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book review

Renovate: A Helpful, Practical, Timely Book About Renewal

the right words + the right time = CHANGE

That's the formula that undergirds Léonce Crump, Jr's Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are. In this new book about cultural renewal, the author has the right words--about the gospel, race, social justice, and a "theology of place." But this book also comes at just the right time; issues of race and reconciliation dominate the news, social media, and conversation perhaps now more than they have in at least a generation or two. And if enough people digest the right words at such a ripe time as this, that's a recipe for the type of renewal the author is seeking.

However, this book is not only about race. At the bottom, this is a book about reflecting the glory of God, and how Christians and churches achieve that--especially through the actions of intentional Christians investing in their communities. In what I thought was the best part of the book, before giving six very practical and helpful ways to seek change, Léonce Crump, Jr, explains clearly--and practically--how cultures change:

through community, not heroic individuals. Renovation happens through networks of people who think critically about culture and seek out ways in which the gospel can be applied to their work or creativity, creatively. (p. 127)

Renovate has many strengths, and I would recommend it to anyone--especially other pastors who wish for their people to embrace their "sent-ness." By itself Chapter 4, "A Theology of Place," is worth the price of the book. The author has a clear passion for being intentional in the place to which you've been sent, as well as a pastoral concern to see Christians and churches take on the task of renewing their cities to the extent that race relations, politics, education, and all other areas are affected -- and that's a message we all need right now.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Rooted: Not Deep Enough For Me

Imagine I told you this is a review about the forthcoming book Rooted, by Banning Liebscher (founder and pastor of Jesus Culture)--then I wrote a lot about other books, only casually mentioning Rooted, coming back to it occasionally to make a point or use an illustration. Say I spoke in generalities, told you a lot about myself, and interacted very little with much of the book. How would you feel?

You'd feel like I did actually reading Rooted.

The promise of what to expect comes on pages 12-13:

The purpose of this book is to look at Scripture and learn what to expect as God works to establish deep roots in you.... As we journey together through this book, we are going to study the life of David and look at the different elements God developed in his root system during nearly two decades of process and preparation.

Those elements were to be summed up in three different soils: intimacy, service, and community--so I was excited. With the life of David as the backdrop, the words of Colossians 2:6-7 were on my mind: "Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."

My excitement dwindled rapidly though, as Rooted became a test of managing unmet expectations. I expected a book about discipleship, about the way God grows a person, as he did David. I expected a book about faithfulness, spiritual disciplines, serving, and being in community with others--and the way God uses those to grow a person's maturity in Christ.

What I got was a book about how God prepares us to bear the weight of our destiny, position ourselves for God to release grace to us, and root us in these different ways so we can have a vision for making a lasting impact in the world. Maybe it's because I don't speak Charismatic, but I had a hard time tracking on these parts. Interestingly, on page 88-89, the author says,

Truth is not rooted in our feelings or opinions, but in Scripture.... I don't want to know what you think God would or wouldn't do. I want to know what Scripture says."

A few times in the book, he affirms the Bible as our authority and rejects opinions and feelings as authoritative, but in other places--against his own admonition--makes statements about what God does or how he works, with no biblical proof, using language and expressions not found in the Bible. One such is on pages 107-108:

There are certain things God wants to release to you that He will only give you in the secret place.... There is an anointing that is found only in one place. You can go to as many conferences as you want, but you will not find it there. God reserves certain things to be found only in the secret place alone with Him.

To which I simply responded, show me; what does Scripture say?

As with any book, there were morsels of goodness such as the section titled, "The Test of Sacrifice," which was about the manner in which we serve others, and how to test if our serving is about us or about the glory of God in meeting others' needs. But the morsels were small and far between. I would not recommend this book to many people, especially others like myself, unfamiliar with Jesus Culture, and their own culture and vocabulary. There are simply too many other books comparable in size that set out to accomplish the same goal, namely preparing a person to be rooted, built up in the Word, and prepared for a life that glorifies God--and accomplish that goal with much more clarity and depth.

I received a complimentary advance copy of this book from Blogging For Books, in exchange for an honest review.

Does The Heaven Promise Deliver?

Heaven is no easy topic to write about--yet there is no lack of people who've taken up the task. As Scot McKnight points out in his new book The Heaven Promise, a browse through the local Christian bookstore or a quick Google search reveals that heaven is an "intense human interest story." And how much more now with the recent surge of heaven tourism books...well, at least the ones that aren't rescinded because the author admits to making up the story.

