, Obadiah, Zephaniah and Haggai.

In the course of 365 readings, Nielson continually directs the students to the character of God, His sovereignty, His mercy, His grace, His holiness, and His providence. He also encourages the students to recognize and address their own sin. Personal holiiness is a consistent them in the book. His applications did not resort to simple moralisms, but remained consistently anchored to the nature of God himself.

Many student devotionals fail to communicate that the bible is about God, not us, and this book makes God the subject of each day's reading, while not neglecting application. This tool is not a substitute for reading all of Scripture, but it is a great way to get a student motivated to tackle that goal. 

I highly recommend The Story. I found myself wanting to buy copies for the youth in my own church, despite the fact that I am not working with youth ministry any more. I am certainly intending to get a copy for my youth pastor.

I want to thank P&R Books and Net Galley for providing me with a digital copy to preview in exchange for an honest review.


Book Review - The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition

The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition
Shane Lems
P&R Publishing, 2013

Shane Lems has written a book I would have found very useful when I was working with youth. This book teaches students about the Doctrines of Grace through the use of the TULIP acronym.

Lems begins by giving the history of the Canons of Dort, the place from where the five points of TULIP come. The student is shown how each of the five points are in contrast to the five beliefs of Arminianism. Lems also points out that while the five points of TULIP are part of Calvinism, they are not Calvinism in its entirety. He prefers to use the term "the doctrines of grace," to emphasize that reality. And Lems talks a lot about God's grace in this book.

The book is divided into twelve lessons, two for each letter of the acronym. At the end of the lesson there are study questions and Scripture memory work. Lems is careful to highlight in each chapter the biblical basis of the doctrines. Over and over again, he reminds the student that the reasons why these doctrines are held by Reformed Christians is because they are biblical. In an Appendix, Lems includes cross-references of the doctrines to their Scriptural basis. There is another Appendix linking each one to its expression The Canons of Dort, The Belgic Confession, The Westminster Confession and both Catechisms, and the Heidelberg Catechism. He also includes a thorough selection of extra reading, so that this introduction into the doctrines of grace can be further explored. 

This was an easy read, which is excellent for students who have lots to distract them. The theological terms, which Lems did not shy away from, were explained simply and clearly. The discussion questions were interesting and thorough, and provided a lot of material for a group to discuss together. I think the best use of this tool would be for weekly meetings where students could share their thoughts and learn from each other. 

Lems emphasizes over and and over again God's sovereignty, whether it is in electing the saints or preserving them. There is no hint of detracting from God's power in salvation. A student cannot read this book and come away thinking that he is in any way the author of his own salvation. I liked how Lems was not afraid to tackle the issue of sin. I remember when I was working with youth who had grown up in the church, it was very difficult to talk about sin with kids who were sheltered and protected, and weren't out using drugs or stealing cars. Life in the church can be a fishbowl for kids, so it was a good reminder that despite their "good" conduct, they still have a sin issue which needs addresing.

Lems is also careful to emphasize that the study of these doctrines is for the Christian's growth. He says, "TULIP is for our heads and hearts." He is diligent to remind the reader that the value in studying these things it that it helps one to grow in grace. Lems is not pushing knowledge for knowledge's sake; he is promoting growith in Christ.

In the chapter on limited atonement (where he also provides the synonyms "particular redemption," and "definite atonement), he addresses the concerns others may have with it, and verses that might contradict it. This invites the student to think about the doctrine. At some point, all young people must know why they believe as well as what; this involves thinking about the doctrine they grow up learning. 

I highly recommend this book for youth leaders and students. It would also be excellent for someone older who has questions, or with a group of ladies studying the doctrines. The lessons can be easily fortified with the generous list of resources.

I am grateful to P&R and Net Galley for providing me with a digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.