The Athiest Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister


I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with Andy Bannister before reading this book, and I wasn’t even 100% sure what the book was about when I signed-up for this tour, but I figured the title sounded interesting so I’d give it a whirl.  And I wasn’t disappointed!

From the moment I started reading the book I couldn’t put it down.  Being a conservative in graduate school at one of the most liberal public universities in the nation (we’re often referred to as the “Berkley of the east”), I am often confronted with the prevalence of atheism on campus – in fact, in class the suggestion that there is a “God” is often met with inquiring stares, as if to say, “There’s really people that believe this stuff!?!?”  So I read with interest as Bannister picked apart many of the arguments I hear expressed in my classes in a thoughtful, logical, and thorough way.

Bannister’s writing style was unique and – for me – extremely enjoyable.  His dry, witty humor kept me engaged, helped make his point, and even encouraged me to read almost every single footnote in the book (something I normally avoid doing).  While he dealt with intellectual topics, I did not find his writing too deep to comprehend or relate to – in fact, as someone who is not a student of philosophy I found his style to be very accessible and non-threatening.

I have to admit that I did read the book through the lens of already being a Christian, so I can’t say whether it would actually convince me reject atheism if I was an atheist, but I do believe it would give me questions that I needed answers to.  And, honestly, that was the purpose of the book.  Bannister sets the tone early on that his goal is not to convince atheists they are wrong, but simply to challenge their beliefs so that they can make intelligent defenses of their beliefs.  As a believer, he offers many answers to questions I may be asked.

My only real critique of the book is that at times Bannister switches between arguing for Theism and then arguing specifically for Christianity.  He makes no bones about being a Christian, but he also isn’t completely clear on whether he is engaging in the “Atheism vs. Theism” debate or “Atheism vs. Christianity” debate.  But other than that I really can’t say anything negative about it.   This is one I’d encourage you to go and read to keep in your library, and, if you have a friend or family-member who is wrestling with the question “Is there a God?” and “What difference does believing in God make?” it may provide a resource for them as well to at least engage honestly with the question.

Overall, I’ll give the book 5/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

When I Pray What Does God Do? by David Wilkinson


Sometimes I hate writing reviews, and, honestly, this is one of those times.  When I first was offered this particular title I was very excited, mainly because prayer is something I have often struggled with in terms of being committed to and feeling like I “do” well.  And when I received the book and started reading it I was so ecstatic I shared with several friends, “I’m reading this great book on prayer!”

Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t stay with me.  To put it quite bluntly, I found the book became depressing and downright boring.  In the first chapter I really connected with the author and his struggles with prayer – and he raised many of the questions I have found myself asking over the years.  But then as the book progressed I felt like he never really came to a clear answer, but I just kept reading over and over about his struggles without seeing any victory.  To be fair and transparent, I never finished the book, but by the time I was half-way through it (literally) I found that reading it was sapping my joy and I was more discouraged than I was encouraged, so I had to stop.  Maybe the author finally did reach some resolution (though in my skimming of the last half of the book it didn’t appear he did), but if he did he arrived there way to late to keep my attention (and I typically have a high level of tolerance and patience for wading through books).  In short, reading it because a chore rather than a joy.

So, for that reason (and that reason alone), I’ve got to give the book 1 star and I just do not recommend it.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn


So I’ve read a lot of books on marriage – some better than others – and this one is certainly one of the best.  While it does not provide the firm theological reason for marriage or explain the spiritual significance of marriage, it is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read on the practical, day-to-day, “how-to’s” of building and having a happy marriage.

Based on solid research data conducted, collected, and reviewed both first and second-hand by the author, Feldhahn identifies 10 actions and attitudes that are the key to building a lasting, happy relationship with your spouse.  Some seem like common sense (like #2: believing the best), while others seem down-right counter-intuitive (like #5: keeping score).  But all are simple things that can be instituted in any relationships.

Melissa and I actually read this book together, and we’ve individually tried to implement the strategies identified by research as vital to marital happiness.  And, speaking from experience, they work (both those we were already doing and those we weren’t).  Feldhahn’s research included interviews and data from both Christian and non-Christian couples, and the results are staggering.  Through research she identified three groups of couples: those identified as “struggling”, those identified as “mostly happy” and, finely, those identified as “highly happy”.  When the data are reviewed, “highly happy” couples (what she calls “Yes! Couples”) are identified very clearly in the results.

