Undercovered by Rod Tucker


Undercovered is supposed to be a book about “the truth about honesty and community”, and while it addresses honesty and community I struggle with whether it adequately addresses the issue of truth.

The book is great at calling the church to task on our lack of honesty with each other with our struggles and our lack of community in regards to both holding others accountable and building each other up in our struggle to “be holy as [God] is holy.”  These are great things to call us to task on, because I’ve been in plenty of churches, Bible studies, small groups – whatever you want to call them – and people act like Christianity is no more than a set of moral rules that we have to follow; on this point Tucker is absolutely correct – Christianity is more than living a certain way, following certain rules, or doing (or not doing) certain things.  In a recent conversation with some leaders at my church we were trying to answer the question, “Are we know more for what we are for or for what we are against?”  And that’s a hard conversation to have.

We need to be honest and open about our struggles, which is what Tucker calls for.  But my struggle with the book is that I found it preaching a theology of what I call victimization, a belief that lacks hope.  He talks about grace, often in the context of the grace we need to extend to each other, but I often felt like grace of God wasn’t enough to overcome the sins we face.

I’m certainly not suggestion that we can live perfect lives without sin (I reviewed a book about that a couple of months ago), yet at the same time I don’t believe we are slaves to our sin anymore – Scripture makes clear we are now slaves of Christ, and that if “Christ sets you free, you are free indeed.”  It doesn’t say “you will be free” but “you are free”.  And that’s a big deal.  As much as I cringe when I hear people preach a theology that says, “You can live a life without sin if you really want to,” I cringe equally as much when I hear things such as “Men will always struggle with pornography” or “The drug addict will always struggle with drugs.”  The grace of the gospel is that once the alcoholic is set free, he is “free indeed”; once the sex addict is set free, he is “free indeed”; once the unfaithful are made faithful they are “free indeed.”  That’s the gospel.

How does that idea marry with the idea that we are not yet free of the body?  I don’t know – that’s part of the mystery of the gospel.  Luther said that we are both “Simul Iustus et Peccator,” or both “Sinner and Saint.  I guess the struggle for authors is to write with both at the same time without over-emphasizing one or the other.  Tucker’s book didn’t strike that balance for me – as I read it I felt beat-down and lost all hope.  But the gospel is full of hope – hope in a risen savior who has overcome death and Hell.  So when I read a book that takes that hope away it makes me cringe and I have to question whether it’s worth my time.

So, overall, I’ll give this book 1/5 stars.  Yes, 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.

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Seeing the Voice of God by Laura Harris Smith


In contrast to the last book I reviewed on dreams, Seeing the Voice of God is a book that constantly focuses the reader back on the Lord and supports everything in it with valid scriptural references.  I found the chapters on the science of sleep offered insight into my own sleep patterns, the dream symbol dictionary was extensive (over 1000 images) and supported by Bible verses, and the real-life stories of those who have come out of sin situations revolving around dreams was truly inspiration.

The chapter on interpretation was one of the spots where I really became convinced of the deep Biblical emphasis of the book.  Laura Harris Smith writes,

Remember that the best interpreter is the Holy Spirit within you.  The same symbol could speak different things to different people, and only you live in your life’s story and know for sure.

This sentence is a wonderful example of how she continually points back to God throughout the book as she talks about dreaming, and, to be honest, there’s not a whole lot beyond that I can say.  If you’re looking for a book that will constantly point you back to the Lord on this sensative topic then I highly recommend Seeing the Voice of God.  I’m giving it 5/5 stars.  Below is a video preview of the book.

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.

Spirit Wars by Kris Vallotton


The fact I’ve had this book since March 1, 2012 should offer a hint at what type of review this is going to be.  Spirit Wars by Kris Vallotton is a a fairly in-depth account of the author’s experiences as he’s engaged in spiritual warfare.  I ordered the book two years ago, but I’ve had a hard time going through it – but probably not for the reason most readers would suppose.

Spirit WarsSo let’s get this out in the open: I believe in demonic forces around us, and I believe that we are living in a world that is at war around us at all times.  And I believe we have a roll to play in that war.  So my frustration with the book actually had nothing to do with the aspect of spiritual war at all.  My frustration with the book – and why it’s taken me two years to read through it and finally post a review – is a fundamental belief that Kris has that I’m just not willing to accept yet; it’s regarding our nature as Christians.  This is an area of huge debate in the Christian world, but I’m just not willing to swallow Kris’ assertion (I guess he would say I don’t have enough faith) that we can choose to live a life free of sin.

I get what he says about not having a sin nature that is married to the Law anymore, and I can buy the fact that we are no longer practicing sinners because John as much as tells us that in his letters.  At the same time, I have great difficulty accepting the statement that we can literally go weeks without sinning.  So I’m not accused of taking him out of context, here’s an extended quote from pages 44-45:

This deceptive perception that born-again believers are still sinners by nature raised its ugly head awhile back when I was teaching a group about the divine nature of born-again people.  I was telling the class that we are no longer sinners, but instead have become saints through the power of the cross.  (editorial note: I don’t have a problem with this paragraph).

