Book Review: God-Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality, by Chris Webb

God-Soaked LifeChris Webb’s God-Soaked Life: Discovering a Kingdom Spirituality is a beautiful and encouraging reminder to live with eyes to see and ears to hear the reality of the kingdom of God right now. Disciples of Jesus are not called to wait until they “fly away” somewhere; they are called to live in the kingdom now until we are fully united with God in the new heavens and new earth. What does that mean? Living and acting now in such a way that embodies the future kingdom that is “already among [us]” (Luke 17:21) and “not from this world” (John 18:36)—a kingdom and worldview that originated in God, not a human mind or institution. This way of love is not merely a suggestion; it’s a command. But if all we’re being are rule followers, then we’ve missed the entire point of loving God and neighbor—the kingdom.

Webb presents perspective on and life in the kingdom of God in practical and accessible ways. The book is divided into seven sections (The Invitation, Heart Renewal, Fearless Honesty, Close to the Father’s Heart, God in Everyday Life, Creating Community, and The Politics of Love), each containing three substantial chapters followed by a concluding fourth, which includes seven helpful and introspective questions based on particular readings of scripture. These questions may be pondered and answered all at once or, as suggested, taken a day at a time for a week’s worth of introspection and devotional time.

I will be recommending this book to my students, as well as many others (including you!). If it were scheduled to be published a month earlier, I would have had it on a reading list. Alas, it will be released too late, but never too late to recommend!

Grace and Peace to you all, and may you have eyes to see and ears to hear the kingdom of God in which we already live!

 

*I received a temporary, unpublished digital copy (hence no page numbers for included quotations) for review from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley.

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Book Review: Colored Pencil Painting Portraits: Master a Revolutionary Method for Rendering Depth and Imitating Life, by Alyona Nickelsen

Colored Pencil Painting PortraitsI’ve always thought colored pencils were underrated, but I found them quite frustrating in my past attempts using them for realism. If I’d have had Alyona Nickelsen’s Colored Pencil Painting Portraits: Master a Revolutionary Method for Rendering Depth and Imitating Life twenty years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given up on them so easily. Every obstacle I encountered has been demonstrably removed through this book. Approaching them like oil paints, Nickelsen demonstrates ways colored pencils can be even more versatile and easier to use than any of us ever imagined. This incredibly informative, technical, scientific, and beautiful work will prove to be indispensable for any artist using (or wanting to use) colored pencils as a serious artistic medium. God bless Alyona and all the artists who follow her in elevating colored pencils in the world of art.

 

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Book Review: A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, by John Pavlovitz

A Bigger TableIn the introduction to A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community, John Pavlovitz writes, “This book is about humanity, about the one flawed family that we belong to and the singular, odd, staggeringly beautiful story we all share. It’s about trying to excavate those priceless truths from beneath the layers of far less important things that we’ve pile on top of them since we’ve been here. It’s about jettisoning everything in and around us that would shrink our tables.” (xiii) What it’s really about is tolerance and inclusion of LGBTQ in Christ’s church with no reservation. While I concur with Pavlovitz that we need to love people and be willing to sit at the same table, his use of Scripture and Jesus’ example leads the reader to believe that exclusivity is the only sin, that we are only unwilling to allow people into the Christ’s church because of our prejudices and biased upbringings, and that Jesus was a happy hippy who had no agenda and didn’t try to change people (except to make them tolerant of all other people). Much of this stems from some personal and unpleasant experiences with the church, with which many of us can certainly relate and understand. He rightly pushes back against business- and attraction-model churches, but argues for something that may appear virtually and functionally the same to those on the outside (108–110). Much of what Pavlovitz believes and writes is based on emotion what has felt good to him (even if they be difficult to deal with) rather than from a good wrestling with the whole of the Bible.

While likely intended to be a book about mercy and grace, it is really about loving people as they are and leaving them that way “because we are full image bearers of God and beloved as we are, without alteration.” (164) After reading Pavlovitz’s own words about his upbringing and current faith, I am not convinced he believes he has ever sinned (164–165) or that there is such a thing as sin (he encourages the reader to see suffering instead of sin [124], but this ought to be both-and, not either-or). Heaven on earth for him is simply diversity for the sake of diversity with open conversations where there is absolutely no pushback or accountability—where churches people can curse and say anything from pulpits like they do at his because that’s “real.” (81–82) While I’m certain there are many who will find this and the embedded universalism appealing, it’s not the image of ultimate redemption I find in Scripture.

 

*I received a temporary digital copy for review from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley.

Book Review: The Call of the Swamp, by Davide Cali and Marco Somà

The Call of the SwampThe Call of the Swamp by author Davide Cali and artist Marco Somà is one of the most down-to-earth-fantasy children’s books I’ve ever read. Let’s be honest; most children’s books are fantasy—intentionally or not—whether in characters and environment, story, or both. We often offer children encouraging illusions (delusions?) of grandeur and present everything with a happy ending tied up in a pretty bow of one’s choice color. While The Call of the Swamp is certainly fantasy—a kid with gills is picked up in a swamp and adopted by a couple that can’t have children—it leaves plenty of room for personal experience and inquiry. Not all lives are the same, and this simple story doesn’t try to force all adopted kids into one box. Cali tells a story of a child who looks different from his parents and who eventually recognizes his differences in a real way and longs to discover and experience his past. And while he eventually makes his way back to his adoptive parents, there is no clear answer for how one must feel or what one must do. Like I said, it leaves a lot of room for adopted kids and parents to talk and wrestle with their context. Wonderful.

Somà’s artwork is brilliant and will spark the imagination of older children who will recognize things not to be as they really are but represent something much bigger. Again, we have here further fodder for conversation.

I certainly recommend this one.

 

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers via NetGalley.

Book Review: Practicing Christian Education: An Introduction for Ministry, by Mark A. Maddix and James Riley Estep, Jr.

Practicing Christian EducationIn Practicing Christian Education: An Introduction for Ministry, authors Mark A. Maddix and James Riley Estep, Jr. appear to be primarily concerned with Wesleyan tradition and ecclesiology in combination with a business model ecclesiology. While the stated purpose(s) of the text are unclear and sometimes contradictory, it is apparent that the book is geared toward those who are looking to be paid “Education Ministers/Pastors” in large congregations who fit the stated models with significant budgets. The book is not about Christian education in a broad sense (e.g., teaching various subjects from and with a Christian manner and perspective), and many will likely find it confusing and unhelpful if looking to it for any purpose other than that stated above.

Assessing it for what it is, and not for what I thought it might be, the text falls short of being very helpful. Disjointed, redundant, contradictory, and unclear throughout, I would not recommend it for the seminary students the authors hope will read it. While there are certainly helpful moments, largely by way of quoting others’ material, I do not find them to be justifiable reasons for wading through the whole. If I had not agreed to review the book, I would have stopped reading after chapter six (out of seventeen) because it felt like I was simply being taken for a ride with no purpose or destination in sight—it didn’t get much better.

While I concur with the authors that churches need to take seriously what, how, and when they teach so that all can (and will!) mature in their faith and life in the kingdom of God, I did not find this book as a whole to be a clear and helpful tool for educating those leading, guiding, and/or undertaking that task.

 

*I received a temporary, pre-published digital copy for review from Baker Academic via NetGalley.

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