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.

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.

Gospel Formed by J.A. Medders

It seems that the last couple of books I’ve reviewed have been bombs.  Honestly, I was having a hard time getting excited about reading another book to review because I was wanting to read something good for a change – so when Gospel Formed appeared in my mailbox I left it lying on the table until the very last minute before the blog review was due.  Boy was that a mistake.  I am not sure I’ve read a book this spot-on in a very long time.  Medder’s style is conversational, yet the truths he expresses are deeply profound and transformational.  Every word is packed with intense meaning; this is one of those books where just reading two paragraphs made my mind spin as I contemplated what he was talking about – and hopefully that’s a reflection of the depth and richness of what he writes and not of the simplicity of my mind!

With very few exceptions, I’m not sure I’ve read many books that focused me more on the life and work of Jesus than Gospel Formed did.  Every word of every paragraph on every page was about Jesus.  Medders didn’t talk about being gospel-centered in his book, he actually demonstrated it.  This is one you’re going to want to read with a pen in hand because you’ll be underlining and writing in the margins (and when I didn’t have my pen I felt like I was missing more than I was taking in).  His thesis is simple: the secret to Christian growth is Christ, and then he spends the rest of the book showing how that is true.   He writes,

“The gospel is the center of the Bible, and it ought to be the center of our lives, homes, churches, ministries, spiritual disciplines, songs, parenting, marriages, jobs, – everything.  The focal point of the Christian life is one cross and one empty tomb.  Without the gospel, we lack the proper understanding of any doctrine, and especially a robust knowing of God himself…The gospel is the message of the church.  Christians are made strong because of the gospel…It’s all gospel.  All the time….The gospel, the news of the eternal Son of God dying in our place for our sins, is not only the center of the Bible; it’s also the center of history.”

And he’s just getting started.  Like a boxer delivering one bone-jarring jab after another, Medders doesn’t pull any punches, continually putting us in contact with what is central to life in Christ: namely, Jesus himself.

If I could give a book a higher rating I would, but I’m limited to a perfect 5/5 stars.  You need to get this book and read it, and you need to let the truths of it seep deeply into your soul.  I don’t say this lightly, but if you’re looking to be reminded of what it means to live your life in light of (and response to) the Gospel, this is by far the best book I have ever read and reviewed on the subject.

Yes, 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.  And since I’m offering such  strong recommendation on this particular book I don’t want anyone reading this to think I only offer “good” reviews – in fact, there are plenty of books I’ve given poor marks to and which end up in my trash can.  This is probably the strongest review I can give: normally when I finish a book I either throw it away (if it’s no good) or give it away (if it was worth reading).  When a friend saw this sitting on my table and asked about it I told him that when I finished reading it I’d let him borrow it; as I started reading it I was kind of sad I said that because I don’t want to give it up, so when he told me he secured a copy on Kindle through a sale I was actually relieved that I wouldn’t have to let this one get out of my hands.  This is one I’m going to have to read a second time.