Book Review: After Lament: Psalms for Learning to Trust Again, by Glenn Pemberton

After LamentGlenn Pemberton’s eagerly awaited follow up to Hurting With God (ACU Press, 2012), After Lament honestly and sincerely brings the reader back into Pemberton’s struggles with chronic pain, his acceptance of a life therewith, and what life looks like after lamenting, all through the use of the Psalter. Not holding back his feelings concerning the pat answers of many Christians in the context of pain and suffering, some may find their toes getting a bit crushed by Pemberton’s trampling on what “church language” has become, but it all comes from love and his own experience with hearing the same unhelpful words for years. This is why I highly recommend first reading Hurting With God (my review here), for better understating the language of lament, the necessity thereof, and from what perspective After Lament is written.

The first two chapters reorient the reader into a position of appreciation for lament before moving on, a must for those who have not read Hurting With God, but a nice refresher and life-update on Pemberton for those who have. The last eight chapters deal with Pemberton’s use of Psalms as a way of relating to and moving from lament into any of the following: 1) trust and confidence, 2) thanks, 3) praise, 4) joy, 5) instruction, and 6) broken hope, none of which is a guaranteed since varying journeys have varying outcomes. A discussion guide for each chapter is also including at the end of the book for those who wish to go through the book as a group or more personal introspection.

Lamenting is a journey, not a destination. Life After Lament won’t always be that for which we’ve asked, but we must eventually move out of lament. To this, Pemberton states, “It is easy to serve God and shout hallelujah as long as the payoff is there—a good life, the answer I wanted to my prayer. But what if there is no payoff, just pain? Will you serve the Lord for absolutely no reason other than that the Lord is God?” (197, emphasis original). Along with Pemberton, I’m sure, I pray those who read After Lament will find it helpful in answering him (and God!) in the affirmative.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: David’s Goliath: Winning the Battle Against All Odds, by David Lyons

David's GoliathI started going back to the gym. Thanks, David.

Of course, the purpose of David’s Goliath is not to send the reader running for the gym to get pumped. David, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 at the age of 47, belongs to a special breed of driven people who do not accept defeat and will choose serious injury to self rather than appear weak, whatever “weak” means. And he does. Choosing to fight MS through his former bodybuilding practices tears him up, quite literally. But the decision also brings him healing, mentally and spiritually, while providing a body willing to fight his debilitating disease. However, for all the personal gain and recognition through challenges and competitions, David continues to remind his reader, as he reminds himself, that it is God upon whom he relies for strength and direction. In fact, he is challenged to keep at the forefront the purpose of his goal—and writing of his journey—that being, to give God the glory and witness to others. And he does.

We don’t always agree with the processes and directions chosen by every disciple of Christ. In fact, David’s wife, having married him in the midst of and supporting him through the struggles of MS, tells the reader that she, a nurse, thinks David is not making the best decisions for his physical health…but that they are the best decisions for him. David is not looking for approval; he is looking to bring his reader on a journey—a Mt. Everest expedition, if you will—through his struggles by recounting the good and the bad. It is his hope that others will be encouraged and strengthened themselves to cling to God, again or for the first time. And I am.

And the reader may hit the gym afterward.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Breakfast with Bonhoeffer, by Jon Walker

Breakfast with BonhoefferPaul wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, ESV). For a long time I took this to be nothing more than Paul’s arrogance. Why imitate Paul when I can just imitate Christ? It wasn’t until I heard a brother mention how helpful it was for him to have someone in his life to whom he could look up, watch his life, and see what living like Christ looked like—someone, at least in some respects, he could imitate. But if all I have are recorded words of Paul and Jesus, why wouldn’t I just follow the words of Jesus? Well, Paul wrote a lot and expounded upon the words of Christ to help Christ’s disciples better understand them in a practical sense. Somehow, probably lost in translation, we sometimes lose the “better understanding,” in a practical sense, of Paul’s writings because we become too focused on words, archaic phrases, and getting that legalism down pat. So, we read what others have written on those words, or we listen to preachers tell us what they think they mean, and still we cling to thinking we’re “just following the Bible” and no man. But we are. We pick and choose to whom we listen and whose interpretations, however “plain” and “obvious” they may tell us they are, we choose to follow. We all imitate someone somehow. Paul just thought he was the better example over others.