So who better than a seminary professor who teaches New Testament to write a book about heaven with the subtitle, Engaging the Bible's Truth About Life to Come? Except for the Bible obviously, that's the only book about heaven I'm interested in--one that engages what the Bible says about it! And The Heaven Promise promised to be that book:
"In what follows I want to sketch the most important ideas about heaven that come from the Bible." (page 8)
"God gave us our imaginations, but the surest place for understanding Heaven is not our imaginations or stories of afterlife experiences, but the Bible itself." (page 135)
"At the heart of my own argument is the belief that Christians need to form their beliefs about Heaven on the basis of the Bible." (page 165)

Unfortunately though, The Heaven Promise didn't deliver--which is unfortunate, because I liked much of the book. Well, I liked much of the first half. It's basically divided into two halves; the first to look at the promises of heaven, and the second to answer some FAQ's about heaven. Especially interesting to me in the first half are discussions of:
The two dominant views of heaven--theocentric and kingdom-centric (pages 11-14);
The difference between lowercase-h heaven, and uppercase-H Heaven (page 45);
Heaven as a place of deep, ecstatic joy and pleasure (pages 76-79).

To be fair, I agreed with much of what the author said, but I disagreed with much, too. And it's where I disagreed that I have the problem--not because I disagreed per se, but because I expected to be persuaded; I expected to engage the Bible's truth about Heaven. However, the second half of the book, especially, interacts very little with Scripture--at least in any meaningful way. In the section of the book with the potential to be the only part a casual reader may look at, this was where Scripture really needed to dominate the discussion. The FAQ's. The questions about pets. And people who've never heard of Jesus. And purgatory. And children who die. The questions people are asking. The questions were supposed to be answered by "engaging the Bible's truth."

Instead, many of the questions were answered with "it gets speculative at this point," "we don't know how God," "I cannot see how," "I am not confident the Bible allows us to answer this question with absolute confidence," and there was one especially entertaining string of if-then statements about marriage and families in Heaven.

Despite its challenges and failing to actually interact with much of the Bible on the topic of Heaven, I would recommend this book for the purpose of light study. For the person studying Heaven and wanting some interesting (and even encouraging) popular-level thoughts about it, this book would work. For the person searching for biblical answers about Heaven, I wouldn't recommend it--which is not fun to say since that was the author's aim.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

I Liked "I Like Giving"

Brad Formsma's I Like Giving is an immensely practical book about giving, and about how it transforms us when we do it not out of obligation, but out of joy. In other words, giving can be something we enjoy doing--which encourages more giving because we get more joy!

Doing something generous without anyone telling you to is so exhilarating it becomes addictive." (p. 33)

The genius of this book is that it is so readable. It's not heavy, deep stuff, and the book--although 200 pages--could be read in just a few sittings. The constant interjection of stories and suggestions make this a very practical and engaging read. There are many real-life examples of people giving and being blessed for it; almost every story is one that the average person will relate to.

The book's biggest weakness, though, is that God is assumed, and even though mentioned many times, there is little to no scriptural support for living a generous life. Even though I understand that's not the author's intent (to give a biblical case for generosity), I was a little disappointed to see it mostly ignored--especially in light of the greatest motivation for a generous life, that God has so freely to given to us in his Son.

I would recommend I Like Giving to anyone looking for real-life ways and examples to look for opportunities to live generously--especially in ways bigger than simply giving money. This book is about something bigger, it's about living in a way that seeks opportunities to bless others with our own generosity--and for that, I liked I Like Giving.

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Much Needed Culture Shift

Al Mohler's first full-length book should be required reading for Christians struggling to understand cultural issues, and how to respond biblically. In Culture Shift, Al Mohler has expanded on many of his past blog posts - a blog that majors on the subject of Christian response to cultural winds and crises.

An expert (of sorts) on the subject, Mohler has written an excellent primer on Christians and cultural issues such as terrorism, abortion, public schools, and racism. Though not intended to be exhaustive,Culture Shift engages the reader at an introductory level that is highly accessible, biblical, and informative.

After building the frame in the first few chapters by drawing from Augustine's city of God and city of man analogy, Mohler moves to specific issues for the brunt of the book. If the author's aim is to "understand our culture and its challenges because we are to be faithful followers of Christ and faithful witnesses to the gospel", he has succeeded and left the Church a great resource. Culture Shift is highly recommended!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.