For example, one of the strategies identified is “believing the best” about your spouse.  This means that, regardless of what your spouse says or does, you choose to believe that they have your best interest at heart.  The data indicated that in 96% of “highly happy” marriages, both partners answered the question, “Is the following statement true or false?  ‘Even in the middle of a painful argument, I know that my spouse is fully ‘for me’ and deeply cares about me.'” with “true”.  However, in “struggling” marriages, only 59% of the time did both couples answer “true” (meaning that 41% of the time one or both couples answered “false”).  By choosing to believe your spouse has your best interest at heart – even in the midst of an argument – couples are more likely to report they are happy and have happy marriages.

This is a book I highly recommend for anyone who is married or is going to be married – I’m giving it 5/5 stars (which means you need to go out and buy this book).  If you’d like to read a sample of the first chapter, you can access one by clicking here.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

Too Many to Jail


Let me start by saying Too Many to Jail by Mark Bradley is available until April 5 for just $.99 on Kindle – and you need to order it now by clicking here.  The book tells the story of the Christian church in Iran – a country where you’d expect the church to be dieing – but to the contrary, Iran is the country with the fastest growing church in the world, growing at a rate of nearly 20% every year!

In the book Bradley provides several chapters that give a brief overview of the history of Iran since the Islamic Revolution, with an eye towards explaining both Christian persecution during that time and the growth of the church.  He goes into detail regarding five house churches, and the book really is a study of the growth of the house church movement in Iran.

Rather that provide you with any further details about the book, though, I’d like to share what the book has forced me to think about – and reminded me of.  Overall, it has led me to reflect on my own witness for Jesus (0r lack thereof) – I’ve had to ask myself, “Why is it there are so many people in Iran who are willing to go to jail, be tortured, or even die for sharing the Gospel and I’m afraid to talk to people here in America?”  The boldness of these believers is both inspiring and convicting.

The book also addresses why people are so open to Christianity (and, honestly, why do I assume they aren’t open to it here?)  The biggest reason?  It’s really simple: the primacy of Jesus Christ.  Bradley writes, “Ask an Iranian why they are attracted to Christianity and the answer is often very simple: Jesus Christ” (p. 104).  It makes me wonder, why don’t people in America say that?  Is it because we’ve done a lousy job of showing them Jesus?  Several times in the book Bradley wrote about how in the house churches Christians told others (evangelized them) simply what God had done in their own lives – it is the story of testimony.  Yet here in the American church we struggle to get people to even see the movement of God in their lives, yet alone tell others about it!  There’s also an emphasis in the book on the practice of church discipline in the Iranian church: “[The church] is particularly string in two areas: sexual relations and gossip” (p. 131).  The process?  People who fall in these areas are first warned and asked to live pure lives, but if they continue they are asked to leave the church.  It’s that simple.  And do you notice the two that have been picked?  Wow!

The other reason the church is growing?  Christians aren’t afraid to share Jesus with people!  Even in the presence of persecution, Christians share the good news:

“The policy for Christians who do not actively threaten the status quo of the Shia state is discrimination, which often leads to the ordeal of emigration…It is true that many hard-line Muslims in Iran interpret the Sharia law as demanding death for male apostates and life imprisonment for females.  Hence, in more colorful publication,s the impression can be given that a Muslim in Iran who becomes a Christian spends every waking moment in fear of being murdered or dragged of to a kangaroo court to be sentenced to death.  However, even Iranian officials can be uncomfortable with this image and there is no record of any Christian facing that sort of treatment in Iran – as long as they are quietist and not active at all…The issue is that many Christians are not quietist” (p. 165-6, emphasis mine).

Read that again – if Christians in Iran would be willing to put up with some discrimination (political, economic, etc), they could live their lives without fear of torture or murder.  But even know that they do not remain quiet but insist on sharing the good news of Jesus with non-believers! Bradley also writes, “One man closely involved with house churches made this striking comment, ‘The people are so open that you can get away with anything in evangelism if you go about it the right way.’  In other words people want to hear about Jesus, and if approached in the appropriate way they will make a commitment” (p. 147, emphasis mine).  Why aren’t the Christians afraid to suffer persecution for the sake of Jesus?  Apparently they actually believe what he said, and they believe it enough to risk it all – but they’ve also found that when they share Jesus with others people actually respond by also taking on the risk of following Jesus.

