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.”

Book Review: Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms, by Glenn Pemberton

Hurting with GodPemberton provides an approach to lamenting much needed by today’s congregations, especially among the increasingly shallow forms of “Praise and Worship”-only gatherings. “P&W” formats serve a purpose and may be beneficial, but they do just that—serve a purpose. And so with public and corporate lament, a purpose is served. Incorporating all forms of worship and God-talk are important for all churches, and in their relevant time and place.

Pemberton writes, “If what I have found in university classrooms and churches is a reliable indicator, believers are aching for words to express the realities of their lives, to speak the truth to God instead of putting on a charade of repetitive and empty praise clichés that ignore or deny the relentless storms” (25). Yet these words, words of lament, have been pushed out of our gatherings, and ultimately our vocabulary, by years of insistence on being “joyful” and “happy” Christians who approach times of hardship with phrases like, “God has a plan,” “It’ll all work out,” and, “Blue skies and rainbows . . .” These may be true, but may also likely prove to be utterly unhelpful in times of suffering. Many biblical texts, in both the Old and New Testaments, help us through these times and give us language to talk to God and help us through. Pemberton, does a fantastic job using the book of Psalms, as well as other Scripture, narrative, and personal experience, to point out this language and guide us through its usage, including a rare and needed address of the imprecatory psalms.

Pemberton well addresses those who would rebut and dissuade Christians from the use of lament or anything that hints at anger, dissatisfaction, and even resentment towards God. Along with being told the one side of being humble and reverent toward God, we ought also to be continually reminded these words: “To lament is to humble myself before my sovereign. It is pride that prevents me from telling God and others the truth. Masked by false piety, pride may look like authentic faith: we appear to be successful, we talk about our blessings, we minister to others in crisis, and we even talk about God a lot. But our pride prevents us from telling anyone the truths about ourselves—that I am not okay, that I am confused, that I am angry, that I feel as if God has abandoned me. Arrogance, not humility, keeps us from speaking the truth of our lives. . . . No expectations, no disappointments, no questions for God: a low-risk, minimalist version of Christianity, safe from ever needing to have a difficult conversion with God” (172).

The appendices provided are great resources for group study and discussion, locating helpful psalms, and locating information for further study on topics in the included chapters and their subsections. Hurting with God will surely prove beneficial for the hurting and regaining the language of lament in the church.

*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: Quit Going to Church, by Bob Hostetler

Quit Going to ChurchAs noted in the brief, final chapter, one may not doubt Bob Hostetler “[has] prayed for everyone who reads this book” (215). Throughout Quit Going to Church there is an evident pastoral concern and desire for growth; however, prayer, concern, and desire do not necessarily yield a well-articulated argument. Hostetler plays a game of semantics that some may find more than ruffles a few feathers (13)—it’s likely they won’t even finish the book—and seems to defeat his purpose. It is not very helpful to tell one’s audience to “quit” doing something (in most absolute terms) and, instead, do something that arguably encompasses that said action; and when trying to change how others perceive an idea or phrase, it may not be very helpful to use other phrases that would require a new perspective before using them (e.g., describing Jesus as a “party animal” [151] and “the kingdom of God” being “synonymous with a wild and crazy good time” [152]). Some may find the semantic acrobatics appealing and refreshing, while others may find the forced shock value off-putting and unnecessary.

It is often self-implicating when an author writes something like, “It’s just not there. Honest. Go ahead, get your Bible. Look it up. See if you can find a passage that says . . .” (202). Hostetler is narrowly selective in his use of Scriptural support for his arguments, often relies upon his insertion of quite speculative details as he narrates a passage—again, some may find this helpful and others offensive—and makes claims (and certainly tells his audience to “quit”) that simply cannot be found in the Bible—anywhere. Of course, all interpret, extrapolate from, and claim implications of Scripture, but it is counterproductive to make such claims in the same book wherein refutation against such claims are made, and vice versa.

If one were to generalize, one may appropriately place the work among other “too little on too much” books attempting to convince and encourage readers to stop going through motions and be genuine in their walk with God, something we certainly ought to stress; however, the suggestions of “quitting” are not all accompanied with convincing examples and reasons, thus, the work may not prove to be as influential and/or helpful as intended. Regardless, one may benefit from reading the final chapter (215-16) for a concise recounting of the “quits” and “dos” argued in the book, as well as Hostetler’s prayerful closing statements.

*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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