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.

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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.

Citizen by Rob Peabody


Citizen was a refreshing look at what it means to walk as a follower of Jesus.  Peabody directly confronts the me-centered religion that many modern Americans substitute for authentic Christianity.  Having moved from Texas as a pastor in a mega-church, Peabody ended up in London reaching the lost in a post-Christian culture.

While there were many quotes in the book that gave challenged me, perhaps this is the one that spoke most to me:

Back to our earlier statement: citizens of the Kingdom should be the most risk-taking people on the planet.  Why, you ask?  Because we have absolutely nothing to lose.  Citizen, this is your reality: you died with Jesus and were buried with Him.  You were united with Him in His death, and therefore you have already died, and there is no fear of death for people who have already died.  Death has already been dealt with.  What is the worst that can now happen to you? (p. 98-99)

The book challenges us as followers of Jesus to re-examine what it means to live as members of the Kingdom of God, as citizens from one world who live in this one.  And it’s not an easy challenge to ignore.  Peabody doesn’t simply remind us of what scripture calls us to, he models for us what it means to live that way and shares his experiences with us.  While reading the book I found myself not only challenged to live differently but also longing to meet the challenge; it wasn’t just an intellectual challenge but one that tugged at my heart and I found myself changing how I view my own interactions with people now.

One thing I particularly appreciated about the book was the amount of time Peabody spent reminding me of my identity in Christ and his focus on the community of believers, and his application of these truths to my own life; Peabody makes clear that living as a citizen of heaven is the right (and responsibility) of every believer – not just those in professional ministry.  Over the past year, in particular, I’ve been focused on trying to understand and experience what it is to live in community with other believers – both from my own church and from other churches.  Peabody’s words paralleled, in many ways, what I have been learning this year on these two topics.  Read Peabody’s words, again:

The gospel in no way supports a ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ distinction.  In fact, the gospel message is exactly the opposite.  Jesus died, and the veil separating the ‘Holy of Holies’ from the common area in the Temple was torn…The gospel is a proclamation that no longer is there a divide between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’.  Jesus infiltrates all your life and desires to penetrate every sphere in which you are active.  Therefore, Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs to adhere to in order to save your individual soul and escape the world at death or the rapture, but is actually a new way of seeing (and experiencing) everything in the world.

Are we artists, baristas, teachers, electricians, engineers, students, or factory workers who also just happen to be citizens of the Kingdom?  Or are we, first of all, citizens of the Kingdom who happen to serve vocationally in these ways?

Our baseline for living has been changed to a Kingdom baseline.  The gospel and the Father’s Kingdom are now the foundations for the citizen, and all of our other loyalties are to be viewed through this lens.  When this lens is used, we can clearly see that a job as a banker can be just as glorifying to God and just as Kingdom-focused as the life of a missionary out witnessing every day.  For the citizen, it is about who you are and how you live, not about your title or job description.

If that touches your soul, challenges your heart, and draws you in so that you find yourself wanting more, wanting to say, “That’s how I want to live!”, then I would strongly recommend you purchase Citizen and start reading it.  I’m giving this book 5/5 stars.

For the record, I did receive a free copy of the book from the publisher in return for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.  For more information on the book, or the ministry of which Peabody is associated, visit http://www.citizenthebook.com/

A Christian Survival Guide by Ed Cyzewski


A Christian Survival Guide claims to offer an “accessible and safe place to deal with issues that can give Christians sleepless nights.”  While it addresses many of the issues, I can’t recommend the book.

Perhaps I was just unrealistic in my expectations, but they certainly weren’t met.  Based on the description of the book and the table of contents I expected a primer on basic theology and spiritual disciplines.  And the introduction and first chapter (Prayer) was actually enjoyable.  Cyzewski wrote about how as our survival “as followers of Jesus may hinge on our preparations for the decisions we make and the challenges we face,” saying that we need to learn to “rest daily in Christ, our solid foundation.”  When I read the statement, “This book aims to help the saints persevere” and that “surviving as a Christian demands having the right beliefs, putting them into practice in community with other Christians, and most importantly, meeting with God regularly” I was actually excited.  While I believe in the concept of grace – that we can’t do anything to become saved – I also understand that the Bible speaks much to sanctification and working out that salvation, so I felt like the book was going to offer a great balance to those books that almost seem to suggest we can just keep sinning and never experience the transforming power of God all because of grace.

