Tag Archives: christian

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.

Book Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Word of God, by Eugene H. Peterson

As Kingfishers Catch FireAs Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Word of God is a collection of sermons presented to Christ Our King Presbyterian Church (UPCUSA) in Harford County, Maryland, by Eugene H. Peterson between the years of 1962 and 1991. While these sermons have been organized according to their relation to major biblical authors (Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul and John of Patmos), they are completely separate sermons with no real connection to one another—neither chronologically or contextually—and no dates are given for their original presentation. This lack of context can make reading a little strange when events are referenced in relative terms (e.g., “A little more than a year ago, three men were orbiting the moon in a space capsule,” [p.8]), some being easier than others to determine the general time of writing. Each sermon is only around six pages long, making them quick and easy reads without too much depth and generally a single overarching point to be made at the end, and the lack of any real connection of one to another easily lends themselves to being chosen and read according to title and/or scripture reference listed in the Contents pages. I imagine some will find this to be very helpful, while others like myself will be left wanting more substance. In my opinion, this could and should have also been released as a series of blog posts free to be read online.

 

*I received a pre-published, uncorrected proof of this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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.