"What They Didn't Teach You In Seminary" by James Emery White

I came to this book with low expectations. The reputation of the author drew me in but that alone was not enough to overcome the skepticism which the title engendered. Then, add to that a subtitle which promises a list leading to success? Oh boy…

By the time I was finished this book, however, my opinion was completely reversed. What did overcome my initial skepticism, swiftly and completely, were the wise and considered words of James Emery White. His discussion ranges from leadership and administration issues, to words about soul care and family. White truly runs the gauntlet of difficult issues pastors face in their positions. In most chapters he is sincere, wise, and helpful. Naturally there were a few chapters that I found to be less so, but they are hardly worth mentioning next to amount of just plain good advice in this book.

In the introduction White discusses how the U.S. Army is changing its training program in order to prepare soldiers for what they actually face in war. With that analogy in mind he summarizes his book: “So from someone who loves and appreciates what a seminary education offers but who’s been deployed in the war for a while, here’s what they never taught me there – and in fairness, never could.” This is, indeed, what you will find within the pages of What They Didn’t Teach You In Seminary. Here is a book worth reading.

Conclusion: 4.5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. This book was written for pastors, and so if you are one then you should read it. If not, you can still learn from it, especially in terms of understanding more clearly what your pastor goes through and needs. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

What I Need

It can be difficult to separate my wants and my needs. I do live in a culture which works vociferously against said differentiation. But even if I didn't, my own heart and mind would clamor enough to make this distinction difficult. It is, after all, my own sinful tendencies which make the cultural voices so powerful, not the other way around. 

Do I need the newest? The best? To be first? No, of course not. But try telling that to my heart. Try telling that to the raw desire which wells up when I consider making purchases and decisions. 

Of course, this problem does not arise only in the midst of my consumerism. It also arises in the midst of my spiritual life. Throughout this summer the interns at our church have been leading our prayer meeting group through the fruit of the Spirit. The temptation for me is to look at each one and say "I need to do that more..." I need to be more loving, more patient, and so on. It is almost true. 

However, I need to constantly remind myself that these are not the fruit of my hard work, the fruit of my will and decisions, or the fruit of my goodly efforts. They are the fruit of the Spirit. They are not a list of the things all good Christians need to bring to the table, but the list of what will happen within us when we seek and strive for what we truly need: fellowship with God. They are a result; not a result of chasing these things themselves, but of chasing God. 

In a way it is ridiculous of me to forget this. After all, the image is of fruit, and trees do not grow fruit by trying to. They grow fruit by having what they actually need: good soil, water, sunlight, etc. The same is true for me. 

In the midst of the babel of my life I must focus on the only thing I truly need: God Himself.


"The Bone House" by Stephen R. Lawhead

Stephen R. Lawhead. The Bone House (Bright Empires). Thomas Nelson, 2011. 416 pgs. 

One year ago, less one week, I posted my review of Stephen Lawheads The Skin Map, which is the first book in the "Bright Empires" series. Here, then, is the second book in that series. The Bone House continues the story of Kit Livingston in his quest for the skin map. One piece has been found, but the stakes have been raised. Kit has inherited this quest from his grandfather, Cosimo, but Kit is now on the run, and, except for the help of his surprisingly resourceful girlfriend Mina, on his own. 

This book was a pleasant surprise. It is an incredibly rare series which gets better in the second book, but Lawhead has done just that. He has maintained the depth of character development, excellent descriptions of the scenes, and at the same time upped the pace and removed my one qualm with the first book in this series: the confusion of jumping from time to time. In this book, he is much more careful to place cues at the beginning of each chapter so that you know where you are, in the story at least. 

Conclusion: 4 Stars. Conditionally recommended. The only condition is that you like a mix of history, science fiction, and fantasy. Really though, you should like it, it's fun reading. 

This book was provided by Booksneeze for review. 


"The Art of Mentoring" by Darlene Zschech

Darlene Zschech. Art of Mentoring, The: Embracing the Great Generational Transition. Bethany House, 2011. 187 pgs. 

If you read the title and description of this book, even if you read the introduction, you will get the impression that what this book is about is mentoring across the generation gap. Helping those who have more experience in ministry and life to mentor those with less. You would be wrong. Somewhere between the introduction and the first chapter, there is a shift. Instead of being about the art of mentoring, this book is about the fourteen values that Darlene Zschech wants to encourage leaders to model. These fourteen values range from what you would expect (humility, excellence, and people) to some less so (energy, genius, and the squeeze).  They all make sense as stand alone values, though how they were chosen is beyond me, but they do not fit together well as a book. 

Therein lies my problem. There are may great things in this book; good advice, wisdom, interesting stories, etc. However, it just doesn't fit together. That and the fact that I was expecting something entirely different lead to my own experience of this book being a disappointment. I don't want to say it is a bad book; it's not. But I also cannot recommend it. Have you ever had a teacher whom you knew to be brilliant, but whose gift was not teaching? I felt that way in reading this book. Clearly Darlene Zschech has a lot of wisdom to pass on. I have no doubt that those she mentors are blessed. This book simply fails to communicate that wisdom. 

Conclusion: 3 Stars. Not Recommended. You can learn from this, have no doubt. But there are better places to go. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".


"With" by Skye Jethani

Skye Jethani. With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. Thomas Nelson, 2011. 224 pgs. 

This book was provided by Thomas Nelson, through Booksneeze, for review. 

