Tag Archives: christian

Book Review: The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories, by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational StoriesHonestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Berenstain books when I was a kid. Bears living in tree houses didn’t make a lot of sense, and the Bible messages always seemed a bit off. Of course, I wasn’t your average kid and wasn’t fond of being read to. I’d read something myself or not at all, so I didn’t get any further explanation beyond what I found on the pages. It’s been decades since I last read one of their books, so when I came across The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Inspirational Stories, I thought I’d give it a shot to see if it’d be something to recommend.

As an adult, I now see the Little House on the Prairie style church, community, and particular denominational undertones, which is going to be received more easily by some than others. (If this was the case with these books when I was a child, then it makes sense why my family didn’t have Berenstain books in our home. However, we did watch the aforementioned TV show, which was easier to follow and from which I learned some interesting lessons.) The cheesy names and artwork are exactly as I remember, and the stories have the same lengthy conflict that’s wrapped up in a tidy single sentence or two. For those who with small children much less critical than I was (okay, I still am, and became an even bigger art snob—just forgive me), these stories may prove helpful when combined with guidance and further explanation.

My only real concern with this Berenstain book in particular has to do with the third story, “The Berenstain Bears Love Their Neighbors,” the Berenstain version of “The Good Samaritan” parable. The “neighbors” are stereotypical hillbilly folk—dirty clothes, clunky car, and all. Their accent and dialect are inconsistently written and the whole story left me rather uncomfortable. The fact that there’s a word missing on page 50 set aside (really, in a simple children’s read-along book), I’d still refrain from using this specific story at all. The rest I could work with.

*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: The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership, by Sondra Wheeler

The Minister as Moral TheologianFor the aspiring, new, and even seasoned shepherd/pastor/preacher, I cannot recommend enough Sondra Wheeler’s The Minister as Moral Theologian: Ethical Dimensions of Pastoral Leadership. This is not a book on ethics, as some would academically approach the subject, although Wheeler does offer a brief primer on types and methods; it is an encouragement and guidebook on being ethical for those shepherding the church. Pastors are not merely prayers, preachers, and teachers; we are (ought to be!) shepherds who model the life of a disciple of Christ and guide others to do the same. This means we “walk the talk,” so to speak, and come alongside others—beginning where they are—and guide them in the same.

Life is messy and often encountered in the grey, which makes how we “do ethics” vitally important in our greater task. Regardless of how much some may want or force it to be, it’s usually not as easy as “yes or no” or “do this to fix that.” In such a small book, Wheeler helpfully discusses with much wisdom the “what, when, why, and how” of living, preaching, teaching, and counseling—or not, as the case may need be. While written in a way that often presumes a more traditional, western and liturgical church, particularly with clergy, its application is by no means strictly understood and confined therein. As a longtime pastor of smaller and home-based churches, as well as a mentor, teacher, and guide to those who come from other churches for pastoral care, I found Wheeler’s book to be an exceptionally helpful and encouraging reminder. I learned from her scholarship and wisdom, as I suspect will any reader open to Spirit of God.

Wheeler is already working on a follow-up, also to be published by Baker Academic: Sustaining Ministry: Foundations and Practices for Serving with Integrity. I look forward to reading that, too!

 

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

Book Review: A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards & Joseph R. Dodson

A Little Book for New Bible ScholarsInspired by Helmut Thielicke’s popular publication from 1962, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, IVP Academic (of InterVarsity Press) has been putting out lengthier books—still quick reads—in it’s A Little Book for New [X]: Why and How to Study [Y] series. Thielicke’s work is so well done in that it shouldn’t be surprising to find it being quoted in these new books. So, what’s the point in trying to replace? I’m not sure that’s necessarily the intent, though some schools and classes may decide to go that route with their book requirements and recommendations.

The latest addition to the series, A Little Book for New Bible Scholars: Why and How to Study the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Joseph R. Dodson, is certainly not a replacement to Thielicke’s, but it is a welcome and helpful addition. Its helpful and encouraging contributions are often through narratives likely much more palatable and an easier introductory pull into the field for millennials than perhaps Thielicke’s language may be. It is also, as the title suggests, more specific to biblical studies than theology, a distinction students will (should) eventually learn. My only major criticism is on the awkward and uncomfortably forced chapter on equality wherein the authors encourage “female, black, Hispanic, and non-Western scholars to step up and do the hard work of biblical studies” (79). To be fair, it is a sincere and grace-filled attempt at inclusivity. As stated by one of the authors, “Sometimes white male scholars like me can be a jerk. (I may even have stated some things in this chapter in insensitive ways—forgive me.)” (87) That said, I would still recommend the book anyone interested in or considering academic Bible study.

 

Note: I have not yet read Kelly M. Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (2012), thus I am unable to speak to how his approach may or may not be different from Thielicke’s and what may or may not be gained from reading it in conjunction with others in this series.

 

*I received a temporary, unpublished digital copy for review from IVP Academic via NetGalley.

Book Review: Say & Pray Devotions: First Words, Devotions, and Prayers, by Diane Stortz, illustrated by Sarah Ward

Say & Pray DevotionsSay & Pray Devotions: First Words, Devotions, and Prayers is a cute little board book written by Diane Stortz and Illustrated by Sarah Ward. Every page turn brings a new scene that includes a statement for teachable moments, a relevant Bible verse (or phrase), and a simple prayer of just a few words. Several objects and/or actions are annotated for further teaching. Of course, this is what many of us do when reading with children—pointing to things and asking what they are or asking the child to point out something—but this may aid in literacy. My only real complaint is the repetition of annotation. With the illustrations provided, there’s no reason to annotate the same thing anywhere in the book. That’s just lazy.

The illustrations aren’t my favorite, but tiny tots don’t really care about style. However, I’m not sure that a yellow blob labeled “eggs” is very helpful (perhaps sunny side up would have been better illustrated than scrambled). I also may be making too much of this, but when the white family is large and happy and even includes a handicapped child in a wheelchair while black families included a single mother and child (even coming out of a church building), I think there’s room for criticism in its underlying social commentary.

It’s a nice idea, but I wouldn’t pay for this book in particular.

 

*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: Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, by Shannan Martin

Falling FreeBlogger Shannan Martin wrote a book: Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted. The following are the first two sentences of the final section of the book (don’t worry, no “spoilers” here):

Since I’m you and you’re me and we’re all basically the same person wrapped in different paper, I’m sure some of the words on theses pages are making your heart beat faster. I know this, because I’ve been where you are and, in many ways, still stand right next to you, anxious to imagine what on earth might wait for me just past my line of sight. (207)

I’m not sure to whom she’s writing because I haven’t been less interested in a book. I can’t even tell you what it’s really about because I found it quite disjointed. Perhaps I’m not the target audience. I didn’t know Martin was a blogger before starting the book, and I likely would not have agreed to review this book if I did. Bloggers tend to write books as if they are larger blog posts, and I’m just not into casual writing like the “here’s me being so vulnerable, but I’m really never going to change” stuff with inside jokes embedded via parenthetical statements. I was actually quite bored getting through this one but do not, however, want to diminish the significance of any shared events of Martin’s life.

There was one moment I really enjoyed: “This is the work of God, part chisel, part cannon. He’ll do what it takes to demolish our ‘this is mine’ walls” (144). That’s a brilliant image.

 

*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.”