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.

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.

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.

index