The copy for this book might as well read: Why are there so many problems in the church? (A few specifics are listed: burn out, lack of freedom in Christ, etc.) Is it possible we have misunderstood the call of the Christian life? Jethani argues that this is just what we have done. He believes that most Christians in the modern west have settled for less than a relationship with God; they have settled for life under, over, from, or for God when what they ought to desire is life with God. 

I think that for many people, Jethani is right. While I am not sure that all the problems of the church can be laid just here, it would certainly take us a long way to get these issues straight. Through the first five chapters Jethani explores the first four ways of relating to God as the failures they are; there are no substitutes for a life with God. Then, in the final four chapters, he turns to the solution: life with God expressed in Faith, Hope, and Love. 

In the pages of With you will find a well written, poignant, and powerful call to the true center of our faith and our lives: God Himself. You will be reminded that above all things, we seek union with Christ, and that every time we place some goal, desire, end, or thing higher in our hearts than God we have created an idol, no matter how good that thing is when it is rightly desired. Which do you long for with more strength and seek with more fervor: God or purpose in your life? God or enough? God or safety? God indeed wants all of these things for us, but we must "seek first his kingdom, and all these will be added to us as well."

Conclusion: 5 stars. Recommended. We all have a tendency to seek other things before God, and we could all do with such a good reminder of where our true vision and hope lies. 


A Good Tree Bears Good Fruit....

"Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." - Matthew 7:17-18

"One of the most powerful ways to influence the behavior of a system is through its purpose or goal. That's because the goal is the direction-setter of the system, the definer of discrepancies that require action, the indicator of compliance, failure, or success toward which balancing feedback loops work. If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn't measure what it's supposed to measure, if it doesn't reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system can't possibly produce a desirable result. Systems, like the three wishes in the traditional fairy tale, have a terrible tendency to produce exactly and only what you ask them to produce. Be careful what you ask them to produce." - Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems. 


"Exploring Kenotic Christology" ed. by C. Stephen Evans

ed: C. Stephen Evans. Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God. Regent College Publising, 2009. 360 pgs. 

Full disclosure: This book was provided by Regent College Publising for review. 

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, 
taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, 
he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- 
even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
and gave him the name that is above every name, 
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father."
- Philippians 2:5-11

Have you ever wondered what this poem/hymn means? What does it mean that God made himself nothing? What is this emptying, this demotion? Is it merely poetic language, or does it reflect something much more important? And how, within all of this, do you understand the incarnation? How can God, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, become man who is, seemingly by definition, none of these things? Did God give something up to become man? If so, how? And is God still God if he gives up some of His attributes, or do we find ourselves face-to-face with that oh so nasty of theological positions: a paradox? 

These questions, and many more, are at the heart of Kenotic Christology and, thus, at the heart of this book. Exploring Kenotic Christology is a theological volume which does exactly what it declares in the title. Through a collection of thirteen essays by various authors this book takes on almost the full raft of issues surrounding Kenotic Christology. 

Kenotic Christology is the idea, or theory, that in becoming human Christ, the second person of the Trinity, suspended some of His attributes as God. The motivating factor behind this is texts such as Phil. 2, but also the witness of the gospels to Jesus as a person who suffered, grew in maturity, wept, etc. One of the many problems that arises is that this seems to challenge the classical idea of God as immutable and impassable. The twelve authors of this book seek, in various ways, to grapple with these things. 

However, in being by twelve different authors this book is also very difficult to summarize. While Kenotic Christology may be a broadly recognizable theological category it seems inevitable that each individual kenoticist is unique in their theology. Instead of trying to summarize let me merely offer some comments on what you will find: The essays range from focused biblical considerations of how the scriptures witness to Kenotic Christology to in depth explorations of the philosophical quandaries offered by the same, from defenses of Kenotic Christology as orthodox to essays questioning whether or not this whole enterprise is founded on a mistake. Yes, you will even find criticisms of Kenotic Christology within these pages. If that doesn't communicate to you the quality of this collection, then I don't know what will. 

If you haven't picked up on this fact yet, let me make it crystal clear: This is a great book. Incarnation theology is an incredibly important part of Christian belief, one which we often spend too little time on. Here is a serious, well written, well edited, volume of impressive essays remedying that situation. It is, as you might expect, a more difficult read at times; such is the nature of the topic. It is also, as you may not have expected, more than worth it. 

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Conditionally Recommended. I have to say conditional simply because of the difficulty of this book. Yes, it will be a hard read. Yes, you may want to work you way up to this book by starting out with shorter, simpler, books on the incarnation. However, you will not be disappointed if you can get to reading this book. 


Congratulations to: ...

Congratulations to Philip who has won his very own copy of Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller!

Good choice by the way; an excellent book :)


July Reflections

As we leave July behind for yet another year I cannot help but wonder why this year summer feels like it has barely started. I don't just mean that time has gone by quickly; it always does. I mean that it felt like spring until recently. 

Oh well, on to the top 3 posts of this month:

1. Heaven and Hell: This is an old post, from back in February when the whole Rob Bell controversy was just starting up. If anyone can tell me why this post has suddenly become so popular, I would appreciate it. In the meantime, I am sorely tempted to actually write something about Heaven and Hell. 

2. "Rumors of God" by Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson - Short, standard, BookSneeze review of a very good book. 

3. Book Giveaway: Celebrating 100 Book Reviews - I am happy to see this in the top 3. I am giving away a book. There is still time for you to enter (until Noon PST on Wednesday August 3rd), so hurry and make your choice!

I hope you enjoy the rest of the summer, as you can see my family doing in this picture: