Tag Archives: Christian living

Book Review: Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith, by Sarah Withrow King

VegangelicalFirst, let me offer a little autobiographical information. I love animals—I love all of creation. All I wanted to do up until I was sixteen years old was to be a zoologist and promote healthy, environmental living. My life direction changed, but my passions didn’t. I was president of the Alabama Animal Rights Fellowship (AARF—ha!) at the University of Alabama, attended a nationwide animal rights convention in Washington, D.C., and marched in protest of animal cruelty. I decided overnight to be vegan on February 22, 2002, and remained as such for five years. Many of my beliefs have not changed, nor my feelings on many related matters, but as I continue to grow and learn I want to be consistent in my life in service to God. I know what it’s like to be the only Christian vegan in a room of hundreds who hate religion. I’ve heard the arguments of vegans and non-vegans alike, many of which are emotion- and sensationalism-driven “facts” not primarily founded on careful consideration of many perspectives and bodies of evidence. I could probably affirm the decision of just about anyone to choose a vegan lifestyle, but I cannot affirm all reasoning. I made that decision based on a number of factors, so when people asked me why, I simply said, “Pick a reason; it’s probably in there.” Love, ethics, and economics played large parts in my decision, but not once did I use my Scripture references to say someone was sinning by eating animal flesh or wearing animal products and the like. Why? It can’t be found in Scripture. There is absolutely no Scriptural foundation upon which one may say not living a vegan lifestyle in all circumstances is a sin. However, Sarah Withrow King, in Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith, does just that with much hypocrisy, sensationalism, sloppy theology, and a lack of wisdom. This is typical “too little on too much in too few pages” pro-vegan literature.

King uses Scripture in reference to human interaction as equally applicable to animals. I can understand why someone would want to do that. Really, I can. But animals and humans aren’t the same. Humans were made as the image of God; animals were not. That is a distinction that ought not be overlooked. However, by using these Scriptures, King promotes equal treatment among all species—but really only the fuzzy, cuddly, charismatic kind in WWF magazines, domesticated pets, and farm animals with which we are all familiar; the cockroaches, earthworms, and beetles I think will not find so much compassion in the King household. She condemns those who engage in vivisection and mutilation, but both condones and encourages genital mutilation (spaying and neutering) of pets to keep their populations down and to euthanize them when they are too sick or in pain. So, do we harm or do we not? Do we say the same things about humans since we are equating them and using Scripture equally? Like Nazis much? “I see you have a bum leg, have cancer, and are suffering. I will hold you gently and love you as we put you out of your misery, [dog/cat/dad/child].” No, we are not equal, and Scripture ought not be so applied.

When she finally, at the end of the last chapter, asks herself the question about Jesus eating meat, she answers with the following: “I don’t know why Jesus ate fish…” (148) That’s it. No addressing of Jesus, the only perfect and sinless son of God sacrificed so that we may be redeemed, committing what King calls sin. If one is going to write a book about why it is sin for all people everywhere to be vegan because otherwise would be sin, one must have a thoroughly thought out and convincing argument regarding Jesus eating at least fish and the Passover lamb. But readers are left with a shrug and quick movement to, “Adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle is one of the easiest ways I have found to honor the gift of God’s creation and to follow the example of Jesus’ love for all” (149). That’s a great reason to make the vegan choice, and it’s part of why I was once vegan; but there’s a huge leap one must make from saying “I’m doing this to honor God” to “You’re sinning for not doing this!”

If I were to address every theological question, occasion of hypocrisy and sloppy research, this would get rather lengthy. This is emotion, emotion, emotion and data point, personal opinion, and “friend told me a story” information presented without discerning connectivity. So, for Christian readers (the intended audience), I hope the Jesus argument is enough to dissuade anyone from encouraging reading this book. There are many other works that are much more faithful to Scripture and reason that may prove beneficial. For larger works of a holistic Christian life that include creation care, I recommend Christopher J. H. Wright’s The Mission of God and The Mission of God’s People because they are two of my top recommendations you should have in your library anyway!

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers 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: How to Live in Fear: Mastering the Art of Freaking Out, by Lance Hahn

How to Live in FearContrary to the witty title, How to Live in Fear: Mastering the Art of Freaking Out is not a laughable memoir or anything of the sort; it’s quite serious. Author Lance Hahn begins by telling his history through the lens of an anxiety disorder he says he’s had since the age of six. Next, Hahn offers advice on living with an anxiety disorder based on his experience. The final third of the book is dedicated to Hahn’s biblical perspectives in helping those go through life as he has. His conclusions:

1) It’s uncontrollable, but your mind is your own, so you can control it. (I’m still not sure exactly where he really stands with this.)