To illustrate my point, I said, “There is a river that flows through our souls, and it runs toward the throne.  If we don’t paddle, we will end up at God’s house!  You have to make an effort to sin because it is no longer in your nature.”

A tall young man in the middle of the room just could not take it any longer.  He abruptly stood to his feet and with all the passion he could muster shouted out, “Have you ever had a day go by that you didn’t sin?”

“Yes, of course I have,” I shot back.

“How about a week?” he pressed, staring me right in the eyes with a stern look.

“Sure,” I continued, smiling at him.  “In fact, I have gone several weeks in a row without sinning.”

I suppose I could get into an extended theological argument at this point, but I won’t, accept to say that, at least at this point in my Christian walk, I’m not willing to accept that anyone can go for “several weeks in a row” without sinning.  Sinning is more than just what we do, it is also what we don’t do, and what Kris is claiming here is that he has lived – literally – a perfect life for “several weeks in a row.”  Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Is Kris suggesting that for several weeks in a row there he never once broke that law?  He is suggesting that for several weeks he always loved his neighbor as himself and never once allowed the temptation to think more highly of himself to take root?

It’s for that reason I struggle to recommend this book and will be giving it a 1/5 stars.  He bases his entire work on this concept, and I just can’t accept it as true (at least not yet).  And if the foundation is bad, I can’t recommend the builder.

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.

How God Makes Men by Patrick Morley


The author of the classic Man in the Mirror has done it again with his latest book, How God Makes Men.  Patrick Morley is a common name for anyone who’s read books on Biblical manhood in the last decade, and this book is one that every man should read as well.

manhood-not-automaticUsing the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Job, Peter, and Paul, Morley creates a book which allows readers to grow closer to the Lord through the examples these disciples lived.  One of the things I love about the book is it’s emphasis throughout on the grace of God as demonstrated and given through Jesus.  While there are plenty of instances where the book gives very specific (and biblical) calls for action on our part, it is always in response to what God does first.  Morley makes it clear that God doesn’t only use “perfect” men to do his work, but rather meets us where we are at and then moves us to where He wants us to be – and the only thing we need is a willing and surrendered heart.

Speaking of the word surrender, one of my “aha’s” in the book was his distinction and explanation of the difference between the words “commitment” and “surrender”, and his observation that many Americans view their relationship with Christ as one of commitment rather than surrender.  But what Jesus calls us to is not commitment – where everything rests on us – but rather surrender, where everything depends on him.

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At the climax of the book Morley highlights how men mentoring men can have a profound impact on families, churches, and communities.  He doesn’t do this is a chauvinistic way, and neither does he dismiss the roll of women, he simply points out the importance of how God wants to use men to reach the hurting and the lost.  In fact, I truly believe the vast majority of the book is not specific to “men” but rather to followers of Jesus regardless of gender; the exception to that is some very specific instruction regarding the importance and impact men have in the lives of their families and society in general.

To reinforce how much I thought of the book, I actually shared an entire chapter with the leadership team from my church – something I’ve never done before.  Morley’s emphasis on discipleship, particularly men’s discipleship, is demonstrated throughout the book.  I truly believe if what he highlights from scripture were actually put into practice we would see a transformation in our churches and communities.  Morley preaches servant leadership throughout the book, of living a life surrendered to the King of Kings and reaching out to serve and meet the needs of those around us.  Throughout the book he also weaves multiple scriptural references, and none of them were taken out of context.

If you’d like to examine a free copy of the first chapter, visit this link.

Overall, I’m giving this book a 5/5 stars – meaning I highly recommend the book.  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.

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What Your Dreams are Telling You


What Your Dreams are Telling You is a do-it-yourself guide to interpreting your own dreams.  As one who dreams a lot, I was excited to read this book, but, as a Christian, I was highly disappointed in its content.  Author Cindy McGill obviously has a lot of expertise in the area, I just expected a more Christ-centered book than what I found – especially considering it’s published by Chosen Books, who claim to publish “well-crafted books that recognize the gifts and ministry of the Holy Spirit and help readers live more empowered and effective lives for Jesus Christ.”  In this book, however, I found that lacking.

McGill identifies a framework for dream interpretation, laying down seven principles to guide the interpretation.  But, to be honest, they were just too vague and almost new-agey to me.  She talks about how we are all “receiving life messages in [our] dreams” (p29), but she doesn’t do a very good job of identifying the source of those messages (to be fair she does they can come from one of three sources: self, truth, or lie, but there’s never what I would consider a suitable way of discerning which of the sources one is dealing with).  And perhaps I missed it, but I was 39 pages into the book before I found any reference to “God”, and of her seven principals it was the final one (#7) that even introduced the idea of connecting with God (though here he is referred to by the generic “giver of dreams” and elsewhere she chooses to use the more generic “Creator” or “God” when referring to Him).   She does reference the Holy Spirit on page 91, but he is referenced almost apologetically when she writes, “I encourage you to ask the Spirit of Truth to come and help you interpret your dreams.”  Why is this a simple suggestion?  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if there is a “Spirit of Truth” then that would be the ultimate source for dream interpretation and without his input there would be no interpretation?