So where did I start struggling?  It was in chapter 2 when he starts to talk about the Bible.  My objection is probably obvious to Cyzewski (and probably not unanticipated – not from me personally, but from readers in general).  He does a great job of trying to balance a lot of different ideas in the chapter, but the one that I struggled with the most was his view on creation.  While he never comes out and specifically says he doesn’t believe the Biblical account of a literal six days for creation, he suggests that perhaps that view is a very acceptable view in scripture and that perhaps evolution and creation can co-exist.  He offers the usual arguments, most notably that the Hebrew word translated “day” can refer to a 24 hour period or to a longer period of time, and they were all arguments I’ve heard before.  Yet he (and everyone else) always gloss over the rest of the verse where scripture says, “And there was evening and there was morning”.

And, to be honest, normally this wouldn’t be that big of a deal for me.  But in the very next chapter he begins to address some of the more difficult concepts presented in scripture – like God being violent – and offers up the explanation that since Scripture is inspired we have to both believe it and accept it, even when we don’t understand it.  And that’s where I started to get the rub.  Why is it that he (we?) can accept the stories of God destroying entire nations in the Old Testament and explain it away as “because the Bible says so,” but when it comes to creation in six days apparently “because the Bible says so” isn’t good enough.  In other words, where do we draw the line on what is solid ground and what allows for interpretation?  In the same book – in adjacent chapters – Cyzewski seems to argue both points.  And that’s my ultimate issue.

If you want to believe that God took more than six days to create the world that’s honestly fine with me; we can disagree on it, and I’m not going to say you’re not a Christian.  But you can’t have it both ways – you can’t say that scripture is open to interpretation and also suggest that there are things we don’t understand and just need to accept.  Cyzewski – even if he doesn’t say it outright it is there if you read between the lines – seems to suggest both are true, but he never offers any guidance for when to disregard something and when to accept it, outside of the typical “pray about it”, “listen to what God is saying”, and “confer with other believers”.  But the problem I have with this is that it places the ultimate source of authority for interpretation and understanding not in what God has already said, but in our own mind and perceptions.  The authority on God can’t be us; it needs to be God.

Does the book offer some great, practical suggestions for how to live a Christan life?  Absolutely.  But are there better books out there on the subject that won’t leave readers walking away scratching their heads going, “So how can you say one thing in chapter 3 and another in chapter 4?”.  Certainly.

Overall I’ll give this book 1.5/5 stars.  His style is great, he’s easy to read, and the tone of the book is very comfortable and conversational.  I just think that if you read the book you’ll see there are glaring inconsistencies in it that just leave you more confused than when you started.

For the record, I did receive a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.

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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99 Stories from the Bible


I’ve been on this kick recently of reading and reviewing children’s books, book I got in an effort to find resources to support me in guiding their spiritual development and growing their faith.  Some have been good, and some have been not-so-good; unfortunately, this book falls in the latter category.

The difficulty with reading books that take Biblical stories and water them down to levels kids can understand is that it’s hard to reduce the word of God at all – how do you take the fall and reduce it to just a couple of sentences without loose the truths contained in it?  Not to mention the story of the crucifixion and resurrection.  And that’s the problem with 99 Stories from the Bible – in trying to reduce the stories into “readable” versions for little kids, the truth is water-ed down (at best) or completely omitted (at worst).

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If you’re looking for a devotional to do with your kids, this book isn’t it – I would still recommend Sally Lloyd-Jones The Jesus Storybook Bible instead.  Overall I’ll give this book 1/5 stars; for the record, I did receive a complementary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest (though not necessarily favorable) review.