2) Do things to keep your mind off of the source and triggers of your anxiety. (I’m concerned about some of his stated hobbies that appear to only work on symptoms and may be fueling other vices.)

3) Take meds if necessary. (His recalling of conversations imply he has seen an family practitioner and a counselor; no mention of a psychiatrist or anyone who could potentially really help with the mind, not just the body or an ear to hear.)

4) Remember that God is good, sovereign, and will heal you; but until that healing comes, which may not be in this life, have hope, pray, study the Bible, and worship Him. (This can be applied to all who suffer.)

 

A doctor does not write this book; it’s a Christian dude who left a stressful job in insurance to be a career pastor (p. 107) who suffers and hopes to help others through the same kind of struggle. It should be read and understood as such. My observation from the stories and advice given by Hahn, for whatever it’s worth, is that a possible source of his anxiety is a fear of failing and not being in control. Subtleties in the text point to the potential of his current job fueling the problem. One such instance is his assertion of his control by assuming he is the reader’s “temporary pastor through the course of this book” (p. 111). Of course, I’m not a doctor, just a Christian dude sharing his experience.

 

The book contains 199 pages of material, in which thirty or more of filler could be easily trimmed. However, it may prove beneficial to some as is, so long as they remember this ought not be taken as medical advice and should perhaps be read with someone else for perspective.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers 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: Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul, by Ruth Soukup

UnstuffedPerhaps the most honest, down-to-earth, practical text I’ve read on removing clutter and simplifying multiple areas of one’s life, Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul by Ruth Soukup reveals raw, vulnerable, and helpful experience and advice easily relatable and applicable to a broad audience. Soukup doesn’t dwell on the home or physical “stuff” exclusively, delving with equal emphasis into equally important aspects of one’s life, some of which include one’s time, energy, relationships, and the necessity of relying on God’s grace in all things.

Soukup lets her readers know from the start that “this book is not a step-by-step guide on how to declutter your home” (21), demonstrating primarily through narration the importance of decluttering (something with which she continues to wrestle), but embedding throughout the text many straightforward tips and plans for doing just that. This all-around great resource may be accompanied by an app (Unstuffed) that may help one practice what is learned. (I’ve not tested the app’s usefulness, so feel free to comment and let others know how it works if interested.)

To further emphasize my recommendation of Unstuffed, the review on my blog with the most traffic, receiving hits everyday from around the world, is that for Simplify by Bill Hybels, which I very much do not recommend. Unstuffed is everything that book wants to be and more. I will be updating my reviews of Simplify on multiple sites with a recommendation for Unstuffed. Kudos, Soukup, and blessings on your continued blessing to others.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers 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: Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy, by Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley

Church in Hard PlacesWhen browsing Crossway’s list of available books for review, I was intrigued by the title Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy, but given the growing number of similar books addressing the same thing, it was when I saw that Brian Fikkert (co-author of the wonderful When Helping Hurts) had written the foreword that I decided to read it. As I read, I was shocked by Fikkert’s words—an honest and not-so-glowing reference that made me wonder why it was even included. Fikkert writes, “You might not agree with every word of this book. Indeed, I wish there were some things that were stated differently. But do not let that deter you.” I now stand on similar ground in regards to this book.

Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley, church pastors in Scotland and the US respectively, begin with straight-forward, hard hitting thoughts on poverty and the damage that has been done by incorrect perceptions thereof, emphasizing that poverty and lack of education do not equate to stupidity and the inability to comprehend complexities, as has often been the approach to spreading the gospel in inner-city areas and poorer nations. Though they then proceed to emphasize the need for spreading the whole gospel message alongside meeting physical needs, I believe they have still oversimplified and narrowed the gospel, which is most often spoken of in the New Testament as the “good news of the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is at the center of the good news, but there’s a whole kingdom he wanted us to know about and live in now that the authors have missed in their address. I concur with that that “getting the gospel right” is important, which is why I mention this. They also place heavy emphasis on the necessary belief that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment, on which there is much historical tradition but nothing in Scripture.