Although Bonhoeffer is no longer around to “see,” he left behind many writings, many quite practical, and a legacy of which others had witnessed and written for many to imitate. For Jon Walker, Bonhoeffer is one to imitate, one whose writings has helped him better understand his life and carry it forward. Walker brings his reader on a not-so-chronological, bi-polar swaying, progressively topical journey peppered with Bonhoefferific gleanings that have helped him along the way and/or have aided in hindsight, all with the perspectival mix of student, teacher, and narrator. This is for the reader who is interested in a lifetime of change, not just a life-changing moment, in being brought closer to leaning on Jesus and following the Spirit. My suggestion is that one initially approach Breakfast with Bonhoeffer as embarking on a journey with Walker, keeping theological and practical judgments at bay until the journey’s end, at which point one may wish to revisit a time, place, or conversation for further mulling. If nothing else, it may interest the reader in picking up a copy of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship!

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount, by Randy Harris

Living JesusWe talk a lot about the “Sermon on the Mount,” but it’s not often we see people living it. This is why books like Living Jesus are important, helping us learn to put into practice some of the most difficult exhortations in the Bible. Randy Harris writes, “I’m not attempting to write a scholarly book on the Sermon on the Mount. I’m trying to provide a field manual for living the life Jesus wants for us” (12). Harris urges his readers to ignore the perspective of “Jesus raising the bar so high that we can only try and fail and so learn a lesson about the grace of God,” stating, “This isn’t ‘Suggestions on the Mount’” (13). We are encouraged to take seriously the words of Christ and live them. “This is not only a life that should be lived. It’s a life that can be lived” (22).

Harris breaks the text down into twelve sections, providing practical commentary on each passage, after which several discussion questions are provided for group study, as well as a few challenging examples for living each section. The book concludes with a description of the covenant Harris has made with a group of college students to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount, to memorize it, and hold one another accountable to living it daily. The “Monk Warriors” of Tau Chi Alpha (“Toughest Christians Alive”) may seem a bit gimmicky—we are talking about college students—but the journey they share is provided as an example of how to “live Jesus,” not the way. Further aid comes by way of suggested reading material and the DVD series by Harris upon which Living Jesus is based (not having seen the series myself, I cannot comment on its effectiveness, though I would recommend the book on its own).

One consideration I offer is realizing an holistic approach to living the Sermon on the Mount after reading Living Jesus and attempting to live particular sections at a time as they are suggested. Harris has provided a welcome alternative to the boring, redundant, and ill-approached sermons on the “Sermon” many of us have heard all our lives, but it is only a stepping stone in actually living the life into which Jesus calls his disciples. It is good to spend separate periods of time learning to live out all the different avenues talked about by Christ, but they also must not be used as substitutes for the final stage of holistic living. Indeed, it is time to “live Jesus.”

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Review: Hell: A Final Word: The Surprising Truths I Found in the Bible, by Edward William Fudge

Hell: A Final WordSome books are written to be exhaustive on a subject, and others are written to be more accessible, perhaps more of an overview. Edward William Fudge writes Hell: A Final Word: The Surprising Truths I Found in the Bible, his “last book on the subject” (17) of hell, conditional immortality, and annihilationism, as the latter. Those requiring more depth are encouraged to see Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, now in its third edition. In light of Rob Bell’s controversial reigniting of a Christian universalist perspective in Love Wins, it seems appropriate that Fudge throw one last hat into the mix for the annihilationist perspective. Like others, he encourages his reader to ask, “‘Is this what the Bible teaches?’ How we might feel about hell cannot be the measure of what hell really will be” (32, emphasis original), noting the insistence many have in faithfully clinging to church tradition even when it seems contradictory to Scripture simply because it’s what we “have always believed” (98), and therefore must be right.

Fudge provides his reader with a history of the traditionalist view of hell—never ending torment—originating in deuterocanonical texts and Greek philosophy, and effectively demonstrates in an accessible way his reason for believing, “The ultimate punishment common to all the lost will become a reality: they will cease to be. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible repeatedly warns that the wicked will ‘die,’ ‘perish,’ or be ‘destroyed’” (35, emphasis original). Throughout, he repeats the question as to whether Scripture “[appears] to be more consistent with a fire that torments forever, a fire that purifies, or a fire that consumes” (69), hoping the reader is eventually convinced of the latter. But what makes this book special is the interweaving of his personal journey with this particular doctrine, how and why The Fire That Consumes was researched and written and how he has been treated because of his perspective. It does appear, however, that the true purpose of its penning is to prime the reader for the aforementioned text and plug the recently released movie Hell and Mr. Fudge. Yet, though beginning and ending with a commercial, there is much good and convincing information in this book…and may make you want to read his larger work, too.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from ACU Press/Leafwood Publishers as part of their ACU Press Bookclub Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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