So how long did it take to find Jesus in the book?  Again, unless I missed it, he shows up on page 155 (the book, without appendixes, is 156 pages, so the penultimate page of the book).  She talks about how she had an “encounter” with God through Jesus and the changes that have happened as a result.  But here’s the kicker: she says, “But that is my story.” (p156, emphasis hers).  Yes, I understand dreams are personal and so is a relationship with Christ.  But it stands to reason that if Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” as Jesus claims he is, that more than being just “her” story, every story must start in the same place: with surrender to God’s will through faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

And it was that message that was absent throughout the book.  Her insight on symbolism in dreams and the stories of people who have “heard” the messages they were being told through dreams are all insightful and inspiring.  But at the end of the day there’s nothing in this book that points back to Jesus; it’s all about “me”.  And I was looking for something more.

9780800795658So I’m giving this book a 1.5/5 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.

Real: Becoming a 24/7 Follower of Jesus


“If Sunday didn’t exist, would anyone know you were a follower of Jesus?”  This is the key question Jamie Snyder challenges his readers with in his book Real, and he actually does a really nice job with his argument.  Over the years I’ve read a lot of books that hit at the heart of what Christianity is supposed to be about – recent titles that come to mind in the past couple of years are Radical by David Platt (which, for the record, was one of the very first books I ever reviewed on my blog), and, more recently Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman.

Here’s the difficulty I have with many of these books that challenge modern-day Christianity: even though they suggest they don’t put forth a “program” or a list of things to do, in essence they really do prescribe how we’re supposed to be good Christians.  Take this excerpt, for example, from Real:

The joy factor in your life and mine will never be a result of working hard; it will always be the natural by-product of living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit…Living a life surrendered to the will and way of the Holy Spirit is not so much about doing as about being. (p79-80)

Then later in the book Snyder writes, “We must get this: Christianity is not about following a list, a creed, or a mere doctrine.  It is about following a real man named Jesus.”  (p142)

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Sounds good so far; and I agree 100%.  But the disconnect (for me) happens in the the middle section of the book.  Snyder tells us that when we seek to follow Jesus we will live a life defined by:

  • Unbridled Joy
  • Daring courange
  • Rebellious joy
  • Risky faith,
  • Relentless hope
  • Scandalous grace
  • Mad love

The danger I fear is that people will view these as a the very list of things they are supposed to do that Snyder attempts so hard to avoid.  And this is the struggle with every book I read like this.  Don’t get me wrong, I agree that all these things are byproducts of a life lived with Jesus through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but if we focus on getting these things rather than focus on dwelling with Him (the “being” that Snyder referenced at the beginning), we’ll be doing nothing more than the what the Pharisee’s did with their rules and regulations.

God has been teaching me this year that what is important is my relationship with him – the relationship that has a natural ebb-and-flow because it’s, well, a relationship between two beings – and one of us is imperfect!  The only metaphor I can think of (which I happen to think is a very biblical metaphor) is marriage.  There are certain aspects of all healthy marriages as I’ve come to learn – two of them are that couples spend time with each other and that they communicate with each other.  But if the focus shifts to the spending time or the communication and off the marriage then the marriage is no longer healthy.  So when we focus on only showing grace or love or joy or courage I’m afraid that too often we take our eyes off Jesus – something the writer of Hebrews warned us about.  This is a delicate balancing act between “judging a tree by its fruit” and remaining connected to the vine.

As I’ve read these books more lately I’ve actually felt a little convicted.  But not convicted that I don’t live up to what the author is saying, but that I’m reading the book at all rather than just spending time in the Word.  It’s as if the Holy Spirit is saying to me, “There’s nothing new here.  Just read my word and accept it for what it says – I will explain it to you.  Just abide in me and this stuff will take care of itself.”

So, I’m giving this book 4 out of 5 stars (I would be tempted to give it a perfect five, but that would just be too high, so I’ll drop it back a couple of spots to 4).  If you read it with an understanding that what you read about a things that Jesus will do in you as he transforms and sanctifies you as you remain in him, then you will learn much from the book and hear him speaking to you through it.  If, however, you look at these things as a list of things to do, you’ll miss Snyder’s point entirely.  Either way, I personally think it would be wiser to spend time in, say, studying Ephesians or reading the gospels and studying the life of Jesus.  You’ll learn the same thing, but you’ll learn it from the source.

For the record, I was provided a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher Bethany House in exchange for an honest, though not necessarily favorable, review.