When was the last time you heard anyone in America talk like that?

Overall I’m giving this book 5/5 stars – if you’re willing to confront your own fears about sharing Jesus with others.   If you’d like to check out an excerpt before spending the $.99 for the book (see link at top of page) you can find one if you click here.

For the record, I did receive a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.

 

 

Skin in the Game by Rick Lawrence


Skin in the Game is a book about the risk it takes to be a follower of Jesus. Christianity isn’t for the light of heart, and Lawrence offers us some questions to consider in reflecting on our own level of commitment to Jesus.  81o4joU5zgL._SL1500_The book contains eight chapters, each focused on using a story from the gospels to ask a reflective question designed to draw us to further invest in “the game”.  The chapters are short and easy to read (the book is only about 150 pages), but don’t mistake its brevity as an indication the book is a lightweight. To the contrary, the questions Lawrence asks cut to the core of who we are (or claim to be) as followers of Jesus, and each chapter contains group discussion questions for further reflection.

Perhaps the chapter I enjoyed most was the one focused on our identity as believers.  Lawrence reminds us that what is most important is knowing who God is and who God says we are.  When we have a clear understanding of our identity then our behavior and perspective on life will radically transform. But we need to be willing to not only listen to what God says, not only be willing to believe he is right, but also willing to admit we may be wrong and let go of the lies we believe about who we are and why we do what we do.

Overall I’ll give the book 4/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

The Evangelism Study Bible


As I’ve mentioned before, it’s difficult for me to review the Bible.  After all, what am I supposed to write?  “Great job, God!  You knocked it out of the park on this one!  I see a best seller here!”  I mean, I’m certainly not going to critique it and suggest there are mistakes, that something could have been worded a little more clearly or gently… “Hey, God, overall I like the book, but this Jesus character?  He was pretty blunt – couldn’t you have toned him down a bit?”  Yeah, not gonna happen.

So when I was given the opportunity to review the Evangelism Study Bible I understood that I was not reviewing the scripture itself but rather the extra-biblical resources contained in the Bible – things like book introductions, the concordance, study notes, etc.  This particular bible is a NKJV, so unlike one of my earlier reviews I wasn’t even reviewing the translation.

So here’s my thoughts…  Overall the notes seem to be helpful and high-quality.  They do a nice job of bringing an evangelistic focus to verses I would have never thought about looking at in that way (as in the notes on how to help a new believer choose a church aligned with the building of Solomon’s temple in 2 Chronicles).  The concordance seemed comprehensive enough for a paper version (let’s be honest, at this point I use the internet on my phone to do word searches more than anything else), and the included ribbon bookmark was a nice little feature that I always appreciate in any Bible.

But I guess this is where I get hesitant: why not just public a book on evangelism rather than embed a book within the Bible?  Wouldn’t that be more useful and easy to read?  It’s like they took a book of Q&A on evangelism, cut it up into small chunks, and then just split them up on pages throughout the scripture – but, as with all Bible, the important stuff isn’t this commentary, it’s the scripture. And I guess that’s my biggest struggle with bibles like this in general.  I’ve been in too many settings where someone will read the notes or commentary as scripture, when they aren’t.  I’m not suggesting notes and commentaries are bad, I’m just saying they don’t have the same level of authority as do the words of scripture themselves.  Many who read the Bible seem to understand this, and I’m certainly not against using notes and commentaries in Bible studies and discussions (I do it myself).  But there are also many who seem unable to distinguish between what God has written and what man has interpreted and written.  At the end of the day, these Bibles too often seem more about marketing than they do anything else (as a disclaimer, I have multiple study Bibles at my house that I have purchased).  In many ways I think someone could find more valuable and accurate resources (and save some money) by doing a little online research or just purchasing a commentary/study guide/book as they could by purchasing one of these Bibles.

Having said all that, it is not a mistake to purchase a Study Bible and if you’re looking for a good translation to carry around with you and you want to get some “bonus” features thrown in, this is an excellent choice.  I often think of buying study bibles as a 2-for-1 deal – you get the Bible and a basic commentary for one price.  So if you want the ease of carrying only one book, or if it’s more cost effective to purchase a study Bible rather than a Bible and a commentary, this may be a good option for you.  I’ll give this book 3.5/5 stars.  For the record, I did receive a complimentary copy in exchanges for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.