The authors then tackle the issue of whether or not doctrine matters, that which has recently been set aside by many who, with good intent, desire to focus on the love of Christ but throw out the way in which we live a life in God (the rules, commands, or whatever you want to call them that let us know what righteousness and justice really are!). It is at the end of this chapter that the authors explicitly state that they are “convinced Calvinists.” Given that Fikkert is (to my knowledge) Dutch Calvinist and he disagreed with how some things were presented, I could only imagine that the text was not Reformed enough, too hard lined, or too soft. After reading the entire text as one who is not a Calvinist and strongly disagrees with the foundation of Calvinism (summed up in the acronym TULIP), I’ve concluded that the authors and I agree on the big umbrella points of the book: poverty needs to be rightly defined, the gospel in its entirety, doctrine, local churches (parachurch organizations should support and enable local churches, not hinder or replace them), evangelism, preaching (I would say “teaching” with the implication of a two-way relationship), and discipline are important, as well as wisely preparing oneself, family, and team for work in areas of poverty; however, the way we talk about these things, indeed some of our definitions, may differ significantly. I don’t want to speak for Fikkert, but I suppose we may have read this book similarly, that there is heavy emphasis on a Calvinist approach (especially regarding the foundation of “unconditional election”) that may prove divisive, or at least a barrier, to those who could really benefit from the helpful approaches to working in poverty that are found within.

I greatly appreciate the heart of Christ and heart for those need that I read in both McConnell and McKinley. That said, I’m not sure this book is one that I will recommend. However, should one pick it up, I’ll state again that there is some excellent material that may found while wading through the heavily Reformed current.

 

*I received a complimentary digital copy of the reviewed book from Crossway through the Blog Review Program in exchange for this honest review.

Book Review: This Is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection, by Sammy Rhodes

This Is AwkwardSo, this is awkward… Really. I follow Sammy Rhodes (@SammyRhodes) on Twitter because I can empathize with his humorous, self-deprecating, introverted gluttony in 144 characters or less. That kind of awkward I can handle. The first half of This Is Awkward I could not.

When Rhodes announced his upcoming book, I thought to myself, “I really hope it works for him because he doesn’t need one more thing that denies him some affirmation.” I didn’t plan on reading it (ever), but when it came up as an option for me to review, I decided to see just how awkward it was going to be. I’ve never not finished a book I agreed to review, but I really wanted to put this one down.

The forced insertions of journal-like entries of his writing process in the middle of the actual writing, none of which are contextually appropriate in any way, only emphasized the uncomfortable way in which this first book was written. I assume the intent was to find a novel way in which to engage the reader in the life of the awkward Sammy Rhodes and the difficult process of writing a book, but they really read like further desires for affirmation and “I really hope you like this book and don’t write about hating it because my insecurities may not be able to handle it.” I’m not sure if I should feel pity or just more awkwardness… (Probably both.) Here’s an utterly inappropriate and awkward example of just how inappropriately awkward the book is: Rhodes honestly and vulnerably talks about an older boy physically “teaching” him about sexuality, which leads Rhodes to question whether or not he’s gay as a child; but then, in one of this disjointed journal entries, immediately follows with (intentional or not, I really can’t tell) the difficulty in peeling and eating a banana while writing. … Yes, that happened. (My apologies for instilling in you the awkwardness this book instilled in me.)

However, things began to change with Chapter 6: “I Kissed Marriage Hello After Kissing Dating Goodbye.” The first few pages are laugh-out-loud stories leading up to and including Rhodes’ wedding day. Seriously awkward. Seriously funny. I’m not sure how much time elapsed between his beginning to write the book and the start of this latter half of the manuscript, but the writing and appropriate level of awkward definitely change for the better. I began to buy into the journal entries as part of the journey, even though I still didn’t care much for their integration without connective material. I made it to the end without wincing the whole way.

In addition to what I’ve already written about the writing style, I must include the perpetual appeal to pop-culture references of which the reader may or may not be aware. This isn’t that surprising from someone who got his start in a social media following, but that kind of writing (to me) feels a lot like using other’s ideas because the author does not have enough words of his own. (This should not be confused with plagiarism, for which Rhodes has previously been accused, to what legitimate extent I know not.) I simply find it a bit too cliché and leaving the reader left out if unaware of the references (like what John Eldridge does with movies and plays, but with a broader range). (Rhodes also misidentifies some of his references, although the points he makes by them are not thereby negatively affected.)

Rhodes has some good stuff in here, but I’m not sure wading through the rest of the text is worth the effort. Perhaps other articles, subsequent tweets, or maybe another book will prove beneficial in bringing out that information now that the ice has been broken.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers 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.”